Thursday 29 October 2015

Dhalkut and the journey back

Saeed Shanfari, Hedi Khecharem and  I headed for Dhalkut on Saturday having stayed in Rakhyut overnight. Both are coastal settlements close to the Yemen border.

As we started driving down into Dhalkut, a booted eagle appeared overhead. This was a good start to birding in this area. 

booted eagle 1 (by Saeed Shanfari)

Saeed Shanfari took some excellent pictures and I am gratefully he is allowing me to reproduce two of them here.

booted eagle 2 (by Saeed Shanfari)

Also near the top of the approach to Dhalkut is plenty of woodland. We stopped there briefly. We didn't have time to fully investigate the woods. However the sight of several common whitethroat probably shows there is potential for other migrants there.

common whitethroat

This is my second visit to Dhalkut. Both times the birds in the urban centre have been quite poor and this is in stark contrast to near-by Rakhyut. For example, there is hardly a laughing dove or Tristram's starling to be seen nevermind other birds.

I go into the town mostly to look in the marina and on the beach for seabirds.

lesser crested tern

Lesser crested tern were the least ordinary this time. They are winter visitors to Dhofar.

mixed sea birds

I am ever hopeful and being so far west I was on the look-out for rarities. Unfortunately I couldn't turn any of the slender-billed gull into grey-headed gull (a vagrant from Africa).

slender-billed gull

We didn't stay too long in the town. On the way out but just before the climb up, we again stopped off in a wooded area. This one was packed full of birds including African paradise flycatcher, Abyssinian white-eye, Ruppell's weaver and European golden oriole.

rock hyrax (by Saeed Shanfari)

There were also rock hyrax on rocks within the wood.

blue-cheeked bee-eater 1

On the other side of the road and a little further up was my first sighting of a blue-cheeked bee-eater this season.

blue-cheeked bee-eater 2

Climbing further up the mountain, we came across our third Bonelli's eagle of the weekend.

Bonelli's eagle 1 (by Saeed Shanfari)

Once again Saeed Shanfari captured the moment.

Bonelli's eagle 2 (by Saeed Shanfari)

I believe the density of Bonelli's eagle is high in the far west.

On the way back to Salalah, we visited Mughsail. This area can be very productive for rare birds. However this time, it was not special. Rare birds are just that. They are never guaranteed.

northern shoveller with garganey (at back)

Ducks were limited to northern shoveller, garganey and northern pintail.

northern pintail

Waders included common redshank and common greenshank both on the beach and in the first inland khawr.

common redshank with moorhen

The only drama occurred when a marsh harrier arrived on the scene. As usual birds scattered in all directions.

marsh harrier (by Saeed Shanfari)

I am again grateful that Saeed Shanfari has allowed me to reproduce one of his pictures.

Overall it was an excellent weekend. I look forward to birding with Saeed Shanfari and Hedi Khecharem again. Our team worked well.

Wednesday 28 October 2015

Much more at Rakhyut

There was much more to Rakhyut than owling (see yesterday's blog). 

On the mountain top before we (Saeed Shanfari, Hedi Khecharem and I) descended into Rakhyut the action started.

There were four eagles. Three were steppe eagle which soon disappeared.

Eastern imperial eagle 1

One eagle stayed behind and give good views. It was an Eastern imperial eagle.

Eastern imperial eagle 2

It was a young bird. I suspect it is a second year bird though I don't have enough expertise to be certain.

Eastern imperial eagle

Within the village is a khawr. However there is very little cover around it and the water quality looks poor. So there are few birds usually. This time there were a few moorhen, garganey, greenshank, a dark morph reef heron, grey heron and gull-billed tern.


In Wadi Rakhyut there were plenty of European roller as well as resident birds such as blackstart and cinnamon-breasted bunting.

European roller

A single rufous-tailed rock thrush was present. This is a migrant which often stops off in Dhofar for a while before moving on to Africa.

rufous-tailed rock thrush

After a short time we began to realise just how many European roller there were. By the end of our stay in Rakhyut, we had seen 70.

another European roller

After dusk we went owling as previously reported. It was not just owls we saw but potential owl food.

rodent near Rakhyut

On Saturday morning, I was up early and birded round the village. I was looking particularly at doves. I wanted to know whether African collared dove made it this far east. The border areas with Yemen seem geographically more likely to have this bird.  Rather strangely though the village had no African collared dove or European collared dove.

laughing dove

In contrast, laughing dove were common.

Tristram's starling

However they were nowhere near as common as Tristram's starling. We saw at least 170.

marsh sandpiper

I made another inspection of the village khawr to see if anything had arrived overnight. A marsh sandpiper was the only obvious addition.

common kestrel

As I walked round the khawr, a common kestrel was perched. They are locally very common.

desert wheatear

The final bird before I met up with the others again was a desert wheatear on the beach.

Verreaux's eagle (by Saeed Shanfari)

On meeting up we drove the car through the village to the west side before leaving. On the western cliffs a Verreaux's eagle flew by. We waited for a few minutes and it returned. Thanks to Saeed Shanfari who has allowed me to post his photograph.

This was not the last eagle seen locally. As we climbed out of the village, a short toed eagle was perched on a wire.

short toed eagle 1

I find this bird's plumage colours are very variable. This one had a bluer head than average.

short toed eagle 2

Eventually the bird flew off.

short toed eagle flying off (by Saeed Shanfari)

This was the last significant bird before we left the area. Thanks are again due to Saeed Shanfari for his flight photograph.

In the next blog I will write about what we saw at the near-by town of Dhalkyut and on the way back to Salalah.

