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Kuwait, April 2008, Trip Report (1 Viewer)


Oenanthe Birding Adventures
A report of a birding trip to Kuwait . Photos to follow on my website.

Kuwait, April 2008

Having contemplated a trip to Egypt for our main excursion of 2008 we all decided that we fancied an easier trip with less driving after the hassles of Turkey last year! When I did a little reading up Kuwait seemed a good alternative and it was quickly agreed this is where we'd head. Meeting at Justy's house with our 4th crew member Lee we quickly managed to find some direct flights with BA from Heathrow to Kuwait City for about £330 each and also booked a two bedroom/four person apartment at the Arinza Towers Quality Suites. This can be booked on Expedia and was a bargain at about £128 each for 8 nights B&B.

The aim of the trip was to see all of the WP specialities including enigmatic species such as Grey Hypocolius, Common Babbler, Dunn's Lark, Black-crowned Finch-lark, Socotra Cormorant, Crab Plover, Lesser Sand Plover, White-cheeked Tern, Bridled Tern and Crested Tern some of which are only gettable in the WP in Kuwait. In addition we hoped some wintering species like Persian Wheatear and the long staying Long-tailed Shrike may just hang on for us.

There are a few facts that are important to know for the birder visting Kuwait.

1. From a transport point of view a 4-wheel drive vehicle is essential as some of the sites just can't be visited without one. The best advice is to get a big gas-guzzling Toyota Landcruiser or similar. The price of petrol is so cheap (we were filling up 72 litres for just £8!) it doesn't matter. We were advised to hire a Japanese vehicle rather than an American one and to make sure it had a separate stick shift for the 4-wheel drive as some of the American ones don't and are just heavy lumps that get stuck in the sand! When we got this advice we'd already booked and paid for an American one though and had no problems with it.

2. Several of the sites are privately owned either by farmers, the state or oil companies. To visit these it is essential to make contact with local birders who will accompany you to the site on your first visit. Your details and car registration will be taken and thereafter you'll be allowed to enter on your own for the rest of your stay. These sites are SAANR, Pivot Fields, Al Abraq and Doha South. In addition there are 2 more sites which you will need to be accompanied on all visits, KEBD (which is an agricultural reasearch centre with extensive unspolit desert) and Zour Port (which is an oil facility owned by Chevron). Security at the latter is very tight and under no circumstances should anyone try to gain access without going through the proper channels. Birders have been locked up who have tried! Farms such as Abdali Farms and Jahra Farms are easy to gain access to but it's wise to chat the locals up if you encounter them. At Jahra Farms in particular the owner Ali is very friendly and used to visiting birders.

3. The use of a GPS is highly recommended, local birders provided us with the co-ordinates for all sites which was very useful (these are copied below). A GPS can also be of use to navigate your way back to your accommodation as we found out more than once!

4. The driving of the locals around Kuwait City has to be seen to be believed! We've been to plenty of places with rubbish driving but this was on a different level. We'd liken the various ring roads around the city (especially after 18.00) to be like playing an arcade game in a traffic jam but for real! We witnessed several accidents and it was truly a miracle we emerged from the trip unscathed. It really is this bad!

5. Local customs mean that the wearing of shorts and sleeveless t-shirts is frowned upon. In really you'd probably get away with it in remote areas but we didn't meet any birders who were wearing anything other than long trousers and either normal t-shirts or long-sleeved shirts.

6. The local birders who visitors need to make contact with in advance are Abdulrahman Al-Sirhan (general access), Pekka Fagel (general access), Gary Brown (for access to KEBD) and Mark Chichester (for access to Zour Port). These guys are extremely helpful and friendly. Unfortunately George Gregory no longer lives in Kuwait and Brian Foster will be leaving soon.

7. Visas for entry to the country are purchased in the airport on arrival. Pick up and fill in a form at the Visa Issue desk, take a numbered ticket and then wait for your number to be called. Just like being at a supermarket deli but much much slower and nowhere near as much fun!

8. We'd heard that having an Israeli stamp in your passport could cause problems but we were assured before leaving that this wasn't the case. In practice we had no issues.

9. The currency in the Kuwaiti Dinar and each Dinar is equivalent to approx £2.00 We found that many high street banks can't provide the currency but Barclays do. Another alternative is to order them through Travelex for collection at Heathrow before departure.

10. Finally - shooting. Sadly this is a way of life in Kuwait and it doesn't look like it's going to change any time soon. This 'sport' involves shooting at anything and everything that moves. We found the situation to be very bad at Al Abraq and also saw hundred of spent shotgun cartridges wherever we went showing how widespread it is. Luckily we didn't witness much shooting anywhere else but the number of fly-over raptors seen with holes in their wings was disturbing. Full details of the situation at Al Abraq is included further on in this report.

GPS co-ordinates for the main sites are:

Sulaibikhat Nature Reserve: N 29 19.429, E 047 52.774 the gate.
Jahra Farms: N 29 21.137, E 047 40.413, at the car park.
Jahra East Outfall, JEO: N 29 21.474, E 047 43.807
Pivot Fields: N 29 15.950, E 047 45.273 at the gate.
SAANR: N 29 31.489, E 047 49.064 at the gate.
Tulha Oasis (inside SAANR) : N 29 35.151, E 047 47.040
Wadi Um Ar-Rimam (inside SAANR) : N 29 33.610, E 047 43.600
Abdali Farms, Bodai Farm: N 29 58.064, E 047 48.571
Al-Abraq: N 29 22.600, E 046 57.125
Ahmad Al-Shalal Farm (formerly Subriya Farm): N 29 34.334, E 047 54.540,at the gate.

Recommended reading is the excellent Birds of the State of Kuwait by George Gregory, several online trip reports, the websites www.alsirhan.com & www.hawar-islands.com/blog/14_stub.php and the WP Rarities in Kuwait thread on Birdforum.

