Monday, 24 November 2014

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.


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.


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.

Sunday, 23 November 2014

Sawnout farm revisited

On Wednesday evening before dusk I returned to Sawnout farm. I spent most of my time at the western perimeter with the sun behind me giving the best views. I viewed from outside looking in as visitors are not allowed. 

There was a large flock of common myna at this end but two birds that were associating with them were not mynas at all.

first rosy starling

They were rosy starling. Indeed the last time I saw a rosy starling was in Kharj near Riyadh, it was associating with common myna too. Incidentally, they are much rarer in central Arabia. 

first rosy starling

The first rosy starling was definitely a juvenile.

second rosy starling

My understanding is that the second bird is as well.

second rosy starling

In the second bird you can see some adult male plumage.

common myna

Common myna seem to tolerate rosy starling and not bully them like so many other birds. The same is true of Tristram's starling which can also flock with common myna.

barn swallow

Also on the west side were many tens of barn swallow mostly perched on wires having foraged over the fields.

rosy wash to barn swallow

When there is a large group seemingly of one species it is always good policy to search through looking for exceptions.

In this case a small number had a rosy wash on the breast. This is indicative of certain sub-species mostly from the near east.

sand martin

There were also two sand martin in with the group. A small number of this species winter in southern Arabia.

dark looking European roller

While looking for anything exceptional, I noticed a very dark European roller.

70 Abdim's stork

Meanwhile in the middle of the farm a flock of 80 Abdim's stork (71 shown in the picture) followed a crop cutting machine from the air around for about ten minutes before moving on. I don't think any of them landed.

Eastern Imperial eagle

Once again there was plenty of bird of prey activity. You can see there was an Eastern Imperial Eagle with a common kestrel and possibly a hobby or other falcon.

greater spotted eagle -first view

I observed two greater spotted eagle.

greater spotted eagle - top view

As a general rule farms and khawrs attract greater spotted eagle while drier places including the Raysut rubbish dump attract steppe eagle.

greater spotted eagle  - under side view

Marsh harrier was the most common bird of prey. I counted five this time.

I also saw my second yellow billed kite in Oman. This one was a juvenile. This is most easily seen by its bill colour. It is yellow near the base but the darker areas are just starting to turn yellow suggesting an older juvenile.

juvenile yellow billed kite

Superficially it could be mistaken for a black kite if you look at the bill. However the overall chestnut colouration places it as yellow billed kite. This identification was confirmed on BirdForum.

rear view of juvenile yellow billed kite

The Oman bird recorders recently changed it status to local breeder in southern Oman. The main regional guide's map still paces the nearest residents in central Yemen.

front view of yellow billed kite

I will keep looking out for this bird which should be of the sub species aegyptius.

aerial view of yellow billed kite

In the next blog I will write about a recent visit to Khawr Swali (Soly) where I again added to my list and had good views of a crake.

Saturday, 22 November 2014

Black crowned tchagra and more at Ayn Hamran

I returned to Ayn Hamran on Tuesday afternoon. The highlight was undoubtedly the sight of a family of black-crowned tchagra. 

I used to have difficulty finding these birds but once you know their calls and follow them they are quite easily seen. Ayn Hamran is the best place I know for them.

Juvenile black-crowned tchagra

Having followed the sounds I saw two adult tchagra disappearing into a bush. However it appears they left two juveniles behind them. These two were very noisy and one of them even stood on top of a bush in the open screaming. The other was more careful but separated by a few bushes.

black-crowned tchagra

Given that the juveniles didn't seem to know how to reach the adults, So the adults came looking for the juveniles.

two black-crowned tchagra

After about five minutes on of the adults suddenly popped up on the same bush as the more brazen juvenile. Moments later I noticed that the bush had three birds including the second adult. At this point the juvenile went quiet.

black-crowned tchagra

The adults appeared to be on look out for the remaining juvenile which I presumed was expected to make its way to the rest of the group. I left at this point but I suspect I may have been in the way.
male African paradise flycatcher

Near-by but in the woodland, I came across a male African paradise flycatcher in full breeding plumage complete with full grown tail. I don't know much about the breeding seasons of the birds here. Some breed in the monsoon period (summer) while others breed in very early spring (February). Ruepell's weaver breeds in summer (convenient for Dideric cuckoo) but it looks like the flycatcher breeds in spring. Judging by the sight of a family group of tchagra, black crowned tchagra appear to breed in the khareej (monsoon) season.

second view of African paradise flycatcher

A week before I had seen a male with a half grown tail at the same place. I wonder if it was the same bird. It was also the white tailed morph.

rear of African paradise Flycatcher

Abyssinian white-eye are very much a flocking bird so I was surprised to see two together totally independent of a flock. I don't know whether this is mating behaviour or a juvenile with an adult but I suspect the former.

two Abyssinian white-eye

The two birds were literally inseparable.

