Sunday, 31 January 2016

Pallas's fish eagle at Raysut

Dick Forsman the well known raptor specialist and excellent birder was in the Salalah area at the beginning of last week.

I didn't meet him nor indeed have I ever met him. However I was told that he found both a vagrant Pallas's fish eagle and an uncommon (sic) common gull on January 25th in the Raysut area.

The only other information I had to go on was that the gull was seen in Raysut fishing harbour and that the eagle was moving between Raysut and Auqad (the next district to the east).

I went out to look for both birds early on Friday morning and before that on Thursday afternoon but mostly for the gull then.

The end of the story is that I found the Pallas's fish eagle perched on a rock on the seaward side of Raysut lagoons.

perched Pallas's fish eagle

It was a juvenile bird just as expected from seeing Dick's picture of it in flight. However I had it on the ground and after scanning the eagles near-by I had deduced this one was different from the expected eagles. However, I was still unsure it was the required bird.

Pallas's fish eagle noticing me at the far side

The only confusion species here in Salalah when the bird is perched is Eastern Imperial Eagle. Both have a pale breast but a juvenile Pallas's fish eagle is less streaked. More obvious differences are the grey bill, short white gape, large black shadow behind the eye and lack of feathers on the tarsus.

Pallas's fish eagle standing more erect

The lagoons are fresh water but without any fish. This means the water fowl are in trouble as the bird readily takes them as food. Indeed, apparently it can stand for long times at the water's edge waiting for the moment to pounce. The lagoon is currently loaded with ducks, grebes and moorhen.

My intuition told me it might roost either at the seaward end of the lagoon or at the near-by coast.

Before I moved on to the lagoons, I had looked hard on the coast near-by. I did find plenty of roosting birds of prey but not the one I was looking for.

juvenile black kite 1

In total I found 10 black kite roosting on the ground either near the beach or over a fence in the naval football field.

juvenile black kite 2

There were black kite of all ages.  One greater spotted eagle may have roosted there too. It was certainly on the ground and showing no obvious desire to move off.

greater spotted eagle

There were 14 osprey in the same area with proportionately more in the football field.


I pretty much ignored the waders at the shore although I was distracted from the birds of prey momentarily by a pipit. I think it is always good to look hard at "normal" birds seen in unexpected places. They can turn out to be unexpected species.

tawny pipit 1

This one was just a tawny pipit though.

tawny pipit 2

My search for the juvenile common gull in the fishing harbour was less successful. There were at least fifty each of Heuglin's gull, sooty gull and slender-billed gull and lesser numbers of Steppe gull. However there was no common gull.

slender-billed gull

A small number of the slender-billed gull were in breeding plumage.

smallest large white headed gull

Finding a common gull among the large white headed gulls should have been quite possible if it had been there. First the birds were collectively very tame. I suppose they get used to the fishermen. Second it is so much smaller. Third it's plumage should be distinctive.

The smallest large white headed gull I found is pictured above. 

two large white headed gulls

I show this bird compared with another for a size comparison. A juvenile common gull is very mottled on the upper breast and starts to develop a grey mantle early. This bird has only a small amount of grey on the mantle and no mottling. It was also a little large.

I know I don't look at gulls enough but I can't afford to miss such rarities. This miss though was not enough to dampen my happiness at seeing the Pallas's fish eagle.


  1. Rob,

    Myself and wife will be in Salalah for a few days over Easter - do you still do guiding? We are both rank amateurs but with a good bit of experience on the bird photography side.

    David and Catriona

  2. David and Catriona,
    It is good to see more visitors to Salalah. I am not really a guide. I have a full time job here as a teacher but will do birdingpal duty from time to time. My email is if you want to spend up to a day with me. Birdingpal work is voluntary and unpaid by the way. Rob