3 April 2008

Our overnight flight from Heathrow landed on time at about 06.30 and after waiting for an age to buy our visas and then collect our hire car we were on our way. Our first port of call was the entrance gate to Sulaibikhat Nature Reserve on the coast west of Kuwait City. We'd arranged to meet Abdulrahman Al-Sirhan here and after overshooting the site due to a GPS cock-up we still managed to be on time and met our very helpful Kuwaiti contact. On the approach we had our first and easiest WP ticks of the trip - White-cheeked Bulbul and Common Myna on a grassy roundabout. After getting in through the gates at Sulaibikhat we explored the area of bushes, trees and scrub. To our surprise we scored very quickly with 3 Grey Hypocolius as 2 males and 1 female flew in and showed well in the treetops. The whole area was alive with migrants with shrikes and wheatears being the most obvious. 1 Turkestan Shrike, 1 Daurian Shrike, 2 Woodchats and a Southern Grey Shrike were joined by 3+ Pied Wheatears, 4 Black-eared Wheatears, 1 Isabelline Wheatear and 2 'maura' Siberian Stonechats. 3 Hoopoes, several Bee-eaters and 2 Red-rumped Swallows provided some colour as several flava Wagtails and Red-throated Pipits called as they flew over. A Quail was flushed form the scrub just before as distant female Rock Thrush was located on the southern perimeter fence. Although we didn't venture in that direction we could see several Greater Flamingoes, Slender-billed Gulls and Caspian Terns in bay. The strangest sight had to be a male Little Bittern in a loan tree while amongst the 50+ Steppe Buzzards that passed a single male Pallid Harrier glided serenely past. An amazing start to the trip!
Abdulrahman had to return to work at that point but by now we had been joined by George Gregory so he kindly agreed to lead the way to the Doha Spit on the western side of Kuwait Bay.

Access is along a good track beside a ruined building and then parallel with the shoreline but be careful not to drive too far along the track as it quickly deteriorates and getting stuck is a distinct possibility. We arrived as the tide was rising nicely and the place was alive with waders. The hoped for Crab Plovers were immediately obvious and we counted at least 55 of these amazing birds on the waters edge. The beach was covered in plover including c45 Greater Sand Plovers, c15 Lesser Sand Plovers and several Kentish Plovers amongst c750 Dunlin. Rare waders were everywhere and in great numbers - c40 Terek Sandpipers and c20 Marsh Sandpipers amongst smaller numbers of Little Stints, Curlew Sandpipers, Sanderling, Turnstones and Ringed Plovers. There were also large numbers of the long-billed eastern race of Curlew loafing further along the beach. Terns were also well represented with c30 Caspian Terns, c12 Lesser Crested Terns, c10 Little Terns and several Sandwich Terns whilst the numerous Slender-billed Gulls were joined by a single adult Heuglin's Gull. Away from the water we had a fly-by male Pallid Harrier, 2 Steppe Buzzards, 2 Blue-cheeked Bee-eaters and a Collared Pratincole plus 2 each of Black-eared Wheatear, Pied Wheatear and Isabelline Wheatear.

Next up George gained us access to reedy pools at Doha South where despite the wind having got up we found the target species in the form of c8 Grey-headed Swamphens of the 'seistanus' race with relative ease. Passage waders here were interesting too with an excellent c35 Wood Sandpipers, c15 Marsh Sandpipers, 4 Black-winged Stilts, 5 Little Stints, 1 Temminck's Stint, 2 Green Sandpipers, 3 Common Sandpipers, 1 Little Ringed Plover and c12 Ruff. Herons included a single Purple Heron, 2 Cattle Egrets and 9 Little Egrets whilst both species of swift circled overhead. Southern Grey Shrike, Short-toed Lark and Red-rumped Swallow were also clocked up.

We then made the first of several visits to what was to become a real favourite site - Jahra East Outfall (JEO). This area of grassy marsh (which floods or partially floods at high tide) with a reedbed and fast running outlet stream to the sea frequently holds a fantastic variety of species which constantly change as birds move through. On this attempt we had one of the best birds there and a scarce Kuwaiti bird - Baillon's Crake. The kink in the stream that runs alongside the reedbed is the best place to look for crakes and we also saw a female Little Crake and 3 Spotted Crakes. Flava wagtails are a constant entertainment here and we had at least 5 recognised forms including feldegg, dombrowski, beema, lutea and superciliaris on this first visit. 2 Blue-cheeked Bee-eaters posed obligingly on the reed tops where we also heard but didn't see Clamorous Reed Warbler. Raptors were on the move and we had 1 Short-toed Eagle, 2 Black-eared Kites, 1 Booted Eagle, 1 Montagu's Harrier and 1 Marsh Harrier.

Our final port of call in a hectic first day was Jahra Farms, a semi-urban area of irrigated small holdings fed by a couple of wells. Visitors to this site should be aware that it is situated next to a fundamentalist mosque and it is apparantly unwise to linger long on the carpark waving optics around. The best tactic is to drive down the narrow walled track next to the well and park where the track it widens by the entrance gate to the farms. The farm owner Ali speaks no English but is very friendly and very used to birders visting. Nonetheless it's a good idea to say hello and shake his hand as you arrive. You'll recognise him from the photo below! The well by the initial carpark is the famous site for breeding Bank Myna and we had c6 very easily in the area. 2 Grey Hypocolius also put in a brief appearance. Migrants were aplenty in the lush farm area, passerines represented by 100+ flava wagtails, several Tree Pipits, 2 Red-throated Pipits, 3 Redstarts, 1 Cuckoo, 5 Hoopoes, 2 Northern Wheatears, 1 Black-eared Wheatear, 1 Woodchat, 2 Turkestan Shrikes, 3-4 Daurian Shrikes, c4 Ring-necked Parakeets and a Song Thrush. The best passerines were left until last however when I found a stunning male Semi-collared Flycatcher that showed supremely well and was followed by a brief female. 6 Common Sandpipers, c20 Cattle Egrets, a single Squacco Heron were also present plus Booted Eagle, Marsh Harrier and a Sparrowhawk which momentarily got our pulses racing with thoughts of Shikra!

