Thursday 28 May 2015

Jarziz round up

Work is very busy at them moment so most birding is very local to home as this takes up less time. Jarziz farm is one of the closest sites.  I have been visiting regularly not only because it is close but also to study the Amur falcon making their way through as much as I can before they are all gone for another season. 

They have not been the only birds of prey present.

Lesser kestrel have been observed in roughly 1/3 to 1/2 the numbers of Amur falcon.

female lesser kestrel

In many ways they are similar. Both eat mostly insects and both can be seen hovering before they catch prey which is near or on the ground. Their profile in the air is not dissimilar either.

lesser kestrel hovering

Less frequent birds of prey visitors have been Bonelli's eagle and Osprey.

Bonelli's eagle

Osprey is actually more common at the site in winter. It is only one kilometre directly from the sea and is not as surprising as you might think to see them there.


Between April 28th and my last visit on May 26th, there have always been at least two Amur falcon in the field.

perched female Amur falcon #1

I have noticed quite a lot of variation presumably between immature birds and adult females.

perched female Amur falcon #2

A few do not have an all white ground colour to their underparts.  This is also accompanied with a very short or non-existent moustache. I presume these are young birds.

perched female Amur falcon #3

The immature males can be subtly different too.

flying male Amur falcon #1

One of the main variations is the amount of dark streaking in the underparts.

flying male Amur falcon #2

The other main one is the lightness or otherwise of the neck.

chestnut-bellied sandgrouse

I still chestnut-bellied sandgrouse every time I go to the farm. It's a guaranteed place to see them.

marsh warbler

Marsh warbler are a spring passage phenomenon. Some days in late April and in May there are several in the long grass. Other days there are none.

pallid swift

One day there was a big influx of Forbes Watson swift early in the morning. There were at least 60 birds. My guess is they had just returned to Dhofar for the summer and were gorging. It only happened once. Most other days there are only a handful of swifts now the main passage of other swift types has finished.

In among the Forbes Watson swift I believe have been a small number of pallid swift though they are very difficult to separate. Not the very pale forehead in the bird above which helps me think that this one was a pallid swift.

European roller

European roller have still been passing through until the last few days. I think their spring passage has just about finished now.

One thing I like about birding in Dhofar is the unexpected. This happened this evening when I snatched a little bit of birding time before dusk. Continuing to see Amur falcon this late in the month was a little unexpected but almost walking into two spotted thick-knee was more so.

first spotted thick-knee

I hadn't see one this year but every time I have seen them I have been on foot.

both spotted thick-knee

I have also been lucky enough to see them in daylight each time though they are more active at night.

second spotted thick-knee

This was the most exposed place I have observed them without a bush within 200 metres. Despite this they were very difficult to see.

It was an enjoyable moment at the end of a hard week.

Wednesday 27 May 2015

Mirbat and Taqah

When birders go to the Mirbat and Taqah areas east of Salalah, they usually go for the sea birds or other water birds. There is good sea watching off the coast such as at Ras Janjari. There are also good sea birds on Taqah beach and a wide variety of water birds at Khawr Taqah.

Khawr Rori is also situated between Taqah and Mirbat and is arguably the best place for diversity of water birds in Dhofar.

On Tuesday evening I went to Mirbat for a different reason. I went with local wildlife enthusiast Saeed Shanfari in search of little owl.

Thanks to Saeed I saw one north of Mirbat and also observed several roosts that the species clearly uses as proved by the droppings left behind. The inland location is almost inaccessible except with a 4x4 with high clearance but Saeed knew where to go.

little owl

Little owl became bird 282 on my Oman list and indeed it was the first one I have seen in the Gulf. The bird was not particularly pale. It didn't look like the standard lilith owl as the main desert sub species is often called. It had a gingery hue.

a mountain gazelle

Near-by we twice came across two mountain gazelle. Indeed the Mirbat area was the place I had previously seen this species.

