Tuesday, 24 November 2015

West side and mystery eagle

I had the pleasure of being a birdingpal with visitors Karen Pickles and Catherine Chatham last Friday.

We went out west starting with Mughsail early in the morning. Needless to say we saw Baillon's crake fairly easily but as always I failed to see my first little crake in Oman.

They were very patient during all this crake finding effort.

Eventually we moved on and looked in and around the main pool more widely than just the reed edges where crakes lie.

clamorous reed warbler

At the side was a clamorous reed warbler. Early morning and late evening are the best times to see this warbler in the open.

squacco heron

The main pool was a little disappointing but not for heronry. A great white egret was present as well as squacco heron and grey heron. A purple heron also flew over.

European coot

A single European coot had been present all summer and it was probably the same bird on Friday.


We moved on to the second pool where ducks and moorhen were prevalent. The garganey above look well camouflaged against the dappled water.

blue rock thrush

As we walked away from the pool, a blue rock thrush was sighted on the hill side.

blue rock thrush

At the third and smallest pond, an Indian pond heron was seen. As is often the case, it was tamer than a typical squacco heron and allowed close approach.

Indian pond heron

By 10 am we had moved off to Raysut and its settling pools.

Abdim's stork and White stork

The site was packed with Abdim's stork with a few white stork. There were over 300 Abdim's stork on the ground and more in flight.

red-throated pipit

There were large numbers of three ducks: garganey, pintail and northern shoveller. One area has been so moist with overflow water it has developed into a meadow. It contained significant numbers of yellow wagtail, white wagtail and citrine wagtail.  The last twice there have also been a small number of red-throated pipit.

white stork at Raysut settling pools

The density of waders was as high as any time I have visited the place since arriving in Salalah.

common ringed plover

The usual wood sandpiper, green sandpiper, common sandpiper and black-winged stilt were joined by little stint, Temminck's stint, common ringed plover and a large flock of dunlin.

dunlin with a few little stint

There was some variability in bill length and curvature. They almost certainly represented more than one sub-species.

spur-winged lapwing

When we left the fenced area we spent a short amount of time just outside on the eastern perimeter. Here overflows from the main site have created a stream and marsh area. Here we caught up with the long standing vagrant spur winged lapwing and three red-wattled lapwing associates. Greater spotted eagle were there too.

We had been birding non-stop for over seven hours but decided to make one last stop next to the Raysut rubbish dump. It was here that we arguably had the most interesting observation of the day.

Just outside the southern fence of the dump, we came across a very pale eagle which was perched on a hillock inside. It stood out from the steppe eagle and eastern imperial eagle near-by.

pale eagle

Between us, we got pictures of it perched, next to other birds and in flight. However the flight pictures are of the upper wing only.

Three options for the identity of the bird have been suggested: a freakish pale steppe eagle, a fulvescens greater spotted eagle and a tawny eagle.

Separation between them is mostly carried out structurally with plumage features are support. 

We have many pictures in total but these three are representative. I am grateful to Karen and Catherine for permission to reproduce some of them.

In the first picture the bird appears to have an oval (rather than round) nostril, powerful bill and a relatively long gape. This suggests a steppe eagle or tawny eagle. An tawny eagle also has wider feathering (like a steppe eagle) on the lower legs. However this point is difficult for me to intepret.

pale eagle (l) with steppe eagle (r) by Catherine Chatham

The eagle appears slightly smaller than a steppe eagle which is consistent with either a fulvescens greater spotted eagle or tawny eagle.

Taken together this points to me that this may well be a tawny eagle.

pale eagle flying by Karen Pickles

Other structural features to look out for in flight are longer tail and shorter wings compared with fulvescens. Our pictures are not especially helpfully on this point.

Under-wing plumage features which cannot be verified would include the lack of a distinct pale crescent at the carpal. Such a picture would have been very helpful.

My knowledge is not enough to convince a critical eye as provided by a rarities committee and people I have consulted have varying degrees of certainty.

The bird was still present yesterday around the dump. This itself is more typical of a tawny eagle than greater spotted eagle which prefers moist terrain. Either way my friends Saeed Shanfari,  Hedi Khecharem and I failed to get those elusive under-wing pictures yesterday despite seeing the bird.

I would urge visiting birders to keep an eye out for it.

