17 Nov 2019

African Olive Pigeon - Raydah Escarpment

Phil Roberts and I recently when to the Raydah Escarpment. This is a Saudi Wildlife Authority reserve and needs permission to enter. Luckily we managed to obtain permission from the Authority and were allowed down the escarpment. As it was Mid-October there were very few birds around and Dusky Turtle Dove and Laughing Dove numbers were very low, possibly as they move to lower elevations in the winter. The lack of doves made it easier to try to locate African Olive Pigeon. This is a species I have seen on three occasions but always at a great distance and never close enough to photograph. This changed however this last trip as a car in front of us on the way up the escarpment disturbed a large dark br that flew into some dense cover of a tall juniper tree. I suggested it could be an African Olive Pigeon and on looking through the binoculars we could see it was indeed one. I maneuvered our car to safe parking spot and we got out in the hope the bird would show itself well and allow us some photos. Luckily this is exactly what happened and the bird flew into a tall dead tree nearby allowing a few photos before moving off up the escarpment. This was a species both Phil and I had been trying to photograph over the past six years so we were very happy with the results. Whilst parking the car a second birds was seen briefly in the same place. This is a scarce to uncommon species although it is a local breeder in the southwest highlands. It is not entirely clear if birds are resident although HBW states it is, as there is only one record from the months of December to February. It is a large pigeon, about the size of a European Woodpigeon and is predominantly dark grey with obvious white speckles on breast and wing-coverts. The females are a bit duller than the males. The iris is pale yellow to light brown, the bare skin around the eye, cere, bill and legs are bright yellow, which is conspicuous and diagnostic even in flight. They feed on fruits of various trees, including Podocarpus, Prunus and Ficus species and are patchily distributed from Eritrea south through eastern Democratic Republic of Congo and Tanzania to southern South Africa. 
African Olive Pigeon

African Olive Pigeon

African Olive Pigeon

African Olive Pigeon

African Olive Pigeon

African Olive Pigeon

African Olive Pigeon

15 Nov 2019

Wonderboom Fig Tree – Raydah Escarpment

Whilst birding a large wadi at the bottom of the Raydah Escarpment we came across a Wonderboom that was about seven metres high and had several fruits in different stages of ripeness. The Wonderboom Ficus salicifolia is an evergreen fig species that ranges from the KwaZulu-Natal midlands in South Africa northwards to tropical East Africa and into southwest Arabia. It mainly grows on outcrops, rocky hillsides and along cliffs fringing water courses and may rarely grow up to 10 m tall, and acquire a leafy spreading crown. They have elliptic-oblong, leathery leaves of about 7 to 10 cm long, are carried on long petioles, and are often noticeably folded along the midrib. The leaves are brittle and have a characteristic smell when broken or bruised. The small, smooth figs are carried on short stalks and measure about 4–6 mm in diameter. They are massed along the branchlets in the leaf axils and change from white to yellowish-red and spotted as they ripen. The figs are eaten by birds and mammals. The Wonderboom fig is sometimes deemed a race of Ficus cordata i.e. F. c. subsp. salicifolia though the latter species has yellowish sessile figs and a more westerly distribution.
Wonderboom Fig Tree

Wonderboom Fig Tree


13 Nov 2019

European Bee-eater – Raydah Escarpment

An afternoon trip to the Raydah Escarpment in mid-October produced my first records of European Bee-eaters for the site. A large thunderstorm and dark clouds made the light very poor in the wadi at the bottom of the escarpment and after walking down the wadi for some way we quickly returned to the car before heavy rain set in. Once back at the car we drove back down the same wadi we had walked down and came across a few bee-eaters flying around and landing in the trees. After a while, it became apparent more and more birds were arriving probably settling in a sheltered area to wait out the storm. Groups of birds would gather on the dusty track and dust bath a little and overall we saw well over 100 birds and probably closer to 150. As the light was very poor good photographs were difficult to obtain but I did manage to grab a couple of half-decent shots. European Bee-eater is a common passage migrant throughout Saudi Arabia and has been seen in the reserve commonly in the past but as I seldom go in migration time and am normally there in the summer months I had not seen the species in the location previously.
European Bee-eater

