UK twitching tour

First day of crazy improvised UK twitching tour. There is a massive amount of rarities residing in the UK currently. We want them all, or more succinctly, need them.

Here is the short list as graciously provided to us by Cris Batty at Rare Birds Alert.

  • Pacific Diver    Penzance in Cornwall 50.1152, -5.5309 (can be elusive)
  • Hudsonian Whimbrel    Perranuthnoe in Cornwall    50.1136, -5.4511
  • Green-winged Teal    Hayle Estuary in Cornwall    50.1762, -5.4371
  • Lesser Scaup    Dozmary Pool in Cornwall 50.5443, -4.5498
  • Bonaparte’s Gull    Dawlish Warren in Devon    50.6146, -3.4248 (elusive)
  • Ring-necked Duck    Chew Valley Lake in Somerset 51.3395, -2.6048
  • Lesser Yellowlegs    park at 50.7364, -2.0417 then walk southwest along Slough Lane and follow signs to Sherford Pool or French’s Pools (also Green-winged Teal on same pools)
  • Ring-billed Gull    Blashford Lakes in Hampshire 50.8786, -1.7867 (late afternoon from Tern Hide)
  • Ring-necked Duck    Abberton Reservoir in Essex    51.8146, 0.8263
  • Pallas’s Warbler    Kessingland in Suffolk    52.4107, 1.7238
  • Golden Pheasant    Wolferton in Norfolk    52.8235, 0.4754 (dawn is best)
  • Lady Amherst’s Pheasant    Lidlington in Bedfordshire    52.0375, -0.5528 (very elusive)
  • Dusky Thrush    Beeley in Derbyshire 53.2063, -1.6037
  • Black Scoter    Goswick in Northumberland 55.7091, -1.8975 (hard when windy)
  • American Wigeon    Caerlaverock in Scotland    54.9771, -3.4821 (also Green-winged Teal on same pond)
  • Ring-billed Gull    Strathclyde Loch in Clyde, Scotland 55.7888, -4.0299 (comes to bread)
  • Hooded Merganser    Barr Loch, Lochwinnoch in Clyde, Scotland 55.7875, -4.6262
  • Surf Scoter    St Andrews in Fife, Scotland    56.3451, -2.8008 (also check off the beach north of here)
  • Ring-necked Duck    Pitlochry in Perthshire, Scotland    56.7081, -3.7385
  • On islands off the Scottish coast there are wintering Cackling Goose (Islay in Inner Hebrides), American Coot (North Uist in Outer Hebrides), Northern Harrier (North Ronaldsay in Orkney Isles), and Killdeer (Shetland Isles), but each will probably take multiple days travelling.
  • The only vagrant Snow Goose (in Lancashire) has gone missing right now, but you might count one at Tittesworth Reservoir in Staffordshire 53.1320, -2.0127 as Category C (it’s not probably not good enough though!)

So, quite a lot. One bird that’s not on the list, was the reported Stejnegers’s Stonechat, a recent IOC split. That’s the bird we went for first, found it. Dang!.

Not Steinegers's Stonechat
Not Stejnegers’s Stonechat

We were told on site that there has been DNA taken from the bird bla bla and it’s rock solid. Apparently the DNA guys had mixed up the samples and it’s just a regular Stonechat – we were told after the twitch. Win some loose some. We also spent a few hours at the Stonechat site (Dungeness) looking for a Ring-necked Duck to no avail.

Went west, towards Poole and tried to find a recently reported Lesser Yellowlegs – again to no avail. Will retry tomorrow morning, the Yellowlegs is too good a bird to leave behind. Same pool as the hiding Yellowlegs we did however connect with our first American tick for the year – a nice male Green-winged teal.

Two really nice birding sanctuaries visited today, lot’s of winter birds, Godwits, Chuffinches, Dunnocks etc.

Dunnock
Dunnock

Tomorrow, we’ll find those Yellowlegs, and then move on towards the Bonaparte’s gull at Exeter.

