Saudi Arabia Birding Tour 22-30 April 2024

by Birdsofkuwait.com

Participants: Aidan Kelly, Dermot Omahony, Chris Straw, AbdulRahman Alsirhan (tour guide)

Written by: A Alsirhan

All photographs by Alsirhan

Asir Magpie Pica asirensis
Asir Magpie Pica asirensis

Introduction:

We were fortunate to see all the possible endemic species. The Arabian Lark was not targeted as it doesn’t occur in Asir and Jazan area and couldn’t be included due to time constraints. The tour began in Jeddah and concluded in Jazan. Given the lengthy drive time on this route, I plan to change the route for future tours to start either from Al Bahah to Jazan or the reverse, from Jazan to Al Bahah.

Day 1: 22 April

Arrive and transfer to a hotel at Al Taif for the night.

Day 2: 23 April

We started before sunrise and drove to Wadi Thee Ghazal in Al Shifa.

Upon our arrival, we encountered our first endemic species: at least six Arabian Serins perched on a fence. Shortly after, we spotted several Arabian Wheatears, tallying up to twelve, including a chick being fed. Our third endemic sighting was the Arabian Sunbird, with at least five individuals observed. We also came across a number of Yemen Linnets, Palestine Sunbirds, and three Arabian Waxbills, along with two Gambaga Flycatchers. Later, we discovered Tristram’s Starlings and White-spectacled Bulbuls, with Gambaga Flycatchers being particularly common. We then saw an Arabian Warbler and Rüppell’s Weaver.

Several Pale Crag Martins and Red-rumped Swallows were circling overhead intermittently. Additionally, a Montagu’s Harrier flew by.

All in all we saw seven endemics in one site.

We then went to a restaurant for breakfast and drove for 15 minutes before stopping at another wadi. Here, we spotted two more endemic species: the Arabian Babbler and Yemen Thrush. Additionally, we observed a Brown Woodland-Warbler, Abyssinian White-eye, Arabian Sunbird, Arabian Wheatear, Cinnamon-breasted Bunting, Yemen Linnet, Graceful Prinia, and Eurasian Hoopoe.

After returning to the hotel and checking out, we drove towards Al Baha. Just outside Taif city, we made a stop and saw our first migrating Masked Shrike, along with a Nile Valley Sunbird, Rufous-tailed Scrub Robin, Eastern Olivaceous Warbler, and Arabian Babbler.

We stopped for lunch and then continued driving. Along the way, we spotted a bird perched on an electricity wire, which turned out to be the endemic Arabian Green Bee-eater. We made several stops along the road and observed Blackstart, Long-billed Pipit, Desert Lark, Buff-breasted Wheatear, Scrub Warbler, Little Swift, and Alpine Swift.

We then reached Jebel Ibrahim an hour before sunset and decided to do some night birding before heading to our hotel. We first enjoyed the singing of the Brown Woodland-Warbler, along with sightings of Little Rock Thrush, Palestine Sunbird, Long-billed Pipit, Arabian Warbler, and Fan-tailed Raven. Suddenly, an Arabian Woodpecker appeared in a nearby tree, followed by a brief sighting of an Arabian Grosbeak in the distance. Before it got dark, we had the chance to see both Arabian and Philby’s Partridges feeding in a grassy area.

As night fell, we saw an Arabian Scops Owl perched in a tree. A Montane Nightjar flew overhead several times before eventually perching right in front of us.

We then drove to our hotel in Al Baha, arriving at 21:00.

Overall, our first day was very fruitful, with sightings of twelve endemic species.

Day 3: 24 April

At 5:30, we left the hotel and headed to Khairah Park, where we spent about three hours searching for the Arabian Grosbeak. Despite recent sightings, we did not find it. However, we did see a Philby’s Partridge, a Dusky Turtle Dove, a flock of African Palm Swifts circling above, two Black-crowned Tchagras, an Arabian Warbler, three Yemen Thrushes, one Gambaga Flycatcher, an African Silverbill, an Arabian Waxbill, an Arabian Wheatear, a Yemen Linnet, a Little Rock Thrush, Laughing Doves, and Tristram’s Starlings. The latter three species were common at most sites we visited.

