28 February 2022

Bonelli’s Eagle – Al Asfar Lake

Whilst birding Al Asfar Lake near Al Hassa on 25 February we saw a juvenile Bonelli’s Eagle Hieraaetus fasciatus perched on a power line pylon. It was early morning and the light was in the wrong direction, so the photos were not so good – see below. Bonelli’s Eagle is a rare migrant to all areas of the Kingdom and is possibly a winter visitor to Tihamah, Hejaz and Asir. Records from the Eastern province are as a vagrant with the only records being a first year at Dhahran 2-9 January 1981, one Dhahran 4-27 February 1981, one captured exhausted 20 kilometres south of Safaniya 14 July 1984, one at Qatif 11 December 1991, a juvenile in flight at Jabal Nariyyah 25 January 2007 and a juvenile Sabhka al-Fasl 10 December 2015 and a juvenile in flight Dhahran 11 March 2017

27 February 2022

Snake-tailed Fringe-toed Lizard – Salwa

Whilst birdwatching the Salwa area, near the Qatar border I came across a number of Snake-tailed Fringe-toed Lizard Acanthodactylus opheodurus. The lizards were very active even during the hottest part of the day and where always found near small low-lying plants with hard sandy soil. It is superficially similar to its larger congener Acanthodactylus boskianus, and was described officially in 1980. As its name suggests, this species has a particularly long tail and, in common with other Acanthodactylus species, the toes are fringed with scales adapted for running over loose sand. Like other lacertids, the body is long and cylindrical, and the legs are well developed, with the animal having a basic body colour of grey, with seven dark stripes running down the back and sides and a tail tinged red in immatures. They live in a range of arid habitats, including plains with relatively hard sand cover and low hills covered by dense bushes. It is a diurnal lizard and lives in burrows excavated out of hard sand where it remains concealed for all but a few hours of the day. Their burrows not only act as a shelter from predators but also provide refuge from extreme temperatures. The snake-tailed fringe-toed lizard is currently known from the Arabian Peninsula and several other countries in the Middle East, including Jordan, Kuwait and Iraq.

25 February 2022

Waders – Al Khobar

Whilst birding on a beach in Al Khobar we came across a few waders. On scanning the few waders that were present we noticed a few 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, although I had seen quite recently at Al Uqayr. We managed to get reasonably close bit the poor light made the photos not so good. A single confiding Dunlin resting on the sand allowed close photos, however.


Kentish Plover



23 February 2022

Great Crested Grebes – Al Khobar

Whilst birdwatching Al Khobar on 22 February I came across at least ten Great Crested Grebes. The species is not an easy bird to see in Saudi Arabia with the Eastern Province the best area to see them. Several lakes are good for the species including the one at the end of Abu Ali Island and Khafra Marsh. The percolation pond in Dhahran was also a regular place to see them. These birds were on a protected bay area of the Arabian Gulf and were scattered over a large area. Six birds were seen together, and six Black-necked Grebes were also located in the same bay. This is the largest gathering of Great Crested Grebes I have seen in the Kingdom.

21 February 2022

Eurasian Spoonbills – Abu Ali Island

Whilst I was birding the large lake at the end of Abu Ali Island we found four Eurasian Spoonbills, three adults and an immature bird. The birds were quite timid and flew after a couple of minutes. The status of Eurasian Spoonbill has changed over the years in the Eastern Province, with it being regarded as a rare and irregular visitor usually involving immature birds until the end of the 1980’s. Today it is an uncommon visitor in all months to the province. In Central Saudi Arabia the status of the species has also changed with the List of Birds of Saudi Arabia (Jennings 1981) saying there were no inland records for the country. By the mid 1980’s the Birds of the Riyadh Region (Stagg 1994) stated that prior to 1987 the Spoonbill was a rare autumn visitor. Since then, it made frequent appearances along the Riyadh watercourse and became a spasmodic spring and autumn passage migrant and a regular winter visitor in growing numbers. In the late 1990’s the species was not recorded at all by the local birders and is still regarded as a scarce bird in the area. The main stronghold for the species in Saudi Arabia is the Red Sea where it is a common resident breeder. Largest numbers are seen in the southwest near Jizan but birds have been recorded all along the coast to north to Yanbu. Jubail is the best location to see the species in the Eastern Province, but it is far from guaranteed here being only see on a few days per year.


