29 November 2021

Western White Stork - Abu Arish Municipal Dump

On 12 November Phil and I found a Western White Stork ciconia ciconia ciconia feeding on a municipal waste dump on the outskirts of Abu Arish in southwest Saudi Arabia. This is only the second time we have seen the species in Saudi Arabia, with the first a bird we found in Dhahran 17 September 2013. The Western White Stork is a scarce passage migrant and local winter visitor to all areas of Saudi Arabia mostly in autumn. They are usually seen singly or in small numbers, more often in the west of the Kingdom. Birds are thought to pass over the area unnoticed which is borne out by a paper on electrocution and collision of birds with power lines in Saudi Arabia by Mohammed Shobrak (2012) where he recorded 242 dead birds in 2008 with 150 dead birds found on 29 August 2008 alone. The power line surveyed was 100 kilometres south of Jeddah on the west coast of Saudi Arabia. The species is said to winter in the Tihamah, but records are very uncommon from here. The best location appears to be the Abu Arish Municipal Rubbish Dump, where we saw our bird, as 300 were present 9 February 1992 and 100 there December 1999, with one at nearby Malaki Dam Lake (Wadi Jizan Lake) on 7 May 2002 and 15 late October 2002.

27 November 2021

Schmidt's Fringed-toed Lizard – Jubail

Whilst briding in Jubail in the summer I found a Schmidt's Fringed-toed Lizard Acanthodactylus schmidti near a wetland area. Schmidt's Fringed-toed Lizard is one of the most abundant species in the genus Acanthodactylus found in Saudi Arabia and occupies sandy plains, dunes and sabkhas (salt flats), particularly in areas of scrubby vegetation. It was named after Karl Patterson Schmidt, with a type locality of Dhahran, Saudi Arabia and it can be distinguished by the exceptionally long fourth toe found on each of its rear feet. As its name suggests it has 'fringes' of elongated scales along the sides of each toe, which are thought to provide better traction on loose sand. It has a light brown or coffee coloured back that is richly speckled with oval-shaped, pale or white spots and can grow to 18 centimetres in length. They have a cylindrical body with smooth, rectangular scales on the belly that are arranged in well-defined rows and scales on the head that are larger than those on the rest of the body. Little is known about the biology of the species but it is thought that its main prey is ants and when prey is located they instantly go rigid, suddenly quiver their tail and strike. It is a diurnal species that digs burrows in the sand among the roots of vegetation and is found throughout the Arabian Peninsula including Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Jordan, Kuwait, Oman, southeast Iraq and south-west Iran.

25 November 2021

Waterbirds - Malaki (Jizan) Dam Lake

Malaki (Jizan) Dam Lake, near Abu Arish is probably the best birding location in the Kingdom and when we were there, we saw quite a few birds including Glossy Ibis, Purple Heron and Hamerkop. Hamerkop is a species that is regularly seen at this location, with it being the best site in the Kingdom to record it. They are quite widespread in the southwest of the Kingdom but very local and uncommon. A good number of Terns were flying over the water including up to ten Whiskered Tern and several Gull-billed Tern. Hundreds of Black Kite were present mainly perched in the trees surrounding the lake but also a few in flight and good numbers of Western Marsh Harrier and a single Greater Spotted Eagle were also located.

