Friday, 11 December 2015

Three vagrants on Masirah

Friday was the best day at Hilf. Three different vagrant species were seen and photographed and the total number of species seen on the site was 11 higher than the day before.

Asian koel

The start of the day was similar to the day before in that it was easy to see Asian koel out in the open on exposed branches.
pin-tailed snipe with ruff

At the main pools, there were far more waders than the day before. The relatively short bill and well scalloped pattern to upper back of this snipe means it is likely to be a pin-tailed snipe. The other waders are ruff.

black-tailed godwit (centre left)

Both black-tailed godwit and black-winged stilt weren't present the day before either.

To begin with, I followed the same route as the day before. After searching the main pools, I headed towards the associated woods.

This entails a walk through the main works. It was here on a dead tree overhanging out of the pool area into the main works area was the white-throated kingfisher.

I saw it briefly when I arrived on Wednesday evening but not at all on Thursday. At last I got prolonged views and photographs of the first recorded white-throated kingfisher in Oman.

white throated kingfisher

I passed by the cluster of small over-spill pools. Here chiffchaff were chasing flies. The day before I had only seen them in the forested areas. Views were much easily here. Two bluethroat were around too.


Further round but still not at the woods,  a male Asian koel was perched on a dead tree. I suspect this was the same male as seen deep in the woods the day before. If not there were four there and not three.

male Asian koel

These woods are quite beautiful and almost certainly only exist as a result of a water course below ground fed by the sewage works. There is no smell or hint of unnaturalness when in them though.

the edge of the woods

I quickly found the red-breasted flycatcher from the day before.

putative blue and white flycatcher 1

However it was another and much rarer flycatcher that stole the show. On the edge of the woods was a large flycatcher which I saw chase away a chiffchaff. I could see from this interaction how large it was.

The bird is a female flycatcher which has been identified as a vagrant blue and white flycatcher by highly qualified people on birdforum and other sources.

There is a potential difficulty as blue and white flycatcher was split in 2014 into blue and white flycatcher and Zappey's flycatcher. The former has a population 50 times that of Zappey's flycatcher and there are no records of the latter bird west of Burma in the 18 months since the split. However, the females are very similar.

 putative blue and white flycatcher 2

I am preparing the case that it can only be a blue and white flycatcher and it is too big a subject to cover on this blog and is also work in progress. However I can say at this stage that one of the two co-authors of the splits paper wrote to me and said:" based on what we know of the range and population size of Zappey’s Flycatcher, it seems reasonable to assume that your bird is Blue and White".

 the flycatcher in different light

If this record is accepted, it will be only the third in Oman and the first since the split.

After all the excitement in the woods, I returned to the main ponds. 

yellow wagtail

There were yet more species now present which were either not the day before or I had missed them. Along side the white wagtail were also yellow wagtail and a single grey wagtail.

Indian pond heron

I made another scan of the herons and once again Indian pond heron outnumbered squacco heron.

male marsh harrier

In the air over the day at one stage there were four marsh harrier. I suppose this is probably the only place for them to visit on the island so the density is not a complete surprise. A single Egyptian vulture was also seen flying over.

great cormorant

Nearly all the great cormorant that roost on site disappear to the sea each day but occasionally one can be seen at the works. Here one was sunning itself.

wire-tailed swallow (l) and barn swallow (r)

The previous afternoon was when I encountered the two vagrant wire-tailed swallow. There were there again hawking for insects over the pools. Indeed there were only three swallows of any time. The other one was a barn swallow.

The wire-tailed swallow were the third vagrant of the day.

bar-tailed godwit(l) and ruff (r)

There were fewer waders than in the morning but one new arrival appears to have been a bar-tailed godwit. This is not common in Dhofar but hundreds winter at Bar Al Hikman on the mainland opposite Masirah.

white-winged tern

Both whiskered tern and white winged tern were present on all my birding sessions at the works. This one is a white-winged tern which has a much whiter rump than a whiskered tern.

two wire-tailed swallow

One of my last efforts before finishing on Friday was to have as close a look as possible at the wire-tailed swallow. They had a preferred perch at the waters edge and give me enjoyable long views from it. It was a fitting end to my time at Hilf.

Hilf, Masriah is such a long way from Salalah that it took almost all Saturday to return even with the first ferry. I took the inland road which is longer but quicker.

My stops weren't really for birding but more to rest. Nevertheless I did manage to see an Asian koel out in the open at Qatbeet.

Asian koel at Qatbeet

My birding since the long weekend has all been local to Salalah. This has not been uneventful. I will blog about it next.

Species seen at Hilf sewage works on December 4th

Vagrants marked as bold

Northern Shoveler 16
Northern Pintail 10
Garganey 7
Eurasian Teal 4
Black-necked Grebe 1
Great Cormorant 60    
Grey Heron 8
Purple Heron 1
Western Reef-Heron 4
Cattle Egret 6
Squacco Heron 2
Indian Pond-Heron 5
Glossy Ibis 3
Egyptian Vulture 1
Eurasian Marsh-Harrier 4
Common Moorhen 6
Eurasian Coot 1
Black-winged Stilt 5
Red-wattled Lapwing 1
Common Sandpiper 4
Green Sandpiper 3
Wood Sandpiper 8
Black-tailed Godwit 2
Bar-tailed Godwit 1
Ruff 10
Common Snipe 2
Pin-tailed Snipe 2
Slender-billed Gull 8
Black-headed Gull 2
Steppe Gull  1
White-winged Tern 4
Whiskered Tern 4
Laughing Dove 28
Asian Koel 3    
Eurasian Hoopoe 1
Common Kingfisher 1
White-throated Kingfisher 1   
Ring-necked Parakeet  1
Daurian Shrike  1
Barn Swallow 1
Wire-tailed Swallow 2
Common Chiffchaff 5
Menetries's Warbler 1
Blue-and-white Flycatcher 1 
Bluethroat 2
Red-breasted Flycatcher 1
Desert Wheatear 4
Isabelline Wheatear 1
Western Yellow Wagtail 4
Grey Wagtail 1
White Wagtail 6

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