Tuesday, 24 November 2015

West side and mystery eagle

I had the pleasure of being a birdingpal with visitors Karen Pickles and Catherine Chatham last Friday.

We went out west starting with Mughsail early in the morning. Needless to say we saw Baillon's crake fairly easily but as always I failed to see my first little crake in Oman.

They were very patient during all this crake finding effort.

Eventually we moved on and looked in and around the main pool more widely than just the reed edges where crakes lie.

clamorous reed warbler

At the side was a clamorous reed warbler. Early morning and late evening are the best times to see this warbler in the open.

squacco heron

The main pool was a little disappointing but not for heronry. A great white egret was present as well as squacco heron and grey heron. A purple heron also flew over.

European coot

A single European coot had been present all summer and it was probably the same bird on Friday.


We moved on to the second pool where ducks and moorhen were prevalent. The garganey above look well camouflaged against the dappled water.

blue rock thrush

As we walked away from the pool, a blue rock thrush was sighted on the hill side.

blue rock thrush

At the third and smallest pond, an Indian pond heron was seen. As is often the case, it was tamer than a typical squacco heron and allowed close approach.

Indian pond heron

By 10 am we had moved off to Raysut and its settling pools.

Abdim's stork and White stork

The site was packed with Abdim's stork with a few white stork. There were over 300 Abdim's stork on the ground and more in flight.

red-throated pipit

There were large numbers of three ducks: garganey, pintail and northern shoveller. One area has been so moist with overflow water it has developed into a meadow. It contained significant numbers of yellow wagtail, white wagtail and citrine wagtail.  The last twice there have also been a small number of red-throated pipit.

white stork at Raysut settling pools

The density of waders was as high as any time I have visited the place since arriving in Salalah.

common ringed plover

The usual wood sandpiper, green sandpiper, common sandpiper and black-winged stilt were joined by little stint, Temminck's stint, common ringed plover and a large flock of dunlin.

dunlin with a few little stint

There was some variability in bill length and curvature. They almost certainly represented more than one sub-species.

spur-winged lapwing

When we left the fenced area we spent a short amount of time just outside on the eastern perimeter. Here overflows from the main site have created a stream and marsh area. Here we caught up with the long standing vagrant spur winged lapwing and three red-wattled lapwing associates. Greater spotted eagle were there too.

We had been birding non-stop for over seven hours but decided to make one last stop next to the Raysut rubbish dump. It was here that we arguably had the most interesting observation of the day.

Just outside the southern fence of the dump, we came across a very pale eagle which was perched on a hillock inside. It stood out from the steppe eagle and eastern imperial eagle near-by.

pale eagle

Between us, we got pictures of it perched, next to other birds and in flight. However the flight pictures are of the upper wing only.

Three options for the identity of the bird have been suggested: a freakish pale steppe eagle, a fulvescens greater spotted eagle and a tawny eagle.

Separation between them is mostly carried out structurally with plumage features are support. 

We have many pictures in total but these three are representative. I am grateful to Karen and Catherine for permission to reproduce some of them.

In the first picture the bird appears to have an oval (rather than round) nostril, powerful bill and a relatively long gape. This suggests a steppe eagle or tawny eagle. An tawny eagle also has wider feathering (like a steppe eagle) on the lower legs. However this point is difficult for me to intepret.

pale eagle (l) with steppe eagle (r) by Catherine Chatham

The eagle appears slightly smaller than a steppe eagle which is consistent with either a fulvescens greater spotted eagle or tawny eagle.

Taken together this points to me that this may well be a tawny eagle.

pale eagle flying by Karen Pickles

Other structural features to look out for in flight are longer tail and shorter wings compared with fulvescens. Our pictures are not especially helpfully on this point.

Under-wing plumage features which cannot be verified would include the lack of a distinct pale crescent at the carpal. Such a picture would have been very helpful.

My knowledge is not enough to convince a critical eye as provided by a rarities committee and people I have consulted have varying degrees of certainty.

The bird was still present yesterday around the dump. This itself is more typical of a tawny eagle than greater spotted eagle which prefers moist terrain. Either way my friends Saeed Shanfari,  Hedi Khecharem and I failed to get those elusive under-wing pictures yesterday despite seeing the bird.

I would urge visiting birders to keep an eye out for it.

I should end by thanking Karen and Catherine for their company and humour.

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