Thursday 31 March 2016

Cool day at Dawkah

Dowkah farm was visited both on Friday and again briefly on Saturday on my way home to Salalah.

It is a desert farm approximately 200 kilometres north west of the city.

Birding can be tough with the heat at certain times of the year. Luckily last weekend was unseasonably cool.

As usual Dowkah had a good selection of birds and this time there were plenty of migrants.

Three lesser kestrel were flying over one field. One was a very smart adult male.

lesser kestrel

Another migrant was an Abdim's stork. This has been at the farm for at least two weeks now.

Abdim's stork

Six western reef heron had been there at the same time too. Now rather strangely the two dark morph birds have gone but the remaining pale morph birds were still there. They were associating closely with the cattle egret.

cattle egret with a western reef heron

The Indian pond heron I had seen two weeks ago but missed last week was seen again. 

Indian pond heron

The wheatear passage I had pick up on at other desert locations was in evidence here too.

pied wheatear

However unlike elsewhere it wasn't the pied wheatear that caught my attention but the northern wheatear.

first male northern wheatear

There were three and all were clustered in the same part of a field. This not a common bird in Oman. Indeed the two males were the first ones I have seen in the 19 months that I have been here.

second male northern wheatear

Some tawny pipit are still lingering from the winter.

tawny pipit

However in another sign of passage, there was a willow warbler out in the open on a pivot bar.

willow warbler 1

This was the first willow warbler I have seen this spring.

willow warbler 2

The larks were inspected closely as ever. The rare and nomadic Dunn's lark is occasionally reported here and it is a nemesis bird for me.

crested lark

There are always black-crowned sparrow lark and crested lark on the farm.

black-crowned sparrow lark

Hoopoe lark are often also seen but most especially in spring when I suspect they move in from more remote locations.

There is a view that many of the Dunn's lark reported at the farms are dubious and I have much sympathy with this view. A female black-crowned sparrow lark is the confusion species.

An observation of my own at Dowkah is a case in point. It was one of the last birds seen and was at the edge of the farm as I walked back to the car. It was not with any other black-crowned sparrow lark.

lark 1

You can see the bill is much bigger than average.

lark 2

It has dark streaks on the head which is feature shared by both birds.

lark 3

The median coverts have dark centres in the sparrow lark but not in a Dunn's lark. It is not clear whether the wind has caught these coverts or whether they are genuinely dark.

From the bottom picture I could see it had light streaking on the back too. This is normally very weak in a sparrow lark and a little stronger in a Dunn's lark.

lark 4

Yet there is no sign of the strong and quite broad light coloured eye ring expected on a Dunn's lark and the overall colouration is more earthy rather than the  buff-rufous expected. The bill is not obviously pinkish either.

It is concluded it is a female black-crowned sparrow lark in worn plumage and an abnormally larger bill. Though it doesn't look a very good fit. I can't claim it as a Dunn's lark but I can see why this might happen with similar birds.

Wednesday 30 March 2016


Muqshin is 70 kilometres west of Ghaftain and not known as a birding site by many. Though it is becoming more and more known.

I had driven past it several times without realising it had potential.

The wadi is approachable from the Salalah side of the town and several parts can even be accessed without a four wheeled drive car.

I regret not visiting it in winter when I was first told about the place and the wintering birds there.

One area of trees is viewable from the main road and that is where I spent some time. The habitat looks good with plenty of bushes, trees and water. 

red-throated pipit

The birds I found weren't astonishing but I recognise the potential of the habitat.

The ground birds were all pipits or wagtails this time. A summer plumaged male red-throated pipit showed well.

yellow wagtail

It was associating with a yellow wagtail as is often the case on passage.

yellow wagtail

Elsewhere in the wooded area, I found a tree pipit.

tree pipit

There was a warbler and it was a common whitethroat.

some water in the woods

Further down in the wadi itself the landscape is more open but there are clusters of trees and bushes.

On first look all the doves were European collared dove as there also were in the wood described earlier. However at least one was a European turtle dove.

European turtle dove

House sparrow was common. However was a Turkestan shrike and two desert wheatear and a pied wheatear too. 

