Andrew Spencer, USA
Saudi Arabia was always one of those destinations that evoked a sense of mystique for me, an exotic country with birds rarely seen by outsiders, and one I wasn’t sure I would ever get to. So when we found ourselves at a bit of a loss due to unforeseen cancelations, I and a couple of friends jumped at the chance to take a last minute trip to The Kingdom. Being last minute, we had very little time to do much research, and anyone who has birded internationally knows that even with lots of advance planning, having local knowledge and help is what makes all the difference on a trip.
Thankfully, Greg was exactly what the doctor ordered when it came to guaranteeing a successful visit to the country! With only a few days to spend and a long list of targets, his help was truly invaluable in helping us connect with nearly all of them. He skillfully planned an itinerary that focused on the most important targets first (Asir Magpie and Arabian Woodpecker, anyone?) And as he was in constant contact with us, he was able to adapt his recommendations on the fly, based on how each day went. When we had difficulty connecting with Arabian Waxbill (winter is not the best time to find them), Greg was able to direct us to exactly the right spot to connect with the species. And when our plans evolved to include a jaunt down to the coast near Jizan, his directions to an unlikely looking dry and dusty farm had us looking at Arabian Golden Sparrow without breaking a sweat. Well, the air was so dry that our sweat disappeared instantly, but the bird was still exactly where he told us to look! I only wish he’d been with us in person so he could have shared the vagrant Black Heron we found the next day.
It is with a huge sense of gratitude that the three of us thank Greg for his help turning this trip from a potential last-minute scramble into a highly successful and unforgettable tour of a gorgeous country. I highly recommend his services to anyone considering a trip to Saudi Arabia!
Jacob Bourgeois, USA
I am not what you would call a knowledgeable birder, and in fact I had never taken a trip fully devoted to bird watching aside from the occasional road trip or small-scale walking survey. But I love learning about the natural world wherever I go, and the Middle East has always played a special role in my life. Greg is one of the few people I know who has managed to bring a passion for birding and natural history generally to a region that has so much to offer, but that receives strikingly little attention.
I did not have any particular agenda in advance, but Greg’s tour of Arabian endemics in southwest Saudi Arabia was a masterclass in the region’s native and non-native species that was well organized and covered a surprising breadth of ecosystems over an intense week. Greg showed a great deal of expert knowledge of local bird species developed over many years in the field, and the other tour participants were equally passionate and fountains of knowledge in their own right. More than that, they all showed patience with a beginner like me and a willingness to teach.
I could speak about the number of species we saw (many), how many endemics we managed to pick up (all), but that is better left to other reviewers. What I can say is that even for non-experts, this was an amazing and intense trip, and worthy of putting on anyone’s radar. Also, Saudi Arabia is gorgeous.
Robert Dobson, UK
When the opportunity to take a birding tour in Saudi Arabia came up I was keen to be involved.
Even before the tour began, Greg was hard at work providing information and lists for the group and the work rate never wavered with long days out in the heat, night trips for owls and all the driving and logistics involved in making a successful trip with many highlights.
Personal favourites for me included Arabian Scops Owl, Arabian Golden Sparrow and Philby’s partridge from an impressive list of 158.
Thank you for a great trip.
Mauro Bailo, Italy
After birding (it seems eons ago) Yemen, where I saw only a few of the Arabian endemics, the only way of ticking the rest of them was a birding tour to Saudi Arabia. When I found Greg's website I knew that the right time had come. Even if Greg couldn't lead us in person, his remote leadership through detailed GPS of the birding spots, info about hotels (it's very hard to reserve a hotel via internet since most of the listings are written in Arabic!), transit times and local contacts helped us in optimizing our birding and proved to be the key of our tour success.
And success means success! We saw all the endemics of southwest Saudi (well almost all of them...we dipped the Arabian Scops Owl but only because we wanted to leave something for another trip! ☺️).
Another asset of Greg's leadership was that we were in constant contact via WhatsApp and some last minute suggestions led us to see the bird we were looking for (and then sharing a whatsapp hurrah in real time).
Among the highlights of our trip were a majestic Arabian Eagle-Owl on the corner of a building right in the exact spot suggested by Greg, a flock of 25 Hypocolius in Riyadh, two Asir Magpies landing on a juniper a few meters away, as well as close views of the thrush, the warbler, the woodpecker, the two serins, the waxbill, the two partridges, the sparrow and the grosbeak.
We also encountered some interesting African species: Verreaux's Eagle, Red-knobbed Coot, Red-eyed Dove, Dusky Turtle Dove, White-browed Coucal, African Silverbill, African Stonechat, Cinnamon-breasted Bunting, and Black-crowned Tchagra,
In Riyadh, there was also an impressive field crammed with 42 eagles, a mix of Greater Spotted and Steppe.
From Alessio, Giuseppe and myself, thank you very much, Greg, for your great job. We hope to bird again in Saudi Arabia, hopefully led by you in person.
Saudi Arabia is such an underrated place for Birding. It offers some incredible area endemics, as well as being positioned extremely well for migratory birds in season.
As a destination, Saudi might feel intimidating for some, which is why having Greg guiding us was very valuable. It gave us the re-assurance that we needed that we were at the right places, to find our target birds and avoiding any trouble in the meantime. Not to say that it is easy to get into any trouble – as the locals are wonderful and extremely welcoming!
All in all, we managed to tick over 200 species in 8 days. Having Greg guiding us remotely, meant that we could tweak our itinerary on the go, to find the species that were giving us a hard time. Such a fantastic place – I would highly recommend Saudi Arabia for a birding trip!
Spring 2022 we decided to travel to Saudi Arabia as the country seemed very promising for birdwatching. The southwest corner is known to hold many endemic species, but the country itself hasn't been well known as a birdwatching destination. For many years it wasn't really easy to visit. But the formalities to enter changed two years ago. Just being allowed to enter the country is not enough though. You need good information, and finding it for Saudi was not easy because there were very few trip reports. The best information we found was on Gregory Askew's website. My wife, Marianne, and I are used to traveling on our own my wife, but to have a successful birding trip you need very precise information. That’s why we asked Gregory to help us in organizing our visit. At that time Gregory was back in the USA, but with his huge knowledge of the country he gave us precise maps of many different sites and he helped us with some formalities, entering the Raydah Preserve for example. This kind of organisation was really great for us. We were free to go where we wanted and to manage each place we visited as we wanted but with the information provided by Gregory as our guide.
The country is going to be a main birding hotspot in the Middle East in the coming years. It’s clearly far more varied than people had thought. In most people's minds, Saudi Arabia is just a huge sand desert. In fact, that is only one side of the country. Visiting the mountains along the southwest coast is really great, and, in Saudi Arabia, you will also find rocky desert and semi desert, wetlands, and mudflats.
For us spring was a great time to visit because we could see the endemic species as well as migratory birds. I suppose each month of the years has got its own species of interest.
We managed to find virtually all our targets, but we only heard Philby’s Partridge and Hume’s (Desert) Owl. The problem with our trip, it was too short! This country has so much to offer, so we look forward to visiting again in the future.
We really want to thank Gregory for his help making this trip a success.