En el marc de les sortides ornitològiques organitzades conjuntament amb la Fundació Plegadis i Birding Catalunya, el propassat 24 d’abril vam fer un OrnitoRepte pel Ripollès per mirar de trobar el Pàrid més escàs a casa nostra: la mallarenga d’aigua.
La idea inicial quan el vam programar era de gaudir del començament de la primavera als vessants boscosos de la capçalera del Riu Ter. Amb el que no comptàvem era amb unes temperatures força baixes, aque a primera hora del matí amb prou feines arribaren als 5ºC, i que van donar a la sortida un caire força hivernal, només trencat al final de la mateixa amb l’aparició del sol i unes temperatures lleugerament més agradables. Les baixes temperatures es van traduïr en una activitat d’ocells bastant discreta.
A primera hora del matí el grup de participants va anar arribant al punt de trobada. Un cop fet el recompte i ben abrigats, vam fer un petit tombet des del mateix punt de trobada. Aquí, tot caminant al voltant d’una roureda madura, vam observar els primers ocells de la sortida: Gafarró, tord comú i mallarengues blaves que es van deixar veure força bé. Hi havia merles en vol i també gaig quan la primera mallarenga d’aigua va aparèixer en un arbre ben a prop nostre, oferint molt bones observacions a tot el grup!
Havien passat uns 10 minuts i ja havíem assolit el “repte” de la sortida. Un cop gaudida la mallarenga, vam continuar fent via. Tallarol de casquet, pardal xarrec, cotxa fumada, pica-soques blau, mallarenga cuallarga i raspinell comú també es van deixar veure força bé. L’activitat d’ocells, però, era baixa degut als 4ºC de tempetatura. En aquestes condicions, una mica més de pista només va produir gratapalles, dues caderneres i un parell de mosquiters de passa només apreciats pels anaven davant de tot del grup. Tot amb tot, just al moment que decidíem fer el tomb, una parella de mallarengues d’aigua es van deixar veure durant una bona estona mentre s’alimentaven amb mallarengues carboneres i emplomallades, en el que va ser una bona comparativa de totes tres espècies.
De camí de tornada cap als vehicles una desena de voltors comuns van aparèixer al cel. Els voltors estavan baixant a uns camps vessant amunt, i tot repassant els camps va saltar la 1a sorpresa del dia quan vam trobar un voltor negre aturat a un prat! Tot i estar lluny, tothom va gaudir d’una molt bona observació pel telescopi. El voltor negre estava acompanyat a terra per dos voltors comuns, així que la comparativa no podia ser millor!
Tothom estava gaudint d’allò més amb aquesta espècie tant poc esperada així que vam decidir d’apropar-nos tot seguint la pista amunt. La temperatura continuava sent molt baixa, així que la caminada va anar bé per a recuperar temperatura. Un cop retallada la distància, vam gaudir d’una observació força millor amb el telescopi i d’un parell de fotos testimonials tot i que el voltor negre no ens ho va posar especialment fàcil ja que s’anava movent pel prat, a voltes desapareixent darrera d’alguns arbres. El trajecte també havia produït bitxac comú, cuereta blanca, griva i un fantàstic mascle de mastegatatxes!
De tornada als vehicles ens vam dirigir a un cafè proper, a on vam demanar quelcom de ben calent per intentar recuperar temperatura (encara estàvem a 6ºC!). D’aquí, ens vam desplaçar al Nord i vessant amunt, per explorar un seguit de prats i zones de landes de muntanya.
La temperatura anava pujant, però encara èrem lluny de poder dir que èrem a final d’abril. Poc després d’aparcar vam trobar la primera de moltes verderoles, mentre una piula dels arbres cantava força a prop. Un parell de mallerengues petites s’alimentaven per la zona quan, en apropar-nos a zona de landes, va saltar la segona sorpresa del matí: 2 perdius xerres que van aixecar el vol, deixant-se caure vessant avall!
Mooolta exitació al grup (i als guies) per aquesta observació, així que ens vam apropar molt a poc a poc a la zona a on havien aterrat, amb l’esperança de millorar l’observació. Tot i les moltes precaucions, només vam aconseguir una segona observació de les perdius xerres en vol, mentre marxaven una mica més enllà dins la zona de landes. Aquí ho vam deixar correr per no destorbar-les, tot i que aquestes perdius ens van deixar amb ganes de més!
Encara comentàvem la jugada quan el cel ens va reclamar. Una àguila daurada va apareixer a força alçada però encara reconeixible, mentre un falcó peregrí volava força més baix. El sol anava sortint i la temperatura pujava, i això explicava que els voltors comuns també passessin força amunt! Tot seguint el camí, dos còlits grisos van passar volant per sobre nostre, per aturar-se vessant amunt. Una àguila calçada també es va deixar veure.
Ja de baixada als vehicles, el grup va poder gaudir de molt bones observacions d’una verderola mascle cantant, una parella de bruels i una fantàstica observació d’una àguila marcenca caçant, i que vam poder observar des de dalt. Coses de mirar ocells a la part alta dels vessants pirinencs! Com a observació final, un cucut ens va passar volant pel davant quan arribavem al pàquing.
De camí cap al restaurant, vam fer una parada final al Riu Ter, per tal de gaudir de merla d’aigua i cuereta torrentera! I amb aquesta aturada a la vora del Ter, ja amb temperatures quasi normalitzades per a l’època de l’any, vam acabar un altres OrnitoRepte força exitós!
PD: Aquells que vam fer dinar de germanor vam tenir la sort de gaudir de pica-soques blau, mallarenga d’aigua i una parella de pinsans borroners (trobats gràcies a la Paqui i l’Octavi) entre aiguat i aiguat!
Overview: Our 5th tour exploring Finland was dated a pair of weeks earlier than previous issues. The average temperature was low during the whole trip, and the early dates marked the tour, improving our chances for Grouses and Owls, but also making not possible to connect with some species including Terek’s Sandpiper, Common Rosefinch and Greenish Warbler. However, the early date provided us with better chances for both Steller’s & King Eiders and some interesting migratory species (Marsh Sandpiper, Greater White-fronted Goose, Purple Sandpiper), while the cold ambient was excellent to spot Grouses in the taiga forest. The number of Owls was extremelly high, especially aorund Oulu. Here, we counted a minimum of 20 Short-eared Owls in a single day!
All images in this trip report by tour leader Carles Oliver
Dates: 19th to 28th May, 2022
Number of participants: 8 +1 tour leader
Species along the tour: 171
Day 1. After meeting in Helsinki Airport, the whole group of participants landed in Oulu in the afternoon. The beggining of the tour was delayed as we had to wait for our bus to come, but even from the airport terminal we already had a good sensation about the trip since one of the very first birds to appear was Short-eared Owl flying above the parking of the airport. Other birds noted while waiting included the first of many Yellowhammers and Tree Pipits.
Once in our accommodation we had an early dinner, and after dinner we enjoyed some pre dawn birding in a localy location nearby. There we enjoyed the first displaying Ruffs along with several Wood Sandpipers and Common Snipes. A Greater Bittern was booming in the distance, and Reed Buntings were singing all around. This location, a lovely bay with an extensive bog plain around produced also 6 White-tailed Eagles, Marsh Harriers, Dunlins, 2 Greenshanks, Whooper Swans and hunting Short-eared Owls. Small flocks of Common Cranes were feeding in the fields nearby, the song of Pied Flycatchers emerged from the woodlands close to the sunset, and a male Whinchat joined them for a little while. In our way back to the accommodation European Starlings and Rook were both noted.
Day 2. A very early start to explore some typical places for some of the wonderful Owls living around Oulu. It was a really cold morning, with temperatures far below the average, arriving to -4ºC! Not far from our accommodation we had the first surprises of the day, as we had several Black Grouses displaying along the lane, some of them in the open fields, others flying away as our van recheaded them. We crossed several good spots a low speed, and we were granted we our firsts Western Capercaillies of the tour, including a wonderful male that showed out for us in the top of a pine.
Soon after we arrived to the first key place, where a Northern Hawk Owl had been hunting the last days. We didn’t have to wait long before the Northern Hawk Owl showed out of the forest, landing in the wires and allowing excellent views. The bird spent some time hunting around and we could all enjoy views of the bird hovering and diving on the grass in search of prey.
