The first visit to Oman by Birdwatching Breaks was an enjoyable and successful one. The weather throughout was unsurprisingly very hot and sunny, although temperatures were above average even by Oman’s standards. A total of 204 species were seen during the trip, with highlights including good views of several Jouanin’s Petrels, Flesh-footed and Persian Shearwaters, impressive concentrations of Egyptian Vultures, marvellous views of Sooty Falcons around the island of Al Fahl, Bonelli’s, Verreaux’s, Imperial, Steppe and Greater Spotted Eagles, Baillon’s and Spotted Crakes, the ever popular Crab Plover and Cream-coloured Courser, a dozen Caspian Plovers, Broad-billed and Terek Sandpipers, a wide variety of terns that included Saunder’s, Bridled, Caspian, Crested and Lesser Crested, Grey-headed and Collared Kingfishers, Didric Cuckoo, Red-tailed, Eastern Pied and Hume’s Wheatear, Menetries’s, Arabian, Eastern Orphean and Plain Leaf Warblers, African Paradise Flycatcher, Shining Sunbird and White-breasted White-eye.
Mention must also be made of the wonderful experience watching the Green Sea Turtles on the beach at Ras al Jinz, where we were fortunate to observe adult females laying eggs, covering the nest and returning to the sea, as well as seeing some newly hatched turtles making their way to the sea for the first time.
Oman offers some great birding amongst some spectacular desert landscapes and I am sure that we will return once again to this wonderful corner of Arabia.
Our next tour to Oman is scheduled for October 2011.
October 17th/18th: Journey to Muscat. Al Qurm Natural Park, Al Amerat Waste Disposal Site.
Weather: Very hot and sunny.
Frank, Jackie, Virginia and I met up at Gatwick for our flight to Muscat with Qatar Airways, via Doha. Our flight went smoothly and we arrived just ahead of schedule. The efficient Omani border controls were negotiated very swiftly and soon we were in our hotel.
As most of us were tired from the journey, I elected for a fairly leisurely first day. We all met up at breakfast, with Barry who had arrived the day before and Vernon & Theresa who had arrived in the early hours of the morning now completing the party. Our first destination was Al Qurm Natural Park. We began at the beach side of the park. Here we found good numbers of gulls, terns and shorebirds. Highlights during our leisurely walk here included Crested and Lesser Crested Tern, excellent studies of Greater and Lesser Sand Plovers, two Broad-billed Sandpipers, Glossy Ibis, Osprey, two Sooty Gulls and good numbers of Slender-billed Gulls. For those interested in large white-headed gulls, both Heuglin’s and the barabensis form of Caspian Gull were very obliging. However, the biggest surprise was the discovery of a Crab Plover, a species that has a localised distribution in Oman, and is difficult to see away from the regular sites. Needless to say this wasn’t one of the regular sites!
Exploring the back side of the park, we located Ruff, White-spectacled (Yellow-vented) Bulbul, Graceful Prinia, Grey Francolin, nice studies of Temminck’s and Little Stints together and a Pintail Snipe. With the middle of the day now upon us we decided to grab some sandwiches and then we headed off to Al Amerat Waste Disposal Site. This site is renowned for the opportunities to see raptors in good numbers. Egyptian Vultures dominated as always, with approximately 300 present. Steppe Eagles were also performing well with some very smart juveniles affording good views. A bit trickier to get to grips with were two adult Spotted Eagles, but eventually these gave a decent performance. Other birds we enjoyed here were African Rock Martin, a fine Hume’s Wheatear and a less obliging Desert Lesser Whitethroat.
We were now beginning to tire, so a quick return visit to Al Qurm was our final stop of the day. New birds were present with the cooling of temperatures in the late afternoon, with a Steppe Buzzard, three Indian Silverbills, three Purple Heron, a Stonechat of the form maurus, Red-vented Bulbul and two White-cheeked Bulbuls providing an enjoyable end to a successful first day.
October 19th: Boat Trip to Al Fahl island. Travel to Sur with stops at Khawr Sallan and the Sur lagoon.
Weather: Very hot.
We began the day with a boat trip to the island of Al Fahl. The outward journey produced Osprey, Bridled Tern and our first Persian Shearwaters. On arrival at the island, Sooty Falcons were immediately obvious and we enjoyed superb views of at least 25 birds, both adults and juveniles perched on the cliffs, calling and soaring overhead. A wonderful experience. A Striated Heron was something of a surprise here, but Sooty Gulls and Crested Terns rather more expected. Delighted with our views of Sooty Falcon we headed off to explore other areas and also located a small fishing fleet, where there were concentrations of Crested Terns, along with a few Common and Sandwich. We got amazingly close to Persian Shearwaters and also saw a distant Pomarine Skua.
