Monday, 20 January 2014

Jubail on a January afternoon

Bernard Bracken and I continued at Sebkhet Al Fasl in the early afternoon on Friday.

One of our first sights after midday was a white throated kingfisher. Unlike in the Riyadh area where this species is resident, it is a winter visitor here.

white throated kingfisher

The next half an hour was spent gull watching but not before we had accidentally flushed three common snipe in the area. 

First we noticed a few medium sized gulls swimming in one of the smaller fresh water pools.

black headed gull

There were about six of both black headed gull and slender billed gull.

slender billed gull

Then we moved on to look in the shallow water lagoon to the east of the main Sebkhet.

At first there looked to be very little there. In one far corner was a group of western reef heron and on a sandbank a group of Caspian tern.

Pallas's gull with Caspian tern and Slender billed gull 

We inspected the Caspian tern to see if any different species were among them. To my surprise and delight there were not only two slender billed gull but a first winter Pallas's gull.

It was really useful to have size comparison against the Caspian tern to show just how big this gull is.

First winter Pallas's gull

It's black mask, bicoloured bill, sloping forehead, white crescents above and below the eye and brown freckled nape as well as size all added up to Pallas's gull.

Pallas's gull in flight

In flight it has a predominantly bleached-looking under-wing and body.

Second flight picture of Pallas's gull

This was the second addition to my Saudi list in one day making 320 species using the conservative Clements count.

Ironically it was the first and only large gull seen at Sebkhet Al Fasl. No Caspian gull, steppe gull or Hueglin's gull were seen there.

Soon after this event we finished with Sebkhet Al Fasl and had some time to bird elsewhere in Jubail.

Rather than go to Deffi Park as usual we decided to try out the central corniche for the first time.

Central corniche at Jubail

We didn't know what to expect but it was like a narrow strip of parkland next to the sea. 

crested lark

It seemed odd to see crested lark and desert wheatear in an urban green environment as two of the first birds observed.

desert wheatear

More expectedly, house sparrow and white eared bulbul were common. Unfortunately no rare wintering finch or thrush was among them.

white eared bulbul

Needless to say, the lawns were crawling with white wagtail.

white wagtail

House crow were present here as elsewhere in urban areas on the east coast.

house crow

We didn't spent much time looking out to sea. There wasn't time left in the day and gaining good views was restricted by private property breaking up the sea front.  Nevertheless in one stretch we could see out to an off-shore island with Caspian gull, steppe gull, Heuglin's gullgrey heron and western reef heron all close to the water's edge.

Socotra cormorant

There was also a solitary Socotra cormorant. This species disperses somewhat in the winter and is a lot less common on the Jubail-Dammam-Khobar coast than in summer.

A trip to Jubail and back is 1000 kilometres long but this time at least it was well worth the effort. 

On Saturday I teamed up with Lou Regenmorter to bird west of Riyadh in a new area for both of us. The next blog will report on what we saw.


  1. Hi Rob,

    Long time no hear. Enjoying reading about your rapidly expanding list. Out of interest, what would be the 5 additions if you used the OSME list? Here in the UAE we've started including Steppe Grey Shrike or whatever it's called these days. What are you doing about Heuglin's and Steppe Gulls? I think we're still treating heuglini as a race of fuscus.


  2. Andrew, good to hear from you.

    OSME splits:

    Arabian wheatear/ Mourning wheatear
    Turkestan shrike/ Daurian shrike
    African swamphen. Purple swamphen
    Baltic and lesser black backed/hueglins and steppe
    Black kite/Black-eared kite.yellow billed kite

    I would get one more from each of the first 4 groups and 2 more from the kites. However I am comfortable with Clements listings. I only agree with splits done with DNA evidence.

    Incidentally black-eared. pied and cyprus wheatear should be one species according to DNA but I don't see the splitting lobby lumping them together!