Wednesday, 27 April 2016

Strong passage at Qatbeet

I arrived at Qatbeet at around noon. It was very hot and getting hotter.

For seven months of the year to extend birding beyond 11am, there is only two strategies that work in the Middle East. The first is to find yourself at 2,500 metres or higher such as in Abha, Saudi Arabia or Jebel Akhdar, Oman.

The second is to find shade or be in an air-conditioned car next to water and watch the birds come to you. This also requires you have plenty of drinking water too.

At Qatbeet I hide myself in some shaded bushes next to a pool and waited. I waited for nearly two hours in total. I knew the light in front of was either dappled or very strong but there was no choice.

After a few minutes I heard a crashing noise in the bushes next to me. I thought a cat had appeared. However when I looked hard at where the noise had come from, I found a European nightjar had landed two metres away from me and promptly fallen asleep.

European nightjar lengthways

I moved round the bushes to get a better view. It did not move. Only then could I see it lengthways.

first view of European nightjar

When it first appeared my view was front ways on as in the picture above.

Having satisfied myself with better views I returned to my hide and continued waiting. All the time the European nightjar stayed without moving.

house sparrow

House sparrow were the most frequent visitors to water probably because there are more of them than other birds.

rufous bush robin

Rufous bush robin were once again around. This bird is extremely common on passage.

willow warbler

However it was the warblers which held most of my attention. Willow warbler was everywhere around the bushes. Eastern olivaceous warbler was nearly as numerous but tended to be higher in trees. A female blackcap was a frequent visitor to the tallest tree.

lesser whitethroat

I struggled with the light throughout while trying to take pictures. This lesser whitethroat was very close but backlighting made a picture extremely difficult.

masked shrike

Other species diverted my attention away from the warblers from time to time. One time was when a masked shrike appeared on the scene. The dappling sunlight initially obscured the view.

masked shrike

Similarly one of the spotted flycatcher on site perched near the water for a while. It was in a dark patch and caused a different type of photographic problem.

spotted flycatcher

A male and a female common redstart also evaded my camera.

male blackcap

Though the female blackcap did the same, I did manage a record shot of a male blackcap.

By 2.30pm I could take the heat no longer and I walked back towards the car. I picked up a pied wheatear and northern wheatear on the way before seeing a barred warbler right next to the car. Not all the birds had gone to drink it seems.

Even though Qatbeet has been degraded and there are too many stray cats, it can still surprise.

Tuesday, 26 April 2016

Limited passage at Dowkah

I arrived at Dowkah farm soon after 9 am on Friday and it was already too hot for comfortable birding. Nevertheless I persisted.

Warbler windfalls are unpredictable in migration and this time Dowkah missed out. I only saw one warbler at all. It was a chiffchaff in the long grass of a field.

However passage of other birds was a little better.

It is always good to look hard at the house sparrow flocks on the pivot bars on these farms. Buntings often associate with them.

Sure enough there was a single bunting among them.

female ortolan bunting

It was a female ortolan bunting. I tried very hard to make it into a young grey headed bunting (which would have been a vagrant) but failed. The bill did look more pointed than average and the culmen is not darker than the rest of the bill. The tail appeared a little long too.

ortolan bunting 2

However the throat patch is too wide and there is a yellow tinge to it. The greyness below the throat is too strong and the vent area is not pale enough either.

ortolan bunting 3

Even so, I was happy to see an ortolan bunting. They are nowhere near as common as when I birded out of Riyadh.

European roller

As at Al Beed farm there was also a single European roller.

blue-cheeked bee-eater

A dozen or so blue-cheeked bee-eater lingered at the farm to hawk for locusts. One European bee-eater was with them.

desert wheatear

Although there was no windfall of warblers, I found a windfall of wheatears instead. Wheatears were only in one small part of a single field. Five of them were desert wheatear. However there were two northern wheatear and two pied wheatear.

female northern wheatear

One of the pied wheatear was male.

male pied wheatear

While the other was female.

female pied wheatear

A small number of barn swallow were making their way through.

barn swallow

Of the larger visiting birds, the Abdim's stork was still present though looking in poor condition now. I suspect it won't last the summer.

Abdim's stork

One western reef heron and two cattle egret have not left either.

My last stop on Friday was at Qatbeet where despite the heat of midday provided the best birding of the day. I will blog about that next.

Sunday, 24 April 2016

Early morning at Al Beed farm

Last Friday was my last desert trip this spring. I have engagements the next two weekends. Furthermore it is now getting very hot to bird all day. 

With a pre-dawn start I reached Al Beed farm and birded until 9 am. It was still relatively cool then.

Unfortunately the passage was not varied even though I searched hard.

European roller

There was a European roller and a dozen or so blue-cheeked bee-eater did pass through.

Eastern olivaceous warbler 1

Although the warbler fall wasn't very varied there was a big windfall of Eastern olivaceous warbler. I counted 13 in one small area.

Eastern olivaceous warbler 2

There were also three Upcher's warbler and four willow warbler mostly in the orchard.

rufous bush robin

Once again rufous bush robin were everywhere. There were nine seen. This must be one of the commonest migrants in the country. 

European turtle dove

Al Beed is excellent for doves though I yet to see an African collared dove there. This is despite the fact that it is found only 60 kilometres away in Mudhai.

European turtle dove is easily seen except in winter.

Namaqua dove

Namaqua dove is not common but can be seen with effort at the farm too.

rosy starling

Some of the wintering rosy starling were still there. Surely it's time for them to move on.

black-crowned sparrow lark

Very young black crowned sparrow lark were littering the fields. For that species, spring is already nearly over.

After Al Beed, my next stop was Dowkah farm. I will blog about that next.

Waves of migrants at East Khawr

East Khawr (Khawr Dahariz) is a very short drive for me so it is a convenient session after work in the afternoon. I went there twice midweek last week. Taken together with sessions the week before, it is obvious that many migrants are stopping only for a day or two before carrying on. The turnover in species is plain to see.

Terns are coming and going.

little tern

Little tern are only a fraction of the terns. However in other ways they are typical. They don't breed this far south and are migrants stopping over. Separation from Saunders' tern which does breed in southern Oman is more straight forward at this time of year. The white on the top of the head elongates into a supercilium on little tern only. The legs are nearer to orange than the yellow ochre of Saunders' tern.

mostly white winged black tern

On one of the days there was a large influx of white winged black tern mostly in mid moult. The next visit there were virtually none.

whiskered tern (centre)

Whiskered tern has been present every time though they might be different individual birds. Others have included sandwich tern and gull billed tern.

greater sandplover

Most sandplover have been lesser sandplover but a few have been greater sandplover. It is much easier to recognise them when both species are together.

mostly pacific golden plover

Around 300 pacific golden plover did stay more than one day. They crowded out the main sand bar.

ruddy turnstone

In this sandy habitat I only see ruddy turnstone on passage. They can be seen all winter on the rocky shore at Raysut.

curlew sandpiper (right and centre part hidden)

Curlew sandpiper are distinctive at the moment with their red-purple fronts.

Eurasian spoonbill

I am ever vigilant with spoonbills. I alway look for a vagrant African spoonbill. However one again there were just Eurasian spoonbill present.

Elsewhere on the khawr and ironically not on the main sand bar on one of the days were a group of sanderling.

wood sandpiper

Around the margins of the khawr inland there are plenty of wood sandpiper and Temminck's stint.

Sleepy Temminck's stint

This is not necessarily a passage phenomenon as the same two species are there all winter.

In the next series of blogs, I will write about Friday's desert trip. There was more passage there too.