Tuesday, 6 October 2015

Tour of the east side

As well as visiting local farms on Friday, I toured some sites east of the city starting at Ayn Hamran.

The stop at Ayn Hamran was relatively short but it is never uninteresting. Though there were no wintering birds seen yet apart from a couple of common sandpiper and a grey wagtail.

It's always a good place to see many of Dhofar's afro-tropical birds.

There was one of the tamest African paradise flycatcher I have yet come across.

African paradise flycatcher

An adult grey headed kingfisher gave nearly as good views.

grey-headed kingfisher

Ironically they migrant to east Africa around the time as the main season for foreign birders starts. Most visiting birders don't get to see them. Having said that three birders at Ayn Hamran were there and would have got there chance.

After Ayn Hamran I paid a long call into Khawr Rori where incidentally the water level is much lower than this time last year.

grey heron

This hasn't stopped a large attendance of members of the heron family. There were over 30 grey heron and smaller numbers of squacco heron, western reef heron  and glossy ibis in the central parts of the khawr as well as one Eurasian spoonbill and Indian pond heron.

reef heron (l), spoonbill(c) and grey heron (r)

This time the most common tern was Caspian tern with a few white-winged black tern and at least one gull-billed tern.

gull-billed tern

Although there were still garganey on site, the most abundant duck was now northern shoveller. I expect more variety of ducks gradually over the next 10 weeks. Indeed  along with more common ducks, ruddy shelduck, common shelduck and red-crested pochard have been observed at Khawr Rori  occasionally in some winters and none of these three is on my Oman list.

northern shoveller and one glossy ibis

Khawr Rori is a good place to see black-tailed godwit all winter along with many other shorter legged and shorter billed waders.

black-tailed godwit

While I saw many heron in the central part of the lake, a single purple heron was hidden away at the north end.

purple heron

After Khawr Rori I moved on to Ayn Asheer which is half way up the hill side from Mirbat. It is oftern wrongly described as Wadi Hanna by some birders. Local people assure me the ayn is in Wadi Asheer. The true Wadi Hanna is at the top of the mountain.

Unfortunately bird records come from both places using the same name.

Ayn Asheer  is a small site but quite magical. It is shaded and the ayn is dammed to keep the water back. The water itself attracts birds to drink including Arabian golden winged grosbeck though I haven't seen them there. The rest of the site consists of tall trees which the sun dapples through.

grey wagtail

I find it is best to just sit in one place, stay still and watch. Birds come to drink and others to forage in the shade.

A grey wagtail was walking around the water all the time I was there.

Tristram's starling

Tristram's starling and rock dove were among the species that came to drink.

rock dove coming to drink

Two Turkestan shrike were present but they aren't very fussy about habitat and can be seen almost anyway in Dhofar at the moment.

Turkestan shrike

Still more birds came to drink including laughing dove.

laughing dove

However for me the best sightings were nightingale. Actually I counted six and all were of the eastern sub species.

nightingale on the ground near me

Nightingale and thrush nightingale will sing on passage and winter. This is presumably because they are territorial in confined spaces with other males around. Indeed I heard singing while I was there.

nightingale 2

I don't know whether part of this dynamic explains why one nightingale confined itself to the ground near me and kept walking around like a bush robin rather than spend time in the nearest tall tree (which contained another nightingale).  I suspect the true nature of this behaviour is documented somewhere.

nightingale 3

Whatever the reason for the behaviour it was wonderful to see.

nightingale 4

I will be returning to this small site more regularly this winter.

As it was getting late, I decided to return to Khawr Rori but this time to the north west corner.

This is the part accessible from the main road and where I have had success seeing both Spotted crake and Baillon's crake recently.

Arabian partridge

As I walked the 100 metres between the parked car and the spot I wait for crakes, I walked into a party of Arabian partridge.

common snipe

It was almost pitch dark before I saw a spotted crake. Once again I failed to see a little crake which is my main reason to come there. Little crake has avoided me in both Saudi Arabia and Oman. It's true nemesis bird for me.

Other than the spotted crake, there were two common snipe, one wood sandpiper and several moorhen walking around on the flattened reeds straight in front of me. If a little crake had been there, I would have seen it.

I'll keep trying.

Monday, 5 October 2015

Local farms

Having made desert trips every weekend and during Eid since I came back from the summer, I will now concentrate on more local birding in October.

The desert stops give the best potential for new additions to my country list as the migration is concentrated and also better further north. However, I rent a car with annual maximum mileage and I have to make shorter journeys for a while.

On Thursday evening and parts of Friday, I visited local farms. 

It turned out that doves became an important feature of what I saw.

Indeed two of the early birds seen at Sawnaut farm on Friday morning were turtle doves.

Oriental turtle dove

There were two but one was an Oriental turtle dove while the other was a European turtle dove.

European turtle dove

From the poorly marked throats it can easily be seen that both are young birds.

both turtle doves together

It's not often you can get close to one of each and do such a direct comparison. However, apart from other features the oriental bird is distinctly larger.

female Namaqua dove

Along the same stretch of the farm's western perimeter, I came across nine Namaqua dove. This is the largest number I have seen in Oman where they are much less common than in some parts of Saudi Arabia.

male Namaqua dove

Eurasian collared dove is the most abundant at the farm but it was the only one I didn't photograph.

laughing dove

Laughing dove is the second most common. On some days I can count both species at the farm in their hundreds.

laughing dove taking off

Actually, I managed to count another species in their hundreds at the farm on Friday and that was chestnut-bellied sandgrouse.

The evening before, I had checked out the small farm at Taqah.