That just left the finding of our hotel, the Arinza Towers, which we located relatively easy despite having to run the gauntlet of the Kuwait City 6th Ring Road traffic (which was to become a daily treat!)

4 April 2008

We began the day, as we had the previous one, at Sulaibikhat NR. Within minutes of our arrival Pekka Fagel and a group of rather familiar Finns turned up too - our friends from last years trip to Turkey. What a small world the WP birding scene is! Brian Foster and George Gregory (2 stalwarts of Kuwaiti birding) also arrived so it was with quite a group that we checked the area for migrants. 6 Grey Hypocolius kicked things off nicely with a couple each of Woodchat and Turkestan Shrike. A shout from Lee who had wandered into the bushes with his camera and a surprise Common Babbler flew out of area he was in and across the track. Everyone (including an excited George Gregory!) quickly moved in and all got several views as it moved through. A Rufous Bush Robin showed well on the track itself and we also added an 'icterops' Whitethroat, 1 Great Reed Warbler, 1 Redstart, 1 Black Redstart, 1 Ortolan and several Pied Wheatears. Red-throated Pipits, Graceful Warblers and Chiffchaffs were fairly numerous whilst a Montagu's Harrier and 5 Bee-eaters passed through. Both Common Myna and White-cheeked Bulbul were close to becoming birds we didn't give a second glance!

Off to the famous Pivot Fields next where George arranged access and we spent a very enjoyable 2 or 3 hours driving the network of tracks through this large area of green. Raptors were very much in evidence with the undoubted highlights being a Greater Spotted Eagle that perched on one of the pivots for ages and allowed photography. I was personally delighted with the 2 Eastern Imperial Eagles which was a new bird for me. One was watched on a pylon and then another flew past. We also had c6 Pallid Harriers, c10 Montagu's Harriers, 1 Marsh Harrier, 1 Booted Eagle and a hunting flock of 39 Lesser Kestrels making this a real raptor-fest! By the square, steep-sided pool were 40 Cattle Egrets, 1 Squacco Heron, a spanking male 'samamiscus' Redstart and someones pet crocodile! The alfalfa fields were a great attraction for passerines including a flock of c90 Short-toed Larks, 50+ Spanish Sparrows, several Crested Larks, c25 Namaqua Doves and rather curiously a reeling Grasshopper Warbler. Aslo seen during our rounds were many Northern and Isabelline Wheatears, several Red-throated Pipits and White Wagtails, singles of Tawny Pipit, Water Pipit and Turkestan Shrike and an impressive 10 Hoopoes and 60 Collared Pratincoles.

We returned to Jahra Farms next to check if there had been a turnover of migrants overnight. Many of the same species were present but this time we added the resident pair of Smyrna Kingfishers, a Nightingale, 1 Blue-cheeked Bee-eater, at least 15 Bank Mynas and 2 Steppe Eagles over heading north.

After an exchange of texts we arranged to meet Pekka at the entrance gate of SAANR on the road to the north. This large fenced area of desert is one of the few areas where desert is still in its natural and ungrazed state. After entering through the security gates a track is followed for a few kilometres where the Tulha Oasis gradually gets closer. This site is amazing for it's attraction to tired migrants as it contains the only water and greenery for miles in every direction. Although only a small area the number and variety of birds present was excellent and we gave the trees, bushes and pond a thorough working finding 2 Scops Owls, 1 Water Pipit, 3+ Red-throated Pipits, 6 Grey Wagtails, 1 Black-headed Wagtail, 3 Siberian Stonechats, 3 Redstarts, 1 Black Redstart, a rather faded male White-throated Robin (a tick for Lee), 3 Blackcaps, point blank views of a nice pink-breasted male Menetrie's Warbler, several Lesser Whitethroats and Chiffchaffs, 1 Upcher's Warbler, 1 Eastern Olivaceous Warbler, 1 Great Reed Warbler, 1 Rufous Bush Robin, 1 Masked Shrike, the resident breeding pair of Woodchats, I Daurian Shrike and 1 Southern Grey Shrike. Best of all was to come though, a shout from 3 of the Finn's had us running and feasting our eyes on a magnificent Basra Reed Warbler as it hopped around on the gravel and sand under a tree giving truly crippling views. On the drive out of the area George and Pekka took us in a wide loop through the desert where we checked the traditional wadi for wintering Persian Wheatears. Unfortunately none had lingered long enough for us but we did see 1 Bar-tailed Desert Lark, 10 Short-toed Larks, 1 Rufous Bush Robin, 2 Menetrie's Warblers, several Pied Wheatears, 1 Isabelline Wheatear, 2 Pallid Harriers and another Eastern Imperial Eagle. As we left we also scooped with a great looking Hoopoe Lark from the car.

To finish the day we returned to our starting point at Sulaibikhat where things were much the same as earlier. We did howver score with our first Steppe Grey Shrike, c60 Bee-eaters and a 'variegata' Siberian Stonechat.

