Friday 27 May 2016

The hottest time of year

It's hot and humid in Salalah at the moment. Indeed the humidity makes it feel ever hotter. Birders in the Middle East often give up or stick to short birding bursts from May to the end of August except for pelagics.

However Salalah is different. May is actually the hottest month. June is a little cooler as it can be cloudy especially in the afternoon. Then in July or late June the monsoon comes. Temperatures fall rapidly.

We have already had two evenings which were cloudy and birding was possible from 5 pm on wards. However this blog is about last Friday when it was fiercely hot and yet I felt the urge to bird.

I visited Raysut harbour and coast first. At the back of my mind I always have a dream target bird though with 327 species seen, the targets are all tough now. The target was white-eyed gull which is a vagrant from the Red Sea. 

I didn't see one but I checked an awful lot of sooty gull.

Raysut harbour is the best place I know for striated heron and sure enough one was seen. This time it was on the harbour wall.

striated heron

Western reef heron (eastern) were numerous. By the way isn't that a silly name that Clement's and e-bird uses. No wonder many people call it Indian reef heron.

dark morph Indian reef heron

Both pale morph and dark morph were present. So was one of the types of intermediate morph too.

intermediate morph Indian reef heron

There are large numbers of tern around now but the cast is different from winter. Wintering terns such as lesser crested tern and gull-billed tern have mostly left.

common tern

Common tern is mostly a passage migrant and some were still around last Friday. A few do over-summer.

sooty gull and great crested tern

By far the most common combination on the beaches in summer are great crested tern and sooty gull. These are the main residents.

Heuglin's gull

In any large group of sooty gull in summer you can usually find a sick or lost Heuglin's gull that has refused to fly back to Siberia.

gull-billed tern (r)

The same goes with gull-billed tern among the terns.

sandwich tern (m) and Caspian tern (r)

A few more sandwich tern over-summer too but there is no reason to believe these birds are sick or lost. 

By the way the picture above disappointed me in a way. I thought I had rigorously looked through all the terns on Raysut beach for any odd ones. However it was only when I got home and sorted through the photos that I realised a sandwich tern had been there. What else could I have missed? It was very hot though so concentration was difficult.

After a rest midday I moved over to the other side of the city to East Khawr. At least you can do some of birding in the car there.

squacco heron at East Khawr

From the car, lesser sand plover, squacco heron, moorhen, a few pacific golden plover and redshank were easily seen as has been the pattern in recent visits.

Saunders's tern

Continuing my look at terns: there was a nice group of Saunders's tern in breeding plumage present again.


Other notable birds were three sanderling. Two were in near breeding plumage but one was still in winter plumage (see above).

white-eared bulbul

Braving the horrible conditions, I decided to get out of the comfort of the car and to walk round the top end of the Khawr. Some would call this foolish. 

However, sometimes fortune really does favour the brave. I spotted what I believe is the first ever white-eared bulbul in Dhofar. This invader has finally arrived or escaped here. Will it breed? Well I can tell you when I followed up with another visit midweek, there were two of them.

Friday 20 May 2016

Rarities at Raysut settling pools

Eastern cattle egret is still officially classed as a vagrant in Oman. Surely that won't be for much longer. Not least because I have seen four in three different places near Salalah over the past three weeks. Of course the Rarities committee might take the view that they were the same two birds and that's OK but I think it will only postpone the day when it becomes "just"a rarity.

We have many tens of cattle egret winter in Dhofar but there are only easily recognisable as Eastern cattle egret in late spring. The lack of birders at that precise time looks like the issue and not the scarcity. 

After Raysut lagoons on Wednesday afternoon, my last stop was at the settling pools. It was here I came across twelve cattle egret grazing over the fertiliser piles.

