Day 7 AYN TOBRUQ - EAST KWARH - MUGHSAYL BEACH & WADI
Our best bet for Arabian Golden-winged Grosbeak seemed to be at the junction of Ayn Tobruq and Ayn Athum according to a message I received last night from some other birders doing the Oman circuit at the same time as us. As we drove in two Eastern Imperial and a Steppe Eagle were seen feeding at a carcass. So we were on site at 6.30am and positioned ourselves at a decent distance away from the dripping pipe and within view of the full camel trough. The news was that the grosbeak comes in to drink at 08:15 so we had a bit of time to check the area. Quite a few birds were coming in to drink, with flocks of African Silverbills and many Cinnamon-breasted Buntings appearing. An Eurasian Wryneck was seen, a Short-toed Eagle hovered on the hill above us, Tristram's Starlings came in pairs to the camel trough and it was quite entertaining as we didn’t really know what to expect. As time went on the anticipation levels kept raising, as this is probably the toughest speciality to get right now. And sure enough, bang on 08:15am a male Arabian Golden-winged Grosbeak appeared on top of a nearby tree. By the time i’d got the scope on it and we’d all looked through it the bird flew and never returned. So I think we were very lucky!
Our next site was East Khawr, just a 25 minute drive down to the coast and what a place this is. Stacks of birds and huge potential for a rarity or two. Well, we didn’t find a rarity but the birding was superb, and we began with a Masked Booby sat on the landward side of the beach, being harassed by House Crows. Around the lagoon were flocks of Glossy Ibis and Ruff, and on a small grassy island a Collared Pratincole was seen. What we found really cool were the identification comparisons: Intermediate Egret and white-morph Western Reef Heron, Indian Pond Heron (check out those rectangular lores!) and Squacco Heron, Little and Temminck’s Stints. Species such as Great Spotted Eagle, Garganey, Purple Heron and Western Osprey also added to the mix.
After calling in to a petrol station for some much needed cold drinks we headed back towards the hotel and a fantastic site called Ayn Razat. There was a day roosting Arabian Eagle Owl here a few years ago, so we decided to check the area out and, of course, we didn’t find any owls. However, there’s a surprising amount of water here and even on the approach road we had Temminck’s Stint, Green Sandpiper and Citrine Wagtail basically in the road and feeding beside a small trickle of water. Up in the wadi we found Long-billed Pipit and enjoyed incredibly close views of one bird in the shade of some large trees, with a pair of Shining (Arabian) Sunbirds feeding overhead. Driving out of the wadi, the road follows a great little waterway and we were totally surprised to see a stunning African Openbill standing at the water's edge. Wow!
So we then headed an hour down the coast to Mughsayl Beach where thousands of gulls and terns were present. It was an absolutely phenomenal sight to see so many birds and we sifted through as best we could. The majority of the birds were Sooty Gulls, with smaller numbers of Heuglin’s, Steppe and Slender-billed Gulls and huge numbers of Common Terns loafed on the beach. However, out to sea there were even more birds flying around it was absolutely mental…!! Our first Persian Shearwaters were here, and we also saw our only Common Noddy, with a few Socotra Cormorants flying by. Back on the beach I was determined to find White-cheeked Tern and careful scanning of the tern flocks eventually revealed a single bird. This was an awesome place but we had to drag ourselves away and head into the nearby wadi in search of Desert Owl, but not before stopping for more cold drinks.
The drive into the wadi was an adventure in itself and you definitely need a 4-wheel drive to get in. We drove right to the end, as i’m sure everyone does and this turned out to be a good move as on the drive in we stumbled across a mixed group of Arabian and Sand Partridges feeding beside the track. A little further on a Hooded Wheatear was spotted and then when the track became too difficult we stopped and found a pair of Arabian Wheatears. Walking a little further on a Rufous-tailed Rock-Thrush was seen by one of us and we enjoyed further views of Arabian Partridge before the light began to fade. So we waited…. and waited and despite worries it wouldn’t actually get dark tonight… it did! So we waited in darkness for Desert Owl to call but nothing but there was nothing but silence for an hour. So I fired off a call from my iPod and waited. Nothing. And then some moments later we heard an Omani Owl call way off in the distance. So we waited some more but the bird never called again, which was very frustrating. We left the site with heavy hearts and headed back to the main road, stopping a few times to play the call. Luckily, we had a response at one of our stops and walked towards the bird and I thought we would get it as it called several times before calling one last time from further away and then from across the wadi behind us. Damn! But we had a few nights spare and I planned to come back, with quite a bit of confidence that we would nail the sucker!