30 July 2021

Egyptian Vultures – Farasan Islands

I visited the Farasan Islands in summer and went to the rubbish dump area. Here I found a gathering of 28 Egyptian Vultures Neophron percnopterus of various ages. This is one of the best locations in the Kingdom to see the species, especially in the summer months. The Egyptian Vulture is sharply declining throughout its range and is currently classified as globally endangered with a status in Saudi Arabia as a rare breeding resident, scarce passage migrant and scarce winter visitor. The western coast of Saudi Arabia is an important wintering site with a recent study (Shobrak et al 2020) showing an important congregation site (c 200 individuals) for the species in the southwest of Saudi Arabia around the area of Wadi Qanuna. This area has optimal habitat and food widely available with roosting sites discovered on high-voltage powerlines with a safe pylon design, located at the foothill. Birds still breed in very small numbers on the Farasan islands as can be seen from immature birds present during my visit.


28 July 2021

Al Naslaa Rock – Tayma

Near to Tayma lies Al Naslaa rock formation with a perfect slit between the two standing stones and flat faces, all completely natural. It is made up of two sandstone blocks supported by a naturally-formed pedestal with a perfect slit down the middle and while the exact cause of the split has yet to be determined, windblown sand and periodic rain could have created the unusual shape as could a movement of the rock below the large sand stone blocks. To get to the rock is not straight-forward and you need to drive a long way off-road, sometimes through soft sand and a four wheel drive is probably essential to reach it. It is however well worth the effort as it is an amazing rock structure with some excellent petroglyphs including a man leading his horse, camels and several tribal symbols or Wasums depicted on the flat and smooth part of the rock. The panel on the right boulder has a central figure of an Arabian horse, done in the traditional North Arabian style, with a man holding its lead in one hand and an arrow in the other. The horse has a halter depicted on its face, a prominent forelock, probably a clipped mane, and a full tail. The entire body, except for the face, is shaded, which may mean the horse was a solid color naturally. The man seems to be wearing a futah (men’s cloth wrap covering the lower part of the body). This shows Arabian rock art is an important source for learning more about the grooming, training and handling of early Arabian horses with the man in this scene keeping the horse’s head in the right position by holding a lead attached to its halter taut in his left hand. In his right hand he holds an arrow vertically with the tip up. The projectile is out in front of the horse in its line of sight, perhaps to act the way a goad or a modern halter whip gets the horse to focus during training.



26 July 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 July 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 July 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 July 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 July 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 July 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 July 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.