Tuesday, 7 April 2015

Jebel Salakh, Adam

The furthest away from Salalah I reached last weekend was Jebel Salakh near Adam. It is 800 kilometres north. 

Going that far to escape the sandstorms in the centre of the country was a risk. Indeed the sand storms persisted all the way there.

In the end I had some luck. The storms lifted just as I got out of the car to walk the last 500 metres to a wadi that looked promising from the road. I had to walk as the terrain was impassable by car.

So here I was 350 kilometres from my hotel which had my belongings,  with only 2 hours of the birding day left, in an area I have never birded before and I had no real knowledge of what to expect.

However at the back of my mind I had hoped for either Hume's Wheatear or Hooded Wheatear depending on how dry and remote the place was. Hooded Wheatear prefers drier and more remote conditions.

Hume's wheatear

Pretty quickly on reaching the wadi I spotted a Hume's wheatear in the distance. I regretted not having good views. Then one came close to me. It had been worth the drive for this sighting alone. Hume's wheatear was not only number 263 on my Oman list but it was a lifer too.

Hume's wheatear 2

The blue skies brought out a young Egyptian vulture. This bird is far more common in the north than in the south of the country.

Egyptian vulture 1

In Oman, I had only seen two others before on the coast near Hasik well north of Salalah.

Egyptian vulture 2

While investigating the wadi I flushed three sand partridge. They were darker than the birds found in the Dhofar region.

rufous bush robin with cocked tail

The only passage bird in the wadi which I saw was a rufous bush robin. However it was quite confiding and gave good views.

rufous bush robin

I wish I had more time in the wadi but I haven't got a clear view of what else I might have seen.

the wadi heading into Jebel Salakh

As I was thinking it was time to leave, two more birds appears in quick succession. 

white spectacled bulbul

The first was a white spectacled bulbul. This bird is less common in the north than in Dhofar.

hooded wheatear

The second was a thrilling surprise. Four metres in front of me a wheatear appeared and hovered around a fly it was trying to catch. It took me a few moments to realise it was not another Hume's wheatear. It was a hooded wheatear. It's a real shame I didn't photograph the action first and identify later.

hooded wheatear

I didn't think it was possible for the range of Hume's wheatear and hooded wheatear to overlap. My experience with hooded wheatear in Saudi Arabia was that it was found in areas other wheatears don't frequent.  

The bird is easily distinguished by shape as well as behaviour (especially the butterfly-like flight). The bird is thinner looking with a longer bill than other wheatears. The male bird like the one I saw also has a very white looking tail and rump with only a thin black stripe down the middle.

Hooded wheatear became species 264 on my Oman list.

These sightings marked a big change in my fortune over the weekend. Even just minutes before I arrived at the wadi there had been a sandstorm and the only bird I had seen in the previous 20 minutes had been a house sparrow braving the elements as it moved within a tree.

house sparrow on the move

After the birding in Adam, I turned back towards Ghaftain. This was a 350 kilometre journey but I returned satisfied.

The next morning just after dawn, Ghaftain itself produced a number of birding surprises. I will blog about that next.

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