31 Oct 2021

Western Great Egrets on Dhahran Hills Lake – Dhahran Hills

The lake in Dhahran Hills still had a few good birds present on 29 October with five Gull-billed Terns flying around all evening. Heron numbers were slightly lower than in the week but still four Western Great Egrets were present. Seven Ferruginous Duck and three Eurasian Teal were hiding in the reeds but eventually came out onto the bank to rest. Great Cormorant numbers are steadily building to their winter peaks and birds were seen on the water as well as flying over and resting on the bank. A single Common Whitethroat, one Caspian Reed Warbler and a small group of Indian Silverbill were the best passerines. Waders seen included the normal Black-winged Stilts, one Ruff and a Common Sandpiper. Another notable sighting was 10 Blue-cheeked Bee-eaters flying around and sitting on the overhead power lines. 

Western Great Egret

Western Great Egret

Western Great Egret

Western Great Egret

Great Cormorant

Great Cormorant

Great Cormorant

Ferruginous Duck

Ferruginous Duck

30 Oct 2021

Masmak Fort – Riyadh

The Masmak Fort is a clay and mudbrick fort in the old city of Riyadh, situated in the modern-day Deira district. Built in 1865 by 'Abdurrahman ibn Sulaiman under the Emirate of Jabal Shammar, The fortress played an integral role in the Unification of Saudi Arabia, with the Battle of Riyadh, one of the most important conflicts of the Saudi unification, taking place in the fort. The name 'Masmak' is derived from the Arabic ‘musamaka’ which means the high, fortified, thick and huge. Its rectangular shape comprises characteristic features of Arabian fortresses with four defensive towers, a watchtower, high walls, stair-shaped crenellations, and triangular reconnaissance points and firing apertures. Its numerous rooms include offices and a mosque with columns that support the roof, and one of the courtyards has a well. Today the fort is a museum where the history of the Al-Saud family and their kingdoms is exhibited and explained.





29 Oct 2021

Winter numbers of Greater Spotted Eagles increasing - Jubail

 At least ten Greater Spotted Eagles Clanga clanga were recorded at a wetland site near Jubail in late-October. Birds winter at a number of sites in Saudi Arabia with the Jubail area the best for the species in the Eastern province, with Al Asfar Lake another good wintering area. The first birds are seen in late September or early October with numbers building through the winter and the highest count being 18 birds in a single day. In winter birds are almost always near wetland areas with large areas where they can hunt undisturbed. They occupy a fragmented range, breeding mainly in Estonia, Poland, Belarus, Moldova, Russia, Ukraine, Kazakhstan, mainland China and Mongolia. Passage or wintering birds occur in small numbers over a vast area, including central and eastern Europe, North Africa, East Africa, the Middle East, the Arabian-peninsula, the Indian Subcontinent, south Asia and South-East Asia. 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.






28 Oct 2021

Adult Indian Roller returning for winter? – Dhahran Hills

Whilst birding the Dhahran Hills Lake area on 27 October I came across the Indian Roller again, which has been around since 21 October. This is probably the same bird as was found on 19 November 2020 and spent most of the winter in the same area. This time it again arrived late and did not allow close approach and was on top of its favourite post from last winter the yellow danger sign. The species status in Saudi Arabia is a rare winter visitor, and I hope it remains for the remainder of the winter and next time allows me the chance to get some decent photos. Below is the only photo I managed to take of the birds before it flew off and landed on one of the street lights before flying off again and out of view.



26 Oct 2021

Fisal’s Finger - Riyadh

Just an hour north-west of the capital Riyadh, lies a dramatic rocky desert containing the Qadmat Al-Saqtah, better known as the Faisal's Finger, is a natural sandstone pillar that protrudes 200 meters above the plain at the bottom of the Jibal Tuwaiq. Faisal's Finger can be admired from both the top of the escarpment and the bottom from two different accesses with the bottom access easier to navigate. Its name refers to Faisal bin Abdelaziz Al-Saud, the third king of the modern Kingdom of Saudi Arabia who reigned between 1964 and 1975 CE. The site is located off the tarmac roads and can be accessed by two-wheeled drive car, but you may not be able to get very close unless you have a four-wheel drive vehicle or at least a car with good ground clearance. It is possible to drive all the way around the base of Faisal's Finger on rough tracks, but some are not very obvious. Climbing to the base of the finger is also possible but the rocks are loose and slippery so car should be taken if attempting this.












24 Oct 2021

Shrikes still passing – Jubail

I went to Jubail on 15 October, and we had a good morning birding. One of the first birds we saw was a European Honey Buzzard flying over but unfortunately it was before we had managed to set the cameras up as we had only just arrived. We also saw the first two Greater Spotted Eagles of the autumn along with a Western Osprey and tens of Marsh Harrier. We saw quite a few migrants including seven Daurian and three Turkestan Shrikes along with a single Great Grey Shrike. A small number of warblers were skulking in the reed beds and we managed to identify a female Blackcap, Willow Warbler and a Savi’s Warbler along with the commoner Clamorous Reed Warblers. The winters first White wagtails were seen along with a single Western Yellow Wagtail and a smart Citrine Wagtail. Waterbirds were plentiful with 50 plus Grey-headed Swamphen, 15 Eurasian Coot and a Great Crested Grebe being of interest. Large White-headed Gull numbers are building up with most birds seen Steppe Gulls. A few waders were scattered around with Marsh Sandpiper, Dunlin (including one quite grey looking bird), Common Greenshank, Wood Sandpiper and 20 Common Snipe being the best. On the way home we stopped at Khafrah Marsh but did not see much of interest as it was approaching midday and the best birds seen being two Spur-winged Lapwing and a Grey-headed Swamphen.

