16 Oct 2021

Pivot Fields – Ushaiqer

On the way from Ushaiqer to Az Zulfi we stopped at a set of pivot irrigation fields where we have a seen a few good birds on previous visits. We have been allowed access to these pivot fileds previously and agin this time the owner very kindly allowed us to drive around the edges of two large pivot fields. One field had newly sown crops and the second had been cut the previous day and was in the process of being bailed. This cut field had hundreds of migrants associated with it. There was a flock of 500+ Greater Short-toed Larks, one Whinchat, 5 Ortolan Bunting, 5 Yellow Wagtail, several Northern Wheatear and Isabelline Wheatear and flying over the field were a single Lesser Kestrel, one Common Kestrel with several hundred Sand Martin and Barn Swallows. The fence posts and wires had a single European Bee-eater, a juvenile Masked Shrike and a Great Grey Shrike. Other birds seen included Black Scrub Robin and White-eared Bulbul in the shrubs surrounding the house and a Long-legged Buzzard and male Montagu’s Harrier over the newly planted field. 

European Bee-eater


 

 

14 Oct 2021

Purple Darter – Deffi Park

Whilst birding Deffi Park I saw a number of Purple Darter dragonflies flying about in one particular wet area along the small watercourse. They are a dark purplish-black colour and quite small and regularly perched on floating leaves or the bankside. This darter has an iridescent dark-purplish sheen which gives rise to its name the Purple Darter. It is also known as the black percher, due to the male being almost entirely black, and to the species’ habit of regularly perching on grasses and other vegetation. In contrast to the male, the female is a vibrant yellowish-green, with small black stripes across the thorax. The wings of the purple darter are very clear, although they turn slightly amber towards the base of the hind-wing. This amber patch is bigger and darker in females. Both the male and female have a greyish-brown cell, known as the pterostigma, near the tip of the wing and it has a widespread distribution, primarily occurring in Africa, outside of forested areas but can also be found on several islands in the Mediterranean Sea, as well as across the southern half of the Iberian Peninsula, and through Arabia to the Indian subcontinent. 




12 Oct 2021

Slow migration but a good bird - Jubail

Birding Jubail on 1 October proved quite slow with very few migrants seen in the first hour of light. Things picked up slightly, later, with a few good birds seen by the end of the day. The best bird was a Eurasian Hobby perched on a small shrub for a while before departing and not being relocated, which was my first sighting of the species at this location. More common migrants seen were a few Yellow Wagtails, Spotted Flycatcher, Pied Wheatear, Isabelline Wheatear, Blue-cheeked and European Bee-eaters and a Eurasian Wryneck. Herons were around in very large numbers with 500+ Little Egrets, 200+ Squacco Heron, 150+ Grey Heron, four Purple Heron, two Great Egret and a Eurasian Spoonbill. Interesting waders were Marsh Sandpiper and two Pied Avocet with 300+ Caspian Tern and 30+ Gull-billed Tern. Numbers of Purple Swamphen are on the increase with 50+ seen for the first time in many months. Three Ferruginous Duck were a nice record of this uncommon species in Saudi Arabia.

Eurasian Hobby

   Eurasian Wryneck
                                                                     

10 Oct 2021

Al-Kalada Ancient Village – Bani Saad

The village of Al-Kalada, the biggest of Bani Saad villages and is situated south of Ta'if city. It is said that its name is derived from the name of the tribe of Kaldah who inhabited this village, others argue that its name is derived from the tiger animals that lived in the area. The village sits on top of a mountain in As-Siayeel valley. The buildings of the village feature a unique stone architecture. It features two defensive fortresses, ancient houses, a mosque, and a meeting room. There were two main entrances in this ancient village, one was called the upper passage, and the other was called  the lower passage. Both of these two passages lead to the houses of the village. The history of the village dates back to the era of the beginning of Islam as some antiquities show. 
















 