19 February 2022

Black-marked Orange Tip – Dhahran Al Janub

Whilst birding a roadside wadi near Haddadah, close to Dhahran Al Janub near the Yemen border I saw a number of the nominate subspecies of Black-marked Orange Tip Colotis daira daira which occurs in south-western Saudi Arabia, Yemen and Oman and is considered endemic to the southwestern part of the Arabian Peninsula. The other subspecies are distributed in the northern dry zone of sub-Saharan Africa and in the Horn of Africa to Northern Kenya. The Black-marked orange tip, is a butterfly in the family Pieridae. The habitat they prefer consists of dry savanna type vegetation where both sexes are attracted to flowers and the larvae feed on Capparis and Cadaba species.

17 February 2022

Sandwich Terns – Abu Ali Island

Whilst birding Abu Ali Island in February we found a single Sandwich Tern sitting on some metal poles sticking out from the sea close to the shore. It was in among 50 plus Lesser Crested Terns and two Swift Terns. We managed to take a few distant photos of the bird before leaving it in peace. On the way off the island we came across a distant flock of several hundred birds most of which were Slender-billed Gulls but also amongst them were a single adult Armenian Gull and two adult summer Great Black-headed Gulls. A large flock of tern made up mainly of Caspian and Lesser Crested were also present and after close inspection through the ‘scope’ we found up to ten Sandwich Tern with tem also. Sandwich Tern is a scarce and irregular visitor to the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia with this being only my third sighting of the species. They occur mainly from November to February on the coast but old records from November record birds commonly seen offshore. Abu Ali Island has restricted access through a guard post where you have to show proof of access entitlement before being allowed onto the island.

15 February 2022

Yellow Splendour – Dhahran Al Janub

Whilst birding a roadside wadi near Haddadah, close to Dhahran Al Janub near the Yemen border I saw a number of Yellow Splendour Colotis protomedia butterflies. This is a large species, with a beautiful primrose yellow upper-side, bordered with black. The veins on the forewings are also black, as it the sub apical bar. They occur from northeastern Nigeria and Cameroon, east to Sudan (and even the extreme north of Egypt), Somalia, Saudi Arabia (southwest), Yemen, and south to the drier parts of East Africa (northern Uganda, northern and eastern Kenya, and northern Tanzania) covering in excess of 20,000 km2. The species is found mainly in dry savannah habitats. Individuals of this species are attracted to flowers, especially those of the larval host-plants, which comprise Maerua species and adults have a fast flight. The intricate underside of this large yellow butterfly make it one of the most beautiful of all species found in Saudi Arabia.  

14 February 2022

Arabian Magpie – Billasmer area

Whilst in the southwest on the Kingdom in March I saw a number of Arabian Magpie on a number of occasions. Birds were seen at one location building a nest by collecting fallen twigs and on another occasion eating carrion, in this case a dead Hamadryas Baboon. This is the first time I have seen the species eating carrion but it is not too surprising as most species of corvid do the same. The Arabian Magpie is the only truly endemic species in Saudi Arabia, meaning it is found in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and nowhere else in the world. It has a very restricted range (An Namas to 20 kilometres south of Billasimer) and very low number of birds and is currently listed on the Red Data list as endangered. Arabian Magpies are sedentary and localised and occur especially in the juniper forest zone, often in well vegetated upland valleys and wadis, of the Asir highlands 1850–3000 m asl. Many of these areas are remote and difficult to access so the exact numbers of birds is difficult to assess but the estimated breeding population is around 135 pairs or less. Numbers are decreasing probably because of heavy disturbance by tourism and perhaps changes in climate with warmer and drier weather experienced in the Asir mountains in the last few decades. The areas where Arabian Magpies have been seen in recent years appear to be restricted to three widely spaced areas, one near Abha with numbers in significant decline, one on the isolated Jebal Gaha where numbers are very low and lastly the main stronghold in the Billasmar, Tanoumah and An Numas areas. The good news is that the species is still breeding in its core area at least, and is found in areas near human habitation, sometimes utilizing waste food.

13 February 2022

Heuglin’s Gull – Al Khobar

Whilst out looking for Large White-headed Gulls (LWHG) in late January we came across a small number on a beach in Al Khobar. The light was very poor due a large dust storm but I managed to take a few photos of at least two of the birds present. These birds were Heuglin’s Gulls Larus (fuscus/heuglini) heuglini which is not the commonest Gull in Saudi Arabia, with about 8% to 10% of all LWHG being this taxon. On geographic grounds, anyone encountering birds with mid to dark grey upperparts in Saudi Arabia (birds paler than the fuscus but slightly darker than the barabensis that also commonly winter in the Kingdom) can be reasonably confident with their identification as heuglini.

