28 Feb 2021

Plain Nightjar – Abha area

Whilst birding the Abha area I found at least two Plain Nightjar. Originally one was flushed from a wadi bottom and flew a short distance to a raised rocky area. One trying to locate the bird it flew again and this time I managed to see approximately where it landed. Eventually I located the bird but it was well hidden and difficult to photograph. Later a bird was seen by my daughter, who said it had flown into a nearby tree, where I found it sitting on a branch. It later moved to another tree where better photographs were possible. This is the first time I have seen Plain Nightjar in the daytime. The Plain Nightjar is a migratory bird breeding in the summer in Saudi Arabia. They breed in Africa (from Mauritania to Eritrea and Somalia) as well as southwestern Arabia, with the Arabian birds wintering in Africa. It is an uncommon breeding migrant seen from Taif sout to Malaki Dam Lake in Jizan. They have been seen in dry, rocky, mostly bare hills with some scattered trees and scrub where they have been seen up to 2500 metres above sea level.






26 Feb 2021

Farasan Fort – Farasan Islands

The Ottoman fort, standing on an elevated ridge of coral-stone bedrock 1.3 kilometres northwest of Farasan town but it is enclosed within a protective wire fence and thus only visable from the outside. Its white-washed stucco construction had been maintained recently by the authorities. The fort is on a rectangular plan with access through a single door in the center of the southern (long) wall, which leads into a courtyard. The building itself runs along the north side of the yard, and has a veranda, while a small room stands at the yard’s eastern end. The main building comprises one large room with shooting positions, with an adjacent room at its west end allowing access to the roof. The fort was served by a nearby well which is outside the fenced area and thus visible. Although small, the building testifies to the Ottoman military presence on the islands in the early of the 20th century.

 



24 Feb 2021

Icterine Warbler - Tanoumah

Whilst birding the Tanoumah area in late July 2020 we came across a juvenile Icterine Warbler. This is a rare passage migrant mainly recorded in the autumn in August and September although has also been seen in spring in March and April. This record is the earliest ever for Saudi Arabia with the previous earliest being one trapped in Riyadh 17 August 1975. Records are mainly from the Riyadh area and all refer to single birds. The bird we saw was very active keeping high in the trees and continually on the move. A few photos were taken the best of which are shown below, but its behavior and the light conditions made good photography very difficult. This is the first record of the species I know of for some years.





 

22 Feb 2021

Farasan former Pearl Merchants House – Farasan Islands

It is not clear when pearling began in the islands. A recent re-examination of two Latin inscriptions found in Egypt’s Eastern Desert suggests that pearl diving was already under way in parts of the Red Sea, in the Roman period. A more recent pearling boom of the 18th and 19th centuries has left its legacy in oral history and the architectural heritage of the islands. Following their absorption of the Farasan Islands into Saudi Arabia in the 1920s, the islands suffered economically from the collapse of the pearling industry in the 1930s and 1940s which led to the ruination of the pearl merchants houses. The former pearl merchants houses in the Farasan Islands have geometric and floral designs of the carved patterns adorning the houses and arched gateway. The best preserved house is the Rifai house, built by wealthy pearl merchant Munawwar Al Refai in 1922, but it is closed and locked and can only be viewed from the outside. Fortunately there is a near-complete but dilapidated example directly opposite the Refai house where the entrance arch and exterior of the house of ‘Uthman al-Rifa‘i, has a stunning carved portico entrance that welcomes the visitor into an area where the rest of the property remains hidden. After walking through a low archway that ensures any visitor enters bowed in a state of humility, the house comes into full view. Almost every house here has a grand arched gateway, giving the neighbourhood an almost regal feel, like no other historic area anywhere in the country. The houses are built from coral rocks retrieved from the Red Sea and then covered in plaster before being carved by master artisans. The ceilings are made of timber and many houses also had coloured glass called kamaryat decorating the upper edges. Most of the surviving houses date from around the 1920s. 









