17 January 2023

See-See Partridge - Sakaka

I went to Sakaka in late December and met up Phil Roberts who had driven from Dammam to Sakaka a couple of days before my arrival. Once I arrived we met up with Nader Fahd who is an experienced local birdwatcher and naturalist who lives there. Nader saw See-See Partridge in 2014 in the area and has seen it on occasions in the years that followed. We had looked, unsuccessfully, in the past for the species in this area as I was informed in 2017 by Euan Ferguson that he and three other UK birders who were working in Saudi Arabia on two wind-farm projects found See-see Partridge in a remote desert site a couple of hours drive from Sakaka in Al Jawf province. On 23 April 2017 Euan photographed what he assumed was a Sand Partridge in a wadi, but looking closer at the photo realised it had a black forehead and supercilium, so was a See-see Partridge Ammoperdix griseogularis. The bird was a calling male and was together with three other birds. The other birders who have worked on site had also seen several, although they again did not look closely and assumed they were Sand Partridge. Sand Partridge has not been recorded in the Al Jouf area of Saudi Arabia making See-see Partridge the only member of the partridge family to be found in the area so these birds would have been See-See Partridge as well. See-see Partridge has been seen in northern Saudi Arabia before in the 1990's but there have been few other more recent records although birds have been seen in Harrat al-Harrah and areas to the west of there. It is not clear if these birds were wanderers from their recognised breeding areas in Iraq or they have spread south into northern KSA. We visited again in the hope of locating See-See Partridge with the expert knowledge of Nader who met us near the location, the Qiyal area, at first light and drove us around the area in his four-wheel drive car. His expertise in driving over the rough terrain and his knowledge of where the birds had been seen gave us the best chance of seeing the species. We searched for a couple of hours looking at all the flat areas with sarse vegetation and the slopes going to the slightly higher areas of ground. We failed to see much but as we stopped to photograph Eastern Morning Wheatear, and I got out of the car to allow me better photographic opportunities of the Wheatear, I heard a partridge calling behind us. After alerting Phil and Nader, Nader spotted a male See-See Partridge on the stony ground near some newly sprouted greenery, caused by the recent rains. The bird was extremely well camouflaged and slowly moved closer to us even though we were out of the car. My efforts at photography were not too successful with almost all photos not sharp or completely out of focus but I did manage to get some shots. We got back in the car and tried to get closer to the bird but it was now aware of our presence and did not allow close approach. It was joined by a female and together they moved off towards the nearby hillside, where Nader and Phil found a third female/juvenile bird, but I failed to see it before it disappeared from view. We left the birds in peace once we could see we had at least some phots between us. It appears the best way to find the species is to listen out for its call and then try to locate it, which is not too easy unless they move due to their plumage matching closely the rock colour. The species is a rare breeding resident in the Al Jouf area of Saudi Arabia which is the only area of the Kingdom where it can be seen. I thank Nader for his time and excellent company during the day, and for showing us the area where the bird had been seen previously. Without his help, I suspect we would not have seen the species.