Saturday 13 June 2015

Birding in the steam room

Since Wednesday, it has been like living in a steam room in Salalah. The cyclone which gave rain in parts of the north of the country has produced very cloudy and extremely humid weather down here.

The prevailing wind direction has been from south west and that is the same direction as the forthcoming monsoon.

I have been birding as much as I can despite the weather. During this time there have been two birding visitors to the area. These have been Tommy Pedersen based in UAE and Bruce Hansen based in Norway. Part of the time I have been birding with them and part independently.

Up until yesterday afternoon (Friday), the biggest news of our birding came from Thursday morning when the three of us were at the north west corner of Khawr Rori.

black-crowned tchagra at Khawr Rori

Apart from the expected yellow bittern in the reeds and good birds like black-crowned tchagra in the scrub, we came across a malachite kingfisher at the water's edge. Unfortunately it flew off before we could take photographs. It did call back when a call was played but wasn't seen again.  This will be only the ninth record in Oman and the first for seven years. It is of course subject to acceptance by The Oman Bird Rarities Committee.

I took this as a sign that the strong winds from the monsoon direction had done a job I had hoped for: to bring Afro-tropical vagrants in. There is a suspicion that there may be more and the reason they have gone unnoticed in the past is the lack of observations in this difficult season.

cropped from a picture by Tommy Pedersen

The yellow bittern at Khawr Rori hadn't been new to Tommy and Bruce on their trip as we had seen three adults and a juvenile at East Khawr (Khawr Dahariz) the previous evening.

cropped from a picture by Tommy Pedersen

The presence of a juvenile suggests that breeding had taken place locally earlier in the year than has normally been recognised.

Dideric cuckoo by Tommy Pedersen

Tommy and Bruce had both seen Dideric cuckoo in Africa but expressed an interest in seeing it in Dhofar. Ayn Razat is arguably the best place to see it and an early morning visit on Thursday delivered a result. Indeed we saw two adult males which at one stage came very close to each other. At the same time they were apparently being mobbed by male Ruppell's weaver.

Dideric cuckoo turns its back

Thanks to Tommy for allowing me to show one of his pictures of a Dideric cuckoo. The same bird showed its back as I took a photo!

While Tommy and Bruce continued birding, I had to go to work. Though we meet up again on Thursday afternoon. I suggested we go to Raysut settling pools where the long staying (and rare for Dhofar) spur-winged lapwing and red-wattled lapwing showed well for them. I have photographed them any times so I declined this time. 

The flamingo (23) were still there which have been present since November.

partly albino house crow 1

All three of us were intrigued by a partly albino house crow which presented itself in front of us as we were leaving the pools.

partly albino house crow 2

The settling pools were a relatively minor part of Thursday evening's action. We moved right across the city from west to east and beyond to Wadi Darbet for a spot of owling, arriving just before dusk.

Arabian scops owl by Tommy Pedersen (with thanks to Tommy)

Finding an Arabian scops owl was surprisingly painless. One answered a call and we moved towards it as it in turn had moved towards us. 

Arabian scops owl 2

We were lucky this time that the owl chose to perch on a fairly low lying branch and so gave excellent views.

Arabian scops owl 3

In the same general area but much closer to the river, an Arabian spotted eagle owl was heard but not seen. 

On Friday morning, I birded independently. I returned to East Khawr to look particularly if the strong winds had brought anything in and I returned to the side of Khawr Rori to look again for the malachite kingfisher.

a flock of beached white winged black tern 1

East Khawr had plenty birds as usual including flamingo, yellow bittern, moorhen, glossy ibis, black-winged stilt and the single long staying African scared ibis.

There was a little evidence that the strong winds had effected the mix of birds.

A strange flock of 20 or so seemingly all immature white-winged black tern had beached and were resting.

white winged black tern 2

I checked the small number of waders for rarities. Most were either Kentish plover, sanderling or lesser sand plover. Three grey plover were on the beach staring at the rough waters.

lesser sand plover

An notable bird which was seen just as I was leaving the Khawr was a very late blue-cheeked bee-eater.

blue-cheeked bee-eater

My trip to the edge of Khawr Rori did not give me a second view of the malachite kingfisher unfortunately. It was scant compensation to be able to see yet more yellow bittern so readily.

graceful prinia at Khawr Rori

This corner of Khawr Rori has many Ruppell's weaver breeding. Other often seen birds are graceful prinia, Arabian warbler and little green bee-eater. Namaqua dove is less often seen.

Namaqua dove at Khawr Rori

At the moment is it really advisable to take a break from birding in the early afternoon. However after the break I met up with Tommy and Bruce again. This was eventful as we saw a bird which has not been recorded in Oman before. I will write about this in the next blog.

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