31 January 2023

Sociable Lapwing – Al Jouf

Phil Roberts and I have found wintering Sociable Lapwings at Haradh & Qarat Al Ulya in the Eastern Province in recent years as well as at Wadi Ad Dewasir. These birds use the extensive pivot irrigation fields and particularly like the ploughed one. As we knew birds were present, from satellite tagging data, in the north of the Kingdom we kept a close eye out to see if we could find some in Al Jouf in late December 2022. We searched many fields paying attention to the ploughed ones without luck until I managed to locate a single bird in a field with some Spur-winged Lapwings and a single Northern Lapwing. Phil then located a White-tailed Plover in the same field making a nice collection of good species. Sociable Lapwing is listed as Critically Endangered because its population has undergone a very rapid reduction, for reasons that are poorly understood. This decline is projected to continue and increase in the future. Unfortunately, the bird we found kept its distance and was only really photographable when the sheep herder flushed the group on a number of occasions.

29 January 2023

Eastern Imperial Eagles – Al Jouf

Whilst birding in the Al Jouf area in late December we came across a number of both Juvenile & adult Eastern Imperial Eagles. We counted a maximum of ten on a single day, mainly seen in the early morning when they flew from their roosting areas. We are used to seeing them perched on pivot irrigation frames or in the pivot fields in the Eastern Province, but we only really saw them in flight in Al Jouf. Most of the large eagles in the Al Jouf area when we visited were Eastern Imperial Eagles with only a single Steppe Eagle seen. At one point there was an interaction between a male Pallid Harrier carrying prey and a juvenile Eastern Imperial Eagle, of which I managed to get a couple of phots of both birds together. The Eastern Imperial Eagle is an uncommon winter visitor to Saudi Arabia with most records coming from the north of the country where they are generally seen inland rather than near the coast. The species breeds from Eastern Europe across Asia to China and winters in the Middle East, east Africa south to Tanzania, the Arabian Peninsula, India, and from Thailand to Korea. Currently Eastern Imperial Eagle is listed as vulnerable on the IUCN Red List as it has a small global population and is likely to be undergoing continuing declines, primarily as a result of habitat loss and degradation, adult mortality through persecution and collisions with power lines and prey depletion. The status in Saudi Arabia appears to be more or less stable, however.

27 January 2023

Little Owl - Sakaka

Whilst birding the Saka area recently Phin noticed a Little Owl perched on the side of the road at close range. Unfortunately, by the time we saw it, it had flown slightly further away and into the sun. The below photos are the only ones I got that are usable. Two subspecies of Little Owl occur in Saudi Arabia with Athene noctua saharae that occurs from northern and central Sahara Desert south to the African countries of Mauritania, Mali, Niger, Chad and Sudan, and east discontinuously into Arabian Peninsula occurring in the Abha area north to central Saudi Arabia. Its range overlaps with race Athene noctua lilith that occurs from Cyprus and inland Middle East from southeast Turkey south to Saudi Arabia where it occurs in northern and central Saudi Arabia. The overlap occurs in central Saudi Arabia at least, with Lilith occurring north to the boarders of Jordon, Iraq and Kuwait in the Kingdom. Lilith Owlet is an uncommon resident breeder in the Central Deserts, Hejaz, northern Hejaz and Najran as well as the Eastern Province where they are confined to broken escarpments and rocky outcrops in the desert north of Uray’irah. Athene noctua lilith is the palest race and is a very pale sand colour. Some authorities treat this as a separate species Athene Lilith from Little Owl with the name Lilith Owlet generally being used as the English name.

25 January 2023

Common Wood Pigeon - Sakaka

Nader Fahd took us to some farms in Qiyal area of Sakaka to see if we could locate Wood Pigeon, a species I had not seen before in Saudi Arabia. Nader mentioned he saw them regularly all through the year, but with larger numbers in the winter months. This is the first time I have heard they are resident as I previously thought they were winter visitors. Wood Pigeon is the largest pigeon in Saudi Arabia and occurs in good sized flocks with up to 200 birds seen on occasion feeding in fields. They often occur in the farms with date palms and we managed to see over 100 birds in the afternoon of searching. We saw two different groups of 50 birds each and several others besides but trying to find birds perched at a close enough range to photograph them was very difficult. The best I could manage was to photograph the birds as they all took flight from the palm trees before circling around and landing back in the trees. They were almost impossible to spot before they took flight once we entered the area they had landed. This was another species were Nader’s local knowledge was very useful for locating the species, as was his excellent eyesight seeing birds perched in trees a great range. 

