Local Patch

Local Area

Dhahran is situated in the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia, between the cities of Dammam and Al-Khobar, and is the headquarters of SAUDI ARAMCO. It is about 10 km from the western shore of the Arabian Gulf and rises progressively from sea level to a maximum altitude of about 150 meters. The climate is classed as ‘arid’ and is characterized by hot, often humid, rainless summers and cool winters. In summer the daytime temperatures from April to October regularly rise above 40 °C and occasionally exceed 50 °C although in winter (December and January) temperatures drop to around 18 °C during the day and 10 °C at night with occasionally nighttime lows of 2 °C recorded. Average Rainfall is 75mm with most occurring between November and January.
The Shamal winds usually blow across Dhahran in the early months of the summer, bringing dust storms that can reduce visibility to a few meters. Dhahran and adjacent Al-Khobar along with Damman are modern oases within a desert environment and provide an excellent area for birding. The Dhahran camp together with the nearby Qatif traditional date palm oasis, Jubail wetlands and Tarut Bay make the area an outstanding bird-watching location.

Local Patch

Dhahran topography is dominated by some limestone outcrops called ‘jabels’ with desert scrub made up of vigorous grasses and other hardy plants. Dhahran Camp is a SAUDI ARAMCO compound and is a man-made environment, where a remarkable greening of the environment has occurred, which now helps support a varied range of flora and fauna, including a variety of birdlife. This greening has been made possible by the use of reclaimed and treated water for irrigation and the planting of many thousands of exotic trees and shrubs, which has dramatically enhanced the area's potential for migrant, wintering and breeding birds. This near tropical planting around the housing areas contains many trees including Date Palm (Phoenix dactylifera), Doum Palm (Hyphaene thebaica), Banyan (Ficus benghalensis), Mesquite (Prosopis juliflora), Flame Tree (Delonix regia), Frangipanni (Plumeria rubra). The percolation pond is bordered by Tamarix (Tamarix aphyll) with Banyan and Mesquite growing nearby and natural vegetation includes Tamarix Arabica and Reeds (Phragmites australis) which boarder the pond and have colonized some low lying ground nearby. Tamarix also grows alongside the spray fields and is very attractive to migrants. Water, needless to say, is a precious commodity in Saudi Arabia and “Raw” water used for landscaping, is chlorinated brackish well water with a high level of total dissolved solids and makes up roughly 70 percent of all the water used in the community. Reclaimed water from the Dhahran Advanced Wastewater Treatment Plant (AWTP), which treats 10 million gallons a day, is treated to make it suitable for unrestricted irrigation. The biggest use of reclaimed water in the Dhahran community is for landscaping in common areas, public parks, playgrounds, gold course and athletic fields, all of which are attractive to birds. Spray fields, a percolation pond (formerly called Lake Lanhardt) and waste treatment ponds are also part of the waste water treatment system with ponds and areas like this very scarce in Saudi Arabia, and as a result are very attractive to wildlife and birds in particular. The presence of numerous small pools, landscaped areas of grass and trees, and the grounds of the golf course, all add to the attraction of Dhahran Camp for migrating birds. The occasional big 'fall' of migrants can occur and these are often associated with changes in wind direction and strength that are almost always associated with cloud and/or dust storms. Add to this the general lack of information about the birds of Dhahran, the fact that over 250 species have been recorded in Dhahran and the chance of seeing an occasional unexpected vagrant or rarity makes bird-watching here an exciting and challenging pastime.
Spring migration occurs between mid February and Mid May peaking in April and autumn migration occurs between mid August and early November but is less heavy than the spring migration.

Percolation Pond
The percolation pond is a large sewage effluent pond that is surrounded by Phragmites (Phragmites australis) Reeds. The pond is part of the complex system of water treatment and water re-use used in the Dhahran Camp and contains mainly freshwater. Previously fish were present but the pond was drained in 2010 in an attempt to control mosquitoes (Anopeles spp.) and reduce the amount of reed beds. It is now uncertain if any fish are still present in the lake although herons still use the lake in small numbers. Water levels are controlled by large inlet and outlet valves and are generally high in the winter months and drop in the summer. This is because water demand can be four times higher in the summer compared to the winter and a balance of supply and demand has to be made between the sod farm, pond, golf course and public areas. The pond area, previoulsy called Lake Lanhardt, is an oasis on the edge of the desert and is the premier bird-watching site in Dhahran as water areas like this are scarce. It is a magnet for migrating and wintering birds with Tamarix (Tamarix aphylla) trees screening part of the perimeter and Banyan (Ficus benghalensis), Mesquite (Prosopis juliflora) and Tamarix (Tamarix arabica) all growing nearby. Phragmites reeds also grow in low lying areas next to the pond which are inundated with water in the winter months.
The word jebal from the Arabic word "Jah-bahl", 'جبل', means mountain, hill or slope. These flat topped hills are formed from sedimentary marine deposits laid down during the late Tertiary, when the area was subject to intermittent submergence and deposition of sediments. They are made up mainly of limestone and are attractive and obvious features in an otherwise flat and featureless environment. These areas are particularly attractive to Rock Thrushes (Monticola spp.) but also attract many other migrants.

Scrubby Desert
The Scrubby Desert areas are is attractive to wheatears, pipits and buntings. The area is mainly flat hard packed sand with a salty crust interspersed with small clumps of vegetation, mainly grasses. This is the area where the majority of the Arabian Spiny-tailed Lizard (Uromastyx aegyptia microlepis) live. As it is a flat wide expanse of land it is also a good area for looking for birds of prey some of which use the ground to rest on.

Spray Fields
The Spray Fields are fed by treated wastewater, have large rotational spray heads to distribute the water and are a major attraction to migrant birds. The areas remain green all year and have plenty of grasses with many seeds suitable for food. They can also have free-standing areas of water which are attractive to passing waders and the rough grass areas are used by passing harriers to hunt over. One edge of the main field has a raised embankment with Tamarisk trees growing along it, which is excellent for migrant warblers. The interspersed bushes are used by shrikes and rollers among other species.

Sandy Grass Tussock
The Sandy Grass Tussock area is made up primarily of loose sand interspersed with hardy and vigorous grasses (Panicum). In the spring, after any winter rain, these areas flourish briefly and attract migrants as well as butterflies.

Mature Parkland
The Mature Parkland area comprises various recreation facilities including the grass 18 hole, golf course. Some of these areas are difficult to gain access to and are busy with people but still attract many migrants. The areas have plenty of mature trees including Date Palm (Phoenix dactylifera), Doum Palm (Hyphaene thebaica), Banyan (Ficus benghalensis), Mesquite (Prosopis juliflora), Flame Tree (Delonix regia) & Frangiopani (Plumeria rubra).