29 January 2014

Gulls, Gulls, Gulls.....and something Common

Week 04, 25 January 2014 - Sabah Al Ahmad Sea City

I was back at Sea City in the south, spending most of the time on a boat exploring the various lagoons in this impressive development. It feels as if we are reaching the tail end of winter, mornings are still brisk, but by lunch the temps are up in the high teens.

At this time of the year, there is a lull between the winter visitors departing and the spring migrants arriving, so not much new to be seen - or so I thought.

The big numbers of large white-headed Gulls appear to have dwindled in the South, although there are still large flocks of the resident Slender-billed Gulls foraging and feeding in the lagoons. I have admitted before that Gulls are not my favourites (so if I have mis-ID's some of them do let me know), but when there is not much else about you have to check them out. I struggled with the camera today, couldn't get into the right position with the boat for the light and couldn't get close enough either, so was rather disappointed with the day's results.

I suspect this is a Heuglin's Gull

Possible Heuglin's Gull (Larus f. heuglini)
and these are Steppe

Possible Steppe Gull (Larus f. barabensis)

Possible Steppe Gull (Larus f. barabensis)

Possible Steppe Gull (Larus f. barabensis)
and this one, not sure?

Unidentified Gull
But what I was able to find and identify in the mixed flock of Gulls on the beach was a 1st winter Common Gull (a new bird for my Kuwait list) and considered a rare winter visitor in Kuwait.

1st winter Common Gull (Larus canus) and unidentified Gull in the background

1st winter Common Gull (Larus canus)

1st winter Common Gull (Larus canus)

1st winter Common Gull (Larus canus)
Another Gull I was expecting to see and did was Great Black-headed Gull, this was one of two birds that I saw.

Great Black-headed Gull (Larus ichthyaetus)
Great Cormorants are still present in large numbers around the project

Male Great Cormorant (Phalacrocorax carbo)
and Western Reef Herons have returned, in both colour forms

Dark form Western Reef Heron (Egretta g. schistacea), my best pic of the day

Pale form Western Reef Heron (Egretta g. schistacea)
Once I had finished on the boat, I explored some of the desert area, finding Little Egret (for comparative purposes with pale Western Reef)

Little Egret (Egretta garzetta)
Asian Desert Warbler (in close proximity to a Desert Wheatear, as usual)

Asian Desert Warbler (Sylvia nana)
and Isabelline Wheatear

Isabelline Wheatear (Oenanthe isabellina)
Along the coast south of Khiran village, the sea looks like it belongs on a tropical island

Yes, this is Kuwait
Near this area I found a spot with a large flock of mixed shorebirds including; Greater and Lesser Sandplover, Dunlin, Common Greenshank, Redshank, Bar-tailed Godwit, Eurasian Curlew, Grey Plover and 43 Sanderlings - it appears these may be some early spring migrants

Sanderling (Calidris alba)
and there is a lot of colour in the desert with plants displaying what seems like a carpet of yellow, interspersed with a little purple - very pretty for a desert country.

A splash of colour in the desert

13 January 2014

Banter, humour and target birds

Week 02, 08 January 2014 - Green Island to Jahra

I assisted Abdulrahman with guiding a group of birders (Phil, Trevor, Simon and Joel) who were in Kuwait for a few days after first visiting Socotra Island. We discovered that when planning a winter trip, always plan for around 4-days. As it turned out, their first 2-days was miserable weather (overcast, cold, rain and gusting wind), the 3rd day was almost perfect and the last day was a bank of thick sea fog all morning. 

When I picked the group up at 6:30am there was some pressure to find 2 of the target birds, Hypocolius and Crab-plover which they had not yet connected with, not surprising given the conditions. But also this late in the winter, Hypocolius is not as easier as at the start of the winter and not a given. The only place to go was Green Island, but of course at this time of the morning it is not open. We opted to speak to the guard on duty to see if he would let us in for 15-minutes to have a quick check, but he was adamant that he was not allowed to do this and firmly stood his ground. During our unsuccessful negotiation, I was scanning the tree's near the arch when I saw a single male Hypocolius fly in and immediately got the group onto it. While we were watching a few smaller groups flew in and in the end we counted 21 birds. When the shift changed, we were able to get a little closer to enjoy crippling views and all were in Hypocolius heaven.

I was able to get few in-flight images before my battery inexplicably died...

