Thursday, 27 August 2015

Al Baleed in August

My first birding session when back in Oman was on Monday afternoon when I made it over to Al Baleed, Archaeological Park. Sadly it is being developed in a way that I don't believe is sympathetic to the environment. However there are still good birds to be seen. 

There is always a good chance to see spotted thick-knee here. In my case I have seen them on roughly 60% of my visits but never in the same place as yet.

spotted thick-knee bird 1

This time I saw three together just as I was leaving around 30 minutes before sunset. This was in the tended garden area which displays flora from different parts of the country.

spotted thick-knee bird 2

It was good bird to see even if it was left late.

Indeed the birding started very quietly and got better as time progressed.

European collared dove

On arrival, the most obvious birds were European collared dove out in the open. The odd Ruppell's weaver was also seen in the bushier areas.

little grebe

On the water, birds were restricted to little grebe, common moorhen and the odd sooty gull.

common moorhen

The sand bar between the fresh water and the sea is usually a good place for waders like so many other khawrs in Dhofar. However building has been allowed a little too close to the bar. Nevertheless there were some waders at the end furthest away.

mixed waders

The majority of waders there were greenshank though there were a small number of redshank and ruddy turnstone too.

common greenshank

Over the stretch of fresh water closest to the bar, a single small tern, most probably a Saunders's tern was seen.

Saunders's tern

I almost missed seeing one of the largest birds at the bar as it was well camouflaged. There was a juvenile striated heron.

juvenile striated heron 1

It's bent profile and slow movement nearly fooled me.

juvenile striated heron 2

The beach at Al Baleed is an important part of any birding visit to the park.

sooty gull

All year round on most Dhofar beaches, you can come across sooty gull and great crested tern. Once these are accounted for, then I start looking what else is there.

mostly sanderling

This time there was a large flock of sanderling. This species is rarely seen in the winter but large numbers pass through in early autumn and late spring.

ruddy turnstone

The presence of ruddy turnstone follows a similar pattern.

squacco heron

Moving back from the beach and before I saw the spotted thick-knee, I had a second look at the freshwater inlet. I got better views of the squacco heron on the banks. There was no sign of any of the closely related Indian pond heron. Al Baleed is a good place to see them in winter.

In the gardens, I fleetingly saw a Bruce's green pigeon.

African silverbill

Passerines were mostly restricted to African silverbill and cinnamon-breasted bunting. Though there was one migrant red-backed shrike.

I managed to find time to go birding on both Tuesday and Wednesday. I will blog about that next.

Monday, 24 August 2015

Around Varna

I am back in Salalah,Oman now but this blog is a compilation of a couple of birding sessions around Varna, Bulgaria last week.

One session was a walk between my village and the next to visit friends.

There were plenty of birds, some of which must have been on passage given the numbers involved.

Three birds of prey were seen. 

common buzzard taking off

The first one was a common buzzard. This bird was so bright white under wing in places it reminded me of the upland buzzard seen in Mongolia two weeks before.

common buzzard perched

The avenue of trees along the road were full of birds. I kept flushing golden oriole as I walked down the road. All they did was move down a few trees and then the processed continued.

Suddenly out of nowhere over one hundred previously unnoticed Spanish sparrow bolted. It immediately became apparent why.

A booted eagle had swooped down and scared them.

booted eagle above a flock of Spanish sparrow

The third bird of prey was a female marsh harrier patrolling more distant fields.

turtle dove

The wires along the road had several birds perched on them. Arguably the most interesting were turtle dove. I counted 30 over a short strip.

more turtle dove

While they do summer in my area, I have not seen this density here before and assume some at least were on early passage.

European bee-eater

It's hard to know whether the European bee-eater were all local birds.
Other species seen on the wires included European collared dove and common starling.

first year lesser grey shrike

A single young lesser grey shrike was also spotted up there. In young birds like this one the black mask does not yet extend over the forehead but its pink washed front was a helpful indication.

woodchat shrike

Near-by but at a lower level was a woodchat shrike on a bush. My village is right on the northern edge of this species range.

juvenile red-backed shrike

Red-backed shrike is very common indeed. There were several seen along the road as usual in summer and both adults and young birds.

Two days later I was with Andrew Bailey near his home village just south of the inlet into Varna. An initial short walk around was carried out in the heat of the day which we didn't expect much from. Highlights though included a nightingale and a northern goshawk.

northern goshawk

While this bird didn't look very barrel-chested, it has a long neck and crucifix shape rather than T-shape of a sparrowhawk. Furthermore it has a vertical tear drop pattern only found in young goshawks.

northern goshawk

Andrew and I had much more success in the late afternoon as the temperatures dropped and we visited Yatata reserve on the Varna inlet.

This fresh water reserve is alway good for water birds. Both pygmy cormorant and great cormorant showed well. Black-headed gull and mallard were plentiful.

Grey heron were abundant along side a single white stork.

white stork with grey heron

Notable passerines included yellow wagtail (black-headed), goldfinch and common kingfisher.

I don't consciously seek to enlarge my Bulgarina list but I might well chase targets in the future. Nevertheless I added 3 birds at Yatata. These were gadwell, little grebe and black-crowned night heron.  

lesser grey shrike

One of the last birds we saw at Yatata was a lesser grey shrike. Unlike the one near home, this was an adult with its much more distinctive thick black mask.

