Tuesday 12 January 2016

Dowkah farm in January

Dowkah farm was my only stop in the desert on the way back to Salalah on Saturday. I gave it three hours there.

The birding was satisfactory but not great. As I said in the last blog, birding in the desert can be hit or miss in winter and I had already had two hits on the previous days. Nevertheless it gave me a better feel for mid-winter desert birding in Oman.

brown-necked raven

I believe I have seen brown-necked raven at the site on every visit no matter what time of year.

hoopoe lark

Hoopoe lark is another ever present if you look at the edges of the far fields away from the farm house.

steppe grey shrike 1

A grey shrike was problematic. It appeared to have no white patch on its wing though the primary patch could have been hidden. Either way the white on other parts of the wing and adjacent areas was under-developed.

steppe grey shrike 2

The overall pale colouration and the lack of any black loral stripe (a full mask to the eye in adults) ruled out a first winter aucheri (Arabian grey shrike).

steppe grey shrike 3

By elimination it must be a poorly marked pallidirostris, steppe grey shrike.

I spent a particularly difficult time on foot out on the middle fields. Both chestnut-bellied sandgrouse and spotted sandgrouse were present but both were very wary and I struggled this time to get good views. When I have come earlier in the morning they are often in flight or drinking at one or two of the make-shift pools. Then they are more visible.

Having said this, I rate Dowkah farm as the most reliable place to see sandgrouse in Oman. For me it beats Muntasar Oasis. Crowned sandgrouse are relatively rare at Dowkah but they are relatively rare at Muntasar too.

part hidden greater short toed lark

This was a difficult period because the predominant lark on the farm on Saturday was wintering greater short toed lark. It is the most wary of all the larks. Being in a car is almost essential for close views of this species. 

tawny pipit

There is no such problems with pipits and wagtails if you are cautious. The tawny pipit in the same fields were much more approachable.

I also picked out a skylark and flushed a common quail here.

cattle egret

The wooded area is often excellent for migrants and much more occasionally for wintering birds. While I was there farm workers were giving it its annual prune and tidy up. This disturbance was not helpful for me on the day but it means that the area will be in good shape for the forthcoming spring migration. The only birds of note were cattle egret by the near-by reservoir and a black redstart in the most shaded area.

several white wagtail

White wagtail were common in patches. Some apparently similar fields had none.

white wagtail

The very last field I visited on the way out turned out to be different and it wasn't apparent from the side. As I walked towards the middle I could see that it had been over-watered. This sometimes happens when the equipment is optimal.

water-logged field

A pallid harrier was flying overhead but it was the birds on the pivot bar and on the ground that were a little different. 

two water pipit

There were several water pipit there.

water pipit (summer plumage)

Some were in breeding plumage and others not. Indeed they almost looked like two different species.

water pipit (winter plumage)

The winter plumaged birds have heavily streaked breasts while those in breeding plumage have a unstreaked pinkish buff breasts. 

red-throated pipit

At least two red-throated pipit were in the same field.

Overall this was satisfactory birding but nowhere near as exciting as on the previous two days. I will be back in the desert in few weeks for the early main passage.

List of species seen at Dowkah farm
Common Quail  1
Cattle Egret  12
Pallid Harrier  1
Green Sandpiper  1
Chestnut-bellied Sandgrouse  15
Spotted Sandgrouse  24
Eurasian Collared-Dove  80
Common Kestrel  4
Southern Grey/Steppe Grey Shrike  1
Brown-necked Raven  6
Greater Hoopoe-Lark  3
Black-crowned Sparrow-Lark  10
Greater Short-toed Lark  160
Crested Lark  6
Skylark  1
Bluethroat  1
Black Redstart  1
Desert Wheatear  13
White Wagtail  55
Tawny Pipit  12
Red-throated Pipit  2
Water Pipit  10
House Sparrow  16

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