4 Apr 2020

Large numbers of Wheatears – Hanidh

Whilst birding the Hanidh area in early March we came across good numbers of Wheatears. They would congregate in good feeding areas, mainly were new green growth was abundant due to recent rains. Large areas of similar habitat were devoid of any birds so presumably insect abundance was good where we saw them. Most birds were Northern Wheatears with both males and females present but there was also two stunning male Eastern Black-eared Wheatears that I unfortunately did not photograph as well as a couple of male Desert Wheatears and a single Isabelline Wheatear.
Northern Wheatear

Northern Wheatear

Northern Wheatear

Northern Wheatear

2 Apr 2020

Azure Skimmer - Kahfah

Whilst birding Kahfah village I found a couple of dragonflies around a leaking water pipe that had caused a small wet area to form. They turned out to bee Azure Skimmer Orthetrum theniolatum a medium sized dragonfly that frequents narrow water channels with barren steep banks, concrete water tanks and other areas of water where it patrols the water surface. Adult males develop a blue-grey bloom a few days after emergence.
Azure Skimmer

Azure Skimmer

31 Mar 2020

Blue Rock-Thrush - Jubail

Whilst looking for owls in the desert areas near Jubail in March I came across a single male Blue Rock Thrush located in a small valley at the side of a road. This species is an uncommon passage migrant to the Eastern Province but a widespread passage migrant through Saudi Arabia mainly between March and May and again September to October. It is also a widespread but scarce winter visitor between October and March occurring throughout the kingdom except the sand seas and northern plains although it is generally not seen on the coast, with most birds moving well inland before settling as this bird did. 
Blue-rock Thrush

29 Mar 2020

Brown-necked Raven – Judah

Whilst birding the Judah area recently I saw a couple of Brown-necked Ravens carrying nesting material. I was keen to try to photograph them, as I do not have many good photos of this species in Saudi Arabia even though they are common. The birds were mainly seen flying but at one point a single bird landed, some distance away, on the escarpment edge and I got a single photo before it flew off, shown below. Brown-necked Raven is a common and widespread breeding resident across the Kingdom even occurring in the Rub’ al-Khali.
 Brown-necked Raven

28 Mar 2020

Latest issue of Sandgrouse: free to download

Latest issue of Sandgrouse: free to download


OSME have asked us to share the below with our readers.

Given the current extraordinary circumstances which have seen millions of people around the world confined to their homes, OSME has decided to make a pdf version of the Spring 2020 issue of Sandgrouse free for anyone to view, in the hope that it offers some respite to the many birdwatchers and ornithologists who are interested in the region’s birds but are currently unable to go and see them.
We’ve made the file size as small as possible and it can be downloaded as a pdf:
OSME Council hope that you enjoy reading the diverse contents which include articles on species such as Dalmatian Pelican, Steppe Eagle and Black-throated Thrush, and from a broad range of countries across the OSME region.
OSME members can also access a high quality, fully functional digital version of the latest issue by emailing Sandgrousedigital@osme.org
Enjoy Sandgrouse, and above all, stay safe
Please click the below link to get to download page of OSME website or click the 7mb or 15mb link above to get to copy of magazine

27 Mar 2020

Desert Hyacinth - Hubail Lake

Whilst birdwatching at Hubail Lake, near Hofuf, I saw a small number of new Desert Hyacinth Cistanche tubulosa. The Desert Hyacinth is a widely distributed annual that produces a dense pyramid spike of bright yellow flowers topped by maroon-tinted buds. The yellow flowers do not smell very nice and flies are attracted to the smell and carry the pollen on their legs from plant to plant helping with pollination. They are parasitic, one of several such plants in Arabia, and live off other plants to gain their nutritional needs, as they have no green parts or leaves to synthesize chlorophyll directly. The many tiny seeds may remain dormant for years until the roots of the host plant are close enough to trigger germination. It is one of the showiest plants of Eastern Arabia with bright yellow, dense column of flowers sometimes approaching one metre in height. It has varying flower colour with the flowers either tightly packed in the spike or loose. They are widespread on sandy or sandy-silty ground and can tolerate saline environments as well as disturbed conditions, so are often seen growing near roads or tracks in the desert or along the shores of the Arabian Gulf.
Desert Hyacinth