Goodbye Kuwait

We’re starting to run out of birds here in Kuwait, there is of course the possibility of finding new birds, but currently there is nothing here for us that we can go for. Thus we decided to make our Kuwait stay a bit shorter and go for a twitch tour in the UK, plenty of rarities there at the moment, in articular Dusky Thrush and Pacific Diver

Yesterday we spent all day in Wafra searching. We did find what we believe is the best farm there, Rosemary’s farm residing exactly on the border to KSA. We found an odd looking Yellow Wagtail that got us excited for a short while. yellow-wagtail

The stay here in Kuwait has been fantastic, and we’d like to thank all in the local birding community here for enthusiastic help.

In particular Abdulrahman Al-Sirhan Alenezi who has been invaluable. Check out Birds of Kuwait if you want to plan a trip here. Markus Craig has been fantastic, loads of help and energy, and Omar Alsaheen helped in his calm relaxed way. We’re already looking forward to the return trip here in April.

Crake Day

Today we decided to make an attempt at the crakes, in particular Little Crake should be possible, but also Baillon’s crake should in theory be possible. After less than an hour in the morning, we received an alarm in the WhatsApp group, Markus Craig had Buff-bellied Pipit at the Pivot fields where we yesterday found the Sociable Lapwings. Our first actual twitch was a go. Fast in the car, drive recklessly and arrive at the site – the bird had just been flushed by a Hen Harrier. The Pipits returned and we could tick the Japonicus. One more really good bird pocketed.

Drove back to continue the Crake search and we got fender bended by a Mercedes. Three hours, two police stations and paper trail completed, we returned at Jahra Pool Reserve to continue the Crake search. We decided to split up, and simultaneously search different spots. Erik had good views of a Little Crake at dusk, Mårten and I missed it. We cannot tick it, our rules say that all three must see or hear the bird. We’re going to have to work more on the elusive Crakes.

Also, we’ve decided to attempt photographs of all Snipes. There is always the remote possibility of a Pin-tailed Snipe and to id that safely, we surely need photographs. Lots of Common Snipe in Jahra Pool Reserve.

Common Snipe
Common Snipe

Searched and flushed a Jack snipe, good and semi-hard-to-find bird which we needed.

Jack Snipe
Jack Snipe

 

 

We are golden

Finally, tenaciousness pays off. Birded hard some areas today we knew other birders don’t visit that often. In the afternoon, we went to the famous Sulaibiya Pivot Fields. The area is closed for public access, apparently there were some arguments between the owner of the fields and birders some 5 years ago, and since, no one has access to one of the best birding sites in Kuwait. We decided to walk into the backside of the area and scope. It started out great with 2 Booted Eagles where we stopped the car.

Booted Eagle
Booted Eagle

Walked a gravel area for a few kilometers and Erik shouts PACIFIC GOLDEN PLOVER. It’s far away, we all scope and then some murmuring … uhh . it has an eyebrow. That’s bad – right. Until Erik again shouts – it’s not Golden Plover, it’s SOCIABLE LAPWING !!

It turns out Erik was right the first time as well, it was two Pacific Golden Plovers and two Sociable Lapwings walking together with a flock of Northern Lapwings. Possibly our best find so far on BYWP. Local birder Mike Pope says Sociable Lapwing is 9th record for Kuwait whereas Pacific Golden Plover is more common.  The pics we got aren’t that great – but with some luck, other birders will try to locate the birds in the next days and hopefully they will get better shots.

Sociable Lapwing flying
Sociable Lapwing flying together with one of the Pacific Golden Plovers
Sociable Lapwing and Pacific Golden Plover
Sociable Lapwing and Pacific Golden Plover

Our birds were clearly smudgy and not white on the underside of the wings during flight, the Oriental Birdclub shows it well. After raising the alarm on local WhatsApp, Omar Alsaheen and Marcus Craig immediately showed up :-) We than tried the south west side of the field, which is where birders usually go. There we found an additional 9 Sociable Lapwings. They are all probably wintering in the fields. Finished off with 4 Richard’s Pipits, a Pallid Harrier and an adult Eastern Imperial Eagle.

