Friday 31 October 2014

Spotted eagle at East Khawr

I went to East Khawr on Wednesday afternoon for a quick visit after work. There had been quite a lot of change in the bird cast since even the day before. 

One of the changes was a big increase in the number of birds of prey. The star one was a spotted eagle.

Unfortunately it didn't stay put.

first shot of the spotted eagle

I had not seen any spotted eagle since arriving in Oman. All the 100 or so eagles at Raysut rubbish dump have been steppe eagle though I have seen booted eagle, short toed eagle and eastern imperial eagle elsewhere.

spotted eagle heading towards me

I posted these pictures of the spotted eagle seen at East Khawr on BirdForum and asked for help in identification. In response, there have been a variety of opinions from pure lesser spotted eagle to hybrid to greater spotted eagle.

another shot of the spotted eagle

The default position is greater spotted eagle and I am putting it into e-bird as that but without total conviction. This is because I have been going with the balance of opinion when it comes to identifying birds of prey however unpalatable it is to my view which favoured lesser spotted eagle. On BirdForum more experts backed greater spotted eagle over lesser spotted eagle or a hybrid.

As and when I get more confident in bird of prey identification my policy will change! I don't take a democratic approach to identification in most other areas. Gulls are the other main exception.

underside picture of spotted eagle

The bird felt different in the field from many tens of the greater spotted eagle I saw in Saudi Arabia. The picture above is not perfect yet the underneath flight feathers look darker than in a typical greater spotted eagle which could be put down to denser and more even barring that lesser spotted eagle has. The double comma is more of a lesser spotted eagle characteristic too. 

Another argument in favour of lesser spotted eagle on BirdForum is that the white flashes on primary bases are too extensive for GSE.

However the counter arguments are based on the overall structure, size and shape more than plumage. More expert people on Birdforum have supported greater spotted eagle than lesser spotted eagle and I acknowledge that. 

As I said before writing in depth about the spotted eagle, East Khawr had more birds of prey. The others were five marsh harrier.  This is a high density of marsh harriers for such a small area. I assume it is because the numbers of waders and other birds was also very high.

marsh harrier

The picture above was taken out of my car window when the window was closed hence the slightly odd colours. 

sleeping red-necked phalarope

The numbers of waders around was very large. There were at least 100 ruff, tens of Kentish plover, ringed plover and lesser numbers of lesser sand plover and greater sand plover. There were fifteen or so Pacific golden plover. There were curlew sandpiper, curlew, greenshank and redshank but nothing truly exotic this time.

Despite the threat from the marsh harrier, a small number of birds were asleep. Presumably they were tired following a long migration.

A red-necked phalarope was one of these.

sleeping juvenile ruff

A young ruff was another.

glossy ibis

The glossy ibis population was the largest I have seen there.

African sacred ibis

The one lone African sacred ibis has finally been left alone by all the European spoonbill which have moved on. Only now does it mix with the glossy ibis.


The duck population has stabilised but the composition keeps changing. The last wave includes more gadwell.

European collared dove

The picture of European collared dove was taken to remind me to look more at the adjacent land birds on future visits especially as we approach peak migration time.

Thursday 30 October 2014

Rush round the city

On Tuesday afternoon, I rushed around some birding sites near the city. It's not my usual method of birding. I usually bird in one place intensely before moving on. 

However I  know some good birders who use this technique very well.

In this case it served me well. The last place I visited as the sun was waning give me another addition to my Oman list.

This last place was the rocky but smooth coast just east of the port.

lesser crested tern showing big crest

Here among a cluster of terns and a few gulls I came across a lesser crested tern.

lesser crested tern

It was good to be able to compare it with the three greater crested tern which were a few metres away.

It is noticeably a little bit smaller. The bill is orange as opposed to yellow and the overall mantle and wing colours are lighter.

greater crested tern (foreground)

There were also four Caspian tern present.

Caspian tern (foreground)

The two smallest terns in the group were adult common tern.

common tern

The only gulls in with the terns were slender-billed gull although there were large numbers of sooty gull and Heuglin's gull elsewhere on the shore.

slender-billed gull

One of the gulls was a very smart looking adult.

The main reason for this change in my birding technique was the weather. October is a hotter month than September in Dhofar. Indeed it is the second hottest month on average after May. Birding from the car can be sustained longer than on foot during the afternoons.

Hopefully November will be cooler as normal.


