Thursday, 18 December 2014

Sociable lapwing and two types of turtle dove at the farm

I have a little bit more time on Wednesday afternoons to go birding than on other weekdays. I chose to stay local and go to Sawnout farm.

On my drive out as I was travelling down the main road which cuts the farm in two, I saw a large flock of sociable lapwing fly directly over my car. This was an auspicious start. There was no chance to stop and for some reason they had flown from the arable and beef section of the farm to the smaller plantation and marketing gardening section.  This southern section has no easy lines of sight.

Nevertheless I decided I ought to go looking for them. Indeed I spent all the next 3 hours looking for them.

Oriental turtle dove

Early on in the search as I was scanning I came across three turtle doves on adjacent wires. One was an Oriental turtle dove but the other two were European turtle dove.

First European turtle dove

The European turtle dove is noticeably lighter, This is mostly caused by the much broader orange scapulars. There are other major differences too which I wont go into as the identification is clear. However I did check on birdforum where the verdict was unanimous. I did this because others have only reported oriental turtle dove at the farm this year.  Both species are known but rare winterers to the Dhofar region.

Second European turtle dove

Returning to the search for the sociable lapwing: I first took a quick look at the southern perimeter of the cereal farm where I could see interesting species such as chestnut-bellied sandgrouse and cream-coloured courser but no lapwings.

male chestnut bellied sandgouse on the farm

I then decided to drive to the coastal side of the southern section of the farm to see if there was line of sight and to pick up the sociable lapwing, This is a two kilometre drive past east Khawr.

This proved fruitless. The best birds I saw were more chestnut bellied sandgrouse near the coast.

chestnut bellied sandgrouse near the coast

I then decided it was best to go to the western perimeter of the northern (main section) of the farm and wait. It was on the way to that point that I saw the turtle doves.

European roller

So it was on the western perimeter than I spent over two hours waiting and watching. On a near-by pivot bar was a dark European roller and on near-by dead palms were both rose ringed parakeet and on another was kestrel.

rose ringed parakeet

However for the most part I was looking into the farm.


There was the odd distraction for example when eight great cormorant flew over.

great cormorant

As I watched I could see there were two main areas of large scale bird activity. One was next to me  where part of a field had been very recently cut. The other was over 500 metre away where a pivot bar was spraying water on some high crops. The white winged black tern were mostly over there. The cattle egret went from one to the other.

common myna

Large numbers of common myna and yellow wagtail were also seen on the cut field near me.

cattle egret

I had no sign of the sociable lapwing until a pallid harrier went to the spraying area about an hour before sunset. Suddenly the cattle egret and white winged black tern bolted 500 metres to field next to me. However there was third flock and as it took to the air I realised it was sociable lapwing. They had probably been in among that high crop being sprayed for some time.

yellow wagtail

Unfortunately for me they moved off to another field of high crops almost as far way. 

black crowned sparrow lark

With a few minor distractions such as the sight of a black-crowned sparrow lark on the edge of my field, I kept my eye on the lapwings at great distance.

sociable lapwing on the move

Fifteen minutes before dusk they suddenly and at great speed left the farm westward presumably to roost. They came a little closer for moments as they left. I managed one distant shot in the gloom of the leading group. 

I should get better views this winter as they are likely to stay here on past record.

I have now seen them in three countries: Azerbaijan, Saudi Arabia and Oman. 

List and numbers of species seen at the farm

Great Cormorant 7
Cattle Egret 110
Squacco Heron 4
Greater Spotted Eagle 1
Eastern Imperial Eagle 1
Eurasian Marsh-Harrier 1
Pallid Harrier 2
Sociable Lapwing 32
Cream-coloured Courser 2
White-winged Tern 40
Chestnut-bellied Sandgrouse 6
Feral Pigeon 20
European Turtle-Dove 2
Oriental Turtle-Dove 1
Eurasian Collared-Dove 260
Laughing Dove 120
Namaqua Dove 5
European Roller 1
Common Kestrel
Ring-necked Parakeet 22
Daurian Shrike 2
Asian Grey Shrike 1
House Crow 6
Crested Lark 5
Black-Crowned Sparrow-Lark 1
Sand Martin 6
Barn Swallow 25
Graceful Prinia 2
Desert Wheatear 5
Isabelline Wheatear 2
Common Myna 35
Yellow Wagtail 90
White Wagtail 8
House Sparrow 6
Ruppell's Weaver 14
African Silverbill 38

Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Wintering wood warbler

Wadi Nashib is one of the least visited wadis near Salalah and I don't quite know why. It splits at the top end into two and both splits contain an ayn (spring). These are Ayn Tebraq and Ayn Athum.

Ayn Tebraq has lots of flowing water with adjacent trees. Ayn Athum is different. It is a sheer cliff face which becomes a waterfall in the monsoon season but otherwise is mostly just damp with a few drips. it is an interesting habitat though.

On Monday afternoon I visited the wadi and went to wadi Tebraq first.

Here I found a wintering wood warbler. This most uncommon. Virtually all wood warbler winter in tropical Africa. Very few travel through Arabia but those which do either have to hazard a long sea flight to East Africa or make do.

wood warbler at Ayn Tebraq on December 15th

I love seeing detailed maps which purport to accuracy! I suppose the map bloew is more than 99% accurate but would mislead people into thinking that wood warbler doesn't migrate or winter at all in Arabia.

source: wikipedia

The map in the Helms regional guide (not shown) is better showing it hugging the east and south coast of Arabia on migration.

