Archive for the ‘Omani Owl’ Tag

Mid to late August 2015: The Bird Fair, lots of ringing and a Bird Race.   Leave a comment

This post covers our visit to the Birdfair and some ringing at Lytchett Bay and Durlston plus a postscipt about a late August Poole Harbour big day.

The annual British Birding Fair, normally just refered to as the Birdfair  is held at Rutland Water near Oakham in Rutland, Britain’s smallest county. Over the three days an estimated 20,000 visitors visits hundreds of stands and go to hundreds of talks and other events. All profits go to Birdlife International and during its lifespan the event has raised 2.5 million for bird conservation.

Now in its 27th year, the Fair seems to just keep growing and growing. There are so many marquees, stands, exhibits and talks to go to that it is impossible to do it justice in one day. What I enjoy more than anything is meeting up with loads of friends from previous trips abroad, old twitches in the UK or fellow birders from back home.

IMG_6402 Royal George hotel

On the 21st and 22nd of August we paid our annual visit to the British Bird Fair at Rutland Water. We stayed overnight some 12 miles away at this pleasant hotel at Cottingham but unfortunately they didn’t do breakfast (which we had already paid for) until after 9 am, far too late as we wanted to be at the Fair by then.

Book signing at the Wild Sounds stand

This photo of book signing on the Wildsounds stand was taken at a previous Bird Fair and shows a typical view of the Birdfair – large numbers of birders perusing books, trying out optics, planning future birding holidays etc.

IMG_6373 WEO

One of the unusual thing about the Birdfair is that ‘wildlife celebrities’ wander around from event to event with all the rest of us and you can find that the bloke in the row in front of you at a talk is none other than Bill Oddie.

IMG_6376 Swifts need you too

Stands selling or promoting wildlife tours and various countries, outdoor clothing, books, optics and wildlife art are joined by numerous conservation organisations such as the RSPB, Birdlife International and Swift Conservation (above).

One talk I especially wanted to go to was by Magnus Robb of the Sound Approach. After his discovery of the Omani Owl in March 2013, which he described as a new species at the time, it has been shown by others that the old type specimen of the closely related Hume’s Owl is a different species from all the other Hume’s Owls (ie those that that are regularly seen in the Levant and Arabia). It has been speculated that the type specimen of ‘Hume’s Owl’, which was collected in Pakistan 135 years ago, is in fact an Omani Owl. Magnus confirmed that their DNA analysis of feathers from a recently trapped Omani Owl proved this to be the case and in addition an owl found trapped on someone’s balcony in north-east Iran also proved to be an Omani Owl. So instead of discovering a new species, the Sound Approach rediscovered one that hadn’t been seen for 135 years and extended it’s range from two narrow wadis in Oman’s Al Hajar mountains to an area that covers NE Iran and southern Pakistan, although of course not all areas in this vast range will actually hold Omani Owls.

For more details see http://www.rarebirdalert.co.uk/v2/Content/Sound_Approach_Unravelling_the_mystery_of_the_Omani_Owl.aspx?s_id=519400636

For an interview of Magnus Robb by Martin Garner go to https://soundcloud.com/birdingfrontiers

For my account of my trip to Oman to see Omani Owl see https://gryllosblog.wordpress.com/2014/02/15/1st-9th-february-2014-the-omani-owl-twitch/

IMG_6390 Omani Owl resolved

Magnus shows a photo of the Iranian example of Omani Owl.

IMG_6398 DIMW talk

Perhaps the most entertaining talk was in the evening of the 21st was an account of ‘best days birding in Britain’ from Bill Oddie, Adam Rowlands, Lucy McRobert and Ian Wallace. Each gave a short account of their most outstanding day in the UK. All but one account was about a day full of migrants and rarities but Lucy told of the day she saw all four species of grouse in Scotland. Her best line was when she described a male Capercaillie as the ‘most magnificent cock I’ve ever seen’.

IMG_6399 Killian and DIMW

DIM (Ian) Wallace, here talking to another birding legend Killian Mullarney, is a true legend of the birding scene. Now in his eighties he is known for his eccentric manner, evocative paintings, editorship of the groundbreaking BWP handbooks, his many pioneering identification articles and his indefatigable rarity finding. Some of his discoveries have been mocked by a later generation of rarity experts but we can say that without doubt that many of the field criteria that are routinely used today were first established by DIMW.

