30 March 2021

Arta – Jubail

Whilst birding the Jubail area recently I came across an Arta Calligonum comosum. This plant is a virtually leafless perennial shrub up to 2.5m tall, with a branched stem which is dark and rough often with peeling bark and older branches white with swollen nodes. Leaves if present are minute, 3-5mm long, falling off quickly. Flowers are many, five white sepals with greenish central stripe, no petals, with bright red anthers, on short stalks from leaf nodes, sometimes clustered. Flowers from December to April. Fruit is showy, bristly nut covered with rusty red or white furry hairs, becoming dirty yellow in maturity. It prefers sand plains, dunes and roadsides where it is common and widespread. This species is an excellent desert sand binder, cultivated and used for windbreaks around desert plantations; used as firewood, as it burns smokeless; dried leaves and stems are chewed to treat toothache, young shoots collected as salad greens or powdered to add to milk as a tonic or flavouring, fruits are edible.

28 March 2021

Wintering birds and migrants - Jubail

Whilst birdwatching Jubail recently I came across a few good migrants and some remaining wintering birds. Migrants included a really smart male Citrine Wagtail was a good bird and was almost eclipsed plumage wise by a similarly smart male Black-headed Wagtail. Shrikes were around in good numbers including Daurian, Turkestan, Woodchat and Great Grey Shirkes. Woodchat & Turkestan Shirkes are certainly migrants, but the others could be either wintering birds or passage migrants as both occur in the area at this time of year. Siberian Stonechat could likewise be either a wintering bird or migrant whereas Steppe Gulls are winter visitors.

Citrine Wagtail

Great Grey Shrike

Siberian Stonechat - maurus

Steppe Gull - adult

Steppe Gull - 2nd Calendar Year

Woodchat Shrike

26 March 2021

Dhee Ayn Ancient Village

The historical village of Dhee Ayn is located down the Sarawat mountains from the City of Al-Bahah. It is a well preserved historical site and you can walk from the car park to the top of the highest building quite easily. The village dates back about 400 years, and it witnessed the battles between the Ottoman Turks and its inhabitants. Below the village is a natural spring that provides water to a lush oasis surrounding the bottom of the hill. The village was named after a water spring that flows continuously from the nearby mountains to several reservoirs, and each particular pond has its own name. There is a local legend that tells of a man who lost his cane in one of the valleys, and to retrieve it he tracked it until he reached the village, where he enlisted the help of the inhabitants and retrieved his cane after digging up the spring. The village has 49 dwellings, 9 of which are composed of one floor, 19 from two floors, 11 from three floors and 10 from four floors. The village was constructed using load-bearing walls ("Medamik") and the thickness of the walls are between 0.7 to almost 0.9 meters. Structures are roofed using cedar wood. The big rooms are roofed using columns known as "Al-zafer", and above the cedar wood there is a kind of stone known as "Salat", and the stones are covered with mud. The lower floors are the reception and living areas, the upper floors for sleeping. Some of the buildings still exist since the establishment of the village, some are partially run-down but some are completely demolished. According to the UNESCO website "The Traditional Village of Zee Ain in Al-Baha is an outstanding example of traditional human settlements that are perfectly adapted to their environment and their social and economic raison d’être"

24 March 2021

Ruppell’s Weaver breeding – Dhahran Hills

A local nature enthusiast found three Weaver nests in his garden in Dhahran Hills in early March 2021. This species has only once been recorded in the Dhahran area with a single male seen. There were at least two birds seen this time with the bird building the nest presumably an immature male with the plumage and eye colour pointing to Ruppell’s Weaver. This is only the second time I am aware of, of the species breeding in the Eastern Province. The first records of breeding in the Eastern Province were found in Qatif in mid-March 2016 and the birds were seen nest building with the male building the nest and the female looking on. This species does not normally occur in the Eastern Province of the Kingdom so these birds may have been from escaped or released cage birds as is the case with the species in Riyadh the nearest area where they occur. In Saudi Arabia Ruppell’s Weaver is a common and widespread breeding resident species in the southwest of the Kingdom occurring north to south of Jeddah. These records suggest the species may be extending its range Eastwards or at least setting up breeding groups from escaped birds.

22 March 2021

Greater Mouse-tailed Bat – Dhee Ayn

Whilst visiting Dhee Ayn historical village my daughter found some Greater Mouse-tailed Bat Rhinopoma microphyllum in old and dark parts of the village. This is a species of bat in the Rhinopomatidae family that occurs in Algeria, Bangladesh, Burkina Faso, the Central African Republic, Chad, Djibouti, Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, India, Indonesia, Iran, Israel, Iraq, Jordan, Libya, Mali, Mauritania, Morocco, Myanmar, Niger, Nigeria, Oman, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, Sudan, Thailand, Tunisia, the Western Sahara and Yemen. Its natural habitat is subtropical or tropical dry shrubland. The Greater Mouse-tailed Bat hibernates at the unusually warm and constant temperature of 18 °C. The species eats exclusively insects and they mate at the beginning of spring.

20 March 2021

Great Black-headed Gulls – Jubail

Whilst birding the Jubail area the last few weekends we have come across up to thirteen Great Black-headed Gulls sitting on a flooded area of sabkha. Most birds were adults in full summer plumage with up to three being second calendar year birds. Jubail has turned out to be a good site to see the species in the last few years with birds seen each winter. The Great Black-headed Gull is an uncommon winter visitor to the Arabian Gulf and southern Red Sea coastal areas that is also rarely seen inland including at wetland sites like Dhahran and Al Asfar Lake. The first birds are normally not seen until December or January, with March probably the best time to see the species. 

18 March 2021

Camel Path – Al Baha

Baljurashi is a sister town at the head of an ancient seasonal camel trail so steep that is named “camel steps“. The camel steps of Baljourashi are a set of man-made steps that allowed camels to move up or down the steep escarpment. They extend all of the way down to the bottom of the escarpment a distance of many kilometres.

16 March 2021

Greater Spotted Eagles – Jubail

Whilst birding the Jubail area recently I came across two Greater Spotted Eagle with very different underparts colourations. Birds winter at a number of sites in Saudi Arabia with the Jubail area the best for the species in the Eastern province. In winter, birds are almost always near wetland areas with large areas of reeds where they can hunt undisturbed. The Greater Spotted Eagle is suspected to have undergone at least a moderately rapid decline over the last three generations as a result of habitat loss and degradation throughout its breeding and wintering ranges, together with the effects of disturbance, persecution and competition with other predators. The species is listed on the Red Data list as Vulnerable as the species is facing a high risk of extinction in the wild in the medium-term future.