19 Feb 2020

Trumpeter Finch – Ushaiqer

Whilst birding the Ushaiqer area with Phil Roberts we decided to go and check a few pivot irrigation fields. Whilst trying to find access into a field I saw a group of four small birds fly towards us that looked a bit different. They landed on a large earth berm and on closer inspection turned out to be Trumpeter Finches Bucanetes githagineus. This species is a locally common, widespread resident found in manly arid rocky areas where it is thinly distributed. Birds are seen throughout the year but may become common after good rains. In the Riyadh area, where we were birding, they are a common breeding resident around the Tuwaiq Escarpment but breed less commonly elsewhere. Flocks disperse after breeding and may then be encountered randomly throughout the region. I seldom see this species in the Eastern Province so was very happy with the encounter, particularly as I managed to get the best photos I have so far in Saudi Arabia of two of the birds.
Trumpeter Finch

Trumpeter Finch

Trumpeter Finch

17 Feb 2020

Spanish Sparrows – Shaqra

Whilst birding the landfill site at Shaqra looking for Steppe Eagles I can across a small flock of Spanish Sparrows. This is a common resident of northern and western parts of the Kingdom with numbers increasing in the winter months. They are not so common in the area where I live in the east of the Kingdom but numbers are increasing. They are presumably common in the area I was as it is well north and west of Riyadh in central Saudi Arabia but I only saw a few small groups. House Sparrow and Spanish Sparrow appeared to be equally common in the Sharqa area.
Spanish Sparrow

15 Feb 2020

White-crowned Wheatear – Ushaiqer

 The Ushaiqer area, 180 km northwest of Riyadh is a good area for seeing White-crowned Wheatear. Most of the birds we saw were black crowned with no white cap indicating they were juveniles with only two out of about fifteen birds showing white on the head. They are a locally common breeding resident in dry rocky areas of Saudi Arabia and occur from the Hejaz north from Taif, Northern Hejaz, Asir south of Soudah and Najran, Tuwaiq escarpment and locally in the Gulf in areas like Shedgum escarpment and Jebal Hamrah. Also Jauf, Hail and Dawadimi.
White-crowned Wheatear

White-crowned Wheatear

White-crowned Wheatear


13 Feb 2020

Great (Arabian) Grey Shrike - Ushaiqer

Whilst birding the Ushaiqer area I found a Great Grey Shrike Lanius excubitor in some bushes in a valley near the edge of the escarpment. The Grey shrikes in Saudi Arabia are very confusing and there is often healthy debate between the birders of the region over what species, and subspecies, individual birds are. Great Grey Shrike subspecies that occur in Saudi Arabia, aucheri (mainly eastern areas) and elegans (extreme west), have been reported from areas where they occur in close proximity, such as south-west Israel, eastern Egypt and north-east Sudan indicating the possibility of gene flow between them. These hybrids are likely in western Saudi Arabia as well as the range overlaps here. Mauryan Grey Shrike (Steppe Grey Shrike) pallidirostris occurs regularly in the region as a fairly common migrant and winter visitor, with peak migration in mid-March and September to October. This complicates matters with Great Grey Shrikes further as interbreeding occurs freely between pallidirostris and the locally breeding Great Grey Shrike subspecies aucheri with an intermediate population occurring in north-east Iran. These birds could quite easily occur in the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia as well.
Great (Arabian) Grey Shrike

