Tuesday, 17 May 2016

Shearwaters aplenty off Mirbat

I got an invitation at short notice to go on a pelagic trip off Mirabat on Saturday morning. A camera crew was visiting the area for a documentary. It won't feature me but it was free and in return I hope I was a help with bird identification.

Once we were about one kilometre out it became apparent that there were several shearwaters around of three species. When bait was thrown prolonged and closed views of all three were possible. Indeed this gave some of the best birding I have had in Oman. Flesh-footed shearwater was the most numerous. This species breeds in the southern oceans generally at latitudes 30°
-35° south. However they come north after breeding including to off the Oman coast. Contrary to the regional guide book they are not rare here.

flesh-footed shearwater

They were surprisingly tame and came very close to the boat. My pictures were limited as the film crew demanded silence and stillness much of the time.

flesh-footed shearwater

This shearwater has no confusion species in this park of the world.

underwing of flesh-footed shearwater

At times the shearwaters literally walked on water.

walking on water

The only time they were agitated was when sooty gull competed with them for bait. This was minimised when we took the boat further out.


sooty gull and flesh-footed shearwater

For once the more local and northern hemisphere breeding Persian shearwater was not the most numerous shearwater around.

Persian shearwater

I find it difficult to get good pictures of them as their underbellies are so white that they readily overexpose.

Persian shearwater swimming away

When close to the boat they frequently had their heads in the water.

Persian shearwater with head down

The third shearwater was wedge-tailed shearwater. This is not common off Oman's coasts. There are two main morphs and also various intermediates. The pale morph has a white belly similar to a Persian shearwater. It is not rare throughout the world but it breeds close to the equator. The further the breeding colony is away from the equator the higher proportions of dark morph and intermediates.

The birds seen off Oman are said to be dark morph. Pale morph birds born close to the equator don't migrate far and highly unlikely to come here.  However, the two birds I saw on Saturday looked more intermediate. I have read that these can be described as "cafe au lait".

wedge-tailed shearwater

There are only 63 records of wedge-tailed shearwater off Oman but I suspect it is more common than the numbers suggest. Not too many pelagics take place.

wedge-tailed shearwater

The main confusion species is Jouanin's petrel which is smaller and certainly darker than the two birds I saw on Saturday. The bill is also shorter but stronger on the petrel.

wedge-tailed shearwater

A few Jouanin's petrel were seen but only came close to the boat while the film crew were filming so I have no photos.

Other notably birds were 12 masked booby and a red-billed tropicbird.

black-crowned sparrow lark

On the beach were two larks. They were the ubiquitous black-crowned sparrow lark. I am ever vigilant for Dunn's lark


Even without that, it was a special day.


Birds seen from the boat

Jouanin's Petrel 6
Flesh-footed Shearwater 12
Wedge-tailed Shearwater 2   
Persian Shearwater 5
Wilson's Storm-Petrel 1
Red-billed Tropicbird 1
Masked Booby 12
Striated Heron 1
Common Sandpiper 1
Sooty Gull 22
Bridled Tern 4
Common Tern 12
Great Crested Tern 5

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