Thursday, 27 November 2014

Hypocolius at Mudayy

I have been to Mudayy oasis once before as it is one of the best places to see Nile valley sunbird. However I have seen them much closer to home since.

On Saturday I made the long trip again because of the high possibility of seeing a difficult bird. This time the bird was hypocolius.

Thanks are due to Jens Eriksen who told me some time ago that it winters there.

female hypocolius

Indeed it was found quite easily near the main pool. I counted 14 in all. 

male hypocolius

I know this bird well as up to 200 winter every year in the diplomatic quarter in Riyadh but it is much common in Oman. I have seen it in three countries now. The third is Bahrain.

white spectacled bulbul with hypocolius

These birds were mostly keeping to the shade as it was a hotter day than average for this time of year.

male house sparrow

In the shade with them were a large number of house sparrow. These are the local type which shun houses and are overall paler.

Nile valley sunbird

It was so warm I even saw a Nile Valley sunbird in the same shady place though the dappled sunlight made viewing difficult.


second view of Nile Valley sunbird

My one regret about this area was getting two fleeting glimpses of a thrush which may well have been a song thrush. However the bush is so thick there I never got a clear view. I won't count it.

Laughing dove

Last time I came to the village there were tens of laughing dove and I only observed one European collared dove.


first European collared dove

This time I found about 10 European collared dove after a very short search. I suspect this is some sort of winter dispersal. Like wadi Rabkoot, Mudayy is another place where African collared dove has been reported. Nevertheless once again all my birds were European collared dove but the bright sunlight plays tricks.

second European collared dove

I left the village by noon when it getting very warm. I made a long stop off at the very top of the mountains on the way back. Here there is an abrupt change from green seawards facing places to the arid inland facing side. I chose to bird right on the cusp behind the police check point at the top on the observatory road.

There was lightly vegetated wadi which I birded thoroughly. I was looking for hooded wheatear and scrub warbler but failed with both.

another Nile Valley sunbird

Quite surprisingly, one of the first birds I saw was a Nile Valley sunbird and indeed got much better views than at Mudayy.

Rock dove

Less surprisingly there were several rock dove seen.

Arabian wheatear

No bird was present in large numbers but Arabian wheatear was seen more than any other. 

Striolated bunting

The last bird observed before I continued the journey home was a striolated bunting.

The next time i went out birding was mid-week at the start of a two day national holiday. I will blog on that next.

Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Wadi Rabkoot

One Saturday I took one of my infrequent trips north out of the relatively green Salalah area and into the desert. My destination was Mudayy oasis but I spotted off at Wadi Rbkoot on the way.

The time I went there about six weeks ago I believe I saw only one European collared dove in total. I can't recall any other birds.

This time there were plenty more. It was also about 8C cooler which is better for birds and the birder.

Asian desert warbler

I am now starting to think in terms of target birds for the first time I Oman. My target here was Asian desert warbler and it was easily seen. Indeed it was the most common bird in the wadi. This was bird number 197 on my country list.

Asian grey shrike (aucheri)

My previous encounters with Asian grey shrike (aucheri) have both been on farms. This was my first look at one in a more natural environment. I saw two here.

Asian grey shrike (aucheri)

The bird was as tame I as I knew them in Saudi Arabia.

Blackstart

Given that I saw so little last time and much more this time is because they were mostly wintering birds. However blackstart was one of the exceptions and I don't understand how I missed it last time.

Isabelline wheatear

The wintering included Isabelline wheatear and desert wheatear.

Desert wheatear

Another bird which I might have seen last time but didn't was black crowned sparrow lark even this time I only observed one though plenty were seen near-by.


black-crowned sparrow lark

Most birders probably visit this wadi for two reasons: its just off the main Muscat to Salalah road and the occasional African collared dove have been reported.

 European collared dove in the wadi

I saw four collared dove in the area in total. Two were in the wadi itself and two were at the junction of the main road to Muscat and the Rabkoot turn off. All four were European collared dove.

two European collared dove at Rabkoot turn off

I was pleased that one of the doves opened its wings as I photographed. The white under-wing is the same colour as the belly in an African collared dove. By comparison with the under-wing colour  you can see the belly is dirty pink in this bird. In strong sunlight it is quite difficult to tell. 

After this  I made straight for Mudayy oasis. The next blog is about there.

Monday, 24 November 2014

The road to Wadi Hanna

Last Friday was a day for inland birding. I started out with a quick visit to the western perimeter of Sawnout farm.

There was no watering in this part of the farm and a pivot bar on which so many birds were perched last time had been moved. Nevertheless it still had some interesting birds in this section.

The common myna had mostly moved on but I saw two more rosy starling, one of which wasn't one of those like seen last time.

two rosy starling

I suspect rosy starling will prove not to be very rare at the farm in winter.

first rosy starling

I believe I have chance of seeing common starling here during the winter though it is right on the edge of their range. It seems strange to get excited by such a bird given how common they are in Europe.
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second rosy starling

Namaqua dove are quite widespread now in southern Oman but not common. 

Namaqua dove

I have only seen them close to the farm and the adjacent Wadi Sawnout and at Ayn Hamran, nowhere else.

female house sparrow

The house sparrow is even rarer in the city area. They appear to be only by this farm and the remains of Jarziz farm (as it closes down). They shun houses just like Spanish sparrow and desert sparrow.

Eastern Imperial eagle

I got closer views of the Eastern Imperial eagle but there was no sign of the yellow billed kite from last visit. I also couldn't see any of the expected sociable lapwing which have been wintering on Salalah's two (now one) farms. I am now quite happy for someone else to spot them first. I have all winter to see them.

underside of eastern Imperial eagle


After leaving the farm, the plan was to go searching for the elusive golden-winged grosbeck up at Wadi Hanna which is past Tawi Atair. the plan didn't work out exactly which  I will explain as I go along.

