30 November 2022

Very late Ortolan Bunting – Deffi Park

Whilst birding Deffi Park in Jubail on 26 November, we located a single small bunting sitting in a tree some way from the ground. This was very unusual as it is a very late in the year for this species. On close inspection the bird seemed to be an Ortolan Bunting but we checked the features to ensure we were not overlooking a much rarer bunting like Grey-necked Bunting. We could not, however, make the bird fit any other species than Ortolan Bunting. This species in an uncommon passage migrant throughout Saudi Arabia but is seen in good numbers in some years particularly on the Red Sea coast. Most birds pass from March until mid-May and again from late August to early October and can often be seen in small groups rather than singly. Birds are equally as likely to be seen feeding on the ground, as they are perched in trees, where they normally occur if frightened from their feeding area. We took a number of photos of the bird and left it in peace still sitting in the same tree. Other birds of note seen in the park included two Crested Honey Buzzard, a Common Chiffchaff, Masked Shrike and a White-throated Kingfisher.





28 November 2022

Five Common Pochard – Dhahran Hills

On 23 November I saw five Common Pochard Aythya ferina on the Wastewater Pond in Dhahran. This is one of the more unusual species of duck for the camp. It was associating with a single Ferruginous Duck, single female Northern Pintail and was close to seven Northern Shoveler. I manage to walk, remaining well hidden in the vegetation, to a large bush and sat down to see if the birds would come closer. They did move closer but unfortunately were flushed by a person walking on the other side of the lake and flew off. They circled around a few times thinking about landing again but eventually flew off for good, although I did manage to take a few photos of them in flight as they came right overhead as they did not realise I was there. This pond is a good location for duck as it is inside a protected Saudi Aramco compound where hunting is completely prohibited and very few people visit. Common Pochard was once a common winter visitor to the Eastern Province but is now an uncommon winter visitor occurring from mid-October to mid-March normally as singles or in small groups of up to five birds. Previously it was regular at Abqaiq until the late 1980’s but prior to 1981 it was regular at Dhahran and in February of that year a maximum of 155 were recorded. Previously it was also regular at Hofuf lakes where a maximum count of 500 was made where they occurred from October to March but were also seen in April to early June and in August and September. Away from the Eastern Province it is also an uncommon winter visitor mainly to the Riyadh area and southwest near Jizan. The status at present in Saudi Arabia is a scarce passage migrant & erratic winter visitor. This bird is widespread throughout Saudi Arabia as a passage migrant (February to April and September to October) with migration across a broad front. They prefer open freshwater sites, such as lakes, wastewater lagoons and sheltered coastal lagoons where they feed on aquatic vegetable matter as well as molluscs and crustaceans. 

26 November 2022

Late Barn Swallows - Jubail

Whilst birdwatching the Jubail area the last few weeks I have seen a few Barn Swallows flying over and a couple landing on some dead trees. As they seemed to use the same trees regularly, so I positioned the car close by in the hope they would come in and land and allow some good photos. This is exactly what happened allowing me to take the below photos. Barn Swallow is one of the most common passage migrants in Saudi Arabia (March – May & September – October) but some birds stay well into December most years. It can be seen everywhere and often for much of the year. In addition, a few have recently been recorded breeding near Riyadh where it is a rare breeder.

24 November 2022

Large gathering of Hypocolius - Uqair

Phil Roberts and I went to Uqair in the hope of finding some Hypocolius as they here had been a large flock of 150 birds in winter 2020. The birds did not return as far as I am aware in 2021 but we hoped we may get lucky. We arrived just as it was getting light and saw a few White-eared Bulbuls flying around but no Hypocolius. After about 15 minutes I saw a single male bird fly and land in a tree, but at some distance. We walked around the area and during the next 30 minutes saw a few more singles taking the total to about ten birds. We then started walking back towards the car and started having quite a few flocks of 20 plus birds flying over all heading south-west. Eventually some started to land in the palm trees but getting close was difficult on foot. Over the two hours we were present we eventually saw a conservative number of 400 birds with some of the best photos I took shown below. This is easily the largest gathering of the species I have seen and was really an amazing spectacle. Hypocolius are quite difficult to see worldwide as they occur in regions that are not so easy to access like Iran, Iraq and Saudi Arabia. Hypocolius is mainly a short-distance migrant, although small numbers remain in western Iran throughout the year, but the majority migrate south and east to their main wintering areas in southern Iran, Pakistan, western India, west and central Saudi Arabia, and Arabian Gulf States (notably Bahrain). Departure from the breeding areas mainly occurs in August with birds arriving back in April. In Saudi Arabia as a whole, they are an uncommon, but may be a locally common, winter visitor to Central Arabia, Northern Hejaz, Hejaz and Northern Red Sea. Flocks of over 100 birds have been recorded in Riyadh each winter for many years and in the last two winter a large flock of about 100 birds has been at Haradh.

22 November 2022

Large gathering of Black-necked Grebe - Uqair

Whilst birding the Uqair area on the edge of the Arabian Gulf with Phil Roberts we came across a few large groups of Black-necked Grebes. There were three groups with approximately a hundred birds in each group making a grand total of 300 birds. It was difficult to count accurately as the birds were continually diving, but this was a conservative number we settled at. This is the second largest group I have ever seen and although the birds were quite distant from the shore were still a spectacular sight. We had found Saudi Arabia’s largest ever gathering of this species in November 2020 when we counted well over 500 birds. Large numbers of fifty or more have been recorded in the Half Moon Bay area 50 kilometres north of this record. We also saw another large group of 192 birds at an inland lake at Dawmat Al Jandal, Jouf province in the northwest of the Kingdom in January 2019. 


20 November 2022

Citrus Swallowtail - Uqair

Whilst birdwatching a small farm near Uqair, Phil Roberts found a female Citrus Swallowtail Papilio demoleus, the first time I had seen one in Saudi Arabia. This is a swallowtail butterfly which occurs commonly over sub-Saharan Africa, including Madagascar, but also occurs in along all the northeast coasts of the Arabian Peninsula. The caterpillars feed on various native plants, especially Rutaceae, but also the leaves of cultivated citrus trees, hence its common name. This species is found throughout tropical and subtropical regions of southern Asia, ranging from Saudi Arabia, Iran and the Middle East to India, Nepal, southern China, Taiwan, and Japan, and south through Malaysia, Indonesia, and New Guinea to Australia. Its proliferation appears to be aided by agricultural land use and urbanization that creates new, suitable open habitat and enhanced availability of host resources. The adults range in wingspan from 80-100 mm. The hindwing has no tail. The upper portion of the forewing is largely black and the outer wing margin has a series of irregular yellow spots. Two yellow spots are present at the upper end of the discal cell with several scattered yellow spots in the apical region. The upper hindwing has a red tornal spot and the discal black band is dusted with yellow scales. The underside is paler yellow with the black areas more heavily dusted with yellow. 

18 November 2022

Some resident species – Jubail

As things have been quite quiet recently, I have taken some time to try to photograph a few resident species I seldom photograph. Below are a couple of photos two such common resident species, House Sparrow and Common Moorhen. A resident species I have had more success with, in the past was Little Grebe and a couple have been close enough for photographs. A Grey-headed Swamphen also put on good show for the second time this month.

House Sparrow

Little Grebe

Common Moorhen

Grey-headed Swamphen

Grey-headed Swamphen