During the morning we counted 20+ Short-eared Owls, that seemed to be everywhere! We always thought that we would be granted with a close view soon or later, but that never happened this time…
A second stop in the morning produced another wonderful moment of our group. A Great Grey Owl was seen standing up in a meadow by the our road, so we had a stop and enjoyed wonderful views on the bird moving in the field and even catching a prey before vanishing into the woods. Even if the stop was short, we again had 2 Short-eared Owls moving in the fields around!
We kept moving into the woodlands, with more Black Grouses here and there and eventually some Eurasian Woodcocks flying around until arriving to one of the several territories of Eurasian Pygmy Owls around Oulu. Coal Tit and Mistle Thrush were added to our list but a nice (pressumed) male stole the show when decided to stop really close to us in a dead branch. For 5 minutes, we all enjoyed great views on this tiny Owlet, and when decided to leave the spot, the Owl was still sitting on his branch, enjoying the very early morning ambient in the forest.
It was already mid morning, so we had a break to enjoy some coffee before going on with some more birding. Lesser Whitethroats were singing around, and the first of many Eurasian Bullfinches and Common Crossbills of the trip were also seen. But the best surprise of the stop was to enjoy more than decent views on a Black Woodpecker that was feeding around the area!
Back into the boreal forest, we visited a nest box for Tengmalm’s Owl, and we also enjoyed good views on the bird taking out the head from its whole and watching us. From here, a short drive was mandatory to explore one of the typical corners for Ural Owl, and we were again granted with excellent views on a adult of this magnificient Owl! It was one of the tour participants who found the massive Owl roosting in a pine, and we had 15 minutes to admire and take some shots on the bird. Always respecting the distance so the bird was not disturbed.
After such a wonderful morning we drove back to our accommodation to have some rest. After lunch and rest, we visited a pair of places in the afternoon. Before dinner, we visited a corner near Oulu in the search of Terek’s Sandpiper. There, we enjoyed Common Ringed and Little Ringed Plovers, Common Sandpipers, Arctic Terns, Whinchats and singing Skylarks, but no sign of the Terek’s Sandpipers.
The last stop in the afternoon was to explore the large belt of marshes South of Oulu. Here we had a good list of waders, but also enjoyed good views on 1 Marsh Sandpiper along with several Wood Sandpipers and some Common Greenshanks. We had good scope views on the Marsh Sandpiper but not long because it was all the time getting inside the many ditches around.
After this 2nd stop we drove back the small distance to our accommodation to get an early dinner. After dinner, everybody with still some energy went for a walk inmediatly around our accommodation. A new booming Greater Bittern was listened around as well as a good variety a good selection of waders that included two Spotted Redshanks, Eurasian Oystercatchers and Common Ringed Plovers to name a few. In the distance, we also had a small flock of Barnacle Geese (now nesting in different places along the Baltic See), Great Crested Grebes (the only ones along the trip) and 2+ Great Northern Divers feeding in the bay.
Day 3. Early morning start to explore a pair of spots before our midday transfer to Kuusamo. The first spot was to check a nesting place of Great Grey Owl around Oulu. After some searching in the place, we enjoyed wonderful views not only of the female in the nest but also on the perfectly camouflaged male nearby!
A second stop was to done North of Oulu, and even before arriving to the location we had excellent views on a pair of Hazel Grouses feeding on the ground, very vocal and moving in the woodlands. Very happy after such a great success, we still scanned around the area looking for other goodies, but Eurasian Robin and Reed Buntings was everything that we could see. After this scanning we went to search for some of the Pallid Harriers nesting around. The different stops along the morning produced Short-eared Owls, White-tailed Eagles, Rough-legged Buzzards, 3 Hen Harriers, several Marsh Harriers and even a Black Kite and 1 Eurasian Hobby (both species pretty scarce in the area), but unfortunately we couldn’t contact with any Pallid Harriers. Special mention required for a lovely pair of Garganeys that were spotted in our final stop that morning.
After lunch we drove to Kuusamo, where we did arrive in the late afternoon. En route, a stop was mandatory to enjoy the first of many females Western Capercaillies along the trip. All the clients enjoyed great views on this gorgeous female! Once in our accommodation, our guests enjoyed some free birding in the lake and forest around the hotel, enjoying good views on the nesting Goldeneyes, Black-throated Divers and Whooper Swans before dinner.
Day 4. Very early start that morning to explore the gorgeous boreal forests around Kuusamo. Before doing some walk in selected areas we had some “game drive” in some areas which are normally great for grouses. In about 30 minutes of drive we got 10+ Capercaillies and 2 Willow Grouses! We changed the area, and in a different lane we still got more Capercaillies (it looked like being everywhere) and 15+ Black Grouses, some of them lekking directly in the tarmac!
After such a great start, we went to explore one of the most famous corners in the Kuusamo. This hill, with a good spruce forest in the top, is hosting some of the most wanted birds in the region. Unfortunately the rain was going to join us during the rest of the morning, but still we got 2 Bohemian Waxwings moving around and good views on 1 Red-flanked Bluetail while singing. The variety of birds was low, anyway. A further walk under the rain only produced Song Thrush and flocks of Crossbills passing away.
We had to wait until the stopped at mid-morning. Then we tried again the same spot, having good but good views on Parrot Crossbills and amazing views on 2 Siberian Jays that delighted the photographers in the group.
After our early lunch and a good nap, we went out to check out a pair of locations around Kuusamo. Our first stop produced excellent views on Mountain Hares, but also Eurasian Wigeon, Pied Flycatcher and Eurasian Woodcock singing around. But the best birds on this small grassland were a superb pair of Rustic Buntings that came to us, allowing excellent views by everyone in the group! After this stop we went to enjoy a colony of Little Gulls in the area, and we found more birds than ever before, allowing really close views on some pass by birds. Along with them, 4 Red-necked Grebes in full summer plomage were a wonderful way to end our afternoon.
Day 5. Another really early start. After a wonderful breakfast, our first stop was to explore one of the best corners to enjoy Willow Grouse, and even before getting out of the van we were listening a bird singing around. After a short strall we got excellent views on a male singing from the top of a birch tree. 2 Rustic Buntings were also seen around, and the stop produced also a flock of migratoy Yellow Wagtails, and a male Eurasian (Northern) Bullfinch.
The second stop of the morning was devoted to have better views on Red-flanked Bluetail, and after some walk, we had wonderful views on a lovely male, but also Common Redstart, another male Rustic Bunting, Northern Goshawk and extremely confiding Siberian Jays!
From here we still visited another area of boreal forest, still searching for Tree-toed Woodpecker. Unfortunately we had no luck with this specialty but we got our first drake Smew, but also Scandinavian Willow Tits. In our way back, another stop was mandatory as we spotted a pair of Hazel Grouses. After some waiting, we all enjoyed amazing views on the male while singing and performing for us at close range!
After a stop and a coffee it was time to go North. From Kuusamo we drove North, getting inside the Northern Circle Pole. After an en route lunch, our last stop of the day was to explore a gorgeous patch of spruce forest really close to Ivalo. In here, one of my favourite spots in Finland, we had a pair of stops but it didn’t take long before we had our first Siberian Tit appearing and showing in front of us! A second stop produced another pair, and along the we had 3 Capercaillies and really close views on Black Grouses (both males and females).
A short walk around, even if it was at mid-afternoon, produced Siberian Jay, Bohemian Waxwing, Siberian Tit and Mealy Redpolls. But the very best birds of the afternoon were a pair of Pine Grosbeaks feeding, and the male even singing extremely close from the path. Our group enjoyed a 20 minutes long view in this amazing, and often extremely hard to find bird! In our way out of the area, we still had to stop again as 2 Willow Grouses were lekking in the dart road, and provided us, again, with unforgettable views!
Day 6. After the previous successful days, we decided to have a slightly later start today. After breakfast, we kept moving North towards to Norwegian border. In our way, we had a pair of stops to enjoy Rough-legged Buzzard and a pair of nesting PeregrineFalcons. Siberian Tit and Great Grey Shrike were other “en route” birds.
