Sunday, 14 February 2016

Coastal Raysut

Last Thursday afternoon, I visited Raysut again but not the most regular parts.  There are five or six distinct places to go to there all with a different cross section of birds.

This time I toured the fishing harbour and the rocky beach next to it.

I was still on the look at for a common gull which had been reported 10 days before but only seen by one observer.

The large majority of birds in the harbour were Heuglin's gull, Sooty gull and slender-billed gull.

Unfortunately for me there was once again no sign of a common gull.

First Pallas's gull

Nevertheless there were two Pallas's gull. I used to see this gull on passage in eastern province of Saudi Arabia. It is apparently quite common in northern Oman in winter.

Second Pallas's gull

Only a few make it down to Dhofar and that tends to be only in mid-December through to mid-February.

black-headed gull

Another minority gull in the harbour was black-headed gull in stark contrast to the numbers at the settling pools inland.

Terek sandpiper

One Terek sandpiper was also in the harbour and three more were seen on the rocky beach.

Terek sandpiper on the move

Whimbrel are regular here except in summer.

whimbrel


It's good place to have a chance of seeing a striated heron too.

striated heron

Furthermore, it by far the best place to see oystercatcher. There are so few other coasts with the right habitat in Dhofar.

oystercatcher

In winter there are usually a variety of terns. In contrast in summer there usually only resident great crested tern and over-summering sandwich tern.

Caspian tern

Caspian tern and gull-billed tern were also present this time.

On Friday I took a long day trip to Mazyunah with visiting birder Markus Craig. Mazyunah is on the border with Yemen and in the desert. It was my second trip there. I will blog about this next.

Thursday, 11 February 2016

Arabian golden-winged grosbeak at Wadi Kheesh

Wadi Kheesh is off the beaten track mid-way between the much better known and more frequently visited Ayn Razat and Ayn Hamran.

These other two places were the only places I had seen Arabian golden-winged grosbeak before yesterday though I knew that Ayn Tebrak is also recommended for it. I had only seen single birds before too.

Although I pride myself in knowing all the sites in the Salalah area, I have visiting birder Markus Craig to thank for this one. He had researched that this site was good for grosbecks.

So yesterday afternoon I went there. 

It managed to exceed my expectations.

Arabian golden-winged grosbeak resting 1

Most activity was near a dripping water holder which also created a stream. Birds were coming to drink and to bathe on top of the tank and in the stream.

The first of six grosbeaks I saw was resting in a bush next to the tank.

Arabian golden-winged grosbeak resting 2

This bird excelled itself my giving me views from all angles as it moved round.

Arabian golden-winged grosbeak resting 3

The grosbeaks were mostly coming to drink at the top of the concrete tank.

drinking Arabian golden-winged grosbeak

 There weren't alone. Their most frequent company was white spectacled bulbul.

grosbeak and bulbuls drinking

I stayed at the site for around 90 minutes. There were times when no birds were around. They came in waves and the waves were mixed species.

Arabian golden-winged grosbeak drinking from the stream

 Much less frequently the grosbeaks drank from the stream.

When one wave of birds left, I managed to see where one of the grosbeaks had flown. It went to the top of a tree about 30 metres away and was calling. 

Arabian golden-winged grosbeak at a tree top 1

The most grosbeaks I saw at any one moment was three but I believe there were roughly twice as many taking part in the action.

Arabian golden-winged grosbeak at a tree top 2

Cinnamon-breasted bunting had a distinct preference for drinking from the stream.

cinnamon-breasted bunting

Several blackstart and a black-crowned tchagra were near-by but I didn't see either drink.

black-crowned tchagra

An African paradise flycatcher never landed to drink but would fly to the water and drink on the wing, repetitively.

African paradise flycatcher

 Abyssinian white-eye drank both from the stream and the top of tank.

Abyssinian white-eye

Ruepell's weaver seemed to be bathing as much as drinking.

Ruepell's weaver

Wadi Kheesh was a real find. I think it could be good during the spring passage with migrants coming out into the open to drink. I will certainly visit then to see.

Tuesday, 9 February 2016

Mid winter desert visit

Roughly once a month I travel north into the desert usually using Ghaftain rest house as my base. Mid winter is generally not as exciting as the passage seasons but there can be good birds.

Arguably my best stop was at Dowkah farm where a single sociable lapwing significantly improved the overall visit.

sociable lapwing

There are regular in large numbers in the two city farms in Salalah in winter but can be very mobile. Seeing them is hit or miss.Since I haven't looked there much recently, ironically this was my first sighting of this species this winter.

Rather strangely it was one particular field at Dowkah which held most of the birds. Others were relatively deserted.

brown-necked raven

In one corner several brown-necked raven were grazing.

house sparrow

Very large numbers of house sparrow were hopping on and off the main pivot bar.

kestrel

Round the edge of the field a thin section of about three metres width had been ploughed up.

Here about 30 or so spotted sandgrouse were feeding. Four times that number of European collared dove inside the field too.

Two kestrel were waiting on the edge.

spotted sandgrouse

The sandgrouse were very flighty as usual.

