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Kingdom of Saudi Arabia

Abyssinina Roller Coracias abyssiniica ©Nigel Blake Website

Birding South West Saudi Arabia

Arabia boasts a number of endemic bird species, meaning that these birds exist only on the peninsula itself. Where to watch birds in Asia by Nigel Wheatley, suggests that 11 such birds exist, while Michael Jennings, in his ABBA project, states that there are 10.

These are the Arabian Red-legged Partridge, Philby's Partridge, the Arabian Woodpecker, Yemen Thrush, Yemen Warbler, Arabian Accentor; and the finches: Arabian Waxbill, Arabian Serin, Yemen Serin and Yemen Linnet. The 11th likely endemic is the South Arabian Wheatear, depending on its classification as a distinct species. The only area where all these species occur is in Yemen, but South West Saudi Arabia contains all except the Arabian Accentor.

The South West offers a diverse habitat for birds, as different types of terrain occur alongside each other. At the summit of the Asir there are juniper-covered mountains, best observed from the peak of Mount Soudah. These steep craggy mountains attract predatory birds, such as the rare Verreaux's (or Black) Eagle.Moving down from there, one can find a number of valleys and wadis – dried up water courses –which can carry streams of water during the rainy season. Small passerine birds, such as the endemic finches will breed here along with partridges and doves. Because of its position the South West attracts a mix of bird species usually found in different continents. Palaearctic birds of Europe and Northern Asia can be seen alongside Afro-tropical birds from Africa. The doves commonly found here are actually from the latter group, examples of which include the African Collared Dove, Bruce's Green Pigeon and the Dusky Turtle Dove.

Permanent watercourses are attractive to herons and waders, sometimes ducks and the occasional Hamerkop and Stork, while raptors often hunt over looking for suitable prey. In the Asir Mountains there are several dams permanently holding water. One can be found on the edge of Abha itself, there is one in the Khamis Mushayt area, and a smaller one exists half way up from Abha to As Soudah. In the mountain foothills there are permanent streams where some birds particular to the altitude can be found with herons, waders and storks. Such birds include the African Grey Hornbill and the Black-crowned Tchagra, or Bush-shrike. The globally threatened Northern Bald Ibis, or Waldrapp, has been known to occur around here.

A word of warning: when venturing away from your vehicle in the general mountain area, beware of groups of baboons, which can look cute from the comfort of your car. They are aggressive monkeys, which are prone to attack if they feel threatened, although they will usually keep their distance if not disturbed. Their fascinating behaviour is best observed from a distance of a few dozen metres, and be sure you are near enough to your vehicle in case they approach.

The stretch of plains between foothills and the coast is known as the Tihama. It is usually around 50 to 100km wide and exists all along the west coast of the Arabian Peninsula. Driving through, a lot of the area can look barren, but acacia groves can be found and many plantations have cropped up near towns and villages. Many more afro-tropical bird species prefer this habitat and some very rare Palaearctic birds are supposed to maintain a foothold, but they are very difficult to find. The Helmeted Guineafowl and Arabian Bustard have suffered from loss of suitable habitat as well as over-hunting, while the Little Button Quail is very secretive and rarely seen over its whole world range. Black Kites are abundant though, especially near built up areas. Colourful birds that breed here include the sky blue coloured Abyssinian Roller, which is resident, and the multi-coloured and long-tailed White-throated Bee-eater, which arrives on these shores in the summer to breed.

The coast is the place for those who like to study waders and gulls, as good numbers occur. Look out for the extraordinary Crab Plover, specific to Arabia, and the Pink-backed Pelican, which will stand out a mile away, either on the sea or in flight, due to its size, as it mixes with visiting ducks and resident gulls and terns.

Saudi Arabia is a very much under watched country which is a great shame as it has a great deal to offer the birder.

Central Saudi
Central Saudi Arabia is covered in desert and rocky escarpments and typical birds of such habitat can be found. From Riyadh, one can get to decent birding spots about half an hour away, such as the Riyadh River and the escarpments and farms at Dirab. A little further afield on the northern side is the KKWRC reserve at Thumamah, which usually contains a similar assortment of birds as the farms in Dirab, but you'll need to apply well in advance for a permit to get in.