Once in Norway, we enjoyed excellent views on Rough-legged Buzzards and we had a mandatory stop in the road to enjoy some really close Moose. Keeping our way North, we had a stop in an estuary to look for migratory waders and geese. Here we had the only 2 Greater White-fronted Geese of the trip, and also 2 Tundra Bean Geese. The area was hosting some waders such as Eurasian Whimbrel, Sanderling, Ruddy Turstone, Dunlin in lovely full nesting plomage, Little Stints and the first Temminck’s Stint of the trip: a calling bird that was flying around the hide.
Getting inside Varanger is always a great experience, and soon we were enjoying great views on a number of White-tailed Eagles and Rough-legged Buzzards. A pair of Short-eared Owls were also noted, as well as the first of many Arctic Skuas. Before arriving to our accommodation we had some scanning in the bay around, and we were lucky enough to find 6+ Steller’s Eiders roosting along with Common Eiders, and including 3 drakes! While enjoying the birds, a close Temminck’s Stint feeding along Dunlins was also a nice adding! Happy with the scope views, we had a break and some members of the group decided to try closer views on the birds while exploring the meadows and coastline around our hotel.
In the afternoon, the Steller’s Eiders were moved to the other side of the bay, so we drove and enjoyed excellent views on the birds while swimming and feeding, sometimes getting at close range of our group! Everybody was delighted with these magnificient birds as it was one of the main targets for most of our clients. Along with these beauties, the area produced the first of many Kittiwakes of the tour along with several Dunlins, Ruffs and some drake Bar-tailed Godwits.
Before dinner, we still had time to explore a first patch of tundra. Unfortunately it was windy so the number of birds was low. Still, we had good views on Meadow Pipits and European Golden Plovers but the best bird of the stop was a stunning Bluethroat singing his heart out!
Day 7. Again a windy day in Varanger. The pre-dawn strall didn’t produce much because of the wind. After breakfast we went North to Vardo, where a small boat brought us to the bird colony in Hornoya. It is quite difficult to put down in words how an experience such as visiting Hornoya is. Tens of thousands of birds nesting, calling, yelling in cliffs. Waves of birds taking off from the roks to the sea: Guillemots (about 20% being “bridled”), Razorbills, Kittiwakes and wonderful Puffins nesting around! Atlanlic Shags a few inches away from you, nesting under rocks on the ground. Broken eggs of Auks on the ground, and the intense smell all around!
But Hornoya is also home for one of the easiest accessible colonies of Brünnich’s Guillemot, and once we were in the island, our first target was to find some of them. Even if not specially common, it didn’t take long before we had some of them nesting in the cliffs. Once located, we had some time enjoying the very close views on the Auks. We also had a confiding flock of Purple Sandpipers that catched our attention while a pair of Razorbills were mating only inches away from us! Rock Pipits were also seen around, catching insects but also exploring broken eggs while Great Black-backed & Herring Gulls were patrolling the area. Black Guillemots were scarce in the island this year, but we still got to see some around.
In the distance we could the Greylag Geese nesting a close island, but our eye was permanently in the sky, looking for anything interesting to appear. 2 White-tailed Eagles were also patrolling the cliffs, and their movements produced waves of Auks leaving the nesting sites in search of shelter down in the ocean. We never saw any of the eagles catching an Auk, but they didn’t look in a hurry… Even if our main target in the sky never appeared (too early in the season?), we were granted with a pastby Glaucous Gull.
Back in the continent, we spend the afternoon exploring the tundra and the many bays between Hornoya and Hamminberg. The wind was still blowing, but even with it we soon had great views on some males Lapland Buntings. Several Arctic Skuas were also moving in this spot, already chosing the nesting site and being monitored by the White-tailed Eagles around. European Golden Plovers, Rough-legged Buzzard, Red-throated Pipits, Ruffs, Common Snipes, Wood Sandpipers and Common Ringed Plovers were also noted around. Along the bays we had several Long-tailed Ducks, but also Common Eiders, Tundra Bean Goose and large feeding flocks of Goosanders. Black-throated & Red-throated Divers were also seen in different locations.
But the best sighting on our way North were 2 impressive Humpback Whales really close to the coast. One of them was splashing its large pectoral fin in the water, and at times we saw both the pectoral and the tail fins out of the water! It looks like this behaviour is not uncommon during the mating season, when females can do it for quite long to keep the attention of the males!
Once arrived to Hamminberg, we enjoyed good views on Atlantic Gannets fishing close to the coast. Large flocks of Goosanders were in the move to the East while both Long-tailed Ducks and Black Guillemots were all around. Still, the strong wind made the sea watching quite unpleasant. In our way back, a nice Pomarine Skua was also noted and provided us with good views!
Day 8. In the morning we explored a patch of forest were a pair of Northern Hawk Owl was nesting, but unfortunately we couldn’t find it. Still, we got excellent views on Bluethroat while Bohemian Waxwings were moving around. After this stop we moved to center of Varanger, to explore some tundra plateaus. As soon as arrived to the high lands, we had the first Long-tailed Skuas performing for us, chasing each other in long pursuits. They were just arrived, so it means a lot of activity to defend the best corners of the tundra.
A number of stops along the way produced a great list of birds including close ups to Temminck’s Stints, Shore Larks, Lapland Buntings, Bluethroats, Ruffs and 4+ mobile Snow Buntings in shinning summer plomage!
After this successful start in the tundra, we decided to explore the Northern patch of coast of Varanger. There, Atlantic Gannets were fishing all around along with large numbers of Black Guillemots and Long-tailed Ducks. Great Cormorants and Goosanders were migrating East in good numbers and flocks of Purple Sandpipers were noted doing the same. The dramatic landscapes of the area were also the perfect background for small flocks of Twites moving in the grasslands, and a nice pair of King Eiders (female and 2nd year male) that we found inside a flock of 20+ Common Eiders.
Back to the plateau, we had a pair of stops searching for Rock Ptarmigan before we found a wonderful pair of them. Everybody in the group enjoyed wonderful scope views, and some enjoyed a walk in the snow to have closer views and good shots on the Ptarmigans. In our way to our hotel we still had a last stop, since we found an obliging pair of Red-throated Divers feeding really close to our lane.
Day 9. Morning stop in the plateaus in our way South to enjoy more views on Rock Ptarmigans, Snow Buntings and Shore Larks. Unfortunately we were a bit too early for Eurasian Dotterels, but the Long-tailed Skua spectacle was a wonderful reward anyway!
Almost in Finland, we had a last stop in Norwegian territory to scan for Gyrfalcons. Under the intense rain and wind we could only find a pair of Peregrine Falcons while pastby Merlin and Ring Ouzel were noted. Back into Finland, and despite the intense rain, we had a pair of stops in our way to the accommodation to admire close Smews and Bohemian Waxwings were noted again along the road.
During the afternoon, we were hit by the rain and the very strong wind. Still, we decided to explore a pair of corners targeting some specialties that had been scaping to us so far. After some driving, we arrived to one secret pool, were we enjoyed 10 minutes of plain weather, with Bluethroats, Reed Buntings, Yellow Wagtails around and confiding Wood Sandpipers. But the very best were 3 Red-necked Phalaropes landing in the pond quite close and offering some great views even under the incipient rain!
Day 10. Early morning start to enjoy the bird feeders of our accommodation under the rain. Pine Grosbeaks offered great views as so it did the many drake Bramblings and 1 Red Squirrel. In our way to the airport for our morning flight, a very last female Capercaillie showed out as a wonderful way to end our 5th tour exploring Northern Finland and Finnmark!
All images in this trip report by Carles Oliver. All rights reserved.
Overview. Our 8th tour to Morocco explored again one of the most popular routes in Southern Morocco. Combining excellent mountain birding in the Atlas with the stunning variety of birdlife living in the transitional plains between the mountains and the Sahara, this tour embraces a good array of habitats that provides excellent chances for all the main specialties living in the area. This year, the tour was marked by an unusual cloudy weather and very cold temperatures. During our stay in Agadir, we had general rains in the area, and the snow was appearing a pair of times during the tour. This situation was translated in a poor bird migration, with several trans-Saharan migratory species showing very thin numbers, when not being totally absent from our trip list. Despite the general unusual weather, we got excellent views on all specialties out of Thick-billed Lark. The tour had also a pair of very interesting birds, as males Little Crake and Pallid Harrier were seen both around Ouarzazate.
Day 1: Early breakfast in our hotel in Marrakech before going out and enjoy a sunny but rather fresh day. All tour participants were arriving along the day before in a number of afternoon flights, and we all met for an evening meal.