Birds other than little owl were very few except for a flock of sand partridge and two blackstart.

a second mountain gazelle

In a more usual visit to the area, I had gone to Taqah three days before. The beach is good for terns and gulls all year round.

The most abundant residents are sooty gull and great crested tern.

sooty gull, great crested tern and marsh tern

At different times of year there are always other terns and gulls which vary with the month. Marsh terns are most common in winter though the bird behind the great crested tern is probably one. White winged tern looks a good fit.

little tern

Both Saunders's tern and little tern are found. despite the above birds dull legs and bill, it's head pattern is a much better fit for little tern.

Sandwich tern

Neither sandwich tern or lesser crested tern breed this far south but a significant number over-summer here.

lesser crested tern

A short detour to Khawr Taqah provided me with views of European spoonbill. Western reef heron are normally found next to the sea but seem to be equally at home with coastal freshwater sites such as the Khawr.

western reef heron with European spoonbill

The two most common resident waders in Dhofar are black-winged stilt and Kentish plover.

Kentish plover chick

There are plenty of Kentish plover chicks running around the Dhofar coast at the moment.

Terek sandpiper

Very few passage waders are still present although Terek sandpiper is often among the last as I used to find when I birded out of Riyadh.

It is a very busy week at work and birding apart from the trip to Mirbat has been restricted to very local sites within the city. Jarziz farm is one of closest and is being visited as frequently as time permits. I will give a round up of those visits in the next blog.

Tuesday 26 May 2015

Up the hillside

Ayn Hamran and the spring in Wadi Hanna are both part way up the Dhofar escarpment. Both are well known birding locations and for good reason.

I visited both once last week. The visit to Ayn Hamran was with Markus Craig from Kuwait. Markus had shown me sites in that country and it was pleasure to meet up with him here.

male Dideric cuckoo

At Ayn Hamran there was a male Dideric cuckoo perched at the top of a tree singing very loudly and constantly.

Dideric cuckoo singing

I saw probably the same bird a week before very close to the same tree. It won't be long before little cuckoos starting appearing in Ruppell's weavers' nests.

male Ruppell's weaver at Wadi Hanna

The highest density of the nests of Ruppell's weaver is near water. In my experience these are the best but not the only places you can see Dideric cuckoo.

Grey headed kingfisher at Wadi Hanna

Both Wadi Hanna and Ayn Hamran are good places to see Arabian golden winged grosbeck but none were seen on last week's trips. Grey headed kingfisher is much easier to find (from late April to early November) and several were seen at Ayn Hamran and two at Wadi Hanna.

There is still some lingering passage in these locations.

female masked shrike

A female masked shrike was observed at Ayn Hamran and a spotted flycatcher at both places.

spotted flycatcher

Resident species included Tristram's starling which disperses around the hills in winter, Arabian warbler and African paradise flycatcher.

Tristram's starling

However for some strange reason, we couldn't find any on Markus's visit to Ayn Hamran. Birding is never a certainty.

African paradise flycatcher

There are always cinnamon-breasted bunting at these springs. In hot weather you need to look carefully because the odd striolated bunting comes down from the rocky, higher areas to drink.

striolated bunting drinking

In less that four weeks the hot weather will be gone with the arrival of the khareef (or monsoon). I am intrigued to know what effect this will have on the bird life.

Monday 25 May 2015

Khawr Rori in May

The monsoon season in Dhofar begins in the third week of June. However May is not particularly hotter than April because it is much cloudier overall.

On Friday morning I visited Khawr Rori and it very cloudy and dull. It actually made birding easier.

I started out in the north west wing of the Khawr that can be approached from the main road. 

slender-billed gull

I was watching a large group of over-summering slender-billed gull from the far bank.

yellow bittern

To my surprise, three adult yellow bittern flew directly across the water in front of them.

common moorhen

On my side of the water, a common moorhen suddenly decided to break cover.

young moorhen

To my left, an adult moorhen called for its young to break into the open water to cross to another bank.

