10 December 2023

Dorippus Tiger – Wadi Jizan Dam Lake

Danaus dorippus was formerly regarded as a subspecies of Danaus chrysippus, the Plain Tiger or African Monarch. It is now regarded as a distinct species. It appears (from analysis of mtDNA sequences, which are only inherited from the mother) that the Dorippus Tiger is the product of an ancient lineage of Danaus hybridizing with Plain Tiger females. From the color pattern of this species, it can be assumed that the ancient lineage had no black apex on the forewings, as this character is still absent in D. dorippus. Danaus dorippus is a medium-sized butterfly with a wingspan of about 6–8 centimetres. The body is black with a few white spots. The wings are tawny and have a thin border of black enclosing a series of semicircular white spots. The hindwing has three or four black spots around the center. This species can be found in eastern and southern Africa (mainly in Kenya, Uganda, Eritrea, Oman, Tanzania) and sporadically in India. The photographs below has white scales on the undersides that he got from the form alcippus. This is a rare butterfly in Saudi Arabia.

08 December 2023

Huge flock of Black-winged Pratincole – Jizan Sewage Works

On 25 November we went to the Jizan Sewage Works area mid-afternoon, to look for waders and Flamingos. There were no Lesser Flamingos, which have not been seen since early spring, but we did see a flock of about 150 Black-winged Pratincoles. The birds were in a single large group and were easily disturbed. When they took flight, I got some photos of the group but it was against the sun and the photos are terrible. I could not see any rufous on the underwing in flight, even when they came into land and this led me to believe they could be Black-winged Pratincoles. I have only seen a single Black-winged Pratincole before and the species is a rare passage migrant in the Kingdom so this record is unprecedented. Phil and I looked at our photos on the computer and they again looked like Black-winged Pratincoles. We went back the following day to see if we could get better views/photos but there were many fewer birds with about fifteen seen. We went around the other side of the wet area they were near but before we could get close to the birds the coastguard said it was a prohibited area and we had to leave. Again, in flight we could not see anything remotely looking like rufous on the underwing. On return home I sent to a very experienced birdwatcher who also thought they were Black-winged Pratincoles. The date is very late for either Pratincole to be on migration, but Black-winged Pratincoles do migrate later than Collared Pratincole, so there is a chance they are late migrating birds. It would be great if someone could go back and loom for them again to see if they are wintering or on passage.

06 December 2023

Wattled Starlings – Al-Hambas Park, Either

We birded Al-Hambas Park, Either 25 & 26 November 2023 as five Wattled Starling Creatophora cinereal had been found there 22-24 February 2023 and were the first records for the Kingdom with another adult Aqua Park, Jubail 6 May. Although the birds had not been seen since 24 February, very few people birdwatch in Saudi Arabia and we thought there was a very small chance they could still be around or alternatively had departed and returned for a second winter. We visited the park in 25 November, at around mid-day and did not see the Wattled Starlings but returned the following morning and located two birds, a male and female, amongst the Common Myna. The birds were feeding and bathing in the water on the grass, often in company of the three Rosy Starlings. Wattled Starling is a nomadic resident bird in eastern and southern Africa that appears to be extending its range into West Africa and has also occurred in Arabia, Madagascar, and Seychelles. This was the third new species I saw in three days, on my three day visit to the southwest, so a really good trip al around.

05 December 2023

African Migrant - Either

Whilst birding the waterfront Al-Hambas Park in Either, southwestern Saudi Arabia in late November we found a single African Migrant Catopsilia florella. It was feeding on a flowering plant but was very fast and never settled for any time at all making photography almost impossible. I did manage to get one photo shown below. They are found from the Canary Islands across sub-Saharan Africa, through Egypt and Arabia (United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Oman) to India and China. It has a number of common names such as African Migrant, African Emigrant, or Common Vagrant. In Eastern Saudi Arabia it is only found in the Tuwayq Hills west and north of Riyadh, frequenting wadis with abandoned date plantations and sand bars. The one we saw was in the west of the Kingdom where they are more regular. The adult is 65 – 75 mm. A very fast and direct flyer, most often seen dashing along the edges of plantations. It is, however, rare and may only be a migrant in this area, occurring in April, although in Western Saudi Arabia (Jeddah) it flies from March to July. Like Catopsilia pomona, this species also has a habit of migration.

04 December 2023

Rosy Starlings – Al-Hambas Park, Either

Whilst birding Al-Hambas Park, near Either Mangroves at lunchtime on 25 November I saw two Rosy Starlings flying with a group of Common Myna. The birds did not settle in view and we lost the birds from sight. After walking around looking for the Common Myna flock we located the birds sitting on a tower building. Here we saw two adult birds and a sub-adult. The next day we went back at first light to try to get better photos and saw the birds with the Common Myna flock feeding on the grass and bathing in a small pool caused by the irrigation system. We saw all three birds again in better light and at closer range than the day previous. This was the first time I have seen the species in Saudi Arabia, and was my 400 species seen in the Kingdom, so I was very happy with the views. Rosy Starling breeds from Greece and the Black Sea to Iran and Kazakhstan and winters 3,000 km southeast in India and Sri Lanka. In Saudi Arabia it has a status as a rare passage migrant & scarce winter visitor. It is mainly seen in the north and west of the Kingdom where it favours gardens, parks, agricultural sites, such as ploughed fields and manure heaps, rubbish dumps and wastewater treatment areas. They feed mainly on eats insects, fruit, seed and nectar, with a penchant for grasshoppers. Many records in Saudi Arabia are of 2–6 birds with the largest group recorded being 40 near Riyadh and is often associated with Common Starling or Common Myna.

