Tuesday, 1 December 2015

Oman: Dhofar 2

Our first full day in Dhofar and what a day. We headed west to Al Mughsayl at first light. Travelling wasn't difficult in such beautiful coastal scenery:

A look at the sea produced little evidence of seabird movement, apart from a few Socotra Cormorants passing by, but the local Tristram's Grackles provided some distraction:

The coastal pools held Curlew and Wood Sandpipers and attracted this Greater Flamingo, a species that somehow looks even more spectacular in flight than on the ground:

We then took the Pujero up into Wadi Hashir, using the 4-wheel drive for the first time. On the higher ground were Isabelline Wheaters, Striolated Buntings, Blackstarts and Long-billed Pipits. Trees in the wadi itself held Yellow-vented Bulbuls and secretive Whitethroats, probably of one of the eastern forms but we never got a decent look to confirm this. We eventually found South Arabian Wheatear at the end of the wadi. It was hot here, by 10am it was 34° in the shade, much hotter in the sun. 

Frankincense trees grow wild on the sides of the wadi. The incense comes from burning dried "tears" of Frankincense sap that is tapped from the main trunk. The trees only grow in southern Oman, Yemen and Ethiopia and are globally threatened due to the over-extraction of sap. At the time of Jesus's birth Frankincense was more valuable then gold. The wise man with the precious metal was the poor man of the three. A Frankincense tree in Wadi Hashir:

European Rollers were common migrants here. Unlike northern Oman where Indian Rollers were abundant, in the south we only came across "European" birds:

Our next stop was Raysut tip and water-settling plant. A contrast from the beautiful scenery of the coast, but the food and water here concentrate thousands of birds from the area. We located the tip from the huge cloud of eagles that was circling above it. We tried to get in but written permission was needed in advance. Despite asking, smiling, questioning and even bribery, the security guards at the gate would not let us in. I never imagined that I would one day find myself offering a bribe to enter a rubbish tip. Never say never.
As it happened failing to gain entry was not a problem, there were eagles everywhere. A drive around the fence perimeter gave us great views of some of the hundreds of Steppe Eagles that were present:

Next door to Raysut tip is a water-settling plant. Before going in we saw a few eagles perched up in trees alongside a track next to the water plant. We drove slowly along the track and our attention was drawn to a large pale eagle, clearly no Steppe Eagle. It was a juvenile Eastern Imperial Eagle and obviously did not associate cars with humans. From our vehicle we were allowed a fabulous close approach and we experienced incredible views:

Eventually it did take flight, allowing us to take in the underwing... 
.. and upperwing. A majestic eagle. 

Obtaining entry to the water plant could not contrast more strongly with the tip. A smiling security guard showed us where to park, we filled in a an entry form and began exploring the balancing ponds on foot:

There were birds everywhere! At edges of the ponds were Common, Green and Marsh Sandpipers. Black-winged Stilt were common:

Small flocks of Ringed Plovers gathered at the overflow at the back of the ponds. This was a great area for wagtails. There was a cracking male Black-headed Wagtail:
And lots of adult and juvenile Citrine Wagtails:

In contrast to the Indian Silverbills in the north, in southern Oman the Silverbills were African Silverbills, with dark not white rumps:

On the far ponds were some 400 Abdim's Storks, the African version of Black Stork:

A half a dozen White-winged Terns were feeding above the water:

Three juvenile and one adult winter White-winged Terns:

A composite image of a single juvenile White-winged Tern dip feeding:

Early afternoon found us exploring Wadi Darbat, in the mountains to the east of Salalah:

Shining Sunbirds called from the scattered trees, we quickly notched up half a dozen Hoopoes, a couple of European Rollers, 5 Blackstarts, a few Desert Wheatears and small flocks of noisy Tristram's Grackles. A harsh, insistent call from a nearby tree attracted our attention. Initially hidden, we could see a female Rüppell's weaver dropping down to feed another bird. Then the larger bird moved and revealed itself - a male Dideric Cuckoo! 

This was a good find. These tiny Cuckoos are smaller than a Starling and are nomads, following the rains out of Africa, their range just about extending to Dhofar. They usually depart in early November, back to Africa. Juveniles are rufous brown, so we were puzzled as to why an adult male Cuckoo would be being fed so late in the autumn. Perhaps it was just after an easy meal? The Cuckoo then flew to another tree, perching briefly, as if to show off his finery:

We then stumbled across this wadi-side fruiting fig tree that was stuffed full of birds:

A lone Bruce's Green Pigeon (great name, but who was Bruce?) initially attracted my attention. This beautiful bird was feeding secretively high up in the branches, was perfectly camouflaged and kept itself hidden most of the time. Only on a couple of occasions did we see most of the bird:

A Pale Crag Martin zipped around overhead, a Steppe Eagle drifted down the wadi. The tree also held our first Abyssinian White-eyes and African Paradise Flycatchers. The names say it all, we felt African, rather than Arabian, influences. Next a Rufous Bush Chat hopped out:

Followed by a pair of Cinnamon-breasted Buntings that came down to drink. 
The males were very smart:

Finally out crept a Whitethroat, perfectly blending in with the floor of the wadi:

Continuing the African theme, Richard picked out this Desert Locust:

In fact we liked Wadi Darbat so much we returned there after dark, where at least 3 Arabian Scops Owls were calling. A wonderful day drew to close. Little did we know that tomorrow would be even better... 


  1. Tom, thanks for writing up your visit so well, these reports have all been fascinating. Having flown over Oman many times it looks lifeless and then you get the odd glint of a reflection off a vehicle and you know there are people down there somewhere.

    Simon (@simonsbirds)

    1. Thank you Simon. The more you look, the more there is to Oman. Glad you found the trip reports interesting :-)