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

Slow boat to Qaru

Week 31, 30 July 2014 - Qaru Island

A few Biodiversity East members and friends had the opportunity of joining a dive charter departing from Khiran to Qaru Island for a days exploration and snorkeling.

A full Silsan departed at 9am and we chugged our way East across the Arabian Gulf to Qaru in pretty choppy seas with some big swells that had a few passengers looking decidedly 'green in the gills' - I was sea watching in the hope of some pelagic bird species, but only had Socotra Cormorant, Lesser Crested Terns and Bridled Terns. 

Bridled Tern (Onychoprion anaethetus)
After 3-hours we finally reached Qaru where the weather had settled a little. 
As we weren't diving, the tender boat took us to shore and we had some time to explore this very small but important sandy island. No Terns breed on this island, but rather on Kubbar which is north of Qaru.

Of course I checked for signs of passerine migration and found Rufous-tailed Scrub Robin and 7 Eurasian Hoopoe roosting and flying around the radio mast.

Eurasian Hoopoe (Upupa epops)
Around the Coastguard Building there were a few Eastern Olivaceous Warbler

Eastern Olivaceous Warbler (Iduna pallida)
And a single Yellow Wagtail feeding on a cricket of which there has been a huge influx over the past week - crickets literally everywhere

Yellow Wagtail (Motacilla flava flava)
There is a species of Dragonfly on the island that I havent seen on the mainland - so a bit of DIF (dragonfly in flight) action - not that easy either!

Dragonfly sp

After a bit of snorkeling where the colours of reef fish are as amazing as some of the passerine migrants it was time to head back to Khiran on the Silsan.

Silsan Dive Boat
Slowly, very slowly Qaru Island faded into the distance

Qaru Island
Fortunately the wind had abated so it was a smoother trip home and the passengers were able to keep their lunch inside, instead of feeding the fish.

Bridled Tern heading to a roost

29 July 2014

Mission Accomplished

Week 31, 28 July 2014 - Boubyan, North Kuwait

I was on a mission to get better photographs of the 3rd Mudskipper species in Kuwait - Slender Mudskipper.

An early start to catch the low tide, meant a fair drive north, then east and north again toward Boubyan Island and stopping on route for a few landscape images

Camel grazing with a Jal Al Zor backdrop

The only switchback road in Kuwait

Jal Al Zor

In this northern area there are also extensive mudflats - but finding a suitable one was a challenge.

Eventually I did find one and after scanning it for some time saw that there was quite a bit of activity on the flats. The problem was that since it was early I would be photographing into the sun - my problem was solved when I found an old slipway, so could get closer to the low tide and photograph back to the beach with the sun behind me. So I plonked myself down on my backside and sat for over an hour enjoying the animated activities of these fascinating amphibious fish. May I present to you, Scartelaos tenuis, who by the way has impressive blue eyes when the catch the light just right!

Slender Mudskipper (Scartelaos tenuis)

As with the mudflats in the south, there are some large Crabs that co-exist on the mudflats with the Mudskippers

Macrophthalmus dentipe
After an enjoyable morning, I headed back toward home stopping first at McDonalds to enjoy a birding favourite - Egg McMuffin and Cappucino and since it was the first day of Eid, they were open!

A quick stop at the smelly outfall in Sulaibikhat produced a single Eurasian Oystercatcher

Eurasian Oystercatcher (Haematopus ostralegus)
And a few White-winged Terns foraging over the outfall - I shudder to think what it is they fished out of the outfall to eat, but it must be revolting!

White-winged Tern

And a House Crow dropped in, fortunately the number of these Crows have remained low in Kuwait

House Crow (Corvus splendens)

Passage Shorebirds cont.

Week 30, 26 July 2014 - Sabah Al Ahmad Sea City

After spending a few outings in the north of Kuwait, I was back in the south at the Sea City project to check if the shorebird abundance was as good as Jahra Bay.

As with the north, passage migration of shorebirds was also evident in the south - smaller numbers, but similar diversity. Inside the project I had flocks of Common Sandpiper

Common Sandpiper (Actitis hypoleucos)
A few Redshank and small flocks of Lesser Sand Plovers.

Lesser Sand Plover (Charadrius atrifrons) in non-breeding and breeding plumage

Of more interest to me were two Socotra Cormorants foraging inside the project, as these are more typically coastal and off-shore species - at least in Kuwait they are

1st year Socotra Cormorant (Phalacrocorax nigrogularis) a summer visitor

A pair of Graceful Prinia was a new addition for the project, they had taken up residence in an area with suitable habitat. It is certainly the first time for me that I have seen this species on the coast in the south of Kuwait

Graceful Prinia (Prinia gracilis)
South of Khiran, I found a good mixed shorebird roost on the coast 

Redshank, Greater/Lesser Sand Plover, Curlew Sandpiper and Kentish Plover
There was also a large flock of Bar-tailed Godwits with a smaller number of Eurasian Curlews

Bar-tailed Godwits and Eurasian Curlew

Bar-tailed Godwit (Limosa lapponica)

and a single Eurasian Oystercatcher, distinctive in winter plumage with the white collar
Winter plumage Eurasian Oystercatcher (Haematopus ostralegus)