Dates: February 5th to February 14th, 2020
Number of participants: 5
Number of species: 195
All images in the trip report by tour participants Bauke Kortleve & Philippe Marchessou and tour leader Carles Oliver.
Flocks of Tristam’s Starlings (Onychognatus tristramii) can be seen in rocky scarpments in the Dhofar, but also inside mountain villages.
Day 1. Coming all tour participants from a variety of countries, we all flew into Oman along February 4th. We met for dinner, and those arriving later in the evening, for breakfast early in the morning, in February 5th.
After enjoying our delicious breakfast we left the accommotadion and started the tour. Temperature was 18ºC in a lovely sunny day. After negotiating the traffic in Muscat we did arrive to Al-Ansab Lagoons, a small natural reserve inside Muscat providing really good birding.
Despite some diversion at the main gate, we did arrive to the typical places. Inmediatly after getting out of the van we got the firsts Purple Sunbirds of the tour. A lovely male singing in bright glossy black coloration and a female feeding in the rich vegetation of a rocky slope. White-spectacled Bulbuls were also seen around.
Delicate Prinia (Prinia lepida), one of the first birds to appear in the tour.
One of the view points over the lagoons was offering a wonderful spectacle. A flock of 9 Greater Flamingoes was an evident spot in the lagoon while waders were coming in and out. We soon noticed some Marsh Sandpipers feeding along with Ruffs, Little Stints and at least 1 Temminck’s Stint. In the wàter surface there were several Mallards, Gadwalls, Northern Shovelers, Pintails as well as Little Grebes and Eurasian Coots. The few bushes around the view point were also having some nice birding activity, and we got our first Clamorous Reed Warbler, and 3 lovely Indian Silverbills and some Delicate Prinias feeding on the grassy vegetation.
A short walk around produced several Common Chiffchaffs (probably all of them abietinus race) and 2 Grey Wagtails in a nearby stream. A second pool was flattered with ducks, including several Common Pochards, 1 Tufted Duck and 3 Garganeys. In the shores of the lagoons, some Great Cormorants were roosting along with Great White Egrets and Grey Herons. And with them, 1 first winter Purple Heron was trying to don’t be discovered.
Purple Sunbirds (Cinnyris asiaticus) are a common view in Northern Oman.
Al-Ansab has three different hides, and from the last one we enjoyed the first Citrine Wagtail of the tour, a bird highly celebrated in the group. Several Common Moorhens were feeding in front of the hide, but everything moved fast when Keith spotted a Grey Francolin beside the reedbed! The bird provided with really short views before it went behind a tamarisk. Decided to improve our views, we just walked to the opposite side of the hide and got good views on 3 birds moving around. While looking for the bird we got our first Lesser Whitethroats of the trip! Some Green Bee-eaters were flying around, showing superbly, and the photographers in the group hap time to enjoy with them while some Pale Crag Martins were flying around. Beyond, in a hilly area, we found 1 Persian Wheatear at the same moment that 3 Pallid Swifts screamed in the sky because of the fast flight of a Western Marsh Harrier. That was definately a good start for our tour.
We later came back to this same spot for our picnic lunch, with a similar list of species and the only (and really interesting) adding of 1 Eastern Orphean Warbler that move from a low bush in front of us and produced short but decent views before flying back up to the canopies, and blind out.
Citrine Wagtail (Motacilla citreola) in almost full summer plomage.
After such a good start we moved to the coast, a short transfer of 15 minutes, to explore a number of mudflats. In two locations we got a good list of waders including a flock of 15+ Temminck’s Stints, Lesser Sand Plover, several Ruffs, Common Snipe, Wood Sandpiper, Common Ringed Plover, Common Redshank, Greenshank, Ruddy Turnstone, and Dunlins.
We then move to the Al-Qurum Natural Reserve, inmediatly East of Muscat, where we did two stops, seaside and inland.
In the seaside we had the change for first views on Caspian Gulls along with Greater Crested, Lesser Crested & Sandwich Terns. Heughlin Gull were common, as they were the Steppe Gulls. In the beach we also got Eurasian Whimbrel and a nice flock of mixed Lesser & Greater Sand Plovers roosting on the river mouth. Everything under the close view of Common Mynas.
Small numbers of Crested Honey Buzzards (Pernis ptilorhynchus) overwinter in Oman.
