Sunday 20 September 2015

Full blown passage at Dowkah

I left home in Salalah at 4.30 am on Friday once again for a desert trip centred on Dowkah farm. Each time I have been this autumn the birds have been changing as a different wave of migrants comes and goes.

There is no doubt the shear volume of birds was the highest so far and I finally added a migrant to my Oman list here which is a main part of why I have been going.

As usual I started with a tour of the eastern pivot fields. A good passage bird was seen here. Five pied wheatear were there. It's not as common in Oman as in Saudi Arabia as Oman is a little south of its main passage route but Dowkah farm is as good a place as any to see it.

pied wheatear

Another notable bird observed at first light out in the fields was a steppe grey shrike. This is a migrant and reasonably easy to separate from the resident aucheri sub species sometimes called Arabian grey shrike or in the past southern grey shrike

Steppe grey shrike has a buff front not grey and a much larger amount of white in the wing which can be seen when flying. There are several other differences too.

E-bird and Clements count conservatively and one allow me one species for these two.

Steppe grey shrike

The third pivot field I walk past was absolutely soaked in water in places just like it was last week.

Also just like last week, it had attracted Montagu's harrier. I positively identified two and the third ring-tailed harrier photographed below is probably a third.

ring-tailed harrier

As expected in a wet field at this time of year, there were yellow wagtail and waders such as ruff were present too.

More surprisingly I saw a flock of 20 garganey flying that way just after I left it.

There were a few spotted flycatcher scattered around the fields but they became more numerous as I reached the bushes and trees in the centre of the farm. 

This is the place where many of the rarities have been found in the past.

spotted flycatcher

There were several Daurian shrike and Turkestan shrike.

Turkestan shrike

Rufous bush robin keep coming. Each time I have visited this autumn there have been plenty.

Rufous bush robin

The shaded area is perfect for sleeping European nightjar on passage. I counted seven.

European nightjar

Strangely there were no whitethroat this week but four eastern olivaceous warbler were seen. European roller and golden oriole flitted around the trees.


Two of the farm's visiting garganey dropped in briefly.

Right next to the shaded area is a pivot field which is being heavily watered.

This was good for birds last time and excellent this time.

The pivot bar and path running by it were especially good.

European roller

I counted ten European roller on the bar at one time.

female rock thrush

I saw three rock thrush there.

Male rock thrush
One was male.

common cuckoo

A female common cuckoo gave a perfect pose.

golden oriole

The maximum count of golden oriole on the bar at any one time was seven. This one looks like its stretching wing has nearly hit a perched rufous bush robin behind.

black-headed bunting with house sparrow

Over fifty house sparrow were around too. Its always good practice to search a large flock of any bird for the rarer exception and in among the house sparrow, I found a female type bunting which I originally thought might be an ortolan bunting. It looked an ill fit. Thanks to Andrew Bailey from UAE for suggesting black-headed bunting

It didn'
t stay long as two Montagu's harrier chose that moment to move to that field. The sparrows and the one bunting scattered.

However a few minutes later, I caught up with a bunting on the bar. It is probably the same bird. 

female type black-headed bunting

This was one of this autumn's target species and part of the reason I have been coming out into the desert. It is not common in Oman and less common still in autumn compared with spring. Apparently their main migration is in October so this was lucky.

Ortolan bunting became species 292 on my Oman list.

dunlin (foreground)

The path alongside the bar throws up good birds. There can't be many pictures showing both a dunlin and golden oriole.

common sandpiper (left)

I have seen common sandpiper and spotted flycatcher combinations before.

barn swallow

There are three inner fields. Two of them are on the ways back to the car and have been good for sandgrouse and hirundines lately. Both chestnut-bellied sandgrouse and spotted sandgrouse were seen.

house martin (left)

Most of the hirundines were barn swallow so I concentrated on the exceptions. There were a small number of sand martin and a single house martin.

willow warbler 1

In the middle of one field, there was some tall grass in the middle of the pivot. This was surprising place to see both a willow warbler and Upcher's warbler.

willow warbler 2

I started the day seeing pied wheatear. I ended it with virtually the last bird being a desert wheatear. The latter bird will be in southern Oman in very large numbers all winter.

desert wheatear

After Dowkah, I decided to head further away from Salalah and make it to Qatbeet. This turned out to be a good decision.

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