Monday, 21 October 2019

Kuwait - Part 5

Today was pelagic day. We had our usual 5.30am start. Nick did the long drive down to Al Khiran port where we were joined by four other Danish birders.
By the time we had breakfast and set sail from the quay it was gone 8am. However, it didn't take long before we met up with a mixed flock of feeding terns which consisted of Lesser Crested, Bridled and White-cheeked - the latter two being lifers!

Lesser Crested Tern

Lesser Crested Tern

Bridled Tern - happily floating along on his very own piece of wood :-)

Fly-by Bridled Tern

White-cheeked Tern
We made several detours around various marker buoys and platforms looking for more terns adding Greater Crested to our trip list in the process.
Abdulrahman had organised for us to stop-off on several small islands that were good for migrants. At the first one we ditched the boat up onto the beach and within a one hour walk-about on the island we encountered literally hundreds of Common Redstarts (though no Ehrenberg's amongst them - evidently they had already moved through). We also had Isabelline, Pied and Northern Wheatears and three species of Shrike (Turkestan, Woodchat and the one and only Steppe Grey Shrike of the trip).
The second island was even more exciting, aside from more Common Redstarts, Pied and Isabelline Wheatears. We had a superb male White-throated Robin, Hoopoe, a possible Hume's Whitethroat that we never quite nailed and bird of the trip (possibly) in a White-headed (leucocephala) Wagtail.

White-headed Yellow Wagtail
Time was getting on at this stage so we all needed to get back on the boat and head back to port. But lastly we needed to find Socotra Cormorant. Thankfully Abdulrahman knew where to look and we needed only a minor detour to catch up with this species. I can't say I was that excited by it but as I understand its difficult indeed to see the species anywhere else in the Western Palearctic so maybe someday I'll be glad I ticked it.

Socotra Cormorant - right hand bird with distinctive neck shape (left hand bird being Great Cormorant)
From there we headed back to port and back into Kuwait city where I wolfed down a quick meal in my hotel room before it was lights out!

Monday, 7 October 2019

Kuwait - Part 4

Our first stop of the day was the Abraq-Al-Habri oasis, which was about ninety minutes drive from Kuwait City. I was at the wheel for the day and was starting to drive like a local at this stage. On arrival at the oasis we had a flock of mixed Squacco Herons, Little and Cattle Egrets circling the farm buildings but sadly some trigger happy local was taking shots at them and it was likely that several perished. This was something we came across several times in Kuwait and its really an upsetting thing to see!

Didn't even bother to pick up the spent cartridges

Nick did a little tidy-up

Anyway, we had a quick breakfast before spreading out to search for migrants.

Breakfast time at Abraq Al-Habri

There were more Common Redstarts than you could shake a stick at and amongst those was this fine male Ehrenberg's Redstart.

Ehrenberg's Redstart - Abraq Al-Habri Oasis, Kuwait

Ehrenberg's Redstart - Abraq Al-Habri Oasis, Kuwait

Also at Abraq Al-Habri we had Masked and Isabelline Shrike, White-throated Robin, Lesser Whitethroat, Eastern Olivaceous Warbler, Semi-collared Flycatcher, Ortolan Bunting, Pale Rock Sparrow and Hypocolius.

Masked Shrike

White-throated Robin - is there a prettier chat??
Hypocolius flock in flight
Cattle Egret - this one survived the gun

News reached us that Basra Reed Warbler and Cinerous Bunting were once again present in Al-Shaheed Park. So, we high-tailed it back to city - just in time for the rush hour!

Rushhour in downtown Kuwait City
This time our luck was in and Abdulrahman pinned down a very showy Basra Reed Warbler feeding on the deck - in my mind if I was ever to see this species it wasn't going to be in a city park!

Fly-catching from a rock - Basra Reed Warbler

Looking for his next victim

A classic pose in typical habitat ;-)
And a Great Reed Warbler kept company on the adjacent lawn.

Great Reed Warbler - also in a less than typical setting!
Great 'Lawn' Warbler

And this time our luck was also in with Cinerous Bunting.

