27 Sep 2020

Red Avadavat at Al Hair – Bird record by Munzir Khan

Whilst birding Al Hair, near Riyadh recently Munzir Khan came across a number of Red Avadavat and took the below photograph that he has kindly allowed me to use on my website. This species has been noted breeding in this area for the last twenty years with the birds almost certainly originating from escaped cage birds but now are part of the Saudi Arabian breeding species avifauna.



25 Sep 2020

Arabian Sand Gazelle – Mahazat as-Sayd Protected Area

My family and I saw a number of Arabian sand gazelle Gazella marica, in Mahazat As-Sayd Protected Area on out trip there. The Arabian sand gazelle Gazella subgutturosa maricaknown locally as Al reem is a species of gazelle native to the Syrian and Arabian Deserts. Today it survives in the wild in small, isolated populations in Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Oman, and southeastern Turkey. The total population of wild sand gazelles is thought to be less than 3,000 although significantly more are held in captivity, reserves, or breeding programs. Until recently, the sand gazelle was considered a subspecies of the goitered gazelle Gazella subgutturosa, however a 2010 genetic study established that it was a distinct lineage and it is now considered a separate species. Further genetic analysis reported in 2012 found that the sand gazelle was closely related to two North African gazelles, Cuvier's gazelle Gazella cuvieri and the rhim Gazella leptoceros, perhaps even belonging to a single species. Known locally as Al reem it has declined significantly in numbers mainly due to illegal hunting and habitat loss. In Saudi Arabia, the majority of historical records are from the northern gravel plains and black lava deserts in the north and west of the Nafud desert. Due to the decline, a national captive-breeding program was started by the Saudi Wildlife Authority at its King Khalid Wildlife Research Center near Riyadh to produce Sand Gazelles for reintroduction in the wild with the objectives to establish a free-ranging, self-sustaining population in Mahazat as-Sayd Protected Area. This protected area had previously held Sand Gazelle and the number of animals present suggest the reintroduction plan has worked well. Arabian sand gazelle is a graceful gazelle native to deserts in the Arabian Peninsula. It lives in sand dunes and coastal flats, and avoids steep and rocky areas.
Arabian Sand Gazelle

Arabian Sand Gazelle

Arabian Sand Gazelle

Arabian Sand Gazelle

Arabian Sand Gazelle

23 Sep 2020

Mahazat as-Sayd Protected Area

In August, my family and I went to Mahazat as-Sayd Protected Area with the kind permission of the Saudi Wildlife Authority and other government agencies to who we extend our heartfelt appreciation and thanks. We entered at first light in our own four-wheel drive car and had a Mahazat ranger with us at all times to help guide us and show us the best wildlife and prevent us getting lost in the large reserve. Mahazat as-Sayd Protected Area is a 2,244 sq. km fenced area located on the arid plains of western Saudi Arabia, 170 km north-east of Taif. It has been protected since 1988 and was surrounded by about 220km of chainlink fence, topped with barbed wire to a height of 2.1m by March 1989. Owing to the perimeter fence, Bedouins and their livestock have no access to the Reserve preventing livestock overgrazing the plants and as a result the habitat has become much improved over the years. It was protected mainly as a reintroduction site in Saudi Arabia for the Arabian Oryx Oryx leucoryx, Arabian Sand Gazelle Gazella subgutturosa marica, Macqueen’s Bustard Chlamydotis macqueenii and North African Red-necked Ostrich Struthio camelus camelus. Mahazat as-Sayd is a hot and semi-arid to arid desert steppe habitat, typical of the central plateau of the Arabian Peninsula, gently undulating at elevations of 900–1050m above sea level. Three distinct substrates occur; a gravel plain, a basalt undulating plain, and a chert area interspersed with basaltic outcrops. Sand and fine gravel are the dominant surface substrates covering over 95% of the Area. Mean monthly maximum temperatures range from 19°C to 42°C and minimums from 6°C to 25°C. Rainfall averages 100 mm a year, and typically occurs between March to May each year, but with occasional important rain events at other times. There is no permanent source of water above ground level in Mahazat as-Sayd but ephemeral pools exist for short periods after heavy rain. After completion of the fence 156 vascular plant species were identified, 16 mammal species have been recorded and 159 species of birds, of which 17 have been confirmed as breeding. We saw many animals including large numbers of Arabian Oryx Oryx leucoryx, possibly twenty Arabian Sand Gazelle - Gazella subgutturosa marica, one Mountain Gazelle Gazella gazella or “Idmi” and a single Ruppell's Fox Vulpes ruppelli sabea. Over ten different Arabian Spiny-tailed Lizard Uromastyx aegyptia were located almost always close to their large burrows. Bird wise we saw plenty of Black-crowned Sparrow-Lark, Greater Hoopoe-Lark and Lappet-faced Vultures as well as North African Red-necked Ostrich Struthio camelus camelus. We also saw a few Great Grey Shirkes and several flocks of House Sparrows.
Black-crowned Sparrow-lark
Black-crowned Sparrow-lark
Black-crowned Sparrow-lark
Black-crowned Sparrow-lark
Great Grey Shrike
Great Grey Shrike 
House Sparrow
House Sparrow

