Thursday, 31 December 2015

Lesser flamingo and more at Khawr Rori

I had dinner with visiting German ornithologists Heidi and Jens Hering on December 28th. The last time we had met was in Benghazi in 2011 days before the revolution started. It was good to see them again.

In passing Jens mentioned he had seen and photographed a lesser flamingo at Khawr Rori the day before.

I knew it was a vagrant. Indeed there have only been five previous records. However one was of a flock of 270! birds back in 1995.

I took my first chance to go to Khawr Rori and I was there at 3.30 pm the next day. I didn't want to miss my chance.

What I saw surprised me in a very pleasant way.

four lesser flamingo

Jens had seen his bird near the dhows exhibit. I scanned the banks close-by and found not one but four. They appeared to be ravenously hungry and would almost certainly have allowed much closer approach than I risked.

two lesser flamingo

They were not venturing into the water but seemed happy to eat at the edge. I watched in awe for 10 minutes or so.

pintail resting

Eventually I pulled myself away and started scanning for any rare ducks. There were large numbers of shoveller in the water and a similar number of pintail resting on a far bank.

wigeon (back) with garganey

Diving ducks are much rarer so far this winter than last. However other than shoveller and pintail, there were several teal and at least one each of garganey and wigeon. Although garganey is the first duck to arrive in Dhofar in the autumn, its numbers drop (but not to zero) in mid-winter.

three more lesser flamingo

While still scanning for ducks, this time on a far bank I realised that among the resting shoveller and pintail were three more lesser flamingo making seven in total.

male and female teal

Most male teal now have their breeding plumage. 

Eurasian coot

In another part of the khawr on the north western spur, several coot were swimming. They were divided into two distinct groups.  Looking closely I noticed that the larger group contained Eurasian coot. However the smaller group were all red-knobbed coot.

Red-knobbed coot

The adult red-knobbed coot are supposed to lose the knobs outside the breeding season, yet I have yet to see a time when they are missing. They also have bluish bills rather than pinkish ones of Eurasian coot. The feathers which intrude on the bill are rounded compared with the sharp intrusion on Eurasian coot. The red-knobbed coot are also less shy at Khawr Rawri.

greenshank and redshank

A hard look at the waders around the khawr did not reveal any rarities. Black-tailed godwit were the most numerous by far followed by Dunlin, curlew sandpiper, greenshank and redshank

Since the sun was starting to fade, I decided to leave the main section of the khawr and head towards the north western reeds approached from the main road. I wanted to try to find crakes again.

One interesting bird seemed to be a possible marsh warbler. It's habits, plumage and structure seem closer to that species than reed warbler.

Most marsh warbler stop-over for a couple of months in east Africa before heading further south during December and January. If this is indeed a marsh warbler then it would be expected to move on too. In correspondence with Jens Eriksen he said it could be overlooked here.

potential marsh warbler

Two clamorous reed warbler were also seen and several more heard.

potential marsh warbler 2

Once again I had little difficulty in seeing crakes. There were at least two spotted crake and one Baillon's crake. Little crake is still alluding me.

spotted crake

The session was very productive. I saw 53 species in total in less than two and a half hours. Lesser flamingo also became species 319 on my Oman list.

Wednesday, 30 December 2015

Raysut in late December

On Christmas Eve I visited Raysut once again. This industrial district on the western edge of Salalah actually has several excellent birding areas. The two best are arguably the Settling pools and the lagoons though the beach and the marina can also be very interesting.

