Monday, 15 September 2014

East Salalah on Saturday

Until I have my own transport which should be arranged within the next two or three weeks, I am reliant on lifts. So necessarily I am spending a lot of time within walking distance of my home in East Salalah. Visits to the farms and wadis of East Salalah and to east Khawr are regular. And quite honestly the local birding is extremely good.

On Saturday I had time to explore the area in some depth.

East Khawr itself had changed its cast once again. The shear number of waders crammed into the bottom end next to the sea was very large. The majority were from two species and one of these was Pacific golden plover.

Two Pacific golden plovers

I counted 80 and yet this was the first time I had seen even one at East Khawr. 

Forty Pacific golden plovers and others

Another new bird for the site was curlew sandpiper. I counted five of these.


Curlew sandpiper

The long legs are difficult to see in this water. However its more elegant look and its bold supercilium easily separate it from dunlin which can be a confusion species.

note the supercilium

The other wader in big numbers was ruff. Again there were about 80 of these.

juvenile ruff among mature birds

One of them stood out from the crowd. Only one, a female, was in juvenile plumage. It was standing at the edge of the group too. I considered it as a vagrant buff breasted sandpiper but it's bill is too long and its legs aren't bright yellow enough. There are other features which don't fit either. 

black-winged stilt

The lone black winged stilt of previous visits is now one of six.

Kentish plover

The presumed resident Kentish plover have an explosive increase in wader neighbours at the moment.


sanderling

The single sanderling created more space for itself by being aggressive to any bird that came close.

flock of garganey

Elsewhere the number of garganey continues to rise.

Eurasian spoonbill and others

The large flock of glossy ibis was present and the Eurasian spoonbill with African sacred ibis have returned. In the group above there are eight Eurasian spoonbill, an African sacred ibis, a little egret and a black tailed godwit.

common redshank

What began as a session following a couple of common redshank at the northern end of khawr and then progressed to seeing hundreds of waders at the end near the sea came to an abrupt end.

birds being disturbed

A local with a very large camera lens appeared out of his car and as soon as he took aim, virtually all the birds took flight. Time was passing and I decided not to wait until they settled again. I am just happy my very slow approach and patience allowed me so much time to see the waders at close quarters.


Visiting the khawr was only half of Saturday's story. I walked out down the wadi and I walked back through as much farmland as I could.

barn swallow

In the wadi, the local pale crag martin were joined for the first time since I arrived by some barn swallow and European crag martin.

rufous bush robin stretching

The number of rufous bush robin continues to build. They are recorded all winter. I suspect this is an important wintering venue for this species.

rufous bush robin cocking tail

Once again I came across a common whitethroat. It was very thin so I suspect it has just arrived having passed over the Arabian desert. It needs to fatten up before going anywhere else.

thin common whitethroat

On the way back, I noticed some of the fodder fields are now being cut following the khareef growing season. Unfortunately there was no sign of bird activity there though I am sure this will change as the season progresses.

European roller

However, by way of compensation, on a wire next to one of these fields was a (presumed) wintering European roller.

 blue moon (or common eggfly) butterfly

I wish I had time to find out more about butterflies. There are certainly more varieties here than in the Riyadh area. This one is black with white polka dots surrounded by a blue sheen when the wings are unfolded.

However I need to concentrate on the birds. This area is proving to be very productive and hard work.

Saturday, 13 September 2014

Scrub land south of Ain Razat

I moved away from Ayn Razat in the early afternoon on Friday to look for some different habitat.

I went down the hill into some scrub land with less bushes and greenery. The move paid off. The birds changed and I added 3 more to my growing Oman list.

The most common bird was still probably laughing dove. Nevertheless its support cast was quite different.

As might have been expected there were more larks.

male black crowned sparrow lark

Although crested lark was the main lark, I did come across my first black crowned sparrow lark since moving to Oman to work.

crested lark

Arguably cinnamon breasted bunting was the second most common bird. Without major competition from house sparrow in this part of Oman it seems to thrive in a wide variety of habitats.

cinnamon breasted bunting

White spectacled bulbul  and Ruepell's weaver were only seen in the more bushy areas.

white spectacled bulbul

The main migrants observed were once again rufous bush robin and Turkestan shrike.  However in one large tree next to a water channel and with many weavers nests as well as several other species jumping (notably Tristram's starting and blackstart) I spied two willow warbler.

willow warbler

This was one of the additions to my country list.

little green bee-eater

As I headed back at the end I saw another rufous bush robin and the first little green bee-eater (two) and  Turkestan shrike of the day.

Then I heard this screeching noise over head. It was a common kestrel trying to mob an eagle. I had reacted quite late and only managed two pictures but it was enough.