The Riyadh River is good for Herons and Egrets in particular. Look out for Least Bittern and Squacco Heron among the commoner species. White-cheeked Bulbuls are abundant, and you could get looks at various wintering / migrant birds in season, such as White-tailed Lapwing, Collared Pratincole, and various raptors.

In winter, and also early spring and late autumn, the Dirab area is a great place to bird. The farms here can contain lots of wheatears, including Pied, Hooded, Red-tailed, Desert, Isabelline, Mourning, Northern and Black-eared; and larks, though Crested and Desert are the most likely (Not far from here you can find Hoopoe Lark in any desert area, while Black-crowned Finch, Bar-tailed and Dunn's are more local). Dirab is also good for Trumpeter and Desert Finch, and House Bunting; and in November, for Hypocolius. Desert and Scrub Warbler are resident, while Orphean, Barred and Marsh Warbler will join the more common Olivaceous, Reed, and Willow Warblers etc in spring. Other characteristic birds of the region include Black and Rufous Bush Chats, Blackstart, Indian Silverbill, Tawny Pipit and three species of Bee-eater.

The raptors though, will impress as much as anything here, as they winter in big numbers. Most are Steppe Eagles, but one can easily find Imperial Eagles amongst them, and there are also Spotted and Short-toed Eagles, Black Kites and the resident Long-legged Buzzards. Golden Eagle is also occasionally seen. Accipiters and Falcons are less commonly seen, except for Kestrel, which is common, but Harriers are usually around, including fairly good numbers of Pallid and Montagu`s.

Other Areas

Jeddah is good for seeing Demoiselle Cranes on migration, and perhaps not far from the breeding grounds of Sooty Falcon on the Red Sea coast. Haradh on the edge of the Empty Quarter in the east apparently attracts migrant Corncrakes in good numbers, and wintering Thick-billed Lark.

Top Sites

The Asir Highlands (Mountains of South-west Saudi Arabia)

Satellite View

The range of species to be seen in the South West is greater during the summer, when birds such as the White-throated Bee-eater and the Grey–headed Kingfisher arrive from Africa to breed. In winter though, there can be lots of wildfowl and gulls, which migrate south, away from the cold snap in their breeding territories.

Contributor

Alex Kirschel

akirschel@yahoo.com

Number of Species

Number of bird species: 472

Checklist

iGoTerra Checklist

iGoTerra Checklist

Fatbirder Associate iGoTerra offers the most comprehensive and up to date birds lists on the web

Useful Reading

Birds of the Middle East

R.F. Porter, S. Christensen, P. Schiermacker-Hansen Hardcover - 350 pages (September 1996) T & AD Poyser (UK)

ISBN: 0856610763

Buy this book from NHBS.com

Important Bird Areas in the Middle East

M I Evans, S M Andrews (Illustrator); A J Long (Illustrator) Paperback (September 1994) Birdlife International

ISBN: 0946888280

Buy this book from NHBS.com

Birds of Southern Arabia

Dave Robinson Paperback (December 1992) Motivate Publishing

ISBN: 1873544375

Buy this book from NHBS.com

BIRDS OF THE EASTERN PROVINCE OF SAUDI ARABIA

by Bundy & others. The most complete work on Western Arabia. Also useful for Kuwait,Bahrain & Qatar. Col.photos, maps,checklist. 224pp. 1989. Witherby.

The Birds of Saudi Arabia - Checklist

by Michael C. Jennings; 1981. Available from the author at 10 Mill Lane, Whittlesford, Cambridge, England at ?6.30 post free (?7.30 by airmail).

Useful Information

National Commission for Wildlife Conservation

P0 Box 61681 Riyadh 11575 Saudi Arabia. + 966 1 4410369 ncwcd@zajil.net
The National Commission for Wildlife Conservation and Development (NCWCD) is the BirdLife Affiliate for Saudi Arabia.