23 January 2023

Desert Lark A. d. isabellinus – Sakaka

Whilst birding the Al Jouf area of northwest Saudi Arabia we came across some pale looking Desert Lark Alauda deserti near Sakaka, resembling A. d. isabellinus. Geographical variation in Desert Lark is complex, and numerous races have been named mainly on the basis of plumage coloration. The colour of the birds appears to be directly related to the colour of the local soil and rocks with birds from sandy habitats are mostly buff-coloured, those of stony or rocky ground various shades of grey, rufous, or brown with blackish races living in black lava deserts. Confusingly, pale and dark birds occasionally live side by side in some areas and bleaching and abrasion have marked effect on colouration and produce further complications often making sub-specific identification difficult. A. d. isabellinus occurs from northern Egypt, east to south and east Israel, southern Jordan, north-west Saudi Arabia and southern Iraq and is small and pale, generally light sandy to pale buff-brown with greyish or pale olive-grey tinge above, buff or creamy buff below, tail rufous with triangular black area at tip. Birds presumably of this subspecies occur throughout northern Saudi Arabia gradually becoming plaler towards the east becoming pale cream similar to A. d. azizi, which is the subspecies that occurs ear to me in the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia around the Hufuf and Shedgum areas and is the palest race with pale creamy plumage. It is clear there is some difference between colouration, bill size and tail colour of many of the birds in Saudi Arabia but how much of this is clinal is unknown.

22 January 2023

Another January Common Cuckoo – Hanidh

Whilst birding the Hanidh area on 20 January Phil Roberts noticed a Common Cuckoo Cuculus canorus sitting in a tree on the edge of a large pivot irrigation field. This is an exceptionally early time for the species to occur but, we had another on 19 January 2018 in Jubail, and there have been a handful of records in the UAE in January. Oriental Cuckoo is a possibility as a vagrant but has not been recorded in the Kingdom yet. The photos I took do not show too many features of this species, although they are very difficult to identify unless calling, which this bird was not. Common Cuckoo is an uncommon passage migrant in Saudi Arabia occurring throughout the Kingdom. Spring migration is mainly in April and May and autumn migration from mid-August to October.

21 January 2023

Desert Finch – Al Jouf

Whilst birding the Al Jouf area at the end of December I saw a few Desert Finch, which are mainly resident in Saudi Arabia. It is now regarded as a common breeding resident but was previously thought to be a scarce visitor to the northwest of Saudi Arabia until 1975. Since then the range has expanded dramatically due to increased agriculture and several areas have been colonized, including Riyadh, Hail, al-Jawf and Tabuk. Despite its name it is not a truly desert species and prefers cultivated areas with trees and bushes, especially orchards, as well as gardens and plantations, and can often be seen near the large pivot irrigation fields of the region where it occurs in the weedy edges of pivot-irrigated fields and dry scrub adjacent to farms. We saw a single bird, perched on some overhead power lines at one location and a male and female in some small vegetation just outside the bund of a large pivot irrigation field. This last bird finally gave me the opportunity to photograph the species in a more natural habitat that a razor-wire fence or over-head power line. 

19 January 2023

Three species of Wheatear – Sakaka

Whilst birding the stony Desert area around Sakaka with Phil Roberts and Nader Fahd, we came across a wheatear at the bottom of the escarpment on the stony ground. It was a black and white wheatear, which Nader pointed out had more extensive black on the throat that the nearby Eastern Morning Wheatear and on closer inspection in became apparent it was a male Hooded Wheatear. These birds are quite distinct with their large size and long thin bill but this single bird was hard to judge the size on. They are a scarce but widespread bird throughout the region and are most often encountered in barren, remote stretches. They are a rare but widespread breeding resident of Central Arabia and also occur at Najran in the south to the Northern Hejaz. This was the first time I have seen a male of this species with all previous records having been females. We also saw two Eastern Morning Wheatear and a few White-crowned Wheatears in the same area.

Eastern Morning Wheatear

Eastern Morning Wheatear

White-crowned Wheatear

White-crowned Wheatear

White-crowned Wheatear

White-crowned Wheatear

Hooded Wheatear - male

Hooded Wheatear - male

Hooded Wheatear - male

Hooded Wheatear - male