Saturday, 18 April 2015

East Salalah in mid April

East Khawr as birders call it or Khawr Dahariz as the locals call it and Sawnout farm are both on the eastern edge of the city. Indeed they are only 1 kilometre away from each other at their nearest points.

Some birds can be conspicuously commuting between the two places. These are notably glossy ibis and cattle egret but other birds move between them.

The weather is so hot now I can only visit low land places early in the morning or late afternoon.

Yesterday I visited them both before 8.30 am.

I started with Khawr Dahariz.

terek sandpiper

A few species waders I hadn't seen all winter were present. These included two terek sandpiper.

greater white fronted goose

There was also a single late greater white fronted goose.

ruddy turnstone

I commented on ruddy turnstone passage last weekend. The numbers turning up Khawr Dahariz have increased from the one seen last week to seven. Some are shown above.

close up of two ruddy turnstone

Curlew sandpiper is another bird that has been rare all winter but is now turning up more frequently.

two curlew sandpiper

They are showing the whole array of plumages from pure winter to almost full breeding.

four curlew sandpiper

Friday morning is by far the best morning of the week to go to Khawr Dahariz to avoid disturbance.

three types of heron

The variety of water birds at the sand bar end of the Khawr is usually greater because of this. For example there were four types of heron family member there: grey heron, squacco heron, western reef heron (both morphs) and an intermediate egret.

steppe gull 1

An odd bird to see was an adult steppe gull. Virtually all large white headed gulls left at least 10 days ago. The coast now has only resident sooty gull. Then suddenly I see an adult steppe gull at the khawr. It looks healthy too so I can't understand why it is still here.

steppe gull 2

Other water birds near the sand bar were black-winged stilt, kentish plover, greenshank, redshank and black-tailed godwit. Most of these are now showing varying degrees of breeding plumage.

black tailed godwit

As I mentioned before, glossy ibis commuted between Sawnaut farm and Khawr Dahariz. On a little before I left for the farm, a large number of glossy ibis arrived at the Khawr from the direction of the farm.

glossy ibis

Before I left I headed towards the deeper part of the Khawr where the adult flamingo are fond. As I walked towards them I flushed the first yellow bittern I had seen since the autumn. They must be back or at least one of them is.

flamingo

After seeing the flamingo I headed off to Sawnaut farm which takes 5 minutes to get to.


singing bush lark

 The singing bush lark are particularly noisy early in the day. There is always some sort of bird of prey activity. This time it was just kestrel and a pallid harrier. The hundreds of collared dove were already scattered around the fields. However one sight which seems particular to early and mid April is the large numbers of hirundines and swifts flying over.

Once again there were swifts flying high and on the move. This time they were most pallid swift but included at least one little swift. It was noticeably smaller than the others and when it banked I could see the white rump. This was species 270 on my Oman list.

I am beginning to wonder if I turned up at dawn whether these swifts would be feeding lower on the fields. I have now seen 4 species of swift over the farm and I don't think it is coincidence I have only seen them there this spring.


sand martin and barn swallow

It was not just swifts. Among the hirundines yesterday morning there were actually more sand martin than barn swallow.

sand martin 1

I believe this farm is an important feeding place for some easterly hirundines on migration.

sand martin 2

As they rested on the wires, occasionally another bird would join them. These have included crested lark and shining sunbird.

shining sunbird

Even at 8.30 am it was getting warm. I went up into the hills to prolong my birding day. Coastal birding at this time of year is draining. I will blog about the hills next.

Friday, 17 April 2015

Red-rumped swallow at Raysut

Last afternoon towards evening I went to Raysut settling pools. This has become a bit of a habit over the past three weeks.

This time I was joined by work colleague and friend Michael Immel.

He was present when early on on Thursday's visit we came across a small group of swallows. They were hawking for insects over two of the back settling pools but also perching for rest from time to time. What was special is that one of them was a red-rumped swallow.

red-rumped swallow

The red-rumped swallow was the first I have seen in Oman and makes species number 269 on my country list.

red-rumped swallow 2

Dhofar is an the eastern edge of their migration route in spring and numbers can't be very high. 

swallows

Barn swallow numbers on the other hand are high and a few winter here too.

barn swallow

Another obvious migrant at the pools was rufous bush robin We saw at least three and each time the bird was shy flying into bushes at the first sign of trouble.

rufous bush robin

There is definitely a peak in the numbers of red-tailed shrike at the moment too. At the pools were one of both Daurian shrike and Turkestan shrike.

Turkestan shrike

Even though the spring passerine passage is relatively weak in southern Dhofar, it has some small strength at this moment since this is peak season. 

wood sandpiper and Temminck's stint

However the waders were reduced from last week but the quality was good. There were several wood sandpiper and Temminck's stint. A red-wattled lapwing and the vagrant spur-winged lapwing which had been here most of the winter were seen again. They were together. Black winged stilt and little stint were the main other waders.

flamingo and black winged stilt

The group of flamingo had split in two but was otherwise the same as last week.

western reef heron

Grey heron and western reef heron were present along with one squacco heron and an Indian pond heron.

little grebe

The four little grebe were also still present in exactly the same settling pool as before.

whiskered tern 1 (by Michael Immel)

There has been one whiskered tern reported here for months.  I don't know whether it has always been the same bird. Either way, one was present yesterday and it was in full summer plumage. 

whiskered tern 2 (by Michael Immel)

Michael got better images than me and has kindly allowed me to show two of them.

whiskered tern 3

The bird now was a neat black cap, bright red legs and bill as well as a grey belly and upper parts. It can be no other bird.

whiskered tern 4

I left the settling pools very well satisfied and as has been my habit for the past three weeks, we briefly popped into the water treatment lake before it got too dark.

another Turkestan shrike

The two highlights there were another Indian pond heron and a very brown looking Turkesten shrike. This last bird required some work to identify because it was not at all confiding and the colours were very rich. Nevertheless the small white primary patch was one feature that finally convinced me it was the more common of the two birds, Turkestan shrike rather than brown shrike.