Turkestan shrike

On the way back to the main road there is a second cluster of trees, this time including palm. There is some water here too. It had attracted two brown-necked raven. I could also hear but not see a clamorous reed warbler in the palms.

Next to the palms was a Siberian stonechat. These are not common in the south of the country.

Siberian stonechat 1

This was a male bird seemingly in new plumage.

Siberian stonechat 2

I will certainly visit Muqshin every time I go to Ghaftain in future.

Monday 28 March 2016

Plenty of passage at Ghaftain

Ghaftian is my preferred over-night stop when I do desert weekends. It is however 140 kilometres further away from Salalah than the main alternative at Qatbeet.

It is a difficult call as to whether the extra 280 kilometres during the weekend is worth it. In return for the extra driving and extra time you add the location of Ghaftain itself but also near-by Muqshin. The two prospects together make me more certain of its value as the overnight stop.

I will blog about Muqshin next.

Ghaftain was showing signs of heavy passage as I hoped.

There were no fewer than five pied wheatear crowding the small gardens.

pied wheatear at breakfast

One of the pied wheatear which is shown in the first two pictures dropped down into the internal courtyard as I was eating breakfast outside. Luckily my camera was on the table.

pied wheatear at breakfast 2

I had earlier seen a different one which was ridiculously tame.

second pied wheatear

It walked up to me within two metres on two occasions. It wasn't stupid though. It kept a wide berth from the feral cats which are such a hazard here (and also at Qatbeet).

second pied wheatear 2

There were both male and females around.

third pied wheatear

From the black and white of pied wheatear to the vivid colour of a blue-cheeked bee-eater. One was seen on Saturday morning which was clearly intent on resting. It didn't move from the same tree for over an hour.

blue-cheeked bee-eater

My first common redstart of spring was also seen at Ghaftain. I wish it had chosen a different part of the garden further away from where the cats prefer. Nevertheless it was still alive when I left.

common redstart 1

This area of the garden is where the rubbish is dumped. It didn't seem to put the common redstart off.

common redstart 2

The pool and trees behind the walled garden often give the best birds of all.

rufous bush robin

A rufous bush robin was there. Another one was in front of the resthouse some 100 metres away.


However the main spectacle at the back were the warblers. I counted at least 12 chiffchaff. Though some have been present all winter, this is a higher number.

lesser whitethroat

There were slightly fewer lesser whitethroat.

second lesser whitethroat

There was a common whitethroat too which I failed to photograph.

two Menetries's warbler

Views of Menetries's warbler were exceptionally good.

Menetries's warbler

Cats were not the only feral animals at the resthouse. I often see foxes early in the morning. A fearless one gave me good views this time. By the way you may notice the house sparrow in front of it.

red fox (vulpes vulpes arabica)

In the next blog I will report on Muqshin which is 70 kilometres from Ghaftain. In desert terms this makes it a near neighbourhood.

Dull weather at Beed farm

Last weekend a long weekend in the desert which I try to do once a month. The journey started on Thursday afternoon. 

On the way out there was time before dark for just one stop and that was at Al Beed farm. The weather was very dull with even a few spots of rain. However a downpour never came.

There were a few more signs of passage than my last visit to Al Beed six days before. Rufous bush robin is one of the most common passage birds in both spring and autumn throughout Dhofar.

rufous bush robin 1

There was one under a tree at Al Beed. It was very shy and didn't venture out from the undergrowth at the base of the tree.

rufous bush robin

In the same tree were a couple of lesser whitethroat.

European turtle dove

Last week I came across my first European turtle dove in the desert this spring. This time there was one at Al Beed. It seems their numbers are small but widespread.

greater hoopoe lark

I have no doubt that there are more greater hoopoe lark at the desert farms in spring than at any other time of year. I suspect they gravitate there to breed near-by. The increased food needs are a plausible reason.

black-headed bunting

The black-headed bunting seen the week before was still present and still associating with the house sparrow. This species doesn't normally arrive in its breeding grounds until May so it may be in no hurry to leave.

Namaqua dove

There were other unusual single birds. One was a male namaqua dove.

red wattled lapwing

The other was a red wattled lapwing. Though common in the north, few are seen in Dhofar.

I toured round the farm more than usual since I had no other chance of birding anywhere before dark. I was a little surprised to count six Arabian grey shrike. They were widely scattered.

