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 09, 2015

Oman; Ras Al Sawadi; 25th October 2015


Oman, as a birding destination, is a rather special place. Its location, to the east of the Indian Ocean and north of the Arabian Sea, insure it is uniquely placed to receive bird species from both Asia and Africa, giving it a rather unique avifauna and a special appeal to birder's. This trip, a two week excursion had been hatched over a year earlier, whilst counting raptors at Batumi, Georgia. What started off there at the counting stations had now come to fruition. The trip was painstakingly researched by Wouter Faveyts of Belgium, who would be making his second trip to Oman with the group. We decided from the outset that this was not to be a birding trip driven by the need to see the maximum amount of species, but rather to choose the sites that most appealed to us along with a few key species and concentrate of getting the most out of these sites. It was decided to make a special effort to see Sooty Falcon, a species we all wanted to see very much, so the area around Muscat would be part of the itinerary.
 There were some set backs along the way. Notably, one of the group had to pull out of taking part in the trip. It was decided that we would go as three people, with Daniel Hinkley, Wouter Faveyts and I the three participants. From the outset, Wouter devised a superb itinerary. We met up in Istanbul on the evening of 24th October and flew on to Muscat together, arriving the same evening. A quick look around the city that evening gave us a taste of the hot weather conditions that would become familiar over the coming fortnight. We ate together and got a good nights rest before seeing out in our rental vehicle, a Mitsubishi Pajero four wheel drive, which proved comfortable and more than adequate for the trip. We had decided to go straight to Ras Al Sawadi in order to see Sooty Falcon on the first day, for the simple reason that the birds would soon be leaving for their winter quarters in Madagascar and East Africa. This was a species we did not want to miss! It was incredibly exciting to awake that morning. We had to organise a little before getting on the road, arranging camping gear for the trip and sorting out our currency, but it wasn't long before we were on the road. By the time we left we had already  seen several species such as Laughing Dove, Common Mynah, Purple Sunbird and Sooty Gull. We quickly headed north to Ras Al Sawadi, which lay around 90 kilometres to the north. As we neared the site our expectations grew..


Rass Al Raysut, a quite stunning birding location. The sea mount is home to breeding Sooty Falcon, one of the most enigmatic falcons in the world.


Arriving at Ras Al Sawadi was quite an incredible moment. Having spent many weeks hoping to see Sooty Falcon we were naturally keyed up. As we approached, the sea mount suddenly came into view, the vista was quite spectacular. We followed the road along the beach and pulled up in the car park directly opposite the mount. Incredibly, the engine had not even ceased when the first falcon's were seen! I had rolled the rear window down down as we approached, scanning the impressive island that lay before us with binoculars. It was apparent that a medium sized raptor was being stooped upon by two falcons high over the east end of the mount! As soon as the vehicle came to a halt, everybody piled out of the car.

Above; Western Reef Heron in it's dark morph form. The species was common as Ras Al Raysut. feeding in the shallow water on the tidal flats in from of the sea mount. 


It took little time to identify the birds in question. The larger raptor was a juvenile Bonelli's Eagle, the two falcons were a pair of Sooty Falcon! Personally, I was gobsmacked at the sight. Straight off the bat, here were my two main raptor targets together. I had needed Bonelli's Eagle and was confident we would see this species over the following two weeks, but to see both species together in this manner simply was not anticipated. It was a remarkable moment. We watched as the falcon's repeatedly stooped at the hapless eagle, which soon took its leave to the east in double quick time. The falcons remained, though they then drifted off behind the mount for the time being. It seemed that everything was going to plan as we now scanned the area quickly...





 There were birds everywhere. Several Western Reef Heron fished in the shallows in front of us, a smart dark phase bird. Gulls and terns were flying past the headland constantly and a Sandwich Tern was first, followed by a Lesser Crested Tern and then a Swift Tern, another lifer! Sooty Gull came next, our first close up views of the species, several went past in glorious light. Steppe Gull and Heuglins Gull were also present, whilst yet another new bird was now gleaned from the shoreline when four Greater Sandplover were picked out. We took a little time to look at these and commit the features to memory. The light was stunning, the birding incredible. In the time it took Daniel to apply some sunscreen I had picked up four lifers...


A panoramic view of Ras Al Sawadi, a feast for the eyes...



Wouter and Danny preparing to walk out to the sea mount at Ras al Sawadi...

