Thursday, 26 February 2015

Jarziz farm

Bart de Schutter has who is a visiting birder to Oman showed me a location in Salalah yet I am the local.

He showed me the temporary entrance to Jarziz farm yesterday afternoon. This farm is much smaller than of old. Most of it is making way for a huge youth complex.

Nevertheless one very large pivot field remains and two fallow fields are adjacent to it.

The pivot field was in the process of being cut while we were there. Indeed white winged black tern and cattle egret were following the cutting machine round.

female chestnut-bellied sandgrouse

At the edge of the field was had close contact with several black-bellied sandgrouse.

black-bellied sandgrouse walking away

Near-by were both tawny pipit and Richard's pipit.

Richard's pipit

The sound of larks was non-ceasing. The noise was created by both crested lark and singing bush lark. A small number of the latter made aerial displays.

singing bush lark

There were also three types of wheatear: northern wheatear, desert wheatear and Isabelline wheatear.

northern wheatear

A very small number of northern wheatear winter in the farming areas of Salalah but there numbers are increasing at the moment.

second view of northern wheatear

Birds of prey were in evidence. At least six kestrel were present over the field. Two marsh harrier, one Montagu's harrier and one pallid harrier appeared at times.

Ruppell's weaver

There is a very green grassy area with several trees a little away from the main pivot field. As we approached it we realised it was green because of run-off from a large uncovered water-holding tank.

This area added considerably to the diversity of the farm and will probably be a good place to see passage migrants.

Ruppell's weaver, graceful prinia, white spectacled bulbul and common myna were only seen here on the farm. There were also laughing dove and collared dove.

second view of Ruppell's weaver

Cattle egret were perched at the top of the holding tank.

cattle egret

On the banks of the tank were a squacco heron and a grey heron.

more cattle egret

All in all, the farm still has the potential to be a good site. Although it is much smaller than Sahalnoot farm, at least birders can enter. I will visit it again and especially look for passage birds in the near future.

Wednesday, 25 February 2015

Asian koel at Ayn Hamran

A late afternoon trip yesterday to Ayn Hamran turned out to be very successful despite the wind and dust.

In the middle section of the Ayn I came across a male Asian Koel. It was not only new to my Oman list making species 255 but also a lifer.

male Asian Koel

The bird is apparently rare but possible all over Oman in winter. However, there a concentration on Masirah island. I presume this particular bird is passing through as it hasn't been seen at Ayn Hamran before.

close-up of Asian Koel

Elsewhere at Ayn Hamran, most of the regular wintering birds were still there including a greenshank and a grey wagtail which have been present since November.

male masked shrike

The male masked shrike has been an ever-present bird too. It is looking particularly fine in its spring plumage.

second view of masked shrike

Furthermore, the song thrush was still around too though it has moved away from the largest shaded area. This is probably because it is very popular with picnickers and can be quite disturbed even at night.

song thrush

There is another Turkestan shrike there at the moment which I believe is different from the last one I observed. Nevertheless I struggled with this bird to find 6 primary tips recalling that a brown shrike has 4 or 5.

Turkestan shrike

Despite the count of primary tips, it doesn't look short winged and must be a Turkestan shrike.

back of the shrike

Many of the usual resident birds were seen including Arabian warbler, Abyssinian white-eye and plenty of African paradise flycatcher.

long-billed pipit

Long-billed pipit is a less regular visitor to the public areas of the Ayn. 

At night, fruit bats are seen in large numbers. However I observed one for the first time in daylight.

Egyptian fruit bat

I presume they roost far away from the centre of the Ayn but this one was hanging right in the middle. 


back of an Egyptian fruit bat

The Asian koel and the bat made the visit quite special.

Monday, 23 February 2015

Wadi Hanna and Wadi Darbat

There is a small part of Wadi Hanna which produces a disproportionate number of bird sightings. I don't quite know why. It has more shade and more large trees but the main reason may be that it is the busiest picnic area.

Ironically the trash left behind and which is unsightly produces more flies. The left over food is also edible to many birds of course. These two factors could be important.

It was here that I saw two common redstart. Both were female.

common redstart

They have not been there all winter. This is a passage bird in Dhofar. It is also species 254 on my Oman list and was my target bird for this location and on this day. Birding doesn't always work this smoothly and even in this case there are identification issues.

second picture of common redstart

The photos I took look quite different in the sun and in the shade. It is conceivable the two birds swapped. I have consulted and researched to be sure neither was Evermann's redstart as the white fringing is quite pronounced in some pictures.

I am comfortable with common redstart for several reasons in the end. First the birds didn't appear larger than the Ruppell's weaver near-by. Second the habitat was right for common redstart. Third its (just) outside Evermann's normal range. Fourth, the female samamiscus sub species of common redstart can sometimes have pale fringing. Fifth, I saw no sign of the bird cocking its tail as seen with Evermann's.

