I was in Saudi Arabia for a couple of days this week, in Dhahran on the Arabian Gulf near Bahrain, with no field guides and no camera. Back in the UK, looking at the Collins Guide which doesn't really cover Saudi, and trying to identify a bird that appeared to be common there. No pictures I am afraid, but I did get a good look at several birds.
The closest in Collins is a White-eared Bulbul, but some of the details seem wrong. The key differences are that my birds were a uniform pale grey on the wings and the back - much paler than shown in Collins - with a very rounded, regular, white cheek patch. Also the rather heavy bill shown in the Guide does not match.
The bird initially suggested a large, round, strong, confident Great Tit. A little larger in the body than a Great Tit, with a longer tail, and maybe slightly more thrush or chat-shaped. But still rather more rounded than the somewhat slender pictures of bulbuls that I am looking at in Collins.
Jet black head, nape, and throat. Very obvious large bright-white oval patch on the ear coverts / cheeks. This was always oval and rounded, and not the rather irregular and angular white patch shown in Collins. The white patch was entirely surrounded by black, almost as though it had a black collar below the white patch. The white did not reach the eye. The black nape came well down towards the mantle - without the grey mantle extending up the back of the neck as shown in Collins.
It had a dark eye, and a thin yellow/orange ring around the eye. I saw no sign of a crest - I didn't know to look carefully for one, but I think that I would have seen it if it were at all obvious.
The bill was dark, and a bit thicker / stronger-looking than a Great Tit, but I really did not get the impression of something as thick and as strong as shown in the Guide. You can see that I was thinking some sort of large powerful tit.
The breast, belly, folded wings, mantle and back were all pale uniform dull grey. The primaries, and especially the tail feathers, were somewhat darker grey, becoming quite dark down the tail. But the upper parts generally were a very similar shade to the belly, and quite pale. In Collins, the belly and wings are shown as quite strongly contrasting shades - they didn't look like that.
The tail was moderately long, darkening towards the end. The tips of the tail feathers were bright white - not so obvious from all angles, but very clear sometimes. The white was not really a band - more of an individual oval blob on the end of each tail feather. The tail was fairly narrow at rest, and not fanned as wide as shown in Collins when the bird flew.
The under-tail coverts were yellow/orange - and not that obvious except when seen head on from below when very clear. I got the impression that some birds were more orange than others.
The legs were greyish, maybe a little darker than the belly, but not much - pale to mid grey I guess.
Apart from the under tail, there was no hint of green or blue or brown or yellow in any of the greys. However, I am red-green colour blind, so my description of colour is not quite like other people's. There was no hint of a dark stripe down the belly like a Great Tit. Perhaps slightly "fluffy" on the belly.
The birds were single and in small groups, in trees, on the ground, on buildings. Busy. Noisy. Confiding. The area was low-density urban with lots of irrigation and planted vegetation. The call / song was short, loud, whistles and chirps, medium pitch, not very musical.
So is it a White-eared Bulbul, and do they get paler to the east, or is it something else? I havenít managed to find a closer match on the web.
By the way, there were lots of Hoopoes about. I have not seen one yet in the UK, but they had longer and more strongly decurved bills than I was expecting. Surprisingly comical birds.