Monday 31 August 2015

Greater painted snipe at Raysut

Just occasionally, there is a special day when birding. One of mine was last Wednesday. I chose to visit Raysut settling pools. I made a big effort to visit all corners of the site despite the hot weather. This proved a very good decision. 

There are a small number of natural-looking pools caused by the overflow of the main large working (and concrete bound) pools. These natural-looking pools are surrounded by marsh which is sodden with up to 25 cms of water. 

I waded through the marshy undergrowth to the second largest of these.

There were several waders there but one was special. It was an adult female greater painted snipe.

greater painted snipe 1

I was very careful not to spook it. I walked very slowly. The common redshank that were also there flew off but the greater painted snipe just walked away, stopping every now and again. It never flew off.

greater painted snipe 2

I had seen this species in Saudi Arabia in very similar habitat. There had been a family group. Indeed our small birding group that day proved breeding in Saudi Arabia for the first time.

greater painted snipe 3

Whilst the bird is rare in Saudi Arabia, it is a vagrant in Oman. Jens Eriksen has told me my sighting (alone this time) was the first in the country for 17 years and there had been only 6 previous records.

greater painted snipe 4

Jens visited the site two days later and the bird was still present.

sooty gull

The overall impression of the site was that there were many more birds present than when I last visited it in late June. Indeed it was the only month when bird density has been low at this site.

This time there were very large numbers of sooty gull presumably because the sea is inhospitable in the monsoon season.

Another bird in very large numbers was African silverbill

African silverbill

Returning to waders: there were a few greenshank, wood sandpiper, green sandpiper and common sandpiper. There was at least one little stint too.

green sandpiper

Black-winged stilt is one of the few birds which can be present at the site all year round.

black-winged stilt

There was one early duck there. It was a garganey. This species often migrates earlier than others.


It is winters further south than many other Eurasian ducks. Nevertheless some do winter in Dhofar.

garganey in flight

It appears the single vagrant spur-winged lapwing and the single red-wattled lapwing stayed all summer.

spur-winged lapwing

They have been inseparable since the other wintering red-wattled lapwing left the site in spring.

red-wattled lapwing

Other notable birds included little grebe and common moorhen whose numbers have increased consistently over the past year. The sight of young little grebe confirms that part of this growth has been through local breeding.

little grebe sunning itself

The little grebe in particular have to careful as some pools have oily patches. The bird above was sunning itself to remove some soiling.

common tern on the ground

Despite the presence of over 200 sooty gull I observed only one tern. Interestingly it was being bullied at time by the resident house crow which did not pick a fight with the gulls.

common tern in flight

Like the little grebe, it had some soiling which masked the true colour of the bill in some shots.

common tern

This one may well be of the sub species hirundo though the soiling makes it difficult to tell if it is that or the more easterly minussensis which is also seen in Dhofar.

Over the weekend, I had a completely different change of scenery. I visited some desert farms in search of passerine migrants. I will blog about that next.

Sunday 30 August 2015

Quick stops at three sites

Last Tuesday, I made some whistle stops to East Khawr, Ayn Hamran and Jarziz farm. The first was in the morning while the other two were in late afternoon.

Plenty of common moorhen and squacco heron were on the water. However most of my attention was directed towards the grassy part of the sandbar which separates the lagoon from the sea.

broad-billed sandpiper (right)

Here is where there can be interesting waders passing through in autumn. A large number of ruff have arrived just like last year. Last year they stayed for 2-3 months before moving on. However there were other waders too including three broad-billed sandpiper.

This species passes through Oman and other Middle East coasts in early autumn but usually only as a stop over before finishing their journey near-by in East Africa and/or Pakistan and southern India.

broad-billed sandpiper (left)

They are easy to identify at this time of year with their double supercilium, darkish overall colour and drooping bill.

broad-billed sandpiper

The picture above shows the split supercilium well.

curlew sandpiper

As the autumn progresses they are less easily separated from curlew sandpiper which incidentally were also present at East Khawr on Tuesday. Most of these birds still had some red blotches on their undersides from their summer plumage.

lesser sand plover

Another wader present in fair numbers was lesser sandplover. The bird above is one of those which has quite a strong bill but is still probably a lesser sandplover (rather than greater sandplover).

lesser sandplover

The second bird is more obviously a lesser sandplover. Indeed it was so dainty I had to look twice to rule out Caspian plover.

adult grey-headed kingfisher

In the after I made a quick stop at Ayn Hamran which was obviously very green from the Khareef rains. However the stream has nowhere near as much water as it had last year.

Highlights included seeing two Dideric cuckoo chasing each other. Both adult and juvenile grey-headed kingfisher were present showing there had been a successful breeding season.

juvenile grey-headed kingfisher

Ruppell's weaver were still making new nests showing their breeding season was not yet over though there was plenty signs of used nests.

Ruppell's weaver

Here, I glimpsed my first Arabian warbler and Arabian partridge since my return to Oman after the summer.

singing bush lark

After Ayn Hamran I had just enough time to call into Jarziz farm before dusk.

This site was relatively quiet. Singing bush lark, cinnamon-breasted bunting and African silverbill were plentiful but no passage passerines were seen. I will not give up on this site during the autumn though.

crested lark

The last bird observed before I left caused me some thought but it turned out to be a crested lark without a crest. 

I birded again the next day which was Wednesday. This birding turned out to be very special. I sighted a bird last seen in Oman 17 years before. I will blog about that next.

