28 Aug 2020

Dyer’s Croton - Hanidh

Whilst birding the Hanidh area in summer I came across some Dyer’s Croton Chrozophora tinctorial. This plant is native to the Mediterranean, the Middle East, India, Pakistan, and Central Asia. It is an annual, typically found in nutrient-poor ground where it develops a large taproot. The plant is erect and covered with wool-like hairs and is pollination is by ants. Dyer’s Croton can produce a blue-purple colorant "turnsole" (also known as katasol or folium) used in medieval illuminated manuscripts and as a food colorant in Dutch cheese and certain liquors. The colour comes from the plant's fruit, specifically its dry outer coat.
Dyer’s Croton

26 Aug 2020

Juvenile Striated Heron - Jubail

Phil Roberts and I found a juvenile Striated Heron near Jubail 10 July 2020. Phil had seen two adults in the same general area for a week or so before we located the juvenile. This is the first evidence of breeding in the Eastern Province where the species is a rare but increasing species. They are common breeding residents on the coasts of the Red Sea but is rare in the northern part of the Arabian Gulf including the Eastern Province. The increase in records in recent years shows that birds are spreading northwards and look likely to become a regular feature of the Eastern Province avifauna.
Juvenile Striated Heron

Juvenile Striated Heron

Juvenile Striated Heron

24 Aug 2020

Blubber Jellyfish - Half Moon Bay

Recently at Half Moon Bay on the Arabian Gulf coast, near Al Khobar, I saw a small number of Blubber Jellyfish (also known as Blue Blubber Jellyfish) Catostylus cf mosaicus. Half Moon Bay is a shallow and warm coastal area with the jellyfish having a translucent sub-hemispherical bell up to 35 centimetres across and eight conical arms without clubs or filamanets. They are quite common in the shallow coastal waters of Half Moon Bay, Dhahran and along the coast southwards to Abu Dhabi (United Arab Emirates) at certain times of the year, mainly the spring and summer. During the day the Blubber Jellyfish swims close to the water surface to obtain sunlight which it converts to energy. They come in various colours from translucent greyish white, like the ones at Half Moon Bay, to blue-green or even bright blue and reddish.
Blubber Jellyfish

Blubber Jellyfish

Blubber Jellyfish

22 Aug 2020

Black-crowned Night Heron - Jubail

Whilst birding the Jubail area I found a second summer Black-crowned Night Heron. The light was poor by the time I located the bird so the photographs are not the best. Black-crowned Night Heron is an uncommon migrant to most areas of Saudi Arabia and the date of early July for this record is very early for a migrant. In the Eastern Province it is an uncommon migrant noted more often in autumn than spring. Juveniles occur from September through November and sometimes into February. Spring occurrences are irregular from April to May. In the Riyadh area they are a common spring and autumn passage migrant passing early February to early June and again from late July to early November and rarely as late as December with birds now regularly breeding in the area. 
Black-crowned Night Heron

Black-crowned Night Heron

Black-crowned Night Heron

20 Aug 2020

Blanford's short-nosed desert lizard - Wannan

Whilst birding the Wannan Area of the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia I saw a small lizard in the heat of the day (46 degrees Celsius) in a gravel area with wind-blown sand and small plants. It turned out to be a Blanford's short-nosed desert lizard Mesalina brevirostris a species of sand-dwelling lizard in the family Lacertidae and a species I had not seen previously. It occurs from two localities in Turkey, through much of Syria, eastern Lebanon, and most of Jordan to the northern Arabian Peninsula (northern Saudi Arabia, Kuwait United Arab Emirates), east to Iraq, Iran, Pakistan and Punjab, northern India. It occurs from sea level up to at least 900 metres. There is an isolated population in the southern part of the Sinai Peninsula (Egypt), and on the Tiran Islands. It is found in a wide variety of arid areas with hard substrates such as gravelly plains with sparse vegetation, and in coastal areas. It is also known from gravel plains and blown sand areas in wadis. The female lays five clutches of between one and six eggs per year. I thank Mansur Al Fahad, a brilliant local naturalist for his help with the identification of the lizard.
Blanford's short-nosed desert lizard

Blanford's short-nosed desert lizard


18 Aug 2020

Breeding Egyptian Nightjars – Jubail

Whilst birding the Jubail area in the summer we saw a number of juvenile Egyptian Nightjars. The plumage was very fresh with neat white fringed coverts forming neat lines across the wing. Birds appeared pale compared to the darker adults (see bottom four photos below). We found two adults and a juvenile together that remained in the same area for at least a week suggesting breeding. In total eleven birds were seen in early July, the highest number for the month so far. Breeding has long been suspected at this location and the fact that this year birds were proved to have bred in Qatif in KSA and the young and adult remained together suggests these birds are local rather than from elsewhere in the nearby region.
Egyptian Nightjar