Back on dry land we travelled east to Sur, a journey that passed through some magnificent mountain scenery. Two juvenile Bonelli’s Eagles were a nice surprise and we made a couple of other birding stops along the way. At Khawr Sallan we saw a selection of commoner waders, Osprey and in the scattered trees Desert Lesser Whitethroat, White-spectacled (Yellow-vented) Bulbul, Purple Sunbird and a 1st winter female Pied Wheatear. Later we located our first Red-tailed Wheatear and enjoyed further views of another individual a few km further along the road. On arrival at Sur we spent some time checking the lagoon. New for the list were Greater Flamingo, Grey Plover, some well-received Terek Sandpipers and Whiskered Tern. Other good birds included Gull-billed Tern and a moulting juvenile Broad-billed Sandpiper.
October 20th: Sur. Khawr Jirama, Ras al Hadd and Ras al Jinz.
Weather: Hot and sunny with light NE winds.
Most us began the day with a little beach and sea watching from the comfort of the balconies of our rooms. The lure of Bridled, Crested, Common and Sandwich Terns being rather impressive! Waders on the beach included Greenshank, Curlew, Greater Sand Plover and Oystercatcher. After breakfast we visited some temporary pools not far from our hotel. Here we located some smart Broad-billed Sandpipers, Caspian Tern, Bar-tailed Godwit, a Saunder’s Little Tern and a Great Cormorant along with many of the more usual suspects. An area of acacia scrub looked worth investigating and although quite hard work, we did manage to uncover several Desert Lesser Whitethroats, Ménétrie’s Warbler, Isabelline Shrike (of the form isabellinus), an all too brief Desert Warbler and two smart Desert Wheatears. Exploration of the Sur lagoon didn’t add a great deal.
After lunch at the hotel we ventured out to Khawr Jirama, noting a flock of three Chestnut-bellied Sandgrouse that erupted from the side of the road. Carefully avoiding getting the tour bus stuck in the sand, we did rather better than those drivers in 4WD’s, who had managed to get well and truly bogged down. The birds here were rather distant, but our main target, Crab Plover were present and we got decent views of some of the 10 or so birds that were present. Other interesting species included Terek Sandpiper, Striated Heron and at least four Ospreys. Continuing on to Ras al Hadd we did a late afternoon seawatch. Unfortunately things were rather slow, but in an hour or so watching we noted two Pomarine and one Arctic Skua, at least six Persian Shearwaters and 10-15 Jouanin’s Petrels, although only three of the latter were within reasonable range. The usual array of terns made up a good supporting cast.
After an interesting meal at a local restaurant we travelled down the road to the Ras al Jinz turtle research and visitor centre. Here we headed out on a guided walk to see Green Sea Turtles as they came to the beach under the cover of darkness. We were fortunate to observe adult females laying eggs, covering the nest and returning to the sea, as well as seeing some baby turtles making their way to the sea for the first time. A wonderful experience, that was well worth the late arrival back at the hotel that night.
October 21st: Sur – Muscat with a brief stop at Al Qurm Natural Park. Flight to Salalah.
Weather: Hot, sunny with stronger winds and a little more cloud around Muscat.
Today was mainly a travel day. After the turtle watching late finish the night before, breakfast was at 7am and departure for Muscat was delayed until 8.30am due to a minor problem with the bus. The journey proceeded in a swift fashion, with only brief stops for a superb pale phase Booted Eagle at Qurayyat and one or two false stops for Brown-necked Ravens ? Arriving in Muscat somewhat ahead of time we paused at Al Qurm Natural Park where a Tree Pipit was new for the list. Garganey had increased in number since our previous visit and two Purple Herons were performing well. We took lunch at the airport and the flight down to Salalah proceeded without a hitch.
We were met on arrival in Salalah and quickly headed to the hotel that was to be home for much of the next week. A short stop was made on the way for a European Roller, two Red-backed Shrikes and two smart Desert Wheatears. Collared Doves were new for the trip list, but hardly big news.
October 22nd: Ayn Hamran. Khawr Rawri.