21 Sep 2020

Bosk's Fringe-toed Lizard - Tanoumah

Whilst birding the mountains of Tanoumah we came across an area of permanent water with good bird and insect life. Here I sawa number of Bosk's fringe-toed lizard Acanthodactylus boskianus always near to vegetation of low-lying shrubs. This is the most widespread species of its genus as well as the largest Acanthodactylus species measuring 16-23 centimetres in total length. Its range includes all of Saharan North Africa and the Middle East including Arabia (widespread in Saudi Arabia), the Levant and Mesopotamia (including the Turkish border), as well as north- western Iran. It has a long, cylindrical body and well developed legs and is known as a fringe-toed lizard due to the presence of a series of scales on the fingers that provide traction for running over loose sand. The general body colour of this species ranges from darkish or silvery grey, to yellow or reddish brown, with seven contrasting dark, brown longitudinal stripes that run the length of the back. With age, these stripes generally fade away or become grey in colour. It frequents a range of stony and sandy environments and is sometimes common in rocky areas with some shrubs. They excavate burrows in hard sand, some of which are equipped with multiple entrances to allow quick retreats and act as a nightly resting place and as a refuge from periods of intense heat. They emerge from their burrows around mid-morning. It is a voracious predator and eats a wide variety of small insects and other invertebrates. Some of the lizards we saw retreated down their burrows when we disturbed them.
Bosk's Fringe-toed Lizard

19 Sep 2020

African Paradise Flycatcher with brown Tail streamers - Tanoumah

Whilst birding Tanoumah I came across and photographed a male African Paradise Flycatcher with brown tail streamers as well as two females. This is the first record I have had like this of a bird with brown tail streamers as all the previous males I have seen have had white tail streamers. I have probably seen more than twenty males previously so the ratio of white to brown streamers must be very high in favour of the white colour.
African Paradise Flycatcher with brown Tail streamers

African Paradise Flycatcher with brown Tail streamers

17 Sep 2020

Anderson's Rock Agama – Jabal Ibrahim

Whilst birding recently in the Jabal Ibrahim area of the western mountains I came across a few Anderson's Rock Agama Acanthocercus adramitanus including this juvenile one. The 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. It is common in Saudi Arabia where it occurs on rocks in mountainous areas and is found to around 2,000 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. They are sexually dimorphic, with males often taking on a vivid colouration of blue and orange during display, but a duller light brown with faded orange tail colour when blending in to the environment. The males were very visible due to their bright breeding colours but the females are dull and always stayed high up on the boulders.
Anderson's Rock Agama

15 Sep 2020

Common Tern – Jubail

Whilst birding Jubail I came across a Common Tern. This is a species I seldom see in Saudi Arabia even though it has a status in Kingdom as an uncommon passage migrant and scarce winter visitor. Most records occur between May and June and again between August and November. It is more common on the Red Sea coast where it is a local winter visitor along the Red Sea coast south of Yanbu. I am not sure if I overlook these birds or they are not as common as they once were in the Eastern Province.
Common Tern

