Wednesday, 24 February 2016

Wadi Kheesh with Sawnaut farm

I visited Wadi Kheesh for a second time yesterday afternoon. This hard-to-access wadi is currently the easiest place to see Arabian golden-winged grosbeak that I know. In part it must be because it is relatively less disturbed than other similar habitats. It must also be because water is permanent. However the water tank is no longer over-flowing and the stream running from it is drying up. This leaves the water trough.

I had great hopes in the passage to see migrants come to drink. I still have some hopes but the place is not quite as attractive as it was only 10 days ago.

Arabian golden-winged grosbeak with White spectacled bulbul

At the moment the Arabian golden-winged grosbeak are among the birds using the water trough though they are very careful about coming down. I saw five do so this time.

Arabian golden-winged grosbeak

The grosbeaks also only came to the part of the trough close to the one overhanging tree. 

birds drinking at the trough

The most common bird at the trough and indeed the wadi was cinnamon-breasted bunting. White spectacled bulbul is high density too. 

blue rock thrush

With the exception of Arabian golden-winged grosbeak, I have tried to photograph different birds from my last visit. There was a single male blue rock-thrush present.

little green bee-eater

Two other species I didn't see last time were Arabian wheatear and little green bee-eater.

pale crag martin

Pale crag martin were again continually flying over the trough. They were both drinking and bathing on the wing.

I left the site with about one hour before dusk. This give me about 45 minutes on the edge of Sawnaut farm on the way home. To do this justice requires at least twice this amount of time. Nevertheless I had some highlights. The birds of prey included two Eastern Imperial eagle, a male pallid harrier and a female marsh harrier

pallid harrier

A large flock of cattle egret were grazing next to a watering pivot bar.

rosy-ringed parakeet

On my side of the fence, common myna were squabbling with rose-ringed parakeet over dead palms. It looked like the parakeets were searching for nest sites.

yellow throated sparrow

However arguably the best sight of the day was a small flock of yellow throated sparrow. No males were apparently with them but even in the twilight they can be separated from the similar pale rock sparrow by the bill shape and size. The leg colour is a good fit too. This is more likely to be a spring group than wintering.

I liked their spirit. The mobbed and chased away a steppe grey shrike in the same bush. This something I have never seen house sparrow do.

I am out of country for a long weekend for work purposes. However I will blog any birding I do.

Monday, 22 February 2016

Tudho and Mazyunah

Travelling towards the Yemen border, midway between Mudhai and Mazyunah but 12 kilometres west off the main road is Tudho. It is at top of Wadi Aydam but it is possible to get down in this widest and deepest of wadis in Dhofar.

The wadi is apparent a stronghold of Oman's trumpeter finch. This species is still a target for me in Oman and was the main reason for my detour.

It was recommended that I stake out a 10 metre long water trough where the finch is known to come down to drink. After a walk around the area especially looking up the cliffs a stake out is exactly want I did.

I waited patiently for two and half hours under a tree but no finches arrived. Perhaps it wasn't hot enough, perhaps it was the wrong tine of day. I will try again some time and later in the afternoon on a hotter day.

The place was not without other birding attractions. There were plenty of both Nile Valley sunbird and Palestine sunbird about. Not many birds find a use for Sodom's apple bushes but they do.

Nile Valley sunbird 1

The best observations and pictures of them were taken as I sat under the tree. Being totally still often works. The male Nile valley sunbird are close to attending their full breeding plumage at the moment.

Nile valley sunbird

Palestine sunbird also visited the same bushes and often at the same time as the Nile Valley sunbird.

Palestine sunbird on Sodom's apple

Palestine sunbird but not Nile valley sunbird was also seen drinking. They didn't drink from the water trough but from a leaking tap and its pool. I never underestimate the birding value of leaking taps in Arabia.

Palestine sunbird moving in to drink

The water trough did attract some birds to drink. The most regular was a desert wheatear.

desert wheatear at the water trough

The most numerous were desert lark and laughing dove.

desert lark

Indeed the density of desert lark in the area was one of the highest I have ever seen. In the near-by camel pens they were crawling around like a flock of sparrows.

laughing dove

White spectacled bulbul were drinking from both the trough and leaking taps.

white spectacled bulbul

After Tudho, I pressed on to Mazyunah and arrived at the Old Sewage pond around 3.30pm.

There was very little change since the week before and so this extension of the trip turned out to be unproductive. I expect this to be different once the passage season starts in earnest. 

Eastern Imperial eagle

Two eastern imperial eagle were actually wading in pool.


Passerines including white wagtail, water pipit and bluethroat were easily seen around the reeds and near-by water.

spotted crake 1

A spotted crake was walking out in the open as soon as I arrived at 3.30pm. I parked up and watched it from the car. This was surprising and yet I didn't see a little crake at all. Even though it is now on my Oman list, it is still a difficult bird for me.

spotted crake 2

Friday afternoon was not as successful as the morning where the Cretzschmar's bunting was seen en route. However I will certainly be coming this way again during the passage. I believe Mudhai, Tudho and Mazyunah have great potential then. I might even finally pick up the resident trumpeter finch too.