The BTO were holding a ringing demonstration and nearby they had a poster showing all foreign UK ringing recoveries accrued over the 100+ years of the ringing scheme. Of course they can’t label every dot to species, so it is interesting to speculate which species are involved in the far-flung recoveries. Without doing any additional research I guess that the concentration off Labrador/Newfoundland would refer to seabirds like Kittiwake, Fulmars and Great Skuas, the coastal South American ones would almost entirely be Manx Shearwaters, coastal southern Africa are various tern species, the Cape and Natal are Barn Swallows, the Australian and southern oceans are Artcic Terns. Presumably most recoveries from the Levant are Lesser Whitethroats but what species were recovered in Canada just east of the Rockies, in interior South America, in Pakistan, Iran, Mongolia and far eastern Russia on the northern shores of the Sea of Okhotsk? Note the paucity of recoveries from north-east Africa and the Arabian Peninsula, showing that with the exception of Lesser Whitethroats few if any British birds enter African via this flyway.

IMG_6403 Ring recoveries map

A map of all BTO ringing recoveries.

The above map leads on nicely to my bird ringing which has kept me pretty busy during this month. Early (0430) starts, the need to keep up to date with uploading the data collected and in addition, my attempts to collate a lot of the data and other articles into a long-awaited ringing group report has meant that I have had little time to work on this blog. But there again its better to be busy in retirement than to sit around watching day-time TV as many retirees do!

I have been trying to get to Durlston as often as I can during the month, hindered though by the unseasonal weather we have been experiencing. Unlike some ringing stations where the ringers live on site and can quickly respond to changes in the weather, Durlston is a 30 minute drive away, so we don’t usually visit on days that start wet then clear later, or are characterised by intermittent rain. That said this ‘autumn’ we have made nine visits in August and three in July, ringed 658 birds of 28 species with a further 127 birds ringed in the spring.

IMG_6362 adult gropper

This time of year is the most interesting both in terms of the variety of species we ring and also in the range of age classes that we see. Freshly fledged juveniles, birds in the middle of the partial post-juvenile moult, freshly moulted first years, juveniles of species like Long-tailed Tit that have a full wing moult soon after fledging, adults in active wing moult, adults that have completed their moult and abraded adults that defer moulting until they reach their winter quarters (like this adult Grasshopper Warbler) can all be seen during the same ringing session.

IMG_6370 Common Redstart - better

One of the most attractive migrants that we see at Durlston is the Common Redstart, this first year was ringed on  18th August ….

IMG_6369 Black Redstart juv

…. on the same day we also trapped this juvenile Black Redstart, a much rarer species that we have only ringed once before. In view of the scarcity of this species and that this bird is a recently fledged juvenile, it is possible that this bird is the offspring of the adult female we ringed on 23rd April this year. Incidently we also trapped a Common Redstart on 23rd April meaning we have had two double-redstart days this year. Photos of the adult birds in April can be seen on an earlier post on this blog.

IMG_6417 Lytchett Heath

We have also been ringing at Lytchett Bay. As well as our usual site in the reeds near the River Sherford we have also been using a new site at Lytchett Heath which has been very productive both in terms of the number of birds ringed but also in the number of controls (birds previously ringed by others) we have encountered. I hope to post a summary of recent recoveries/controls in a future post.

IMG_6414 Lytchett Heath

On a cold morning the dew on the cobwebs is most photogenic …

IMG_6416 Lytchett Heath dawn

…. even more so when the sun rises.

IMG_6365 juv Beardie

This recently fledged Bearded Tit, a species that has recently been placed in its own family, was one of the highlights of a recent ringing session.

P1180532 Bluethroat TE LB

But the real highlight of our recent ringing was this first year male Bluethroat that was trapped on 29th August. We had a public ringing demonstration for the sites owners, Dorset Wildlife Trust, at Lytchett Heath and most of the group were there to help. Some opted to ring near the River Sherford where this bird was trapped. There was just enough time before the demo for those interested to rush over from the heath to the Sherford (leaving the heath site well manned of course) to see it before it was released. Photo by Terry Elborn.

Bluethroat 3 Lyt bay 29.08

The eponymous blue on the throat shows that this bird is a male. At least two populations occur in Europe, white-spotted birds in southern/central Europe and red-spotted ones in Scandinavia but the ‘spot’ within the blue of the throat can only be seen on spring males. At this time of year it is most likely that this bird is of the red-spotted race. Photo by Bob Gifford.