I should end by thanking Karen and Catherine for their company and humour.

Saturday, 21 November 2015

Crakes and kingfisher at Khawr Rori

On Wednesday afternoon, I went to Khawr Rori again in my quest to find a little crake which is still missing from my Oman list. I was with my work colleague and friend Michael Immel. As we arrived early we visited the main water section as well as the reedy offshoot of the water body where crakes can be found.

I will write about the main water body but first I will give news on my crake hunt.

The good news is that we saw both Baillon's crake and spotted crake.

Baillon's crake

We actually saw two of each.

close up of primary projection of Baillon's crake

The two easiest characteristics to separate the above bird from a little crake is the lack of any red on the base of the bill and the short primary projection (i.e short wings). So this bird is a Baillon's crake.

spotted crake

I only managed a picture of a spotted crake at dusk itself.

In correspondence with Jens Eriksen, it is confirmed that little crake is much the rarest of the three crakes in Dhofar but it is possible apparently so I won't give up.

Before looking for crakes, the main lake was interesting.

two cotton pygmy goose

The number of cotton pygmy goose has doubled in a week: from one to two.

shoveller with cotton pygmy goose

Flamingo and black-tailed godwit are two of the more obvious species at the khawr.

flamingo with a black-tailed godwit

I managed a picture of the intermediate egret which has now been present for a week or two.

Intermediate egret

Two of the resident red-knobbed coot were spending time in the deep water well inland but they flew closer by briefly.

distant shot of red-knobbed coot flying

However the most interesting sighting of the session was probably the re-emergence of a malachite kingfisher.

Malachite kingfisher

As far as I know all previous sightings have been in the inland spur of the lagoon which is approached from the main road. Sightings from there stopped over a week ago. This sighting was at least 500 metres away in the main lagoon.

greater spotted eagle

While a lot more steppe eagle than greater spotted eagle winter near Salalah, the odds chance near water. The fewer greater spotted eagle gravitate there. This is probably the same bird I saw at the khawr a week before.

On Friday I acted out my role as a birdingpal with two visitors. We went west of the city. I will blog about that next.

Friday, 20 November 2015

Forest wagtail and more at Dahariz Park

On Monday evening I was alerted to the fact that a visiting birder had found a forest wagtail in Dahariz Park that day.

I resolved to go the park early on Tuesday to look for it and to do some general birding of the park while I was there.

Forest wagtail 1

It took me nearly two hours to find it. It was spending time right on the perimeter of one of the sides of the park. While I was with it, it was shunning both the lawns and the middle of the park where the tall trees and most of the shade is.

My assumption that it might be in the "forested" part is probably the main reason it took me so long to find it.

Forest wagtail 2

It reminded me more of a pipit than a wagtail in its movements. This only the tenth Forest wagtail recorded in Oman. It also a lifer and the 304th bird on my Oman list.

Forest wagtail facing

Three other types of wagtail were also present in this compact park.

citrine wagtail

There was one first winter citrine wagtail.

white wagtail

There were white wagtail present as would be expected in a lawned area in winter.

yellow wagtail

Yellow wagtail are much less common at this time of year. The big passage has already passed through. A very few stay the winter and this park is typical habitat where this happens.

yellow-billed kite 1

Not all the action was near the ground. Two yellow-billed kite were lurking in the upper branches of the tallest trees. The resident house crow did not like this at all.

yellow-billed kite 2

The park was even more eventful. I saw the biggest flock of scaly-breasted munia I have ever seen. I counted 56 birds. 

 scaly-breasted munia

Some of the time they were associating with some Ruppell's weaver too making a very large combined feeding group.

African paradise flycatcher

In the past I have seen Bruce's green pigeon in this park which is uncommon in the city. This time there were two African paradise flycatcher which is even more rarely seen in the urban area.

shining sunbird

Places with flowering plants attract shining sunbird.

grey-headed kingfisher

Many grey-headed kingfisher have already migrated to Africa for winter. However two were lingering around the park.


Watered lawns mean worms and, worms attract hoopoe.

white spectacled bulbul

Other species included white-spectacled bulbul.

common sandpiper

Common sandpiper are actually common visitors to parks.

common myna

One of my final observations at the park was that the partly leucistic common myna seen on my last visit was still present.

