Sunday 29 November 2015

Special sparrows and swallows

There were a couple of reports of a small flock of yellow-throated sparrow at Sawnaut farm last week.

This very large farm is out of bounds but one can view inside from behind the perimeter fence. Sometimes birds are outside the perimeter anyway.

On Thursday morning I tried my luck before work by walking along the western fence.

The very first bird I spotted was an Abyssinian white-eye on a dead tree on my side of the fence. I can't recall seeing one at the farm before.

Abyssinian white-eye

Near-by a group of Indian house crow were mobbing a Bonelli's eagle.

barn swallow

I was checking out all the hirundines for rarities but seeing only barn swallow. All the time I watched out for yellow-throated sparrow either side of the fence.

Steppe grey shrike

There was not shortage of birds but just not the one I was targetting. A Steppe grey shrike was perched on another dead bush.

Isabelline wheatear 1

I was momentarily distracted from my main goal by a wheatear with quite a grey back. I originally thought it might be a northern wheatear which is very rare but possible in winter.

Isabelline wheatear 2

I concluded it was an Isabelline wheatear after all with the supercilium being strong in front of the eye and its isolated dark alula.

My hopes were raised when I came across several sparrows which turned out to be house sparrow. This is however a rare bird in Salalah not found on houses and only around the two farms. There was no yellow-throated sparrow among them.

European roller

There was one European roller left. This species comes in autumn and seems to stop over for a few weeks. However they are almost unseen in December and January.

Other interesting birds included rosy starling which winter at the farm.

rosy starling

Singing bush lark can be seen all year round.

singing bush lark

I left for work without success with the sparrow.

However that was not the end of the day's birding. I had agreed to meet up with visiting Belgian birder Bart De Schutter in Raysut after work. By tremendous coincidence we texted me to say he had found three yellow-throated sparrow at Raysut settling pools. Meanwhile I had to stay at work while itching to go off.

Soone after this I received another text to say he had also found a wire-tailed swallow there. Bart De Schutter is one of the best birders I have ever birded with and has a tremendous eye for detail.

As soon as work was over I rushed over to Raysut. Bart quickly relocated the yellow-throated sparrow. It is his photograph below and I am grateful for his permission to reproduce it. This sparrow breeds in the north of the country and disperses in winter. It became species 306 on my Oman list.

yellow-throated sparrow by Bart De Schutter

The wire-tailed swallow took longer but eventually one landed on a bare bush at the edge of one of the smallest settling pools. Several barn swallow had landed on a near-by bush too.

wire-tailed swallow 1

Remarkably while we were observing this swallow, a second wire-tailed swallow landed near it. Bart has photos of the two birds together.

wire-tailed swallow 2

Wire-tailed swallow is officially a vagrant in Oman but Bart also saw one on Masirah two weeks ago. He also saw two at Taqah in 2013. 

white-tailed swallow 3

These two will be only the tenth record if accepted. It is now species 307 on my Oman list.

tawny pipit

We spent another hour investigating the site. They was a similar mix of birds otherwise as the last time I visited. Some minor changes included the arrival of a small number of tawny pipit and very large increase in the number of white stork.

white stork and Abdim's stork

At one stage there were 900 storks either resting at the site or flying immediately above it.

Salalah dump

When we left the settling pools we visited the south side of the city's rubbish dump which is very close. This is where the storks find most of their food. However we were mostly looking for eagles and in particular the as-yet-not-fully-identified pale eagle seen days before. It was not seen this time.

Then it was off to Raysut lagoons for a whistle stop.

The most interesting bird here was a aberant water pipit which appeared darker than usual and without a supercilium. 

water pipit? 1

It is possible it was a buff-bellied pipit but the legs were dark and unfortunately we couldn't get frontal views.

water pipit? 2

Finally I showed Bart Raysut beach where I had seen a crab plover two days before. It was still there. It is very rare to see one in Salalah. This rocky but smooth beach is unusual habitat for the area and is also the best place to see oystercatcher in Dhofar.


This was a hectic day with work sandwiched in between. However it was a highly rewarding one. Thanks are due to Bart De Schutter.


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  2. Dear Robert Tovey sir,
    your site have great information to this region and also your ebird entries are of great help,i am based in muscat as a group we are planning for birding in salalah coming long weekend ,since you are active birding pal for the i would like to know key hotspots & locations info from u .sorry i don't have your email id so posting it email id is:

    awaiting your reply.