31 Mar 2019

Last wintering species still around – Khafra Marsh

Whilst birding the Khafra Marsh area in mid-March I saw a few wintering species still present. A few Western Siberian Stonechats were seen in the reeds and bushes along the side of a track with some resident Graceful Prinia for company. The waters edge held both Purple Heron and Squacco Heron as well as a nice Citrine Wagtail. Quite a few wintering Red-spotted Bluethroats were around but very difficult to photograph as were the Water Pipits seen in good numbers. Migrants were also around with up to ten singing Savis Warblers a notable record and plenty of Common Chiffchaffs. A nice Turkestan Shrike was present but kept its distance. Many of these winter species will be disappearing in the next month to be replaced by migrants and summer breeders.
Western Siberian Stonechat
Western Siberian Stonechat
Western Siberian Stonechat
Western Siberian Stonechat
Western Siberian Stonechat
Western Siberian Stonechat
Western Siberian Stonechat
Western Siberian Stonechat
Citrine Wagtail
Citrine Wagtail
Graceful Prinia
Graceful Prinia
Graceful Prinia
Graceful Prinia
Purple Heron
Purple Heron 
Red-spotted Bluethroat
Red-spotted Bluethroat
Squacco Heron
Squacco Heron

29 Mar 2019

Rig Site – Red Sea

I have been on a rig in the Red Sea area of the Kingdom recently and took a couple of photos of the area as the plane was coming in to land at Al Wajh. There are mountains close to the coast making a quite spectacular view as the sky is clear and sunny most of the time. 




27 Mar 2019

Al-Azlam Fort (Alozlam Castle) – Wadi Al Aznam

Al-Azlam Fort, also known as Alozlam Castle is located at Wadi Al Aznam, 100 kilometres north of Al Wadj and 45 kilometres south of Duba in north-western Saudi Arabia. It is a historic fort located on the right side of the road heading towards Duba and only about 200 metres from the main road itself. It is in an area with palms suggesting an oasis was here or at least water is close to the surface in the area of the fort. It is a fort on the Egyptian Hajj Road, a proposed World Heritage Site, andis one of the stations of the Egyptian pilgrimage route during the Mamluk era and the Ottoman era. It was built in the era of the Mamluk Sultan Muhammad ibn Qalawun (684 e (1285 - 741 AH / 1341). It was rebuilt during the reign of the Mamluk Sultan Qansoh al-Ghouri in 916 AH. The castle consists of a large courtyard, interior units, rectangular and semi-circular chambers and a chamber. The castle is built of limestone and the courtyard is open to all interior units Which consists of a castle of rooms, the area of ​​the castle 1500 metre Square. The Egyptian Hajj Road is one of the important pilgrimage routes in Islamic history, linking Egypt to Makkah and Medina, through which benefited the masses of Muslim pilgrims coming from Egypt, Sudan, Central Africa, Morocco, Andalusia and Sicily. They would meet in Egypt, then travel through Sinai to Aqaba and march across two trails: the first, is internal trail moving to Medina passing Shaghab, Beda, valley of the villages, and the second is coastal trail passes through a number of stations including Al-Azlam Fort. The most important forts are: Ainouna, Al- Muwailih, Dhuba, Al-Owained, Al-Wajh, Al-Hora, Nabat, Yanbu and Al-Jar. From Al-Jar the trail heads to Makkah through Al-Juhfa then Khulais then Usfan or heads through Badr until it reaches Makkah or Medina. Like all the other Islamic pilgrimage roads it received great interest and attention of Muslim rulers in different Islamic eras and periods. They established many structures on the path of this road like pools, canals and wells and built barricades, bridges, castles, forts and mosques, and on the road near the camps are numerous Islamic inscriptions and commemorative writings, engraved by pilgrims as they passed along the road. This path is important not only for Egyptian pilgrims, but for pilgrims from Libya, Tunisia, Morocco, Ghana, and Central Africa; it was also the path for pilgrims from Andalusia (Spain). The course of this road changed through time, according to political circumstances and technological development. 
Al-Azlam Fort

