26 Jul 2021

Greater Short-toed Lark with deformed bill – Jubail area

Whilst birding the Jubail area recently we came across an odd-looking lark. It had a deformed bill making it look quite strange, but it also had what appeared to be longish primary projection. On first impressions it was close to a Greater Short-toed Lark with a reddish cap under certain poses but was a little confusing. After checking details when back home it appears to be a Greater Short-toed Lark. This is the second lark with a deformed bill I have seen recently with the first being a Bar-tailed Lark with a bill like a Curlew seen in Al Ula

24 Jul 2021

Haddaj Well – Tayma

Haddaj well is believed to have built in the 6th century by Nabonidus and is one of the largest wells in the ancient world. It was built with the intention of alleviating the suffering of the locals by increasing the amount of water and the size of their farms. The well is known to date back at least to the middle of the 6th century BC, during the Babel occupation. In the 5th century BCE, all of Tayma was abandoned and buried, so the well fell into disuse for many centuries until Suleiman al-Gonaim restored it to a functional state. In 1954 King Saud ordered the installation of four large modern pumps to increase the amount of water so every farmer had a well running to his farm. Later, with the use of modern pumping equipment, the farmers of Tayma no longer needed traditional methods, therefore the architectural elements of wellheads and old water withdrawal techniques disappeared. In 1973 HRH Prince Faisal Al-Saud directed the initiative to restore the well at his own expense so that today's visitors still can see it in its original form. Bir Hadaj (Hadaj well) has a diameter of 18 meters and has 40 minhala (a wooden wheel used in the past to draw water from well) by which camels drew water which in turn were driven through canals for irrigation and other purposes.

22 Jul 2021

Juvenile Spur-winged Lapwing – Jubail area

Whilst birding the Jubail area in early July Phil Roberts and I saw a juvenile Spur-winged Lapwings. Two adults have been around the same area for the past two months behaving as if they had young nearby, but we have until this encounter not managed to find any signs of breeding. We do not look too hard as we do not want to disturb the birds, but this is the same location where they bred for the first time in the Eastern Province last year. The species was regarded as a vagrant to the Eastern Province when I arrived eleven years ago but is now a scarce visitor that can be seen at any time of year indicating birds are now resident in small numbers in areas away from Haradh where they are now definitely resident.

20 Jul 2021

Al Radam Palace – Tayma

The site dates back the mid first millennium BC. The palace has a rectangular shape covering an area of 34m x 25m with the walls being made of medium sized cut stone more than 2 metres thick and 3.5 metres high. The palace has a pillar in each corner with another in the middle of each wall. An additional stone wall is connected to the external walls, some built in the same direction of the palace and some in the opposite direction. The palace also has a stone well.

18 Jul 2021

Breeding Squacco Heron & Little Egret – Jubail

Whilst birding the Jubail area in late May through to early June we found an area where Squacco Heron & Little Egret were breeding in good numbers. We estimated about 100 Squacco Heron nests and fifty Little Egret pairs. Both these species were only found breeding for the first time in the Eastern Province at a nearby site last year although had been suspected of doing so for a few years. This breeding location is an area we have not visited before so birds may have been breeding here for some years. These new breeding birds will be monitored over the next few years to see if they continue using the area and if their population increases.

16 Jul 2021

Al Hamra Palace – Tayma

Al Hamra Palace is located on the north west of the city of Tayma, one of the oldest settlements in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, and even the whole Arabian Peninsula. It is named after Al-Hamra region, where it is located, which is known for its red formations. It is dated at the first milelennium BC, in the reign of the Babylonian emporer Taima. It is a stone-made building erected on a low rocky ridge overlooking the site of an ancient lake. The pottery found on the site indicates that this palace could date back to the 6th century BCE when Nabonidus, last king of Babylon, conquered the oasis city. It is divided into three sections, one of which was used for worship, and the other two to serve the residents of the palace. During the excavations of the Al-Hamra Palace several archaeological discoveries of importance were made. The most prominent are a broken stela with with a carved religious scene and part of an Aramaic inscription, relating to a relating to a religious dedication of an Arabian tribe. A cube-shape stone was found with religious symbols comparable to those on the Tayma stone, and represent the Moon-god (the bull), the Sun-god (the winged disc), and the planet Venus or Ishtar (star enclosed in a circle). Excavations of the site were carried out between 1979 and 1986.

14 Jul 2021

Adult Egyptian Nightjars – Jubail

Whilst birding the Jubail area in early July we found at least nine Egyptian Nightjars in two different areas. Egyptian Nightjars are now an easily seen species during the summer months in the Jubail area with a maximum of sixteen birds seen in 2020 and numbers increasing almost every year since they were first found in 2006. In 2020 & 2021 birds have been recorded breeding in the area or very nearby. They often sit on the car tracks and fly when the car gets very close allowing flight shots if you are quick. You can get very close to them in the car without disturbing them as they are convinced their camouflage can hide them from anything so excellent photos on the ground are often possible. We do not try to photograph them in flight unless they are disturbed by the car as we do not want to disturb the birds unduly. The birds shown here are adults and are in heavy wing moult.

12 Jul 2021

Jabal Raat - Shuwaymis

Part of a UNESCO listed world heritage site rich in rock art, including figures of men, animals, palm trees and feet impressions, inscribed skilfully in life size shape. Some of these petroglyphs date to 14,000 years BP with life sized camel figures being from the Thamudic period 3000 years BP. At Jabal Raat six major clusters of rock art can be discerned. Although there is evidence on the lower slopes of Jabal Raat that some rocks with petroglyphs on them have been displaced since the petroglyphs were first made, this was undoubtedly a natural occurrence. Like Jubbah, the site has been in use over a prolonged period of time, certainly for most of the Holocene at least.  On one steeply sloping panel at Raat, about fifteen large cupules of 5–10 cm diameter occur. They appear to be the oldest surviving component of the site considered to be either of the final Pleistocene or the earliest Holocene. The surface of the panel has largely fallen victim to exfoliation since the cupules were made, and the original surface has best survived within the cupules. The same panel bears a series of archaic geometric motifs, such as circles, chronologically followed by hoof-prints, human footprints occurring in pairs and superimposed large motifs. Much of this panel is no longer accessible to work on because of a massive boulder gravity has placed above it. The flat underside of this boulder bears large petroglyphs that are also early, but a set of motifs on its present front face postdates the placement of the boulder.

10 Jul 2021

Breeding Pied Avocet – Jubail area

Whilst birding the Jubail area in mid-June we saw two pairs of adult Pied Avocet Recurvirostra avosetta behaving as if they had young nearby. A quick look failed to locate the young birds and as we did not want to disturb them if they were breeding, we only stayed a few minutes. The next week the birds again were acting in a way to suggest they had young, but again we failed to see any. At then end of the month we located two separate young birds with the adults and managed to get a few photos. It is very unusual to see breeding Pied Avocet in Saudi Arabia and the species is mainly an uncommon migrant and winter visitor to all coasts that is locally common along the southern Red Sea coast and scarce inland. Very few birds have been proven to breed but in Riyadh 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. A number of breeding pairs (possible as many as twelve) were found in 2020 at the same location as this year’s breeders.