28 May 2020

Female Anderson's Rock Agama - Tanoumah

Whilst birding the fields in Tanoumah I came across some female Anderson's Rock Agama Acanthocercus adramitanus. Rather than being the brightly coloured males I normally see, these were much duller. As I was not certain of the identity of them I sent the photos to Mansur Al Fahad a local expert on lizards, as well as most things to do with nature in general. He very kindly identified them for me as female Anderson's Rock Agama. They are very common in the Abha/Tanouma area and I see them every time I go out birding.
Female Anderson's Rock Agama

Female Anderson's Rock Agama

Female Anderson's Rock Agama

26 May 2020

Red-breasted Wheatear - Talea Valley

Whilst driving down the raod in the Talea Valley I found a pair of Red-breasted Wheatear Oenanthe bottae at the side of the road with a juvenile. As I did not have many photos if this species I stopped in the hope the birds may come closer to the car. Luckily for me they performed well allowing some good photos to be taken whcich are shown below. It is a common breeding resident, mostly sedentary in the highlands of the southwestern mountains of Saudi Arabia and Yemen. It occurs north to Taif always above 2300 metres in flattish areas such as wadi bottoms and cultivated fields with walls. There are two subspecies O. b. frenata from Eritrea, Ethiopia, and nominate O. b bottae from southwest Saudi Arabia to Yemen.
Red-breasted Wheatear

Red-breasted Wheatear

Red-breasted Wheatear

Red-breasted Wheatear

Red-breasted Wheatear

Red-breasted Wheatear

Red-breasted Wheatear

Red-breasted Wheatear

Red-breasted Wheatear

Red-breasted Wheatear

Red-breasted Wheatear

Red-breasted Wheatear

Red-breasted Wheatear

24 May 2020

Heavy rainstorms – Talea Valley

Whilst in the Asir mountains with Phil Roberts we got caught in a massive rainstorm with some hail thrown in as well. We sat in the car for more than six hours waiting for the storm to pass to allow us to bird one of our favourite locations of the Talea Valley. This is a site we visit almost every time we go to the Abha area of the southwest of the Kingdom. As a result, I have photos of what it normally looks like and what it looked like when the rainstorm finally abated. The area is used to rain for much of the year but these rainstorms were particularly heavy and lasted for much longer than normal.
Talea Valley

Talea Valley

22 May 2020

Arabian Partridge – Raydah Escarpment

Whilst birding the Raydah Escarpment I came across a calling Arabian Partridge Alectoris melanocephala. Later on driving further down the escarpment I found some additional birds on the rocky roadside. This is a common resident of the south-west highlands, especially steep wooded hillsides of the western escarpment of Jebal Souda, the Raydah Protected Area, Tanoumah and the Al Baha area. They prefer juniper dominated habitats where rocky knolls & clearings occur.  It has also been recorded at terraced fields on the Souda Plateau and feeds mainly on plant material, seeds and insects. They are much larger than other Alectoris species with the sexes being similar, although females are slightly smaller. They have a black crown extending down the nape; a broad white band begins in front of the eye and extends to the back of the head. The chin and upper throat are also white and are separated from the white above the eye by a narrow black band that starts at the bill, extends to the cheek and forms a "V" on the neck. The sides of the neck are pastel brown and the rest of the plumage is bluish grey with pronounced barring on the sides.
Arabian Partridge

