Friday 10 October 2014

East towards Sadah

I don't always research my birding trips as well as I ought to.

I had been through Tawi Atair on Tuesday on my way further east and made a cursory look for Yemin serin.

It was only when I got back home that I discovered it has only been seen at a very specific spot  at Tawi Atair and that is at the huge sinkhole there.

I have seen this bird in south west Saudi Arabia and know it is a bird of cool clime preferring at least relative high altitude.

However in 1997 it was discovered by cavers in the sinkhole at Tawi Atair, 600 kilometres east of its nearest known neighbours in Yemen.

It would appear this is a possible relic from the last ice age. It was forced into the sinkhole as the only cool enough place for it in southern Oman. Its no more than 12C at the bottom.

Most visits to the site by birders are in December to February when it is cooler anyway and the bird can sometimes be seen at the top rim and possibly more widely dispersed at ground level.

Unfortunately I failed to see it on my visit. There is a way down 30 metres on a narrow path from the viewing place which is just 5 metres down. Too many tourists had arrived and the difficult path was congested. Furthermore the viewing platform is to the north east and gets direct sunlight in the morning. I recommend coming in the afternoon and in the winter months to maximise chances of seeing the bird easily. That's what I now intend to go.

Arabian wheatear

My time wasn't wasted. I saw plenty of birds standing in one spot at the viewing platform. An Arabian wheatear was particularly friendly.

Tristram's starling

There was one dead tree over hanging the drop which I kept an eye on because any bird landing on it would be exposed. Tristram's starling was one.

Abyssinian white-eye

The most frequent bird visitors to the platform were Abyssinian white-eye, cinnamon-breasted bunting and  African silverbill.

Laughing dove

Meanwhile the dead tree was still providing views but mostly of laughing dove.

adult Bonelli's eagle

Over the hole itself there was a constant stream of Forbes-Watson swift and pale crag martin. At one stage a Bonelli's eagle also flew over. I am not sure why because its favourite bird food are larger and slower species.

Ruepell's weaver

Next to the viewing platform more species arrived including Rueppell's weaver and blackstart.


On leaving the sinkhole my luck improved a bit when I spotted a distant short-toed eagle while birding in Wadi Hanna.

record shot of a short-toed eagle

After Wadi Hanna, I came down off the mountains on to the coast and headed east part Mirbat.

The area surprised me at being so dry. Clearly the monsoon-affected parts of Oman are narrowly based around Salalah.

water trough at remote wadi

Opportunities for birding were limited until I saw a turning up the mountains some 45 minutes drive east of Mirbat which I took.

It was quite lucky as I struck a wadi with water. I had to climb the top part on foot. I had hoped for some special birds but could only see white-spectacled bulbul, laughing dove and Tristram's starling at first.

spring water at remote wadi

Later I also saw blackstart, Turkestan shrike and spotted flycatcher.

spotted flycatcher

The wadi had several fig trees, the favourite food of Bruce's green pigeon.

Bruce's green pigeon

Sure enough it was there. What's more I suspect this is the furthest east of its range in the world unless there is another wadi like it a few kilometres on.

desert lark

The wadi had one more gift for me. At the bottom close to a village, I picked out two desert lark in the scrub land. The eagle-eyed of you may have noticed this is the bird in my blog's masthead. It was also the second new addition to my Oman list of the day along with short toed eagle. It was a good end to the days birding before the long drive back to Salalah. 

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