Richards Pipip
Richard’s Pipit

 

Where is the Shikra

The Shikra is silently sailing up as our most wanted bird. We have now spent two days searching for it. Yesterday, we spent the morning and more in Jahra Farms. A possible Shikra was reported there. We found a Sparrowhawk that made us excited for a short while. The possible one was also downgraded today to Sparrowhawk.

Today, we spent the afternoon together with Omar Alsaheen searching for two Shikras reported in Abdali Farms to no avail.

We’re confused regarding the id characteristics of Shikra, the coloration of the cheek, the book says blue cheek whereas pictures and Omar says it doesn’t have to be blue … hmmmm. No mature males here, they are easy. Nahh, it seems as the characteristics – “slightly rounded tail” and “thick legs” – are the only reliable ones. So, apart from the bird being rare, it is also disgustingly alike a Sparrowhawk. This will be difficult.

There were older reports of a Shikra in Mutlas Ranch and we think Marcus Craig was searching his local patch (Mutlas Ranch) looking for it today. We’re just going to have to find one ourselves. The only certain Shikras currently reported are the ones in Abdali that we searched for today, they were seen last week by Ouda Al-Bathali.

Al-Abraq

Westernmost point of Kuwait, small oasis by name of Al-Abraq. Again, a classical migrant trap that we will surely visit during our April trip. For quite some time, two Hume’s Warblers have been wintering there. A good bird for us, which with some bad luck we could have missed during the year.

Hume's Warbler
Hume’s Warbler

Together with Marcus Craig, and the Belgian/Danish team we drove straight out into the dessert. Completely barren and flat. Found 4 Temminck’s Lark and 9 Greater Hoopoe Larks. Both dessert species to drool over.

The trick was to look for camel turds or general garbage, that attracts the few birds residing in the barren desert. Beautiful.

Greater Hoopoe Lark
Greater Hoopoe Lark

Mutla Ranch

The very first thing we did this morning was to gather at the Jahla Pool Reserve to have a fresh look at the suspicious Martin found yesterday by Neil Tovey. A bunch of guys. Us three, the group with Belgian birder Joachim Bertrands,  Omar Ashaheen, and Marcus Craig. Omar managed to get good shots with his monster camera, and it unfortunately turned out to be a regular Sand Martin – close but no cigar.

Went to Kabd Reserve, a research station with restricted access. AbdulRahman had arranged the permits. Serious business. Desert shrub area, with a stable population of Black-crowned Finchlark that were easy to find. Joachim Bertrands group found a Finch Wheatear for us, apart from that it was pretty empty there.

North of Kuwait City there is a ranch called Mutla Ranch, it’s situated in the middle of the desert and looks like a crazy good migration trap. It also attracts some wintering birds. Together with Joachim Bertrands and team, we searched the ranch for a couple of hours. Not much activity, but when we return here in April it’ll probably be teeming with migrating warblers. The type of birding where you slowly walk through thickets and search for that rarity is loved by everyone. Mårten Wikström found the gem. Dream species, a roosting Pallid Scops Owl.

Pallid Scops Owl - Dream species
Pallid Scops Owl – Dream species

 

Iraq border

Yesterday AbdulRahman accompanied us to Abdali Farms close to the Iraq border. We had two important target species there, Red-wattled Lapwing and Afghan babbler. Both were relatively easy to find, the Lapwing were hiding during the day, but reoccured in the afternoon in the field where they usually reside. Major bonus species was found too, a few days ago, local birder by name of Ouda Al-Bathali found an Indian Roller which we were also able to relocate.

Indian Roller
Indian Roller

After two days of pretty slow birding, and also just going for birds already found by other birders, we were today eager to bird more actively. We birded parks, and shores close to the city, collecting several easy species. It feels cocky to be able to write that e.g Masked Shrike is easy.