Before getting to the van we had some nice looks to the Marrakech urban birdlife. A number of Pallid Swifts were flying low, and we got good views on the colour and structure. On the same hotel, two House Buntings were singing their heart out while Sardinian Warblers, Common Bulbuls, Spotless Starlings and Eurasian Greenfinches were also noted.
In our way out of Marrakech we had first views on Maghreb Magpies, a recent split from Eurasian Magpies, on the wires or feeding on the ground, often along with Cattle Egrets. Our first stop was to explore a lovely valley in the Atlas. Here, small patches of riverside forests are surrounded by the wallnut orchards while the slopes around are fittered with Juniper srublands. Soon after living the van we had our first Levaillant’s Woodpecker (aka AtlasGreen Woodpecker) nicely showing. We could all have excellent views while the bird was slowy moving in the branches of tree, in an interesting warbler-like behaviour. 2 African Blue Tits appeared as well in the same place, and a showy Eurasian Wren was a nice adding. Great Tit was calling in the distance, and European Serins were moving all around. A bit more of time in this wonderful location allowed us to have 3 Little Swifts, our first Moroccan Wagtail, Great Spotted Woodpecker and lovely views on a male Cirl Bunting.
We move on from this wonderful corner to go up in the hillsides. As normal, we had some good roadside birding, and Lesser Kestrels and Eurasian Sparrowhawk were noted while moving up. Once arrived to a typical habitat we had a second stop, successful again. Soon after we got out of the van a wonderful Tristam’s Warbler was moving really close while feeding in the Junipers. Another bird was singing up in the slope and provided good looks while showing on the top of a bush. Around the area we also had two Atlas Coal Tits (a potential split) and a wonderful Rock Bunting calling while doing its way in a barren slope. However, the suprise of the stop was to see 3+ Ring Ouzels (torquatus race) moving in the scrublands and on the ground while looking for berries.
Back to the lane, we kept doing our way up until a large flock of Red-billed Choughs came to us in a wonderful aerial spectacle. The birds were not only playing with the wind in the slopes, but also harrasing an Atlas Buzzard (still considered a race of Long-legged Buzzard, but who knows for how long). A fast stop by the road was required, and happily all the tour participants could connect with this amazing bird of prey, clearly smaller and short-winged than nominals Long-leggeds. But we were still luckier when a Barbary Falcon joined the show for a while, and offered nice views while flying quite lower than the Choughs themselves!
Happy after such a wonderful road side stop, we kept our way to arrive to Oukaïmeden. Once in the area, we did a short walk in the plain and we fast had a flock of 6 Rock Sparrows that gave us nice views. Black Redstarts and Black Wheatears were around, and we were lucky enough to see White-throated Dipper in the stream and 1 Alpine Accentor that flew along right in front of us, but the main attractions of the place kept elusive for us.
We decided to do a lunch stop, and enjoy the good food up in the mountains. After lunch we went for a second shot in the plains and we were definately luckier, since a female African Crimson-winged Finch appeared sitting on a wire and, after a bit of walk, we all enjoyed excellent views on the bird! It was certainly strange to have a single individual here, contrasting with flocks that we normally find but never mind. We really took that!
A last stop was required before stating going down to Marrakech. In a small corner of the plain (a typical place for them to be) we found 12+ Atlas Horned Lark, a very distictive, resident race of Horned Larks, and again a good candidate for a future split.
Out of mountains, we still decided to go for a final stop before going back to our accommodation. The Southern part of Marrakech has lovely fields and a good array of birdlife living on them. Here we had a stop to and we were granted with a lovely flock of European Serins, Spanish Sparrows, Corn Buntings, Crested Larks, Zitting Cisticolas, European Stonechats plus the views on species such as Moussier’s Redstart and Woodchat Shrike. But the main character and the authentical reason of our stop was to look for Barbary Partridges, and we were lucky enough to find 3+ of them doing their way in the fields, and trying to disapear in the open terrain.
Day 2. Transfer day from Marrakech to the Agadir area. A transfer was more complicated due to the difficult traffic around Agadir. Our first stop was in Essaouira, where we enjoined some good birds South of the city. Here we had first views on Ruddy Shelducks but also Pied Avocets, Black-winged Stilts, 2 Green Sandpipers, Wood Sandpiper, 1 Ruff, 14 Eurasian Spoonbills, Greater Flamingoes, Common Redshanks, 3 Little Ringed Plovers and 1 Common Snipe. Some other species, although more distant, included 3 Audouin’s Gulls + 1 Mediterranean Gull and 3 Sandwich Terns roosting along with large numbers of Yellow-legged Gulls (probably coming from the Mogador Island colony) and a single Lesser Black-backed Gull.
Our journey kept to the South, following the wonderful coastal route that, crossing slopes fittered with Argan trees, arrives to the Tamri Estuary. Here we had a walk and soon we had good views on Northern Bald Ibis flying above us. The walk goes along the coastal dunes, with many Lesser Black-backed Gulls moving up in down along the coast. A scan into a flock of gulls roosting in the beach produced to less than 40 Audouin’s Gulls and some nice-looking Kentish Plovers. But the main attraction was still to come when a Northern Bald Ibis just landed a few metres away from us, and started to look for food in the sand. Digging its bill in the dunes, the bird showed really suggessful and got warms and some small insects. After 20 minutes of wonderful sighting, joined by two pairs of Moussier’s Redstart, we did a last stop further South, in the Cape Tamri.
This location proved in other issues to be excellent for seawatching, but this time all the birds were seen really far away, and the counts were not above 25 Northern Gannets moving North and some Sandwich Terns moving around. The stop was complemented with great views on tame Thekla Larks moving around the rocky outcrops and 2 Algerian Shrikes (the race of Great Grey Shrike living in Northern Morocco and along the Atlantic coast).
We started moving to our accommodation, with a last stop in mind, but our changes of this last birding stop vanished into a large traffic jump due to road works.
Day 3. Our day in the Souss-Massa National Park started with a pair of short walks to catch up with some specialties around. The weather was clearly changing, with a massive low pressure system coming from the Atlantic Ocean and threatening with strong rains and lower temperatures. Still, we managed a pair of successful stops in the morning.
Our first stop was to explore a small corner of the Massa River. In the past, this area showed a wonderful variety of birdlife, including several migratory birds. But this year the water level (like in many other corners along the Massa River) was really low, and the migratory birds almost absent. A short stroll rapidly produced good views on Cetti’s Warbler and African Chaffinches. Several Common Chiffchaffs were moving around, and a obliging pair of Moussier’s Redstart provided great views. In the distance, a Black-winged Kite was whovering above the farming around the river. After some scanning, we were able to locate a wonderful Black-crowned Tchagra moving in the lash vegetation, and with some patience we all enjoyed great and close views on it!
The clouds were already coming, and temperature was getting down (collapsing!), but we managed a second stop before the heavy rain arrived. In a small patch of reeds and tamarisks we found the first Western Olivaceous Warbler (aka Isabelline Warbler) of the trip moving in the vegetation and going on with what it sounded like a subsong. 3 Eurasian Spoonbills were feeding in a small pond along with 1 Common Sandpiper and 1 Little Ringed Plover. Some Little & Pallid Swifts flew above us, providing good looks while we moving away from the river to have a short exploration of the fields around. A flock of 35 Eurasian Siskins was quite a surprise so far South, but little more could be added out of 1 Meadow Pipit and Moussier’s Redstarts. It started to rain heavily so we decided to go back to our accommodation. In our way back, a Little Owl was a nice find!
The heavy rain tied us to ous hotel until mid-afternoon, when the rain stopped and we could go out. There were still some clouds, but had to move! Another potentially good corner in the river Massa was also rather quiet, but we still had 4 Plain Martins flying around, brief views on 1 Bluethroat, Maghreb Magpies, a distant Western Swamphen, 1 Purple Heron and a small flock of Pied Avocets feeding nearby the bridge. Beyond this point, the area become more bushy, with formidable formations of euphorbias. Here we did a second stop, and we were granted with 3 Western Black-eared Wheatears, European Bee-eaters, Sardinian Warblers, 2 Eurasian Hoopoes, 2 Cirl Buntings at close range and 1 Great Spotted Cuckoo! We were all quite satisfied with this, and we drove back to the hotel for an early dinner. After dinner, more birds!
