Sunday, 9 June 2013

Socotra cormorant at last

June and July are two months when I usually don't do much birding in Saudi Arabia. The main reason is the heat. August is just as hot but the onset of the autumn passage forces me back into the field.

I don't stop birding altogether but I do try to take it easy. Its a good idea to pick mountain venues or stick close to the coast where breezes often blow. 

With all this in mind I visited Al Khobar on the Persian Gulf this weekend starting on Thursday lunchtime.

With 295 species on my Saudi list, its getting increasingly difficult to add new species but one relatively straightforward one was missing. That was Socotra cormorant

I had failed to see it on four previous visits to the east coast.

 close up of socotra cormorant

It disperses in winter from its breeding grounds which I understand include islands south of Khobar.Given that my previous visits to the coast were outside the summer and I didn't look hard in the Khobar area (spending more time in places like Jubail)  may have been part of my problem.

This time I decided to walk straight out of my hotel and on to the southern corniche at Khobar.

Needless to say I spotted several within 5 minutes of starting my birding! Why was it ever a problem?

 my first view of socotra cormorant

They were dotted along several buoys and posts out to sea but during the afternoon I also managed to get close encounters on the main land too.

 three socotra cormorant

In winter great cormorant are very much in evidence and I was surprised to see one in a coastal lake in June. This is supposed to be a wintering bird.

 great cormorant

Great cormorant was not the only "wintering" bird that I came across.

profile view of great cormorant

On Thursday afternoon, I saw a single slender-billed gull. It is known to summer as close as Kuwait but I hadn't expected too see one down here in June.

 slender billed gull

Terns on the other hand were expected. Its particularly easy to see them if you stand near the clusters of Filipino fishermen where I presume they hope to pick up scraps.

 common tern

As I watched the fishermen in one spot, both lesser crested tern and common tern milled about.

 second view of common tern

Further down the coast (but still within walking distance) I spotted a large group of lesser crested tern sunning themselves.

lesser crested tern in flight

This southern end of  Khobar's corniche was much better for birding than the over-landscaped central area. The density of terns for example was much higher.

 several lesser crested tern

There was one other tern I saw on the southern corniche (despite being a generally poorer birding area another was seen on Friday on the central corniche and will be discussed in the next blog). However for once I cant fully identify what the ones seen on Thursday were. They were young birds and either Saunders tern or little tern. Both are found here in summer. Young birds are very difficult to separate and I didnt either get good enough views or good enough photos to make a call.

Young Saunders or little tern

The only small wader I observed on Thursday was Kentish plover which clearly breeds along this strip of coast. It was very common.

 Kentish plover

Western reef heron of both morphs were also easily seen. The one below was showing the reddish flush to the bill only seen in high breeding season.

 Western reef heron 

Turning to non-water birds, I have rarely seen crested lark in such an urban environment before. They were mingling with the house sparrow and common myna on the grass lawns.

 crested lark

To complete the picture of Thursday's birding stroll along the corniche, four types of dove were also present: Namaqua dove, pigeon, laughing dove and most commonly collared dove.  

laughing dove

On Friday I ventured more widely and spent some time in the Dammam port area. Different types of waders were more evident. I'll blog about this next time.

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