30 December 2020

Arabian Gazelle – Farasan Islands

The Arabian Gazelle Gazella arabica until recently, was thought to be synonymous with its ecologically and behaviourally very similar sister species the Mountain Gazelle Gazella gazella which occurs in the Levant. Historically, G. arabica occurred continuously through the Arabian Peninsula, from the Arava Valley in southern Israel, along the Hejaz and Asir Mountains in western Saudi Arabia through Yemen and Oman, and into the UAE. In Saudi Arabia, since the middle of the 20th century, G. arabica numbers have decreased dramatically throughout their range. Small relict populations of G. arabica occur in Al Khunfah and Harrat al Harrah Protected Areas in the north of Saudi Arabia and on the Tihama coastal plain. On the Farasan Islands a strong population of about 850 individuals survives, the largest natural population in Saudi Arabia. The Arabian Gazelle is categorized as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List. On the mainland the species’ survival depends on a few remnant populations in the western mountains and coastal plains and on two reintroduced populations. The number of free-ranging gazelles on the Farasan Islands has remained approximately constant since the first counts in 1988, with an overall density of 0.64 km-2. The populations on two other islands, As Saqid and Zifaf, have not fared as well, possibly because of uncontrolled hunting pressure, competition with domestic stock or poor habitat conditions overall. The population on Qummah Island is extinct. Threats to this subspecies include uncontrolled hunting and uncoordinated development, although they are not major issue at present on the Farasan Islands. Continued protection of this apparently stable population of Arabian Gazelle in Saudi Arabia is imperative to ensure the survival of the species. The coat colour of G. arabica is very variable, but is always some shade of buff. The face-markings and flank stripe are generally well expressed, and the face-markings always show a broad, smudgy black nose spot making the animals fairly easy to identify. We went looking for the Arabian Gazelles with the help of the Saudi Wildlife Authority rangers. The weather had been very wet and the tracks to the area where the gazelles are most numerous were soft. Luckily the rangers know exactly hoiw to drive in such conditions and took us in their vehicle to see the animals. Here we saw 17 animals running over the rough ground or resting under the acacia bushes out of the heat. The best time to see them is early morning 06:00 hrs or in the afternoon after 16:00 hrs. 
Arabian Gazelle

Arabian Gazelle

Arabian Gazelle

Arabian Gazelle

Arabian Gazelle

Arabian Gazelle

Arabian Gazelle

Arabian Gazelle

Arabian Gazelle

28 December 2020

Bridled Tern - Farasan Islands

Every year thousands of pairs of Bridled Terns migrate to Saudi Arabia to breed on islands in the Red Sea and Arabian Gulf. Most stay well offshore making it a difficult species to see, as most islands are not accessible to birders and boat trips are difficult to arrange. A visit to the Farasan Islands allowed me to see the species for the first time in the Kingdom and as I saw it from a boat, we were able to get very close to a few birds. It has a status in Saudi Arabia as a very common breeding migrant and breeds on uninhabited, low, rocky or sandy islands with shade and forages at sea. We saw quite a few birds flying around feeding as well as the ones perched on offshore islands.
Bridled Tern

Bridled Tern

Bridled Tern

Bridled Tern

Bridled Tern

26 December 2020

African Giant Millipede - Thanoumah

Whilst birding the western Mountains of the Kingdom I saw several African Giant Millipede Archispirostreptus gigas, the largest extant species of millipede, growing up to 38.5 centimetres in length, 67 millimetres in circumference. It has approximately 256 legs, although the number of legs changes with each molting so it can vary according to each individual. It is native to southern Arabia, especially Dhofar but also Saudi Arabia where it lives in the mountains to at least 200 metres above sea level. It is a widespread species in lowland parts of East Africa, from Mozambique to Kenya, but rarely reaches altitudes above 1,000 metres. They have a life expectancy of about 5–7 years and have two main modes of defence if they feel threatened: curling into a tight spiral exposing only the hard exoskeleton, and secretion of an irritating liquid from pores on their body. 
African Giant Millipede

24 December 2020

Large gathering of Hypocolius - Uqair

Hypocolius is a species that many birdwatchers would like to see as it is a family on its own. They are quite difficult to see as they occur in regions that are not so easy to access like Iran, Iraq and Saudi Arabia. Hypocolius is a short-distance migrant. Small numbers remain in western Iran throughout year but the majority migrate south and east to their main wintering areas in southern Iran, Pakistan, western India, west and central Saudi Arabia, and Arabian Gulf States (notably Bahrain). Departure from the breeding areas mainly occurs in August with birds arriving back in April. 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. This winter more than 150 birds are present near Uqair fort and I managed to take a few photos of the birds despite them being very flighty and not really allowing close approach. It was an amazing sight, seeing so many birds flying in all directions calling to each other and occasionally landing in palm trees to feed. This is easily the largest number I have seen together in Saudi Arabia and hopefully the birds will remain through the winter.