Al-Azlam Fort

Al-Azlam Fort

Al-Azlam Fort

Wadi Al-Azlam



25 Mar 2019

Black-headed Wagtails - Khafra Marsh

Whilst birding the Khafra Marsh area recently, it became obvious a good number of migrants had arrived. There were very large numbers of both Black-headed Wagtails and White Wagtails feeding around on a disused farm area with the only other wagtail subspecies seen was a single beema but I did not photograph it. There was a Black-headed Wagtail with a small white mark behind the eye that looked a little odd bit odd that is shown at the end of the photos. Several very bright male Black-headed Wagtail were also seen perched in some nearby trees and this indicates the start of passage for the species where many different subspecies should turn up in the next few weeks. Some of the birds were quite confiding as presumably they had just arrived, and as it was early morning the light was good so I got a few good photos, some of which are shown below.
 Black-headed Wagtail

 Black-headed Wagtail

 Black-headed Wagtail

 Black-headed Wagtail

 Black-headed Wagtail


23 Mar 2019

Blue Rock Thrush - Jubail

Whilst birding the desert near Jubail I came across a small vegetated valley with a little wet pool. It was very attractive to migrants with plenty of Common Chiffchaffs, several Eurasian Hoopoes, White Wagtail and a single female Blue Rock Thrush. Blue Rock Thrush is an uncommon passage migrant through Saudi Arabia that is seen more that is more often in the spring than autumn. They are early migrants with most birds seen in February and March in the spring in the Eastern Province.
Blue Rock Thrush

Blue Rock Thrush

Blue Rock Thrush


21 Mar 2019

Pharaoh Eagle Owl - Jubail area

I saw and photographed a Pharaoh Eagle Owl recently in the desert in the Eastern Province. Records suggest it is an uncommon bird in the Saudi Arabian deserts, although it is probably more common than records suggest as they are secretive and well camouflaged. The Pharaoh Eagle Owl is distributed throughout much of North Africa and the Middle East, with two recognised subspecies. The subspecies Bubo ascalaphus ascalaphusoccupies the northern part of the species range, being found in Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, northern Egypt and Israel east to western Iraq. By contrast, the smaller, paler and sandier coloured Bubo ascalaphus desertorumcan be found in the Sahara Desert south to Mauritania & Niger and from Western Sahara, east, to Sudan, as well as in Eritrea, Ethiopia and much of the Arabian Peninsula, as far south as northern Oman and as far east as southern Iraq. They are found in arid habitats, including open desert plains, rocky outcrops and broken escarpments and jabals, mountain cliffs and wadis. Most records from Saudi Arabia have been attributed to the pale B. a. desertorumas this bird appears to be, but there appear to be many birds resembling the sub-species B. a. ascalaphusalso in the Kingdom.
Pharaoh Eagle Owl

Pharaoh Eagle Owl

Pharaoh Eagle Owl

19 Mar 2019

Rush Veneer – Tabuk

Whilst birdwatching some large pivot fields near Tabuk I flushed a small moth that fortunately landed some distance away. I took a few photos of it and was able with the help of Phil Roberts identify it as a Rush Veneer Nomophila noctuella. They have a nearly cosmopolitan distribution across Europe, North Africa, Arabia, Central Asia, Pakistan and North America. They are regularly seen in alfalfa fields where they are known as pests, so the location of the sighting fits in with its distribution elsewhere. When at rest, this moth has a very elongated and narrow shape, which makes it easily recognisable.
Rush Vaneer Nomophila noctuella.

17 Mar 2019

Wheatears– Shedgum Escarpment

Whilst birdwatching at Shedgum Escarpment we saw a few interesting birds although the weather was not good so photos were average to poor. Winter birding at this location is always difficult with few species seen but it is an excellent place to see White-crowned Wheatear. We first went to the bottom of the Escarpment and looked around the base of the cliffs and found a up to five White-crowned Wheatears including young birds with black heads and no white caps. There were many Tawny Pipits feeding around in the newly grown plants that have popped up due to all the rain we have had recently. Other species seen included a couple of distant Desert Larks and several Desert Wheatears, Isabelline Wheatears and a single Eastern Mourning Wheatear. We then went to the top of the escarpment as Trumpeter Fiches have been seen breeding here at this time of year, many years ago, but we saw little except a Long-legged Buzzard and several House Sparrows. 
White-crowned Wheatear
White-crowned Wheatear
White-crowned Wheatear
White-crowned Wheatear
White-crowned Wheatear
White-crowned Wheatear
White-crowned Wheatear
White-crowned Wheatear
White-crowned Wheatear
White-crowned Wheatear
Eastern Mourning Wheatear
Eastern Mourning Wheatear
Desert Wheatear - female
Desert Wheatear - female


