Thursday, 14 July 2016

Stormy weather displaces many birds

I left Oman on July 5th and won't be returning to work there next year. I will be within the MENA (Middle East North Africa) region and I will confirm where soon. I will be birding at my new destination you can be assured.

I have thoroughly enjoyed my time in Oman based in Salalah both at work and while birding.

My last two birding days are recorded here and they were quite special. It was good to go out with a bang. 

They were special because of the weather and its effects on bird movements.

The khareef (monsoon) arrived early and heavy in Salalah this year and caused some consequences I hadn't anticipated. 

One consequence was that the birds were deserting the mountains. The higher reaches are covered in fog and are cool.


juvenile golden winged grosbeak

One important bird that has come down is Arabian golden winged grosbeak. They are flocking at the lowest wooded areas just above the plain. 

So at Ayn Hamran I counted 26 birds while there. The country record is 28 also at Ayn Hamran and also in July.


adult Arabian golden winged grosbeak

Two days before Neil Tovey and Saeed Shanfari had seen 10 at near-by Wadi Kheesh.

another juvenile Arabian golden winged grosbeak

The birds at Ayn Hamran were both adults and first year birds.

a third juvenile Arabian golden winged grosbeak

I was pleased to see the stream at Ayn Hamran is already full with water so early in the season. It will be a bumper year to make up for last's year's poor khareef.


Ayn Hamran

Other birds at Ayn Hamran included grey-headed kingfisher which looks vivid in the greyness of the day.

grey-headed kingfisher

The blackstart below shows how wet some of the birds are getting and helps explain the altitudinal changes.

blackstart at Ayn Hamran

Last July Saeed Shanfari found Yemen Serin at Wadi Kheesh. This species shuns the heat and keeps to Tawi Atair sinkhole during most of the year. However it appears to wander down in the cooler khareef season.


male cinnamon-breasted bunting

Hundreds if not thousands of cinnamon-breasted bunting have come down the hills. They have, on average, descended further than the Arabian golden winged grosbeak.

They can be found on the plains now and even in the city. At Raysut settling pools Neil Tovey and I counted no fewer than 120.  Even in winter you are lucky to find one there.

cinnamon-breasted bunting face on

Different species have descended to different places. At Ayn Razat there are huge numbers of laughing dove and Tristram's starling.

three species at Ayn Razat

Incidentally Ayn Razat is always a good place in summer to see dideric cuckoo probably because of the high concentration of Ruppell's weaver there.

the mountains above Ayn Razat

In the picture above you can see how foggy the hills are.

gardens at Ayn Razat

The gardens at Ayn Razat were greening up very quickly.

One altitudinal movement I really hadn't expected was first spotted by Neil Tovey who came over from Kuwait and birded with me for a couple of days.

Fan-tailed raven had arrived in Raysut having vacated the mountain cliffs and uplands.

fan-tailed raven at Raysut

Later I also saw them in north Saadah district too where they were attracted to the tallest building.

two fan-tailed raven at Raysut

At Raysut they seem to be roosting at the top of the cement factory and feeding at the rubbish dump. This is the same pattern as two types of stork in winter.

The weather also brought some birds into shore to escape the stormy seas.

With Neil, we visited Raysut cliffs and thanks to Neil's sharp eye and spotting scope, I added sooty shearwater to my Oman list. Subject to a rarity report this is only the eighth record in the country.

red-billed tropicbird

As well as many Wilson's storm petrel, there were red-billed tropicbird, Persian shearwater and Jouanin's petrel also to be seen.

Neil briefly spotted a Swinhoe's storm petrel on our joint visit but I failed to see it.

I am grateful to his advice to try again. Indeed on the afternoon of July 4th on my very last birding session in Oman, I returned to the cliffs armed only with a fold-up chair, binoculars and a bridge camera.

record shot of Swinhoe's storm petrel

I soon picked up a Swinhoe's storm petrel barely 300 metres from the shore. In the end I saw three. They rarely come this close but the weather was clearly a factor.

