27 Oct 2020

Spotted Crake at Jubail – Bird record by Munzir Khan

Whilst birdwatching the Jubail in mid-October, Munzir Khan came across a Spotted Crake at the edge of a reed bed area and took the below photograph which he has kindly allowed me to use on my website. Spotted Crake is an uncommon passage migrant with a few birds overwintering in some years. It is probably an overlooked species, due to its skulking nature with birds in spring from late February to mid-May and in autumn occurring from September to December but mainly in October and November. The Birds of the Riyadh Region (Stagg 1994) says they are a spring and autumn passage migrant. Passes late February to mid-May with main movement occurring in April. Return passage extends from late August to early November, peaking in October. Sightings have considerably increased with wetland expansion in the region. Up to 30 in a day have been seen in April along the Riyadh watercourse. These numbers are no longer seen in the Riyadh area although birds are still seen quite commonly at the correct time of year.



25 Oct 2020

Hypocolius at Khafra Marsh – Bird records by Jibin Jayan

Whilst birding the Khafra Marsh area near Jubail on 17 October Jibin Jayan came across a young Hypocolius. This is an early date for birds in Saudi Arabia and a very nice find as they are a regular but local winter visitor from November to April. In the Eastern Province it has been noted at widely scattered locations from Hanidh in the north to Haradh in the south. The highest counts have been 85-120 at Salasil in December 1983. Migrants have been seen in November and April, with odd males at Haradh and Al Kharj away from the normal palms suggesting migration during those months. In Saudi Arabia as a whole they are an uncommon, but may be a locally common winter visitor to Central Arabia, Northern Hejaz, Hejaz and Northern Red Sea. Flocks of over 100 birds have been recorded in Riyadh each winter. Jibin kindly allowed me to ushers photos on my website which are shown below.





23 Oct 2020

Oman Cownose Ray – Farasan Islands

Whilst crossing from Greater Farasan Island to Segid Island we saw a shoal of over fifty Oman Cownose Ray Rhinoptera jayakari. This species occurs from South Africa to the Philippines; north to Ryukyu Is. and south to eastern Indonesia. However, it may comprise of two closely related species based on genetic findings where the forms possibly differ in the shape of the head and tail and robustness of the bodies. It has a maximum length of 90 cm and often aggregates in large shoals. Exhibit ovoviparity with embryos feeding initially on yolk, then receiving additional nourishment from the mother by indirect absorption of uterine fluid enriched with mucus, fat or protein through specialised structures.
Oman Cownose Ray

Oman Cownose Ray

Oman Cownose Ray

Oman Cownose Ray

Oman Cownose Ray

Oman Cownose Ray

Oman Cownose Ray

Oman Cownose Ray

21 Oct 2020

European Roller at Khafra Marsh – Bird records by Jibin Jayan

While birding at Kafrah Marsh, Jubail on 9 October Jibin Jayan came across a European Roller sitting on a bunch of a tree. It was a long way off, but he managed to take the below photograph that he has kindly allowed me to use on my website. 



19 Oct 2020

Spotted Eagle Ray – Farasan Islands

Whilst crossing from Greater Farasan Island to Segid Island we saw a single large Spotted Eagle Ray Aetobatus narinari from the road bridge. This is a large species of ray distinguished by a long snout, flat and rounded like a ducks bill, a thik head, and a pectoral disc with sharply curved, angular corners. Numerous white spots on black or bluish disc; white below with long whip-like tail, with a long spine near the base behind small dorsal fin. Commonly found in shallow inshore waters such as bays and coral reefs. Benthopelagic, found near land at 1-60 m and sometimes enters estuaries. Swims close to the surface, occasionally leaping out of the water. Feeds mainly on bivalves but also eats shrimps, crabs, octopus and worms, whelks, and small fishes. Exhibit ovoviparity with embryos feeding initially on yolk, then receiving additional nourishment from the mother by indirect absorption of uterine fluid enriched with mucus, fat or protein through specialised structures. Bears young in litters of 2-4.
Spotted Eagle Ray

Spotted Eagle Ray

Spotted Eagle Ray

Spotted Eagle Ray

17 Oct 2020

Red-necked Phalarope - Jubail

Phil Roberts and I found a winter plumaged Red-necked Phalarope on some flooded Sabkha in Jubail in late September. Red-necked Phalarope is an uncommon bird in the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia, with Jubail the best place in the Province to see them. Bundy’s ‘Birds of the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia’ published in October 1989 states that they are regular in varying numbers on marshy pools in spring but very scarce and irregular in autumn. Records are regular in Kuwait to the north but from the Eastern Province are limited with one record from March, scare in April and regular in May with the peak inland count being 150 birds at Abqaiq in May 1976. As shown they were regular in years gone by but have become increasingly scarce, although in the last seven years birds have been seen each year. Recent sightings have been in February, May, June, August, September and October.





