Friday, 6 November 2015

Teetering on the brink

As Saeed Shanfari and I finished at Dowkah farm so fresh on Monday we pressed on to Qatbeet before turning round.

Qatbeet was so far from the coast, it was the only place which was not affected by cyclone chapala at all. It was it's usual very hot self. Winter coolness arrives later in the year.

The birds there were a little disappointing. Partly this was because expectations are high for this desert location for seeing migrants.

One migrant we did see was a female common redstart. We obtain pictures which made up for missing out pictures of the male common redstart at Dowkah.

As with the last blog, most of the photos were taken by Saeed Shanfari and I am grateful once again for permission to reproduce them.

common redstart by Saeed Shanfari

Other than this bird, passage migrants were mostly restricted to several spotted flycatcher as well as a common cuckoo.

side view of common redstart by Saeed Shanfari

Wintering birds were similarly restricted to desert wheatear and a couple of white wagtail. Two Daurian shrike might be passage or wintering but this late on the former is more likely.

desert wheatear by Saeed Shanfari

The three most common resident birds as usual were house sparrow, laughing dove and European collared dove.

brown-necked raven

Hidden away in the very north east corner of the site are a few tall trees where I can often see resident brown-necked raven too.

After less than an hour in the intense heat at Qatbeet we turned round and headed back towards Salalah.

At Dowkah and all the way further south, we were in cloud cover again and temperatures dropped off.

This made our stop off at Al Beed farm more pleasant to bird than it has been since last mid-winter.

house sparrow by Saeed Shanfari

There is small bushy area in the farm which is cultivated for a few fruits and berries. Many of the best sightings have come from there though there are other places apart from the pivot fields themselves.

We spent most of our time in the bushy area. Like Qatbeet it houses attracts many house sparrow and laughing dove.

laughing dove by Saeed Shanfari

However one important aspect of Al Beed is its huge number of European collared dove.

European collared dove with a laughing dove

There were some more interesting birds around the bushes. These included two European roller, a golden oriole, two spotted flycatcher, a hoopoe and an aucheri shrike which is often called Arabian grey shrike.

Arabian grey shrike by Saeed Shanfari

Flitting around the bushes and near-by trees was a flock of about 40 rosy starling.

rosy starling by Saeed Shanfari

Having exhaustively checked out the bushes for rarer birds, we moved on to one of the close fields. On the way we found some black-crowned sparrow lark.

black-crowned sparrow lark by Saeed Shanfari

This is one of the tamest larks and often allow close contact.

black-crowned sparrow lark 2 by Saeed Shanfari

We chose a field that was being watered to visit. It also happened to be the closest to the bushes.

I was attracted to some strange looking birds next to some rock dove. I went to take a closer look. When I got near I found four of the birds had been dyed orange. Why anyone would want to do this in the middle of the desert many miles from anywhere, I have no idea.

I noticed a few white wagtail in the field on my way.

a dyed rock dove

Meanwhile Saeed had decided to sit it out by watching and photographing the barn swallow at the edge of the field.

barn swallow by Saeed Shanfari

Once again desert wheatear was the dominant wheatear round the farm but Isabelline wheatear was present too.

Isabelline wheatear by Saeed Shanfari

Having finished at Al Beed farm, we still had time in the day to stop off at Rabkhut as the last birding location of the day.

As we approached the village, the skies got greyer and greyer. It had obviously already rained earlier in the day in a place where it only rains once every two years on average.

Looking up on the approach road we passed a steppe eagle.

steppe eagle by Saeed Shanfari

I chose Rabkhut to visit as it is one of the few places where African collared dove has been previously seen in Oman. Virtually all sightings have been in arc south of Thumrait but north of the Dhofar mountains. Rabkhut is in that arc.

This had been a target bird for me in Oman but this was also my fifth visit with no success on the previous ones.

This time proved to be different. We went to a place on the edge of the village where I know large numbers of collared doves can congregate.

Indeed there were large numbers of collared doves around. However, fairly quickly about 50 European collared dove spooked and flew off. They are often quite timid.

What were left behind were six African collared dove. There behaviour was quite different.

five African collared dove by Saeed Shanfari

This is the largest group yet recorded in Oman. Saeed managed to get five in one picture.

African collared dove is a much cleaner bird than its European cousin (see the picture of European collared dove earlier in the blog)  and overall it is lighter. The front is more of a light pink wash, the head on younger birds is light grey or sometimes even almost white. They have a white vent and undertail.

blow-up of two African collared dove from Saeed Shanfari

I have blown up the first picture to show the white vent on the right hand bird.

African collared dove by Saeed Shanfari

African collared dove is species 299 on my Oman list and I am teetering on the brink of reaching 300.

This result was a classic result of persistence. It is a gregarious species outside the breeding season and I suspect it is possible to see a sizeable number or not at all.

African collared dove 2 by Saeed Shanfari

After 20 minutes or so observing these birds we decided to head for home particularly as it was beginning to darker and the clouds looked threatening.

chiffchaff by Saeed Shanfari

Before we managed to go 50 metres we found a chiffchaff.

chiffchaff 2 by Saeed Shanfari

This is the first one I have seen this winter.

As we drove down the valley we came across more eagles. This time one is a steppe eagle and the other appears to be an Eastern Imperial Eagle.

steppe eagle with Eastern Imperial eagle by Saeed Shanfari

Before we linked up with the main road, the heavens had opened for a few minutes This area gets rain once every two years but it chose to rain there twice in one day thanks to cyclone chapala.

Today, Friday I have now been on a pelagic trip out of Mirbat. I will blog the results next.

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