Thursday 10 December 2015

Indo-Malay and other birds on Masirah

Last Thursday was my first full day on Masriah island and I spent all of it in or around the sewage works at Hilf. I did however take an early afternoon break.

It started well with the sighting of two Asian koel before 7am. Hilf sewage works is the best place in Oman to see these birds in winter. This Indo-Malay species is rare elsewhere in Oman.

an Asian koel

At first I thought I was looking at just one bird as it was more exposed. The second bird was a little below it. The first bird appears to be an immature one while the lower bird looks female.

two Asian koel

The female is more uniformly dark (with spots).

One koel flying over another

For on moment the birds almost touched as one flew in front of the other.

common moorhen

On arrival at the set of man-made pools, I visited the back one on the coastal side as it has the most cover and shade. I had thought it might be best for any truly shy birds. My only rewards was a group of moorhen keeping to the sides.


Ducks in the back pool were pintail, shoveller and teal.

black-necked grebe

I saw no little grebe while at Hilf but instead there was a much less common black-necked grebe. Not so many make it all the way down to Oman in winter.

mallard (left)

Thursday morning was the only time I saw a duck which wasn't teal, shoveller, pintail or garganey. There was a mallard drake in one of the largest pools.

chestnut-bellied sandgrouse

After an hour and a half or so checking the pools, I decided to visit the forested area for the first time.

As I started to walk round, a small flock of chestnut-bellied sandgrouse flew over. I don't know whether they had found a quiet corner of the site to drink or whether they were coming from elsewhere.

Moments later I had the first of many encounters with a marsh harrier.

marsh harrier

The woods are magical. On an island with so little greenery, this heavily shaded mixed woodland is special and many special birds have been reported over time. For example it has seen the more reports of olive-backed pipit than anywhere else in the country.

the woods at Hilf

I didn't see any but I did see and I looked hard and long. There were however several warblers. Most were Siberian chiffchaff but there was also a Menetries's warbler and a Clamorous reed warbler. Both alerted me to where they were by their distinctive calls.

red-breasted flycatcher

A little further in than the Menetries's warbler and Clamorous reed warbler was a red-breasted flycatcher.

red-breasted flycatcher 2

This bird was seen in several places during my look around the woods but seemed to be in a distinct "territory" with quasi boundaries.

Deeper in the woods, I almost walked into an adult male Asian koel. This was the third koel of the day.

laughing dove

Laughing dove were arguably the most numerous bird on the site both in the woods and near the pools.

male marsh harrier

A male marsh harrier became the second marsh harrier sighting of the day.

white wagtail

After a very long time in the woods I returned to the pool area. I was still looking out for olive-backed pipit but only came across the very distantly related white wagtail.

desert wheatear

A desert wheatear was present near-by.

purple heron

While grey heron were more numerous, a young purple heron was regularly seen on the inland side of the site.


Outside the works there is short a run off stream which empties out into the sea 50 metres away.  It is worth looking there for waders. This time oystercatcher was the most interesting and two grey plover were also observed.

grey plover

After the look at the coast, I retired for a mid-afternoon break.

Indian pond heron

As well as the Asian koel another sign of the Indo-Malay influence here was the presence of more Indian pond heron than squacco heron.

blue-cheeked bee-eater 1

A late blue-cheeked bee-eater arrived. Small numbers migrate as late as mid December. 

blue-cheeked bee-eater 2

Even during the day the bird cast could change. There were no glossy ibis in the morning.

glossy ibis

By 3pm a couple of swallows had arrived and were hawking for insects over the water. I knew they weren't barn swallow almost immediately. They were faster and more direct. It was also possible to see in flight that they had light throats.

two wire tailed swallow

They were two wire-tailed swallow. These made four wire-tailed swallow sightings for me in under a week. These Indo-Malay species are still officially vagrants in Oman though this year they appear to be more frequent.

The next day, Friday, I saw three different officially vagrant species at Hilf. It was quite a special day for me. I will write about this next.

Species at the sewage works on December 3rd

Mallard 1
Northern Shoveller 10
Northern Pintail 8
Garganey 8
Eurasian Teal 3

Black-necked Grebe 1
Greater Flamingo 5
Western Reef-Heron 2
Cattle Egret 5
Squacco Heron 1
Indian Pond-Heron  3
Glossy Ibis 4
Egyptian Vulture 4
Eurasian Marsh-Harrier 2
Common Moorhen 5
Eurasian Coot 1
Red-wattled Lapwing 1
Common Sandpiper 4
Green Sandpiper 1
Wood Sandpiper 8
Little Stint 3
Common Snipe 2
Slender-billed Gull 4
Black-headed Gull 5
Whiskered Tern 6
Chestnut-bellied Sandgrouse 15
Laughing Dove 30
Asian Koel 3   
Eurasian Hoopoe 1
Blue-cheeked Bee-eater 1
Brown-necked Raven 2
Crested Lark 4
Wire Tailed Swallow 2
Common Chiffchaff 5
Clamorous Reed-Warbler 1
Menetries's Warbler 1
Red-breasted Flycatcher 1
Desert Wheatear 3
Isabelline Wheatear 1
White Wagtail 4

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