Bonelli's eagle

It was positively identified as a Bonelli's eagle on BirdForum. Indeed it is an a bird which is shedding its last few immature feathers before having a complete set of adult feathers. It's also a lifer for me.

female common kestrel

One of my last sights before finishing for the day was the common kestrel, which had alerted me to looking up in the air, resting on a bush.

Ain Razat

Ayn Razat is one of two closest places to me in the hills north of Salalah. I went there for the first time yesterday.

It is partly turned into a leisure area for families but hasn't lost its essential character.

I started out by birding the area around the leisure area which luckily for me was not busy. This is because Omanis tend to stay at home on Friday mornings. My only human company to begin with were four Indians swimming in the water. This by the way is a dangerous thing to do as the water has the snails which host bilharzia.  There are plenty of signs in Arabic and English warning people not to go in the water. I'll come back to the snails later.

The birding started very well. I quickly came across another dideric cuckoo. This was one of two seen during the day.

Dideric cuckoo

However it wasn't long until I realised the habitat was very similar to Wadi Darbat the weekend before and the bird life reflects that. However I persisted in the area and decided to walk up the wadi.

Arabian warbler (a.k.a) Red sea warbler)

Just as I had decided this was a bad idea, I came across an Arabian warbler. Again this was one of two seen during the day. It was also the only addition to my Oman list near the Ayn.

second view of the Arabian warbler

Birds in the area were otherwise mostly laughing dove, white spectacled bulbul, Ruepells weaver, blackstart and cinnamon breasted bunting. Though the occasional rufous bush robin was also seen.


the landscaped part of the Ayn

I returned to the landscaped area after about two hours.

fish in the Ayn

Common sandpiper were indeed common and judging by my photograph doing their bit to keep the snail population down.

common sand piper

The same could not be said for the cinnamon breasted bunting.

cinnamon breasted bunting

Ruepell's weaver nests can be almost anywhere with tall enough bushes but their density is always higher close to water.

male Ruepell's weaver

Contrary to my first opinion, I now know categorically that they are still breeding. There breeding season in Dhofar (Salalah region) seems to coincide with the Khareef.

Grey headed kingfisher

There is an ornamental garden next to the landscaped part of the Ayn. Certain birds were only found in it or next to it. These were shining sunbird, Bruce's green pigeon and Eurasian collared dove. Grey headed kingfisher was seen elsewhere but was easiest to see there.

Blackstart

The most common bird in the garden was cinnamon breasted bunting. However it looked a bit strange to see blackstart on the paths and common sandpiper on the lawns.

Laughing dove

Laughing dove was everywhere.

Rufous bush robin

I have a little more to say about snails before I finish the blog! I doubt the snails I was seeing on the bushes are the same as in the water. Nevertheless the climate clearly encourages their growth. One strange thing I noticed while watching rufous bush robin in the Ayan Razat area was that they seemed to land on bushes with these snails on.

Rufous bush robin having moved

Finally a reminder that there are always other species seen on my trips.

two mating butterflies

After finishing at the Ayn (spring), I walked down into some drier scrubby area with less bushes and trees.  This turned out to be a good decision because I saw three birds for the first time in Oman including a lifer. I will blog about this next.


Thursday, 11 September 2014

Ever changing cast at East Khawr

During the week when my birding is necessarily limited to late afternoon, East Khawr is my closest option.

Luckily for me its bird cast has changed each time I have visited and I am still finding birds there for the first time since starting in Oman.

Yesterday afternoon, there were four more such species.

Temminck's stint

Well in from the sea, at the side of some reeds, was a group of six Temminck's stint. One in particular interested me because it was still in summer plumage. As far as I can tell it is a juvenile. I can't recall seeing a Temminck's stint in summer plumage before and the main regional guide doesn't bother to illustrate it.

second view of Temminck's stint

All the other stints were mostly or totally in winter plumage.

Two Temminck's stint

The second new find for me in Oman was a group of five wood sandpiper very near to the stints.

redshank with wood sandpiper

Much closer to the sea and on an island in the lagoon were two cattle egret along side some grey heron in the island's trees.

(western) cattle egret

Once again this was a new sighting for me in Oman on my eleventh day in the country.

The fourth new sighting was a common teal in with a group of garganey.

flock of glossy ibis

In other news form East Khawr, the spoonbills and the African sacred ibis have left the site. However the flock of glossy ibis which were missing two days before have returned suggesting only local movements.

common moorhen

Once again the common moorhen were out in the open and I have great hopes for seeing crakes in a month or two.

spotted flycatcher

Two nice views on the walk to the khawr were a spotted flycatcher and the resident little green bee-eater

little green bee-eater

Today being the start of the weekend here, I am venturing further afield. I am trying my luck in the closest hills to Salalah.