And finally on 30th August sixteen, mainly local, birders took part in a Poole Harbour bird race, that means keeping within the geographic boundaries shown in the Sound Approach’s ‘Catching the Bug’. I have always been keen on doing a January bird race as it seems a great way of kicking off the New Year and it is a good way to meet up with friends that you haven’t seen since before Christmas. During my working years I was always busy when the idea of an August Poole Harbour race, with just two per team, was first mooted. Initially I wasn’t too keen this time either, but when Margaret said she would like to join me we formed a team.

Unlike the keenest we weren’t up at 0430 to try for owls and nightjars but started birding in the Studland area at 0700. We had a stroke of luck when we bumped into Mike Gould and Tom Carly just after they had found a Wryneck, but after that most of the rest of the day was predictable. After birding around Studland we visited the southern edge of Poole Harbour, Middlebere, Arne, Swineham and Lytchett Bay (where the wader bonanza really boosted the list) Having reached the ‘ton’ and with Margaret having hurt her leg getting out of the car we decided to quit but after freshening up we headed for the post-race gathering and managed to pick up two more species, Yellow-legged Gull in Holes Bay and Jay in Poole Park giving us a final score of 102.

With Margaret being the least experienced of the twelve participants and with us taking a fairly relaxed approach it was clear from the onset that we weren’t going to win, but we didn’t come last. The winners, the Sound Approach’s Paul Morton and Nick Hopper, set a new record for birds seen/heard in one day in Poole Harbour with a score of 130, smashing the previous best of 123.

The following pictures show most or all of the participants plus Marie and Mo who came along for the evening. Out usual pub was packed solid with a ‘sausage festival’, the next had run out of beer(!), a third was  closed, so we settled with the ‘Slug and Lettuce’ with a very nice curry at nearby Tandori Nights.

IMG_6418 post race drinks1

L-R: Marie Smith, Mo Constantine, Jackie Hull, Mark Constantine, Mike Gould, Tom Carley, Paul Morton (straight from the race still with his wellies on) Nick Hopper and Shaun Robson.

IMG_6422 bird race drinks2

In addition this photo shows: Steve W Smith (standing far left – his position not his politics), Peter Moore, James Phillips, Steve F Smith, Terry Elborn, Margaret and in bottom right Nick Hull.

March 2015 (mainly) – Catching up: musical and social events, Undiscovered Owls and a dip on an eclipse.   Leave a comment

I don’t know if its Facebook or WordPress’ fault but the picture that comes up when I post the blog link isn’t the one that appears on my Facebook Timeline. Can anyone help me stop this?

IMG_2550 Rick Wakeman

On 13th February we attended a lovely evening at the Lighthouse in Poole entitled ‘Yet another evening with Rick Wakeman’ Just the man himself and a piano, this proved to be a wonderful evening showcasing his fantastic keyboard skills as he played a series of pieces depicting various times in his life.

IMG_2554 Rick Wakeman

Musician, composer, TV personality, raconteur and comedian, Rick told stories about the recording of ‘Morning Has Broken’ with Cat Stevens, his time with Yes, describing singed Jon Anderson as ‘I have never known someone who cares so deeply about the planet whilst living on a totally different one’ and what happened when his mother took all the inhabitants of an old people’s home to see one of his extravagant rock concerts.

IMG_0361 Paloma Faith

Over a month later on the 15th March we visited the BIC to see the lovely and very talented Paloma Faith in concert. Her music was wonderful (although I found the sound mix to be a bit strong on the treble for my ears) but what really grabbed my attention was the support act ….

IMG_0298 Ty Taylor

…. I had never heard of California band Vintage Trouble before (although I have seen singer Ty Taylor performing with Paloma on the Jools Holland Show). The musicians played excellent blues and rock style but Ty Taylor stole the show, if you shut your eyes you could believe you were listening to James Brown or Otis Redding. His energetic act took him all over the stage and indeed all over the auditorium. He returned to perform an Aretha Franklin song with Paloma during the main set.

IMG_0304 Vintage Trouble

Stupidly I didn’t take my camera so these shots were taken on my phone. This was particularly annoying as we had great seats just behind the mixing deck free from other people’s heads. Here Ty Taylor, Rick Barrio Dill, Nalle Colt and Richard Danielson line up to be photographed by and with the fans.

