31 July 2022

Harlequin Quail Dust Bathing – Phil’s Fields near Sabya

Due to our near miss on dust bathing Harlequin Quail we decided to go back the next day in the early morning to try our luck in the same place. This time we heard birds calling and stopped the car when a bird walked out of the crop field and onto the edge and sat close to the soft ground and vigorously wriggled its body and flapped its wings, sending loose dust and sand into the air. The bird spread a wing allowing the falling sand to fall between the feathers and reach the skin as well as remain in its back. It then started shaking its feathers and doing it over again. It is thought the likely purpose of dust bathing is the removal of parasites from the birds’ feathers. Some species of Quail have communal dust baths so presumably it is not uncommon for Quail but is the first time I have seen it occur, but I saw it twice in the two days we spent looking for the species in Sabya. After the bird finished dust bathing it walked off very close and it or another bird then started calling on a nearby earth mound and was so close we couldn't focus the cameras on it. We got full frame photos of the bird as it later walked past the car.

29 July 2022

Harlequin Quail – Phil’s Fields near Sabya

Whilst birding the area around Sabya I saw at least ten Harlequin Quail Coturnix delegorguei with many other birds calling. We managed to get some good photos but later in the evening we saw two birds dust bathing on the edge of a track out in the open, but the dust from a recent sandstorm and high humidity made all the photos we took out of focus or very soft lacking detail. This species had not been recorded in Saudi Arabia for many years, until 2015. We saw a pair of birds at the edge of one of the fields at very close range, one of which was dust bathing, but the light was poor due to a recent dust storm and the high humidity made the photographs come out very poorly. We went back the next morning and managed to see another couple of birds again at close range and this time managed to get some very close photos of this difficult to see species. They would run quickly from one area of cover to another but luckily a bird stopped to sand bath and another male ran, stopped in the open and started to call from a small mound of earth. The male has a very distinctive head pattern being a combination of black-and-white, black breast and chestnut flanks with the female being similar to Common Quail although the size of the birds is slightly smaller. They favour open grassland with scattered bush cover and cultivated areas and have been recorded in all months in southwest Saudi Arabia. The subspecies that occurs in SW Saudi Arabia and Yemen is C. d. Arabica and is slightly paler than others. HBW says it is possibly not valid, as most records in its range considered probably migrants from Africa; further study needed”. This does not appear to be correct however as the birds are resident breeders in Saudi Arabia and not migrants and the colours look much paler both on the mantle and the rufous of the underparts.

27 July 2022

Bosk's Fringe-toed Lizard – Wadi Tarj

Whilst birding Wadi Tarj in the mountains of Tanoumah I came across a Bosk's fringe-toed lizard Acanthodactylus boskianus which always occur near vegetation of low-lying shrubs. This is the most widespread species of its genus as well as the largest Acanthodactylus species measuring 16-23 centimetres in total length. Its range includes all of Saharan North Africa and the Middle East including Arabia (widespread in Saudi Arabia), the Levant and Mesopotamia (including the Turkish border), as well as north- western Iran. It has a long, cylindrical body and well developed legs and is known as a fringe-toed lizard due to the presence of a series of scales on the fingers that provide traction for running over loose sand. The general body colour of this species ranges from darkish or silvery grey, to yellow or reddish brown, with seven contrasting dark, brown longitudinal stripes that run the length of the back. With age, these stripes generally fade away or become grey in colour. It frequents a range of stony and sandy environments and is sometimes common in rocky areas with some shrubs. They excavate burrows in hard sand, some of which are equipped with multiple entrances to allow quick retreats and act as a nightly resting place and as a refuge from periods of intense heat. They emerge from their burrows around mid-morning. It is a voracious predator and eats a wide variety of small insects and other invertebrates. Some of the lizards we saw retreated down their burrows when we disturbed them.

