02 March 2015

A Mega in the South

Week 08, 21 February 2015 - Sabah Al Ahmad Sea City

I was back down in the south of Kuwait with the sniff of Spring in the air becoming more noticeable, despite the severe and violent dust storm we had last night. I stop for breakfast at McDonald's twice every month and you would think by now the staff who recognise me, would know my standard order....not yet!

Although the wind had died down completely, there was still hanging dust in the air that filtered the early morning light, at the reedbed where I spent an hour. Like yesterday, Byzantine Stonechat's were also in the south in small numbers

Male Byzantine Stonechat (Saxicola m. variegatus) in the remnants of the dust storm

A smart Turkestan Shrike was also present, patrolling up and down the reeds

Turkestan Shrike (Lanius phoenicuroides)
Again, I picked up a single Common Snipe, but was secretly hoping it would be a different species

Common Snipe (Gallinago gallinago)

A few early Willow Warblers were heard calling in the reeds, but only small numbers of Common Chiffchaff were seen foraging in the reeds

Common Chiffchaff (Phylloscopus collybita)

Common Chiffchaff (Phylloscopus collybita)
A flock of Hirundines passed by and included Barn Swallow, Common House Martin and 3 Red-rumped Swallows

Red-rumped Swallow (Cecropis daurica) in the fine hanging dust, heavily edited in PS

And 3 Little Stint dropped in (the 3rd is out of frame)

Little Stint (Calidris minuta)
Once on the boat out on the lagoons it was evident that Great Cormorant numbers had reduced, as had the large white-headed Gulls. I did find small numbers of Caspian Gull

Caspian Gull (Larus cachinnans)
and Heuglin's Gull

Heuglin's Gull (Larus f. heuglini)
as well as a single Common Black-headed Gull now starting to sport breeding plumage

Common Black-headed Gull (Chroicocephalus ridibundus)
Just near the Khiran marina I saw a small Heron dart low across the water and land on one of the artificial groins. This in an area that I predicted over a year ago that would be good for Striated Heron in the south of Kuwait. So, confirming this was rather satisfying. I have seen this species many times in UAE, Qatar and South Africa, so I knew immediately what it was before I managed to locate it skulking on the rocks of the groin. This was the 4th record for Kuwait

4th Striated Heron (Butorides striata) for Kuwait

Along the shoreline, I found hunting Western Reef Heron who was so focused, it was oblivious to me. However, this time it was the prey that outsmarted the predator

Pale form Western Reef Heron (Egretta g. schistacea)
Still good flocks of mixed shorebirds made up of predominantly Greater and Lesser Sand Plovers

Greater Sand Plover (Charadrius leschenaultii)

Lesser Sand Plover (Charadrius atrifrons)
Eurasian Oystercatcher are uncommon in the south, this was one was roosting with the Eurasian Curlews and departed long before I got near close enough

Eurasian Oystercatcher (Haematopus ostralegus)
And a few early summer breeders in the form of Lesser Crested Terns had arrived

Early Lesser Crested Tern (Sterna bengalensis)
Back out in the desert, Wheatear diversity had improved. Along with Isabelline

Isabelline Wheatear (Oenanthe isabellina)
Eastern Mourning Wheatear were now present

Eastern Mourning Wheatear (Oenanthe lugens)
and my first Pied for the spring

Pied Wheatear (Oenanthe pleschanka)
A few Eurasian Penduline Tits were still present in the area I had previously seen them

Male Eurasian Penduline Tit (Remiz pendulinus)
As well as another Byzantine Stonechat

Male Byzantine Stonechat (Saxicola m. variegatus)

The masses of the diminutive Desert Blue Iris were still in flower

Desert Blue Iris (Gynandriris sisyrinchium)
By now it was time to head home and I found Common Kestrel on the overhead lines.

Common Kestrel (Falco tinnunculus)
A last stop back at the reeds where I was first thing this morning had a few late winter visitors; Water Pipit transitioning to its breeding plumage

Water Pipit (Anthus spinoletta )
along with White Wagtail

White Wagtail (Motacilla alba)
A pair of Little Ringed Plovers had also dropped in whilst a Green Sandpiper passed by overhead.

Male Little Ringed Plover (Charadrius dubius)
The Turkestan Shrike was now photographed in more favourable light

Turkestan Shrike (Lanius phoenicuroides)
and with some patience, the Red-spotted Bluethroat eventually showed itself.