Guides & Tour Operators

Click on WAND for tours, guides, lodges and more…

Ornithological Society of the Middle-East

Tour Operator

This is a rare opportunity to visit this marvellous country with a small team who have over 5 years experience of organising visits to Saudi Arabia. The following tours are planned for 2003
March 2003 - trip leader Mike Edgecombe
Late Autumn 2003 - trip leader Andrew Grieve

Birding Pal

Information

Local birders willing to show visiting birders around their area…

Trip Reports

Click on WAND for tours, guides, lodges and more…

CloudBirders

Trip Report Repository

CloudBirders was created by a group of Belgian world birding enthusiasts and went live on 21st of March 2013. They provide a large and growing database of birding trip reports, complemented with extensive search, voting and statistical features.

2003 [04 April] - Michael C Jennings

Report

ABA Survey

2009 [06 June] - Stephen Burch

Report

…Even in mid June, the coastal areas around Dammam were quite good for a selection of waders and other water birds. Wader highlights included Terek Sandpiper, Lesser Sand Plover and some summer plumaged Curlew Sandpipers. There were also Flamingos, Spoonbill and the odd Western Reef Heron. Terns included Least/Sauders, Caspian and Lesser Crested. There should also have been White-cheeked Terns about, but I don't recall seeing any. Unfortunately, taking photos is not recommended in these areas - too likely to cause problems…

Organisations

National Commission for Wildlife Conservation

Details

The NCWCD was established by a Royal Decree in 1986. Among other things, the Decree requires the Commission to Develop and implement plans to preserve wildlife in its natural ecology and to propose the establishment of proper protected areas and reserves for wildlife in the Kingdom, and to manage such areas

Wildlife Protection Agency in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia

Website

BirdLife Saudi Arabia: The National Commission for Wildlife Conservation and Development (NCWCD)

Reserves

Harrat Al-Harrah - First National Reserve in Saudi Arabia

Website

A huge desert area of northern Saudi Arabia, close to the border with Jordan, and 80 km north-west of Sakakah. Undulating, black, basalt boulder-fields with numerous volcanic cones and frequent low hills, interspersed with siltflats and some sabkhah. Wadis are generally shallow. Rainfall is seasonal (every winter) but varies greatly in amount between years. There is rarely any surface water except for a permanent reservoir at Dawmat al-Jandl (see site 002) near the southern edge of the reserve. Except for a very few stunted palms the vegetation is devoid of trees, and is sparse except after good winter/spring rains, although drainage features contain a reasonable cover of small shrubs (Artemisia, Haloxylon, Zilla)....

Raydah Reserve

Information

Satellite View

The forest is a very important place for birds and other less conspicuous wildlife, ranging from mammals to molluscs. To date, just over 100 birds species have been recorded in the Reserve but, given that about 500 have been recorded in the Kingdom, diversity of species per se is not what attracts ornithologists…

Blogs

Birds of Saudi Arabia - Jem Babbington's Birding Exploits in Dhahran

Blog

I am a keen birder and ameteur photographer currently located in Dhahran, Eastern Saudi Arabia which is just across the causeway from Bahrain. I arrived in Saudi Arabia in late August 2010 but was not able to start birding until early 2011. I was born in England and started birding at about ten and am still actively doing so 39 years later. I was a keen ‘twitcher’ and local patch birder when I lived in the UK but have been outside the country now for almost twenty years and am now a serious local patch birder. I have travelled to many different countries bird-watching and I try to go out at least once a day, family commitments permitting, and will post all the interesting images and blog as and when time allows…

Saudi Birding Adventures

BLOG

I am Bernard Bracken and am in my mid 50's. Married with 2 daughters, 2 step daughters and one stepson. I have been a keen, but very bad, birder since my youth. My family are quite supportive of my birding activities but have not one clue what I see in it or what the attraction is! In this blog I hope to be able to report on the trips I am making around the world and especially the birding sessions I take part in along the way. For the near future this will be Saudi and Lancashire based as that's where I am living but in time will include other places.