Friday, 27 April 2012

Mount Soadah

Today I took another trip to the Asir National Park on top of Saudi Arabia's highest peak, Mount Soudah. I was hoping to see some summer visitors but the first new birds I found were dusky turtle dove. They are residents but I had missed them last time I was in the area, perhaps they just move to higher altitudes as the weather warms up. They proved to be fairly common in the area.

The juniper bushes held plenty of migrants and my first gambaga flycatcher was soon found. They are easy to tell from the similar spotted flycatcher as they lack stripes to the head, are smaller and have a notably less 'upright' stance when perched. Two yemen warbler then put in an appearance showing off their diagnostic apricot coloured backsides. A single arabian warbler was my next new bird meaning I have now seen 7 of the 10 arabian endemics found in the kingdom. My 8th endemic soon followed when from nowhere a covey of three Philby's partridge flew down the mountainside showing off their black throat patches.

Added to the grounded migrants were quite a few fly overs. Regular barn swallow were peppered with the odd red-rumped swallow and two high flocks of european bee-eater moved through too.

I moved further down the mountain to a rocky farmland area and stumbled upon my first scrub warbler for Saudi Arabia. Typically confiding as it hopped across the rock in front of me.

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3 Philby's Partridge (Alectoris philbyi)
6 Arabian Partridge (Alectoris melanocephala)
2 Eurasian Kestrel (Falco tinnunculus)
1 Eurasian Hobby (Falco subbuteo)
2 Rock Pigeon (Columba livia)
30 Dusky turtle dove (Streptopelia lugens)
1 African Collared-Dove (Streptopelia roseogrisea)
25 Laughing Dove (Streptopelia senegalensis)
4 Little Swift (Apus affinis)
130 European Bee-eater (Merops apiaster)
12 Eurasian Hoopoe (Upupa epops)
1 Rufous-tailed Shrike (Lanius isabellinus)
1 Southern Grey Shrike (Lanius meridionalis)
2 Lesser Grey Shrike (Lanius minor)
4 Brown-necked Raven (Corvus ruficollis)
15 Fan-tailed Raven (Corvus rhipidurus)
2 Eurasian Crag-Martin (Ptyonoprogne rupestris)
15 Barn Swallow (Hirundo rustica)
4 Red-rumped Swallow (Cecropis daurica)
8 Red-vented Bulbul (Pycnonotus cafer)
80 White-spectacled Bulbul (Pycnonotus xanthopygos)
1 Scrub Warbler (Scotocerca inquieta)
2 Brown Woodland-Warbler (Phylloscopus umbrovirens)
1 Common Chiffchaff (Phylloscopus collybita)
1 Graceful Prinia (Prinia gracilis)
2 Yemen Warbler (Sylvia buryi)
1 Blackcap (Sylvia atricapilla)
3 Greater Whitethroat (Sylvia communis)
1 Arabian Warbler (Sylvia leucomelaena)
50 White-breasted White-eye (Zosterops abyssinicus)
8 Arabian Babbler (Turdoides squamiceps)
4 Gambaga Flycatcher (Muscicapa gambagae)
3 Common Redstart (Phoenicurus phoenicurus)
1 Black Redstart (Phoenicurus ochruros)
4 Whinchat (Saxicola rubetra)
4 Stonechat (Saxicola torquatus)
2 Northern Wheatear (Oenanthe oenanthe)
4 Red-breasted Wheatear (Oenanthe bottae)
20 Yemen Thrush (Turdus menachensis)
7 Tristram's Starling (Onychognathus tristramii)
2 Palestine Sunbird (Cinnyris osea)
2 Yellow Wagtail (Motacilla flava)
2 Long-billed Pipit (Anthus similis)
20 Red-throated Pipit (Anthus cervinus)
2 Ortolan Bunting (Emberiza hortulana)
200 Yemen Linnet (Carduelis yemenensis)
4 House Sparrow (Passer domesticus)
2 Rueppell's Weaver (Ploceus galbula)


Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Jizan - Full list and high counts

108 Species found over the weekend including 44 new arabian birds and 6 'lifers'.
Little Grebe (Tachybaptus ruficollis)40 

Greater Flamingo (Phoenicopterus roseus)2

Pink-backed Pelican (Pelecanus rufescens)44 

Hamerkop (Scopus umbretta)5

Grey Heron (Ardea cinerea)

Great Egret (Ardea alba)

Little Egret (Egretta garzetta)