As I walked back to the car, I came across a small number of little green-bee-eater though I could hear but not see blue-cheeked bee-eater.

little green bee-eater

I drove the car round to the front gate where one has to pay two Omani riyals to enter the main site which has archaeological ruins as well as being excellent for birds.

Mostly Caspian tern and sandwich tern

It started to brighten up which also meant higher temperatures. In the area near the permanent exhibit of two dhows were several terns. I also counted 17 grey heron in small groups scattered around.

Unfortunately part of the site which leads to the sandbar and seaward (southern) end of the khawr has been closed for work for two months. This meant my next move was pretty much forced. I walked northward from the dhows up the khawr.

blue-cheeked bee-eater

I finally found a blue-cheeked bee-eater which may have contributed to the sounds I had heard earlier.

There then followed a sequence of observations of exotic birds.

Over the water to the west of the bee-eater was a lone red-knobbed coot swimming.

red-knobbed coot

On the east bank was a very flighty flock of western reef heron.

African sacred ibis

However one was the flock was a different species. It was an African sacred ibis. it was not as flighty as the reef herons and seemed to be reluctant to move on every time they bolted. The long-staying African sacred ibis which was at East Khawr for 9 months until recently was very passive towards the end. Of course it may well be the same bird.

African sacred ibis in flight

At one stage the whole flock flew all the way towards the flamingo on west bank but at the southern end. This area is completely inaccessible at the moment with the works blocking off all access.

It was while looking towards the flamingo and their new associates (western reef heron and an African sacred ibis), I could just make out two pheasant-tailed jacana.

distant pheasant-tailed jacana

The huge permanent body of water at Khawr Rori is very unusual in Arabia and so it has such an unusual summer mix of birds. It is worth watching what happens as the summer progresses.

Sunday 24 May 2015

Now four Amur falcon at Jarziz farm

I have been reporting on the Amur falcon I have been seeing at Jarziz farm. Here is a further update as part of this blog.

I saw my first two on April 28th. In total I have visited the farm six times more since then. Each time there were between two and four birds present. I went there yesterday and there were two.

Each time, as far as I can tell, they have been different birds. There have been 20 in the seven visits.

The most (four) were on May 19th. This blog looks at my birding on that day both at the farm and later at East Khawr (Khawr Dahariz).

female Amur falcon

The only adult male I observed was on April 28th. This is consistent with the adult males returning first. Of the other 19 birds only six have been immature males. The other thirteen have been either adult females or immature females. 

female Amur falcon 2

When I go early in the morning, they are usually found perched on the big pivot bar. It's an easy find. As time goes on they venture into the field to hawk for grasshoppers and other flying insects.

three Amur falcon clustered together

On May 19th, four Amur falcon were all perched on the bar at the same time.

four Amur falcon

Three birds were female and one was male.

immature male Amur falcon 

On each of the days I visited, there was always at least one European roller.

European roller

Very large numbers of both African silverbill and Singing bushlark have always been present on each day.

African silverbill

Not only is the farm an obviously guaranteed place to see Amur falcon on spring passage but it is a guaranteed place to see singing bush lark for a longer period. Both are prized by visiting birders.

Singing bush lark

In the early evening of May 19th I visited East Khawr for a short while.

great white egret

There are still some intermediate egret at various khawrs around Salalah but here was the rarer (for Salalah) great white egret. It would appear small numbers of both over-summer.

The glossy ibis are also still present at east Khawr. There is no sign of any breeding with these either. Some thirty or so birds of this species also seem to be over-summering.

glossy ibis

Very few waders were present. However, one interesting one was a grey plover.

grey plover 1

It was essentially in winter plumage.

grey plover 2

The orange at the base of the bill intrigued me. I can't find it referred to in any guidebook or on-line reference. However in the end I did find two images of birds showing this feature.

grey plover 3

The main waders however were lesser sand plover. Most had some degree of summer plumage.

lesser sand plover

They don't breed this far south and must have been on passage.

lesser sand plover 2

On Friday I went to Khawr Rori for the first time in over a month. I will write about what I saw next.