Monday 18 May 2015

A very hot day near Muscat

I have had a bad cold for the last week and coupling that with my faithful old camera finally breaking, I have had to rest up for a few days.

I now have a backlog of blogs to post but some good birds in places to report.

The first one is from a week ago Friday when I was still in the Muscat area. I decide to head south to the hills on the Nizwa road but there was little activity in those hills. it was simply too hot even in the morning. 

Salalah not only has the monsoon (khareef season) but is also cooler for most of spring and autumn too. The temperatures up in the north were a real shock.

I finally found some reasonable birding about 50 kilometres outh of Muscat in a small holding where there was some shade created mostly by palm trees and inside was a water channel. In intense heat, the adage is "where there is water there are birds"

A very young Hume's wheatear had been attracted to the shade.

young Hume's wheatear

It was very tame as is often the case with very young birds that haven't met a noisy human or aggressive animal like a cat yet.

young Hume's wheatear 2

It's yellow gape and streaked breast are both signs this bird is very young. However it managed to catch flies successively so could fend for itself.

Hume's wheatear 3

In hot weather, birds continually hold their mouths open. This bird was doing it and virtually every other one I saw there was doing it too.

young house sparrow

These included the house sparrow which were around.

Indian silverbill

It is usually a good idea to sit and watch what visits water channels in situations like this even though sitting out is uncomfortable compared with the car's A/C.

Indian silverbill were some of the first birds to arrive.

House sparrow

House sparrow came too.

white spectacled bulbul

A white spectacled bulbul drank from the end furthest from me.

purple sunbird

Elsewhere in the patch there were a couple of purple sunbird. Their mouths were open.

Indian roller

Two Indian roller were suffering near-by. This was not pleasant conditions for man or bird.

There is one place on the Nizwa road which is always cool and that is Jebel Akhbar. However access to the higher areas is now restricted to 4x4s which I had not rented. I may rent one for a day the next time I am in the area.

I made the decision to abort the birding south of the city and headed to the west end instead. It was more than an hour's journey back. It was all part of me finding out how to bird in the north.

I ended up at Suq al Seeb on the western outskirts of Muscat. This was more interesting. There is a fresh water lagoon separated from the sea by a sand bar. Indeed it looked like a classic khawr however I have no idea whether the fresh water source was natural as it is in Dhofar.

red-wattled lapwing

I parked up about 500 metres inland and started walking towards the sea. it was still extremely hot and now it was humid too. However birds were attracted to the water.

Two red-wattled lapwing were the first birds i saw as I got out of the car. 

grey francolin

I soon flushed a grey francolin but there aren't as tame as they appear in UAE and it immediately ran.

common moorhen

By contrast the moorhen were relatively confiding.

great white egret

As well as grey heron and squacco heron, there were other family members too. Here was a second great white egret of my visit to Muscat.

dark morph western reef heron

One of the sad things I noticed at several sites were a number of clearly ill gulls which had been left behind when their flocks migrated back.

ill looking slender-billed gull

The slender-billed gull above was one of the least ill looking. Some were much worse.

seven red-wattled lapwing

Towards the sand bar were the highest concentration of birds as is often the case at a Dhofari khawr too. I counted 14 red-wattled lapwing clustered together.

As I walked over the sand bar to look at the sea, I walked straight into a large number of terns which had been hidden by the bar.

mixed terns

They included great crested tern, sandwich tern and white-cheeked tern (see picture above).

white-cheeked tern

The most numerous were white-cheeked tern.

common tern

However two were paler and had lighter, redder bills. These were common tern.

common tern

Two small terns which I had originally thought were Saunders's tern breeding were also present. Thanks to Andrew Bailey for alerting me to the possibility they might be little tern. Thanks to Oscar Campbell and correspondents on Bird Forum who identified them as little tern

Little tern

Little tern  had not been on my Oman list so this made number 279. An inland site in summer was seemingly my best bet before this happened. Indeed I saw some in UAE near Al Ain only 5 kilometres from the Oman border the weekend before.

ruddy turnstone

It was simply too hot to continue before 1 pm and so I went back to the car and finished for the day. This was not before I managed to photograph part of a ruddy turnstone group on the fresh water side of the sand bar.

In the end the day wasn't bad with enough diversity to interest me and an addition to my country list too. The next day, Saturday, I went a little further west to Ras As Sawadi. Not only was it a bit cooler but I made an unexpected addition to my Oman list. I will blog about that next.


  1. Any more pictures of the Saunders' Terns? I'd ask for an opinion on them if I were you - they may be Little. The white on the forehead is rather wedge-shaped rather than squared off.

    Nice to see you back, by the way!

  2. I like your optimism but they don't seem to fit little tern according to the Birds of the Western Palearctic. I only have one more similar picture. I'll post on birdforum. I hope I am wrong. R