Our second stop was to explore a pair of corners inland., just following along a small stream. We parked the car and inmediatly had two raptors in the sky, being moved by House Crows. There were 2 juvenile Bonelli’s Eagle, one of them quite pale, that were having some difficulties against the crows. Happy with such a nice encounteer we entered the path to stop again as 1 Isabelline Shrike catched our attention. The bird was standing high up in a bush, with a lovely afternoon light. Few minutes after the group was delighted to see 1 Crested Honey Buzzard circling quite low above the area, joined in the blue sky by the first Western Osprey of the tour. The path brought us to a nice corner of marsh while Rose-winged Parakeets were calling in the sky. A short walk around revealed a lovely and rather surprising Desert Whitethroat, a bird considered still a race of Lesser Whitethroat (treated sometimes as a form of Asian Lesser Whitethroat) for many, but considered as a full species for others. The bird was showingly small and extremely pale, depending on the angle being almost as sandy as a Asian Desert Warbler, with a slight contrast between the mantle and flight feathers. It gave us a great view of some minutes long, being able to have proper looks to the rather dark lores, well contrasted with the sandy mantle. Once everyone in the group had good looks on the bird, we all kept moving along a rich vegetated corridor, where 1 Song Thrush flew out of our way. Just few metres beyond, 2 Clamorous Reed Warbler were showing superbly in the dense vegetation, joined by a Great Reed Warbler some meters away!
Clamorous Reed Warbler (Acrocephalus stentoreus) showed really well in Al Anqsar.
Once in the marsh we enjoy some nice waders and kept scanning the few Common Snipes, hoping for a Pin-tailed Snipe to appear. Never did it. Al-Qurum Natural Reserve is having several interesting corners. A short-walk around brought us to a place with some big trees and several open spaces, here we had 3 Indian Rollers flying around and showing really well in the afternoon light.
Indian Rollers (Coracias benghalensis) are common in a variety of landscapes in Northern Oman.
The well known central lagoon was the only place during the trip where we saw Indian Pond Herons, a minimum of 3 of them were seen along with some Squacco Herons. A correct identification of these species is always challenging, and the best way to tell them apart is from the bill and lore coloration. Indian Pond Heron is always having a black final area in the lower mandibule, a well defined and contrasted patch (above 30% of the bill length) while Squacoo Heron shows a more difuse blackish area in the lower mandibule. Besides, Indian Pond Herons usually shows blackish lores, helping a lot in a correct identification of the bird.
The central pond not only produced all Indian Pond Herons of the trip, but also 2 Red-crested Pochards females (scarce bird in Oman), 1 female Tufted Duck, Gull-billed Tern, and the firsts Striated Heron and Black-crowned Night Heron of the tour.
Back to the car, we just drove to a different corner of the park while enjoying the sunset. Was not still dark when we got inside a lovely, quiet corner, having some big trees. After some minutes of scanning we found our goal for that evening, a wonderful Pallid Scops Owl singing and showing superbly. We had the bird for about 25 minutes, barely 15 metres away from us. The view was so great that even some local people came to enjoy the views in the scope!!!
Pallid Scops Owl (Otus brucei) produced long views in our first evening in Oman.
Glad after such a good start for our tour, we came to our accommodation for a great dinner based in Arab, Indian and International cuisine.
Day 2. After a good rest we drove West to a small river mouth with rich mangroves, a good place to look for some specialities. Our main hope was to contact with the local race of Collared Kingfisher, a splitable population with slim populations along the Eastern coast of Arabia. We arrived quite early to the place, enjoying good views on Indian Rollers along the last part of the road, but despite our efforts we could not contact with any Collared Kingfisher. Instead we had 2 Common Kingfishers moving in the mangroves, Western Marsh Harrier, Western Osprey, Lesser Sand Plovers, 2 Bar-tailed Godwits, Lesser Whitethroats (blithy), and the best views on Greater Hoopoe Lark along the tour as one bird was singing and displaying just beyond the mangroves.
Numbers of Steppe Eagles (Aquila nipalensis) were less spectacular than in previous years, but we still enjoyed tens of them during the tour!
We then had a stop and some rest before driving up Al Hajar Mountains, where we were going to spend the rest of the day, staying there a bit beyond sunset. After a 60 minutes transfer we did a first stop in the mountains, in a savannah-like ambient. There we enjoyed good views on 1 female Hooded Wheatear just next to 1 Isabelline Shrike. Once around the gorge, we explore a bit the area, and we all got good views on 3 Desert Larks feeding on the wadi, but also Eastern Black Redstart, Hume’s Wheatear, Pale Crag Martin, 1 juvenile Blue Rock Thrush and 3 singing Striolated Buntings that never produced a proper view. But probably the most interesting bird at that point was 1 Variable Wheatear moving in the rocky slopes, a bird that is one of the long list of scarce winter visitors to Oman.
White-spectacled Bulbul (Pycnonotus xanthopygos), the commonest Bulbul in Oman.
After this exploring we move to our last destination that day, one of the impressive gorges West of Samail. Here we had some time explore the bush in the wadi, producing really good looks on 1 Hume’s Whitethroat, Striolated Buntings and at least 4 Plain Leaf Warblers moving in the small trees in the wadi. The afternoonn was advanced and we spent some time scanning the cliffs in search of the most enygmathical bird in Oman, the poorly known, Omani Owl.
Plain Leaf Warbler (Phyllosocpus nitidus), one of the smallest on its genus, overwinters in small numbers in montane oases in Northern Oman.