Sunday, 21 February 2016

Vagrant Cretzschmar's bunting in Mudhai

Following the success of mine and Markus Craig's visit to Mazyunah on the Yemen border two Fridays ago, I decided to take the same route again the last Friday.

This time I also decided to stop off at Mudhai oasis en route as well. This turned out to be very fortuitous.

Instead of spending all my time next to the watering hole which has a strong attraction to most birders, I wandered round the village itself for at least half of my time. 

There are plenty of trees, bushes and spilt animal feed there which also attract birds.

Next to one set of bushes was a big find. I came across a Cretzschmar's bunting.

Cretzschmar's bunting

Only four other Cretzschmar's bunting have ever been officially recorded in Oman. All have been in western desert spots and all have been in February or early March.

Cretzschmar's bunting 2

This female bird was very confiding and was eating non-stop. I got within 2.5 metres of it.

Cretzschmar's bunting 3

There is very little to beat the thrill of finding your own vagrant. The only downside is having to fill in another rarity report for the Rare Birds Committee.

Cretzschmar's bunting 4

Identification in the field of female birds is not quite as straightforward as for males. However the pure white eye ring, the big difference in the shades of the upper and lower mandible, the warmer upper tail colour, the orangey-rust throat were some of the features that all point to Cretzschmar's bunting rather than Ortolan bunting.

Furthermore, Ortolan bunting mostly migrate through Oman in April. 

This was not the only highlight in Mudhai. I saw more African collared dove here than even at Mazyunah.

African collared dove

In total I observed 16. However 14 were roosting on a wire at the very entrance to the village from the Thumrait end. They were sharing the wire with three rock dove but no Eurasian collared dove

four African collared dove

In the village in a bush at the edge of the main school, I found a small tree with eight Eurasian collared dove. The two species clearly don't roost together in this village. I suspect the only reason they do in Mazyunah is lack of alternatives.

nine African collared dove

It appears the African collared dove spend most time in the day near the camel pens on the left hand side as the Thumrait road comes into the village while the Eurasian collared dove are more likely to be inside the village and near the watering hole. Since most birders head to the latter two spots could be the reason they can miss them altogether.

I was lucky to be there so early I found them before they dispersed.

hooded wheatear 1"

My regional guide says hooded wheatear are found in "desolate, barren, rocky ravines, gorges and deserts". Indeed they do but you can also sometimes see them on wires in Mudhai village.

hooded wheatear 2

Very close to the site of the Cretschmar's bunting was a male hooded wheatear on a wire.

I did also visit the area around the watering hole and I did get to see plenty of Nile Valley sunbird and palestine sunbird which are part of the attraction for this part of the village. However my pictures are better from a different site and so I will include them in that blog (the next one).

The one disappointment of this site was my failure to see any hypocolius this time. Mudhai normally houses a dozen or so each winter around the watering hole.

sand partridge

Slight compensation was afforded by spotting a sand partridge high on an over-looking ridge.


Mudhai does have some more "ordinary" birds too. There are sizeable populations of blackstart, laughing dove, white-spectacled bulbul, desert lark and house sparrow.

After Mudhai I continued north west towards Mazyunah but stopping off at a new place for me called Tudho. I will blog about that next.

Saturday, 20 February 2016

Round up on Raysut

Mid-week birding is a little tricky at the moment as work demands are currently high. Nevertheless I managed to get for a short while last Wednesday afternoon.

This was time for two quick trips to Raysut settling pools and Raysut lagoons.

Abdim's stork

This may have been the last chance to see Abdim's stork this winter as they returned to their breeding areas in the third week of February last year.

barn swallow

The settling pools held the largest number of birds I have ever seen there. The wintering birds have been swollen with large numbers of passage barn swallow, sand martin, yellow wagtail, waders and ducks. Picking out a rarity systematically would have taken a lot longer than I had. I concentrated on hirundines but with no success.

male pintail

Most of the ducks are now in full breeding plumage.

I moved on to Raysut lagoons. This place is excellent in the mornings for eagles which mostly roost near-by and are active close to the lagoon then. In the afternoon many wander away including the Pallas's fish eagle for which most sightings have been in the morning.

Black-tailed godwit with a ruff

The lagoons like the settling pools were crowded with birds but I suspect for a different reason. The weather had been very windy and I believe many sea birds and waders which might normally be on the coast had come inland a few hundred metres for shelter.

Black-tailed godwit would normally be expected in this type of habitat any way.

However while the land-loving birds of prey may have been roaming, there were certainly more osprey over the lagoon than usual and as far as I know it doesn't have any large fish.


The sea birds that congregated in the lagoon included at least 100 hundred each of sooty gull, slender-billed gull and Heuglin's gull. There were certainly a small number of both black headed gull and steppe gull too. I spent over 20 minutes scanning for rarities with no success. The common gull reported once a couple of week's ago near-by was not seen.

mixed sea birds

Caspian tern and whiskered tern were also present.

close up of some sea birds

This site is now as good as East Khawr, West Khawr and Khawr Rori for Eurasian spoonbill.

two spoonbill

Since it started being filled with large water amounts from the waste treatment plant over the past two years, the vegetation has matured and now supports a wider range of birds than ever before. Since the water is so clean  (ie low in phosphate and nitrates) high and dense reeds don't choke the landscape either making it different from all other major water bodies in the area.

three spoonbill

Just before dusk I saw African silverbill beginning to gather.