My dash sites began at East Khawr which has not provided much change in birds over the past two weeks. The curlew was seen there. The site has a very high number of glossy ibis and ruff at the moment but nothing remarkable.

striolated bunting

Next stop was Ayn Razat where the best sighting was an adult striolated bunting coming to drink in the heat. This is by far the best and prolonged view I have had of this bird.

striolated bunting about to drink

The rufous wings, almost unmarked mantle and black speckled chest distinguish adult striolated bunting from cinnamon-breasted bunting. I find the juveniles much more difficult.

citrine wagtail

My last stop before the rocky coast was Ayn Sahalnout. The ducks and terns have gone and the water level is a little lower but there of now several common snipe. However the citrine wagtail are one of the most attractive features.

citrine wagtail looking ahead

This weekend looks set to be a little cooler and there is some evidence that the migration is heavier. Let's see what the weekend brings.

Wednesday 29 October 2014

Mughsail in late October

I made a short trip to Khawr Rori afeter Khawr Swali on Saturday. Here I came across Bart the Birder from Belgium.

He spoke about the first three days of his two week visit to Dhofar and five excellent birds he had seen at Mughsail. I had seen none of them.

After a short time at Khawr Rori, I decided to get in the car and drive all the way across the city and out west to Mughsail. His birding had sounded so exciting there.

Well, I spotted none of his birds!

However in the end I wasn't too unhappy.

intermediate morph western reef heron

The coastal pools were no that great this time. There were plenty of western reef heron and grey heron as well as the same lone flamingo as at my last visit.

black-tailed godwit and black-winged stilt

A black-tailed godwit was the most interesting of the waders there.

I soon decided  to cross the road and go to the two inland pools.


An osprey flew overhead as I did this.

European roller

An adult European roller was darting about the fields.

northern wheatear

On the way to the second and most inland pool, I came across several wheatears. Finally one of them was a definite northern wheatear. This was another first for me in Oman and my fourth addition to the list on Saturday. Some features that mark it as northern are: strong supercilium, ear coverts darker than crown, no isolated dark alula, grey crown and a tail that reaches the ground. The last feature is new to me following research. It appears Isabelline wheatear are so short tailed that even when standing erect, their tails don't quite make it to the ground.

The back pond was previously unknown to me but thanks go to Belgian Bart for informing me about it. I spent 90 minutes there waiting for some action. Bart had seen a Baillion's crake

I wasn't so successful. There were fifteen or so moorhen.

female northern pintail

As some sort of compensation, I saw my first northern pintail in the country.

There were more gadwell there too.

northern shoveller

It is becoming obvious that these khawr are going to attract many ducks and other waterfowl this winter. One of the last birds I saw before I left for the day was a northern shoveller on the main pool.

Tuesday 28 October 2014

Peaceful Khawr Soly

On leaving Ayn Hamran on Saturday morning, I headed straight to the near-by coast. The closest khawr is Khawr Soly (Swali).

It's one of the lesser known ones but one of least disturbed because access is quite hard by car. It's peaceful and I always get some sort of result there.

mixed waders

There were small numbers of a wide selection of waders and other water birds.

Pacific golden plover, grey plover, Kentish plover, lesser sand plover and greater sand plover were all present.

white winged black tern

The terns were white-cheeked tern, common tern and white-winged black tern.

red-necked phalarope

The waders included black-winged stiltcommon sandpiper, curlew sandpiper and dunlin as well as a single red-necked phalarope. I often wonder why the occasional red-necked phalarope are on-shore while thousands of the rest are wintering on the sea near-by.

walking red-necked phalarope

There were garganey and gadwell present. These were my first sightings of gadwell in Oman and the second addition to my Oman list of the day.

female gadwell

The grass at the water's edge held some interesting birds too. There was a common snipe which I managed to see before he saw me. I carefully walked round to get a better look, only for it to start walking (rather than more typically, noisy flight) too. Unfortunately it walked into longer grass.

common snipe

It's wide dark loral stripe and its scapular pattern easily separate it from the less common pin-tailed snipe.

walking common snipe

There were several citrine wagtail in the grass and on the wetland fringes. However a pipit caught my attention. There were three pipits which I knew were either tree pipit or red-throated pipit. In autumn they are very difficult to tell part. The latter bird doesn't have a red throat at this time of year and this is especially true of first winter birds which have never had such a throat in their short lives.

The habitat favoured red-throated pipit. One of birds had a hint of a coloured throat (see picture).

red-throated pipit

Red-throated pipit have slightly stronger streaking down the flanks but I find this very difficult to judge. Its much better to get a view of the rump if you can where the difference in streaking is much greater.

streaked rump on red-throated pipit

These birds were indeed red-throated pipit. This was the second addition to my Oman list at this khawr and my third of the day.

blue-cheeked bee-eater

Other migrants were present including spotted flycatcher and blue-cheeked bee-eater. I am looking forward to many more.

Monday 27 October 2014

Ayn Hamran revisited

Yesterday was the first day I noticed the wave of mass migration that must occur every Autumn in Dhofar (Salalah area).  Over the whole day I added five species to my Oman list and all of them were migrants. Until yesterday migration activity other than waders and other seabirds had been relatively subdued probably due to the hot October weather.