20 Feb 2021

Eurasian Bittern – Eastern Province

One Some very interesting news has been gathered in 2020 with the recording of Eurasian Bittern in two different places the Eastern province. In spring I recorded nocturnal migrant birds and recorded two separate Eurasian Bitterns as follows:

One bird calling six time between 19:00 -20:00, Dhahran Hills, Eastern province, 24 March 2020

One bird calling once 00:00 – 01:00 Dhahran Hills, Eastern Province, 31 March 2020

In the autumn I change the location of where I was recording and had a minimum of three further birds as follows:

A minimum of three birds calling 21 times 17:50, Sabkhat Al Fasl, Eastern Province, 12 October 2020 

One bird calling 34 times 17:45, Sabkhat Al Fasl, Eastern Province, 13 October 2020

 

Magnus Robb kindly provided the sonograms and commented “in my opinion they can only be from three individuals, given that the calling rate per individual is pretty slow in this species. In top sonogram the first and third calls are Grey Heron and the three other calls with all their energy near the bottom are, in my opinion, three different Bitterns. In the bottom sonogram there are two calls of different individuals. The first looks like it is the second Bittern (4th call in all) from the other sonagram. The second could be either of the two others, if indeed there are only three individuals”.


Prior to these records the species was thought to be a vagrant in the Eastern Province, with the only records being as follows:

One Hofuf Lakes, 21 May 1976, 

One Dhahran, 24 November 1978, 

One Jawb, on the northern edge of the Rub’ al-Khali, 25 September 1980

One Abqaiq, 11-17 December 1982

Three Abqaiq, 19-20 October 1983

One Abqaiq, 14-21 December 1984

 

These additional records suggest the species may not be so rare in the Eastern Province as previously thought. For some identification criteria and examples of Eurasian Bittern calls see this excellent Sound Approach page: Eurasian Bittern - Sound Approach

 

The recently published Birds of Saudi Arabia has the status as a rare passage migrant and possible breeding migrant. They are rare but widespread on migration through Saudi Arabia, passing on a broad front, mainly in central and western regions of the Kingdom. Records as late as December suggest some might spend the winter in the Kingdom and it has been heard booming several times at Khafrah Marsh in March, suggesting possible breeding.

In November 2009 there were 30 birds together near Zulfi and in 2016 there were some incredible records with 15 birds 5 November 25 kilometres east of Zulfi and then six birds about 40 kilometres north of first area 11 November 2016. These birds were seen resting under the shade of some short trees, scattered over a small area. During the same period 40 birds were seen sporadically in Sakaka, Al jouf, 7-14 November 2016. 




18 Feb 2021

Desert Rose – Malaki Dam Lake

Whilst birding the Malaki Dam Lake area I came across a good number of Desert Rose Adenium obesumin a species of flowering plant in the dogbane family, Apocynaceae, that is native to the Sahel regions, south of the Sahara (from Mauritania and Senegal to Sudan), and tropical and subtropical eastern and southern Africa and Arabia. It is an evergreen or drought-deciduous succulent shrub which can also lose its leaves during cold spells. It can grow to 1–3 metres in height, with pachycaul stems and a stout, swollen basal caudex. The leaves are spirally arranged, clustered toward the tips of the shoots, simple entire, leathery in texture, 5–15 cm long and 1–8 cm broad. The flowers are tubular, 2–5 cm long, with the outer portion 4–6 cm diameter with five petals. The flowers tend to red and pink, often with a whitish blush outward of the throat.
Desert Rose

16 Feb 2021

Large numbers of Great Cormorant - Dhahran Hills

Large numbers of Great Cormorant can be seen in the very early morning flying into the lake site in Dhahran, from their roosting areas nearby, each winter day. Some of the birds just come and wash, briefly fish and fly off with others staying all day in the area. The birds gather in large numbers and fish together catching large numbers of Tallapia in the lake often pushing them to a shallow area to make catching them easier. The species is a common winter visitor to the Eastern Province where thousands have roosted in the trees nearby in recent winters. They are also abundant in coastal waters from September through March including the Jubail and the Half Moon bay area of the Arabian Gulf.






