Monday, 30 March 2015

West of Hatbit

Hatbit is a village just over the mountains north of Salalah. It is the first village on the dry, inland side and 20 kilometres before you reach Thumrait on the main road towards Muscat.

I birded the road west out of Hatbit on Saturday morning. It cuts across three wadis which each have scattered trees and bushes. The road finishes after about 12 kilometres at an even smaller village.

I had very little idea what to expect though I had hoped for Arabian babbler which sadly didn't happen.

In the second wadi I went for a walk partly because it was too difficult to drive.

I came across a very small paddock with rickety wooden surrounds made of odd pieces of scrap. Inside were a cluster of four acacia trees. This small area provided the majority of my birding.

sand partridge

As I approached the paddock I was surprised to see a male sand partridge sitting on the fence.

sand partridge sitting on a fence

It didn't see though it finally jumped off. I am pretty sure it didn't see me because when I went round the corner to look, two sand partridge were in the shade under a bush. A scared sand partridge would have left the area quickly.


two sand partridge in the shade

This time I did get too close. Not only did these two run away but six more than I hadn't seen followed quickly behind them.

After this I returned my view to the trees in the paddock. I could see there was plenty of bird activity and I could hear sylvia warblers.

blackstart

Initially all I could see well were a couple of blackstart and a lone white spectacled bulbul.

white spectacled bulbul

Eventually I got a grip on the warblers. There were no less than four desert whitethroat darting between these trees and near-by trees outside the paddock.

desert whitethroat 1

Its always difficult separating desert whitethroat from lesser whitethoat. This is made even more difficult with the recent realisation that the desert whitethroat found in Arabia are mostly probably halimodendri not minula. Nevertheless my birds were just about sufficiently washed-out looking for me to support that it was one of these two sub species and so ''desert'' whitethroat. 

desert whitethroat 2

Desert whitethroat would be wintering birds but lesser whitethroat in this type of habitat could only be on passage. Having said that one of the birds had a darker ear-covert than the others so there could have been a mixed group.

desert whitethroat 3

While all this was going on I spotted an eagle flying past in the distance. It did't seem intent on stopping and kept flying in a north east direction after a couple of circles.

steppe eagle

The very long yellow gape is one obvious feature of a steppe eagle though everything else fits too. There aren't many left down here now.

two desert lark

Birding further along the road was nowhere near as good though i found two desert lark at the edge of the final village. A close look at all the collared doves in the village failed once again to reveal any African collared dove.

another desert lark

On the way back from Hatbit towards Salalah is Qairoon Hariti. It is at the very top of the mountain. I regularly stop there.

fan-tailed raven at Qairoon Hariti

The stop was brief but long enough to get a good photo of a fan-tailed raven.

Arabian partridge

An Arabian partridge was on display, sitting on a wall and allowing close approach. It was the second type of partridge in one day to give me good views. I can't recall this happening before.



Sunday, 29 March 2015

West of Mughsail

If you take the only road west out of Mughsayl and drive 9 kilometres there is a wadi at the bottom of a steep and twisty decent that the road takes. I can't find the wadi's name. 

I walked along it on Friday to bird watch speculatively. A car can't drive through.

male Arabian wheatear

The first birds I saw were two sand partridge but unfortunately I didn't have a chance to photograph them.

I soon came upon two Arabian wheatear sitting together on a rock. One was male and the other was female.

female Arabian wheatear

There were several white spectacled bulbul in the bushes.

white spectacled bulbul

Across the wadi about 30 metres way from me was a small cluster of trees. I starting walking towards them over the rocky terrain. On top of one of the trees were two Arabian golden winged grosbeck. They moved off just as I had identified them but it was quite a shock.

Having said that, I had previously seen reports of this bird in the Mughsail area at this time of year. Nobody really knows where they go in winter. A few clearly stay in the Ayn Hamran area as they are sometimes observed. However numbers seen there and at Wadi Hanna are far higher from April onward. Some people have speculated that they migrate away. This observation is another piece in the jigsaw.

another Arabian wheatear

To add to the good feeling about this wadi, a Verreaux's eagle flew over the northern slope. It's a very steep side and the eagle was flying at the very top. It was sometimes below the skyline and sometimes above.

Verreaux's eagle flying along the mountain side

This was exactly the same behaviour as I had previously seen at Jebel Samhan. The main difference is that the viewing there is from the top of the mountain. The views at this wadi were straight up.

Verreaux's eagle in the air

Birders often find that once they have found a difficult bird once then they see it easily form then on. This certainly seems to be the case with me and Verreaux's eagle.

shining sunbird

As I walked further up the wadi it narrowed and the birds became less frequent. Striolated bunting and shining sunbird dominated.

the wadi narrows

This wadi is worth a look at night. It looks ideal for desert tawny owl and is close to a known site for this species.

dark morph steppe buzzard

As I walked back down the wadi, I noticed one final bird high in the sky to the south. It was a steppe buzzard.

On the way back to Salalah, I stopped off at Mughsail again. However this time I didn't visit the khawr but the beach and coast.

five types of gull and tern

The beach held over 60 sooty gull but among them were a few other species. I managed to fit them all in one picture. There were 15 or so Hueglin's gull and the same number of lesser crested tern. I counted four greater crested tern and a single sandwich tern too. 

socotra cormorant

Directly off-shore from the gulls was a group of eleven socotra cormorant swimming in shallow water about 20 metres out.


three socotra cormorant

This afforded me my best views of this bird since I arrived in Oman. It was a pleasant end to a good session of birding.

