Wednesday 30 September 2015

Travelling north to Buraimi

There were originally hopes that Eid would be a five day holiday rather than the four it turned out to be. However I chose to visit all the same major places but it the shorter time.

This meant driving long distances in limited time. Wednesday was a day involving long distance driving. I went from Ghaftain to Haima then to Bahla, Ibri and finally to Buraimi.

Apart from birding early in the morning at Ghaftayn (see last blog) I managed two stops near Haima but not again until near Ibri.

The first stop was in the small park at Haima. Haima is surrounded by desert for many kilometres in all directions.

I had mixed fortunes there.

tree pipit

The good luck was that the workmen were giving watering the site. This was helpful in attracting birds such as pipits as well as the local house sparrow and laughing dove

The bird above is a tree pipit but I consulted experts since it appeared to have some characteristics of olive-backed pipit which is a rare visitor normally to northern to Oman. However it is confirmed as the much more common tree pipit

watering the park at Haima

The bad luck was dramatic. For three or four seconds a warbler was hopping along the side of the short hedge shown in the picture. I am pretty sure it was grasshopper warbler. The markings on the back were vivid. However there have only been seven records of the species in country and I would have needed a picture for my own satisfaction and the rarities committee. I won't claim this bird as my standard of proof is very high. 

It must migrate through in much bigger numbers but is rarely seen. In this case the bird hopped into the hedge and I could trace it again.

The water attracted a grey heron out of nowhere. It was very reluctant to move on.

grey heron at Haima

Twenty kilometres north east of Haima on the Muscat road is the Haima Waste Disposal Site.

One part of the site is where dirty water is dumped and reeds grow. One of the first birds i saw was a surprise. Above the site was an osprey.


There are no fish on site so after a few minutes fruitless search it continued its migration.

spotted sandgrouse

Each time I have visited the site which has always mean in the morning, there have been large number of sandgrouse.

They drink from water at one end of the site cleaned by the reeds. They also seem to stay near the site before and after drinking.

This time I reckon there were 400 assorted sandgrouse present. The most abundant were spotted sandgrouse followed by chestnut-bellied sandgrouse with a few crowned sandgrouse.

red-backed shrike

Both Daurian shrike and Turkestan shrike were seen along with one red-backed shrike. The latter bird is much less common in Oman.

marsh harrier

Two marsh harrier were patrolling presumably looking for tired migrants.


Moorhen obviously breed here and they are relatively tame. They are most easily seen around the few stretches of open water. In this same place a few waders were seen. These included common sandpiper, green sandpiper and little ringed plover.

I didn't stop again to bird for several hours. At least I drove during the hottest time of the day.

My next and last stop of the day was around 4pm south of Ibri in some scrubland.

red-tailed wheatear

The first bird I saw was a red-tailed wheatear. It is a common wintering bird in the north of the country but rare in Dhofar and certainly not seen this early in the season. This was perfect sign that I was in the different birding zone north of the desert.

desert whitethroat

It was also here I saw my first desert whitethroat of the season too. 

desert wheatear

Red-tailed wheatear was not the only wheatear present. A desert wheatear was also seen.

I made it to Buraimi in good time. The next day, Thursday was the only day not involving long distance travel. I birded in that area all day. I will blog about what I saw next.

Tuesday 29 September 2015

Early morning at Ghaftayn

On Wednesday morning, I got up early at Ghaftayn rest house to see what passage there had been over-night. These desert stops have highly variable windfalls of migrants during the passage seasons. One morning can be heaving while another can have virtually nothing. The same goes for the rarity of the birds.

This was only an average day but would still be impressive for the first time visitor to Oman.

Menetries's warbler

Through a careful search of all the passerines in the trees, I found myself a Menetries's warbler.

Menetries's warbler 2

This warbler is most common during the passage but some winter especially in any greenery in the desert.

Menetries's warbler 3

As far as I could tell all the other warblers that morning were common whitethroat.

first common whitethroat

Most of the common whitethroat were of the blander eastern sub-species rather than the nominate from further west.

second common whitethroat

Once again I found more of a species which had just been added to my country list. Ortolan bunting had been added the afternoon before after 13 months in country. Now there were two at Ghaftayn as well.

ortolan bunting 1

These two birds were semi-associating with the resident house sparrow.

ortolan bunting

The waves of red-tailed shrikes seems to be endless. Day after day and location after location, I see both Turkestan shrike and Daurian shrike.

Turkestan shrike

The male Turkestan shrike above is one of those which is just as brown on its upper parts overall as a brown shrike.

red-backed shrike

One of the first birds I saw in poor early light was a red-backed shrike. I couldn't re-find it though most birds stay all day at these desert stops only to move on at night. 

spotted flycatcher

Spotted flycatcher is incredibly common on passage in these desert stops and Ghaftain on Wednesday morning was no exception.

grey wagtail

The ground had birds too though the resident cats are lethal to the unwary. By the way I am one of those birders who hates cats for their murderous activity!

I saw one grey wagtail and one yellow wagtail.


A couple of hoopoe was pretty much as expected at the site.

greater crested lark

Greater crested lark winter in Oman in many places. These were the first I observed this season.

golden oriole

Just before I left to head northward on the long journey to Buraimi, I noticed a golden oriole. No matter how many I see I still enjoy them. 

The next blog will look at the stop offs I made on the journey.

Monday 28 September 2015

Dowkah delivers again

My Eid trip lasted from Tuesday afternoon until Saturday evening. It involved 3500 kilometres of travel and took me to several birding locations. This and the next four blogs will chronicle the results.

