30 January 2013

The calm after the rain and dust storm

Week 05, 30 January 2013 - Sabah al Ahmad Sea City (Click to enlarge image)

Following yesterday's rain in the morning and bizarrely a dust storm in the afternoon I was down at the Sea City project today in calm and cold weather.

Great Cormorant and Slender-billed Gull numbers are on the increase roosting on the pristine beaches and foraging in the lagoons 

Great Cormorants (Phalacrocorax carbo) and Slender-billed Gulls (Chroicocephalus genei)
There were also some larger Gulls in amongst the masses. Most notable was a single Great Black-headed Gull who really does stand out from the flock; possibly one of the birds I saw off-shore last week?

Great Black-headed Gull (Larus ichthyaetus)
A couple of Heuglin's and a few Steppe Gulls were seen

Steppe Gull (Larus f. barabensis)

Steppe Gull (Larus f. barabensis)
There were numbers of Western Reef Herons with pale form outnumbering the dark form 5-1, as well as quite a few Grey Herons that appeared to stick with the mixed flocks on the beach

Grey Heron (Ardea cinerea)
Later I visited the south side of the project near Khirhan town and was able to locate a one-legged (thanks shooters!) Red-tailed Wheatear.

Red-tailed Wheatear (Oenanthe chrysopygia)
I know this is just a male House Sparrow, but they are such an adaptable species that we more often take them for granted

Male House Sparrow (Passer domesticus)
Driving back north on the 30, the yellow winter flowers seem to stretch out like a carpet on either side of the freeway

 A carpet of Yellow

27 January 2013

Great Desert Birds at Mutla Ridge

Week 04, 22 and 24 January 2012 - Jahra Pools and Mutla Ridge (Click to enlarge image)

Whilst I was away in Saudi, an adult White-crowned Wheatear was found by Rashed in a wadi on Mutla Ridge amongst some other good desert birds.

I started off the morning on 22nd at Jahra Pools that despite ideal conditions was pretty quiet. The Horned Grebes were distant, but still present as were 3 Tufted Ducks

Tufted Duck (Aythya fuligula)
A single Western Great Egret was feeding behind the reeds and was flushed by an raptor overhead, calling as it departed

Western Great Egret (Ardea alba)
Two Daurian Shrikes were seen soaking up some sun on what turned out to be a warm day.

Daurian Shrike (Lanius isabellinus)

I then headed to Mutla Ridge and was a little restricted as to where I could go  in my sedan, but found the spot where the Wheatear had been seen - just not today. I did however find Blue Rock Thrush, an inquisitive Eastern Mourning Wheatear

Eastern Mourning Wheatear (Oenanthe lugens)

and then 4 very confiding Trumpeter Finches, certainly frame-filling distance.

Male Trumpeter Finch (Bucanetes githagineus)

Female Trumpeter Finch (Bucanetes githagineus)
Later in the week, I spoke with Khaled Al Ghanem who said the Wheatear was still around, but almost 800m away in a different wadi and he kindly took us to the location over this past long weekend. It took some time before we finally found the bird, although it kept it's distance from us - still a great bird to see in adult plumage.

White-crowned Wheatear (Oenanthe leucopyga)

An Eastern Mourning Wheatear was seen foraging quite close to where we were staked out

Eastern Mourning Wheatear (Oenanthe lugens)
The site we found was also good for Lillith Owlet that had been seen earlier in the week. Haitham was already there and had seen the birds earlier in the morning. With patience, we were finally rewarded when one of the birds made an appearance at the top of the wadi and allowed us to take a few images before it flew off deeper into the wadi itself. It is a bird I have not seen well in Kuwait, so it was really appreciated by me and my family, who also love Owls. 

Thanks again to Khaled and Haitham for taking the time to show us the location.

Lillith Owlet (Athene n. lilith)

Gulls and Cormorants at Sea City

Week 04, 23 January 2013 - Sabah Al Ahmad Sea City (Click to enlarge image)

It was a perfect windless day when I visited the Sea City project last week. This time I had the opportunity to go from Phase A1 to Phase A2, which meant an off-shore traverse on an absolutely flat sea.

As before, there were large numbers of Great Cormorants roosting on the lagoon beaches and feeding in big flocks on the lagoons.

Great Cormorants (Phalacrocorax carbo)

Venturing off-shore, I again found a single Socotra Cormorant roosting on the buoy which means that at least for this year this species over-wintered in Kuwait.

