Monday, January 30, 2012

Kuwait Birding: Near Kuwait City

Kuwait City - surprisingly huge in all dimensions.
January 23, 2012.

A wonderful winter break for Vasso, Nancy, Aris and I. This is my second visit to Kuwait, so  I was eager to see friends, go out, relax, and do some birding. Temperatures ranged from 5 to 22 C; most days were nearly wind-still, and as usual many birding and naturing surprises awaited us!

Kuwait is one of the least visited countries in the Arabian Peninsula, yet there is nature to explore here. Birding near a city is really important for both visitors and residents.  Since the country is a unique oil-rich city-state most people neglect the natural history interest, even the state's fantastic birding potential. On this, our first day out we were guided by our local friend and keen amateur ornithologist, Mike Pope. It must be said that Kuwait is a really easy place to bird, but it becomes total luxury when you have a great guide - Mike was driving today, and he has access to spots where it is impossible to enter without previously securing permission and contacts with local Kuwaiti authorities and land-owners. 

General Trip Information

Start time: 6:30 Am from Sulabiya District of Kuwait City (Ibis Hotel)
End time: 10:45
Participants: Aris Vidalis, Vasso Vlami, S.Z. and Mike Pope (in one 4X4 SUV).
Effort: A leisurely search with lots of time spent petting camels and discussing conservation issues, not twitching.
Spp. Numbers: 70 taxa identified. 

Birding details at each site
(Here I provide some details, some of the best species in my subjective experience and other personal aspects of the experience)

1) Sulaibiya Pivot Fields (31 spp.seen):
Greater Spotted Eagle, Imperial Eagle, Desert Wheatear, Wh-throated Kingfisher, Long-legged Buzzard, Namaqua Dove, Daurian Shrike, Isabelline Wheatear, Siberian Stonechat.  
Also: Sadly shooters were persistently targetting small birds outside the fence of this large area of agricultural land; we even found an injured Spanish Sparrow. The shot bird was part of a pair - the male was injured, female close by. 
Access: Restricted, you may enter only accompanied by a Kuwaiti birder or resident who has local contact with the Sheik's attendents who care for this large agricultural area. 

2)  Jahra Pools Reserve (25 spp. seen): 
Graceful Prinia, Greater Spotted Eagle, Bluethroat, Daurian Shrike, Gr. Flamingo, "Caspian" Siberian Stonechat, Moustached Warbler. 
Also: Many off-road vehicles have flattened the Sabkha salt-flats and salt marshes around the reserve; holes persist in fences allowing shooters to enter and shoot. A dramatic image of a wounded bright-pink Gr. Flamingo etched in our memory. This is a wonderful reserve, the desert hills of the Mutla Escarpment framing the wetland scene - Jahra Bay full of flamingos in the distance. 
Access: Restricted, permission from the Environment Public Authority required to secure entrance. However the area is poorly guarded from reckless poaching. 

3) Jahra Farms (7 spp.seen): 
White-cheeked Bulbul, Common Mynah, Laughing Dove, Song Thrush. Also: Green toads, tropical-looking water snails in oasis cisterns. 
Also: Ali, the gentle Iranian Quashkai field-worker - a sweet man. 
Access: Private farm, access without a local birder is not recommended. 

4) Sulaibikaht Bay (c. 38 spp): 
Indian Reef Heron, Crab Plover, Marsh Sandpiper, Gr. Flamingos (huge flock - nearly all dressed in tropic pink!) Caspian Tern, Hueglin's Gull (there were other races of Gulls, but we were in a rush), Whiskered Tern, White-winged Tern (perfect breeding plumage), Common Shelduck (huge flock: 300+), Caspian Gull, Slender-billed Gull, Indian Reef Heron, Little Egret (this is not that common in Kuwait in winter, and close views allowed distinctions from the I.R. Heron). 
Also: Met local bird enthusiast, Rashid. He has a great selection of photos on Flicker and is out birding nearly every day! Much of this coastline in filled-in with construction-site debris and other trash (probably from war debris also), the pockets of mud left at high tide are restricted and an assortment of wetland birds - mostly shorebird flocks gather near the shore's edge - really close to the few parked cars. In my mind this was the best place for winter birding close to the city.
Access: Easy access possible from various locations, the Maternity Hospital Parking Lot and surrounding area (including small sewage and drainage outfalls) provides best wildlife watching opportunities.

Aris, Mike, Vasso and I - on a chilly first morning at Pivot Fields. It was a chilly 5 C or so. We didn't expect the green fields- constantly watered - and very birdy indeed.

Best nature experience of the day: The sheik's friendly white camels. They are kept in paddocks but afterward were allowed to roam over and feed on fodder crops.
Pivot fields are constantly watered with treated sewage water creating huge circular plots with various fodder crops, including grains. Here Vasso observes an Imperial Eagle on one of the pylons.

So much water is used to water the fields that there is even some run-off. Note that the fields are on desert sand. At this site we had various pipits and our first Siberian Stonechat.

The Croc Pond at Pivot Fields. Fenced-in and big enough to support Moorhens, Night Heron, and White-throated Kingfisher. There are fish in there, but we didn't approach because of the three pet Nile Crocodiles.
Vasso with Ali the Iranian caretake of one of the most beautiful Farms at Jahra. Mike says he constanty works the small fields, watered with well-water brought in with an intricate system of water ways - unique to these traditional oasis farms.
Jahra Farm. Garden crops and dates are grown. Laughing doves, Bulbuls, Common Mynahs, a Eu.Sparrowhawk, C. Song was like waking in a little piece of eden.

Jahra Pools Reserve. The are was flooded beyond recognition in contrast to the moody pools we saw in July 2011. Birds were more dispersed and definitely disturbed by poachers. Coots, and a Tufted Duck are somewhere in the distance in this shot. Graceful Prinias and Moustached Warblers where singing. 150 Pallid Swifts were in the sky.

Sulaibikhat Bay - part of the huge estuarine-like Kuwait Bay. No I didn't have a telephoto lens with me.... Trust me this place was full of birds! The bushes in the foreground are mangroves planted here several years ago.

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