Tuesday 5 May 2015

A very long day on the east side

I spent a long day's birding with visiting world birder Derrick Wilby. We started out at dawn and went up into the mountains. Here I showed him where I had seen a roosting Arabian spotted eagle owl a few months before. Birding is rarely that easy and the owl was no where to be seen.

We decided to head down to the sea next to do some sea watching. On the way we stopped off at the spring in the lower part of Wadi Hanna. This site is half way down the mountain road from the plateau to coast. The turning is very easily missed and is unmarked.

The place a haunt of Arabian golden-winged grosbeck but none were to be seen. This was not so important to us as we both have seen this species elsewhere.

At Wadi Hanna's spring there were however a few Arabian partridge grazing.

Arabian partridge

A spotted flycatcher was so relaxed it was preening.

spotted flycatcher

In the short time that we stayed there both Ruppell's weaver and Tristram's starling came to the water's edge to drink. 

young Tristram's starling

The spot looks ideal to see drinking birds. There are several over hanging trees and lots of low cover to make the birds feel safe if they have to bolt.

We soon continued our descent to the coast where we turned left at the main road and headed to Mirbat. Indeed we passed through Mirbat on to the Marriott Hotel and beyond.

Our destination was Ras Janjari which is a headland about seven kilometres east of the Marriott through two wadis which looked interesting in themselves but which we didn't have time to stop at.

At Ras Janjari there were about 14 red-billed tropicbird out to sea but of more interest to me where 60 or so masked booby in several groups. This was another addition to my Oman list and was actually a lifer too.

a distant flock of masked booby

There were two lesser crested tern and many sooty gull also there. Unfortunately two dark birds which were probably petrels remained unidentified.

red-billed tropicbird

We had used up too much of the cooler hours searching for the Arabian spotted eagle owl early on and so had little time left before the midday heat. We did visit some cliffs between Mirbat and Taqah which are known to be good for seeing red-billed tropicbird at this time of year. 

Sure enough, one came close to the cliff and afforded much better views than the distant ones west of Mirbat.

We finished birding and were resting in Salalah by midday.

We met up again at 3.30 pm to start a late afternoon and evening birding session at Wadi Darbet. The primary targets were owls. Derrick had'nt seen Arabian spotted eagle owl and I had'nt seen Arabian scops owl.

We were joined by local wildlife photographer, Saeed Al Shanfari.

male Arabian wheatear

Before dusk, I wandered off to explore the western stretches of Wadi Darbet away from the main road. The usual mix for this time of year such as Rueppell's weaver, grey-headed kingfisher and Abyssinian white-eye were easily seen. Not many Arabian wheatear come down the hills this low in this area but I saw two males and a young bird.  

western stretch of Wadi Darbet towards dusk

Possibly the best sighting in this walk was a little bittern seen both on my way out and on my way back.

When we all met up again just before dusk there was a flurry of bird activity. The first Forbes-Watson swift of the year were seen flying above the wadi. In summer there are often many tens all day long.

Then a lappet-faced vulture flew over head.

lappet-faced vulture 

Two minutes later two Egyptian vulture did the same thing. Neither bird currently breeds in the Salalah area.

Once it was dark we started owling. For two hours we patiently waited in an area west of the main car park hearing both Arabian scops owl and Arabian spotted eagle owl. Our efforts were directed at Arabian spotted eagle owl.

A call was heard close a few times but the bird never came. After a couple of very patient hours we moved close to the main picnic area. 

Within the space of 30 minutes we had seen both birds. First we heard an Arabian spotted eagle owl very close without any tape or other enticement. We moved towards the sound slowly and carefully. With the use of a light a bird was seen for a few very rewarding seconds. Unfortunately no pictures were taken.

We then turned our attention more fully to Arabian scops owl. One answered our call and although it moved off once (having been seen for a split second) to a different position we relocated it.

It was very helpful in staying put while photographs were taken.

Arabian scops owl courtesy of Derrick Wilby

I am very grateful for Derrick who led the owling and I certainly learned some new techniques. 

Arabian scops owl courtesy of Saeed Shanfari

I also grateful to both Derrick and Saeed to granting me permission to reproduce some of their photos.

Arabian scops owl 2 courtesy of Saeed Shanfari

While we were watching it, it sometimes rotated round on a spot. Sometimes it was upright, sometimes even upside down.

Arabian scops owl goes horizonal

Arabian scops owl was bird number 276 on my Oman list and it was a lifer.

We left Wadi Darbet at 10.15pm three very happy people.


  1. Fantastic stuff. Hoping to get the Scops when I come. The Eagle Owl would be a nice bonus. Not sure if we can try for both in one weekend. The Hume's, by the sound of it, is just too difficult - you'd probably need to camp out there.

    Derrick claimed one Jouanin's at Ras Janjari - presumably one of the dark birds you mentioned above.

  2. I love the way the owl rotates on the branch. I had no idea they do that.

  3. You dark horse! You never mentioned you saw the Skimmers that day!

  4. Andy, I didnt but someone else went there and did. I have looked since and couldn't see them. I think they have finally gone. R

  5. Ah. I saw the report on that website together with your other sightings and assumed it was you who saw them.

  6. Andrew, going back to your suggestions for the visit.We should get both scops and spotted eagle owl I actually think birders should leave the desert tawny alone. So many birders visiting two birds is not healthy and doesn't even work. I have got some ideas on a second site.

  7. Great story Rob. Looking forward to see you in June, hopfully convince you to go owling with us ;-) If we buy the beers?
    When is Andrew coming?

  8. Tommy, I have some beers in the fridge so no need for you to buy. Let's hope we are successful. Andrew has a crack 2 weeks ahead of you. R