Sunday, 31 January 2016

Pallas's fish eagle at Raysut

Dick Forsman the well known raptor specialist and excellent birder was in the Salalah area at the beginning of last week.

I didn't meet him nor indeed have I ever met him. However I was told that he found both a vagrant Pallas's fish eagle and an uncommon (sic) common gull on January 25th in the Raysut area.

The only other information I had to go on was that the gull was seen in Raysut fishing harbour and that the eagle was moving between Raysut and Auqad (the next district to the east).

I went out to look for both birds early on Friday morning and before that on Thursday afternoon but mostly for the gull then.

The end of the story is that I found the Pallas's fish eagle perched on a rock on the seaward side of Raysut lagoons.

perched Pallas's fish eagle

It was a juvenile bird just as expected from seeing Dick's picture of it in flight. However I had it on the ground and after scanning the eagles near-by I had deduced this one was different from the expected eagles. However, I was still unsure it was the required bird.

Pallas's fish eagle noticing me at the far side

The only confusion species here in Salalah when the bird is perched is Eastern Imperial Eagle. Both have a pale breast but a juvenile Pallas's fish eagle is less streaked. More obvious differences are the grey bill, short white gape, large black shadow behind the eye and lack of feathers on the tarsus.

Pallas's fish eagle standing more erect

The lagoons are fresh water but without any fish. This means the water fowl are in trouble as the bird readily takes them as food. Indeed, apparently it can stand for long times at the water's edge waiting for the moment to pounce. The lagoon is currently loaded with ducks, grebes and moorhen.

My intuition told me it might roost either at the seaward end of the lagoon or at the near-by coast.

Before I moved on to the lagoons, I had looked hard on the coast near-by. I did find plenty of roosting birds of prey but not the one I was looking for.

juvenile black kite 1

In total I found 10 black kite roosting on the ground either near the beach or over a fence in the naval football field.

juvenile black kite 2

There were black kite of all ages.  One greater spotted eagle may have roosted there too. It was certainly on the ground and showing no obvious desire to move off.

greater spotted eagle

There were 14 osprey in the same area with proportionately more in the football field.


I pretty much ignored the waders at the shore although I was distracted from the birds of prey momentarily by a pipit. I think it is always good to look hard at "normal" birds seen in unexpected places. They can turn out to be unexpected species.

tawny pipit 1

This one was just a tawny pipit though.

tawny pipit 2

My search for the juvenile common gull in the fishing harbour was less successful. There were at least fifty each of Heuglin's gull, sooty gull and slender-billed gull and lesser numbers of Steppe gull. However there was no common gull.

slender-billed gull

A small number of the slender-billed gull were in breeding plumage.

smallest large white headed gull

Finding a common gull among the large white headed gulls should have been quite possible if it had been there. First the birds were collectively very tame. I suppose they get used to the fishermen. Second it is so much smaller. Third it's plumage should be distinctive.

The smallest large white headed gull I found is pictured above. 

two large white headed gulls

I show this bird compared with another for a size comparison. A juvenile common gull is very mottled on the upper breast and starts to develop a grey mantle early. This bird has only a small amount of grey on the mantle and no mottling. It was also a little large.

I know I don't look at gulls enough but I can't afford to miss such rarities. This miss though was not enough to dampen my happiness at seeing the Pallas's fish eagle.

Saturday, 30 January 2016

West side stories

I went out birding twice during the week on returning from Spain. Both times I headed west from the city.

One visit was to Mughsail. A vagrant Brahminy kite had been spotted at Wadi Darbet two months ago by one group but not seen again until a report last week of it at Mughsail which is over 60 kilometres away.

It was sufficient reason to go there.

I searched hard but it was not to be found.

Instead I resorted to looking for crakes as the sun started to go down.

five Arabian partridge

When you stand still long enough, things can happen. In this case as I was waiting for crakes at the water's edge of Khawr Mughsail, a flock of Arabian partridge walked across the close hillside right in front of me.

eight Arabian partridge

I am quite adept at finding crakes but still not the one I want. There is no secret to crake watching except to keep still and be patient. I find I don't even really need cover. Stillness is the key.

Baillon's crake 1

I saw both a spotted crake and a Baillon's crake. The latter for a prolonged period.

Baillon's crake

The very short wing projection told me it was Baillon's crake once again and not a little crake. Little crake is still alluding me in Oman even though Mughsail has had more reports than any where else in recent months.

Baillon's crake 3

Another good bird seen here was a yellow bittern. Of course I kept an eye out for birds of prey as a Brahminy kite had been the first objective. 

short-toed snake eagle

My total haul was one greater spotted eagle, one short-toed snake eagle and two kestrel.

My other trip out west was to Raysut. Raysut may be an industrial zone but it has four or five of the best birding sites in the country. The two I visited this time were the settling pools and the lagoons.

The settling pools were teeming with birds and yet nothing was new. Finding new species while birding in Dhofar is getting harder and harder. 

However I have other interesting than just obtaining a longer list.

The settling pools aren't really a sewage works. It's not the water than is recovered but the biomass. This is usually dumped at the corner of the works to dry out completely before being bagged as fertiliser. The drying mass is covered in wagtails and pipits at this time of year. Sometimes other birds join in.

