Thursday 14 July 2016

Stormy weather displaces many birds

I left Oman on July 5th and won't be returning to work there next year. I will be within the MENA (Middle East North Africa) region and I will confirm where soon. I will be birding at my new destination you can be assured.

I have thoroughly enjoyed my time in Oman based in Salalah both at work and while birding.

My last two birding days are recorded here and they were quite special. It was good to go out with a bang. 

They were special because of the weather and its effects on bird movements.

The khareef (monsoon) arrived early and heavy in Salalah this year and caused some consequences I hadn't anticipated. 

One consequence was that the birds were deserting the mountains. The higher reaches are covered in fog and are cool.

juvenile golden winged grosbeak

One important bird that has come down is Arabian golden winged grosbeak. They are flocking at the lowest wooded areas just above the plain. 

So at Ayn Hamran I counted 26 birds while there. The country record is 28 also at Ayn Hamran and also in July.

adult Arabian golden winged grosbeak

Two days before Neil Tovey and Saeed Shanfari had seen 10 at near-by Wadi Kheesh.

another juvenile Arabian golden winged grosbeak

The birds at Ayn Hamran were both adults and first year birds.

a third juvenile Arabian golden winged grosbeak

I was pleased to see the stream at Ayn Hamran is already full with water so early in the season. It will be a bumper year to make up for last's year's poor khareef.

Ayn Hamran

Other birds at Ayn Hamran included grey-headed kingfisher which looks vivid in the greyness of the day.

grey-headed kingfisher

The blackstart below shows how wet some of the birds are getting and helps explain the altitudinal changes.

blackstart at Ayn Hamran

Last July Saeed Shanfari found Yemen Serin at Wadi Kheesh. This species shuns the heat and keeps to Tawi Atair sinkhole during most of the year. However it appears to wander down in the cooler khareef season.

male cinnamon-breasted bunting

Hundreds if not thousands of cinnamon-breasted bunting have come down the hills. They have, on average, descended further than the Arabian golden winged grosbeak.

They can be found on the plains now and even in the city. At Raysut settling pools Neil Tovey and I counted no fewer than 120.  Even in winter you are lucky to find one there.

cinnamon-breasted bunting face on

Different species have descended to different places. At Ayn Razat there are huge numbers of laughing dove and Tristram's starling.

three species at Ayn Razat

Incidentally Ayn Razat is always a good place in summer to see dideric cuckoo probably because of the high concentration of Ruppell's weaver there.

the mountains above Ayn Razat

In the picture above you can see how foggy the hills are.

gardens at Ayn Razat

The gardens at Ayn Razat were greening up very quickly.

One altitudinal movement I really hadn't expected was first spotted by Neil Tovey who came over from Kuwait and birded with me for a couple of days.

Fan-tailed raven had arrived in Raysut having vacated the mountain cliffs and uplands.

fan-tailed raven at Raysut

Later I also saw them in north Saadah district too where they were attracted to the tallest building.

two fan-tailed raven at Raysut

At Raysut they seem to be roosting at the top of the cement factory and feeding at the rubbish dump. This is the same pattern as two types of stork in winter.

The weather also brought some birds into shore to escape the stormy seas.

With Neil, we visited Raysut cliffs and thanks to Neil's sharp eye and spotting scope, I added sooty shearwater to my Oman list. Subject to a rarity report this is only the eighth record in the country.

red-billed tropicbird

As well as many Wilson's storm petrel, there were red-billed tropicbird, Persian shearwater and Jouanin's petrel also to be seen.

Neil briefly spotted a Swinhoe's storm petrel on our joint visit but I failed to see it.

I am grateful to his advice to try again. Indeed on the afternoon of July 4th on my very last birding session in Oman, I returned to the cliffs armed only with a fold-up chair, binoculars and a bridge camera.

record shot of Swinhoe's storm petrel

I soon picked up a Swinhoe's storm petrel barely 300 metres from the shore. In the end I saw three. They rarely come this close but the weather was clearly a factor.

Swinhoe's storm petrel became bird 332 on my Oman list at the death. It was a fitting end to two years in Oman.