Monday, 30 November 2015

Mazyunah in the morning

On Friday I made a very long day trip to Mazyunah. It's a large desert town right on the border with Yemen. It's 250 kilometres north west of Salalah and required a pre-dawn start.

This was my first visit and I will go again as there are several good birding sites.

My first stop was just 15 kilometres before the town in the last large wadi.

Palestine sunbird on Sodom's apple

The wadi's vegetation included both sodom's apple bushes and Tamerisk trees. Obviously this is a good combination for sunbirds. All three southern sunbirds were present: Palestine sunbird, shining sunbird and Nile Valley sunbird.

Palestine sunbird

This is the first place I have come to in Oman where Palestine sunbird is not in a highland.

Nile valley sunbird

The Nile valley sunbird have not fully grown their long tails yet ahead of the breeding season.

white spectacled bulbul

Elsewhere in the wadi I saw white spectacled bulbul, desert lark and a single European collared dove.

Eastern Imperial Eagle

As I travelled on and just before I arrived at the town, I came across an Eastern Imperial Eagle.

Part of the reason I went to Mazyunah was because a visiting birder had recently found a new spot. This is the dirty water settling pools where reeds, a marsh bed and a grassy stream have developed.

It is down a dirt track on the right hand side just before the last roundabout which leads to Yemen.

water pipit

On the reeds were two water pipit and two white wagtail.

Daurian shrike

On the fence was a Daurian shrike. It was still early and a spotted crake was out on the open water.

swimming spotted crake

It swam back to the reeds and I didn't see it again all morning.


Several bluethroat were around.

spotted sandgrouse with 2 crowned sandgrouse on the left

From 8.40 am onwards for about half an hour wave after wave of sandgrouse arrived to drink at the bottom end of the stream. The first birds were all Chestnut-bellied sandgrouse. I estimate there were about 90 of those.

Over 250 more sandgrouse arrived peaking at 9.10am. These were mostly spotted sandgrouse with a few crowned sandgrouse.

red-throated pipit

Along the stream were several citrine wagtail and yellow wagtail as well as at least red-throated pipit.

Back at the pool were several duck.


Most were pintail and northern shoveller though there was one teal.


Waders there included ten or so greenshank.

four Eastern Imperial Eagles

As the morning progressed I turned my attention back to the stream. Where the sandgrouse had been up to six Eastern Imperial eagle came down to drink. One or eagles returned repeatedly all morning. Two Egyptian vulture were also seen briefly over head.

I stayed in the area all day and searched more widely. The afternoon turned out eventfully. I will blog about this next.

Sunday, 29 November 2015

Special sparrows and swallows

There were a couple of reports of a small flock of yellow-throated sparrow at Sawnaut farm last week.

This very large farm is out of bounds but one can view inside from behind the perimeter fence. Sometimes birds are outside the perimeter anyway.

On Thursday morning I tried my luck before work by walking along the western fence.

The very first bird I spotted was an Abyssinian white-eye on a dead tree on my side of the fence. I can't recall seeing one at the farm before.

Abyssinian white-eye

Near-by a group of Indian house crow were mobbing a Bonelli's eagle.

barn swallow

I was checking out all the hirundines for rarities but seeing only barn swallow. All the time I watched out for yellow-throated sparrow either side of the fence.

Steppe grey shrike

There was not shortage of birds but just not the one I was targetting. A Steppe grey shrike was perched on another dead bush.

Isabelline wheatear 1

I was momentarily distracted from my main goal by a wheatear with quite a grey back. I originally thought it might be a northern wheatear which is very rare but possible in winter.

Isabelline wheatear 2

I concluded it was an Isabelline wheatear after all with the supercilium being strong in front of the eye and its isolated dark alula.

My hopes were raised when I came across several sparrows which turned out to be house sparrow. This is however a rare bird in Salalah not found on houses and only around the two farms. There was no yellow-throated sparrow among them.

European roller

There was one European roller left. This species comes in autumn and seems to stop over for a few weeks. However they are almost unseen in December and January.

Other interesting birds included rosy starling which winter at the farm.

rosy starling

Singing bush lark can be seen all year round.

singing bush lark

I left for work without success with the sparrow.

However that was not the end of the day's birding. I had agreed to meet up with visiting Belgian birder Bart De Schutter in Raysut after work. By tremendous coincidence we texted me to say he had found three yellow-throated sparrow at Raysut settling pools. Meanwhile I had to stay at work while itching to go off.

Soone after this I received another text to say he had also found a wire-tailed swallow there. Bart De Schutter is one of the best birders I have ever birded with and has a tremendous eye for detail.

As soon as work was over I rushed over to Raysut. Bart quickly relocated the yellow-throated sparrow. It is his photograph below and I am grateful for his permission to reproduce it. This sparrow breeds in the north of the country and disperses in winter. It became species 306 on my Oman list.

yellow-throated sparrow by Bart De Schutter

The wire-tailed swallow took longer but eventually one landed on a bare bush at the edge of one of the smallest settling pools. Several barn swallow had landed on a near-by bush too.

wire-tailed swallow 1

Remarkably while we were observing this swallow, a second wire-tailed swallow landed near it. Bart has photos of the two birds together.

wire-tailed swallow 2

Wire-tailed swallow is officially a vagrant in Oman but Bart also saw one on Masirah two weeks ago. He also saw two at Taqah in 2013. 

white-tailed swallow 3

These two will be only the tenth record if accepted. It is now species 307 on my Oman list.

tawny pipit

We spent another hour investigating the site. They was a similar mix of birds otherwise as the last time I visited. Some minor changes included the arrival of a small number of tawny pipit and very large increase in the number of white stork.

white stork and Abdim's stork

At one stage there were 900 storks either resting at the site or flying immediately above it.

Salalah dump

When we left the settling pools we visited the south side of the city's rubbish dump which is very close. This is where the storks find most of their food. However we were mostly looking for eagles and in particular the as-yet-not-fully-identified pale eagle seen days before. It was not seen this time.

Then it was off to Raysut lagoons for a whistle stop.

The most interesting bird here was a aberant water pipit which appeared darker than usual and without a supercilium. 

water pipit? 1

It is possible it was a buff-bellied pipit but the legs were dark and unfortunately we couldn't get frontal views.

water pipit? 2

Finally I showed Bart Raysut beach where I had seen a crab plover two days before. It was still there. It is very rare to see one in Salalah. This rocky but smooth beach is unusual habitat for the area and is also the best place to see oystercatcher in Dhofar.


This was a hectic day with work sandwiched in between. However it was a highly rewarding one. Thanks are due to Bart De Schutter.

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.