16 September 2014

Warblers of JEO - Part 1

Week 35, 29 August 2014 - Jahra East Outfall (JEO)

Summer breeding is over for the Warblers of JEO and if you are a Warbler fan, August is the month to visit Kuwait and work your way through the confusing array of 1st-year youngsters and moulting (worn) adults - it truly is a challenge!

In this first part, I will feature an 'Acro' that Kuwait should be truly proud of and conserve as vigorously as possible; the Endangered Basra Reed Warbler (Acrocephalus griseldis). A Warbler that is named after Basra, the capital city of Basra Province in Iraq (only 125km away from Jahra East as the Crow sorry Warbler flies).

It is a Warbler of the genus Acrocephalus and is listed as Endangered on the current IUCN Red List of Threatened Species as it has a small population (between 1,500 - 7,000 mature individuals) which is estimated to be undergoing very rapid and continuing decline due to extensive and recently accelerating drainage of it's prime breeding habitat. This is a species that is one of the key indicators of wetland health. 

The primary breeding ground is the Mesopotamian Marshes of south-east Iraq and probably in south-west Iran in the Hawr Al Hawizeh marsh complex of Khuzestan. In 2007 two pairs were confirmed breeding in the Hula Valley in Israel and in 2009 Basra Reed I photographed a juvenile bird which confirmed breeding in Kuwait at JEO (although it was suspected that they were breeding previously, it was never confirmed). 

Now, on today's visit in 2014 I again photographed at least one 1st year (juvenile) bird which suggests that Basra in all likelihood, bred again at JEO which is fantastic news for local birders and Kuwait. To be absolutely conclusive, we would really need to find a nest in breeding season, but the habitat is very dense, the breeding birds very shy and secretive; so it will be a difficult task. In my opinion, it is not worth the risk of disturbing this endangered species whilst they are breeding - we want to encourage them to stay, not scare them off

This means with the continued loss of habitat in the Basra marshes, Kuwait could become a key secondary breeding location for this Endangered species, which means that that it is important that this site and habitat is preserved and protected all year round.

Basra Reed Warblers are migrants and after breeding are seen on passage in both Kuwait and Saudi Arabia as they head south to Africa and countries like Sudan, south Sudan, Ethiopia, south Somalia, south-east Kenya, east Tanzania, south Malawi and Mozambique for the African summer.

Kuwait has a unique opportunity to really make an impact on the long term survival of this species and all it will take is the conservation and protection of the known breeding habitat of this species. From what I hear, plans are afoot to do just this and that truly will be a big step in the right direction for the species future and for conservation initiatives in Kuwait.

As mentioned, there was a smorgasbord of Warblers on offer this morning, but these images of Basra Reed (1st year birds in fresh plumage as well as moulting adults) all show long primary projections and relatively long and slim bills and trust me, among some of the other Acro's this wasn't always obvious - especially since they are not stationary for long in dense habitat! At this point I would like to thank Peter Kennerley who double checked my ID's and helped with the aging

The images below are of the 1st-year (juvenile) bird in fresh plumage
1st year Basra Reed Warbler (Acrocephalus griseldis)

These images are of a worn (moulting) adult - probably post breeding

Worn adult Basra Reed Warbler (Acrocephalus griseldis)

25 August 2014

A glut of shorebirds

Week 32, 09 August 2014 - Sabah Al Ahmad Sea City

There was strong wind and rising dust for the visit to the desert and coastal areas of Sea City which were less than ideal conditions to be out with digital equipment and no eye drops.

Exploring some of the norther lagoons a few Socotra Cormorants were found inside the project which is pretty unusual for a generally off-shore species

Air drying 1st year Socotra Cormorant (Phalacrocorax nigrogularis)

Socotra Cormorant (Phalacrocorax nigrogularis)
I found a mixed flock of Bar-tailed Godwit's and Eurasian Whimbrel on the lee side of the lagoon

Bar-tailed Godwit (Limosa lapponica)

Bar-tailed Godwit (Limosa lapponica)

Eurasian Whimbrel (Numenius p. phaeopus)
Here a Bar-tailed Godwit and Eurasian Whimbrel flying together to show the not so subtle differences in structure and bill shape and size

Eurasian Whimbrel (Numenius p. phaeopus) and Bar-tailed Godwit (Limosa lapponica)
South of Khiran many shore and sea birds were found sheltering out of the wind. Again, a few Terns were found - Lesser Crested

Lesser Crested Tern (Sterna bengalensis)
and a family of White-cheeked Terns who were getting their youngsters ready for their imminent departure

