Tuesday 24 March 2015

Dawn till dusk in the desert

On Friday and Saturday, I was birdingpal with Ellen Askum a birder from Norway. On Friday we made a desert trip and on Saturday we visited several spots just east of Salalah.

We started out just before dawn on Friday and reached the desert around 7 am. It was not far out of Thumrait heading north that we saw our first spotted sandgrouse of the day.

a pair of spotted sandgrouse near Thumrait

As we turned off the main road towards Shisr, I once again found bar-tailed lark. It's the only place in Oman I can find them too.

bar-tailed lark

On the edge of the fields at Shisr, we found several hoopoe lark.

hoopoe lark

However black-crowned sparrow lark were by far the most common lark both there and throughout the trip.

black-crowned sparrow lark

The fields were a little disappointing. There was no sign of migration.

house sparrow

House sparrow and European collared dove were the dominant species.

cattle egret

The same small flock of cattle egret I saw on my last visit were still there and in the same place. A female marsh harrier was also flying around this area.

Turkestan shrike

Some of the fields are fed water by small standing sprayers rather than pivot bars. When there is a good migration you can always see birds sitting on the tops of the sprayers. It makes field birding much easier. This time we had to make do with a Turkestan shrike. Most sprayers were unoccupied.

Turkestan shrike

This Turkestan shrike took no time to eat its meal.

flock of spotted sandgrouse

Shisr always has sandgrouse. A flock of spotted sandgrouse flew over.

Asian grey shrike (aucheri)

Another shrike was seen. This time it was a resident aucheri.


We headed for the wooded area passing a common kestrel in a small field. In the trees were several Menetries's warbler but no signs of passage. The place was once again thick with flies and I have much regard for Ellen for putting up with them!

After looking thoroughly in the wooded area, we travelled out of the village north for a while with little success towards Dowkah before turning back and investigating the area next to the archaeological site at Shisr.  Some claim this is part of the remains of the lost city of Ubar. 

There are a few very tall trees there. As we walked past one, we flushed a male marsh harrier.

marsh harrier

Luckily it returned to the same tree after a while.

We moved on to some more fields in Shisr.

desert wheatear

There was no sign of passage wheatears which had been seen the week before elsewhere in the desert. There were two lingering desert wheatear though.

male chestnut-bellied sandgrouse

Spotted sandgrouse were not the only species of sandgrouse at Shisr. Chestnut-bellied sandgrouse were around the low grass fields. It prefers taller vegetation than any other sandgrouse.

female chestnut-bellied sandgrouse

These sandgrouse were among the last birds we observed in Shisr before heading on to Dowkah farm further north.

tawny pipit

Once again there was no sign of major passage in the fields. The migrant pied wheatear and black-eared wheatear seen two weeks before were no longer around.

A few tawny pipit and white wagtail were the only migrants and they were probably winterers. There is clearly a lull in the spring passage once the wheatears have gone through. 

male common redstart 1

In the wooded spot, it was a little different. At least there was the wintering black redstart seen on previous visits but also quite a showy male common redstart.

male common redstart 2

This is most definitely a passage bird and also happens to be the first male I have seen.

female spotted sandgrouse

Dowkah farm is 200 kilometres from Salalah and it was a long drive back. Towards dusk we sighted very many spotted sandgrouse. Just as we had in the early morning on the way out.

a pair of spotted sandgrouse at dusk

I went birding with Ellen again on Saturday. In stark contrast, we stayed local visiting several sites east of the city. The birding was completely different. I will blog about that next.