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

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Oman; Muntasar Oasis; 29th October 2015


Awoke at 05.30am after sleeping out in the desert, this time without tents, under the stars. We packed up quickly as a result and were on the road as soon as possible. We had three Ospreys along the road first thing, perched on the telegraph posts as we got underway for another long journey through the desert. Traversing the desert had been broken into three stages, this being the second. We were headed for a desert oasis, where we would spend the night camping out after birding there late afternoon, then we would be in place to witness the arrival of three species of Sandgrouse in the morning, an exciting prospect...
 We stopped of for coffee after a while in a garage, where we purhased some fruit rolls, which were rather tasty. The trip through the desert saw some wonderful scenes, one massive dune bank being particularily breathtaking. 
After three hours driving we stopped at a restaraunt called Al Ghaftayn for food, first checking out the gardens, as there was much green foliage here. First up were a couple of Spotted Flycatcher, before we located a Menetries Warbler, the latter giving good views. I was rather skulking in a dense bush, though we eventually had good views.  Moving on we found a nice Black headed Bunting among the House Sparrows. A Wryneck and an Ortolan Bunting then put in a joint appearance, very nice birding. We systematically checked the garden and then had an Eastern Black Redstart, a nice bird to see. After that we located a second Menetries Warbler and 2 'tristus' ChiffChaff. Last up, best of all, started with a 'tek' call and ended with an Eastern Olivacious Warbler, leaving me a happy camper. The bird was feeding in the trees in front of the restaraunt.
 We had lunch and hit the road as quickly as we could. We still had a few hours driving to do and we were looking forward to reaching Muntasar, where we would also camp out..


A typical view on Menetries Warbler! The species was very skulking, though we did mange better views that this in the field...

Spotted Flycatcher


Above and below; Black headed Bunting was new for the trip. Initially, I was the only one who saw it well, though happily, it was relocated a short while later and we all got good views of the bird. The bird was initially feeding amongst House Sparrows.



Ortolan bunting. Always nice to see Ortolan Bunting. Little did we know at the time, this would prove to be the only one of the trip...

Common Whitethroat. A dark bird, initially a little confusing, but this is a bird of asian origin.


 Onwards to the oasis at Muntasar. We were keenly looking forward to this site, which we had been assured was an amazing place to birdwatch. We were glad of the four wheel drive for the last leg over several kilometers of dirt road. As we approached the vegetated oasis, which is just a small area with water in the middle of the desert. A few hundred meters away we had great views of two Black Crowned Sparrow Lark and a pair of Short Toed Lark. We grabbed some photos and closed in on our goal. We passed a berber camp a few kilometres from the oasis, there were many camels in the area which had attracted a large flock of Collared Dove. We checked around the camp without seeing anything strange. The large vegetated area around the oasis was looming large and we were keen to get there now..
Black Crowned Sparrow Lark; Male

Black Crowned Sparrow Lark; Male

Black Crowned Sparrow Lark; Female

Black Crowned Sparrow Lark

Black Crowned Sparrow Lark; Female

Tempatures were stifling in the afternoon, here a Greater Short toed Lark takes shelter in the shadow of a rock, the only respite available from the searing sun.

 As we drew up beside the oasis, there was a small area of wet ground, with long grass and a ditch filled with water plants, which extended out to the south of the oasis like a large peninsula of green. We took the west side of this first and slowly crawled along in the landrover, with the windows rolled down. All hell was about to break lose and it started with Danny screaming for the cruiser to stop suddenly. Danny was almost comically vocifrous in his sudden need for the vehicle to come to a stop. I looked out the right side of the vehicle and saw a large creamy bird trotting along the ditch and nearly had a coronary. There was general elation all round as we clapped eyes on a Cream Coloured Courser. The bird was just metres away as it ran along the near side of the ditch. We all had phenomenal views of it from the vehicle, whan we managed to pull ourselves together. This was a lifer for Danny and I, a wader you dream about seeing from a young age and we were both over the moon. This was a dream start at the oasis. Though we were keen to move on, this was a bird to savour and we watched it for some time, got plenty of photos and grabbed some video footage. Muntasar had delivered the goods already and it was far from finished...