White-cheeked Tern (Chlidonias leucopterus)
The predominant shorebird today was Greater Sand Plover

Greater Sand Plover (Charadrius leschenaultii)
with fewer Lesser Sand Plover's seen

Lesser Sand Plover (Charadrius atrifrons)
The smaller shorebirds consisted of Little Stint

Little Stint (Calidris minuta)
Dunlin and Curlew Sanpiper's

Dunlin (Calidris alpina) and Curlew Sandpiper (Calidris ferruginea) for comparative purposes

Sanderling (Calidris alba)
and Terek Sandpiper

Terek Sandpiper (Xenus cinereus)
and the only passerine of note seen was a Yellow Wagtail that dropped onto the beach to get out of the wind.

1st year Yellow Wagtail (Motacilla flava flava)
No more coastal and Kuwait birding for the next 10-days as I head off to the South African lowveld and then some time up on the highveld catching up with our wonderful wildlife and then family and friends.

Birders and shooters

Week 32, 08 August 2014 - Al Abraq

A trip out to the west before my long overdue vacation back to South Africa. The journey west was shortened with the good in car conversations with Markus Craig and Neil Tovey.

We were hoping for a productive morning, but it was spoilt by a group of young shooters who were 'trespassing' on the farm and who didn't take kindly to us asking them to climb back over the fence. We photographed all of the Licence Plates to report to the relevant authorities.

Once they had left the area we were able to walk and enjoy some passage birds which were understandably skittish.

Like the last visit there were numbers of 1st year Black-headed Buntings 

1st year Black-headed Bunting (Emberiza melanocephala)
and a small flock of 3 Rose-coloured Starlings

1st year Rose-coloured Starling (Pastor roseus)
We had our first Spotted Flycatcher of this autumn

Spotted Flycatcher (Muscicapa striata)
A scuttle in the leaf litter gave a fast moving Schmidt's Fringed-toed Lizard

Schmidt's Fringed-toed Lizard
Again we found the solitary Afghan Babbler and again it did its best to keep its distance from us

Afghan Babbler (Turdoides c. huttoni)
When it got a little too hot, we opted to drive around the farm, finding Isabelline Wheatear snacking on an invertebrate

Isabelline Wheatear (Oenanthe isabellina)
and a Greater Hoopoe Lark in the same area as the last visit

Greater Hoopoe Lark (Alaemon alaudipes)
here a Blue-throated Agama trying to keep cool

Blue-throated Agama
After my visit to Sea City tomorrow, the next stop for me is a few days in the lowveld enjoying the delights Kruger National Park and no frigging shooters; just like minded people (both residents and tourists) who love, appreciate and respect nature!

Migrants and residents

Week 31, 02 August 2014 - Sabah Al Ahmad Sea City

I spent some time in the south at Sea City to compare migrant passage progress with the north and the west of the country.

As expected, another brutally hot summers day that kept birds in cover, but I did turn up a few early autumn migrants.

Eurasian Hoopoe are one of the early passage arrivals

Eurasian Hoopoe (Upupa epops)
As are Upcher's Warbler; I quite like this back lit image

Upcher's Warbler (Hippolais languida)
and the distinctive Rufous-tailed Scrub Robin

Rufous-tailed Scrub Robin (Cercotrichas galactotes)
The Terns are almost at the end of their breeding season on the off-shore islands and some post-breeding dispersal is now being observed by Lesser Crested and the other 2 species

Lesser Crested Tern (Sterna bengalensis)
Other local residents seen on each visit include White-eared Bulbul's

White-eared Bulbul (Pycnonotus l. leucotis)
and the often ignored House Sparrow

Male House Sparrow (Passer domesticus)

03 August 2014

A Locustella layover

Week 31, 01 August 2014 - Al Abraq

We were almost at the end of the Eid holidays and it was a good opportunity to go birding with Neil before we prepared to head back to work on Sunday. 

As always, an early start for the hour and a bit drive to the farm in the west of the country and at least for this visit the weather was on our side; no wind like our last visit.

We arrived just before 7am and decided to first walk the farm whilst it was still relatively 'cool' if you can say that 36 degrees is cool at 7am. A Common Kingfisher at the pool near the entrance gate was unexpected and my first record of this species at the farm.

Common Kingfisher (Alcedo atthis) 
There were many non-breeding or 1st year Black-headed Buntings around, but proved pretty difficult to photograph.