In the time we were scanning, we were lucky to find out a nest of Egyptian Vultures high up in the cliffs, and enjoyed good views on the scope. A further scanning in the skyes around produced 4 more Egyptians, joined in the sky by the massive shape of a Lappet-faced Vulture. The birds were soaring and the Lappet-faced started to fly lower and lower above one slope, until it landed. Despite it was far away, everyone in the tour had excellent views on the scope of this scarce giant of the Omani skyes!
The impressive gorges in Al Hajar Mountains are home for the poorly known Omani Owl.
Glad aftert such a good selection of species, we waited until it was dark. Our scans in the cliffs were unseccful to find any roosting owl. Once the darkness arrived, we were soon surprised by the song of an Omani Owl coming from high up in the cliffs. A short series of 4 or 5 “uuu”, not really different from the typical Tawny Owl song. We had the bird singing 3 times, and for a while it looked like it was a second Omani Owl replaying far down away in the gorge. Still, and despite our efforst, it was not possible to get anything else than these impressive calls in the middle of the quiet night.
Day 3. After a good breakfast we transfer South. A 90 minutes drive brought us to a different landscape of open acacia grassland, and the first oases of the tour. But earlier we had a roadside stop, since about 40 Steppe Eagles were flying around, quite close. They were also on the hills around, and a proper scanning around produced as well several Egyptian Vultures, 1 Griffon Vulture, 1 Greater Spotted Eagle adult and 2 Eastern Imperial Eagles! Along with, several Brown-necked Ravens. The images of the raptors in the sky was an amazing and all enjoyed really much! Other good birds around included 2 Striolated Buntings (best views on the tour were here) and 2 Hume’s Wheatears.
Striolated Buntings (Emberiza striolata) can be suprisingly difficult to spot.
Once arrived to the oases we spent some exploring. It was plenty of Little Bee-eaters and 5 Indian Rollers spotted, very vocals at that location. Graceful Prinia, Purple Sunbird, Common Chiffchaff (abietinus race), and distant views on Lesser Whitethroat were also noted, including a very pale individual. Here we came to look for Yellow-throated Petronia and, in the search, we found 1 Red-breasted Flycatcher, a really appreciated bird for the tour participants. When coming to the car, a slim sparrow appeared right in front of us. With the dark and long bill, plane and dark head, this Yellow-throated Petronia showed up only for few seconds before flying away, and unfortunately most of the tour participants never contacted with the bird. We still had time scanning around the oases, but we could not refind the bird.
Indian Silverbill (Euodice malabarica) keeps good populations in Northern Oman.
After this stop we just did a fast stop in the grassy savannah like ambient next to it, having our first looks in the trip for Desert & Isabelline Wheatears. Common Kestrel and Crested Lark were also noted.
Day 4. After a mostly transfer day went for a pre-breakfast walk around our accommodation, located in a remote coastal area i North-east Oman. A short-walk around the hotel produced wonderful views on Black-crowned Sparrow-larks. We could see them singing and displaying in the sky as well as feeding on the ground in small flocks, including both males and females. At the same time, a flock of 8 Tawny Pipits were seeing, as well as Brown-necked Ravens, Indian Silverbills, Desert Larks, a closeby Isabelline Wheatear and some Desert Wheatears.
Black-crowned Sparrow-Lark (Eremopteryx nigriceps), the second commonest lark in Oman.
After breakfast we drove South to the area were Crab Plovers are normally found. Along the way, a sandy desert of golden dunes offered incredible landscapes. Some kilometres South of our accommodation we saw a tiny area with water and some bush. Taking advantage of this, we did a stop and explore around. Inmediatly after living the car we had 1 Persian Wheatear, an encouraging start. The tiny water pond didn’t look like having so much else, until a Sylvia warbler flew out from a bush, a Menetries’s Warbler! The bird flew away, but not far. We had all to run a bit and scan a lot but finally everybody got excellent views in actually 2 Menetries’s Warblers (one of them a male showing a slight pinkish tint in the breast, as James noticed).
Menetries Warbler (Sylvia mystacea) male.A scarce overwintering bird in Oman.
Happy all after such a wonderful spot we came back to the van for a final, short drive. We were at place about 10 o’clock. The huge bay, was full of Sooty Gulls and Slender-billed Gulls. Heuglhin’s & Steppe Gulls were also common. A first scan of the area produced big numbers of Western Reef Egrets, Bar-tailed Godwits, Little Stints, Eurasian Oystercatchers, Lesser & Greater Sand Plovers, Dunlins, Grey Plovers plus about 30 Curlew Sandpipers, some Sanderlings, and some Eurasian Curlews. Some Gull-billed & Caspian Terns were flying here and there. But no Crab Plovers. We kept scanning, and scanning. But nothing. Waves and waves of waders were moving into the bay, mostly Bar-tailed Godwits and Dunlins, but not only.
And then Bauke suddenly noticed that we were having 3 Crab Plovers right in front of us, really close! We all had excellent views, and a fast re-scanning produced produced 14 of them! Suddenly all appeared. Only ten minutes later, a counting along the shore produced 47 Crab Plover!!!!
We enjoyed wonderful views on Crab Plover (Dromas ardeola), a massive, elegant a really sought-after wader.