Cinerous Bunting (semenowi)

Kuwait - Part 3

We reached the gates of Pivot Fields (a large agricultural complex) outside Kuwait City at 7.30am. Unfortunately 'The Major' wasn't present at the gate to let us in so we needed to drive around the back of the complex and peer over the fence (Footnote - we never did get to see 'The Major').

Anyway, we took breakfast as we scoped the agricultural fields watching a small group of Yellow Wagtails which had both Beema and Lutea subspecies mixed in - both new for me.
Later on within the complex we found a spot to look for raptors, we had male and female Pallid Harrier, a female Montagu's Harrier and a Steppe Buzzard there but it was otherwise it was quiet on the raptor front.

Montagu's Harrier

Our last stop in Pivot Fields was alongside some pools and a scrape where we had several Spotted Crakes (all peeping away), Little Bittern, Great Reed Warbler and Moustached Warbler. 

Little Bittern, Pivot Fields, Kuwait
On the scrape we had Collared Pratincole, Little and Temminck's Stints, Ringed Plover, Curlew and Wood Sandpiper, Common Snipe, Cattle Egret and a brief Ruppell's Weaver.

On the subject of Ruppell's Weaver - after that we headed back to the city to a spot called Fintas Park to look for Ruppell's Weaver. My recollection of this is that it was bloomin' hot - about 42 celsius and we all seemed to trudge around the place rather unenthusiastically but we did eventually see Ruppell's Weaver plus Masked Shrike, Eastern Oliveacous Warbler, Common Redstart and Blackcap.

Ruppell's Weaver - Fintas Park, Kuwait
Our final stop of the day was back once more at Al-Shaheed Park. We had 'gen' from other birders that had seen Basra Reed Warbler and Cinerous Bunting there earlier in the day. We searched but to no avail however we did have a pair of Little Bitterns, a female Pied Wheatear, Lesser Whitethroat, Tree Pipit, Great Reed Warbler, Pallid Swift and a Nightingale which I rather hoped would be of the golzi race but Abdulrahman said it was most likely from the race africans - which I confess I didn't even existed.

Male Little Bittern

Female Little Bittern

Tree Pipit on the carefully manicured lawns of Al-Shaheed Park

Africans race Nightingale

Wednesday, 18 September 2019

Kuwait - Part 2

Despite being woken by the call to prayer at 4am (our hotel was right opposite a busy mosque), I still managed to get a decent night's sleep and was fresh and bright when the group assembled at 5.30am in the hotel reception. The previous day we had been joined by WP lister and Parisian native Daniel Mauras, this morning was the start of the tour proper and our ranks were swelled by Danish birders Anders Hammergart, Paul Nilsson and Jim Christensen, British birder Gordon Cox and Belgian Marc Lucas. With me at the wheel about to take on Kuwait City traffic for the first time, the others piled into the cars and we set off once again for Jahra Farms.
We had an enjoyable pre-breakfast jaunt around Jahra with Grasshopper Warbler, Lesser Whitethroat, Barn Swallow, White-throated Kingfisher and excellent views of this obliging Semi-collared Flycatcher.

Semi-collared Flycatcher - Jahra Farms, Kuwait - April 2019
Nick and I also picked up this delightful Isabelline (Daurian) Shrike on a wire fence, I had only ever seen one of these before (a first winter bird in Ireland on the Old Head of Kinsale in 2006). I had long wanted to see a proper adult and this one didn't disappoint!

Isabelline (Daurian) Shrike - Jahra Farms, Kuwait - April 2019
As there had been a bit of a cock-up on the breakfast front (I'm not sure whose fault that was!), but in any case we needed to find a greasy spoon or equivalent somewhere. We toured around the town of Jahra and stumbled upon what turned out to be a rather smashing little cafe that served us up one of the best breakfasts I can remember that didn't include black pudding, bacon or Hick's sausages!

