Monday, 20 October 2014

Wadi Darbat revisited

On Friday afternoon, I went to Wadi Darbat for only the second time since starting in Oman.

Though the monsoon season is over, it was still quite green and the river flows all year.

The birds hadn't changed much since my last visit. The grey headed kingfisher are still here. Indeed I counted five.

grey headed kingfisher

The temperatures are actually higher in October than in September or November. Birding is quite difficult in the day even up in the hills. More to the point birding activity will rise substantially as temperatures cool in about two weeks time.

wadi darbat

Not too many migrants are here yet. Tree pipit is one of them and can be seen in the wooded areas where there is some shade.

tree pipit

A grey heron alerted me to another migrant. I was walking along the river when I had a scream from a heron.

grey heron

I turned round to look in its direction to see a booted eagle flying right up the river. I don't think booted eagle is a threat to grey heron (unlike Bonelli's eagle) but I was grateful for the alarm anyway.

distant shot of a booted eagle

The booted eagle was a pale morph and the first of its species I had seen in Oman.

litte egret

Otherwise things were a little quite. A single little egret was in the western area by the picnickers and next to the floating vegetation. This is the place where jananas and rarer birds such as watercock are occasionally spotted in winter. I am sure this must be in early morning when there is less disturbance from people.

Common sandpiper can be readily seen all down the river.


citrine wagtail

The most common wagtail is citrine wagtail though a few yellow wagtail and the odd grey wagtail are around. I have yet to see a white wagtail in the country.

At first all the citrines were first years but over the past ten days more adults are among them.

My next blog is taken from Ayn Hamran where the highlight was some very interesting feeding behaviour.

Saturday, 18 October 2014

Khawr Taqah

Late yesterday morning I revisited Khawr Taqah. Last time I approached it from the northern end and found it was over landscaped. A car park abuts straight on to the water body and a concrete edge means there are no wetland fringes.

However I read an old trip report which recommends approaching the southern side next to the sea. Indeed there is good birding with wetland fringes mostly in the south west corner. I spent much of my time there. 

Ironically the best bird was seen as I walked back to the car in the car park! It was a resting juvenile Montagu's harrier.

Montagu's harrier

The pictures were taken close up but were somewhat spoilt by the sea breeze ruffling the birds breast feathers.

second look at the Montagu's harrier

The bird was actually as in perfect condition as the flight photograph shows.

Montagu's harrier in flight

The only time I saw the ring tail was when it flew off in the distance.

ring tail on the harrier

Before seeing this bird, I had looked at the south west corner. There was good cover from bushes which allowed me to look at four common snipe without them scattering. By their mantle pattern I could tell I hadn't found an allusive pin-tailed snipe.

common snipe

I am finding it difficult to get clear views of snipes in Oman compared with Riyadh. I think this is simply because there is generally more cover.

second view of common snipe

The water held glossy ibis, a little egret, black-winged stilt, moorhen and common sand piper.

pacific golden plover

On the fringes were kentish plover, a pacific golden plover and citrine wagtail.

juvenile grey plover

On final bird took some identification but I eventually worked out it was a juvenile grey plover.

After Khawr Taqah, I moved on to near-by Wadi Darbat. I'll report on that next.

Friday, 17 October 2014

Raysut

Yesterday afternoon, I finished work a little early at the start of the weekend. I decided there was time for some local birding. I chose to go to the Raysut area on the west side of the city.

I visited the city rubbish dump first. Though there were more birds than during my last visit, there were no new ones. 

So I moved on to the wadi immediately west of the Raysut industrial area which is also known as Salalah lagoons.

Eastern imperial eagle stretching

There were 70 or so white stork present along with 10 greater flamingo. There were also several grey heron, garganey duck and northern shoveller as well as a few assorted waders.

However sitting on a large rock close to the white stork and especially close to a grey heron was an Eastern Imperial eagle. This was my first in Oman.

Eastern imperial eagle moments later

It gave me good views for a few minutes.