European Bee-eater

European Bee-eater


11 Nov 2019

King Jird – Talea Valley

Whilst birding the Talea Valley near Abha in October 2019 I came across a single King Jird Meriones rex. The animal was seen briefly running through some grasses and fortunately stopped partially hidden before bolting down its burrow. The King Jird in endemic to Arabia and occurs in the highlands of the southwestern Arabian Peninsula, from near Mecca in Saudi Arabia south to near Aden in Yemen. In Saudi Arabia, the species has been reported from 1,350 to 2,200 metres above sea level. This Jird lives in large burrows amongst bushes, preferring raised areas bordering agricultural land. It is active in the evening and early morning. It lives in burrows which it shares with other rodents and lizards. They are reported as common throughout their range. Although I have seen the King Jird on a number of occasions they are difficult to photograph as they are normally seen briefly disappearing down their burrows.
King Jird

9 Nov 2019

Migrating Eurasian Griffon Vulture - Tanoumah

Whilst birding the road between Tanoumah and Abha in Mid-October 2019 I saw a presumed migrating Eurasian Griffon Vulture Gyps fulvus. It was in the air with approximately eight Steppe Eagles which were also migrating due to the clear skys and good conditions. The species is uncommon in the Kingdom with numbers apparently declining and the southwest of the Kingdom is easily the best location for trying to locate birds. The species is an uncommon, resident breeder, in the Hejaz, Asir and the Tihama mountains of western Saudi Arabia, as well as a passage migrant. There are few records elsewhere in the Kingdom, and in the Eastern Province where I live, it is a vagrant with six records of seven birds but none have been seen in recent years. There is a small breeding colony near Riyadh. As this bird had a few features that looked odd I sent it to Dick Forsman for comments and as always he very kindly replied to me, for which I am very grateful, saying that the bird looked like a Eurasian Griffon Vulture with the exception of a few feathers around the armpit/inner greater coverts and is reasonably confident the bird is a Eurasian Griffon Vulture.
Eurasian Griffon Vulture

Eurasian Griffon Vulture

Eurasian Griffon Vulture

7 Nov 2019

Migrating Steppe Eagles – Between Tanoumah & Abha

Whilst driving between Abha and Tanoumah in mid-October 2019 we saw 10 Steppe Eagles with a further 16 on the return journey. Birds seen included immatures, sub-adults and adults and will probably include birds that will stay the winter in the region along with migrants. These sightings were a year later than the ones we saw in 2018 and fit in well with the idea that Steppe Eagle is a long-distance trans-equatorial migrant and unlike many other eagles, the species migrates in large, loose flocks. Individuals leave their breeding grounds for wintering grounds between August and October, returning to breeding areas between January and May. October appears to be the peak month for migrating Steppe Eagles in Saudi Arabia. Like other soaring birds, Steppe Eagles minimize the length of sea crossing and appear to have a loop migration around the Red Sea, arriving via Bab-el-Mandeb Strait (between Yemen and Djibouti) and departing via the Suez, Egypt–Eilat, Israel (the northern end of the Red Sea). This is probably because the prevailing easterly winds between October and April make return migration via Bab-el-Mandeb more difficult. The Steppe Eagle has undergone extremely rapid population declines within all its range. The speed and severity of these declines justified the species being moved to ‘Endangered’ in the 2015 IUCN Red List assessment. Suspected reasons for decline include, habitat loss/ degradation, electrocution on or collision with energy infrastructure, poisoning through herbicides, pesticides and veterinary drugs in food sources, persecution, mortality of juveniles in fires, taking of chicks and disturbance.
Steppe Eagle

