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

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Oman; Al Ansab Sewage Farm and Al Qurm Park; 26th October 2015

The day was split into two halves, with our first port of call being Al Ansab Wetland in Muscat. The site was not far from our accomadation and after rising just bfore dawn we set off and made the short journey without event. The GPS was a boon and removed much stress from driving. Driving around Muscat proved complex, the street system was confusing, despite being signed in english. We had gotten rather lost the previous evening on our return at the end of the day. It had been decided at that point that we did not want to waste time lost in traffic and a GPS meant a degree of insurance against this. It proved a very effective way of navigating efficiently was was remarkably up to date. We were on the right route in no time and looking forward to an excellent days birding...

Our rental vehicle for the duration of the trip, a four wheel drive Mitsubishi Pajero. It was extremely comfortable and roomy and more than capable of dealing with any of the terrain it came across.

We were met on arrival by the wetland manager who kindly showed us the area and then left us to enjoy the birds. The main pool was quite shallow and held many waders and wildfowl. It was a joy to scan through the waders and ducks. It's only took me a few moments to find a real prize, one we had hoped for.  As it was, I was simply enjoying a male Citrine Wagtail when the beast simply walked into the field of view, a White winged Lapwing! The bird was quite close and we had wonderful views of this special wader, my first ever. It was also a lifer for Daniel, who I invited to peer into my scope and identify the bird for himself. Wouter then returned from his brief tour of the extended site and also enjoyed his best ever views of this hard to get species. We all enjoyed the bird and then began to scan through the pool again. Incredibly, there were three more feeding at the pool, which was quite amazing...

White tailed Lapwing, a digiscoped record shot of yet another hoped for lifer...


White tailed Lapwing, a short video of the first bird we ccame across at Al Qurm...


There were a lot of waders on the pool. Slowly, we methodically began to check through the birds in front of us. Around 35 Little Stints were peppered with the occasional an ocaasional Temminck's Stint, a single Dunlin and a few Curlew Sandpiper. Everything had to be checked very carefully, there were a wide range of possibilities at the site ad no identification was being taken foregranted. At least 10 Marsh Sandpiper were also present, these wonderful elegant birds were most welcome. This is not a species I have ever seen many of and I enjoyed watching them feed. A Spotted Redshank was a pristine winter adult, little did we know, this would be our only one of the entire trip! A single Bar-tailed Godwit was also picked out, this bird was very much enjoyed by Danny, it being a lifer for him. There were many Black winged Stilt at the site. A number of Common Snipe were typically less easy to find along the margins of the pool, they were very carefully checked for Pintail Snipe, without success. Pintail Snipe was very much on our hitlist, a rarity in Oman, thought regular in autumn. Common Sandpipers ran under the feet of Greater Flamingoes,  there was also a single Spoonbill and numerous Grey Heron in the centre of the pool here. Great White Egrets were plentiful. A single Night heron was also noted, it made a brief flyover before disappearing

Black Winged Stilt


A Marsh Sandpiper dwarfs a Little Stint...



Whilst the waders took our initial attention, in the centre of the pool a mixed group of duck were eventually carefully checked. Teal, Garganey, Shoveler, Pintail were present, with several Ferruginous Duck a highlight. There were good numbers of the latter, with a total of 13 birds present. It occured to me that these were, quite possibly, the first genuinely wild Ferruginous Ducks I had ever seen. Around the pool two Greater Spotted Eagles watched over proceedings, whilst a couple of juvenile Marsh Harrier caused chaos, raiding the pool frequently and having a go at the birds on occasion. Around the edges of the area Ringed Plover, Kentish Plover and Red Wattled Lapwing fed on the exposed mud, there was so much to see. The fringes were carefully watched for crakes, though Moorhen, Citrine Wagtail, Bluthroat, White Wagtail, Yellow Wagtail and Common Sanpipers were all that was seen. There was always something going on, such as passing Marsh Terns. In one such moment, a pair of juvenile White Winged Black Terns moved through briefly, a wonderful sight. There were passerines too. A Daurian Shrike was most welcome, our first of the trip. This bird was rather distant, towards the back of the pool on the fence, in a restricted area of the site. Overhead there were small numbers of African Rock Martin and Barn Swallow, whilst a couple of Sand Matins were noted amongst them.