I note that two UAE birders saw one two weeks before at Ayn Hamran and I observed one there in October which may well have continued with a hazardous migration.

second picture of a wood warbler

Also at Ayn Tebraq was a song thrush. This is my third sighting of this species in Oman.

song thrush

As with all ayns there were African paradise flycatcher and Ruppells weaver around. Sandpipers are common too. This time I saw green sandpiper.

Ayn Tebraq

Ayn Tebraq is a beautiful spot which isn't visited as much even by locals. I wonder if its because there are more mosquitoes, one of which bit me.

green sandpiper

Light was fading but I decided to switch to Ayn Athum anyway. I am ever hopeful of seeing golden winged grosbeck and will look for it anywhere in the hills.

Abyssinian white eye

The cliff face is a busy place just before dusk. Plenty of Abyssinian white eye moving as a group from tree to tree. Striolated bunting are all over the cliff face. Cinnamon breasted bunting are in the trees below along with blackstart.

African paradise flycatcher

An African paradise flycatcher was seen which appears to be a male just starting to grow its tail longer.

grey wagtail

Despite the lack of water, it was damp enough to attract grey wagtail. I counted three there.

Shining sunbird

Some birds breed in spring which is late February and March here. Others such as Ruppells weaver breed in the khareef (monsoon) season. Shining sunbird is looking very much in breeding plumage at the moment. I don't know whether it will breed a little bit earlier than spring. I'll watch out for this.

Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Spur winged lapwing at Raysut

On Saturday afternoon I visited the two ends of the water treatment process. First I went to the settling pools and then moved 1.5 kilometres away to the clean water lake. Both places are magnets for birds.

Abdim's stork sunning itself

The settling pools in winter are quite remarkable for the numbers of Abdim's stork that can be found either on the ground there or in the air near-by.

over one hundred Abdim's stork at the settling pool

There were certainly over one hundred at the pools when I arrived and even more in the sky.

a hundred Abdim's stork in the air

There were also several tens of steppe eagle in the sky and a few in near the pools at the same time.

However it the assortment of waders, ducks and other birds that are worth looking hard at because rarities are often seen here. Oscar Campbell and Simon Lloyd found a black tern which I subsequently saw too.

They reported a spur winged lapwing with some red wattled lapwing there too but when I visited a week ago I couldn't see them. Red wattled lapwing is a rare visitor to the Dhofar region while spur winged lapwing is a vagrant to all Oman.

red wattled lapwing

I had almost forgotten about their observation when I saw a single red wattled lapwing at the furthest settling pool from the gate. When it flew off I tracked it and was pleased that it joined three other red wattled lapwing and a single spur winged lapwing that was associating with them.

spur winged lapwing

This became species 221 on my Oman list. Although it is still thought of as a vagrant it seems to becoming quite regular over the past two or three years in Raysut area.

After this, I moved 1.5 kilometres to the clean water setting of the clean treated water lake. It feels quite different.


However there was no special bird there. It doesn't happen every time at every location. Seven flamingo were in the water along with three pintail and at least two little grebe.

wood sandpiper

Waders included wood sandpiper and little ringed plover as well as several black-winged stilt.

little ringed plover

I had visited this site on December 8th too but not published anything on it.

rosy starling

For the record there was a mobile flock of about 30 rosy starling.

three rosy starling

One of them was an adult male in summer plumage. I also came across three nile valley sunbird feeding together. This was the second time I have seen this species at this spot.

Nile valley sunbird

One of them was a male that had just started to moult into breeding plumage. I understand they breed in February in Dhofar.

Nile Valley sunbird moulting into breeding plumage

With so many vagrants already seen, from now on I don't expect to add to my list with any great speed. I will just enjoy the birding and see what happens.

Sunday, 14 December 2014

Singing bush lark at the farm

I took it relatively easy on Saturday morning after the long trip the day before.

I visited Sawnaut farm which is very close to where I live. As I have said before it is out of bounds to the general public but birders peer over the fence.

I visit it with three sets of target birds in mind. First, sociable lapwing are known to come in large numbers but none have been seen this winter. Second, oriental turtle dove have been spotted there this winter in very small numbers against the hundreds of other doves.  Third I am interested in any falcon other than lesser kestrel, kestrel and hobby which I have already seen in Oman. 

Unfortunately I succeeded with none of these targets this time. Odds of success are higher when one of the pivot bars is spraying close to one of the perimeters. This was not the case on Saturday. 

singing bush lark

There were some highlights however. A very confiding singing bush lark sat up on the fence within two metres of me.

second view of singing bush lark

I am told it is a young bird. The streaking is pronounced and comes together in a black patch at the side of the throat.

marsh harrier carrying a lizard

Otherwise I was particularly noticing the amount of harassment birds were giving each other. This marsh harrier was being harassed in the sky by an eastern imperial eagle presumably to drop its food.

eastern imperial eagle

In turn later I saw a resting eastern imperial eagle being mobbed by group of Indian house crow.

Indian house crow

I only occasionally see little green bee-eater in the city but there were two next to the farm on Saturday morning.

little green bee-eater

On the fence at the western side were the normal array of house sparrow and ruppell's weaver but this time there was an unusually large group of 50 African silverbill. This is the largest single flock I have ever seen.

Daurian shrike

I invariably see a shrike or two on the same fence. At this stage of the winter there are now more Daurian shrike than Turkestan shrike in stark contrast to two months ago.

On Saturday afternoon, I moved over to the other side of the city to Raysut. Here I added another species to my Oman list in an interesting afternoon.