Greater Spotted Eagle

Greater Spotted Eagle


Purple Heron

Western Marsh Harrier

Western Marsh Harrier

Western Marsh Harrier

Whiskered Tern

23 November 2021

Rudist fossil Durania cornupastoris - Thumamah

Whilst looking for fossils near Thummama, near Riyadh, my daughter and I found a number of Rudists fossils of Durania cornupastoris (Des Moulins). They were mainly ventral radial band (Vb) and were found in the Aruma Formation. This formation is distributed in NW-SE direction around Riyadh and consists of three members, from bottom to top, the Khanasir Limestone Member, the Hajajah Limestone Member, and the Lina Shale Member. The rudist biostrome, approximately 2 m thick, is placed in the uppermost part of the Khanasir Limestone Member and consists mainly of Durania specimens. Upper Cretaceous rudists were widely distributed throughout the northern and southern margins of the Mediterranean Tethys. They are described from the Cenomanian–Turonian sequences of Algeria, Tunisia, Egypt, Jordan, and Lebanon and the Campanian–Maastrichtian of Tunisia, Somalia, Oman, UAE, Saudi Arabia, SE Turkey, Iraq, and Iran on the African–Arabian plate. The habitat where they occurred was an inner sublittoral, warm marine paleoenvironment. This paleoenvironment was characterized by firm, stable substrate surfaces subjected to periodically intense wave and current action, within the photic zone, abundant food supply but with minimal terrigenous input. Rudists were a group, now extinct, of box, tube or ring-shaped marine heterodont bivalves that arose during the Late Jurassic and became so diverse during the Cretaceous that they were major reef-building organisms until their complete extinction at the close of the Cretaceous. They lived in shallow marine environments with fossils found in limestone rocks. They had two asymmetric valves with one valve attached to the sea floor. Today, their fossils are found throughout the tropics in the Mediterranean, the Middle East, the Caribbean, and Southeast Asia. Rudists dominated the world of reefs throughout the Cretaceous until the Cretaceous-Tertiary mass extinction event that caused their demise. Rudists grew by accretion (or the increase in size by addition) and were suspension feeders. Generally, large-bodied rudists lived longer and reproduced relatively frequently with small spawns. Rudists lived in shallow ocean waters on the sea floor. These organisms were epifaunal, which means they were usually attached to the sea floor sediment. The clustering and building up of Rudist habitats caused the creation of "Rudist Reefs" which were the dominant reef frameworks in the Cretaceous oceans. Basic external features of rudists include the umbo and thick, asymmetric right and left valves. The umbo is the rounded protrusion found just above the hinge, and the hinge is the pivoting point where the two valves meet. 

Characteristics of rudists include the following:

Unequal valves

One of the valves is usually attached to the sea floor sediment

Hinge structures: free (unattached to sea floor sediment) valve has two teeth and one socket; attached valve has two sockets and one tooth

Two adductor muscles

22 November 2021

Red-breasted Flycatcher - Jubail

Whilst birding the Jubail area on19 November Phil Roberts and I came across a Red-breasted Flycatcher along the edge of the main reed beds. This was only the second one either of us had seen so was a very nice surprise. Red-breasted Flycatcher is a rare passage migrant and winter visitor to Saudi Arabia with the last record a single in Al Andalus Park 1, Zulfi 19 – 22 October. Records are scattered around the Kingdom with a number from the northwest, particularly Yanbu mainly in November. A number of records have occurred in the Riyadh area from October to January, but mainly in November. Birds from the Eastern Province have occurred from September to March with most in October and November and the best areas Dhahran and Abqaiq. This record from Jubail fits nicely the pattern of occurrence of late autumn early winter. 

21 November 2021

African Openbill - Malaki (Jizan) Dam Lake

A pair of African Openbill were found in Malaki (Jizan) Dam Lake on 3 September 2021 a new species for Saudi Arabia. Phil Roberts and I had planned a trip to this area for some time and went 12 November. We heard the birds were still around at end of October and went to the area where they had been seen, but initially failed to locate them. On moving around the lake and looking at suitable vantage points we eventually found a single bird. After looking at it for some time it was joined by a second that emerged from behind a large set of reeds. We moved around the lake slightly to try to get closer and then found a third bird. 