Eastern cattle egret

One was obviously different even though at first I could only see its top (see photo below) as it peeked above a pile.

first view of Eastern cattle egret

Some lists make it a separate species like IOU which is used by the country's rarity committee. Though I have to say it mixes and associates with western cattle egret with no apparent difference in behaviour at all.

three cattle egret

Other than the cattle egret and small flock of flamingo there were few large water birds present except one grey heron,  one glossy ibis.

In general there were fewer birds than in spring and winter.

However the eastern cattle egret was not the only rarity.

spur-winged lapwing

For about fifteen months from about November 2014 until February 2016, a spur-winged lapwing was present at the site. Nearly all that time it was associating with a red-wattled lapwing which also doesn't belong here in summer. This winter there were three red-wattled lapwing.

I was surprised to see the reappearance of the spur-winged lapwing after three months with no observations. Again it was with a single red-wattled lapwing which is presumably the same orphan as before. I call these the odd couple.

spur-winged lapwing in flight

The resident house crow tried to chase them off once again.

red-wattled lapwing

I walked back to the car by passing by the front perimeter's hedge of trees and bushes. This held some late migrants. I counted six marsh warbler, two willow warbler and three spotted flycatcher.

spotted flycatcher

A cinnamon-breasted bunting made an unusual appearance at this location too.

cinnamon-breasted bunting

It is now too hot to make my regular Friday visit into the desert. I will bird locally this weekend and report what I see.

Thursday 19 May 2016

Raysut lagoons with jacanas

Yesterday afternoon, I visited Raysut after a gap of around two weeks. There are several birding sites there. This time I chose the lagoons and the settling pools. This blog only looks at the lagoons.

One of the fist birds I noticed was a pheasant-tailed jacana. This is a winter visitor to Salalah but it is apparently an occasional opportunistic summer breeder.

This bird was a good sign.

pheasant-tailed jacana hiding

I am not seeing them anywhere else at the moment. I failed to see them at the other large water body, Khawr Rori on my last trip.

pheasant-tailed jacana

I then found one swimming but noticing it was not alone. This bird was in breeding plumage.

five (out of seven) pheasant-tailed jacana

In southern India they breed in the monsoon season. The monsoon here is in July and August so there is still time this year.

Three red-knobbed coot were the other exotic birds at the lagoons.

No trip to Raysut lagoons is complete without me scanning for a vagrant African spoonbill but like on every other visit there wasn't one there.

eight Eurasian spoonbill

At the seaward end of the lagoons were however eight Eurasian spoonbill. Nearby several terns were resting. The composition of the terns varies considerably with the season. This time most were little tern and common tern with three lingering gull-billed tern.

young little grebe

The resident birds include little grebe, common moorhen and a few black-winged stilt.

black-winged stilt

A few waders are lingering. I counted three black-tailed godwit with only one in breeding plumage.

black-tailed godwit

The most numerous wader however was common greenshank.


In winter there are many eagles in the lagoons. At this time of year there are far fewer birds of prey. One osprey was very confiding.


However it was the Bonelli's eagle that caused a commotion on its arrival. Other birds fear this one with good cause especially the grey heron. This eagle is a killing machine.

Bonelli's eagle

After the lagoons I moved on to the settling pools before dusk. There were two rarities there. I will blog about this next.

Wednesday 18 May 2016

East Salalah in Mid May

On Monday afternoon, I visited East Khawr (Khawr Dahariz), Dahariz Park and Jarziz Park until dusk. It was gruelling despite the short distances involved as the weather was so hot and humid.

It was worthwhile not least because three crab plover were visiting East Khawr.
Their nearest breeding grounds are over 500 kilometres away and they rarely disperse to Salalah.

crab plover

Twelve curlew sandpiper were present and most were in breeding plumage.

mostly curlew sandpiper

Five small terns were probably Saunders' tern in non-breeding plumage.

probably Saunders' tern

The most numerous passage bird was lesser sandplover though there were a few single birds such as pacific golden plover and a ruddy turnstone.

pacific golden plover with lesser sand plover

A few of the males in full summer plumage looked very attractive.

lesser sandplover

Another single bird was a sanderling.

sanderling with lesser sandplover

Among the larger birds mostly out on the water were: grey heron, little egret, western reef heron, cattle egret and greater flamingo.

