Tuesday 15 May 2012

Al Jouf

The towns of Sakakah and Zalum are in the al Jouf farming district in north west Saudi Arabia. I visited them on Friday from my base for the weekend in Arar, northern borders.

I am very grateful to Abdullah from Arar for driving and guiding me there at short notice after my original driver let me down. I wouldn't have been able to bird there without him.

The al Jouf area is low land compared with the surrounding area and has water just below the surface. So it has been used for farming for generations.

European nightjar

I'll start with the very last bird I saw over the weekend first because it was so important to me!  

Just as we were leaving Zalum I spotted a dark bird on the ground in the semi-desert on the edge of the town near where the car was parked. As I approached it, it flew off but not very far to land very still a few metres away. it was when it was in flight I realised it was a European nightjar.

I have only seen a nightjar once before and that was in the headlights of a car at night near Tripoli airport, Libya. I couldn't tell whether that one was a European nightjar or Egyptian nightjar so the one I saw at Zalum counts as a definite "lifer".

This was brilliant end to a good days birding in al Jouf some 150 kilometres south west of Arar.

white cheeked bulbul

The main farming in al Jouf is palm and olives but there are also orange groves and some small scale market gardening. And yet the overall impression is not that green as the farms are interspersed with semi desert.

Unlike Arar, al Jouf has a large number of white cheeked bulbul. Surely this is among the westernmost populations of this species in the world? 

masked shrike

Four types of shrike were present especially near the watered fields but also elsewhere. These were masked shrike, red-backed shrike, woodchat shrike and lesser grey shrike.

woodchat shrike

Unlike in Arar the day before, I didn't see either red tailed shrike. It may be too far west of their main passage routes.

lesser grey shrike

The really wet fields attracted yellow wagtail, tawny pipit, squacco heron and a single little egret.  Barn swallow and European crag martin were hawking for insects overhead.

yellow wagtail

Ironically two of my best birds came from the semi-desert near the farms rather than the farms themselves. not only did I see a European nightjar but I also saw two Upcher's warbler in low lying tamarisk in a wadi bed outside Sakakah.

Upcher's warbler

Two other warblers were seen. These were common whitethroat and willow warbler. Both were quite common in the farming areas. 

crested lark

My old friend, crested lark was present there too although no other lark species was seen.  A couple of hoopoe were spotted too. Neither bird was observed in Arar although Abdullah told me they are both there. 

laughing dove

The triumvirate of laughing dove, collared dove and namaqua dove were common. As you might expect the laughing dove (or palm dove) was attracted more to the palm plantations.

namaqua dove

To complete the picture, house sparrow was almost everywhere and whinchat was seen near the market gardening areas. Northern wheatear was on the edges of the farms and once again I saw a trumpeter finch but failed to get a photo. This one was drinking from a leaky pipe near a vegetable patch.

All in all a great weekends birding at Arar and Al Jouf. Special thanks to Abdullah again for organising things.


  1. What race of Yellow Wag did you reckon Rob?

    Laurie -

  2. Hmm. I wish you hadn't asked that. Most were flava last weekend. None were feldegg. This is in total contrast with central Arabia 6 weeks ago. Its obvious feldegg come through first. Indeed all recorders have found that. However that's the easy bit. I am sure that a few of those last weekend were beema but unlike other recorders in KSA I haven't seen lutea among the late birds.

    To be honest ALL the sub species in Collins p271 come through KSA in one part of the country or another and at different times. It would make a major study. Rob