Tuesday 12 November 2013

Jubail in November

There was much more to see at Sebkhet al Fasl on Friday than the red-necked phalarope reported on in the last blog.

As always in the fresh water areas, there were plenty of coot and purple swamphen. The latter bird was shyer than on previous occasions.

European coot and purple swamphen

In the winter, the sebkhet is as good a place as anywhere in Saudi Arabia to see ducks despite troubles with hunters. I am hopeful of adding common shelduck to my list here later in this winter. Apparently they can be seen sporadically from December to March. This time the only ducks I could see were five common teal.

common teal

They were surprisingly tame but that could have been because they were in area inaccessible by car and so more troublesome for hunters to reach.

little grebe

Like coot, little grebe are another very common resident here.

little grebe with an immature bird

Both birds are breeders. Indeed the picture above shows an immature little grebe with an adult. 

blue-cheeked bee-eater

All the time I was in the fresh water half of the complex, I could hear bee-eaters. It was only towards the end of my visit to that area that I picked up on two blue-cheeked bee-eater. Their passage generally this year is very late.

female or juvenile marsh harrier

More easily seen in the air over the reed beds were four marsh harrier including one adult male.

male marsh harrier

The fresh water waders were mostly common redshank, little stint and black-winged stilt though there were vastly more waders and also more variety of species on the salty mudflats. 

common redshank

There was plenty of evidence of breeding of black winged stilt including several young birds.

black winged stilt with marsh sandpiper

The only tern I saw flying over the reed beds this time were all gull-billed tern.

gull billed tern

By early afternoon, there was some eagle activity over the marshes. Two greater spotted eagle arrived.

first greater spotted eagle

Actually I had seen several eagles standing on the mud flats earlier. They had been in the far distance and certainly too far to identify even if I had had a scope. The greater spotted eagle flying over the reed beds may well have come from that loose group.

second greater spotted eagle

The mud flats and shallow water next to them housed a vast number of birds. Many were too far away for me to see. Many others weren't. There were over 400 little egret compared with only an estimated 20 or so in the reed beds.

little egret and western reef-heron in the reed beds

The two birds above have caused me some identification issues. The back bird looks like a little egret but the front one looks more like a pale morph western reef-heron. There were at least 10 other western reef-heron on the site.

Most of the moorhen were surprisingly on the edge of the reed beds adjacent to the mud flats. 

plenty of moorhen

However the mud flats themselves were fascinating.  I wish I had had a scope.

There were at least 25 dunlin and a few curlew sandpiper.

four curlew sandpiper (and a little stint)

And there were at least 100 little stint.

mostly little stint

Five little ringed plover and a similar number of kentish plover were a sideshow. There was at least one ringed plover too.

ringed plover

There were over 400 greater flamingo surrounded by hundreds of terns and gulls too far away for me to fully identify though they included gull billed tern and a smaller number of Caspian tern.

flamingo with terns

There were other species there too. I spotted 8 pied avocet in the far distance.

pied avocet

More surprisingly there were six northern lapwing which were unfortunately even further away.

northern lapwing

At about the same distance, among the gull billed tern was at least one white winged black tern and it was the first one I have seen in Saudi Arabia in breeding plumage.

white winged black tern still in breeding plumage

These mud flats were very interesting and I look forward to my next visit hopefully with a scope.


  1. Hi Rob,

    Nice pictures and congrats on the RNP.

    Both eagles, esp. the first bird, look more like Greater Spotted to me. The first bird (seen from above) has a large white rump, white on the back and two wing bars. The second bird (seen from below) has distinctly darker coverts than the rest of the wing and looks too dark.

    I may be wrong - if you like, ask some people on Bird Forum - but the habitat and behaviour sounds more like GSE too.

    Andrew B

  2. Bw-stilt with young one picture. This concerns Bw-stilt with Marsh Sandpiper.

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  4. Erik, I have changed this one too but I am sticking with the citrine for Hofuf! on Jubail in November