Next, we went to Wadi Shora but took the wrong track, leading us to an inaccessible area. Despite this, we flushed two Common Quails, two Yemen Thrushes, eight Arabian Babblers, three Ortolan Buntings, and the ubiquitous Arabian Wheatear.

We then had a long drive to Al Namas, stopping at Al Balace. Here, we had close views of the Scrub Warbler, along with a Gambaga Flycatcher, Eurasian Hoopoe, Little Rock Thrush, Ortolan Bunting, and Palestine Sunbird.

Upon arriving at our hotel in Al Namas, we checked in and drove to Al Mehfar Tourist Park, arriving an hour before sunset with plans for night birding. We were soon entertained by two Arabian Woodpeckers perched on nearby leafless trees, a couple of Violet-backed Starlings, a migrating Red-backed Shrike, a Red-throated Pipit, a Common Redstart, and a Eurasian Blackcap.

As night fell, we had good views of an Arabian Eagle Owl perched on top of a cliff, and a couple of Montane Nightjars began calling and flying overhead.

Day 4: 25 April

We drove to Wadi Al Ghathal to search for the Asir Magpie. As we approached the wadi, two flew to one side of our car. We followed them to where they perched and soon another bird joined them, allowing us to see three perched on a tree. Shortly after, we spotted three Yemen Warblers, adding two endemics within a few minutes.

Additionally, we observed three Bruce’s Green-Pigeons, a Violet-backed Starling, a Dusky Turtle Dove, a Long-legged Buzzard, a European Roller, an African Paradise-Flycatcher, a Crested Lark, an Arabian Babbler, two Yemen Thrushes, Gambaga Flycatchers, one Whinchat, a Long-billed Pipit, a Cinnamon-breasted Bunting, and an Arabian Wheatear.

We then went to Dahna Waterfall, where we found a Long-legged Buzzard, a European Bee-eater, an Alpine Swift, a Willow Warbler, Red-rumped Swallows, a Pale Crag Martin, and an Arabian Serin.

Upon arriving at Wadi Dahna, we saw another Asir Magpie, two Arabian Green Bee-eaters, a Brown Woodland-Warbler, a Violet-backed Starling, three Yemen Thrushes, six Gambaga Flycatchers, six Common Redstarts, two Palestine Sunbirds, two Rüppell’s Weavers, a Western Yellow Wagtail (thunbergi), a Long-billed Pipit, and five Tree Pipits.

Next, we visited Al Mehfar Tourist Park, where we observed three Arabian Partridges, two Griffon Vultures, a Verreaux’s Eagle, a Long-legged Buzzard, an Eastern Olivaceous Warbler, a Fan-tailed Raven, a Graceful Prinia, four Brown Woodland-Warblers, two Abyssinian White-eyes, a Violet-backed Starling, a Little Rock Thrush, and a Palestine Sunbird. As darkness fell, we heard a Desert Owl several times and saw a Montane Nightjar flying twice.

We then reached our hotel in Al Namas for the night.

Day 5: 26 April

Our first stop was Mattees Forest, where we observed a Grey-headed Kingfisher, an Asir Magpie, Laughing Doves, two Dusky Turtle Doves, three Eurasian Hoopoes, a European Roller, a Common Kestrel, a Masked Shrike, and a Red-backed Shrike. We also spotted Arabian, Buff-breasted, and Isabelline Wheatears, a Yemen Warbler, four Arabian Warblers, seven Gambaga Flycatchers, two Yemen Thrushes, three Common Redstarts, a Whinchat, a Long-billed Pipit, and four Yemen Linnets. Along the road, we saw a Brown-necked Raven flying and twelve Little Swifts.

Next, we headed to Wadi Reema in search of the Rufous-capped Lark. Upon arrival, we saw two Rufous-capped Larks, and along the track, we counted five more. We also saw two Buff-breasted Wheatears and other birds we had seen earlier.

Afterward, we drove for forty minutes to Al Habala Park in search of the Yemen Serin. Unfortunately, being a Saturday, the park was crowded, making birding difficult. Heavy rain also forced us to stay in the car. Despite this, we saw a few birds, including a Buff-breasted Wheatear, Palestine Sunbirds, White-spectacled Bulbuls, Laughing Doves, a Crested Lark, and Tristram’s Starlings.

