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Monday, December 24, 2012

Red-Billed Tropicbirds on Qarnein Island

I recently had the pleasure to be invited along with a small group to the island of Qarnein which is situated off the mainland of the UAE 180km north-west of Abu Dhabi and can be found here at 24°56'7.00"N,  52°50'59.00"E.

Back in 2003 the island of Qarnein and its surrounding waters were been declared as a 'Gift to the Earth' by the World Wide Fund for Nature International. The announcement followed the designation of Qarnein and its unique ecosystem as a Marine Protected Area (MPA), the first internationally-recognised reserve of its type in the Arabian Gulf. 

The declaration of the MPA status for Qarnein was announced by HH Sheikh Hamdan bin Zayed Al Nahyan, UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs and Deputy Chairman of the Abu Dhabi-based Environmental Research and Wildlife Development Agency (ERWDA), who has personally been instrumental in affording protection to the Island's marine and terrestrial habitats following traditional Islamic principles of conservation and natural resource management.

Qarnein island, which has an area of approximately 300 hectares, has a combination of natural characteristics not normally found amongst islands of the Gulf. Coral reef, seagrass and sandy bottom ecosystems exist offshore, while the island itself is a site of regional and international importance for breeding seabirds. 

Lesser-crested Terns, Swift (crested) Terns, Bridled Terns, Saunders' Terns, White-cheeked Terns, Sooty Gulls and Red-billed Tropicbirds are among the species breeding on the island. Some of these colonies are thought to contain more than 1% of the total world breeding population of the species and are, therefore, considered to be of international importance. The island has already been acknowledged by Birdlife International as an Important Bird Area in the Middle East.

This was not breeding season for any of the Tern species and so were seen only in small numbers , however it was the season for the Tropicbirds and was certainly the focus of my attention during my time on the Island.

The Red-billed Tropicbird occurs in the tropical Atlantic, eastern Pacific and Indian Oceans The Indian Ocean race, P. a. indicus, was at one time considered a full species, the Lesser Red-billed Tropicbird from Pakistan and western India. It breeds on tropical islands laying a single egg directly onto the ground or a cliff ledge. It disperses widely when not breeding, and sometimes wanders far.  They feed on fish and squid, but are poor swimmers. 

Species Fact sheet can be found here Species factsheet
Species List can be found at the end of this Blog.

Red-billed Tropicbird
(Phaethon aethereus)


Red-billed Tropicbird
(Phaethon aethereus)


Red-billed Tropicbird
(Phaethon aethereus)


Red-billed Tropicbird
(Phaethon aethereus)


Red-billed Tropicbird
(Phaethon aethereus)


Red-billed Tropicbird
(Phaethon aethereus)



Western Reef Heron
(Egretta gularis)


Eurasian Siskin
(Carduelis spinus)


Striated Heron
(Butorides striata)



Species List


·         Socotra Cormorant 50
·         Red-billed Tropicbird 50
·         Grey Heron 1
·         Striated Heron 1
·         Western Reef Egret 2
·         Osprey 2
·         Barbary Falcon 1
·         Common Kestrel 1
·         Common Sandpiper 4
·         Ruddy Turnstone 8
·         Sanderling 2
·         Lesser Sandplover 4
·         Arctic Skua 4
·         Sooty Gull 11
·         Steppe Gull 5
·         Great Black-headed Gull 2
·         Lesser Crested Tern 100
·         Feral Pigeon 12
·         Laughing Dove 13
·         Collared Dove 16
·         Eurasian Skylark 15
·         Lesser Short-toed Lark 4
·         Tawny Pipit 2
·         Water Pipit 8
·         White Wagtail 3
·         Asian Desert Warbler 8
·         Chiffchaff 3
·         European Stonechat 5
·         Desert Wheatear 9
·         Isabelline Wheatear 2
·         Red-tailed Wheatear 2
·         Eastern Black Redstart 1
·         House Sparrow 40
·         Siskin 1
·         Corn Bunting 5















Saturday, November 10, 2012

Jouanin's Petrel Fest

For the last few years we have been running fairly regular Pelagic trips off the east coast of the UAE.  Always out of Khor Kalba with our captain Abdullah.  He has become very knowledgeable with regard to the birds and now has the longest Pelagic list of any birder in the UAE.  He has become very experienced at chasing and finding the birds, however when he reported during the week that he had seen up to 300 Jouanin's Petrels and was seeing large numbers each day during his fishing trips,  one could not help but be a little sceptical given only 15 previous records (all achieved in 2011 - eBird observations for the UAE)

