Sunday 19 April 2015

In the hills

On Friday after visiting coastal spots first, I went up into the hills to escape the heat though even then I finished birding by 1 pm.

My trip itinerary was Ayn Hamran first then on to the top of Wadi Hanna followed by a stop off at Tawi Atair sink hole on the way back to end the birding.

I am going to start with the last stop first: Tawi Atair. The simple reason is that it had the most interesting birding of the session.

Tawi Atair sink hole and its surrounds is the only place in Oman where Yemen serin can be found. I have visited it about a dozen times and only seen the species twice. 

This time I was lucky.

Not only were nine birds present but they stayed present all the time I was there.

Yemin serin 1

The flock was foraging in the area directly behind the coffee shop. It was surprisingly tame and allowed me close approach. This bird doesn't need trees. Indeed they don't use them that much. However some members of the flock used a tree including one bird which stayed perched a long time.

Yemen serin 2

In the third picture below I was barely over 2 metres away from the bird. I was helped by a cow (part of a group that decided to follow me into the yard!). The cow walked between me and the bird. I guessed that I could take a pace forward while it was doing that thus using the cow as a sort of moving cover. It worked.

Yemen serin 3

Yemin serin is a birder's bird. It is bland and sparrow-like but immensely interesting if you know it is a local rarity.

Yemen serin climbing a wall

At one time some of the flock climbed the wall of the out house. I have seen them do this a time before. Indeed walls are perched on more often than trees.

three foraging Yemen serin

I felt privileged to have so much time so close to them while they spent most of their time foraging on the ground.

four foraging Yemen serin

Earlier I had made my way up to the top of Wadi Hanna. It was a relatively clear day and at the top you could see Mirbat on the coast a few kilometres away and over 1200 metres below.

Mirbat from the top of wadi Hanna

My journey there started out at Ayn Hamran where birding was uncomfortable because its only 200 metres up and almost as hot as the coast I had left.

first spotted flycatcher

As readers will know I had been disappointed in the passerine passage so far in the south Dhofar area but I am on the look out for any passage signs  as well as the local birds.

Mid and late April is peak passage season for western palearctic birds so I reasoned that Friday and Saturday were my best chances of seeing what there was.

At Ayn Hamran there were glimmers of something. 

I came across two spotted flycatcher. These were my first of the season. 

second spotted flycatcher

Otherwise the hills were a disppointment except for rufous bush robin. I actaully saw eleven (11) at Ayn Hamran including two on the same fence.

two rufous bush robin

Occasionally you get a tame bush robin but most don't seem to want to confide at all.

rufous bush robin 1

With its tail pumping it does display well if it hangs around.

rufous bush robin 2

Otherwise my time at Ayn Hamran was spent re-visiting known local species. Its an excellent place to find long billed pipit all year round though not usually close to the water. Try the drier areas.

long-billed pipit

Tristram's starling all but disppears from the Ayn and disperses near-by during the winter but comes back for spring and summer.

Tristram's starling

I had no intention of photographing another blackstart as they are so numerous but this bird stood right in front of me less than two metres away.


The prize for the most common bird of all in the woods of the Dhofar mountains must go to another bird: Abyssinian white-eye

Abyssinian white-eye

Only two wintering waders still remain at Ayn Hamran now. One is a common sandpiper while the other is this incrediably site-loyal greenshank.

common greenshank

After Ayn Hamran I went up to Wadi Hanna. Its a good place for birds but there was nothing new since the last visit and so my visit was short. One black-crowned tchagra caught my eye though.  

black-crowned tchagra going deep into cover

It seems it wanted to preen and to do this it surrounded itself by as many thorny branches as possible then started.

black-crowned tchagra 

It was after this display and because of the relatively poor passage on the day that I decided to go home via Tawi Atair and try my luck with the Yemen serin as compensation.

After so long this spring with a weak western palearctic passage, the day after this trip, Saturday, remarkably and completely out of nowhere, a big spring passage finally arrived.

Furthermore, I enjoyed a morning session's birding on Saturday as much as any since I arrived in the country. This was almost completely because of the passage birds I observed. I will blog about that next.

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