02 June 2019

Starry, starry night

Week 19; 10 and 11th May - Al Abraq

Paul Scott and I had been wanting to try some astrophotography, but could never quite get the lunar cycle to coincide with the weekend. When Ramadan was called on the new moon, a few days later (not quite new moon), we had a break with the weather and headed out to Al Abraq in the late afternoon. So, we would have a sunset, a rising milky way and then with bleary eyes a sunrise - so a full outing with birds, stars and some arty creativity!

We stopped for some camels that were returning to their overnight camps.

Abraq Camel's

If you have ever wandered what the underside of a camels foot or toe looks like? - well, it is almost like a slipper

A genuine Camel's Toe

Tried something creative by shooting directly into the sun

Abraq camels heading home

We still had some daylight left, so at the farm we had a Spotted Flycatcher on the fence at the entrance gate

Spotted Flycatcher (Muscicapa striata) 

and then enjoyed seeing both European Bee-eaters

European Bee-eater (Merops apiaster)

followed by Blue-cheeked Bee-eaters coming in to roost (nice comparative images between the two species)

Blue-cheeked Bee-eater (Merops persicus)

A juvenile Black-crowned Night Heron flew in to roost on the railing of the pool

Juvenile Black-crowned Night Heron (Nycticorax nycticorax)

Driving around the farm, we found a number of these really large Wasps, feeding voraciously on one kind of spiky plant (don't know what this plant is called). Thanks to Prof. Razzaq Al-Zubaidy from Iraq who identified the Wasp as Prionyx macula. It is a Wasp that actively hunts crickets and grasshoppers

The monstrous Prionyx macula

In the same area, I flushed a Yellow-throated Sparrow whilst chasing after one of the Wasps

Yellow-throated Sparrow (Gymnoris xanthocollis)

We stopped to enjoy a Lesser Grey Shrike feeding on a large grasshopper against the setting sun, whilst getting a little creative

Lesser Grey Shrike (Lanius minor) against the setting sun

After which the sun slipped below the horizon of the western desert

Abraq Sunset

We then headed out of the farm to find a good spot with some foreground interest for the rising milky way at midnight. It was a long wait, but we tried some test shots, had something to eat and drink. 

When away from light pollution, it is amazing how bright even a small sliver of a crescent moon can be, so we needed to wait for it to set at midnight and then the core of the milky way started rising and was more visible. 

I was a little disappointed, as I expected it to be much more visible, but even in the west, it wasn't quite dark enough. 

This was my first attempt at astrophotography, so am relatively pleased with the results. Its the post processing that is the challenge - will need to practice...

Painting with light

The core rises

The best of the nights images

By 3am in the morning, we were finished and caught 40-winks in the car. It was surprisingly cold just before sunrise, when I creakily got up from the drivers seat to take a few images of our surroundings.

This is where we based ourselves for the night photography

We then drove into the desert to enjoy the sunrise and to warm up

Abraq sunrise

It gets light pretty quick in the summer, so back into the farm finding a Tree Pipit as we drove in

Tree Pipit (Anthus trivialis)

One area that had recently been flooded, but also had a lot of cover was an absolute magnet for a variety of Warblers. First up was a Basra!

Basra Reed Warbler (Acrocephalus griseldis)

Many Sedge Warblers

Sedge Warbler (Acrocephalus schoenobaenus)

Along with Caspian Reeds

Caspian Reed Warbler (Acrocephalus s. fuscus)

Marsh Warblers

Marsh Warbler (Acrocephalus palustris)

And a single Garden Warbler

Garden Warbler (Sylvia borin)

One very yellow Willow Warbler had us going for awhile, thinking we may have had an Icterine

Willow Warbler (Phylloscopus trochilus)

We then walked and drove around the farm finding numbers of Red-backed Shrike

Red-backed Shrike (Lanius collurio)

An Upcher's Warbler, my first for the spring

Upcher's Warbler (Hippolais languida)

We also played hiding-go-seek with a few Common Nightingale's, but only managed to see one, briefly

Common Nightingale (Luscinia megarhynchos)

The same story with a male White-throated Robin - not easy to get on to or photograph

White-throated Robin (Irania gutturalis)

Whilst following the Robin, I saw a Rufous-tailed Scrub Robin drop in to one of the fields - so that diverted our attention.

Rufous-tailed Scrub Robin (Cercotrichas galactotes)

By now it was warming up as a few Barn Swallow's passed by overhead and our eyes were starting to get weary and heavy. So, it was a good time to call it a morning and head home for a well-deserved Ramadan siesta

Barn Swallow (Hirundo rustica)

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