We quickly organized a settled down. We began birding in earnest, picking out several species quickly. There were mudflats in front of us and the tide was receding. At low tide we knew it would be possible to walk over to the sea mount, but we had a little time before that was possible and there were plenty of birds here to see. On the mudflats, waders were very much in evidence. Greenshank was a familiar species to us, but what a setting this was to see birds in. Redshank, Common Sandpiper, Oystercatcher and Grey Plover were all added. High on the exposed mudflat was a remarkable looking wader, sporting an incredibly long bill, an 'orientalus' Curlew. A flock of Slender billed Gull loafed offshore, sitting on the tide in the shallows, at least thirty birds together. Other gulls were constantly passing overhead, with Sooty Gulls, Steppe Gull and Heuglins Gulls the three species involved. There were good numbers of Grey Heron present and a couple of Whimbrel too. Then came a major surprise, Daniel drawing our attention to a wader further out. Another target bird fell as we followed his instructions in order to focus on a real Omani speciality, a wonderful Crab Plover! The bird was feeding further out along the tideline on the beach and was instantly recognizable. The striking black and white plumage and heavy bill make this unique wader easily identifiable. This was certainly not expected here and we were really getting swept away now. We watched the bird for a while as it fed on the strand..


A real surprise on the first day, a superb Crab Plover. This is one of the speciality species in Oman and is much sought after by visiting birders. It is lees common in the north of the country, so this was not expected at Ras Al Sawadi, though very much welcome...



Video footage of Crab Plover from Ras Al Sawadi...


An Osprey soon appeared over head and we watched it for a while as it circled above us, fishing over the shallows. The water was now low and we made the decision to head for the island in order to try get closer views of Sooty Falcon. 
 Heading out over the mudflats a second large raptor then came into view, it was quickly identified as a second calendar Bonelli's Eagle and it proceeded to head straight for us. The male Osprey took exception to this intrusion and soon we were treated to an aerial dogfight overhead as the two birds clashed in dispute. Overhead, another wonderful experience ensued as the two raptor tussled against a clear blue sky in wonderful light. The birds jostled for position and locked talons, tumbling downwards towards us...

Osprey. An adult male bird fishing over the shallows as the tide dropped in front of the mount.


Above and below; A second calendar year Bonelli's Eagle overhead, which drifted of the sea mount at Ras al Sawadi and straight over our heads. The moult in the retrices and underwing covert's is clearly visible in these photograph's and helps to age the bird. The stunning light was a huge boon with regard to being able to gain clear views of birds, helping with not just identification, but further details such as ageing and sexing.







Above; An aerial dispute between and adult male Osprey and a second calendar year Bonelli's Eagle was a memorable sight over the mudflats in the early afternoon.


After the drama overhead passed we moved on across the mudflats and onto the sea mount. A steep climb lay ahead in sweltering conditions, though there would be several stops to look at birds over the course of the climb. First up were a party of White cheeked Bulbuls moving along the rocky shore looking for food, their calls drawing attention to them. They were rather smart birds and a welcome sight. As we began to move up the sides of the mount Purple Sunbirds were very prevalent, feeding in the flowering shrubs alongside the ascending steps. To our right on the slopes, Little Green Bee Eaters were hawking insects from perches scattered over the hillside, glorious little birds to watch in the scope. Another lifer soon followed in the form of a Red Tailed Wheatear. It showed well for us as we approached the watchpoint by the tower on the east side of the island. We had now reached the lookout point and began to scan the island for Sooty Falcon. We had seen a pair several times from the mainland and the mudflats. We very much hoped to gain good views from the island.
 The falcon's were going to make us wait it seemed. We were conscious of the fact we had just a few hours before the tide returned and cut off our retreat from the island. Nevertheless, there was much to see here. It didn't take long before we realised there were birds offshore over the sea. Swift Terns were numerous, a large tern species this one, it was great to watch them passing. We then had an adult Masked Booby pass offshore, another great moment, another lifer. I was already struggling to keep up with the new species I was seeing, they were coming thick and fast. Shortly after the booby, Daniel let a shout to let us know that there was a Green Turtle on the surface directly below us and we were treated to superb views of this amazing reptile at quite close range. At one point another Masked Booby flew right over it, an immature bird on this occasion.


An immature Masked Booby flying over a Green Turtle at Ras Al Sawdi, one of a number of unforgettable moments on the first day of the trip...



