Monday 4 February 2013

The mangroves at KAUST

After visiting Rabigh, Brian James and I returned to the KAUST (King Abdullah University of Science and technology) campus. It was mid afternoon on Thursday and there was time to go to the mangroves at the side of the campus. 

We also visited it a second time on Friday at the same time of day. This blog compiles reports on both events.

European curlew

The weather on Thursday was atypically dull and cold for the coast. Indeed it was possibly the coldest day Brian has had in his 4 years in KSA. However for birding purposes the issue was not the temperature but the poor light. This also affected birding earlier in the day at wadi Rabigh.

Anyway, on arrival at the mangroves, both curlew and whimbrel were two of the most immediately obvious birds.

Mangrove reed warbler. Cropped from a picture by Brian James

One bird I was seeking was Mangrove reed warbler which a known resident there. We soon heard one calling and it was easily seen once the calling was traced to some tall mangroves close to the waters edge. It was more showy than the closely related European reed warbler. The other differences are quite subtle. It is slightly greyer and has shorter wings.  

This was a lifer for me and bird number 264 on my Saudi list.

Greater sand plover

Other notable observations were several greater sand plover with a small number in breeding plumage. This is the first time I have seen that plumage type.

dark morph western reef heron

When you visit the Saudi coast on either side it is not normally too long before you come across western reef heron and striated heron. Both were seen at KAUST.


Large numbers of cormorant, Caspian gull and black headed gull were also seen on Thursday.

grey plover

Grey plover were numerous on both days. Most looked like the one above.

two young grey plover

However two seen on Friday were distinctly golden -looking. After some debate Brian convinced me they were also grey plover. This was proven when they flew off and exposed their black auxiliaries ("armpits").


On Friday the light and weather was much better. There were also a few different species. Redshank were more in evidence. 

crab plover

Crab plover wasn't seen on Thursday but was abundant on Friday.

spur winged lapwing

At least 20 spur winged lapwing were seen on Friday but a single white tailed lapwing was more exciting.

white tailed lapwing

The Helms guide to "Birds of the Middle East" doesn't show it at all on Saudi Arabia's west coast. However I have seen a dozen near Jizan in the south west and one at Thuwal. Brian has seen them regularly there. Viv Wilson reported that at least two were present further north at Tabuk all autumn. These no longer look like isolated sightings but it appears that white tailed lapwing is present up and down the west coast on passage or migration.


Brian had warned me that osprey are sighted all year round at KAUST but it wasn't until Friday afternoon over the mangroves that I finally saw two seemingly together.  A few minuted later a marsh harrier arrived causing commotion but allowing me to count the number of spur winged lapwing around as they took to the air.

cattle egret

A final comment on the walk back from the mangroves. As the light began to fade the lawns of the campus increasingly filled with cattle egret but more surprisingly ruff. I have never really thought them as parkland birds before.


  1. Is Mangrove Reed Warbler considered a full species? Or just subssp? It looks 'greyer'than Reed or is that just the light/rendition?

    Laurie -

  2. Mangrove reed warbler was moved from being a sub species of African reed warbler to being a sub species of European reed warbler after DNA analysis about 5 years ago which showed it closer to the latter. However debates still rages as to whether that was enough movement.

    I understand that:

    Kennerley & Pearson 2010 still considers avicenniae to be a subspecies of Eurasian Reed Warbler Acrocephalus scirpaceus, not a separate species.

    Porter & Aspinall 2010 includes Mangrove Reed Warbler as 'Acrocephalus (scirpaceus) avicenniae', indicating "a taxon clearly identifiable in the field but where there is still debate over whether full species status is merited".

    Most birders in this region use the Helms guide (Porter and Aspinall) and often treat it as a separate species.

    Incidentally's database is so far behind the pace that it allows me to enter it as an African reed warbler and thus gives me an extra species on its count.

    BTW I have no idea how OSME treats it.


  3. Thanks for that Rob - i see and hear Reed Warblers in May on the coast in North Maroc and hve't seen or heard any appreciable difference but there is supposed to be another spp/ssp breeding there -

    All very confusing.......but interesting.

    Laurie -

  4. Rob - enjoy your web site. I am new to KSA and Riyadh and am looking for some good birding places. Can you just walk onto the KAUST campus and go birding? Is any permission needed? So far I have been confined to the DQ, and it is not a real camera friendly place.

    I'd love to get up with some day . . .

    Again, keep up the good work!


  5. Jerry,

    Welcome to KSA and Riyadh. I'll atempt to answer your questions.
    First, you do need permission to enter KAUST campus and of course it is 1000 km from Riyadh so there is also the little question of getting there. I have an old friend who works there.

    Generally I have mostly birded in public areas but am increasingly seeking permissions for special places. In fact my next blog will look at a diary farm (NADEC) where I got such a permission.

    I have birded the DQ and it can be done if you are discrete and keep to the northern area near the waste water river but away from the equestrian centre. It can be quite good there!

    If you want more info, please email me at