15 Mar 2019

Red-wattled Lapwing – Khafrah Marsh

Whilst birding the Khafrah Marsh area on 9 March I saw three adult Red-wattled Lapwing. The species is scarce in Saudi Arabia with records from Riyadh, the Empty Quarter and the Eastern Province. This species is a resident breeder at wetlands in eastern Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Kuwait, and is gradually colonizing westwards. It would be great to think that the birds breeding to the north and south of us are trying to join up their breeding ranges, but so far it has not yet been recorded to breed in Saudi Arabia. In the Eastern province it is regarded as a scarce passage migrant and winter visitor although records are becoming more common with over twenty birds seen together at Shaybah in recent years with others near Hofuf, Jubail and Dhahran. There have been a number of suspected breeding birds seen but no actual confirmation of the species breeding in the Kingdom. These three birds are in suitable habitat for breeding and are very flighty not allowing close approach so could potentially be thinking of breeding.
Red-wattled Lapwing

Red-wattled Lapwing

Red-wattled Lapwing

Red-wattled Lapwing


13 Mar 2019

Buntings & Larks – Jebal Hamrah

Whilst birding the Jebal Hamrah pivot irrigation fields recently with Phil Roberts, we came across a huge flock of Corn Buntings. The total seen was a minimum of one hundred birds and possibly many more. They were feeding in the grassy pivot fields but a couple of times all took to the air and landed on rough ground under the pivot irrigation equipment allowing reasonable views. In amongst the Corn Buntings were several small groups of Eurasian Skylarks and Greater Short-toed Larks. Corn Buntings are uncommon winter visitors to the region but this winter we have seen a few large flocks, like one in Tabuk and this one. Eurasian Skylarks are regular winter visitors in small numbers often seen in pivot irrigation fields. Greater Short-toed Larks are common passage migrants with flocks of several hundred often seen in suitable habitat.
Corn Bunting
Corn Bunting
Corn Bunting
Corn Bunting
Eurasian Skylark
Eurasian Skylark
Eurasian Skylark
Eurasian Skylark
Eurasian Skylark
Eurasian Skylark 
Eurasian Skylark
Eurasian Skylark
Greater Short-toed Lark
Greater Short-toed Lark

11 Mar 2019

Flock of 30 Bimaculated Larks - Jebal Hamrah

Whilst birding the Jebal Hamrah pivot irrigation fields recently with Phil Roberts, we came across a flock of up to thirty Bimaculated Larks Melanocorypha bimaculate on the stony area around the pivot field. The birds were on the edge of the field in with a group of Greater Short-toed Larks and Eurasian Skylarks. We had planned our trip to get to the location at first light to get good light for photographing any larks we could find as the light deteriorates very quickly as the sun rises. We looked carefully at all the Bimaculated Larks we could see in the hope that a Calandra Lark may be amongst them but failed to turn up anything looking good for that species. Our photos of birds on the ground and in flight showed some of the Bimaculated Larks had what appeared to be pale training edges to the wing, but lacked the black underwing. The pale edges to the flight feathers were caused by the strong light. The species apparently breeds in the Harrat al Harrah Reserve and is otherwise a scarce or uncommon passage migrant mainly in March and April as well as October and November throughout the Kingdom. Most records are from the Riyadh area with very few from the Eastern Province although Phil and I saw a flock of 40 in a pivot irrigation field near Nayriyyah 14 March 2013, eight birds in a nearby pivot field 9 March 2018 and a single bird at the same location 30 November 2018. Interestingly a few of the birds were singing from exposed rocks and also song flighting which we have not recorded before when seeing the species in Saudi Arabia. The species is not known to winter in Eastern Saudi Arabia but the fact we saw birds in the same fields at end of November and early February of the same winter suggest they may well winter here. 
Bimaculated Lark Melanocorypha bimaculate

Bimaculated Lark Melanocorypha bimaculate

Bimaculated Lark Melanocorypha bimaculate

Bimaculated Lark Melanocorypha bimaculate

Bimaculated Lark Melanocorypha bimaculate

Bimaculated Lark Melanocorypha bimaculate

Bimaculated Lark Melanocorypha bimaculate