31 December 2013

Big Sky Country

Week 01, 31 December 2013 - Al Abraq

In hindsight I should have gone out yesterday, but once you are up, you are sort of committed. As it was still dark when I left, the heavy clouds weren't that noticeable, but the lighter it got, the more apparent they became. Nevertheless, I pushed on to Al Abraq in the optimistic hope that something interesting might have arrived.

The gate was still closed, so I enjoyed the dramatic sunrise in this big sky country.

Dramatic clouds on this last day of the year
Finally, I got into the farm and circled the farm a few times, finding a few Water Pipits

Water Pipit (Anthus spinoletta)
and a couple of Meadow Pipits that have been around for a couple of weeks

Meadow Pipit (Anthus pratensis)
Both Redstart's were still present, but I was only able to get images of the female Western Black Redstart.

Female Western Black Redstart (Phoenicurus ochruros)
By now, the wind speed had increased, so I decided to head back into the brewing dust storm. I found the male Common Chaffinch which I had seen on my last visit, in one of the fields - so a bird of colour to end what has been a long and testing year.

Male Common Chaffinch (Fringilla coelebs)

A very happy New Year to my family, friends, fellow birders and bloggers who have followed my birding stories on this Blog. I hope my posts have given a feel and insight for the avian life in this Land of Sand. 

May 2014 be all that you wish for and more.....

30 December 2013

On Golden Pond

Week 01, 29 December 2013 - Jahra Pools Reserve

We are already into Week 01 of 2014 and have not yet reached the end of 2013.

Most of my birding is early morning till around lunch time and very seldom do I get out later in the afternoon. So, I decided to remedy this and to head past Sulaibikhat and the outfall near the Maternity Hospital where there is normally a collection of waders and gulls.

I didn't expect a flock of over 1000 or more Common Black-headed Gulls - the sound was quite deafening.

Large flock of Common Black-headed Gulls (Chroicocephalus ridibundus) interspersed with a few Armenian Gulls (Larus armenicus)
The Black-headed Gulls were foraging over the outfall, not sure what they were eating, but I'm sure it was disgusting.

Foraging Common Black-headed Gull (Chroicocephalus ridibundus)

Portrait of 1st year Common Black-headed Gull (Chroicocephalus ridibundus)
It was great to see a number of larger Armenian Gulls amongst the cacophony of the smaller Black-headed Gulls. In fact these were my first of this winter.

Adult Armenian Gull (Larus armenicus)
I headed to Jahra Pools knowing that in winter the light fades really fast and it is pretty much dark by 5:30pm. in the fading light I was able to photograph Western Marsh Harrier

Western Marsh Harrier (Circus aeruginosus)
The Citrine Wagtail was still around, note that the catch light in it's eye is actually the setting sun

Citrine Wagtail (Motacilla citreola)
The Common Kingfisher was on a more natural perch, so photographed it with the sun
Common Kingfisher (Alcedo atthis)
and against the sun for a different effects - both pleasing

Backlit Common Kingfisher (Alcedo atthis)
By now the light was pretty much gone and I felt my creative juices kick in with the golden hues from the setting sun with many subjects providing opportunities  - hence the title, on golden pond.

Common Black-headed Gull

Common Moorhen

Eurasian Spoonbill

Greater Flamingo
It took quite some time before I had a bird fly into the sun, this was the best I could do in the time I had

Western Great Egret

Western Great Egret
The setting sun looked enormous behind the buildings in Jahra

The end of the day
This is the perspective from an ultra wide angle to give you a feel of the almost surreal setting before the sun went out and the lights came on.

The fantastic Jahra Pools Reserve

29 December 2013

Boxing Day Birding

Week 52, 26 December 2013 - Al Abraq

You need to leave home early to get to Al Abraq just after sunrise....as you know I have a penchant for sunsets and sunrises, so this morning was no exception as this fiery ball seemingly rose out of the desert

Desert sunrise
Don't let the clear blue skies fool you, the ambient temperature was not friendly

Without the wind chill factor!
I'm sure there is not much heating inside some of these winter campers tents, brrrrr.....
Winter Desert Camp
Again at Al Abraq there wasn't much new, but it does seem that we have had another poor winter for Thrush species, just one skittish Song Thrush was seen.

