Sunday 6 September 2015

Sandgrouse at Dowkah farm

My plan is to continue going into the desert for a long trip every Friday morning while the passage season is on.

Last Friday, I left home at 4.30am and reached my first target location of Dowkah farm at 6.35am travelling at first up the hills through the khareef mist and greenery then down into the dry beige desert.

Dowkah had been so good for warblers and other passerines in the bushes a week before. However there had been virtually no birds in the open fields.

Whether it was the much cooler air of early morning or just the vagaries of desert fields but this time the fields were loaded with birds.

I will give more details in the next blog. However this blog is about one group of birds only: sandgrouse.

I always see chestnut-bellied sandgrouse at Dowkah. Indeed I believe they spend all day there. They are the sandgrouse which like the most vegetation. My nickname for them is chestnut-bellied grass grouse.

This was the first time I had been there so early. 

The sandgrouse action started at around 8.45am when suddenly flocks started to arrive at a newly ploughed field which had obviously been sown as it was being heavily watered.

It didn't take me long to realise they were a mix of spotted sandgrouse and crowned sandgrouse with the latter birds arriving on average a little later but there was much overlap.

female crowned sandgrouse

Indeed the last one to arrive which I saw was a lone female. She landed next to a puddle in another field which I had moved on to.

crowned sandgrouse looking at me

What was so pleasing was that it was only five metres away from me and I know she saw me. Sometimes birds can be trusting.

Previously the majority had landed in the other field in various parts.

mixed sandgrouse

Some were in mixed groups. The picture above shows four spotted sandgrouse and one crowned sandgrouse.

male and female spotted sandgrouse

Many birds only stayed two or three minutes drinking though it is quite normal for birds to land a few minutes before slightly away from the watering hole to inspect the surroundings before moving in to drink.

spotted sandgrouse moving on

In the picture above, the movement of spotted sandgrouse seems to have caused a green sandpiper to panic.

In this you can clearly see that these birds don't have a full dark, very broad trailing edge to their underwings like crowned sandgrouse. This is often described as a good way to separate them in flight.

more spotted sandgrouse

Actually I don't find this characteristic very helpful. In the wrong light spotted sandgrouse can look that way too. I believe all four birds above are spotted sandgrouse for example. Note that on close inspection the underwing black is broken up and the tails are too long for example. 

Although this was only one occasion, I think it quite probable the arrival of sandgrouse to drink is regular. I can recommend Dowkah farm as an alternative to Muntasar oasis as a place to find crowned sandgrouse which is often the most difficult.  

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