11 April 2012

It's raining lead

Week 14, 07 April 2012 - Al Abraq

I was up early to get to this oasis farm by 06h45, but being Spring Migration the shooters surrounding the farm had beat me to it. Nevertheless, I progressed into the farm - although it is difficult to relax and enjoy birding with the constant sound of gunfire with lead pellets raining down on your car. More concerning were those shooting with air rifles, as they shoot straight rather than up in the air, so it is best to keep your windows closed in case of a stray pellet.

I found this logo on a Flickr website, but I'm sure the person who posted it will encourage me using it, although it applies to shotguns too!

Just before turning off the tar road into the desert, I found a Steppe Eagle that had roosted overnight in the desert.

Steppe Eagle (Aquila nipalensis)
Once inside the farm, there were many good birds close to the boundary fence near where the shooters were lurking; the highlight being a single Desert Finch that would not co-operate for a photograph and a small group of Hypocolius. Fortunately for them, their habit of going almost vertical when flying out of the trees saved them from being cut down in a burst of pellets.

What is quite amazing during migration is how since my last visit, species and numbers change. Today there were big numbers of Lesser Whitethroat

Lesser Whitethroat (Sylvia curruca)
and Eurasian Blackcap's

Male Eurasian Blackcap (Sylvia atricapilla)
Wheatear numbers and diversity were drastically reduced with only two Pied Wheatears seen

Pied Wheatear (Oenanthe pleschanka)
However, both Daurian Shrike

Daurian Shrike (Lanius isabellinus)
and Turkestan Shrike were seen and gave good opportunities to compare differences

Turkestan Shrike (Lanius phoenicuroides)
There were also large numbers of Tree Pipit

Tree Pipit (Anthus trivialis)
and Red-throated Pipit resplendent in breeding plumage

Red-throated Pipit (Anthus cervinus)
and smaller numbers of Tawny Pipits

Tawny Pipit (Anthus campestris)
Graham and Maggie Whitehead were also enjoying Spring migration at the farm and staying away from the falling lead. I found a small obliging flock of Pale Rockfinches which was a first for Graham. I also hadnt seen these birds for quite some time, so we spent some time enjoying them.

Pale Rockfinch (Carpospiza brachydactyla)
I came across these desert plants and cant remember what they are called, but they have just finished flowering (I will post the name once I get it)

There were a few Accipiters about and I was fortunate to see both Eurasian Sparrowhawk, where I just missed the departing image getting the wingtip out of the frame - swinging The Beast is not always easy!

Male Eurasian Sparrowhawk (Accipiter nisus)

and the much rarer and more sought after Shikra

Shikra (Accipiter badius)
Again there were many Common Redstarts, but no samamiscus in sight - whereas on the last visit 2-weeks back it was the complete opposite

Common Redstart (Phoenicurus phoenicurus)
Before leaving I saw this Pallid Harrier come gliding down the road and alight under the tree in some shade, as the temperature had already climbed up to 30 degrees

Pallid Harrier (Circus macrourus)
On the way back across the desert, I found this Spiny-tailed Lizard (Dhub) that couldnt find it's burrow. Fortunately for the Dhub, it was mid-day and most raptors were either roosting or thermalling pretty high up - so, no free lunch; mind you it could have also been shot if it was any earlier!

Spiny-tailed Lizard

03 April 2012

Desert and Reeds

Week 12, 24 March 2012 - Al- Abraq and Jahra Pools Reserve

Since Spring was in the air, I decided to head out to the working oasis in the west of Kuwait and was inside the farm before 7am. As mentioned before, arrivng early doesnt always pay divedends, but it is great to see migrants slowly drifting in.

