29 December 2011

2011 Kuwait Round-up

Week 52 - 29 December 2011

Well another eventful year gone by in what feels like a flash and 2012 rushing headlong toward us…

From a birding perspective and being on the migration route, Kuwait had another exciting year with a few 1st records and many other rarities showing up during the course of the year.

I ended the 2011 birding year on a good note with 11 Greylag Geese in Jahra, a bird which I had'nt yet seen in Kuwait, so a lifer for me. 2010 finally took me over 300 to 303 species and for 2012 I finished up on 307 species out of the 387 species recorded in Kuwait.

As KORC (Kuwait Ornithological Rarities Committee) we adjudicate and ratify all vagrants reported in Kuwait to ensure that they are genuine records. Once a species is recorded 15 times, we then review its vagrant status based on frequency of sightings. With more and more birders/photographers reporting their sightings we are getting a better understanding of distribution and status of rare species. A very good example in the 5-years I have been in Kuwait is Black-winged Kite that is now considered an annual but uncommon visitor, when in 2006 it was still considered a vagrant.

On that note, here are the highlights for 2011

1st records – Pied Bushchat, Striated Heron, Pectoral Sandpiper and Masked Wagtail (considered a sub-species of White Wagtail)
2nd records – Mongolian Finch and Red Knot
3rd records – Long-tailed Skua and Grey-necked Bunting
4th records – Humes Leaf Warbler
5th records – Arctic Tern
7th records – Common Crane
8th records – Pale Crag Martin and Ferruginous Duck
9th records – Eversmanns Redstart, Rufous Turtle Dove, Eurasian Golden Plover, Ferruginous Duck and Common Crane
10th records – Spur-winged Plover, Rufous Turtle Dove and Eurasian Golden Plover
11th records – Dead Sea Sparrow
12th records – Dead Sea Sparrow and Black Stork
13th records – Black Stork
14th records – Black Stork
15th records – Crested Honey Buzzard and Black Stork

Just as I was typing this I get news of a flock of 9 Red-crested Pochard found by a local Kuwaiti birder that if accepted by KORC will be another FIRST for Kuwait' so now a total of 388 species for Kuwait (pending KORC Acceptance of the record)

Now we look forward to the coming Spring migration with migrants returning in preparation for the coming breeding season as well as the winter residents slowly change from non-breeding to breeding plumage in preparation for their departure toward the end of Feb and early March.

Here are a few images of vagrants for the year 2011

Pectoral Sandpiper was a 1st and found at the Pivot Fields during October where it remained for almost a week.

Pectoral Sandpiper (Calidris melanotos)

The Red Knot was a 1-day bird found at Jahra East Outfall and the 2nd record for Kuwait

Red Knot (Calidris canutus)

The 9th record of Rufous Turtle Dove was found by Brian Foster and I in March at Jahra Farms

Rufous Turtle Dove (Streptopelia o. meena)

27 December 2011

Boxing Day Birding

Week 52 - 26 December 2011, Green Island and Jahra Pools Reserve

I had taken 2-days off for the Christmas weekend to enjoy time with the family and the weather played it's part too - almost Spring weather during the day.

We had a late morning walk around Green Island seeing a few Common Redshanks and a single pale morph Indian Reef Heron. However, over lunch I received a text for a species I hadnt yet seen in Kuwait.

pale morph Indian Reef Heron (Egrette g. schistacea)

Fortunately my family and father-in-law were happy to take a detour to Jahra Pools Reserve to see if the birds were still there. I checked one part of the pools first and found a single Tufted Duck and managed to catch it taking off.

Tufted Duck (Aythya fuligula)

At the next spot, there was no sign of the flock, but after some time, a flock of 11 Greylag Geese (with a lone Widgeon) appeared from behind some reeds. Although quite distant I was able to get some record images and this I would imagine is my last Kuwait lifer for this year, so a great birding note to end 2011.
Eastern Greylag Goose (Anser a. rubrirostri)

The wind was pumping a bit, but the Pallid Swifts overhead seemed to enjoy the challenge, as I did trying to follow them with the camera

Pallid Swift (Apus pallidus)

22 December 2011

A brief morning at the Pivot Fields

Week 50 - 17 December 2011, Pivot Fields

Finally, this post completes my backlog and brings me up to date.

I was able to get out for just 2-hours with The Beast on a tranquil winter morning that was very gloomy to start, but the sun burned off the low cloud and fog by the time I had to leave - nevertheless, it was still enjoyable.