25 July 2022

Arabian Red-capped Lark – Habala

Arabian Red-capped Lark Calandrella eremicais a scarce medium-sized lark that occurs in a very limited number of sites in southwest Saudi Arabia. It had not been seen for many years until recently when some birds were found at Azeeza near Abha. In 2015 birds were found in the Talea Valley and in 2019 in the Habala area. We went to Habala and parked in an area of black rocks that the species favours. Immediately we heard birds calling and saw at least 30 bird. They were very difficult to get near on foot but once we were in the car we managed to get better views and some photos. The adult plumage has a rufous crown which they sometimes erect to form a prominent short crest. Generally found in rocky wadis or rocky flat plan type areas with occasional bushes and scattered trees in Arabia where it occurs mainly between 1800–2500 metres. Previously the Arabian Red-capped Lark Calandrella eremite was treated as conspecific with Blandford’s Lark C. blanfordi, but differs in its smaller size; lower rump and uppertail-coverts not (or only slightly) shaded rufous vs strongly rufous; much paler above, including colour of crown and shade of buff and brown streaking and colour of flight-feathers; greatly reduced dark markings on underparts (i.e. blackish half-collar much less obvious, breast and belly only lightly washed buff vs strongly washed rufous), so white of throat and supercilium far less striking; bill generally much paler. Two subspecies recognized C. e. eremica from southwest Saudi Arabia southwards to Yemen and C. e. daaroodensis from north-east Ethiopia and northern Somalia.

23 July 2022

Blue-spotted Arab - Jizan

Whilst birdwatching the Jizan area, I came across a number of Blue-spotted Arab Colotis phisis. The Blue-spotted Arab is a small butterfly occurring from Africa to India. They favour arid regions and many butterflies of the same and different Coltis species may fly in the same place. The upper-side of the males forewing has a pale salmon-pink ground color. Base arrogated with bluish-grey scales that extend outwards and a black spot on the underside of the forewing. Back wings much paler, and light or no spot. Clubbed antennae. Rolled up proboscis. Wingspan 20mm. They breed during through the warmer parts of the year with the female laying several eggs that are bottle shaped with ribs down the sides and are generally white but turn pale blue. Pupae stage last several days. When adults emerge it takes a few minutes to harden the veins in the wings. The larva feeds on Salvadora persica (toothbrush bush). I have also seen the same butterfly species in Salwa in the southeast of the Kingdom.

21 July 2022

Red-knobbed Coot – Abha area

Phil Roberts found the first Red-knobbed Coot Fulica cristata for Saudi Arabia at Sabkhat Al Fasl on 22 May 2015 and since then a handful of records have been recorded at Al Bahah and Abha in Saudi Arabia. Arnold Uy and I found a group of 26 birds near Abha 8 July that were  still present 12 July which was easily the largest gathering of birds seen in Saudi Arabia with all birds apparently adults. The species could be resident in Saudi Arabia and have been overlooked in the past, so it is well worth checking all Coot in the area to ensure they are not Red-knobbed Coot. Most records of the species in Arabia have come from Oman and UAE were it is a vagrant. Red-knobbed Coot differs from Common Coot F. atra in breeding season by overall slightly darker appearance with no white tips to the secondaries and a rounded projection of the loral feathering between the bill and shield and red knobs at top of frontal shield. They occur from southern and eastern Spain and northern Morocco; Ethiopia, Eritrea, Kenya and Uganda south through Rwanda, Burundi, eastern Democratic Republic of Congo and Tanzania, west to Angola and south to South Africa as well as Madagascar. 

19 July 2022

Common Scarlet – Wadi Tarj

Whilst birding Wadi Tarj I photographed a Common Scarlet Axiocerces harpax kadugli. This Afrotropical butterfly is only found north of the Sahara, ranging from Senegal, Central Africa and along the eastern coast, southern Arabia in the Asir and Dhofar areas. It is about 35 mm in size and flies year-round. It uses various habitats from forest to mixed acacia woodland, savannah and thorn bush to wadis. Its upperwing is scarlet and black but the underwing is very different and is orange coloured with white spots surrounded by black. Ssp. kadugli is distributed north of the nominate and other subspecies in a narrow band from Mauretania via Chad to the Sudan and other arid parts of East Africa. It is therefore rather curious to find that in the Asir (where Wadi Tarj is located) and Yemen the species is most common above 1500 m to 2700 m but going as high as 3200 m. There are phenotypical differences between the Dhofar population and those of Yemen, but not enough is known about possible seasonal variations in the area. The main host plants of the Common Scarlet are Acacia species

17 July 2022

Increasing numbers of Egyptian Nightjars - Jubail

Whilst birding the Jubail area during June I saw Egyptian Nightjar each week in small numbers. As July started the numbers of birds started increasing with five birds seen on one occasion. The numbers normally increase until early September when they start dispersing with over 15 seen in recent years in August and September. Juveniles have also been in seen in the last two years, so I hope to see some more of these over the remainder of the summer. It is great this species occurs in the summer as the period is very slow and these birds making the journey worthwhile as I never get tired of seeing them.