A huge desert area of northern Saudi Arabia, close to the border with Jordan, and 80 km north-west of Sakakah. Undulating, black, basalt boulder-fields with numerous volcanic cones and frequent low hills, interspersed with siltflats and some sabkhah. Wadis are generally shallow. Rainfall is seasonal (every winter) but varies greatly in amount between years. There is rarely any surface water except for a permanent reservoir at Dawmat al-Jandl (see site 002) near the southern edge of the reserve. Except for a very few stunted palms the vegetation is devoid of trees, and is sparse except after good winter/spring rains, although drainage features contain a reasonable cover of small shrubs (Artemisia, Haloxylon, Zilla).
See box for key species. The site holds the most diverse breeding community of larks in the Middle East: Eremalauda dunni, Ammomanes cincturus, A. deserti, Alaemon alaudipes, Ramphocoris clotbey, Calandrella rufescens, Galerida cristata and Eremophila bilopha are regular, and Melanocorypha bimaculata and Calandrella brachydactyla may breed in some years after good rains. Other breeding species include Aquila chrysaetos, Buteo rufinus, Falco tinnunculus, F. pelegrinoides (probably), Alectoris chukar (now possibly extinct), Cursorius cursor, Bubo ascalaphus and Athene noctua. A concentration of 10,000-15,000 sandgrouse (70% Pterocles orientalis, 30% P. alchata) has been recorded at the eastern edge of the reserve in winter, and other wintering species include Falco columbarius (relatively common) and Sylvia conspicillata (regular). The site was one of the last places that Struthio camelus occurred in Saudi Arabia before being hunted to extinction; the last documented record from the area was in January 1930.
Non-bird biodiversity: Mammals: Canis lupus (V), Vulpes rueppelli (K), Felis margarita (K), Gazella subgutturosa (rare) and possibly G. gazella (V).
Pressure/threats to key biodiversity
The site is an established NCWCD reserve and among the best protected, with a large staff of rangers and an aerial patrol. Nomadic pastoralists and their sheep and goats are excluded, but free-ranging camels are not, and in years of average rainfall the area still verges on being overgrazed. There is still some poaching of Chlamydotis undulata and gazelles by illegal hunters and by those given ‘permits’ to attend their camels.
Data-sheet compiled by S. Newton, with comments by P. Symens.