The Ultimate In Birding Tours

Asia (and its islands)

SAUDI ARABIA – Specialities of the Arabian desert, Asir highlands and Red Sea coast

Monday 6th May – Tuesday 14th May 2024

Leader: Hannu Jännes

9 Days Group Size Limit 8

SAUDI ARABIA BIRDING TOURS: OVERVIEW

Birdquest’s Saudi Arabia birding tours explore a part of the world that has long been closed to non-Muslims apart from those working in the country. We carried out numerous tours to Yemen until the civil war in that country made it impossible to visit, so it is wonderful that once again one can see the SW Arabian endemics and near-endemics in complete safety in a rapidly modernizing land.

Among the key species that we will be seeking are Asir Magpie (endemic to Saudi Arabia), Philby’s and Arabian Partridges, White-cheeked and Saunders’s Terns (both very hard to see elsewhere, but this Birdquest tour specifically concentrates on seeing both), Arabian Scops Owl, Arabian Eagle-Owl, Arabian Woodpecker, ‘Mangrove Reed Warbler’, Yemen Warbler, Yemen Thrush, Arabian Wheatear, ‘Buff-breasted Wheatear’, Arabian Lark (formerly the Arabian form of Dunn’s Lark), Rufous-capped Lark, ‘Mangrove White-eye’, Arabian Sunbird, Arabian Golden Sparrow, Arabian Waxbill, Yemen Serin, Arabian Serin, Yemen Linnet and Arabian Golden-winged Grosbeak.

A rich supporting cast of more widespread regional specialities includes Nubian Nightjar, White-eyed and Sooty Gulls, Greater and Lesser Crested Terns, Crab-plover, Sooty Falcon, Black-crowned Tchagra, White-spectacled Bulbul, Fan-tailed Raven, Tristram’s Starling, Arabian, Asian Desert and Streaked Scrub Warblers, Black Scrub Robin, Blackstart, Arabian Babbler, Temminck’s, Greater Hoopoe and Bar-tailed Larks, Black-crowned Sparrow-Lark, and Palestine and Nile Valley Sunbirds.

Many other birds occur in the areas we are visiting, including such otherwise ‘African’ species as Harlequin Quail, Helmeted Guineafowl, Plain Nightjar, Diederik, Klaaas’s and Jacobin Cuckoos, White-browed Coucal, African Olive Pigeon, Dusky Turtle, African Collared, Red-eyed and Namaqua Doves, Bruce’s Green Pigeon, African Palm Swift, Spotted Thick-knee, Pink-backed Pelican, Hamerkop, Abdim’s Stork, Goliath Heron, Gabar Goshawk, Dark Chanting Goshawk, Grey-headed Kingfisher, Abyssinian Roller, White-throated Bee-eater, African Grey Hornbill, African Paradise Flycatcher, Violet-backed Starling, Brown Woodland Warbler, Little Rock Thrush, African Stonechat, Gambaga Flycatcher, Singing Bush Lark, Abyssinian White-eye, Rüppell’s Weaver, Cinnamon-breasted Bunting and African Pipit.

The huge Arabian Peninsula is one of the most instantly recognizable areas on earth. Bordered by the Red Sea, the Indian Ocean and The Arabian (or Persian) Gulf, the peninsula and its fringes have a storied history. Egyptians, Hittites, Assyrians, Babylonians, Greeks, Nabateans, Romans, Turks, Mongols and many others struggled over the possession of these lands for thousands of years. Three of the world’s great religions were born here.

In more recent times Saudi Arabia and Iraq became independent countries following the turmoil of the First World War and the collapse of the Ottoman Empire. The story has certainly been immortalised in the film ‘Lawrence of Arabia’. Who can forget those extraordinary desert scenes?

The discovery of oil transformed the peninsula, both in terms of wealth and its political importance to an increasingly oil-thirsty world. Saudi Arabia with its ultra-conservative attitudes and actions disapproved of by many has certainly courted controversy, but beyond the politics and the rulers is a friendly country where visitors are now welcome. Although few speak a foreign language, a smile goes a long way in Saudi.

Although the popular view of Saudi Arabia is as a vast desert, with barely any vegetation and lots of oil wells, this is a very distorted view of the country. Much of Saudi Arabia is desert, but most regions lack any oil. Many of the desert regions are mountainous rather than flat and rocky or sandy. Far more importantly from a geographical and ornithological perspective, the southwestern mountains of Saudi Arabia receive copious summer rainfall and mist during the Southwest Monsoon period, and it is this fertile part of the country which holds most of Arabia’s special birds and where we will be spending most of our time.

Accommodation & Road Transport: The hotels used are of good quality. Road transport will be by minibus (passenger van). Roads are generally good.

Important Note: Women visitors must wear a headscarf and, of course, dress modestly as perceived by the locals. No alcohol is allowed.

Walking: The walking effort during our Saudi Arabia birding tour is mostly easy, occasionally moderate.

