20 Oct 2019

Grey-headed Swamphen - Jubail

Whilst birding the Jubail area recently I saw a large number of Grey-headed Swamphen, including one with a reasonably well grown young. Although I have seen young birds many times I have never had a close encounter until now. The adult and juvenile were on a sand bank but the juvenile slowly moved off into the water and cover of some reeds. The Grey-headed Swamphen is a common resident breeder at Sabkhat Al Fasl, Jubail and has recently (August 2011) expanded its breeding range to Khafrah Marsh a wetland site 30 kilometres south-west of Sabkhat where six adults and a young bird were found. Birds have also been seen in Ash Shargiyah, Lake Al Asfar in Al Hassa and Dammam indicating they are extending their range in the Eastern Province. The species favoured habitat is large Phragmites australisreed-beds with associated water which is available at all the sites the species has been seen at in Saudi Arabia. The range expansion appears to be quite quick as the first record for Saudi Arabia was on 8th August 2003 at Sabkhat Al Fasl core area 2 with breeding confirmed in 2007 and numbers increasing each year since this date. It appears that the rapid population increase observed at Sabkhat al Fasl over the past five years has created pressures on territories and prompted some birds to move to alternative suitable habitats within the Eastern Province and thereby expand its range.
Grey-headed Swamphen

Grey-headed Swamphen

Grey-headed Swamphen

Grey-headed Swamphen

Grey-headed Swamphen - juvenile

Grey-headed Swamphen - juvenile

18 Oct 2019

Seven Spur-winged Lapwing - Jubail

Whilst birding the Jubail area recently we saw seven Spur-winged Lapwing. We think these birds may now be breeding in the area but have no concrete proof of this. There have been at least two birds around throughout the year. The species is still scarce in the Eastern Province although good numbers have been seen recently in the Haradh area including possible breeding. The species was regarded as a vagrant to the Eastern Province when I arrived eight years ago but is now a scarce visitor that can be seen at any time of year indicating birds are resident in small numbers in areas away from Haradh where it appears they are now definitely resident.
Spur-winged Lapwing

16 Oct 2019

Waders returning - Jubail

Whilst birding the Jubail area recently we saw plenty of waders of various different species. A few Terek Sandpipers were seen along with Ruddy Turnstones, both Greater and Lesser Sandplovers, three Pied Avocets and several Common Greenshanks. Good numbers of Common Ringed Plovers, one Little Ringed Plover, Common Sandpiper, Common Snipe, several Little Stints and Curlew Sandpipers and plenty of Black-winged Stilts.
Common Greenshank
Common Greenshank 
Common Ringed Plover
Common Ringed Plover
Ruddy Turnstone
Ruddy Turnstone
Terek Sandpiper
Terek Sandpiper

14 Oct 2019

Al Uqair Customs house – Al Uqair

The customs house is situated close by the Arabian Gulf coast and about 100 metres from the fort and caravanserai. It was an area of offices for high ranking officials with a nearby large storage area where goods were kept prior to clearance to be moved to markets nearby.
Al Uqair Customs house

Al Uqair Customs house

Al Uqair Customs house

13 Oct 2019

Al Uqair Caravanserai – Al Uqair

There is a large caravanserai at Al Uqair positioned next to the Turksih Fort. A caravanserai was a roadside inn where travelers could rest and recover from the day's journey. They were normally placed where the flow of commerce, information and people across the network of trade routes converged. The caranvanserai is very large and has a market area outside where goods were bought and sold. There were a large number of rooms for travelers to rest in.
Al Uqair Caravanserai

Al Uqair Caravanserai

Al Uqair Caravanserai

Al Uqair Caravanserai

Al Uqair Caravanserai

12 Oct 2019

Al Uqair Fort – Al Uqair

This is a Turkish Fort established in 1549 Al Uqair a small fishing and cargo port in ancient times which was used as the main port of entry to the Al Hasa Oasis with the largest settlement now named Hofuf. Al Uqair was an important seaport as early as the 9th century BC but experienced a resurgence around 850 AD. The fort was built by the Ottoman Turks in 1549 to protect their trade route from Hajar (Hofuf) from the Portuguese who had recently built a fort and settlement on Taraut Island to the north near Qatif.
Al Uqair Fort