IMG_0315 Paloma Faith

In the second half Paloma Faith did a great set on her white art deco stage, complete with a ten piece band (most of whom are hiding in this shot).

IMG_0368 Paloma Faith

And here dances with her backing singers.

IMG_2636 Amber

Some family news. Our granddaughter Amber is still working in Essex and living with her aunt and uncle Anita and John. She came back to Dorset for a week and paid us a visit or two. As those of you who have visited us might notice, we have had all the doors and some internal windows in the house replaced recently which gives it a much brighter look.

IMG_1685 John, Anita, Kara & M

John and Anita also paid us a visit on the way back from visiting friends in Weymouth and Kara popped in too. Coincidently it was Mother’s Day so that was a nice treat for Margaret.

IMG_1684 Bob, Alan and Ian

In the last fortnight I have had a reunion with an old friend and had to say goodby to some new ones. Alan Martin, treasurer and one of the leading ringers in Stour Ringing Group up to 1996, was back in Dorset on business so three of us joined him for a drink in Wareham on 13th. L-R Bob Gifford, Alan Martin and Ian Alexander

IMG_1686 Farewells

We were all back in a pub in Wareham (well nearby Stoborough to be precise) on the 17th to say farewell to two members of the ringing group. Simon Breeze, a warden at Durlston is leaving for a new job in Somerset and Mick Cook has decided to retire from ringing due to other commitments. L-R Ian, Bob, Shaun Robson, Simon Breeze, Mike Gould, Sean Walls and Mick Cook. We wish them both  well but manning the ringing site at Durlston without their input and their expertise is going to be a challenge .

On 18th it was back to Wareham again, this time for the AGM of the Dorset Bird Club which we held in the Methodist church. The Club had looked like it was in danger of folding but thanks to a very generous offer from the Birds of Poole Harbour charity, Marcus Lawson has been employed for two years to take the Club forwards. After the AGM we had a fascinating talk from Magnus Robb on the new Sound Approach book ‘Undiscovered Owls’. We heard some of the wonderful sound recordings (the one of a Ural Owl was so atmospheric), were informed about Magnus’ discovery of the Omani Owl and learned about how the Little Owls over much of Europe, North Africa and Asia are not Little Owls at all , but a separate species they are naming the ‘Cucumeow’. It was one of the most entertaining and informative talks I have ever been to.

IMG_1689 Magnus at DBC AGM

Magnus answering questions after his talk on Undiscovered Owls. It looks like this book is going to be of an even higher standard than the four the Sound Approach has produced already. See http://soundapproach.co.uk/product/undiscovered-owls/ for details including a pre-publication discount offer.

On the morning of the 20th there was the long-awaited partial eclipse of the Sun. It was going to be about an 88% coverage of the Sun by the Moon but that would have been spectacular enough. However there was thick cloud in our area and all we noticed was a drop in light levels and temperature. Fortunately I have seen several partial eclipses and a total eclipse, although the latter only briefly. In August 1999 I took a flight from Hurn airport specifically to see the total eclipse. We flew SW of Cornwall to the area of totality. Views through the aircraft windows were good but not excellent, because in spite being in a window seat as soon as I had seen it I had to duck down to let the other two passengers in my row have a view and because almost immediately the pilot had to turn the plane around to let the other side have a chance. As a result views of totality were restricted to a few seconds. One of the most memorable things was watching the shadow of the Moon race across the clouds towards us leaving a dark purple stain in its wake.

1999 eclipse scan of print

Although far better shots can be seen on the internet I have uploaded a scan of this photo which was taken from the cockpit of the 1999 charter flight and was delivered as print to all the passengers. It has been on my sideboard for the last 16 years and has faded some what. This along with it being taken though an aircraft’s window explains the poor quality.

And finally I delayed posting this entry until after our Ringing Group’s AGM on the 22nd. I thought it would be nice to have a photo of all of us together, well 13 out of the 16 of us actually. The evening went well and we made lots of plans for the future, sorted out a few issues and awarded the ‘Stoate Award’ for the worst paperwork entry of the year, but after the meeting had broken up I realised I had forgotten to take any photos. We have managed to go three years since the last AGM (does that make it a TGM?) so it might be 2018 before I have a chance to do that again.

 

1st – 9th February 2014 – the Omani Owl twitch   1 comment

I don’t usually do a foreign trip based around finding a single species, but that is what happened during the first nine days of February.

