Thursday, 23 June 2016

Pre-monsoonal Salalah

Salalah received the first rain of khareef (monsoon) season yesterday. It was heavy rain too.

I have tried to do some birding locally in the days running up to the monsoon. However it has been hot and extremely humid. These conditions are energy sapping.

This blog shows a few of the highlights. 

There was visit to Sahalnout farm a week ago. 

Ruepell's weaver

Ruepell's weaver were out and about and busy. Many of them have two breeding seasons: in spring and during the khareef.

Seven Namaqua dove

Looking over the fence, which is the only allowed birding at Sahalnout, I came across a group of 17 namaqua dove perched on three sets of dead branches. Namaqua dove is not common in Oman. This may be the largest number ever recorded in one place. it is a shame I got such poor pictures peering through a fence.

singing bush lark

Singing bush lark are easily seen in the fields or on the perimeter fence. Many more are heard and not seen.

common kestrel

Birds of prey are at there minimum at Sahalnout farm at this time of year. Though four kestrel were seen. A bonelli's eagle was perched way over the other side of the farm. The only other predictable bird of prey in June would be yellow-billed kite. None were observed that day.

rose-ringed parakeet

Rose-ringed parakeet meant the volume of noise was high. 

On another day I went over to Raysut to the lagoons and to the settling pools. The bad news is that all eight pheasant-tailed jacana present at the lagoons in early June have left. There will be no breeding of these birds in Salalah this year. 

common tern

I visit the lagoons in particular to look for spoonbills. The seven Eurasian spoonbill appear to be staying all summer but there was once again no sign of a vagrant African spoonbill which I meticulously look for.

red-throated pipit

At the settling pools, the drying piles of fertiliser have the most activity at the moment. Each time over the past six weeks, there have been a group of cattle egret browsing. However it is the other birds which are my interest.

I suspect this would be a good place for any lost passerines. Indeed three weeks ago there was a long-billed pipit there and last week was a red-throated pipit. The latter bird is very late for migration.

red-wattled lapwing

The odd couple of one red-wattled lapwing and one spur-winged lapwing have been at the settling pools on and off for well over a year. There can be found over the fertiliser piles at the moment and are very territorial.

Black-tailed godwit

There is a sprinkling of over-summering black-tailed godwit at several places in the Salalah area including at Khawr Rori where the one above was seen.

young yellow bittern

One of my best birding sessions was at West Khawr on Tuesday evening, the evening before the monsoon broke. In my opinion this is the best mangrove area in the south of the country.

There are yellow bittern there and they seem to have bred well.

adult yellow bittern

Both juvenile and adult birds were observed.

stalking yellow bittern

I checked all the moorhen for lesser moorhen. it seems to me the most likely place if that vagrant were present.

immature moorhen 1

The only candidate birds were small and swimming without obvious parental supervision. However I am confident they were just common moorhen. The bill on the bird above is too dark for that age of lesser moorhen

immature moorhen 2

Another candidate has too much red on the bill.

There were five types of herons on site. Two were purple heron.

squacco heron

There also at least four grey heron, two striated heron, eight squacco heron and one Indian pond heron. In addition, four flamingo were wading out in the water.

little grebe

Other water birds included nine little grebe and one red-knobbed coot. I wonder if the monsoon will bring any thing else there?

Sunday, 12 June 2016

Mazyunah and Tudho in the heat

On Friday, the furthest I reached on my desert trip was Mazyunah on the Yemen border. The stop before that was Tudho. This blog looks at both.

There is one major birding place in Mazyunah and three or so usually minor ones. This time I only visited the major spot which is the sewage pool. It's large and produces a stream. Despite its name, the reeds do a good job and the water is relatively clean.

In winter it teems with bird life. Not much is known about the birds in the hotter months but it is suspected that waifs and strays might occur along side the resident moorhen and roosting doves. Last time there was a red-necked phalarope

In summer, other resident birds come to drink too. Indeed my target bird, trumpeter finch is known to drink here.

collared pratincole

There were three "strays"on this visit to support this theory. The first was a collared pratincole. It was my first one this year. I assume it is on late spring migration or lost.

collared pratincole turning

The bird was tired and sleeping some of the time though it lowly turned while I moved the car closer.

collared pratincole facing right

It allowed close views and I am pleased it didn't flush and was in the same place as I left.

slender-billed gull

The second stray was a worn looking slender-billed gull apparently still in winter plumage.

The third bird was an immature squacco heron.