Part of the 21-strong flock of Hypocolius (Hypocolius ampelinus)

Pretty striking in flight, Hypocolius (Hypocolius ampelinus)

Nesxt stop was Kuwait Towers for Bank Myna (I know from Hypocolius to Bank Myna is anti-climatic, but it was a want species). No luck with the Bank Myna, but we did find a solitary Rose-coloured Starling (amazing for this time of the year). This picture was from the following foggy day, when I went back later in the morning after charging my battery

Rose-coloured Starling (Pastor roseus) in the fog
But, more surprisingly was the large number of White-vented Myna's seen (we counted over a dozen later in the afternoon). I had seen this species in late 2006 and parts of 2007 in Salmiya and then have not seen them again. It seems they did not disappear, but have rather multiplied in the last 5-years and may have displaced the Bank Myna's normally  seen at the Towers. This image, also from the following day in the fog.

White-vented Myna (Acridotheres cinereus), part of the unexpected flock
At Sharq Harbour, we found what seemed to be a large 1st year Gull that we couldn't id. Phil was able to get a few images and the consensus was that it was a large Caspian Gull. Again I was back the next day, but couldn't re-locate the larger gull from yesterday, but was able to photograph some of the other first year Gulls that I presume are Caspian's.

Probable 1st-year Caspian Gull (Larus cachinnans) in the fog

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We spent the rest of the day looking for the 2nd target bird and found a flock of 90 Crab-plover in Sulaibikhat Bay which we came back to later in the day for better views on the incoming light and also finding both Greater and Lesser Sand Plover. Near the Maternity Hospital we picked up a single Armenian Gull.

Our last stop in Jahra gave Dark-throated Thrush at Jahra Farms and Moustached Warbler, Red-spotted Bluethroat, Indian Reed Warbler, Little Crake and Citrine Wagtail at Jahra Pools.

Aside from the good day's birding, I enjoyed the good humour and banter with this experienced group of international birders.

And the quizzical look from this blue-eyed or is it green-eyed cat at Sharq Harbour, as I searched in vain for the large gull from yesterday.

You wont find that Gull today, mate!

Rain and shine

Week 02, 07 January 2014 - Sabah Al Ahmad Sea City

I was back in the south of the country in the first week of the year in pretty diabolical weather (rain, cold and gusting wind) and as a result couldn't get out in the boat. I had been doing some reading about using flash in just such conditions, but finding a suitable subject was a challenge in itself. Eventually a bedraggled House Sparrow and White-eared Bulbul were a little obliging. The 'trick' or success with using flash is to provide light on your subject in a way that viewers are none the wiser that fill-flash was used. I was fairly satisfied with these preliminary results, of course the background for the Sparrow could have been a lot more pleasing, but he wasn't moving.

Male House Sparrow (Passer domesticus)

White-eared Bulbul (Pycnonotus l. leucotis)
A few days later I was back under blue skies, but still lower temps with the wind chill added, so most birds kept out of view. A lone Painted Lady was seen 'thawing' out in the sun

Resident Painted Lady (Vanessa cardui) 
and following some rain, we now have a colourful show of yellow winter flowers in all areas that held water.

A show of yellow winter flowers

One of the few birds seen out on the waterways was this dark form Western Reef Heron striding confidently along the shoreline...

Western Reef Heron (Egretta g. schistacea) - dark form

05 January 2014

2013 - The Year That Was!

I thought that there is merit to provide a summary of the birding high's and lows for Kuwait in 2013. I arrived in Kuwait in late 2006 and in that time local and visiting birders have added on average 4 new species to the checklist each year.

2013 exceeded the average with 6 new species added, including the magical milestone of the 400th species. Fittingly this bird, a Streak-throated Swallow, seen in the last month of the year was a true vagrant and only the 2nd record for the Western Palearctic.

So, below is a month-by-month blow of some of the highlights of what was a great birding year for Kuwait.

The 2nd Horned Grebe found at Jahra Pools Reserve

Horned Grebe (Podiceps auritus)
The 16th White-crowned Wheatear seen at Jal Al Zor

White-crowned Wheatear (Oenanthe leucopyga)

The 3rd Ashy Drongo that was in Fahaheel Park for a few days

Ashy Drongo (Dicrurus leucophaeus)
The Mesopotamian Crow at Jahra Pools Reserve was a new species for me

Mesopotamian Crow (Corvus c. capellanus)
The 3rd Masked Wagtail arrived at Jahra Pools Reserve

Masked Wagtail (Motacilla a. personata)
The 1st Collared Flycatcher, European Greenfinch and Taiga Flycatcher all found at the oasis farm of Al Abraq - unfortunately I couldn't connect with any of these vagrants.