1st year Black-headed Bunting (Emberiza melanocephala)
Eastern Olivaceous Warbler was a new arrival

Eastern Olivaceous Warbler (Iduna pallida)
Although a few Upcher's Warblers were also still present by way of comparison

Upcher's Warbler (Hippolais languida)
A single Spotted Flycatcher was a first for this autumn passage and more will undoubtedly arrive over the next week

Spotted Flycatcher (Muscicapa striata)
Around the alfalfa fields we had two Lark species, Crested

Crested Lark (Galerida cristata)
and Greater Short-toed

Greater Short-toed Lark (Calandrella brachydactyla)

Cool 'hair'
The numbers of 1st year Yellow Wagtails are slowly increasing, this one nimbly caught a dragonfly, but was harassed by the other Wagtails who wanted a piece of the action.

Yellow Wagtail (Motacilla flava flava) with breakfast
In the mix of birds drinking and bathing in the alfalfa fields which had been freshly watered, two juvenile Rose-coloured Starlings flew out into one of the acacia trees.

1st year Rose-coloured Starling (Pastor roseus)
By now it had heated up, so we did one last circuit around the farm in the car, using it as a hide. This is where I saw the similarity between fishing and birding; how often does a fisherman say, just one last cast and that is when he catches his first or biggest fish. Well, the same happened to us - I saw a small Warbler fly up into a tree, while trying to get my bins on it, it dropped back down on the ground and scuttled off in a crouched position almost like a mouse - Common Grasshopper Warbler, a notoriously difficult species to find anywhere. I was hoping it would be a River Warbler, as I had found my first Grasshopper at this same site a few years back.

Nevertheless, this bird was looking for somewhere to rest and I could have taken a picture with my macro lens I was able to get that close - but I gave it some space and managed to get a few in not so natural surroundings as it was looking for shade and a place to rest up. A great and charismatic little bird all the same.

A skulking Common Grasshopper Warbler (Locustella naevia) in a natural environment

In search of a cool spot

Finding a cool spot and some shade

01 August 2014

Fighting the Light

Week 31, 31 July - Jahra Pools Reserve

As we have had this week off for Eid, there was an opportunity to visit Jahra Pools Reserve which is only open 3-days in the week. As a result I hadnt visited for many a month.

Neil and I took opportunity to spend a few hours in the reserve which has had a face lift and really looks good. The Hides are now all clad in reeds providing more cover for birders when accessing the hide and not spooking the birds as easily. The reserve has now also been extended right to the shoreline and is protected with a refinery style fence and this protection has been created a sanctuary as can be seen by the increasing number of breeding species within the reserve.

Water is a permanent fixture, but as a result the Phragmite Reeds have expanded at a rapid rate and this would need to have some management to prevent the reeds eventually choking out the open pools that are still present, as already many have been lost. Neil and I recorded around 60 species for the morning, which is pretty impressive given the time of the year with migrants starting to arrive.

I had a continuous struggle with the light as birds always seemed to be against the light, so that proved to be quite frustrating - fortunately I shoot in RAW so was able to at least salvage a few. The most abundant migrants were the shorebirds which gave a good mix and new waders were Marsh and Wood Sandpiper that I hadn't seen last week. In the mix of Little Stints were Dunlin

Dunlin (Calidris alpina)
Temminck's Stint

Temminck's Stint (Calidris temminckii)
and a European Black-tailed Godwit

European Black-tailed Godwit (Limosa l. limosa)
I did find one location where I managed to get the light a little behind me and a Green Sandpiper

Green Sandpiper (Tringa ochropus) showing distinct underwing

Green Sandpiper (Tringa ochropus)
and Little Stint obliged

Little Stint (Calidris minuta)
We found 3 White-tailed Lapwings and of course they were against the light.

White-tailed Lapwing (Vanellus leucurus)
A few 1st year Yellow Wagtails were around

1st year Yellow Wagtail (Motacilla flava flava)
We decided to call it a day a mid-morning and did one last circuit wandering if we may find a Crake, when Neil spotted a Crake sized bird scuttle back into the reeds. I killed the engine and we scanned carefully and found that it was a young Water Rail which had decided to preen just out of a clear view. We waited it out, sweating bullets as the mercury rose - but our patience was rewarded as it ventured out to feed in the open for a short time and again the light was not in my favour, but I will happily take the sighting as it has been a few years since my last sighting.

Water Rail (Rallus aquaticus)

In one of the bigger pools a Eurasian Coot quickly tried to get its 4 youngsters back into cover, but I managed one frame before they disappeared.

Eurasian Coot (Fulica atra) and young