29 April 2023

Jaffa Groundsel – Dhahran Hills

Whilst birdwatching around the Waste Water Lake in Dhahran at the weekend I came across some nice clumps of Senecio glaucus which is an annual plant that grows in the desert and is also known as Jaffa groundsel or Buck’s horn groundsel. They are found in sandy soil of coastal plains and Gulf islands as well as steppes and are native to a large area of the Middle and Far East including Saudi Arabia. The plants were growing next to the main open water area on the extreme edge of where the water level was currently reaching. They are a common and widespread plant in the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia.

25 April 2023

Cakile arabica - Dhahran

Whilst walking around the Waste Water Lake in Dhahran I came across a good number of small purple flowering plants, about 60 cm tall, growing in stable sand that turned out to be Cakile Cakile arabica. This plant has purple flowers that are 12-20mm wide and give off a sweet fragrance. They tend to grow in colonies, which in rainy years are so extensive that they create a sea of pinky-purple in the desert. Insects, especially butterflies and moths, find it a good food source. This species occurs only in Arabia, north to Syria and Iraq, and in the Sinai Peninsula.

21 April 2023

Painted Lady Butterfly – Al Uqayr

A big influx of Painted Lady butterfly occurred in mid-March with hundreds of butterflies everywhere you looked. Although the Painted Lady can survive in Saudi Arabia in most years the majority of butterflies are probably migrants. The Painted Lady is the most widely distributed butterfly in the world occurring on all continents except Antarctica. It is a large butterfly with a buffy-orange background colour to the upper-wings. The forewings have black tips marked with white spots and the hind-wings have rows of brown or black circular spots. The underside of the wing is pale buff brown than the upper-wing. Newly emerged butterflies are brighter coloured, with the colouring becoming muted with age.

19 April 2023

Bladderdock – Dhahran Hills

Whilst walking around the Dhahran Waste Water Lake I came across some Bladderdock Rumex vesicarius. This is an abundant annual found on rocky land and shallow sand and can be seen in various places in Dhahran Aramco camp. It is most noticeable when fruiting, when it bears large, long clusters of papery winged fruits that are often pink, red or pale straw in colour. Sandwiched between the wings is the seed. The leaves are glabrous and slightly succulent. They are the favorite food of the Striped Hawkmoth caterpillar, which in a rainy year, can be seen feeding on these plants in large numbers. Its height is up to 35 centimetres and it has been used in traditional medicine to cure stomach complaints and toothache.

17 April 2023

Arabian Darkling Beetle – Al Uqayr

Recently whilst walking around the flat desert area at Al Uqayr I came across a few Arabian Darkling Beetles on rough sand. This is one of the most common species of Arabia and is found in many locations. There are many darkling beetles but this one appears to be the most common. They are not so easy to photograph as they are always on the move, but luckily it was cloudy and the beetles were less mobile allowing the below photos to be taken.

15 April 2023

House Sparrow – Jubail

Recently I posted about how I had found a few House Sparrow that looked small, with whitish cheeks and underside and a grey rump with less apparent rufous on the mantle, so could be the hofufae subspecies. This subspecies in not meant to occur this far north so will be interesting to see if I can get more evidence of this subspecies occurring here. The last ringing session I trapped and ringed two House Sparrows, a male and a female. Neither of these birds looked like hofufae in the hand with greyinsh wash to the underparts and no real small measurements. There is the possibility both occur in the area but more evidence is required to be sure.

House Sparrow - Female

House Sparrow - Male

13 April 2023

Plain Tiger – Dhahran Hills

Whilst walking around the Dhahran Waste Water Lake I came across a Plain Tiger Danaus chrysippus. This butterfly was first depicted in an Egyptian tomb 3,500 years ago, making it the first ever butterfly to be recorded in history. Its striking tawny-orange colouration serves as a warning to predators that this species is distasteful, which ultimately deters predators from attacking. Male butterflies are slightly smaller than females with the males identified by the presence of a black scent-producing pouch located in the lower-centre of the hind wing; on the underside of the wing, it appears as a white-centered black patch. In addition, the males have a pair of brush-like organs hidden within the abdomen, which are used in reproduction. The Plain Tiger has an extensive range and can be found throughout the Old World tropics, from Africa to Southeast Asia as well as Australasia. Recently it has been discovered that there are three subspecies; Danaus chrysippus chrysippus is found in Asia and tropical Africa, Danaus chrysippus alcippus ranges from the Cape Verde Islands, across Africa to Oman and Saudi Arabia, and Danaus chrysippus orientis is predominantly found in tropical Africa and the surrounding islands including Madagascar and the Seychelles. They inhabit open, fairly arid areas and unlike other members of the Danaus genus, the Plain Tiger often flies in open sunlight, even at the hottest point of the day.