Cream Coloured Courser


Cream Coloured Courser


Cream Coloured Courser


Cream Coloured Courser


Cream Coloured Courser


Cream Coloured Courser


Cream Coloured Courser


Cream Coloured Courser

Edited video footage of the Cream colured Courser at Muntasar. Click on HD for the highest resolution, available in 4K.


After enjoying the courser fully we drove around part of the oasis, starting at the west side and eventually working out way around the whole site in a clockwise direction. The water in the centre was a mass of huge reeds, which were dense and several metres high. There were birds around the edges in the bushes in some numbers. Be began to check everthing in earnest. Very quickly we picked up Daurian Shrike and Turkestan Shrike. The views were brilliant and we were able to run through the features at our leisure. This would prove to be an incredible place for viewing these birds and we were only too happy to familiarize ourselves with Turkestan Shrike. They were very variable indeed, some being rather subtle, whilst other wee more obvious. A Common Cuckoo and a Eurasian Roller were also present, as well as a few Blue Cheeked Bee Eater. The latter were hawking insects around the reedbeds. Also over the reedbeeds were a Sand Martin and several Barn Swallows. It seemed remearkable that so many passage migrants were present at such a small, isolated spot in the middle of such a vast desert. We then parked the car and began to check the area, making a full anti-clockwise circuit.
 Immediately we had Southern Grey Shrike, a really nice bird that gave good views. Around the area where we parked the car there were several Turkestan Shrike and a single Red backed Shrike. Moorhens called from the reeds and we wondered what else they might hold. More followed, with Desert Wheatear, a single Pied Wheatear, a Tree Pipit and a Spotted Flycatcher all showing really well. Eastern Black Redstart, a first calendar male was next. A Golden Oriole was flushed from the bushes. Then a Common Whitethroat, a 'tristus' Chiffchaff and a Menetries Warbler showed, there were birds everywhere. Several Citrine Wagtails were feeding around the pools to the north end, as well as a couple of Yellow Wagtail. After a while I picked up a bird on a small bush and scoped it. Immediately I was blown away by the sight of a huge wheatear with a stonking bill. I immediately rest of the lads got onto it and soon we saw the tail and confirmed it as a Hooded Wheatear, a lifer for all of us. It gave incredible views down to a few metres in the end and we were all delighted with this unexpected mountain species, a very difficult bird to get. At first it remeained out in the outer bushes, further out in the desert, before eventually moving closing, hawking insects from the tops of small bushes and trees. During these frequent sallies for insects we could clearly see the distinctive tail pattern, quite unlike any Wheatear species I had seen to date. Eventually it showed down to ten metres in front of Danny and I, it was a really fantastic moment when it finally gave itself up! The closest mountains were a long way away, this mountain species was way out of range and typical habitat. This was a real surprise species..
 Moving on we made our way back around to the Cream Coloured Courser and enjoyed even better views this time around. A Bluethroat fed along the ditch. A Tawny Pipit was found feeding on the ground close by, whilst a Garganey and Wood Sandpiper were flushed here.  Best of all were two 'maura' Siberian Stonechat, at least one of which was a 1st calendar male bird. This was simply stunning birding and we were now approaching the the car again, having completed our first circuit of the oasis on foot.



Red backed Shrike. Not too common here at the site, where it was vastly outnumbered by Turkestan Shrike.


Video footage of Red backed Shrike, taken at Muntasar. Compare to footage of Turkestan Shrike below. Remeber to click on to settings wheel to choose high definition...


Video footage of Turkestan Shrike. Rather pleased with this record footage of a potentially tricky subspecies to identify.