I found the 18th Black Stork soaring over Jahra Pools Reserve

Adult Black Stork (Ciconia nigra)
Pretty exciting was the discovery of a pair of Near Threatened Ferruginous Ducks breeding for the very first time at Jahra Pools Reserve. In fact we observed 3 clutches of ducklings over a few months, but are not sure if these were produced from one or more pairs of Ferruginous Ducks. Water levels at the reserve had been consistent and still are and this produced the conditions required for these ducks and many other species to breed at Jahra Pools in 2013.

First clutch of Ferruginious Duck (Aythya nyroca) ducklings at Jahra Pools Reserve
I also added the two sub-species of Red-throated Bluethroat to my Kuwait list; White-throated Bluethroat taken by my son Jaden at Jahra Pools Reserve

White-spotted Bluethroat (Luscinia s. cyanecula) 
and Caucasian Bluethroat seen at both Jahra Pools and Al Abraq

Caucasian Bluethroat (Luscinia s. magna)
The 5th Grey Phalarope was found at Jahra East Outfall

No vagrants or rarities were recorded in the hottest month of the year

The 17th Black-winged Kite (2 birds) were resident at Jahra Pools Reserve for around a week

1st year Black-winged Kite (Elanus caeruleus)
The 2nd Indian Pond Heron (2 birds in breeding plumage) were at Jahra Pools Reserve for a few days

Indian Pond Heron (Ardeola grayii) in breeding plumage
The 3rd Pygmy Cormorant was also found at Jahra Pools Reserve, but was a one-day bird

The 1st Striolated Bunting was seen at Tahla in SAANR and also only stayed a day. I managed to see the bird, but had a photographic lapse of memory, so missed capturing the bird on pixels.

The 4th Booted Warbler was seen again at Tahla in SAANR, almost a year to the date of the 3rd record in the same location

Booted Warbler (Iduna caligata)
Numerous records of Crested Honey Buzzard during the autumn raptor passage migration

The 11th Sooty Falcon was seen at Khuwaisat

The 13th Spur-winged Plover (2 birds) as seen at Jahra East Outfall

The 7th Pallid Scops Owl as seen at Jahra Pools Reserve (late Oct) and Jal Al Zor (and early Nov; we suspect the two records may be of the same bird). This image courtesy of my friend Bouke Atema who found the Jal Al Zor bird

Pallid Scops Owl (Otus brucei)
The 10th Eversmann's Redstart at Al Abraq - a cracking and obliging male bird

Male Eversmann's Redstart (Phoenicurus erythronotus)
The 1st Goldcrest, also at Al Abraq. Initially one bird was seen, but on a subsequent visit 2 birds were seen

Female Goldcrest (Regulus regulus)
The 6th Zitting Cisticola was also found at Al Abraq by yours truly and Markus Craig

Zitting Cisticola (Cisticola juncidis)
The 2nd Striolated Bunting for the year was discovered in Wafra

The 1st and 400th bird for the Kuwait Checklist, a Streak-throated Swallow was discovered in a mixed Hirundine flock at Jahra Pools and sadly was a one-day bird

Streak-throated Swallow (Petrochelidon fluvicola) and 400th bird for Kuwait
The 2nd Taiga Flycatcher for the year was discovered at Sabriya Farm

Taiga Flycatcher (Ficedula albicilla)
The 10th Desert Finch was found by yours truly south of Khiran Village

Desert Finch (Rhodospiza obsoleta)
A pair Common Chaffinch were present at Al Abraq for a couple of days and was a new species for my list

Female Common Chaffinch (Fringilla coelebs) 

As you can see, another pretty good year for both vagrants and rarities in Kuwait.

In terms of personal highlights, I was able to connect with 4 of the 6 vagrants (but dipped on the Collared Fly and Greenfinch) and finished off the year with 250 species (out of the 400). Plus, there were a number of species recorded during the year that I didn't catch-up with, although I had seen these in previous years.

Some of the notable omissions or species not recorded during the year (as far as I am aware) include; 

Great Crested Grebe, Common and Demoiselle Crane, Red-wattled Lapwing, Eurasian Golden Plover, no Sandgrouse (other than those killed by shooters in the north), Rufous Turtle Dove, Indian Roller, Bimaculated Lark, Dunn's Lark, Oriental Skylark, Ring Ouzel, Mistle Thrush (in fact another poor year for Thrushes in general), Kurdistan, Humes and Hooded Wheatear, Richards Pipit and Cinereous Bunting.

We trust that with the growing interest in birding and numbers of new birders and photographers joining the more experienced birders that 2014 will be another bumper year in Kuwait