A short walk from our accommodation, and a bit of luck, provided great views on 1 Red-necked Nightjar calling, flying and briefly stopping around us in a great sight that, for our clients, ranked among one of the 10 better birds of the trip!!!
Day 4. Transfer day between Agadir and Ouarzazate. The morning was again really cold (only 10ºC!!) and with some rain. Despite the bad weather we did stop in the Massa River, and we had a good hearing on 3 Black-crowned Tchagras singing while a flock of Glossy Ibis was feeding around. A second morning stop in the Souss River estuary was way more productive. Here we got a really good selection of waders feeding in the mudflats along with several Eurasian Spoonbills, some Greater Flamingoes, Mediterranean Gulls and a Lesser Kestrel hunting dragonflies!
It was quite a surprise the good number of Black-tailed Godwits in the estuary feeding along with several Black-winged Stilts and Pied Avocets. A minimum of 48 Ruffs were also counted, and 27 Curlew Sandpipers. 3 Spotted Redshanks were also noted along with many Common Redshanks, Grey Plovers, Eurasian Whimbrels and some Wood Sandpipers. A careful scanning revealed also 1 Temminck’s Stint, 2 Red Knots, 4 Eurasian Curlews, 4 Bar-tailed Godwits and a flock of 7 Little Stints. Surprisingly we only counted 4 Common Ringed Plovers in the whole estuary!
A short walk along the more vegetated areas produced some Yellow Wagtails and short views on a (white-spotted) Bluethroat.
After this pleasant stop we went on with our transfer along the Anti Atlas. The roads between Agadir & Ouarzazate goes along one of the best areas for birds of prey in Morocco. With the Tawny Eagle and Chanting Goshawks both gone for long, the area remains as an interesting hot-spot for birds of prey such as Black-winged Kite. Along the road, we counted up to 4 Black-winged Kites, but also Black Kites, our first Short-toed Snake Eagle and 1 Barbary Falcon.
One of the best stops on this road birding provided excellent views on a Great Spotted Cuckoo singing from the top of an Argan Tree. Some tens of miles away from the cuckoo, another stop was mandatory when we found 4 obliging Cream-coloured Coursers and 2 Desert Larks just by the tarmac!
In the afternoon we were already close to Ouarzazate, when we crossed one of the many streams coming down from the Atlas. There, roosting in the reedbeds, there were several Little Egrets and 4 Black-crowneds Night Herons. A stop was, obviously, mandatory!
The vegetation along the stream was full of Sedge Warblers that were feeding along with 1 or 2 Eurasian Reed Warblers while the first Willow Warbler of the trip was moving in a tall grass right beyond. We were really enjoying the views on these little fellas just when 1 male Little Crake decided to walk out of the vegetation, showing himself in a superb afternoon light! The bird was there for 10 minutes, in what it was a lifer bird of more than the half of the group! Then somebody advaced about a bird of prey coming from the right, and we all had the time enjoy a superb Bonelli’s Eagle diving right beyonf the stream, tallons in the front of, probably trying to catch a prey!
Everybody was really excited, and the Little Crake was still in the out, but a Eurasian Wryneck just called in our back. Time to move to the small Almond plantation and try to find the Wryneck. We moved slowly in the fields with scatered large Almond trees, when a small bird just flew off from the grass and landed low in small bush: 1 Common Grasshoper Warbler! It took me 10 minutes to put everyone in the bird, but we did it!!!
Back to the Wryneck operation, we moved around the area and found a lovely European Turtle Dove sitting on a tree. A tour participant found a Woodchat Shrike in a large shrub and we all admired it but, by the time my bins came back to the tree where the Turtle Dove was, it was turned into the Wryneck that we had been looking for!! What a wonderful stop!!
And this is how a road birding day can turn out in a absolutely great birding day!
Day 5. Early morning start to explore the massive reservoir inmediatly South of Ouarzazate. Weather was still cloudy, and temperatures were far lower than expected. Still, we enjoyed another great day. Instead of heading directly to the reservoir, we drove a bit around the semi desert to try to find some specialties. There we had first views on Desert & White-crowned Black Wheatears but also a pair of Trumpeter Finches and 1 Spectacled Warbler. It was clear that it was some migration, since it was a flock after a flock of Greater Short-toed Larks moving North, and we got 17 Black Storks that seemed to be roosting in a distant plateau East of the reservoir.
Once in the lake, we had good views on both Maghreb & Thekla’s Larks. The shores were full with Ruddy Shelducks and the songs of migratory Sedge Warblers were all over. A distant Water Rail was also noted, while a large flock og 400+ White Storks were roosting in the reeds. On waders, it was low. We only had some Little Ringed Plovers, some Ruffs, Green Sandpipers, 2 Greenshanks and 3 Black-tailed Godwits.
A bit beyond we reached a view point over the reservoir and we soon had excellent but distant views over the many Marbled Teals around. We counted a minimum of 80 of them and, along with this really scarce duck, we enjoyed a good array of other ducks including Gadwalls, Northern Shovelers and Eurasian Teals, but also 1 female Eurasian Wigeon, 2 Tufted Ducks, 12 Common Pochards, 5 Garganeys and 2 Northern Pintails. In the lagoon we also got the only Great Crested Grebes of the trip while 2 Alpine Swifts flew over.
After some time scanning the lagoon we started to move. It was still cold and cloudy but it was evident that a good raptor migration was going on. Hundreds of distant Black Kites were cincling and moving North, 1 female Western Marsh Harrier was seen flying low and inmediatly after we got one of the surprises of the trip, a male Pallid Harrier that showed briefly while flying towards the Atlas! Unfotunately not everyone in the group got a proper view on this very scarce bird of prey!!
It was already late in the morning so we started moving East to arrive to our accommodation in Boulmane du Dades for an early lunch. The ambient here was even colder that it was in the morning, and we had lunch by the fire!
During the afternoon we had a first contact with the extensive steppe land inmediatly South of Boulmane. The light was poor and the temperature was only 6ºC, extremelly low for Morocco in this season. Still, it didn’t take long to have first views on Temminck’s Larks, and a proper stroll around produced a pair of Greater Hoopoe Larks, 1 Long-legged Buzzard, 1 Barbary Falcon a flock of 6 Cream-coloured Coursers and some Desert Wheatears.
Day 6. Full day enjoying the steppes and gorges around Boulmane. In the morning we had some stops in the plains, adding great views on Trumpeter Finches and Red-rumped Wheatears to our list. We were only 3ºC but the birding was still great, with several Temminck’s Larks around and migratory Greater Short-toed Larks feeding around. A short visit to proper fields around produced 8 Black-bellied Sansgrouses and, for our surprised, they were joined by 1 Pin-tailed Sandgrouse!
We were in a small lowland in the way to the Atlas, and a further exploration of the areas produced excellent views on Little Owls!
Our last stop of the morning was even better. A small corner in the plains that is normally a good place for Larks was having more than ever: 15+ Cream-coloured Coursers, 10+ Greater Hoopoe Larks, Mediterranean Short-toed Larks, Thekla’s Larks and Greater Short-toed Larks were all seen and enjoyed. A Tawny Pipit showed briefly and some bush around produced 2 Willow Warblers, 1 Tree Pipit, Linnets and 4 species of Wheatears (Northern, White-crowned Black, Red-rumped & Desert!).
In the afternoon the sun finally appeared, and temperature rose. We basically spent the afternoon in a pretty gorge close to Boulmane. There, we enjoyed great views on a roosting Pharaon Eagle Owl, but also a pair of Lanner Falcons, Black Wheatear, Desert Larks, a flyby Red-rumped Swallow and stunning views on a Maghreb Wheatear, one of the most sought-after birds of the country!
Day 7. In the morning we had another walk to explore a different corner in the plains, hoping to connect with Thick-billed Lark. It was no way to find this species but we enjoyed good views on Black-bellied Sandgrouses feeding on the ground and a good set of other larks.
After our en-route lunch we spent some time in a well-known spot in the desert, where we looked for the scarce and unobtrusive Saharan Scrub Warbler. The walk produced Woodchat Shrike, Tawny Pipit, Thekla Lark, Spectacled Warbler and the first Bar-tailed Lark of the trip. After some time looking for the famous Scotocerca, we were about to quit from our day quesy when one of the tour participants advaced us about a bird moving low in the scrubs. It took us about 25 minutes to put everybody in the bird but eventually there they were: A handsome pair of Saharan Scrub Warbler!