·      Large gull often bulky looking, although smaller slender birds do occur

·      The upper-part grey tone is normally much darker than cachinnans & barabensis and slightly darker than armenicus, being slate grey in heuglini making it the darkest of all Saudi Arabian large gulls with the exception of fuscus

·      Normally show extensive head streaking in mid-winter, most concentrated on the hind-neck, but sometimes continues on the side-neck, creating a collar of fine streaks. Nape and back of the head often show brown spots or drops until late January after which the nape becomes whiter and more faintly streaked.

·      Many birds show a fierce facial expression, accentuated by the dark head streaking and relatively steep forehead.

·      Bill is slender and long without an obvious gonydeal angle and with the gonys spot being orange-red, not as deep coral red as in western LBBG taxa. The orange to red gonys spot often does not reach the upper mandible. The base of bill is sometimes a bit flesh-coloured, but can be brighter yellow on some birds. There are often dark markings on the bill more prominent than on other LWHG, at the tip, often on both mandibles and sometimes a complete bill-band in winter. 

·      Has narrow triangular nostrils

·      Legs are long and thick, often straw yellow, sometimes a bit flesh-coloured, but can be brighter yellow on some birds occasionally with fleshy tinge often on the feet.

·      Eye is normally pale yellow with a red orbital ring, sometimes orange (5%). Rarely the eye is dark flecked giving a dark eyed impression.

·      Black on primaries usually to P5 & P4 and sometimes to P3, showing medium amount of black on the wingtip for a Saudi Arabian LWHG. Normally shows a large white mirror on P10 & often a smaller mirror on P9 with clear contrast between black of wingtips and rest of upperparts.

·      Late moult timing of the primaries. They often have the outer primaries still growing in January and February (moult sequence they share with nominate fuscus). In contrast the primary moult of armenicus, cachinnans & barabensis is normally finished by December, and the primary tips can already show some wear by this time, unlike the new primary tips shown by heuglini.

Sub-adult birds normally show similar plumage to adult birds, although a number of birds show immature features such as a presence of broad dark centres to the greater primary coverts with the centres broad brownish-black and the tips pale whitish. Other indicators may be some black still be apparent in the rectrices and an obviously broad bill band. These features can also be shown on some adult birds as well, however, so aging often not possible with 100% certainty.

11 February 2022

Rock Semaphore Gecko – Dhahran Al Janub

Whilst birding a roadside wadi near Haddadah, close to Dhahran Al Janub near the Yemen border I saw a Rock Semaphore Gecko Pristurus rupestris. This is a tiny gecko which, like other members of the genus Pristurus, is notable for being active during the day rather that at night. Whereas most other geckos are nocturnal and use calls to communicate, Pristurus species signal to each other with body postures and tail movements, earning them the name ‘semaphore geckos’. The rock semaphore gecko has a relatively flattened, soft-skinned body. Its eyes are quite small compared to most other geckos, and the rounded pupils do not contract to slits in bright light. The limbs of the rock semaphore gecko are quite long and slender, and the slender tail is longer than the head and body combined. Male rock semaphore geckos have a crest of pointed scales along the top of the tail. The body of the rock semaphore gecko is generally greyish-brown or olive above, with darker and lighter spots, and sometimes with small red spots on the sides. A dark streak passes through the eye, and there may be a light reddish band along the back. The rock semaphore gecko closely resembles the bar-tailed semaphore gecko Pristurus celerrimus, which is endemic to the United Arab Emirates and Oman, but is smaller, with a shorter and less conspicuously banded tail. The rock semaphore gecko occurs in southwest Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Oman, United Arab Emirates and possibly in Pakistan. This common gecko is typically found on rocks, under stones, or on walls and has been recorded from sea level up to elevations of around 3,000 metres. The rock semaphore gecko hunts during the day, typically lying in wait on a rocky perch to ambush passing prey, usually small invertebrates such as ants.