Great (Arabian) Grey Shrike

Great (Arabian) Grey Shrike

Great (Arabian) Grey Shrike

Great (Arabian) Grey Shrike

11 Feb 2020

Winter birding – Haradh

Haradh is an excellent site with many pivot irrigation fields that attract a lot of wintering birds. We visited recently and were quite disappointed to find many of the pivots have stopped being used to grow crops. This is probably as a result of the Kingdoms requirement for farmers to stop growing fodder crops from November 2018 to save precious underground water supplies. The fields were mainly there to feed the large herds of cows owned by NADEC and they have probably stopped growing the crop. There were a few fields with what looked like potatoes growing that had a few birds but numbers were significantly down on previous years due to lack of irrigated fields. We did manage to see a few good birds such as a male and female Pallid Harrier, good numbers of both Greater Short-toed Lark and Lesser Short-toed Lark and hundreds of White Wagtail. Several Desert Wheatear were also scattered around the fields. One field with crops held a flock of over thirty Northern Lapwings but nothing else of note could be seen with them. A flock of thirty Chestnut-bellied Sandgrouse flew over at one point only the fifth record for the Eastern Province but the second in two years from Haradh. A Greater Hoopoe Lark gave good views as did a few Spanish Sparrows.
Desert Wheatear
Desert Wheatear
Chestnut-bellied Sandgrouse
Chestnut-bellied Sandgrouse
Greater Hoopoe Lark
Greater Hoopoe Lark
Greater Hoopoe Lark
Greater Hoopoe Lark
Greater Hoopoe Lark
Greater Hoopoe Lark
Greater Short-toed Lark
Greater Short-toed Lark
Greater Short-toed Lark
Greater Short-toed Lark
Lesser Short-toed Lark
Lesser Short-toed Lark
Northern Lapwing
Northern Lapwing
Northern Lapwing
Northern Lapwing
Pallid Harrier
Pallid Harrier
Spanish Sparrow
Spanish Sparrow

9 Feb 2020

Four Cream-coloured Courser – Haradh

The Cream-coloured Courser is a common breeding resident and uncommon winter visitor to Saudi Arabia. It is found mainly in the north and east of the Kingdom and prefers flat open areas of sand and gravel steppe deserts, sometimes with sparse, low scrub. It often winters in pivot irrigation fields where it can be seen in ploughed as well as stubble fields. It is an excellent bird but one that is not so easy to get good photos of, as they are very timid and run away quickly when approached. We found four birds together in a pivot irrigation field at Haradh last winter and I managed to take a few photos which are shown below.
Cream-coloured Courser

Cream-coloured Courser

Cream-coloured Courser

Cream-coloured Courser


7 Feb 2020

Lesser Short-toed Lark – Haradh

Lesser Short-toed Lark is a rare breeding resident in northern and eastern areas of Saudi Arabia, including along the Gulf coast and perhaps also in central areas. It is also a common winter visitor, mainly in the north of the Kingdom, where it prefers open sandy or gravel plains or cultivated areas including pivot irrigation fields. I do not see the species often and the gathering of up to fifty birds in a pivot irrigation field in Haradh during the winter was the largest group I have seen together in the Kingdom. The birds were in a mixed flock with Greater Short-toed Larks and were feeding actively but were easily disturbed. The long primary projection and heavily streaked breast separated them from Greater Short-toed Larks nearby.
Lesser Short-toed Lark

Lesser Short-toed Lark

Lesser Short-toed Lark

Lesser Short-toed Lark

Lesser Short-toed Lark

Lesser Short-toed Lark

5 Feb 2020

Pale Crag Martin – Lake Dumat Al Jandal

Whilst in the Al Jouf area last winter we visited Lake Dumat Al Jandal and on the second day visited the far side of the lake away from the tourist area. This side had steppe cliffs leading from the water’s edge and when we got there, there were plenty of Pale Crag Martins flying around. This is not an easy bird to photograph in flight with a heavy 600mm lens but I tried my best and got a few reasonable shots. It is a common breeding resident in Saudi Arabia but in winter, large groups gather in the north of the Kingdom often near cliffs but also over pivot fields. 
Pale Crag Martin