African silverbill

However this was not the most intriguing gathering.

three African silverbill

Instead that was a gathering of citrine wagtail in a small cluster of low reed. I counted sixteen citrine wagtail there as I drove by.

part of a citrine wagtail roost at dusk

I must admit I have never seen a citrine wagtail roost before. Indeed I didn't even know they grouped in reeds.

This session was pleasant but not the best. I suppose I have been looking forward to forthcoming spring passage for a change of pace.

Little did I know that that the passage would give me such an early excellent result just two days later. I will blog about that next.

Thursday, 18 February 2016

Mazyunah in late winter

A week ago Friday I made the long day trip to Mazyunah on the border with Yemen with visiting birder Markus Craig. 

It is sufficiently different from Salalah to give me prospects of new additions to my Oman list. Notably I had Dunn's lark, golden eagle and little crake (at the small wetland there) on my mind. All three are tricky birds. Indeed any bird not already on my country list is tricky. The list is too long now to have any "easy" left.

To get to Mazyunah you have to travel to Thumrait and then via Mudhai. The stretch of road between Thumrait and Mudhai is about the only place in recent years where the elusive Dunn's lark has verifiability been seen (though there have been more doubtful reports from Al Beed farm). 

We studied every lark we came across there causing us to "lose"all the early morning. Every one was a desert lark. Dunn's lark is tough.

Desert lark by Markus Craig

As we finally pressed on towards Mazyunah we stopped briefly at a hamlet called Qafa on a dirt side road marked towards Shisr. I had seen European turtle dove and a crowned sandgrouse there on a previous stop.

Black redstart

This time the best bird was a black redstart assumed to on passage as the habitat there is very open. The small water tank is a big attraction.

As we neared Mazyunah we noticed the town's rubbish dump on the left hand side about 5 kilometres out. 

Scattered on the hill tops around it were several large birds of prey which all turned out to steppe eagle with one griffon vulture which soon departed.

steppe eagle perched

The steppe eagle were all adult or near adult.

steppe eagle 1

They approached closely on occasion.

steppe eagle 2

We stayed some while as it was always possible that a golden eagle might be around. It proved not to be the case.

Egyptian vulture

Nevertheless by staying we noticed the arrival of six Egyptian vulture.

Spotted sandgrouse

Twenty spotted sandgrouse also flew over.

Close to Mazyunah we divided our time during the day between the old sewage pond just to the north of the city and the smaller new sewage works to the south off the Tosinat (dirt) road.

The latter had few birds except on our first arrival where three birds of prey were drinking. These were two Eastern Imperial Eagle and one steppe eagle.

Eastern Imperial eagle at new sewage works by Markus Craig

The old sewage pond with its reeds and overflow creating a long stream is the best birding location though.

Eastern Imperial eagle at old sewage pond

Here several Eastern Imperial eagle came and went to drink all day long. Ducks and waders included pintail, teal, garganey, mallard, ruff, Temminck's stint, wood sandpiper and more. All these were in a desert location.

Desert wheatear were scattered around but there was also one red-tailed wheatear. It is right at the south westerly edge of its known wintering range.

red-tailed wheatear

From four pm onward birding came frenetic. Bird activity rose substantially. It began as we spotted a wintering whinchat. This follows on from one seen at Muntasar oasis a few weeks ago.

whinchat by Markus Craig

Four water pipit hadn't been seen during the day either.

water pipit by Markus Craig

Both Eurasian collared dove and African collared dove started to gather around the reeds where we assume they roost at night. The numbers that can be seen here are the highest in Oman.

African collared dove (l) and Eurasian collared dove (r)

To finish the day we looked for crakes and found two very quickly. One was a spotted crake which was seen first and was more open.

spotted crake

The second was more problematic. We had trouble with quaity of our photographs and separating the possibilities of adult Baillon's crake from adult male little crake.

We saw the bird had clean deep blue underparts with little barring on the flanks and the shape including primary projection supported little crake. However we struggled to see any red on the bill. This left us in some doubt.

Luckily Hanne and Jens Eriksen visited four days later and cleared the mystery up. From their observations and pictures it can be seen the the red at the base of the bill is very small. This was a lifer for me and instructive in what features can and can't be used in the field to separate the adult male birds.

little crake at Mazyunah by Hanne and Jens Eriksen

Little crake and particularly adult birds are uncommon in Oman. Mazyunah is about as close to their main migration route (a little north and west of Oman) as there is in the country. 

close up of little crake at Mazyunah by Hanne and Jens Eriksen

I am grateful for Markus Craig's company on this trip and permission to reproduce some of his photographs. I am equally grateful to Hanne and Jens Eriksen for permission to reproduce their photographs of little crake. Ownership of all these photos remains with them.