8 Oct 2021

Amazing migration – Az Zulfi

From September 23 – 25, we had an amazing number of migrants in and around some parks in Az Zulfi. Phil Roberts and I spent three days in Zulfi over the Saudi National Day weekend with Graham Gordon. It was amazing birding with hundreds of migrants in the parks and gardens. I have not seen numbers like this ever before and certainly not in Saudi Arabia. These numbers have not been recorded in Az Zulfi either as far as I am aware. In one park alone we saw 75+ Common Whitethroat, 20 Lesser Whitethroat, 5 Barred Warbler, 5 Great Reed Warbler, 5 Reed Warbler, 2 Garden Warbler, 5 Wryneck, 3 Masked Shrike, 3 Rufous Scrub Robin, 3 Black Scrub Robin, 2 Willow Warbler, 2 Spotted Flycatcher, Spotted Crake, Black Redstart and Eastern Orphean all jumping about on the grass lawns or in the trees, but mainly on the lawns. In a nearby park were smaller numbers of Common Whitethroat, Lesser Whitethroat, Reed Warbler, Great Reed Warbler, Menetries’s Warbler, Blue-rock Thrush, Red-backed Shrike, Great Grey Shrike, 40 European Bee-eaters and six Spur-winged Lapwing. On 25 September about 50% of the birds had moved on but still tens of birds were present, with numbers of Lesser Whitethroat increasing despite most species departing overnight. It was incredible birding and will be back in the spring to see what other migrants could be seen. The parks were well watered and relatively quiet first thing in the morning, allowing birds to feed freely under the tress and in the grass. 

Spotted Crake

Rufous-tailed Scrub Robin

Rufous-tailed Scrub Robin

Lesser Whitethroat

Lesser Whitethroat

Eurasian Wryneck

Eurasian Wryneck

Eurasian Wryneck

Common Whitethroat

Common Whitethroat

6 Oct 2021

Common Three Ring – Raydah Village

Whilst birdwatching the Raydah Escarpment in the Mountains of south western Saudi Arabia, I came across and photographed some Common Three Ring Ypthima asterope. It is also known as the African ringlet and is a species of Satyrinae butterfly found in most dry areas of Africa and Asia. The wingspan is 30–34 mm in males and 32–38 mm in females. Adults are on wing year-round. They were common at the bottom of the escarpment near the village of Raydah. 




4 Oct 2021

Thick-billed Larks – Az Zulfi area

During the Saudi National Day weekend Phil and I went to Az Zulfi and met up with Graham Gordon, a British birder in Saudi Arabia doing environmental surveys for a possible windfarm in the area. The last time I had seen Graham was 35 years before in 1986 on Fair Isle, an island bird observatory off the northern coast of Scotland. We were hoping to see Thick-billed Lark and migrants, as the area is perfectly located and the time of year was good for passage birds. We had two days of birding to try to locate the larks and see as many migrants as possible. Although we had seen and photographed Thick-billed Lark previously in Saudi Arabia it was 7 years ago, and the photos were not of a very high standard. As a result, it was a species I was keen on seeing again. I had been informed that Thick-billed Lark had been seen by Graham a few times in the spring and he was coming back in the autumn. The Saudi National Day weekend seemed like an ideal time to try to locate the larks but unfortunately Graham’s sightings of the birds had dried up slightly and our expectations of success thus dwindled to virtually zero. On the first day we arrived at mid-day and met Graham and went out to the desert. We went to a nice-looking canyon area with a small amount of water, the only water in the area. It looked a really good area but there were few birds seen. The next morning, we went to another area with a few large acacia trees and bird life there was a little more, although like all desert areas still very low. We walked the low-lying wadi area looking for larks and were only rewarded with a few Desert Larks and three Greater Hoopoe-larks. The massive area and difficult terrain made me suggest the best bet would be to drive the area as we could cover a much larger area and if we were lucky enough to see any we could stop and walk to try to get close views. This was a wise move as we drove a short distance until we saw a few large acacias growing in a small wadi. Graham pointed out three birds sitting in the shade of the last large Acacia tree, quite some distance away, and on looking they turned out to be three Thick-billed Larks. This was a location where he had not seen the species before but the large stony desert nearby and small wadi with semi-soft sand and Acacias seemed like a good location for them. We managed to drive closer to the birds, but they did not allow close approach and soon flew to a nearby rocky area where, trying to see them well proved very difficult. We managed to get a few photographs and were very happy to have seen and photographed the birds. Driving around we located a Desert Wheatear and Two Temminck’s Larks. We then moved on to the bottom of the canyon area we had visited the day before and this area had more cover and some small fields. We flushed two Thick-billed Larks driving along a small track, both of which flew in opposite directions and continued out of sight. We stopped the car and walked around the area in the hope of relocating them. I went up a steep rocky hill and located a few Desert Larks and after a while was joined by Graham. We then flushed a nightjar from the rocks that flew away quite some distance and landed under a palm tree in a small palm grove. We got closer to the bird before it flew again, where we could confirm it was an Egyptian Nightjar. This is the latest record (24 September), apart from wintering birds, I had seen in Saudi Arabia, with the previous record being the 23 September, and was a new species for Graham. We could not locate the Thick-billed Larks and returned to the car. On walking back down the track I saw a Thick-billed Lark close to the track on the stony slope and this bird allowed us some excellent views and closer photographs before we left the bird and moved further down the valley. This second site was also a new location for Graham for Thick-billed Lark. This entire area looks good for larks but trying to locate them is a difficult, time consuming but ultimately rewarding task. Thick-billed lark is a large, nomadic lark with a unique heavy bill and is a monotypic species found in northern Africa from Mauritania and Morocco to Libya as well as in Israel (irregular breeder), Syria, Jordan and Saudi Arabia. It is a vagrant in Oman and Yemen and rare in Kuwait. Wintering birds occur in central Saudi Arabia and breeding birds occur in rocky, pebble and gravel deserts of the extreme north of Saudi Arabia. It is a desert specialist with a nomadic lifestyle, and numbers in any particular region, can vary greatly from year to year as it exploits the available food sources.