13 Sep 2020

Carpenter Bee - Tanoumah

Whilst birding the Tanoumah area I came across a single Carpenter Bee possibly Xylocopa pubescens, which is widely distributed. It is a large bee, measuring more than 20mm in length. Historically, Xylocopa pubescens has sometimes been treated as a subspecies of aestuans. The two taxa have different distributions, with X. aestuans restricted to Southeast Asia, while X. pubescens occurs throughout most of Africa and eastward as far as the entire region of South Asia. There are also very clear, but subtle differences in the morphology of females and males. Carpenter bees are species in the genus Xylocopa of the subfamily Xylocopinae. The genus includes some 500 bees in 31 subgenera. The common name "carpenter bee" derives from their nesting behavior; nearly all species burrow into hard plant material such as dead wood or bamboo. They dig nesting tunnels in suitable soil. Many species in this enormous genus are difficult to tell apart; most species are all black, or primarily black with some yellow or white pubescence. Carpenter bees are often confused with bumblebees; the simplest rule of thumb for telling them apart is that most carpenter bees have a shiny abdomen, whereas bumblebee abdomens are completely covered with dense hair. Carpenter bees are traditionally considered solitary bees, though some species have simple social nests in which mothers and daughters may cohabit. Carpenter bees make nests by tunneling into wood, bamboo, and similar hard plant material such as peduncles, usually dead. They vibrate their bodies as they rasp their mandibles against hard wood, each nest having a single entrance which may have many adjacent tunnels. Carpenter bees do not eat wood. Male bees often are seen hovering near nests, and will approach nearby animals. However, males are harmless, since they do not have a stinger. Female carpenter bees are capable of stinging, but they are docile and rarely sting unless caught in the hand or otherwise directly provoked.
Carpenter Bee

11 Sep 2020

Garganey – Jubail

Whilst birding the Jubail area recently I came across a female Garganey Anas querquedula. The species is a common migrant to all areas of the Kingdom with often hundreds seen together. In the Eastern Province, it is a common passage migrant, rare summer and scarce winter visitor. Generally, they occur during spring migration from mid-February to late May with peak numbers in early March. Numbers are much more common during autumn migration which occurs from late August to mid-October with a peak in September when flocks of twenty plus birds are quite frequent. Records are rare between late May and late August and only small numbers are seen in the winter months of November to early February. Birds normally occur on freshwater lakes, pools and lagoons away from the coast although in autumn birds are sometimes seen on the shoreline and occasionally they have even been seen on the sea. Birds normally stay at some distance from the shore as they are frightened of possible hunters but luckily for me the one shown below did not fly and allowed close approach in the car allowing some photos to be taken before it was left in place to rest.
Garganey

9 Sep 2020

Digger Wasp – An Namas

Whilst looking around an ancient village in An Namas in the Asir mountains of western Saudi Arabia I saw a was that I think may be a Sphecid wasp, also known as digger wasps. They are generally black-bodied insects or black marked with white, yellow or red; some are tinged with metallic blue or green. They range in size from about 2mm up to 51 mm long. They are worldwide in distribution, mainly occupying arid and semi-arid areas. Recent estimates indicate the presence of about 300 of the 9720 species occurring in the Arabian Peninsula
Digger Wasp

7 Sep 2020

Lappet-faced Vulture – Mahazat as-Sayd Protected Area

Whilst in Mahazat as-Sayd Protected Area we saw up to twenty Lappet-faced Vulture Torgos tracheliotus. Lappet-faced Vulture is a scarce breeding resident in Saudi Arabia with other birds passing through in very small numbers on migration. Probably the best site in the Kingdom is Mahazat as-Sayd Protected Area near Taif where there were 27 breeding pairs of Lappet-faced Vultures occur in the park. From 1992 to 2003 numbers increased from 6 to 37 pairs with nests widely scattered throughout the Protected Area which was established in 1989. It is thought the fence around the reserve and lack of access to the general public has allowed the species to increase in numbers with the closest nesting pairs only 500 metres apart. They tend to nest in flat topped Maerua crassifolia trees with the nest approximately 3-4 metres from the ground. The Lappet-faced Vulture is the largest of the old world vultures found in Africa and the Arabian Peninsula with the first record of this species in Saudi Arabia in 1947 located 125 km south east of Riyadh. The population size of this vulture in Saudi Arabia was estimated from available data to be probably in excess of 1000 individuals (Newton and Shobrak 1993).  The population is undoubtedly small enough for there to be serious concern for the conservation of the species in Saudi Arabia. In the neighbouring countries, a small breeding population has been known for some time in Oman and United Arab Emirates. It is believed that the birds in Israel and Arabia both belong to the negevensis subspecies and as the breeding population in Israel is now extinct, Saudi Arabia therefore contains the only viable population of the Arabian race of the lappet-faced vulture.
Lappet-faced Vulture