Ironically I had been talking to a fellow bird watcher early the same day about a lack of migratory action since the beginning of the month.

My findings started slowly enough. My first trip of the day was to Ayn Hamran where incidentally I bumped into a French birding tour.

African paradise flycatcher

To begin with I noticed nothing special but I managed to get good sightings and photos of three of the African specialities in the region. These were African paradise flycatcher, grey-headed kingfisher and Dideric cuckoo.

grey headed kingfisher

I seem to find Dideric cuckoo quite easily. The juveniles appear to spend time very close to one place so once you have found them you can return to the same spot to see them again. There were two places I had seen Dideric cuckoo before and both had them this time.

Dideric cuckoo

The shaded areas had many Abyssinian white-eye as usual as well as shining sunbird and spotted flycatcher. By the water were grey wagtail and common sandpiper.

long billed pipit

In an effort to see something different I walked downstream away from the most highly shaded areas and from the picnic spots.


Nothing more special than a common greenshank was seen.

Ruepell's weaver

I decided to head back upstream towards the car but to bird the canopies of the very tall fruiting trees. Something I should have done properly on previous visits.

The fruit were being frequented by white spectacled bulbul and Ruepell's weaver.

wood warbler

However also up there was wood warbler. This was the first add to my Oman list of the day and an indication that interesting new migrants may be coming through.


Two hoopoe were the last birds I spotted at Ayn Hamran before heading on to Khawr Swali (Soly) where I saw two other new migrants for the first time in Oman.

Sunday 26 October 2014

Mudayy Oasis

Yesterday I visited Mudayy oasis which is 80 kilometres west of Thumrait which in turn is 80 kiolmetres north of Salalah.

There were two main reasons I went there. First I had decided to target Nile Valley sunbird and Jens Eriksen has told me it it one of the best places to find it in Oman.

Second, African collared dove has been reported as "heard"here.  This species has been sighted several times at a Wadi just south of Thumrait in winter. Yet Mudayy is much closer to its main residential range in Yemen and Saudi Arabia.

willow warbler

On arrival at the village, I started birding around the oasis pool. Unfortunately I immediately flushed 10 chestnut-bellied sandgrouse which had been resting in the shade by the steps down to the pool from the car park.

Nevertheless the flock was seen several times during the day around the village and at one stage numbered 22 birds.

At the pool were several willow warbler flitting between bushes. They were present in other parts of the village too.


White eared bulbul was also conspicuous here and common throughout the settlement.

In the air near-by I noticed a steppe eagle which stayed in this area all day.

white eared bulbul

In the shade of the closely knit palms by the pond were a large flock of house sparrow. Their plumage as a bit odd. Overall it was paler than typical. The brown band around the head was diminished and the mantle was particularly pale.

Their behaviour was different too. I never saw one on a building. A second flock was seen in the village which was in another dense palm grove.

house sparrow

Other notable birds around the pond included blackstart.


It took me precisely 100 minutes to find a Nile Valley sunbird. It was in acacia some 75 metres away from the pond. It was flighty and I only got one distant picture of this very small bird (small at the moment as the male has no tail at this time of year).

distant Nile Valley sunbird

Once I got accustomed to what i was looking for I managed to pick out five.

Laughing dove

Having travelled so far and having found my main target bird, I decided to stay and investigate the village further.  I wanted to see if I could find any African collared dove among the very populous laughing dove.

In one clump of palm trees, I was sure I heard a collared dove but only saw laughing dove flush.

little green bee-eater

Near-by two little green bee-eater were on a wire.

Daurian shrike

As I went round from green patch to green patch looking for doves, I flushed a golden oriole and came across two shrikes.

One was a Daurian shrike which kept to the bushes while a young red-backed shrike was out in the open.

Red-backed shrike

My attention was distracted from my dove seeking for a while as a Eastern Imperial eagle appeared over head.

Eastern Imperial eagle

It was son after this that I discovered the second flock of house sparrow in some dense palms. Also in there there were at least two more willow warbler and a lone tree pipit.

Tree pipit

In the end I decide to give up on the collared dove, go back to the car and leave.

As seems to be typical with birding, a collared dove was waiting on a wire right next to the car.

Eurasian collared dove

It didn't stay for long but as far as I can tell it was a Eurasian collared dove.

This was not the perfect ending but the sighting adds to collective knowledge.

Long-billed pipit

On the way back, I stopped briefly at Quairoon Hairiti at the top of the mountains where the hospital gardens might have given me a chance of Palestine sunbird. However that sunbird remains elusive. It is a place of many birds though of which the long-billed pipit was an example. It's worth a closer and longer look in the future.

After yesterday's long journey, I am staying local to Salalah today.