Sunday, 26 July 2015

Pego marshes

At the end of my 10 days house hunting in Oliva, Sapin, I managed a third birding session. This one was with resident birder and local expert Jules Sykes. Jules is an international tour guide too so I was lucky enough to have a morning with him.

We started out birding at 5.30 am and it was still dark when we arrived at Pego marshes. The early start was for two reasons. One was to avoid the heat of the day. The second  was to see red-necked nightjar which is a strictly nocturnal hunter.

We were still on the main road just before meeting the marshes when we saw the first one. 

After turning off into the marshes we counted 14. My attempts at photography weren't so successful partly because I hadn't really woken up properly before the action started.

red-necked nightjar

This bird was a lifer for me and one of three during the day.

another red-necked nightjar

Among the nightjars was one seen briefly which appeared smaller and darker. It was probably a European nightjar. However the views were too fleeting to claim it.

We didn't stay at pego marshes but pressed on down the coast to Denia as dawn broke. Here we saw yellow-legged gull, black headed gull and a wandering juvenile gannet far out to sea. 

two northern raven at Cape San Antonio.

After Denia, we rose up the hills to Cape San Antonio where there was birding to be done on the cape itself and by looking down towards the sea.

On the top near the lighthouse were a pair of northern raven, several sardinian warbler in bushes, a melodious warbler in the lighthouse garden and many goldfinch. A male blue rock thrush was also sighted. Melodious warbler was the second lifer and I wish my views had been better.

goldfinch at Cape San Antonio.

On the cliffs, many pallid swift were doing sorties. I understand this is a breeding site. More yellow-legged gull were observed down in the near-by harbour alongside three European shag. A Scopoli's shearwater was seen with the aid of Jules's spotting scope out to sea. This was my third and last lifer of the day. However for me at least the best sighting there and arguably the day was a peregrine falcon flying round the cliffs.

Apparently, black wheatear are known visitors to this site but none were seen on our trip.

Next we moved back to pego marshes now in daylight. Both reed warbler and zitting cisticola were observed in the reeds. Moustached warbler was heard but not seen.

Some of the larger herons were easily seen: purple heron, grey heron, squacco heron, little egret and cattle egret.

The marsh is in a protected area but some rice fields are allowed to be planted. The most flooded of these and other flooded areas will be good for waders and even in July there was some useful activity.

black-winged stilt

All the flooded areas had attracted black-winged stilt. Perhaps more surprisingly several wood sandpiper were also present. These must be "autumn" returners.

White wagtail were common and two yellow wagtail were also observed.


Hoopoe were seen in a wide variety of terrain.

cattle egret at pego marshes

Mallard was especially common and it looks like I wrongly identified those seen on previous walks as domestic. Wild birds are seemingly very common indeed and can be tame.


We finished birding by 10.15 am as the temperatures started to soar. I am indebted to Jules Skyes for his guidance and hope to see him many times again if my house hunting comes off.

After this session, my recently Spanish list stands at 51 species. Those which contributed during the session with Jules are given below.

Pego marshes
Little bittern  
Purple heron 
Little egret  
Cattle egret  
Squacco heron  
Eurasian marsh-harrier     
Common moorhen  
Black-winged stilt  
Little ringed plover  
Wood sandpiper  
Common wood-pigeon     
European turtle-dove  
Eurasian collared-dove  
Red-necked nightjar     
Common kingfisher 
Eurasian hoopoe  
Iberian grey shrike 
Woodchat shrike   
Barn swallow  
Common house-martin  
Eurasian reed-warbler  
Zitting cisticola  
Spotless starling  
Western yellow wagtail  
White wagtail  
House sparrow  

Cape San Antonio
Scopoli's shearwater 
European shag  
Yellow-legged gull 
Pallid swift 
Peregrine falcon 
Common raven  
Barn swallow
Melodious warbler  
Sardinian warbler  
Black redstart  
Blue rock-thrush  
House sparrow  

Denia coast
Northern Gannet   
Yellow-legged Gull 
Black-headed Gull  

Saturday, 18 July 2015

Oliva north side

I am in Oliva, Valencia, Spain at the moment house hunting for a winter home. This is not a birding trip but I have managed to snatch two sessions of birding over the past week.

As usual for me I start birding by walking directly out of my hotel before attempting any known birding hotspots. 

My hotel is on the north side of the town. There is a water channel a little further north I can walk along which goes virtually all the way to the sea before petering out 30 metres from the it. 

