Sunday 12 October 2014

Qitbeet and back

Yesterday, as a last fling of my Eid holiday, I drove the furthest out of  Salalah in a day trip since coming to the country. I drove to the Qitbeet rest area and back. Qitbeet is 300 kilometres north of Salalah and it the journey was in desert or semi-desert after the first 50 kilometres.

male spotted sandgrouse

I was very happy to see spotted sandgrouse at two places on the trip. One was on a side road about 110 kilometres outside Salalah. These was a group of nine birds. The second time, two birds were sitting next to a lay-by on the main road. This bird is a lifer.

female spotted sandgrouse

In the driest areas only black-crowned sparrow lark and hoopoe lark were also seen.

black-crowned sparrow lark

However there were three other places I stopped off at which were much greener. The first was on the way out and was a small garden on the edge of a developmental farm which hadn't been developed yet.

small garden in the desert

I suspected it might be a migrant trap when I spied it from the main road. 

golden oriole

There were two European roller, two golden oriole, fifteen house sparrow, a spotted flycatcher, a red-backed shrike, a Turkestan shrike and an unidentified warbler all in this small cluster.The golden oriole were quite a surprise.

spotted flycatcher

Spotted flycatcher is extraordinarily common in southern Oman at the moment.

red-backed shrike

After this break, I drove hard to make Qitbeet rest area (also called Qitbeet motel in some trip reports).

European roller

This is one of a string of rest areas on the Muscat to Salalah. This one is a well watered if a little run-down light woodland. 

Although it was much larger than the garden I had stopped off earlier the species were very similar. This was a little disappointing though seeing six European roller in one tree was a spectacle.

There were no golden oriole but hoopoe partly compensated.


My final port of call was Al Beed farm some 160 kilometres outside Salalah. it is a quiet, unassuming farm with four or so pivot fields. However it is a known hotspot for bird trips to Oman and I can see why. Indeed I wish I had cut out the 40% of the journey that took me on to Qitbeet and instead stopped at Al Beed. This is of course hindsight.

marsh harrier

In one field there was a female marsh harrier over head.

Asian grey shrike (aucheri)

However the closest field to the entrance gave me most joy. I was pleased to see my first Asian grey shrike (aucheri) in Oman. It is quite smoky-grey in its underparts and darker grey on its mantle than many in the grey shrike complex. 

Asian grey shrike (aucheri)

E-bird (and Clements) where I put my data still classifies it as southern grey shrike. However recent DNA studies have completely dismantled the species "southern grey shrike" through splits and transfers.

rear of Asian grey shrike (aucheri)

Al Beed has been described as a remote place where almost anything can pop up. Though, I wasn't expecting six Pacific golden plover 160 kilometres inland.

three Pacific golden plover

If you over-shoot the green area around Salalah this is one of very few options for this bird.
Pacific golden plover

I didn't leave enough time to be at Al Beed. There were Turkestan shrike, house sparrow, desert wheatear, Isabelline wheatear, black crowned sparrow lark, hoopoe lark and spotted flycatcher but probably lots of small passerines that I didn't identify in the longer grass and wet areas. 

There was one I did get though and thanks to BirdForum for helping me identify it.  It was tentatively a greater short toed lark. I had a mental block even considering that they could be down this far south and so soon that I hadn't considered it. I am still checking whether lesser short toed lark can be ruled out.

greater short toed lark

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