Monday, 21 December 2015

Ansab wetlands with an Asian dowitcher

I don't visit the north of Oman very often but work took me there on Wednesday. I managed both a late Wednesday afternoon and an early Thursday morning visit to Al Ansab wetlands in Muscat.

I was with Jens and Hanne Eriksen for the Wednesday visit.

My first priority was the vagrant Asian dowitcher which Jens easily found and pointed out to me.

Asian dowitcher

It looks superficially like a bar-tailed godwit but there are obvious differences when you know what to look for. First of all it is a fresh water bird. It breeds in freshwater and winters in it. Whereas bar-tailed-godwit is a coastal bird.

It is slightly smaller and has a virtually all black bill swollen at the top. The bill is also held at a lower angle.  It has barred flanks too.

Asian dowitcher with ruff

This bird stayed in the middle of the lake and so a scope is needed to see the barred flanks. It was because the bird stayed in the middle and because it is rightly not allowed to go down to the water's edge that my pictures are so distant. 

While I was there the dowitcher associated quite strong with a flock of ruff. I understand before the ruff arrived it was feeding mostly with black-winged stilt.

It was a constant feeder and so its reported sewing machine feeding action wasn't readily apparent.

Asian dowitcher with ruff on Thursday

It has been on site since early November though there is some doubt over whether it has been there continuously. 

The species is near-threatened as there are only estimated to be 23,000 worldwide and more than half winter in the same place on Sumatra. A few winter in southern India. It has never been seen in Arabia before. The one Yemen record has been withdrawn. However this autumn we have had strong easterly winds and more species usually seen in India are being seen in Oman than normal.

white-tailed lapwing

I saw 55 species in total at the wetlands over the two sessions. One lesser highlight were two white-tailed lapwing which are more common in the north than in Dhofar. Of course there were several red-wattled lapwing present.

little green bee-eater

Common birds at the wetland included little green bee-eater and sadly common myna which is at nuisance levels not only here but in Muscat generally.

common myna

In contrast I observed only one Daurian shrike which I believe is first winter.

Daurian shrike

My start point for separating Turkestan shrike from Daurian shrike is often to see if it is a dull bird with few contrasting features (pointing towards Daurian).Then there are individual sets of features that should contrast more depending on the gender and age (for example the supercilia in adult birds).  Also only a few Turkestan shrike winter in Arabia though there are some in Dhofar so caution is needed.

common moorhen

Moorhen are probably very numerous at the site but only a proportion show themselves.

common teal

I saw more species of duck than I have at any site in Dhofar this winter. I am sure this is helped by the fact that the second lake at Ansab has deep water encouraging diving ducks as well as dabbing ones. I saw shoveller, pintail, teal, tufted duck, ferruginous duck, pochard and mallard.

little grebe at sunset

Little grebe are numerous but I was a little surprised not to see a black-eared grebe.

I am grateful to Hanne and Jens Eriksen for guiding me round the site and for arranging a late afternoon viewing. Normally small groups or individuals must go in weekday mornings and by appointment.

At 6.15 am the next morning that's what I did.

graceful prinia

There was plenty of activity at dawn. For example several graceful prinia were out in the open.

common snipe 1

I returned to the area I call the picnic area several times. It has seats and is prettily landscaped. Here I came across a common snipe which had some strange behaviour. It allowed me much closer than usual and indeed carried on feeding. When it did take off it make no sound but I did see a light trailing edge. The strangeness made me investigate a possible vagrant Wilson's snipe as an alternative.

common snipe 2

Unfortunately the best plumage differences are all in the underwing and require either flight pictures or the bird in the hand.

Furthermore the supporting criteria of a darker mantle and distinctly lighter lower breast pattern compared with the upper breast were not in obvious evidence.

purple sunbird

Purple sunbird was remarkably numerous both on bushes and in the reeds.

White spectacled bulbul with mosquitoes

The above picture is not really to represent white spectacled bulbul but to show how many mosquitoes are on site. At dawn and dusk they are more than a nuisance.

white-eared bulbul

White-eared bulbul were also present. I noticed they are almost certainly introduced like in Riyadh. The natural ones in eastern province of Saudi Arabia have a distinct yellow eye ring. 

 mostly little egret with grey heron

On the hillside above the "picnic area" several tens of egrets and heron were seen sitting. Many were little egret but great egret and grey heron were also present. There was at least one intermediate egret too.

greater spotted eagle

I made one last return to the picnic area where a greater spotted eagle was resting.

There were at least 14 at the wetland. In previous years I am told there were only 2 or 3. The reasons for the increase aren't fully understood though the introduction of Tilapia fish to combat the mosquitoes may be relevant. Certainly these fish make up a sizeable part of their diet as I witnessed.

Temminck's stint

Also at the ornamental stream was a Temminck's stint and it was in deeper water than usual.

common sandpiper and citrine wagtail

Near-by I finally photographed a citrine wagtail which had evaded me until the very end.

I stayed in the north over the weekend. I linked up again with Hanne and Jens Eriksen who took me to some very interesting sites in the Sohar area. I will blog about that next.

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