Steppe Eagle

Steppe Eagle

Steppe Eagle

Steppe Eagle

Steppe Eagle

5 Nov 2019

Arabian Spotted Eagle Owls - Abha

Whilst in Abha in mid-October, Phil Roberts and I spent almost the entire night out looking for owls and managed to see and photograph a couple of Arabian Spotted Eagle-owl. One was perched on some overhead lines and the second on a high man made wall. Recent papers have suggested the species should be split form African Spotted Eagle Owl due to call and plumage differences and as the subspecies in Arabia is an endemic. The species is not rare in the southwest highlands but it is difficult to locate. Birds are resident near the Red Sea coast north to Jeddah and can be seen in the Tihamah and Asir areas including Najran and Hejaz north to Taif. 
Arabian Spotted Eagle Owl

Arabian Spotted Eagle Owl

Arabian Spotted Eagle Owl

Arabian Spotted Eagle Owl

Arabian Spotted Eagle Owl

Arabian Spotted Eagle Owl

Arabian Spotted Eagle Owl

3 Nov 2019

Arabian Tree Frog – Talea Valley

Whilst birding the Talea Valley in mid-October, Phil Roberts showed me a small area of permanent water with nice growths of reed mace. Whilst loking aroung this area I came across a few tree frogs. On studying these tree frogs I came across a recent paper from 2010 on tree frogs in the Middle East using mitochondrial and nuclear sequence data in combination with a phylogeographic approach discovered a new species, H. felixarabica, which is distributed in the Arabian Peninsula and southern Levant, eastward from the Dead Sea Rift. This points to a biogeographic connection between south-western Arabia and southern Levant, and highlights the importance of the Dead Sea fault system, which probably played a primary role as a barrier when formed in the late Miocene. Genetic structure of the new species as well as of H. savignyi consist of two main mitochondrial lineages in each species, which originated presumably during the Plio–Pleistocene boundary. However, persisting gene flow or incomplete lineage sorting caused discordant intraspecific phylogeographic patterns of the nuclear markers. The Anatolian and Caucasus–Caspian populations of H. orientalis demonstrated high genetic variation, suggesting that these regions were important Pleistocene refugia. However, it will be necessary also to study European populations to infer a complete evolutionary history of this species, which will be a subject of a forthcoming study. Diagnosis and comparisons. Hyla felixarabica is a medium sized member of the genus Hyla as revealed from general morphology and genetics, distinguished from other species by (1) genetic data, (2) acoustic data – advertisement calls and (3) morphology. Václav Gvozdík, Moravec J, Klütsch C & Kotlík P (2010). Phylogeography of the Middle Eastern tree frogs (Hyla, Hylidae, Amphibia) as inferred from nuclear and mitochondrial DNA variation, with a description of anew species. Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 55: 1146–1166. The English name of this species appears to be Arabian Tree Frog. Morphologically, H. felixarabica differs from H. savignyi (character states in parentheses) by more truncate snout in lateral view (round in lateral view), snout barely protruding the anterior margin of maxilla in ventral view (markedly protruding the anterior margin of maxilla in ventral view), frequent disruption of dark line separating dorsal and ventral coloration on tibia and tarsus into the irregular marbling (usually straight dark line on tibia and tarsus), whitish outline of dorsal coloration reaching cloacal sheath because of reduced dark supracloacal streak or spot (dark horizontal supracloacal streak or spot separating cloacal sheath from whitish outline of the dorsal coloration usually present), frequent presence of an irregular longitudinal loop-like spot or streak in the groins connected in some cases to the dark lateral stripe (spots in the groins, if present, only rarely of a loop-like shape). The new species differs from H. heinzsteinitzi by absence of strong fragmentation of dark lateral stripe (dark lateral stripe). In the Arabian Peninsula, H. felixarabica inhabits the regions above 1400 m a.s.l. in south-western Saudi Arabia to south-western Yemen. It also occurs in the In the Levant, where it seems to be distributed eastward from the Dead Sea Rift (Wadi Arabah, Jordan Valley, Huleh Valley, Beqaa Valley), in which a contact and possible hybrid zone with H. savignyi is situated. Hyla felixarabica has been confirmed in the Levant in western Jordan, southern Syria and in extreme north-eastern Israel.
Arabian Tree Frog