19 November 2021

Nile Tilapia – Al Hair

Whilst at the Al Hair Riyadh River my daughter found a fish hiding under a bank. The species is most likely Nile Talapia Oreochromis niloticus or a hybrid Oreochromis (Tilapia). These fish have often been introduced into the lakes and pools of Saudi Arabia, sometimes deliberately, to control mosquito larva. I would like to thank Johannes Els, one of the co-authors of the Freshwater Fishes of Arabia book who kindly helped me with the identification. The Oreochromines are a sub-family of the Cichlidae family of fishes native to Africa and parts of the Levant that have large commercial significance for aquaculture and capture fisheries. The Nile Tilapia has a broad natural distribution spanning from the Nile River basin southwards through the Eastern and Western Rift Valley lakes in East Africa, and westwards through the basins of Lake Chad, Niger, Benue, Volta, Gambia and Senegal rivers. Other areas of the world where the species is found, is due to introductions, such as Saudi Arabia.

15 November 2021

Judah Thumb - Judah

This rock formation is about 160 kilometres from Dhahran near the town of Judah also spelt Goodah. The rock formation can be reached relatively easily by car as although it is off-road the tracks are firm and can be easily driven as much of it is on gravel like terrain, especially near the rock formation itself. Nearby the escarpment is also quite beautiful and worth driving along the bottom of. There are various rough four-wheel drive tracks up to the top of the escarpment but some are extremely difficult to drive even with experience.

13 November 2021

Terns & Indian Roller again – Dhahran Hills Lake

A trip to the Dhahran Hills Lake in early November produced many of the normal herons, egrets and cormorants but three fly over Eurasian Sparrowhawk were good and a continuation of a small movement of these birds over the last week. The slightly different birds than normal seen included a Common Kingfisher, two Pied Wheatear, a Daurian Shrike, several Graceful Prinia and three Whiskered Terns. The normal Gull-billed Terns were still present but they had been joined by the smaller and more agile Whiskered Terns. This is a species which is occasionally seen in the camp but is far from common. The Indian Roller was seen again but again it only came in at the end of the day and perched on its favourite yellow danger signs. I managed to get a little closer this time but the photos I took are still far from the best as the light is poor at this time of day.

Eurasian Sparrowhawk

Great Cormorant

Grey Heron

Gull-billed Tern

Indian Roller

Indian Roller

Indian Roller

Whiskered Tern

Whiskered Tern

Whiskered Tern

11 November 2021

Shaqra Historical Village – Shaqra

Shaqra Historical Vllage, in Shaqra village has many old and restored buildings. One restored area is Almajlis Souq, wich is the oldest souk in Shaqra dating back 500 years and occupying an area of 1600 square metres. The market included 60 shops offering clothes, foodstuffs, animal ghee, hand crafted items and utensils. It was also had a livestock auction as part of the market. On the western side is one of the oldest traditional schools named Sheik Ibn Hinti School. The area was restored in 2016. Another restored market is Almijbab Market, restored in 2020. This was a smaller market containing ten shops selling vegetables, legumes, dates and handcrafted items. Another nice area in the heritage village is the Aljamaa Farm, with palm trees and trees endowed to Alhossini Mosque.

10 November 2021

Eastern Imperial Eagle - Jubail

Whilst birding in the Jubail area 5 November we came across good numbers of Blue-cheeked Bee-eaters with more than 30 seen, continuing the good passage of this species this autumn. A single Great Grey Shrike was located with Daurian Shrike numbers still quite high and White Wagtail and Water Pipit numbers both increasing. Two Mallard were located hiding in the reeds, with Great White Egret numbers increasing to 132 birds with over 300 Caspian Terns still remaining from last weeks count of over 500. A lone Black-tailed Godwit and a few Eurasian Curlew were seen on the sabkha edge but wader numbers were down on the last couple of weeks. We counted ten Great Spotted Eagle, either sitting on the power masts or in the reeds, with a single, much scarcer Eastern Imperial Eagle with three Greater Spotted Eagles on one mast.

Black-tailed Godwit

Blue-cheeked Bee-eater

Blue-cheeked Bee-eater

Daurian Shrike

Eastern Imperial Eagle

Eastern Imperial Eagle

Eurasian Curlew

Great Grey Shrike