23 December 2012

'Twas the day before Christmas

Week 52, 23 December 2012 - Jahra Pools Reserve (Click to enlarge image)

The day dawned with clear skies and not a breathe of wind; so perfect to get out for some birding and photography and Jahra Pools was the place to head to.

The Brown-necked Raven was still present at the top end of Gulf Road and talking to Rashed later in the morning, he said this bird has been seen in this location in years past, quite curious!

Brown-necked Raven (Corvus ruficollis)
Jahra Pools felt like a spring morning, Red-Spotted Bluethroat numbers have increased.

Red-spotted Bluethroat (Luscinia svecica)
The Afghan Babbler was seen by one of the birders and Water Rails were seen foraging in the shallow water around the reed bases. I also saw two Little Crakes creeping around the shallows

Little Crake (Porzana parva)
Greater Flamingo's were still present in the west pool, but decided to depart just as I arrived, here a 1cy Flamingo at full stretch

Greater Flamingo (Phoenicopterus roseus)
In the same area, the male Caspian Stonechat was seen on the fence; try as I could to get a flight shot to show it's distinctive Wheatear patterned tail, this was the only poor image I could get

Caspian Stonechat (Saxicola m. variegatus)

I have seen Daurian Shrikes on every visit to JPR this month

Daurian Shrike (Lanius isabellinus)
Sand Martin numbers had also swelled and outnumbered the Barn Swallows. A single Red-rumped Swallow was quite a surprise as it came in low to grab a drink

Red-rumped Swallow (Cecropis daurica)
Pallid Swifts were overhead as it slowly warmed up

Pallid Swift (Apus pallidus)
A Black-eared Kite, the Asian race of Black Kite, drifted in and landed on one of the dead trees in the pool, probably for a drink a little later

Black-eared Kite (Milvus migrans lineatus)
The regal Great Crested Tern paddled by pretty close, here a few creative images of tranquility, serenity and symmetry after it had ruffled it's feathers.

Great Crested Grebe (Podiceps cristatus)

Two Tufted Duck were still present, amongst the Coot, Moorhen, Little and Black-crested Grebes

Tufted Duck (Aythya fuligula)
As it 'Twas the day before Christmas, it is fitting to end of this post with this unlikely winter visitor, a European Robin that isn't sitting on a Christmas Tree in the snow, but rather some phragmite reeds in the desert of Kuwait. 

European Robin (Erithacus rubecula)
Wishing you all the very best this festive season..

22 December 2012

The End of the Maya Great Cycle

Week 52, 21 December 2012 - Al Abraq (Click to enlarge image)

There was some hype on the end of the world today, as foretold in the Maya Calendar. I did a little research on the subject and found the following and being an eternal optimist, I would embrace the concept of peace, love and happiness as a new beginning.

"The Mayan calendar completes its current “Great Cycle” of the Long Count on the 13th baktun, on Using the most common conversion to our modern calendar (the Gregorian Calendar) the end of the “Great Cycle” corresponds to 11:11 Universal Time (UTC), December 21, 2012, hence the myriad of doomsday prophecies surrounding this date. There's a couple of very interesting (and disturbing) facts about the Maya calendar's end. Most intriguing, 21-12-2012 is not a day like any other; up in the sky, an extraordinary and incredibly rare event will take place. The Sun will move to a unique spot in the sky - and hold still for a while, since it is solstice day. The Sun will sit precisely on the heavenly crossroads between the Milky Way and the galactic equinox, forming a perfect alignment with the centre of the galaxy. The interpretation you hear most: 2012 will mark the coming of a new, glorious age of wisdom and peace. It will be Age Of Aquarius at last, with a world full of peace, love and understanding. The reasoning behind this is actually not that stupid. The Maya's didn't really believe in endings: their conception of time was circular, with every end being the beginning of something new. So, 2012 shouldn't be an exception. So, New Age philosophers say, December 21st 2012 will be the day on which this inner cosmos is reconnected to the divine outer cosmos. The Sun will mount its unique position to form a `gateway' between the Universe and the souls of every living creature on Earth. Our linear conception of time will crumble, and with it, fear and hatred will vanish. It will be purification at it's very best, when everyone is soaked in cosmic understanding and divine love"

But, driving out west, the sky suddenly turned dark and it was as if day became night as a dark storm came barreling out of the NW with wind, rain and dust and pummeled my car for the next 15-minutes as I drove slowly down the freeway - it was a little ominous, I must say. Once it had passed, all was normal and it was great to see the desert covered in pools of water.

Once at the oasis farm, it was pretty quite which is always a disappointment after an hour and 20-minute drive due to the weather. However, this all changed when I found 2 Eurasian Siskin's which are rare winter visitors. It took some time and patience to get usable images, as they were continually harassed by the resident Sparrows.

Eurasian Siskin (Carduelis spinus)

I found a flock of Corn Buntings that were also very skittish and didn't allow close approach at all.

Corn Bunting (Emberiza calandra)
A male Common Kestrel was seen 'drying' out after the rain

Male Common Kestrel (Falco tinnunculus)
Common Chiffchaff's were seen and heard around the farm..

Common Chiffchaff (Phylloscopus collybita)
I heard a call I wasn't familiar with and found it coming from a Chiffchaff which I photographed. This was the first time I had seen a Chiffchaff in full song which was responded to from another individual a little further away. I noted that the bird had cold grey/brown upperparts with no hint of green on head or mantle. I'm by no means an expert on these Phylloscopus Warblers, but these features could suggest Siberian Chiffchaff. Only later I realised that I could have recorded the call on my i-pod that may have assisted with confirming the id - lesson learned!