Egyptian Nightjar

Egyptian Nightjar

Egyptian Nightjar

Egyptian Nightjar

Egyptian Nightjar

Egyptian Nightjar

16 Aug 2020

Arabian Spiny-tailed Lizard - Wannan

Whilst searching the desert areas in the middle of summer we found an Arabian Spiny-tailed Lizard. I saw the lizard running very quickly across the stoney desert before if sat down to hide as it was too far from its burrow to make it back safely. I took a couple of photos before it ran off again, made it to its burrow and disappeared. This individual was bright yellow in colour as it had obviously spent time warming up in the hot sunshine as the temperature was 46 degreed Celsius. These lizards are relatively common and widespread across Saudi Arabia preferring hard stony ground to excavate their holes. 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 and is generally regarded as a subspecies of the Egyptian Spiny-tailed Lizard Uromastyx aegyptia. It is locally known to the Arabs as 'Dhub'.
Arabian Spiny-tailed Lizard

Arabian Spiny-tailed Lizard

14 Aug 2020

Greater Hoopoe-Lark - Hanidh

Whilst birding a desert area near Hanidh in the Eastern Province I came across a Greater Hoopoe-Lark. I had heard birds calling in this area in early spring but could not locate them so was happy to see a bird. The birds are almost always on the move so getting good photos of them is not so easy. The Greater Hoopoe-Lark is a common breeding resident in all sandy desert areas of the Kingdom including the Empty Quarter, the desert regions of the Southern Red Sea and the Tihamah. They are uncommon in the North-west.


12 Aug 2020

Blandford's Agama - Wannan

Whilst searching the desert areas in the middle of summer we found very few birds of interest but a couple of lizards. One was a Blandford's Agama Trapelus ruderatus that was out hunting in the sparse vegetation and 46 degrees Celsius temperatures. This lizard has a range from north-eastern Jordan and southern Syria, through northern and eastern Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Kuwait and southern and central Iran as far south as Shiraz. The species occurs from close to sea level to around 1,000 metres above sea level. It can be moderately common in suitable habitat. This ground-dwelling species is associated with low shrubs (Nitraria) on the fringe of sandy dunes in arid areas and in sandy desert areas. It can sometimes be found perching on bushes but is not found in modified areas. 
Blandfords Agama

Blandfords Agama

Blandfords Agama

10 Aug 2020

Sand Partridge – Abha area

Whilst birding an area of Abha without access to the general public, I came across a few Sand Partridge. I had not managed to get any decent photographs of this species since I arrived in Saudi Arabia so was pleased to see the birds and get the below photos. Sand Partridge has a large range, and is mainly found down the western side of the Kingdom where it is a common breeding resident of the Northern Hejaz. It is also common in Central Arabia and the desert fringes of Asir and Hejaz. They are locally common on the Tuwaiq Escarpment where groups of up to 70 have been seen together at waterholes, and it occurs as far east as Riyadh. They have not been seen yet in the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia where I live.





8 Aug 2020

Petroglyph chronology

The chronology of Saudi Arabian rock art remains largely tentative. The earliest Phase 1, tentatively attributed to the Neolithic, are distinctive in having large-sized human and animal figures depicted in low or bas-relief with detailed realistic physical features, except the faces, which are usually obscure and ambiguous. The art of the later Neolithic period represents highly skilled and artistic images of human and animals. In Phase II a change occurred in the art style with no more large-sized human and animal figures, with realistic physical features being produced. Instead, the figures became comparatively smaller and schematized. The typical funnel-shaped faces of bovids of phase 1 were replaced by triangular or conical shaped faces, while the horns remained exaggeratedly large and highly stylized. In Phase III, large compositions of human and animal figures, associated with a variety of animal species and non-representational and geometric motifs became common. The figures became schematic, mostly outlined, and, for the first time, stick or linear, and simplified human and animal figures appeared in rock art compositions. Foot and hand prints were seen for the first time along with a variety of animal species, such as presumed camels, ibex, deer, lions, dogs, wolves, and gazelles, becoming common. Phase IV is represented by a period preceding the introduction of writing or the literary period in Arabia. Highly schematic, abstract, stick-like linear human and animal figures, along with geometric and non-representational motifs, were depicted as signs and symbols. With the change in Arabian climate and environmental conditions, from cool and humid in the Neolithic to the extremely hot and dry in the Bronze Age, the camel became the main animal of rock assemblages. 



