30 November 2013

Al Abraq delivers again

Week 48, 28 November 2013 - Al Abraq

Markus Craig and I headed back to Al Abraq following last weeks superb vagrant and rarity birding. It was a very pleasant winter morning with temps starting off around 12 degrees and warming up as the morning progressed. We also wanted to check if the Eversmann's and Goldcrests were still around, but had no luck with either of these species.

However, the Western Black Redstart

Western Black Redstart (Phoenicurus ochruros)
and Eastern Black Redstart were still around in the early morning light

Male Eastern Black Redstart (Phoenicurus o. phoenicuroides)
We had brief views of a female Hypocolius and also flushed a female Eurasian Sparrowhawk that was a little obliging, but not quite out in the open, which is typical of this species.

Eurasian Sparrowhawk (Accipiter nisus)

Surprisingly we had two Purple Herons fly over the farm, which is a pretty late record for this species.

Purple Heron (Ardea purpurea)
After walking extensively around the farm, we opted to drive to the small alfalfa fields where we found numbers of Wagtails and Pipits. There were a few Water Pipits foraging with White Wagtails

Water Pipit (Anthus spinoletta)
But also quite a large number of Meadow Pipits, most of these were adults with the grey/olive upperparts and a lot of rufous on the flanks.

Meadow Pipit (Anthus pratensis)

Earlier in the week, Rashed had found Common Chaffinch and this morning we found both a male and female bird - a new tick for me for Kuwait. The female was certainly the more obliging of the two.

Female Common Chaffinch (Fringilla coelebs)

Male Common Chaffinch (Fringilla coelebs)
Driving slowly along one of the alfalfa fields a small pale bird flew up from the ground, my initial impression was a female Stonechat, but fortunately it landed and I was able to get my bins on it - the streaked crown and bill shape immediately confirmed to me that it was a Cisticola. There is only one Cisticola species that has been recorded previously in Kuwait - Zitting Cisticola! Markus also got his bins onto the bird and concurred the id with me, another new tick for the morning. According to the KORC records, this is only the 6th record with the last confirmed record from March 1990, 23-years ago! 

I managed to grab a few images before we left the area to minimise disturbance to the bird. As far as I am aware, these are probably the first photographs of this species for Kuwait, so I was pretty happy. We then let the other birders know of the sighting, as most had not seen this species in Kuwait.

Zitting Cisticola (Cisticola juncidis), 6th record for Kuwait

Zitting Cisticola with a large wasp to give a size reference
Once some of the birders arrived and we could show them the location, Markus and I left and headed back home. On the way to Al Abraq, I had seen where the Rubbish Tip was located, so we made a stop to check it out. There were two Greater Spotted Eagles, a single Eastern Imperial Eagle (my first for this year) and over 30 Black Kites, perhaps a wintering flock?

We have had some discussions about the possibility of Black-eared Kite in Kuwait, especially the wintering birds. We do understand that there is still much discussion and research going on with this taxa and of course there is the possibility of hybrids. 

I found an interesting article on Identification of Black-eared Kites by Dick Forsman on the 'Net which was primarily about the separation of Red Kite (Milvus milvus) from Western Black Kite (Milvus migrans migrans), but also refered to the eastern form of Black Kite, known as Black-eared Kite (Milvus migrans lineatus). In the paragraphs below, I have highlighted a few key areas from this interesting article.

According to the article, separation of adult Black-eared Kites from Black Kites is not difficult, but care needs to be taken as there can be a great deal of overlap in characters brought about by hybridisation between the two forms.

Black-eared Kites from the western part of the population are migratory and winter in southern Asia as far west as Iran and Iraq. However the true winter range of Black-eared Kites is poorly known.

Black-eared Kites are the largest form of Palearctic Black Kites, the wings are broad and display six deeply splayed 'fingers' creating a broad and squarish, almost Eagle-like wingtip. These primary 'fingers' are relatively longer than any other form of Black Kite. In Western Black Kite the sixth primary 'finger' is is about half or less than half the length of the sixth 'finger' - this is more indicative (and by no means diagnostic), but does demonstrate that Black-eared Kite has comparatively longer primary fingers, including the sixth 'finger'.

The most striking feature of Black-eared in all plumage's is a broader and more obvious whitish 'window' in the bases to the outer four primaries on the underside than in Western Black Kite, together with the brighter and more distinct barring on the inner six or seven primaries on the underwing.