Earlier i had spent toe hours sitting and watching the water trough and small pools at Tudho, wadi Aydam. For the fifth time I waited patiently for my target species, trumpeter finch, to come and drink which it has been recorded to do. And for the fifth time I had no joy.

water trough at Tudho

I had more success with other birds. A Lichtenstein's sandgrouse flushed right in front of me. Two chestnut bellied sandgrouse came to drink. Unfortunately a goat herd and herder were there at the time crowned sandgrouse normally drink so this may be the reason they weren't seen this time.

chestnut-bellied sandgrouse

Large numbers of desert lark and some white-spectacled bulbul continually came and went.

female hooded wheatear

Two single birds drank. One was a female hooded wheatear and the other was a striolated bunting.

Laughing dove, rock dove and little green bee-eater were frequent visitors. Pale crag martin flew length ways down the trough from time to time.

sand partridge

Sand partridge were also  drinkers. Unlike sandgrouse they don't drink quickly and flew off. If they are comfortable they stay minutes on end before finally walking off.

Looking at some camel pens on the way back, I spotted a European turtle dove along with birds already seen. 


Overall the selection of birds was satisfactory on the trip but I can't hide my disappointment at not finding trumpeter finch once again.


Saturday, 11 June 2016

Mudhai and Mutahafah in the heat

Yesterday  I made the long trip to Mazyunah on the Yemen border. Unlike Sarfait which is also on this border, Mazyunah is well inland and is in a desert area.

I stopped off at a couple of places on the way out and a different one on the way back. This blog is about the two nearest to Salalah: Mudhai seen on the way out and Mutahafah on the way back.

Not every bird is attracted to camel pens in the desert but most are. I started in Mudhai with my regular inspection of camel pens immediately on arrival to the village from the Thumrait road.

striolated bunting

Striolated bunting were tucking into camel feed pellets and then flying off to rest.

sand partridge

Sand partridge were shuffling around the site.

desert lark

Desert lark were everywhere.

The numbers of doves of various kinds were well down since my visits in the spring. I failed to see a European turtle dove here this time and only rock dove, laughing dove and one or two European collared dove were around. 

Nile valley sunbird

Mudhai is known for the guarantee or near guarantee of Nile Valley sunbird all year round. Once again they were easily seen as I moved into the village proper.

They are well distributed and not just in the area around the permanent oasis where many birders go to look for them. At the oasis I accidentally flushed several chestnut-bellied sandgrouse as I arrived.

Arabian grey shrike

I looked hard in the village for African collared dove on the wires and on the ground. It's tricky looking for them in palms especially as you don't normally have to work that hard to find them. An Arabian grey shrike was seen on a wire along with several European collared dove. In the end I saw one briefly.

European collared dove

Checking the collared doves on the ground didn't yield any more.

hoopoe lark

A hoopoe lark was a little surprising within a village.

On the way back from Mazyunah I stopped off at Mutahafah for the first time. Mudhai and Mutahafah are equidistant but on either side of the road's police check point.

little green bee-eater

Mutahafah was new for me. It turned out to be a small camel and goat farming village on the edge of a wide wadi. A search on the wadi sides for a target bird: trumpeter finch was fruitless though little green bee-eater was seen.

So I turned back to my faithful regime of inspecting the camel and goat pens.

mountain gazelle

Two mountain gazelle also seem to like what the pens have to offer and were rather tame. I presume this is because they come to the village for the pens and are used to people.

African collared dove

Rather strangely African collared dove out numbered European collared  dove both at the pens and on the wires in the hamlet. This was in contrast to Mudhai which is only 40 kilometres away. Yet at times Mudhai can have many African collared dove too but not yesterday.

Two African collared dove

I would love to know what movements are going on.

In the next blog I will write about Tudho and Mazyunah which were the two furthest places way on Friday. I was pleased with the variety of birds.



Sunday, 5 June 2016

Long weekend with a visitor

My friend Andrew Bailey is visiting Oman on a short birding break. His presence has encouraged me to go out birding more than I otherwise would have done in the heat.

This blog is a summary of what we have seen over the past days. 

We went out together on Wednesday and Thursday evening. We also made a weekend trip to the far west bordering Yemen for more prolonged birding.

The best news for me on Wednesday and Thursday was owling successes at Wadi Darbet. Saeed Shanfari kindly joined us at short notice and without him, we would not have had these successes.

Arabian scops owl at Wadi Darbet

Two Arabian scops owl in one tree was enjoyable and gave prolonged views. 

Arabian scops owl 

An Arabian spotted eagle owl was a much shorter and more distant encounter.

However two inquisitive barn owl (and a third less inquisitive one) made several flights over us. This was exciting for me as the species was an addition to my Oman list.