5 April 2008

We had spent some time talking to Brian Foster at SAANR the previous afternoon and it was through him that we'd arranged to meet Dr Gary Brown at the gates of KEBD (his workplace) out in the desert to the SW of Kuwait City. It was an early start and Gary and his wife met us as promised at 06.30. Andy volunteered to swap vehicles and we trundled on through the gates and into the desert. Gary was very good at setting the scene, explaining what he proposed to do and the areas we'd visit for the best chances of our target species. We spent a thoroughly enjoyable morning exploring the area extensively along a series of tracks that left me completely lost! The habitat consisted of subtly different areas of desert, a mini pool (actually more of a puddle!) created by Gary and a tiny oasis. We learned that early morning isn't the best time of day for larks as they become more active as the air warms a bit. We drove initially to the very small oasis which held just 1 Upcher's Warbler but there was plenty en-route to keep us amused - totals of 1 Tawny Pipit, 1 male Desert Wheatear, 1 Isabelline Wheatear, high numbers of both Northern and Pied Wheaears plus 2 Steppe Grey Shrikes, a Woodchat, a Roller, 2 Blue-cheeked Bee-eaters and c20 Bee-eaters. The first few larks we located were Short-toed Larks and Crested Larks but soon we had a rufous Dunn's Lark in flight which sadly flew miles away! This was to be the theme for the next little while as a handful of sightings always resulted in the rather skittish birds flying several hundred yards and out of view. In the meantime we scored with several dapper Black-crowned Finch-larks, mostly in pairs and some in song. A visit to Gary's pool revealed a Temminck's Stint looking really out of place several more Black-crowned Finch-larks (which brought out total up to c15), an male Ortolan and a pair of very showy Black-eared Wheatears. After driving on we finally got some on the deck view of 2 Dunn's Larks and then a little further on some great views of a single bird which gave itself up beside the track. We also notched up 3-4 Montagu's Harriers, a Namaqua Dove, a Siberian Stonechat and a massive Desert Monitor Lizard before it was time to head back towards the gates. As we did so an accipter flashed across the track between bushes and we squealed to a halt. As we did so it flew back and away onto the oter side of the track. Lee pulled off again in pursuit not knowing that I was half in and half out of the jeep. I was dragged along and dumped uncermoniously onto the ground with Lee thinking he'd run over my leg. Luckily he hadn't and I escaped with a graze and a few bruises! The bird turned out to be just a Sparrowhawk anyway!

We bid farewell to Gary and styopped for some provisions at the roadside 'supermarket' on the road top Doha that was rapidly becoming a regular for us. A pool at the far end of the rough carpark was packed with birds including 2 Black-winged Stlits, 2 Ruff, 1 Little Ringed Plover, 2 Common Sandpipers, 12 Wood Sandpipers, a Little Stint, 1 Water Pipt, c50 Red-throated Pipits, c20 flava Wagtails, Whinchat and Siberian Stonechat. Not bad for a large puddle!

It was then twitch on as we were tipped off by text about the discovery of 2 Caspian Plovers at Pivot Fields. A dash back to the site which we could now access on our own and soon we were at the spot of water in a dip where we'd seen Collared Pratincoles the previous day. Both male and female Caspian Plovers were still present and showed well eventually, once they'd decided to wake up and wander into view. At the same spot were 110 Collared Pratincoles, 1 Little Stint and a Water Pipit but best of all were some mind-blowing close views of an Eastern Imperial Eagle that flew past low over our heads. The site also yielded 4 Squacco Herons, 140 Cattle Egrets (including 1 orange and 1 grey bird!), a female Pallid Harrier, 1 Daurian Shrike and a Siberian Stonechat.

With Pekka and the Finns having already headed that way we then made our way north towards the Iraq Border and Abdali Farms. The exact site isn't easy to find so we were glad of an escort. The site is a famous one for the only breeding Common Babblers in the Western Palearctic and consists of a scrubby field of stunted palm trees. It gave up it's prized easily however and we watched c8 Common Babblers (including 2 juvs food begging) at length. The birds were very active and mobile but gave themselve up to the photographers eventually (even with the Finns seemingly having to get much closer than everyone else despite the fact they were preventing the adult birds feeding their young). When we'd had our fill we then walked to the fields immediately to the north to search for our next target of Red-wattled Lapwing. Someone else had seen on briefly but despite quite a group looking it went missing or remained out of view. Pekka then relocated 2 birds around the corner but they showed in flightl only and once again disappeared. I'd not seen anything so we decided to go searching. Asking a farmer if we could enter his land and he was more than happy so it was with a sense of really having had to work hard for them that we got some great views of a flighty pair of Red-wattled Lapwings. The whole area had also given us singles of Booted Eagle and Marsh Harrier, 2 Steppe Buzzards, 2 Redstarts, a Whinchat, a Pied Wheatear battling with a scorpion and eventually winning and eating it (!), 1 Steppe Grey Shrike, 1 stunning male Turkestan Shrike, 2 Woodchats and 5+ Blue-cheeked Bee-eaters. Additionally there was a scattering of waders with 1 Common Sandpiper, 1 Little Stint and 1 oiled and almost black individual which we think was sadly a Wood Sandpiper.

6 April 2008

We were up at the crack of dawn again (who is Dawn? I hear you cry!) to beat the crowds as we headed for the curious man-made Green Island on the Kuwait City seafront south of the Kuwait Towers. There is a convenient large carpark and entrance onto the island is along a covered causeway complete with fluttering bunting. After payment of a small charge at the kiosk you are then free to wander wherever you like. The target species here is Red-vented Bulbul which has a small self-supporting population and is therefore countable on category C. On our visit we located c5 individuals which seem to favour the fruiting trees on the terrace to the right as you walk onto the island. In the right conditions the island is also very good for migrants and we hit it lucky with very good numbers and an excellent variety. Including a stroll along the seafront to the impressive Kuwait Towers we saw 2 Eastern Orphean Warblers (both males), 2 Barred Warblers, 2 Blackcaps, several Lesser Whitethroats, 1 Eastern Olivaceous Warbler, loads of Red-throated Pipits and Tree Pipits, c5 Grey Wagtails, several flava Wagtails (including 1 'superciliaris'), 1 Woodchat, 2 Turkestan Shrikes, 1 Wryneck, c5 Redstarts, 2 Whinchats, 2 Rock Thrushes and singles of Pied and Black-eared Wheatears amongst numerous White-cheeked Bulbuls and Common Mynas. Non-passerine activity included 1 Gull-billed Tern, 2 Steppe Gulls, 1 Heuglin's Gull and numerous Slender-billed Gulls whilst both Pallid and Common Swifts were moving through.