 Things then came into sharp focus when Wouter screamed 'Tropicbird'! It's a word that simply demands your full attention as a birder. I have dreamed of seeing Red Tailed Tropicbird since I was a youth and hearing Wouter shout for one over the sea came as something of a shock to the system. The directions followed and it was apparent the bird was not so close. It was moving quickly east. I was a nervous wreck until I located the bird, first in my binoculars, then in the scope. Daniel got on to it quickly too, at which point we could all enjoy the bird as it powered over the sea. After it passed there were high fives all round and a general sense of elation, a simply incredible bird to see for the first time. The views were quite adequate and the identification was simple, it was a magical moment...
 We continued to scan along the islands coast, the view was quite simply breathtaking. A pair of Osprey were present throughout, occasionally fishing over the sea, or simply floating high over the mount. It wasn't long before a Sooty Falcon appeared suddenly, the bird was underneath us and behaving in agitated fashion. It was very vocal and stooped constantly at something out of view on the rock face below. As we looked on, completely mesmerised by the views of the bird, it rose quickly to eye level. The bird floated over our heads, moving around effortlessly on the thermals at remarkable speed. It circled above us, occasionally flipping into a diving stoop at breakneck speed, pulling out of the stoop just in time to avoid the slopes below and rise up with ease in the blink of an eye. The aerial display was mind boggling, the birds mastery of the air complete. Incredibly, the display would continue for more than an hour and a half. We were able to get some wonderful images before simply sitting back and taking the whole seen in. Having hoped to see Sooty Falcon for months previously, we were now being treated to the most incredible showmanship by a pristine adult Sooty Falcon. It couldn't of been any better and we were all blown away by the experience...


Sooty Falcon, the main target bird of the trip seen on day one, in some style. This was an adult bird and it gave phenomenal views over a long period over the sea mount. An unforgettable experience...


Above and below; The bird stooping and calling at an unknown source of irratation on a cliff below our position. The falcon was calling constantly at this time...




A nice view of the upper parts here in this photo..



A very long winged, streamlined falcon falcon, capable of generating incredible speed effortlessly. A joy to watch in the air, a perfectly evolved flying machine...





As can be seen here, there are no signs of moult. This is a long distance migrant and moults at the wintering quarters on Madagascar and East Africa.

Eventually we were out of time an decided to head back over the mudflats before the tide returned. We made our way down the steps back to the shoreline. We were almost at the base of the stairwell when I picked up a dark bird low over the slopes to my left, which took a few moments to process as a tern species. Wouter also got on to the bird at my shout and a view of the head, though brief, suggested that this was a juvenile Bridled Tern, a lifer for both of us. Unfortunately, Danny did not get on to the bird, which moved through very quickly and disappeared. Onwards then, out over the mudflats and back to safety on the mainland...


The return crossing to the mainland from Ras Al Sawadi as the tide began to fill...


The view from the sea mount at Ras al Sawdi looking towards the mainland. A stunning location, filled with birds...

After a blistering hot afternoon we decided it was time for some liquid refreshment and headed for a small kiosk. We had carried water with us, though the sun had heated it in the containers and it was with much relief that we washed down a few refrigerated soda's. There were hundreds of House Crow in the area here. Having covered the mount and the surrounding area we decided to try the gardens in the nearby hotel. It proved rather quiet here with no migrants, though a pair of Red Wattled Lapwings were ticks and we had our best views yet of Purple Sunbird. We didn't stay too long and moved along the road, looking for a suitable place to look around...

Purple Sunbird, a female bird here...


A few kilometres along the road we came to an interesting looking area of scrubland in the dunes. We decided to park and have a look around. This was dry, semi desert terrain and we had to look hard for birds. Grey Francolin were the first species noted, several birds were seen on the ground. They were beautifully marked, given a good view and were quite vocal. We moved on and soon hit gold in the form of a small group of Arabian Babbler. This is not always an easy species to see and we were very glad to see them here. They gave good views at times, though were wary of us at the same time. They were obviously curious, were full of character and the encounter was memorable.We moved on reluctantly.
 A short while later a rattling call drew attention to what turned out to be Lesser Whitethroat in the low scrub. The call was unfamiliar to me, though Wouter knew it to be the call of Desert Lesser Whitethroat, race 'hallimodendr'i. We had brief views of these skulkers before heading back to the car.


