13 Jul 2020

Great Grey Shrike drawing - Hemant Kumar

Hemant Kumar an artist and photographer asked permission to use one of my photos of Southern Grey Shrike (now Great Grey Shrike) to make a time-lapse video of the bird for personal interest. His final drawing can be seen below. 
He has an instagram page https://www.instagram.com/360pixual/

11 Jul 2020

Striped Hyena – Abha

Whilst in the Abbh area we set up a remote camera trap and placed a large amount of chicken offal in front of the camera in the hope of attracting Hyena and fox. We set the trap in an area where there were lots of animal tracks down a sandy bottomed wadi and were hoipeful of attracting at least Fox. When we returned to the camera trap and downloaded the photos we were very pleased to see we had attracted a Striped Hyena Hyaena hyaena. The striped hyena is native to North and East Africa, the Middle East, the Caucasus, Central Asia and the Indian subcontinent. It is a Red Data listed species with a status as near-threatened, as the global population is estimated to be under 10,000 mature individuals which continues to experience deliberate and incidental persecution along with a decrease in its prey base such that it may come close to meeting a continuing decline of 10% over the next three generations. It is the smallest of the true hyenas and has a smaller and less specialised skull than other species. Though primarily a scavenger, large specimens have been known to kill their own prey on occasions. They are nocturnal and typically only emerge in complete darkness, and is quick to return to its lair before sunrise. The Striped Hyena is solitary and prefers to inhabit rocky and mountainous country where deep caves, burrows, holes, overhanging rocks and dense vegetation form suitable shelters. They are omnivorous and their diet includes mainly small mammals, birds, snakes, insects, vegetables, fruit and carrion. During the second half of the nineteenth century and the first half of the Twentieth century the Striped Hyena used to be found in good numbers in the mountains, escarpments and inselbergs of central and northern Saudi Arabia. Under immense human pressure, the number of striped Hyenas has decreased sharply and they have become extinct in many of their former habitats and ranges in the Kingdom. They still occur in very small numbers in the mountains of the southwest but are extremely difficult to find and see.

9 Jul 2020

Arabian Waxbill - Abha

AWhilst birding the farm on the Riyadh Escarpment I came across a pair of Arabian Waxbill Estrilda rubibarba. This is a rather scarce resident of the Tihama region where they have been seen on Jebal Faifa summit and at Jebal Gaha. Birds have also been seen in the Asir mountains near Abha, Tanoumah, Raghadan Forest area of Al Baha and as far north as Taif where they can be seen at Wadi Thee Gazelle and several wadis in the town itself. The Arabian Waxbill is endemic to Saudi Arabia and Yemen and occurs in the mesic uplands of the Tihamah foothills, occasionally straying onto the lowland Tihamah proper where we have seen birds at Malaki Dam Lake. The species is scarce in southern Saudi Arabia and the population is suspected to be in decline due to habitat loss as a result of the increasing use of modern agricultural techniques. They are highly social, and occur from 250-2,500 m in fertile cultivated Wadis, plains, rocky hillsides and terraced slopes, usually with a dense cover of trees and bushes. The species roosts communally in this dense vegetation, and recently fledged juveniles have been recorded in May. It has become closely associated with regularly irrigated agricultural areas with flowing water. It is one of the more difficult of the Arabian endemics to see.
Arabian Waxbill

Arabian Waxbill

Arabian Waxbill

7 Jul 2020

Painted Lady –Talea Valley

Whilst birding the Talea Valley recently I saw a Painted Lady butterfly. Although the Painted Lady can survive in Saudi Arabia in most years the majority of butterflies are probably migrants. The Painted Lady is the most widely distributed butterfly in the world occurring on all continents except Antarctica. It is a large butterfly with a buffy-orange background colour to the upper-wings. The forewings have black tips marked with white spots and the hind-wings have rows of brown or black circular spots. The underside of the wing is pale buff brown than the upper-wing. Newly emerged butterflies are brighter coloured, with the colouring becoming muted with age.
Painted Lady

5 Jul 2020

Juvenile Egyptian Nightjars – Jubail

Whilst birding the Jubail area in early June I saw two juvenile Egyptian Nightjars. The plumage was very fresh with neat white fringed coverts forming neat lines across the wing. Adults would look much darker and don’t show the neat pale fringes. In flight there is no sign of wing moult which should be present in adult birds in June. This year birds were proved to have bred in Qatif in KSA and as these birds are old enough to fly they could have come from here or elsewhere such as Bahrain. These birds should now stay here until mid-September but their favoured areas are all currently flooded. The photos are not so good as light conditions are harsh by the earliest time we can arrive due to nighttime curfew for Covid-19.

3 Jul 2020

Heliotropium dolosum – Raydah Escarpment

Whist looking around the bottom of the Raydah Escarpment I came across a number of Heliotropium dolosum. This species has a range from southeast Europe to Iran and the Arabian Peninsula. Heliotropium is a genus of flowering plants in the borage family, Boraginaceae and are commonly known as heliotropes. It is highly toxic for dogs and cats. The name "heliotrope" derives from the old idea that the inflorescences of these plants turned their rows of flowers to the sun. Ἥλιος (helios) is Greek for "sun", τρέπειν (trepein) means "to turn". 
Heliotropium dolosum

1 Jul 2020

Breeding Egyptian Nightjars in Bahrain – Bird records by Jihad Alammadi

Jihad Alammadi sent me details of breeding Egyptian Nightjars in Bahrain this year some time ago. He found Egyptian Nightjar with its two chicks at a location south of the Alba Marsh and also another bird sitting on an egg close Al Areen. Egyptian Nightjars have been proved to breed in Bhahrain only in the last couple of years and it is very encouraging they are still doing so. I thank Jihad for allowing me permission to use his photos on my website.