Before I even reached Dahariz Park I spent 30 minutes at Khawr Dahariz around dawn looking for crakes. I was not successful. 

sleeping pied avocet

Even in this short time there were a few highlights. One was a sleeping pied avocet. Not many make it this far south.

roosting cattle egret

Forty or so glossy ibis were sharing a roost with a much larger number of cattle egret. The ibis headed towards Sahnawt farm in a regular commune. The cattle egret were still asleep.

great white egret

In Dhofar intermediate egret are as common as the confusion species which is great white egret.  So care is needed. The latter was present this time.

Though looking for crakes wasn't successful on Monday morning, I had much more success on Wednesday evening. I will blog about that next.

Birds seen at Dahariz park

Yellow wagtail  2    
Common Sandpiper  3
Eurasian Collared-Dove  6
Laughing Dove  1
Eurasian Hoopoe  5
Grey-headed Kingfisher  2
Turkestan Shrike  1
Daurian Shrike  1
African Paradise-Flycatcher  2
House Crow  12
White-spectacled Bulbul  4
Graceful Prinia  2
Common Myna  15
Shining Sunbird  4
Forest Wagtail  1  
Western Yellow Wagtail  3
Citrine Wagtail  1
White Wagtail  3
Ruppell's Weaver  25
Scaly-breasted Munia  56

Thursday, 19 November 2015

Dowkah and Shisr

On Saturday, I went into the desert again. This time I visited Dowkah farm and the Shisr farming district.

Both areas are migrant traps as well as having healthy populations of local birds.  Rarities can pop up at any time but particularly during the passage seasons.

One of the first migrants seen at Dowkah was a pallidrostris grey shrike which is often called steppe grey shrike.

Steppe grey shrike

One was seen on my last visit and the may be the same wintering bird.

white wagtail

I didn't see any yellow wagtail this time. It looks like they don't winter there. On the other hand the population of white wagtail is increasing significantly.

blue-cheeked bee-eater

A large wave of blue-cheeked bee-eater was passing through. Their passage has been a little later this year but it is just as heavy.

European roller

No golden oriole were observed this time. All their passage through the desert may have finished. In contrast, some European roller stop over at desert farms for a few days or weeks. At least five were still present on Saturday.


In the main area of bushes, there are often waves of warblers in the passage seasons. This time there is clearly a large wave of chiffchaff. I counted 45 in the bushes and trees.

second chiffchaff

A few other warblers were also present.

lesser whitethroat

There was at least two lesser whitethroat and one Menetries's warbler.

lesser whitethroat 2

In the early morning, all the warblers were approachable. I suspect this was because they were intent on feeding after a hard desert crossing.

Only two Daurian shrike and no Turkestan shrike were seen this time. 

Daurian shrike

The warblers were not the only new passerine migrants.

common redstart

Two common redstart were found in the shade under palm trees.

pied wheatear 1

In the last field on the way out, there was a pied wheatear on a pivot bar.

pied wheatear 2

On the same pivot was a tree pipit.

tree pipit

I left Dowkah around 10 am. The weather was noticeably cooler than on other visits so I decided a visit to Shisr (which is a large site and requires time to bird properly) should be possible.

bar-tailed lark

On the Shisr approach road, I once again came across bar-tailed lark. On the one hand, it is the only place I have found them in Oman. On the other, my success rate there is very high.This bird appears to be nowhere near as common as I used to find it in central Saudi Arabia.

blue-cheeked bee-eater

Another large wave of blue-cheeked bee-eater were seen.

red-breasted flycatcher

I spent considerable time in main wooded area. Compared with Dowkah's bushy area birds were sparse. It can be hit or miss with all these clusters of desert-based bushes and trees.

However, I did find a first year red-breasted flycatcher. This is the first one I have seen this winter and it is right at the western edge of its winter range.

house sparrow

Otherwise its main birding company was a flock of local house sparrow.

perched greater spotted eagle

There was an eagle on the main pivot of one of the fields. It turned out to be a greater spotted eagle. it is pretty rare to see one outside their main passage period in the desert.

Shisr though is the largest farming district in western Oman and if anywhere could sustain a greater spotted eagle in the desert through the winter it is Shisr.

greater spotted eagle in flight

My next birding session was much more local within the city. It was prompted by a report of a vagrant. I will blog about that next.