Yare Valley Geese, Posing Fieldfares and a Sawbill Influx, 7 February 2012

I ventured out into the elements this afternoon and headed for the Cantley Marshes in the Yare Valley. Scanning the marsh from the footpath off Burnthouse Lane the Taiga Bean Goose flock was soon found and after some scanning back and forth the long staying Lesser White-fronted Goose was also picked out. Detailed scrutinisation of all the scattered geese revealed a single Tundra Bean Goose and totals of c80 Taiga Bean Geese and c240 White-fronted Geese. A ringtail Hen Harrier also moved through before I sought the warmth of the car again!

Driving into Pulham Market in the south of the county later in the afternoon my eye was caught by a large group of Fieldfares (c120)  feeding in a roadside tree laden with berries. A quick u-turn and grab of the camera followed and I was able to get really close to them for some nice action shots.

I followed that by a short drive just over the border to Weybread Gravel Pits in Suffolk and despite the ever dropping temperatures I managed to eventually locate a redhead Smew and 15 Goosander (a great site count) amongst the large numbers of commoner ducks, Cormorants and Great Crested Grebes.

Having birded in laying snow with tempratures ranging from -1 to -4 today I'm glad we're off to sunnier climes in Goa tomorrow!

Kuwait Day 6, 2 February 2012 - Green Island, Pivot Fields, KABD and Jahra Farms

Our last day began with a return to Green Island and it proved to be our most productive visit yet. The single Hypocolious was located in it's favoured area and some great views were had by all. A pair of Ruppell's Weavers shared the same small palm at the Hypocolious and we even saw the latter pinch a date from a weaver at one point! Ruppell's Weaver has yet to be admitted to category C of the Kuwait list but a pair present for about 3 years now and nest building could indicate it may be tickable one day. A newly arrived Hoopoe, Red-vented Bulbul, White-cheeked Bulbuls and 30+ Starlings completed the passerines. The excitement wasn't over yet though because Bob had found a Swift Tern sat on a buoy in the bay which quickly became 2. A Caspian Tern and 4 Great Cormorants flew through before I turned my hand at photographing a nice close pale phase Western Reef Heron. Finished with that I stated to look for a Slender-billed Gull within photo range and the 3rd bird I looked at turned out to be an adult winter Mediterranean Gull. I called to Pekka not fully realising the rairity of this species. He luckily got some quick views as it decided to fly and wasn't seen again. This constitutes the 6th record for Kuwait and was our guide's highlight of the week!

Hypocolious, Green Island

Ruppell's Weaver, Green Island

Swift Tern, Green Island

Swift Tern, Green Island 

Western Reef Heron, Green Island

Mediterranean Gull, Green Island

En route to Pivot Fields we called in at the airport briefly but failed to re-locate the Indian Roller. Upon arrival at Pivot Fields access was problematic due to it being 'the prophet's birthday' (any excuse!) but we were eventually allowed in for just an hour. A necessarily quick whizz round revealed 1 juv Greater Spotted Eagle, 5 Black Kites and 2 Hen Harriers. 30+ Northern Lapwings with 1 European Golden Plover, 2 Green Sandpipers on the crocodile pool and 1 Hoopoe which showed nicely. Larks were much in evidence with 350+ Skylarks in a a huge flock and scattered Crested Larks. 1 Daurian Shrike, 5+ Isabelline Wheatears, 1 Desert Wheatear, 1 Red-throated Pipit (heard only), 2 Chiffchaffs and a male Siberian Stonechat completed the picture as we dashed for the exit.

Hoopoe, Pivot Fields

Despite our reservations (mainly concerning our rather fruitless visit a few days before) we returned to KABD again next. Weather conditions were pretty bad with a lot of blowing sand but amazingly, within minutes of arriving in the likely area a single lark flew past the car and we managed to stop and locate it sheltering from the conditions behind an isolated clump of grass. When we edged closer it was id'd as a very welcome Dunn's Lark and the final piece of the jigsaw was in place for the group! Very shortly after that we saw 4+ Black-crowned Finch-larks which was the icing on the cake. Spending a little time driving around revealed a few Skylarks, Crested Larks and Desert Wheatears and a Red Fox crossed the track and moved quickly away.