Turkestan Shrike or Daurian Shrike? This was a wonderful place to study the isabelline complex of shrikes....


Turkestan Shrike. Note the whitish supercilium. This one was rather pale underneath with little in the wat of markings, though this was a very variable plumage feature. The tail is very obviously reddish in this bird.


Turkestan Shrike


Turkestan Shrike


Blue Cheeked Bee Eaters


Blue Cheeked Bee Eaters


Blue Cheeked Bee Eaters




Video footage of Blue Cheeked Bee Eaters at the oasis....



Hooded Wheatear, pretty much how it appeared on first view. The bill was of mammoth proportions, a large wheatear with little dark on a rather orange tail. A wonderful bird...


Hooded Wheatear


Hooded Wheatear


Hooded Wheatear


Hooded Wheatear


Hooded Wheatear


Hooded Wheatear



Video of Hooded Whaetear at the oasis, a short film which also contains footage of Desert Wheatear...



Eurasian Roller


We certainly got the feeling our prescence had not gone unnoticed...


Camels around the oasis.


Southern Grey Shrike


Tawny Pipit


Red backed Shrike. A sequence of digiscopes showing a bird coughing up a pellet...
















Danny looking at Daurian Shrike...


Siberian Stonechat, ssp. maura


Siberian Stonechat, ssp maura. Not the most obvious 'sibe stonechat' I have ever seen on first glance. This could easily be passed over in western Europe at a quick glance...


Siberian Stonechat, ssp maura. A nice view of the uppertail covert's here. There was always something interesting to look at it seemed..


Eastern Black Redstart


 We soon did another as dusk fell and had the pleasure of seeing 52 Blue Cheeked Bee Eater come in to roost at the reed beds. It was a magnificent sight. The air was filled with their calls as they circled the north side of the reedbeeds, looking for a place to sleep. An adult male Eastern Black Redstart put in an appearance out of nowhere. As dusk fell, a Eurasian Nightjar rounded of an incredible days birding, hawking over the reedbeds at first. Eventualy we located the bird on the ground in our torch beams. It had been a quite wonderful days birding. We set up camp with some difficulty after realising our tent pegs would not penatrate the bedrock, just a couple of inches under the sand. We were forced to retreat back a little into the desert by mosquito's, which were a plague around the oasis. We did our notes in the evening, our trip list now standing at 141 species. We went to bed excited at the prospect of a morning full of Sandgrouse, the main reason we had come to this special place. We camped out for the third night in a row, a magical still night too, full of stars and camels passing in the night...

Turkestan Shrike


 Danny birding around the Oasis...


 Sunset at Muntasar...


 Desert evening sky..





Night falling at Muntasar. What an incredible birding location....


Summary of birds seen; Al Ghaftayn resthouse: Blue-cheeked Bee-eater 10, Wryneck 1, Tree Pipit 1, Eastern Black Redstart 1, Ménétries’s Warbler 2, Siberian Chiffchaff 3, Eastern Olivaceous Warbler 1, Spotted Flycatcher 2, Red-backed Shrike, Ortolan Bunting 1, Black-headed Bunting 1.  
Muntasar: Garganey 1, Cream-coloured Courser 1, Common Snipe, Wood Sandpiper 1, Moorhen 2, Common Cuckoo 1, European Nightjar, European Roller 1, Blue-cheeked Bee-eater 52, Short-toed Lark 5, Tree Pipit 1, Tawny Pipit 1, Barn Swallow 5, Sand Martin 1, Yellow Wagtail 5, Citrine Wagtail 2, Golden Oriole 1, Pied Wheatear 1, Hooded Wheatear 1 (female/juv.), Spotted Flycatcher 2, Siberian Stonechat 2, Common Whitethroat, Eastern Black Redstart 2, Siberian Chiffchaff 1, Bluethroat 2, Southern Grey Shrike 1, Turkestan Shrike 10, Daurian Shrike 2, Red-backed Shrike 1.