Outside Abha, we visited a location where a Desert Owl had been seen previously. Although we didn’t find the Desert Owl, we did spot five Arabian Partridges along the track as we stopped the car.

Day 6: 27 April

Since the Yemen Serin was the only endemic bird we had yet to see, we decided to revisit Al Habala. Departing the hotel at 5:00, we arrived at our destination by 6:05, with a brief stop for breakfast along the way. Upon arrival, we spotted two Yemen Serins perched on the fence. As more birds gathered, we observed at least five Yemen Serins. With this sighting, we had successfully seen all 15 endemic bird species of the trip.

Our next stop was Soudah Waterfall, where we encountered our first and only pair of African Stonechats. Additionally, we saw a pair of African Paradise Flycatchers, one Arabian Partridge perched atop a cliff, two Palestine Sunbirds, an Arabian Serin, two Brown Woodland-Warblers, three Abyssinian White-eyes, one Little Rock Thrush, a Common Whitethroat, a Gambaga Flycatcher, and a pair of Rüppell’s Weavers.

We then checked out of our hotel and drove to Jazan. Along the road, as we approached Al Shuqauq, we spotted three Brown-necked Ravens, followed by a Black Scrub Robin, a Rufous-tailed Scrub Robin, three European Turtle Doves, a Willow Warbler, a Red-backed Shrike, and another three European Turtle Doves.

Next, we arrived near a small village called Un Al Suyud in search of the Arabian Golden Sparrow. Arriving at 1 pm, the desert heat was intense, and there were numerous trees to check for the bird. After 40 minutes, we had to leave to check into our last hotel in Jazan. During our search, we found several breeding African Collared Doves and an Arabian Babbler. We also saw Namaqua Dove, Red-backed Shrike, Black-crowned Sparrow-Lark, Black Scrub Robin, Rüppell’s Weaver, Crested Lark, Spotted Flycatcher, and Common Redstart. Along the road, we spotted two Abyssinian Rollers.

After lunch and a rest, we headed to Al Sad Lake. As we approached the lake, we saw fifty Helmeted Guineafowls. At the lake, we observed Little Grebe, Common Moorhen, Spur-winged Lapwing, Pink-backed Pelican, Black-crowned Night Heron, Little Egret, Squacco Heron, a large flock of 500 Western Cattle Egrets, Grey Heron, Glossy Ibis, Eurasian Spoonbills, White-throated Bee-eater, and a Graceful Prinia. As night fell, we found five Plain Nightjars and six Nubian Nightjars.

Day 7: 28 April

Today, we decided to try again for the Arabian Golden Sparrow, revisiting the area from yesterday. We spotted three Arabian Golden Sparrows—two males and one female—perched on top of a tree. They stayed for only a couple of minutes before flying away. We also observed two flying large flocks, estimating a total of 85 birds.

Other birds seen included 13 African Collared Doves, four Namaqua Doves, four Chestnut-bellied Sandgrouse, one Gull-billed Tern, one Black-winged Kite, thirty Western Cattle Egrets, one Grey-headed Kingfisher, one Great Grey Shrike (Arabian), two Red-backed Shrikes, two Black-crowned Sparrow-Larks, one Thrush Nightingale, two Nile Valley Sunbirds, four Palestine Sunbirds, and thirteen African Silverbills.

Our next stop was the coast near Jazan University, where we spotted a Plain Nightjar in daylight. While checking for waders, we observed one Tibetan Sand Plover, one Greater Sand Plover, one Common Ringed Plover, two Whimbrels, two Sooty Gulls, several Little Terns, two Gull-billed Terns, 36 Lesser Crested Terns, three Great Crested Terns, two Pink-backed Pelicans, an Osprey, and twelve House Crows. Further south along Corniche Road, we saw one Tibetan Sand Plover, two Greater Sand Plovers, three Broad-billed Sandpipers, three Curlew Sandpipers, five Crab Plovers, one Striated Heron, two Little Terns, and four House Crows.

In Jazan Heritage Village, we spotted four Mangrove Reed Warblers, one Temminck’s Stint, a Common Redshank, and a Common Greenshank.

