Thursday, 3 September 2015

Khawr Rori in late August

On Saturday, I went to Khawr Rori and arrived at 9am at the main site when opens to the public. It was a grey morning with some drizzle. Indeed it was a typical khareef (monsoonal) day for a coastal location.

The relatively weather made the birding easy. Sadly the khareef is about to end and temperatures in the Salalah area will rise again before winter sets in.

Birding got off to a good start even before I entered the main site. I saw two yellow bittern at the north west corner of the site which can be approached from the main road.

Inside I picked up two red-knobbed coot very quickly in the northern section of the khawr. They have breed at West Khawr in recent years but are being seen increasingly at Khawr Rori.

two red-knobbed coot

In the same area as the red-knobbed coot were a scattering of waders.

greenshank, little stint and red-knobbed coot

These were black-tailed godwit, common greenshank, common redshank, wood sandpiper and little stint. There were also grey heron and squacco heron in the area.

Plenty of Forbes-Watson swift and a few pale crag martin were also flying over.

black-crowned night heron

In the far north of the khawr two black-crowned night heron were observed.

For once the middle section of the khawr based around two preserved dhows was poor for birds. It is often one of the best spots.

As a result, I quickly moved south to the sandbar which separates the khawr from the sea. 

flamingo

Not many flamingo over-summer in Oman but half a dozen or so did at Khawr Rori and this time could be seen in the southern section.

greenshank and broad-billed sandpiper

By far the most common bird on the sandbar was sooty gull. However there were also more waders and some terns.

black-winged stilt

Among the waders were black-winged stilt which is present all year round.

black-tailed godwit

Black-tailed godwit were in both the northern and southern sections. Most were already in winter plumage though some had remains of summer plumage.

black-tailed godwit 2

The sandbar had two greenshank.

greenshank

There was another wood sandpiper.

wood sandpiper

There was also a single sanderling. This bird is normally seen in flocks. Singles are unusual.

sanderling

It was a day of single birds. There was just one curlew.

curlew

Two pacific golden plover and two grey plover were also observed.

grey plover

This is very early for pacific golden plover but two others were seen at East Khawr by Jens and Hanne Eriksen the same morning. There will be plenty more very soon.

sandwich tern (centre)

Alongside the numerous sooty gull on the sandbar were many greater crested tern. Both these are resident breeders in the area. 

I looked hard as usual for any other species among them.

I found two. One was a sandwich tern. A small number over-summer.


Caspian tern

The second was a Caspian tern which could be the first of its type to starting wintering here or could be on passage. 

Khawr Rori is an ever changing scene. Soon a lot more wintering birds will arrive.

Wednesday, 2 September 2015

Dowkah in late August

My second and last call on Friday was to Dowkah farm which is about 60 kilometres north of Shisr as the brown-necked raven flies.

And more than a few of this bird were at Dowkah. At first I saw just a pair braving the fierce heat of the fields.

brown-necked raven 

Towards the end of my visit I found another 50 taking in the shade in a group of palm trees. This is the largest group I have met in Oman.

second brown-necked raven of a pair

Very few birds joined the pair of brown-necked raven out in the fields. Indeed virtually every bird out there was close to or in the shade of the pivot bars or the other water equipment. It was probably over 40C even in the shade.

northern wheatear

In one field there was a small group of northern wheatear. This wheatear is nowhere near as common as Isabelline wheatear in Oman and again this was the largest number I have seen here.

northern wheatear panting

Only four other species were seen out in the open fields. Two of them were larks: hoopoe lark and black-crowned sparrow lark

hoopoe lark

The third was rufous bush robin. Three were seen and all were seeking cover around the pivot bars.

The final bird was long-legged buzzard. I spotted this as I walked back to the car at the end of the session. It was high above one of the far pivots but it was unmistakable. This had been a target for my Oman list for some time. It proved far more difficult to find than in Saudi Arabia. 

I later discovered in the Oman bird list (which is actually a book) that Dowkah farm is the location of the largest ever sighting of this species in Oman with 30 birds and indeed the sighting was in summer.

Most of my birding time at Dowkah farm was spent near the water tank where there are plenty of palms and medium sized bushes. There is also a network of small irrigation channels. This small patch have been proven a magnet for birds by many birders especially during passage.

This time it was heaving with birds. The density of warblers was particularly high.

common whitethroat

As at Shisr, common whitethroat was plentiful.

common whitethroat (left)

Upcher's warbler was equally plentiful.

Upcher's warbler

And once again like at Shisr there were many eastern olivaceous warbler.

eastern olivaceous warbler at water

This time there was an additional warbler not seen at Shisr.

eastern olivaceous warbler in palm

It was a great reed warbler.

great reed warbler at water

It was so obviously much larger than all the other warblers and direct comparison was easy as they came down to drink in one of the water channels.

great reed warbler (left) with spotted flycatcher (right)

I have great hopes for this patch and finding warblers during the rest of the autumn but its a long journey.

face of great reed warbler

There were also three Turkestan shrike in the patch. I saw one trying to catch one of the resident house sparrow but failing.

one of the Turkestan shrike

Separation from Daurian shrike is more difficult in autumn with some birds but these were relatively straightforward. Overall each of these birds were browner than Daurian shrike especially on the crown. The tail is a big clue too being so very dark.

a second of the Turkestan shrike

Amazingly I observed nearly 30 rufous bush robin and over 20 spotted flycatcher in the patch. There were a small number of rosy starling too.

male golden oriole 1

It was very early for golden oriole migration but one male gave a good display. I thought I glimpsed a female too but I am not certain.

male golden oriole 2

Not quite every bird was taking in the shade. A flock of barn swallow passed through briefly with some stopping to rest on the tallest tree in the farm.

barn swallow

Both a green sandpiper and a common sandpiper flushed from the water tank too.