Saturday, 28 March 2015

Uncommon birds at Mughsail

Having had an unsuccessful time birding for the spring passage in likely places, on Friday I chose to change my plan. Instead, I decided to do some general and less focussed birding in a location I hadn't been to for a while. I chose Mughsail.

It turned out to be a very good choice. I started out by visiting the main pool and sitting down in the hide.

On the way all the moorhen and other water birds scattered and a wigeon disappeared into the reeds not to be seen again.

One of the few birds left unperturbed was a great egret.

great egret

The next bird activity was a flock of rock pigeon which flew straight past the hide and landed on rocks a few metres way.

rock pigeon

Slowly the water birds returned as I remained forgotten in the hide. First back were two little grebe.

little grebe

One by one the moorhen returned.

moorhen

Then it suddenly got interesting. The lesser whistling duck swam into view. I last saw this vagrant in the second and smaller pool about 10 weeks ago.

lesser whistling duck

It didn't hide. Clearly it is now more confident in its surroundings.


lesser whistling duck standing upright

It remained in view for over ten minutes.

lesser whistling duck walking

The characteristic chestnut rump was easily seen.

lesser whistling duck walking off

While the lesser whistling duck was still in the open, a common kingfisher darted on to the scene on to some reeds barely 5 metres to the right of the duck.

common kingfisher 1

This was totally unexpected and a reward for speculative birding. Common kingfisher is very uncommon in southern Oman. It is right on the edge of its normal wintering range. I don't expect it to stay long.

common kingfisher 2

This bird is a female as told by the extensive red on its lower mandible.

It became bird number 262 on my Oman country list.

coot

Other returning birds included a solitary coot.

Tristram's starling

After this success I headed towards the second pool passing several Tristram's starling on the way to the car.

kestrel near the second pool

The second pool was quiet except for several moorhen and a greenshank. A common kestrel was also near-by. This pool has given me several successes in the past but it was not to be this time.

On the way out of the khawr, I came across black-crowned sparrow lark drinking. I don't think I have seen them at the site before.

black-crowned sparrow lark

My next stop was a wadi 9 kilometres further west of Mughsail. The birding was very interesting. I will blog about that next.

Friday, 27 March 2015

Drinking and singing

On Tuesday and Wednesday I went out birding in the late afternoon to Ayn Hamran and on Wednesday I also finished off at Sawnout farm which is on the way home. I still had intentions then to look out particularly for any March passerine passage.

Well I can tell you what I had suspected for some while, there is hardly any such thing. In the autumn I saw at least 60 rufous bush robin and they lingered too. So far I have seen 3 in spring and that's my best passerine (equal with common redstart) in the Salalah area excluding yellow wagtail. Of course further north in the desert farms I got two wheatears but things have been thin even there too so far. 

In Salalah, there has not been a single bee-eater yet of either blue-cheeked or European variety.

In the autumn birds meander and Salalah is green and worth the diversion. However in spring they move directly and Salalah is not on a direct route for many.

Odd birds such as Amur falcon and pied cuckoo come this way but they aren't heading to the western palearctic or even Iran.

So at Ayn Hamran, having looked so hard again in bushes and trees, I resorted to watching a watering place to see good birds.

One good bird was striolated bunting which likes rocky slopes. However it does come down to drink.

striolated bunting

I find it is best separated from cinnamon-breasted bunting by the colour of its wings which are deep rufous.

striolated bunting facing me

Cinnamon-breasted bunting were also drinking to ease the comparison.

cinnamon-breasted bunting

Indeed the spot I chose saw many species visiting to drink. Any stray warbler could be picked up.

Abyssinian white-eye (with cinnamon-breasted bunting)

I had to make do with Abyssinian white eye.

Namaqua dove

The rarest of the four locally breeding doves is Namaqua dove. Three visited the stream while I was watching.

White spectacled bulbul

The much more common white spectacled bulbul and laughing dove also made appearances.

laughing dove

Ruepell's weaver are busily making or visiting nests depending on gender. It must be thirsty work.

Ruepell's weaver (left)

Still without moving from the same spot, a common sandpiper joined in.

common sandpiper

Other birds seen near-by were common greenshank and two common snipe.

common greenshank

On Wednesday, I also stopped off at Sawnout farm. I need to check there regularly so as not to miss any Amur falcon passing through. This is a well-known place for them. There is also a small chance of passage ortolan bunting which from my experience in Saudi Arabia likes farms. It's still early for either.

I did get lucky with one bird. A very confiding singing busk lark was on the perimeter fence on the west side. It allowed excellent views.


singing busk lark 1

Singing bush lark were numerous at both Sawnout farm and Jarziz farm over the winter. They still are. 

singing bush lark

Though they are very noisy they can be difficult to see except when they launch into their aerial display.

singing bush lark 3

Seeing one so close and on a fence was a real treat.

singing bush lark

Other notable observations at the farm were that the wintering birds of prey are thinning out. I saw just one marsh harrier and a lingering greater spotted eagle.

marsh harrier at Sawnout farm

I will continue to monitor the passage. Who knows? It may be strong in April. In the meantime I went to the Mughsail area today without the focus any focus on passage. I don't know weather it was the more relaxed approach but I did add to my Oman list and the birding was very satisfying indeed. My next two blogs will cover this.