After lunch, we visited Sunbah Farms. We heard a Harlequin Quail and had good views of Small Buttonquail moving between the grasses. Other sightings included two Namaqua Doves, four African Palm Swifts, a flock of 120 Ruffs, six White-winged Terns, one Black-winged Kite, three Western Cattle Egrets, one Pallid Harrier, one Arabian Bee-eater, two Abyssinian Rollers, four Black-crowned Sparrow-Larks, thirty Singing Bush Larks, two Zitting Cisticolas, six Sand Martins, one Common Whitethroat, twenty Common Mynas, two Black Scrub Robins, eight Rüppell’s Weavers, and fifty-three Western Yellow Wagtails.

Day 8: 29 April

Today, we decided to take a ferry to Farasan Island. At the port, we saw two Abdim’s Storks flying overhead. During the trip, we spotted one Brown Noddy, twenty six Bridled Terns, nine White-cheeked Terns, two Lesser Crested Terns, two Red-billed Tropicbirds, twenty-two Brown Boobies, one Pink-backed Pelican, and two Egyptian Vultures.

Upon arrival, it was windy, and the coast guard didn’t allow boats to leave the harbor. We decided to take the next ferry back to Jazan, but it was also not permitted to leave. Our only option to return to Jazan was to hire a speedboat, which we did, and we arrived safely back in Jazan in the evening.

Day 9: 30 April

We took an early morning drive to King Abdulaziz International Airport in Jeddah and then flew home.

Trip bird list: following eBird taxonomy (150 species)