Abyssinian white-eye

Another interesting sight at the Ayn was a passing short toed eagle.

Short toed eagle

I am seeing them with increasing frequency at the moment. It looks like several of them may winter in the Dhofar mountains.

shot toed eagle flying off

The only other bird of prey at Ayn Hamran was a common kestrel. It was very clean underneath so I can't rule out lesser kestrel which also winters in the mountains.


The more common birds were of course still at Ayn Hamran such as Ruepell's weaver, blackstart and little green bee-eater.

little green bee-eater

As well as Ayn Hamran, I also called into Khawr Soly which is very close. However birding this time was disturbed by a large grazing herd of camels.

juvenile European spoonbill

There was no time to see any thing out of the ordinary though a juvenile European spoonbill was a good sight.

European spoonbill walking away

I returned there two days later and birding was excellent. I will report on that in one of the future blogs.

Friday, 21 November 2014

Sawnout farm

Late Monday afternoon, I visited Sawnout farm. It is actually out of bounds for the general public including birders. This is a health measure since it a cattle farm as well as an arable one.

Nevertheless, you can travel round the 6 kilometre perimeter and look inwards. I did this on the east, north and west sides. The main road is to the south.

pied cuckoo in the shade

On the east side there are very few trees on the perimeter but in one I found a pied cuckoo. This was not what expected from this farm visit.

pied cuckoo in the open

It spent a lot of time in the open but the backlighting was very strong. This is the fourth pied cuckoo I have seen in Oman this autumn.

house sparrow

The same tree held ten house sparrow too. These are the first house sparrow I have seen in the city of Salalah.  They looked identical to the ones seen at Mudayy oasis and their habits were the same. They are pale overall and especially a pale rump extends far up. The crown has more extensive grey and hardly any brown on the head.

These birds are not interested in houses and keep to trees. Their habits remind me more of Spanish sparrow and of desert sparrow.

view of the farm from the east side

After the tree I continued round the northern perimeter. This side of the farm is most cut and fallow at the moment. It is attracting species that like drier terrain than the rest of the farm.

It was here I observed my first tawny pipit in Oman. Luckily it was standing on a high stone otherwise it would not have been seen from the perimeter.

tawny pipit

I had only seen one northern wheatear since arriving in Oman but there were four of them visible over the fence on the east side.

northern wheatear

Although I only counted about 150 yellow wagtail from the side, I am sure the farm must have more than a thousand.

yellow wagtail

It would be a major job recording all the different sub-species present.

yellow wagtail (feldegg)

The birds of prey were varied. I saw two greater spotted eagle, an eastern imperial eagle, four marsh harrier and two common kestrel.


Many of my observations were necessarily on the fence itself. Two juvenile Turkesten shrike were seen. I always have to remember how red (and not brown) tailed the females and juveniles of red-backed shrike often look in the strong sun of Arabia. It is often difficult  to separate the two species at this age and in this light. Barring on the back of red-backed shrike is often the biggest clue. Failing to be able to get that view relies on a judgement on the colour of the tail which is not a perfect method. 

Turkestan shrike

Still on the east side were a flock of resting blue-cheeked bee-eater.

blue-cheeked bee-eater

Four grey heron were sitting in a recently cut field. Two squacco heron were seen on the west side side fence near a water channel.

squacco heron

I don't know where this was a mating ritual or a young parakeet being fed by a parent. Certainly doves do this as a mating ritual. This action was repeated several times.

rose-ringed parakeet

Tens of barn swallow were observed on the west side.

barn swallow

The only other Asian grey shrike I have seen in Oman before was 130 kilometres north at Al Beed farm. There was one at Sawnout farm. It's beginning to look like a farm bird here.

aucheri  - Asian grey shrike

Unfortunately no sociable lapwing were observed but they must surely come soon. Now Jarziz farm is closed, Sawnout farm is there main wintering option in Dhofar.

grey plover

East Khawr (Khawr Dahariz to those of us who live in Salalah) is very close to Sawnout farm. Before going to the farm I paid my daily visit to the khawr.

I din't notice any radical change again. There was a very nice grey plover among the hundreds of waders.

Kentish plover in breeding plumage

Two male Kentish plover were in full breeding plumage. I don't know when the local breeding season for this bird is but I'll look out to see if more change.

frontal view of Kentish plover

Last time I blogged on east Khawr I noticed how a curlew sandpiper was adrift from the main body of waders. This time I noticed several of them in the wet sand rather than in the shallow water seeking out food. It looks like its normal species behaviour after all.

curlew sandpiper

As I was leaving the khawr to head to Sawnout farm,  I spotted a curlew. Many of the birds we get here are of the eastern sub-species orientalis. It's bill is even longer than most.

Eurasian curlew

In my next blog, I will write about a trip taken on Tuesday to Ayn Hamran.