A couple of Arabian Babbler, part of a family group. These intelligent birds live in family groups and are known to have developed complex social behaviours.

Our next destination was an area named Barka. We had been paying close attention to birding reports in the area before we arrived and had earmarked this site after a pair of Black winged Kites had been seen at the site in the previous weeks. On arrival we found a well irrigated area of farmland that was absoloubtely packed full of birds. Indian Rollers were everywhere, along with Little Green Been Eaters. The fields were full of Common Mynah, Red Wattled Lapwing and Laughing Dove. Marsh Harriers quartered the meadows.


Indian Roller. A stunning species commonly seen in northern Oman...

It wasn't long before we picked up a Black winged Kite, albeit a distant bird, hovering over a field. We watched it in the scopes for a while before we lost it and moved on in that direction. The sun was now dropping to the horizon and our time was limited. We made our way around to the left and parked again. We had several Red backed Shrike, Graceful Prinia and Purple Sunbird here, as well as more Marsh Harriers and a juvenile Greater Spotted Eagle. There was no sign of the Black winged Kite though and we decided to backtrack a little, driving the dirt tracks slowly with the windows pulled down. As we were passing a pile of brushwood a striking small passerine appeared. It was clearly black and white and had white basses to the tail and a white rump. My first thoughts were of a wheatear species, though Wouter had clocked the small size and expressed that we needed to photograph the bird. We got out and tracked the bird down. It was constantly on the move, though our second view was enough to confirm it as a Pied Bushchat! This is a rare vagrant to Oman, with less than ten records. We got some record shots quickly and eventually had good scope views of the bird on the telegraph wires where we could clearly see the white upper wing lesser coverts, extensive white billy and structural details. The bird then flew off and was lost...

Pied Bushchat, adult male. A rare vagrant to Oman with less than ten records. It was an excellent find on out first day in Oman...

 It was whilst trying to relocate the Pied Bushchat that we stumbled on the Black Winged Kite sitting in palm grove. It flew in and looked to be getting ready to roost. We had fantastic scope views and were delighted when it was joined by a second bird, which was clearly the male! The light was fading now and we were content to watch them go to roost. The sun was dissapearing over the horizon as we left. Remarkably, there were many roosting Marsh Harriers here and we saw many birds sitting on bare ground as darkness started to fall...
 Our birding day was now over and we began to drive south in darkness to our accommodation. This was a remarkable day by any standards and we were all buzzing after the days events. We had arrived in Oman and the birding was simply phenomenal. We had some difficulty navigating our way back and decided a GPS would be required and agreed to make arrangements the next day to get one. We ate on our return, planning our second day over dinner, before getting to bed early for a dawn start..


Red Wattled Lapwing. A common species in northern Oman and abundant on the irrigated farmland at Barka were we saw many birds feeding in the fields...


Red Wattled Lapwing, a striking species in flight...



Marsh Harrier at dusk, preparing to roost. We saw large numbers of these birds at Barka on our first day in Oman...

BIRDS SEEN; 2 Bonelli's Eagle*, 2 Sooty Falcon*, 6 Greater Sand Plover*, Sooty Gull*, 2 Masked Booby*, Greenshank, Oystercatcher, Curlew, Swift Tern*, Lesser Crested Tern*, Steeper Gull, Heuglin's Gull, 1 Crab Plover*, 3 Osprey, 2 Whimbrel, 1 Red billed Tropicbird*, 1 Persian Shearwater*, 1 juv Bridled Tern*, 1 Red tailed Wheatear*, Purple Sunbird*, White Cheeked Bulbul*, Little green Bee Eater*, 16 Grey Francolin*, 7 Arabian Babbler*, 3 Deset Lesser Whitethroat, 1 PiedBushchat, 12 Marsh Harrier, 25 Indian Roller, 2 Black winged Kite, 3 Red backed Shrike, 1 Southern Grey Shrike.


2 comments:

Tom Cooney said...

Well Alan you got the prize you were hoping for. Congratulations on a great read and what seems to have been a great trip. Sooty Falcon is a magnificent bird. Tom Cooney

Alan Dalton said...

Hi Tom,
Had an incredible two weeks birding. Ended up with around 250 species and a lot of incredible memories and birding moments. Have a lot of photos and notes to get through in oder to get everything up on the blog here. Jusy finished day 2. Will be in touch soon....Alan