30 Apr 2020

Arabian Spiny-tailed Lizard - Qariyat Al Ulya

Whilst birding Qariyat Al Ulya in spring I came across three Arabian Spiny-tailed Lizard sunning themselves by their holes. One individual shown below was not too scared and allowed close approach. As it was a yellow colour as it had obviously spent some time warming up in the sunshine. These lizards are relatively common and widespread across Saudi Arabia preferring hard stony ground to excavate their holes. The bottom photo shows one of their holes they live in. They are ground dwelling and live in some of the most arid regions of the planet. The Arabian Spiny-tailed Lizard Uromastyx aegyptia microlepisoccurs in the Eastern Province is generally regarded as a subspecies of the Egyptian Spiny-tailed Lizard Uromastyx aegyptia. It is locally known to the Arabs as 'Dhub'. Unfortunately this species is declining in numbers and I am seeing it less commonly then ten wars ago.
Arabian Spiny-tailed Lizard

Arabian Spiny-tailed Lizard

Arabian Spiny-tailed Lizard

Arabian Spiny-tailed Lizard

Arabian Spiny-tailed Lizard burrow

28 Apr 2020

Nubian Nightjar – Abu Arish

Whilst birding the Abu Arish area last summer Phil Roberts and I spent some time after dark looking for owls and nightjars. We heard a single calling Nubian Nightjar but could not locate it so went driving around the nearby tracks. Here we managed to see good numbers of Plain Nightjar with more than twenty birds seen catching insects and alighting on the dusty tracks as well as a single Nubian Nightjar. This species is resident and breeds in the lowlands from the Yemen boarder to the Hijaz in Saudi Arabia where it has been seen northwards to KAUST north of Jeddah. There is a single record from the far north in the Kingdom at Sharma although the bird may have been a migrant rather than a resident in the area. Where it is found, which is a very limited number of locations, it can be locally common and favours rocky or stony areas with some vegetation although they have also been seen in sandy areas with vegetation. 
Nubian Nightjar

26 Apr 2020

Yellow-spotted Agama – Qaryat Al Ulya

Whilst birding the pivot fields near Qaryat Al Ulya in March I came across a Yellow-spotted Agama Trapelus flavimaculatus sitting on top of a stack of hay bales. Yellow-spotted Agama are a medium sized lizard about 30 centimetres in length and are also known as Blue-headed Agama for obvious reasons. The one I saw had quite a blue had but the light was very poor so it does not show well in the photo below. Their tails are very long and thin and make up over half their body length and they move extremely fast over the ground. The Yellow-spotted Agama is a common species of lizard found in arid regions of the Middle East from Egypt: North of the Eastern Desert & Northern Sinai to the Arabian Peninsula including Saudi Arabia. They are readily distinguished from the Sinai agama Pseudotrapelus sinaitus by their heavier build, rougher scales and the presence of a gular sac that is darkened and inflated as a threat display. The ear opening is smaller and its dorsal margin is partially covered by pointed scales. In the summer these lizards often sit atop Acacia trees or prominent rocks as a territorial display and to regulate their temperature. They are quite aggressive with a mainly carnivorous diet of small insects. Their skin colour varies from reddish-brown to olivegreen, and is covered in a pattern of heavy yellowish-white spots. Their tails are normally pale yellow; however, male Yellow-spotted Agamas have the ability to go from this drab coloration to something much more vivid and spectacular. The dull reddish-brownish-green skin turns vivid blue, and the pale yellow tail glows brilliant flaming orange. Sometimes a male Agama will only change partially turning just the underside of his head blue, for instance. The colour change happens in seconds and fades just as quickly.
Yellow-spotted Agama