15 Oct 2020

Bath White – Wadi Thee Ghazal

Whilst birding Wadi Thee Ghazal I found a few Bath White Pontia daplidice. This is a small butterfly of the family Pieridae, the yellows and whites, which occurs in the Palearctic region. It is a small white butterfly with a wingspan of 45 to 50 mm. The underside of the hindwing has a pattern of greenish blotches, which is characteristic of the Bath whites and easily identifies it from other pierids. Sexes can be differentiated by markings on the forewing. The male is differentiated from the female by the markings on the upperside of the forewing. The apex of the forewing is black with white spots and lines. There is a black spot at the end of the cell. In the case of the female, there is an additional discal spot in 1b. The female also has an obscure row of terminal and marginal spots on the upper hindwing. They have a wingspan of 52–56 mm and occur commonly in central and southern Europe, Asia Minor, Persia and Afghanistan, migrating northwards in the summer. It is usually found on dry slopes and rough ground with little vegetation.The host plants of the larvae are in the family Brassicaceae and vary according to locality. They include tower mustard (Arabis glabra) and sea rocket (Cakile maritima). The subspecies found in Saudi Arabia is Pontia daplidice aethiops which occurs in the highlands of Ethiopia, south-western Arabia, Near East and Afghanistan.
Bath White

13 Oct 2020

Common Rosefinch trapped and ringed – Jubail

Whilst ringing in September I caught and ringed a Common Rosefinch, a new ringing species for me and only the second I have seen after one in the trees around the percolation pond, Dhahran 14 May 2011. It was regarded as an uncommon passage migrant in Saudi Arabia in the 1990’s but has become scarcer and is now a rare passage migrant. Birds of Thumamah 1988-1994 stated it was an uncommon autumn migrant from late August to late October. One summer record of an adult male on 2 June 1990. Most in dairy farm. Eight ringed in autumn 1991. Birds of the Riyadh Region (Stagg 1994) – Two were sighted at Thumamah during September 1989 and constituted the first record for the region. In the following year there was a flurry of sightings: an adult male was at Thumamah in June; 2 further birds remained there throughout August and September and a female was seen at Mansouriyah on 14 September. In 1991 sightings were again numerous at Thumamah. At least 5 juveniles were seen and another 5 were trapped and ringed there during September. It would seem that the recent westward extension of the range of this species is now impacting on Saudi Arabia. Status now assessed as autumn passage migrant. Three further sightings at Thumamah: 5 on 1 October 1999, 1 on 14 October 1999 and 1 on 15 September 2000. In the Eastern Province five records (all females/immature males) between 22 to 26 May 1991 with Brian Meadows seeing three immature birds in autumn and one in March with all singles and only once two birds. 






11 Oct 2020

Plain Tiger – Hada

The below photograph of Plain Tiger Danaus chrysippus was taken on the Donkey Trail near Hada between Taif and Mecca in the mountains of western Saudi Arabia. This butterfly was first depicted in an Egyptian tomb 3,500 years ago, making it the first ever butterfly to be recorded in history. Its striking tawny-orange colouration serves as a warning to predators that this species is distasteful, which ultimately deters predators from attacking. Male butterflies are slightly smaller than females with the males identified by the presence of a black scent-producing pouch located in the lower-centre of the hind wing; on the underside of the wing it appears as a white-centred black patch. In addition, the males have a pair of brush-like organs hidden within the abdomen, which are used in reproduction. The Plain Tiger has an extensive range and can be found throughout the Old World tropics, from Africa to Southeast Asia as well as Australasia. Recently it has been discovered that there are three subspecies; Danaus chrysippus chrysippus is found in Asia and tropical Africa, Danaus chrysippus alcippus ranges from the Cape Verde Islands, across Africa to Oman and Saudi Arabia, and Danaus chrysippus orientis is predominantly found in tropical Africa and the surrounding islands including Madagascar and the Seychelles. They inhabit open, fairly arid areas and unlike other members of the Danaus genus, the Plain Tiger often flies in open sunlight, even at the hottest point of the day.
Plain Tiger