Climate: It will be cool to warm in the highlands but hot in the coastal plain and around Riyadh. It will mostly be dry and sunny but overcast weather and even rain are possible in the southwest.

Bird Photography: Opportunities during our Saudi Arabia birding tour will be good.

OUTLINE ITINERARY

  • Day 1: Morning tour start at Riyadh. Explore the desert. Afternoon flight to Abha.
  • Days 2-5: Exploring the Asir Mountains of southwest Saudi Arabia.
  • Day 6: Drive to Jazan on the Red Sea coast.
  • Days 7-8: Exploring the Jazan region on the Red Sea Coast.
  • Day 9: Jazan area, then flight to Riyadh. Evening tour end at Riyadh.

To see a larger map, click on the square-like ‘enlarge’ icon in the upper right of the map box.

To see (or hide) the ‘map legend’, click on the icon with an arrow in the upper left of the map box.

To change to a satellite view, which is great for seeing the physical terrain (and for seeing really fine details by repetitive use of the + button), click on the square ‘map view’ icon in the lower left corner of the ‘map legend’.

PRICE INFORMATION

Birdquest Inclusions: Our tour prices include surface transportation, accommodations, meals and entrance fees.

We also include all tipping for accommodation/restaurant staff.

We also include the following flights: Riyadh-Abha and Jazan-Riyadh.

Deposit: 20% of the total tour price. Our office will let you know what deposit amount is due, in order to confirm your booking, following receipt of your online booking form.

TO BOOK THIS TOUR: Click here (you will need the tour dates)


2024: provisional £2770, $3390, €3320, AUD4840. Riyadh/Riyadh.

Single Supplement: 2024: £360, $440, €430, AUD620.

The single supplement will not apply if you indicate on booking that you prefer to share a room and there is a room-mate of the same sex available.

This tour is priced in US Dollars. Amounts shown in other currencies are indicative.

Air Travel To & From The Tour:  Our in-house IATA ticket agency will be pleased to arrange your air travel on request, or you may arrange this yourself if you prefer.

SAUDI ARABIA BIRDING TOUR: DETAILED ITINERARY

Saudi Arabia: Day 1 Our tour starts in Riyadh early this morning.

We will head to some desert areas north of the city where our main target is Arabian Lark (a recent split from Dunn’s Lark, now restricted to Africa), a partially nomadic and difficult to get bird anywhere in its range in the Arabian peninsula and the southern Middle East, but very reliable here.

Other lark species we are hoping to see in this barren and desolate habitat include Greater Hoopoe-Lark, Black-crowned Sparrow-Lark and Bar-tailed, Temminck’s and Crested Larks and if we are lucky, even the nomadic Thick-billed Lark.

Other species we may well see in this habitat include ‘Arabian’ Great Grey Shrike, Pale Crag Martin and Laughing and Eurasian Collared Doves.

In the afternoon we take a flight from Riyadh to Abha, situated in the Asir region of the southwest corner of Saudi Arabia, for a five nights stay.

Saudi Arabia: Days 2-5 We will spend four full days exploring the Sarawat Mountains and enjoy the most pleasant weather and finest landscape in all of Arabia. We will split our time between Abha and Tanoumah, birding stony upland plateaus, magnificent escarpments and lush forested wadis.

Here, the star attraction is the Asir Magpie, endemic to a small area of southwest Saudi Arabia. Despite the small and declining population, it is still easy to find.

Other strictly SW Arabian endemics (shared between Saudi Arabia and Yemen) we will see during our stay in the highlands are Philby’s Partridge, Arabian Woodpecker, Yemen Thrush, Yemen Warbler, Arabian Waxbill, Arabian Serin and Yemen Linnet.

Other Arabian Peninsula endemics we will see in the mountains include Arabian Partridge, Arabian Scops Owl, Arabian Eagle-Owl, Arabian Wheatear, Arabian Sunbird (recently split from Shining Sunbird) and Yemen Serin. If we are lucky we will find the uncommon and localized Arabian Golden-winged Grosbeak.

Two more very interesting birds are Rufous-capped Lark (a species also found in Somaliland and just across the border in Ethiopia) and the bottae form of the Buff-breasted Wheatear (a potential split).

More widespread largely Middle Eastern species we will see include Blackstart, Streaked Scrub Warbler, Arabian Warbler, Arabian Babbler, Palestine Sunbird, Fan-tailed Raven and Tristram’s Starling.

In addition to above mentioned endemic and restricted range species, these mountains are home to an array of species of African origin, some of which only migrate here to breed during the monsoon season. These include Hamerkop, ‘African’ Shikra, Dusky Turtle Dove, Bruce’s Green and African Olive Pigeons, Diederik and Klaas’s Cuckoos, Plain and Abyssinian Nightjars (the latter is a potential split from Mountain Nightjar), Grey-headed Kingfisher, African Grey Hornbill, African Pipit, African Stonechat, Little Rock Thrush, Brown Woodland Warbler, Gambaga Flycatcher, African Paradise Flycatcher, Abyssinian White-eye, Black-crowned Tchagra, African Silverbill and Cinnamon-breasted Bunting.