Al Uqair Fort

Al Uqair Fort

Al Uqair Fort

Al Uqair Fort

Al Uqair Fort

Al Uqair Fort

11 Oct 2019

Caspian Terns - Jubail

Whilst birding the Jubail area recently it was obvious a build up in numbers of Caspian Terns was happening. Many of the other tern numbers are dropping such as White-cheeked Tern and Little Tern but Caspian and Gull-billed Terns have increased significantly. They are common breeding residents in the Kingdom but are always nice to see. They are huge compared to the other terns and often give good opportunities for photographing them. The below photos were taken as birds flew alongside a road fishing for small Tilapia of which they were quite successful in catching. Some birds came so close that is was not possible to fit them into the camera frame using the 600mm lens.
Caspian Tern
Caspian Tern
Caspian Tern
Caspian Tern
Caspian Tern
Caspian Tern
Caspian Tern
Caspian Tern
Caspian Tern
Caspian Terns & Gull-billed Terns
Gull-billed Tern
Gull-billed Tern

10 Oct 2019

Spotted Toad-headed Agama - Lake Al Asfar

Whilst birding Lake Al Asfar at the end of summer Phil Roberts found a Spotted Toad-headed Agama Phrynocephalus maculatus, which stayed still allowing some photos to be taken before we left it in peace. They can be identified due to their colouration, size and shape, transverse bars on the body and tail and the fact it was in Sabkha habitat rather than sandy habitat. Vinu has kindly allowed me to use his photo om my website. The Spotted Toad-headed Agama also called the Blacktail Toad-headed Agama, is a member of the Agamidae family, and has a body colour that is highly variable, but typically has distinct brown bars across the body and tail. It also tends to match the colour of its background and lizards found on pale coastal sands tend to be paler and less patterned than those on red, inland sands. The agamid lizards are also known as the chisel-teeth lizards due to the compressed, fused teeth being firmly attached to the upper jaw, unlike most other lizards which have loosely attached teeth. The head is short and broad, with a deep forehead and snub nose, and the flattened body is wide and strong and covered in rough skin with overlapping scales. The long, flattened tail is rounded at the base and has a black tip on the underside which, when raised, is used in visual signals. The spotted toad-headed agama is known from Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Turkmenistan, Syria, Oman, northern Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates. The species inhabits harder sandy surfaces where it is often associated with coastal salt flats known as ‘sabkhas’ ad rocky islands. The Arabian Toad-headed Agama prefers sandy desert areas. They are active in all but the hottest hours of the day looking for insect prey and during the hottest periods, they will stand high on extended legs to limit contact with the sand, balancing on fingertips and heels while using the tail as a prop. They are able to sink rapidly into the sand by vibrating the body in a process called ‘shimmy burial’, and it uses this behaviour to escape from predators or create a nocturnal shelter. They lay eggs, producing a clutch of one to seven which are incubated for around six to eight weeks in a burrow. Two species of Toad-headed Agama live in the region with Arabian Toad-headed Agama P. arabicusbeing the second species. The species are relatively easy to identify by the relatively longer tail compared to snout-vent length in P. maculatus of 130-160%, as opposed to 100-125% in P. arabicus. The two species can also be told apart by their shape, colour & number of scales present between the eye and lip. P. arabicus is short-bodied dark grey above with creamy white spots and the upper-side of the tail paler than the body and lacking the spots. The ventral body parts were white with the under-side of the tail orange from the vent to the dark tail band and the species has three to four scales between the eye and lip. P. maculatus is relatively slim and long-bodied and appears larger than P. arabicus and has five to six scales between the eye and lip. The upper-side of the body is sandy grey with five broad dark brown cross bars, with the bars continuing on the tail from vent to the end of the tail with a longer dark terminal tail band, about 20% of the tail length (Al Sirhan & Brown 2010).
Spotted Toad-headed Agama Phrynocephalus maculatus

