Saturday 25 May 2013

Black winged kite at Rabigh

Brian James who birds out of Thuwal north of Jeddah has just sent out (in the past hour) some exciting news about his trip to Wadi Rabigh this weekend.

black winged kite at Rabigh

He tells me that birding was thin but for an exceptional sighting of a black winged kite!  And there were also several African palm swift a lot further north than usual too.

second view of black winged kite

There have been occasional sightings of this species on the west coast as far north as Jeddah in recent years but this is the furthest north on this coast that I can find records of from Saudi Arabia.

Jem Babbington reported one on the east coast at Dhahran on March 29/30th 2012.

In the discussion about that one it was noted that they may breed in the Tihamah (coastal strip of south west Saudi Arabia) and associated foothills significantly further north than the Yemen outposts normally mapped in guide books. 

Furthermore, it is a bird whose range is expanding in both the west and east northward.

The Iraqi population may now have spread into south east Turkey apparently.

The question is: was Brian's sighting a vagrant or the edge of its natural, expanding but under-reported range?

Friday 24 May 2013

Farasan Islands with Mansur Al Fahad

There are two main reasons why birders visit the Farasan Islands. They use it as a launch pad to see pelagic birds and they go in the passage seasons. The Farasan Islands are stepping stones in the Red Sea between Arabia and Africa. Many thousands of migrants pass through.

There are other aspects to Farasan birding though. Mansur stayed on when Lou and I left south west Saudi Arabia last weekend to make a part-day trip to Farasan to explore these.

First and foremost, its the most guaranteed place in Saudi Arabia to see Egyptian vulture (once you have got there).

 Egyptian vulture

Mansur also saw other birds which we didn't see on our weekend trip on the mainland. These included brown necked raven, mangrove reed warbler and lesser crested tern.

brown necked raven

I have seen mangrove reed warbler several hundred kilometres north at Thuwal. In my limited experience its a little less shy that European reed warbler but that could just be that its more difficult to hide in mangroves than reeds.

Mangrove reed warbler

Some lesser crested tern can be found all year round off all Arabian coasts though most more south or at least disperse unlike lesser crested tern in Libya (which I have also know) which all migrate. 

lesser crested tern

The coastline on the Farasans is well worth inspecting in summer for African species such as lesser flamingo and African spoonbill but its still a low probability with a short trip. 

sooty gull

Mansur captured an excellent picture of this adult sooty gull. For some reason we struggled to see white eyed gull all weekend.

crab plover and common redshank

I thank Mansur Al Fahad once again for sharing his photographs and report. It is much appreciated.

Thursday 23 May 2013

Bani Malik

On Friday afternoon, Lou Regenmorter, Mansur Al Fahad and I ascended the foothills east of Sabya and birded an area known as Bani Malik and at an altitude of 750 metres.

This wasn't an upland weekend but even climbing up to the relatively modest height of 750 metres had a significant effect on the mix of bird species seen.

Female African grey hornbill

Many Afro-tropical species prefer higher elevations than sea level. For example African grey hornbill is much more common at 500 metres than 100 metres. Indeed at our main birding stop up the foothills it was easily seen on several occasions.

The bird above is female as told by the red bill colour. Males have a black bill.

Bruce's green pigeon

Some of the trees at our main stop, a verdant wadi, were fruiting and had attracted a number of Bruce's green pigeon. I had only seen one before (in August last year south of Baha). This time I managed long views without too much trouble.

Red-eyed dove

Red eyed dove was present in the same area. Both these birds ignore the plain for the foothills.

Little swift and red-rumped swallow hawked the skies.

Abyssinian white eye

Two more examples of Afro-tropical birds found at this height but not much lower were Abyssinian white-eye and shining sunbird. Nile valley sunbird is the lowest elevation sunbird but there is extensive range overlap including where we birded.

shining sunbird

Two birds we failed to see on our weekend in the south west were Klaas cuckoo and Dideric's cuckoo. The former is mapped as being in Saudi Arabia in the main regional guide whereas the latter is not. However it has been reported here and indeed seen previously by Mansur Al Fahad.

Research shows that Klaas cuckoo has a strong preference for being parasitical on sunbirds of shining sunbird size (whereas a nile valley sunbird is considerably smaller).  This connection was part of the reason I was so keen to go up the foothills.

griffon vulture

My hunch is that Klaas cuckoo is best found in areas where the density of shining sunbird is highest. This theory will have to wait for a future visit to the south west.

We spent a brief amount of time going even further up the hill side before time ran out.

One of the last views before we had to return down and end our birding for the weekend was a soaring griffon vulture.

Below is the full list of 88 birds I saw over the weekend. All seven additions to my Saudi list (S) were also lifers (L).

Two other species: helmeted guineafowl and European reed warbler were seen by other team members but not by me.

