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.

18 June 2022

Black-winged Kite - Khafra Marsh

Whilst birding Khafra Marsh in mid-June I located an adult Black-winged Kite at some distance and in a different are to where I have been seening them this year. This and another bird has been around for a couple of years now and a juvenile was also seen at the location in February this year indicating breeding had occurred. The first record for the Eastern Province was only found on 17 April 2012, but since then has become more common with birds seen in every month and every year since the first record and its status has changed from a vagrant to a scarce visitor. Up to two adult birds have been recorded at Khafra Marsh throughout 2022 so hopefully they will breed again. All birds sub-specifically identified in the east of the Kingdom are the eastern subspecies Elanus caeruleus vociferous a subspecies that occurs from Pakistan east to southern & eastern China, Indochina and the Malay Peninsula. The species has been proposed to be split on genetic grounds into Eastern Black-winged Kite Elanus vociferous and Black-winged Kite Elanus caeruleus. Black-winged Kite has also been seen in Saudi Arabia in the southwest of the Kingdom.

16 June 2022

Last few Red-backed Shrikes

As the summer starts in earnest, the number of migrants is decreasing sharply. Temperature outside at the weekend reached 48 degrees Centigrade and makes birding unpleasant. The only real migrants seen were two Red-backed Shrikes (one male and one female) and several Sand Martins. Very few birds of any type were seen but I did flush an Egyptian Nightjar at one point from the long grass. The Pied Avocets and Little Terns continue feeding their young after breeding here again this year and other breeding waders seen with young included Little Ringed Plover, Kentish Plover and Black-winged Stilt. White-cheeked Terns are certainly breeding nearby and feeding quite small young but not certain if they bred at the exact location I was birding.

Red-backed Shrike

White-cheeked Tern

White-cheeked Tern

14 June 2022

Ferruginous Ducks breeding – Jubail

Whilst birding the Jubail area in mid-June 2022 I came across a pair of Ferruginous ducks with eight juveniles. Although the juvenile birds were old enough to fly it suggests they bred in this area this year. This is the first time I have recorded juveniles in the summer at this location although adults have been noted in the last three years. The Ferruginous Duck is an uncommon passage migrant, winter visitor and a rare breeder with most birds occurring from September to April. The species is currently listed as Near Threatened by the IUCN and prefers shallower and more vegetated areas than other Aythya species and seldom sits out on open water. Due to their behaviour it is difficult to get good photographs of them and these birds were at some distance and I did not try to get closer in case I disturbed them.

12 June 2022

Adult Egyptian Nightjars – Jubail

Whilst birding the Jubail area 3 July we found an Egyptian Nightjar sitting under a tamarisk tree on a track. Egyptian Nightjars are now an easily seen species during the summer months in the Jubail area with a maximum of sixteen birds seen in 2021 and numbers increasing almost every year since they were first found in 2006. Birds have been seen twice in May, but early June is an early record for the species. They often sit on the car tracks, and you can get very close to them in the car without disturbing them as they are convinced their camouflage will protect them. The bird shown here is an adult and we hope that juveniles will be seen over the next month showing they are continuing to breed in the area as in 2020 & 2021 birds were recorded breeding in the area or very nearby.

10 June 2022

Oasis Skimmer - Jubail

Whilst birding the Jubail area 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.