Doves or more exactly a dove became my primary interest there.

unidentified dove 1

There was one bird among the European collared dove which was different and obviously so. It was more uniformly more earthy-brown coloured.

unidentified dove 2

I have not managed to positively identify it though some sort of miscoloured European collared dove or escaped dark form of a barbary dove are most likely.

distant shots of the dove by Michael Immel

My birding friend Michael Immel also took photos and is kindly allowing me to show his crops of them.

another distant shot by Michael Immel

Even with these extra photos a positive identification is not certain.

spotted flycatcher

I haven't visited the farm at Taqah before. Other notable birds apart from the residents were yellow wagtail and spotted flycatcher.

The third farm that was visited was Jarziz farm in the city. Doves were not a feature there.

European roller

Six European roller were counted on the main pivot bar which straddles the huge field.

Montagu's harrier

Two Montagu's harrier and one marsh harrier were patrolling the field for locusts and presumably any tired birds. They must be a constant danger to the many singing bush lark which reside there.

red-backed shrike

Other notable birds included a male red-backed shrike and a golden oriole.

In some ways it was good to be back at local locations but I already miss the desert birding.

Sunday, 4 October 2015

Return through the desert

A week ago Saturday was the last day of my Eid trip. I started the morning in Haima which is 480 kilometres from Salalah and visited four of the desert stops on the way back home.

The first one was Ghaftain which I arrived at while it was still very cool.

Like all of the smaller desert stops, the passage can be very variable from day to day. This time it was at best average.

There were the first lesser whitethroat I had seen there. There were also several Daurian shrike and Turkestan shrike. There was also at least one citrine wagtail and one yellow wagtail but there was nothing extraordinary. It can't happen every time.

hoopoe at Ghaftain

Other notable birds there were hoopoe and a single rosy starling.

rosy starling at Ghaftain

I saw only one golden oriole this time at Ghaftain.

golden oriole at Muntasar

In contrast there were at least eight at my next stop which was Muntasar oasis.

There are always moorhen there now and they must be breeding in this remote watering hole. The other two local breeders are Eurasian collared dove and house sparrow.


A very tired looking kestrel was on site.

spotted flycatcher

Other evidence of passage included a couple of spotted flycatcher.

Qatbeet was the next stop but there was nothing special.

Dowkah was my last stop and is the largest desert location. It has never failed me for interest.

Once again there were signs of heavy passage including a variety of waders and passerines. For example 25 collared pratincole were observed in one field. I would have missed them altogether if a Montagu's harrier hadn't moved in and created panic. In the same field I counted 10 European roller and 9 golden oriole on the pivot bar. 

Ocassionally a warbler perches on a pivot bar but not often. This time a common whitethroat was out in the open doing so.

common whitethroat

The shaded patch with its palm trees and bushes is where I often get the best results of all. This time for example two European scops owl were accidentally flushed almost as soon as I entered the area.

One went into a neighbouring palm and afforded excellent views though it knew I was there and spent most of its time looking directly at me.

European scops owl looking at me

At one moment, a group of Eurasian collared dove decided to panic and flew off with great noise. The European scops owl stayed rooted but swivelled it head for a moment in their direction before returning its gaze at me.

European scops owl looking aside

The waves of common rock thrush seen in this patch in recent visits is seeming over. However a blue rock thrush was there.

blue rock thrush

Likewise the large wave of European nightjar is apparently mostly over but I still managed to observe two late ones.

European nightjar

While I was on site, a small flock of 9 white stork dropped into the farm. Sometimes white stork stay all winter at these farms. It remains to be seen if these will do so.

white stork

Soon after this sighting I headed on towards to Salalah but this was my last stop on an exhausting and rewarding Eid break.

Saturday, 3 October 2015

Ras As Sawadi

Last Friday I moved on from Buraimi and headed north east to Ras As Sawadi. I aimed to reach there by late morning. 

As time was tight, I only made one short stop before reaching Sawadi. This was at a small farm.

Indian roller

Birds at farm included Indian roller, common myna, red-wattled lapwing and grey francolin. Many birds were Indo-Malay.

When I finally arrived at Ras As Sawadi the tide was in and so the place was an island. A short boat trip later and I was there.

The view from Ras As Sawadi

On the beach as I landed I noticed a western reef heron.

western reef heron

However the reason for trip to Ras As Sawadi was not to see western reef heron but to find sooty falcon.

I had been told that the north face of the island gave the best chance of spotting the bird while the beach is on the south side.

first sooty falcon 

The path from the beach climbs the south side. I had only climbed half way up when I heard a screaming noise. I looked up and there was a sooty falcon sitting at a peak on the north side but visible from the south. I had been on the island barely five minutes and I had got my target bird.

Sooty falcon became number 297 on my Oman list but it wasn't a lifer. I had previously seen several on the Farasan Islands in Saudi Arabia in 2014.

second sooty falcon

Over the next hour, I saw five sooty falcon in total. Though they spend much of their time to the north of the island where the cliffs are shear, they would fly over the central plateau from time to time.

sooty falcon in flight

I observed only adult birds.

little green bee-eater

Elsewhere on the island, birds were sparse. I reckon there are only three residents: little green bee-eater, house sparrow and white eared bulbul.

grey heron

Birds did pass over while I was there though. Three grey heron flew right over.


An osprey lingered a lot longer before moving on.

lesser whitethroat 1

The bushes and trees which line the path are known to be good places to see plain leaf warbler in winter but I was there too soon.

Only two migrants were seen. These were a lesser whitethroat and a spotted flycatcher.

lesser whitethroat 2

The lesser whitethroat was quite tame. It needed to be much more furtive come the evening when the sooty falcon are on the prowl.

By the time I had returned to the mainland by boat it was nearing 1pm. This meant the rest of the day was almost continuous driving, This was so I could get as far south as possible to allow time for a large amount of desert birding on last Saturday. In fact I reached Haima for the night. I will blog next about what on saw on the Saturday between Haima and Salalah.