A quick look at the near-by Dahariz Park yields only one passerine migrant species which was spotted flycatcher. Although I did see five of them.

spotted flycatcher

There was still time to visit Jarziz farm before dusk. Over 60 singing bush lark were seen as well as eighty rose-ringed parakeet in one corner.

singing bush lark

Initially I thought there were no Amur falcon present which would have been a surprise as last spring there was always at least one there on every trip in the first three weeks of May.

house crow

However I visited the back field and sure enough one was flying with three lesser kestrel. Unfortunately the light was gloomy and the house crow were giving the falcons a hard time.

Amur falcon

I did get one record shot. It's nice feeling I can see Amur falcon almost at will for three weeks of the year.

Tuesday 17 May 2016

Shearwaters aplenty off Mirbat

I got an invitation at short notice to go on a pelagic trip off Mirabat on Saturday morning. A camera crew was visiting the area for a documentary. It won't feature me but it was free and in return I hope I was a help with bird identification.

Once we were about one kilometre out it became apparent that there were several shearwaters around of three species. When bait was thrown prolonged and closed views of all three were possible. Indeed this gave some of the best birding I have had in Oman. Flesh-footed shearwater was the most numerous. This species breeds in the southern oceans generally at latitudes 30°
-35° south. However they come north after breeding including to off the Oman coast. Contrary to the regional guide book they are not rare here.

flesh-footed shearwater

They were surprisingly tame and came very close to the boat. My pictures were limited as the film crew demanded silence and stillness much of the time.

flesh-footed shearwater

This shearwater has no confusion species in this park of the world.

underwing of flesh-footed shearwater

At times the shearwaters literally walked on water.

walking on water

The only time they were agitated was when sooty gull competed with them for bait. This was minimised when we took the boat further out.

sooty gull and flesh-footed shearwater

For once the more local and northern hemisphere breeding Persian shearwater was not the most numerous shearwater around.

Persian shearwater

I find it difficult to get good pictures of them as their underbellies are so white that they readily overexpose.

Persian shearwater swimming away

When close to the boat they frequently had their heads in the water.

Persian shearwater with head down

The third shearwater was wedge-tailed shearwater. This is not common off Oman's coasts. There are two main morphs and also various intermediates. The pale morph has a white belly similar to a Persian shearwater. It is not rare throughout the world but it breeds close to the equator. The further the breeding colony is away from the equator the higher proportions of dark morph and intermediates.

The birds seen off Oman are said to be dark morph. Pale morph birds born close to the equator don't migrate far and highly unlikely to come here.  However, the two birds I saw on Saturday looked more intermediate. I have read that these can be described as "cafe au lait".

wedge-tailed shearwater

There are only 63 records of wedge-tailed shearwater off Oman but I suspect it is more common than the numbers suggest. Not too many pelagics take place.

wedge-tailed shearwater

The main confusion species is Jouanin's petrel which is smaller and certainly darker than the two birds I saw on Saturday. The bill is also shorter but stronger on the petrel.

wedge-tailed shearwater

A few Jouanin's petrel were seen but only came close to the boat while the film crew were filming so I have no photos.

Other notably birds were 12 masked booby and a red-billed tropicbird.

black-crowned sparrow lark

On the beach were two larks. They were the ubiquitous black-crowned sparrow lark. I am ever vigilant for Dunn's lark

Even without that, it was a special day.

Birds seen from the boat

Jouanin's Petrel 6
Flesh-footed Shearwater 12
Wedge-tailed Shearwater 2   
Persian Shearwater 5
Wilson's Storm-Petrel 1
Red-billed Tropicbird 1
Masked Booby 12
Striated Heron 1
Common Sandpiper 1
Sooty Gull 22
Bridled Tern 4
Common Tern 12
Great Crested Tern 5