Dunn's Lark, KABD

Black-crowned Finch-lark, KABD (copyright Pekka Fagel)

Our final site of our final day just had to be Jahra Farms. The species present were pretty much predictable but 30+ House Martins hinted at a little bit of a movement and another accipter teased us with several all too brief flight views. It eventually gave itself up as a male Sparrowhawk but photographs clearly show an orange eye and a wing tip pattern showing only 4 prominent primary fingers. All going to prove we have more to learn about the id of Shikra!

Sparrowhawk, Jahra Farms

The tour was over and had been a huge success, helped by hard work and with a little bit of luck thrown in!

Kuwait Day 5, 1 February 2012 - Jahra Farms, Mutla'a Ranch, Qasr Farm and Jahra East Outfall

A delayed start this morning actually paid off as we made our way to Jahra Farms once again. Upon arrival we found an accipter sat high up in a tree almost alongside a Kestrel. Before we could get a scope on it properly it flew, mobbing the Kestrel before flying back to its tree but landing mostly out of view. Something about its swooping flight action looked promising but unfortunately we couldn't nail the id. A little while later, after checking all the trees in the vicinity and finding nothing we hadn't already seen on previous visits here I suddenly got onto an accipter flying over the heads of the rest of the group. Luckily Pekka had his camera to hand and snapped some records shots of, at last, a confirmed juvenile Shikra!

Shikra, Jahra Farms (copyright Pekka Fagel)

In very good spirits (naturally!) we went on to add Grey Wagtail to the trip list and had White-breasted Kingfisher, Daurian Shrike, Bluethroat and Ring-necked Parakeet. By the main carpark and mosque we also added Bank Myna to the ever growing list with 12 birds having just returned to the area of their breeding well.

White-breasted Kingfisher, Jahra Farms

Tour group Jahra Farms

Bob in pristine habitat! Jahra Farms

Grey Wagtail, Jahra Farms

We then got taken to a new site called Mutla'a Ranch, an isolated large area of mature date palms and other trees but despite looking good a thorough flogging of the area produced meagre returns of 2 Song Thrushes, 1 Chiffchaff, Pallid Swift and Sparrowhawk. This site has great migrant potential for the spring though.

Mutla'a Ranch

Back in Jahra again for afternoon coffee we decided to check the farms at Qasr to which access is now possible. Again, this area is similar to Jahra Farms so has some potential for the future. Today we had Sparrowhawk, European Stonechat, Graceful Prinia, Water and Meadow Pipits and Daurian Shrike. Best however (for local birders especially) was a great find of 2 Woodlarks feeding inconspicuously on a green patch of short crops.

Woodlark, Qasr Farm

Jahra East Outfall was the other spot visited today and in line with some of a recent spring visits it rather disappointed with just Hen Harrier (sadly shot at by local teenagers), 50+ Spanish Sparrows, 2 Chiffchaffs and loads of Greater Flamingoes out in the bay. With nearby large scale building developments encroaching ever closer the future of this site doesn't look very promising.  

Kuwait Day 4, 31 January 2012 - Al Abraq, Jahra Pools and Jahra Farms

The morning of our 4th day was dedicated to visiting the isolated farm of Al Abraq out in the western desert. On the drive out there we managed our first Black Kite of the trip and within a short space of time we'd arrived on site. Despite cold and windy conditions we thoroughly checked the whole area and had a very entertaining and educational morning. In an overgrown orchard area we quickly located the wintering Hume's Warbler and with a little encouragement from a recording it called back and showed very nicely. Also seen on our wander were Black Redstart, c3 Desert Wheatears, Chiffchaff, 6+ Song Thrushes, Robin and Cattle Egret. The next tactic here was to slowly drive a small area of green and irrigated cultivations on the edge of the farm which traditionally always attract plenty of birds. It proved a great idea with 8+ Water Pipits, 5+ Meadow Pipits, Tawny Pipit, 3 European Stonechats, loads of White Wagtails and surprisingly the first few migrant Yellow Wagtails. With perseverance and a lot of searching I got onto an odd looking heavily marked pipit and it was the bird we'd been hoping to connect with - a Buff-bellied Pipit of the asian race 'japonicus'. It was rather secretive in the vegetation but eventually gave itself up for some great views and photographs.