Pale Crag Martin

Pale Crag Martin

Pale Crag Martin

Pale Crag Martin

Pale Crag Martin

Pale Crag Martin

Pale Crag Martin

Pale Crag Martin

Pale Crag Martin

3 Feb 2020

Al Dar'i Quarter - Dumat Al-Jundal

Al Dar'i Quarter is located in the neighborhood of Omar Bin Al Khatab Mosque and Marid fortress, which represent the old quarter of Dumat Al Jandal. Al Dar'i Quarter is considered to be one of remaining antiquities of Dumat Al Jandal's ancient city. The quarter dates back to the middle Islamic age and is based on layers of archaeological works dating back to the mid-first millennium BC. The neighborhood is characterized by the stone buildings and stone lanes between the gardens and water from nearby springs. The old quarter is built on the ruins of the earlier revivals which can be seen in multiple layers, as well as the emergence of the old road of the district under the existing buildings. The site is in Dumat Al Jandal that Assyrian sources indicate as (Odomato) or (Adoumo) and that it was located within the property of Arab tribe of Qedar. References to Dumat Al Jandal began in the third century AD in the reign of the famous Arabian Queen (Zenobia) it seems that the Queen had invaded Dumat Al-Jandal, but the city had a fortified castle that the Queen had not been able to storm. Then she return back unrewarded where she expressed in two words “The Marid insurgency and Al Ablaq Glory". Marid was a giant palace in Dumat Al Jandal and Al Ablaq is a famous palace in Tem'a. the city emerged once again in the historical record in the fifth century AD when it was taken over by the Arabian King Amro Al Qaiss. These episodes were followed by the emergence of Al Ekaidar Kingdom. It is the home of many historic & prehistoric archaeological sites such Za'bal Castle & Well, the Umar bin Al-Khattab Mosque, located in Dowmat Al-Jandal and Mard Castle (just south of Sakaka). There are also the ancient Rajajil standing stones in Sakaka, dating back nearly 6,000 years. The oasis of Dumat Al-Jandal is located in the very heart of the province of Al Jawf, 50 km south of Sakaka, the capital town and the seat of the Al-Jawf Emirate. It is the largest and best-known oasis at the northern limit of the great al-Nafud desert. Its geographical position means that in the past it lay on both the east-west and north-south routes and became a natural port of call for traders. The town has survived through the ages thanks to the local ability to exploit water, which is supplied by a complex hydraulic system of wells, channels, and underground tunnels named Qanât. Over the centuries, it is believed that Dumat al-Jandal served as an important station in the complex system of trade routes crossing the Arabian Peninsula, both from the north to south and from east to west. The oasis is located half way between the main urban settlements that developed along the Fertile Crescent (Mesopotamia and Syria-Palestine), the Arabian Gulf (Faîlaka, Bahrain, Thaj, etc) and Western Arabia –Madain Salih, Tayma, etc). From the 8th century BCE, Assyrian texts refer to caravans arriving in Assyria from the “far off peoples of Tayma and Saba”. In order to reach Mesopotamia they could have passed through ancient Adummat, which is today’s Dumat al-Jandal. During the 1st century BCE Dumat al-Jandal was incorporated in the Nabatean Empire and developed a rich culture till the 2nd century CE when it merged with Roman civilization following the inclusion of the oasis within the province of Arabia Petraea. From the 1st century CE onwards, Dumat al-Jandal is mentioned in Roman sources in relation to its strategic geographical position and as a commercial station in the north of the peninsula. In his Natural History, Pliny the Elder speaks of “Domatha” as an important oasis. Ptolemy, in the 2nd century CE also mentions “Dumaetha” in his Geography, describing it as a large city in Arabia. In later Roman times the oasis was included in a trade circuit leading to Byzantium. The last attestations of commercial activity in the oasis date to the first centuries of the Islamic era. In the 7th century Dumat al-Jandal saw four expeditions led by Prophet Mohamed and his companions and was fully subjugated by Islam in the days of first caliph Abu Bakr Assediq. The site’s status as a major trade city only began to diminish in the 9th century CE when the caravan trade switched essentially to Makka and Medina and followed the pilgrimage routes or lead to Damascus and Baghdad by the Zubayda route.
Al Dar'i Quarter

Al Dar'i Quarter

Al Dar'i Quarter

Al Dar'i Quarter

Al Dar'i Quarter

Al Dar'i Quarter

Al Dar'i Quarter

Al Dar'i Quarter

Al Dar'i Quarter

Al Dar'i Quarter