After this great sight we just drove to our accommodation down in the desert, with some road birding sights including Booted Eagle and Brown-necked Raven.
Day 8. Our day started in the desert by checking some great places for migratory song birds. Unfortunately, the extremely low temperatures of the last days was affecting the bird migration. Along the morning the number and variety of birds was extremely low. We still had good views on Western Subalpine Warblers, Western Bonelli’s Warblers, Common Redstarts, Eurasian Hoopoes, Willow Warblers and 3 Woodchat Shrikes. 1 Western Black-eared Wheatear was an unexpected sight, and we also enjoyed good views on Bar-tailed & Maghreb Larks.
But the bird of the day was the African Desert Warbler that we found nesting close to one of the main roads in the area, and that was providing really good looks!
Day 9. Early morning start to enjoy the birds of the desert. Our first stop was to visit a water hole in the dunes, and our efforts here were granted with great views on 80+ Crowned Sandgrouses and 40+ Spotted Sandgrouses that came down to drink water early in the morning. The images of these Sandgrouses drinking water is something that our clients will never forget!
A short drive for a coffee stop gave us access to one of the few Desert Sparrows left in the area, and we all again enjoyed really good views on a species that is becoming more and more scarce due to the concurrence of House Sparrows in the area. The morning ended with a last stop, this time to see 2 Egyptian Nightjars roosting in the dunes! Another amazing sight!!
During the afternoon, our clients had a free time to explore by their own the dunes and the bushland around the accommodation.
Day 10. Transfer day from the desert to Marrakech. But in the morning we still had time to explore the extensive palm groves near Merzouga. There we were lucky enough to find a gorgeous Fulvous Babbler! Other good birds in the area included Common Redstart and Maghreb Lark.
The roads in Morocco have improved a lot and only some hours after we were already in the Atlas alpine meadows, were we had another productive stop, adding Atlas Wheatear (a recent split from Northern Wheatear, a short-migratoy species that nests in the Atlas high plateaus and overwinters in the Sahel plains). Here, we also got 3 Booted Eagles migrating North and the only Water Pipit of the trip!
A pair of hours later we were arriving to Marrakech after crossing the Atlas, and a rather massive snowfall that was ending our 8th tour to Morocco, and the one with the most weird weather!!!
In 2023 we will come, same dates. Join for excellent birding and good fun!!
Day 1. After a long flight the day before, our small group had a nice breakfast before exploring the hotel grounds. Common Mynas were everywhere, as Laughing Dove did. A five minutes transfer allowed us to visit the Al Ansab Lagoons, always a pretty interesting place. Here we did have a first contact with several of the common species in Northern Oman including Grey Francolin, Indian Silverbill, Delicate Prinia, Purple Sunbird, Arabian Bee-eater as well as Red-vented and White-cheeked Bulbuls. Once there we were informed that the area was having the access limited due to recent rains, so our visit limited to the Eastern lagoon. There were several Common Snipes in the area, feeding along the shores along with Common Redshanks but also 2 Marsh Sandpipers that were really celebrated in the group. Among the ducks, Pintail was having good numbers this year, and so it was Eurasian Teal and Northern Shoveler. 16 Greater Flamingoes were providing a exotic note while we were suprised to find a small flock of 4 Gadwalls, a rather scarce species in Oman. Our visit to Al Ansab was shorter than usual, but we do still managed to get a pair of bonus birds; the first Greater Spotted Eagle of the trip and a Clamorous Reed Wabler skulking inside the bush.
Once we leaved this lovely Nature Reserve, we drove a few miles to explore a well known corner for waders, terns and gulls. A short walk in the area allow us to see a long list of species, including several good views on Lesser Sandplovers with useful comparitions on size and structure with local Kentish Plovers. Western Reef Egrets were really common, especially in its dark form, but including also some lgihts. Here we did also find several Little Stints, and a roosting flock of 50+ Black-tailed Godwits. A Western Osprey was also roosting in the channel itself, surrounded by tens of Dunlins and some Temminckˋs Stints. Greenshanks and Redshanks were also common. We walked the channel down to the see, enjoying this good variety of waders. 2 terns were roosting along with them, and we found out that they were actually White-cheeked Terns! A nice find of a quite scarce species.
We were already really close to the sea shore, and here we found the first of many Oystercatcher and Ruddy Turnstones. A pair of White-winged Black Tern just landed upper in the channel, joining a mixed flock of waders. Here we also found another Marsh Sandpiper, and we could compare it with both Greenshanks and Redshanks. We were just scanning all this amazing activity when 2 Chestnut-bellied Sandgrouses appeared from nowhere and stop in our path, only 100 metres away from us. Carefully, we approach them and we all enjoyed amazing views on both the male and the female!
A further scanning of the area and sea shore produced a lot of more species: Frist views on both Heughlinˋs & Steppe Gulls, 3 adult Caspian Gulls, and first views on pass-over Sooty Gulls. Still, what our clients celebrated more was the change to compare Great Crested, Lesser Crested, Caspian & Sandwich Terns all together in a mixed flock. A wonderful way to find our the differences between them!
We still had some time before lunch so we drove a bit until the Natural Reserve, a small dot of open Acacia thornbush in the middle of the city. The area was having a big density of both Indian Silverbills and Purple Sunbirds. Arabian Bee-eaters were also feeding all around, providing excellent views. But all became nothing when a gorgeous male Long-tailed Whydah flied over us showing out its amazing tail, joined by another small bird that we could not identified. The bird flied over and took us some minutes to refind the bird, nicely showing right in the top of one Acacia and joined by several Silverbills. This incredible birds was not only causing a big excitation in our group of birdwatchers, but also in the birds around.
The Long-tailed Whydah is a bird in the __ family, that inhabits a variety of Acacia thornbush landscapes, gardens and open woodlands in the Horn of Africa, and East Africa.
This is probably the first record for this species in Oman. A former record of Whydah exists in Oman, as a male Pin-tailed Whydah was seen in Salalah some years ago. Still, the bird was finally considered as an scape. In this case, even if it so, it was a sight and we can count ourselves as lucky to have enjoyed this amazing bird. Really happy after enjoyed such a wonderful beauty, we still spent some more time in this tiny natural park, and we were granted with good views on 2 Bonelliˋs Eagles circling along with 2 Brown-necked Ravens.
It had been a great morning, and after such a successful time, we drove back to our accommodation for an early lunch. After enjoying the Omani cuisine, we did drive throught the packed Mascate traffic to arrive to Al Qurm Natural Reserva and park. Here we got both Squacco Heron and Indian Pond Heron, Little Grebe, Puple Herons, a lonely Tufted Duck male, Alexandrine Parakeet and excellent views on Indian Rollers that were chasing large insects from the park lights.
A short walk along some shaddy areas allowed us also to connect with our first Isabelline Shrike while 2 Sedge Warblers were calling from a small patch of reeds. Some waders were also noted, including Temminckˋs Stint, 2 Green Sandpipers and Eurasian Curlews. Pallid Swifts and Pale Crag Martins were patrolling the sky in the search of insects, while flocks of Bulbuls were feeding brambles. 2 Garganeys were also spotted in a small pond along with 1 male Mallard (probably the only one along the whole trip). To end this really intense first day, we chose the mouth of the Al Qurm Natural Reserve, where we enjoyed more views on Lesser & Greater Sand Plover and Eurasian Whimbrel. A good scanning of the gulls in the beach produced our only 1 Pallaˋs Gull of the trip (a 1st winter), and with the last lights of the day, we enjoyed the static beauty of a Striated Heron while fishing from some rocks.
Day 2. Early morning breakfast to explore the breathtaking Al Harar Mountains landscapes. During the day we did a number of spots, exploring a good variety of corners. Our first stop was in an semi arid stony landscapes, with scatered Acacias all around. Here we got an amazing number of Striolated Buntings, a bird that can be hard to spot. Over 30 of them were seen in different flocks here! Along with them, Indian Silverbills, but also some Desert Larks and our first Long-billed Pipit. This ambient is excellent for Warblers, and we soon had our firsts Lesser Whitethroats “taking” from the trees and provinding good views. After some scanning around, something bigger appeared and soon we were all enjoying a skulking Eastern Orphean Warbler moving in the canopies. It took as some minutes to have proper views! When leaving, a lovely Persian Wheatear (also known as Red-tailed Wheatear) appreared to provide excellent views!