Wintering Socotra Cormorant (Phalacrocorax nigrogularis)
An exposed low tide sand bank (which took some careful navigation to get close to) produced a variety of Gulls; Slender-billed, a single Black-headed Gull, Caspian and Heuglins Gull

Heuglins Gull (Larus f. heuglini)
Of more interest though were the 4 Great Black-headed Gulls, 2 of which were in adult plumage

Great Black-headed Gull (Larus ichthyaetus)
On my return to land I explored some of the desert areas within the project, finding Desert Wheatear

Desert Wheatear (Oenanthe deserti)
This large green locust, the likes of which I have seen been caught and eaten by a Blue-cheeked Bee-eater

Many Painted Lady butterflies enjoying the winter flowers following the recent rains.

Painted Lady (Vanessa cardui)
I noted a few of these butterflies that were a lot darker than the majority of others seen - not sure if this means that they are recently hatched? What say the entomologists out there?
Trying to show the difference between 'normal' on LHS and darker individual on RHS
A Libyan Jird was seen foraging in the shade of an Acacia Tree

Libyan Jird (Meriones libycus)
On the way back to the 30 Expressway, a couple of Isabelline Wheatear's were seen foraging in the desert, this particular one was singing it's heart out on the pylon

Isabelline Wheatear (Oenanthe isabellina)
As mentioned earlier, we had above average winter rainfall this year and this has resulted in an explosion of colour with yellow and purple desert flowers (I need to learn the names of these)

Winter flowers explode in the desert

09 January 2013

A Mega at JPR to start the New Year

Week 02, 07 January 2013 - JPR and Sulaibikhat (Click to enlarge image)

A very happy New Year to you all, may 2013 be all that you wish for and more.

I was in Saudi when news filtered through that Rashed had found the 2nd record of Horned Grebe at Jahra Pools Reserve. Since weather conditions were mild and habitat was favourable there is a good chance that the 2 birds would remain, as has the Great Crested Grebe.

I was only able to visit the reserve on an absolutely perfect day on Monday (luckily, as the Tuesday was a horrendous dust storm where you could see the air you breathe).

I ended off 2012 with a European Robin at the pools and coincidentally started off 2013 with probably the same bird.

European Robin (Erithacus rubecula)
There was a flock of 74 Greater Flamingo's in the main open pool

Greater Flamingo (Phoenicopterus roseus)
I found the flock of 7 winter plumaged Black-necked Grebes and have provided an image for comparative purposes, just to show that other medium sized winter plumaged Grebe's could be easily overlooked.

Winter plumage Black-necked Grebe (Podiceps nigricollis)
Finally, one of the Horned Grebe's came out from behind a reed bed and I was able to enjoy saturated views of this smart bird that appears much crisper than the Black-necked.

Winter plumage Horned Grebe (Podiceps auritus)
After some time, the 2nd bird joined the first and the paddled off to the far end of the pool

The two Horned Grebes (Podiceps auritus)
A small flock of 3 Tufted Ducks were also seen

Tufted Duck (Aythya fuligula)
The Horned Grebes were actively feeding and despite having 10 fps, it was almost impossible to get one single sequence of the birds diving - so this is a hybridisation of 3 different sequences, to show exactly how they dive

Dive sequence of Horned Grebe (Podiceps auritus)

A White Pelican had also been seen on the Jahra coast, so I headed off to search for it - but without any luck. I guess 2 new birds on one day is pushing it. In Sulaibikhat the tide was way out, so I took some time to observe the interaction between the Mudskippers. Kuwait has either 3 or 4 species of Mudskipper and I was fortunate to be able to photograph two of the species.

Looking at the images, they are truly unique and almost prehistoric. According to Wikipedia they are completely amphibious fish and use their pectoral fins to walk on land. Since they are amphibious, they are uniquely adapted to inter-tidal habitats and are quite active when out of water; feeding and interacting with one another when defending their territories.

Mudskippers are able to breathe through their skin and the lining of their mouth and throat, but need to keep moist to do so - this is known as cutaneous air breathing; similar to some amphibians. They also have enlarged gill chambers which retain a bubble of air and these large gill chambers close tightly when the fish is above water, keeping the gills moist and allowing them to function.

Here is the bigger of the two Mudskippers; Boleophthalmus dussumieri. These two were squaring off and posturing by extending their dorsal fins and finally some aggression and a bit of mud-slinging before the loser slunk off back to his own burrow. I noted to that the teeth structures were different in the two species.

Boleophthalmus dussumieri

and the other smaller species; Walton's Mudskipper (Periophthalmus waltoni). This is a face that only a mother could love, but has similarity to a grasshopper in a way. The first two images clearly show how they 'walk' using their pectoral fins. And again, territorial display and posturing of raised dorsal fins, until one of the fishes gives in and returns from whence he came

Walton's Mudskipper (Periophthalmus waltoni)