Weather: Hot and sunny with a little more humidity than Muscat
The day began in a rather shaky fashion with the late arrival of our driver. Once we got going though, we had a wonderful day in the field. Heading out of Salalah to Ayn Hamran we paused for a group of Chestnut-bellied Sandgrouse, which by the time we had come to a halt, had once again eluded most of the group. However, a scan of the desert plain from the road revealed the presence of some waders, which proved to be a flock of Caspian Plovers, a rare migrant in Oman and a great bonus. We enjoyed prolonged views of these birds and also added other new species in the form of Black-crowned Finch Lark, Tawny Pipit and an icterops Common Whitethroat. Delighted with this we continued on to Ayn Hamran where we enjoyed a wonderful three hours in a spectacular setting. New birds were coming thick and fast with highlights including Shining Sunbird, African Paradise Flycatcher, Blackstart, Upcher’s Warbler, Eastern Olivaceous Warbler, Eastern Orphean Warbler, Grey-headed Kingfisher and a stunning Didric Cuckoo. Other species included Spotted Flycatcher, Rüppell’s Weaver, Wood Warbler, Nightingale of the form hafizi and Fan-tailed Raven.
After a stop for lunch and a short break in the middle of the day we headed out to Khawr Rawri. The acacia scrub here hosted several Isabelline Shrikes with birds apparently of the forms phoenicuroides, karelini and isabellinus all present. An Arabian Warbler was tempted into view and showed delightfully well. An excellent find by Jackie resulted us enjoying great views of a roosting European Nightjar under a bush (and another was flushed nearby). Along an area of reeds we located Clamorous Reed and Sedge Warblers. Overhead large numbers of ‘Dhofar Swifts’ were present and often swooping down onto the water to drink. As dusk approached a briefly seen Baillon’s Crake and a somewhat more obliging Spotted Crake concluded an excellent first day in the Dhofar region of Oman.
October 23rd: Ayn Razat, Tawi Atayr, Salalah Rubbish Dump, East Khawr.
Weather: Hot and sunny.
The day began with a visit to Ayn Razat. This is a reliable site for Bruce’s Green Pigeon, and this was indeed the case this morning as we enjoyed good views of several birds feeding in fruiting trees here. Birding along the stream and adjacent scrubby hillsides we located Hobby drinking in the stream, Blackstart, a flyover Steppe Buzzard, the usual large numbers of African Rock Buntings and Clamorous Reed Warbler.
Our next destination was Tawi Atayr, a spectacular sink hole and noted site for Yemen Serin, a species only recently discovered in Oman. On the way we stopped for our first South Arabian Wheatear’s, when we located a pair by the roadside. Near the sinkhole an Imperial Eagle was seen. At the sinkhole it took us quite a while to locate the Yemen Serins, and it has to be said, this species is somewhat underwhelming! A more impressive sight was a superb Bonelli’s Eagle that patrolled the cliffs on a number of occasions.
After a rest during the heat of the day we headed out to the rubbish dump to the west of Salalah. Here we enjoyed excellent views of Steppe and Greater Spotted Eagles, along with good numbers of White Storks. An Imperial Eagle was also seen and it also performed well. A selection of Yellow Wagtail subspecies were present along with a single Citrine. Our final stop of the day was at the rather busy East Khawr. Here we located a surprising number of birds with Squacco Heron, Broad-billed Sandpiper, Curlew Sandpiper and Saunder’s Little Tern all present and providing a very pleasant end to another enjoyable day in Oman.
October 24th: Khawr Rawri, Ras Mirbat, Wadi Darbat, Khawr Rawri.
Weather: Hot and sunny.
A long but very enjoyable and productive day began at Khawr Rawri, but as we didn’t find anything new there I decided to crack on towards Ras Mirbat for a seawatch. An Imperial Eagle delayed us for a little while, but it wasn’t long before we were staring out to sea. Quickly I located the first of a good number of close Jouanin’s Petrels, with quite a few Persian Shearwaters offshore as well. With persistence we managed to find a Flesh-footed Shearwater, and got views of a couple more alongside some Jouanin’s allowing us to see the differences between these two sometimes confused species. A steady passage of terns included over 1000 Crested Terns and over 800 Bridled Terns. Smaller numbers of Common Terns were also on the move. Our first Blue-cheeked Bee-eaters were a group of at least three passing overhead migrating south-west.
After an early lunch we made a couple of fairly unproductive side trips before heading to Wadi Darbat. An initial check of the wadi produced Wood Sandpiper and Little Grebe, but not a great deal else. However walking slowly through the open woodland alongside the wadi produced quite a few interesting migrants. Common Cuckoo, Golden Oriole, eight Tree Pipits, Eastern Olivaceous Warbler, four Hoopoes, Lesser Whitethroat and Whitethroat provided the supporting cast of migrants, along with two Didric Cuckoos and three Grey-headed Kingfishers. Five Black-crowned Night Herons were also new.
