19 December 2021

Chestnut-bellied Sandgrouse – Haradh

Whilst birding the Haradh area on 27 November Phil Roberts and I came across three small flocks of Chestnut-bellied Sandgrouse totaling 78 birds. The birds appeared to be using the pivot irrigation fields but flew well before they were seen and at a great distance making photography very difficult. This is the third winter in a row we have seen the species in Haradh with this record being only the seventh record for the Eastern Province. They are a common and widespread breeding resident on the Tihamah and southern Red Sea coastlands, less common in the Northern Hejaz north to Rabigh with all records below 1000 metres. The species is, however, rare in Central Saudi Arabia and had not been recorded in the Eastern Province until 2013 when I was sent a photograph showing a number of birds (unfortunately) shot, apparently near Al Hassa in 2013. Phil Roberts then saw a single bird at Sabkhat Al Fasl in 2014 and Phil and I saw a single at the same location 12 February 2016. The other records being a flock of over 50 at Haradh on 25 January 2019, a single Al Asfar Lake, 20 September 2019 and a further flock of thirty birds flying over pivot irrigation fields at Haradh, 7 December 2019. They are a relatively small species, with elongated central tail feathers, dark underwing and white traing edge to the primaries, blackish belly and unmarked head. The male has a narrow pectoral band and chestnut brown belly darkening towards rear, whereas the female is more mottled above and shows a tricoloured ventral pattern. Races differ mainly in tone of upperpart coloration with the Arabian population P. e. erlangeri sandy coloured. They typically inhabit bare semi-desert, often with scattered thorny scrubs or trees including Acacia. They feed during the cooler hours of morning and afternoon and drink 2–3 hours after sunrise, while in very hot weather some individuals drink again before sunset.