Arabian Tree Frog

1 Nov 2019

Arabian Scops Owl – Tanoumah

Whilst birdwatching the Tanoumah area in mi-October I managed to hear a number of Arabian Scops Owls Otus pamelae and photograph one. The Arabian Scops Owl has recently been split as a distinct species from African Scops Owl O. s. senegalensis. The areas where the Scops Owls have been seen by recently are now being built on and this location will soon no longer hold the birds, as a result I will now need to try to find another good location for hearing and seeing them. The calling birds are not easy to locate in the large trees they favour but if you keep at it, it is possible to see the birds as they often sit in an exposed location, although still remaining very difficult to see.
Arabian Scops Owl

Arabian Scops Owl

Arabian Scops Owl

Arabian Scops Owl

Arabian Scops Owl

30 Oct 2019

Arabian Horned Viper at Al Asfar Lake – Record by Vinu Mathew

Vinu Mathew kindly sent me a couple of photos he took af an Arabian Horned Viper near Al Asfar Lake on the edge of Al Hasa. He also kindly allowed me to use his photos on my website of which I am very grateful. The Arabian Horned Viper Cerastes gasperettii is found in desert and semi-desert habitats, and is well adapted to life on arid sandy and stony ground, and occurs up to elevations of 1,500 metres. It has sandy-coloured upperparts, marked with faint, light brown crossbars along the back, and white or yellowish underparts. The head is broad and roughly triangular, while the body is covered with keeled scales and it has a short tail. The purpose of the horns, which can be depressed, is not known and not all individuals have the horned scales. Like other vipers, this species has hinged, hollow fangs, which lie flat when the mouth is closed and swing forward when opened, and are capable of injecting large quantities of venom. They are 60 – 80 centimeters in length and are active from dusk until dawn, and well-camouflaged amongst the sand and rocks, the most obvious sign of their presence is usually the sinuous tracks it leaves while employing its sidewinding method of movement. They use both active pursuit as well as ambush to capture prey and often bury their body and head beneath the sand using rapid side-to-side wriggling, until only the eyes and snout are exposed. The snake then lays in wait for prey such as lizards, small birds and rodents to approach, before striking with lightning speed and injecting the animal with its powerful venom killing it quickly. When threatened, this species coils its body and rubs its keeled scales together to create a rasping sound, and it will also hiss and inflate its body before resorting to striking. They are found in the Middle East and throughout the Arabian Peninsula. There are two subspecies with Cerastes gasperettii gasperettii, the one found in Saudi Arabia as well as the United Arab Emirates, Yemen, Oman, Israel, Jordan, Kuwait, Iraq & south-west Iran.
Arabian Horned Viper

Arabian Horned Viper

28 Oct 2019

Juvenile White-winged Terns – Jubail

Whilst birding the Jubail area recently I came across a group of four or five White-winged Terns. The location and light conditions allowed several good photos to be taken. In Saudi Arabia the White-winged Tern is a common migrant occurring in small groups of up to twenty birds. Adults in breeding plumage occurring from late April to early June and in early August juveniles appear and are seen through to December. Birds are most often seen near the coast but have occurred well inland with one seen at Haradh in September. 
White-winged Tern

White-winged Tern

White-winged Tern

White-winged Tern

White-winged Tern


26 Oct 2019

Plenty of Terns of various species – Jubail

The summer and autumn are excellent times to see terns of various species in Jubail. This autumn I saw various species with a few late White-cheeked Tern. Little Tern juveniles are reasonably common and small numbers of Gull-billed Terns and White-winged Terns also occur although it is rare to see either in numbers greater than ten birds. The site is a good place to try to photograph terns and the below photos are some of my efforts.
Gull-billed Tern
Gull-billed Tern
Gull-billed Tern
Gull-billed Tern 
Gull-billed Tern
Gull-billed Tern
Gull-billed Tern
Gull-billed Tern
Gull-billed Tern
Gull-billed Tern
Little Tern
Little Tern
Little Tern
Little Tern
Little Tern
Little Tern
White-cheeked Tern
White-cheeked Tern
White-cheeked Tern
White-cheeked Tern