Red-spotted Bluethroat (Luscinia svecica)
In the next 6-weeks, migrants will arrive in numbers, so a great time to be in Kuwait, if you are a birder.

01 March 2015

Winter to Spring Transition

Week 08, 20 February 2015 - Al Abraq to Jahra Pools

Neil Tovey and I spent a good part of the day birding from the west to the east of Kuwait. We started off at Al Abraq at first light, but had a real challenge navigating to and getting to the farm as a heavy desert fog rolled in and enveloped us. It was quite weird driving blind in the general direction of the farm, trying to follow a faint track with less than 5m visibility.

We finally arrived, almost driving into the gates of the farm as they suddenly appeared out of the fog in front of us. We opted to walk first hearing lots of birds, but not being able to initially see them.

There was heavy moisture in the air with dew hanging off the tree's. It felt like we were not in Kuwait for the start of the morning - quite surreal and wonderful. Actually, this was the first time I have had such thick fog so far west in the desert.

Dewdrops from the desert fog
At the pond, a male Byzantine Stonechat seemed quite reluctant to move.

Male Byzantine Stonechat (Saxicola m. variegatus)

As was a Mauryan Grey Shrike sitting in the gloom (some heavy editing in PS helped brighten an otherwise dull image)

Mauryan Grey Shrike (Lanius lahtora pallidirostris)
Only around 8:30am did the sun start burning the fog away and this was when I discovered a solitary Western White Stork that appeared to have perched overnight on a fence. However, it wasn't too long before it decided to try and get airborne - but it still wasn't warm enough to generate the updraft required to get the lift it needed, so it stayed around the farm until later in the morning. 

Western White Stork (Ciconia ciconia)

By this time, we had bright blue skies and many birds around. We picked up a late and skittish Red-breasted Flycatchers, but we were really surprised with the number of Byzantine Stonechat's with more males than females recorded.

Female Byzantine Stonechat (Saxicola m. variegatus)

Male Byzantine Stonechat (Saxicola m. variegatus)

There were small numbers of Willow Warbler interspersed with the many Common Chiffchaff's

Common Chiffchaff (Phylloscopus collybita)
And the few remaining White Wagtails

White Wagtail (Motacilla alba)
were now joined by Yellow Wagtails, all Feldeggs

Black-headed Wagtail (Motacilla f. feldegg)
Bar one, which could be an integrade between two ssp

This could be a 'feldegg' x 'iberia' or 'supercilliaris' x 'melanogrisea'
A pair of Grey Wagtails were also recorded near the entrance and later at the reservoir

Grey Wagtail (Motacilla cinerea)

We had a single male Eurasian Sparrowhawk briefly overhead

Male Eurasian Sparrowhawk
Also a good few Eurasian Hoopoe's

Eurasian Hoopoe (Upupa epops)
A flock of Barn Swallow had both Common House Martin and Red-rumped Swallow amongst them

Red-rumped Swallow (Cecropis daurica)

Near the fields, we picked up a Song Thrush, this one of the few that stayed a little longer out in the open

Song Thrush (Turdus philomelos)
A Turkestan Shrike

Turkestan Shrike (Lanius phoenicuroides)
And also a skulking Sedge Warbler (note the long PP) in the acacia's.

Sedge Warbler (Acrocephalus schoenobaenus)
By now we had worked the farm pretty well, so decided to head east. 

On the road south back to the freeway, Neil picked up a small flock of thermalling Steppe Eagles

Steppe Eagle (Aquila nipalensis)
I went to Jal Al Zour to look for Crag Martin, but only found the White-crowned Wheatear which remained right at the top of the wadi against the light

White-crowned Wheatear (Oenanthe leucopyga)

Neil tried Al Shallah Farm, but did not add anything new.

We met up again at Jahra Pools, finding a few Greater Spotted Eagle overhead

Greater Spotted Eagle (Clanga clanga)
and for me a single European Stonechat in amongst a few more Byzantine's

Female European Stonechat (Saxicola rubicola) with a warm backdrop
Spring was certainly in the air this morning, but this changed later in the afternoon when Kuwait was hit with a sudden and severe dust storm that lasted through the night. By Sunday, we were back to winter temperatures following the heavy snow that fell in the western Middle East (Jordan, Lebanon etc.)