Possible Siberian Chiffchaff (Phylloscopus c. tristus)

Driving back home, the wind had picked up turning the freeway into a 'sea of dust' and I thought the desert was still wet

Sea of dust on Salmi Highway
As we still don't have access to Pivot Fields, I did a drive around the outside of the fence and saw a single White Stork perched on one of the pivots. A distant Eastern Imperial Eagle was a welcome sighting and my first for this Autumn/Winter

Eastern Imperial Eagle (Aquila heliaca)

Gull fest in the South

Week 52, 20 December 2012 - Sabah Al Ahmad Sea City (Click to enlarge image)

The rain continues and we have now exceeded the annual rainfall of last year, so this could bode well for a good spring migration and breeding season in 2013.

I was out on the water exploring some of the new lagoons at the project in intermittent rain. Most of the birds seen today were Gulls and as hard as I try, I still find them challenging to id - even with the luxury of viewing the image on my laptop surrounded by field guides. So, I really do admire those birders who can easily identify the challenging species in the field.

I found a flock of mixed Gulls that had roosted on the beach and the most were Heuglin's and a single Caspian

Heuglin's (Larus f. heuglini) and Caspian Gull (Larus cachinnans)

Heuglin's Gulls (Larus f. heuglini)

Here the Caspian in flight

Caspian Gull (Larus cachinnans)

Followed by the Heuglin's

Heuglin's Gull (Larus f. heuglini)

Heuglin's Gull?
Later I found another Gull that I am unsure about, perhaps a Steppe Gull?

Possible Steppe Gull (Larus f. barabensis)??
After getting wet on the lagoons, I drove to the south of the Khor to explore the desert, finding a few Wheatear's and a flock of Meadow Pipits foraging in the newly grown vegetation from the recent rains.

Meadow Pipit (Anthus pratensis)

The Sea and the Pools

Week 52, 18 and 19 Dec 2012 - Sulaibikhat and JPR (Click to enlarge image)

We have been experiencing overcast weather with some rain which are the days we wish for in mid-summer, but this is not really ideal for photography.

A Brown-necked Raven had been reported at the top end of Gulf Road a week ago and it was still present on an empty patch of land next to Gulf Road. I noted it had some string entangled around it's feet and its behavior was more indicative of an escaped bird than a wild bird. Nevertheless, it offered some close up images; but we do need to try and catch it to untangle the string which wont be easy, as Crows are generally quite clever and intelligent.

Brown-necked Raven (Corvus ruficollis)

On the beach side, an adult Heuglins Gull was scavenging scraps amongst the Doves, along with a juvenile bird.

Heuglins Gull (Larus f. heuglini)

A pair of Collared Doves making use of the bench on the beach

Eurasian Collared Dove (Streptopelia decaocto)
In Sulaibikhat, the tide was way out and only a winter plumage Greater Sand Plover came within photograph range.

Greater Sand Plover (Charadrius leschenaultii)
The reflection of a pale form Indian Reef Heron, was better than the bird itself which had an ugly background behind it. A bit of creativity...

Pale form Indian Reef Heron (Egretta g. schistacea) in reflective pose
The next day, I spent an hour at Jahra Pools, but wind kept the birds hidden.

However, a male Caspian Stonechat was welcome

Male Caspian Stonechat (Saxicola m. variegatus)
A female European Stonechat was also present in the same area

Female European Stonechat (Saxicola rubicola) 
Water Pipits are still present in large numbers and will remain till then end of winter

Water Pipit (Anthus spinoletta)
A female Northern Shoveler emerged from the reeds after a Marsh Harrier fly over.

Northern Shoveler (Anas clypeata)
Looking back when I left, the sky had darkened with more welcome rain on it's way

Incoming storm at Jahra Pools

17 December 2012

Bird of the day in the South

Week 51, 12 December 2012 - Sabah Al Ahmad Sea City (Click to enlarge image)

I was back down at the Sea City, this time on the northern side of the project. Fortunately, sea conditions were a little better this week and we avoided getting as wet as we did on the last visit.

The mid-week visits are great as there is no pedestrian traffic on the beaches, nor jet-ski/boat traffic on the lagoons.

Cruising out slowly from the jetty produced a few birds on the pristine beaches, here a lone Caspian Gull that appeared to have an injured leg

Caspian Gull (Larus cachinnans)
A Common Greenshank was seen feeding in the shallows

Common Greenshank (Tringa nebularia)
Great Cormorants are now seen all over the project, this one still roosting on a lamp post.

Great Cormorant (Phalacrocorax carbo)
The bird of the day and a real surprise was finding a Great Crested Grebe swimming and fishing in and around some Great Cormorants. As far as I know this species has not been recorded this far south and interesting that there is also a single bird still at Jahra Pools, north of Kuwait City.

Great Crested Grebe (Podiceps cristatus)
Off-shore there were still two Socotra Cormorants on the buoy, along with Great Cormorants

Socotra Cormorants (Phalacrocorax nigrogularis) and Great Cormorant (Phalacrocorax carbo)
On the beaches near the Power Station, we had Kentish Plover

Kentish Plover (Charadrius alexandrinus)
And a pale form Indian Reef Heron

Pale form Indian Reef Heron (Egretta g. schistacea)
Along with a few Slender-billed Gulls

Slender-billed Gull (Chroicocephalus genei)
Surprisingly there were very few large white-headed Gulls today, perhaps yesterday's strong winds and dust storm played a hand in this.

On the way back to the jetty, we had a dark form Indian Pond Heron near the Khiran Marina

Dark form Indian Reef Heron (Egretta g. schistacea)
Followed by a single Grey Plover foraging on the beach.

Grey Plover (Pluvialis squatarola)
Driving back home I noted that the desert is turning 'sparsely green' following the recent winter rains.

Change of colour in the desert