We had time to enjoy of the Crab Plovers, and all the waders around, including 1 Greater Sand Plover in almost full summer plomage. 1 Clamorous Reed Warbler was in the small mangroves by the shore, and 2 Little/Saunder’s Terns were flying around,1 of them showing clear characters of Saunder’s (An extended blakish, well contrasted primaries from P9 to P7 or P6). After long enjoying the Crab Plovers and the birding expectacle around we moved a bit, to scan for different kinds of Gulls. Our main goal was Palla’s Gull, but we couldn’t find any this time as we were a bit in the season for them, this year. Instead we got nice views on 1 full adult Baltic Gull (Larus fuscus fuscus) and several Greater Crested, Lesser Crested & Sandwich Terns.
After some more birding we came back to our accommodation for some rest and eventually enjoy of the swimming pool.
Greater Sand Plover (Charadrius leschenaultii) in almost complete summer plomage.
Day 5. Long transfer until Salalah, but with interesting stops in the middle. First stop early in the morning to explore a nice desert patch with some vegetation. Here we got our first Southern Grey Shrike (aucheri race) and nice views on Desert Wheatears. But the best was the nice views on the first Asian Desert Warbler of the tour. We got the bird tipically moving in the low, small bushes but also literally running on the sand, for long just following a male Desert Wheatear, a behaviour related several times to this species nesting in Central Asia.
Desert Wheatear (Oenanthe deserti) is the commonest among the wide variety of Wheatears in Oman.
The second stop was a bit later in the day, to explore the formerly famous an excellent Qitbit Hostel. This accommodation is now abandoned, and its gardens are not any more a magnet attracting specialities. Here we only got 1 Eurasian Hoopoe, and a small flock of Common House Martins joined by 1 Barn Swallow.
Southern Grey Shrike (Lanius meridionalis aucheri), a resident bird in Omani deserts.
As this location was empty of any interest we drove some more miles, to explore some Sewage Farms. Here we found an authentical magnet for birds. Just got into the farm, a harvested field was filled up with birds. Both Isabelline & Desert Wheatears (the second with interesting examples of 1st winter birds) were common. Also White & Yellow Wagtails. Tens of Tawny Pipits were also feeding in the many insects. A nice surprise was a flock of 9 Cream-coloured Coursers feeding in the area, allowing nice photo opportunities. The field was also having tens of Crested & Black-crowned Sparrow-Larks. 3 Marsh Harriers & 4 Common Kestrels were feeding in the many grasshopers, and a male Pallid Harrier was really celebrated by the tour participants.
Cream-coloured Coursers (Cursorior cursor) in the sewage fields. A magnet for birds in the desert.
A bit beyond, a second field was also having a good birdlife. In this case, out of the regular species, we enjoyed 4 Common Cranes and 1 female Montagu’s Harrier scanning the field on search of any potential prey.
As the sun started to go down we came to the road, whilling to arrive to Salalah. But some Sandgrouses made this to happen later than expected. Some Greater Hoopoe Larks crossed the road just minuted before a small flock of Chesnut-bellied Sandgrouses flew off from the side of the road. We stopped the car inmediatly, but unfortunately nobody connected with birds, this time. More flocks were in the air so we decided to drive slowly to scan properly the surrounding areas. Just few miles away, a wonderful flock of Spotted Sandgrouses were flying low around, and decided to stop in front of car, right by car, providing excellent views to all tour participants!
Happy after such a wonderful end of the day, we just covered the last miles to our hotel in Salalah, where we enjoyed the first of a row of wonderful dinners, and a good rest.
Isabelline Wheatear (Oenanthe isabellinus) is a common bird in Oman during winter.
Day 6. Our first in Salalah was devoted to get proper views in some of the many sought-after species living around this city. We explore the well known Ayn Hamrat, a location combining indigenous decideous forest, riverside & savannah like ambients, with a nice bushland and a wonderful stream.
Just got out of the car and we got our firsts Cinnamon-breasted Buntings, a wonderful bird that was coming in small flocks to drink water from the stream. Common & Green Sandpipers were spotted along the stream, as well as 1 Grey Wagtail. We went for a short-walk when James spotted 1 juvenile Shikra perched in a fig tree, overlooking the main pond in the stream.
Shrikra (Accipiter badius) keeps
Right after a Palestine Sunbird flew over, providing with a first glence of this beautiful species. The attention of group was captured then by Keith, whom spotted a small flock of Arabian Partridges running away from us. They climbed up the hill, providing us with excellent views. Many Abyssian White-eyes were around, in small (and sometimes not that small) flocks. The first of several African Paradise Flycatchers was seen, and the group was enjoying with such a wonderful bird when Keith went on again, this time with our first Arabian Warbler skulking in the vegetation a bit up in the slope, around from where the Partridges were moving. But got really good views but another bird claim of attention, since a wonderful Eastern Imperial Eagle was soaring low in the slope, probably hoping for a Partridge. The bird, slowly circling, showed the beautiful barring in the head and extending also to the throat. What a bird!
