It was my target species for the visit on Friday.
The problem was that I am booked up every weekend until December and so last weekend was my only free date to go east for a long while. But would it be too early?
The earliest date I had in the records for sightings of the grebe was October 13th. However 39 grebe were seen that day so I thought a few might already be there nine days earlier.
So on Friday, with Bernard Bracken, I looked carefully at the sea for the grebe while driving south out of Khobar. Yet there was nothing for several kilometres.
Nevertheless I wasn't quite totally despondent. I had thought the best chance was the inner most and most sheltered part of Half Moon Bay. So we stopped and parked there to have a really close look.
And in the distance in the cove were two barely see-able black-necked grebe.
This was one of those lovely moments when you think birding is truly worth while. It was actually really a triumph for good record keeping and sound research.
Black-necked grebe is the 306th bird on my Saudi list using the e-bird/Clements count. (By the way, it's 308 using the OSME count)
After visiting Half Moon Bay, the next place on the itinerary was Abqayq lagoons. These are south west of Half Moon Bay and inland.
Old records show the lagoons were very fruitful for many species of bird including migrant passerines and wintering ducks. However the data on e-bird comes from the mid 1980s. Google earth shown that a sewage works exists on the site today but we didn't know what else to expect.
On arrival and physical inspection, the water level seems to have dropped from its historical levels and the lagoons are now small and the water brackish.
It also appears that the sewage works treats local dirty water and puts it into holding areas. From these the treated water seeps into the ground and feeds the lagoons. Unfortunately the supply of water this way is not enough to maintain the water level in the lagoons.
It might be different in winter after rains though. It's worth a second visit then to check.
Meanwhile the bird life we saw on Friday was restricted to passing pied wheatear and Isabelline wheatear as well as resident collared dove in the few trees.
Isabelline wheatear at the lagoons
The Isabelline wheatear were tricky to identify but Beaman's and Madge's "Handbook of bird identification for Europe and the Western Palearctic" was a great help on this one. If all else fails I normally look for the isolated black alula of an Isabelline wheatear but not present on a female Northern wheatear. However this is obscured in this case. Beaman et al give several reasons why this is an Isabelline wheatear. For example the almost non-existent supercilium and an eye ring which is much stronger above the eye than below. I really recommend this book.
Pied wheatear at the lagoons
Four Isabelline wheatear and two pied wheatear were seen at the site.
Like the near-by Hofuf area, the water level is close to the surface in several places in the Abuqayq district. Unlike Hofuf the number of farms is more limited.
Nevertheless we managed to gain access to a farm on the junction of the main Riyadh-Dammam road and the Abuqayq turn. This was on the way back home. However, the one large pivot field and surrounds was not especially exciting.
Laughing dove and collared dove were hiding in the tree hedge. A couple of hoopoe were accidentally flushed from there too.
Also, unfortunately the grass in the field was very long (and obviously due to be cut) and the water sprayers were off. This normally makes for poorer birding. One spotted flycatcher on a pivot bar was the best we could find.
Overall though the day trip lived up to expectations. I found my target bird and the passage birds on the Riyadh to Dammam road were fascinating.
List of the 36 species seen during the day's visit to Eastern Province
The list is quite small simply because the part of the journey at the coast was targetted on finding one species. Other species there were often passed over.
A = Abuqayq area
H = Half Moon Bay
RD = Riyadh-Dammam Road
Black-necked grebe H
Socotra cormorant K
Grey heron K
Western reef heron K
Squacco heron K
Black winged stilt K
Common ringed plover K
Kentish plover K, RD
Lesser sand plover K
Common greenshank K
Slender billed gull K
Caspian gull K
Lesser crested tern K
Caspian tern K
Common tern K
Rock pigeon K,RD
Laughing dove K, RD
Collared dove K,H, RD, A
Crested lark K
Barn swallow K,A
Yellow wagtail RD
White eared bulbul K,RD
Graceful prinia K
Garden warbler RD
Common whitethroat RD
Spotted flycatcher RD,A
Common redstart RD
Pied wheatear K,RD
Isabelline wheatear A
Turkestan shrike RD
House crow K
Common myna K
House sparrow K,H,RD,A