Eastern imperial eagle on the look out

It is ironic because I went to the rubbish dump first to look for any eagles and other birds of prey except for steppe eagle.

steppe eagle in flight

Instead the number of steppe eagle had multiplied from 30 during my last visit to about 120 this time. However there were no minority birds of prey and only two white stork.

another steppe eagle on the ground

With the success of the Eastern Imperial eagle, I moved down the wadi to where it meets the sea. The wadi is dry there but the worn rocky coast has been brimming with birds each time I visit.

slender-billed gull

The predominant bird was still sooty gull but with a few Heuglin's gull and my first Caspian gull (which Clements counts as the same species as steppe gull already seen). Six grey heron were wading in the sea. Other waders included two whimbrel.

great crested tern and sandwich tern

However it was the terns that caught my interest. The most common by far was still great crested tern but among them were two sandwich tern.

preening great crested tern and sandwich tern

I had failed to see any in my three years in Saudi Arabia and it was first for me here. This was one of my most pleasing first sightings as I have waited so long in the gulf for it.

a second sandwich tern

The second tern had hardly any yellow tip to the bill which is the characteristic which gives me quickest confirmation of identification. Now all I need to see is its very close relative, the lesser crested tern.

Sunday, 12 October 2014

Qitbeet and back

Yesterday, as a last fling of my Eid holiday, I drove the furthest out of  Salalah in a day trip since coming to the country. I drove to the Qitbeet rest area and back. Qitbeet is 300 kilometres north of Salalah and it the journey was in desert or semi-desert after the first 50 kilometres.

male spotted sandgrouse

I was very happy to see spotted sandgrouse at two places on the trip. One was on a side road about 110 kilometres outside Salalah. These was a group of nine birds. The second time, two birds were sitting next to a lay-by on the main road. This bird is a lifer.

female spotted sandgrouse

In the driest areas only black-crowned sparrow lark and hoopoe lark were also seen.

black-crowned sparrow lark

However there were three other places I stopped off at which were much greener. The first was on the way out and was a small garden on the edge of a developmental farm which hadn't been developed yet.

small garden in the desert

I suspected it might be a migrant trap when I spied it from the main road. 

golden oriole

There were two European roller, two golden oriole, fifteen house sparrow, a spotted flycatcher, a red-backed shrike, a Turkestan shrike and an unidentified warbler all in this small cluster.The golden oriole were quite a surprise.

spotted flycatcher

Spotted flycatcher is extraordinarily common in southern Oman at the moment.

red-backed shrike

After this break, I drove hard to make Qitbeet rest area (also called Qitbeet motel in some trip reports).

European roller

This is one of a string of rest areas on the Muscat to Salalah. This one is a well watered if a little run-down light woodland. 

Although it was much larger than the garden I had stopped off earlier the species were very similar. This was a little disappointing though seeing six European roller in one tree was a spectacle.

There were no golden oriole but hoopoe partly compensated.


hoopoe

My final port of call was Al Beed farm some 160 kilometres outside Salalah. it is a quiet, unassuming farm with four or so pivot fields. However it is a known hotspot for bird trips to Oman and I can see why. Indeed I wish I had cut out the 40% of the journey that took me on to Qitbeet and instead stopped at Al Beed. This is of course hindsight.

marsh harrier

In one field there was a female marsh harrier over head.

Asian grey shrike (aucheri)

However the closest field to the entrance gave me most joy. I was pleased to see my first Asian grey shrike (aucheri) in Oman. It is quite smoky-grey in its underparts and darker grey on its mantle than many in the grey shrike complex. 

Asian grey shrike (aucheri)

E-bird (and Clements) where I put my data still classifies it as southern grey shrike. However recent DNA studies have completely dismantled the species "southern grey shrike" through splits and transfers.

rear of Asian grey shrike (aucheri)

Al Beed has been described as a remote place where almost anything can pop up. Though, I wasn't expecting six Pacific golden plover 160 kilometres inland.

three Pacific golden plover

If you over-shoot the green area around Salalah this is one of very few options for this bird.
Pacific golden plover

I didn't leave enough time to be at Al Beed. There were Turkestan shrike, house sparrow, desert wheatear, Isabelline wheatear, black crowned sparrow lark, hoopoe lark and spotted flycatcher but probably lots of small passerines that I didn't identify in the longer grass and wet areas. 

There was one I did get though and thanks to BirdForum for helping me identify it.  It was tentatively a greater short toed lark. I had a mental block even considering that they could be down this far south and so soon that I hadn't considered it. I am still checking whether lesser short toed lark can be ruled out.


greater short toed lark