The shores were fantastic, the amount of wintering waders is massive, I know that Oman is supposed to be even better, but I have never before seen this amount of waders before. Thousands of Dunlins, several hundred Broad-billed Sandpipers and best of all, 85 Crab plovers. Finished off the afternoon scanning the flocks of Greater Flamingo, looking for that single Lesser. Apparently the last winters at least one, possibly the same individual, Lesser Flamingo has wintered among the large flocks of Greater Flamingo, and dang, we found it. Apparently it’s the 5th record for Kuwait.

Lesser Flamingo
Lesser Flamingo

This a proper WP rarity.

Lesser Flamingo in the sunset
Lesser Flamingo in the sunset

There is a friendly WhatsApp group that is being used by local birders, the last thing that happened this evening was that a local birder reported a flock of Rock Martins in Jahra Pool Reserve, but among those martins there was one individual that was different, a pale looking martin with gray/brown throat and no breast band – thus tomorrow morning we’ll go hunting for Grey-throated Martin!!!

Persian Wheatear at the Saudi border

Today, our second day birding the full year, we decided to do some primary birding close to the border of Saudi Arabia. The morning was spent in a farming village called Al-Wafra. Birding there was boring and slow, nothing out of the ordinary was found. All farms in the village are closed to the public, so you have to enter, find the proprietor and ask for access. Apart from the poor birding, that worked out nice, people in Kuwait are truly nice and forthcoming.

The afternoon, full focus was on Red-tailed Wheatear, a.k.a the much more exotic sounding name of Persian Wheatear. Finally we found the bird close to a village called  Al-Nuwaiseeb, close to the Saudi border.

Persian Wheatear
Persian Wheatear

Finished off the afternoon, by asking the Arab owner of a posh beach house if we could stand on his rocks and watch the sea. He more than smiled, and also sent his Bangladesh man servant to serve us tee as the sun settled over the gulf as the Pallas’s Gulls were sweeping by.

A tree full of Wagtails

First day, early start this morning with a tree full of White Wagtails roosting in the dark next to the highway, several hundred Wagtails sitting still in the dark. Not how we usually see this lovely species.

We have altogether 16 days of birding here, we will run short of hotspots. Today we decided to to bird an area north of the city, called Jahra.map_of_kuwait

Several nice birding spots there with best called Jahra Pool Reserve. It looks to me as if they let the cleaned water from the city of Al-Jahra just flow into a swamp before it reaches the Kuwait Bay, resulting in a fantastic wetland. This area is closed, but the amazing AbdulRahman Al-Sirhan Alenezi who works as a local bird guide, and runs the BirdsOfKuwait site gratiously stepped up and offered to guide us for free, and also arrange permits to all closed areas.

AbdulRahman
AbdulRahman

So, at dawn we entered together with AbdulRahman and a Belgian team with Joachim Bertrands. Top species in the Pool Reserve were White-Tailed Lapwing, Greater spotted eagle, the fulvescens morph.

Greater spotted eagle, fulvescens morph
Greater spotted eagle, fulvescens morph
White-Tailed Lapwing
White-Tailed Lapwing

Another species that made us jump, although expected there, was the Asian Desert Warbler.

Asian Desert Warbler
Asian Desert Warbler

As well as:

Desert Wheatear
Desert Wheatear
Little Grebe
Little Grebe

 

 

 

 

 

The afternoon was spent in an agricultural area close to the city of Jahra called Jahra farms. People grow vegetables there in a small scale. Here we found the top species of the day, Crested Honey Buzzard. A rarity, hopefully not the last! Hypocolius is nice too.

Hypocolius
Hypocolius

Altogether 79 species the first day, it might be that we never reach this number of new ticks ever during the remainder of the year. Tomorrow we go south to Al-Wafra, also an agricultural area, this one isolated in the desert. All ticks of today can be seen at our iGoTerra Page. Several good ones not mentioned here.