Arabian Partridge

Arabian Partridge


20 May 2020

Yemen Tree Aloe - Raydah Escarpment

Whilst travelling down the Raydah Escarpment from the top at 3000 metres to the farm at 1200 metres you come to a zone of Tree Aloe near the bottom. Here a good number of large plants grow by the side of the road and make a spectacular sight. Tree Aloes with a few exceptions are native to Africa or the islands off Africa (such as Madagascar). However, at least one tree aloe is a native of Yemen & southwest Saudi Arabia. Yemen Tree Aloe Aloe sabaea is a curious tree aloe, growing up to about three to four metres tall and having a relatively sparse head of leaves (sometimes only 6-8), most that drape down and bend gracefully. The leaves are thick, wide and gently tapering, fleshy pale green to yellow green and lightly armed with pale teeth along the margins. Stems are markedly thin, making these trees seem inordinately top heavy. There are only a few dead leaves in the skirt below the crown and most of the stem is usually bare. Flowers are multi-branched and racemes are extremely open and consist of multicolored flowers of either red or orange and yellow. This unusual plant comes from remote areas of Yemen and southwestern Saudi Arabia where it grows at an intermediate elevation in stony barren soils. The specific epithet 'sabaea' comes from the Roman name for Arabia Felix, the area we now call Yemen. This plant was described and named, by Georg Agustus Schweinfurth in 1894. He was a German botanist and ethnologist who travelled throughout East Central Africa and the Saudi Arabian peninsula.
Yemen Tree Aloe

Yemen Tree Aloe

Yemen Tree Aloe

Yemen Tree Aloe

Yemen Tree Aloe

18 May 2020

Arabian Red-capped Lark - Abha

The Talea’a Valley near Abha is in the Asir mountains in southwest Saudi Arabia and is a large upland wadi with stony ground and acacia trees growing in the bottom. It is the best site for locating Arabian Red-capped Lark Calandrella eremica in the Kingdom. This is a difficult species to find in the Kingdom and always appear to favour stony ground so Phil Roberts and I went looking for other locations where the species may occur with similar habitat. We eventually located some breeding birds, adults feeding juveniles, many kilometres south of the know range for them south of Abha. We took a few photos and confirmed the new location was indeed unknown from Mike Jennings.
Arabian Red-capped Lark

Arabian Red-capped Lark

Arabian Red-capped Lark

Arabian Red-capped Lark

Arabian Red-capped Lark





16 May 2020

Lycid beetle – Raydah Escarpment

Whilst birding the bottom of the Raydah Escarpment I came across a Lycid beetle that looked similar to Tailed Net-winged Beetle Lycus trabeatus. This beetle is known to occur in Eritrea, Ethiopia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Tanzania, Namibia and South Africa. The bettle shown below thus may be different species. They are diurnal, aposematic insects. Adults feed on various flowers and their nectar, while larvae live under tree bark, in dead wood, or in detritus where they may live on fungi. It inhabits subtropical forests, savannahs and grasslands. If anyone knows the actual species please could they let me know.
Lycid beetle

14 May 2020

Pharaoh Eagle Owl in flight - Jubail

I found a few photos I took a few years ago of a Pharaoh Eagle Owl in flight so have added them below. The Pharaoh Eagle Owl is distributed throughout much of North Africa and the Middle East, with two recognised subspecies and the smaller, paler and sandier coloured Bubo ascalaphus desertorum appearing to be this subspecies. They are found in arid habitats, including open desert plains, rocky outcrops and broken escarpments and jabals, mountain cliffs and wadis. They are a common breeding resident but despite their size are not easy to locate.
Pharaoh Eagle Owl

Pharaoh Eagle Owl

Pharaoh Eagle Owl

Pharaoh Eagle Owl

12 May 2020

Saltwort – Jubail

Whilst looking for Desert Owls I came across a small wadi and found some Saltwort Salsola drummondii growing in it. A very undistinguished plant for much of the year and is a tough halophyte often looking dead. Its woody stems are an adaptation for survival in the arid heat. The leaves are variable: while some are greater than a centimeter long and club-shaped, others are tiny and almost egg-shaped. The fall flowers are inconspicuous. The winged fruits, generally off-yellow colored but occasionally an attractive rose tint, are much more noticeable. It is common where it occurs and grows to 60 centimeters tall.
Saltwort

