Sunday 22 September 2013

KAUST brings up 300

As mentioned in my last blog, I was visiting my longest standing birding colleague and friend Brian James at KAUST university this weekend. KAUST is an ultra modern, very green and very large campus on the Red Sea coast at Thuwal, 100 kilometres north of Jeddah. 

It proved to be a highly enjoyable and rewarding weekend.

We spent all out time either on campus or within 70 kilometres or so especially in the Rabigh area.

Our preliminary count was 114 species seen of which 80 or so were observed on campus. I will post the full list with the last blog of a series of four that I have planned describing the trip.

Also in my previous blog, I wrote that Brian had seen demoiselle crane on campus two days before I went and I wondered whether I would get the chance to see any or whether I had just missed out.

lone demoiselle crane on KAUST campus

Within an hour on the first day, we had picked up on a lone bird near the beach and I got good views as it moved around up and down the coastal strip on Thursday morning. At about 10 am it suddenly decided it had rested enough and abruptly headed south having stayed three days. I had got lucky. I saw on its final morning. As it happens others were seen elsewhere later on weekend.

The crane was a lifer.

demoiselle crane in flight

There was much more to the weekend that a sighting of a crane.

Another early highlight was observation of a corncrake at dawn walking into a lawned communal area of the campus. Indeed we went back the next morning at the same time to see it doing it again! Photography was very difficult for us in the poor light but we needn't have worried. Later on in the first morning another corncrake nonchalantly walking straight across the 7th fairway of the golf course. 

corncrake walking across the golf course

He never flew but just walked away. I wonder how birds instinctively know safe havens. 

Seeing demoiselle crane and corncrake has brought my Saudi list up to 300 species which a small milestone.

corncrake just before it walked out of view

We spent quite a bit of time at the golf course on both Thursday and Friday morning. It was very productive. 

A small cluster of collared pratincole were lounging around one hole.

collared pratincole

The doves on the course were more interesting than I usually see in the Riyadh area. The same four as I see in Riyadh were present: laughing dove, Eurasian collared dove, laughing dove and rock pigeon. However, the African collared dove seen surprised me. According to Brian it is out numbered greatly by Eurasian collared dove but is an ever present. It is actually on the very northern edge of its known range.

local African collared dove

Two European turtle dove were observed. They are an increasingly rare sight these days.

adult turtle dove

An adult was present on Thursday morning and a precious immature was seen on Friday morning.

Immature European turtle dove 

The list of species which were seen on the golf course or around the edges is very long so I will just give a flavour. They included (in on particular order) many ruff and spur winged lapwing (which are also common birds on the communal areas elsewhere on campus), yellow wagtail, Kentish plover and common myna. One of the rarer birds was a single golden oriole.  

ruff near the club house

There is a large lake in one corner of the course and this proved very productive.

black crowned night heron with fish. Western reef heron in the background 

The lake had several heron species: purple heron, grey heron, little egret, squacco heron, western reef heron and black crowned night heron.

northern shoveller

The two duck species were northern shoveller and garganey.

purple swamphen

I was quite excited to see a purple swamphen. Brian tells me its a single and he has seen singles at KAUST over "winter" before. Just as interesting to him were two moorhen because they are recent arrivals to the campus.

three garganey

There are other water features around the course where more garganey were seen along with waders such as black winged stilt and common ringed plover. A small number of sand martin were resting on reeds at one such water feature. There was quite a large passage of them while I was there and interestingly red-rumped swallow was arguably the dominant swallow over the same period.

squacco in the long grass at the golf course

We didn't spend much time on the communal areas or indeed at the campus's sea front on this trip.

cattle egret on one of communal lawns

Of the smaller birds around campus, some noticeable ones included several shrikes: lesser grey shrike, Daurian shrike, many red-backed shrike, woodchat shrike and Asian grey shrike (aucheri).  The Daurian shrike were the first Brian has seen at KAUST since the spring.

lesser grey shrike

Other smaller birds of interest included whinchat and an olive tree warbler which was perched on wire round the perimeter fence.


In the relatively brief time we spent on the sea shore, we encountered hundreds of waders and several tens of gulls and terns. We couldn't spend longer other priorities took us elsewhere. 

sooty gull

The main gulls were sooty gull and to a lesser extent Caspian gull. Terns were mostly gull billed tern, Caspian tern and a few Saunder's tern.


Highlights among the waders were crab plover, lesser sand plover and Terek sandpiper.  A full list will be given in part four of this account of the trip.

Kentish plover

As we took lunch on Thursday, Brian spotted a rose ringed parakeet. Apparently it was the first one he has ever seen on KAUST. I suspect now it has arrived it wont be the last despite attempts by house crow to mob it.

rose ringed parakeet

At one stage during the Thursday morning there was a passage of 15 marsh harrier and a honey buzzard over the campus. Before then I had encountered just four of the resident osprey.

Afterwards, we saw plenty more birds of prey of several species over the weekend and especially at Rabigh waste water wetlands. This wetland is the subject of the next blog.


  1. Congrats on reaching 300, Rob. A very long way for me to go in the UAE!

  2. Thanks Andrew. It's taken a massive effort. In our part of the world birds don't come easily as you know. Rob