The heron family obviously likes the water channel. 

little bittern

The prize member was an adult little bittern which stayed exposed for a couple of minutes.

grey heron

At least three grey heron were accidentally flushed as I walked along. A single little egret was sighted briefly before disappearing down a side channel.

In that same side channel I glimpsed a common kingfisher.


In the main channel were several mallard which I presume were domesticated being very tame. In contrast both adult and young moorhen would rapidly take cover as I approached.

House martin are undoubtedly the most common hirundine in the town and over the near-by countryside. Yet I have yet to see one perched on a wire and ironically it was three sand martin which were perched on one alongside the water channel close to the beach. 

sand martin

They were indeed the only sand martin I have seen so far in Oliva.  Near the sand martin and close to the beach I saw two immature yellow-legged gull fly over.

young barn swallow

Barn swallow are more common than sand martin though much less so than house martin. However a trio of young ones sat on a branch over the channel allowing close approach.

distant kestrel

The water channel is along side a road which veers off another which runs through some orange groves towards the near-by village of Piles. Over the junction of these two narrow roads was where I saw the only bird of prey so far, a humble kestrel.

kestrel hovering

The orange groves mostly hold a different set of birds.

an orange in a grove

If you listen and then look carefully there are sardinian warbler about but they are very shy.


In much great numbers are goldfinch and greenfinch.

greenfinch looking left

Blackbird are surprisingly numerous in the groves too though not at all tame. House sparrow are everywhere and I also saw a single serin.

greenfinch looking right

On one of the two walks I reached the edge of Piles which is a village just north of Oliva. There are  collared dove there (also seen in Oliva).

collared dove

White wagtail were seen best there too.

white wagtail

It was the only place I have observed a spotted flycatcher so far.

spotted flycatcher

Back in Oliva there are plenty of hoopoe on the manicured lawns and the screams of common swift flying through the upper parts of the old town cannot be missed even by the most casual observer.

I hope to do some serious birding (as opposed to these informal walks) in the Oliva area over the years if my house search comes off.

Sunday, 28 June 2015

Late June in Salalah

This is probably my last post before I leave Salalah for my summer break. Though, if anything out of the ordinary is seen over the next two days that could change.

Birding here is a little slow at the moment. There is very little movement and the place is left to the residents and summer breeders.

While the monsoon weather could change things slightly, it is still only creeping in slowly.

A visit to Jarziz farm on Friday was the first one I have had this year without any obvious migrants. With all the migrant falcons gone from the farm: Amur falcon, lesser kestrel and even the first Eleonora's falcon for Oman, finally the only bird of prey present was common kestrel.

common kestrel

There were two male birds hovering over the area of the field with recently cut grass. 

common kestrel hovering

That in itself is a little different to the Amur falcon and lesser kestrel which show much less preference for the shorter grass.

the second kestrel

As I walked round I flushed up to 80 chestnut-bellied sandgrouse from the scrub near the large field.

chestnut-bellied sandgrouse

As usual the field was heaving with singing bush lark. There must be well over a hundred on site.

singing bush lark

While Forbes-Watson swift were flying over most of the farm, a  number of crag martins were flying over the small water reservoir.

unidentified crag martin

One of them had very large mirrors in the tail and dark under-wing coverts. By rights this ought to be a European crag martin. It is only the time of year that makes me doubt this.

pale crag martin

The others were more typical pale crag martin.

scaly breasted munia

The main estrildid finch on the farm is African silverbill. However occasionally I see scaly-breasted munia and that was the case on Friday.

While there was were no more Amur falcon on Friday 26th there were still two on my previous visit on Monday 22nd June. This means they were seen almost continually for 8 consecutive weeks.
Amur falcon stretching

The last two were one immature male and one immature female.

perched Amur falcon

Other recent trips have included one to Ayn Hamran on June 23rd. This one was with Michael Immel. Disappointingly the sun was not obscured by any khareef (monsoon) effect and so bird life was subdued in the heat.

first grey-headed kingfisher

The heat did not stop the grey-headed kingfisher from being in evidence though it is difficult for them to hide.

second grey-headed kingfisher

In hot weather near water, it is often good just to stay near the water and watch what visits.

bathed white-spectacled bulbul

Birds were no only drinking but bathing too. The majority were cinnamon-breasted bunting but white-spectacled bulbul and Abyssinian white-eye visited too.

cinnamon-breasted bunting

Arguably the best sighting was not a bird at all. We came across an African wildcat. When it saw us it walked slowly away and promptly sat under a tree and fell into a light sleep. It showed no fear.