In March last year Magnus Robb and Rene Pop of the Sound Approach made a startling discovery, whilst attempting to record Pallid Scops Owl, a new species to science, the Omani Owl, was found in the Al Hajar mountains of northern Oman. The paper in the link below was published on 5th October 2013.

http://soundapproach.co.uk/sites/default/files/Owl%20pdf.pdf   Subsequently Arnoud van den Berg was able to take some amazing photos

Strix_omanensis_24-05-2013_

The Omani Owl. Photograph by Arnoud van den Berg/the Sound Approach.

.

Partly because it was the first new non-cyptic bird species for science to be discovered in Western Palearctic (Shirihai and Svensson boundaries) for forty years and partly because I knew all the people involved in the discovery, I was very interested in seeing the owl. Discussions with Mike Watson of Birdquest led to the setting up of the Omani Owl Expedition for the first week of February, a time which was expected (but failed to be) peak time for vocalisations. In the event four of us booked on the tour and here is the story of the trip…..

.

IMG_5596-Gulls-inc-Pallas

Day One. On our first afternoon we visited the beach at Ras As Sawadi. The main attraction being the large number of wintering gulls and terns. Most are Heuglin’s Gulls, a race of Lesser Black-backed from arctic Siberia, but include Slender-billed, Steppe, Caspian and the dark-headed Pallas’ Gulls from central and western Asia and the local Sooty Gulls.

IMG_5599-Gulls-inc-Pallas

Unfortunately as it was the weekend many of the locals were racing 4x4s and off road buggies up and down the beach making the critical examination of the gulls difficult. The large gull in the centre and the one at bottom left are Pallas’, the rest are Heuglin’s Gulls and Slender-billed.

IMG_5664-riders-on-the-beac

The bane of any gull watcher!

IMG_5653-Sooty-Gull

More or less confined to the Arabian Peninsula, Sooty Gull were easy to identify and quite common.

IMG_5938-barabensis

Of all the taxa of ‘large white-headed gulls’ one of the least known is ‘barabensis’ or Steppe Gull. Variously considered a subspecies of Lesser Black-backed or Caspian Gull or even a species in its own right, this individual had the correct wing tip pattern but had a pale, not dark eye, something that apparently occurs in those ‘barabensis’ that winter in the Arabian Gulf.

IMG_5958-shark-head

We were appalled to see about 20 decapitated sharks on one part of the beach. Worldwide over 100 million sharks are killed annually, mainly for shark fin soup. Clearly this is having a huge effect on the ecology of the oceans.

.

Early on day two we headed north to the Sohar Sun Farms. This agricultural area has irrigated fields, piles of slurry and sewage ponds, all highly attractive to birds in a desert environment. Unfortunately  the farm is closing and even as we birded around the cow sheds we saw cattle being removed in trucks. However we saw lots of good birds, it was easily the birdiest site of the trip.

IMG_5877-RW-Lapwing

Vociferous Red-wattled Lapwings were common and conspicuous.

IMG_5787-Sociable-Lapwing

… but pride of place went to a group of 14 Sociable Lapwings on the irrigated fields.fields. This Central Asian species has declined precipitously in recent years and is considered to be critically endangered ….

IMG_5730-WT-Lapwing

… and several beautiful White-tailed Lapwings completed the trio of lapwing species.

IMG_5682-Oriental-Skylark

Three Oriental Skylarks was a good find.

IMG_5825-Imperial-Eagle

Raptors included Bonelli’s, Steppe, Greater Spotted and Imperial (in photo above) Eagles.

IMG_5834-Indian-roller

Pretty Indian Rollers were seen all along the coastal strip.

P2020006-dusk-in-owl-wadi

We returned for a late lunch and then headed out for our first owl sortie. We traveled to the wadi where the Omani Owl was first discovered and as dusk fell, searched at the ‘type locality’.

IMG_5862-New-moon

Once the New Moon had set it became very dark indeed. We stayed at the site from 1730 – 0030 seeing several little Pallid Scops Owls but no Omani Owls, although one was possibly heard to call once.

.

On day three we spent the morning at a farm close to the hotel. It wasn’t as good as the Sohar farm for birds but we did see several Desert Wheatears and in the nearby scrub, an Asian Desert Warbler. We also made a repeat visit to the beach at Ras Al Sawadi but the tide was very high and most gulls were too distant.