With this information in mind we arranged a pelagic (09/11/12) for yesterday afternoon, the birds had been seen at approx 60km off shore and given the earlier sunset now we headed straight out at a fast pace.  I have attached an image of the track we took,  the straight line is our return in darkness,  the outbound is the track with kinks where we picked up our first Jouanin's and a Masked Booby (approx 3rd Summer).  The Petrels started to occur more frequently the more we moved away from shore with regular groups of 2, 3 and even one of 10.  These numbers are unprecedented for the UAE and our final count was in excess of 145 !

In addition we had 8 Arctic Skuas, 2 Long-tailed Skuas and 2 sub-adult Masked Boobys. Needless to say it was a nice change from Persian Shearwaters and Bridled Terns and we will certainly be back out again next week.


Jouanin's Petrel at Sunset

Masked Booby
(Sula dactylatra)


Masked Booby
(Sula dactylatra)


Jouanin's Petrel
(Bulweria fallax)


Jouanin's Petrel
(Bulweria fallax)


Jouanin's Petrel
(Bulweria fallax)


Jouanin's Petrel
(Bulweria fallax)

Long-tailed Skua
(Stercorarius longicaudus)


Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Bateleur Eagle


The Bateleur is an eagle of the family Accipitridae, this beautiful sub-adult was photographed by me recently at a water hole in Kruger National Park, South Africa.  It is a common resident species of the open savanna country in Sub-Saharan Africa.  Its diet is made of mice, birds, antelope, snakes, and carrion. 

The Bateleur  is probably the most well known of the snake eagles. Its black feathers with white under the wings, bright red face and legs and black beak are characteristic markings.   Unknown to many including me is the fact that Females are larger than Males.  Once paired Bateleurs remain paired for life and will usually use the same nest for many years.

The female usually lays one egg, the mother incubates, occasionally the father will incubate.  Incubation is 50-60 days and 110 days later the hatchling is ready to leave the nest,  unfortunately only a small percentage make it to adulthood.

The Bateleur is currently listed as Near Threatend on IUCN.  It is classified as Near Threatened because it is suspected to have undergone a moderately rapid decline during the past three generations (41 years) mainly due to habitat loss and incidental poisoning and pollution, and is now approaching the threshold for classification as Vulnerable.


Bateleur 
(Terathopius ecaudatus)

Bateleur 
(Terathopius ecaudatus)

Bateleur 
(Terathopius ecaudatus)

Bateleur 
(Terathopius ecaudatus)

Bateleur 
(Terathopius ecaudatus)

Bateleur 
(Terathopius ecaudatus)

Bateleur 
(Terathopius ecaudatus)



Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Snakebird


The "Snakebird" or African Darter (Anhinga rufa) carries this unusual name due to the way that it swims in the water (snake like). It swims very low in the water often only with the head and neck visible above the waterline.  They are very good underwater swimmers and this is where they catch their prey, mainly fish but frogs, snakes , crustaceans and molluscs can also be on the menu.   

It is unique to sub-Saharan Africa and prefers still, shallow inland fresh water but typically avoids fast-flowing water.  They can be found roosting in trees, bushes or reedbeds and usually found during the day resting on dead trees and rocks after feeding.

Unlike many birds, the feathers of the African Darter are not waterproof, and the bird must dry its feathers before taking flight. 

IUCN has this bird listed as "least concern" however the population trend is downwards, it is persecuted in some areas of Southern Africa due to a perceived impact on recreational fish such as Trout.   More information can be found on the IUCN website Anhinga rufa

During a recent trip to Kruger National Park in South Africa I was lucky enough to be treated to the sight of one of these wonderful birds returning to it's perch with a rather large fish.


African Darter (Anhinga rufa
prepares to enter the water


African Darter (Anhinga rufa
returns shortly after successfully spearing a large fish



African Darter (Anhinga rufa
proceeds to drag the fish up it's favorite perch



African Darter (Anhinga rufa
still climbing


African Darter (Anhinga rufa
after a little manipulation the fish is swallowed head first



African Darter (Anhinga rufa
down the hatch



African Darter (Anhinga rufa
Gulp !!



African Darter (Anhinga rufa
and now to getting those feathers dried !