22 December 2020

Arabian Fat-tailed Scorpion - Dhahran Hills

Whilst walking in the evening I saw an Arabian fat-tailed scorpion. Unfortunately I only had my phone and it was running very fast so I failed to get and decent photos of it. This is a medium sized scorpion measuring about 10 centimetres in length and is a formidable nocturnal predator, foraging opportunistically for small insects, spiders and various other prey items that come within easy reach. It has a thick, powerful tail that is equipped with a sting capable of injecting potentially lethal venom and is one of the three most poisonous species of scorpion in the world. The venom, which is injected by the sting, is a powerful neurotoxin, which affects the function of nerve cells and the nervous system and is poisonous to a wide range of animals, including humans and other mammals as well as birds. The body is divided into many segments and has several pairs of modified appendages, including characteristic, claw-like pedipalps which are used in defence and for restraining as well as crushing prey. The pedopalps and tail of the Arabian fat-tailed scorpion have many spiny, sensory hairs, called ‘setae’, while hairs and bristles also cover the soles of the feet. They are usually reddish-brown in colour but can vary between brown & black, with dark, raised keels on several parts of the body giving a rough and grainy appearance. The Arabian fat-tailed scorpion is found in Egypt and throughout the Middle East, including the Arabian Peninsula, Iran, Iraq, Israel and Turkey. It typically inhabits desert environments where it shelters during the day in burrows excavated in the sand; however, it is also often found hiding under wood, loose stones and rubble, in cracks between bricks, and inside derelict houses. During the mating season, the male Arabian fat-tailed scorpion will abandon its burrow in search of a mature female and when it finds one it will grasp her by the pedipalps and leads a complex courtship ritual. They give birth to live young with a littler size of 30 to 46 young, which climb onto the back of the female and remain there for several days.
Arabian Fat-tailed Scorpion

20 December 2020

Eurasian Teal – Al Wannan

To show that anything can turn up anywhere in Saudi Arabia I located three Eurasian Teal in the middle of the desert on a small wet area to the side of some large pivot irrigation fields at Al Wannan. This is far from the nearest large wetlands where they are normally located. These fields also held a number of other good birds including Daurian Shrike, Meadow Pipit, Tawny Pipit, Desert Wheatear, European Stonechat and Great Grey Shrike.

18 December 2020

White-headed Duck – Khafra Marsh

An overcast and dull day, 4 December 2020, meant that very little was seen in Deffi Park, Jubail and the nearby wetlands that were flooded and not birdable. As a result, we went to nearby Khafra Marsh to see if we could find anything. On arrival I scanned the open area of water and found a male Tufted Duck in eclipse plumage and then noticed a slightly smaller duck behind it. It had its tail upright and so I got Phil onto it suggesting it was likely to be a White-headed Duck. Phil had his scope so we set it up and got good views for thirty minutes of an immature White-headed Duck before it drifted off and was lost. The bird could not be relocated despite active searching and the next day it was not relocated. This is the first record of the species for the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia with no current records from Kuwait, UAE or Qatar. Interestingly it breeds in nearby Iran and winters in Iraq, so is slightly surprising it has not been located here before. The bird was too distant for photographs and we did not know how to use our phones through the telescope. A couple of records shots were obtained however. Other interesting birds were saw included a male Common Pochard, two Great Crested Grebes, four Black-necked Grebes, a male Tufted Duck, Little Grebes and Eurasian Coot.

Eurasian Coot

16 December 2020

Juvenile Black-winged Kite – Wadi Ad Dewasir

Whilst birding in the Wadi Ad Dewasir area in November 2020 I found a juvenile Black-winged Kite which is the first record for this area of the Kingdom. Black-winged Kite is a scarce visitor to the Kingdom, but is becoming more common in recent years with birds seen in almost every month. In the north of the Kingdom, an adult was at Wadi Rabigh 24 May 2013, one west Tayma 13 November 2015 and one near Tabuk 25 March 2016 with one in the Riyadh area at Al Hair early October 2015 with two until 18 October 2015 with another in the same area November 2020. In the Eastern Province one was at Dhahran Saudi Aramco Camp spray fields 29 March to 17 April 2012 with another 20 April 2014 and one Ash Shargiyah Development Company Farm, Fadhili, near Jubail, 4 September 2015. A pair were at Khafrah Marsh in 2019 with a juvenile also seen, suggesting possible breeding. A single was at Mulayjah near Nayriyah 13 March 2019. All birds sub-specifically identified in the north and east of the Kingdom were of the eastern subspecies Elanus caeruleus vociferous a subspecies that occurs from Pakistan east to southern & eastern China, Indochina and the Malay Peninsula. In the Southwest of the Kingdom, they are probably an erratic visitor from Africa and have occurred as far north as Jeddah and Taif. Birds from this area include one Farasan Islands April & June 1988, one on a telegraph wire near Wadi Shahdan 3 September 1991, one over a maize field near Malaki Dam 9 February 1992, an adult NE Jizan 24 July 2001, one at Malaki Dam Lake on 6 May 2002 and 7 May 2002, one near Shuqayri, 11 July 2010 and one Malaki Dam Lake 3 Sep 2015 Elanus caeruleus caeruleusthe first confirmed record of this African subspecies for the Kingdom, although all previous SW records were assumed to have been this race. Elanus caeruleus caeruleus occurs in the southwest Iberian Peninsula, most of Africa and Southwest Arabia.  