We finished the day on the eastern side of Khawr Rawri. A wide selection of waders and wildfowl included list additions in the form of Black-winged Stilt, Black-tailed Godwit, Green Sandpiper and White-winged Black Tern. Other interesting species here included a juvenile Bonelli’s Eagle, two Marsh Sandpipers, a Terek Sandpiper, Pintail Snipe, Whiskered Tern and Greater Flamingo.
October 25th: Ayn Sahnawt, Travel to Qatbit. Qitbit Resthouse & Oasis.
Weather: Hot and sunny, light breeze in late afternoon.
The day began with an exploration of the Ayn Sahnawt area. The usual selection of Dhofar species were present in good numbers, with an Arabian Warbler, Shining Sunbird and two smart Black-crowned Tchagras providing the main interest. A Sparrowhawk zipped overhead.
However, our main destination today was the central desert areas of Oman, with the Qatbit area (Quitbit or a multude of other spellings!) our goal. As we climbed away from Salalah the landscape changed from a fairly lush one, to a completely barren desert environment, with large expanses of flat sand and gravel desert. Birds were fairly few and far between, but we located our first Spotted Sandgrouse and heading out into the desert from the road, we got good views of these somewhat nomadic birds. A Desert Lark was also our first of the trip.
We arrived at Qatbit at lunchtime and after a quick bite to eat explored the ‘gardens’ that are a magnet to migrating birds. During our afternoon of explorations in the area we enjoyed at least 15 Isabelline Shrikes, a Red-backed Shrike, a cracking Masked Shrike, six Chiffchaffs, two Ortolan Buntings, Common Cuckoo, Pied Wheatear, three Whitethroats, a dozen Lesser Whitethroats (mostly Desert), an elusive Ménétries’s Warbler, Black Redstart, European Roller, five Spotted Flycatchers and a Red-breasted Flycatcher.
October 26th: Muntasar, Qatbit, Dawka, Wadi Rabkut.
The desert oasis at Muntasar was our first site of the day. Situated in a wide expanse of featureless desert, arriving at this extensive area of date palms, Acacia scrub and reeds comes as a bit of a surprise. It is a welcome stopover point for tired migrants making journeys across the Arabian desert. During our morning here the selection of birds we located included Pallid Harrier, Little Stint, Chiffchaff, Isabelline Shrike, Red-breasted Flycatcher, Citrine Wagtail and European Roller. A major feature here is the arrival of flocks of sandgrouse that come to drink during the morning. The first birds arrived around 0830hrs and we enjoyed wonderful views of over 300 Spotted Sandgrouse over the next hour or so as they came and went in small groups. Returning to Qatbit we stopped for an obliging Hoopoe Lark and a further exploration of the gardens at the resthouse produced a similar selection of birds as the previous day.
After lunch we began our return journey to Salalah. A stop at Dawkah resulted in the sighting of another male Pallid Harrier, a couple of obliging Desert Warblers and another Ménétries’s Warbler. A diversion to Wadi Rabkut turned out to be an excellent move with our exploration of this well vegetated wadi turning up a flock of seven Lichtenstein’s Sandgrouse that performed nicely for us, two Sand Partridges and a Southern Grey Shrike. We arrived back in Salalah in the evening a very contented group.
October 27th: Ayn Hamran, Al Mughsayl.
Weather: Hot and sunny with light onshore breezes.
Our last day in the Salalah area began with a return visit to the spectacular Ayn Hamran. We found much the same selection of species as on our earlier visit, but were delighted by the sight of two superb Verreaux’s Eagles cruising along the ridge. We were able to get better views of Palestine Sunbird and there were a number of Bruce’s Green Pigeons present. As we left the area we at last got some close views of Chestnut-bellied Sandgrouse with two feeding close to the road. Our afternoon destination was Al Mughsayl and on the way we paused to visit a wadi where some Frankincense Trees could be found. At Al Mughsayl, we found large numbers of gulls and terns and amongst the now familiar species we saw our first White-cheeked Terns. An Imperial Eagle drifted over during our lunch break and was seen again later on. Offshore large numbers of terns were feeding on shoals of fish and we saw our only Socotra Cormorants of the trip join this throng of birds. Later Masked Booby was attracted to the melee, whilst a few Jouanin’s Petrels and Persian Shearwaters were also seen. Pools by the road attracted a selection of wetland birds including Cattle Egret, Glossy Ibis, Eurasian Teal, Wood Sandpiper and a Red-throated Pipit. A reed fringed pool was home to a Black-crowned Night Heron. Exploration of the wadi behind the road resulted in sightings of South Arabian Wheatear and Desert Lark.
