A week of birding in search of Gulf migrants and Western Palearctic rarities.
Kuwait’s Wetlands and Deserts
Saturday 1st - Saturday 8th April 2017
The small state of Kuwait, situated on the north-eastern corner of the Arabian Peninsula, lies at the very south-eastern edge of the Western Palearctic, but also on two major migration routes – Eurasia to Africa and Turkey to India.
Because of it and despite its small size and landscape being mainly a sandy desert, Kuwait is a great place to go birding and one put on the birding map relatively recently. For a few species Kuwait is the only place they are to be found within the western Palearctic – Grey Hypocolios, Lesser Sandplover, Red-vented Bulbul, Bank Myna, Afghan Babbler and White-eared Bulbul. Beside these, many other highlights are around – Crab Plover, Greater Sand Plover, Socotra Cormorant, Red-wattled Lapwing, Greater Crested Tern, Bridled Tern, White-cheeked Tern, Egyptian Nightjar, Grey-headed Swamphen, Dunn's Lark, Black-crowned Sparrow-lark, Common Babbler, Blue-cheeked Bee-eater, Menetries's Warbler, Upcher's Warbler, Daurian, Turkestan and Steppe Grey shrikes, Semi-collared Flycatcher, Pale Rock Sparrow, Cinereous Bunting, Persian Wheatear and many more.
The coastline holds considerable amount of waders, along with the best three listed above – also Terek, Marsh, Broad-billed Sandpipers, Red-necked Phalarope; gulls – Greater Black-headed, Armenian, Slender-billed and various races of the Lesser Black-backed gull; also terns – Bridled, White-cheeked, Lesser and Greater Crested. The even smaller reedbeds can reveal virtually everything possible in the area, including alongside view of the three ‘great’ warblers – Great reed, Clamorous and Basra. On our recce trip we have seen 15 + specimens of the 3 crake species, plus the water rail within 50 sq. meters!
The oases and small farms scattered throughout the adjacent deserts will also bring a lot of goodies – White-throated Robin, Persian and quite a few other wheatears, and numerous other passerines. Raptors will include both Levant Sparrowhawk and Shikra, Pallid Harrier and Great Spotted Eagle. And there is always a chance for the Pallid Scops Owl.
We can expect over 150 species in just a week. The beginning of April is the time when the migration is in full force, while we may still catch up with many of the wintering birds some of which are still in the area. It will be already warm, but not too hot, around 30 Celsius or so.
This will require early starts, but we can return to the hotel for siesta in some of the days. The hotel we have chosen is located at the edge of the city and to reach most the sites we will have very little driving through the traffic. It is not only perfectly situated near one of the major wetlands, but also has a swimming pool - a valuable asset in the middle of the day and in between excellent morning and afternoon birding sessions.
We will have six full days to explore Kuwait and each day we will go to different areas. However, some of the sites along the coast and wetlands near the hotel we will visit more than once and it also depends on the tides times. The furthest site requires not more than hour and a half drive to be reached.
The city itself is a place where we will look for the Grey Hypocolios, Red-vented Bulbul and the Bank Myna, plus there will be many other migrating birds – Pied Wheatear, various subspecies of Yellow Wagtails, Red-throated Pipits and Ortolan Bunting which can be seen feeding on every tiny patch of green grass. All these can be found at the Green Island, Jahra City Park and Jahra Fields.
The coast will produce most of what we will see in within the holiday – Sulaibikhat Bay, Jahra pools, Jahra east outfalls, Doha spit and Doha south are all excellent spots for birding, both in spring and winter. Gulls, waders – Terek, Marsh and curlew sandpipers, also Red-necked phalaropes, Gull-billed terns, even raptors migrating through Spotted Eagle, Lesser Kestrel, Levant Sparrowhawk. The few fresh water wetlands and the outfalls will add even more species – warblers, crakes and more of the waders commoner to us. The adjacent fields will reveal Upcher’s Warbler, Steppe Grey and Daurian Shrikes, Eastern Orphean and Lesser Whitethroat warblers and more raptors.
We will also visit the small Abdali farms further north, near the Iraq border and here we will be looking for Afgan and Common Babblers, as well as many migrants – White-throated Robin, Masked Shrike, Semi-collared and Red-breasted flycatchers, Bush Chat, Pallid Harrier, Graceful Prinia and both Daurian and Turkestan Shrikes.
A trip to the south will allow us to see Socotra Cormorant, as well as few tern species – Bridled, White-cheeked, Greater and Lesser Crested Terns.
Another day we will drive westwards into the desert and another small farm (Wafra) nested among the sands – it is amazing to see such a variety of birds clustered in such a small piece of greenery – Montague’s and Pallid harriers will glide gracefully above small onion plantations, Shikra and Levant Sparrowhawk will dash into the bigger trees where Pallid Scops Owl can sometimes be found. Here we can also look for the ‘Waxwing of the south’ - Grey Hypocolios. The bushes around can hold an amazing variety – from White-throated Robin to Siberian Chiffchaff. The adjacent deserts we will check for various larks, Quail and Blue-cheeked Bea-eaters.
The desert itself supports an amazing number of grazing animals which appear to be feeding on sand, as there is almost no vegetation. Camels, sheep and goats, as well as some good Arab horses can be seen almost everywhere. Relatively recently some large areas have been fenced so no grazing is allowed and the vegetation there is recovering – a green and yellow carpet as far as you can see.
Some of the sites require permits to be visited and for those will apply shortly before our visit. In any case there are enough sites we can visit and some of them; we will visit several times as during the migration - things change very quickly.
One annoying thing among all that pleasure of birding at such a place is the shooting. There are a number of ignorant locals who would shoot everything that flies and good numbers of birds are killed this way. However, ecotourism and birdwatching is one of the best ways to diminish and actually stop such dreadful practices and there are already signs that it also works in Kuwait. Otherwise the people in Kuwait are very friendly and open to Westerners and it seems it is not only the Gulf war to be the reason.