Thursday 27 February 2014

King Fahad Park in Dammam

On Saturday afternoon, Bernard Bracken and I called on King Fahad Park in Dammam having been birding on the coast all weekend until then.

Our expectations weren't that high and for most of the time there the birding was relatively poor.

It was only when we sat down and relaxed at the end of the trip that we saw anything at all unusual.

We sat in the shade next to where a presumed leaky pipe had created a makeshift small pool at the edge of the service road.

little ringed plover

To our surprise it was visited by a little ringed plover.

landscape at King Fahad Park

This was not the only wader which turned up. 

Temminck's stint

A Temminck's stint also made an appearance. These are two good waders in unexpected surroundings.

second view of Temminck's stint

Near-by a Daurian shrike was resting and a kestrel flew overhead. This was the only kestrel seen all weekend.

Daurian shrike

Otherwise the birding in the park had been very flat. A small number of white wagtail had been around the water features.

white wagtail

The other birds had predictably included white eared bulbul and laughing dove.

white eared bulbul

Strangely no pipits or wheatears were seen at all.

laughing dove

Common myna and house sparrow made up the list of perched birds. 

common myna

A distant greater spotted eagle was the only eagle seen all weekend.

Overall I can't really recommend the park for winter birding but I suspect it comes to life in the passage seasons.

This weekend I am off to Yanbu on the west coast where the birding is always good. 

Wednesday 26 February 2014

Khobar corniche in February

On Saturday, Bernard Bracken and I visited Khobar. Unlike Tarout and Qatif the day before, this is a place I have been to several times. 

We spent all morning near the south corniche. We visited a couple of sea inlets and also the two lakes which are just the landward side of the corniche road. 

In one of these lakes was a great white egret. This was the second one seen over the weekend and indeed only the second one I had seen all winter.

great white egret

They are easily distinguished by their size alone but I also like to get a close look at the face pattern. A dark line of bare skin extends from the edge of the gape to beyond the eye. This feature is only seen with this egret.

facial close-up of great white egret

The similarity in size between this egret and a flamingo can be seen in the next picture.

great white egret in flight

The lakes otherwise were a little disappointing except for gulls: slender billed gull, black headed gull, Caspian gull, Steppe gull and a few waders and western reef heron

ringed plover

The waders were mostly common redshank and Kentish plover with a small number of ringed plover.

European collared dove

The scrub next to the lakes was inspected. This contained European collared dove, white eared bulbul, house sparrow, crested lark and graceful prinia.

Isabelline wheatear

This scrub is most interesting during March/April and September/October when passage birds drop down.

Non-resident interest this time was provided by a single Isabelline wheatear, a Siberian stonechat and a large roosting group of grey heron hidden well away. 

grey heron

Incidentally the scrub was swarming in places with painted lady butterflies which are probably all migrants from further north like many of the birds.  

painted lady

It was high tide when we visited the sea inlets which was not perfect for birding.

slender-billed gull and black-headed gull

Hundreds of gull were still roosting even in mid morning. Many of the slender-billed gull had acquired their pink wash of spring plumage.

little stint

This was the only place we saw great crested tern (swift tern) all weekend. More surprisingly, it was only place we saw little stint too.

great crested tern (swift tern)

Most of the waders were the larger ones.


Both greenshank and common redshank were numerous.

common redshank

Near the inlets were common myna and the ever ominous-looking house crow.

common myna

House crow is common on both the west and east coasts of Saudi Arabia. Its range is still expanding though not inland yet.

house crow

There are so many flamingo on the east coast in winter that they had almost be forgotten when you bird watch!


I have seen them at these two inlets every time I have visited in the winter months over the past three winters.

four flamingo

At midday we finished with the corniche at Khober and decided to try our luck at King Fahad Park in Dammam. I'll blog about that next.

Tuesday 25 February 2014

Darin and Qatif corniche

After using up all our allocated time at the mangroves at the north of Tarout Island, Bernard Bracken and I moved round the coast on the island to Darin.

This area has extensive beaches and mudflats. We were also lucky in that we arrived at low tide so we could spend time on the mudflats themselves.

Pallas's gull in flight

One of our earliest sights was a Pallas's gull in full breeding plumage. Half an hour late we saw another which looked like its moult was just finishing. Both birds were on the beach.

A second Pallas's gull

Other gulls were mostly slender-billed gull which out-numbered black-headed gull.

slender billed gull

There were more steppe gull than Caspian gull. I didn't see a single Hueglin's Gull this time.

steppe gull

Every time I visit the east coast outside summer, I look for sandwich tern. I have never seen one in Saudi Arabia.

lesser crested tern and Caspian tern

This time on the mudflats were Caspian tern and also lesser crested tern. The latter bird is a very close relative of Sandwich tern and I was especially careful at looking any groups of lesser crested tern.


Unlike at the mangroves there were a few dunlin.

grey plover

Grey plover were common at both places.

ruddy turnstone

Oystercatcher and ruddy turnstone were at both places too. Lesser sand plover and greater sand plover were numerous here.

a dhow full of great cormorant

Several old dhows were anchored just beyond the mudflats and nearly all of them were covered in great cormorant.


After finishing at the mudflats of Darin, we walked further south along the coast from a while before turning inland towards the bridge connecting the island with the mainland.