14 December 2020

Adult Indian Roller – Dhahran Hills

A friend of mine, Sebastian Henderson, found a Roller on 19 November in the Dhahran Hills area of Dhahran Aramco camp, and let me know. I suggested that due to the date it was probably an Indian Roller and went several times to look for the bird, which only appeared to arrive just before dark, before flying off to roost. Every time I visited, the bird was not present, until 4 December when I finally caught up with it. It did the same thing Sebastian said and flew in from the direction of the golf course and perched on top of yellow danger signs, before flying off after a few minutes. As the light was very poor, I did not manage to get and good photos, but could at least prove it was indeed an Indian Roller Coracias benghalensis. This was a new species for me in Saudi Arabia, where they have a status as a rare winter visitor, with the only recent records I know being an adult, Mansouriyah, Riyadh, 21 December 1989; an adult, Thumamah, Riyadh, 8 October 1999 until 17 February 2000. I visited several times during the last week and saw the bird only once in the evening again just as it was getting dark on top of a street light. I think the bird may be sending its time around the golf course bit it is not possible to access this area for birdwatching.

12 December 2020

Birding Billasmer

Whilst birding the western mountains we visited Billasmer looking for Arabian endemics. We managed to located two Arabian Magpie, Arabian Wheatear and small flocks of Yemen Linnet but not much else. Other common birds seen included Laughing Dove, Dusky Turtle Dove, Gambaga Flycatcher and Little Owl. Little Owl is a species not easy to see in the Kingdom but the arwa of An Namas and Billasmer seems a reliable and regular place to see them since we first discovered birds here several years ago.

Dusky Turtle Dove

Gambaga Flycatcher

Laughing Dove

Little Owl

Yemen Linnet

Blue-cheeked Bee-eater - Jubail

This autumn there have been large numbers of Blue-cheeked Bee-eaters passing over Jubail as well as many other areas of the Eastern Province. The species is a common passage migrant through the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia with good numbers of birds passing in the spring as well as the autumn. Numbers are commoner in the autumn when they outnumber European Bee-eater whereas the opposite is true in the spring. Blue-cheeked Bee-eater pass later in November than European Bee-eaters but both are common in the peak migration seasons. The birds below where part of a bigger group at Jubail and were very confiding allowing close approach in the car.

10 December 2020

Common Scarlet – Jabal Ibrahim

Whilst birding the Jabal Ibrahim area of the western mountains I found a Common Scarlet Axiocerses tjoane. This is a butterfly of the family Lycaenidae. It is found in southern and eastern Africa as well as southwestern Arabia. The wingspan is 24–32 mm for males and 25–34 mm for females. Adults are on the wing year-round.
Common Scarlet

08 December 2020

Terns - Jubail

The number of terns in Jubail have altered over the last few weeks with all the White-cheeked Terns disappearing and the number of White-winged Terns increasing to 117, the largest ever number of this species I have seen at a single site in the Kingdom. Other terns that increased in numbers were Gull-billed and Caspian Terns with Little Terns decreasing. Small numbers of Common Tern can still be seen. Interestingly the big groups of the various species of terns all choose slightly different areas to rest.

White-winged Tern

White-cheeked Tern

White-cheeked Tern

Caspian Tern

06 December 2020

Arabian Mistletoe White – Tanoumah

Whilst birdwatching the Tanoumah area of the Asir Mountains of southwest Saudi Arabia, I came across and photographed an Arabian Mistletoe White Mylothris arabicus that eventually settled in a juniper tree. It is a butterfly in the Pieridae family and belongs to an African genus which is more or less specialised for life in the rain forests where there are many species. African Mistletoe White is adapted to savanna conditions and the Arabian species evolved from this African relative. They are found in the southern Asir Mountains of Saudi Arabia and in Yemen making them endemic to Arabia. Larsen says the Mistletoe White is one of the most unexpected African species found in Arabia. Some people class the Arabian Mistletoe White as a subspecies of African Mistletoe White.
Arabian Mistletoe White

Arabian Mistletoe White