Lappet-faced Vulture

Lappet-faced Vulture

Lappet-faced Vulture

Lappet-faced Vulture

Lappet-faced Vulture

Lappet-faced Vulture


5 Sep 2020

Pachnoda Beetle – An Namas

Whilst looking around an ancient village in An Namas I came across a number of Pachnoda beetles on a fruiting fig tree. Pacnoda is a genus from the subfamily Cetoniinae with nearly all of the species living in Africa. The genus Pachnoda presently contains over 180 taxa at the species level and reaches its greatest diversity in tropical Africa, but a limited number of species extend across the Sahel to the Palearctic region (Algeria, Egypt, Libya, Morocco and Tunisia) and across the Horn of Africa into the southern part of the Arabian Peninsula (Oman, Saudi Arabia and Yemen). The limit of the genus is given by the presence of internal lobes in their aedeagi. A number of Pacnoda beetles have been recorded in the An Namas area including Pachnoda fasciata, Pachnoda leclercqi & Pachnoda thoracica
Pachnoda Beetle

3 Sep 2020

North African Red-necked Ostrich – Mahazat as-Sayd Protected Area

Whilst in Mahazat as-Sayd Protected Area we found a group of North African Red-necked Ostrich Struthio camelus camelus comprising two adults and fourteen young together in a group The birds were very wary and never allowed close approach. The Ostrich (Struthio camelus) has three or four living subspecies and the Red-necked Ostrich Struthio camelus camalus is the closest living relative to the extinct subspecies that occurred in Saudi Arabia as proved by Mitochondrial DNA. The presence of a shared lineage in these two Ostrich subspecies indicates that gene flow between the two geographic forms may have been possible in the recent evolutionary past, probably along the Egyptian–Sinai–Palestine passageway. The morphological features of the Arabian Ostrich as described by Lord Rothschild (1919) states that the bird was smaller than the various extant African forms, however Bates (1940) questioned whether the race was valid and suggested that the type was not a fully adult bird and therefore would have been naturally smaller when compared to adults elsewhere.  Within two decades of it being named the Arabian Ostrich had become extremely rare and perhaps extinct, without any study of it being made in the wild. The Arabian Ostrich formerly occurred in inhabited open semi-desert and desert plains of the Middle East. In historic times it was found north to about 33°N, and east to Kuwait, including Jordan, Syrian Desert south into the Arabian Peninsula and apparently southern Palestine and the Sinai. The range of the Arabian Ostrich seems to have been continuous in prehistoric times, but with the drying-up of the Arabian Peninsula, it disappeared from the inhospitable areas of the Arabian Desert such as the Rub'al-Khali. In historic times, the bird seems to have occurred in two discrete relict populations: a smaller one in the southeast of the Arabian Peninsula and a larger one in the area where today the borders of Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Iraq and Syria meet. The Arabian Ostrich has long had a significant place in the culture of the region and it is known that the species already occurred in the Middle East thousands of years ago. There is a rock carving with an adult with 11 offspring featured on the famous prehistoric "Graffiti Rock I" about two hours southwest of Riyadh that date around 2000-1000 BC. Based on analysis a reintroduction project using S. c. camelus was set up by the National Wildlife Research Center in Saudi Arabia with captive bred birds released in Mahazat as-Sayd Protected Area. 
North African Red-necked Ostrich

North African Red-necked Ostrich

North African Red-necked Ostrich

North African Red-necked Ostrich

North African Red-necked Ostrich

1 Sep 2020

Honey Bee – Wadi Thee Ghazal

Whilst birding the Wadi Thee Ghazal area I found some permanent water with many wild Honey Bees Apis mellifera jemenitica. Honey Bee has been used in apiculture throughout the Arabian Peninsula since at least 2000 BC. Existing literature demonstrates that these populations are well adapted for the harsh extremes of the region. Populations of A. m. jemenitica native to Saudi Arabia are far more heat tolerant than the standard races often imported from Europe. Central Saudi Arabia has the highest summer temperatures for the Arabian Peninsula, and it is in this region where only A. m. jemenitica survives, while other subspecies fail to persist. The indigenous race of Saudi Arabia differs from other subspecies in the region in some morphological, biological, and behavioral characteristics. Further taxonomic investigation, as well as molecular studies, is needed in order to confirm whether the Saudi indigenous bee populations represent a race distinct from A. m. jemenitica, or merely an ecotype of this subspecies.
Honey Bee