26 Jan 2022

Sisra Well – Sakaka

Sisra Well is located in the northern end of the city about 200 metres from Za’abal Castle and dates back to the Nabataean Period (First century BC until the end of the first century AD). The well is dug in sandstone, is oval in shape and is about 15 metres deep and nine by eight metres across and has a hole in the eastern side that was used to irrigate the surrounding farms. The well currently has no water in it. It is made of stones in its top with a wide hole and engraved staircase reaching the bottom of the well and there is also a tunnel at the eastern side in the bottom of the well, which is feeding the farms with water that are located in the lower areas about three kilometers away from the city. Sisra Well is considered as one of the most significant antiquities in the region and took its name from the Kanaani military commander, Sisra who fought the Jews in Palestine as the commander of Kanaani army. His name is mentioned in Torah and Christian holy books as a Jew. Some people connect name of Sisrah to the name Cesar as an English translation to the name of Cesar in the western culture.

24 Jan 2022

A few winter birds - Dhahran Lake

Whilst walking around the lake in Dhahran 20 January I spent some time looking in the relatively newly planted scrubby area. It was full of Bluethroats but is normally the case they were flighty and shy and no photos were obtained this time. The various grasses planted here are very attractive to Indian Silverbills and a small group has been around most of the year but now seems to have increased in numbers to well over twenty individuals. Tawny Pipits were running around on the rough ground along with Crested Larks with a Daurian Shrike, Great Grey Shrike and a Caspian Stonechat also seen perched up on the shrubs and grasses. The pond itself held a few Western Great Egrets, 50+ Western Cattle Egrets, 20 Mallard, one Eurasian Teal, three Ferruginous Duck and 50+ Great Cormorants including a few juveniles. A single Gull-billed Tern and ten Common Black-headed Gull were present along with 23 Little Grebe.

Siberian Stonechat

Siberian Stonechat

Western Great Egret

Indian Silverbill

22 Jan 2022


Shuwaihtiyeh centre is located along the banks of Shuwaihtiyeh valley. The area was inhabited from the Stone Age dating back 130,000 to 100,000 years ago. It has various interesting sites including the old village, and the Shuwaihtiyeh tree, an ancient Tamarix tree, dating back to 1941. This type of tree was used for ceilings in the old village. It also holds one of the oldest, human inhabited archaeological sites in the Kingdom, which was fenced off and closed when we visited. Field studies have revealed 15 settlements and 2000 stone tools including knifes, hammer stones and arrowheads have been found. Various examples of Rock Art (petroglyphs) can be found on the hills surrounding the area, including depictions of Camel, Ibex and hunting scenes as well as inscriptions.

20 Jan 2022

Caspian Gulls – Sharma Beach

Whilst birding Sharma Beach in December I came across a small number or large White-headed Gulls. I was looking to see if I could find Yellow-legged Gull that had been recorded in this area previously but was only able to identify Caspian Gulls. The photos below show four different birds from top to bottom as follows:

Bird 1: Probably a Caspian Gull but immature gulls are always extremely tricky.

Bird 2: A pale-eyed variant Caspian Gull with characteristic shape and palish legs. Klaus Malling Olsen mentioned to me previously that the bill colour and pattern in more eastern Caspian Gulls are brighter than seen in the western part of the range.

Bird 3: Caspian Gull with typical wing-tip pattern; complete white tip to p10 and large white spot on p9 as well as long black tongues in mid primaries.

Bird 4: Caspian Gull showing the white tip to p10.

18 Jan 2022

Petrified Wood – Sakaka

Whilst in the Sakaka area recently my family and I went looking for petrified wood in the rough stony desert areas. We knew they had been found here before and were interested to see what they looked like. We did not know where to look bit drove to an off-road location. Here we were approached by a local Bedouin, and we asked him and his son if they knew were we may be able to find some. They very kindly showed us where some very large pieces were, with at least four large trunks seen although they were all broken up to some degree. These fragments are very large and very heavy but we were very glad to have seen them. The drive to them was over very rough ground and a four-wheel drive car would be essential to reach them although as we were following the Bedouin to reach them and get back safely to the road I have no idea where they actually were.  Petrified wood is the name given to wood that has been turned into stone (fossilized). All of the organic matter becomes replaced by minerals, while much of the original structure such as tree rings in retained. For this to happen the wood needs to be buried in an environment both low in oxygen (preventing decomposition) and with flowing, mineral-laden water. The coloration is due to the various minerals that are present during fossilization.

16 Jan 2022

Armenian Gull - Al Uqayr

Whilst birding the coastal area of Al Uqayr on 9 January 2022 we came across an Armenian Gull on the shoreline. The bird was very flighty and took off almost as soon as it had been located but luckily landed again. After several short flights we managed to get a couple of photos on the ground and then some flight shots. The bird showed a rather dark grey mantle (slightly darker than Steppe Gull), yellow legs (not bright yellow but obviously yellow), a large amount of black in the outer primaries and a single relatively small mirror on the outer primary (P10). Armenian Gull is often depicted with a dark eye but in fact several studies have shown between 10-15% of adult birds have pale eyes. The bird we saw had a pale eye as shown in the below photos. The very tip of the bill, in front of the black marking, was whitish, with a red gonys well developed on the lower mandible and only marginally continued on the upper mandible, and bright yellow proximal part of the bill creating a four-coloured impression. Armenian Gull is a relatively rare bird worldwide with 98% of the breeding total being concentrated on only four lakes in Turkey, Armenia and Iran. It has an estimated world population around 20,000 – 25,000 breeding pairs. The Turkish breeding population of Armenian Gull is about 2400 pairs on Tuz Golu, Van Golu & a further 11,000-13,000 pairs at two lakes in Armenia and 4,000 - 5,000 pairs at one lake in Iran. They winter mainly in the eastern Mediterranean with some spreading to northern Red Sea, and it is a common gull in Israel in winter with birds regularly seen in Kuwait each winter. Its status in Saudi Arabia is a scarce winter visitor with most records from the northern shores of the Red Sea and is very scarce in the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia where they make up possibly only 0.1% of all large white-headed gulls. Birds become scarcer the further south one goes in the Eastern part of the Arabian Peninsula, so more could occur closer to the Kuwait border at Khafji.

