Sunday, 1 February 2015

Late winter at Raysut settling pools

Just as I used to find in Riyadh, there is a period of about a month in late winter when bird life is fairly settled with few arrivals and departures in any particular place. The spring passage then starts.

Although I hadn't visited the Raysut settling pools for about 3 weeks, little had changed although I had better views of some birds. These included four steppe eagle which allowed close approach.

first steppe eagle

They were all sitting out inside the settling pool fences.

second steppe eagle takes off

Steppe eagle is by far the most common eagle in the area in winter.

second steppe eagle in the air

The Abdim's stork were still present.

An Abdim's stork

A very large number of them were taking an interest in the dried fertiliser that comes out of the settling pools. It was being moved and both Abdim's stork and cattle egret had arrived to inspect the displaced grubs.

Abdim's stork

Three greater white fronted goose were also still present. Nearly all geese that make it to southern Oman are first winter and most are now showing more adult markings.

two greater white fronted goose

Red-wattled lapwing and a single spur-winged lapwing have also not moved on since my last visit.

two red-wattled lapwing

I always check the hirundines at the settling pools. The big majority are barn swallow. Occasionally there is the odd sand martin but I have yet to find a red-rumped swallow there or elsewhere in Dhofar.

barn swallow

At this time of year there are types of wagtail at the pools: citrine wagtail, yellow wagtail and white wagtail.

yellow wagtail

In the settling pools themselves are plenty of black-headed gull and a few ducks.


Two species surprised me by seemingly actively feeding in the (very dirty) pools. Two young flamingo ducked their heads in several times.

little grebe

A little grebe also dived under on several occasions.

Very soon the passage will start and I wonder what birds will pass through these pools then.

Saturday, 31 January 2015

After a picnic at Wadi Hanna

I visited Wadi Hanna on Wednesday afternoon. It is a wooded upland wadi for which I have high hopes of seeing new birds during the spring migration.

I din't see any hint of the migration yet although I had to make a double take of a female black redstart at one moment just to make sure it wasn't a (migrating) common redstart.

Otherwise it was a similar mix of resident and wintering birds as last time but with subtle changes.

One subtle change was the easy with which I saw red-breasted flycatcher. There were two in the relatively small area I surveyed. Both were first winter birds.

red-breasted flycatcher

One of them was much more confiding than usual. They are often tricky to monitor because they don't return to the same perch like so many other flycatchers.

second view

Very soon after observing this flycatcher I arrived at a very recently deserted picnic spot. Indeed I saw the picnickers leave. They didn't leave the place very clean and so the birds moved in in waves.

Abyssinian white-eye

First in was a flock of Abyssinian white-eye which are fairly omnivorous. They were joined by an African paradise flycatcher.

African paradise flycatcher

Things suddenly got very interesting when an Eastern Imperial Eagle swooped down low to see if any meat had been left behind.

Eastern Imperial Eagle

Almost out of nowhere around twenty fan-tailed raven appeared and started mobbing the eagle.

Fan-tailed raven

The mobbing moved off to another part of the valley and then presumably by co-incidence two more Eastern Imperial Eagle arrived near the original one. There was a lot of activity in the air between the eagles and the ravens.

Ruppell's weaver and Abyssinian white-eye

Meanwhile the Ruppell's weaver had discovered the remains of the picnic and joined the white-eyes.

I wonder if the Ruppell's weaver about to eat into a green pepper got a shock when it did so?

white spectacled bulbul

The last species I saw join the picnic before I moved on was white spectacled bulbul.

fan-tailed raven

It and the other birds were overlooked by a single fan-tailed raven which hadn't joined in the mobbing choosing instead to explore the picnic.


Early the scene had been much more peaceful except for the constant sounds of cinnamon-breasted bunting and blackstart.

Ruppell's weaver

Ruppell's weaver were still flocking. There is not much sign of spring breeding up here. Most breeding of this bird is in the Khareef season but some on the coast appear to also breed in early spring.

steppe buzzard

I started the blog noticing a subtle change. I will end with one. The number of steppe buzzard in the area has gently risen from one to four in the past six weeks. All of them have the grey-brown plumage of nominate common buzzard. What are the odds of that?

Friday, 30 January 2015

African skimmers on Taqah beach

I had visited Taqah beach twice after two skimmers were first seen there about three weeks ago.

I  knew that one of the sightings was in front of the Khawr at the west end of the beach. A later one was in front of the town in either the middle or east end.

Both times I had looked all along the beach for them but had failed to see them. The first time I went I looked at dawn. This was probably a mistake as I now know skimmers feed at dawn and dusk.

This time a UAE based birder, Andrew Ward, told me he saw them towards the far east end over the weekend while I was in Kuwait.

Tuesday afternoon was my first chance to look on my return. They were resting about 15 metres west of where Andrew had seen them. I only had to look for about 10 minutes before finding them. Compare that with the two previous searches lasting two hours each.

African skimmer

They were really tame and allowed close approach but I am pleased I didn't flush them at all though a jogger did at one stage.

African skimmer next to a great crested tern

When first discovered in early January they were initially thought to be Indian skimmer since this species is a vagrant to Oman and African skimmer has not been recorded.

rear of an African skimmer

However size comparison against near-by gulls and terns as well as the black going all down the neck has identified these two birds as African skimmer.

African skimmer on the move

At one stage they were even sleeping.

both African skimmer

They were only showing a slight preference for associating with terns. Much of the time they were separate from all other species.

great crested tern

The main birds surrounding them were a large flock of about 100 Heuglin's gull, 40 Pallas's gull and 80 sooty gull. The number of Pallas's gull is  quite large for southern Oman especially so as I only counted 12 in the same place a week before.

The few terns around were lesser crested tern, great crested tern and a single sandwich tern.

After seeing the skimmers I spent a few minutes behind the beach looking for other birds. Unusually I didn't visit the Khawr itself.

tawny pipit

The haul among the land birds was light. I observed only tawny pipit, crested lark and Tristram's starling.

tawny pipit again

This was a light end to a rewarding birding session.

Thursday, 29 January 2015

Jahra Pools

Markus Craig took me to Jahra pools in Kuwait on late Saturday afternoon. This is a fascinating artificial wetland close to the sea. It reminded me a lot of Jubail in eastern Saudi Arabia which is about 250 kilometres further south on the Persian gulf.

Both places have resident purple swamphen.

Purple swamphen

Both have a large number of herons. This time there were western reef heron, grey heron and great white egret present.

grey heron

There was a large variety of ducks present at Jahra pools. These included ferruginous duck,  gadwell, garganey, pintail, tufted duck and wigeon.

ferruginous duck

The ducks seemed more advanced with their breeding plumage than the birds down near Salalah which I normally bird. For example, all our gadwell are still in winter plumage.

gadwell (left)

We spent a little time looking in reeds at one spot for the smaller birds. We spotted bluethroat, graceful prinia and chiffchaff. Unfortunately the cetti warbler did not show. Markus told me this is a good place to see basra reed warbler for part of the year and that they may even breed there.

graceful prinia

The scrub land and coastal land adjacent to the pools also had interesting birds. Two common snipe and a jack snipe flushed in one area. Overhead two common swift flew over.

Daurian shrike

Elsewhere, on scrub land a Daurian shrike was perched. Two marsh harrier were patrolling all over.

greater spotted eagle

The last bird before sunset and the last of my trip was a greater spotted eagle.

Over the weekend I put 73 species on my brand new Kuwait list and gained 3 lifers. None of this would have been possible without the hospitality of Markus Craig and Mike Pope.