With juvenile birds, both look similar and only typical juvenile Black-eared's can be identified using a combination of characteristics: typical primary structure, underwing primary pattern and extensively pale rear underbody.

I took a few images of a few different birds and will be interested in opinions on whether the first two images are considered 'typical' juvenile Black-eared Kites?

Candidate for Black-eared Kite (Milvus migrans lineatus)?

These other two were part of the same flock, but may be Western Black Kites?

Western Black Kite (Milvus migrans)?

Western Black Kite (Milvus migrans)?

Precision flying

Week 48, 28 November 2013 - Marina Crescent

Not bird related at all, but earlier this week we had the privilege of watching an awesome display by the Royal Air Force Red Arrow team fresh from the air show in Dubai.

Their formation flying and aerobatic skills were nothing short of breathtaking with the backdrop of the Arabian Gulf on a perfect winter's afternoon which had the large crowd enthralled for around 45-minutes.

27 November 2013

Water, water everywhere

Week 48, 24 November 2013 - Sabah Al Ahmad Sea City

Following the week of a low pressure system and substantial rain I headed down to Sea City in the south of Kuwait. There was plenty of evidence of the rain the previous week with many desert camps still flooded and huge shallow pans of water on either side of the 30 Freeway. 

Flooded Desert Camp

Excess rain water along the 30 Express Way

Flooded road
This early rain should bode well for the spring flower show and already grass has started sprouting up on the highway verges.

A carpet of green
The temp was pretty fresh out on the water, the big flock of Heuglin's Gulls from the previous week were nowhere to be seen, but there was a scattering of these Gulls around the lagoon beaches.

Heuglin's Gull (Larus f. heuglini)
A few Slender-billed Gulls were also seen, looking decidedly pinkish.

Slender-billed Gull (Chroicocephalus genei)
I was in the bigger boat, so we could check off-shore and as with last year, I found an over-wintering Socotra Cormorant roosting on the buoy.

Over-wintering Socotra Cormorant (Phalacrocorax nigrogularis)
Exploring further south in a SUV, a late Pallid Harrier was an unexpected surprise. It flew along a tree line checking for unsuspecting passerines before heading out over the desert.

Hunting Pallid Harrier (Circus macrourus)

24 November 2013

What a Week!

Week 47, 20 November 2013 - Al Abraq and Jahra

As mentioned in the previous post, Kuwait and pretty much most of the Middle East had a low pressure system that brought heavy and intense downpours in a very short time causing floods and damage to many areas.

On the 16th, the 10th Eversmann's Redstart (a mouth-watering WP species and very tempting for a number of listers who have yet to add this scarce bird to their lists) and 1st Goldcrest for Kuwait were found at the western oasis farm of Al Abraq. Many birders made the trip out to the farm, but were unsuccessful in their attempts to relocate the birds and after that the rain came again.

To add to an already fantastic week, the 2nd Striolated Bunting was recorded in one of the oil fields in the south of Kuwait.

On the 20th, there appeared to be a break in the weather, so I decided to head out to the farm picking up Markus Craig and Bouke Atema on the way. We were at the farm very early, so early in fact that the gate was still locked - a bit of a heart stopping moment. Fortunately a farm hand came to open the gate and we were in. As often happens at this farm, birding is very quiet early in the morning and birds appear as it starts to warm up.

We walked the farm and at one stage split up, with Markus and I exploring one area where we located the Goldcrest in a feeding party of Common Chiffchaffs - just brief views were afforded before it disappeared in the canopy. 

We checked another area and found a unexpected juvenile Common Cuckoo that we initially thought was a small accipiter (as it isn't supposed to be here at this time of the year)

Juvenile Common Cuckoo (Cuculus canorus)
A female Ménétriés’s Warbler was also unexpected

Female Ménétriés’s Warbler (Sylvia mystacea)
Bouke then came back and said he had seen and photographed a very obliging bird which he was not familiar with. Looking at the image on the back of his camera, I immediately saw that it was the Eversmann's - I thought Markus was going to have a mild heart attack, as this was one of his most wanted WP birds. Bouke took us back to the spot and there it still was - we were able to get pretty close and soaked up this magnificent male bird for the next hour as it interspersed between foraging on the ground and sitting inside one of the acacia trees. No excuses for the multiple images below.......