I headed north out of Salalah on Tuesday and reached one of my favourite birding locations, Dowkah desert farm, with time to bird until dusk.

This farm is the only greenery for many kilometres around and is a magnet for birds especially on passage.

One highlight was seen just before dusk when I got excellent views of a European scops owl.

European scops owl

I had seen one at Qatbeet the weekend before but this one was less flighty. Indeed I left the scene eventually without flushing the bird at all. Records show this species is not uncommon in these desert spots especially in late September, October and November.

This bird was in palms which is the favoured habitat of its close cousin pallid scops owl which is resident in northern Oman.

There was good birding before the owl was seen. Once again over ten each of golden oriole and European roller were observed either in the same area as the owl or in a neighbouring field.

European roller

There were several common rock thrush on site but this time two blue rock thrush were also observed. Both were male.

Blue rock thrush

Chestnut-bellied sandgrouse are on the farm all year and all times of day. While two other types of sandgrouse are best seen at drinking times.

golden oriole with chestnut-bellied sandgrouse

I don't think chestnut-bellied sandgrouse shares a location with golden oriole very often.

common sandpiper and ortolan bunting

Another unusual pairing on the same track in a field was common sandpiper and ortolan bunting.

On my last visit to the farm I found a black-headed bunting. Now ortolan bunting was seen. This had been one of my main hopes from the farm. It made species 296 on my Oman list.

ortolan bunting

As is often the case when birding, you wait a long time to add a bird to your list then you keep seeing it! I had twitched collared pratincole in Raysut days before. Now there were at least four at Dowkah.

collared pratincole

Very close by were a few juvenile white-winged black tern.

white-winged black tern

Birding in the fields was interrupted a couple of times as birds panicked on the arrival of both Montagu's harrier and marsh harrier before settling down again.

squacco heron

Members of the heron family have been present every time I visit Dowkah. This time there were a small number of squacco heron and a lone glossy ibis.

grey heron

The last bird I saw was a grey heron standing still in the sand just before I reached the car.

After leaving Dowkah I drove on to Ghaftain for the night. The next blog will tell what I saw there the next morning and later in the day as I drove on north.

Tuesday 22 September 2015

Collared pratincole twitched at Raysut

I finally saw collared pratincole in Oman yesterday. It became bird number 295 on my Oman list.

Thanks are due to Jens Eriksen for tipping me off that four were at Raysut settling pools. It wasn't easy as I was at work at the time the message came through. 

I left work at the close of business and went straight there in my work clothes. I had already missed them on Friday when I came back from the desert. I don't like twitching and it's even worse when it fails.

collared pratincole (right) with broad-billed sandpiper

 This time they were there at the far end of a very large array of birds. There were 15 species lined up at the side of the pond where the pratincoles were.

four collared pratincole

As soon as I had observed these birds I went home. This was a twitch and not a full birding session. My clothes weren't appropriate either.

I returned at dawn this morning. The birding was excellent though time was short. This site is very good this year.

I have reported on Raysut settling pools several times this season so rather than report all the birds seen, I have photographs in this blog only of birds not shown before at Raysut this autumn. 

Terek sandpiper (left) with greenshank

 I have pictures of terek sandpiper this time. Indeed this was the first terek sandpiper I have seen anywhere in Dhofar this autumn.

Terek sandpiper

There have been plenty of Temminck's stint at Raysut but I haven't pictured one there.

Temminck's stint (left)

Over 50 garganey were present this morning but I could only see one duck that was different. It was a northern shoveller.

Northern shoveller

While glossy ibis are present all year round at East Khawr and Sawnout farm, they are rarely seen at Raysut. 

glossy ibis (back)

There were three there this morning.

first juvenile white winged black tern

Finally adult white-winged black tern arrived at Raysut a week or two before I saw any juveniles. Now juveniles appear more numerous.

second white winged black tern

We have an Eid break starting this afternoon. I will be travelling to central Oman. I will blog what I see.

Sunday 20 September 2015

Two adds to my Oman list at Qatbeet

Qatbeet is a further 80 kilometres outside Salalah than Dowkah farm and it was a tough decision whether to go on especially as it meant birding in the middle of the day. In the end I decided that while I was in the area I should take advantage.

I am glad I did. One reason was the European bee-eater that were there.

European bee-eater

It has taken me over 12 months to finally see this species in Oman. Very few fly through the Salalah area south of the Dhofar mountains. This was another target species for this autumn in the desert which is much further north.

At first they were flying overhead and I presumed an aerial shot would be all I would get. Then five landed.

European bee-eater over Qatbeet

European bee-eater became species 293 on my Oman list.

A temporary pool near the entrance to the motel gardens had interest. 

grey wagtail

Two grey wagtail were enjoying this water in the desert. 

grey wagtail

Other visitors to the water were house sparrow, rosy starling, common myna, Isabelline wheatear and common whitethroat.

However one of the most remarkable features of the birding at Qatbeet was the high density and numbers of European nightjar. There were at least a dozen present.

European nightjar

There were all of the eastern sub species unwini or even plumipes. Both eastern sub-species are much paler than the nominate.

A second European nightjar

Other birds included hoopoe, and a nightingale found in thick bush near a leaking tap.


A totally unexpected moment was when a cat disturbed a bird which then flew into a tree next to me. It proved to be a European scops owl. I managed a poor record shot through branches. Unfortunately it was too spooked by the cat and very alert so it wouldn't allow me to reposition to get better views.

European scops owl through the branches

This was bird 294 on my Oman list and a fine end to my desert birding.