30 April 2022

Eurasian Bittern – Jubail

After I recorded Eurasian Bittern in two different places the Eastern province in 2020, from Dhahran (spring) and Jubail (autumn), I recorded a further four birds at Jubail 14 October 2021. These additional records suggest the species may not be so rare in the Eastern Province as previously thought. Prior to these records the species was thought to be a vagrant in the Eastern Province, with the only eight records as follows: One Hofuf Lakes, 21 May 1976; One Dhahran, 24 November 1978; One Jawb, on the northern edge of the Rub’ al-Khali, 25 September 1980; One Abqaiq, 11-17 December 1982; Three Abqaiq, 19-20 October 1983; One Abqaiq, 14-21 December 1984; Khafrah Marsh, booming birds in March 1998 and again March 1999, but not heard or seen in other years despite the site being visited each month over a seven year period. The record from December suggests some might spend the winter in the Eastern Province. My recordings in the Eastern Province during passage migration seasons suggests the species is a scarce passage migrant rather than a vagrant.

24 April 2022

Hyaena – Southwest Mountains

Whilst in the southwest mountains of Saudi Arabian we came across a lot of footprints of what we thought could be Striped Hyaena Hyaena hyaena sultana. We stayed until dark and set up Phil’s camera trap in the area where we had located the footprints and left it there for the night returning just before daylight to see what we had photographed. On arrival I could see fresh tracks in front of the camera and Phil looked at the photos and although some were of dogs there were a couple of different Hyaena. Phil has kindly allowed me to use his photo on my website which is shown below. Striped Hyaena have a body length of 1.1 m a tail length of 20 cms and they weigh between 35 and 40 kgs. They are grey or pale brown in colour with 5 – 9 dark coloured, vertical stripes on their flanks. They have a mane on their neck and shoulders, a bushy tail, rounded head with pointed ears set high on their heads and have a black, pointed muzzle. On each foot they have four toes with blunt, non-retractable claws. Their front legs are longer than their hind which gives their back a sloping appearance and they have powerful jaws with strong teeth. Striped Hyenas have excellent senses of vision, hearing and smell. They are usually silent but will vocalize if excited or threatened. When they feel threatened they are able to erect their mane and the hairs on their back to make themselves appear much larger. Dwindling numbers of the Striped Hyena exist in Saudi Arabia where they have lived for thousands of years as hyaena rock art is engraved on mountain rocks in different parts of the Kingdom. They live in open land close to agricultural areas, as well as in wadis and lava fields (Harat), and live a nomadic lifestyle.

22 April 2022

Plenty of migrants – Jubail

My last visit to Jubail in late March was quite productive with plenty of migrants seen. Shrikes were definitely on the move with 25 Daurian Shrikes, four Turkestan Shrikes, two Woodchat Shrike and a single Great Grey Shrike. A single Wryneck was hiding in the vegetation and hundreds of White Wagtail were gathering to depart to their breeding grounds. Wheatears seen included two Northern Wheatear, five Pied Wheatear, two Isabelline Wheatear and an Eastern Black-eared Wheatear. Small numbers of Eurasian Hoopoe, Red-throated Pipit and Common Chiffchaff were seen as was a single Citrine Wagtail. Late wintering species included two Greater Spotted Eagles and a few Western Marsh Harriers. A group of 50+ Pied Avocet may be preparing to breed or just staging before departing the area. A group of at least twenty Common Pochard was a slightly unusual sight, but they were quite distant and struggling in the large waves caused by the strong wind.

Citrine Wagtail

Eurasian Hoopoe

Great Grey Shrike

Marsh Sandpiper

Red-throated Pipit

Red-throated Pipit

Red-throated Pipit

Red-throated Pipit

Red-throated Pipit

Woodchat Shrike

20 April 2022

Felicia abyssinica – Soudah Waterfall

Whilst birding the Asir Mountains near Abha in southwest Saudi Arabia, I came across Felicia abyssinica a plant that grows at high altitude with flowers about 10 centimeters high and 1.5 centimeters wide. Felicia is a genus of perennial herbs with flowering plants in the family Asteraceae native to open, sunny habitats in Ethiopia, Tanzania, Zambia and the Arabian Peninsula. It occurs at altitudes of 1200 – 2300 metres ASL. 

18 April 2022

Black-headed & Flava Wagtails – Jubail

Whilst birding the Jubail area in mid-March I came across a good number of migrants including my first large numbers of Yellow Wagtails. Mid-February is the start of the spring passage for this species and Black-headed Wagtail feldegg and melanogrisia are often the first subspecies to occur with bema, flava and thunbergi following. The Black-headed Wagtail is part of the Yellow Wagtail complex a group of birds that are common spring and autumn passage migrants, sometimes in hundreds. Thy pass from mid-February to May and again from early August to mid-November with many races identifiable in the field including feldegg, melanogrisia, lutea, flava, thunbergi and bema. By March numbers start to build up and by April, flocks of more than a hundred birds are recorded, with over 150 scattered around the location on this visit. Some intergrades are also seen each spring which often prove difficult to identify.

16 April 2022

Golden Grass Mabuya - Dhahran Hills

I saw a Golden Grass Mabuya in my garden in Dhahran Hills recently under the garden hedge and took a photo of it with my phone. The lizards were formally known as Mabuya aurata and were generally regarded as three subspecies that were recognized on the basis of colour pattern and number of gular and ventral scales. Mausfeld et al. (2002) partitioned the genus Mabuya into four genera and restricted the application of the name Mabuya to the South American clade of these skinks. Therefore the skinks known formerly as M. aurata are assigned with the generic name Trachylepis. Trachylepis septemtaeniata (Reuss, 1834) is the valid name for the populations, which are characterised by third supraocular shield being in contact with the frontal shield (see diagram) and by pattern of four longitudinal rows of small dark spots on the dorsum (the spots can fuse anteriorly and disappear posteriorly). This species is known from Eritrea, Oman, United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Iraq, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Iran and Turkmenistan (Moravec et al. (2006).

