18 August 2022

African Openbill - Malaki (Jizan) Dam Lake

A pair of African Openbill were found in Malaki (Jizan) Dam Lake on 3 September 2021 a new species for Saudi Arabia. Numbers increased to a maximum of 18 birds in summer 2022 and as we were in the area we looked for them in July 2022. The lake was very dry compared to my previous visit, when I saw them and large numbers of cattle and camel were feeding on the lakeside with associated herders. Birds were few and far between but I eventually managed to find six birds across the lake. We moved around to that side to see if we could get closer but the birds were still distant and then all flew together and rather than coming closer flew in the other direction meaning I could only get distant flight shots. It is a widely distributed species occurring in Sub-Saharan Africa and western regions of Madagascar, where it is common to locally abundant, although it has a patchy distribution.




16 August 2022

Jizan Cornice

Whilst birding Jizan Cornice in July I found a few Sooty Gulls sitting on the seafront. As it was a public holiday there were few people about in the early morning allow very close approach to the gulls. The species is a partial migrant or nomad with most populations undergoing southern post-breeding dispersal movements in September-November. They inhabit coasts and inshore islands and is hardly ever seen inland or at freshwater. It nests on coastal or inshore coral islands preferring smaller outer islands of old coral that are sparsely vegetated, rocky and sandy, preferably protected from the ocean by live reef. They feed mainly on dead fish and fishermen's offal, as well as tern eggs and chicks turtle hatchlings prawns and small fish. Apart from the Sooty Gulls there were not that many birds about although we did find a couple of Pink-back Pelicans fishing.

Sooty Gull

Sooty Gull

Sooty Gull

Sooty Gull

Pink-backed Pelican

Pink-backed Pelican

Pink-backed Pelican

Pink-backed Pelican


14 August 2022

Spiny-backed Orb Weaver - Jizan

Whilst in Jizan I came across a very interesting small spider. It appears to be some sort of Gastercantha spp or Micrathena spp of Spiny-backed Orb Weaver Spider also known as Crab Spiders. Orb-weaver spiders are known for their spiral wheel-shaped webs, which each night, a new web spun to catch small insect prey. The spider sits up-side-down on the web. There are more than 2,800 species within more than 160 genera worldwide, orb-weavers are the third largest family of spiders and difficult for the layman to identify. This spider was particularly striking due to its colours of Yellow and Black. I have now seen this spider the last two times I have been to this location so assume it is not uncommon.



12 August 2022

Lesser Flamingo - Jizan

Whilst birding the coast just south of Jizan in July we went to the location where we found 100 Lesser Flamingo in 2018. Birds have been present here continually since this date. This trip we saw well over 600 birds, but the high humidity and temperatures made counting very unpleasant so no accurate number was obtained. The species was a vagrant to Saudi Arabia prior to these records but they are now a scarce visitor. There are a number of nests present in the area that were made by the Lesser Flamingos over the last three years , as can be seen in two of the below photos, the first breeding attempt for the Kingdom but no young or eggs have ever been seen so breeding has not be confirmed yet. The large numbers of birds may be due to the large-scale disturbances in Yemen pushing them into Saudi Arabia? The Lesser Flamingo are always associated with a lesser number of Greater Flamingo making a spectacular sight.





10 August 2022

Short-necked Skink - Jizan

The Short-necked Skink or Sudan Mabuya Trachylepis brevicollis is a species of Squamatain the family skinks. They are found in Sudan, Ethiopia, Eritrea (type) and Djibouti, Somalia, Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, and Oman and rely on running to move around. They live in hot dry areas, in semi-deserts and savannah, from sea level to over 1500 m where they are active during the day. They occur on trunks, roots of shrubs, rocks, as well as old houses or walls. Females give birth to live young. They feed insects and other arthropods. It is a big and robust skink with a short head in proportion to the body. They have a large eye with a circular pupil. Tail on the base thickened, long about half of the total length. Dorsal scales tricarinate; midbody scale rows 30-34; maximum length over 30 cm, but in average less; juveniles are dark, with bright spots and yellow throat. Although geographic variation in this species has not been formally assessed, the large number of synonyms currently attributed to it (LOVERIDGE 1957) is reflective of the high degree of variation it expresses across its range. The species was first described as Euprepes brevicollis by WIEGMANN (1837), who gave the type locality simply as "Abyssinien" [= Eritrea]. SCHÄTTI & GASPERETTI (1994) argued that the precise locality is likely to have been Massawa [= Mitsiwa], Eritrea and, more recently, SCHÄTTI & GÜNTHER (2001) suggested that Hauakil [= Howakil Island (15°10'N, 40°16'E), Eritrea] might be the true type locality. WIEGMANN (1837) also described Euprepes pyrrhocephalus, long considered a synonym of T. brevicollis(BOULENGER 1887), with its type locality at Aschik [=Zahrat Ashiq (16°26'N, 42°38' E), Saudi Arabia]. This location is an offshore small island very close to where I photographed the Short-necked Skink below.





