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.

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