A juvenile Marsh Harrier, which spent most of the morning terrorising waders and ducks at Al Ansab.

Video footage of two juvenile Greater Spotted Eagle present around the main pool at All Ansab early in the morning...

After some time we decided to move on, in order to check the remainder of the area. There were a series of small pools connected by a stream, as well aa a large deep pond to consider. We had just left the first pool when a juvenile Bonelli's Eagle went over, a stunning rufous juvenile. As if the views weren't good enough, a Marsh Harrier took dispute with it and we were soon witness to an incredible aerial dogfight. As it unfolded above us a Brown Necked Raven went past calling, lifer number two of the day for me. The two raptors continued to slug it out overhead for several minutes and we enjoyed every moment of this avian dogfight. This was our second Bonelli's Eagle altercation in as many days! As we moved on towards the stream and smaller pools, Grey Francolin scattered in our path, a Graceful Prinia scolded us from some scrub and several Purple Sunbird fed in low flowering trees. This was terrific birding...


























A series of images above of an aerial dispute between a juvenile Bonelli's Eagle and a juvenile Marsh Harrier..


 The small pools and stream held a few Green Sandpiper, which was added to the trip list along with Wood Sandpiper at this point. To our right there was some stone covered ground interspersed with low bushes, here Little Green Bee Eater's and Indian Roller hunted over the open ground. The deeper calls of Blue Cheeked Bee Eater were then heard and soon we were treated to brilliant views of these jewels as they fed above us. The birds then perched and eventually bathed in the stream, before sitting out and preening in full view. Indian Silverbill was then added to the trip list, with one pair watch displaying and even mating. Up to six Greater Spotted Eagle were overhead at one point, where to be looking at any point was at times a tough decision. As was often to be the case, it was difficult to give a bird ones full attention for any length of time, as there were new birds appearing constantly. Three Egyptian Vultures floated past, our first of the trip. In the trees there were some smaller passerines. A rather smoky looking Willow Warbler was discovered and we all wondered where it had originated. A Red breasted flycaatcher was another passage migrant, the bird showing very well for us.We spent time wandering around, enjoying the birds and taking some photos. I ended up taking some time to photograph the Indian Silverbills and the Blue Cheeked Bee Eaters. The sun was rising now and the heat increased to the point were we spent more time in the shade and tokk in plenty of fresh water.

A short video documenting the mating behavour of Indian Silverbill....


Indian Silverbill preparing to take a bath...





Above, three images of a bathing Indian Silverbill, which was new to me at Al Ansab...

Indian Silverbill



Above and below; Blue Cheeked Bee Eaters. A group of five birds showed well at Al Ansab all morning as they hawked insects, bathed and preened in the treetops at Al Ansab. The species would become a frequent sight on this trip to Oman.


There was a larger deeper pool further back into the wetland. Here we enjoyed eastern race Little Grebes, which sported light irises in adult plumage. They were rather abundant on the pool. A few more Ferruginous Duck were welcome.We were all delighted to get good views of Clamourous Reed Warbler after a little patience. Sitting in a hide had the added benifit of being rather cooler, it was now well over thity degrees. Citrine Wagtails gave good views here too, hunting insects on the streams, it was great to be able to grab some video fotage of a lovely adult female bird here. Wouter was then left very frustrated by a small Martin, which went past quickly. He shouted for us and was in a state of frustration when we arrived, he felt it was almost certainly a Pale Martin, though we just could not refind the bird among the African Rock Martin present, a real shame. Overhead. Blue Cheeked Bee Eaters gave colossal views, hawking insects and perching overhead, they were a feast for the eyes. We made our way back through the reserve to the front pool, chatting to other visiting birders for a while. The hunting Marsh Harriers put on a great display at this point as they tried to drown a Teal unsuccesfully. It was now around noon and we felt it was time to move along. We left quickly and went for lunch bfore discussing our next move..


Red Breasted Flycather was a welcome migrant species at Al Ansab. This one was judged to be a juvenile male bird, note the decidedly bright tones on the breat of this bird...


