21 July 2014

A few early migrants

Week 27, 05 July 2014 - Sulaibikhat to Al Abraq

Neil Tovey and I headed out west to the oasis farm of Al Abraq for a look see.

After an early morning pick-up, we headed north and stopped at one of the outfalls (this is another description for dirty urban water flowing out into the Gulf) in Sulaibikhat. As nasty and smelly as they are, they do attract the birds.

A Common Redshank was seen in amongst some urban companions

Common Redshank (Tringa totanus ) amongst numbers of Columba livia
More interestingly were the few Common Black-headed Gulls that appeared to have stayed for the summer. This a distant record shot.

Common Black-headed Gull (Chroicocephalus ridibundus) with Slender-billed Gull (Chroicocephalus genei )

Over the outfall, Terns were swooping down and taking large crickets off the surface that had been washed out of the sewage. A number of juvenile Gull-billed Terns

Juvenile Gull-billed Tern (Gelochelidon nilotica)
as well as some juvenile Common Terns 

Juvenile Common Tern (Sterna hirundo)


which are tricky to tell apart from the very similar White-cheeked Terns which do breed on the off-shore islands.

Juvenile White-cheeked Tern (Chlidonias leucopterus)
We then made the long drive (by Kuwait standards) to Al Abraq. After a quick orientation drive around the farm, we parked and walked.

There were at least 6 Upcher's Warblers present around the farm.

Upchers Warbler (Hippolais languida)
But a single Afghan Babbler was a real surprise and a treat for both Neil and I. This was my first record of this bird at Abraq and this far west and only managed a record shot as it moved away from us at speed. It just shows that birding always seems to produce something interesting to see.

Afghan Babbler (Turdoides c. huttoni)
A couple of interesting insects were around in the summer heat, a Brown Playboy that I recorded at this site previously

Brown Playboy (Deudorix antalus)
and a large Bembix type wasp species

Bembix sp.
By now the mercury was pushing to the upper 40's so we had a last drive around the farm. A large shadow passing on the ground in front of us saw the brake lights come on sharply and we both jumped out almost before I stopped the car. A smart and fresh juvenile Long-legged Buzzard was overhead and looking for a place to land. A few quick pics and we moved on so that it could land.

Juvenile Long-legged Buzzard (Buteo rufinus)


And just in case I would forget (not that I would) - hey Dad!

Western Cattle Egret (Bubulcus ibis )




12 July 2014

Independence Day Birding

Week 27 - 04 July 2014 - Jahra East to Sulaibikhat

Yes, I know it is still mid-summer and the ambient temps are brutal and there shouldn't be any birds about. But as us birders know, there is always something to be seen if you make the effort, irrespective of the environmental conditions.

So it was that my alarm went off at 4am and I headed to Jahra East Outfall which is an unprotected and public site and therefore no restrictions apply or permits required to enjoying some birding. Driving to the outfall before sunrise, I found an Arabian Red Fox on the perimeter of the new suburb that is built almost on top of Jahra East. I had no time to check the settings as it was running away from me, but I quite like the unintended 'motion' image.


Arabian Red Fox (Vulpes vulpes arabica) scavenging in the pre-dawn
Once at the outfall which I had all to myself I enjoyed the pre-dawn tranquility (the smell aside) and watched the sun rise in the east.


Jahra East Sunrise
It wasn't too long after that when the local herder arrived with his flock to let them graze on the small patch of green grass before it got too hot


Bhaa - coming through..
Waiting for the reed birds to awaken, I saw many (more than I have ever seen before) black rats foraging and going through their morning cleaning routines on the banks at the base of the reeds. I'm sure these are responsible for the loss of many reed dwelling and nesting birds. There are reports that the number of Rats are increasing at an alarming rate in the city and parks, probably attracted by the litter that people are generally to lazy to pick up after their festivities. A potential epidemic waiting in the wings?


Black/Norwegian Rat
Soon the Caspian/Eurasian Reed Warblers (which breed in these reeds in the summer) started calling - but they are notoriously difficult to photograph as they are always on the move.


Caspian Reed Warbler (Acrocephalus s. fuscus)
A small flock of Black-winged Stilts passed by overhead.