Arabian Warbler (Sylvia leucomelaena) inhabits forest edges and tall bushland.
But Keith was not giving up and again hit us, this time with a Black-crowned Tchagra low in the bushes! The bird was moving on the group, tacking advantage from the shady area to discover and capture insects. Few meters beyond we found our first Blackstart, quite confiding and showing us the beautiful black of its tail as it was open it several times. A pair of Shinning Sunbirds was in the same tree were the Blackstart was, and all the group had great views on the shinning green coloration of the male, but we got distracted by a small flock of African Silverbills that shortly landed in front of us. By that time we had a different bird in the sky, now was time for a 1st winter Short-toed Snake Eagle, that soared low among the decidious trees. At that moment Bauke had the 2 first Fan-tailed Ravens of the tour flying up in the cliffs, and we could even listen their toy-like calls from the distance. That was right before we had our firsts Long-billed Pipits moving in the bare ground, under the trees. These birds showed really tame, just as the African Paradise Flycatchers around, for enjoyment of the photographers in the group.
African Paradise Flycatcher (Tersiphone viridis), a wonderful drop of African birdlife in Oman.
We then decide to go down a bit the stream, prior taking a look the dry plains around. Some Black-crowned Sparrow-Larks were around, and James spotted our first Steppe Grey Shrike in a branch, overlooking the open space. Back to the woods, we took a look to the well vegetated stream, were we got 2 White-breasted Waterhens calling from the dense vegetation, a 1 Common Snipe flying from the shore.
Flocks of Tristam’s Starlings were coming to drink water, locating them by their beautiful wistles far before we could see them. They were joined by several Ruppell’s Weavers, and many Cinnamon-breasted Buntings. The fig trees above the area was having some Sunbirds, including two wonderful Palestine Sunbirds, for admiration of the group.
We kept scanning around, the trees filled up with birds, when 1 Asian Koel just appeared in front of us! This is a really overwintering bird in Oman, and almost became the hit of the day for at least 1 member of the group!
Asian Koel (Eudynamys scolopaceus), a really scarce overwintering bird in Oman.
After some time by the stream we decided to do a second short-walk, this time a bit beyond, and our effort was really worth it. At some point, a small flock of 4 Arabian Golden-winged Grosbeaks passed over us, calling and stopping a bit beyond. A bit of running was required but we arrived at the place were the birds landed. They were calling all around, even singing! A really long half a minute passed away until we relocated the birds in a distant bush. Great! We got everybody in the birds, with excellent views despite not being inmediatly close to us.
This is probably the best image that the group could get in Arabian Golden-winged Grosbeaks (Rhynchostruthus percivali).
We dediced to go back bu the stream, maybe the Grosbeaks were coming to drink water…They never did. For instance we got 1 Isabelline Shrike. After a nice picnic by the shade of the many trees we just went to the next location, overlooked by 1 Booted Eagle.
We spend some time in afternoon exploring Raysut. Unfortunately this year there were few Steppe Eagles in the area, and that day more interesting bird we had at the rubbish dump was a solitary White Stork. We also got 1 Citrine Wagtail, 1 Temminck’s Stint and 5 Little Ringed Plovers and a small flock of Whiskered Terns by visiting different ponds.
As Raysut was not as great as the last years, we just went to the sea, where big flocks of birds were waiting for us. At least 15 Terek’s Sandpipers were seeing in the place, along with several Lesser & Greater Sand Plovers, Little Stints, 1 Curlew Sandpiper, 1 Intermediate Egret, several Heughlin’s Gulls, Caspian Terns, 12 Western Ospreys, 1 Black-eared KIte, 4 Steppe Eagles, Grey Plovers, Dunlins, and mixed flocks of Citrine & Yellow Wagtails (beema & thumbergi races.
We still got time for a last stop, and we went to explore the Museum. There we got unforgettable views on Spotted Thick-knees, sometimes just a few meters away from us! We counted a minimum of 10. Other interesting birds in the gardens of the museum included Ruppell’s Weaver, Palestine Sunbird, Citrine Wagtail, Laughing Dove and Squacco Heron.
Spotted Thick-knee (Burhinus capensis) in glorious afternoon light.
A really short drive brought us back to our accommodation for a well deserved rest.
Day 7. This day we basically explored the some spots North of Salalah, and in particular the mountainous areas in Dhoffar.
But before we went up to the hills we did spend some time in the early morning. We left the car right beside a big river moth, and got the firsts birds of the day. Green Sandpiper, Eastern Black Redstart and Isabelline Shrike. A fast scanning of the lagoon revealed 9 Cotton Pygmy Geese, including a drake male. Marsh Sandpiper and Black-tailed Godwit were both feeding in the shores and it didn’t take long to locate the first of 3 Pheasant-tailed Jacana, feeding on the floating vegetation or even swimming along with Common Moorhens.
Cotton Pygmy Goose (Nettapus coromandelianus) has become really scarce in Oman in recent years.