Little grebe
Laughing dove
Greater flamingo
Namaqua dove
Abdim’s stork   S,L
White browed coucal
Glossy ibis
Pied cuckoo     S,L
Eurasian spoonbill
Nubian nightjar   S,L
Cattle egret
African palm swift
Squacco heron
Little swift
Grey heron
Abyssinian roller
Purple heron
Reef heron
Grey headed kingfisher
Pink backed pelican
White throated bee-eater  S,L
Little green bee-eater
Black kite (yellow billed)
African grey hornbill
Griffon vulture
Asian grey shrike
Gabar goshawk S,L
Arabian babbler
House crow
Fan tailed raven
Yellow vented bulbul
Crab plover
Black crowned sparrowlark
Black winged stilt
Crested lark
Greater painted snipe  S,L
Desert lark
Spur winged lapwing
Pale crag martin
Common ringed plover
Red rumped swallow
Kentish plover
Barn swallow
Lesser sand plover
Zitting cisticola
Black tailed godwit
Graceful prinia
Sedge warbler
Willow warbler
Little stint
Barred warbler
Arabian warbler
Sooty gull
Abyssinian white eye
Black headed gull
Common myna
Lesser black backed gull (Baltic)
Violet backed starling
Caspian tern
Rufous bush robin
Gull billed tern
Black bush robin
White winged black tern
Whiskered tern
Nile valley sunbird
Swift tern
Shining sunbird
Chestnut bellied sandgrouse
House sparrow
Lichtenstein’s sandgrouse  S,L
Arabian golden sparrow
Rock dove
Ruepells weaver
African collared dove
African silverbill
Red eyed dove
Arabian waxbill

Yellow wagtail

Wednesday 22 May 2013

Wadi Jewa and Lake Maliki

Last weekend, Lou Regenmorter, Mansur Al Fahad and I spent less time on the banks of Lake Maliki than our previous visits. We wanted to explore more widely in the Jizan area this time.

However we did visit the banks three times for short periods and made a visit to the near-by Wadi Jewa.

Gabar goshawk

Having not seen gabar goshawk on our previous trips to the south west, we met it three times. The first encounter was reported in an earlier blog but the second and third encounters were closer and more prolonged. 

We had just entered Wadi Jewa when a single young gabar goshawk was spotted raiding a Ruepell's weaver colony. It was hopping from nest to nest looking for food inside.

As far as we know it failed to find anything, at least while we were there.

second view of Gabar goshawk

After a couple of minutes it flew on to a near-by lamp post and gave us good views.

Like shikra and dark chanting goshawk but unlike other goshawks and sparrowhawks it has a dark throat stripe. The juvenile's neck is brown also like a shikra.

However it is easily separated from shikra by the white ring tail in flight and the much stronger barring on the breast.

Gabar goshawk at Lake Maliki

Only an hour before we had seen a pair of gabar goshawk playing near Lake Maliki.

glossy ibis

As usual, Lake Maliki held a wide array of heron: glossy ibis, cattle egret, grey heron and squacco heron were seen in great numbers this time.

Other noticeable larger birds included spur winged lapwing and white browed coucal.

I accidentally flushed a greater painted snipe which Brian James had also seen on a previous visit. This means Lake Maliki is the second place in Saudi Arabia where this species can be seen.

black crowned sparrow lark

On one of our visits to the lake, we spent some time patrolling the rocky northern hinterland looking for spotted thick-knee but failed to see any.

desert lark

The smaller birds included sedge warbler, zitting cisticola and Arabian waxbill.The three larks seen were crested lark, black crowned sparrowlark and desert lark. The desert lark was the local dark sub species.

zitting cisticola

Surprisingly only two bird of prey species were observed over all of our visits to the lake. These were gabar goshawk and yellow billed kite. This is quite a contrast to visits made in winter.

yellow vented bulbul at Lake Maliki

At Wadi Jewa, Lou and Mansur found helmeted guineafowl again. This Wadi is the best place in KSA to find it. Meanwhile I spent a fruitless time looking for Black-crowned tchagra.

Abyssinian roller

However Wadi Jewa put on a spectacular display of colourful Afro-tropical birds. I have found it the best place to guarantee seeing Abyssinian roller (even without getting out of the car on the main road).

male violet backed starling

Violet backed starling was also plentiful.

female violet backed starling

This bird has a wide sexual dimorphism in terms of colour.

male violet backed starling from rear

White throated bee-eater was more common here than at Lake Maliki too.

white throated bee-eater

As well as being disappointed in not seeing black crowned tchagra, no dark chanting goshawk was observed either. Both have been reported in this valley. Nevertheless the rest of the birding including the close view of gabar goshawk were fair compensation.

In the next blog, I'll report on our excursion up the foothills to the Bani Malik area and I'll list all the birds seen on the trip as a whole.

Tuesday 21 May 2013

Nightjar and sandgrouse at Abu Arish waste waters

Lou Regenmorter is our birding team's best planner in advance of our trips away from Riyadh. 

Mansur Al Fahad and I are very grateful to him for identifying many of the sites we visited in the Jizan area last weekend.

One new one that Lou identified was Abu Arish city's waste water treatment lakes. 

I can't find any records of any birders going there before.

