Wednesday 27 April 2016

Strong passage at Qatbeet

I arrived at Qatbeet at around noon. It was very hot and getting hotter.

For seven months of the year to extend birding beyond 11am, there is only two strategies that work in the Middle East. The first is to find yourself at 2,500 metres or higher such as in Abha, Saudi Arabia or Jebel Akhdar, Oman.

The second is to find shade or be in an air-conditioned car next to water and watch the birds come to you. This also requires you have plenty of drinking water too.

At Qatbeet I hide myself in some shaded bushes next to a pool and waited. I waited for nearly two hours in total. I knew the light in front of was either dappled or very strong but there was no choice.

After a few minutes I heard a crashing noise in the bushes next to me. I thought a cat had appeared. However when I looked hard at where the noise had come from, I found a European nightjar had landed two metres away from me and promptly fallen asleep.

European nightjar lengthways

I moved round the bushes to get a better view. It did not move. Only then could I see it lengthways.

first view of European nightjar

When it first appeared my view was front ways on as in the picture above.

Having satisfied myself with better views I returned to my hide and continued waiting. All the time the European nightjar stayed without moving.

house sparrow

House sparrow were the most frequent visitors to water probably because there are more of them than other birds.

rufous bush robin

Rufous bush robin were once again around. This bird is extremely common on passage.

willow warbler

However it was the warblers which held most of my attention. Willow warbler was everywhere around the bushes. Eastern olivaceous warbler was nearly as numerous but tended to be higher in trees. A female blackcap was a frequent visitor to the tallest tree.

lesser whitethroat

I struggled with the light throughout while trying to take pictures. This lesser whitethroat was very close but backlighting made a picture extremely difficult.

masked shrike

Other species diverted my attention away from the warblers from time to time. One time was when a masked shrike appeared on the scene. The dappling sunlight initially obscured the view.

masked shrike

Similarly one of the spotted flycatcher on site perched near the water for a while. It was in a dark patch and caused a different type of photographic problem.

spotted flycatcher

A male and a female common redstart also evaded my camera.

male blackcap

Though the female blackcap did the same, I did manage a record shot of a male blackcap.

By 2.30pm I could take the heat no longer and I walked back towards the car. I picked up a pied wheatear and northern wheatear on the way before seeing a barred warbler right next to the car. Not all the birds had gone to drink it seems.

Even though Qatbeet has been degraded and there are too many stray cats, it can still surprise.

Tuesday 26 April 2016

Limited passage at Dowkah

I arrived at Dowkah farm soon after 9 am on Friday and it was already too hot for comfortable birding. Nevertheless I persisted.

Warbler windfalls are unpredictable in migration and this time Dowkah missed out. I only saw one warbler at all. It was a chiffchaff in the long grass of a field.

However passage of other birds was a little better.

It is always good to look hard at the house sparrow flocks on the pivot bars on these farms. Buntings often associate with them.

Sure enough there was a single bunting among them.

female ortolan bunting

It was a female ortolan bunting. I tried very hard to make it into a young grey headed bunting (which would have been a vagrant) but failed. The bill did look more pointed than average and the culmen is not darker than the rest of the bill. The tail appeared a little long too.

ortolan bunting 2

However the throat patch is too wide and there is a yellow tinge to it. The greyness below the throat is too strong and the vent area is not pale enough either.

ortolan bunting 3

Even so, I was happy to see an ortolan bunting. They are nowhere near as common as when I birded out of Riyadh.

European roller

As at Al Beed farm there was also a single European roller.

blue-cheeked bee-eater

A dozen or so blue-cheeked bee-eater lingered at the farm to hawk for locusts. One European bee-eater was with them.

desert wheatear

Although there was no windfall of warblers, I found a windfall of wheatears instead. Wheatears were only in one small part of a single field. Five of them were desert wheatear. However there were two northern wheatear and two pied wheatear.

female northern wheatear

One of the pied wheatear was male.

male pied wheatear

While the other was female.

female pied wheatear

A small number of barn swallow were making their way through.

barn swallow

Of the larger visiting birds, the Abdim's stork was still present though looking in poor condition now. I suspect it won't last the summer.

Abdim's stork

One western reef heron and two cattle egret have not left either.

My last stop on Friday was at Qatbeet where despite the heat of midday provided the best birding of the day. I will blog about that next.

Sunday 24 April 2016

Early morning at Al Beed farm

Last Friday was my last desert trip this spring. I have engagements the next two weekends. Furthermore it is now getting very hot to bird all day. 

With a pre-dawn start I reached Al Beed farm and birded until 9 am. It was still relatively cool then.