After a stop for snacks we then squealed off to SAANR for a return visit to the Tulha Oasis. The idea was to chill in the shade of the trees, have some food and give the area thorough check for migrants. We'd been tipped off by text that a male Semi-collared Flycatcher was by the entrance gate and so it proved with some excellent views of it on the fence and buildings as we arrived. On arrival at the oasis the most noticable birds were the Squacco Heron, 2 Common Sandpipers, 1 Ruff and 1 Marsh Sandpiper on the pool. Having hardly had time to settle ourselves in some nonedescript pale brown finches flew in to the waters edge to drink and were quickly identified as c35 Pale Rock Sparrows. Having failed dismally with the species in Turkey the previous year these were very gratefully received! They quickly departed but were later replaced by a group of 9 which were joined by c20 Spanish Sparrows. This time the vegetated island in the pool held 2 Basra Reed Warblers and very grey looking Willow Warbler of some obscure eastern race no doubt. The oasis also yielded 3 Redstarts, several Red-throated Pipits, Chiffchaffs and Lesser Whitethroats, c6 Grey Wagtails, 1 Masked Shrike and a Sparrowhawk. In the surrounding desert 2 Desert Wheatears, 8 Short-toed Larks and 2 Pallid Harriers were seen before we departed for the drive south and our first visit to Zour Port.

We met Mark Chichester (an American birder working for Chevron and living on site at Zour Port) and his family at the security gates as arranged and after the rigmarole of passport checks we were allowed in. The Finns and a German group had joined us and Mark gathered us all round to explain what the plan of action was and the do's and don'ts of birding within the complex. We then proceeded in convoy to the shoreline (passing a female Blue Rock Thrush) where the top of a boat wreck is exposed at low tide (please note that a low tide visit is important because this wreck and more important a sandbar are only exposed at low tide and often host terns and THE cormorant!). Here we immediately found 2 White-cheeked Terns, a few Lesser Crested Terns and 2 Kentish Plovers before heading a little further south to the edge of the compound where a fence prevents you from going any further. Along the track we stopped abruptly to identify what we thought at the time was a Crested Tern. Views weren't perfect as it was flying away from us but later in our stay we saw a 1st year Lesser Crested Tern which looked extremely similar and even had a pale lemon yellow bill! the distant riggs offshore from here produced nothing but a few obvious Great Cormorants so we proceeded to Zour Point and the rapidly exposing sandbar. Once again we were disappointed with the lack of Socotra Cormorant and added just a single Hobby, c25 Whimbrel, 2 Grey Plovers, 5 Common Sandpipers and 8 Sanderling before quickly negotiating a return visit in a couple of days with Mark! Other birds of note around Zour Port that late afternoon were confined to a Redstart, single Turkestan and Woodchat Shrikes, 2 Pied Wheatears and a total of c20 Lesser Crested Terns.

Then it was the longish drive back to Kuwait city and an evening crashing out at the Arinza Towers with the by now traditional takeaway from Nathans! Interrupted this time by a visit to the Germans' room for some directions for tomorrow.

7 April 2008

We'd arranged to meet George Gregory and both the Finns and the Germans at a truckstop on the road to Salmi at 06.30 so we could all drive out to Al-Abraq in the western desert. Hopes for migrants were high as even around the truckstop we managed to find White-throated Robin, Nightingale, 2 Redstarts (including 1 samamiscus) and 2 Lesser Whitethroats anongst the buildings and sparse cover. A male Pallid Harrier and 2 Blue-cheeked Bee-eaters also enlivened the journey before we left the road and drive along desert tracks to Al-Abraq itself. This relatively large area of cultivated fields, trees and bushes is rather infamous for the amount of indiscriminate bird shooting that goes on. Unfortunately we were to witness this first hand as we entered the gates and were confronted by a local sitting at a table drinking tea and proudly displaying corpses of 1 Grey Hypocolius and 2 Turtle Doves which he'd shot that morning. This was shocking to say the least but if you want to bird this potential migrant trap you just have to grin and bear it. On our rounds of the area we picked up a dead Sparrowhawk and a Scops Owl (see photo below) which had just been left where they died, saw a Turtle Dove shot, inadvertently flushed a Hoopoe into the gun sights (thankfully they missed) and saw a Squacco Heron which has one wing damaged and couldn't fly plus a Booted Eagle overhead with holes in both wings. We can only hope and pray that with education this carnage will one day stop but it is so engrained in the Kuwaiti culture that I for one won't be holding my breath.

Onto the positive though - the migrants around Al-Abraq were pretty good. We worked the area in a clockwise direction taking the small cultivated strip of alfalfa first. These yielded loads of Red-throated and Tree Pipits, flava Wagtails including 2 stunning 'lutea' males, 2 Siberian Stonechats and a Wryneck. Moving onto an area of tamerisks gave us some excellent views of 3 Upchers Warblers and c6 Menetries Warblers but the bet find of all was in an overgrown orchard which held an active 1st summer male Red-breasted Flycatcher which is some rarity in spring in Kuwait. That same area of trees was very productive with White-throated Robin, c6 Rufous Bush Robins and 2 Masked Shrikes. Throughout the whole site Redstarts and Chiffchaffs were exceptionally numerous and we also winkled out c5 Hoopoes, 2 Eastern Olivaceous Warblers, 2 Willow Warblers, 1 Turkestan Shrike, 2 Turtle Doves, 2 Black-eared Wheatears, several Pied Wheatears, 2 Squacco Herons, 2+ Steppe Buzzards, 1 pale phase Booted Eagle, 1 Sparrowhawk and 2 Common Sandpipers. Just before we left we also found a male Eastern Orphean Warbler which showed well near the entrance gate but sadly only had 1 leg.