Today, I am going out early and will hope the heat doesn't stop me too soon. I will blog about what I see.

Thursday, 16 April 2015

The long way to Khawr Rori

On Saturday I started early morning to head to Khawr Rori. I took a long way round partly because Khawr Rori is closed to the public until 9 am.

I went up to Wadi Darbet and then further up to Wadi Hanna before descending the mountains down to the Khawr.

Both Wadi Darbet and Wadi Hanna have plenty of migrants in autumn so it was worth a look in spring though as I have said before, the passerine passage is weaker this season than in autumn.

As I had suspected I failed to see any noticeable passage at Wadi Darbet although there was the odd yellow wagtail.

I had just entered the car to leave after about 45 minutes search when I caught a view of a short-toed eagle in the corner of my eye. 


short-toed eagle 1

I rushed out of the car to get a better view. The bird is clearly a pale morph with a nearly white head and pale upper breast.


short toed eagle 2

I don't know heather it is the same bird I have seen before a few kilometres away near Tawi Atair with similar markings.

short toed eagle 3

Those sightings were over two months ago. Either way, short toed eagle is not down as a local breeder here according to the regional guide. If it or others are seen much longer I will begin to doubt the accuracy of this view.

After this event, I moved on to Wadi Hanna it was still early enough for no picnickers to be about. However this did not improve my chances of seeing any migrants apart from rufous bush robin.

rufous bush robin

Some of the local birds provided interest though. A screaming black-crowned tchagra made so much noise it directed me straight to it. It was unusually high in a tree and in front of the sun nevertheless I had prolonged views. 

It flew off better than I had expected. They can fly reasonably well after all though I don't know how much energy it had to use up with its very short wings.

black-crowned tchagra

A handsome male African paradise flycatcher was another bird to catch my eye.

African paradise flycatcher from behind

The light blue speckles on the back crown was a feature I hadn't noticed in a breeding male before.

African paradise flycatcher

The long tail is so difficult to manage that the bird twisted its hand to look at me rather than its whole body.

African paradise flycatcher looking back

After Wadi Hanna I went directly down the mountain. This takes you down to the coast road, east of Khawr Rori so I starting driving back in the direction of Salalah towards the khawr.

blue headed agama

I spotted a small cove off the main road and managed to get down to it. There was a nice blue-headed agama on the small road down to the cove.

crab on the beach

There were a whole array of either crab or fish traps out to sea from the cove. each trap had a makeshift buoy typically made up of a plastic petrol container or similar. My idea was to watch the buoys which stretched out to sea to look for any seabird to land and rest.  I am afraid this time the idea failed. After about half an hour I had only seen one sooty gull land on a far buoy. My hope was for a brown noddy or masked booby to do so. Both these are still target birds for my Oman list.

My next stop was to finally reach Khawr Rori although it was till before 10.30 in the morning.

It had changed a lot since my last visit. The wader population was less than a quarter what I have been seeing during the winter. Strangely a large number of slender-billed gull have turned up. I doubt if these presumably second calendar year birds will over-summer because I didn't see any in the area when I fist arrived in Salalah in early September last year.

slender-billed gull, Caspian tern and great black headed gull

Caspian tern was not a surprising bird to see there but two great black-headed gull were.

great black headed gull with Caspian tern

I believe these are also second calender year (i.e under one year old) birds. The bill is still pink though the legs are acquiring a yellow colour which is often rapid in this species. The mantle has no black specks on one of the birds but the second one still had hints of this first winter feature. 

Either way I was surprised they were still down this far south.

great black headed gull with slender-billed gull

Only one duck was seen at all. This was a great change from winter. It was a female-type teal.

teal

I walked round the edge of the archaeological site this time in a northerly direction. I couldn't get to the far western side of the lagoon because of development works. In this area too there were few waders except the odd black-tailed godwit. I saw no pheasant-tailed jacana for the first time since early November.

adult moorhen

It looks like some of the moorhen have already bred.

young moorhen

Khawr Rori is arguably the best place in Dhofar to guarantee seeing European spoonbill for much of the year except mid-summer.

European spoonbill

While juvenile flamingo prefer less deep water,  Khawr Rori is more population with adult and sub-adult birds having the deepest fresh water in the region.

flamingo

I really don't understand why I see so few purple heron in Dhofar but one was present on Saturday.

purple heron

There was a small flock of cattle egret living up to its name.

cattle egret


I didn't get a chance to go birding mid-week this week as work has been hectic. I hope to go out to today. I will blog what I see.