October 28th: Salalah to Muscat. Ras as Sawadi, Sohar Sun Farm.
Weather: Hot and sunny.
An early start with a morning flight from Salalah to Muscat. On arrival in Muscat we were met by Hamed and then proceeded north through Al Batinah. We made a stop at Ras as Sawadi where good numbers of gulls and terns were present. Continuing north we had a quick lunch stop before visiting the Sohar Sun Farm, a cattle farm with some large grassy fields that are very attractive to birds in this desert country. Our explorations began around the cattle pens where Little Ringed Plover, Ruff, Curlew Sandpiper and a selection of wagtails were present. Some sewage ponds were attracting good numbers of waders with Little and Temminck’s Stint, Curlew, Wood Sandpiper and Black-winged Stilt. Whiskered and White-winged Black Terns were performing well, whilst a few Teal and Garganey were also present. Drier areas were attracting Tawny Pipits, Black-crowned Finch-larks, Short-toed Larks and Southern Grey Shrike. On some wires amongst a group of Collared Doves was a smart Namaqua Dove. A walk through the grassy fields resulted in the sighting of our first Richard’s Pipits. Indian Rollers were in good numbers and two European Rollers allowed us the opportunity to see the differences between these two species side by side. Finally as we began to head back to the bus a Quail was flushed from the longer grass.
October 29th: Sohar Sun Farm, Liwa.
Weather: Hot and sunny with light winds in the afternoon.
With a few transport issues this morning we had to alter our plans for the day. We began with a return visit to the Sohar Sun Farm and as we got out of the vehicle a Montagu’s Harrier drifted past. A hot and sweaty walk across a grassy field produced Red-throated, Water, Tawny and Richard’s Pipit, although getting good views of these birds proved difficult. An Oriental Skylark flew over calling, but could not be relocated. Frank flushed a Quail and then we had a nice piece of luck when some Cream-coloured Coursers flew in and provided excellent views for an extended period. A Short-toed Eagle circled over head affording good views. Continuing our exploration we had a spectacular fly-past by large numbers of Chestnut-bellied Sandgrouse, and a little further on encountered Southern Grey Shrike and three Namaqua Doves. A quick check of the pools provided a similar selection of species to yesterday, but with the addition of a Green Sandpiper and an increase in Curlew.
In the afternoon we visited Liwa, a noted site for Collared Kingfisher. Initially things were fairly quiet with just a Striated Heron, Clamorous Reed Warbler and a Common Kingfisher. However eventually we located our target with brief views initially, before tracking another individual down and enjoying more extended views. A look offshore produced a sighting of Jouanin’s Petrel and on the beach a smart Steppe Grey Shrike, concluding a reasonably productive day.
October 30th: Khatmat Millahah. Travel to Muscat. Al Qurm.
Weather: Hot and sunny with a light onshore breeze in Muscat.
Our final day of the trip began with a trip up to Khatmat Milahah, right on the border with the United Arab Emirates. Our target was to search for two specialities that arrive in this area for the winter right at the end of October – Plain Leaf Warbler and Eastern Pied Wheatear. Fortunately, both our targets had arrived and we soon found our first Plain Leaf Warblers in this area of open woodland of scattered Acacia and Ghaf trees. Eastern Pied Wheatear proved a little harder to locate and even when we did find one it proved to be very mobile, moving considerable distances and giving us something of a run around before we’d all enjoyed good views. Other species seen here included Little Owl and Ménétries’s Warbler. With a lengthy drive to Muscat in prospect we were soon on our way and despite a short delay caused by a puncture we arrived in Muscat in the late afternoon and in time for a final visit to Al Qurm where we enjoyed our final encounters with many now familiar species and managed to winkle out a couple of new birds in the form of a drake Mallard and two White-tailed Lapwings, bringing our birding to a close in a very satisfying manner. After an enjoyable Middle-eastern style dinner (somewhat unusual in Oman, where Indian food is often more widely available) we headed to the airport and our journey back to the UK.
For details of the full species list or to request further information about the next time we will be offering this trip. Contact us at email@example.com.
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