The coast was not very eventful with only a few common redshank and a curlew and grey plover.

common redshank

As we walked inland over some scrub we came across some flooded areas with black winged stilt otherwise this part of the walk was relatively uneventful too.

black winged stilt

A local resident offered us a lift on to the mainland which we gratefully took.

We then spent a pleasant two hours walking down the corniche at Qatif.

Once again the coast held many tens of flamingo though the sea shore is mostly bunded there and so shore birds weren't plentiful. Out in the open sea we saw three mallard which is a rare habitat for therm.

mallard in the open sea

At one point a supply of treated fresh water flowed into the sea. Here we saw a small number of lesser sand plover and a single white winged black tern.

lesser sand plover

We ended the day walking through a field of coastal scrub. Surprisingly, a grey heron was resting in the middle.

grey heron

It was the only place we saw tawny pipit during the day along with the predictable crested lark.

tawny pipit

The final bird was a desert wheatear which turned out to be the only one of the weekend.

On Saturday, we visited Khobar and Dammam. The next two blogs will be about what we saw there.

List of birds seen at Darin coast and Qatif corniche

Kentish Plover
Lesser Sand Plover
Western Reef Heron
Greater Sand Plover
Grey Heron
Grey Plover
Great Cormorant
Lesser Black Headed Gull
Terek’s Sandpiper
Slender Billed Gull
Eurasian Curlew
Pallas’s Gull
Steppe Gull
Black Winged Stilt
Caspain Gull
Collared Dove
Caspian Tern
Laughing Dove
Lesser Crested Tern
Graceful Prinia
White Winged Black Tern
Crested Lark
Tawny Pipit
Desert Wheatear
Ruddy Turnstone
House Sparrow
Ring Plover

Monday 24 February 2014

North of Tarout island

Bernard Bracken and I visited the east coast again last weekend. On Friday we spent the morning on the northern part of Tarout island, just east of Qatif, which I had seen from google earth looked a good prospect as a new birding venue.

There are well preserved mangroves through which a wide stream out of a waste water treatment plant flows into the sea creating a sort of pseudo-estuary.

The birding was extremely good. Unfortunately we soon discovered this was a restricted area. Nevertheless through talks with the coastguard we were kindly allowed some time there but not as long as we would have wanted. 

The restricted nature of the place (and so quiet) as well as the habitat contribute to the excellence of the area for birding.

common shelduck. photo courtesy of Bernard Bracken

On the coast in front of the mangroves, there were many hundreds of birds especially waders. Given our shortage of time there we concentrated on viewing the larger birds.

It was only the second place in Saudi Arabia I have seen common shelduck and previous views have been at great distance but all birds here were tamer than usual. The common shelduck were asleep. Next to them were tens of common greenshank.

oystercatcher and bar tailed godwit

Near by were a large group of oystercatcher with an even larger group of bar-tailed godwit. A few ruddy turnstone were there too.

 common redshank, black tailed godwit, black headed gull & whimbrel

A few metres further away were over 100 common redshank with a few black-tailed godwit in among them. Gulls were both slender-billed gull and lesser black headed gull with a small number of steppe gull. There were Caspian tern there as well.


In among the 20 or so whimbrel were two Eurasian curlew.

Off shore were tens of flamingo and a few Caspian gull and steppe gull.

great cormorant, reef heron, little egret

The heron family was well represented too. At least 15 western reef heron were on the sea front with a couple of little egret among them. Several grey heron were on show and larger numbers of great cormorant, some of which were in breeding plumage. All these birds were very approachable.

great cormorant in breeding plumage

Time on the sea front was short but we also had some time inland at the inland side of the mangroves. 

great cormorant

Here the numbers of birds was much less though still interesting.

dark morph western reef heron (eastern) in the mangroves

It was here we saw a great white egret, the first I had seen this winter.

great white egret

Moorhen were an obvious find.


At least two marsh harrier were patrolling over the mangroves.

marsh harrier

Other more land oriented birds included white eared bulbul.

white eared bulbul

There were two warblers observed. These were graceful prinia and clamorous reed warbler.

graceful prinia

I come across Daurian shrike in eastern province in winter in a wide variety of habitat including one on the edge of the mangroves.

Daurian shrike

Laughing dove were common. 

laughing dove

Few waders were seen away from the coast though two redshank and a green sandpiper were in a pool on the edge of the mangroves.  

common redshank and green sandpiper

The only other waders seen away from the coastal strip were several Kentish plover on some flat sands and next to them twenty five common ringed plover which were absolutely exhausted and presumably recent arrivals on passage.

a tired flock of ringed plover

We surely missed several species. I have absolutely no doubt this is one of the best coastal sites in eastern Saudi Arabia but also one of the least accessible. 

It would be good to get permission for a longer visit.

Birds seen at north Tarout based  on a list prepared by Bernard Bracken

Grey Plover
Green Sandpiper
Common Shelduck
Terek’s Sandpiper
Marsh Harrier
Eurasian Curlew
Little Egret
Bar Tailed Godwit
Great Egret
Black tailed Godwit
Little Bittern
Western Reef Heron
Black Winged Stilt
Grey Heron
Collared Dove
Great Cormorant
Laughing Dove
Lesser Black Headed Gull
Pallid Swift
Slender Billed Gull
Caspian Tern
Clamorous Reed Warbler
Graceful Prinia
Daurian Shrike
Ruddy Turnstone
Crested Lark
Ring Plover
Water pipit
Kentish Plover
House Sparrow