Saturday, 31 January 2015

After a picnic at Wadi Hanna

I visited Wadi Hanna on Wednesday afternoon. It is a wooded upland wadi for which I have high hopes of seeing new birds during the spring migration.

I din't see any hint of the migration yet although I had to make a double take of a female black redstart at one moment just to make sure it wasn't a (migrating) common redstart.

Otherwise it was a similar mix of resident and wintering birds as last time but with subtle changes.

One subtle change was the easy with which I saw red-breasted flycatcher. There were two in the relatively small area I surveyed. Both were first winter birds.

red-breasted flycatcher

One of them was much more confiding than usual. They are often tricky to monitor because they don't return to the same perch like so many other flycatchers.

second view

Very soon after observing this flycatcher I arrived at a very recently deserted picnic spot. Indeed I saw the picnickers leave. They didn't leave the place very clean and so the birds moved in in waves.

Abyssinian white-eye

First in was a flock of Abyssinian white-eye which are fairly omnivorous. They were joined by an African paradise flycatcher.

African paradise flycatcher

Things suddenly got very interesting when an Eastern Imperial Eagle swooped down low to see if any meat had been left behind.

Eastern Imperial Eagle

Almost out of nowhere around twenty fan-tailed raven appeared and started mobbing the eagle.

Fan-tailed raven

The mobbing moved off to another part of the valley and then presumably by co-incidence two more Eastern Imperial Eagle arrived near the original one. There was a lot of activity in the air between the eagles and the ravens.

Ruppell's weaver and Abyssinian white-eye

Meanwhile the Ruppell's weaver had discovered the remains of the picnic and joined the white-eyes.

I wonder if the Ruppell's weaver about to eat into a green pepper got a shock when it did so?

white spectacled bulbul

The last species I saw join the picnic before I moved on was white spectacled bulbul.

fan-tailed raven

It and the other birds were overlooked by a single fan-tailed raven which hadn't joined in the mobbing choosing instead to explore the picnic.


Early the scene had been much more peaceful except for the constant sounds of cinnamon-breasted bunting and blackstart.

Ruppell's weaver

Ruppell's weaver were still flocking. There is not much sign of spring breeding up here. Most breeding of this bird is in the Khareef season but some on the coast appear to also breed in early spring.

steppe buzzard

I started the blog noticing a subtle change. I will end with one. The number of steppe buzzard in the area has gently risen from one to four in the past six weeks. All of them have the grey-brown plumage of nominate common buzzard. What are the odds of that?

Friday, 30 January 2015

African skimmers on Taqah beach

I had visited Taqah beach twice after two skimmers were first seen there about three weeks ago.

I  knew that one of the sightings was in front of the Khawr at the west end of the beach. A later one was in front of the town in either the middle or east end.

Both times I had looked all along the beach for them but had failed to see them. The first time I went I looked at dawn. This was probably a mistake as I now know skimmers feed at dawn and dusk.

This time a UAE based birder, Andrew Ward, told me he saw them towards the far east end over the weekend while I was in Kuwait.

Tuesday afternoon was my first chance to look on my return. They were resting about 15 metres west of where Andrew had seen them. I only had to look for about 10 minutes before finding them. Compare that with the two previous searches lasting two hours each.

African skimmer

They were really tame and allowed close approach but I am pleased I didn't flush them at all though a jogger did at one stage.

African skimmer next to a great crested tern

When first discovered in early January they were initially thought to be Indian skimmer since this species is a vagrant to Oman and African skimmer has not been recorded.

rear of an African skimmer

However size comparison against near-by gulls and terns as well as the black going all down the neck has identified these two birds as African skimmer.

African skimmer on the move

At one stage they were even sleeping.

both African skimmer

They were only showing a slight preference for associating with terns. Much of the time they were separate from all other species.

great crested tern

The main birds surrounding them were a large flock of about 100 Heuglin's gull, 40 Pallas's gull and 80 sooty gull. The number of Pallas's gull is  quite large for southern Oman especially so as I only counted 12 in the same place a week before.

The few terns around were lesser crested tern, great crested tern and a single sandwich tern.

After seeing the skimmers I spent a few minutes behind the beach looking for other birds. Unusually I didn't visit the Khawr itself.

tawny pipit

The haul among the land birds was light. I observed only tawny pipit, crested lark and Tristram's starling.

tawny pipit again

This was a light end to a rewarding birding session.

