24/12/2019
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White-breasted Waterhen – a Western Palearctic first

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The hot-spot of Jahra Pools Reserve in Kuwait has only recently re-opened after being closed for renovation for a few months over the summer, following damage to the roads caused by the apocalyptic rains that we endured here last December.

Following a recent visit by HRH Prince William to the reserve, further improvements had been made by finally cutting the reeds to provide better visibility over some of the pools and to improve water flow and circulation.

I was visiting the reserve on the morning of 14 December and had seen many of the typical birds we expect to see in winter: a variety of ducks, Greater Flamingos, Black-headed Gulls and a few shorebirds, Common and Pied Kingfishers, numerous Greater Spotted Eagles and so on. But as this is Kuwait and because of its unique location in the Western Palearctic (WP), us local birders are always on the lookout for anything out of the ordinary and this means always checking all the common species more carefully. At this time of year we are looking for unusual passerines, such as thrushes and pipits.

Two hours into my morning, I decided to explore one of the quieter roads bounded by tall reeds on either side. This track passes by a junction that is currently closed off with tape. Right on the intersection, I noticed a medium-sized, dark bird standing in a small pool of water just inside the tape barrier and facing away from me. My first thought was that the bill seemed too long for a Moorhen and as I slowed to a stop, it then it turned around and showed its all-white underparts and immediately I knew that it was a White-breasted Waterhen, having seen them in both India and Sri Lanka.


White-breasted Waterhen, Jahra Pools, Kuwait, 14 December 2019 (Mike Pope / kuwaitbirding.blogspot.com).

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I switched off my car and it quickly ran into cover and I thought it was lost from view. After waiting what seemed like a very long five minutes it slowly came back into view, some five metres away from where I initially saw it. It was very wary, even with the sound of my camera, but as it got a little further away, it seemed to relax more.

I then put out the news to our WhatsApp group about this magnificent first for Kuwait and the Western Palearctic, and many others were able to connect with it later that day and that following.


White-breasted Waterhen, Jahra Pools, Kuwait, 14 December 2019 (Mike Pope / kuwaitbirding.blogspot.com).

This was a species we had anticipated would be found at some point in Kuwait, given it has been recorded in UAE and Oman and justified by the number of other vagrants of eastern origin that have already been recorded in Kuwait. I was pleased that our prediction had bore fruit.

The waterhen was still around on 18 December, although extensive on 19th drew a blank.

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