Juvenile Black-winged Stilt (Himantopus himantopus)
Another grayer and a slightly larger Warbler caught my eye, this one swaying and fanning its tail - Upchers and quite unusual in this reed habitat


Upchers Warbler (Hippolais languida)


I walked along the outfall until it reached the sea and scanned the birds feeding and foraging on the low-tide zone.

A Little Tern flew up the outfall


Little Tern (Sternula albifrons)
In the distance, I found the adult Black Tern (that had been seen a week ago) feeding in a mixed flock of Terns. I quite like this image as gives an idea of the setting across the northern Arabian Gulf with Jal Al Zor escarpment as a backdrop. I had to pre-focus to try and get the flying bird in focus - which took quite some time.


Black Tern (Chlidonias niger)
Walking back to the car some Hirundines were now hawking above the channel - Barn Swallows and Sand Martin

Sand Martin (Riparia riparia)
These were joined by Common House Martin, one which was an obvious adult

Adult Common House Martin (Delichon urbicum)


But the other caused some consternation as it was flying with the adult, but the plumage was completely off; other than the broad white rump (typical of House Martin). In the end I assumed that it is probably an oiled bird, although the oiling still seems too diffuse - if any has a different opinion, please do let me know.

Oiled juvenile Common House Martin (Delichon urbicum)?



The birds became less active and quieter as the temps rocketed upwards, so I headed to Sulaibikhat Bay for the low tide. Here I set myself up low down on the beach sitting on an old tyre and my big glass on a monopod. There are two species of Mudskipper that are abundant in this area and enjoyed their antics for around 45-minutes - sweat running down my face and back, but entertained nevertheless.

The biggest of the two is Boleophthalmus dussumieri and if not relaxing around their burrow, were either defending their territories or showing off.

Territorial Boleophthalmus dussumieri


Squaring off
The smaller of the two is Periophthalmus waltoni and in sunlight seems to have astonishing aqua coloured eyes.

Periophthalmus waltoni, check the eyes!




Later I noticed a few large Crabs foraging in the literal zone that we suspect is Macrophthalmus dentipes. These crabs were oblivious to the Mudskippers and seem to happily co-exist. But when they crossed into a burrow of dussumieri they seemed to cross an imaginary line and the entertainment began. Initially there appeared to be some indignation from dussumieri followed by some posturing. When this had no effect on the crab, more forceful action was required, so the dussumeiri slithered into the pool and 'leaned' on the crab - still no effect! Eventually, using it's full body it appeared to make itself as long and big as possible behind the crab who then slowly and at its own pace moved out of the offending pool.

Interaction between Boleophthalmus dussumieri and Macrophthalmus dentipes





By now I was a little parched myself and was also tempted to share the pool, but retreated a little further south to another outfall. Here I found a Black-tailed Godwit resplendent in breeding plumage

Black-tailed Godwit (Limosa limosa)
A flock or around 30 Greater Flamingo which are way more common in winter

Greater Flamingo (Phoenicopterus roseus)
and a lone Gull that possibly over-summered, I suspect this is a Steppe?

Possible Steppe Gull (Larus f. barabensis)
Along with a few juvenile Gull-billed Terns feeding off stuff floating out of the outfall - quite disgusting!

Juvenile Gull-billed Tern (Gelochelidon nilotica)
A House Sparrow also joined in on the action and manage to secure himself one of the large cricket like insects that get washed out from the outfall. Strange to see a seed eater devouring a big chunk of protein 'meat'

Male House Sparrow (Passer domesticus) with a protein based meal
Last stop of the day was Souk Sharq where the amount of young fish along the breakwater was astounding.

Shoaling fingerlings (not sure of sp)
I was really surprised that the Terns weren't hammering these fish, but something in the water was - with big splashes and fish jumping everywhere

Escaping danger from below
Not sure if it was one of these guys, but he didn't seem big enough?

One of the bigger fish on the fringes
Overhead the only Terns seen were Lesser Crested

Lesser Crested Tern (Sterna bengalensis)
and a Sandwich that was also 'panting' in the heat

Sandwich Tern (Sterna sandvicensis)
By now I had to get home to some shade and hydration - but a good day out with some interesting diversity