Tuesday, 9 February 2016

Mid winter desert visit

Roughly once a month I travel north into the desert usually using Ghaftain rest house as my base. Mid winter is generally not as exciting as the passage seasons but there can be good birds.

Arguably my best stop was at Dowkah farm where a single sociable lapwing significantly improved the overall visit.

sociable lapwing

There are regular in large numbers in the two city farms in Salalah in winter but can be very mobile. Seeing them is hit or miss.Since I haven't looked there much recently, ironically this was my first sighting of this species this winter.

Rather strangely it was one particular field at Dowkah which held most of the birds. Others were relatively deserted.

brown-necked raven

In one corner several brown-necked raven were grazing.

house sparrow

Very large numbers of house sparrow were hopping on and off the main pivot bar.


Round the edge of the field a thin section of about three metres width had been ploughed up.

Here about 30 or so spotted sandgrouse were feeding. Four times that number of European collared dove inside the field too.

Two kestrel were waiting on the edge.

spotted sandgrouse

The sandgrouse were very flighty as usual.

The woods held virtually nothing in stark contrast to the passage seasons. However the large water tank near-by held some interesting birds.

two dark morph western reef heron

I was shocked to see three western reef heron alongside eight cattle egret.

a pale morph western reef heron

I can't recall ever seeing a reef heron more than 10 kilometres inland before nevermind 160 kilometres and in the desert.

western reef heron (l) with cattle egret (r)

The main regional guide says they are seen inland rarely so it can't be an unknown phenomenon.

hunched up western reef heron

They spent most of their time hunched up looking lie they were trying to imitate the cattle egret.

Ghaftain where I was staying was similarly light on birds but there was some interest. 

white wagtail in breeding plumage

The sole white wagtail was in a male in smart breeding plumage.

white wagtail 2

Two desert wheatear have been there all winter. If they are the same ones they have done well to avoid the cats which plague here (and are much worse at Qatbeet).

desert wheatear

A black redstart was present both mornings. From side-on I struggled to tell whether it was a black redstart or a common redstart.

black redstart

Getting more frontal views it is more obvious the bird was one of the eastern black redstarts. The black extends well below the throat. The first wave of common redstart should start coming through relatively soon though.

black redstart 2

The only other migrants at Ghaftain were chiffchaff. A water channel is switched on at around 7.30 am in the morning at the moment. Some chiffchaff are the first birds to visit despite the chilly temperatures.

chiffchaff at the water channel

They spend time flying between the water and a near-by pair of trees when they feel threatened.

chiffchaff in tree

I usually see a pair of brown-necked raven on the site whenever I visit.

brown-necked raven at Ghaftain

The other main desert stops off the main road from Ghaftain to Thumrait were all visited with varying degrees of success.

Muntasar's new water body

At Muntasar the local bedouins have diverted the water in the past couple of days and the reed beds are dying.The camels are enjoying the feed. However on the plus side a new wetland will develop and reeds will regrow in the new place. It could just be that the reed height will be ideal (as opposed to choking) when the main passage comes through.

Qatbeet was a mixed result. The cat population here is a real nuisance and yet it still often has good birds even outside the passage. There is at least one Hume's warbler which I saw and others have reported up to two all winter. 

Eastern orphean warbler

An eastern orphean warbler was a good find.

"modified" collared dove

I spent too long observing a strange looking dove. It was only when I got back and studied the pictures that I realised that it was not a different species but some sort of modification of a Eurasian collared dove. It appears to have been dyed a deeper red-brown on the head and underparts. It's bill looks more like a pigeon (columbidae). However when I looked closely there appears to be stitches near the bill.

modified collared dove 2

I popped into Al Beed farm too. I looked for the common hawk cuckoo I had seen a few weeks before. I did not find it though a sparrowhawk was present which has some similarities.

female black-crowned sparrow lark at Al Beed farm

Sadly I found a pile of feathers in the orchard where I had seen the cuckoo. One feather certainly looked like a cuckoo's tail feather. I saw only one cat at the farm but it was in the orchard. The other suspects must be birds of prey.

kestrel at Al Beed

The birds of prey near-by were six kestrel and a sparrowhawk.

This was the saddest part of the trip. 

I am back in Salalah now and will report anything seen during the week.

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