31 July 2012

The Western Desert Calls

Week 30, 28 July 2012 - Al Abraq

Although it is still a little too early for 'autumn' migration, I though I would check out the oasis farm at Al Abraq, so another early wake-up call to get there while the temperatures were still bearable.

The sun was rising, just after I had turned off the main road to drive west to the farm and at the same time, the lights started going out on the highway to the Salmi border

Desert sunrise
Hoopoes are normally the first migrants to arrive as they probably dont have to fly that far, I saw around 3 or 4 during the morning

Eurasian Hoopoe (Upupa epops)
A single Tawny Pipit was found foraging in a small patch of cultivated land

Tawny Pipit (Anthus campestris)
A single Ruff looked a little out of place walking along one of the farm roads

Ruff (Philomachus pugnax)
The pool at the entrance to the farm provided a place for this White-throated Kingfisher to catch fish at it's leisure.

White-throated Kingfisher (Halcyon smyrnensis)
A last drive around the farm, wilting in the heat produced a small flock of Black-headed Buntings with one adult in moulting plumage (a record shot ruined by heat haze) and the rest were probably first year birds.

Adult Black-headed Bunting (Emberiza melanocephala)
1st year Black-headed Bunting (Emberiza melanocephala)

Sea and Desert - Again

Week 30, 25 July 2012 - Jahra East Outfall and SAANR (Click image to enlarge)

During Ramadan we have shortened working hours, so if you are willing to get up really early, you can do some birding before work - which is what I did today.

I was at JEO just after sunrise and enjoyed the peace and tranquility as the outfall came to life. As with last week, Eurasian Reed Warblers were the most abundant and still breeding, as can be seen with all the insects being caught and carried deep into the reed bed

Eurasian Reed Warbler (Acrocephalus scirpaceus)
During the course of my stay, other Warblers were also seen - but more often than not, it was fleeting, so for a good image you had to be constantly at the ready. I think this may be a Caspian Reed Warbler with cold appearance and tinges of grey - but I stand to be corrected.

Possible Caspian Reed Warbler (Acrocephalus s. fuscus)
Graceful Prinia's were also active around the fringes of the reedbeds..

Graceful Prinia (Prinia gracilis)
And a few Barn Swallows and Sand Martins were hawking over the outfall

Sand Martin (Riparia riparia)
With patience, I was rewarded with a great sighting of Basra Reed Warbler, that stayed just a little longer - affording good photo opportunities

Basra Reed Warbler (Acrocephalus griseldis)
I had seen the Indian Reed Warbler flying up and down the outfall, but not stopping anywhere near me. Just as I was about to move to the next location, one flew in very briefly and I managed to 'grab' this image through the reeds before it disappeared.

Indian Reed Warbler (Acrocephalus s. brunnescens)
Just before the 80 freeway, I checked out the small pan where I found Black-winged Stilt

Black-winged Stilt (Himantopus himantopus)
and a rather plump Little Stint

Little Stint (Calidris minuta)
I then headed for a quick visit to SAANR and although it was already too hot, did find two Upchers Warblers at Tuhla (early autumn arrivals)

Upchers Warbler (Hippolais languida)

Driving out to the now dry wadi pan, I disturbed this scrawny Arabian Red Fox that was hiding in a Spiny-tailed Lizard (Dhub) hole next to the road. If it hadnt have put up it's ears I would have missed it altogether

Arabian Red Fox (Vulpes vulpes arabica)
There were a few Larks at the now dry pan, all trying to find shade and shelter from the sun and heat. A few Lesser Short-toed Larks were amongst the Crested Larks, this one sporting a 'cool' crest

Lesser Short-toed Lark (Calandrella rufescens)
Here is one shelterning in the shade of a small rock, to escape the morning heat which was already up to 50 degrees C. It is truly amazing how these small birds survive in such extreme temperatures and conditions.

Spot the Lesser Short-toed Lark (Calandrella rufescens)
While editing the images in my apartment, our new friend named 'Grecko' by my son, went about his business of looking for food in our apartment. Not sure which species this is?

Grecko the Gecko

29 July 2012

Sea and Desert

Week 28, 14 July 2012 - Sulaibikhat, JEO and SAANR (Click to enlarge image)

Back in Kuwait after a wonderful summer vacation in Italy and now without my family who have migrated south for winter in South Africa. I took some time to get out to see what was about in the heat of summer.

An early start to Sulaibikhat, where I found a small flock of Greater Flamingo's against Kuwait City skyline

Greater Flamingos (Phoenicopterus roseus) with Kuwait City backdrop
Many Greater Sand Plovers appear to stay through the summer and are found on the coast and sometimes a little inland

Greater Sand Plover (Charadrius leschenaultii)
I hadnt been to Jahra East Outfall for sometime, mainly due to all the construction that is going on with a huge development. However, the reeds along the outfall still provide good Warbler viewing for a few species that breed in the summer. I just missed the Indian Reed Warbler, which may be breeding - but did get European Reed Warbler (many in various stages of moult). By no means easy subjects, as they are very seldom static

Eurasian Reed Warbler (Acrocephalus scirpaceus)
I think this may be a Caspian Reed Colour, colder and greyer overall appearance (please correct me if I am mistaken)

Possible Caspian Reed Warbler (Acrocephalus s. fuscus)
An early Red-backed Shrike was hunting from the reeds

Red-backed Shrike (Lanius collurio)
On the way to 80 the wind had picked up, but I found a small pan where Little Terns
Little Tern (Sternula albifrons)

and White winged Terns were feeding on a brisk wind. I did well to get these flight shots hand-holding the 600mm with a 50D that hunts when the bird moves off the center focus point in this strong wind.

