Sunday 18 January 2015

Terns on the beaches

Having now seen 246 species in Oman with all but 4 in the Dhofar area, I have not been expecting many new additions before the spring migration.

Indeed this has been the first full week with no additions and there will probably be plenty more.

I have decided to take a more relaxed approach to local birding for a month or so though some reported twitches might tempt me.

In the last week, I have spent a significant proportion of my birding time on beaches.

Caspian tern with one lesser crested tern

This blog looks at some of the terns I have seen on the beaches among the literally thousands of gulls.

On the beach at Khawr Soly were several Caspian tern (also seen at Taqah and East Khawr during the week).

lesser crested tern with one sandwich tern

Very close by was a group of lesser crested tern. Within that group was one sandwich tern. These two birds are very closely related and sandwich tern often associate with lesser crested tern if their own type are not around.

whiskered tern

There was a single small tern next to them but not associating with any of the other terns.

sideways look at whiskered tern

I couldn't identify this small tern immediately. The bill was too short and strong for a Saunders's tern or a little tern.

preening whiskered tern

I am not used to seeing whiskered tern or any other marsh tern on a beach but that is what it is.

Actually the beach at Khawr Soly is straight in front of the sand bar separating the freshwater lagoons and so the bird wasn't out of place.

sleeping whiskered tern

Caspian tern were also seen at East Khawr (Khawr Dahariz) as were gull-billed tern.

gull-billed tern

What surprised me was that one of the gull-billed tern was in breeding plumage already.

gull-billed tern in breeding plumage

Although this blog is primarily about terns, I got distracted for a short time by a bathing grey plover at East Khawr. 

bathing grey plover

I accidentally caught the moment when it raised its wings and showed its underwing black patch.

underwing of a grey plover

This is very useful to differentiate between juvenile golden plovers and grey plover in autumn when some of the former birds have very little golden sheen.

Saunders's tern

On Friday morning I visited Taqah beach and saw more terns. However my main motive to be there was to twitch the skimmers that have been seen twice along the front. Sadly, although I scanned over 2000 water birds, no skimmer was among them. I did see 12 Pallas's gull and other scarcer birds among about 1100 Hueglin's gull and 600 sooty gull.

During this scan I added Saunders's tern to the list of terns seen over the past few days.

The bill is thinner and longer than in a whiskered tern. The winter head pattern usually includes a small amount of black in front of eye too. The legs are often lighter as well.

three Saunders's tern

My regional guide says Saunders's tern can doubtfully be separated from little tern in winter. I am not sure that is true. In summer the white on the crown of a little tern reaches the back of the eye. If it doesn't manage that in winter when there is less black and even more white its not going to do it in summer. So I believe many winter Saunders's tern can be identified by the white not reaching the back of the eye. The problem is identifying little tern. Some winter Saunders's tern have white reaching the back of eye and all little tern.

If I have gauged this correctly all my birds are Saunders's tern with the possible exception of the one towards the bottom right in the first picture.

white winged lapwing

Once again I got distracted from my main tasks while birding. I found a single white-winged lapwing at Taqah. I suspect it may be the same bird I saw for a month or so at near-by Khawr Soly but whose chosen area has since dried up during the winter.

1 comment:

  1. Sometimes you have to dip out to be able to appreciate the commoner stuff more..... A very nice page.