6 Aug 2020

Breeding Little terns - Jubail

Whilst birding the Jubail area I came across a few Little Terns some of which had well grown young to feed. As most of the area is flooded the birds were on the edge of some large flooded pools. In the Eastern Province the Little Tern is a common passage migrant and summer visitor that is scarce in the winter. Care must be taken not to confuse it with the very similar Saunder’s Tern that also occurs in the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia in the summer and breeds on offshore islands. It has bred in freshwater and brackish areas of eastern Saudi Arabia and possibly the Red Sea also. Birds are scarce inland but have been recorded in all areas including Riyadh. In the summer months the chance to try to get photos is increased as adults were feeding young and continually flying backwards and forwards with food. The harsh light is a drawback but the best photos I managed are shown below.




4 Aug 2020

Petroglyphs (Rock Art) – Near Hanidh

Whilst in the Hanidh area of Saudi Arabia, approximately 100 kms off the Dammam/Riyadh highway we saw some petroglyphs. Saudi Arabia is among the four richest rock art regions of the world with more than 1500 rock art sites and it is thought they were drawn by Bedouin or desert dwellers. Hundreds and thousands of petroglyphs, painted rock art, and ancient Arabian inscriptions sites are located all over the country, representing various cultural phases. The rock art of Saudi Arabia represents an era from early Neolithic (c.14,000 BP) to early Islamic period (c.1,500 years BP). A scientific project begun in 2001 under the direction of the Deputy Ministry of Antiquities and Museums and is continuing under the auspices of the Saudi Commission for Tourism and National Heritage. It has led to the discovery of large rock art site complexes numbering tens of thousands of motifs, and to the successful nomination of major rock art properties to the UNESCO World Heritage List. More specifically, the work of this project has also resulted in a preliminary chronological sequence of Arabian Peninsula rock art. One can see the naturalistic, schematic, abstract, mythical, and mystical images representing ancient ideology, thoughts about the metaphysical world, religious entity, economy, environment, human activities, and variety of animal types, according to particular climatic and environmental conditions. Due to excellent work by the Saudi Arabian authorities by the late 1990s, Saudi Arabia had one of the best rock art protection programs in the world so many of the locations are well protected from possible damage such as the site at Hanidh. It had become apparent that the traditional approaches, specifically the determination of meanings and unsubstantiated rock art sequences were incompatible with scientific practice. Because of the archaeological importance of facilitating the creation of a chronological framework it was suggested that the 2001 mission would focus on the specific aspect of rock art dating. The project commenced with a minimum amount of credible empirical information about its subject as most published data about Saudi rock art lacked basic evidence, such as details of site morphology, geomorphic surface conditions, types of accretionary deposits, assumed rates of exfoliation or patination, petrographic descriptions, weathering rates or indeed any forensic information relating to the rock art. Such knowledge has since been acquired for more than one hundred sites from the northwest to the far south of the Kingdom. The scientific investigations into Saudi Arabian rock art have yielded a rough chronological framework through the acquisition of forensic evidence from many of the sites. The interpretation of these rock art remains in a nascent state but it is currently being developed ethnographically, assisted by epigraphic studies of accompanying texts of several pre-Islamic alphabets. One of the Kingdoms preeminent experts on Saudi Arabian Rock Art is Dr Majeed Khan, who has authored many papers and books on the subject. I contacted Dr Khan about the rock art I saw and received the following response “The rock art in the photographs all belong to same cultural period, possibly iron age c.1500 years before present. Both horse rider and camel rider are associated with Wasm or tribal symbols”. With the establishment of large-scale communities, developments of tribes and clans, and the beginning of large-scale domestication of camels, the use of animal brands occurred, locally called Wusum. In Arabia they were used for several purposes such as marking territorial boundaries and as symbols of tribes.






2 Aug 2020

Breeding Pied Avocet – Jubail area

Whilst birding the Jubail area in late June we saw about twenty-five adult Pied Avocet Recurvirostra avosetta. Records at this time of year are scarce and the birds were acting in a way to suggest they had young. We looked closely and found at least ten young unable to fly. It is very unusual to see breeding Pied Avocet in Saudi Arabia. The Pied Avocet is an uncommon migrant and winter visitor to all coasts. Locally common along the southern Red Sea coast. Scarce inland but recorded at Tabuk, Riyadh, Al Hassa and Abqaiq. Birds of the Riyadh Region (Stagg 1994) mentioned it as a passage migrant and winter visitor in variable numbers. Passes March to mid-May and late August to late October. Flocks of up to 40 have been recorded. Wintering groups of 10 plus now regular. In 1986 10 birds over-summered and two pairs nested in June and produced young. In 1987 a pair again bred but the nest was preyed upon by Brown-necked Ravens Corvus ruficollis. In the Eastern Province two pairs attempted to breed at Abqaiq 1976 & 1982 and three pairs in 1983 although it is generally a rather scarce visitor from August to March. Records have occurred throughout the year in the Jubail area but records in summer are much less common.