White-winged Tern (Chlidonias leucopterus)
I headed to SAANR, not expecting to see much as the wind strength increased. At Tuhla I found another Red-backed Shrike (an adult) keeping out of the wind

Red-backed Shrike (Lanius collurio)
It was almost sitting next to this White-throated Robin, which was really an unexpected surprise

White-throated Robin (Irania gutturalis)
My first Yellow Wagtail struggling to keep its balance in the wind as it foraged along the side of the pan

Yellow Wagtail
A Greater Hoopoe Lark came down to drink and then quickly ran away for some shade and to reduce its profile from the wind and flying sand in a small scrape.

Greater Hoopoe Lark (Alaemon alaudipes) cooling at the water's edge

In a scrape, reducing it's profile to escape the wind

Similar tactics were deployed by the small flock of Crested Larks, who seem more resilient to the heat and wind than some of the other species

Crested Lark (Galerida cristata)

Also in a scrape, but closer to water, so some additional coolness in the soil

I was entertained for about 20-minutes watching a Common Greenshank catch fish, almost in the same manner as Little Egrets and Indian Reef Herons which I have not seen before. It literally ran after fish in shallow water with mouth open (a little like a Skimmer) and was very successful. I saw it catch 5 fish in the 20-minutes I watched it - not quite so easy to photograph though, as it was difficult to predict which way it would turn and run.

Common Greenshank (Tringa nebularia) predating small fish


This was the biggest fish that I saw it catch
As I was about to leave, the local Desert Monitor slunk out of some scrub and swam across the Tuhla pool to find somewhere cooler to rest

Desert Monitor

Swimming slowly, using it's tail as propulsion

Finally I started wilting in the heat, so headed back to the a/c of my apartment - finding a Cream-coloured Courser on the way out trying to find a place to shelter from the gusting wind.

Cream-coloured Courser (Cursorius cursor) looking for cover 

16 July 2012

The Terns of Kubbar Island

Week 24, 16 June 2012 - Kubbar Island (Click on images to enlarge)

This was to be our last family outing with Graham Whitehead joining us, before our long-awaited summer holiday and we couldnt have wished for a better day in terms of weather and sea conditions. Actually I have difficulty calling it a sea when the water was so flat, calm and mirror like, especially when compared to the pelagic trips off Cape Town.

Summer is peak time for 4 species of Tern that breed on this tiny sand island that has suitable habitat for each of the 4 species. Unfortunately, this is also a very popular destination for boats and jet-skis and creates a lot of additional pressure for these birds due to uneccessary human disturbance. Since there are no natural predators on the island, I believe most fatalities of young are due to over-exposure from the harsh summer temperatures.

Normally the first species you see on approach to the Island are Bridled Terns and it doesnt take long for them to use the boat as a perch to get higher above the ground and water for slightly cooler air.

Bridled Tern (Onychoprion anaethetus)

We swam to shore and encountered some White-cheeked Terns with recently fledged chicks already down at the waters edge where the lower temp at the shore line helps these very young birds to better regulate their core temperatures (my theory anyway). But this is also where the most disturbance occurs with so many people on the beach - the adults continuously having to fly off, leaving the young exposed - sometimes for too long.

White-cheeked Tern with recently fledged chick on the beach (Sterna repressa)

Many White-cheeked Terns were still on their bare nests with both eggs and young away from the sea. I am amazed everytime I see this spectacle that the adult birds sit on the eggs without any protection whatsoever from the elements and successfully raise their young.

White-cheeked Tern with recently fledged chick and egg (Sterna repressa)

In a different area of the island, the Lesser-crested and Swift Terns have a chaotic (it seems) communal nest site with eggs and young appearing to be haphazardly distributed.

Lesser-crested Tern colony - organised chaos (Sterna bengalensis)

Lesser-crested Tern on eggs (Sterna bengalensis)

Lesser-crested Tern with young - whose is whose? (Sterna bengalensis)

Interesting that the much larger Swift Terns (though much fewer in numbers) choose to nest with the Lesser-crested.

Swift Terns in Lesser-crested colony, or is it the other way around? (Sterna bergii)

Swift Tern (Sterna bergii)

Whilst sitting on the beach, we watched with interest how the Bridled and White-cheeked Terns would leave their nests (with eggs and young) and wet their belly feathers in the sea. Again, I assume this is to provide some coolness to assist with better regulating the temperature for eggs and young.

Bridled Tern wetting the belly feathers (Onychoprion anaethetus)

White-cheeked Tern doing the same, sometimes almost comical (Sterna repressa)

Whilst swimming we had an influx of Jellyfish (not sure which species) and saw a small school of Garfish from the boat.

One of many Jellyfish

Jellyfish in the shallows

Stranded on the beach, well not quite - my son put it back


Again, I was reminded how selfish some people are when you see the absolute mess that is left behind after spending a day on what could be a pristine beach on this small island, as well as an absolute disregard for the breeding birds by some individuals. This highlights the need for awareness that this important little island is for breeding birds (and only for 8-weeks of the summer) as well as people and it is up to us to respect our environment and to be responsible to clean up after ourselves. If visitors have packed their picnics and bbq's to take to the island from the mainland, how hard is it to take the same stuff back with you - really?
Uneccessary disturbance with a stick of the breeding Bridled Terns

Take only pictures - leave only footprints - dont we all wish for that!

More mess on what could be a pristine beach

More awareness and a Management Plan would ensure that birds and people could both enjoy this island, in the short breeding season