Tuesday, November 25, 2008

UAE Trip Report

I've uploaded a trip report for my recent visit to the United Arab Emirates:

200 tinkling bells

Was up in Aberdeen at the weekend visiting Lisa. Not really birding as it was a flying visit on two overnight buses from London. We were keeping an eye out for Waxwings though and just a few minutes from Lisa's flat we looked in St Peter's Cemetery at the rowan trees. No sign, then the sound of 200 tinkling bells as a flurry of peach bombycillids dropped out of the snowy sky. But they were soon off, rising and settling further away as a possessive Mistle Thrush claimed all the rowan berries in the graveyard. A female Sparrowhawk had noticed the flock too and drove them further away. I had to settle for a flight shot instead.

Further along King Street we faced the oncoming crowds heading to Pittodrie then found two Rock Pipits on St Andrew's Cathedral - perhaps forced to feed a short distance inland due to the snow cover. Later that afternoon, a roost of Pied Wagtails was forming in the same street at the bus garage.

From the bus between Glasgow and Aberdeen: Buzzard (29), Kestrel (5), Red Kite (1), Peregrine (1), Merlin (1), Whooper Swan, Pink-footed Goose, Greylag Goose, Lapwing, Stock Dove, Fieldfare, Oystercatcher, Redshank, Mute Swan, Goosander, Tufted Duck, Pheasant, Meadow Pipit, Curlew, Mallard, Wigeon, Cormorant, Starling, House Sparrow, Chaffinch, Pied Wagtail, Rook, Carrion Crow, Redwing, Common Gull, Herring Gull, Jackdaw, Black-headed Gull, Wood Pigeon, Blackbird, Feral Pigeon, Roe Deer and Common Seal.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Lark stalks photographer

Thanks to Andrew Stevenson for this photo of me lying a few feet from a Desert Lark at Green Mubazzarah last week. The bird, just in front of the black hose pipe, was initially with a striking leucistic Desert Lark which I think Keith Martin spotted before we were even off the minbus. I fear some more 'photographer in situ' shots may surface involving mud and a dairy farm!

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

United Arab Emirates

Last week I was birding under the desert sun of the UAE with the local SOC club on a trip arranged by Tony & Gerda Scott (SOC Ayrshire Touring) and bird leader Angus Hogg. We searched sandy deserts and gravel plains for larks and wheatears, khors (tidal creeks) on the Persian Gulf and Gulf of Oman for waders, herons and seabirds, mangroves for White-collared Kingfisher and Greater Spotted Eagle, and oases and artificially 'greened' parks for migrants warblers and shrikes. The country has many other important habitats that we just glimpsed as we passed through including the acacia savannahs, the Hajar Mountains and the sabkha (salt flats).

The highlights for me were Socotra Cormorant, Western Reef Egret, Indian Pond Heron, Greater Spotted Eagle, Crab Plover, Red-wattled Lapwing, White-tailed Lapwing, Lesser Sand Plover, Greater Sand Plover, Sooty Gull, Saunder's Tern, White-cheeked Tern, Chestnut-bellied Sandgrouse, White-collared Kingfisher, Pharaoh Eagle Owl, Little Green Bee-eater, Indian Roller, Black-crowned Finch-Lark, Pale Crag Martin, Olive-backed Pipit, Hooded Wheatear, Hume's Wheatear, Variable Wheatear, Sykes's Warbler, Persian Wheatear, Plain Leaf Warbler, Arabian Babbler, Purple Sunbird, and Isabelline Shrike.

While the rapid urbanisation and reclamation of land and sea has created several important artificial habitats for birds, many areas of mangroves and coastal habitats are being reduced or fragmented. Ras Al Khor Wildlife Sanctuary in Dubai however is a gem of place with birdlife in abundance despite being engulfed by the city. It kind of makes the London Wetland Centre look a bit tame.

A full trip report will be available on Tuesday 25th.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Green Heron, West Hythe, Kent

Anyone who visits this blog regularly will know I have a fondness for herons. With Britain and Ireland’s sixth Green Heron (Butorides virescens) found more than a week ago on the 25th, I was tempted to go for it, particularly as it was allowing many people to capture some great photographs. This migratory Nearctic heron, roughly the size of a Coot, somehow found itself on the wrong side of the Atlantic and has settled into a fish-rich stretch of the Royal Military Canal near West Hythe in Kent. Yesterday was the first day I could make it down to the south coast, due to work, but the weather forecast was bad. I waited until today but even then the sun shone for about 10 minutes in the four hours I was there. Getting down from North London on public transport took five hours there and four hours back, including 12 miles of walking. Still, it doesn’t really compare to the journey this Green Heron made across the sea! It was definitely worth the hassle to see such a charismatic and entertaining rarity. It caught at least six good-sized fish (Roach?) while I was there and on one occasion caught two in a single strike when it accidentally speared a second fish with its upper mandible. And there is quite a density of fish in this luxuriantly vegetated canal judging by the shoals breaking the surface when the Pike attacked, the numbers of Kingfishers (6+ between West Hythe and Hythe) and anglers actually catching something. Its feeding strategy ranged from patient waiting on the edge of a Phragmites bed to plunge-diving from a half-sunken tree. I captured a few standard shots below, but it was just too dull for sufficiently high enough shutter speeds to capture the action of the brief feeding frenzies.

A few more photos here: www.frasersimpson-birdphotography.com/greenheron.htm