29 Jun 2020

Indigofera spinosa – Abha

Whist looking around the Abha area I came across a dry sandy wadi with a number of Indigofera spinosa. This species has a native range from Egypt to Tanzania as well as the Arabian Peninsula. Indigofera is a large genus of over 750 species of flowering plants belonging to the pea family Fabaceae. They are mostly shrubs, though some are small trees or herbaceous perennials or annuals. Most have pinnate leaves. Racemes of flowers grow in the leaf axils, in hues of red, but there are a few white- and yellow-flowered species. The fruit is a legume pod of varying size and shape.
Indigofera spinosa

Indigofera spinosa

27 Jun 2020

Arabian Sunbird – Raydah Escarpment

Whilst birding the Raydah Escarpment recently I saw a few Arabian Sunbird Cinnyris hellmayri. The birds were at the bottom of the escarpment near the village and dry wadi. It has previously been treated as conspecific with Shining Sunbird Cinnyris habessinicus, but differs in males by having much-reduced and slightly duller red breast-band and more extensive and deeper blue reflectant uppertail-coverts. In females they differ by having much darker grey or grey-brown plumage. They are a larger size and have a different song. There are two subspecies both of which are found is Saudi Arabia. C. h. kinnearithat occurs in western Saudi Arabia from the southern Hijaz mountains south to the Asir mountains. The second subspecies C. h. hellmayrioccurs in the extreme southwest of Saudi Arabia in the Najran area, Yemen and SW Oman.
Arabian Sunbird

Arabian Sunbird

Arabian Sunbird

Arabian Sunbird

25 Jun 2020

Tobacco plant Nicotiana glauca – Wadi Thee Ghazal

Whist looking around Wadi Thee Ghazel, near Taif I came across a wadi with a number of Tree Tobacco plants Nicotiana glauca, growing. This is a species of wild tobacco who’s leaves are attached to the stalk by petioles. It grows to heights of more than two meters and is native to South America but it is now widespread as an introduced species on other continents, such as the plants I saw. The plant is used for a variety of medicinal purposes with leaves used as a poultice to treat swellings, bruises, cuts, wounds, boils, sores, inflamed throat, and swollen glands. It contains the toxic alkaloid anabasine and ingestion of the leaves can be fatal.
Tobacco plant

Tobacco plant

23 Jun 2020

Four young Red-wattled Lapwing & adults – Jubail

After seeing Red-wattled Lapwing in Jubail I went back in the hope of locating and photographing the young birds. We found one adult quite a distance from the others but could not see any young birds. We then found an adult in its normal location but only a single youngster was seen. We were alittle worried the others may have fallen victim to a predator but on the way back we relocated the second adult this time with the other three young. The birds appeared to have doubled in size in a week and look to be doing well. We also saw an adult in a different location but cannot rule out this was one of the parents moving some distance, although as both parents were looking after young the bird may have been a third individual.

21 Jun 2020

Solanum incanum – Talea Valley

Whist looking around the Talea Valley in the Asir Mountains of southwest Saudi Arabia near Abha I came across an erect bushy leafed shurb one metre high and slightly spiny. Some spines are on the mid-rib of the grey-green velvety leaves. It had large pale yellow smooth round fruits. This species is widespread in the Hijaz and Asir mountains.
Solanum incanum

20 Jun 2020

Birding in the mountains - Abha

Abha is in the mountains of the southwest of Saudi Arabia where the weather is much cooler and wetter than other parts of the Kingdom. As a result, many different species of birds, animals and plants live in the area that are not seen in the area where I live in the east of the country. My last trip to the area allowed me to see and photograph a few species I do not see very often including Arabian Babbler, Little Rock Thrush and Little Swift and as I was there in the breeding season Cinnamon-breasted Bunting, Gambaga Flycatcher and Grey-headed Kingfisher. Another bird I photographed was Laughing Dove, a common bird throughout the Kingdom and seen daily in Dhahran where I live.
Arabian Babbler
Cinnamon-breasted Bunting
Gambaga Flycatcher
Grey-headed Kingfisher 
Laughing Dove
Little Rock Thrush - juvenile 
Little Rock Thrush - adult
Little Swift

19 Jun 2020

First breeding record of Red-wattled Lapwing for Saudi Arabia – Jubail

Whilst birding the Jubail area in early June, after Covid-19 lockdown was eased in the Kingdom, Phil Roberts found a breeding pair of Red-Wattled Lapwing with four chicks about a week old. The following weekend I went and we re-found the birds, but I only saw one youngster. Red-wattled Lapwing is scarce species in Saudi Arabia with records from Riyadh, the Empty Quarter and the Eastern Province. 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 until now. This species is a resident breeder at wetlands in the United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Kuwait, and is gradually colonizing westwards.