African wildcat sleeping

It looks reminiscent of a domestic tabby but the white and black tail as well as the black paws are two of the more obvious distinctions.

an alert African wildcat

The same afternoon we paid a quick visit to the north west corner of Khawr Rori. I am ever hopeful of seeing the malachite kingfisher there again.

There was no sight of it. The only slightly unusual sighting were five black-crowned night heron. Three were adult and two were second calendar year birds.

black-crowned night heron at Khawr Rori

I am travelling a lot this summer and hope to report any any birding I do.

Sunday, 21 June 2015

Birding inside the city in June

On Saturday, I visited three sites but all were inside the city boundary. I went to East Khawr (Khawr Dahariz), Jarziz farm and West Khawr (Khawr Awqad).

The mountains are now shrouded in mist as the first effects of the monsoon are being felt. The sea is rough and the city is mostly overcast but visibility is still fine.

I have no idea whether the weather persuaded a juvenile barbary falcon to come to the edge of the city at East Khawr and at sea level too. Nevertheless one did.

barbary falcon at East Khawr

This was pleasent surprise at the start of my day's birding.

rufous nape prominent

I have seen adult birds on wires before but up in the Tawi Atair area.

barbary falcon looking straight ahead

A brave or foolhardy common myna tried to mob the falcon but very nearly got caught out when it flew.

barbary falcon with common myna

The khawr itself was a little disappointing. There was a mist over the water and few birds could be seen. These were mostly limited to squacco heron, moorhen and flamingo.

common moorhen

On the beach I could only see great crested tern, sooty gull and a few Kentish plover and lesser sand plover.

Later in the morning I returned to birding with another trip to Jarziz farm.

The eleonora's falcon which was present from June 12-14 has gone.

On the other hand, there are still Amur falcon coming through. I saw my first there on April 29th and on every subsequent visit except May 31st. Even on Saturday (June 20th) there were two.

immature male Amur falcon

I have now had over 35 sightings of this bird at the farm this "spring". otherwise I have seen only one elsewhere in Dhofar over Ayn Hamran.

perched immature male Amur falcon

On Friday there were also two Amur falcon and they were quite possibly the same birds. They usually stay 1 or 2 days but occasionally more. 

male Amur falcon in flight on Friday

The second bird was an immature female.

female Amur falcon

The previous female on site had a poorly left eye but it often possible to tell one individual from another by characteristics such as moustache length and density of streaking.

female Amur falcon in flight

Unusually there was a tern at the farm flying over the small water reservoir. The attraction for the tern was undoubtedly the fish than somehow have got in there.

common tern

My ability to identify terns is limited but improving since I moved to a coastal site with this job.

common tern

What helped me with the species identification  was the underwing. I understand the dark trailing edge on the outer primaries and translucent inner primaries are diagnostic for common tern.

common tern from the underside

The full black cap is a summer feature yet the very dark bill concerned me. Thanks to Bart de Schutter for pointing out that this is a feature of the Far Eastern sub species longipennis. Although another eastern sub-species minussensis is quite common here, my understanding is that longipennis is rarer.

I found out where the large flock of glossy ibis, which frequented East Khawr and Sahalnout farm for many months, have got to.

glossy ibis at West Khawr

There was one Eurasian spoonbill which was loosely associating with them too.


Other birds included western reef heron and squacco heron.

However the most interesting member of the heron family seen here is striated heron.

Although they are most often seen on low lying rocks on the coast, they often breed in mangroves. Indeed one alternative name is mangrove heron. However mangroves are rare in the Salalah area but the largest patch is at West Khawr.

immature striated heron

So I wasn't totally surprised to see an adult bird and further along an immature bird which luckily was relatively confiding.

striated heron 2

It posed on a branch barely three metres from me.

striated heron 3

Elsewhere there were five whiskered tern which kept resting on the sand bar that separately the khawr from the sea. Kentish plover were there too.

common redshank

Wader numbers are at there lowest in Dhofar at this time of year but there were a few common redshank and common greenshank here.

intermediate morph western reef heron

As I returned to the parked car, there was one more chance to look at herons. All morphs of western reef heron were there from pure dark to pure white and morphs in between.


One of the last birds seen was an osprey perched on the fence close to the car.