IMG_5883-Desert-Warbler

The pale-eyed Asian Desert Warbler is a scarce visitor from Central Asia.

IMG_5881-Izzy-Wheatear

This Isabelline Wheatear shows the diagnostic tail pattern.

IMG_5914-Desert-Wheatear

Adult male Desert Wheatears are unmistakable but the all black tail is diagnostic in all plumages.

IMG_5926-Green-Bee-eater

The beautiful Green Bee-eater perched an the wire fences.

IMG_5873-Graceful-Prinia

Due to it’s generally scruffy appearance it has been suggested that this bird would be better named the Disgraceful Prinia!

We returned to the owl wadi in the afternoon to allow us to have a good look around before it got dark. After dusk we joined up with another birder, John McLoughlin (aka Johnny Mac) who had contacted Mike in advance, we searched similar areas to the previous night, seeing more Pallid Scops Owls and hearing a definite contact note from the Omani Owl at the ‘type locality’, but no amount of searching with the spotlight would reveal the bird. We began to realise why this bird had remained undiscovered for so long!

At one stage we saw someone else spotlighting from the rough track that ran along the bottom of the wadi, some 200m or so from the road. We realised they were locals and when a spotlight was shone on them they spun the vehicle round and zoomed off, firing a shot in the air as they went. Clearly the presence of local hunters in the area wasn’t desirable whilst we were owling.

Around about 2145 we stopped at a pull-in near the start of the wadi to eat a snack. As soon as we got tucking-in we heard an owl call. A number of different calls were heard, one low and gruff, another like the ‘kwick’ of a young Tawny Owl and a few shrill notes that sounded rather familiar. The distant rock face was spotlighted and an owl found. Chaos, of course ensued, as we all tried to get views through the scope, pass the torch around so the torch holder could have a look as well and try and record the vocalisations, all this in a lay-by littered with discarded wood and plastic which had us tripping over in the dark. Although 300m or more away, the circular facial disk and dark streaked plumage could be seen in the powerful beam before it flew off into the inky blackness.  We were elated, views were distant, but we were sure we had the owl ‘under the belt’. It was decided that if left now we could have a celebratory pint or two in the bar!

.

The morning of day four saw us return to the owl wadi. We found a rough track that led much closer to where the owl had been the night before – but then made an unwelcome discovery – Little Owls, or to be more precise Lilith Owls, a potential split from Little Owl named after the Babylonian queen of the night. We were downcast, had we screwed up, was the bird we saw last night in the torch beam merely Anthene (noctua) lilith? Back at the hotel we listened to the recording from last night, on reflection they were similar to Little Owl (differences would be expected if lilith was a separate species from Little Owl) but the strange gruff call hadn’t been recorded. I was adamant that what I saw in the scope wasn’t a Little Owl, was completely the wrong shape – both species must have been present. We contacted Magnus who suggested that the arrival of an Omani Owl may have caused the Little/Lilith’s to start calling; quite possible, but still an air of uncertainty hung over our sighting.

IMG_0130-Desert-Lark

Other birds in the area included this smart Desert Lark ….

IMG_0121-Blue-Rock-Thrush

… and a Blue Rock Thrush

We decided the best option was to come back later in the night after the traffic had stopped and stay out until the early hours. We rested in the afternoon and arrived at 2045 and stayed until 0330. We didn’t get a squeak from Pallid Scops, Lilith or Omani Owls, the highlight perhaps being some very vocal Red Fox’s, their blood curdling cries echoing around the wadi.

At around 0230 I suggested Mike should play the lilith calls from last night at the same locality and then spotlight them. This worked. One responded immediately and when spotlighted it was obvious that it wasn’t the bird from the night before, appearing as just a tiny round ball on the cliff face. We felt better; yesterdays views weren’t much but at least they must have been of the real ‘McCoy’.

.

Day five Hardly surprisingly, as we didn’t get to bed until 0430, we weren’t up early. A very late breakfast was enlivened by views of a Crested Honey-buzzard outside the restaurant. This species is a very rare, but regular winter visitor to the Middle East from Siberia, the bulk of the population wintering in SE Asia. I got good views but didn’t have my camera with me. Mike got some good shots and I’ll post some here later when I can get a copy. We spent the afternoon and evening in a completely different wadi some distance away.

IMG_6034-new-wadi

This extensive wadi system had many side valleys all with spectacular scenery.