08 August 2022

Phil’s Fields - Sabya

Whilst birding the Sabya area in the summer we saw the normal range of good birds. Birds you are almost guaranteed to see in the pivot fields either on the overhead wires or the pivot irrigation sprayers themselves are Abyssinian Roller. This species is common in the southwest but these fields are one of the best places to see the birds. The only issue is that it is difficult to get photos of them on anything like a natural perch. Other common species building nests and raising young in the fields are Ruppell’s Weaver. These also use the pivot irrigation structures to rest on but drop down to the fields to collect nesting material and food. Western Cattle Egret are very common and often follow behind the water spray to take a shower, keep cool and catch prey. Common Myna can also be seen almost anywhere but mainly in the fields and fields behind where they are common.

Ruppell's Weaver

Ruppell's Weaver

Western Cattle Egret

Western Cattle Egret

Western Cattle Egret

Western Cattle Egret

Western Cattle Egret

Western Cattle Egret

Western Cattle Egret

Western Cattle Egret

Common Myna

Abyssinian Roller

06 August 2022

Gaber Goshawk – Phil’s Fields

Whilst in Phil’s Fields near Sabya in southwest Saudi Arabia we came across a raptor sitting in some trees behind the fields. The proportions suggested the bird was a Goshawk, but there are two species that the bird could have been, Gabar Goshawk or Dark Chanting Goshawk. I have not seen Dark Chanting Goshawk in Saudi Arabia and were hoping for this species. The bird was a juvenile and the two species have rather different proportions, especially long tail versus short wings and white tips to secondaries typical of Gabar Goshawk. The species is a resident where it occurs across much of sub-Saharan Africa (except the equatorial forest belt), with a small population in southwestern Arabia. In Saudi Arabia it is a scarce to rare breeding resident. It prefers acacia thickets and mixed open woodland, often near cultivated areas, such as the area near Sabya where we saw it.





04 August 2022

Chestnut-bellied Sandgrouse – Phil’s Fields near Sabya

Whilst birding Phil’s Fields near Sabya in the late afternoon a female Chestnut-bellied Sandgrouse flew into one dry pivot field and settled relatively close to the car enabling the below photos to be taken. Chestnut-bellied Sandgrouse are a common and widespread breeding resident on the Tihamah and southern Red Sea coastlands, less common in the Northern Hejaz north to Rabigh with all records below 1000 metres. The species is, however, uncommon in Central Saudi Arabia and rare in the Eastern Province. They are a relatively small species, with elongated central tail feathers, dark underwing and white trailing edge to the primaries, blackish belly and unmarked head. The male has a narrow pectoral band and chestnut brown belly darkening towards rear, whereas the female is more mottled above and shows a tricoloured ventral pattern. Races differ mainly in tone of upperpart coloration with the Arabian population P. e. erlangeri sandy coloured. They typically inhabit bare semi-desert, often with scattered thorny scrubs or trees including Acacia. They feed during the cooler hours of morning and afternoon and drink 2–3 hours after sunrise, while in very hot weather some individuals drink again before sunset.








02 August 2022

Singing Bush Larks – Phil’s Fields near Sabya

Whilst birding Phil’s Fields near Sabya in southwest Saudi Arabia we saw a few Singling Bush Larks. This set of fields is an almost guaranteed place to see the species in the Kingdom where they are otherwise difficult to find. The subspecies we get in southwest Saudi Arabia is M. c. simplex that occurs in southwest Saudi Arabia, Yemen and western Oman and has upperparts somewhat warmer and browner than the nominate subspecies. The bird is a small, compact lark with short, stubby bill. Singing Bush Lark is an uncommon resident of the extreme southwest of Saudi Arabia and does not occur anywhere else in the country. They are often common in the very local areas where they occur and where they frequent fairly short grassland and cultivated land, provided that crops are short and dense enough to provide cover. I have seen and photographed this species before but the below photos are the best I have obtained due to the natural perch and the fact the bird flew and landed right beside the car.






31 July 2022

Harlequin Quail Dust Bathing – Phil’s Fields near Sabya

Due to our near miss on dust bathing Harlequin Quail we decided to go back the next day in the early morning to try our luck in the same place. This time we heard birds calling and stopped the car when a bird walked out of the crop field and onto the edge and sat close to the soft ground and vigorously wriggled its body and flapped its wings, sending loose dust and sand into the air. The bird spread a wing allowing the falling sand to fall between the feathers and reach the skin as well as remain in its back. It then started shaking its feathers and doing it over again. It is thought the likely purpose of dust bathing is the removal of parasites from the birds’ feathers. Some species of Quail have communal dust baths so presumably it is not uncommon for Quail but is the first time I have seen it occur, but I saw it twice in the two days we spent looking for the species in Sabya. After the bird finished dust bathing it walked off very close and it or another bird then started calling on a nearby earth mound and was so close we couldn't focus the cameras on it. We got full frame photos of the bird as it later walked past the car.