Friday, 23 January 2009

Kuwait at last



160. The potential trip list? The number of people queuing to get through the gate on this flight? No, actually the number of words in the ingredients list of the 'Winter fruit frangipane' served up by British Airways on this late evening departure from Heathrow - strange it tasted of so little then. I ruminated on this as we passed over the twinkling lights of Baghdad below, just ahead of dawn on the home strait of the six-hour flight to Kuwait City.

After laborious visa procedures Roy Beddard and I were met by the welcoming figure of Pekka Fågel, an ex-pat Finn who spends much of his time in Kuwait, and our guide for the next few days. Pekka whisked us off to the Sabah Al-Ahmed Nature Reserve, an extensive enclosed sanctuary where desert vegetation has been able to regenerate without the ground-clearing ravages of herds of goats. Our first Isabelline and Desert Wheatears, Lesser Short-toed, Bar-tailed and Greater Hoopoe Larks and Asian Desert Warblers indicated the diversity such restored desert habitat could hold, while Eastern Mourning and Persian Wheatears added even more glamour.

Elsewhere, we struck lucky with a group of three Macqueen's Bustards - a species at risk from hunters here as in many places. While racing off down the track to try and relocate them, we flushed a fourth bird which gave even closer (and briefer) views before disappearing at speed.

High on our success in the desert, we moved on to Jahra Farms, where highlights included my first Indian Roller in the Western Palearctic (at least as defined by Stanley Cramp et al), as well as White-throated Kingfisher, Black-throated Thrush and Isabelline Shrike. Identification of the different forms of this last species continue to prove problematic, but on current understanding it seems that the regular wintering birds in Kuwait are most likely to be so-called Daurian Shrikes.

We ended the day with a visit to the tidal shores of Kuwait Bay at Sulaibikhat, where numerous Crab-plovers, Marsh and Terek Sandpipers, Greater Sand Plover and Heuglin's Gull were among the more notable species.

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