Unfortunately the passage was not varied even though I searched hard.

European roller

There was a European roller and a dozen or so blue-cheeked bee-eater did pass through.

Eastern olivaceous warbler 1

Although the warbler fall wasn't very varied there was a big windfall of Eastern olivaceous warbler. I counted 13 in one small area.

Eastern olivaceous warbler 2

There were also three Upcher's warbler and four willow warbler mostly in the orchard.

rufous bush robin

Once again rufous bush robin were everywhere. There were nine seen. This must be one of the commonest migrants in the country. 

European turtle dove

Al Beed is excellent for doves though I yet to see an African collared dove there. This is despite the fact that it is found only 60 kilometres away in Mudhai.

European turtle dove is easily seen except in winter.

Namaqua dove

Namaqua dove is not common but can be seen with effort at the farm too.

rosy starling

Some of the wintering rosy starling were still there. Surely it's time for them to move on.

black-crowned sparrow lark

Very young black crowned sparrow lark were littering the fields. For that species, spring is already nearly over.

After Al Beed, my next stop was Dowkah farm. I will blog about that next.

Waves of migrants at East Khawr

East Khawr (Khawr Dahariz) is a very short drive for me so it is a convenient session after work in the afternoon. I went there twice midweek last week. Taken together with sessions the week before, it is obvious that many migrants are stopping only for a day or two before carrying on. The turnover in species is plain to see.

Terns are coming and going.

little tern

Little tern are only a fraction of the terns. However in other ways they are typical. They don't breed this far south and are migrants stopping over. Separation from Saunders' tern which does breed in southern Oman is more straight forward at this time of year. The white on the top of the head elongates into a supercilium on little tern only. The legs are nearer to orange than the yellow ochre of Saunders' tern.

mostly white winged black tern

On one of the days there was a large influx of white winged black tern mostly in mid moult. The next visit there were virtually none.

whiskered tern (centre)

Whiskered tern has been present every time though they might be different individual birds. Others have included sandwich tern and gull billed tern.

greater sandplover

Most sandplover have been lesser sandplover but a few have been greater sandplover. It is much easier to recognise them when both species are together.

mostly pacific golden plover

Around 300 pacific golden plover did stay more than one day. They crowded out the main sand bar.

ruddy turnstone

In this sandy habitat I only see ruddy turnstone on passage. They can be seen all winter on the rocky shore at Raysut.

curlew sandpiper (right and centre part hidden)

Curlew sandpiper are distinctive at the moment with their red-purple fronts.

Eurasian spoonbill

I am ever vigilant with spoonbills. I alway look for a vagrant African spoonbill. However one again there were just Eurasian spoonbill present.

Elsewhere on the khawr and ironically not on the main sand bar on one of the days were a group of sanderling.

wood sandpiper

Around the margins of the khawr inland there are plenty of wood sandpiper and Temminck's stint.

Sleepy Temminck's stint

This is not necessarily a passage phenomenon as the same two species are there all winter.

In the next series of blogs, I will write about Friday's desert trip. There was more passage there too.

Thursday 21 April 2016

Khawr Rori in April

I visited Khawr Rori mid-week. The number of birds is down from the mid winter highs but the number of species isn't. I saw 49.

I saw only one bird in the case of several species.

red-knobbed coot

One of these was red-knobbed coot. They are supposed to have red knobs only when breeding yet I have not seen one without at any time of year among the small group of Dhofari birds.

eastern cattle egret

Another was an eastern cattle egret. This species is still currently classified as a vagrant. However it is recognised as over-looked and now is the time when they are easier to distinguish from western cattle egret. In breeding plumage the orange-buff wash extends to the cheeks and down the throat in the eastern birds. The bird above is not quite as conclusive as two seen at east Khar last week but I am fairly confident. Actually I think a significant proportion of the few remaining cattle egret near Salalah are eastern.


A few ducks have remained too. They are teal and garganey.

As well as the main body of water, I had time to go round to the north west corner where there are reed beds and trees.

young common moorhen

There is a lot of evidence that the moorhen there have already bred. However it was more exotic species that caught the eye. Yellow bittern were flying around continually. Also for the first time this summer I observed that some of the Forbes-Watson swift are back. They breed on cliffs either side of Khawr Rori on the coast.

some black-crowned night heron

I counted 41 black-crowned night heron making a move over the reed beds about half an hour before dusk.

the last of the black-crowned night heron

In a corner of the reeds were three little egret. They are very similar to western reef heron in winter though with good and prolonged views they can be separated structurally. In spring it is easier.