Thursday 27 August 2015

Al Baleed in August

My first birding session when back in Oman was on Monday afternoon when I made it over to Al Baleed, Archaeological Park. Sadly it is being developed in a way that I don't believe is sympathetic to the environment. However there are still good birds to be seen. 

There is always a good chance to see spotted thick-knee here. In my case I have seen them on roughly 60% of my visits but never in the same place as yet.

spotted thick-knee bird 1

This time I saw three together just as I was leaving around 30 minutes before sunset. This was in the tended garden area which displays flora from different parts of the country.

spotted thick-knee bird 2

It was good bird to see even if it was left late.

Indeed the birding started very quietly and got better as time progressed.

European collared dove

On arrival, the most obvious birds were European collared dove out in the open. The odd Ruppell's weaver was also seen in the bushier areas.

little grebe

On the water, birds were restricted to little grebe, common moorhen and the odd sooty gull.

common moorhen

The sand bar between the fresh water and the sea is usually a good place for waders like so many other khawrs in Dhofar. However building has been allowed a little too close to the bar. Nevertheless there were some waders at the end furthest away.

mixed waders

The majority of waders there were greenshank though there were a small number of redshank and ruddy turnstone too.

common greenshank

Over the stretch of fresh water closest to the bar, a single small tern, most probably a Saunders's tern was seen.

Saunders's tern

I almost missed seeing one of the largest birds at the bar as it was well camouflaged. There was a juvenile striated heron.

juvenile striated heron 1

It's bent profile and slow movement nearly fooled me.

juvenile striated heron 2

The beach at Al Baleed is an important part of any birding visit to the park.

sooty gull

All year round on most Dhofar beaches, you can come across sooty gull and great crested tern. Once these are accounted for, then I start looking what else is there.

mostly sanderling

This time there was a large flock of sanderling. This species is rarely seen in the winter but large numbers pass through in early autumn and late spring.

ruddy turnstone

The presence of ruddy turnstone follows a similar pattern.

squacco heron

Moving back from the beach and before I saw the spotted thick-knee, I had a second look at the freshwater inlet. I got better views of the squacco heron on the banks. There was no sign of any of the closely related Indian pond heron. Al Baleed is a good place to see them in winter.

In the gardens, I fleetingly saw a Bruce's green pigeon.

African silverbill

Passerines were mostly restricted to African silverbill and cinnamon-breasted bunting. Though there was one migrant red-backed shrike.

I managed to find time to go birding on both Tuesday and Wednesday. I will blog about that next.

Monday 24 August 2015

Around Varna

I am back in Salalah,Oman now but this blog is a compilation of a couple of birding sessions around Varna, Bulgaria last week.

One session was a walk between my village and the next to visit friends.

There were plenty of birds, some of which must have been on passage given the numbers involved.

Three birds of prey were seen. 

common buzzard taking off

The first one was a common buzzard. This bird was so bright white under wing in places it reminded me of the upland buzzard seen in Mongolia two weeks before.

common buzzard perched

The avenue of trees along the road were full of birds. I kept flushing golden oriole as I walked down the road. All they did was move down a few trees and then the processed continued.

Suddenly out of nowhere over one hundred previously unnoticed Spanish sparrow bolted. It immediately became apparent why.

A booted eagle had swooped down and scared them.

booted eagle above a flock of Spanish sparrow

The third bird of prey was a female marsh harrier patrolling more distant fields.

turtle dove

The wires along the road had several birds perched on them. Arguably the most interesting were turtle dove. I counted 30 over a short strip.

more turtle dove

While they do summer in my area, I have not seen this density here before and assume some at least were on early passage.

European bee-eater

It's hard to know whether the European bee-eater were all local birds.
Other species seen on the wires included European collared dove and common starling.

first year lesser grey shrike

A single young lesser grey shrike was also spotted up there. In young birds like this one the black mask does not yet extend over the forehead but its pink washed front was a helpful indication.

woodchat shrike

Near-by but at a lower level was a woodchat shrike on a bush. My village is right on the northern edge of this species range.

juvenile red-backed shrike

Red-backed shrike is very common indeed. There were several seen along the road as usual in summer and both adults and young birds.

Two days later I was with Andrew Bailey near his home village just south of the inlet into Varna. An initial short walk around was carried out in the heat of the day which we didn't expect much from. Highlights though included a nightingale and a northern goshawk.

northern goshawk

While this bird didn't look very barrel-chested, it has a long neck and crucifix shape rather than T-shape of a sparrowhawk. Furthermore it has a vertical tear drop pattern only found in young goshawks.

northern goshawk

Andrew and I had much more success in the late afternoon as the temperatures dropped and we visited Yatata reserve on the Varna inlet.

This fresh water reserve is alway good for water birds. Both pygmy cormorant and great cormorant showed well. Black-headed gull and mallard were plentiful.

Grey heron were abundant along side a single white stork.

white stork with grey heron

Notable passerines included yellow wagtail (black-headed), goldfinch and common kingfisher.

I don't consciously seek to enlarge my Bulgarina list but I might well chase targets in the future. Nevertheless I added 3 birds at Yatata. These were gadwell, little grebe and black-crowned night heron.  

lesser grey shrike

One of the last birds we saw at Yatata was a lesser grey shrike. Unlike the one near home, this was an adult with its much more distinctive thick black mask.

Now I am back in Oman I hope to go birding in the next two or three days. In the meantime my list went up from 287 to 288 in the summer. Clements and e-bird split Caspian gull and Steppe gull while I was away.