11 April 2023

Ménétriés's Warbler trapped & ringed – Sabkhat Al Fasl

Whilst ringing in late February we caught and ringed a Ménétriés's Warbler at a restricted access location of Sabkhat Al Fasl, Jubail, Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia. Ménétriés's Warbler is an uncommon passage migrant and winter visitor seen from October until April in most years but is not often seen at Sabkhat Al Fasl itself due to the lack of suitable cover. The bird we caught was a nominate Sylvia mystacea mystacea that breeds from the lower River Volga south to eastern Turkey, southeast Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan and northern Iran and winters south to Arabia and northeast Africa. In this race the male has forehead, crown and ear-coverts blackish, grading into pale grey of upperparts with a broad white submoustachial stripe contrasting with vinous-pink throat to upper breast with pale greyish-pink breast side and flanks and a whitish belly. Two other races also occur in Saudi Arabia, S. m. turcmenica that breeds in southern Turkmenistan and northeast Iran, and from southern Kazakhstan, central and eastern Uzbekistan and western Tajikistan south to northern Afghanistan, also western Pakistan and winters south to Arabia and northeast Africa. In this race the male is slightly paler and whiter below than nominate. S. m. rubescens breeds from southeast Turkey south to northern Syria, Iraq and western Iran and winters south to Arabia and northeast Africa. In this race the male is paler grey above and whiter below, vinous-pink coloration being replaced by faint pinkish tinge on chest. 

09 April 2023

Crimson-speckled Footman – Al Uqayr

Whilst birdwatching in the Al Uqayr area I found a good number of Crimson-speckled Footman Utetheisa pulchella. The Crimson-speckled Footman is a small, day flying moth measuring approximately 30-40mm in length. They are mostly white, speckled with black and crimson and have characteristic black eyes. The legs are white in colour and the antennae are black. The moth is found from Africa to southern Europe, throughout the Middle East, central & southern Asia and Australia. They are migratory moths but I have seen them a few times during the winter here so am not sure if they are residents? They are not very easy to see until you flush one from its resting place and it flies to its new location. They very rarely, if ever, land with their wings spread and almost always end up in a position similar to that in the photograph below.

05 April 2023

Red Thumb – Al Uqayr

Whilst birding Al Uqayr near Al Hassa I found some nice examples of Red Thumb Cynomorium coccineum. This plant is a parasitic, leafless plant without chlorophyll. It is a fleshy, reddish, club-shaped perennial herb that can grow up to 30 centimeters high and is parasitic on the roots of desert shrubs. It is only visible above ground during its spring flowering period. The flowering stems may emerge from the ground singly but more often they are grouped several together. The interflorescence is dark-red to purplish and is made up of minute scarlet flowers that may be male or female. Flies are attracted by the smell given off from the plant and are thought to be pollinators of the plant which once pollinated turns black. They grow on sandy, saline, ground. The plant is known as 'tarthuth' by the Bedouin and is also known as Maltese Fungus and Desert Thumb and is used in many herbal medicines around the world. Due to its' dark red colour it was thought to be able to cure aneamia and other blood-related diseases and dried spikes were carried by the Crusaders in order to treat wounds. Research being carried out into the plants' actual medicinal properties seems to provisionally confirm several of the traditional uses with extracts of the herb appearing to inhibit HIV, improve blood flow and lower blood pressure.

03 April 2023

Northern Shoveler – Dhahran Waste Water Lake

Whilst birdwatching at the Dhahran Waste Water Lake over the last couple of weeks there has been varying numbers of Northern Shoveler from three to a maximum of 16. This is one of the commonest ducks to occur at this location, but it is always nice to know the birds are in a safe place where no harm will befall them. Regulars included four Eurasian Coot, several Grey Heron, Western Reef Heron including a dark phase and light phase bird, Little Egret and Great White Egret. The Western Marsh Harrier is still around occasionally frightening the Great Cormorant. Only a few Common Chiffchaff and a single Eastern Stonechat have been seen by way of migrants and a small group of Indian Silverbill have been present for a couple of weeks.

Eurasian Coot

Great Cormorant

Great Cormorant

Great Cormorant

Great Cormorant

Indian Silverbill

Indian Silverbill

Indian Silverbill

Northern Shoveler

Northern Shoveler

Northern Shoveler

Northern Shoveler

Western Great Egret

01 April 2023

Pallid Swifts – Dhahran Waste Water Lake

Whilst birdwatching at the Dhahran Waste Water Lake over the last couple of weeks a steady increase in Pallid Swift has been noted. Birds are mainly flying high up but some are occasionally coming down to drink out of the lake allowing some reasonable photos to be taken. The species is a common passage migrant and breeder with a peculiar pattern of occurrence. The species is common from late January to May, scarce after this and only recorded again in good numbers from November. Breeding takes place in the winter months from November to April.