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.