Weekend getaway to Salalah in Oman - July 2009
My family had migrated south for the summer and we had an unexpected holiday in July, so I found a cheap air ticket, rented a 4 x 4 and packed my camera, birding gear and headed to Salalah in the southern part of Oman. It was not the best time of year because it was still too early in the khareef (monsoon) season, but that did not deter me. Images by Mike Pope
I arrived at the Arabian Sea Villas after sunset in mist and drizzle, a welcome relief from the heat of Kuwait. I split my trip into 2 parts - Friday exploring the desert north of the Dhofar mountains and the Saturday the eastern coastal sites. It was an early start in the dark, rain and mist and as a result very slow going. First stop was Wadi Rabkut where it was really windy (from the khareef being pushed over the Dhofar mountains) but clear. I found one of the target birds, Stone Partridge but could not get close enough to photograph. This image gives an idea of the habitat
From here I continued north to Al Balid Farm, a pivot field project with irrigated crops that provide food and water for birds. After asking permission I could drive freely around the farm. The first birds I encountered were scattered flocks of Crowned Sandgrouse - a male and female together.
A small mixed group.
A male in liftoff.
Black crowned Finch Larks were all over the farm - males, females and juveniles.
I found a small flock of 8 Turtle Doves feeding in one of the pivot fields.
As I got closer to this Blue throated Agama - he changed from a bland pale and displayed his blue throat.
Next stop was Qatbit, but by this time it was really hot - almost every bush providing shade around the hotel had 5 or 6 Brown necked Ravens sittng under them trying to escape the heat. The only other bird seen here was a Hoopoe Lark
After filling up, it was time to try and get to the oasis at Muntasar - but solo this proved difficult. It is signposted from the main Muscat road, but after driving into the desert for 15km the tracks faded and I decided to call it a day.
I was now 300km north of Salalah and it was a long drive back in a headwind. I stopped at the little village Thumrayt for a flock of 15+ Fan tailed Ravens and had the locals come and investigate what I was doing as I drove around trying to get a decent photograph - this was the best I could do in the wind and poor light.
Here you can see the fog of the khareef being pushed over the Dhofar mountains on the trip back to Salalah - it was very slow going back down the mountain in the rain with a few accidents seen.
Saturday it was time to explore the east and I had another early start. First stop was East Khawr, but not much seen here. Ayn Hamran was next and I struggled with humidity and fogged up lenses on camera and binny's. Ayn Hamran was a special site at the base of the Dhofar mountains and had many familiar african species.
An early arrival here is essential and as a result I had the whole place to myself. I felt at home with the many familiar calls from the african species which can be found at this site. At the base of the mountains I found a few flocks of Arabian Partridge - a smart looking bird
Ruppells Weavers were seen vying for females attention around their nest sites.
I got onto Bruces Green Pigeon, but a fogged up lens prevented me getting what would have been a great image. Later I was able to photograph one of the many and active Grey headed Kingfishers - so good to see birds with colour.
Tritrams Grackles were numerous.
The White breasted White-eyes took a little more work to find.
Singing Bush Larks were everywhere, but mostly seen calling on their aerial display. I did find a few singing from perches and feeding.
Many of these frogs were seen in the puddles of water from the rain, on the road.
In the flat rocky areas on the way out of Ayn Hamran African Rock Buntings were seen - this is a female.
I could have spent a few more hours at this site, but had limited time - next stop was Taqar on the coast, where the mist was still rolling in over the sea. I found a large mixed flock of gulls and terns - predominantly made up of Sooty Gulls
and a handful of Swift Terns.
A lone Heuglins Gull amongst the Sooty's and Swift Terns.
I drove along the reedbeds in the hope of finding Yellow Bittern, no luck - but I did find a few Indian Pond Herons.
Kentish Plovers with young were seen along the road.
I drove to Wadi Darbat, but as I ascended the mountain the mist descended and we were down to 5m visibility which meant I couldnt get to Tawi Atayr (the limestone sinkhole and home of isolated population of Yemen Serin) nor Wadi Hanna (home of Baobab trees and Golden winged Grosbeak). Whilst contemplating where to go next, this Blackstart landed in the gloom next to my car.
The only option was Khawr Rawri on the coast. I stopped first to scan the cliffs the plunge into sea for Red tailed Tropicbird - not today.
No mist at sea level later in the day did allow birding. Khawr Rawri has a lot of archeological interest with its 4th century BC pre-Islamic settlement called Sumhuran
I would love to see some of these signs in Kuwait as part of a drive to protect the few critical sites that harbour resident and migratory birds.
Down at the Khawr, some Common Terns were seen roosting on the bank.
Spoonbills feeding along the fringes.
A poor shot of a Lesser Whistling Duck.
A female Shining Sunbird sheltering from the wind.
A few Common Kestrels were seen on the way out of the reserve.
Driving back past Taqar I found a soaring Honey Buzzard.
All too soon I had to head back to the airport - even though there was still much to explore and many species not yet seen - it certainly means a return trip toward the tail end of the khareef season. At the airport I saw a male Shining Sunbird
and a few Yellow vented Bulbuls.
Evason Ma'In Hot Springs and Spa, Jordan - March 2009
My family and I had a 3-day break to Ma'In in Jordan staying at the newly opened Evason Ma'In Hotel, situated 260m below sea level. This was a weekend to revitalise the soul, with time spent in the Spa and a day at the Dead Sea and I can say emphatically that it worked. Images by Mike Pope
As with any visit to a new location and country the urge to get out birding more than you should is difficult to control. I was up before breakfast most mornings to stroll around the hotel gardens and hot springs which pour out of the surrounding sandstone mountains. It is an excting time, as most birds seen could be new, the diversity around the hotel was limited but I enjoyed it nevertheless. African Rock Martins hawking over the hotel rooftop was a familiar species.
I was quite surprised to find a breeding pair of Blackbirds
Yellow vented Bulbuls were pretty common in the gardens
I was lucky to catch a large flock of migrating Cranes as they passed overhead - not a great image, but a good tick for me.
A walk down to the Spa produced a single Blackstart
Palestine Sunbirds were attracted to flowering plants in the gardens, this is the drabber female
and the unmistakeable male
The view of the Spa further down the sandstone valley from our window to give an idea of the tranquility of this hotel
Richard has kindly given permission for me to add these images to the web page. I had asked to do so as they included a photograph of a Slender-billed Curlew and some field observations of Bald Ibis. The first species could well be extinct and the second just back from the brink.
October 1985, Taizz, Yemen
Western Reef Heron
1 Jan 1984 at Hodeidah, Yemen.
I spent the better part of last week attending the 10th Conservation Workshop held by the Breeding Centre for Endangered Arabian Wildlife in Sharjah. Here are a couple of images from that visit.
White-tailed Plover -one of the twenty plus seen at the Pivet Fields in Dubai
Little Green Bee-eater one of many seen.
From one of the captive Breeding schemes a Bald Ibis - a species discussed at the workshop