Saeed had warned of snakes however I didn't expect to see a puff adder on the road as we were leaving.

puff adder

Khawr Rori was visited on the other evening. The highlights there included sixty or so Forbes-Watson swift hawking overhead all our stay.


Dideric cuckoo

Two Dideric cuckoo were also seen. Yet the best sighting were of at least eight yellow bittern moving around the reeds.

adult yellow bittern

There were juveniles and adults present.

juvenile yellow bittern

On Friday morning, we started out the journey to the far west coast of Oman. This area is the greenest in the Sultanate and has the longest monsoon period (called khareef locally).

We stopped off briefly at Mughsail to seawatch but with little success. The tame cinnamon-breasted bunting in the car park were a little compensation.

cinnamon-breasted bunting at Mughsail

On Friday much of our birding in the far west was along the Sarfait to Dhalkout road. This is quite possibly the lushest road in the country even in the dry season.

grey-headed kingfisher

Grey-headed kingfisher are everywhere. We counted six different Bonelli's eagle. Each time we found them by fan-tailed raven noisily harassing them.

white-spectacled bulbul at Sarfait

A small freshwater pool just outside Sarfait was a particular magnet for birds. A steady stream of birds kept visiting including rock dove, laughing dove, Tristram's starling, grey-headed kingfisher, white spectacled bulbul and most notably Arabian golden-winged grosbeak. A single Bruce's green pigeon was also observed near-by.

Dideric cuckoo

Further down the road towards Dhalkout we came across three male Dideric cuckoo all in one tree.

laughing dove

In some ways its surprising that the only dove in the thick woodland along the way is laughing dove. A few African paradise flycatcher were also spotted in the woods.

On Friday afternoon we made a return trip to near-by Rakhout having taken lunch in Dhalkout and after a look in the marina there added sooty gull and great crested tern to the trip list. Rakhout only yielded two species not already seen in the Sarfait and Dhalkout area. These were Forbes-Watson swift and barn owl. It is strange that I had seen no barn owl during nearly two years in Oman then I see them in two different place on two consecutive days. The one at Rakhout was seen in broad daylight too.

long-billed pipit

Having stayed the night at Hotel Dalkhout, on Saturday morning we headed back down the road towards Sarfait for two reasons. The first was to try for pictures of the Arabian golden winged grosbeak seen the day before at a pool and secondly because the only petrol garage in the whole region is there.

On the way we came across a pipit on a wire which presumably a long-billed pipit but was more richly coloured than any I have ever seen. 

The only alternative I can think of is African pipit. However I believe the hind claw is long in that species like a Richard's pipit and I don't see this feature in the bird on the wire.

rear of the long-billed pipit

Back at the pool at Sarfait were as many birds as the day before. However I was momentarily distracted by a blue-headed agama.

blue-headed agama

Arabian golden winged grosbeak was present again and I managed to take several photographs.


adult and juvenile grosbeaks

After filling up with fuel at Sarfait we started to head back towards Salalah. We made a long stop in Wadi Sayq mostly to look for Verreaux's eagle but with no success. One more Bonelli's eagle was observed along with the only short-toed snake eagle of the trip. We were once again alerted to the eagles by the noise from fan-tailed raven.

This was the only place where we observed Arabian wheatear in the far west

Our vantage point over Wadi Saiq was so high up that pale crag martin were flying at our level.

pale crag martin at Wadi Saiq

After a stop for lunch and another (unsuccessful) look for Verreaux's eagle at Mughsail, we ended up in Salalah with time left for more birding.

There were four interesting incidents at Raysut settling pools which was our main choice of birding venue on the eastern edge of the city.

The first was the sighting of two European roller. I had not expected any to still be on passage this late.

European roller

The second was mystery pipit with an upright stance which unfortunately flew early and away not to be seen again.

The third was a dark heron. I took many photos of what at one moment we thought might be a black bittern.  However we now think it is probably a soiled striated heron. I am still seeking expert advice before disregarding our possibilities.

probable soiled striated heron

The fourth incident was possibly even more intriguing. The vagrant  spur-winged lapwing and red-wattled lapwing which have been present for over a year showed classic breeding behaviour. Instead of flying away from us when approached they flew at us and noisily too. House crow were given the same treatment. If they have produced hybrid offspring, they will have a tremendous job keeping the crows away. 

Meanwhile it looks like a few flamingo has decided to over-summer at the pools.

flamingo

It has been an intensive few days after a bit of a lull in my birding. Andrew Bailey has been the catalyst and I thank him for that. He has also been the main driver which is a luxury for me. I wish him luck finding a Verreaux's eagle while I have to work.