A female European Stonechat was a species that was not present on the previous visit.

Female European Stonechat (Saxicola rubicola)

A female Eurasian Sparrowhawk cruised along the line of acacia trees trying to force some unsuspecting bird to fly out on cold wing muscles

Female Eurasian Sparrowhawk (Accipiter nisus)
Meadow Pipits were still present, no sign of Buff-bellied this year

Meadow Pipit (Anthus pratensis)
Once it had warmed up a little, I walked the farm a few times finding Asian Desert Warbler

Asian Desert Warbler (Sylvia nana)

and both Eastern Black Redstart

Male Eastern Black Redstart (Phoenicurus o. phoenicuroides)

and Western Black Redstart in the same area 

Male Western Black Redstart (Phoenicurus ochruros)
who were both being intimidated by a diminutive but aggressive European Robin

European Robin (Erithacus rubecula)
You have a good Christmas Dad?

Western Cattle Egret (Bubulcus ibis)

It was the Eve of Christmas

Week 52, 24 December 2013 - Jahra Pools Reserve

What to do when the family is away on vacation over the festive season?

What would any sane birder do who has some time on his hands?

I had been doing some calibration tests on my 600mm and it appeared to be back-focusing just a little - but the only real test is in the field, so I headed out to JPR and caught up with the usual winter wetland suspects at the reserve.

Still good numbers of ducks present, although most were quite a distance away and focusing over water is never a good test. However, I was pleased to have finally photographed Common Pochard (which are not terribly common), the drake showed a bit of attitude with the 'local' Ferruginous Duck

Common Pochard (Aythya ferina) with Ferruginous Duck (Aythya nyroca)
A female Garganey was a little more obliging

Female Garganey (Anas querquedula)
And this female Northern Pintail was only interested in stuffing herself in true dabbling duck fashion and spent more time upside down than this way up

Female Northern Pintail (Anas acuta)
A flock of Gadwall were put up by two Western Marsh Harriers

Gadwall (Anas strepera)
The flock of Eurasian Spoonbill has now expanded to 7 birds

Eurasian Spoonbill (Platalea leucorodia)
Numbers of 1st year Greater Flamingo are seen on almost all the pools in the reserve

Portrait 1st year Greater Flamingo (Phoenicopterus roseus)

Common Black-headed Gulls seem to have commandeered the large northern pool just by way of numbers

Adult Common Black-headed Gulls (Chroicocephalus ridibundus)

1st year Common Black-headed Gull (Chroicocephalus ridibundus)
Two Little Crake were seen foraging along the base of an old fence in the same pool - certainly not the most attractive 'habitat' for this image

Little Crake (Porzana parva)
Eurasian Coot numbers seem to have increased exponentially and not all from the past breeding season, so the increase must be due to new arrivals

Eurasian Coot (Fulica atra)
I'm still trying to get 'that' shot of the Little Grebe sprinting across the water, this one was a double

Territorial Little Grebe (Tachybaptus ruficollis)
A Citrine Wagtail added a little splash of colour feeding out on the reeds in the middle of the pool. It came closer once, but was immediately chased away by a Water Pipit. Jem Babbington reported one in Eastern Province KSA just last week, so perhaps there is some winter movement of this species

Citrine Wagtail (Motacilla citreola)
Overhead only Pallid Swifts were seen, this one about to snack on a flying midge; who is not going to know what hit it!

Feeding Pallid Swift (Apus pallidus)
I went to look for a 'greyish' Grey Shrike that had been found by Mohammed Khorshed, but only found Daurian

Daurian Shrike (Lanius isabellinus)
Finally I was able to find an obliging subject to test my calibration, this Common Kingfisher. I was fortunate to see it catch a fish literally in front of me, but unlucky when it decided to turn its back to me to eat it..

Common Kingfisher (Alcedo atthis) with breakfast

The bottom line of this mornings test was that my lens was now front focusing just a little, so I need to 'push' out the adjustment to get it spot on