Thursday, 29 January 2015

Jahra Pools

Markus Craig took me to Jahra pools in Kuwait on late Saturday afternoon. This is a fascinating artificial wetland close to the sea. It reminded me a lot of Jubail in eastern Saudi Arabia which is about 250 kilometres further south on the Persian gulf.

Both places have resident purple swamphen.

Purple swamphen

Both have a large number of herons. This time there were western reef heron, grey heron and great white egret present.

grey heron

There was a large variety of ducks present at Jahra pools. These included ferruginous duck,  gadwell, garganey, pintail, tufted duck and wigeon.

ferruginous duck

The ducks seemed more advanced with their breeding plumage than the birds down near Salalah which I normally bird. For example, all our gadwell are still in winter plumage.

gadwell (left)

We spent a little time looking in reeds at one spot for the smaller birds. We spotted bluethroat, graceful prinia and chiffchaff. Unfortunately the cetti warbler did not show. Markus told me this is a good place to see basra reed warbler for part of the year and that they may even breed there.

graceful prinia

The scrub land and coastal land adjacent to the pools also had interesting birds. Two common snipe and a jack snipe flushed in one area. Overhead two common swift flew over.

Daurian shrike

Elsewhere, on scrub land a Daurian shrike was perched. Two marsh harrier were patrolling all over.

greater spotted eagle

The last bird before sunset and the last of my trip was a greater spotted eagle.

Over the weekend I put 73 species on my brand new Kuwait list and gained 3 lifers. None of this would have been possible without the hospitality of Markus Craig and Mike Pope.

Wednesday, 28 January 2015

Al Braq Oasis farm

On Saturday I had a full dawn-until-dusk birding day in Kuwait thanks to Markus Craig who hosted me.

Markus is a Kuwait-based birder who drove me first to Al Braq. This is an oasis in the west of the country close to the Saudi border.

The surrounding countryside is arid and almost completely barren. We couldn't certainly say we saw any thing other that desert wheatear and house sparrow. 

That is even more reason the oasis itself is a magnet for birds. It is privately owned and has been landscaped into a reedy pool, woodland, an array of horticultural plots and some cattle sheds. Each component area has its own bird life.

corn bunting

We spent much of our time near the horticultural plots and for good reason. The highlight there was a grey-necked bunting which was associating with a group of eight corn bunting. Markus has some record shots but I sadly don't. It took us some time to identify it but I noticed on the ebird database that it had been seen the day before there by another observer. This species migrates from south east Turkey to India and back so it is a little surprising it is still a vagrant in Kuwait. The bird was also incredibly early for spring migration unless it decides to stay a while.


Also at the plots was a single brambling which has been around for much of the winter. This was one of several birds seen at the farm which are from the north and very rarely seen in other parts of the Gulf.

European stonechat

A European stonechat was observed in one of the fallow plots.

common redstart

Another sign of early migration was a common redstart. A black redstart was also seen near the cow sheds.

water pipit

I saw two types of pipit in the plots. There were both tree pipit and water pipit.

crested lark

Crested lark was pretty much expected at a location like this and it obliged.


Hoopoe were seen in the plots and on the edges of the woodland.

white wagtail

I think all parts of the gulf which aren't desert have white wagtail at the moment.

cattle egret

At least, three cattle egret have made the oasis their home this winter.

house sparrow

There was no sign of Spanish sparrow but house sparrow were in evidence near the workers accommodation and the cattle sheds.


The pool was not so productive on the day except for chiffchaff there and in the surrounding trees. These trees were the only place we had white-eared bulbul at the oasis.

The woods were very interesting though.

disappearing sparrowhawk

My one disappointment there was a sparrowhawk which flew off into the middle distance as we arrived.

mistle thrush

Otherwise the woods housed several species of northern winterers which are often difficult to see elsewhere. There were at least two mistle thrush, a song thrush and a male blackbird.

two mistle thrush

There was also a European robin

Given the farm is so close to the Saudi border it must give an indication of species that can be found in far northern Saudi Arabia in winter. I saw four birds in Al Braq not on my Saudi list.

As the birding was so good we stayed well in the afternoon before moving on. Our second stop was Jahra pools which also proved to be fascinating. I will blog about that next.

