30 Jan 2020

The Umar bin al-Khattab Mosque

The Mosque of Umar bin al-Khattab is situated in the town of Dawmat al-Jandal, a major intersection of ancient trade routes linking Mesopotamia, Syria and the Arabian Peninsula. The Umar bin al-Khattab Mosque is the most emblematic monument in the Al Jawf province.According to Saudi scholars it was erected in the Umayyad period (661-749) although some attribute its construction to the time of Islam’s second caliph ‘Umar bin al-Khattab (634-644). Pyramidal in shape, the minaret has five stories rising to a height of about 15 metres, and ends with a kind of pyramidion. The plan of the mosque is similar to that of the Prophet Mohamed’s house in al-Madina, although smaller. The minaret would have been built later and its original orientation, different from the Qibla, could be explained by the orientation of the alley and the construction of the adjacent neighborhood. The mosque itself was built in 634-644. However, the actual building appears to have been built in a much later period, casting doubt upon its attribution to Umar Ibn al-Khattab. Some scholars attribute it to the Umayyad Caliph Omar bin Abul Aziz, and some believe that the mosque was named after Bani'Amr, a tribe that settled in Dawmat al-Jandal. The north (qibla) wall of the mosque faces the al-Marid castle across a street. On its other three sides, it is surrounded by dense urban fabric. Like the other old buildings in the town, the mosque is built in stone. It is composed of a courtyard preceding the main prayer hall to the south and another space, also used for prayer, to the north. The minaret is at the southwestern corner of the prayer hall bridging over a street. The mosque is entered through a door situated in the qibla wall, near the minaret. The prayer hall is formed by three rows of stone pillars, running parallel to the qibla wall. The pillars are all by wooden lintels, which in turn support layers of stone that are roofed by mud-plastered acacia and palm trunks. The mihrab is a narrow, highly pointed niche in the center of the qibla wall, and is defined by a similar niche with three built-in stone steps to its right. The mihrab, the minbar, and the lower part of the qibla wall are plastered white. Viewed from the exterior, one sees that the mihrab and minbar protrude slightly out of the qibla wall. Also visible is an exposed stone staircase constructed along the qibla wall from the street side that reaches the mud roof. The minaret shaft has a rectangular shape that tapers upward to end in a pyramidal roof. The four internal floors of the shaft were accessed by a now-collapsed spiral staircase entered from the mosque. On each side of the minaret, and on each floor, a rectangular window with a stone lintel provides lighting for its interior. The north (qibla) wall of the mosque faces the al-Marid castle across a street. On its other three sides, it is surrounded by dense urban fabric. Like the other old buildings in the town, the mosque is built in stone. It is composed of a courtyard preceding the main prayer hall to the south and another space, also used for prayer, to the north. The Saud family is believed to have rebuilt the prayer hall in 1793. Later, in the mid- nineteenth century, the Saud family restored the mosque. In 1975, buildings surrounding the minaret from the south and the west were demolished, and the minaret and the mosque restored yet again.
Umar bin al-Khattab Mosque

Umar bin al-Khattab Mosque

Umar bin al-Khattab Mosque

Umar bin al-Khattab Mosque

Umar bin al-Khattab Mosque


28 Jan 2020

Largest gathering of Black-necked Grebe in KSA – Lake Dumat Al Jandal

Whilst in the Al Jouf area this winter we visited Lake Dumat Al Jandal. This lake has held numerous good birds in the past including Bewick’s Swam and White-tailed Duck. We saw some good birds here including Pochard, Whiskered and White-winged Terns and plenty of Little Grebes. The Little grebes were however, vastly outnumbered by Black-necked Grebes, which totaled 192 birds. There were probably slightly more than this as we could not see all the small bays on the far side of the lake from where we were counting. This is the largest gathering of this species I know of for Saudi Arabia and it was a truly amazing spectacle.
Black-necked Grebe

