31 July 2020

Huwwa – Dhahran Hills

Whilst walking in an area of Jebals in Dhahran I came across some Huwwa Launaea procumbens, which is a frequent perennial, found on sand, silt or rock in the area. It grows up to 30 cm tall. The species name procumbens (meaning “lying on the ground”) is a bit of a misnomer as this species is inconsistent in its habit. It can be upright, semi-trailing or prostrate with most in Dhahran being upright. The plant has tall almost leafless stems each topped by several lemon yellow flowers. Their blooming period is long, from winter until April or May. Typically, leaves cluster in a rosette at the base of the plant.

29 July 2020

Birds at drinking pool – Abha area

Whilst birding an area of Abha without access to the general public, I came across a few good birds. There were a couple of water pools constructed to attract wildlife and here birds came down to drink during the day including Crested Lark, Desert Lark, Laughing Dove and Arabian Serin. The area is a sparsely vegetated basalt rocky area but had a few good birds such as Verreaux’s Eagle and wintering Steppe Eagles. Some resident species were seen including Arabian Babbler, Arabian Green Bee-eater, Arabian Sunbird, Blackstart, Brown-necked Raven and White-spectacled Bulbul with an early migrant in the form of a Turkestan Shrike.
Arabian Serin
Arabian Serin
Crested Lark
Desert Lark
Laughing Dove

27 July 2020

Common Thatching Grass – Dhahran Hills

Whilst walking in an area of Jebals in Dhahran I came across some Common Thatching Grass Hyparrhenia hirta an introduced, frequent perennial found on rocky ground or silt in the area. It grows up to 75 cm tall and has thick tufts at its base and loose racemes of delicate flowering spikes. It is considered useful for erosion control in some parts of the world and an invasive species in others. It is used over much of Africa for thatching. Hyparrhenia hirta is native to the Mediterranean Basin and to Africa, where it can be found in most countries except equatorial ones. It spread eastwards to the Middle East from Arabia to Pakistan, and westwards to Cape Verde. It was introduced as a potential pasture species in the Americas and in Australia in the 1950s where it has become a weed.

25 July 2020

First breeding records of Spur-winged Lapwing in Eastern Province – Jubail area

Whilst birding the Jubail area in mid-June 2020 Phil Roberts and I saw six Spur-winged Lapwings. On closer inspection the birds were two adults and four juveniles. The juveniles were fledged and could fly but kept close to the parents at all times. These birds could have flown in from somewhere else but as breeding has been thought to be possible at the site in 2017 and 2019 but not proved, it is very likely they bred here. Even if this is not the exact site of breeding they would have done so nearby in the Eastern Province as the young only flew short distances before landing. This is the first breeding records of the species for the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia. The species is still scarce in the Eastern Province although good numbers have been seen recently in the Haradh area including possible breeding. The species was regarded as a vagrant to the Eastern Province when I arrived ten years ago but is now a scarce visitor that can be seen at any time of year indicating birds may now be resident in small numbers in areas away from Haradh where it appears they are now definitely resident. 
Adult (Left) & Juvenile (Right)

23 July 2020

Buffelgrass – Dhahran Hills

Whilst walking in an area of Jebals in Dhahran I came across some Buffelgrass Cenchrus ciliaris which is a frequent perennial found on rocky ground in the area. This plant is a highly drought-tolerant grass, whose roots can extend to more than two meters deep. It has bristly flowers that are made up of a series of spikelets and look like an animal’s tail. It is a perennial grass growing to 20 to 120 cm tall and is native to Africa, Arabia, the Middle-East and India. It was introduced to Australia in the late 19th century and is now widespread throughout tropical, subtropical and warm temperate areas. 

21 July 2020

Breeding Little Ringed Plover - Jubail

Whilst birding Jubail I came across a pair of breeding Little Ringed Plovers with a well grown juvenile. The species is an early passage migrant with small numbers seen from January through to early May, breeders remaining through the summer and more migrants in August to October. A few birds stay until November and exceptionally December and they often occur on pools and lagoons sometimes well away from the coast. The prefer inland freshwater locations often well away from the coast and breed in open areas with sandy or shingle banks close to streams, freshwater and treated wastewater lagoons. Breeding numbers appear to be increasing in the Eastern Province over the last few years.

19 July 2020

Slender Skimmer or Oasis Skimmer – Jubail

The Slender Skimmer Orthetrum sabina is a common dragonfly in Saudi Arabia found in oasis and overgrown riverbanks and wetland areas. It rarely perches and when it does it hangs partly suspended by a bush or reed stem. Very active hunter. It is a medium-sized dragonfly with a wingspan of 60-85mm. Adults are grayish to greenish yellow with black and pale markings and green eyes. Its abdomen is greenish-yellow, marked with black. Females are similar to males in shape, colour and size. It is widespread, being found from south-eastern Europe and North Africa to Japan and south to Australia and Micronesia.

17 July 2020

Summer plumaged Dunlin - Jubail

Whilst birding the Jubail area recently I saw a summer plumaged Dunlin on a wet pool. Breeding plumaged Dunlins are scarce in the areas I bird. The bird unfortunately had a deformed bill with growths around it. The subspecies from our area are  birds are mainly Calidris alpina centralis that breeds in north-east Siberia from Taymyr Peninsula to Kolyma Delta and winters from the eastern Mediterranean and Red Sea eastwards to southern Asia. The plumage of the bird suggests Calidris alpina centralis or Calidris alpina alpina.

15 July 2020

Cakile arabica - Dhahran

Whilst walking around the jebals in Dhahran I came across a few small flowering plants, about 60 cm tall, growing in stable sand that turned out to be Cakile Cakile arabica. This plant has purple flowers that are 12-20mm wide and give off a sweet fragrance. They tend to grow in colonies, which in rainy years are so extensive that they create a sea of pinky-purple in the desert. Insects, especially butterflies and moths, find it a good food source. This species occurs only in Arabia, north to Syria and Iraq, and in the Sinai Peninsula.
Cakile arabica

Cakile arabica

13 July 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/

09 July 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

07 July 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

05 July 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.

03 July 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

01 July 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.