Monday 30 June 2014

Farewell to Sebkhet Al Fasl

At Sebkhet Al Fasl on Friday, after visiting the flooded salt pan immediately south of the golf course, Bernard Bracken and I took a wider look at the Sebkhet.

Where the fresh water and reeds meet the flooded salt pan many of the birds were the same the area next to the golf course. This means a preponderance of terns, Kentish plover and black winged stilt.

greater sand plover

However there were several moorhen spilling out from the fresh water areas onto the beach in places. Two greater sand plover were also seen. There were over a dozen western reef heron around too.

little tern

In the fresh water reed beds and pools, only one tern was seen. This was little tern. However there were 60 resting in one place. They made up for lack of diversity with numbers.

Purple swamphen were present but mostly well hidden. A few Coot and little grebe ventured out into the larger lakes. A spotted crake flashed into the open and then back into the reeds. Despite our best endeavours we failed to see it again. The main regional guide says they breed in this part of the east coast.

In the reeds, there was noise suggesting the continued presence of Eurasian reed warbler but only one was seen.

yellow wagtail

Yellow wagtail was once reported to have breed opportunistically near Kharj in central Saudi Arabia and it wouldn't be a surprise to know it breeds at Sebkhet Al Fasl from time to time. Both Bernard and I saw the bird above. Bernard also saw an adult male feldegg yellow wagtail (also called black headed wagtail).

breeding little bittern

Very young little bittern were observed and this adult little bittern even has the red bill seen only during the peak mating period. There is little doubt that little bittern breeds here in Jubail.

non breeding curlew sandpiper

A lone curlew sandpiper was sighted in an inland saline pool. It's plumage was strange. It wasn't a juvenile yet there was no sign of breeding summer plumage. This is presumably what no- breeding second calendar birds look like in summer. I don't know why it never decided to go north.

curlew sandpiper

Soon after spotting the curlew sandpiper, a very good bird was seen. An Egyptian nightjar was flushed which then settled under a bush but with long grass between us and it. Bernard bracken managed a photo in focus which he has kindly allowed me to post.

Egyptian nightjar

There has been discussion by Jem Babbington and others as to why Egyptian nightjar are being seen increasingly in the summer months in Jubail area and especially Sebkhet Al Fasl. Until 10 years ago it was only perceived as a scarce passage bird here. One possibility is that it now breeds here from time to time. This artificial terrain (where cleaned waste water meets natural marshland and sea inlet) has much greenery around the edges. This is similar to true habitat in southern Iraq and Iran where it definitely breeds.

After this, we made one last fleeting visit to the area south of the golf course. still looking for the elusive red wattled lapwing. The only different bird from earlier was a little stint in breeding plumage. Although there are thousands around in winter, they are uncommonly seen in  summer plumage.  

And as a final treat, as we drove away round the back of the wetland, we came across the over summering greater spotted eagle that others have reported this year.

little stint

As I am leaving Saudi Arabia for at least a year in the next two or three weeks, this was my last visit to Sebket Al Fasl for some time. It is certainly in the top five places for birding in the kingdom and will be missed.

The 36 species seen at Sebkhet Al Fasl on Friday:

Little grebe
Red-necked phalarope
Greater flamingo
Gull billed tern
Little bittern
Common tern
Squacco heron
White cheeked tern
Western reef heron
Little tern
Greater spotted eagle
Feral pigeon
Spotted crake
Eurasian collared dove
Namaqua dove
Purple swamphen
Egyptian nightjar
Eurasian coot
Black crowned sparrow lark
Black winged stilt
Crested lark
Kentish plover
Barn swallow
Greater sand plover
Graceful prinia
Curlew sandpiper
Eurasian reed warbler
Little stint
Common myna
House sparrow
Ruddy turnstone
Yellow wagtail


  1. Another great days birding Rob. One thing I was reflecting on is the number of injured and dead birds we saw this time. Probably a combination of the power cables and reckless shooting but sad to see.

  2. Bernard, I am sure you are right about the reasons for the dead and injured birds. Shame. Rob