Western Reef-Heron (Egretta gularis)

Cattle Egret (Bubulcus ibis)150 

Striated Heron (Butorides striata)

Glossy Ibis (Plegadis falcinellus)24 

Eurasian Spoonbill (Platalea leucorodia)45 

Osprey (Pandion haliaetus)

Black Kite (Milvus migrans)

Eurasian Kestrel (Falco tinnunculus)

Eurasian Moorhen (Gallinula chloropus)60 

Spur-winged Plover (Vanellus spinosus)

Grey Plover (Pluvialis squatarola)46 

Lesser Sand-Plover (Charadrius mongolus)400 

Kentish Plover (Charadrius alexandrinus)50 

Common Ringed Plover (Charadrius hiaticula)13 

Crab Plover (Dromas ardeola)194 

Eurasian Oystercatcher (Haematopus ostralegus)

Black-winged Stilt (Himantopus himantopus)13 

Terek Sandpiper (Xenus cinereus)22 

Common Sandpiper (Actitis hypoleucos)

Green Sandpiper (Tringa ochropus)

Common Greenshank (Tringa nebularia)

Marsh Sandpiper (Tringa stagnatilis)

Wood Sandpiper (Tringa glareola)

Common Redshank (Tringa totanus)21 

Whimbrel (Numenius phaeopus)

Eurasian Curlew (Numenius arquata)

Black-tailed Godwit (Limosa limosa)16 

Bar-tailed Godwit (Limosa lapponica)90 

Ruddy Turnstone (Arenaria interpres)32 

Little Stint (Calidris minuta)160 

Temminck's Stint (Calidris temminckii)

Dunlin (Calidris alpina)400 

Curlew Sandpiper (Calidris ferruginea)150 

Broad-billed Sandpiper (Limicola falcinellus)

Ruff (Philomachus pugnax)

Common Snipe (Gallinago gallinago)

Slender-billed Gull (Chroicocephalus genei)

White-eyed Gull (Ichthyaetus leucophthalmus)120 

Sooty Gull (Ichthyaetus hemprichii)79 

Lesser Black-backed Gull (Larus fuscus)

Saunders's Tern (Sternula saundersi)

Gull-billed Tern (Gelochelidon nilotica)

Caspian Tern (Hydroprogne caspia)

