Sunday 28 June 2015

Late June in Salalah

This is probably my last post before I leave Salalah for my summer break. Though, if anything out of the ordinary is seen over the next two days that could change.

Birding here is a little slow at the moment. There is very little movement and the place is left to the residents and summer breeders.

While the monsoon weather could change things slightly, it is still only creeping in slowly.

A visit to Jarziz farm on Friday was the first one I have had this year without any obvious migrants. With all the migrant falcons gone from the farm: Amur falcon, lesser kestrel and even the first Eleonora's falcon for Oman, finally the only bird of prey present was common kestrel.

common kestrel

There were two male birds hovering over the area of the field with recently cut grass. 

common kestrel hovering

That in itself is a little different to the Amur falcon and lesser kestrel which show much less preference for the shorter grass.

the second kestrel

As I walked round I flushed up to 80 chestnut-bellied sandgrouse from the scrub near the large field.

chestnut-bellied sandgrouse

As usual the field was heaving with singing bush lark. There must be well over a hundred on site.

singing bush lark

While Forbes-Watson swift were flying over most of the farm, a  number of crag martins were flying over the small water reservoir.

unidentified crag martin

One of them had very large mirrors in the tail and dark under-wing coverts. By rights this ought to be a European crag martin. It is only the time of year that makes me doubt this.

pale crag martin

The others were more typical pale crag martin.

scaly breasted munia

The main estrildid finch on the farm is African silverbill. However occasionally I see scaly-breasted munia and that was the case on Friday.

While there was were no more Amur falcon on Friday 26th there were still two on my previous visit on Monday 22nd June. This means they were seen almost continually for 8 consecutive weeks.
Amur falcon stretching

The last two were one immature male and one immature female.

perched Amur falcon

Other recent trips have included one to Ayn Hamran on June 23rd. This one was with Michael Immel. Disappointingly the sun was not obscured by any khareef (monsoon) effect and so bird life was subdued in the heat.

first grey-headed kingfisher

The heat did not stop the grey-headed kingfisher from being in evidence though it is difficult for them to hide.

second grey-headed kingfisher

In hot weather near water, it is often good just to stay near the water and watch what visits.

bathed white-spectacled bulbul

Birds were no only drinking but bathing too. The majority were cinnamon-breasted bunting but white-spectacled bulbul and Abyssinian white-eye visited too.

cinnamon-breasted bunting

Arguably the best sighting was not a bird at all. We came across an African wildcat. When it saw us it walked slowly away and promptly sat under a tree and fell into a light sleep. It showed no fear.

African wildcat sleeping

It looks reminiscent of a domestic tabby but the white and black tail as well as the black paws are two of the more obvious distinctions.

an alert African wildcat

The same afternoon we paid a quick visit to the north west corner of Khawr Rori. I am ever hopeful of seeing the malachite kingfisher there again.

There was no sight of it. The only slightly unusual sighting were five black-crowned night heron. Three were adult and two were second calendar year birds.

black-crowned night heron at Khawr Rori

I am travelling a lot this summer and hope to report any any birding I do.

Sunday 21 June 2015

Birding inside the city in June

On Saturday, I visited three sites but all were inside the city boundary. I went to East Khawr (Khawr Dahariz), Jarziz farm and West Khawr (Khawr Awqad).

The mountains are now shrouded in mist as the first effects of the monsoon are being felt. The sea is rough and the city is mostly overcast but visibility is still fine.

I have no idea whether the weather persuaded a juvenile barbary falcon to come to the edge of the city at East Khawr and at sea level too. Nevertheless one did.

barbary falcon at East Khawr

This was pleasent surprise at the start of my day's birding.

rufous nape prominent

I have seen adult birds on wires before but up in the Tawi Atair area.

barbary falcon looking straight ahead

A brave or foolhardy common myna tried to mob the falcon but very nearly got caught out when it flew.

barbary falcon with common myna

The khawr itself was a little disappointing. There was a mist over the water and few birds could be seen. These were mostly limited to squacco heron, moorhen and flamingo.

common moorhen

On the beach I could only see great crested tern, sooty gull and a few Kentish plover and lesser sand plover.

Later in the morning I returned to birding with another trip to Jarziz farm.

The eleonora's falcon which was present from June 12-14 has gone.

On the other hand, there are still Amur falcon coming through. I saw my first there on April 29th and on every subsequent visit except May 31st. Even on Saturday (June 20th) there were two.

immature male Amur falcon

I have now had over 35 sightings of this bird at the farm this "spring". otherwise I have seen only one elsewhere in Dhofar over Ayn Hamran.

perched immature male Amur falcon

On Friday there were also two Amur falcon and they were quite possibly the same birds. They usually stay 1 or 2 days but occasionally more. 

male Amur falcon in flight on Friday

The second bird was an immature female.

female Amur falcon

The previous female on site had a poorly left eye but it often possible to tell one individual from another by characteristics such as moustache length and density of streaking.

female Amur falcon in flight

Unusually there was a tern at the farm flying over the small water reservoir. The attraction for the tern was undoubtedly the fish than somehow have got in there.

common tern

My ability to identify terns is limited but improving since I moved to a coastal site with this job.

common tern

What helped me with the species identification  was the underwing. I understand the dark trailing edge on the outer primaries and translucent inner primaries are diagnostic for common tern.

common tern from the underside

The full black cap is a summer feature yet the very dark bill concerned me. Thanks to Bart de Schutter for pointing out that this is a feature of the Far Eastern sub species longipennis. Although another eastern sub-species minussensis is quite common here, my understanding is that longipennis is rarer.