14 Jan 2022

Zaabal Castle – Sakaka

On top of a mountain, the highest point in the area, in the city of Sakaka in northwest Saudi Arabia sits Zaabal Castle. The castle is believed to have been built 200 years ago, but some structures are said to date back to the 1st-century Nabataean era dated from the first century BC to the first century AD. The fort consists of a reservoir and four cylindrical towers, five metres high, that are connected by a single wall and is built of stone and mud. The castle sits on top of a water well system that spans the entire city and has been a source of supply to the city’s inhabitants for centuries. It has a surrounding wall built of mud and stone decorated with mud engravings. The height of the wall is approximately two meters. There are two rooms inside the castle built of mud and stones and the roof covered in palms trunks and palm branches which are available throughout the region. One of these rooms is located in the centre of the castle, was built over a high rock base. The second chamber is located to the left when you walk through the entrance to the castle and is faced by a water tank embedded in rock to a depth of approximately 80 cm and 1 metre length approximately. The tank was used for storing water in case of barricaded inside the fortress. The castle is accessed through semi- circuitous narrow staircase built from stone. On the left on the way into the castle there is a large jebal that holds some very interesting rock art. It is not possible to get close but they are viewable from the bottom of the jebal.

13 Jan 2022

Birding the Gayal area - Gayal

Gayal is an area on the Red Sea coast, north of Sharma towards the Jordan boarder, where it is possible to access the coast. Here some shallow intertidal areas exist and some large bays that contain a lot of waders. When we were there we saw Dunlin, Eurasian Curlew, Greater Sand Plover and Ruddy Turnstone. Other birds seen included Great Grey Shrike in some shrubs close to the coast and Western Osprey.

Ruddy Turnstone

Great Grey Shrike

Greater Sand Plover

Eurasian Curlew

12 Jan 2022

Sanderling – Al Uqayr

Whilst birding the area near Al Uqayr Customs House we came across a flooded area caused by the large amount of rain that fell at the end of December. On scanning the few waders that were present I located a single Sanderling amongst the Dunlin and Kentish Plover. This is an Uncommon passage migrant and uncommon winter visitor to Saudi Arabia and bird I don’t see so often. As a result, I turned the car around and carefully tried to get into position to see the waders well with the light behind and avoid getting stick in the mud. On arrival at the area it became apparent there were quite a few Sanderling present totalling twenty birds as well as four Greater Sandplovers and twenty plus Dunlin. We spent some time checking the trees along the coast here for Hypocolious as a large flock had spent last winter in the area and despite quite a lot of effort only managed to find two separate individuals some distance apart. A Lesser Whitethroat, Song Thrush, Eastern Black Redstart, several Common Chiffchaff and a calling Siberian Chiffchaff were only other really notable birds seen. 

11 Jan 2022

Western Osprey - Gayal

 Whilst birding the Gayal area of the northern Red Sea coast of Saudi Arabia in early January I came across a Western Osprey perched in a tall tree. I noticed the bird whilst driving down the main road and stopped and then managed to manoeuvre the car into a position where I was very close to the bird. Luckily it did not fly off and I managed to obtain some close-up photos before leaving it still sitting in the same tree. Western Osprey is a common breeding resident on the Red Sea coast and offshore islands of the Kingdom, with this young bird almost certainly raised nearby. 

10 Jan 2022

Ranjajil Columns - Sakaka

The site of Rajajil (The Men) is near Sakaka, a city in north-western Saudi Arabia which is the capital of Al Jawf Province. It is located just to the north of the An Nafud desert. They are probably over 5,000 years old and consist of 54 groups of stones some of them three meters high. They go in parallel lines from east to west and the reason for them is still uncertain. The site is on high ground overlooking a large area of low level to its north, and the current site has an area of approximately 300 m × 500 m with an extension in the west, where there are a number of separate groups of stone on the main site. The site consists of a group of fifty four stone columns. The numbers of the columns in each group are differing from the other groups. Also columns are appearing compact straight lines, some columns rise to more than 3.5 m, while others did not exceed 50 cm in height due to the fall of the upper parts of some of these columns and the thickness of 75 cm per column. There are also writings on some of the columns. The site dates back to the copper age or the fourth millennium BC. These columns are believed to be primarily a religious site or second-class graves. Some believe that the stones were probably a meeting place for people in the area and possibly they were also a trade centre as many important trade roads crossed the Al -Jowf area as Sakaka is an oasis town on an ancient caravan route across the Arabian peninsula. The location of Al Rajajil site to some extent, looks like the site of "Stonehenge" which is located eight miles from Salisbury in England, a temple built from a combination of huge stones made in a circular motion, and is topped by a huge stone slabs. The location is fenced off and access is restricted. There is a visitor centre and if open, access is granted into the enclosed site and you can get close to the stones to take photographs. This is in my opinion one of the best historical locations in the Kingdom and very well worth a visit.