It was heaving with Wagtails around the new pond at the entrance. Mostly Yellow Wags, a few White Wagtails (we are still trying to figure out the sub-species), but this is Alba, not quite showing its black cap yet

White Wagtail (Motacilla alba)
And more Grey Wagtails than I have seen for a long time

Grey Wagtail (Motacilla cinerea)
A Lesser Whitethroat landed briefly and then was off again

Lesser Whitethroat (Sylvia curruca)
As with my last visit many Common Chiffchaffs around this water source that provided food in the form of small gnats/insects on the water and along the banks

Common Chiffchaff (Phylloscopus collybita)
Before I drove off to explore the farm a large mixed flock of Hirundines appeared overhead. The majority were the dark and sleek Common Swifts

Common Swift (Apus apus)
But interspersed with Sand and House Martins, Barn and Red-rumped Swallow and suddenly a lone slow flying Alpine Swift, a bird I hadnt yet seen in Kuwait. It really did stick out from the rest of the flock which was really unfortunate, as it was shot by the shooters outside the farm just after I took this photograph. This again highlights that the shooters are shooting just for target practise and are completely unaware that Alpine Swift is very rarely seen and is not a common bird in Kuwait by any means.

Alpine Swift (Tachymarptis melba)

As was this Common Swift which had a broken wing from a shotgun pellet

Wounded Common Swift (Apus apus)
I decided to rather move away as a few pellets were also raining down on me..Wheatear variety and numbers had improved since the last visit with two forms of Eastern Black-eared seen

Pale throat Eastern Black-eared Wheatear (Oenanthe h. melanoleuca)

Dark throat Eastern Black-eared Wheatear (Oenanthe h. melanoleuca)
Together with Pied, Isabelline and a good few Northern Wheatears

Northern Wheatear (Oenanthe oenanthe)
All the male Common Redstarts seen today were samamiscus and they really are stunning in breeding plumage

Male Common Redstart (Phoenicurus p. samamiscus)

A single Song Thrush was still seen, but I cant imagine it staying much longer

Song Thrush (Turdus philomelos)
Hoopoes still abounded in numbers and this one was close enough for a portrait

Eurasian Hoopoe (Upupa epops)
A walk in the thicker habitat below the reservoir produced a single male Semi-collared Flycatcher, this one sporting a distinct supercilium which apparently is noted on some males in Spring. A similar bird was photographed in the same location in 2009

Male Semi-collared Flycatcher (Ficedula semitorquata)
Both male and female Common Kestrels were seen driving around the farm

Female Common Kestrel (Falco tinnunculus)

Male Common Kestrel (Falco tinnunculus)
Shrikes were well represented with Woodchat Shrike

Woodchat Shrike (Lanius senator)
a good looking Turkestan Shrike

Turkestan Shrike (Lanius phoenicuroides)
And I witnessed interesting interaction between this Mauryan Grey Shrike that had caught and killed what may have been a Sedge Warbler and a Daurian Shrike. I didnt actually see the kill, but saw the Daurian harrassing the Mauryan to try  and scavenge it's prey. The Mauryan eventually flew into a thicket and hid it's prey and then flew some distance away 'empty handed'. This trick worked and the Daurian lost interest, however I didnt. I saw where the Warbler was wedged in the fork of the tree, so parked and waited patiently for the Mauryan to return - which it did.

If you are a little squeamish, this may not be for you - but in the absence of seeing Lion kills when on Safarin in South Africa, this interaction was quite fascinating. I noted that the Shrike started eating from the head, until it got to and devoured the brain. After some more tugging and pulling the prey got dislodged and fell out of the tree, the Shrike pounced on it and then flew off to another location with the bird in it's beak..

Mauryan Grey Shrike (Lanius lahotra) with prey

At the base of one of the thickets, I found a skulking Menetries Warbler and no wander it was keeping hidden with all the Shrike activity about

Ménétriés’s Warbler (Sylvia mystacea)
By now it was time to head for Jahra Pools, but not before stopping to get a photograph of this Collared Pratincole.

Collared Pratincole (Glareola pratincola)
By the time I reached Jahra Pools the sun was less than ideal, nevertheless i found Spotted Crake

Spotted Crake (Porzana porzana)
A good looking male Little Crake

Male Little Crake (Porzana parva)
and later a female

Female Little Crake (Porzana parva)
I found a Marsh Sandpiper in breeding plumage

Marsh Sandpiper (Tringa stagnatilis) in breeding plumage with a Ruff (Philomachus pugnax)
and a lone Glossy Ibis preening against the reeds

Glossy Ibis (Plegadis falcinellus)

A couple of Water Pipits were still around, but there numbers have diminished quite quickly over the past few weeks and after one last scan it was time to head home for lunch.

Water Pipit (Anthus spinoletta)