I found out where the large flock of glossy ibis, which frequented East Khawr and Sahalnout farm for many months, have got to.

glossy ibis at West Khawr

There was one Eurasian spoonbill which was loosely associating with them too.


Other birds included western reef heron and squacco heron.

However the most interesting member of the heron family seen here is striated heron.

Although they are most often seen on low lying rocks on the coast, they often breed in mangroves. Indeed one alternative name is mangrove heron. However mangroves are rare in the Salalah area but the largest patch is at West Khawr.

immature striated heron

So I wasn't totally surprised to see an adult bird and further along an immature bird which luckily was relatively confiding.

striated heron 2

It posed on a branch barely three metres from me.

striated heron 3

Elsewhere there were five whiskered tern which kept resting on the sand bar that separately the khawr from the sea. Kentish plover were there too.

common redshank

Wader numbers are at there lowest in Dhofar at this time of year but there were a few common redshank and common greenshank here.

intermediate morph western reef heron

As I returned to the parked car, there was one more chance to look at herons. All morphs of western reef heron were there from pure dark to pure white and morphs in between.


One of the last birds seen was an osprey perched on the fence close to the car.

Tuesday 16 June 2015

Mid June in Salalah

At times at the moment it is now cool but at other times it is very hot. It depends on whether the mists come down. Soon the mists will be permanent for three months during the khareef season.

As I drove to Khawr Rori yesterday afternoon, out of Taqah the mists came down and the temperatures suddenly became good for birding.

Furthermore, the seas were rough and the wind from SSW was strong so many of the birds which normal stay on the west side of the lagoon at Khawr Rori had moved to the more sheltered north east side. This part of the khawr allows the easiest and best views.

The khawr was crowded too. Many sooty gull and more terns than usual were making use of the calmer environment.

adult breeding pheasant-tailed jacana

For the first time this summer I managed good views of the pheasant-tailed jacana. At one stage two were very close to each other. One was a breeding adult which I presume was female as it was so bright. The females are the more brightly coloured birds.

non-breeding pheasant-tailed jacana

The second bird looked like a non-breeding adult. Near-by were twenty grey heron.

African sacred ibis

I checked the four spoonbill and all were European. African spoonbill is a known vagrant. An African sacred ibis was associating with them. This may be the same bird which has usually been at East Khawr for the past year.

great crested tern and sandwich tern

Near the two dhow exhibits at the khawr were plenty of resting terns and gulls. At the time of year along the coast the large majority are great crested tern and sooty gull. However in the khawrs and especially the largest, Khawr Rori there is more variety. Here were several sandwich tern.

sandwich tern in summer plumage

There were also many common tern, Caspian tern, non-breeding white-winged black tern and at least two whiskered tern. At least one of common tern  was of the eastern sub-species minussensis.Thanks to Tommy Pedersen for help with identification.

common tern (minussensis)

There were approaching one hundred over-summering immature slender-billed gull.

Caspian gull with two Caspian tern

There was at least one over-summering large white-headed gull too seen above just finishing off a fish meal.

Caspian gull with Caspian tern

It is most like a second summer Caspian gull with some retardation of plumage though steppe gull apparently cannot be ruled out according to experts consulted.

Other birds of note in the north east corner included a northern pintail.


After a long look in the north east corner, I moved on to the sand bar in the south. Here were several black-winged stilt, two oystercatcher and a male cotton pygmy goose.

However by far the most interesting event on the sand bar was a very large turtle making its way back to sea from the fresh water lagoon. I understand it is a loggerhead turtle and I am very privileged to see one on land.

loggerhead turtle 

The turtle appeared perfectly healthy but the sea it was returning to was very rough.

close up of loggerhead turtle


After a while on the almost deserted west bank, I returned to the north east corner for a short stop. The only different bird I hadn't picked up the first time was a redshank.

In other news, yesterday morning I made a short stop at East Khawr before work. This was where I had recently seen a large flock of beached immature white winged black tern. Although there were no longer present there was an adult in full breeding plumage. This is an unusual sight down here.

adult white-winged black tern

There were three gull-billed tern which was tern not seen later in the day at Khawr Rori.

gull billed tern at Khawr Rori

To complete my review of mid June on the coast near Salalah, I visited both Sawnout farm and Jarziz farm on Sunday evening.

shining sunbird at Sawnout farm

Once again the much larger Sawnout farm had much less of interest than Jarziz farm.

It was once again worth the effort to get into the farm which is increasingly difficult to approach through a major building site.

The vagrant Eleonora's falcon was still present and was very confiding this time.

Eleonora's falcon 1

It flew from the pivot bar to a telegraph wire where it gave very good views indeed.

Eleonora's falcon 2

There was once again another Amur falcon present. I believe it was different from those seen two days before as one eye was slightly damaged which was feature no seen on the previous female.

Amur falcon 1

As I have said before, Jarziz farm in May and adjacent times is the best place in Arabia to almost guarantee seeing Amur falcon.

Amur falcon 2

As I was checking whether there was another way out of the farm rather than the drive through a very dusty building site, I came across a way to the edge of Dhofar Cattle Feed Company. This is actually an other farm albeit with small fields. I now have a third farm to view within the city and it was there all the time. The main entrance is closed to visitors but the side way in is to a road which goes round the edge. Importantly there are clear views and no fences.

singing bush lark at the cattle feed company

The hedges round the feed company held house sparrow. This is a rare bird in the city. You certainly won't find them on houses.

house sparrow at the cattle feed company

Provided the entrance to Jarziz farm stays open I will certainly be visiting the near-by Dhofar Cattle feed Company as well in future.