Desert Wheatear, Al Abraq

Al Abraq

Black-headed Wagtail, Al Abraq

Tawny Pipit, Al Abraq

Buff-bellied Pipit, Al Abraq

Buff-bellied Pipit, Al Abraq

With the weather deteriorating we left Al Abraq and headed back to the bright lights of the city and once more to Jahra Pools. Migrants were clearly starting to move through as things were a little more lively than our previous visit. 9+ Marsh Sandpipers, Common and Green Sandpiper, 4 Little Stints, Dunlin and Avocet were new arrivals. 200+ Spanish Sparrows flew back and forth over the reeds, Bluethroat was again present as were Moustached Warbler, Graceful Prinia, Water Pipit, Black Kite, Marsh Harrier and increased numbers of Swallows, House Martins and Pallid Swifts. Along the back track a pair of Siberian Stonechats showed extremely well.

Siberian Stonechat, Jahra Pools

Siberian Stonechat, Jahra Pools
A quick look at Jahra Farms again, in the pouring rain was predictably unproductive. But we lived to fight anther day...

Kuwait Day 3, 30 January 2012 - Subriya Farm, SAANR, Jahra Farms and KABD

Our main aim today was to spend some time at the Sabal-al-Ahmed Nature Reserve (SAANR) but first thing we decided to quickly check the nearby Subriya Farm. This proved rather fruitless with only Robin and Chiffchaff seen so we quicky reverted back to plan.

At the reserve gate we were informed that we were only allowed access for 2 hours due to visiting VIPs. Unfortunately this type of problem continues to be common in Kuwait but at least we did get in! So, it was a quick whip round to try to see the specialities before we had to get out. Firstly we stopped at a pretty unpromising looking piece of desert but our guide knew what he was doing and we quickly had some views of a male Finsch's Wheatear, 6+ Bar-tailed Larks and after a good wander round the vicinity Bob picked up a very welcome Hoopoe Lark. At the Tulha Oasis things were extremely quiet (in contrast to what it's like in spring) and even 2 distant accipters failed to give themselves up. Moving on there were plenty of Desert and Isabelline Wheatears scattered about as we headed to a large open wadi. Scanning the area from above John picked up 2 distant MacQueens Bustards which was a really good scoop. A Greenshank on a small flash in the wadi was less exciting! On the way back out of the reserve I got onto a trackside Asian Desert Warbler that showed nicely when encouraged by a recording and with that we departed the scene.

Another look at Jahra Farms followed but we once again failed to connect with a much wanted accipter. The fayre there was pretty much the same as previous visits with Song Thrush, Blackbird, Common Myna, Robin, Ring-necked Parakeet, White-breasted Kingfisher, Daurian Shrike and a coffee and read of the newspapers in McD's being pretty much it! 

The rest of the day was spent at the sandy desert site of KABD where we scoured the large area from the vehicle and also on foot. Another male Finsch's Wheatear was by the main track and a few thinly scattered Desert and Isabelline Wheatears were seen but it was hard going. A small cultivated patch produced 1 Short-toed Lark, 4 Skylarks and a few Crested Larks before we called it a day.     

Kuwait Day 2, 29 January 2012 - Green Island, Pivot Fields, Khiran and Fahaheel Park

An 06.45 start saw us make the short drive back to Green Island this morning. At first the birding was slow there but after about 30 minutes I got onto the single wintering Hypocolious on the top of one of the buildings and when we'd located a wandering Bob and he'd also got some views we once again had a very satisfied group. This one was a bit of a bogey bird for them as they'd missed it on a spring tour last year. The usual bulbuls were also joined by a few noisy Starlings this morning and the Daurian Shrike was also still present.

Hypocolious, Green Island

Our next port of call was the ever popular Pivot Fields. This large area of watered arable crops never fails to have plenty of birds and is a real magnet for raptors. After a Steppe Grey Shrike close to the entrance we made a stop by the crocodile pool where we had some good views of a Moustached Warbler, White-breasted Kingfisher and a Green Sandpiper we moved out into the main crop areas for a lengthy drive round, birding as we went. Raptors were much in evidence with 4-5 Greater Spotted Eagles (all adults), a superb adult Eastern Imperial Eagle on a pylon and singles of Hen Harrier, Steppe Buzzard and Long-legged Buzzard. Passerines were represented by c5 Desert Wheatears, c8 Isabelline Wheatears, 40+ Water Pipits, 2 Tawny Pipits, Meadow Pipits, many Skylarks and several Crested Larks. Northern Lapwings numbered about 50 with 1 Curlew, 2 Cattle Egrets, several Starlings, 1 Hoopoe and 2 Daurian Shrikes adding to our growing trip list. A stop by the camel enclosure revealed 6 Namaqua Doves.