Black-necked Grebe

26 Jan 2020

Marid Castle - Dumat Al-Jundal

Qasr Marid is a castle in Dumat Al-Jandal, in the north of Saudi Arabia built before 272 CE. Its walls are 80 cm to 1 metre thick and it commanded the old city of Adumato. The castle Marid (which means “the rebel” in Arabic) stands on a natural limestone outcrop overlooking the valley where the ancient oasis lies. Its position, occupying what appears to have been a genuine acropolis, suggests that this must have been the site of one of the oldest settlements at Dumat al-Jandal. It dates back to at least Nabatean times and is mentioned in the records of the Assyrian era but texts do not specify the time of the building of Marid Castle or who built it. The Marid castle is a giant walled fortress built on a high plateau overlooking the ancient city of Dumat al-Jandal. Some of its parts have been rebuilt, but most of its other parts remain as it was in ancient times. The form of the original building was rectangular but some additions including conical towers which look as if they have been added at a later period. The lower part of the building has been made of mud. The few excavations which have been made in the lower part in 1976, revealed some Nabatean and Roman pottery which dated back to the first and second century BC.
Marid Castle

Marid Castle

Marid Castle

Marid Castle

Marid Castle

Marid Castle

Marid Castle

Marid Castle

24 Jan 2020

Male Finsch’s Wheatear – Lake Dumat Al Jandal

Finsch’s Wheatear is a scarce but widespread, winter visitor to Saudi Arabia, mainly to the northern areas of the Kingdom. Migratory populations breed from Turkey to northern Pakistan and winter up to 1,000 km south from Palestine through northern Arabia to Pakistan. They prefer habitat of remote stony plains with sparse vegetation. We saw the bird in a stony area next to Lake Dumat Al Jandal where it was constantly on the move. It would occasionally sit up on high rocks for several seconds before moving off looking for food. This is only the third time I have seen the species in Kingdom and was a pleasant surprise as we had not seen many birds before locating this wheatear.
Finsch’s Wheatear

Finsch’s Wheatear

Finsch’s Wheatear

Finsch’s Wheatear

22 Jan 2020

Sisra Well

Sisra Well is located in the northern end of the city about 200 metres from Za’abal Castle and dates back to the Nabataean Period (First century BC until the end of the first century AD). The well is dug in sandstone, is oval in shape and is about 15 metres deep and nine by eight metres across and has a hole in the eastern side that was used to irrigate the surrounding farms. The well currently has no water in it. It is made of stones in its top with a wide hole and engraved staircase reaching the bottom of the well and there is also a tunnel at the eastern side in the bottom of the well, which is feeding the farms with water that are located in the lower areas about three kilometers away from the city. The well has dried out a long time ago but it dates back to Nabatean period. Sisrah Well is considered as one of the most significant antiquities in the region. It took its name from the Kanaani military commander, Sisrah who fought the Jews in Palestine as the commander of Kanaani army. His name is mentioned in Torah and Christian holy books as a Jew. Some people connect name of Sisrah to the name Cesar as an English translation to the name of Cesar in the western culture.
Sisra Well

Sisra Well

20 Jan 2020

Steppe Eagle - Dumat Al Jandal

Steppe Eagle is now a common winter visitor to Saudi Arabia, with thousands wintering in certain locations. A singe bird was seen in the Al Jouf area but gave great views flying around overhead. We originally saw the bird flying near a roadside pool but it was later seen flying further down the road where it gave better views. Steppe Eagles are globally Endangered so to see birds in Saudi Arabia, like any eagles, is always enjoyable.
Steppe Eagle

Steppe Eagle

Steppe Eagle

18 Jan 2020

Prince Mountain - Sakaka

Prince Mountain is located near Zaabal Castle to the northeast side. At the foot of the mountain there is an old cemetery surrounded by low fence which is also bears the same name. The name of the mountain is explained as for its height and its steep gradient. Engraved on it are thirteen women wearing head coverings in addition to a small number of drawings of animals and some inscriptions. There are graphics of a picture of a camel and the image of a man on a camel, as well as a picture of two men of interlocking hands. Modern engravings have defaced some of the mountain but the original inscriptions and engravings can still be seen.
Prince Mountain

Prince Mountain

Prince Mountain


16 Jan 2020

Flock of Desert Finch – Dumat Al Jandal

The Desert Finch is mainly resident in Saudi Arabia. It is now regarded as a common breeding resident but was previously thought to be a scarce visitor to the northwest of Saudi Arabia until 1975. Since then the range has expanded dramatically due to increased agriculture abd several areas have been colonized, including Riyadh, Hail, al-Jawf and Tabuk. Despite its name it is not a truly desert species and prefers cultivated areas with trees and bushes, especially orchards, as well as gardens and plantations. It also occurs in the weedy edges of pivot-irrigated fields and dry scrub adjacent to farms. We saw a flock of about fifty birds, the first ones I have come across in Saudi Arabia, along a razor wire fence near a large pool in the desert. Birds were dropping down to drink for the pool and then flying back to the fence.
Desert Finch

