Monday, 26 October 2015

October's desert trip

A week ago Friday, Ellen Askum joined me for my first long trip in the desert for three weeks. Once again the main stop was at Dowkah farm which is a magnet for migrating birds.

Of course the cast had changed once again. However the much-liked golden oriole was still able to be seen but now in lower numbers.

golden oriole

As usual I started my inspection of the farm by walking round the outlining fields. Soon the first tawny pipit of the winter were observed.

tawny pipit

Black-crowned sparrow lark and Eurasian collared dove were the most abundant birds out there. 

In the same filed as in previous visits this autumn, Montagu's harrier were found.

Surprisingly no chestnut-bellied sandgrouse were seen which was a first on any of my visits.

spotted sandgrouse by Ellen Askum (with thanks)

However around 9.15am, three waves of spotted sandgrouse appeared. 

We soon headed for the wooded area in the centre of the farm which has the strongest record for migrants.

It didn't take us long to realise that a wave of common cuckoo had arrived.

common cuckoo at Dowkah

We counted at least six.

another common cuckoo at Dowkah

Rather strangely there were no warblers about this time. This desert stops can vary day to day with the numbers and types of migrants especially warblers at this time of year. 

Only two spotted flycatcher remained too.

rosy starling

On leaving the wooded area, we went to the field next to the farm house.

three rosy starling

A medium sized flock of rosy starling were mingling with the resident house sparrow. The field was hopping with locusts which would have been much to the rosy starling's liking.

This was the same field I saw nine white stork three weeks before. There were still four there.

white stork

While the numbers of golden oriole had started to drop off, the numbers of European roller were still going strong.

five European roller

I know Ellen was very satisfied with Dowkah farm with several lifers. It is a tribute to Dowkah's ability to deliver new birds for me that I was slightly disappointed this time particularly in the diversity of the migrants. 

We decided to press on further away from Salalah as our 4.30 am start in the morning had given us time to play with.

Qatbeet motel garden was the next stop and furthest stop away.

willow warbler 1 by Ellen Askum (with thanks)

Unlike at Dowkah, there had been a windfall of warblers. The not-so-good news was that all the warblers appeared to be of two types: willow warbler and common whitethroat.

willow warbler 2 by Ellen Askum (with thanks)

Probably the most remarkable birding feature of Qatabeet was not the warblers but the sheer numbers of common cuckoo on site.

common cuckoo at Qatbeet

We counted at least nine.

rufous bush robin

There was a very late rufous bush robin.  Most of this species went through these desert spots on migration 3-5 weeks before.

barn swallow

There were several barn swallow overhead. However was was resting only a few centimetres from the ground. It has obviously taken a bath in the small near-by pool. It was soaked. I suspect the pool saved its life though by perching that low one of the cats could still end it.

white wagtail

There was a white wagtail. Unlike the rufous bush robin, this bird was very early for its species.

common cuckoo at Al Beed farm

After Qatbeet, we changed direction and headed back towards Salalah. We had time to stop off at Al Beed farm though it was blisteringly hot in the afternoon sun.

Even here we saw three more common cuckoo. There was clearly a wave going through.

European roller

European roller was also expected and indeed seen.


I have never seen a blackstart at a desert farm before. It was about 60 kilometres north of its expected range.

spotted flycatcher

Our last stop was very brief when I took a peak into the garden surrounding a wind turbine station. There were no cuckoos this time but European roller and golden oriole were present. One spotted flycatcher was also seen.

I thank Ellen Askum for her company on this trip and on the other days.

I will write next about another trip with friends which took place nearly a week later. We went west and close to the Yemen border. The results were very good indeed. 

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