Northern Pintail Anas acuta

Helmeted Guineafowl Numida meleagris

Common Quail Coturnix coturnix

Harlequin Quail Coturnix delegorguei

Arabian Partridge Alectoris melanocephala

Philby’s Partridge Alectoris philbyi

Little Grebe Tachybaptus ruficollis

Feral Pigeon Columba livia

European Turtle Dove Streptopelia turtur

Dusky Turtle Dove Streptopelia lugens

African Collared Dove Streptopelia roseogrisea

Laughing Dove Spilopelia senegalensis

Namaqua Dove Oena capensis

Bruce’s Green-Pigeon Treron waalia

Chestnut-bellied Sandgrouse Pterocles exustus

Nubian Nightjar Caprimulgus nubicus

Montane Nightjar Caprimulgus poliocephalus

Plain Nightjar Caprimulgus inornatus

Alpine Swift Tachymarptis melba

Pallid Swift Apus pallidus

Little Swift Apus affinis

African Palm Swift Cypsiurus parvus

Common Moorhen Gallinula chloropus

Common Ringed Plover Charadrius hiaticula

Spur-winged Lapwing Vanellus spinosus

Tibetan Sand Plover Anarhynchus atrifrons

Greater Sand Plover Anarhynchus leschenaultii

Kentish Plover Anarhynchus alexandrinus

Whimbrel Numenius phaeopus

Common Redshank Tringa totanus

Common Greenshank Tringa nebularia

Ruff Calidris pugnax

Broad-billed Sandpiper Calidris falcinellus

Curlew Sandpiper Calidris ferruginea

Temminck’s Stint Calidris temminckii

Small Buttonquail Turnix sylvaticus

Crab-Plover Dromas ardeola

Slender-billed Gull Chroicocephalus genei

Sooty Gull Ichthyaetus hemprichii

Brown Noddy Anous stolidus

Bridled Tern Onychoprion anaethetus

Little Tern Sternula albifrons

Gull-billed Tern Gelochelidon nilotica

White-winged Tern Chlidonias leucopterus

White-cheeked Tern Sterna repressa

Lesser Crested Tern Thalasseus bengalensis

Great Crested Tern Thalasseus bergii

Red-billed Tropicbird Phaethon aethereus

Abdim’s Stork Ciconia abdimii

Brown Booby Sula leucogaster

Pink-backed Pelican Pelecanus rufescens

Black-crowned Night Heron Nycticorax nycticorax

Little Egret Egretta garzetta

Striated Heron Butorides striata

Squacco Heron Ardeola ralloides

Western Cattle Egret Bubulcus ibis

Grey Heron Ardea cinerea

Glossy Ibis Plegadis falcinellus

Eurasian Spoonbill Platalea leucorodia

Osprey Pandion haliaetus

Black-winged Kite Elanus caeruleus

Egyptian Vulture Neophron percnopterus

Griffon Vulture Gyps fulvus

Verreaux’s Eagle Aquila verreauxii

Pallid Harrier Circus macrourus

Montagu’s Harrier Circus pygargus

Long-legged Buzzard Buteo rufinus

Arabian Scops Owl Otus pamelae

Arabian Eagle Owl Bubo milesi

Desert Owl Strix hadorami

Eurasian Hoopoe Upupa epops

Grey-headed Kingfisher Halcyon leucocephala

White-throated Bee-eater Merops albicollis

Arabian Green Bee-eater Merops cyanophrys

European Bee-eater Merops apiaster

European Roller Coracias garrulus

Abyssinian Roller Coracias abyssinicus

Arabian Woodpecker Dendrocoptes dorae

Common Kestrel Falco tinnunculus

Black-crowned Tchagra Tchagra senegalus

African Paradise-Flycatcher Terpsiphone viridis

Red-backed Shrike Lanius collurio

Isabelline Shrike Lanius isabellinus

Great Grey Shrike Lanius excubitor

Masked Shrike Lanius nubicus

Asir Magpie Pica asirensis

Brown-necked Raven Corvus ruficollis

Fan-tailed Raven Corvus rhipidurus

Desert Lark Ammomanes deserti

Black-crowned Sparrow-Lark Eremopterix nigriceps

Singing Bushlark Mirafra javanica

Rufous-capped Lark Calandrella eremica

Crested Lark Galerida cristata

Graceful Prinia Prinia gracilis

Zitting Cisticola Cisticola juncidis

Eastern Olivaceous Warbler Iduna pallida

Sedge Warbler Acrocephalus schoenobaenus

Common Reed Warbler Acrocephalus scirpaceus

Sand Martin Riparia riparia

Rock Martin Ptyonoprogne fuligula

Barn Swallow Hirundo rustica

Red-rumped Swallow Cecropis daurica

White-spectacled Bulbul Pycnonotus xanthopygos

Willow Warbler Phylloscopus trochilus

Brown Woodland-Warbler Phylloscopus umbrovirens

Scrub Warbler Scotocerca inquieta

Eurasian Blackcap Sylvia atricapilla

Barred Warbler Curruca nisoria

Yemen Warbler Curruca buryi

Arabian Warbler Curruca leucomelaena

Common Whitethroat Curruca communis

Abyssinian White-eye Zosterops abyssinicus

Arabian Babbler Argya squamiceps

Common Myna Acridotheres tristis

Violet-backed Starling Cinnyricinclus leucogaster

Tristram’s Starling Onychognathus tristramii

Yemen Thrush Turdus menachensis

Spotted Flycatcher Muscicapa striata

Gambaga Flycatcher Muscicapa gambagae

Black Scrub Robin Cercotrichas podobe

Rufous-tailed Scrub Robin Cercotrichas galactotes

Thrush Nightingale Luscinia luscinia

Common Redstart Phoenicurus phoenicurus

Little Rock Thrush Monticola rufocinereus

Whinchat Saxicola rubetra

African Stonechat Saxicola torquatus

Buff-breasted Wheatear Oenanthe bottae

Isabelline Wheatear Oenanthe isabellina

Blackstart Oenanthe melanura

Arabian Wheatear Oenanthe lugentoides

Nile Valley Sunbird Hedydipna metallica

Palestine Sunbird Cinnyris osea

Shining Sunbird Cinnyris habessinicus

Rüppell’s Weaver Ploceus galbula

African Silverbill Euodice cantans

Arabian Waxbill Estrilda rufibarba

House Sparrow Passer domesticus

Arabian Golden Sparrow Passer euchlorus

Western Yellow Wagtail Motacilla flava

White Wagtail Motacilla alba

Long-billed Pipit Anthus similis

Tree Pipit Anthus trivialis

Red-throated Pipit Anthus cervinus

Arabian Grosbeak Rhynchostruthus percivali

Olive-rumped Serin Crithagra rothschildi

Yemen Serin Crithagra menachensis

Yemen Linnet Linaria yemenensis

Ortolan Bunting Emberiza hortulana

Cinnamon-breasted Bunting Emberiza tahapisi

House Crow Corvus splendens

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