16 September 2014

Warblers of JEO - Part 1

Week 35, 29 August 2014 - Jahra East Outfall (JEO)

Summer breeding is over for the Warblers of JEO and if you are a Warbler fan, August is the month to visit Kuwait and work your way through the confusing array of 1st-year youngsters and moulting (worn) adults - it truly is a challenge!

In this first part, I will feature an 'Acro' that Kuwait should be truly proud of and conserve as vigorously as possible; the Endangered Basra Reed Warbler (Acrocephalus griseldis). A Warbler that is named after Basra, the capital city of Basra Province in Iraq (only 125km away from Jahra East as the Crow sorry Warbler flies).

It is a Warbler of the genus Acrocephalus and is listed as Endangered on the current IUCN Red List of Threatened Species as it has a small population (between 1,500 - 7,000 mature individuals) which is estimated to be undergoing very rapid and continuing decline due to extensive and recently accelerating drainage of it's prime breeding habitat. This is a species that is one of the key indicators of wetland health. 

The primary breeding ground is the Mesopotamian Marshes of south-east Iraq and probably in south-west Iran in the Hawr Al Hawizeh marsh complex of Khuzestan. In 2007 two pairs were confirmed breeding in the Hula Valley in Israel and in 2009 Basra Reed I photographed a juvenile bird which confirmed breeding in Kuwait at JEO (although it was suspected that they were breeding previously, it was never confirmed). 

Now, on today's visit in 2014 I again photographed at least one 1st year (juvenile) bird which suggests that Basra in all likelihood, bred again at JEO which is fantastic news for local birders and Kuwait. To be absolutely conclusive, we would really need to find a nest in breeding season, but the habitat is very dense, the breeding birds very shy and secretive; so it will be a difficult task. In my opinion, it is not worth the risk of disturbing this endangered species whilst they are breeding - we want to encourage them to stay, not scare them off

This means with the continued loss of habitat in the Basra marshes, Kuwait could become a key secondary breeding location for this Endangered species, which means that that it is important that this site and habitat is preserved and protected all year round.

Basra Reed Warblers are migrants and after breeding are seen on passage in both Kuwait and Saudi Arabia as they head south to Africa and countries like Sudan, south Sudan, Ethiopia, south Somalia, south-east Kenya, east Tanzania, south Malawi and Mozambique for the African summer.

Kuwait has a unique opportunity to really make an impact on the long term survival of this species and all it will take is the conservation and protection of the known breeding habitat of this species. From what I hear, plans are afoot to do just this and that truly will be a big step in the right direction for the species future and for conservation initiatives in Kuwait.

As mentioned, there was a smorgasbord of Warblers on offer this morning, but these images of Basra Reed (1st year birds in fresh plumage as well as moulting adults) all show long primary projections and relatively long and slim bills and trust me, among some of the other Acro's this wasn't always obvious - especially since they are not stationary for long in dense habitat! At this point I would like to thank Peter Kennerley who double checked my ID's and helped with the aging

The images below are of the 1st-year (juvenile) bird in fresh plumage
1st year Basra Reed Warbler (Acrocephalus griseldis)

These images are of a worn (moulting) adult - probably post breeding

Worn adult Basra Reed Warbler (Acrocephalus griseldis)

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