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