1 Greater Spotted Eagle was standing up in a tree, thinking about possible preys. In the water, 4 Garganeys were spotted, while the shore produced Temminck’s Stint, Lesser Sand Plover, and 1 Curlew Sandpiper. The only one Eurasian Spoonbill of the tour passed over us while 2 White-winged Black Terns were roosting on a floating branck. Happy after such a good selection of birds, the group started to move, but we then we found 2 Red-knobbed Coots! Despite they were not very close, we all got good views on the main remarks.
Red-knobbed Coot (Fulica cristata) keeps being considered a rarity in Oman, with some individuals overwintering around Salalah.
After such a great place for allus we drove up to hills, to keep having some incredible birds.
A 30 minutes drive brought us up to the hills. In the way, some Steppe Eagles offered good views and a few Long-billed Pipits crossed the road. Once in the area, Bauke spotted the first Arabian Wheatear of the trip in a wire. It was a nice male, and was busy feeding 2 hungry young birds that allowed beautiful views on this small species.
Arabian Wheatears (Oenanthe lugentoides) are early nesters.
Just arrived to our main destination, we parked the van and started scanning around. 1 gorgeous Bonelli’s Eagle was patrolling the area, in really low, and slow flights producing what was the best views I ever had in this species! During the next hours we saw this same individual patrolling a small patch of land, always extremelly low. What a present for all of us!
This Bonelli’s Eagle (Aquila fasciata) kept flying above our van for several minutes in the Dhofar Mountains!
This hillsides are literally filled up with Cinnamon-breasted Buntings. It is difficult to understand how they can be so common… Wherever you look around, there were small flocks of these birds. Still, there are many other birds around. As we were walking around, Keith pointed out 2 Arabian Partridges. Both Shinning & Palestine Sunbirds were seen feeding around, while flocks of Tristam’s Starlings were flying over. Fan-tailed Ravens were also common, with rather nasal, short calls emerging from the sky as they were diving in groups going after the raptors they could find in the sky. Now was time for a juvenile Eastern Imperial Eagle to be joined by the ravens…
Arabian Partridge (Alectoris melanocephala), another Arabian endemic that provide with excellent views.
As we walked around we found a number of Tree Pipits, overwinter in the area in good numbers, but also Lesser Whitethroat, Tawny Pipits, African Silverbills and Ruppell’s Weavers. Suddenly, a tiny rock got alive from under our feet and became a wonderful Singing Bush Lark that stand for us for a walk-away views that allow all tour participants enjoy all the details of birds, including those alula lovers in the group!
Singing Bush Lark (Mirafra cantillans) is a common bird in the Dhofar high grasslands.
Some uplands in Dhofar region are full of beautiful Tree Pipits (Anthus trivialis).
Our walk was being really productive and improve after we found 1 Eurasian Wryneck feeding on the ground along with Cinnamon-breasted Buntings. Some Blackstarts were also present, one pair even nesting in a wall hole, and 1 Short-toed Snake Eagle flew over us, getting an advice from the local Bonelli’s, you better don’t do that again.
And finally, after some hours of scanning, we got a small flock of Yemen Serins drinking water along with Buntings. We were really lucky this time, and at the same time that we saw them, a flock of 5 just came directly to us, stopping in a wire right in front of us and providing excellent views. They were calling and soon some 10 birds more joined the party. They were in the wires but also on the ground and even on the roof of a close building!! We enjoyed the birds for ten minutes and then decided to move for a further exploration of the area.
After some scanning we got excellent views on a flock of Yemen Serin (Crithagra mechanensis).
The Yemen Serin is endemic living in mountain plateaus in Yemen and Oman, with only a handful of locations where to see the bird. Nowadays Oman is the only place where to try to see the bird safely.
A short drive lead us to an advantaged point where scan for raptors and small passerines. Unfortunably the area was now foggy, but we still got excellent views on a pair of Arabian & Desert Wheatears, Eastern Black Redstart and amazing views on a juvenile Eastern Imperial Eagle perched on a dead tree few metres away from the van!!!
juvenile Eastern Imperial Eagle (Aquila heliaca), in an impressive view by our van.
Arabian Wheatear (Oenanthe lugentoides) inhabits mountain rocky areas in the Dhofar.
This was a wonderful end of the day. We still had a chance for a stop in local bakery and enjoy nice local sweets before we head back to Salalah.
Back in the city, we still invested some time in its famous Sun Farms. There we had some interesting birds including a flock of about 120 Pacific Golden Plovers along with at least 3 European Golden Plovers resting in a plugged field. Not far from there, a flock of 7 White–winged Black Tern were flying around in a small marshy area inside the same farm. 1 Yellow–billed KIte was seen flying around the area. It was time to come back to the our accommodation for a nice rest and dinner.
Pacific Golden Plovers (Pluvialis fulva) in Salalah Sun Farms.
Day 8. Offshore day. We arribed early morning to the harbour. There, the many traditional fishing boats were filled up with Sooty Gulls, allowing wonderful views. Around the smaller boats, some Grey Herons and Western Reef Egrets were a good entertaiment while our boat was ready.