Greater Spotted Eagle. A juvenile in flight from underneath.


Greater Spotted Eagle. This juvenile shows the classic upperwing pattern for this species. Note the pale tips on the greater and median covert's, rather dark lesser covert's and long fingered primaries.


The original planned itinerary for that afternoon in Muscat ad been a trip to the dump, tohugh we had been informed that the dumps were now off limits to birder's. Sadly, this meant we had to change our plans, though we were not too upset as we had an ace up our sleeves. We had aqquired written permission with regard to accessing the dump in Raysut later in the trip from the Omani environmental department. This insured we would see plenty of eagles at a later date, though it did mean that Lappet faced Vulture would now present a challenge.
 We decided on Al Qurm National Park, a recreational area in Muscat. The area has a good track record and a huge species list. In addition, it was close and offered a variety of habitats. We decided to tackle the coastal side first and parked along the beach road on arrival. Along the strand we could see mied groups of terns and gulls, as well as some waders and herons. We spent the early afternoon around the beach and enjoyed a loose roosting flock of Swift Tern, Lesser Crested Tern and Slender billed  Gull. A few Barabensis Gull were loafing along the seafront as well as a couple of Heuglins Gull. It was a little dissapointing for larger gulls, the few that were present were not easily approached.
Steppe Gull pair. A rather distinctive gull at rest, note the dark upper part and bill pattern.


Slender billed Gull. Very common on the coast in Oman around the Muscat area, often in large numbers...


Western Reef Heron and several Great Egrets were fishing in a creek, whilst an Osprey bathing in the surf was a fantastic site. Osprey were proving very common in coastal areas and we watched a pair feeding offshore as well.The tide was filling and I spent a while scoping over the sea. A large flock of feeding Red necked Phalarope was offshore, perhaps 50 birds. These birds winter in vast numbers in the Arabian Sea and it was no surprise they were present at the site. along the tideline we had Mongolian Plover, a small flock and the first of the trip. These were new to me and we decided to get closer and enjoyed excellent views. One bird even showed a complete breast band, a retained summer plumage feature. It was very nice to have direct comparison with Greater Sand Plover, the smaller Mongolian Plover's were much higher on their feet, quicker and more sprightly. The structural differences were plain to see, there was a big size difference. This was excellent comparable birding and it was very instructive to spend time looking at these similar species.

Osprey. Seemingly, always present, no matter where on the coast we attended.


A white morph Western Reef Heron, this one showing dark primaries, secondaries and tail feathers..


An adult Sooty Gull winging it's way along the seafront...


As the tide rose we doubled back along the strand and spent some time taking in the large tern flock, it made for a great sight. The light was perfect, allowing for some great video footage to be filmed. The largest of the tern species, Swift Tern, were the most numerous and dwarfed the other species along the strand. Smaller numbers of Lesser Crested Tern were present, as well as a couple of Sandwich Terns. Slender billed Gulls were amongst them in large numbers, as were some Sooty Gulls. The birds were skitish and were being moved around by the incoming tide.


Edited video footage of Swift Terns, Lesser Crested Terns, Slender billed Gulls and Sooty Gulls at Al Qurm Beach.


Swift Tern, a real beast of a tern this one. Also known as Crested Tern. The species is readily identified by a combination of size and plumage features. Note the rather dark grey uperwings here. 


Whilst obviously a tern, the flight was rather heavy looking. A good feature was the grey tail even from below. The large yellowish bill was visible at long range.


Swift Terns mainly here, note many of the birds show a very large amount of white on the head...


Swift Terns and a single Slender billed Gull...


A Lesser Crested Tern among the larger Swift Terns, note the smaller size, lighter upperparts and bright orange bill. Easily identified among it's larger relatives..





A pair of Lesser Crested Tern. It was great to sit back and view all of these birds through the scope.


The afternoon heat saw many of the birds with bills agape, trying to cool down...


Swift Tern, a clearly heavier species than Slender billed Gull on the ground...


