Spring has Sprung

Birding with Mike

By Mike Pope
Surreptitiously the weather has slowly changed from winter to spring as the days become increasingly longer and warmer. The prevailing wind direction has changed and this of course favours the departing winter visitors and the returning migrants heading north to the summer breeding grounds.
 
Most noticeable is the decrease in numbers of the Great Cormorants and many of the large white-headed Gull species that just a few weeks ago seemed to be everywhere along the coast. I often wander who sends the ‘Memo’ that prompts their almost mass departure? However, the vacuum they create when they leave doesn’t last for long as the first of the spring arrivals stopover in Kuwait. White Wagtails are replaced by Yellow Wagtails, Common Chiffchaffs by Willow Warblers and Water Pipits by Tawny Pipits…..and then the first wave of passerine migrants arrives on mass.
 
Abundance and diversity differs marginally each year, but this year it was Wheatears with Isabelline and Pied making up the bulk of the numbers. In fact on 29 March 15, local birders recorded a total of 787 Pied Wheatears only in various localities around Kuwait. Obviously the other species like Desert, Black-eared, Mourning, Finsch’s also pass through, but not in such impressive numbers. Arriving together with the Wheatears are some of the Shrikes; the impressive Mauryan Grey along with Turkestan and Woodchat Shrikes who feast on exhausted migrants amongst other prey items on the way. The Lesser Grey and Red-backed Shrikes are part of a much later wave of migrants that also include the Rollers and Orioles and it is these species that migrate as far south as South Africa in the autumn, so have the longest distance to cover.
 
This year the spring raptor migration appears to have been much bigger than previous years, with mixed waves of Eagles and Buzzards heading north on days with favourable soaring conditions
 
It is a fantastic time of year in Kuwait for birds (ignoring the shooters who are still out their decimating the migrants in their hundreds), the weather is pleasant, the days are longer and birds can be heard calling all around – especially the Bee-eaters that pass by overhead with their distinctive call that can be easily heard long before you see them. Take the time to get out and enjoy it, as migration passage will only last a few more weeks before the birds have all passed through on this hazardous journey they undertake twice a year.
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