24 Apr 2020

Plain Nightjar – Abu Arish

Whilst birding the Abu Arish area last summer Phil Roberts and I spent some time after dark looking for owls and nightjars. We heard a single calling Nubian Nightjar but could not locate it so went driving around the nearby tracks. Here we managed to see good numbers of Plain Nightjar with more than twenty birds seen catching insects and alighting on the dusty tracks. The Plain Nightjar is a scarce breeding summer visitor to the southwest where it occurs in Saudi Arabia from the Yemen boarder northwards to Taif. Where ideal conditions occur in can be locally common with several birds seen close together, such as the ones we saw near Abu Arish. They occur from 500 – 2500 metres and favour dry rocky hillsides and hilltops that have only scatter acacia trees. 
Plain Nightjar

Plain Nightjar

Plain Nightjar

Plain Nightjar

Plain Nightjar


22 Apr 2020

Fat-bodied darkling - Hanidh

Whilst birding the Hanidh area I came across a small gathering of Fat-bodied darkling Apentandes arabicus. This is a small beetle reaching sizes up to 9mm with the males smaller being only to 6mm in size. Black in color with row of golden hair between the thorax and the head. Antennae end in a club-like shape. Thorax and elytra generally fused together with a rounded body. They feed on anything from plant material to animal remains, are fast moving and active during the day. Males will copulate females for a few hours at a time. Female will carry on feeding while carrying male. Eggs are deposited under the soil close to the roots of plants with the larvae able to scavenge on almost anything. They occur throughout the Arabian Peninsula. The bottom two photos were taken by Phil Roberts with his phone and he has kindly allowed me to use them.
Fat-bodied darkling

Fat-bodied darkling

Fat-bodied darkling

Fat-bodied darkling


20 Apr 2020

The Northern Desert – Nayriyah area

Whilst birding the northern areas of the Eastern Province in spring we found good numbers of Wheatears. Most were Northern Wheatears with several Pied Wheatears amongst them. We also located a couple of Eastern Black-eared, Desert and Isabelline Wheatears. Careful checking of any tree fence-lines produced a few warblers with a big fall of Common Chiffchaffs and Lesser Whitethroat and Eastern Orphean Warbler also located. Eurasian Hoopoe, Daurian Shrike and Eastern Stonechat were also seen on the fences or nearby.
Common Chiffchaff
Common Chiffchaff 
Daurian Shrike
Daurian Shrike
Eastern Stonechat
Eastern Stonechat
Eurasian Hoopoe
Eurasian Hoopoe
Lesser Whitetroat
Lesser Whitetroat 
Northern Wheatear - female
Isabelline Wheatear - female
Northern Wheatear - female
Isabelline Wheatear - female 
Pied Wheatear - male
Pied Wheatear - male

18 Apr 2020

Bucks-horn Plantain - Hanidh

Whilst birding the Hanidh area in spring 2020 I came across a good amount of Bucks-horn Plantain Plantago boissieri. This plant is said to be the most abundant annual of the spring biomass in the Eastern Province, but it is not common where I live in Dhahran. Growing from roots as deep as 50 centimeters, it produces a rosette of long, narrow, silky-haired leaves above, upon which the extended thin flower spikes stand. The flowers are dominated by the whitish stamens, which protrude well beyond the petals. It is a favoured food for camels particularly after heavy rainfall when plant growth is abundant.
Bucks-horn Plantain

16 Apr 2020

Leaking tap attracting birds – Hanidh

Whilst birding Hanidh in the spring the leaking tap that had caused a small puddle to form in a desert landscape with a few jebals nearby proved good for photographing birds. In the desert these waterholes are very attractive to birds so although the first couple of times we visited we did not see anything we always held hope birds would come and drink. Eventually we managed to photograph Pale Rochfinch and also got some reasonable photos of Crested Lark and Namaqua Dove. Even though we remained in the car the birds were still very timid and only flew in to drink briefly before departing. The below photos are the best I managed.
Namaqua Dove
Namaqua Dove
Namaqua Dove
Namaqua Dove
Crested Lark
Crested Lark
Crested Lark
Crested Lark 
Crested Lark
Crested Lark