I am always looking for something different. This time it was a wagtail with no colour.

wagtail 1

There isn't enough white on the wing panels for a young citrine wagtail.

wagtail 2

Likewise a young white wagtail has more white than this and at least some trace of a dark necklace.

wagtail 3

Most but not all yellow wagtails have some yellow on the vent. The exception is the beema sub species and that's what I think this bird is. Nevertheless it is still underdeveloped for this time of year.

wagtail 4

I believe I can see a hint of green appearing on the back.

wood sandpiper and common redshank

Elsewhere as I have already said, the site was teeming with birds. There were very large numbers of waders near all the pockets of water.

steppe eagle

Although the near-by city rubbish dump attracts hundreds of steppe eagle, the settling pools are a magnet for a smaller number of greater spotted eagle. The Eastern Imperial eagle show less preference though sometimes can be seen there. Steppe eagle do however fly over the pools but don't often land at the works.

Intermediate egret

There are always several grey heron and western reef heron at the pools at least in winter. Other heron family members are common but not certain. Intermediate egret is not uncommon but  is prized by visiting birders to Dhofar. This one has a dark tip to the bill showing it comes from India rather than Africa.


Many of the ducks are now in breeding plumage including this teal.

black-headed gull and cattle egret

Not so many black-headed gull make it south to Dhofar in winter but the settling pools are the best place to see them especially towards the end of winter.

After the settling pools I made a quick scan of the lagoons before the sun set.

ruddy shelduck and slender-billed gull

The ruddy shelduck were still present. Here slender-billed gull replace black-headed gull as the main type.

glossy ibis

The number of glossy ibis there continues to rise.

There wasn't much time to view the lagoons properly.

However yesterday, it became the site of a very important sighting which was not only a an addition to my country list but a lifer too. I will write about this next.

Sunday, 24 January 2016

Around Oliva

Last week I birded in and around Oliva Spain where I have my winter house. Pego marshes is near-by and has a good reputation for passage birds and also red-necked nightjar in summer. Indeed I saw several of the nightjars in July 2015.


I am not sure I tackled Pego marshes correctly but the results weren't that good. Perhaps I was in the wrong part. Hopefully I have years in the future to discover a better way.

Even the way I tackled it, I couldn't miss the fact the place is home to numerous chiffchaff in winter.

pego marshes

For a while I struggled to see much else. Collared dove adorned the gardens at the edge that was obvious.

European collared dove

Eventually I started to pick things up. The odd reed bunting exposed itself.

reed bunting perched

Sometimes they were in the reeds and occasionally in bushes or on near-by ground. A bearded tit was probably the best bird seen in the reeds and perhaps during the session.

reed bunting on the ground

My first Spanish chaffinch was observed next to two grounded reed bunting.

robin from the rear

Several robin were behaving like their bluethroat cousins I see in the reeds of Oman in winter.


Indeed I glimpsed a bluethroat there too. Pego is at the extreme north of their wintering range.

A meadow pipit was another single bird seen.


Of the larger water birds a grey heron and three great cormorant indicated the potential of the site yet overall I was a little disappointed.

While the marshes may have been a disappointment, two walks on other days within the town towards the beach were better than I had expected. I was joined on one of these walks my local expat Viv Carlson and I am grateful for her directional guidance and company.


Both walks followed water channels through the orange groves that separate much of the town from the sea.

Goldfinch and greenfinch are readily picked up. Kestrel can be observed on the wires.

booted eagle 1

A pair of adult pale morph booted eagle were not expected though. I hadn't realised this was a winter possibility in Oliva at all. I wonder if this is global warming playing a part. The vast majority of booted eagle winter south of the Sahara.

booted eagle 2

Strangely, I saw more water birds here than at Pego marshes. Little egret peppered the water ways.

little egret

Mallard was common and most birds were paired off. I assume the breeding season is not long away for them.


Mallard was very tame and the local moorhen were also.


Black redstart is clearly a common winterer and was seen in a variety of habitats on these walks even including gardens.

black redstart taking off

Spotless startling is a local resident bird and easily observed. I was much more pleased to come across a flock of European starling which is only found in Spain in winter.

European starling

Gardens and park areas on the walk yielded other birds I typically associate with northern Europe though each one is a potential resident in this part of Spain too.


Blackbird is one of these birds and it is also found in the orange groves.

female chaffinch

I got better and longer looks at the local chaffinch than I had at Pego.

male chaffinch

Another bird which is resident in both northern and southern Europe is great tit. Seeing one on my walk madeit species number 72 on my slowly growing Spanish list which so far has all come from the Oliva area.

great tit

Sardinian warbler is an old friend from Oliva last summer, Libya's Mediterranean coast all year round and in far north west Saudi Arabia in winter.

Sardinian warbler

In spring in Libya it was easily seen in the breeding season when the males get brave on exposed perches. Otherwise its very tricky to get good views. I finally managed good views in Oliva on the second walk.


The last addition to my Spanish list was European stonechat with both a male and a female flitting around bushes next to the dunes on the coast.

European serin 1

On the way back from that sighting, I finally came up close to a few European serin which had been dodging me throughout.

European serin 2

The last new bird for the walk  however was a cattle egret perched in a stream in exactly the same place as a little egret had been earlier. 

cattle egret

I am back in Oman now and hope to resume birding here very soon after my interlude in Spain.