29 March 2022

Arabian Scops Owl in daytime – Taj Dam

Whilst birdwatching Taj Dam near Tanoumah recently I heard an brief odd single call. We stopped and listened to see if the bird would call again, and when it did were very surprised to hear an Arabian Scops Owl calling in the middle of the day. This is the first time I have heard the birds calling in the daytime. We moved towards where the bird called from and it called again from close range within a thick tangled tree. A second bird returned its call from a little further away but then fell silent. I thought I had a reasonable idea of where the bird last called from so went under the large thick tree to see if I could see anything. I held little hope of locating the bird as they are very cryptic in plumage and remain still and well hidden. Amazingly I noticed the bird well hidden in the thick cover and after moving around managed to get into a position where the bird was mainly visible. We took quite a few photos on various settings to try to get in focus and reasonably clear photos. After a while Phil noticed a second bird hiding behind the first. After a quick review of the photos on the back of the camera I went back and the closer bird had moved back to join the second bird so we took a few photos of both birds together before leaving them in peace. This is the first time I have seen the species in the daytime, although other birders have encountered then in daylight before. The Arabian Scops Owl was split as a distinct species from African Scops Owl O. s. senegalensis. The reasons for this are this southern Arabian taxon is highly divergent from African senegalensis (uncorrected-p mitochondrial genetic distance = 4%). The song of pamelae is very different from that of Eurasian Scops Owl O. scops and Pallid Scops Owl O. brucei but more similar to that of African Scops Owl O. senegalensis. It nevertheless differs from the latter’s song in being higher pitched, sounding ‘scratchier’ and having more prolonged notes; the song sounds two-parted, due to the much quieter first note. In terms of biometrics, results clearly suggest that pamelae is longer winged and longer legged than mainland African populations of senegalensis. In comparison with populations of O. senegalensis in continental Africa, Arabian pamelae is distinguished in being paler overall, with less distinct streaking over the underparts and a less obvious whitish line on the scapulars. Arabian Scops Owl is found in South-west Saudi Arabia, South-west Yemen and north-east to southern Oman and African Scops Owl is now no longer found in Arabia but instead occurs in parts of Ethiopia, Eritrea & Somalia.