This time I went to just the settling pools and the lagoons. In recent times I have concentrated on the hirundines at the settling pools which had turned up two vagrants.  This time I didn't mainly because there were virtually none present. For some reason their activity is much higher after noon and I was there in the morning.

greater flamingo in flight

Greater flamingo were present in the highest number I have seen all winter.

pheasant-tailed jacana

The over-spill from the main made pools is so great now that much of the site has a natural feel about it and both marsh and grasslands have taken hold. The area is so natural looking that even pheasant-tailed jacana are present.

black-headed gull

Black-headed gull are not really common in Dhofar but the settling pools are the best place to see them. 

wood sandpiper

Mid-winter is the time when green sandpiper and wood sandpiper can look the most similar with the white speckling on the wood sandpiper is the most subdued. In these birds I resorted to looking at the barring on the tail. The black bars are narrow and numerous making the birds wood sandpiper.

white stork (rear) with Abdim's stork

This winter the number of white stork has often matched the 500 or so Abdim's stork around the site. This is a big increase on last year. They were in Salalah in as large numbers but not spending so much time at the pools.

Turkestan shrike

Young and some female Turkestan shrike and Daurian shrike are often difficult or impossible to separate but at all ages Daurian shrike is a duller bird. I suspect this bright bird is a Turkestan shrike. The strength of chocolate colour on the head is also supportive.

scaly-breasted munia

For once I saw very little out of the ordinary at the settling pools if you count seeing 1000 storks as ordinary. However a scaly-breasted munia was a little odd. I never not seen one outside parks, gardens and the city farms before.

For the rest of the morning I moved on to the near-by lagoons.

black-tailed godwit

There were more black-tailed godwit here than I have seen before.

ruddy shelduck

The biggest attraction for the past three weeks though has been the six wintering ruddy shelduck. This species is uncommon in Dhofar. Indeed I saw none last winter and none were reported either. I finally managed to get all six in one picture.

black-winged stilt in breeding plumage 1

I am always alert to a rarity among more common birds. For a fleeting moment I thought I might have had a black-necked stilt (from the Americas).

However what had happened was I had come across a male black-winged stilt in the peak of its breeding plumage. Even then there is a small gap between the black on the neck and the dark mantle. Furthermore the black on the head is not extensive enough for a black-necked stilt either.

black-winged stilt in breeding plumage 2

Black-winged stilt without breeding plumage (see below) are quite different.

black-winged stilt

The lagoons are currently attracting considerable numbers of terns. I find some tern identifications in winter quite difficult. I believe the tern in the foreground is a gull-billed tern while those in the rear are white-winged tern. Freshwater places so close to the sea like this can support some coastal terns as well as marsh terns. This does not help with narrowing down the options by habitat. Please contact me if you have a different opinion and why.

gull-billed tern (front) and white winged tern (rear)

I started this blog looking at greater flamingo. In the next blog I will be looking at some very special flamingoes.

Sunday, 27 December 2015

Recent highlights in the city

This blog is a round robin of some birding I carried out just before Christmas around the city. 

On Tuesday at Sawnaut farm, eleven cream-coloured courser were present on a newly ploughed field.

cream-coloured courser

It's not often you see them in the city but Sawnaut is certainly a city farm.

A booted eagle was another highlight but an obvious feature as is often the case was the sheer number of doves.  For once I looked at the laughing dove quite closely.

two sub-species of laughing dove

In the north of Oman, the sub species is cambayensis which is the same as in India. It is plainer and daintier than the nominate sub species.

The birdlife international monograph on the species say the nominate reaches Mukhalla in Yemen from Africa. However there is no doubt it goes further west as nominate is more common than cambayensis in Salalah. Both are shown in a picture from Sawnaut farm (see above).

After visiting Sawnaut farm, Dahariz park (also called East Khawr park) was next. 
forest wagtail

This time I easily relocated the vagrant forest wagtail which has been present for well over a month now.

citrine wagtail

A citrine wagtail has been there even longer. It is unusual to see them in parks.

