Alan Dalton post's birding diaries and original artwork from Sweden. Established in 2006, this now long running blog is now a complete overview of my birding experiences. As an artist I greatly enjoy sketching birds in the field and you will find a wide selection of that work here, from fieldwork to finished paintings. I am very passionate about my artwork and try to depict birds in their natural habitat, as I see them in the wild. My artwork is for sale and can be viewed at http://www.alandalton.net/
As regards to my photography, since 2008 I have used a Nikon D90 DSLR camera coupled with a Sigma 150-500mm OS lens for since March 2012 for bird photography, all previous images being digiscoped. Regarding sound recording, I have been usung a Telinga Stereo Dat Mic and parabol to record birds in the field, coupled to a Marrantz 661 digital recorder, a superb piece of kit. Interest in butterflies, dragonflies and damselflies has recently seen the accquisition of a Sigma 150mm macro lens. I hope you enjoy the blog and please feel free to leave comments or contact me at alandltn@gmail.com

Monday, November 23, 2015

Oman; 27th October; Into the Desert


Once again, as would be the norm on this trip, we were up just before dawn in order to pack up. The vehicle was now loaded with our camping and birding gear, along with plenty of water as we headed off west, then to the south through the El Hajar mountains. A six hour drive lay ahead. We had pastries and coffee close by the accommodation. The local bakery was already bustling with locals even at that early hour. Finally, before we left, we stocked up on food and made sure we had plenty of water. We then drove out of Muscat for the last time and into the El Hajar mountains.
  At 9am. we found a suitable looking Wadi and made a quick detour. We parked the car and began birding. First up was a rattling call that led to a pair of Menetries Warbler, a nice start. They were in the shrub alongside the wadi, we had good views of both birds. A little further into the wadi, Daniel and I flushed a bunting we thought looked like a Rock Bunting. It was mobile and gave blip views at first, though the call was enough to keep us interested and encouraged us up onto the escarpment. After a brief runaround, we eventually located the bird at a small water sink, where we finally got a decent views and were able to identify it as Striolated Bunting, a nice bird and a lifer! We got a few pictures and took in the features, the streaking on the breast being key. Then came Lesser Whitethroat, a few more Menetries Warbler and some White Cheeked Bulbul and Yellow Vented Bulbul. Both of these species calls were now familiar to us. Another lifer quickly followed in the form of Desert Lark, the birds moving along the rocky slopes above us, the unmistakable tail pattern giving the species away. There were not many birds here, but the quality was excellent...



Striolated Bunting. The first lifer of the day for me. The bird initially gave us the run around before we got binoculars on and saw what we needed to identify it. 




We continued birding, though the heat was stifling here and the terrian very broken underfoot. Along the slopes overhead, an African Rock Martin hawked insects. I grabbed a few shots of the bird as it fed. I've always found it amazing how quickly a new species can become the 'norm' on birding trips and here was a good example. This is a widespread hirundine here in Oman, I had seen my first only two days previously and was now giving them little more than a cursory glance to check them for other species. It was nice to take a few minutes to actually sit back and look at this bird properly, get some photo's and enjoy the spectacle. This is a large martin, quite stocky and broad winged and this was the way to see them...the backdrop was stunning.

African Rock Martin hawking insects on the mountain slopes...




 It was a short time later, whilst moving back towards the car when it happened. Daniel turned, looked up and drew my attention to the heights above our position. Rolling off the the slopes came the huge forms of six raptors, unmistakably vultures. We watched in awe and the slow dawning realization hit us that they were, in fact, all Lappet faced Vultures! Dark upper wing, huge billed head and underparts all confirmed it, we had once again nailed our target bird with ease. All three of us were ecstatic to see this magnificent bird over the mountains. The birds had soared down off the high mountains and were now kettling and gaining height rapidly. They circled upwards effortlessly before gliding off out of view over the next few minutes. It was more than we had hoped for, to see a group of six. This species is much more prevalent in the north of Oman and these mountain represented our best chance of connecting with this much wanted species, which was high on our list of wanted birds. We knew that our chances were slim in the south, thus our mood was bouyant as we made our way back to the car...

Three of six Lappet Faced Vultures coming off the mountain slopes in the El Hajar mountains in Northern Oman. It doesn't get a whole lot better than that for raptor lovers..



Begining to kettle upwards over our position in the Wadi below...


 A Lappet Faced Vulture, an immense form in the field. Note here the large head and huge bil, which was visible even at range.


We rolled onwards, only to stop a short time later when we saw what we were looking for. We nailed Hume's Wheatear with relative ease and had nice scope views of an adult male on the telegraph wires. We had further views of Striolated Bunting and Menetries Warbler at this point. Onwards through wonderful scenery to the southeast, through the mountain range. The immense vista was quite something to behold, the massive landscape really made an impression as we moved through it. It was apparent that we were leaving the highest peaks behind us after a while and the landscape gradually returned to more familiar proportions as the mountains receded in the rear view mirror.

El Hajar mountain panorama, nothing short of spectacular.

Emerging from the mountains the landscape gradually changed to arid, flat scree with patchy thorn bushes . We made a couple of quick stops for Scrub Warbler, though there was no joy here. We decided to press on. Birds were very few here indeed, occasionally an Indian Roller, Red tailed Wheatear or Daurian Shrike as we moved to the southeast...

Searching for Hume's Wheatear, eventually we had success and good scope views of a very smart adult male bird. Very dapper and an excellent life bird...