9 Oct 2020

Raptors in Deffi Park, Jubail – Bird records by Mark Jasmin

Mark Jasmin went to Deffi Park on 4 October 2020 to try to photograph Common Kingfisher, but unfortunately the stream that normally runs through the park has become dry and none were present. This is normally a good wintering area for the Kingfishers and they have been seen every winter here for many years. He then looked around the park and came across a nice variety of raptors including two Eurasian Sparrowhawk, three Crested Honey Buzzards including an adult male and adult female, a Eurasian Hobby, Common Kestrel and two Black Kites (looking like Black-eared Kites). This location has become a good one for Crested Honey Buzzards with birds seen in winter for the last five years. Other birds of note seen included a Eurasian Wryneck, two Rufous-tailed Scrub Robins, a Masked Shrike (another wintering species seen regularly at this location), two Grey Herons and several Spotted Flycatchers. I thank Mark for allowing me to use his photos shown below and for sending me the details of his sightings.

Crested Honey Buzzard

Eurasian Sparrowhawk

Black Kite


Eurasian Hobby


7 Oct 2020

Arabian Spiny-tailed Lizard - Mahazat as-Sayd Protected

These Arabian Spiny-tailed Lizards were found in Mahazat as-Sayd Protected Area and had made their burrows in a rough sandy gravel area. This is one of the best locations in the Kingdom to see the lizards as the area is fully fenced and protected. The Lizards are a blue colour if not warmed up properly otherwise they reach a bright yellow colour. Spiny-tailed Lizard (Uromastyx spp.) is a medium to large sized, heavily built lizard with a spiny club like tail, which has been likened to a small living dinosaur. They are ground dwelling and live in some of the most arid regions of the planet including northern Africa, the Middle East, Arabia, Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and north-western India. The generic name (Uromastyx) is derived from the Ancient Greek words ourá (οὐρά) meaning "tail" and mastigo (Μαστίχα) meaning "whip" or "scourge", after the thick-spiked tail characteristic of the species. The Arabian Spiny-tailed Lizard Uromastyx aegyptia microlepis is most common in Saudi Arabia and is the one that occurs 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' (Arabic:'‫ضب'). The main diagnostic character of the genus is the highly specialised tooth-like bony structure replacing the incisor teeth in the upper jaw in adults. The Arabian Spiny-tailed Lizard can be distinguished from Egyptian Spiny-tailed Lizard Uromastyx aegyptia aegyptia by lacking enlarged tubercular scales scattered over the scalation of the flanks, having 149193 (mean 171.8) ventral scales rather than 126 – 158 (mean 142). Other features include a smaller scale size and more colourful yellow or greenish colour when warmed-up in adult specimens of Arabian Spiny-tailed Lizard. It is distinguished from Uromastyx leptieni by a different juvenile colour pattern and a higher number of ventrals.
Arabian Spiny-tailed Lizard

Arabian Spiny-tailed Lizard

Arabian Spiny-tailed Lizard

5 Oct 2020

White-tailed Lapwing - Jubail

Whilst birding the Jubail 2nd October I found a White-tailed Lapwing at the edge of some reeds. The light was terrible, and the bird was distant, so we walked around to try to get better light for photographs. The bird was hidden by the reeds but as soon as it saw us it flew allowing some average flight shots. This is a scarce migrant and rare winter visitor to the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia although further north and west in Tabuk records are more regular with birds wintering in good numbers. I assume this bird is a passage migrant rather than birds that will winter but time will tell.









