29 Nov 2019

Streaked Weaver – Al Hair

Whilst birding Al Hair, near Riyadh recently I came across a large group of Streaked Weavers at the edge of a wetland area feeding in a pivot irrigation field. The group included males, females and juveniles, but all males were in non-breeding plumage. Birds were seen feeding in a mixed flock of birds including Red Avadavat, Arabian Golden Sparrows and Indian Silverbills. This species has been noted breeding in this area for the last twenty years at least but I had not seen them before so decided to drive to Riyadh early morning to get there at first light. The birds almost certainly originated from escaped cage birds but now are part of the Saudi Arabian breeding species avifauna. I also found a few Streaked Weaver nests in the tall reedbeds nearby showing that breeding still continues. The number of birds seen indicate the population is growing year on year but they still remain almost entirely restricted to this area of Riyadh. Other birds still breed in Qatif in the Eastern Province but numbers here are still very low although again have bred here for more than twenty years.
Streaked Weaver

Streaked Weaver

Streaked Weaver

Streaked Weaver

Streaked Weaver

Streaked Weaver

Streaked Weaver

Streaked Weaver nest

27 Nov 2019

Resident birds – Raydah Escarpment

Phil Roberts and I made a couple of trips down and up the Raydah Escarpment in October. We did not see many birds and some of the common birds seen every summer such as Dusky Turtle Dove and Laughing Dove were almost absent suggesting they may move to lower altitudes in the winter. Resident birds were still seen in small numbers including Arabian Wheatears, Abyssinian White-eyes, Green Bee-eaters and Blackstarts. A couple of Black-crowned Tchagra were at the bottom near the village but unfortunately, move off before any photos could be taken. A single Long-legged Buzzard was also flying around mid-elevation on the way down and unusually was of the pale type not the dark morph normally seen in the area. On the way up we stopped at the farm for the last few minutes of daylight and were rewarded a beautiful sunset as well as a few Fan-tailed Raven flying around.
Arabian Green Bee-eater
Arabian Serin
Arabian Serin
Arabian Serin
Arabian Serin
Arabian Wheatear - female
Arabian Wheatear - female
Arabian Wheatear - female
Arabian Wheatear - female
Arabian Wheatear - male
Arabian Wheatear - male
Arabian Wheatear - male
Arabian Wheatear - male
Fan-tailed Raven
Fan-tailed Raven
Fan-tailed Raven
Fan-tailed Raven
Raydah Farm
Raydah Farm

Raydah Farm Sunset
Raydah Farm Sunset

25 Nov 2019

Arabian Magpie – Tanoumah to Billasimer

The Arabian Magpie is the only truly endemic species in Saudi Arabia, meaning it is found in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and nowhere else in the world. It has a very restricted range (An Namas to 20 kilometres south of Billasimer) and very low number of birds and should probably be classified as Critically Endangered on Red Data list rather than its current Endangered status. We went to the southwest mountains in the hope of locating as many birds as we could. We saw twenty different birds at various locations and got some amazing views of a couple of them. Trying to photograph the species is difficult, as they are nervous and stay in valleys with steep sides, moving up the hillside quickly when disturbed. This trip we were lucky to see two birds close to the roadside and as we were in the car the birds were not afraid. One came down and fed near to a roadside skip allowing some good photos to be taken. We saw various groups of birds with the largest being seven individuals. On asking a local man near Billasmer he said the birds used to be common in years gone by but are now only seen occasionally, reflecting our personal field observations. The southernmost sighting we had of 20 kilometres south of Billasmer is the most southern record of the species in the last ten years as far as we are aware.
Arabian Magpie

Arabian Magpie

Arabian Magpie

Arabian Magpie

Arabian Magpie

Arabian Magpie

Arabian Magpie

Arabian Magpie

Arabian Magpie

Arabian Magpie

Arabian Magpie

Arabian Magpie

Arabian Magpie

23 Nov 2019

Elephant Grass – Talea Valley

Whilst birding the Talea Valley we came across a large stand of Elephant Grass growing in some apparently permanent water in an area of the valley I had not been to before. This was the area where we found Arabian Tree Frog and was the first time I have seen the plant in Saudi Arabia. Elephant Grass Typha elephantina is a plant species widespread across northern Africa and southern Asia. It is considered native in Algeria, Egypt, Libya, Mauritania, Senegal, Chad, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Palestine, Israel, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Yunnan, Assam, Bangladesh, India, Bhutan, Nepal, Pakistan and Burma. It grows in freshwater marshes and on the banks of lakes and streams. T. elephantina is regarded as a distinct species, distinguished from other species of the genus by its robust habit, elaborate rhizome system and stiff trigonal leaves.
Elephant Grass

Elephant Grass

21 Nov 2019

October birding – Talea Valley

I went birding in the Talea Valley in mid-October, but very few birds were seen. Many birds appear to move to lower elevations or at least out of the valley at this time of year and common birds in the summer such as Laughing Dove and Dusky Turtle Dove was almost absent. A few good birds were still seen such as five Steppe Eagles and a dark morph Long-legged Buzzard. Arabian Serin, Arabian Wheatear, Yemen Linnet and Shinning Sunbird were Arabian Endemics located during the day but unfortunately the Eurasian Scops owl found by Phil the day before could not be relocated. The wet pool held a Green Sandpiper and a Grey Wagtail with a few House Sparrows and Indian Silverbills coming down to drink with Crested Lark and a single Red-capped Lark.
Arabian Babbler
Arabian Babbler
Northern Wheatear
Northern Wheatear
Eurasian Hoopoe
Eurasian Hoopoe
Grey Wagtail
Grey Wagtail
Grey Wagtail
Grey Wagtail
Grey Wagtail
Grey Wagtail
Little Rock Thrush
Little Rock Thrush 
Long-Legged Buzzard
Long-Legged Buzzard 
Long-Legged Buzzard
Long-Legged Buzzard
Montagu's Harrier
Montagu's Harrier
Montagu's Harrier
Montagu's Harrier

19 Nov 2019

Epaulet Skimmer – Talea Valley

The Epaulet Skimmer Orthetrum chrysostigma is a species of dragonfly in the family Libellulidae. It is found in many parts of Africa as well as Saudi Arabia & Yemen, Canary Islands, Israel, and Portugal.  It shuns well-vegetated and shady locations preferring small rocky streams in mountainous areas. During the heat of the day most individuals rest under shady overhangs and only fly when disturbed. The adults prey on various flying insects. The bodies of adult males are blue, and those of young and females are yellow and brown.
Epaulet Skimmer

Epaulet Skimmer

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