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21–31 March 2024

Saudi Arabia has long been closed to visiting tourists, including birders, and whilst all of the Arabian endemic species can be found in Yemen, that destination is likely to be closed for the foreseeable future. Depending on the taxonomy you follow, there are now up to 19 endemic species on the Arabian Peninsula all of which can be found in Saudi Arabia with the exception of Yemen Accentor. The accentor may however, be downgraded to a subspecies of Radde’s Accentor as they are as closely related as some subspecies of Black-throated Accentor. With Saudi Arabia having an excellent infrastructure and also benefitting from the endemic and endangered Asir Magpie, it is now the ‘must go to’ place for birders. Fortunately, Saudi Arabia started opening up for tourism in late 2019 but just as we were starting arrangements for a birdwatching tour the pandemic hit and the country closed as quickly as it opened, but now we have the opportunity to visit this amazing country.

Day 1 Flight from London Heathrow to Riyadh arriving late afternoon. Two nights in Riyadh.

Day 2 We will spend the whole day north of Riyadh looking for the recently-split (from Dunn’s Lark) and highly-localised Arabian Lark. We may encounter a few other desert-loving species during the day including Cream-coloured Courser, Temminck’s and Thick-billed Larks, Greater Hoopoe-lark, Pied and White-crowned Wheatears, Blackstart, Brown-necked Raven, Asian Desert Warbler, Trumpeter Finch and Striolated Bunting.

Days 3–4 This morning we will take an internal flight to Abha where we will spend the rest of the day birding. Birds we should find around Abha include the endemic Arabian and Buff-breasted Wheatears, Yemen Linnet and Arabian Waxbill as well as African specialities: Rameron Pigeon, Brown Woodland Warbler, Abyssinian White-eye (ssp. arabs), Rufous-capped Lark and African Pipit amongst many others. Verreaux’s Eagles can be found in these mountains but they are quite scarce and we would consider ourselves fortunate to see one with Eurasian Griffon being more likely. The whole of day four will be spent birding the Abha area. Two nights Abha.

Days 5–7 After breakfast we will drive to Tanoumah, our base for the next three nights. En route, we may see Fan-tailed Raven, Tristram’s Starling and Arabian Wheatear whilst small numbers of Steppe Eagles follow the road as it is their migration route through the mountains. We will also make a stop at a site for the endemic and critically endangered Asir Magpie. The next three full days will be spent in the Asir Mountains looking for the remaining endemics: Arabian and Philby’s Partridges, Arabian Woodpecker, Yemen Warbler, Yemen Thrush, Arabian Sunbird, Arabian Golden Sparrow, Arabian Grosbeak and Arabian and Yemen Serins. Both Arabian Scops Owl and Arabian Eagle-owl can be found in the area but unless we are fortunate-enough to find them at daytime roost, we will make nocturnal visits to look for both of these recently-split species as well as for Montane and Plain Nightjars. As well as the endemic species, there are a number of other largely African birds whose outposts stretch to the Arabian Peninsula. Examples of these include Hamerkop, Shikra, Dideric and Pied Cuckoos, Bruce’s Green Pigeon, Dusky Turtle Dove, Grey-headed Kingfisher, Gambaga Flycatcher, Little Rock Thrush, Black-crowned Tchagra (the percivali subspecies which may be split), African Stonechat, Violet-backed Starling, African Silverbill and Cinnamon-breasted Bunting.

Day 8 Leaving Tanoumah, we’ll head to the Ash Shuqayq area on the coast. We’ll make an early start to get to the mangroves and coastal habitats by mid-morning. On the coastal plain area we’ll look out for Yellow-billed and Black Kite. Target birds will be a wide-range of waders and waterbirds birds including White-collared Kingfisher, Pink-backed Pelican, Crab Plover, Western Reef and Goliath Heron, Greater Flamingo, Osprey and Saunders’ and White-cheeked Terns. Sooty Gulls will be seen and there is a good possibility of White-eyed Gull. Areas of mangrove and reeds should hold Great and Clamorous Reed Warblers, and we will look out for Mangrove Reed Warbler (a subspecies of Eurasian Reed Warbler). Two nights near Jazan.

Day 9 The whole day will be spent around the Jazan, particularly focussed on more afro-tropical species including raptors such as Gabar Goshawk, Dark Chanting Goshawk and Tawny Eagle as well as Harlequin Quail, Small Buttonquail, African Collared Dove, Red-eyed Dove, African Palm Swift, Abyssinian Roller, White-throated Bee-eater (breeding migrant), African Grey Hornbill, White-browed Coucal, Helmeted Guineafowl, Black-crowned Sparrow-lark, Singing Bushlark, Black Scrub-robin, Nile Valley Sunbird and Rüppell's Weaver. Many other Middle Eastern specialities can also be found in the area including Chestnut-bellied and Lichtenstein’s Sandgrouse, Arabian Green Bee-eater, Arabian Babbler, Graceful Prinia and Arabian Warbler. In the evening we will make a nocturnal visit in search of owls and nightjars.

Day 10 Our final morning will be spent in the Wadi Juwa and Malaki Lake areas again where we will focus on any species we may have missed. After lunch we will head back to Abha to catch a mid-evening flight back to Riyadh connecting with our London flight which arrives early morning of Day 11.

General Information The climate can vary from hot, to very hot in the lowlands but cool in the morning at the higher elevations with rain unlikely. The tour pace is relaxed but with early starts. Walking will vary from easy on level ground to rocky in the mountains. There are no significant health requirements. Insects can be a minor problem in places and repellents are recommended. E-visas are available for UK and EU citizens.

Group Size Minimum number for tour to go ahead: 7; maximum group size: 11 with 3 leaders. This inaugural OSME fundraising tour is for a maximum of eleven participants with members of OSME being given priority.

Arabian Woodpecker

Arabian Woodpecker

Recommended books available from NHBS