Monday, 11 January 2016

Desert stops around Ghaftain

On Friday I was based at Ghaftayn in the desert and visited Muntasar oasis, Qatbeet motel gardens to the west. Then on return I overshot Ghaftayn to the east (to collect some supplies) for a short stop at Haima which is the only town for 150 kilometres in any direction.

Ghaftayn is my preferred hotel over Qatbeet motel as the rooms are better and less expensive and, there is good food available. The staff are really friendly too.

Muntasar Oasis is often visited by birders for the sandgrouse that often come to drink in the early to mid morning. However I find Dowkah farm more reliable. I arrived at Muntasar a little too late for this potential spectacle.

Nevertheless I was more than compensated by finding a wintering whinchat

whinchat at Muntasar

Whinchat is an uncommon bird in Oman and seeing one in winter is ever more uncommon though not unheard of.


Whinchat became species 321 on my Oman list.

Muntasar Oasis

Muntasar Oasis appears to be a better habitat once again. It is heavily grazed and there is water pumped away but it looks like the water table is higher than it has been. I suspect there have been winter rains. Also the camels have arguably helped in some ways by chomping back some of the thickest reeds.

mallard drake

A mallard seems to find the habitat satisfactory.

Asian desert warbler from the rear

There were at least three desert wheatear around the site. As is fairly typical at this time of year, one of them had an Asian desert warbler associating with it.

Asian desert warbler on the move

I failed to get good pictures as this one was so flighty.

flock of house sparrow

Earlier I had birded the grounds of Ghaftayn guesthouse where I was staying. It can be excellent in the passage seasons but can be thin in winter. I resorted to inspecting every house sparrow and collared dove on site for rarities.

desert wheatear

There was very little diversity. Only desert wheatear and brown-necked raven added to the mix.

After Muntasar I headed further west to Qatbeet.

male crowned sandgrouse

As I was speeding down the road, I passed a pair of sandgrouse and the roadside. A quick stop and turn and I discovered they were crowned sandgrouse

Although you can't see the characteristic black stripe at the front of the face from this angle, the brown crown surrounded by a blue-grey edge is obvious.

female crowned sandgrouse

A female crowned sandgrouse is actually more spotted than a spotted sandgrouse and some of the spots merge into blotches.

This is the species of desert sandgrouse that many visiting birders struggle to find. 

black redstart

Qatbeet was nearly very good. I came across an eastern leaf warbler. It had at least one yellow wing bar, was low-lying and not making a sound. I suspect it wasn't a Hume's warbler because of the latter two aspects. It is the one leaf warbler which I have seen at Qatbeet before. 

Unfortunately it moved away into another part of the heavily shaded area and just at the same time, a large group of men decided to have a picnic near-by. The disturbance made my chances too low to continue. This was one bird that got away.

Otherwise Qatbeet was not very fruitful this time though a black redstart had some interest.

After Qatbeet I retraced my route eastward back to Ghaftayn but had to overshoot to Haima to get some provisions. 

I took the opportunity to bird the small public garden and saw nothing but laughing dove and house sparrow.

hobby at Haima

As I moved on towards the shops, I looked up at a wire and a hobby was sitting undisturbed. 

facing hobby 

The desert stops can be very hit or miss in mid-winter. Haima was typical of how this can sometimes turn on a single bird.

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