Once out of the harbour, we enjoyed a really plain sea. Heuglin’s Gulls were flying around, and small flocks of Greater Crested Terns provided excellent views. It didn’t take us long until we got the firsts Red-necked Phalaropes feeding in floating algae. During the 4 hours of the boat trip we got several flocks, totalling at least 50 birds.
Red-necked Phalaropes (Phalaropus lobatus) are a common view offshore Dhofar.
The Arabian Sea around Salalah is also really good for sea mammals and we were pleased to find a big herd of more than 200 Indian Spinner Dolphins. These small dolphins were swimming quite fast to the South, and we enjoy close views as we followed for some minutes. The image of these small dolphins, spinning and jumping around was a really enjoyable moment!
Spinners Dolphins (Stenella longirostris) were a good company while scanning for sea birds in our offshore North of Salalah.
Back to duty we turn again into the sea, to keep a bit of distance from the coast. Soon, we have the first Masked Booby flying over, and some minutes later we had good views in a flock of 4 of them while Red-necked Phalaropes were busy feeding and wondering around. We kept scanning around and we had short views on a distant dark Shearwater. The bird looked like a Fled-tailed, but was a distant, brief view so could not identify.
Masked Boobies (Sula dactylatra) nest not far from the continent in Oman.
The density of birds is low in this sea, but we were lucky to have a Red-billed Tropicbird passing above us, and the whole group enjoyed great views in a bird that was really celebrated. That was brilliant! And only a pair of minutes after we had a dark, long-tailed Petrel flying around, a Jouanin’s Petrel! Unfortunately it was too fast for some of the tour participants, but not a bad view at all. We kept fighting for a better view until Keith just saw another Jouanin’s coming directly to us from the back of the boat, and this time everybody got excellent views on the Petrel as only passed 20 metres away from us!! Happy after the great views in such a scarce bird, we still were scanning for some time, looking for Persian Shearwaters. During the next half and hour we still had 2-3 more Jouanin’s, but never got any Shearwater.
The vey scarce Jouanin’s Petrel (Bulweria fallax) is normally one of the top targets for any birder visiting Oman.
Glad after the good offshore, we just came to our accommodation to have some rest before going for an afternoon outing.
After having a good rest we did have some late afternoon birding to explore some planes North of the Salalah, where we had some interesting birds including a flock of 11 Eurasian Stone Curlews in flight, 1 Eastern Imperial Eagle and flocks of Greater Short-toed & Crested Larks. As the sunset was arriving we went to a forested area. There we had our first Red-tailed Shrike of the tour perched in some death vegetation, and while we were enjoying this beauty we got our first Arabian Scops Owl singing from the woods.
After some scanning we finally connected with a wonderful male Arabian Scops Owl that provided us with stunning views. At least other 3 birds were singing around in a sight that was highly celebrated! Happy after such a nice encounter we came to the accommodation for a good rest.
Arabian Scops Owl (Otus pamelae) proved that can cooperate for photo tours!
Day 9. Really early morning start with a short transfer to the desert to look for a number of desert specialities. We had some drive until Mudday, a small oases some 35 kilometers to the Yemen border. Here we first had a break to enjoy our take away breakfast just after the raising.
Both Laughing & Eurasian Collared Doves were singing in the place along with White–spectacled Bulbuls. A pair of Blackstarts were also a nice view while enjoying our breakfast. A first walk around produced little out of 2 Lesser Whitethroats (halimomendri race), 1 Song Thrush calling in flight and 1 Brown–necked Raven passing by.
Then we walked until the corner where we enjoyed most birds one year ago. After a pair of minutes of searching we were grateful to find 1 male Nile Valley Sunbird, calling and showing really well in the wires and in the palm trees around. This bird was really celebrated by the group, and it was soon joined by a female!
Nile Valley Sunbird (Hedydipna metallica) male, a typical inhabitant of oases in Oman.
Only a pair of minutes later, and when most of the group was still enjoying the Sunbirds, a bird came in flight, it was a female Grey Hypocolius!!! The bird directly landed in the wires right in front of us, giving us wonderful views before diving into a thick young palm tree. Everybody was extremely happy at that moment as the Hypocolius is one of the most sought-after birds in the region!!! The bird only showed for half a minute,and we were just talking about this point when a second Hypocolius landed in the same wire. And this time was a superb male!
Grey Hypocolius (Hypocolius ampelinus) male & female (below), probably the most celebrated birds of the tour, showing superbly in early morning light.
This time everybody enjoyed of a long sight in the Hypocolius allowing several shots,and even went vocal a pair of times before diving as well in the same thick bush where the female went down from the wire!
It is difficult to explain how happy the group was at this point. And it was only the beggining of the day! After enjoying the Hypocolius we just did a short walk around and got the second Red–tailed Shrike of the tour catching the morning light in some dead bush. Was not even nine in the morning! In the area where the vegetation was more rich we got some Common Chiffchaffs moving up and down but the surprise was to find the second Red-breasted Flycatcher of the tour moving in the low palm trees along with an African Paradise Flycatcher. What a strange pair of hunters in the middle of the desert!!