10 May 2020

Juvenile Heuglin´s Gull – Jizan Corniche

I took this photo in Jizan, southwest Saudi Arabia in December of a fresh-plumaged gull in juvenile plumage. I thought it could be a Baltic Gull, but the fresh plumage alerted me to the fact it could be something different. As a result, I sent the photo to Klaus Malling Olsen for his comments. He very kindly replied with the following: Baltic is jizzwise different to this bird in showing longer wings and a smaller head, slenderer body and finer bill. The juvenile plumage of Baltic is kept, or almost kept, until birds reach their wintering quarters, so I would expect a Baltic Gull in December not to appear so fresh-plumaged. This indicates a more northerly, Arctic origin of the bird suggesting Heuglin´s Gull. This taxa, is a long-distant migrant, keeping their juvenile plumage on autumn migration, as Baltic do, and start to moult at their arrival to the winter quarters. Heuglin´s Gull breeds very late, at least a month later than Baltic, resulting in very crisp and fresh-looking juvenile well into December, at a time where I suspect most Baltics to appear more worn. There are also other characters leading towards Heuglin´s Gull: the rather big head and bill and compared to Baltic, shorter wing-projection behind the tail. Also, the brown-tinged plumage is more in line with Heuglin´s Gull, being brownish-tinged, whereas most Baltics would have appeared colder blackish-brown in dark parts. The full broad edges to the mantle and scapulars is again a more striking feature against the narrower edges in Baltic, as well as more extensive pale pattern in greater coverts, so all in all, the bird show more characters of Heuglin´s Gull in my opinion (in an always very complex chapter in gull ID).
Juvenile Heuglin´s Gull

8 May 2020

Giant Milkweed – Abu Arish

Whilst birding the Abu Arish area of southwest Saudi Arabia I came across a number of Giant Milkweed Calotropis procera. This is a species of flowering plant in the family Apocynaceaethat is native to North Africa, tropical Africa, Western Asia, South Asia, and Indochina. The green fruits contain a toxic milky sap that is extremely bitter and turns into a gluey coating which is resistant to soap. Common names for the plant include Giant Milkweed, Apple of Sodom, Sodom apple, Dead Sea Apple and rubber tree. The name Apple of Sodom and Dead Sea Apple comes from the fact that the ancient authors Josephus and Tacitus described it as growing in the area of biblical Sodom.
Giant Milkweed

6 May 2020

lugens Eastern Morning Wheatear? - Tabuk

Whilst birding the Tabuk area in winter I came across a single Eastern Morning Wheatear. The bird looked slightly differently to the persica race we have in the Eastern Province in winter so may well be of the race lugens as this is supposed to occur in this area of northwest Saudi Arabia. 
Eastern Morning Wheatear

Eastern Morning Wheatear

4 May 2020

Juvenile Anderson's Rock Agama – Raydah Escarpment

Whilst birding the Raydah Escarpment I came across an Anderson's Rock Agama Acanthocercus adramitanus. Rather than being the brightly coloured types I normally see this was a much duller juvenile example. This species is endemic to the Arabian Peninsula, where it is found in west and south Arabia, from Taif (Saudi Arabia) in the north to Dhofar (Oman) in the east. Its range includes Oman, Yemen, and southwestern Saudi Arabia and is the most common species of Agama in Yemen. It is a common rock dwelling lizard in Saudi Arabia mainly present in mountainous areas and is found to around 2200 metres above sea level. Populations can be found on vertical rocks, rock steps and amongst boulders often in the vicinity of water. They can occur in precipitous wadis surrounded by dense vegetation, with the animals usually seen on the top of boulders. They do not however require water, obtaining moisture from their insect prey.
Juvenile Anderson's Rock Agama

Juvenile Anderson's Rock Agama

2 May 2020

Eastern Imperial and Greater Spotted Eagles - Ushaiqer

Whilst birding the Ushaiqer area northwest of Riyadh, where the worlds largest gathering of Steppe Eagles occurred this winter I also saw a few other eagles. They were very limited in numbers but I did see up to ten Eastern Imperial Eagles and four Greater Spotted Eagles during several trips to the location. The massive number of Steppe Eagles made it somewhat difficult to locate them but the small numbers suggest they are not common in the areas in the winter as surely they would have been feeding on the chicken waste otherwise.
Eastern Imperial Eagle
Eastern Imperial Eagle 
Eastern Imperial Eagle
Eastern Imperial Eagle
Eastern Imperial Eagle
Eastern Imperial Eagle
Greater Spotted Eagle
Greater Spotted Eagle