Searching a likely area for Scrub Warbler. This was not a success and this was the one species that eluded us. We could't complain though as the trip through the El Hadjar mountain range had been a golden success...

 The landscape proceeded to change dramatically as we pressed southwards. The skyline grew less imposing, until the hills faded away and the horizon melted to a horizontal plane. Were were now driving due south through arid, seemingly featureless desert. Over the first 150 kilometres we saw little signs of life apart from a handful of Brown necked Ravens. It was a fascinating landscape to behold nevertheless. We stopped off for food at a small settlement in the middle of nowhere and had mutton and rice, which proved one of our best meals of the trip. We drank plenty of fluids and moved relentlessly south. We had a date with Bar Al Hikman..

The desert, flat and hot, very hot....


Wouter outside an Omani michelin star mutton and rice restaurant. What a cracking meal we had here! Culinary find of the trip, this establishment served sme very tasty mutton and rice...

 It was now into the early afternoon. The desert was rather uniform and we were thankful of some good rock'n'roll in the Pajero as we ate up the road. We were very much looking forward to our next destination and the GPS told us we didn't have too far to go. The monotony was broken by a superb Long legged Buzzard, a wonderful pale phase bird on a telegraph post. Eurasian Roller was new for the trip, the desert seemingly the divide between Indian and Eurasian birds. Then came the first Desert Wheatear, then a Southern Grey Shrike. Birds became more evident as we closed in on Filim, Bar Al Hikman. We moved down the final stretch of road until we came to a small fishing settlement. Ospreys watched us from the telegraph posts as we rolled down the windows and were struck the sounds of waders. We piled out of the car like excited children. The tide was out but a telescope scan was stunning, waders were everywhere further out. Terek Sandpiper was first, though soon we were racking up wader species. Greater and Lesser Sandplover, Ringed Plover, Kentish Plover, Redshank, Greenshank, Wood Sandpiper, Common Sandpiper, Turnstone, Bar tailed Godwit, Turnstone, Little Stint, Dunlin, Curlew Sandpiper, Marsh Sandpiper, Curlew, Whimbrel, Grey Plover and Common Snipe wear all quickly logged. A Saunders Tern showed wonderfully, fishing among Greater Flamingo and Western Reef Heron all over the place. A Gull billed Tern was a nice sight too, roosting alone on the mudflats. Heuglin's Gull and a few Barabensis Gulls drew my attentions.We only had a couple of hours until darknes and we enjoyed every minute. Further out on the mudflats, it was apparent that there were masses of waders feeding. We enjoyed stunning views of Terek Sandpiper and Lesser Sandplovers for a while. Great Egrets, Little Egrets, Spoonbill and Grey Herons were also present. There was so much to see and the sounds were wonderful...

Video footage shot of various bird species at Bar Al Hikman...


Bar Tailed Godwit

Greater Flamingo

Greater Flamingo


Western Reef Heron


Spoonbill


It wasn't all about waders and herons though. Around the boats there was a juvenile Red backed Shrike and a few Desert Wheatear, the birds feeding around us. A couple of couple of Bluethroat gave fantastic views as they fed out in the open. We had a wonderful experience at a tiny patch of green grass, close to a freshwater tap. This tiny patch of green vegetaion held a Red throated Pipit and a Quail, the latter gave incredible views...

Video footage of a cracking male Desert Wheatear from Filim.


Desert Wheatear, common but wonderful...








Wonderful views of this Common Quail in a tiny patch of grass...



 As the light bagan to fade we were forced to move out to the dunes, were we set up camp for the night. We had decided to camp here as it was so far out of the way that camping would negate the need for a long commute the following day. We unpacked the tents and camp beds and set up camp. We then collented some wood and lit a fire under a full moon. We ate some food and discussed the wonderful day we had just experienced, made our plans for the next day and talked into the night as the moon rose. It was a simply magical experience, listening to ever closer waders as the tide came in. Even better was a calling Desert Little Owl close by in the night. Pure magic...


Wouter watching a full moon rise over the horizon...


Setting up camp just as the sun dropped away, a magical place to spend the night...

Later in the evening, the moon had risen high in the sky and there was an incredible amount of natural light. We decided to take a walk out over the mudflats, which were suprisingly firm. It was a rather surreal experience walking out over the sand, under the light of the full moon. Dried salt gave the flats a strange appearance in the light. The calls of Curlews, Grey Plover and Sandplovers were all around us. A stranded Green Turtle was found, long deceased. We walked for some time before realising that the tide was still a long way out. We returning to camp after and hour before getting some sleep.



Green Turtle carcass, the animal had eveidently been stranded here. The beach is a well known egg laying site...


Relaxing by the campfire at Filim, Bar Al Hikman.

Birds Seen; Al Hajar mountains, unnamed wadi along road nr. 23, coordinates approx. 23.178114, 58.097767: Lappet-faced Vulture 6, Hume’s Wheatear 4, Ménétries’s Warbler 2, Desert Lesser Whitethroat (halimodendri) 4, Common Whitethroat 1, Striolated Bunting 4. 
Road between Al Awad and Hiji (or Hijj): Long-legged Buzzard 1. 
Filim: Spoonbill 1, Common Quail 1, Marsh Sandpiper 5, Terek Sandpiper 10, Broad-billed Sandpiper 10, Bridled Tern 1 (caught by fisherman!), Common Kingfisher 2, Blue-cheeked Bee-eater 2, Tree Pipit 1, Red-throated Pipit 1, Bluethroat 1, Red-backed Shrike. 
Campsite 5 km NE of Filim: Little Owl. 




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