The all dark bill is distinctive.

little egret

In my opinion, this is a classic case of the splitters ruling the birding world. These birds are only separated by 0.2% of DNA. They hybridise in some colonies in the far south of Europe and indeed in most places where the breeding ranges meet. All that needs to be proved is that the hybrids are fertile then surely the case for lumping would be over-whelming.. but I doubt it would happen.

little green bee-eater

I could hear blue-cheeked bee-eater all the time I was next to the reeds. Yet I could not see them. I went to walk towards the sound. On the way I actually found a little green bee-eater and then a great reed warbler up a tree. 

blue-cheeked bee-eater

Both the blue-cheeked bee-eater and the great reed warbler are signs of passage. I can't wait for Friday's desert trip. I have high hopes.

Birds seen at Khawr Rori on April 19th
Common Teal 2
Garganey 3
Arabian Partridge 2
Greater Flamingo 24
Yellow Bittern 2
Intermediate Egret 3
Little Egret 3
Western Reef-Heron 5
Eastern Cattle Egret 1   
Squacco Heron 3
Black-crowned Night-Heron 42
Glossy Ibis 4
Eurasian Spoonbill 1
Osprey 1
Common Moorhen 25
Red-knobbed Coot 1   
Black-winged Stilt 13
Pheasant-tailed Jacana 2
Common Sandpiper 1
Common Greenshank 2
Wood Sandpiper 14
Common Redshank 2
Black-tailed Godwit 2
Common Snipe 1
Slender-billed Gull 3
Black-headed Gull 8
Sooty Gull 5
Heuglin's Gull 2
Gull-billed Tern 3
Caspian Tern 5
White-winged Tern 3
Whiskered Tern 12
Eurasian Collared-Dove 7
Laughing Dove 14
Forbes-Watson's Swift 5
Green Bee-eater 2
Blue-cheeked Bee-eater  2
Red-tailed Shrike  2
Crested Lark  8
Barn Swallow  2
White-spectacled Bulbul  9
Great Reed-Warbler  1
Clamorous Reed-Warbler  3
Graceful Prinia  4
Rufous-tailed Scrub-Robin  2
Blackstart  1
Common Myna 2
Tristram's Starling 5
Ruppell's Weaver 35

Tuesday 19 April 2016

Passage rolls through Jarziz

I went to Jarziz farm which is not an easy task at the moment despite being so close to home. A new youth centre is being built in front of it and roads are partially closed off. It was a case of park and walk. It was worth the exercise.

Salalah is off the main route for most non-wader passage in spring. However it is peak passage time in the Middle East so this is the time one is mostly likely to see some.

European  roller

Sure enough three European roller were scattered around the farm and the near-by Dhofar cattle company site which also has crops.

singing bush lark

Of course local birds are still making themselves heard. Indeed the farms are very noisy with the sound of large numbers of singing bush lark at the moment.

barn swallow

Another sign of passage though was the 40 barn swallow I counted hawking over the fields.

common myna

Meanwhile a few common myna are ever present. However Tristram's starling is a little less regular at the farm but not this time.

chestnut bellied sandgrouse in flight

Jarziz farm is the most guaranteed place I know in Oman to see chestnut-bellied sandgrouse.

chestnut-bellied sandgrouse

At the moment they spend a lot of time right in the centre of the largest field where for some reason it is kept fallow.

I am not sure they are under threat from the passing harriers. Certainly the singing bush lark are.

Montagu's harrier 1

There was quite a mix of harriers too. There were three pallid harrier, one marsh harrier and one Montagu's harrier which me identification problems. Part of the problem was the birds kept criss crossing each other but even with still photos ring-tailed harriers can be tricky.

Montagu's harrier 2

I walked over to the Dhofar cattle company site after finishing at Jarziz farm. The distance is not far but this site is often over-looked by visiting birders. For me it was a boon yesterday.

male pallid harrier

There was a male pallid harrier there which I took to be the same one I had seen earlier at Jarziz.

scaly-breasted munia

Among the crops, the singing bush lark were joined by large numbers of both African silverbill and scaly-breasted munia.

ortolan bunting facing

However a high point for me was the sighting of an ortolan bunting on a path in the fields. They are uncommon this far south. Their main passage route in Oman is further north through the desert farms and other desert stops. I fleetingly saw one on my last visit to Jarziz and was a little uncertain whether to add it to my day list. This time there was no doubt.

ortolan bunting 

In a further sure sign of passage, as I started the very long walk back to the car, the hedge on the edge of the company site held a blackcap and an eastern olivaceous warbler.

I now know for sure the importance of this Friday's forthcoming desert trip. Peak passage gives me by best chance for something new.