Eastern Imperial Eagle, Pivot Fields

After leaving Pivot Fields (the site is only accessible in the mornings) we drove south to the coastal resort of Khiran, stopping for a McD's coffee en-route (a habit that was to become a regular one during the rest of the week!). At a rather grim looking shallow wadi full of builders rubbish we soon located our target bird - one of only 2 known Persian Wheatears wintering in the country. A new WP bird for me. This was quickly followed by the other one just across the road in another small wadi, this time shared with a showy Eastern Mourning Wheatear. Isabelline and Desert Wheatears completed the set!

Wadi at Khiran

Persian Wheatear, Khiran

Persian Wheatear, Khiran

Eastern Mourning Wheatear, Khiran

Eastern Mourning Wheatear, Khiran

With a little time to spare on the drive back to Kuwait City we opted to stop and check Fahaheel Park where we managed Black Redstart, c5 Water Pipits and a staked out wintering Woodlark while an adult Baltic Gull circled around the marine over the road.

Tour group, Fahaheel Park

Woodlark, Fahaheel Park

Water Pipit, Fahaheel Park

Kuwait Day 1, 28 January 2012 - Airport, Green Island, Jahra Pools, Manchester Club and Kuwait University

We had an all British group comprising Bob Swann, John Boulcott and Bill Bailey for our first winter tour to Kuwait. Arriving at Kuwait International Airport on the morning of 28 January we quickly negotiated all the visa and baggage formalities, met our local guide Pekka Fagel and ventured out for our first birding.

Birding began rather sooner than we anticipated with an extraordinary piece of luck. Literally 2 minutes out of the airport Bob cried 'stop, I think there's a roller on that lamp post'. Squealing to a halt in a convenient lay-by we legged it back down the road to confirm it was indeed a roller - an Indian Roller! Considering there had been no sightings of the species since early December it really was some bird for the first one of the trip.

Indian Roller, Kuwait International Airport

Indian Roller, Kuwait International Airport

A happy car load of birders then proceeded to Green Island (via a quick bag drop at our hotel) in the hope that the team's next target could be located. Sadly it wasn't to be as we failed with Hypocolious which probably had a lot to do with the fact it was the middle of the day. We did manage the resident Red-vented Bulbuls, the ubiquitous White-cheeked Bulbuls, 1 Masked Shrike, 1 Daurian Shrike and Common Sandpiper on the lake before we left the site vowing to return the following morning.

Red-vented Bulbul, Green Island

Daurian Shrike, Green Island

White-cheeked Bulbul, Green Island

Green Island

Next stop was the wetland reserve of Jahra Pools where a drive around the various reed-fringed pools produced sightings of 2-3 Bluethroats, 3 Graceful Prinias, c40 Spanish Sparrows, our only Turkestan Shrike of the trip, a singing (but not seen) Clamorous Reed Warbler, Marsh Harrier and Tufted Duck whilst Swallows, Pallid Swifts and a couple of House Martins hawked over the water.

Pallid Swift, Jahra Pools

Next came an extended stop at the wader hot spot known at the Manchester Club on the southern edge of Kuwait Bay. It certainly didn't disappoint. The boys in the group were very keen to get some close views of Crab Plover and they got them here as at least 175 fed along the shoreline. A sleeping Dotterel (a great local bird) was picked up amongst the large numbers of Lesser Sandplovers, Greater Sandplovers, Kentish Plovers and Dunlin. Present in smaller numbers were Terek Sandpipers, Redshank, Curlew and Little Stints with the odd Broad-billed Sandpiper, Greenshank, Whimbrel and Grey Plover. A true wader fest! Also here were several Heuglin's and Slender-billed Gulls, single Armenian and Pallas's Gulls, c8 Caspian Terns, several Gull-billed Terns, 5 Western Reef Herons and the spectacle of 5000+ Greater Flamingoes flying into the bay. Passerines included several Water Pipits and a single Desert Wheatear.

Crab Plovers, Manchester Club

Crab Plovers, Manchester Club

Tour group, Manchester Club

We finished a superb first day with 4 House Crows and a couple of Ring-necked Parakeets at Kuwait University. 

House Crow, Kuwait University