White-winged Tern (Chlidonias leucopterus)55 

Whiskered Tern (Chlidonias hybrida)30 

White-cheeked Tern (Sterna repressa)254 

Great Crested Tern (Thalasseus bergii)1

Lesser Crested Tern (Thalasseus bengalensis)24 

Lichtenstein's Sandgrouse (Pterocles lichtensteinii)2

Rock Pigeon (Columba livia)30

African Collared-Dove (Streptopelia roseogrisea)80

Laughing Dove (Streptopelia senegalensis)80

Namaqua Dove (Oena capensis)60

White-browed Coucal (Centropus superciliosus)1

Little Swift (Apus affinis)2

African Palm-Swift (Cypsiurus parvus)14

Green Bee-eater (Merops orientalis)15

European Bee-eater (Merops apiaster)1

Abyssinian Roller (Coracias abyssinicus)3

African Grey Hornbill (Tockus nasutus)6

Red-backed Shrike (Lanius collurio)3

Rufous-tailed Shrike (Lanius isabellinus)1

Masked Shrike (Lanius nubicus)3

Woodchat Shrike (Lanius senator)2

House Crow (Corvus splendens)8

Brown-necked Raven (Corvus ruficollis)1

Fan-tailed Raven (Corvus rhipidurus)6

Greater Hoopoe-Lark (Alaemon alaudipes)1

Black-crowned Sparrow-Lark (Eremopterix nigriceps)6

Desert Lark (Ammomanes deserti)3

Crested Lark (Galerida cristata)40

Sand Martin (Riparia riparia)2

Barn Swallow (Hirundo rustica)50

White-spectacled Bulbul (Pycnonotus xanthopygos)16

Willow Warbler (Phylloscopus trochilus)2

Phylloscopus sp. (Phylloscopus sp.)1

Upcher's Warbler (Hippolais languida)1

Graceful Prinia (Prinia gracilis)16

Blackcap (Sylvia atricapilla)16

Barred Warbler (Sylvia nisoria)42

Arabian Babbler (Turdoides squamiceps)20

Spotted Flycatcher (Muscicapa striata)1

Black Scrub-Robin (Cercotrichas podobe)5

Rufous-tailed Scrub-Robin (Cercotrichas galactotes)3

White-throated Robin (Irania gutturalis)1

Black Redstart (Phoenicurus ochruros)1

Whinchat (Saxicola rubetra)1

Blackstart (Cercomela melanura)1

Northern Wheatear (Oenanthe oenanthe)2

Isabelline Wheatear (Oenanthe isabellina)1

Common Myna (Acridotheres tristis)1

Violet-backed Starling (Cinnyricinclus leucogaster)1

Nile Valley Sunbird (Hedydipna metallica)5

Western Yellow Wagtail (Motacilla flava)2

Red-throated Pipit (Anthus cervinus)6

Rock Bunting (Emberiza cia)2

Ortolan Bunting (Emberiza hortulana)1

House Sparrow (Passer domesticus)5

Pale Rockfinch (Carpospiza brachydactyla)2

Rueppell's Weaver (Ploceus galbula)40

Arabian Waxbill (Estrilda rufibarba)40

African Silverbill (Euodice cantans)45

Jizan (Part 3)

This morning I retraced my steps along the corniche and in addition to yesterdays birds came across a couple of juvenile greater flamingo and two migrating male northern wheatear on the sea wall.

I then pushed on a bit further north to a large area of coastal dunes. The scrub was full of barred warbler and I found my first abyssinian roller. A nice male white-throated robin was also sheltering from the sun under a bush. Among the other migrants were several masked shrike, woodchat shrike and red-backed shrike.

In the afternoon I took the same road back into the mountains as yesterday. One wadi held a family party of african grey hornbill, a rock bunting and several nile valley sunbird. I visited the lake again where I managed to boot a white-browed coucal from the reed bed and several red-throated pipit from the waters edge.

A stream running through one of the villages was very productive, three abyssinian roller noisily hawked overhead and four hamerkop took flight from the riverside rocks and a single ortolan bunting put in an appearance.

Sunday, 22 April 2012

Jizan (Part 2)

This afternoon I headed inland into the mountains beyond Abu Arish with the intention of exploring the wadis and mountainsides. My first fortunate find was a large shallow lake just off the road. It was quite a walk in the heat but even as I approached the water I could see there were plenty of birds and in particular marsh terns with some fifty fantastic white-winged tern in full black and white summer plumage hawking over the lake. They were joined by lesser numbers of caspian tern and whiskered tern.

The muddy lake fringes held a lot of waders including a couple of hundred little stint and mixed in with them the odd Temminck's stint. There were plenty of other waders including spur-winged plover but a smart flock of black-tailed godwit were standouts together with a single spotted redshank in its stunning black breeding plumage.

Out in the middle of the lake I couldn't see any ducks but there were plenty of pink-backed pelican, moorhen and a flock of 45 eurasian spoonbill which (unlike those I usually see in Dubai or England) were very active. I finally caught up with two new species while walking back, a flock of glossy ibis flew over and then I found a busy flock of arabian waxbill flitting through the reeds. With the addition of the latter I've now seen seven of the ten arabian endemics present in the kingdom. As I was leaving two pale rock finch came down to drink at the water's edge.

I continued my drive and just hopped out of the car to explore anywhere that looked interesting. A roadside rubbish tip held several namaqua dove and a single black kite. African palm swift flew over in ones and twos together with the odd sand martin and more common barn swallow both moving north on migration. One large wadi held good numbers of blackcap and barred warbler which were so common they were 'flocking' in small groups. Arabian babbler were noisy with their incongruous high pitched whistles and several green and yellow male nile valley sunbird were displaying to prospective mates.

Bird of the weekend was a stunning male amethyst starling which in spite of its fabulous glossy violet colour was so still that I almost missed it.

I carried on up the increasingly steep and windy path to the park near the top of Mount Fifa where I added little swift, fan-tailed raven and blackstart to the weekend list.

Overall it was a great days birding and I added about 30 species to my Saudi Arabia list.

Thursday, 19 April 2012

Jizan (Part 1)

This weekend I took a flight down to Jizan in the far south west corner of Saudi Arabia not far from the border with Yemen. The south western area is home to almost all the Arabian endemics and being on the coast it offered the chance to find a lot of seabirds and waders.

I caught the 'red eye' flight down that left at 0400 and the ninety minute journey was made (only slightly) more bearable by traveling business class.