3 Oct 2020

Mountain Gazelle or “Idmi” – Mahazat as-Sayd Protected Area

Whilst in Mahazat As-Sayd Protected Area we came across a single Mountain Gazelle, known locally as Idmi, with a radio collar. This is a medium sized gazelle with distinct facial markings, a side stripe, and long limbs. Although both sexes have horns, those of the female are smaller. The taxonomy of gazelles is notoriously complex, and several classifications have been proposed. Three species have been reported from Saudi Arabia: Saudi Gazelle Gazella saudiya (now extinct), Mountain Gazelle Gazella gazella (widespread in the Arabian Peninsula) and Arabian Gazelle Gazella arabica (known only from a specimen collected in the 1820s on the Farasan Islands in the Red Sea). Recent genetic research has questioned this arrangement. Lerp et al. (2013) indicated that G. gazella in fact consists of two clades, one in the north centred on the Golan Heights, and a southern clade covering the rest of the former range. Bärmann et al. (2012) demonstrated that G. arabica had been misidentified and the specimen was in fact G. gazella. These authors, therefore, proposed a nomenclatural change, preferring to use the name G. arabica for the southern clade of G. gazelle including the former subspecies G. g. cora and G. g. farasani. Small relict populations of Arabian gazelles used to occur in Al Khunfah and Harrat al Harrah in the north of Saudi Arabia and on the Tihama coastal plain in Wadi Hali 80 km south of Al Qunfidah and near Al Farah. On the Farasan Islands a strong population of about 880 individuals survive. Most records of natural Arabian gazelle populations in Saudi Arabia originate from the western part of the Kingdom, i.e. the Asir, Sarawat and Hejaz Mountains. Historically, Arabian Gazelles occured in Mahazat as-Sayd Protected Area in central Saudi Arabia but their loss was attributed to anthropogenic and other Pressures. Since their presence was confirmed via interviews with local people and historical records the Strategy and Action Plan of the National Wildlife Research Center (NWRC) suggested the re-introduction of captive bred Arabian Gazelles. The release is part of the ongoing efforts in the Kingdom to conserve a variety of antelopes, an initiative that is strongly supported by the Saudi people. The reintroduction of the Arabian Gazelles was undertaking with the following goals: (a) to re-establish wild and self-sustaining populations of Arabian Gazelle in Saudi Arabia; (b) to study the most suitable habitats and establish protected areas in which vegetation can recover; (c) to manage the re-introduction of herds in protected areas; (d) to re-introduce in suitable habitats; and (e) to study the ecology and biology of gazelles in the protected area. Numbers of Mountain Gazelle remain low in Mahazat Al Sayd but with good management the species should prosper in the fenced off reserve.
Mountain Gazelle or “Idmi”

2 Oct 2020

White-throated Kingfisher – Jubail

Whilst birding the Jubail area I came across a White-throated Kingfisher a species that may now be resident in very small numbers in the Jubail area. -throated Kingfisher rarely allows you to get close so the below is the best photo I could manage. White-throated Kingfisher has recently been classed as a vagrant to the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia (Bundy et al 1989) with two records one at Dhahran 4-5 October 1984 and one overwintering at the Dhahran Hills percolation pond early November 1985 until March 1986. Since then there have two records at Sabkhat Al Fasl, one in November 2006 and one 21 August, 4 September & 18 September 2009. At Sabkhat Al Fasl the species was seen at each visit in August 2006 with probably 10-15 birds present with breeding thought likely to be confirmed at the site in due course (Jennings 2010). One was in Dhahran in December 2008 with other records from Dhahran Hills Park. After this date records the species become rare in the Eastern Province but since 2012 birds have again been seen regularly mainly in the Jubail to Dhahran areas. Jubail has had quite a few records recently with three birds wintering at the site in winter 2014-2015 but finding a bird in the summer is much more unusual. A single bird was found on 14 August 2015 along the reed fringed edge of the site but it did not stay long before flying off calling. Phil Roberts and I found another summer bird on 4 August 2017 and this bird was also seen in the summer. The increase in summer records could suggest birds are breeding in the area as they breed as close as Riyadh 400 km to the west of Jubail.




 

1 Oct 2020

Farasan Islands Boat Trip

Whilst visiting the Farasan Islands we made a boat trip to see birds on the offshore islands. The bots can be hired from local fisherman at a rate of 150-200 SAR per hour, and we took a boat from the harbor next to the main port where the island ferry lands and departs. As a foreigner, you need to have your iqama or passport with you as it is checked by the coastguard office before you can leave, which is situated next to the harbor itself. The trip time starts only after the all clear from coastguards has been obtained. We spent three hours on the boat and saw birds at very close range including Pink-backed Pelican in the harbor as we were leaving as well as offshore. Brown Booby was a common breeding bird on the offshore islands with birds nesting close to the edge of islands allowing very close approach and never leaving their nests. Other breeding birds seen in good numbers included both Sooty Gull and White-eyed Gull, with the former much more common than the latter. Good number of terns were seen fishing offshore that were mainly White-cheeked Tern but several Bridled Tern were in amongst them. The terns looked bluish on the underparts due to the strong sunlight reflecting the colour of the shallow blue-green water onto the white undersides of the terns. 
Brown Booby
Brown Booby
Brown Booby
Brown Booby
Brown Booby
Brown Booby
Pink-backed Pelican
Pink-backed Pelican
Pink-backed Pelican
Pink-backed Pelican
Sooty Gull
Sooty Gull
White-eyed Gull
White-eyed Gull
White-eyed Gull
White-eyed Gull