Despite the great array of birds we weren't wanting to linger in the killing fields any longer than we had to so we departed and headed back east. En-route we were able to grill a Steppe Eagle as it sat motionless in the middle of the desert by the road.

The Germans had reported a Shikra at Subriyah Farm the previous afternoon so armed with their directions ontained the night before we headed there next. Gaining access through a hole in the fence (!) we did then find someone inside and he was more than happy for us to have a look round. Having done half the circuit and seen very little we got into an area with taller trees in the NE corner of the farm and almost immediately flushed an accipter. It flew out of the compound as we scrambled through the brambles and up a bank but proceeded to head straight away from us, out into the desert and continued heading north until it was a speck in the distance. Although it looked right for Shikra we'd not had conclusive views so it had to go down as 'the one that got away'. Very frustrating! We hung around for a bit in the hope it might come back and discovered a male White-throated Robin, 1 female 'icterops' Whitethroat, 1 Whinchat, 2 Redstarts, 1 Daurian Shrike and an extremely confiding Tawny Pipit amongst the usual pipits and wagtails. Annoyingly we also had Sparrowhawk and rather more enjoyably a male Pallid Harrier.

We finished the day back at Jahra East on another twitch! The Finns had found 2 Oriental Skylarks that morning on the saltings there and upon our arrival in the later afternoon we found them very easily feeding around the puddles on the short turf. Having thrashed around in vain at Yotvata in Israel looking for these in long stubble amongst hundreds of Short-toed Larks to finally put the species to bed with such great views was superb. They allowed approach to about 10 yards at times meaning even I could get photographs! The site was really kicking all evening and provided us with mind-blowing close views of 2 Basra Reed Warblers, 3 Clamorous Reed Warblers, a very grey eastern race Savi's Warbler that later on began to reel, 1 Moustached Warbler, 1 Sedge Warbler, a female Citrine Wagtail and a Quail right out in the open on the saltings. Crakes were again in the creek with Little Crake and Spotted Crake seen exceptionally well. An Osprey circled the bay in the distance while a flock of Sand Martins included one with a completely black head! A male Little Bittern was seen twice over the reeds and 11 Squacco Herons, 10 Grey Herons and 20+ Greater Flamingoes were on the edge of the bay as the tide rose. Waders were also well represented with c15 Black-winged Stilts, 1 Greenshank, 1 Curlew, 2 Kentish Plovers, 5 Little Ringed Plovers and 30+ Collared Pratincoles. What a way to end the day!

8 April 2008

We began the day just around the corner from Arinza Towers at the Salmiyah Sporting Ground. Other groups had seen Crested Myna here in the past which is another potential colonist. We couldn't find any and later found out we were at the wrong place (!) but things were happening overhead with a Greater Spotted Eagle, a Pallid Harrier, a Marsh Harrier and 2 Lesser Kestrels all passing through in just a few minutes. After our one and only breakfast at Arinza Towers we then ventured back for a return visit to Green Island where there were again migrants on the move. The most obvious were Lesser Kestrels of which we had at least 30 and Bee-eaters and Red-rumped Swallows which were also passing overhead in good numbers. 4 Purple Herons flapped through as did a Pallid Harrier and a Roller. Passerine numbers were lower than our first visit but we still clocked up some real quality with a male White-throated Robin, a male Semi-collared Flycatcher, 1 Daurian Shrike, 1 Black-eared Wheatear and 9 Grey Hypocolius which we could enjoy at length. 4 Red-vented Bulbuls and several White-cheeked Bulbuls were also still about.

Moving north along the seafront I got onto 4 Grey Hypocolius flying across the road but when we stopped to investigate we were approached by some official looking heavies in dark glasses who politely informed us we'd parked outside the prime ministers residence! We equally politely apologised and left!

We then began to move south because we had a date with a certain birder at Zour Port again at 16.00. Despite trying to find Pekka and the Finns at a site where some sewatching was possible near Khiran village we spent a very frustrating couple of hours trying to follow their directions and then find their jeep but never did quite manage it. The coastline is built up and private along its whole length so finding a place to view the sea from is really difficult. We eventually managed to find a gap between 2 houses in Khiran village but had views of a sandbar rather than open sea. 6 Grey Plover, 2 Bar-tailed Godwits and 5 Greenshank were the only sightings of note on the bar with Pallid Harrier and Osprey having been seen earlier.

Stopping at Fahaheel Harbour on the route south we grilled some 8 Little Terns on the beach that curiously showed grey rumps. We couldn't turn then into Saunders Terns unfortunately but did have single Lesser Crested Terns, Sandwich Terns and an interesting 1st summer White-cheeked Tern as recompense.

Then it was off for our rendezvous at Zour Port where a crowd of birders had gathered again. As the low tide was a little later than on our first visit we spent the first hour or so working an area of scrub on the edge of the artificial golf course within the complex. It proved a good call by our host, expecially for Lee as we quickly found 3 Cinereous Buntings which showed nicely in the loose company of 2 Ortolans. A Quail was flushed a couple of times, a pair of Menetries Warblers popped up and we also saw 1 Steppe Grey Shrike, 1 Woodchat, 1 Whinchat and a couple of Pied Wheatears. At the far end of the scrub was a sandy area where we put up 6 Pale Rock Sparrows that showed on the deck briefly before flying off south. Back to the coast and we were to be disappointed yet again with no Socotra Cormorants having arrived yet for the summer. We did see 5 White-cheeked Terns, and impressive 50 Lesser Crested Terns and a nice dark phase Western Reef Heron over the point. Of interest we also watched 3 of the curious Ghost Crabs on the beach. As we left to walk back to the cars a few passerines had arrived on the grassy lawns including 2 'lutea' flava Wagtails and a very distinctive and educational Spotted Flycatcher of the race 'neumanni'

Bidding adios (for a couple of days anyway!) to Mark and his family we followed Pekka to the nearby Sewer Plant Reeds in the hope we may just get an Egyptian Nightjar. No luck on that score but 1 Wood Sandpiper, 1 Daurian Shrike and the sight of Jus messing about on an abandoned jet-ski was good value!