03 December 2023

Helmeted Guineafowl – Wadi Jizan Dam Lake

Whilst birding Wadi Jizan Dam Lake very early morning 24 November Phil Roberts and I came across a group of up to fifteen Helmeted Guineafowl Numida Meleagris. The birds were originally heard calling and then seen crossing a dirt track into a group of thick acacia bushes. After following the birds, one bird sat on top of a rock and started calling before moving off allowing to take one in focus photograph, shown below. The species is a widespread breeding bird in sub-Saharan Africa (formerly also in northern Africa). Outside Africa, it is a rare breeding resident in the Asir Tihama in south-western Saudi Arabia and (possibly) in Yemen (Jennings 2010). The birds in Saudi Arabia appear to be small and dark blackish coloured and have a thick reddish bill with pale tip, small helmet, medium sized cere bristles, limited blue skin and completely blue roundish wattles. The helmet appears smaller than on any other subspecies. The taxonomy of Helmeted Guineafowl is complex, with nine subspecies clustered in four groups, and may actually involve more than one species (cf Fraker 2020). Despite the morphological differences noted above compared with African populations, the Arabian population has not formally been named as a subspecies but it is possible//probable the Arabian birds belong to a different, as yet undescribed subspecies. This is based on the ‘helmet’ of Arabian birds being smaller than that of a typical nominate meleagris. Genetic studies are needed to determine whether the Arabian population is a distinct undescribed subspecies or a (mixture of) any of the known subspecies from Africa. Depending on the outcome it may then be possible to ascertain if the birds were introduced to Saudi Arabia or not.

02 December 2023

Yellow-billed Egret – Wadi Jizan Dam Lake

Whilst birding Wadi Jizan Lake I saw at least two Yellow-billed Egrets. This has just been split from Intermediate Egret a species that has only just started to be seen in Saudi Arabia, almost always in the southwest. Birds have been seen previously at Wadi Jizan Lake, Jizan Heritage Village and along the coast to the Jizan Sewage Treatment Plant. This is the first time I have seen the species in Saudi Arabia, but I could have overlooked them in the past? I could not get close to the birds and the below photos are poor but you can see the yellow bill with black tip and the yellow below the eye stopping under the eye rather than behind like Great Egret. The head and neck shape and overall size was also different to Great Egret.

01 December 2023

Gull-billed Terns – Dhahran Waste Water Lake

The numbers of Gull-billed Tern have remained over ten birds at the Dhahran Waste Water Lake and Cricket Field over the last month. This species is and extremely rare breeding migrant, common passage migrant and common winter visitor. They occur on passage from February to March and again from August to November where they mainly favour coastal sites, including bays, mudflats and brackish lagoons but also occur at inland sites, such as fish farms, wastewater lagoons and rubbish dumps. The Dhahran Waste Water Lake is a favoured place for them and they can be seen there almost every day. When they have feed enough on the lake they move to the nearby Cricket and football fields to rest.

30 November 2023

Oasis Skimmer – Dhahran Waste Water Lake

Whilst birding the Dhahran Waste Water Lake 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. Although I have seen this dragonfly many times in different areas of Saudi Arabia, it is the first time I have seen it in Dhahran where I live and spend man-hours birdwatching.

28 November 2023

Common Black-headed Gulls - Dhahran Waste Water Lake

I have been seeing quite a few Common Black-headed Gull in the last week in Dhahran. This species is an uncommon passage migrant, very common winter visitor and erratic summer visitor. It is most common on the coasts in winter from November to March, and in recent decades has become a common and widespread winter visitor to inland water bodies such as the Dhahran Waste Water Lake where it is now seen every winter in good numbers. Most birds are adults, but a few younger birds also occur. Birds mainly stop off in the early morning to catch small fish and bath at the lake but are often seen flying over in the morning and evening to their main feeding and roosting areas.

26 November 2023

Good numbers of Water Pipits – Dhahran Hills

Birding the football and cricket fields in Dhahran Hills over the last few weeks has produced more than fourty Water Pipits. This species is a common winter visitor occurring from October until April with numbers only building up this year from the end of October and early November. The birds feed on the short grass of the Cricket Field and football fields finding plenty of small insects and larvae to eat. Although they are common in the Eastern Province, As I could drive the car close to the pitch, I was able to get close to a few different birds. Most were in the centre of the football field, but a few were closer to the field edge, allowing some close-up photos to be taken. A few Red-throated and Tree Pipit have also been seen but no photographs were taken.

24 November 2023

Desert White – Dhahran

Whilst birding Dhahran in mid-November I came across a couple of Desert White Butterfly Pontia glauconome, which is a striking white butterfly of arid regions occurring in deserts and on mountain slopes and foothills with sparse vegetation, up to around 2000 metres above sea level. The Desert White is a widespread species, ranging from North Africa through Arabia and the Middle East to Central Asia, Afghanistan and Pakistan. It is a small white butterfly (10-15mm) whose antennae are clubbed, ending in a white tip. The inside of the forewings are black tip with white dots. Underside of both wings has characteristic yellow veins, with light brown colour pattern and they have large round compound eyes with black dots. It is relatively common from early March to early December in a multitude of overlapping broods that differ from area to area depending on the rains. The Desert White is variable especially with regard to the amount of ‘green’ pigmentation on the underside that can be very heavy to almost absent. This variability can be large and can even occur between generations.