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.


  1. I sympathise with your reluctance to put this one down as GSE, as it definitely has more characters of LSE than GSE. Note that Mark on the UAE forum has come down in favour of Lesser. The only sticking point is the heavy white spotting on the upperwing - I can't account for that if the bird is really a 2nd year, as neither species should be so heavily spotted by then according to my reference materials - but against that you have the marked contrast between flight feathers and coverts, as Mark pointed out, and the double comma. I don't think the structure of the bird necessarily favours GSE either - if you look at the bird Mark posted on the UAE ID forum, that's much more broad-winged, and only caught his attention because of the dramatic white wing-flashes (perhaps these are not a diagnostic feature after all). It all rather depends on how the bird is flying or the angle you're viewing it from.

    I can't rule out a hybrid, I suppose, and as LSE is definitely the rarer of the two species (I think there's only been one safe record here in the UAE), I'm not sure it's safe to call it. On the other hand, I wouldn't feel happy calling it as a GSE either, especially when your gut instinct goes against it. The ID paper Tom forwarded only deals with juveniles, so is of slightly limited use.

    I've noticed, by the way, that discussion on Bird Forum often follows a certain pattern, with one birder coming down in favour of one species and the rest quickly following suit, sometimes retracting the statement they made earlier. Tom, for example, listed about 6 points for LSE but then caved in, probably influenced by sheer weight of numbers. Ask someone else who hasn't taken part in the discussion and they say something very different.

    It's difficult to appreciate jizz from photos. You were the one who observed it in the field, and if you felt it was markedly different from the GSEs you'd seen before, this first instinct was probably right.

  2. Andrew, very interesting! I have been out birding all day and just got back. I am very busy with the peak migration here but I'll try to devote more time to this ID issue somehow. Thanks for the info. Rob

  3. Forgot to add there are 65 records here for LSE and my guess is some have been overlooked too whereas you all have eagle eyes in UAE! Rob