Desert Hyacinth

Desert Hyacinth

25 Mar 2020

Semirufus Black-Redstarts - Hanidh

Whilst birding the Hanidh area with Phil Roberts we drove around a fenced off farm with trees growing around the fence-line. Here we located three Black Redstarts, two males and a female all of the Phoenicurus ochruros semirufus race. They were continually moving and difficult to photograph but as neither Phil or I had any good photos of the species in Saudi Arabia we stuck at it trying to rectify the situation. Although we were not successful if getting really good photos were did get the best ones we have taken so far. The Black Redstart is mainly a scarce winter visitor to Saudi Arabia passing between March and April, then again October and November. They are also a scarce/uncommon winter visitor encountered mainly December to February, usually in ones and twos only. In the Eastern Province it is a scarce but widely distributed winter visitor from October to March where they are normally seen in well vegetated places such as parks and gardens. Females are less common that males. Phoenicurus ochruros semirufus occurs from southeast Turkey, Western Syria, Lebanon and northeast Israel, possibly northern Iraq and winters east of its breeding range to Iraq, Iran and Oman.
Semirufus Black-Redstart

Semirufus Black-Redstart

Semirufus Black-Redstart

Semirufus Black-Redstart

23 Mar 2020

Long-legged Buzzard - Judah

Whilst birding along the bottom of the escarpment at Judah a Long-legged Buzzard flew off the cliff and circled around. It was very early morning and the light was not great for photography but I managed a couple of photos that are shown below. Long-legged Buzzard is a breeding resident in the Eastern Province although it is thinly distributed in small numbers. Bird numbers appear to increase I winter so there is either an influx from elsewhere or birds move from their breeding areas to more favourable wintering sites. This bird is probably a breeding resident but the time of year could also suggest it was on passage.
Long-legged Buzzard

Long-legged Buzzard

Long-legged Buzzard


21 Mar 2020

Desert Larks - Judah

Whilst birding the Judah area we came across good numbers of Desert Larks Alauda deserti. These birds are pale coloured to match the surrounding escarpment and look similar to birds seen on the escarpments at Shedgum a hundred kilometres to the east. Geographical variation in Desert Lark is complex, and numerous races have been named mainly on the basis of plumage coloration, several of which occur in Saudi Arabia. The colour of the birds appears to be directly related to the colour of the local soil and rocks with birds from sandy habitats mostly buff-coloured, those of stony or rocky ground various shades of grey, rufous, or brown with blackish races living in black lava deserts. Confusingly, pale and dark birds occasionally live side by side in some areas and bleaching and abrasion have marked effect on colouration and produce further complications often making sub-specific identification difficult. The race occurring in the escarpments of Shedgum and possibly Judah in the east of the Kingdom appear to be the pale cream A. d. azizi which is the palest race occurring in the Kingdom. 
Desert Lark

19 Mar 2020

Short-toed Snake Eagle - Sarrar

Whilst birding the Sarrar Pivot Irrigaton fields in March I saw a Short-toed Snake Eagle perched on top of a telegraph pole. The bird son flew however and I only managed the below poor photos as it flew away from me. The species is a scarce migrant and winter visitor and has only been recorded since 1979 although birds have been seen in all months of the year except July and August. Most records have occurred in March and October - November suggesting most birds just pass through the area as this one was presumably doing.
Short-toed Snake Eagle

17 Mar 2020

Nifal – Judah

Whilst birding at Judah in late February I came across a small area of flowering plants. As I am far from a plant expert I took a few photos and compared them to photos in the Biodiversity of Dhahran book that has a good selection of common plants in it. I managed to find the plant in there and it is called Nifal trigonella hamosa and mentioned as a common yellow-flowered member of the Pea family that can be confused with Trigonella stellata. T. hamosa has a more upright habit, is generally larger and its flowers cluster together at the end of upright stems. The seeds form in a veined rounded pod.
Nifal

Nifal

15 Mar 2020

Steppe Eagles – Ushaiqer

The Steppe Eagles at Ushaiqer are moving off and numbers have declined considerably from the peak of 6000 birds in January/February 2020. Most birds that are still present, are juveniles with the adults migrating back to their breeding grounds. The high count was 1000 – 1100 birds in early March. Phil Roberts was at the location recently and provided the information above.
Steppe Eagle

Steppe Eagle

Steppe Eagle

Steppe Eagle

Steppe Eagle

13 Mar 2020

Desert Locust Swarms - Dhahran

This year has seen a huge number, amounting to hundreds of billions of locusts swarming through parts of East Africa and South Asia in the worst infestation for a quarter of a century, threatening crops and livelihoods. The insects, which eat their own body weight in food every day, are breeding so fast numbers could increase five hundred times by June. Large swarms have been noted in the Horn of Africa, through the Middle East including Saudi Arabia as well as Pakistan and India. I photographed the below locust at Judah between Dhahran and Riyadh but large swarms have been noted in the Eastern Province during the last month with several small swarms still being seen daily including where I live in Dhahran.
Desert Locust