09 February 2022

Crested Honey Buzzard wintering - Dhahran Hills

In late January I managed to photograph two Crested Honey Buzzards, a male and a second calendar year bird. These birds and three other individuals have been around since mid-September in Dhahran a location where they have spent the last eight years at least wintering. It is not certain if the birds now stay all summer as well, but summer records are becoming more common. The status, of Crested Honey Buzzard in Saudi Arabia is a scarce passage migrant and winter visitor that also occurs rarely in summer. Most records are from the Eastern province in winter and spring with additional records in the west of the country in autumn, winter and spring. 

07 February 2022

Violet Dropwing - Abu Arish Waste Water Pools

Whilst birding the Abu Arish Waste Water Pools recently we found a Violet Dropwing Trithemis annulata, also known as violet-marked darter, purple-blushed darter or plum-coloured dropwing. This is a species of dragonfly in the family Libellulidae and is found in most of Africa, in the Middle East, in the Arabian Peninsula and southern Europe. These insects are called dropwings because of their habit of immediately lowering their wings after landing on a perch. Males of this species are violet-red with red veins in the wings while females are yellow and brown. Both sexes have red eyes. It is a robust medium-sized species with a wingspan of 60 mm. The mature male has a dark red head and eyes with the prothorax being violet and the membranous wings having distinctive red veins. The abdomen is fairly broad and is pinkish-violet, with purple markings on the top of each segment and blackish markings on the terminal three segments. It is very similar in appearance to the red-veined dropwing Trithemis arteriosa, but that species has a more slender abdomen and a wedge-shaped black area on either side of the tip of the abdomen. It is an adaptable species, and the adults are able to tolerate a range of habitats including semi-arid rangeland. They can be seen flying near sluggish rivers, in marshes and also beside still-water ponds. Males are often to be seen perching on the twigs of waterside shrubs and on rocks in the sunshine, but in the evening or when the sun is obscured, they move into trees. It is a very common species throughout its wide range which includes most of Africa, the Mediterranean area, the Arabian Peninsula and the Near East. 

05 February 2022

Larks in the Pivot Fields - Judah

An early morning trip to Judah, a limestone escarpment with three pivot fields we have access too, an hour and a half drive towards Riyadh from Dhahran where we live, was undertaken at the end of January. The pivot fields were green and short and looked promising for larks but we were a little disappointed with what we found. Larks were not as common as previous visits with only a few Lesser Short-toed Larks, several pale coloured Desert Larks and a single Eurasian Skylark for our troubles. A small number of Tawny Pipit were scattered around the field edges but not much else was seen. We did hear a Pharaoh Eagle Owl calling on arrival and several real looking Rock Dove were on the cliffs with a couple of Brown-necked Raven flying over, but otherwise not too much else. The large amount of rain recently may have made it easy for birds to feed elsewhere, but this is only a guess as to why the number of birds seen was lower than normal.

Desert Lark

Eurasian Skylark

Lesser Short-toed Lark

Tawny Pipit

Tawny Pipit

Brown-necked Raven

03 February 2022

Oasis Skimmer – Abu Arish Waste Water Pools

Whilst birding the Abu Arish Waste Water Pools recently I found an Oasis Skimmer Orthetrum Sabina. This dragonfly is of medium-size with a wingspan of 60-85mm with adults being grayish to greenish yellow with black and pale markings and large green compound eyes. Its abdomen is long slender and ends with an enlarged area which is greenish-yellow, marked with white and black. Males and females look identical. They are found mostly around stagnant water holes with some vegetation around and are often seen patrolling the water for potential prey but are also occasionally seen partly suspended under leaves or grass stalks. They prey upon other dragonflies and damselflies and other flying insects such as desert whites and are active all year round. 

01 February 2022

Caspian Stonechat – Dhahran Hills

Today I found a male Caspian Stonechat Saxicola maurus hemprichii in the scrubby area near to the new Dhahran Lake. The male Caspian Stonechat has a very characteristic plumage with extensive white portions on each side of the inner tail (between half and three-quarters of the outer tail feathers white), not unlike the pattern in many wheatears or male Red-backed Shrike Lanius collurio. This is easily seen on a flying bird but can be more difficult to confirm on perched birds with closed tails. Caspian Stonechat is an uncommon winter visitor to the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia. The pale colouration and extensive white in the tail of male birds, looking like a Northern Wheatear at times, makes for certain identification. The bird was busy feeding and not too worried about my presence, as I was on foot and I managed to take some good photos of the bird, one showing the tail pattern quite nicely.