After this good start we moved to a close gorge totry to find some of the goodies living there. In our way, a Variable Wheatear appear in the top of a large boulder. Our walk inside the wady proufed soon to be a good idea. A lovely Ménétriesˋs Warbler appeared right in front of us, providing good views not only on its markings, but also in the lovely movements of its tail. It could not be more different from a Sardinian!
A further walk produced several Purple Sunbirds but also a superb Variable Wheatear and a lovely Levant Scrub Warbler that fly over us to stop a bit beyond! Happy after such a great stop, we came back to our van, where another Hume’s Wheatear was waiting for us!
At the end of the morning the temperature raised. It was time to drive a short distance to a local restaurant to have some food and rest. The afternoon was going to be long!
During the afternoon, we explore one of the largest gorges in the Al Harar mountains. Here we were expecting to find the extremely unknown Omani Owl, that was discovered in 2004 and it is only known from this gorges. But first we were to explore some some oases that can concentrate some good birds. Just arrived we had some Lesser Whitethroats moving in the trees along with our firsts Plain Leaf Warblers. This tiny Phylloscopus breeds in Northern Iran and Western Turkmenistan so it is always a treat! The area was having good warbler activity, but not even in our best dreams we expected what was next. Suddenly, a Mountain Chiffchaff started calling in a small tree right by our side. We played the call of the bird, and it came! It showed really well the really white supercilium, that came to its maximum above the lore. Also, it was possible to see a nice white contrast in its throat. We enjoyed good views for some seconds, and everybody in the group got to see the bird before it flew off to go somewhere else. We still listened the bird time to time! This Mountain Chiffchaff was relocated and photographed by Markus Craig on February 24th, 2022.
Right when the Moutain Chiffchaff called and showed in front us, another call came from more distant canopies. I really didnˋt want to trust my ears, but it really sounded like a Humeˋs Leaf Warbler! So, after some listening we decided to get closer (the bird sounded from a quite dark corner of the oases with not a really easy access). Once there, we spent half an hour trying to see the bird. Time to time clearly heard the call, sometimes really close inside a large, dense bush. We all got views on Lesser Whitethroat and Plain Leaf Warbler in that corner, but the best we could manage on this Humeˋs Leaf Warbler was a poor view on the wing bar…
Back to the open, the first Grey Wagtail of the trip apperared in the most open area of the oases. It was time, anyway, to move to the best corners for owl. We did a good wait, and despite scouting the walls we were uncapable to have any contact with such a mysterious bird. Instead, we got good views into Blue Rock Thrush and 2 Egyptian Vultures flying by the large walls, but probably the best was the good views on 3 Lappet-faced Vultures that soared above our heads in lovely afternoon light.
The day had been great and full of surprises, but it was now time to go our accommodation and get some rest.
Day 3. The first was the day of our transfer from the North of the country to the Dhoffar region, in the far South of Oman, and neightbouring Yemen. It is a long drive that, surprisingly, can be really productive in term of birds.
After the successful finds of the afternoon before, we decided to go back to the that oases and try to have some pictures in these really scarce Warblers (both rarities for the country). We did spent about 2 hours in the area, but we were uncapable to do so. Mountain Chiffchaff was showing brief but nicely in a tree before flying away for over 150 metres. It called sometimes and we were all satisfied with that. The Humeˋs Leaf Warbler was much worst as it only called twice and no one in group managed to have any views on the bird.
A bit disappointed after this unproductive stop we kept going with our long transfer South to Salalah. We didn’t have any proper birding until mid-day, when we did stop for lunch in Qitbit, in the abandoned grounds of a closed hotel. After our picnic we enjoyed a short walk in the shade. There were several White Wagtails around, and we had our first hammomedriLesser Whitethroats of the trip, with their characteristic, Wren-like calls. The grounds were rather low in term of birds but our short walk was still providing us with a pair of surprises, a Song Thrush came out from the bush, a Great Reed Warbler was moving inside a small reed patch in the grounds (the only one Great Reed along the trip) and a surprising Western Barn Owl flew out from a palm tree and gave us good views for a while. It was a big surprise to find out a Barn Owl in such a small orchad in the middle of nowhere!
A bit more of driving allowed to explore one of the many — farms in this part of the desert. We are about 2 to 3 hours of driving West of the Dhoffar, and here there is water in the subsoil, allowing these kind of farming. We different areas, all of them having good numbers of both Desert and Isabelline Wheatears. Here we also had our firsts Tawny Pipits and Greater Hoopoe-Larks of the trip. Small flocks of Brown-necked Ravens were all around, while tens (yes, tens) of Eurasian Kestrels were hunting the very common insects in the place. Just arrived, a flock of a very promising larks were moved out from our location by a Kestrel so we just came closer to the area and wait. There were several Yellow Wagtails, but also Tawny Pipits and Crested Larks. Large flocks of Sandgrouses were moving in the distance, mainly Chestnut-bellieds, and some of the moved closer, including a pair of Spotted Sandgrouses that flew right above our heads, providing excellent views!
Some minutes after our waiting was regarded as a lovely flock of 26 Bimaculated Larks just came back to field to feed on the ground. They allowed excellent views in flight, showing their brownish underwing and tiny, rounded tails. For me, far more used to see Calandra Larks than Bimaculateds, it was a pleasure to have such a good views on this species! Moreover, when the flock flew over, 1 Arabian Lark was seen flying along with them, and it could be identified thanks to the tail pattern. The meadows still provided good views on 4 Common Snipes, several Western Marsh Harriers and distant views on 2 circling Pallid Harriers.
Leaving the area, we still enjoyed more views on Desert & Isabelline Wheatears, before going back to the main road and drive the last 2 hours until Salalah, where we did arrive before dinner time.
Day 4. Our first day complete day in Southern Oman provided an amazing array of birdlife, including some of the finest Dhoffar specialities and a good variety of the wildfowl overwintering in this stunning region.
Our first stop was at one of the best known areas for variery and amount of passerines. Here we find an open forest, with several fig trees right at the footstep of the impressive Dhoffar mountains.
Right after leaving the van we got some of the first birds of the day. In the open plains around Salalah we got our firsts Black-crowned Sparrow-Larks, a lovely flock of 3 males and 2 females feeding on the ground along with Isabelline Wheatears. Nearby, flocks of Cinnamon-breasted Buntings & Rüppell’s Weavers were fiding in the area along with African Silverbills and a pair of beautiful Blackstarts. After enjoying these wonderful birds we just walked 50 meters before a “taking” called our attention. Soon, we disovered a Eastern Olivaceous Warbler moving up in a thornbush, joined soon by a Lesser Whithethroat and handsome Graceful Prinias! Things were happening fast, and a pair of minutes later we found a Long-billed Pipit walking among the trees while the firsts Arabian Sunbirds were showing up in the trees around. In the distance, a Turkestan Shrike appeared, and we were lucky to move that way, since 50 metres away from the Shrike a superb Arabian Chameleon was taking a sunbath! We all enjoyed amazing views on the Chameleon, that was really exposed to any potential predator!
After such a lucky finding we came back the main woodland. Flocks of Tristam’s Starlings were coming into the fig trees, joined by White-spectacled Bulbuls and some superb African Paradise Flycatchers. A very short walk produced then the first of up to 7 Arabian Warblers that morning. It took us some time to enjoy a full view on this individual, but it was worth the time invested not only because of the great views at the end, but also because a small break in our particular fight with this Arabian speciality produced great views on a Pale RockFinch that simply arrived at the top a small tree next to us! That bird created a huge wave of happiness in the group, since it is a really scarce species, normally relicted to the far Nort West corner of Oman, with scattered sights anywhere else!
Still more activity. Even before leaving the Arabian Warbler, another great bird appeared. A black and white, long-tailed bird was moving 50 metres away in the lowest part of the trees. Yes, it was a female Masked Shrike! Well, we did move little to enjoy this masterpiece of the shrikes. After spending some minutes admiring such a pearl, we just realised that we were right beside our car! Everything happened in a 150 metres cercle around!!
