05 July 2022

Breeding Little Terns – Jubail

Whilst birding at Jubail last weekend there were very few birds about with about the only things of interest being the Little Terns. Little Tern bred again in Jubail this year with the numbers of successful breeding pairs been much higher than previously as disturbance has been less in 2022. Young birds that were unable to fly were seen in very early June and now the birds can fly well and chase their parents around. Little Tern is not so easy to photograph well as they always seem to be out on the sabkha where you can’t walk as it is too soft. Occasionally you can find young birds sitting around in better places for photography waiting for their parents to come back with food, but this is not so common.

03 July 2022

Fat Sand Rats – Khursaniyah

I went to an area near Khursaniyah in late-June where I had seen Fat Sand Rat Psammomys obesus four years ago. I wanted to go again to see if I could get better views of the animals and try to obtain better photos. I left at 03:00 to get to the site by first light and could not initially find the area where I had previously found the animals. I looked in areas with plants, but with no success, until I eventually found the previous location at 06:00 hrs. I concentrated looking at the back of the enclosure and could not see anything when I noticed an animal partly out of a burrow at the front. I took a couple of photos before it quickly disappeared. I stayed looking and found six more animals, including a pair digging a burrow and eventually the close Fat Sand Rat reappeared but never came fully out of its burrow. Its upper parts are reddish-brown, reddish, yellowish or sandy buff and the underparts are yellowish, buffy or whitish. The subspecies that lives in Saudi Arabia is P. o. dianae. The sturdy limbs bear blackish claws and the short, stout tail that is fully haired and has a black terminal tuft. The small, rounded ears are covered with dense whitish to yellowish hair. This species communicates through high-pitched squeaks and by drumming its feet. They are found in North Africa and the Middle East and have been recorded in Mauritania, Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Sudan, Israel, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Syria. They inhabit deserts, semi-desert, rocky habitats and grasslands, provided that succulent shrubs, on which the rat feeds, are present. 

01 July 2022

Egyptian Nightjar – Jubail

Whilst birding the Jubail area during June I have been seeing Egyptian Nightjar each week, but only single birds so far. Most of the time they are located sitting under a tamarisk tree on the car tracks, and you can get very close to them in the car as they are convinced their camouflage. I do not try to get out of the car as this causes them to fly and I do not want to disturb them. Over the next couple of months numbers should start increasing and as July ends juveniles have been seen in the past few years. 

30 June 2022

Little Tern young – Jubail

Whilst birding the Jubail area I came across the breeding Little Terns now with a number of fairly well grown young. Some were resting on the muddy edge of some sabkha and two were large enough to fly although a bot unsteadily. In the Eastern Province the Little Tern is a common passage migrant and summer breeding visitor that is scarce in the winter. It has bred in freshwater and brackish areas of eastern Saudi Arabia and possibly the Red Sea also. Birds are scarce inland but have been recorded in all areas including Riyadh. As the two young could not fly well I was able to move the car quite close and obtain the below photos.

28 June 2022

Libyan Jird with young - Jubail

As seeing the Libyan Jirds was so exciting last weekend I went back again. I arrived at first light and this time saw what appeared to be young Jirds with and adult. The adult was missing the end of its tail so it looks like it may have had an accident or a lucky escape from something trying to eat it. Breeding takes place throughout most of the year with several litters of about five young being born. I saw at least three, well grown young with this adult. It is a large species of jird with a head-and-body length of 100 to 160 mm and a similar-length tail and a weight of 56 to 105 g. The head is broad with large eyes, the fur is fine and dense, and the hind legs are long. The upper parts are greyish brown. The hairs on the underside have white tips and grey bases and the tail is pale brown except for the terminal third of the tail which is deep brown or blackish. The claws are dark-coloured, and the soles of the hind feet are partly hairy so that patches of bare skin are visible. In Saudi Arabia it may be confused with Sundevall's jird Meriones crassus but that species is smaller, has pale claws and a smaller dark tail tuft. Its natural habitats are subtropical or tropical dry shrubland, intermittent saline lakes, hot deserts, and rural gardens. The Libyan jird may live alone or in small colonies and is more sociable in winter when colonies may contain twenty or thirty individuals. It inhabits a burrow up to 1.5 m deep which is a fairly complex series of passages with multiple entrances.