A Daurian Shrike was reluctant to leave it's perch in the damp cold

Daurian Shrike (Lanius isabellinus)

as was this Common Starling that was feasting on a discarded corn cob

Common Starling (Sturnus vulgaris)

I found a male Desert Wheatear and with patience it eventually did come close enough to have its picture taken

Desert Wheatear (Oenanthe deserti)

Driving on a cut road through one of the fields I flushed a Red-spotted Bluethroat that then proved to be quite obliging as it sat in front of me preening the water droplets off its feathers

Red-spotted Bluethroat (Luscinis luscinia)

A juvenile Black Kite was also reluctant to fly in the morning coolness

Black Kite (Milvus migrans)

Not so with an adult Eastern Imperial Eagle and this Greater Spotted Eagle, who was a lot more skittish and didnt allow me to get very close

Adult Greater Spotted Eagle (Aquila clanga)

A few Namaqua Doves were seen, here a male and juvenile

Male Namaqua Dove (Oena capensis)

Juvenile Namaqua Dove (Oena capensis)

I checked the spot where I had seen Buff-bellied Pipit last year and sure enough there was a single bird present this year, but unfortunatley not at all cooperative for an image, even a record image.

White Wagtails are still seen at most locations in large numbers, as I had to call it a morning just as the light was really improving

White Wagtail (Motacilla alba)

Wildlife on the driving range

Week 49 - 10 December 2011, Sahara Golf Club

My son had his last golf lesson of the year and whilst he was perfecting his swing with all the clubs in his bag, I was a little distracted by some of the biodiversity on the driving range.

Overhead, in the early morning a few Pallid Swifts were slowly warming up in the cold, before departing to richer feeding areas

Pallid Swift (Apus pallidus)

More amazingy were a pair of Arabian Red Foxes that strolled across the far end of the driving range, out of the reach of the few golfers who were getting warmed up for their games a little later.

Arabian Red Fox

20 December 2011

West and then East

Week 48 - 03 December 2011, Al-Abraq, SAANR and Jahra Pools Reserve

It had been months since I headed to the oasis farm at Al-Abraq, so this morning I was dressed warmly as the temperature was around 1 degree when I arrived just before 7am in the morning.

A Mistle Thrush had been reported here a few days back and that was my target species. This oasis can be hit and miss for the long drive, but today I wasnt disapointed - especially as the first bird I found was a Goldfinch and a new bird for me, which was chased off by a territorial Water Pipit before I could get my camera on it.

I was alerted by the call of a European Robin and eventually got onto it - I still find it surreal to see this bird in a desert, when we are so used to seeing it depicted on Christmas cards sitting on a tree covered in snow

European Robin (Erithacus rubecula)

I also found this quite 'cold' coloured Chiffchaff, but photographed against the sun - not sure what sub-specie it may be?

Common Chiffchaff (Phylloscopus collybita)

However, I did eventually get onto the Mistle Thrush, although it was very wary of me in the car, but not of the workers in the field.

Mistle Thrush (Turdus viscivorus)

The Mistle Thrush was certainly much bigger and paler (almost like a Rosy Starling from behind) than the many Song Thrushes that were about

Song Thrush spooked by a White Wagtail (Turdus philomelos)

Another Flycatcher had us debating the ID for quite sometime after I had shared the images with fellow birders as it showed features of both Red-breasted Fly and Taiga Flycatcher. However, after careful scrutiny we had consensus that it was Red-breasted Flycatcher and possibly a 2nd year bird.

Red-breasted Flycatcher (Ficedula parva)

By now it was time to head to the next site, stopping only for this Masked Shrike still huddled on a branch trying to keep warm

Masked Shrike (Lanius nubicus)
Winter is the time for desert camps in Kuwait and in some areas there are literally hundreds packed together, but not so for this camper

Winter desert camp
I reached SAANR in mid-morning and by now the wind had really picked up, so that diminished some of the birding opportunities. Macqueens Bustard has been my bogey bird since arriving in Kuwait and only the week before did I get a distant view of one flying away from me out in the desert. So, what a surprise to find another a week later - but not easy swinging a 600mm in the strong wind with the bird flying at speed against a busy background - AI Server and Auto focus on my 50D was challenged. Nevertheless, this is the image I have until I get the opportunity to get a more obliging bird.

Macqueens Bustard (Chlamydotis macqueenii)
From here I headed to Jahra Pools, as I wasnt going to find much else in the wind. I parked off in a sheltered spot and waited for the birds to come to me, photographing Marsh Sandpiper

Non-breeding Marsh Sandpiper (Tringa Stagnatilis)


Male Gadwall with Coot (Anas strepera)

Female Gadwall (Anas strepera)
A Black-tailed Godwit

Black-tailed Godwit (Limosa limosa)
A few Coot

Eurasian Coot (Fulica atra)
A single White-tailed Lapwing

White-tailed Lapwing (Vanellus leucurus)
And an early or late Little Crake

1st year Little Crake (Porzana parva)

The Pallid Swifts were hawking low over the water in the wind and using my older 20D and 400mm I tried to track them in flight. It was only then I realised how Autofocus technology had changed for the better between the 20D and 50D

Pallid Swift (Apus pallidus)