Bruce's green pigeon

Like cream-coloured courser, Bruce's green pigeon can be seen in the city though it can be seen more frequently. The best places are parks. However they often go overlooked in the canopy of larger trees.

two Bruce's green pigeon

After Dahariz park, I made a short call to the near-by Khawr Dahariz (East Khawr). I was not doing general birding, I was looking out for exceptional ducks. I couldn't help noticing the presence of two pheasant-tailed jacana though.

pheasant-tailed jacana

A large majority of wintering ducks here are either: garganey, pintail, shoveller or teal. Mallard, gadwell, ferruginous duck and tufted duck are less frequent and all other ducks less frequent still.

ferruginous duck (left)

The diving ducks appear later than the dabbling ducks. A female ferruginous duck was the only one out of the ordinary at East Khawr when I visited.

My remaining targets for Oman among the rarer ducks (but which are not vagrants) are common shelduck and red-crested pochard.

ferruginous duck

A visit to West Khawr was partly made for the same reason i.e looking for rarer ducks. It's relatively deep waters are often attracted to diving ducks. However on first pass, more than half of the ducks were shoveller and there were only two ferruginous duck representing all possible diving ducks.

male cotton teal

Observing a male cotton teal was good compensation. I can't remember seeing a male in Dhofar before. I can only remember seeing female-types.

cotton teal (left)

Also at West Khawr was a wintering purple heron which is not so common.

purple heron

Continuing with the less ordinary sightings was a close view of a broad-billed sandpiper.

broad-billed sandpiper

It was much more confiding than the common redshank and little ringed plover near-by.

broad-billed sandpiper 2

In the fresh water sites in the city, Indian pond heron is at the moment almost as common as squacco heron so it hardly rates a mention among the highlights. The highlight here is not so much the sighting of one but instead how many there are here in mid-winter.

Indian pond heron at West Khawr

Just before I left West Khawr I noticed I almost missed a wigeon. Not many come down here.


I will continue looking for rare ducks in January. The wintering species are mostly settled now unless there is a major cold snap up north. Late ducks are one of the few predictable changes without it.

Wednesday, 23 December 2015

Birding for larks in Sohar

There is substantial flat land with plenty of seed bearing plants in the Sohar area. It looks good for larks and so it proved to be on Saturday.

Hanne and Jens Eriksen took me to this area which we had also visited for a shorter time late on Thursday. 

On Saturday we were out birding early hoping for plenty of larks. Instead of larks the first species we saw apart from myna and house sparrow around the hotel was grey francolin.

grey francolin

The most important place to find was a water filling station for trucks where spillage meant small but effectively permanent small pools.

crested lark

Parking up and just waiting for larks to appear was a good strategy. The crested lark with the very large crest above was actually seen on the Thursday visit.

All the other birds pictured on in this blog were observed on Saturday.

black-crowned sparrow lark

Crested lark and black-crowned sparrow lark were about equally numerous in this area and made up the majority of birding visitors to drink.

bimaculated lark (back) with greater short toed larks

The third most common lark is a winter visitor unlike the previous two which are probably resident. It was greater-short-toed lark.

However a much more interesting lark joined one small group of greater short-toed lark at one of the pools. This was a bimaculated lark.

bimaculated lark

It was not unexpected as it had been reported in the area. Nevertheless it was another addition to my Oman list in what was becoming a very good weekend for the list.

house sparrow and Indian silverbill

A couple of times we moved away from the pools to search for a putative tree sparrow which has been reported but not confirmed. If confirmed it would be a first for Oman. Unfortunately our search found only house sparrow and Indian silverbill despite our best efforts.

skylark 1

On our return, a skylark was among the visitors to the pool. We had seen two briefly on Thursday afternoon but these views were much better. It was yet another addition to my list.

skylark 2

Larks were not the only birds drinking. From time to time Namaqua dove and laughing dove would arrive too.

Namaqua dove

A final non-lark sighting was a single corn bunting which came to drink twice.

corn bunting 1

This was the seventh new bird for me in Oman over the weekend. This left me feeling the trip was highly successful.

corn bunting 2

I am indebted to Hanne and Jens Eriksen for their company and help on this trip. They chose the sites and I could not have hoped for better on one of my rare northern visits.