Nubian nightjar

These lakes are east of Abu Arish and close to Lake Maliki. We went there late on Thursday afternoon. I had expected them to be a poorer version of the much better known and larger Lake Maliki. However I was wrong.

Most of the surprises did not come from the lakes themselves but the bushy hinterland near the last and cleanest lake.

Not only was a Nubian nightjar with a juvenile flushed and re-found there but a flock of lichtenstein's sandgrouse were also in and around the same bushes.

Lichtenstein's sandgrouse

Both birds were new additions to my Saudi list and lifers. They were on my target list for the trip but my expectations for either weren't high.

Having spoken to Brian James who birds out of Thuwal north of Jeddah, he told me that Nubian nightjar has been spotted near Thuwal recently. I found this information very interesting because it means the Israeli population may not be as isolated as the maps show. Thuwal is well north of its mapped range in Saudi Arabia.

another pied cuckoo

Two more pied cuckoo were seen in the bushes. I saw a total of four during the trip while Lou managed seven!

glossy ibis

The lakes themselves were also interesting but not surprising. Like at Sabya waste water lakes there were large numbers of members of the heron family but proportions of glossy ibis and squacco heron compared with cattle egret were much higher.

blackstart at Jizan waste water lakes

The visit to these lakes was a great ending to an excellent and exhausting day where I saw 7 lifers and built my Saudi list up to 295.  

Friday was not a bad day either as I will report in future blogs.

Monday 20 May 2013

Coast south of Jizan

Near Jizan, it just got too hot and humid to continue birding on foot all through the day on Thursday. So in the early afternoon we decided to bird mostly from the car along the coast until the temperatures started to drop.

Osprey on the Jizan coast

We were on the look out for any African summer visitors such as lesser flamingo and African spoonbill which occasionally frequent the coast around Jizan.

We inspected all the greater flamingo but couldn't find any lesser flamingo among them.

Greater flamingo

We did the same with the Eurasian spoonbill, looking for African spoonbill.

Eurasian spoonbill

Unlike during the rest of the weekend, we didn't get lucky.

Pink backed pelican

Pink backed pelican were more numerous than any other time I had been to Jizan.

Lesser black backed and sooty gull

One interesting observation was how many winter visitors appear to still be around and may over-summer. These included lesser black backed gull (Baltic sub species), common redshank, little stint and at least one dunlin.

crab plover

The local resident waders included kentish plover, lesser sand plover and of course crab plover. Resident sooty gull were numerous although we failed to see any white eyed gull this time.

House crow and common myna are obviously particularly fond of the coast too.

After this interlude in the intensive birding and as the day started to cool slightly, we went back inland and visited a new area. 

Before the day was out, our luck had returned and I had two more lifers. I'll report about these in the next blog.

Sunday 19 May 2013

Ad Dabi and three more lifers

After visiting Sabya waste water lakes early on Thursday morning, Lou Regenmorter, Mansur Al Fahad and I moved on east (route 156) to the near-by town of Ad Dabi.

This is one of two towns where Abdim's stork in Saudi Arabia in which it is known to breed. It is particularly fond of mobile phone masts.

Abdim's stork

It didn't take us long to find some. Indeed at one stage four Abdim's stork were sharing the same mast.

two of four Abdim's stork

After some bickering, one of the storks at least left for another phone mast which didn't have an existing nest.

This stork (at least in Saudi Arabia) is often missed by visiting birders  because they assume it will be close to water such as lake Maliki.

white throated bee-eater

Finding the storks was much easier than I had expected. After some observation and photography we moved on. We headed out south towards Abu Arish on a hill side road.

The altitude of this road was over 300 metres which is important because many of the Afro-tropical summer visitors don't seem to like the low land coastal areas. 

White throated bee-eater was soon picked up. This made two lifers and additions to my Saudi list in a few minutes.

gabar goshawk

Then only a couple of minutes later, we came across a pair of playful Gabar goshawk on the same road. This had been a target bird for all three of us but was not expected here. It had previously been reported much closer to Lake Maliki.

As it happens we saw this species twice more and each time we got better views than the previous time. Here we made do with aerial views. It's easily separated in flight from other goshawks and sparrowhawks by its white ring tail.

grey headed kingfisher

Grey headed kingfisher is not found on the low land plains but we saw it on the hill side road without much difficulty. It is a common sight in summer in south west Saudi Arabia from 325 to 2700 metres (not a lower zone: 250 to 1500 as cited in the regional guide).

Nile valley sunbird

On the other hand, this hill side road only had nile valley sunbird which is lowest altitude sunbird of the three found in western Saudi Arabia.

young Arabian babbler

I noted a few other observations about other local resident birds too: for example - the density of Arabian babbler in this south west corner of the kingdom is the highest I have yet found.

African silverbill

The resident silverbill in this area is of course African silverbill not Indian silverbill as in central Arabia.

Black bush robin

However sub-species of black bush robin is the same as in central Arabia rather than the dull brown sub species found up in Abha.

Overall, Thursday morning was really about new finds rather than observations about residents. I had gained 5 lifers and additions to my list. This was quite a start to the weekend!