18 April, 2013

Socotra's Amazing Birds

With more roads, more buildings and other structures being built on the island; with increasing human activities and encroachment; and in spite of the island being a UNESCO world heritage site - Socotra's birds are being more threatened than ever before. For ornithologists; for bird watchers and lovers, the Socotra Archipelago is one of the most fascinating places to be. Socotra has over 200 species of birds: most of which are migrant visitors passing through the island from/to Africa, Asia and Europe; about a quarter of the island's birds are resident. Soqotra has about ten species of endemic birds. Below are a few of the Island's enchanting birds:

Socotra's landscape, beaches, sea and even the sky are all extraordinarily different from that of most other places. Add birds to this spectacular scenery and you have one of the most awesome sights to behold. 
For bird lovers, birds, of whatever species are always very pleasing and dramatic to watch.
Along the coast of the Island, many Great Crested Terns (Thalasseus bergii) are a common sight on the islands coasts - lazing or soaring in the sky.
Great Crested Terns basking in the sun.
The Socotra Cormorant (Phalacrocorax nigrogularis) is a threatened species, found along the Gulf of Aden, the coast of Oman and along the coast of the Gulf Countries. In Socotra, they are abundant but still vulnerable to human activities.
 
The Socotra Cormorant might look small in pictures, but on seeing it for the first time - I found it rather large.
I thought the cormorants are only black and am surprised they can have a lighter color.
 Learn more about these very rare birds.
With such a variety of  very rare birds, the Island is a bird watcher's paradise.
The Egyptian Vulture (Neophron percnopterus) is an endangered species. In most of their habitats around the world, their numbers are rapidly declining.
The Black-crowned Sparrow-lark, which can easily be mistaken for a finch, is found mainly inland.
Brown Booby breeds on the outer islands but can easily be seen on the main island. At least ten kinds of seabirds breed on Socotra or the small islands around it, making the archipelago a regionally significant home for them.
A Brown-necked Raven (Corvus ruficollis), a common bird on the islands. This bird, monogamous, is known for forming a lifelong bond.
The very rare Socotra Cinnamon-breasted Bunting (Emberiza socotrana) is endemic to Socotra and there are very few left. They prefer breeding in the rugged, highlands in the interior of the island.
Cream-colored Courser (Cursorius cursor) a rather beautiful bird. You have to look for it to see it, or get a knowledgeable islander to show you where to find it.
Desert Wheatear visits the islands in winter and is the commonest migrant on Socotra. Can be seen nearly everywhere from October to March.
Black-winged Stilt (Himantopus himantopus) - reportedly not a resident of the islands and is not easy to see.
Long-billed Pipit (Anthus similis) is one of the easiest birds to see on the Archipelago.
Socotra Sparrow (Passer insularis) is endemic to Socotra and is abundant on the islands.
Socotra Starling (Onychognathus frater) is found only in Socotra, and is found all over the island.
Somali Starling (Onychognathus blythii) is common on the islands and the Horn of Africa. The female has a whitish/greyish head. While the male is totally black.
Abyssinian White-breasted White-eye is a small bird which can be found in Socotra and mainland Yemen; the Horn of Africa, East Africa and Sudan.
Tawny Pipit (Anthus campestris), is migrant and passes through Socotra to go breeding in Europe or Asia.
Kentish Plover (Charadrius alexandrinus) is a resident breeder on the islands and a winter visitor.
Sooty Gull (Larus hemprichii) - above - is common along the coast of the main island. Below - the very rarely seen Socotra Buzzard (Buteo socotraensis) which is a sub-species of the common buzzard.
 
Most people in the Middle East interest in birds is mainly to have them in cages; very, very few people take interest in wild birds. For any one who is fascinated by birds and loves watching them, it is addictive. Every morning, in almost any place you are - you can easily hear and see birds. Few places offer such an unforgettable bird viewing expereince as Soqotra. For any one visiting the Island and would like to truly appreciate and enjoy the birds, a pair of binoculars is a must. For photography, you will need a camera with powerful zoom capabilities. 

+ Birds List of Socotra
+ Photo gallery of birds of Soqotra
+ Socotra’s birds threatened by development

+ More photos of Soqotra on Flickr: here and here
+ More photos of Socotra on Flickriver: here and here 
+ Google Images: Birds of Socotra