Male Eversmann's Redstart (Phoenicurus erythronotus)

We then got on our phones to call the birders who had missed the bird(s) on the 16th and 17th. In the meantime, we went back to the area where we had seen the Goldcrest together with Abdulrahman to search again - whilst searching Abdulrahman found a Yellow-browed Warbler. Just then, we caught a glimpse of a small bird in the canopy and lo and behold the male Goldcrest was back. Movement in the adjacent tree revealed a 2nd Goldcrest (perhaps a juvenile or a female?) - how much better can it get. This time I was able to squeeze off a few images against the light and in the darkness of a grove of tree's. We suspect this is the eastern race coatsi, the male of this race does not have the orange on the back of the crest according to Birds of Central Asia.

By now a good number of other birders had arrived, so we pointed them to where the birds were last seen.

Male Goldcrest (Regulus regulus coatsi)

We had 3 species of Redstart today, including this Western Black Redstart

Western Black Redstart (Phoenicurus ochruros)
By now we had 'sucked' Abraq dry, so headed off to Jahra area, stopping in at Jahra Farms. Not too many birds, but a 'trapper' who was catching Hypocolius flushed a few Thrushes from a tree.

Trapped Hypocolius for the market or a meal?
Tracking the bigger bird, I saw it had a dark head - the first Black-throated Thrush of this and last winter (last year was very poor for Thrushes). It landed close to Markus and I was only able to get one image that only RAW and Photoshop could save.

Black-throated Thrush (Turdus atrogularis)
It flew off again and I tracked it with my 1DM4 and was impressed when the AI Servo focus held on the bird as it flew behind a palm tree - truly impressive - so the images below are included to show this amazing technology..

Black-throated Thrush, BIF tracking with the superb 1DM4

Behind the palm and still in focus

Out from behind the palm and tracking continues (as long as you keep the focus point on the bird - not always easy)

Just before leaving, I flushed Pipit landed in a Date Palm. There was a suggestion that this could be Olive-backed, but further investigation and opinions from others have suggested that this is rather the eastern race of Tree Pipit, harringtoni. Key features include heavy, almost blotch streaking, head pattern, heavy mantle streaks and distinct pale fringes to the tertials.

Tree Pipit (Anthus trivialis harringtoni)

All in all, a day to really remember

A Grey Day

Week 47, 18 November 2013 - Green Island

We had a low pressure system over Kuwait that dumped a substantial amount of rain. After dropping my son at school, I popped into Green Island on the way home under heavy grey skies for a quick walk to see which winter visitors were about.

If you want to hear bird song early in the morning, Green Island is certainly the place to go - we have minimal to no dawn chorus in the suburb that we live in. Most of the birds are the resident White-eared Bulbuls, Collared and Laughing Doves and Sparrows interspersed with Common Myna's and the Ruppells Weaver which is very distinctive.

Common Myna (Acridotheres tristis)

A single Eurasian Hoopoe was an unexpected surprise as he seems to have been left behind when the others departed south

A very late Eurasian Hoopoe (Upupa epops)
On the small lagoon inside the island, a single Eurasian Curlew wandered between a mixed flock of Slender-billed and Common Black-headed Gulls

Eurasian Curlew (Numenius arquata) strolling between Slender-billed (Chroicocephalus genei) and Common Black-headed Gulls (Chroicocephalus ridibundus)

Of course, these were not the reason for my visit, but rather the Hypocolius which is generally quite abundant at Green Island in the early winter months. I was not disappointed as there were more than 30 birds all adding their warbling call to the mix - what a pleasure. 

So, please excuse my indulgence for this glut of grey Hypocolius images under a grey sky, but they are really cool birds and are not that easy to photograph as they are seldom out in the open.

Portrait of male Hypocolius (Hypocolius ampelinus)

Female Hypocolius (Hypocolius ampelinus)

Male Hypocolius (Hypocolius ampelinus)

Male and Female Hypocolius (Hypocolius ampelinus)

Male Hypocolius (Hypocolius ampelinus) feeding on the leaves of this tree

Female Hypocolius (Hypocolius ampelinus)

Male Hypocolius (Hypocolius ampelinus)

Hypocolius (Hypocolius ampelinus) drinking water from an upturned table