Wednesday, 17 September 2014

The list slowly builds

In the middle of the week, my main birding is in East Salalah. Time is short in late afternoon after work and not possible every day.

On Tuesday, I managed to snatch some time. My new local patch at East Khawr was my venue again.

It has yet to fail me with the provision of new birds for my growing Oman list. This time there were three more. The first was a sighting of a distant osprey down the coast complete with large fish in claw.

black-tailed godwit

The second was a godwit. I had seen black tailed godwit at the site before. Two were present again. 

I usually remember the following comparisons when trying to separate the two godwits: plainer, longer, straighter, and taller. Black tailed godwit is plainer in almost all plumages, its bill is longer as are its legs, its bill is straighter and finally it is taller not only because of the longer legs but also because it stands more upright. 

second look at black-tailed godwit

So when I saw a bar-tailed godwit at the Khawr it was obvious. This was my second addition to my list on Tuesday.

bar-tailed godwit

As well as seeking out additional birds, I tried once again to take better photos of any of the other birds which had been seen before.

wood sandpiper

I managed to get closer to a wood sandpiper and achieve this. For some reason the common redshank were more relaxed and allowed closer approach too.

common redshank with garganey

The cattle egret were on a tree at the side of the lagoon rather than in the middle as last time. There were more of them too.

cattle egret

Elsewhere the glossy ibis, Eurasian spoonbill and single African sacred ibis were still present as were some of the ruff. However every single one of the 80 Pacific golden plover have moved on.

Heuglin's gull in flight

The third new addition was a gull. Since arriving in Salalah almost three weeks ago, the only gulls I have seen have been Sooty gull.

However on Tuesday, wave after wave of gulls past down the coast in a WSW direction towards Yemen. Very few stopped and when they did it was momentarily. These have been identified as Heuglin's gull which is still thought of my some as a sub species of lesser black backed gull. It is recorded as such by the e-bird database.

Heuglin's gull with greater crested tern

I came close to achieving another species but there is too much uncertainty to claim it.

little bittern or yellow bittern

A little bittern type flew straight across the lagoon as I accidentally flushed it. I had the presence of mind to take out the camera quickly enough for this blurred photo. I can't say conclusively whether it is a juvenile little bittern or yellow bittern which is a shame. Maybe next time.

Monday, 15 September 2014

East Salalah on Saturday

Until I have my own transport which should be arranged within the next two or three weeks, I am reliant on lifts. So necessarily I am spending a lot of time within walking distance of my home in East Salalah. Visits to the farms and wadis of East Salalah and to east Khawr are regular. And quite honestly the local birding is extremely good.

On Saturday I had time to explore the area in some depth.

East Khawr itself had changed its cast once again. The shear number of waders crammed into the bottom end next to the sea was very large. The majority were from two species and one of these was Pacific golden plover.

Two Pacific golden plovers

I counted 80 and yet this was the first time I had seen even one at East Khawr. 

Forty Pacific golden plovers and others

Another new bird for the site was curlew sandpiper. I counted five of these.

Curlew sandpiper

The long legs are difficult to see in this water. However its more elegant look and its bold supercilium easily separate it from dunlin which can be a confusion species.

note the supercilium

The other wader in big numbers was ruff. Again there were about 80 of these.

juvenile ruff among mature birds

One of them stood out from the crowd. Only one, a female, was in juvenile plumage. It was standing at the edge of the group too. I considered it as a vagrant buff breasted sandpiper but it's bill is too long and its legs aren't bright yellow enough. There are other features which don't fit either. 

black-winged stilt

The lone black winged stilt of previous visits is now one of six.

Kentish plover

The presumed resident Kentish plover have an explosive increase in wader neighbours at the moment.


The single sanderling created more space for itself by being aggressive to any bird that came close.

flock of garganey

Elsewhere the number of garganey continues to rise.

Eurasian spoonbill and others

The large flock of glossy ibis was present and the Eurasian spoonbill with African sacred ibis have returned. In the group above there are eight Eurasian spoonbill, an African sacred ibis, a little egret and a black tailed godwit.

common redshank

What began as a session following a couple of common redshank at the northern end of khawr and then progressed to seeing hundreds of waders at the end near the sea came to an abrupt end.

birds being disturbed

A local with a very large camera lens appeared out of his car and as soon as he took aim, virtually all the birds took flight. Time was passing and I decided not to wait until they settled again. I am just happy my very slow approach and patience allowed me so much time to see the waders at close quarters.

Visiting the khawr was only half of Saturday's story. I walked out down the wadi and I walked back through as much farmland as I could.

barn swallow

In the wadi, the local pale crag martin were joined for the first time since I arrived by some barn swallow and European crag martin.

rufous bush robin stretching

The number of rufous bush robin continues to build. They are recorded all winter. I suspect this is an important wintering venue for this species.

rufous bush robin cocking tail

Once again I came across a common whitethroat. It was very thin so I suspect it has just arrived having passed over the Arabian desert. It needs to fatten up before going anywhere else.

thin common whitethroat

On the way back, I noticed some of the fodder fields are now being cut following the khareef growing season. Unfortunately there was no sign of bird activity there though I am sure this will change as the season progresses.