Daurian Shrike

Daurian Shrike

Citrine Wagtail

Common Snipe

Dunlin


22 Oct 2021

Edge of the World – near Riyadh

Jebel Fihrayn, better known as The Edge of the World, is one of the most popular destinations around Riyadh and was given its name because of the stunning views from the top of the 300-meter-high cliffs overlooking the surrounding plain. This escarpment is part of the much longer Jibal Tuwaiq which is one of the most prominent natural features of Saudi Arabia as it spreads over 1 000 kilometers from the province of Najran on the south up to Qassim in the north. It even played an important role in Arabia’s History as along its foot was one of the ancient caravan trade routes that used to cross the Arabian Peninsula from Yemen into the Levant and Persia. Getting to the location involves a long off-road drive, but the routes are quite obvious. The southern route, through acacia wadi, is only open on Friday and Saturday and has a locked gate so is not passable during weekdays. The northern route, shown on Google Maps, is open all the time and is mainly across good hard ground. There are one or two small wadis that need crossing and this is relatively easy in a four-wheeled drive car or one with good ground clearance. We saw a couple of normal saloon cars who made it to the location, but they had to be very careful of not grounding the bottom of the car and drove much slower than our Landcruiser. Overall, I would rate the route as good in a four-wheeled drive and it is easily doable in your own vehicle following Google Maps directions. Once at the site the steep escarpment face is quite daunting and it was windy when we arrived in the early morning. The path to the top point is quite wide and firm, but care is needed as it is close to the edge of the cliff. We were a little worried due to the wind but once down onto the path the route to the top was less windy and relatively easy to navigate. It looks a lot scarier seeing people standing on the top than it actually is when you are there on the top yourself and is worth the effort of overcoming any fears.












20 Oct 2021

Sociable Lapwing – Al Sikak Farms

I went birding to the Salwa area 9 October in the hope of finding a few migrants. I set off at 2:30 am and arrived just as the sun was rising at 05:15 hrs. I went to the farms at Al Sikak and spent over six hours walking the paths and field edges. It was hard work as the temperatures were high at 39 Celsius, as was the humidity. Bird numbers were not high, however, but there were a few migrants and it felt as if there could be a good bird lurking somewhere. My efforts were rewarded with a few migrants including a nice Jack Snipe in a wet area in an irrigated allotment as well as a few Ortolan Bunting, Lesser Whitethroat, Eurasian Hoopoe, Turkestan Shrike, Daurian Shrike, Great Grey Shrike (Arabian), Sand Martin, one Eurasian Crag Martin, Barn Swallow, Willow Warbler, one Barred Warbler, Common Whitethroat, Spotted Flycatcher, Isabelline Wheatear, Desert Wheatear, one Eastern Black-eared Wheatear, Western Yellow Wagtail and one Corn Bunting. The best bird however was a Sociable Lapwing in a small set of allotments. Initially it was hiding in the crops and all I could see was it head, where it gave the impression, on a very quick view, that it may be a Eurasian Dotterel. I moved closer and the bird came out of the crops and turned out to be a Sociable Lapwing. This is the earliest autumn date for Sociable Lapwing in Saudi Arabia with the previous earliest one being the 16 October 2020. It appeared very tired as I was able to move quite close, hidden by the trees along the allotment edge. A farmer was working in the fields and the bird remained feeding for over 15 minutes, relatively close to where he was working. Eventually the farm worker moved too close, and the bird flew a short distance, circled around, and tried to come back and land in the field. Unfortunately, the farm worker again unsettled it before it landed and it flew a short distance and landed in the desert, where a small pool had formed due to a water pipe discharging water. It remained here until I left 30 minutes later. Sociable Lapwing had only a single record in the Eastern Province prior to a few years ago when Phil Roberts and I found wintering birds at Haradh that have wintered every year since. We have also seen them in pivot fields near Jebal Nariyah. The species is normally wary and keeps well away from people, normally in ploughed fields but this bird allowed relatively close approach and thus I managed to get the best photos I have taken of Sociable Lapwing in Saudi Arabia, so was very happy with my long trip.





 

18 Oct 2021

Slender Skimmer or Oasis Skimmer – Deffi Park

Whilst birding Deffi Park I found a couple of Slender Skimmer Orthetrum sabina along a small watercourse. They are a common dragonfly in Saudi Arabia, that is a very active hunter, found mainly in oasis and overgrown riverbanks and wetland areas. It is a medium-sized dragonfly with a wingspan of 60-85mm with adults being grayish to greenish yellow with black and pale markings and green eyes. Its abdomen is greenish-yellow, marked with black. Females are similar to males in shape, colour and size. It is widespread, being found from south-eastern Europe and North Africa to Japan and south to Australia and Micronesia.



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