The full Kuwaiti!
Our rather less than economical 5 litre Toyota Landcruiser parked outside the cafe - fuel is cheaper than water in Kuwait
After breakfast we visited Mutla'a Ranch where we had further Semi-collared Flycatchers including a striking male plus another Masked Shrike, Pied Wheatear, Eastern Olivaceous Warbler, Namaqua Dove and plenty of Blackcaps.
Driving back out of Mutla'a ranch through dry desert habitat we had Bar-tailed and Desert Lark, Wryneck (an odd place to see one), Kestrel and Hoopoe Lark.
Next stop was Liyah Reserve, a desert reserve that has a small pool where we saw Wood and Common Sandpiper, a superb male Feldegg Yellow Wagtail plus a group of 21 Pale Rock Sparrows. Before lunch we birded around the acacias where we had plenty of Willows and Chiffs, male and female Pied Wheatears, Common Redstarts, Lesser Whitethroat and a White-throated Robin that did its best to elude having its picture taken. This male Pied Wheatear behaved itself a little more!

Male Pied Wheatear - Liyah Reserve, Kuwait - April 2019
I really enjoyed this spot, we visited several times during our tour and it was always buzzing with migrants.
We left Liyah mid-afternoon, stopping briefly to watch an Isabelline Wheatear from the comfort of our air-conditioned Landcruiser before heading across to Doha Spit for some evening wader watching.

Waders were a bit distant at Doha but present in both quantity and quality
Caspian, Lesser Crested, Little and Common Tern, Green Sandpiper, Broad-billed Sandpiper, Kentish Plover, Greater and Lesser Sandplover, Sanderling, Dunlin, Bar 'wits, Turnstone, Ringed Plover and  Whimbrel were all present but the highlight for me were the large flocks of Terek Sandpipers - my favourite wader maybe??
We switched around to another spot a were fortunate to pick out a single Crab Plover plus Night Heron, Squacco Heron and Whiskered Tern.
We finished the day at a Grey Hypocolius roost - but no Hypocolius! Once the sun had set, we piled back into the car and I drove back into the city through surely the most insane traffic I have ever encountered! It may have had something to do with a big football match that was on that night - I think it was an Egyptian league match - the cafes were mobbed!

Nick captures the sunset at the end of a long and enjoyable day of birding

Monday, 16 September 2019

Kuwait 2019 - Part 1

It seems a very long time ago now, but in April this year Nick and I took a week long trip to the gulf state of Kuwait. We joined Abdrulrahman Al Sirhan's spring tour in the company of several other birders from Denmark, Belgium, France and the UK.
For me personnally, the trip took place against a back-drop of an enormously hectic and pressurised period of time in work and there were moments leading up to the trip that I really thought I wouldn't get there! In the end I managed to get away and on 11th April Nick and I flew direct overnight from Heathrow to Kuwait City with BA. Landing early on a Friday morning, we were met by Abdulrahman and transferred straight away to our hotel more or less in the centre of Kuwait City.

My first sighting of Kuwait as our BA flight descends into Kuwait City on Friday morning

Our hotel for the week - more than comfortable despite there being no bar :-(
We had 20 minutes or so to check-in, shower and change before heading out for a day's birding. 
We made our way across the city to Al-Shaheed Park, a perfectly manicured public park set against a back-drop of high-rise financial buildings, not the sort of place I expected to see migrant birds but first impressions can be all wrong.
I was quite pleasantly surprised not to see heavy traffic that first morning in Kuwait City but I was to later find out that Friday is a weekend and everyone was enjoying a lie-in. I was to get quite a shock later when the full horror of Kuwait City traffic was revealed to me - more on that later!!!

A civilised sort of rush hour - 8.42am on a Friday morning in Kuwait City - little did I know!!

Friday morning at Al-Shaheed Park and one tired birder - I had 2 minutes sleep on the red-eye from Heathrow
Our highlights on that first morning included Masked Shrike, Turkestan Shrike, White-throated Robin, Pallid Swift, Hoopoe and Pallid or Montagu's Harrier. In addition to that there were the ubiquitous Laughing Doves and White-eared Bulbuls plus Indian Silverbill.

Turkestan Shrike against a city back-drop - Al-Shaheed Park, Kuwait City

The plan in my mind had been to return to the hotel for the rest of the day and catch up on some sleep however, Abdulrahman had packed us a lunch and instead we scoffed that and continued on to Jahra farms for the afternoon. The birding there was relatively slow but we did have Wryneck, Semi-collared Flycatcher, White-throated Kingfisher, Common Redstart plus Common and Bank Myna. However, the lack of sleep finally caught up with me and I crashed out under this palm tree using my camera as a pillow!