11 Mar 2020

Fifty Eurasian Siskin – Sarrar

Whilst birding the large pivot irrigation fields near Sarrar 6 March 2020 Phil Roberts and I came across about eight small birds feeding along the edge of the field in seeding plants. It became apparent quickly they were Eurasian Siskins but they soon flew up into the surrounding nearby trees and out of sight. As this was a new species for us both in Saudi Arabia, we were keen to try to obtain photos so got out of the car to try to relocate them. We could not see them in the tree but I saw them flying high over the field where they dropped down and joined a large group of feeding birds, mainly Spanish Sparrows. We walked across the field that was full of seeding plants and located the Eurasian Siskin again, enabling us to take some  photos the best of which are shown below. The birds were continually on the move but a combined count totaled approximately fifty birds with both males and females present in about equal numbers. The Eurasian Siskins  is a rare and sporadic winter visitor, mainly to the north and Eastern Province as far south as Dhahran. Most records have occurred during particularly harsh northern winters with all records between November and March. Birds normally occur in ones and twos but sometimes in flocks of up to 20 birds. The largest group recorded in the Kingdom was a group of 30-40 birds near Thumamah on 11 November 1993. Records have occurred in Riyadh area, Tabuk as well as the Eastern Province but the group we saw is the largest group ever recorded in the Kingdom. It is a vagrant to the Eastern Province with a flock seen in Dhahran 13 November 1959, two Dhahran 23 November 1974, seven Udhailiyah Camp 18 November 1981, six Shedgum 19 November 1981, three in Jubail on 7 April 1991 and up to thirty-six birds for most of 1993/4 winter in Jubail.
Eurasian Siskin

Eurasian Siskin

Eurasian Siskin

Eurasian Siskin

Eurasian Siskin

Eurasian Siskin

Eurasian Siskin

Eurasian Siskin

Eurasian Siskin

Eurasian Siskin

Eurasian Siskin

Eurasian Siskin


9 Mar 2020

Red Thumb – Hubail Lake

Whilst birding Hubail Lake near Al Hassa I found a couple of nice examples of Red Thumb Cynomorium coccineum. This plant is a parasitic, leafless plant without chlorophyll. It is a fleshy, reddish, club-shaped perennial herb that can grow up to 30 centimeters high and is parasitic on the roots of desert shrubs. It is only visible above ground during its spring flowering period. The flowering stems may emerge from the ground singly but more often they are grouped several together. The interflorescence is dark-red to purplish and is made up of minute scarlet flowers that may be male or female. Flies are attracted by the smell given off from the plant and are thought to be pollinators of the plant which once pollinated turns black. They grow on sandy, saline, ground. The plant is known as 'tarthuth' by the Bedouin and is also known as Maltese Fungus and Desert Thumb and is used in many herbal medicines around the world. Due to its' dark red colour it was thought to be able to cure aneamia and other blood-related diseases and dried spikes were carried by the Crusaders in order to treat wounds. Research being carried out into the plants' actual medicinal properties seems to provisionally confirm several of the traditional uses with extracts of the herb appearing to inhibit HIV, improve blood flow and lower blood pressure.
Red Thumb

Red Thumb

Red Thumb


27 Feb 2020

A few Wheatears - Ushaiqer

Whilst birding the rocky desert near Ushaiqer I came across several Wheatear species. Isabelline Wheatear was seen a couple of times and Iranian Wheatear Oenanthe persicapreviously a subspecies of Eastern Morning Wheatear more often. The most common wheatear was White-crowned, which I have posted about already. Birds were not easy to photograph as they were constantly on the move. Several Blackstarts were also located in the area.
Isabelline Wheatear
Isabelline Wheatear
Iranian Wheatear
Iranian Wheatear
Iranian Wheatear
Iranian Wheatear
Blackstart
Blackstart

25 Feb 2020

Black Kites - Ushaiqer

Whilst birding the Ushaiqer area near Riyadh where thousands of Steppe Eagles are wintering, I saw a few Black Kites associating with them. Numbers were always low with two together being a maximum and these birds beng wintering ones rather than passage as they were seen in early January. The birds looked like typical Black Kites rather than the similar subspecies Black-eared Kite. The Black Kite is a medium-sized bird of prey that is a widespread species throughout the temperate and tropical parts of Eurasia and parts of Australasia. Black Kite Milvus migrans migrans - Breeds Central, Southern and Eastern Europe to Tien Shan and south to NW Pakistan and winters in sub-Saharan Africa with a few in the Arabian Peninsula. 
Black Kite

Black Kite

Black Kite

Black Kite

Black Kite

Black Kite

Black Kite