 Moving off the beach we went back to the road and checked inland, where a large tidal creek wound it's way into an area on mangroves. This was a new habitat type for the trip and we hoped for a few new species here. We were duly rewarded almost straight away. A small tern was picked up almost immediately, the bird resting on the exposed mudflats. It was tiny and we knew this was either a Little Tern or a Saunders Tern. The bird was content to rest though and it took some time for it to show any features that could help us identify the bird beyond doubt. Help eventually arrived in the form of a Marsh Harrier, which alarmed the bird enough to raise it's wings, the pearl grey rump was clearly visible at this point. It was indeed a Saunder's Tern. Also here were 2 Black tailed goodwits, 2 Whimbrel, several Oriental Curlew, Ringed Plover, Kentish Plover, Greater Sand Plover, Grey Heron, Little Egret, Western Reef Heron, several Swift sp. and a couple of Osprey. A Common Kingfisher gave stellar views here, very close to the road and was a real scope filler...

Above and below. Common Kingfisher is always a nice bird to gain good views of, this one was no exception. Here are a couple of digiscoped images..



Video footage of the bird here...


After a while we returned to the vehicle and moved inland in order to check the mangroves. Around the car park we had a Red Vented Bulbul straight away, whilst several Ring Necked Parakeets flew around. Along the channel we had a rather nice Squacco Heron and our first Indian Pond Heron of the trip, with nice views to compare both species. A couple of Greater Spotted Eagles were again juvenile and it seemed the species was to be expected around fresh water habitat. They gave great views here, though spooked many of the birds. White Wagtails were everywhere, as were Moorhen. Better birds did turn up though, a Scaly Breasted Munia being one of them. We had an Indian Roller near the end of the creek, before doubling back. As the evening drew in there were plenty of Common Swift passing to the east overhead. A cracking juvenile female Siberian Stonechat was a really nice find at this point. It fed in front of us and gave really good views. A couple of Common Kestrels were also in the area, spooking the Greenshanks in the channels. As the light began to fade we watched a couple of Greter Spotted Eagles flying in to roost, whilst there were herons everywhere. This culminated in several species in our scope views at the same time, one of which was rather special. A Striated Heron put in an appearance at dusk, as we hoped one might. It was a tiny little heron, full of character as it crept around the banks. It gave nice views before dusk set in and we headed back to the accommodation. It had been another wonderful day. We rounded it off with a nice curry and planned the next stage of our trip as we ate. The following day would see us leave Muscat behind and enter the monutains for the first time...

Al Qurm at dusk, as the light full, many herons began to stir...


Video Footage from the mangroves at Al Qurm Park. Greater Spotted Eagle, Blue Cheeked Bee Eater and Indian Pond Heron in failing light..



Species seen; AL ANSAB; Great Cormorant, 1 Black Crowned Night Heron, 70 Grey Heron, 1 Spoonbill, 3 Little Egret, 7 Great White Egret, 13 Ferruginous Duck, 3 Egyptian Vulture, 4 Marsh arrier, 1 Bonelli's Eagle, 6 Greater Spotted Eagle, 4 White tailed Lapwing, 1 Bar tailed Godwit, 10 Marsh Sandpiper, 5 Temminck's Stint, 40 Little Stint, Redhank, Greenshank, Common Sandpiper,  9 Common Snipe, 3 Whiskered Tern, 2 White Winged Black Tern, 1 Common Kingfisher, 5 Blue Cheeked Bee Eater, 3 Sand Martin, African Rock Martin, Barn Swallow, 20 Citrine Wagtail, 1 Red breasted Flycatcher, 1 Willow Warbler, 1 Bluethroat, 1 Daurian Shrike, 6 Indian Silverbill,

AL QURM PARK; 1 Striated Heron, 1 Black Crowned Night Heron, 2 Indian Pond Heron, 1 Purple Heron, 3 Osprey, 2 Marsh Harrier, 2 Greater Spotted Eagle, 1 Common Kestrel, 1 Common Quail, 20 Lesser Sand Plover, 2 Black tailed Godwit, 50 Red Necked Phalarope, 1 Saunders Tern, 3 Common Kingfisher, 20 Common Swift, 1 Siberian Stonechat, 1 Red Vented Bulbul, 1 Scaly Breasted Munia.




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