That night we picked up the rental cars at the airport and I shamelessly let Nick draw the short straw and drive back to the hotel through the by now much more scary looking evening traffic.

Monday, 24 December 2018

2018 Round-up

2018 could best be described as the year of two halves. The first six months were marked with some fantastic birding highlights and the second half - well, it was a nil-all draw at best.

After a truly dismal 2017, I was determined to enjoy my birding more in 2018."Less is more" was the mantra. I may not go out as much but when I would, I would enjoy it.
And so with the new year barely fresh out of the box I already had a lifer when a Hume's Warbler was found at the Shangri-La cottage in east Norfolk on 7th January (A visitor to Shangri-La).
Hume's Warbler - January 2018, Waxham, Norfolk
A very smart and very confiding male Black Redstart at Sheringham brightened up the latter days of January (The Black Rodney).

Male Black Redstart - January 2018, Sheringham, Norfolk
And at the end of the month, a winter trip to Tenerife provided a nice cast with the Canarian forms of Blue Tit, Chaffinch, Goldcrest and Robin as well as the wonderful Blue Chaffinch. The latter was harder than expected due to snow and ice in the mountains but I got there in the end (Winter birding in Tenerife).

Male Blue Chaffinch - Las Calderas, Tenerife - January 2018
February was a normal enough month and in mid-March this beauty turned up at Snettisham (Snow in north Norfolk).

Snowy Owl, Snettisham, Norfolk - March 2018
I had this bird tagged already as "Bird of the Year" - but better was to come!

At the end of March, Nick Watmough and I took a week long trip to Western Sahara, primarily for Golden Nightjar, Sudan Golden Sparrow, Cricket Longtail as well as some desert mamals such as Sand Cat and Fennac Fox. However, for me the highlights were the concentrations of migrant passerines around any little patch of greenery and fresh water. I could have spent the entire week at the water tower at Tachaktant and at a place called Mijk Farm.

Western Olivaceous Warbler

Western Subalpine Warbler

White-spotted Bluethroat

White-spotted Bluethroat
It took five blog posts to write up this epic trip in full. If you've nothing better to do this Christmas then feel free to read them (Western Sahara - part one).
It felt like I was hardly back in England when the next trip popped up. A long talked-about visit to Tory Island off the coast of Donegal for Corncrakes. We timed our trip to match with their immediate arrival and relatively little nettle cover in order to maximise chances of photographing them. I was hopeful but not really expecting too much. However, I'd barely set foot on the island when I had the shot I wanted in the bag - a calling male perched on a lichen covered wall with a background of nettles. 

Corncrake, Tory Island, Donegal, Ireland - May 2018

I don't think I really bettered this shot all weekend but I had a great time trying. Tory Island and its Corncrakes got into my system and I'm sure to be back.

Meanwhile back in Norfolk, a relatively lack-lustre spring (for me at least) finished well with a Moltoni's Subalpine Warbler on Blakeney Point. 
The summer was marked by the usual doldrums and some quite unbelievable temperatures (37oC one Friday in late July was too much for most people). I spent much of time just keeping the local birds going with cool, fresh water. They had survived the "beast from the east" and now had this inferno to endure!
In August I ticked Stilt Sandpiper, Lesser Yellowlegs and Semi-palmated Sandpiper - but bemoaned the poor views of these species versus my Irish experiences with Nerarctic waders.
Early August started with this smart Wryneck in Kessingland, Suffolk.

Wryneck, Kessingland, Suffolk - August 2018
Thereby followed a long run of westerlies and a cancelled return trip to Cape Clear was particularily upsetting. East winds late in October and November promised much and did deliver some good birds such as Brown Shrike and Stejneger's Stonechat, although I'd have loved better views of the Shrike.

Stejenger's Stonechat, Salthouse, Norfolk
And it's always good to see a Shorelark.

Shorelark, Happisburgh, Norfolk - November 2018
The King Eider at Sheringham rounded off my year's birding, after that I more or less hung up my bins and turned towards work and studying. Which, incidentally will continue to be my focus until next April's trip to Kuwait!
Meantime, my "2018 Bird of the Year" goes to Liam - the true King of Tory!!

Liam - King of the Tory Island Corncrakes