Thick-billed Lark

Thick-billed Lark

Thick-billed Lark

Thick-billed Lark

Thick-billed Lark

Thick-billed Lark

Desert Wheatear

Temminck's Lark

Temminck's Lark


 

2 Oct 2021

White-spotted Pansy – Raydah Escarpment

Whilst birdwatching the bottom valley of the Raydah Escarpment in the Asir Mountains of southwest Saudi Arabia, I came across and photographed a White-spotted Pansy or White-spotted Commodore Precis limnoria. This is a butterfly in the Nymphalidae family. It is found in Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Ethiopia, Somalia, Kenya and Tanzania. The habitat consists of savanna and thorn-bush country, especially rocky terrain. Torban Larsen Butterflies of Saudi Arabia says the Arabian subspecies is Precis limnoria niveistictus and is unlike the African subspecies that are extensively marked red. 



30 Sept 2021

Steppe Eagles – Ushaiqer Dump Site

The Ushaiqer dump site is at the end of a 5 km graded track that splits off from the road between the towns of Ushaiqer and Shaqra (25.326°N, 45.173°E)  and heads west (Figure 1a). The site at Ushaiqer previously received large amounts of chicken offal, which attracted the largest number of eagles ever recorded at a single site in winter 2019 with approximately 7500 birds recorded. Now, however, the dumping of food waste is no longer permitted and the eagle numbers have significantly decreased with only several hundred seen last winter. Early morning 23 September Phil Roberts and I went to the site to see if any eagles had returned. Although the date was quite early, with main migration through Saudi Arabia in October, we managed to locate up to 50 Steppe Eagles. Most birds were adults with only four first year birds seen. It will be interesting to see over the winter if birds remain at this location or move elsewhere due to lack of food. This location is also a good place to see various species of lark, and this trip we saw both Desert Lark and Greater Hoopoe-lark with a nice flock of 20+ Trumpeter Finch.  

Steppe Eagle

Steppe Eagle


Desert Lark

Greater Hoopoe-Lark


28 Sept 2021

Arabian Toad-headed Agama - Sakaka

Whilst birdwatching the Sakaka area in northwest Saudi Arabia, I found a Toad-headed Agama. I have identified it due to its colouration, size and shape and the fact it was in sandy habitat rather than sabkha, but I am not an expert. This is a small lizard with a total length smaller than 20 cm. It has a head that looks as though it has armour. The tip of the tail changes to black colour and can coil resembling a scorpion, particularly when they are alarmed. They use this strategy to frighten predators by pretending to be like a dangerous scorpion. This is a diurnal species that can be found in dunes and open sandy areas with vegetation and rocks. They eat insects and other small invertebrates. They use the so-called "sit and wait" hunting strategy and they actively use visual orientation to search for food. Females lay eggs. The species ranges from south-eastern Jordan into the Arabian Peninsula, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, United Arab Emirates, Oman and Iran




26 Sept 2021

Arabian Red Fox – Jubail area

Whilst birding the Jubail area 17 September we came across an Arabian Red Fox. Initially the animal was quite some distance but we managed to manouver the car to get excellent views of the fox which was completely unfazed by our presence. These are the best views I have had of this species for quite a few years and was an excellent start to the days birdwatching. Red Fox is currently recognized as a single species and has the widest natural distribution of any terrestrial carnivore, possibly any terrestrial mammal. Its range spans approximately 70 million square kilometres encompassing much of Europe, Asia and North America and extending into North Africa, with an introduced population in Australia. The Red Fox occupies a wide variety of ecosystems, including forests, grasslands, deserts and agricultural and human-dominated environments with a recent genomically comprehensive study suggesting the originated from the Middle East. The Arabian Red fox has very large ears for its size and is very thin and sandy coloured compared to the European Red Fox looking quite different. This individual appears to have most of its summer coat remaining, but its tail is coming into winter plumage.