Tuesday 27 October 2015

Owls at Rakhyut

Last Friday I went birding in the far west of Oman near the border with Yemen. I was with two other birders, Saeed Shanfari who is Omani and Hedi Khecharem who is Tunisian. This was a truly international trio.

One of our objectives was to see desert Owl. This we achieved much more easily than I had expected near Rakhyut.

We went to a place previously identified by Saeed and a desert owl was seen before 7pm.

desert owl looking straight (by Hedi Khecharem)

These pictures were taken by Hedi Khecharem. I am much obliged that he is allowing me to reproduce them here. However please note these pictures are his property and should not be reproduced anywhere else without his permission.

desert owl looking up (by Hedi Khecharem)

The area was surprisingly wooded as the literature says the bird likes desert and semi-desert hence the name. It was even more surprising that the owl was first seen in a tree.

desert owl looking sideways (by Hedi Khecharem)

We heard several Arabian scops owl near-by but did not pursue them. However we did attempt to find barn owl which had previously been seen here. 

We were unsuccessful with this yet we came across not one but two Arabian spotted eagle owl while driving around. We simply bumped into them without any tapes or indeed purposeful search.

first Arabian spotted eagle owl

Saeed had told us beforehand that there was a high density of the Arabian spotted eagle owl here.

Arabian spotted eagle owl (by Hedi Khecharem)

Hedi Kecharem has kindly allowed me to publish more of his pictures. The one above is also of the first Arabian spotted eagle owl we came across.

Within two hours of sunset, we decided to conclude the session. However as we were driving away, we came across a second Arabian spotted eagle owl.

second Arabian spotted eagle owl

Saeed noticed it almost at the same moment that he pointed out two Arabian wolf.

second Arabian spotted eagle owl (by Hedi Khecharem)

Hedi was on the better side of the car to photograph this bird and the picture above is his.

We all agreed this had been a very productive session. Indeed desert owl was a lifer for me and Hedi. It became bird number 298 on my Oman list too. 

I will write next about the birds seen in daylight in the Rakhyut area. 

Monday 26 October 2015

October's desert trip

A week ago Friday, Ellen Askum joined me for my first long trip in the desert for three weeks. Once again the main stop was at Dowkah farm which is a magnet for migrating birds.

Of course the cast had changed once again. However the much-liked golden oriole was still able to be seen but now in lower numbers.

golden oriole

As usual I started my inspection of the farm by walking round the outlining fields. Soon the first tawny pipit of the winter were observed.

tawny pipit

Black-crowned sparrow lark and Eurasian collared dove were the most abundant birds out there. 

In the same filed as in previous visits this autumn, Montagu's harrier were found.

Surprisingly no chestnut-bellied sandgrouse were seen which was a first on any of my visits.

spotted sandgrouse by Ellen Askum (with thanks)

However around 9.15am, three waves of spotted sandgrouse appeared. 

We soon headed for the wooded area in the centre of the farm which has the strongest record for migrants.

It didn't take us long to realise that a wave of common cuckoo had arrived.

common cuckoo at Dowkah

We counted at least six.

another common cuckoo at Dowkah

Rather strangely there were no warblers about this time. This desert stops can vary day to day with the numbers and types of migrants especially warblers at this time of year. 

Only two spotted flycatcher remained too.

rosy starling

On leaving the wooded area, we went to the field next to the farm house.

three rosy starling

A medium sized flock of rosy starling were mingling with the resident house sparrow. The field was hopping with locusts which would have been much to the rosy starling's liking.

This was the same field I saw nine white stork three weeks before. There were still four there.

white stork

While the numbers of golden oriole had started to drop off, the numbers of European roller were still going strong.

five European roller

I know Ellen was very satisfied with Dowkah farm with several lifers. It is a tribute to Dowkah's ability to deliver new birds for me that I was slightly disappointed this time particularly in the diversity of the migrants. 

We decided to press on further away from Salalah as our 4.30 am start in the morning had given us time to play with.

Qatbeet motel garden was the next stop and furthest stop away.

willow warbler 1 by Ellen Askum (with thanks)

Unlike at Dowkah, there had been a windfall of warblers. The not-so-good news was that all the warblers appeared to be of two types: willow warbler and common whitethroat.

willow warbler 2 by Ellen Askum (with thanks)

Probably the most remarkable birding feature of Qatabeet was not the warblers but the sheer numbers of common cuckoo on site.

common cuckoo at Qatbeet

We counted at least nine.

rufous bush robin

There was a very late rufous bush robin.  Most of this species went through these desert spots on migration 3-5 weeks before.

barn swallow

There were several barn swallow overhead. However was was resting only a few centimetres from the ground. It has obviously taken a bath in the small near-by pool. It was soaked. I suspect the pool saved its life though by perching that low one of the cats could still end it.

white wagtail

There was a white wagtail. Unlike the rufous bush robin, this bird was very early for its species.

common cuckoo at Al Beed farm

After Qatbeet, we changed direction and headed back towards Salalah. We had time to stop off at Al Beed farm though it was blisteringly hot in the afternoon sun.

Even here we saw three more common cuckoo. There was clearly a wave going through.

European roller

European roller was also expected and indeed seen.


I have never seen a blackstart at a desert farm before. It was about 60 kilometres north of its expected range.

spotted flycatcher

Our last stop was very brief when I took a peak into the garden surrounding a wind turbine station. There were no cuckoos this time but European roller and golden oriole were present. One spotted flycatcher was also seen.

I thank Ellen Askum for her company on this trip and on the other days.

I will write next about another trip with friends which took place nearly a week later. We went west and close to the Yemen border. The results were very good indeed.