24 February 2024

Northern Shoveler – Dhahran Percolation Pond

Whilst birdwatching at the Dhahran Percolation over the last couple of months there has been varying numbers of Northern Shoveler from one hundred to a maximum of 175. 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. In Saudi Arabia it has bred rarely but is mainly a common passage migrant and common winter visitor (Oct-Mar) where it occurs widely across the Kingdom.

22 February 2024

Crested Honey Buzzard - Dhahran Waste Water Lake

Just after first light I saw a Crested Honey Buzzard fly over and land on the ground some distance away. I slowly walked over to the area it appeared to land in and managed to find it on the ground. Unfortunately, it did not stay long as it was disturbed by some mountain bikers but only flew a short distance and landed on a bank. It stayed here for a while and then flew, luckily almost straight past me as I was hidden behind a tree. It then circled around a little and flew off over the golf course. This bird has been around since mid-September in Dhahran a location where they have spent the last ten years at least wintering. It is not certain if the birds now stay all summer as well, but summer records are becoming more common. The status, of Crested Honey Buzzard in Saudi Arabia is a scarce passage migrant and winter visitor that also occurs rarely in summer. Most records are from the Eastern province in winter and spring with additional records in the west of the country throughout the year, a location where they may well now be breeding.

20 February 2024

Greater and Lesser Sand Plovers – Al Uqair

Whilst birding the Al Uqair area in mid-February I came across two Greater Sand Plovers and a single Lesser Sand Plover feeding on the coast. There was a track along the water’s edge allowing me to get close in the car without disturbing them. Greater Sand Plover is a common species on passage, with small numbers staying throughout the winter, but it is difficult to get close to them as they are normally out on the tide line or in the flooded sabkha. The Lesser Sand Plover is a common passage migrant, uncommon winter visitor and rare summer visitor that are found along the coast from August to May.

18 February 2024

Sanderling – Al Uqair

At first light, along the main beach at Al Uqair, I came across a couple of Sanderling feeding along the edge of the beach. The bird was feeding actively as they always seem to do making getting good photos a little tricky. The Sanderling is a migratory bird that is a common passage migrant and uncommon winter visitor in Saudi Arabia. It occurs on both coasts during migration (Apr–Jun, Sep–Oct) and occasionally inland, especially in spring but is more common on the west coast than the east coast. It prefers sandy beaches but is also less commonly seen on muddy shores and saline lagoons. This is the third winter I have found Sanderling in Al Uqair, so looks like it is a regular wintering location. 

16 February 2024

Steppe Gulls – Al Uqair

At first light, along the main beach at Al Uqair, I came across a couple of Steppe Gulls. Although Steppe Gull is common, it is not often possible to get close views, as they spend time out on the islands in Half Moon Bay. Abqaiq rubbish dump is a good place to see them but has become very difficult to access in recent years. Steppe Gull barabensis, is a taxon making up approximately 80-90% of the large white-headed gulls in Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia. These birds leave their steppe breeding grounds in August and are thought to migrate along the coast of the Caspian Sea, then cross northwest Iran, through the Tigris valley and on to the Arabian Gulf. They start appearing in the Jubail, Dhahran and Al Uqair areas from mid-August and build in number through the winter. It is a common passage migrant and very common winter visitor from mid-August to April.

15 February 2024

Desert Hyacinth – Al Uqayr

Whilst birdwatching near Al Uqayr in February I saw a large number of Desert Hyacinth Cistanche tubulosa. The Desert Hyacinth is a widely distributed annual that produces a dense pyramid spike of bright yellow flowers topped by maroon-tinted buds. The yellow flowers do not smell very nice and flies are attracted to the smell and carry the pollen on their legs from plant to plant helping with pollination. They are parasitic, one of several such plants in Arabia, and live off other plants to gain their nutritional needs, as they have no green parts or leaves to synthesize chlorophyll directly. The many tiny seeds may remain dormant for years until the roots of the host plant are close enough to trigger germination. It is one of the showiest plants of Eastern Arabia with bright yellow, dense column of flowers sometimes approaching one metre in height. It has varying flower colour with the flowers either tightly packed in the spike or loose. They are widespread on sandy or sandy-silty ground and can tolerate saline environments as well as disturbed conditions, so are often seen growing near roads or tracks in the desert or along the shores of the Arabian Gulf. They flower from early January to early April each year.

14 February 2024

Heuglin’s Gulls – Al Uqair

Whilst birding the Uqair area recently I went to an area of public beach where a few gulls were feeding on discarded food. There were many Slender-billed Gull but a few Large White-headed Gulls appeared to be mainly Heuglin’s Gulls. These birds appear in very fresh plumage as they breed later than other large gulls. Two of the Heuglin’s Gulls were much darker plumaged than the others in the group but were not Baltic Gull which would be even darker, typically showing no contrast between upperparts and primary ground colour. This subspecies almost always shows extensive neck streaking. This is not the commonest Gull in Saudi Arabia, with about 8% to 10% of all LWHG being this taxon.

13 February 2024

Red Thumb – Al Uqayr

Whilst birding Al Uqayr near Al Hassa I found some Red Thumb Cynomorium coccineum, in the same area where I saw some last year, but two months earlier in the year. 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.

11 February 2024

Wintering Daurian Shrike – Dhahran Waste Water Lake

I have been seeing the same Daurian Shrike throughout the winter in the scrubby areas at the edge of the Waste Water Lake. The bird has been seen catching insects, lizards and once a small bird and normally sits on top of the trees that Saudi Aramco have planted in the area. Many of these native trees are now growing well and are tall enough to give the shrike a good lookout post to sit on. Its main hunting method is to drop down on any unsuspecting insect or lizard and then fly back up to its perch to eat its prey. Daurian Shrike is a common passage migrant and common, but local, winter visitor to central and coastal areas of Saudi Arabia. They prefer bushy areas near wetlands, farmland and parks and gardens.  


09 February 2024

Common Chiffchaffs – Dhahran Waste Water Lake

I recently saw a number of Common Chiffchaff in a large depression with tall Mesquite trees in. As the birds were quite active in the very early morning I went down to try to obtain photographs of them and I stayed in this are for an hour or so. Unfortunately, the birds were staying well in cover and only occasionally venturing out in the open, but too quickly for my reactions to get photos. I managed to photograph one bird out in the open and another in the trees and failed with all other attempts. In Saudi Arabia Common Chiffchaff is a very common passage migrant and common winter visitor that is widespread across much of the Kingdom. Spring passage occurs from late February and peaks in early March with good numbers throughout this month, decreasing rapidly through April and only occasional stragglers until late May. Migrants can occur anywhere, but favour areas with Tamerisk, Acacia, Mesquite, small farms containing palms and cultivated fields and gardens. Winter numbers are much lower than those on passage, but birds are still common mainly in parks and areas with large trees, particularly Acacia & Mesquite, where they tend to stay high in trees and their calls can be heard commonly, from November to March.

07 February 2024

Pied Kingfisher – Dhahran Waste Water Lake

I found a Pied Kingfisher at Dhahran Waste Water Lake on 1 January 2024 and the bird was still present on my last visit at end of January. It has a favourite spot of some dead twigs where it is regularly seen but it has now taken to perching in various other areas including the reeds on the far side of the lake. This makes it slightly more difficult to see although it does fly up and down the lake and hover over the water occasionally. This is an unusual record for Dhahran where I have only seen it twice before this bird, but it appears to be a good year for the species with others seen in Jubail (seven), Nariyah (two), Riyadh and Yanbu in 2024. This bird is attracting a number of photographers and others interested in birds to the lake which will hopefully, in turn, turn up more interesting species.