European roller

However, by way of compensation, on a wire next to one of these fields was a (presumed) wintering European roller.

 blue moon (or common eggfly) butterfly

I wish I had time to find out more about butterflies. There are certainly more varieties here than in the Riyadh area. This one is black with white polka dots surrounded by a blue sheen when the wings are unfolded.

However I need to concentrate on the birds. This area is proving to be very productive and hard work.

Saturday, 13 September 2014

Scrub land south of Ain Razat

I moved away from Ayn Razat in the early afternoon on Friday to look for some different habitat.

I went down the hill into some scrub land with less bushes and greenery. The move paid off. The birds changed and I added 3 more to my growing Oman list.

The most common bird was still probably laughing dove. Nevertheless its support cast was quite different.

As might have been expected there were more larks.

male black crowned sparrow lark

Although crested lark was the main lark, I did come across my first black crowned sparrow lark since moving to Oman to work.

crested lark

Arguably cinnamon breasted bunting was the second most common bird. Without major competition from house sparrow in this part of Oman it seems to thrive in a wide variety of habitats.

cinnamon breasted bunting

White spectacled bulbul  and Ruepell's weaver were only seen in the more bushy areas.

white spectacled bulbul

The main migrants observed were once again rufous bush robin and Turkestan shrike.  However in one large tree next to a water channel and with many weavers nests as well as several other species jumping (notably Tristram's starting and blackstart) I spied two willow warbler.

willow warbler

This was one of the additions to my country list.

little green bee-eater

As I headed back at the end I saw another rufous bush robin and the first little green bee-eater (two) and  Turkestan shrike of the day.

Then I heard this screeching noise over head. It was a common kestrel trying to mob an eagle. I had reacted quite late and only managed two pictures but it was enough.

Bonelli's eagle

It was positively identified as a Bonelli's eagle on BirdForum. Indeed it is an a bird which is shedding its last few immature feathers before having a complete set of adult feathers. It's also a lifer for me.

female common kestrel

One of my last sights before finishing for the day was the common kestrel, which had alerted me to looking up in the air, resting on a bush.

Ain Razat

Ayn Razat is one of two closest places to me in the hills north of Salalah. I went there for the first time yesterday.

It is partly turned into a leisure area for families but hasn't lost its essential character.

I started out by birding the area around the leisure area which luckily for me was not busy. This is because Omanis tend to stay at home on Friday mornings. My only human company to begin with were four Indians swimming in the water. This by the way is a dangerous thing to do as the water has the snails which host bilharzia.  There are plenty of signs in Arabic and English warning people not to go in the water. I'll come back to the snails later.

The birding started very well. I quickly came across another dideric cuckoo. This was one of two seen during the day.

Dideric cuckoo

However it wasn't long until I realised the habitat was very similar to Wadi Darbat the weekend before and the bird life reflects that. However I persisted in the area and decided to walk up the wadi.

Arabian warbler (a.k.a) Red sea warbler)

Just as I had decided this was a bad idea, I came across an Arabian warbler. Again this was one of two seen during the day. It was also the only addition to my Oman list near the Ayn.

second view of the Arabian warbler

Birds in the area were otherwise mostly laughing dove, white spectacled bulbul, Ruepells weaver, blackstart and cinnamon breasted bunting. Though the occasional rufous bush robin was also seen.

the landscaped part of the Ayn

I returned to the landscaped area after about two hours.

fish in the Ayn

Common sandpiper were indeed common and judging by my photograph doing their bit to keep the snail population down.

common sand piper

The same could not be said for the cinnamon breasted bunting.

cinnamon breasted bunting

Ruepell's weaver nests can be almost anywhere with tall enough bushes but their density is always higher close to water.

male Ruepell's weaver

Contrary to my first opinion, I now know categorically that they are still breeding. There breeding season in Dhofar (Salalah region) seems to coincide with the Khareef.

Grey headed kingfisher

There is an ornamental garden next to the landscaped part of the Ayn. Certain birds were only found in it or next to it. These were shining sunbird, Bruce's green pigeon and Eurasian collared dove. Grey headed kingfisher was seen elsewhere but was easiest to see there.


The most common bird in the garden was cinnamon breasted bunting. However it looked a bit strange to see blackstart on the paths and common sandpiper on the lawns.

Laughing dove

Laughing dove was everywhere.

Rufous bush robin

I have a little more to say about snails before I finish the blog! I doubt the snails I was seeing on the bushes are the same as in the water. Nevertheless the climate clearly encourages their growth. One strange thing I noticed while watching rufous bush robin in the Ayan Razat area was that they seemed to land on bushes with these snails on.

Rufous bush robin having moved

Finally a reminder that there are always other species seen on my trips.

two mating butterflies

After finishing at the Ayn (spring), I walked down into some drier scrubby area with less bushes and trees.  This turned out to be a good decision because I saw three birds for the first time in Oman including a lifer. I will blog about this next.