Tuesday, 27 January 2015

Lesser flamingo at the Sulaibikhat outfall

Before dusk on Friday afternoon, Kuwait-based birder Mike Pope kindly showed me the Sulaibikhat outfall for a short birding session.

I was lucky enough to see a lesser flamingo out of the over 5,000 flamingo that have been counted to winter in Kuwait.

lesser flamingo (right)

As we saw flocks of flamingo flying around in the half light, Mike warned me to look out for the one known lesser flamingo.

flamingo in flight

It would have been very difficult to pick one out lesser flamingo in the flocks in the air. however we got lucky. A relatively small flock landed around the bay and it was almost immediately obvious that one of them was the lesser flamingo.

sleeping flamingoes

Furthermore, many of the flamingoes went to sleep on landing. We had to watch until the lesser flamingo woke up. 

Mike told me a lesser flamingo has wintered in Kuwait in  2010/11, 2012/13, and now 2014/15. It is probably the same bird.

crab plover

Near-by were a group of crab plover.

western reef heron with a black headed gull

Next to the outfall itself were some western reef heron and hundreds of gulls which were mostly black-headed gull.

common redshank with pigeon

There were relatively few waders. There were four common redshank and a single dunlin. Once again the coastline had plenty of pigeon.

This short session was rewarding. It was prelude to Saturday's full day session which brought me another lifer and several northern wintering birds which are rarely seen in other parts of the Arabian gulf. I will blog about them next.

Monday, 26 January 2015

Wintering masked shrike in Kuwait City

I visited Kuwait over last weekend to see friends and to bird. This was my first visit and I am very happy with it.

I birded alone on Friday morning but went to Green Island as suggested by local birder Mike Pope who helped arrange my trip.

masked shrike

Green Island was very interesting for its variety of introduced as well as native species. Nevertheless the highlight of the morning for me was when I left green Island and walked down the corniche. 500 metres south of green Island as I was finishing my birding for the morning I came across a masked shrike.

This is the third one I have seen in mid winter far north of where they are meant to be. One was in the garden of the Intercontinental Hotel Riyadh in 2011/12, the second was in Deffi Park, Jubail, Saudi Arabia in 2013/14 and now this one. Deffi Park is only 250 kilometre from Kuwait and also on the coast.

That was near the end of the morning. The start was nearly as interesting.

One of the first birds I saw was a red-whiskered bulbul. This was a lifer for me.

red-whiskered bulbul

This is a presumed escape but unlike red-vented bulbul which was also there, it hasn't established a sustained breeding population.

white-eared bulbul

The native white-eared bulbul was probably more common than either.

common myna

Common myna is another non-native species which long breed here and other places in the gulf.

laughing dove

Both laughing dove and collared dove were there.

slender-billed gull

There is a sea inlet within the island which contained both slender-billed gull and black-headed gull. Just as the black-headed gull in Salalah are nearly all first winter, near all the black-headed gull here which is over 1200 km north were mostly adults.

Ruppell's weaver

Continuing the them of exotic birds, I saw three Ruppell's weaver. Local birder Markus Craig tells me that they breed on the island now elsewhere but are still category E (escapes) rather than category C birds (escapes with a sustained breeding population). I saw old nests.

male Ruppell's weaver

I spotted a white-throated kingfisher on the island which is a little unusual.

white-throated kingfisher

Returning to the sea inlet before leaving, I observed grey heron and great cormorant.

grey heron

I later discovered the wintering population of great cormorant in Kuwait is very large indeed.

great cormorant

On Fridays Green Island is only open from 9 am until 11 am in the morning. I would have stayed longer if I could.

I chose to walk south from Green island along the corniche.

Steppe gull

Large numbers of slender-billed gull and black-headed gull were present along with a small number of large white headed gulls. The one above has been identified as a steppe gull. The yellow legs and relatively short bill are part of the identification.

black-headed gull

Very few waders were along this beach. Indeed I saw only two greater sand plover and one Kentish plover.

greater sand plover

The greater sand plover was identified by its long and fairly pointed bill, its greenish legs and size compared with the near-by Kentish plover.

kentish plover

Last and possibly least I must comment that many of the beaches in public areas in Kuwait are frequented by large numbers of pigeon.

pigeon along the beach

On late Friday afternoon, I went birding again, this time with Mike Pope. We went to Sulaibikhat outfall. It was here I saw my second lifer of the day. I will blog about that next.