14 Apr 2020

Variable Stalker – Judah

Whist birding the Judah area recently I came across a few Variable Stalker Adesmia conthurnata which is a common beetle in Saudi Arabia spread throughout the Kingdom. The appearance and disappearance of the beetles is strongly correlated with climatic conditions with the peak occurrence in spring when the temperatures are moderate and plant growth is at its maximum. During the hot months of summer, most beetles disappear. Variable Stalker is a very active beetle moving continually over the ground and quite a quick pace.
Variable Stalker

12 Apr 2020

Black-winged Kite – Mulayjah

On the 13 March 2020 Phil and I found an adult Black-winged Kite Elanus caeruleus, at Mulayjah near Nayriyah which was only the six record for the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia. The first two birds were also adults present at Dhahran Hills from 29 March to 17 April 2012, Dhahran Hills 20 April 2014, Ash Shargiyah Development Company Farm, Fadhili, near Jubail 4 September 2015 with the other records from Khafra Marsh in the last two years. Its status in Saudi Arabia as a whole is a rare visitor and this bird was initially seen sitting in some trees. It did not stay long and then flew off towards a group of date palms and could not be relocated. The light was bad by the time we saw the bird as it was early afternoon with the below photos the best I managed.
Black-winged Kite

Black-winged Kite

Black-winged Kite


10 Apr 2020

Field Marigold Calendula arvensis - Judah

This year there has again been good winter rains and as a result, some flowering plants are in full bloom. I came across a nice small patch of flowering plants near Judah that had some Field Marigold Calendula arvensis. Field Marigold is a species of flowering plant in the daisy family that is native to central and southern Europe but has been introduced into many other parts of the world. It is an annual or biennial herb 10 – 50 cm tall with lance-shaped leaves borne on petioles from the slender, hairy stem. The inflorescence is a single flower head up to four centimeters wide with bright yellow to yellow-orange ray florets around a center of yellow disc florets. 
Field Marigold

8 Apr 2020

Pale Rock Sparrow – Hanidh

Whilst birding Hanidh in the early spring we came across a leaking tap that had caused a small puddle to form in a desert landscape with a few jebals nearby. In the desert these waterholes are very attractive to birds so although the first couple of times we visited we did not see anything we always held hope birds would come and drink. Very early one morning in mid-March, I saw a large group of 50 plus birds that appeared to be larks flying over and they saw the pool, turned around, and came down nearby. On inspection, it became clear they were Pale Rock Sparrows / Pale Rockfinch and eventually after we retreated to the car, they came to the pool to drink. Pale Rock Sparrow is an uncommon and erratic breeding migrant, that breed particularly after good rainfall like this year, They are an uncommon passage migrant (March to April and September to October), and uncommon winter visitor (November to February). Birds often occur in flocks and wander from place to place so their occurrence is unpredictable and they can appear common if you come across a flock or two. They mainly frequent rocky hills, escarpments and wadis with sandy substrate and low vegetation.  
Pale Rockfinch

Pale Rockfinch

Pale Rockfinch


Pale Rockfinch

Pale Rockfinch

Pale Rockfinch

Pale Rockfinch

Pale Rockfinch

Pale Rockfinch

Pale Rockfinch

Pale Rockfinch

6 Apr 2020

Antheemis deserti - Judah

This year there has again been good winter rains and as a result, some flowering plants are in full bloom. I came across a nice small patch of flowering plants near Judah that had some Antheemis desertiThe genus Anthemis (family: Asteraceae) includes approximately 210 species distributed in Europe, south west Asia, and north and north east Africa and is a medicinally important genus. Antheemis deserti flowers in the first three months of the years and has large white daisy petals and a yellow center of tubular florets. The soil were I found the plant was shallow with some clay and silt with hardpan outcropping where large accumulations of windblown sand could accumulate. 
Antheemis deserti

Antheemis deserti


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
Northern Wheatear
Northern Wheatear
Isabelline Wheatear
Isabelline Wheatear