One of two Red-tailed Shrikes (Lanius phoenicuroides) that we enjoyed in the last days of the tour.
As was still early in the morning we went to have a look in a nearby oases. Only 3 miles away there is another corner with luxurian vegetation and some palm groves around. But the area was surprisingly empty of birds. We had a pair of short walks and were productives at the end, as we enjoyed the best views on Asian Desert Warbler of the trip, and a Desert Lark that landed in a small clay cliff in front of us.
Red-breasted Flycatcher (Ficedula parva) in palm groves at Qitbit.
Back to Mudday we soon were surprised by the calls of tens of Sandgrouses. Flocks and flocks of Chestnut–bellied Sandgrouses flew over the oases. Among with them, we got good views on 12 Crowned Sandgrouses flying quite lowl. We decided to follow them, and after some minutes we got the place where they seemed decided to land.
Crowned Sandgrouses (Pterocles coronatus) are a difficult target in Oman. In this issue we got unforgettable views!
After a short wait, the first 4 Chestnut–bellieds landed in a hillside, fastly followed by more and more, and by a small flock of Cronwed Sandgrouses that decided to land just beside us!!! Suddenly we looked like surrounded by Sandgrouses, with the Crowneds decided to approach a tiny pond of water, and the more numerous Chestnut-bellieds offeing us extremely good views as about 40 birds were coming to drink water in a small stream!!!!! What a wonderful sight!!!!
Chestnut-bellied Sandgrouses (Pterocles exustus), the commonest Sandgrouse in Oman.
We had a wonderful hald an hour, enjoying flocks of Sandgrouses coming to drink water in the tiny pond. And after this time they vanished as fast as they arrived! Extremelly happy after such a wonderful morning, we started the way back to Salalah, with a nice stop in our way to enjoy a lovely Bar–tailed Lark in the side of the road.
Back in our accommodation, we enjoyed a short break to recover from the early start, and we went South of the city to explore some coastal areas.
The first stop could not be more productive, as we enjoyed good views in a massive flock of over 200 Socotra Cormorants feeding in the sea. They typically move in extremelly dense flocks, and keep feeding all together in giant fisheries. Along with them there were several Sooty Gulls but also 12 Brown Bobbies, some of them quite close to the coast. Some Tristam’s Starlings came to the view point, adding some excellent photo chances to the place!
Liltte Stints (Calidris minuta) were common in many coastal mudflats and other wetlands.
A bit more to the North, a superb river mouth reaches the Arabian Sea. A stop there was mandatory, and we had a good variety of birds including some Garganeys, Tufted Duck, Greater White–fronted Goose, 5 Pintails, LIttle Stints, 2 Curlew Sandpipers, Eurasian Teals, Greater & Lesser Crested Terns, Black–tailed Godwit and several species more.
As we still had some time, we did a small detour exploring a nearby wadi, and we were lucky enough enjoy 4 Sand Partridges running in the rocky slopes as well as a close by Arabian Wheatear male!
Part of the group exploring a wadi around Salalah.
Typical Dhofar coastal area.
Day 10. Last day of birding of the tour. In the early morning we went back to a palm grove are in Salalah, hoping for some views on Bruce’s Green Pigeons, a bird that had been scaping from us along the tour. We spend some time in the area, adding 1 Crested Honey Buzzard and good views on Yellow Wagtails (meena) but being uncapable to find any pigeon.
We then moved to the Sun Farms of the city, where we did have Sand Martins and White–winged Black Terns. Unfortunately was quite windy and we didn’t get permit to get inside the farms so we decided to move to a nearby wetland to spend the last time before taking our plane back to Muscat.
Blackstart (Oenanthe melanura), a common but localised bird in Dhofar area.
Once in the wetland, we were once again surprised by the variety of birds. Despite the wind, the water was full of ducks including Garganey, Eurasian Teals, Northern Shovelers and 2 Pintails. Common, Gull–billed, Whiskered and 8 White–winged Black Terns were all added to the list of the place. Marsh Sandpipers and Temminck’s Stints were the most interesting waders. Black–winged Stilts, Greater Flamingoes and Graceful Prinia were all noted. As a good end, James spotted a Namaqua Dove in a fence.
This Namaqua Dove (Oena capensis) was the last adding to the tour list.
After this last birding we headed to the Salalah Airport, where a short internal flight brought us to Muscat for a comfortable overnight before everyone could take a plane back home!
In 2021 we will go back to Oman, join us for a good fun and a great birding!
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Variable Colotis (Colotis phissada) in Sun Farms 150 miles from Salalah.
Diadem Butterfly (Hyppolimnas myssipus)
One-pip Policeman (Coeliades anchises) at Al-Ansab lagoons.
Blue Pansi (Precis orithya) was present in some well vegetated locations.
Mantidae sp. in a desertic area close to Masirah Island.
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