14 Feb 2021

Rough-tailed Gecko – Dhahran Hills

Whilst walking at night my daughter found a Rough-tailed Gecko Cyrtopodion scabrum, also known as rough bent-toed gecko, rough-tailed bowfoot gecko, common tuberculate ground gecko, or keeled gecko. It is a species of gecko in the family Gekkonidae. The species is found in Sudan, Eritria, Ethiopia, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, northern and eastern Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, United Arab Emirates, Iraq, Iran, Pakistan, Afghanistan and India.
Rough-tailed Gecko

12 Feb 2021

Some good birds in the pivot fields – Wadi Ad Dewasir

Wadi Ad Dewasir has several thousand pivot irrigation fields and is situated in central Saudi Arabia 1000 kilometes southwest of Dhahran. We spent three days birding the area in November and located some very interesting species. One species which had not been recorded there before but which we found in many places in small flocks totaling over 150 birds was Chestnut-bellied Sandgrouse. A local farmer I asked about the birds suggested they were common in the area, and this proved to be correct from our observations. Other species that were common were Cream-coloured Courser with over 50 seen each day and in one field a very large winter gathering of Caspian Plover totaling 36 birds. This is the largest winter group for many years in the Kingdom although hundreds were recorded in the Eastern Province in the 1980’s. Greater Hoopoe Lark was found feeding around the edge of several pivot fields with Great Grey Shrike (aucheri) seen occasionally perched in trees, shrubs or on hay bales. Commoner birds included House Sparrow, Indian Silverbill, Crested Lark, Yellow Wagtail, Arabian Green Bee-eater and Western Marsh Harrier. Lastly, at last two Pharaoh Eagle Owls were noted on the escarpment edge.

Arabian Green Bee-eater

Caspian Plover


Caspian Plover

Chestnut-bellied Sandgrouse

Chestnut-bellied Sandgrouse

Cream-coloured Courser

Cream-coloured Courser

Crested Lark

Crested Lark

Great Grey Shrike

Great Grey Shrike

Greater Hoopoe-Lark

Greater Hoopoe-Lark

Greater Hoopoe-Lark

Yellow Wagtail

Yellow Wagtail


10 Feb 2021

Rain Bug – Wadi Jizan Lake

The Rain Bugs are very beautiful insects due to their bright red velvet color and is a harmless spider species. The life cycle of this insect begins with the start of the rainy season when they appear in the UAE, Saudi Arabia, and in some desert areas of the Levant. They are also known as red velvet mites or true velvet mites and are found in soil litter. Adult Rain Bugs are small and are typically 4 mm in length.



8 Feb 2021

Seven species of Wheatear – Wadi Ad Dewasir

Whilst birding the Wadi Ad Dewasir area of central Saudi Arabia in November Phil Roberts and I found seven species of Wheatear. The most common was Isabelline Wheatear that were common in many of the spray fields visited. Desert Wheatear, Northern Wheatear, Pied Wheatear and a single Eastern Black-eared Wheatear were also seen in the fields. Closer to the escarpment edge, in rocky areas with some cover, we found both Red-tailed Wheatear and Eastern Mourning Wheatear (persica). As Wadi Ad Dewasir is in central Saudi Arabia and bird numbers are relatively low the seven species of Wheatear made up 12% of all the species we recorded in three days birding the location.

Eastern Morning Wheatear

Eastern Morning Wheatear

Eastern Morning Wheatear

Isabelline Wheatear

Red-tailed Wheatear

Red-tailed Wheatear


6 Feb 2021

Anderson's Rock Agama - Abha

Whilst birding recently in the Abha area I came across a few Anderson's Rock Agama Acanthocercus adramitanus. 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.