Spotted Toad-headed Agama Phrynocephalus maculatus

Spotted Toad-headed Agama Phrynocephalus maculatus

Spotted Toad-headed Agama Phrynocephalus maculatus

Spotted Toad-headed Agama Phrynocephalus maculatus



8 Oct 2019

Arabian Spotted Eagle Owl - Abha

Whilst in Abha, Phil Roberts and I managed to see and photograph a couple of Arabian Spotted Eagle-owl. One was perched some overhead lines and allowed very close views. We got out of the car and moved closer getting to about ten metres of the bird with the owl appearing comfortable with our presence, and stayed on the wires the entire time until we left it in peach in the same location. The subspecies in Arabia is an endemic sub-species to southwestern Arabia and although not rare 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. Other birds have been seen in a wooded wadi eight kilometres east of Wadi Juwwah in April and near Tanoumah at various times of year. The taxonomic status of form milesi,significantly isolated in southwest Saudi Arabia, Yemen and Oman, is uncertain. It is a rather small eagle-owl with long, erect ear-tufts and with race milesi smaller and more tawny coloured. They use a variety of habitats, from rocky outcrops in desert to woodland with sparse ground cover: particularly favours areas with mosaic of low hills, grassland and scrub; prefers semi-open woodland, and rocky hills with scattered trees and bushes; also found in thorn savanna; avoids dense forest. From sea level up to c. 2100 metres. A recent paper by Collar & Boesman 2019 - ‘The taxonomy of certain Asio and Bubo owl species in Africa and Arabia’ say calls are different from African nominate and the range isolated suggesting it is a distinct species.
Arabian Spotted Eagle Owl

Arabian Spotted Eagle Owl

Arabian Spotted Eagle Owl

Arabian Spotted Eagle Owl

Arabian Spotted Eagle Owl

Arabian Spotted Eagle Owl


6 Oct 2019

Yellow-bellied House Gecko Dhahran – Dhahran

My daughter Julianna found a Yellow-bellied House Gecko Hemidactylus flaviviridis in our house in Dhahran. She gently caught it and placed in outside in some cover during which time I took the below photos. Yellow-bellied House Gecko occur through parts of the Arabian Peninsula including Saudi Arabia as well as Afghanistan, Egypt, Ethiopia, India, Iran, Iraq, Nepal, Pakistan and Somalia and can vary their body colour depending on the time of day, being greyish, olive or brown, patterned with indistinct bands on the back and yellowish on the underside. During the day, the gecko is usually much darker in colour, with contrasting, chevron-shaped bands on the body with the toes having broad pads and small claws. They are associated with man-made structures such as houses, but during the day, they retreat to undisturbed crevices and other such hiding places coming out at night to feed primarily on insects. They can climb vertical walls and walk on ceilings which is achieved by having specialised toe pads, which are covered in small scales called ‘scansors’ which can have up to 150,000 microscopic, highly branched, hair-like structures, known as setae, which form hundreds of saucer-shaped ‘end plates’. This gives the Gecko an enormous surface area in relation to its body size, enabling it to grip all kinds of surfaces. This species of Gecko has particularly large and sensitive eyes, with pupils which open-wide at night to let in maximum amounts of light, giving it excellent vision in the dark. The pupils contract to vertical slits during the day to protect the retina from harsh sunlight, while the eyelids are fused to form a transparent cover for additional protection. Any dust or debris in the eye is licked away by the gecko’s extremely mobile tongue.
House Gecko Hemidactylus flaviviridis

House Gecko Hemidactylus flaviviridis

4 Oct 2019

Lesser Flamingos – Jizan

Whilst birding the coast just south of Jizan with Phil Roberts we saw several small flocks of Flamingo’s totaling over 50 birds. The species is a vagrant to Saudi Arabia although good numbers have been seen in the last two years maybe due to the large-scale disturbances in Yemen pushing them into Saudi Arabia.
Lesser Flamingo

Lesser Flamingo

2 Oct 2019

Hamadryas Baboon – Raydah Escarpment

Whilst birding the Raydah Escarpment near Abha in southwest Saudi Arabia I saw a number of groups of Hamadryas Baboon Papio hamadryasa species that is common in the Abha / Tanoumah area of the Asir Mountains with large groups seen all along the escarpments. It is the northernmost of all the baboons and is distinguished from other baboons by the male’s long, silver-grey shoulder cape (mane and mantle), and the pink or red rather than black face and rump. Males may have a body measurement of up to 80 cm and weigh 20–30 kg. They occur from north-eastern Africa, mainly in Ethiopia, but also eastern Sudan, Eritrea, Djibouti and northern Somalia as well as the Arabian Peninsula, in Saudi Arabia and Yemen where it is the only native non-human primate. In Saudi Arabia they inhabit arid sub-desert, steppe, hilly areas, escarpments at elevations of up to 3,000 metres requiring cliffs for sleeping and finding water. They are primarily terrestrial but will sleep in trees or on cliffs at night. Each adult male controls a small group of females (a harem) and their young and remains bonded with the same females over several years, aggressively ‘herding’ any that wander, and retaining exclusive mating rights over the group. The baboons would occasionally push rocks down the mountainside to try to move us away from their feeding areas and had quite a few young with them such as the one shown in the photograph below.