10 December 2013

A Mega and a Milestone

Week 49, 07 December 2013

Late on the 6th December news filtered through that Dennis O'Sullivan who was part of an international group of birders birding in Kuwait had seen a dark-throated Hirundine at Jahra Pools Reserve that was initially thought to be a Plain Martin. Later in the evening the group had checked field guides and a few pictures that were taken in the fading light and confirmed that it wasn't a Plain Martin, but rather a vagrant Streak-throated Swallow! The images that were subsequently posted indeed highlighted the key features of this diminutive Swallow and further confirmed it's ID.

Despite its small size this is mega Swallow for Kuwait that resides primarily in India and Pakistan and is not considered migratory bird. 

Aside from being a first for Kuwait, it also become the milestone 400th species on the Kuwait bird checklist and is certainly a fitting species for this title. 

Searching the records, it appears there are 9 records for UAE (the last in January 2013), a record from Oman and 1 record for Egypt which was as far back as November 2003. So, for those the follow the BWP Cramp and Simmons 1977 definition of the WP, this Kuwait record appears to be the 2nd for the Western Palearctic.

Of course, as with all vagrants, you are never sure if they are one-day birds or not. With this in mind, I verified all the salient features again from the field guides as I surmised that the bird must have roosted overnight at the pools along with some of the other Hirundines that are still present during winter.

Needless to say I was at the JPR gate way too early with mixed emotions of doubt and some excitement the following morning and was content to watch the Black-crowned Night Herons returning to their daytime roost.

Black-crowned Night Heron (Nycticorax nycticorax) in pre-dawn light
I had the privilege to enjoy a spectacular winter sunrise over the Arabian Gulf before.

Winter sunrise at JPR
And have a stroll around the outside of the reserve where morning dew still hung heavily in the air

Dew hung heavy in the air
Just after sunrise, I was inside the reserve, but it was still too early, so I contented myself to some pre-dawn images of some of the usual suspects - Common Kingfisher

Common Kingfisher (Alcedo atthis) in pre-dawn light
and Eurasian Spoonbills which now appear to have settled in at JPR

Eurasian Spoonbill (Platalea leucorodia) flying in for the day

Eurasian Spoonbill (Platalea leucorodia) busy with morning grooming
The big pool on the NW boundary (Mutla Ridge side) was my stakeout point as there is a lot of open water and numbers of dead trees standing solemnly in the middle of the pool that birds could have roosted on overnight. Even the Western Marsh Harrier had not yet become mobile

Western Marsh Harrier (Circus aeruginosus) contemplating the start of a new day
It was still to early for any Hirundines to be shaking out and stretching their wings in the sky above me, so I checked my camera again to ensure it was set-up for BIF and then waited. Whilst waiting I was entertained by a 1st year Red-spotted Bluethroat

1st year Red-spotted Bluethroat (Luscinia svecica)
Another Common Kingfisher showing of the mind-boggling iridescent blue on it's upperparts

Common Kingfisher (Alcedo atthis)
And a 1st year Greater Flamingo fly-by which the camera handled with ease.

1st-year Greater Flamingo (Phoenicopterus roseus)
Around 07:45, the first small mixed group of Hirundines took to the sky, scanning through them showed only Barn Swallows and a few Sand Martins.

Sand Martin (Riparia riparia) in the mixed flock
Slowly numbers increased, with Pallid Swifts joining the morning stretch of wings and catching some of the sluggish midges and insects on the wing before they became more agile as the temperatures rise.

Pallid Swift (Apus pallidus)
The scanning intensity increased when I finally latched onto a smaller bird some distance away and low over the reeds, as it turned in a low sweeping arc, the pale rump, reddish crown and darkish throat were clear through the bins - the Streak-throated Swallow (thought to be a 1st-year bird) had roosted overnight and was still here - fantastic news! I then let the others know that it was still present and it wasn't long before the numbers of birders increased, all keen to see this gem of a bird. 

Even with 800mm of glass, a small bird 50 - 100m away was a challenge just to track and hold it in the viewfinder to get a few record images (these are all pretty heavily cropped). 

Streak-throated Swallow (Petrochelidon fluvicola), a 1st for Kuwait and the 400th species on the Kuwait checklist

At one stage it landed on one of the dead trees where 2 Barn Swallows were roosting, but seemed to be harassed by a Sand Martin who didn't appreciate this 'stranger' on it's turf

Barn Swallows (Hirundo rustica) and Sand Martin (Riparia riparia) together with the Streak-throated Swallow (Petrochelidon fluvicola)
With patience, it did come closer at times, but the unpredictability of its flight and it's size was a challenge for decent BIF pics, to say the least. I was also under a time constraint, but finally was happy to have had good views of the bird and to get some half decent images that at least show the salient features of this really cool bird.

Streak-throated Swallow (Petrochelidon fluvicola)

Lets hope it decides to stay with it's fellow Swallows and Martins, it should, as it really has nowhere else to go and given the great condition of JPR there is enough food to go around and of course a safe place to roost at night.

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