Saturday, 29 December 2012

My first birding in Qatar

My optics finally arrived safely from Saudi Arabia so it was time to venture out for my first birding trip in my new home of Qatar.

Qatar is a small country some 100 miles by 60 miles across sharing one border with Saudi Arabia and  surrounded on three sides by the Arabian Gulf. It mostly fairly flat stoney desert interspersed with the occasional irrigated farm. Whilst much smaller than neighbouring countries such as the UAE and Saudi Arabia it should offer good birding due to the fact that it's a peninsula and offers a landfall to birds especially during migration.

I met up with Simon Tull an experienced birder who's also relatively new to Qatar having moved up from Oman. We headed south, out of Doha to an area of irrigated 'pivot fields', some 40 kms south of the city at Irakhya. I've birded plenty of pivot fields in the UAE and Saudi Arabia but the size of these was something else! Some eighteen fields all the best part of a square kilometer in size on a gently rolling landscape surrounded by desert. Add to this scattered trees, barns and water tanks and the area looks to have amazing potential.

The first obvious birds were several marsh harrier but we also quickly picked out Montagu's harrier and pallid harrier including two stunning ghostly grey adult males. About half a dozen common kestrel made the place seem alive with smaller raptors.

The dusty tracks between the fields held many tawny pipit, crested lark, isabelline wheatear and several desert wheatear and a single male red-tailed wheatear. Commonly known for associating with desert wheatear we also came across a single asian desert warbler which was characteristically hopping around beneath the low scrub.

The fields are used to grow camel fodder including alfalfa grass and when harvested and ploughed should offer even more potential with some differing habitat. The irrigation equipment and overhead wires gave good vantage points to southern grey shrike and namaqua dove and a resting place for corn bunting, flocks of spanish sparrow and yellow wagtail. The commonest call heard from the grass was the unmistakable 'wet my lips' call of the common quail. One individual was flushed as we walked the fields but about another ten were heard.

Dotted around the fields were several holding tanks which attracted green sandpiper and common sandpiper and a single indian pond heron much like the village tanks found in India.

All in all this area with its surrounding desert looks like it could prove to be one of the best farmland areas in the gulf.

Next stop was Abu Nakla Sewage Treatment plant half way back to Doha. Whilst not appearing to be a working plant the large settlement lake remains and was alive with waterbirds. Grey heron and several purple heron were in the reeds with plenty of duck out on the water including shoveler, teal and a single male tufted duck. There were good numbers of little grebe but the two commonest species were greater flamingo and great cormorant numbering two and four (!) thousand respectively. The number of cormorant was possibly the highest I've ever seen.

Great cormorant at Abu Nakla

Simon says the water level appears to have fallen somewhat in the past year but at this moment it offers plenty of shoreline and sand spits that held several whiskered tern, Saunder's tern and many waders including a couple of marsh sandpiper.

Greater flamingo at Abu Nakla

59 Species for the day wasn't too bad, all of which (unsurprisingly) were Qatar ticks.

Northern Shoveler (Anas clypeata)

Green-winged Teal (Anas crecca)

Common Pochard (Aythya ferina)

Tufted Duck (Aythya fuligula)

Common Quail (Coturnix coturnix)

Little Grebe (Tachybaptus ruficollis)

Great Crested Grebe (Podiceps cristatus)

Greater Flamingo (Phoenicopterus roseus)

Great Cormorant (Phalacrocorax carbo)

Grey Heron (Ardea cinerea)

Purple Heron (Ardea purpurea)

Great Egret (Ardea alba)

Little Egret (Egretta garzetta)

Western Reef-Heron (Egretta gularis)

Indian Pond-Heron (Ardeola grayii)

Glossy Ibis (Plegadis falcinellus)

Osprey (Pandion haliaetus)

Eurasian Marsh-Harrier (Circus aeruginosus)

Pallid Harrier (Circus macrourus)

Montagu's Harrier (Circus pygargus)

Eurasian Coot (Fulica atra)

Common Ringed Plover (Charadrius hiaticula)

Black-winged Stilt (Himantopus himantopus)

Common Sandpiper (Actitis hypoleucos)

Green Sandpiper (Tringa ochropus)

Common Greenshank (Tringa nebularia)

Marsh Sandpiper (Tringa stagnatilis)

Wood Sandpiper (Tringa glareola)

Common Redshank (Tringa totanus)

Little Stint (Calidris minuta)

Dunlin (Calidris alpina)

Black-headed Gull (Chroicocephalus ridibundus)

Lesser Black-backed Gull (Larus fuscus)

Saunders's Tern (Sternula saundersi)

Whiskered Tern (Chlidonias hybrida)

Feral Pigeon (Columba livia (Domestic type))

Eurasian Collared-Dove (Streptopelia decaocto)

Laughing Dove (Streptopelia senegalensis)

Namaqua Dove (Oena capensis)

Common Kestrel (Falco tinnunculus)

Isabelline Shrike (Lanius isabellinus)

Southern Grey Shrike (Lanius meridionalis)

Black-crowned Sparrow-Lark (Eremopterix nigriceps)

Crested Lark (Galerida cristata)

Skylark (Alauda arvensis)

White-eared Bulbul (Pycnonotus leucotis)

Graceful Prinia (Prinia gracilis)

Asian Desert Warbler (Sylvia nana)

Bluethroat (Luscinia svecica)

European Stonechat (Saxicola rubicola)

Red-tailed Wheatear (Oenanthe xanthoprymna)

Desert Wheatear (Oenanthe deserti)

Isabelline Wheatear (Oenanthe isabellina)

Western Yellow Wagtail (Motacilla flava)

White Wagtail (Motacilla alba)

Tawny Pipit (Anthus campestris)

Water Pipit (Anthus spinoletta)

Corn Bunting (Emberiza calandra)

Spanish Sparrow (Passer hispaniolensis)

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