The woods held virtually nothing in stark contrast to the passage seasons. However the large water tank near-by held some interesting birds.

two dark morph western reef heron

I was shocked to see three western reef heron alongside eight cattle egret.

a pale morph western reef heron

I can't recall ever seeing a reef heron more than 10 kilometres inland before nevermind 160 kilometres and in the desert.

western reef heron (l) with cattle egret (r)

The main regional guide says they are seen inland rarely so it can't be an unknown phenomenon.

hunched up western reef heron

They spent most of their time hunched up looking lie they were trying to imitate the cattle egret.

Ghaftain where I was staying was similarly light on birds but there was some interest. 

white wagtail in breeding plumage

The sole white wagtail was in a male in smart breeding plumage.

white wagtail 2

Two desert wheatear have been there all winter. If they are the same ones they have done well to avoid the cats which plague here (and are much worse at Qatbeet).

desert wheatear

A black redstart was present both mornings. From side-on I struggled to tell whether it was a black redstart or a common redstart.

black redstart

Getting more frontal views it is more obvious the bird was one of the eastern black redstarts. The black extends well below the throat. The first wave of common redstart should start coming through relatively soon though.

black redstart 2

The only other migrants at Ghaftain were chiffchaff. A water channel is switched on at around 7.30 am in the morning at the moment. Some chiffchaff are the first birds to visit despite the chilly temperatures.

chiffchaff at the water channel

They spend time flying between the water and a near-by pair of trees when they feel threatened.

chiffchaff in tree

I usually see a pair of brown-necked raven on the site whenever I visit.

brown-necked raven at Ghaftain

The other main desert stops off the main road from Ghaftain to Thumrait were all visited with varying degrees of success.

Muntasar's new water body

At Muntasar the local bedouins have diverted the water in the past couple of days and the reed beds are dying.The camels are enjoying the feed. However on the plus side a new wetland will develop and reeds will regrow in the new place. It could just be that the reed height will be ideal (as opposed to choking) when the main passage comes through.

Qatbeet was a mixed result. The cat population here is a real nuisance and yet it still often has good birds even outside the passage. There is at least one Hume's warbler which I saw and others have reported up to two all winter. 


Eastern orphean warbler

An eastern orphean warbler was a good find.

"modified" collared dove

I spent too long observing a strange looking dove. It was only when I got back and studied the pictures that I realised that it was not a different species but some sort of modification of a Eurasian collared dove. It appears to have been dyed a deeper red-brown on the head and underparts. It's bill looks more like a pigeon (columbidae). However when I looked closely there appears to be stitches near the bill.

modified collared dove 2

I popped into Al Beed farm too. I looked for the common hawk cuckoo I had seen a few weeks before. I did not find it though a sparrowhawk was present which has some similarities.

female black-crowned sparrow lark at Al Beed farm

Sadly I found a pile of feathers in the orchard where I had seen the cuckoo. One feather certainly looked like a cuckoo's tail feather. I saw only one cat at the farm but it was in the orchard. The other suspects must be birds of prey.

kestrel at Al Beed

The birds of prey near-by were six kestrel and a sparrowhawk.

This was the saddest part of the trip. 

I am back in Salalah now and will report anything seen during the week.



Monday, 8 February 2016

Around Tawi Atair

Last Tuesday afternoon, I went up the mountains near Tawi Atair. The birding was thin. I believe this was because many passerines move down in mid-winter even though the Dhofar mountains are among the mildest highlands in Arabia.

One of the best sightings was towards the end of my visit when a short-toed eagle was perched on a wire right next to the road. Without this sighting I would have been disappointed with the session.

short-toed eagle

I find a lot of variation in colour of this species. For example I have seen ones with heads which are almost white, buff-brown or pale grey-blue (like this one).

first photo of the short-toed eagle

I drove past it but doubled back and luckily it wasn't fazed.

blackstart

Earlier at Wadi Hanna on the far side of Tawi Atair I struggled to see any birds at all bar the fan-tailed raven which always patrol the skies.

blackstart 2

Blackstart was the only passerine seen in any numbers. Not a single Ruepell's weaver or Abyssinian white-eye was present. A desert wheatear was however observed.

African paradise flycatcher 1

I was just giving up on Wadi Hanna when an African paradise flycatcher appeared.

African paradise flycatcher 2

What had attracted it was a camel.

Camel on the right

It kept buzzing round the camel which completely ignored its presence. Obviously the flycatcher associates camels with a high fly and therefore food density.

kestrel at Wadi Darbet

It was getting towards dusk so I had very little time at Wadi Darbet on the way down. I was upset to see that the water has almost disappeared from the "permanent" river. This is a result of a poor monsoon season last summer which in turn was a consequence of the el Nino. Hopefully the el Nino will reverse in time for next summer. It is still in place at the moment.

Even at Wadi Darbet passerines were in short supply not helped by the lack of a water course. My best bird was a black-crowned night heron which I flushed walking back to the car.

Over the weekend I made my monthly desert trip. The birding was little better out there. I will blog about that next.