Saturday, July 28, 2012

UAE East Coast Pelagic 27.07.12

The UAE Pelagics this season have been quite poor compared to the last two years,  counts are down and so is the variety.  Even with that in mind I ventured out yesterday with a few of the guys and of course Abdullah our wonderful driver.  Unfortunately,  Ramadan meant there was none of his wonderful Cardamon tea on this trip.   We set off at 3pm with the intention of going deep rather than close to shore,  The sea was amazingly calm. In all the trips I have done in the last three years it has to be the flattest I have ever seen, mirror like in places.  Once again birds were scarce,  the occasional Bridled Tern passed by along with the occasional solitary Persian Shearwater including one particularly scruffy individual pictured below,  definitely not in the large numbers I am used to seeing.  It wasn't long before we saw our first Wilson's Storm Petrel and by the end of the trip we had counted nine.  


Wilson's Storm Petrel is one of the most abundant bird species in the world and has a circumpolar distribution mainly in the seas of the southern hemisphere but extending northwards during the summer of the northern hemisphere. The world population has been estimated to be more than 50 million pairs.  It is strictly pelagic outside the breeding season, and this, together with its remote breeding sites, makes Wilson's Petrel a difficult bird to see from land


Wilson's Storm Petrel (Oceanites oceanicus)

Wilson's Storm Petrel (Oceanites oceanicus)

Persian Shearwater (Puffinus persicus)

Thursday, July 26, 2012

2 Days in Nairobi (Day 2)

Ok, long time between blogs but been busy, busy, busy......  been travelling including Pakistan,  no chance to go photographing birds though unfortunately !  Karachi must hold the biggest population of Black Kite in the world.  Literally thousands rise into the late afternoon skies.


Anyway I digress this is a little account of my 2nd day in Nairobi during a recent business trip.  For those of you who read my blog on Day 1 will remember that the whole day was spent in Nairobi National Park and what a wonderful park it is. 

Gatamaiyu Forest

As much as I was tempted to go back to the Park for the day I was persuaded (and quite rightly) by Joseph to try out Gatamaiyu Forest.  

Gatamaiyu Forest is located about 50-km n.w. of Nairobi  and stretches through the Kieni forest (part of the central highlands) and boasts many montane species including Chestnut-throated, Grey, Black-collared and Black-throated Apalis, Montane Oriole, Narina & Bar-tailed Trogon, Black-fronted Bush-shrike, Yellow-rumped and Moustached Green Tinkerbird, Scarce Swift, White-browed Crombec. Additionally Mountain Buzzard, Mountain and Cabanis’s Greenbul, African Hill Babbler, White Starred Robin, African Dusky Flycatcher, Cinnamon Bracken and Brown Woodland Warbler, Hunter’s Cisticola, Black-backed Puffback, Grey Cuckoo-Shrike, Northern Double Collared Sunbird, Spectacled and Brown-capped Weaver, Grey-headed Negrofinch and Yellow-bellied Waxbill among others.


Northern Double-Collared Sunbird (Cinnyris reichenowi)

Golden-winged Sunbird (Drepanorhynchus reichenowi)

Hunter's Cisticola (Cisticola hunteri)

Brown-capped Weaver (Ploceus insignis)

Bar-tailed Trogon (Apaloderma vittatum)

Mountain Greenbul (Arizelocichla nigriceps)

Black-collared Apalis (Apalis pulchra)

Rüppell's Robin-chat (Cossypha semirufa)



Kinangop Grasslands

2nd stop was Kinangop Grasslands on the Kinangop Plateau.  The Kinangop Plateau covers about 770 km sq between the forested Aberdare Mountains in the east and the Rift Valley in the west.   The plateau is found at around 2,500m altitude.  The grasslands are one of the last places for the ever decreasing Sharpe’s Longclaw.   Due to a growing human population that depends on the land for food and income the grasslands are disappearing fast, and ultimately, so is the Sharpe’s Longclaw.

The Longclaw depend on high-altitude tussock grasslands for feeding and nesting grounds. Their habitat is dwindling fast.  The global population may now be as low as 2,000 birds according to recent research.

If this habitat loss is not halted and reversed, this species will disappear.

Sharpe's Longclaw (Macronyx sharpei)

Sharpe's Longclaw (Macronyx sharpei)

Capped Wheatear (Oenanthe pileata)

Red-capped Lark (Calandrella cinerea)

Cape Crow (Corvus capensis)