Now I am back in Oman I hope to go birding in the next two or three days. In the meantime my list went up from 287 to 288 in the summer. Clements and e-bird split Caspian gull and Steppe gull while I was away. 

Wednesday, 12 August 2015

Inside Bishkek

I had tine for two short sessions in isde the city of Bishkek last week. One was a walk round the area (Lebedinovka) where my hotel was situated. The other was a trip to the Gareev Botanical Gardens in the city cenre.

Birding conditions weren't ideal as it was 37C at the height of the day. Nevertheless I birded around my hotel early evening and in the Botanical Gardens until mid monring to give myself a chance. 

I like Botanical Gardens for many reasaons including a sentimental one concerning Oxford where I was a student.

However the gardens in Bishkek are in a sad condition despite evidence of foreign partnerships aiming to maintain the area.

Some of the taller trees had died and the undergrowth looked untended.

On one of the dead trees ironically I was given very good views of an adult male sparrowhawk.

sparrowhawk 1

Not all adult males acquire eyes as deeply coloured as this one. Some maintain yellow eyes like females and juveniles.

sparrowhawk 2

The gardens are still a pleasant enough walk and there are shaded areas.

path in Gareev Botanical Gardens

There were wood pigeon in the denser areas.

wood pigeon

While feral pigeon were in the more open spaces.

feral pigeon

Common magpie was everywhere.

common magpie

The two most common birds in the trees were great tit. 

great tit

Though spotted flycatcher was more easily seen as they adopted more exposed positions.

spotted flycatcher

On one bush in clearing was a Turkestan shrike. This is a bird I see in large numbers in Arabia on migration and in winter.

Turkestan shrike

The botanical gardens are also home to several red squirrel.

red squirrel

Turkestan shrike was also one of the birds observed when I walked around the hotel one evening.

Turkestan shrike in Lebedinovka

In a sense I was disappointed to see laughing dove. This bird is still spreading north out of Africa and has reached Bishkek and even southern Kazakhstan to its north. It would never survive in winter without human settlements providing scraps of food.

laughing dove

Another and even more invasive species is common myna which is indeed common in the city.

common myna

More interestingly I came across goldfinch in gardens. These are of an eastern race which doesn't have a black head.


I would have loved to have had more time in Kyrgyzstan. I have checked whether it can be visited en route to anywhere else I am likely to visit in my quest to see every country in the world. There are a couple of options. Who knows I may return some day.

Tuesday, 11 August 2015

Alamedin Valley, Bishkek

I had only one full day in Bishkek so I really had to choose a birding venue near-by. A couple of previous birders recommend Alamedin valley and that's where I headed.

It is about 40 kilometres south of Bishkek and climbs steadily from the city's 800 metres to over 2000 metres though I didn't walk quite that far up.

hobby looking away

The area has a fast flowing and cold river with juniper and pine forest broken by grassy clearings either side. There are also plenty of blackcurrent and dog rose bushes as well as a few birch trees next to the river.

One of the best birds seen was indeed the only bird of prey I sighted there.It was a hobby.

hobby looking round

It swooped twice into my vicinity about half an hour apart. Both times the magpie scattered though I doubt they were endangered. Other birds probably panicked too but the magpie were the most visible.

The second time I tracked it and found it had settled on top of a juniper tree from where I got some pictures.

This habitat is classic hobby breeding territory though I have no proof in this particular case.

the river in Alamedin valley

As I have already alluded magpie were common.

common magpie

Northern raven was the other corvid in the area.

northern raven

There were plenty of feral pigeon in the valley but I regret not looking closer at some as hill pigeon was a possibility there that I over-looked. Hill pigeon is a very smilar looking bird.

wood pigeon 1

On the other hand, I didn't miss the wood pigeon. Helpfully they were willing to perch on exposed positions although they still would not allow close approach.

wood pigeon 2

Next to the river were a different set of birds. Grey wagtail was the most common although white wagtail were present in numbers early on. I wonder what happened to them later in the morning?

grey wagtail

From distance I spotted a pair of blue whistling thrush. Until I saw them I had no idea their range came so far west. I had mistakening though of it as only an East and South East Asian bird.

blue whistling thrush

One bird which is more localised is black-breasted tit a.k.a. rufous-naped tit. This bird is only found in countries north west of India. This was a lifer for me. I only saw it close to the one setllement in the valley. 

black-breasted tit

In the blackcurrent bushes and dog roses, greenish warbler was numerous.

greenish warbler 1

It was not the only warbler in the bushes.

greenish warbler 2

I also spotted a Blyth's reed warbler.It did not give such good views as the greenish warbler but has been positively identified by those with local expertise on birdforum.

Blyth's reed warbler 1

Interestingly this (adult) bird is moulting early. Work carried out on the west of the range shows they normally moult in their wintering grounds in September to December. 

Blyth's reed warbler 2

Apart from Alamedin valley, I managed two shorter sessions of birding in the city. One was in the neighbourhood of my hotel and the other was at the botanical gardens. I will blog about that next.