I picked up my hire car and headed straight to the corniche. Jizan corniche is a long and deserted stretch of road that hugs the sea wall and offers excellent birding potential. Luckily the tide was far out when I arrived and wit the rising sun behind me conditions were near perfect.

Jizan corniche

I'd barely arrived at the corniche when I saw my first lifer, a pink-backed pelican on top of a street lamp. a second lifer soon followed, several white-eyed gull on the sea wall with sooty gull. But the main attraction was the sheer number of birds out on the exposed mudflats. The commonest waders were lesser sandplover and dunlin, the former mostly resplendent in their breeding plumage. Equally stunning in their red plumage were the many bar-tailed godwit and curlew sandpiper. Less colourful but no less striking were grey plover in their smart monochrome garb. Also making up the numbers were several dozen terek sandpiper with their characteristic upturned bills and a party of five broad-billed sandpiper with their equally characteristic drooping bills.

Further out on the mud were several european spoonbill, western reef heron and great egret. Dotted all over the mud were the first of over two hundred white crab plover running and catching their eponymous prey.

Above all of this hovered terns from the smallest Saunders tern to the commonest white-cheeked tern and the largest caspian tern.

A good start to the weekend with two lifers and plenty of new saudi birds.

Next stop the mountains.

Monday, 16 April 2012


Some photos recently added to my web site.

Herring gull


Canada goose

Great crested grebe


Herring gull

Friday, 13 April 2012

Rawdat Kuraim, Saudi Arabia

Rawdat Kuraim is a fair distance from Riyadh (some 100 kms) but looks to be a site worth checking out during migration periods. I arrived about 7 a.m. just in time for a short walk before a thunderstorm rolled in. In front of the storm came a small flock of european bee-eater and my first northern wheatear (a stunning male) for Saudi Arabia.

After a quick half hour sleep in the car the sky was sunny and the storm had moved on. The first major movement was another much larger flock (of approximately 90) european bee-eater. It was a great experience standing in the sun as the whole flock wheeled around me with their characteristic 'chirrrps'.

While the bushes weren't exactly alive with migrants there was as yesterday plenty of ortolan bunting and red-throated pipit. There were three species of wheatear, northern wheatear being a new species in Saudi arabia for me. As far as warblers were concerned there was only a couple of willow warbler but I saw my first common whitethroat for the country and a single desert lesser whitethroat. There were plenty of barn swallow moving through too together with a handful of sand martin.

There were plenty of chats too, both migrants and residents with 8 black bush robin, single black redstart and blackstart and 3 white-throated robin. One bush held two wryneck a species which seems (at least for me) to be a lot commoner here than in Dubai. That's 4 I've seen this winter.

Amongst the small sand hillocks raced jirds, rat sized rodents that were either Libyan jird or Sundervall's jird, I didn't get a close enough look to tell which one (identification is based on claw colour). They attracted the attention of a couple of common kestrel and a pallid harrier.

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Pallid Harrier (Circus macrourus)

harrier sp. (Circus sp.)

Eurasian Kestrel (Falco tinnunculus)

Rock Pigeon (Columba livia)

Eurasian Collared-Dove (Streptopelia decaocto)


Laughing Dove (Streptopelia senegalensis)


Namaqua Dove (Oena capensis)

European Bee-eater (Merops apiaster)


Eurasian Wryneck (Jynx torquilla)

Rufous-tailed Shrike (Lanius isabellinus)

Southern Gray Shrike (Lanius meridionalis)

Crested Lark (Galerida cristata)


Sand Martin (Riparia riparia)

Barn Swallow (Hirundo rustica)


White-eared Bulbul (Pycnonotus leucotis)


Willow Warbler (Phylloscopus trochilus)

Small Whitethroat (Sylvia minula)

Greater Whitethroat (Sylvia communis)

Arabian Babbler (Turdoides squamiceps)


Black Scrub-Robin (Cercotrichas podobe)

White-throated Robin (Irania gutturalis)

Common Nightingale (Luscinia megarhynchos)

Common Redstart (Phoenicurus phoenicurus)

Black Redstart (Phoenicurus ochruros)

Blackstart (Cercomela melanura)

Northern Wheatear (Oenanthe oenanthe)

Pied Wheatear (Oenanthe pleschanka)

Western Yellow Wagtail (Motacilla flava)


Red-throated Pipit (Anthus cervinus)


Ortolan Bunting (Emberiza hortulana)


Spanish Sparrow (Passer hispaniolensis)