IMG_6002-gardens-new-wadi

We were shown around these charming irrigated gardens by some welcoming locals. They looked full of promise but actually were devoid of birds.

IMG_0041-RT-Wheatear

We did see a number of Red-tailed (or Persian) Wheatears, winter visitors from Iran.

IMG_6019-new-wadi

As the sun set we waited for darkness, but by 2300 we had seen or heard absolutely nothing. The only good thing we discovered was that some of the locals knew the Omani Owl vocalisations, but said they could only be heard much higher up. You could hide a thousand owls in this terrain!

.

Day six saw us making a long drive up to the UAE border for two Omani specialties, the Arabian race of Collared Kingfisher and Varied Wheatear. Somewhat knackered after multiple late nights and irregular meals, we opted for breakfast before we left, which may have been a mistake as we dipped on the kingfisher but did, at least, see the wheatear.

IMG_0021-Variable-Wheatear

We found this Variable Wheatear just before we had to leave. The birds wintering habitat is being destroyed for yet more roads, something that Oman seems to have a surplus of. As the name suggest Variable Wheatears come in three different morphs (now ascribed to subspecies), this form is known as ‘picata’.

Back at the hotel we had good news, whilst we were searching the big wadi last night, Johnny Mac had found a separate smaller wadi and had heard an Omani Owl give its quiet contact call at 1830 and 2100. It was obvious where we were going to go owling tonight.

IMG_0031-Wadi-Mac

At the request of the Sound Approach guys who are still researching the Omani Owl, the location of the wadi is being kept quiet for now, we just called it ‘wadi Mac’

IMG_0045-Waadi-Mac

Again we waited patiently for dark but we had no success at all. However we returned pre-dawn on the seventh day and saw two Omani Owls perched and in flight. Views were too distant and too brief for photos but we now knew that there was a confirmed second locality for the species and we were the first two people see two together. We were delighted!

.

Day seven. After our pre-dawn owling we returned to the hotel and packed up and drove the three hours to the Sayq Plateau on the south side of the Al Hajar mountains. We spent the afternoon and all of day eight birding in this extensive area. As well as the birds in the photos below, we saw a Ring Ousel (a major Omani rarity) and a flock of 18 Mistle Thrushes, there have only been four previous records (two singles and a pair).

IMG_0154-Sayq-Plateau

The Sayq Plateau consists of boulder strewn slopes covered with ancient twisted olive and juniper trees. Birds are few and far between but contain some real gems.

IMG_0126-RT-Rock-Thrush

A number of Rufous-tailed Rock Thrushes showed well.

IMG_0120-Pied-Wheatear

This wintering Pied Wheatear perched up in a village, hence the unusual background.

IMG_0035-Streaked-Scrub-War

It took a long slog across the stony plateau before we found this Streaked Scrub Warbler – right back where we started. This species is now placed in it’s own monotypic family and so is high on ‘family listers’ hit list.

IMG_0105-trerraces

A number of picturesque village perched on the edge of deep chasms.

IMG_0101-Sayq-Plateau

Spectacular!

IMG_0090-bombed-village

This village was a holdout for a number of insurgents  in the 1950’s and was bombed by the British at the request of the then Sultan.

.

Day nine. We had intended to look for Omani Owls on the Sayq Plateau, but the nights were cold and windy and not conducive for listening for owls in the dark. After some debate we decided to return to ‘wadi Mac’ for one last try before we flew home. As a result we got up at 0130, checked out at 0200 and arrived at the wadi at 0500. At 0610 we found two Omani Owls perched high on the cliff and were able to watch them until it got light. One entered a small cave which could be a nest site, whilst the other perched some way away. We had to leave at 0630 to go the airport but somehow managed to stay until 0650. We did arrive in time for the flight and arrived home the same evening.

OK, the views were poor, the birds were nearly a half kilometer away but between us and Johnny Mac, we had found a new site for the owls, were the first to observe a pair together, found a possible nest hole and been the first to see the species in daylight.

The Sound Approach intend to follow up our sightings and hopefully soon, staked out Omani Owls will be on every Omani birding itinerary.

1008715_10203275415472035_724101267_o

Omani Owl – can you spot it? It’s above the right hand corner of the tree. Photo by Mike Watson.

Posted February 15, 2014 by gryllosblog in Uncategorized

Tagged with , ,