This visit was very worthwhile and I intend to go again as many times as I can this season though it is a 340 kilometre round trip.

Tuesday, 1 September 2015

Shisr in late August

From last year's experience and in conversation with local birders, I have learnt that the desert farms are much better places to see passerine passage than the subtropical microclimate around Salalah. I intend to visit the desert much more this autumn than last year even though the journeys are long.

Last Friday I made my first trip. I stopped at Shisr and then went on further north to Dawkah farm. This blog is about Shisr.

rosy starling (left) with house sparrow (right)

In the pivot fields, activity was quite limited despite my early arrival (before 7am). However a roving flock of rosy starling was a good start. This contained both adult and juvenile birds. It is quite unusual for them to be so far west and in such numbers so early in the autumn. I believe the large number of locusts in the area may have driven them here.

Much of the time they were associating with local house sparrow (with their distinctly white cheek reminiscent of Indian house sparrow).

pigeon with Eurasian collared dove

The most obvious birds at the farms are Eurasian collared dove with lesser numbers of pigeon and laughing dove.

black-crowned sparrow lark

The other common bird in the fields is black-crowned sparrow lark.

juvenile black-crowned sparrow lark

Another resident bird is aucheri "Arabian grey shrike".

aucheri "Arabian grey shrike"

However there was good evidence that the passerine passage will be good in the desert farms as I had hoped.

There are two wooded areas I know at Shisr and both had numbers of migrants despite the early stage of the season.

spotted flycatcher

Spotted flycatcher were numerous.

whitethroat 1

I saw around ten common whitethroat.

whitethroat 2

Interestingly all the birds I saw were of the western subspecies communis. This is in complete contrast to those which appear a month or so later in the Salalah area which are of more easterly subspecies. 

eastern olivaceous warbler

Two other warblers were observed and also in similar numbers. These were eastern olivaceous warbler and Upcher's warbler.

one rufous bush robin

The other migrant passerine found was rufous bush robin. I saw most of these even than spotted flycatcher.

a second rufous bush robin

The final migrant was hoopoe. Several of these were seen.

hoopoe

The birds at Shisr were a promising start to my campaign of visiting desert farms during this autumn when I can at weekends. Dowkah was even marginally better. I will blog about that next.

Monday, 31 August 2015

Greater painted snipe at Raysut

Just occasionally, there is a special day when birding. One of mine was last Wednesday. I chose to visit Raysut settling pools. I made a big effort to visit all corners of the site despite the hot weather. This proved a very good decision. 

There are a small number of natural-looking pools caused by the overflow of the main large working (and concrete bound) pools. These natural-looking pools are surrounded by marsh which is sodden with up to 25 cms of water. 

I waded through the marshy undergrowth to the second largest of these.

There were several waders there but one was special. It was an adult female greater painted snipe.

greater painted snipe 1

I was very careful not to spook it. I walked very slowly. The common redshank that were also there flew off but the greater painted snipe just walked away, stopping every now and again. It never flew off.

greater painted snipe 2

I had seen this species in Saudi Arabia in very similar habitat. There had been a family group. Indeed our small birding group that day proved breeding in Saudi Arabia for the first time.

greater painted snipe 3

Whilst the bird is rare in Saudi Arabia, it is a vagrant in Oman. Jens Eriksen has told me my sighting (alone this time) was the first in the country for 17 years and there had been only 6 previous records.

greater painted snipe 4

Jens visited the site two days later and the bird was still present.

sooty gull

The overall impression of the site was that there were many more birds present than when I last visited it in late June. Indeed it was the only month when bird density has been low at this site.

This time there were very large numbers of sooty gull presumably because the sea is inhospitable in the monsoon season.

Another bird in very large numbers was African silverbill

African silverbill

Returning to waders: there were a few greenshank, wood sandpiper, green sandpiper and common sandpiper. There was at least one little stint too.

green sandpiper

Black-winged stilt is one of the few birds which can be present at the site all year round.

black-winged stilt

There was one early duck there. It was a garganey. This species often migrates earlier than others.

garganey

It is winters further south than many other Eurasian ducks. Nevertheless some do winter in Dhofar.

garganey in flight

It appears the single vagrant spur-winged lapwing and the single red-wattled lapwing stayed all summer.

spur-winged lapwing

They have been inseparable since the other wintering red-wattled lapwing left the site in spring.

red-wattled lapwing

Other notable birds included little grebe and common moorhen whose numbers have increased consistently over the past year. The sight of young little grebe confirms that part of this growth has been through local breeding.

little grebe sunning itself

The little grebe in particular have to careful as some pools have oily patches. The bird above was sunning itself to remove some soiling.

common tern on the ground

Despite the presence of over 200 sooty gull I observed only one tern. Interestingly it was being bullied at time by the resident house crow which did not pick a fight with the gulls.

common tern in flight

Like the little grebe, it had some soiling which masked the true colour of the bill in some shots.

common tern

This one may well be of the sub species hirundo though the soiling makes it difficult to tell if it is that or the more easterly minussensis which is also seen in Dhofar.

Over the weekend, I had a completely different change of scenery. I visited some desert farms in search of passerine migrants. I will blog about that next.