26 June 2022

Summer Sand Martins – Jubail

Sand Martin is a very common passage migrant throughout Saudi Arabia with over 2,000 recorded at Dawmat al-Jandal reservoir, Northwest Saudi Arabia in April one year. A few occur in winter, but these may be late passage birds rather than true wintering individuals. Summer records are rare, and breeding has not been recorded, but this year up to ten birds have been around continually this spring and summer and I noticed a juvenile in amongst them. This is probably a bird that has bred in a nearby country rather than one from Saudi Arabia itself, but we will never know for sure. I contacted Yoav Perlman in Israel who mentioned fresh juveniles have occurred in Israel in May, but no nests have been found and they assume these to breed close to Israel if not in Israel itself. The photos below are of a few of the birds I managed to photograph on 18 July, but their fast flight, heavy hand held lens and incredibly high temperatures made photographing them very difficult with the ones below my best efforts.

24 June 2022

Libyan Jird climbing Shrub - Jubail

One interesting thing I saw whilst watching the Jirds last weekend was one that climbed into a shrub to find food. I saw several feeding on the ground and reaching up to take plant material but only this one that climbed off the ground and into the shrub. It is a diurnal species and forages for seeds, bulbs, tubers, and leaves, as well as any dead insect it may find. It often carries the food back to the burrow and here large quantities are stored in chambers near the surface, deeper burrows being used for nesting. It is opportunistically migratory, moving to new territory when food becomes scarce.

22 June 2022

Build-up of Herons - Jubail

Whilst birding the Jubail area in mid-June I noticed a large build-up of both Little Egrets and Squacco Herons compared to the previous month. The large number of birds seen on the winter started to disappear in early May, presumably to start breeding. Both these species were only found breeding for the first time in the Eastern Province two years ago and last year we found a large breeding site nearby with several hundred birds breeding. This year this old breeding site is not being used and I am wondering of the birds I have started to see and non-breeding birds from this old location.

Little Egret

Little Egret

20 June 2022

Libyan Jird colony - Jubail

I set off from home at 03:00 in mid-June to get to Jubail for first light. By 04:30 just as it was getting light, I noticed the first Jirds on the side of the road in an area where Umer Farooq had told me he had seen animals.  I saw a large number of Libyan Jird Meriones libycus but to be certain of their identity I sent a photo to Mansur Al Fahd who is extremely knowledgeable about most of the Kingdom’s wildlife, and he replied “There is no doubt is Libyan Jird (Meriones libycus) as it was seen in large numbers. Daytime activity (it is active in summer at the beginning and end of the day when the temperature is somewhat low). You can notice its black nails and it usually raises its tail when escaping”. Deserts, such as those of Saudi Arabia, are harsh environments where daily and seasonal temperatures are extreme, and rainfall is scant or non-existent. Solar radiation is intense and there is little primary productivity in the form of vegetation (Degen 1997). The climate of Saudi Arabia is characteristically harsh with rainfall being sporadic and unpredictable and temperatures climbing often well above 40 °C. Under such conditions food resources and water are scarce, yet many small mammals are able to survive and reproduce, one of the most successful being the Libyan Jird Meriones libycus. The Libyan Jird is one of the most widely distributed species among rodents, ranging across nearly the entire Palearctic Desert Belt from Morocco in Northwest Africa to China. It occupies desert and semidesert habitats, generally in areas with stabilized dunes. It becomes most abundant in unflooded river plains, and it is often found close to wadies and occasionally in arable land. Fifteen subspecies were described but their validity and the phylogenetic relationships among them are uncertain. A recent study defined subspecies limits within Meriones libycus into three allopatric lineages within M. libycus: Western lineage in North Africa, Central lineage in Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Syria, and Eastern lineage in Iran, Afghanistan, and China. The results support the existence of at least three subspecies within the libyan jird: African Meriones libycus libycus, Levant-Arabian M. l. syrius, and Eastern Meriones libycus erythrourus.