More widespread birds we could well see include, Bonelli’s and Booted Eagles, Long-legged Buzzard, Black and Yellow-billed Kites, Griffon Vulture, Red-knobbed Coot, Common Kestrel, Alpine and Little Swifts and Long-billed Pipit.

Saudi Arabia: Day 6  From the highlands we will move down to the hot and humid Red Sea cost at Jazan (or Jizan), where we will stay for three nights. We will arrive in time for some exploration this afternoon.

Saudi Arabia: Days 7-8  During our time on the Red Sea coast we will be especially on the lookout in particular for the range-restricted White-cheeked and Saunders’s Terns, which both occur here during the breeding season, as well as White-eyed Gull (an endemic breeder on the islands of the Red Sea), the very special, monotypic Crab-plover and locally breeding Sooty Falcons.

A supporting cast of seabirds we may well see here include Brown Booby, Sooty, Baltic, Common Black-headed and Slender-billed Gulls, Caspian, Bridled, Lesser and Greater Crested Terns and Brown Noddy.

In the coastal mangroves, we will be looking for the very localized population of the ‘Mangrove White-eye’ that is restricted to the mangroves along Saudi Arabia’s Red Sea coast and the mangrove breeding avicenniae form of the European Reed Warbler that could be split as Mangrove Reed Warbler. Clamorous Reed Warbler is also common here and if we are fortunate, we will find Collared Kingfisher.

Other birds we may well see along the coast include Pink-backed Pelican, Grey, Purple, Western Reef, Striated and Squacco Herons, Great and Little Egrets, Lesser and Greater Flamingos, Eurasian Oystercatcher, Greater and Lesser (Tibetan) Sand Plovers, Common Ringed, Kentish and Grey (or Black-bellied) Plovers, Ruff, Broad-billed, Curlew, Common, Marsh, Green and Wood Sandpipers, Red Knot, Sanderling, Little Stint, Turnstone, Common and Spotted Redshanks, Bar-tailed and Black-tailed Godwits, Whimbrel and Eurasian Curlew. If we are fortunate, we will find Goliath Heron, which breeds in this area but is scarce and difficult to locate.

In agricultural areas inland from Jazan (and elsewhere along the coastal plains) one of our main targets is the restricted-range Arabian Golden Sparrow, although this species is apparently somewhat nomadic and can be tricky in spring. Both Harlequin Quail and Small Buttonquail are vocal at this time of the year and should not be too difficult to track down in the fields. In addition, we should find White-browed Coucal, African Palm Swift, Arabian Bee-eater (an Arabian endemic that just extends to Israel), Jacobin Cuckoo, the superb White-throated Bee-eater, Abyssinian Roller, Black Scrub Robin, Nile Valley Sunbird, Violet-backed Starling and Rüppell’s Weaver.

Other species we may well see in this habitat include Chestnut-bellied Sandgrouse, African Collared and Namaqua Doves, Rock Dove, Common and Pallid Swifts, Desert and Singing Bush Larks, Red-rumped Swallow, White-spectacled Bulbul, Graceful Prinia, Zitting Cisticola, Brown-necked Raven, House Crow (self-introduced on ships), Common Myna (perhaps also self-introduced) and House Sparrow.

At a large reservoir nearby, we will see a number of wetland birds, which may well include Northern Shoveler, Northern Pintail, Eurasian Teal, Tufted Duck Little Grebe, African Openbill, Abdim’s Stork, Eurasian Spoonbill, Glossy Ibis, Osprey, Common Moorhen, Common Coot, Black-winged Stilt, Pied Avocet, Spur-winged Plover and Gull-billed, White-winged and Whiskered Terns.

In the surrounding dry country, we have good chances to find, among other things, Helmeted Guineafowl, Lichtenstein’s Sandgrouse, Red-eyed Dove and, after sunset, Nubian Nightjar and Spotted Thick-knee. We will also keep looking for Dark Chanting-Goshawk and Gabar Goshawk, which could occur here or
elsewhere along the route.

Migratory birds following the African-Eurasian migration route can turn up anywhere along our route and may well include Eurasian Hoopoe, European and Blue-cheeked Bee-eaters, European Roller, Sand Martin, Barn Swallow, Red-throated Pipit, Western Yellow Wagtail, Common Nightingale, Rufous-tailed Scrub Robin, Common Redstart, Northern Wheatear, Whinchat, Blackcap, Eastern Orphean, Barred, Marsh and Willow Warblers, Chiffchaff, Eastern Olivaceous and Upcher’s Warblers, Red-backed, Red-tailed, Masked and Woodchat Shrikes and Eurasian Golden Oriole.

Saudi Arabia: Day 9  After some final birding on the Red Sea coast we will take a flight to Riyadh where our tour ends this evening.