I am still awaiting some feedback though and I am still a little unsure about the bird seen in the shade particularly its wing wing bars.

 redstart in the shade

The place was crowded with birds. As well as the redstarts there were plenty of Ruepell's weaver, Abyssinian white eye, African silverbill, cinnamon-breasted bunting, blackstart and white spectacled bulbul.

Ruepell's weaver in the picnic area

My biggest problem was turning down offers of tea from picnickers but I have been in the Middle East long enough to know how to do this politely.

black-crowned tchagra

Having finished with the picnic area, I moved up to the highest point of the wadi. Here vegetation is thinner and the terrain rockier. Nevertheless I came across yet another common redstart. Furthermore having seen a black-crowned tchagra out in the open at Khawr Rori earlier in the day, yet another one was in full view here. It was a good day for tchagra.

Being rockier and higher, it was no real surprise to observe a black redstart. This one was a male of one of the eastern races.


male black redstart

I didn't see any black redstart in early winter. I believe they disperse this far south over the winter and only then to high latitudes. This appears to be a similar situation with red-tailed wheatear.

second view of black redstart

One bird which is always present at the less dense parts of Wadi Hanna is Arabian wheatear.

Arabian wheatear

I also saw several Arabian partridge on Saturday. Instead of being in one tightly knit flock they were dispersed along a cliff edge apparently sunning themselves. As I walked along the edge, one by one they dived over. Each time they saw me before I saw them.

Having combed the area for others birds, I decided to head back towards Salalah but stopping off at Wadi Darbat on the way.

male dark morph African Paradise Flycatcher

There were plenty of African Paradise Flycatcher in evidence. The males were in breeding plumage with long tails. Both dark morph and pale morph were seen.

male pale morph African Paradise Flycatcher

The shaded areas under the trees have had a few tree pipit all winter but there were noticeably more on Saturday. 

tree pipit at Wadi Darbat

However this is hardly a big sign of the passage.

the water at Wadi Darbat

I accidentally disturbed a wryneck in the same cluster of trees. It immediately flew right to the top of a tall tree and didn't move further.

Wryneck in the canopy

Some wryneck winter in Oman.

Elsewhere in the wadi were several western reef heron and common sandpiper along the water.

Eastern Imperial Eagle

Wadi Darbat is one of the best places to see a wide variety of birds of prey. It the past I have seen such varied birds as hobby and booted eagle. This time I had to make do with an Eastern Imperial eagle just before I left.

Most eagles won't be here much longer. I can't wait for more passage.

Sunday, 22 February 2015

On the way to Wadi Hanna

Yesterday, I went up the hills as I had said I would. I went to Wadi Hanna and Wadi Darbat looking out especially for any early migrants. I am satisfied with what I saw there. However this blog is about what was seen en route to those wadis.

I stopped off at roadside edge of Khawr Rori on the way out. This is on the plain just before the turn off that rises up into the mountains.  

There was plenty of bird activity there early in the morning. In the reeds and its adjacent wetland were clamorous red warbler, graceful prinia, wood sandpiper, common snipe, common greenshank, moorhen and common sandpiper.

Unfortunately, there was no real sign there or in the wider wadi of migrants. However it only a matter of time.

By way of partial compensation, I got some very good views of a black-crowned tchagra in the open.

Black-crowned tchagra in the open

Even when they are on the ground they often seek out ground-level cover such as shown below. However this time one crossed bare ground at least for a while.

black crowned tchagra 

This was also the first time I had seen black-crowned tchagra at Khawr Rori.

Abyssinian white eye

Other birds among the bushes and trees were Abyssinian white eye, Arabian warbler, laughing dove and Ruppell's weaver. More and more of the males of the latter species are in breeding plumage and some nest making has begun in the wetter areas includung at this site.

male Ruepell's weaver

I will keep visiting spots like the roadside edge of Khawr Rori all spring. Migrants will come. 

Having left Khawr Rori and having climbed up the hill side onto the plateau on the way to Wadi Hanna, I abruptly stopped the journey when I drove past a recently dead animal.

Fan-tailed raven on a carcass

It had attracted four eastern imperial eagle and a couple of fan-tailed raven. On my approach the eagles retreated to wires near-by and only the fan-tailed raven had the courage to stay on the carcass.

Eastern Imperial eagle on a wire

Despite my stillness I couldn't coax them back. I even photographed out of the front windscreen window so as not to disturb them hence the poor picture quality. In the end I gave up on them returning.

However I returned that way about 2 hours later having been to up to Wadi Hanna, This time I parked up a little further away from the carcass. While i was away it had been picked almost entirely bare. The four eastern imperial eagle had been joined by seven steppe eagle in the act.

some of the eagles on the remains of the carcass

I had caught the moment they were starting to disperse as the food source had finished.

one eastern Imperial eagle with three steppe eagle

There are often vultures on this plateau. It is a shame they weren't there this time.

This exhibition was a sideshow. The main purpose of the day had been to visit Wadi Hanna and Wadi Darbat. I did find a few migrants there as hoped and one was an addition to my Oman list. I will blog about this next.