Desert Finch

Desert Finch

Desert Finch

Desert Finch

Desert Finch

14 Jan 2020

Zaabal Castle - Sakaka

On top of a mountain, the highest point in the area, in the city of Sakaka in northwest Saudi Arabia sits Zaabal Castle. The castle is believed to have been built 200 years ago, but some structures are said to date back to the 1st-century Nabataean era dated from the first century BC to the first century AD. The fort consists of a reservoir and four cylindrical towers, five metres high, that are connected by a single wall and is built of stone and mud. The castle sits on top of a water well system that spans the entire city and has been a source of supply to the city’s inhabitants for centuries. It is situated on the top of a mountain has four towers in its irregular-formed corners due to the nature of the mountain peak area. It has a surrounding wall built of mud and stone decorated with mud engravings. The height of the wall is approximately two meters. There are two rooms inside the castle built of mud and stones and the roof covered palms trunks, Alothel and palm branches which are available throughout the region. One of these rooms is located in the center of the castle, was built over high rock base. The second chamber is located to the left when you walk through the entrance to the castle they will be faced by a water tank embedded in rock to a depth of approximately 80 cm and 1 metre length approximately. The tank was used for storing water in case of barricaded inside the fortress. The castle is accessed through semi- circuitous narrow staircase built from stone. 
Zaabal Castle

Zaabal Castle

Zaabal Castle

Zaabal Castle

Zaabal Castle

Zaabal Castle

Zaabal Castle

Zaabal Castle

Zaabal Castle

Zaabal Castle

12 Jan 2020

Steppe Eagle and Steppe Buzzard – Dumat Al Jandal

Whilst birding Dumat Al Jandal area in winter we came across an Steppe Eagle and a Steppe Buzzard sitting on a pivot irrigation structure. The birds both flew as we stopped the car, even though we were quite a distance from the birds, and then proceeded to have a bit of a scuffle in the air. The Steppe Eagle dwarfed the Steppe Buzzard but it was the Buzzard that was the aggressor. After several minutes, they split up and went their separate ways. Although we saw another Steppe Eagle on the trip this was the only Steppe Buzzard we saw. 
Eastern Imperial Eagle and Steppe Buzzard

Eastern Imperial Eagle and Steppe Buzzard

Eastern Imperial Eagle and Steppe Buzzard

Eastern Imperial Eagle and Steppe Buzzard

Eastern Imperial Eagle

10 Jan 2020

Rajajil Standing Stones - Sakaka

The site of Rajajil (The Men) is near Sakākā, a city in northwestern Saudi Arabia which is the capital of Al Jawf Province. It is located just to the north of the An Nafud desert. They are probably over 5,000 years old and consist of 54 groups of stones some of them three meters high. They go in parallel lines from east to west and the reason for them is still uncertain. The site is on high ground overlooking a large area of low level to its north, and the current site has an area of approximately 300 m × 500 m with an extension in the west, where there are a number of separate groups of stone on the main site. The site consists of a group of fifty four stone columns. The numbers of the columns in each group are differing from the other groups. Also columns are appearing compact straight lines, some columns rise to more than 3.5 m, while others did not exceed 50 cm in height due to the fall of the upper parts of some of these columns and the thickness of 75 cm per column. There are also writings on some of the columns. The site dates back to the copper age or the fourth millennium BC. These columns are believed to be primarily a religious site or second-class graves. Some believe that the stones were probably a meeting place for people in the area and possibly they were also a trade centre as many important trade roads crossed the Al -Jowf area as Sakākā is an oasis town on an ancient caravan route across the Arabian peninsula. The location of Al Rajajil site to some extent, looks like the site of "Stonehenge" which is located eight miles from Salisbury in England, a temple built from a combination of huge stones made in a circular motion, and is topped by a huge stone slabs. The location is fenced off and access is restricted. There is a visitor centre but it was not open when we were there from 7-9 am on Saturday morning. You can take photos of some of the stones close to the fence edge if you can reach over the fence itself as I did with the photos below.
Rajajil Standing Stones

Rajajil Standing Stones

Rajajil Standing Stones

Rajajil Standing Stones

Rajajil Standing Stones

Rajajil Standing Stones

Rajajil Standing Stones

Rajajil Standing Stones

Rajajil Standing Stones

Rajajil Standing Stones