Wednesday 8 October 2014

The road to Jebel Samhan

Yesterday, I drove and birded up to near the top of Jebel Samhan at over 1500 metres. The mountain itself was a disappointment. For climatic reasons I don't understand it was dry and barren. However on the way I passed through a variety of habitats including lush moorland and woods.

I started out at the bottom on the coast. In this case I was at Khawr Rori. My plan was to hide in a bush overseeing some wetland and see if any crakes have arrived here yet.

However there were none to be seen. My hide must have been good though because a Bonelli's eagle landed just above me and was seemingly not aware of my presence.

Bonelli's eagle on landing

If I hadn't seen this young bird land I would never have noticed it because it was so well-camouflaged against the rocks.

Bonelli's eagle

It was so alert, I could see it twitch every time it heard a moorhen or a heron which I know it would gladly eat.

Khawr Rori wetland

As I know this hide works I will be returning there in the future. The view is the one in the picture above. There is a little egret at the back.

common redshank

The pools at on this arm of the Khawr held a few waders too such as greenshank, wood sandpiper, Temminck's stint and common redshank.

Bonelli's eagle in flight

As I was leaving, I spotted the Bonelli's eagle again, this time in flight.

heathland near Tawi Atair

Next I travelled the 500 metres up the main road to the Tawi Atair/Wadi Darbet turn off and started my ascent.  The land soon greens up from the coast, at least initially. Before reaching Tawi Atair, the the rolling countryside is heathland and when the sun goes in it reminded me of the Yorkshire moors in England!

I dived into a few copses of trees and found common whitethroat, rufous bush robin, Ruepell's weaver and another common cuckoo.

Lappet-faced vulture

As I was moving off, I observed two large birds of prey from the car window. I got out and discovered one was a lappet-faced vulture and the other was a steppe eagle. This was quite surprise.

steppe eagle

I followed them on foot and could see a long way off that they had landed near each other. To my greater surprise, there were five lappet-faced vulture and this one steppe eagle on the ground (see the small looking bird (!) to the left of the lappet-faced vulture.

Lappet-faced vultures and steppe eagle in the distance

Two more steppe eagle landed and then there was some sort of fight over food.

a squabble over food

After a short while only one steppe eagle and one lappet-faced vulture remained. The steppe eagle was so keen not to give up some of the kill it had, that it spent all its time covering it completely with its wings. 

two birds remaining

After this I headed on to Tawi Afair which is the only known location of Yemen serin in Oman. I didn't find any but I will ask for better directions.

This area is very green and the woodland is thick to the east

European roller

I had to make do with others highlights such as yet more European roller and a tree pipit inside a small copse.

Tree pipit

When i was birding in the Riyadh area, I rarely saw a tree pipit in a tree.

second view of tree pipit

From Tawi Afair having doubled back from the woodland, I took the turning to Jebel Samhan and began to rise. The land became drier and trees were mostly replaced by low bushes. The bushes are good places to see exposed common whitethroat which is by far the most common warbler here at the moment.

common whitethroat

The wires proved to be good places to look for birds in this area.

Rufous-tailed rock thrush

There were two more rufous-tailed rock thrush and a juvenile Arabian wheatear. This is easily distinguished from a female by the wavy streaks on the underparts.

juvenile Arabian wheatear

As the land grew drier, I resorted to stopping the car and over-looking artificial water body created by leaking pipes.

white-spectacled bulbul bathing

This a time tested way of seeing what is in an area if you have the patience.

The white spectacled bulbul seemed more concerned with bathing than drinking.

Tristram's starling bathing

The same goes for Tristram's starling.

Cinnamon-breasted bunting drinking

Both cinnamon-breasted bunting and African silverbill came to drink.

African silverbill

Even a common whitethroat visited briefly.

common whitethroat

Ruepell's weaver were the other visitors. Unfortunately nothing new came and probably wasn't in the area as this is a good test.

female Arabian wheatear

At the very top of Jebel Samhan birding was restricted to Arabian wheatear, Tristram's starling and fan-tailed raven flying over the cliffs.

After this I travelled directly down the mountain to arrive all the way back at Khawr Rori at the other end of the day. The bad news was that someone was parked right in front of my hide. I decided to call it a day spotting a few waders such as curlew sandpiper before I left.

Curlew sandpiper

Lappet-faced vulture and tree pipit were new additions to my Oman list.

Finally, I would like to apologise for not quickly responding to the high level of correspondence I am getting by email (and to a lesser extent twitter). I am trying to maximise my birding use of the Eid break and to blog quickly. Please bear with me until I have a little more time.


  1. Great pic of the Whitethroat; incredible-looking thing, looks like a juv R C Starling! Huge bill on it and incredibly plain. I've seen a few icterops in the Caucasus but not one as striking as that, so thanks for the education. I wonder what rubicola are like.. that'll keep me busy..

  2. Are you sure that's a Whitethroat? It looks so weird.

  3. Andy, its been confirmed as a common whitethroat on BirdForum. Itnt could be anything else in the end. Clearly eastern whitethroats can have large bills. R

  4. Great pics of the Bonellis by the way! We visited there in Jan and i remember seeing a few corpses of heron species and assuming they were Bonellis kills.