9 April 2008

We began this morning with another look for Crested Myna, this time at the correct location of Salmiyah Football Field. It made no difference though because we still dipped! The area around the astroturf pitches did have a few birds however. A Great Reed Warbler in weeds by the fence plus Reed Warbler, 2 Blackcaps, 2 Whinchats and 2-3 Woodchats. An Alpine Swift motored overhead and c10 Bee-eaters were using the fields as a resting spot. The most curious finds in this urban area were a male Little Bittern which flew into a tree by the road and a strange Red-vented x White-cheeked Bulbul hybrid. Moving on a Ring-necked Parakeet flew over the road near Kuwait Towers.

Next stop was Shuwaikh Harbour in Kuwait City which is a large and very unispiring area of industrial docks. Our target were the few resident House Crows which we didn’t manage to locate despite seemingly spending ages crawling around the docks behind belching lorries. At the far end of the habour we found a quiet spot and scene of our only birds here – 2 Kentish Plovers on a nest, c25 Caspian Terns, c6 Little Terns and a single White-cheeked Tern offshore, 3 Steppe Gulls, a Squacco Heron, a single Pied Wheatear and 2 Sparrowhawks.

With the tide rising nicely we decided on a return visit to Doha Spit for a wader-fest. We certainly weren’t disappointed with masses of birds to look through. c40 Crab Plovers stole the show but add to that an amazing c120 Lesser Sand Plovers, c10 Greater Sand Plovers, several Grey Plovers, c200 Terek Sandipiers (!), c20 Marsh Sandpipers, 1 Broad-billed Sandpiper, several Curlew Sandpipers and big numbers of Curlew, Bar-tailed Godwits and Dunlin. Waders weren’t the only attractions though as c100 Caspian Terns, c10 Lesser Crested Terns, 2 Gull-billed Terns, several Sandwich Terns, numerous Slender-billed Gulls and c3 Steppe Gulls proved. Passerines long the shore included 3 Short-toed Larks, 2 Isabelline Wheatears, 1 Black-eared Wheatear, 2 Northern Wheatears and a Rufous Bush Robin. As we were leaving a massive Desert Monitor Lizard showed well and rather eclipsed the small gecko we’d been handling earlier!

Without further ado we then legged it to Jahra East Outfall where we’d been tipped off about 3 Caspian Plovers. Within minutes of arrival we were feasting our eyes on these beauties (2 males and 1 female) at close range. Access across the marsh to the reeds was impossible as the area was flooded by a particularly high tide but as we left along the entrance track a large lark plopped down in front of us. Scrambling for optics we were soon clinching it as our only Bimaculated Lark of the trip. It hung around for a bit and allowed photographs before flying out onto the marsh. Other that the 2 star species we also had several Red-throated Pipits, 2 Whinchats and a Marsh Harrier.

The heat of the afternoon was beginning to take its toll so we decided to spend the rest of the day in the shade of the bushes at the Tulha Oasis. Despite migrants there being a little down on previous visits we still amassed an impressive list showing how easy it is to become blasé having been in the country for a while. Redstarts were very much in evidence with at least 20 flicking in the vegetation. A superb male White-throated Robin eventually gave itself up in a brush pile while a male Whinchat posed for photographs. Warblers included the ubiquitous Lesser Whitethroats and Chiffchaffs joined by one each of Basra Reed Warbler and Great Reed Warbler plus 2 Ortolans. Singles of Turkestan Shrike, Woodchat and Turtle Dove were somewhat eclipsed by a quick fly-through Crag Martin (a local scarcity). Waders on the pool were Little Stint, Wood Sandpiper, Common Sandpiper and Ruff and how on earth a Feral Pigeon and a Black-headed Gull came to be in the middle of the desert is anyone’s guess. The Squacco Heron was also still present as was a Blue-cheeked Bee-eater hawking just outside the oasis.

That night, in time honoured tradition we once again paid homage to the fast food that was Nathans!

10 April 2008

Our last day and one that was to be one that will be forever remembered. Read on…

We made one final attempt for Crested Myna at Salmiyah Football Field early on but once again drew a blank with little else there to keep us long. Only a handful of flava Wagtails and Red-throated Pipits and 2 Woodchats were present so we quickly moved on to Jahra East Outfall.

We re-located the 2 Oriental Skylarks very quickly and eventually got them at nice close range for photography. Generally things were fairly quiet by previous standards with the highlights being a female Little Bittern dashing over the reeds, 3 Squacco Herons on the edge of the bay, a single Spotted Crake still in the creek, c5 Collared Pratincoles, a singing and showing Clamorous Reed Warbler and a distant Osprey.

Being close by we unanimously voted for a look at Jahra Farms. It proved a good call as it was kicking with migrants. Initially c6 Bank Mynas were obvious and Ali invited us into his yard to view the well. Engrossed in his photography Lee didn’t notce we’d all left and unbeknown to all of us Ali had locked the gate on his way our leaving Lee prisoner! After taking some photos of a Scops Owl roosting high in a tree above the car we heard the plaintive cries of ‘help, help’ coming from the yard and by borrowing Ali’s keys we managed to release Lee and mercilously take the piss! A throurough working of the farm area produced the resident Smyrna Kingfisher, 2 male White-throated Robins, 3-4 Redstarts (including 1 samamiscus), 1 Whinchat, c4 Daurian Shrikes, 1 female Masked Shrike, 1 Woodchat, 1 Great Reed Warbler, 1 Spotted Flycatcher, 1 female Semi-collared Flycatcher, 1 Song Thrush and a Wryneck. All this amongst the usual flava Wagtails and Red-throated Pipits. A Violet Dropwing dragonfly was also watched at length on the small pond just inside the gate.

