Thursday, 26 November 2015

Raysut lagoons and tricky spoonbills

I received a tip off on Saturday night that no fewer than three birds which weren't on my Oman list had been sighted in the same place that day I don't like twitching but this was too good an opportunity to miss. So at dawn on Sunday morning I headed to Raysut lagoons to look for 3 ruddy shelduck, 2 African spoonbill and 2 common shelduck.

It had been a few months since I visited here. The place has changed radically for the better. It has been landscaped and the water level is higher than I have ever seen before. The water is clean too.

Well, the ruddy shelduck were easy to find and immediately became bird 305 on my Oman list.

ruddy shelduck

Indeed they were still asleep when I found them.

sleeping ruddy shelduck

The other two species were much more problematic. The common shelduck were nowhere to be seen among the literally hundreds of birds I looked at.

sleeping spoonbill

I thought I had found the African spoonbill. Two sleeping spoonbill appeared to have dead skin around the base of the bill.

awakened spoonbill

However when they awoke the leg and bill colours caused doubts. A juvenile African spoonbill has a yellow bill and dark legs. The adult has a grey bill edged pink and dark pink legs. The combination of pink bill and dark legs is consistent with a young European spoonbill.

spoonbill (left) with flamingo

I continued to track them perplexed. I did come across another spoonbill but this one was definitely a European spoonbill. No sign of bare skin here.

European spoonbill

Interestingly it did not associate with the other two more ambiguous spoonbills.

glossy ibis

Apart from the target birds there were over 35 other species present including a large flock of glossy ibis. I counted the flamingo and there were a few over 200.


In the sky, osprey and steppe eagle were being perpetually hounded by the local Indian house crow.

little grebe, shoveller and garganey

In the water were pintail, shoveller and garganey as well as a dozen or so little grebe and moorhen. I expect the arrival of ruddy shelduck is the harbinger of other ducks including diving ducks which are usually seen mid-winter.

European coot

Just a single European coot was observed.

a creche of flamingo

Often the young flamingo keep themselves separate from the older birds. I call this a creche.

ringed plover

I didn't have time before work on Saturday morning to study which waders were present though it was easy to see there were very large numbers of common redshank. Others included ringed plover.

slender-billed gull

The only gulls on the water were slender-billed gull.

citrine wagtail

The wagtails near the water were citrine wagtail while those mostly in the shade of the hills were white wagtail.

common redshank with common sandpiper at Raysut

Given the importance of both common shelduck and African spoonbill, I decided to go back to Raysut again the next morning at dawn.

I know common shelduck like mudflats near the sea more than ruddy shelduck so I went first to Raysut beach which is the far end of the wadi that holds the lagoons. I was not successful but among the sleeping whimbrel and Caspian tern, I came across a crab plover.

crab plover and whimbrel

Having failed to find the common shelduck again (and I haven't seen them reported by anyone else since either), I turned my attention back on the spoonbills. I found them at completely the other end of the lagoon from the day before.

one spoonbill

They allowed me very close this time. The bare skin looks real enough.

two spoonbills

In between visits, a search of google images at home shows that there is a short period in the development of African spoonbill where the yellow billed, dark legged juveniles go through a pink bill and dark legs before turning into grey billed and dark pink legged adults. In other words they look a lot like juvenile European spoonbill. However in all these pictures of the intermediate phase of African spoonbill I can see small patches of pink on the legs.

close up of both spoonbills

So I don't know which spoonbill there are! This is two birding sessions running when I have had a bird identification left hanging.

As well as seeing the spoonbills again there were two other highlights of my second visit.

young bonelli's eagle

A young Bonelli's eagle let me close while perched. Next to it on the ground about 30 Indian house crow had massed and sure enough they mobbed it the moment it took off.

pheasant-tailed jacana

On Sunday's visit I had seen one pheasant-tailed jacana in the distance. This time I had three much nearer. There presence shows what a good site this currently is.

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