12 April 2022

Desert Locust - South Waterfall

 Whilst birding a deep woodland valley near Abha we came across a Desert Locust Schistocerca gregaria. The Desert Locust can form plagues and threaten agricultural production in Africa, the Middle East, and Asia, something it has done for centuries. The desert locust is potentially the most dangerous of the locust pests because of the ability of it to form swarms and to fly rapidly across great distances. 

10 April 2022

Some good birds – Abha Area

Whilst birding the Abha area in March we came across several good birds. Phil Roberts had been there the day before I arrived and saw a flock of Arabian Partridge but unusually a group of Philby’s Partridge. This is the first time in a number of years the species has been recorded in this area as far as I am aware. Other good birds seen included Tihalma Shikra, Hammerkop, Arabian Serin, Violet-backed Starling, Yemen Linnet, African Stonechat, Yemen Thrush, Arabian Woodpecker and several Dusky Turtle Dove. Tens of Common Chiffchaff were passing through with only two Brown Woodland Warblers seen amongst them and a calling Yemen Warbler. Probably the best bird we saw was a pale phase Booted Eagle flying over but the light was harsh and photos taken not so good. This is the first record I have seen in this area of Saudi Arabia where they are a rare winter visitor.

Violet-backed Starling

Yemen Linnet

Booted Eagle

Booted Eagle

Booted Eagle

Booted Eagle

Booted Eagle

08 April 2022

Rijal Almaa

Rijal Almaa is a village located about 50 km west of Abha, in the southwest of Saudi Arabia and is more than 900 years old. The village had an ideal location through which it linked the people coming from Yemen and the Levant through the Holy City of Makkah and Medina and as a result became a regional trade center. It contains around 60 multi-story buildings made of stone, clay and wood and has a number of long and old fortresses. On the outside of the stone square towers, there are numerous patterns made up of white quartz. The village includes several buildings, which consist of several floors, some reaching six floors that were made of stones with colored wooden windows. They also contain inscriptions that appear on the interior walls of rooms. The art used in these inscriptions is known as the "Al-Qatt art", in which harmonious shapes and colors are usually placed by village women. In the outer courtyards of the houses, there are some wooden chairs and furnished mats, with shapes colored in green, white, yellow, and red, also present on the windows and wooden doors. It is currently on the tentative list of UNESCO World Heritage and over time may become a full UNESCO World Heritage site.

06 April 2022

A few good birds – Tendaha Dam

Tendaba Dam is a large wetland area near Khamis Mushait. We visited the location in mid-March and found a number of good birds including a Western Osprey. This was a big surprise as the area is far from the coast, but the lake does hold a good number of fish. Waders were plentiful on the lake with Common Sandpiper, Little Stint, Ruff, Little Ringed Plover, Common Greenshank, Spotted Redshank, Black-winged Stilt, Temmincks Stint, Wood Sandpiper, Green Sandpiper and Common Snipe seen. Birds seen around the edge of the lake included Black Scrub Robin, Cinnamon-breasted Bunting, Arabian Babbler, Arabian Waxbill and Arabian Wheatear. A couple of Yellow-billed Kites were seen flying over nearby. This is a good looking site and well worth a visit if you are in the area.

Black Scrub Robin

Spotted Redshank

Yellow-billed Kite

Yellow-billed Kite

Yellow-billed Kite

Yellow-billed Kite

04 April 2022

Carmine Darter – Soudah Waterfall

Whilst birding the Soudah Waterfall area near Abha in the western mountains we came across several bright red coloured Carmine Darter Crocothemis erythraea with a number of duller yellow female Carmine Darter. The Carmine Darter is a common dragonfly throughout the Middle East, including Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, and Oman. The male is carmine red, while the female is a significantly drabber yellow-buff colour with two paler marks on top of the thorax. It is a medium-sized dragonfly approximately 52mm in length. The abdomen is wider than other members of the family, flattened and tapering to the end. It is widespread in the Arabian Peninsula where it prefers a habitat of rocky areas and dry watercourses as well as shallow, still, eutrophic waters such as small ponds, paddy fields, and desert pools, but it avoids oases. Adults only live for up to two months. Adults spend much of their time perched on vegetation although they have a fast, darting flight and hover frequently.

02 April 2022

Saudi Arabia’s largest ever flock of Black Storks – Tendada Dam

Whilst birding the southwest in mid-March Phil Roberts and I came across a flock of Black Storks Ciconia nigra. Initially I saw the birds on a wet area whilst Phil was driving the car and suggested there could be five birds. We parked the car up the road and walked back and saw about ten birds on the pool. The sun was in the wrong direction for photography so we decided to walk around to try to get on the other side of the pool. Whilst doing this it became obvious there were many more birds present than out initial estimate, including adults and immature birds. In total we counted forty birds although there may have been a few more as we could not see the entire pool at any one time and birds would not allow close approach and flew and landed on the nearby hill when then noticed our presence. This is the largest flock ever recorded in the Kingdom, as far as I am aware. Black Stork is a rare migrant and scarce winter visitor to western regions of Saudi Arabia including the Red Sea coast, especially the extreme southwest. The species, however has a very different status in the Eastern Province where it is a vagrant with its status in central Arabia and the Riyadh area a scarce visitor. Birds appear to use the Red Sea coast to migrate down and are often seen in the Jeddah area and the Jizan region where they are almost always associated with water bodies. Birds are mainly seen singly but in the west and southwest flocks of over ten birds are occasionally seen.