Swinhoe's storm petrel became bird 332 on my Oman list at the death. It was a fitting end to two years in Oman.


Thursday, 30 June 2016

Khawr Rori in the khareef

The weather is now dull, grey and drizzly on the coast near Salalah. In the hills there is near constant rain. The khareef season with its low temperatures has arrived. The temperature drop makes birding so much easier.

I managed to free up an afternoon yesterday to go birding. This was my first session since the monsoon appeared. I went to Khawr Rori starting at the north west corner which has the most extensive reeds.

I had an very good start, spotting a pied cuckoo within minutes of arriving. It was in the bushes a few metres away from the reeds.

pied cuckoo

This species is a passage bird here, travelling from Africa to India where it is sometimes known as the monsoon bird because it comes to them then.

I soon lost sight of it and started developing my original plan which was to search the reeds for anything unusuusal.

moorhen

I found large numbers of common moorhen of all ages.

young moorhen

The odd Ruppell's weaver was darting in and out. I managed to accidentally flush two yellow bittern.

black-crowned night heron

Through a gap in the reeds, I managed to spy an adult black-crowned night heron which is not all common here in summer.

Having walked on the left hand side of the reeds i eventually came out at the north west corner of the vast expanse of water that is the lake at Khawr Rori.

I was surprised that all six of the terns flying here were sandwich tern.

pale morph western reef heron

On a tree overhanging the water were several western reef heron and two squacco heron.

squacco heron

Both main morphs of western reef heron were present.

dark morph western reef heron

Over the other side of the water, some somthing suddenly spooked the twenty or so grey heron from the hillside.

pied cuckoo again

As walked on past the overhanging tree, I was quick witted enough to notice the pied cuckoo in the next tree and I hadn't flushed it. I presume it was the same bird I had seen 30 minutes before.

pied cuckoo

I steathily stepped slowly towards it. It was unmoved.

yellow bittern

I was late realising there was a yellow bittern in the same dead tree.

yellow bittern

My gaze was only deflected when a third and four bird flew and perched in the same tree.A common myna was nothing special and the other bird momentarily was a blackstart. Nevertheless breifly there was quite a collection of single birds.

common myna

I haven't had such prolonged and close views of a yellow bittern before anywhere.

yellow bittern

When I began to retrace my steps I was very soon aware of a calling dideric cuckoo. Following the call and it was easily found. 

dideric cuckoo

Moments later a male Rueppell's weaver was chasing it away after it had started roaming.

graceful prinia

Graceful prinia are a constantly calling in this area but I don't see anywhere near as many as I making the sounds. In this picture I inadvertantly captured some sort of wasp in flight too.

little green bee-eater

On the way back to the car, I came across three little green bee-eater and a second dideric cuckoo.

Dideric cuckoo

Once in the car, I travelled through the two riyal entrance into the main part of Khawr Rori. Large numbers of slender-billed gull and sooty gull were sheltering from the rough sea. The state of the sea probably explains why the sandwich tern were fishing in the lake.

Flamingo and great crested tern were also numerous. A single gull-billed tern and two common tern added to the tern make-up.

glossy ibis

Other larger birds included a flock of glossy ibis.

reef heron plus three intermediate egret

Khawr Rori is the place in Dhofar to see over-summering intermediate egret.

young spotted redshank

While there were a few common redshank and common greenshank, this one tringa wader was a bit tricky to identify. It is probably a very young spotted redshank or possibly common redshank. Either way it is most unusual for such a young bird to be as far south as Salalah before July has even started.


slender-billed gull with black-tailed godwit and a stilt

The other waders were either the resident black-winged stilt or black-tailed godwit. Six black-tailed godwit was a surprisingly high number.

As the gloom got heavily, I packed up for the day but I was very satisfied with the session.

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?