12 March 2014

What the fog?

Week 10, 08 March 2014 - Sabah Al Ahmad Sea City

Spring migration is certainly starting to step up a gear with migrants starting to arrive in numbers in northern Kuwait. I had great expectations for my visit to Sea City, but halfway down the 30 the traffic literally ground to a snails pace as we hit a thick bank of sea fog that lasted all the way to Khiran and only lifted by 8:30am

Engulfed by the fog bank

Goats appearing like apparitions in their pen
The bulk of the winter visitors appear to have departed with very few Great Cormorants seen and only a handful of Heuglin's Gulls

Heuglin's Gull (Larus f. heuglini)
and a single Common Black-headed Gull seen on the lagoon beaches

A late blooming Common Black-headed Gull (Chroicocephalus ridibundus) not yet in breeding plumage
I checked out each of the islands and was a little disappointed at the lack of numbers, but did get a find a Chiffchaff that appeared to be darker than what I have been used to seeing. Birds of the Middle East refers to brevirostris the breeding form from Turkey which is brown-tinged above (especially crown) and on breast sides and has off-white undertail coverts. I would be interested to hear opinions of those who may be more familiar with this ssp.

Chiffchaff, possibly Phylloscopus collybita brevirostris?

Feeding closer to the ground and very seldom coming out of cover was a male Menetries Warbler that tried my patience, but I was able to get one image through the foliage.

Shy male Ménétriés’s Warbler (Sylvia mystacea)
Another treat was a White-throated Bluethroat, only my second sighting of this ssp - again patience and stealth was required to get both images. The first against the light, but thanks to RAW I was able to recover the image.

White-spotted Bluethroat (Luscinia s. cyanecula)

I found a Moth sp that flew like a Skipper butterflies, but then would dart inside the cover and close their wings like a regular moth. Thanks to Ben Porter for suggesting is is probably an Eastern Bordered Straw

Eastern Bordered Straw (Heliothis nubigera)

11 March 2014

First Yellow Flowers now Yellow Birds

Week 09, 24 February 2014 - Al Abraq

The Nowair flower show is now fading away as are many of the visiting winter birds, but nature has a way of compensating it's beauty with something else.

I had the opportunity to spend a few hours at the Al Abraq oasis farm and welcomed the arrival of some birds with colour. As the Blog post intimates, it was the Black-headed Wagtails that really stood out in with their black caps and bright yellow plumage.

(Western) Black-headed Wagtails were the majority, but I did find (and a first for me) and single Eastern Black-headed Wagtail and was able to photograph both in similar poses for comparative purposes.

Black-headed Wagtail (Motacilla f. feldegg)

Eastern Black-headed Wagtail (Motacilla f. melanogrisea)

Black-headed Wagtail (Motacilla f. feldegg)

Eastern Black-headed Wagtail (Motacilla f. melanogrisea)
Thanks to Yoav and Neil pointing out my id error with these two male Stonechat's. What was interesting with the sighting was that males birds outnumbered the females. 

After looking at some of the other images I took (clearly showing the unstreaked rump on both and so ruling out European), the first is most likely Caspian (North Caspian)

and the second with more rufous flanks than the first, but more obvious white on the sides of the tail, Byzantine (South Caspian?)

Male Caspian Stonechat (Saxicola m. hemprichii)

Male Byzantine Stonechat (Saxicola m. variegatus)
And it took quite some time and a lot of patience to eventually get a fleeting glimpse of this elusive Eastern Orphean Warbler

Eastern Orphean Warbler (Sylvia crassirostris)
There were a few lingering winter visitors like Common Chiffchaff

Common Chiffchaff (Phylloscopus collybita)
White Wagtail which are now sporting breeding plumage

Wintering White Wagtail (Motacilla alba) now in breeding plumage
as are the few Water Pipits that are still left...

Ditto for this Water Pipit (Anthus spinoletta)
Roll on Spring!

05 March 2014

Departing visitors and returning migrants

Week 08, 22 February 2014 - Sabah Al Ahmad Sea City

Winter is slowly receeding as the days start lengthening. Down at Sea City in the south, the morning coolness was exaggerated by the wind chill created by the twin 200hp motors of our boat. There is a sense of change in the air, wintering Great Cormorants are now looking like distinguished gentlemen in their breeding plumage as they prepare to head north.

Male Great Cormorant (Phalacrocorax carbo)
The Great Black-headed Gulls which arrive late in the Kuwait winter are transitioning to breeding plumage..

Transitional Great Black-headed Gull (Larus ichthyaetus)
Whilst some are already ready for courtship

Great Black-headed Gull (Larus ichthyaetus) in full nuptials
Grey Herons are more abundant around the project

Grey Heron (Ardea cinerea) a resident summer breeder
as are Western Reef Herons

Pale form Western Reef Heron (Egretta g. schistacea) a resident summer breeder
and a Caspian Tern was seen roosting on one of the pristine beaches (well one that was recently cleaned!)

Caspian Tern (Hydroprogne caspia) another resident breeder
It was low tide, so we ventured off-shore and headed north up the coast toward Mina Al Zour where there are some exposed sand banks on the low-tide.

Mina Al Zour low-tide sand bank
A few of the Common Black-headed Gulls are now sporting dark hoods

Common Black-headed Gull (Chroicocephalus ridibundus) a soon to be departing winter visitor
I now know why birds are thin on the lagoons on low tide, as the sand banks were literally covered in birds - Cormorants, Gulls and Terns. I estimated that there were close to 2,000 birds in the mixed flock.

Mixed Cormorants, Gulls and Terns

Gulls and Terns
I counted 37 Great Black-headed Gulls, certainly the most I had ever encountered in my time in Kuwait

Great Black-headed Gulls (Larus ichthyaetus)
Another unexpected species this early in the season was a flock of over 40 Lesser Crested Terns, together with many Sandwich Terns. We normally only get this species closer to summer when they come to breed on the off-shore islands.

Unexpected Lesser Crested (Sterna bengalensis) and Sandwich Terns (Sterna sandvicensis)
Inside the project, I found a Squacco Heron successfully hunting - excuse the trash, but the wind had blown some of the building waste into the trench, which the Heron used to its advantage.

Squacco Heron (Ardeola ralloides)
A few Cistanche lutea had sprung up around the project

Cistanche lutea
In some of the rocky areas, I found a male and female Blue Rock Thrush, finally a welcome splash of colour.

Female Blue Rock Thrush (Monticola solitarius)

Male Blue Rock Thrush (Monticola solitarius)
The number of Isabelline Wheatears has also increased quite dramatically.

Isabelline Wheatear (Oenanthe isabellina)
A few Pied Wheatears had also now arrived, but were a little more elusive.

Pied Wheatear (Oenanthe pleschanka)
Heading south of Khiran down the coast, there are still areas with carpets of yellow (Senecio desfontainei) and it really is enjoyable to see.

'Nowair' (Senecio desfontainei)
On the coast, I found a large flock of mixed shorebirds - predominantly Lesser and Greater Sand Plovers

Greater Sand Plover (Charadrius leschenaultii)
But also numbers of Eurasian Curlew

Eurasian Curlew (Numenius arquata)
And returning Black-winged Stilts that will also breed in Kuwait during the summer

Black-winged Stilt (Himantopus himantopus)