I headed up the hills until I arrived at the plateau just before the small town of Tawi Atair. I was tempted to deviate off the main road to the left to look at a green-looking wadi off- the-beaten-track.

Arabian partridge

Very early on, I accidentally flushed an Arabian partridge which I caught up with later.

very young cinnamon breasted bunting

The place was thronging with cinnamon-breasted bunting. One confiding one was very young. This is the first time I had seen one of this age still with a yellow gape.

second view of juvenile cinnamon-breasted bunting

They are attractive at this age with more cinnamon suffusions than in adult birds.

African paradise flycatcher

The wadi even had some standing water and was very shady in parts.  I was not surprised to see an African paradise flycatcher.

Long-billed pipit

As I left the wadi and walking back towards the car, I came across a tame long-billed pipit.

underside of short toed eagle

After this wadi, I drove straight through Tawi Atair and up into Wadi Hanna which is beautiful wooded highland area. I stopped quickly just as I arrived at the start of the wadi as I heard fan-tailed raven screaming. This is often a sign that they are mobbing a bird of prey. Sure enough two of them were mobbing a short toed eagle.

upperside of short toed eagle

However my primary purpose in visiting Wadi Hanna was to search for golden-winged grosbeck, the elusive Arabian endemic.

euphorbia in Wadi Hanna

It is known to be particularly attracted to euphorbia. Furthermore many of its sightings have been at Ayn Hamaran and at Wadi Hanna. 

A friend in Saudi Arabia (Lou Regenmorter) has circulated a picture of a euphorbia found near a recent sighting of them south of Taif, Saudi Arabia. I found large tracts of the same euphorbia to the east of the main woodland at the top of Ayn Hamran and in two places in the large wadi Hanna.

However the euphorbia at Ayn Hmaran had died back but may come back in another season. While the euphorbia at the more elevated Wadi Hanna looked like it was two months short of coming into fruit (and then berry).

Further correspondence has suggested they feed on other plants too such as prickly pear but  I haven't any prickly pear in the mountains near Salalah. 

I have since read an excellent article on euphorbia in Dhofar and discovered there are at least 8 types, fruiting at different times and looking quite different from each other. I suspect the grosbeck rotate around those in fruit and berries.

Meanwhile, when I was in the euphorbia grove and having just seen a pair of Arabian warbler, I again heard the fan-tailed raven screaming. I rushed out into an open space to see my first Eurasian sparrowhawk since being in Oman.

Eurasian sparrowhawk

This continued to be the pattern of my birding: in the woodland until I heard fan tailed raven then out into the clearings to see what they were up to.

Eurasian sparrowhawk flying off

On another occasion, it was a steppe eagle that got mobbed.

Fan-tailed raven mobbing a steppe eagle

Finally as it came towards dusk, four eagles appeared around the same time. This time the fan-tailed raven did not respond. Perhaps the numbers were too great for them or they were more interested in roosting.

steppe eagle

The two steppe eagle and two Eastern Imperial eagle flew around unhindered.

Eastern Imperial eagle

It was a strange day. I went out looking for golden-winged grosbeck but ended up with plenty of sightings of birds of prey.

On Saturday I went out north into the desert. I'll blog about that next.

Baillon's crake and White tailed lapwing at Khawr Soly

On Thursday I went to Khawr Soly again. I like this Khawr because it is less busy than the others near by and because it has given me so many good birds so far.

Baillon's crake

From about 4.30 pm I was privileged to have prolonged views of a Baillon's crake there. I wasn't really equipped for it in the sense of still wearing my work shirt and having no hide other than part of a bush to break up my shape. However by keeping still I went undetected or at least seen as no threat.

Baillon's crake

I was helped by the height of the grass too which was relatively low. I have learned that this juvenile is quite easily separately from juvenile little crake by the brown head and buff belly. A similar aged little crake has pale, almost white cheeks and a paler belly too. 

rear of Baillon's crake showing primary projection

The primary projection of Baillon's crake is very short compared with little crake as well.

White tailed lapwing

Not long earlier  I had come across my first white-tailed lapwing in Oman.

White tailed lapwing

This bird also allowed very good views though was rather inactive.

There are three quite distinct sections to this khawr. The Baillon's crake was seen in the part closest to the sea while the lapwing was in the most inland section.

This was only the second time I had visited the inland section and I regret not looking at it closer before.

Marsh sandpiper

There was a large array of different waders including common sandpiper, wood sandpiper, marsh sandpiper (one), green sandpiper, dunlin, Temminck's stint and little stint.

Wood sandpiper (right)

Both common redshank and common greenshank were also present.

common redshank

Some larger water birds were there. There was one immature flamingo, one little egret, one intermediate egret, two reef heron and five grey heron.

flamingo

The two European spoonbill seen last time there were still around.

two European spoonbill

A common sight of all khawrs over the last three weeks have been blue-cheeked bee-eater.

blue-cheeked bee-eater

There was a variety of birds of prey too. The largest was an Eastern Imperial eagle.

Upper side of Eastern Imperial eagle

It is a little unusual to see one at a khawr.

Under side of Eastern Imperial eagle

An osprey rested there for some while.

Osprey

Much more active were a marsh harrier and a Montagu's harrier.

Montagu's harrier

I deserted the coast at the weekend for more inland locations where the birding was equally good but quite different. The next three blogs will look at these trips.