Arabian grey shrike

Two species flew through the farm without stopping. They were a red-rumped swallow and two European bee-eater. The later species was only the second time I had seen it in Oman. It was another sign of passage. I will report more on this trip in the next blog.

Wednesday 23 March 2016

Raysut medley

Raysut is an obvious choice for a part day birding session during the week and after work. First it is close to the city and second there are several places within the district with distinctive habitats: the rocky beach, the marina, the lagoons, the settling pools and even the cliffs for one or two special seabirds.

Yesterday I visited them all except the cliffs and the stay at the settling pools was short. I started out at the lagoons.

Most of the eagles have recently left there. However there was one greater spotted eagle right in front of me when I arrived at the inland end of the lagoons.

greater spotted eagle

It flew up into the sky and then landed on the hillside as I approached.

airborne greater spotted eagle

Near-by there was a second aerial greater spotted eagle.

second greater spotted eagle

There were many waders and grey heron at the inland end of the lagoons. There were also four flighty glossy ibis which didn't allow close approach.

glossy ibis

The waders were very varied. In the picture below there are three birds and three species: wood sandpiper, common snipe and ringed plover.

three types of wader

Though there were several snipe around, all seemed to be common snipe.

two common snipe

To accentuate the variety of waders, here is a picture which shows four different types also in the same stretch of water: greenshank (l), marsh sandpiper, ruff, common redshank (r).

four types of wader

While I had just started to look towards the seaward side of the lagoons, an Eastern Imperial eagle flew over. With a male marsh harrier and the two greater spotted eagle these were the only birds of prey on site. This is a far cry from a month before.

Eastern Imperial Eagle

Right next to the car while looking at the eagle, a lone common ringed plover walked along the shore.

common ringed plover

The seaward end of the lagoons was where most of the greater flamingo were found. Three white stork seemingly in poor condition remain here while the others have presumably migrated.

I only counted two ruddy shelduck this time. Perhaps one more of these has migrated too.

However the biggest feature of this end were the gulls and terns. Much gulls are still either Sooty gull, Heuglin's gull and Slender-billed gull.

gull billed tern

Several of the gull-billed tern were in their summer plumage.

 whiskered tern

The marsh terns were at that intermediate stage when their winter head pattern has filled in (and so is no longer distinctive) but their distinctive summer underpart patterns are not present. Unless the bird flies, I have to rely more on structural features and especially the bill. The one above is a little longer and thinner than a typical whiskered tern. However, the bill base is still broad so I support whiskered tern especially after consulting a couple of other competent birders. 

Caspian tern (behind)

Caspian tern presents no such problems.

a second whiskered tern

The marsh tern above is a whiskered tern. The bill is relatively short and the base of the bill is broad. It seems more typical of its type that the previous one looked at in this blog.


After the lagoons, I moved on to Raysut beach. This rocky beach is an unusual habitat in Dhofar and often has birds which are hard to find anywhere else in the region. One example is oystercatcher.


Both whimbrel and grey plover are common sights except in summer there.

grey plover

The rocky habitat encourages striated heron and they can usually be seen here. I often reflect on how strange it is that this species likes mangroves and rocks which don't seem very compatible.

striated heron

After Raysut beach I walked straight into the near-by marina. The shore here is good for sooty gull all year round. A few Heuglin's gull and slender-billed gull are still present though the proportion of poor condition birds of the former species is quite high.

steppe gull

An adult steppe gull looked in reasonable condition though.

There wasn't time before sunset for a full inspection of the settling pools. I chose instead to concentrate on the area to the east just outside the main complex (and beyond the perimeter fence) where water overflows.

Aaprt of nearly one hundred Ruppell's weaver and a clamorous reed warbler, I relocated the three white-breasted waterhen from a week before.

white-breasted waterhen 1

Once again, only one of the birds regularly exposed itself. The other two were very secretive.

It will be interesting to see how long they stay. The one bird definitively has a red base to the upper mandible found in breeding birds and this species is not known to breed in Oman.

white-breasted waterhen 2

This weekend I am in the desert both days. I am hoping to add to my Oman list with some rare passage birds which can be expected around now. It will be tough. Let's see.