It was time to start making our way south of Kuwait City and towards Zour Port. En-route we wanted to try the reedy areas beside the main road at Sabah al Salem for a couple of species that haven’t yet made it onto category C of the Kuwait list – Village Weaver and Streaked Weaver. We found this area very uninspiring and with access to the reedy areas difficult left without seeing either. A flooded piece of wasteland produced 1 Marsh Sandpiper, 1 Green Sandpiper, 2 Black-winged Stilts, 1 Snipe and several Kentish Plovers and a good working of an area of semi-desert yielded 1 Tawny Pipit, 1 Black-eared Wheatear, 2 Pied Wheatears, 3 Daurian Shrikes and 3 Ortolans but also no sign of a Desert Warbler seen there the day before.

Moving further south we got to the Zour Port area a little early so gave the Sewer Plant Reeds another go. Again there wasn’t a huge amount to write home about but a Rufous Bush Robin showed well amongst a small fall of Willow Warblers and Chiffchaffs.

We began to feel that our trip was dwindling to a close as we met Mark Chichester at the Zour Port gates.
Our trip had a sting in it’s tail however with what has been variously described as ‘Birding magic hits Raz al-Zour’ to ‘The most magical moment I’ve ever had birding’

The following is an extract from an article that appeared in Birding World in July 2008 which sets the scene very well:

‘After 8 successful days we had seen all target species with the exception of Socotra Cormorant Phalacrocorax nigrogularis. A difficult species in early spring before numbers arrive in Kuwaiti waters later having bred further south in The Gulf (e.g. in Bahrain).

Zour Port in the far south (close to the Saudi Arabian border) is the only reliable site in the country for Socotra Cormorant but access to this sensitive area of petroleum installations is impossible without special arrangements and we were fortunate that resident birder Mark Chichester arranged access and (with his charming family) accompanied us on site.

On Thursday 10th April we arrived (with British ex-pat Brian Foster) for our third evening search and immediately the omens looked better; on previous visits the highlights at sea had been restricted to 5 White-cheeked Terns Sterna repressa and 50 Lesser-crested Terns Sterna bengalensis but on this occasion 3 Bridled Terns Sterna anaethetus (our first of the trip) flew north within just 10 minutes. With less than two hours before dusk we ventured to the favoured sand-spit at Ras al-Zour with a definite feeling of ‘last chance saloon’ immediately discovering a feeding melee of c100 Bridled Terns but there was no time to enjoy them as Justin, picking up a huge seabird coming directly towards us from behind the closest chalet just 50 yards offshore shouted “What’s this?.....Skua” quickly followed as it banked by Lee and Justin in unison “Frigatebird! It’s a Frigatebird!”

Within seconds everybody (including Brian emerging from a nearby toilet block) was watching the majestic bird as it swooped after Lesser-crested Terns just offshore gaining on the hapless Terns at amazing speed and vaguely reminiscent of The Nazgul from the Lord of the Rings film trilogy!

Aware of the difficulty in identifying individuals of the genus to species level, particularly in immature plumages as in this bird, we carefully noted the following features confirming Lesser Frigatebird Fregata ariel while Lee rattled off record shots and Brian phoned incredulous birders elsewhere in Kuwait.

 Huge seabird with long tapering wings, extremely long slender tail and bill typical of genus
 Dark blackish upperparts with similar coloured underparts broken only by white throat and upper breast more mottled on lower breast but extending on to axillaries as clear white ‘armpit’.
 Head unmarked pale buffish, the only warmth anywhere on the bird.

After 30 minutes continual viewing and backslapping, during which time it threatened to land on the exposed sand-spit but was discouraged by jet skiers, the bird flew powerfully north and was lost to view.

Elated we relaxed and it took Brian and Mark to draw our attention to a small Cormorant alongside a ‘sinensis’ Greater Cormorant on a distant offshore tower. Under high magnification it turned into a textbook immature Socotra Cormorant our final target bird and a fitting end to an incredible evening…not quite the end however as the Lesser Frigatebird returned at dusk for final close range flypast before again disappearing across The Gulf and towards Iran.

Despite searching the bird was not seen next day or subsequently’

What a way to end the trip!

For the record we also managed 4 White-cheeked Terns, c5 Little Terns, 1 Gull-billed Tern, c12 Lesser Crested Terns, c130 Slender-billed Gulls, 3 Sanderling, 2 Daurian Shrikes, 1 Woodchat and 2 Bee-eaters that fateful evening. Somehow they all paled into insignificance!

As the sun sank the triplist totalled 166 species including a personal tally of 20 new ones.
Thanks for the kind feedback guys!
My website now has pictures (with more to follow) and a video of the frigatebird.
I'm running a very reasonably priced tour to Kuwait next spring for anyone who may be interested. Spread the word!

Great report and pictures Penny. I hear you're already booked to go to Lesbos again next year. The WP birding bug is catching!

Thanks for the kind feedback guys!
My website now has pictures (with more to follow) and a video of the frigatebird.
I'm running a very reasonably priced tour to Kuwait next spring for anyone who may be interested. Spread the word!

Great report and pictures Penny. I hear you're already booked to go to Lesbos again next year. The WP birding bug is catching!


Hi Chris


I certainly have booked to go again and for 2 weeks this time! The only thing that I am not confident about is me driving a car abroad for the first time!!!!!:-O:eek!::-O unless of course there is any man out there willing to chauffeur me about?!!!;)

Best Wishes Penny:girl:
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