Well, this time we took it seriously to go a bit beyond. Once we were about 200 metres away from our car, a new set of species appeared. An (Arabian) Black-crowned Tchagra just appeared from the tree next to us to offer us great views. Here, Green Sandpiper & Common Sandpipers were feeding in the stream, along with flocks of Tristam’s Starlings,African Silverbills and Buntings. 4 Common Snipes flew up from a really muddy corner, and a short exploration of the area produced a lovely Pin-tailed Snipe that flew up, calling in flight, and showing its very dark underwing. Bingo!
Here the area becomes shady, and African Paradise Flycatchers take over the place. 5, 6 individuals chasing flies and other insects. Bulbuls were everywhere, but also 2 Hoopoes and 1 Eurasian Wryneck was moving along with them!
Finally arrived to the proper corner, and while explaining how to tell apart the call of the target here, some birds starting to chirring over our heads. And there were there, 7 Arabian Grosbeaks feeding right above our heads!!!
Well, little can be said to explain the emotion of the moment. We had 2 of them feeding at only 5 metres away. This is a scarce, extremely difficult bird to find, and we were granted with walk-away views on them! The birds were feeding in green berries, and for the 25 minutes that we spent with them, they never stopped feeding them!!
Well, that was an amazing way to finish our first stop in the Dhoffar. It was only 10:30 in the morning!!!
Second stop of the morning, this time to explore a small coastal wetland, one of the many along the coast around Salalah. Not a huge amount of birds but still got our firsts views on Citrine Wagtails in the tour, plus 3 Pacific Golden Plovers, another Turkestan Shrike, several Western Reef Egrets and a majestic fulvescensGreater Spotted Eagle, a scarce form of this wonderful raptor that shows creamy wing and body coverts, and that recalls a compact Tawny Eagle! But the best bird in this spot appeared in our way back to the van, when a superb Richard’s Pipit just came out the wady to stop on a branch some 20 metres away from us! After staying there for half a minute, it flew over to stop on hte top of a close cliff. Another bird that was really celebrated in the group!!
For our picnic, we went to a nearby wooded spot, where we had a pleasant brise and flocks of Abyssinian White-eyes moving around. It was warmer than usual in this season, so we agreed a short break in our accommodation and enjoy a good rest.
In the afternoon, we visited another wetland, one of the best around Salalah actually. There, in a lovely afternoon light, we enjoyed a long array of species. 200+ Glossy Ibises were feeding and moving in the river mouth. Around, small parties of waders (Ruffs, Black-winged Stilts, Black-tailed Godwits, Temminck’s Stints and Dunlins) were also feeding while 100+ Greater Flamingoes were lighting the river mouth with its colourful plomages. Among the Glossy Ibises we foung our only Intermediate Heron of the trip, and also a lovely juvenile African Spoonbill, a good ratiry in Oman!! About 40 Garganeys were also present, as so they were 3 Eurasian Wigeons and several Common Pochards. An accurate scanning of the area revealed 3 Ferruginous Ducks and 7 Cotton Pygmy Geese! In the shoreline, Terns and Gulls were starting to concentrate: Heuglin’s & Steppe Gulls mostly, but also 2 Caspian Gulls. We also got close views on Caspian Terns resting along with Slender-billed Gulls (always shocking to see that they are as big as these lovely gulls!), and 3 White-winged Black Terns + 2 Gull-billed Terns were also noted. It was already late afternoon, and dozens of House Crows and some hundreds of Common Mynas started to concentrate on its roosting site, a densed vegetated island in the river mouth. Without doubt a great way to end our first day in the Dhoffar!
Day 5. Back to the desert. After a gorgeous 4th day, this day we faced an early start to explore the desert in search of the good specialities living in the oases. The day was ruff and cold (for the desert startards) with several clouds and some wind. A wind that will join us for the next days and make our journey a bit more difficult, and slightly less productive.
Our morning visit to Mudday was quite productive. Early in the morning, we enjoyed some potential Siberian Chiffchaffs, and at least 3 of them proved their identity by calling several times. The area was not so filled up with birds as other times, but we still had some views on 2 Lesser Whitethroats and 1 Bluethroat in a tiny muddy spot. Our main target here was the mythical Hypocolius, a bird that we had seen here twice in previous issues. But despite checking all the corners of the oases, we couldn’t find any this time… However, the area was really interesting and our short walks around produced excellent views on 2 Namaqua Doves male, Blackstarts, Arabian Bee-eater and 2 superb Eastern Imperial Eagles that made the effort worth it. A further scanning revealed 4 Desert Larks feeding on the ground.
But the morning was passing and we didn’t have sign of any Sandgrouse (another good reason to explore Mudday). The weather was cold and cloudy, so we decided to take the car a prove a different spot, some miles away. Here we had more luck, a got some small flocks of Chestnut-bellied Sandgrouses flying around, and after some waiting, we got to see a gorgeous flock of 12 Crowned Sandgrouses coming to drink water into a tiny pond! Delighted after the views on the Sandgrouses (but at the same time surprised for the chilly weather and low occurrence of birds, we still moved further South.
There, we didn’t find any other Sandgrouse but 14 Sand Partridges moving in the desert that provided the group with good views while moving in the rocky slopes. A short walk around produced also our only 1 Nile Valley Sunbird of the trip feeding in Lobellias as well as an extra flock of Desert Larks!
Back to Salalah, we realised how windy was in the coast. During the coming days, the Dhoffar was going to be hit by a tropical (wind) storm, with speeds raising over 80kms/hour. A metheorological phenomenom really uncommon in this part of the world. Despite the situation, we decided to explore some areas around Raysut that, surprisingly, were sheltered against the wind.
A fast exploration around the Raysut landfill produced 100+ White Storks and close views on over 40+ handsome Abdim’s Storks. Moreover, the first Steppe Eagle of the trip just flew over the van when we were enjoying the Storks! But here was windy and unconfortable so we moved to the coast to explore another river mouth. Here, after locating a sheltered corner where to set up the scope, we got a unforgettable birding session.
The river mouth was filled up with waders. Up to 15 species of them, with special remarks on 10+ Terek’s Sandpipers feeding nearby and several Lessers & Greaters Sandplovers. Dunlins, Little Stints, Grey Plovers, Eurasian Curlews, Whimbrels, Kentish Plovers, Bar-tailed Godwits, Greenshanks, Oystercatchers and Turnstones were all seen among other species. 5 Greater Spotted Eagles were sat at different corners, 1 of them quite close to us, and dozens of Gulls and Terns were in the river mouth itself. A bit beyond, a massive bird was resting in the shallow water: a Dalmatian Pelican!!! I seriously thought that we were the first to see this amazing bird (2nd for Oman?) but once in the hotel I saw that the bird was present since November…
Well, that was something to enjoyed, especially after the Pelican was moved by a Greater Spotted Eagle, and came closer to us!! We were still not recovered from this when a further scanning revealed an African Openbill in the river mouth! Gorgeous! Probably the same bird that we found here during our tour in October 2021!! It was really too good to be real. We spend quite a lot of time enjoying these birds and scanning the flocks of Terns and Gulls in search of any different species, but we only got 3 Common Terns and a flyby African Sacred Ibis (there is a tiny population of this bird nesting in Southern Oman. No scapes, but a natural expansion from Yemen and the Horn of Africa).
After some time, the dust in the air became a bit uncomfortable, so we decided to go back to our accommodation for a kind of early end of the day! Despite the wind, this was a wonderful 2nd day in the Dhoffar.
Day 6. This day our group went to explore the Dhoffar uplands. The day was still very windy, and this affected the number of birds along the day. Our first stop was to explore a well known corner in the uplands, about 800 metres high.
Here we got excellent views on Palestine & Arabian Sunbirds, but also Tree Pipits, African Paradise Flycatchers,Long-billed Pipits and really close views on a wonderful male Siberian Stonechat, a scarce overwintering bird in Oman. Here, the area is covered by large grasslands with large, scattered fig trees and small villages. The whole area is great for birds of prey and it didn’t take long before we had our firsts Steppe Eagles flying around. Soon after, 2 superb Eastern Imperial Eagles appeared in the sky followed by 1 Short-toed Snake Eagle.
Along our short walk we also had 12 Arabian Partridges, another endemic that sometimes can be hard to find. Our second stop of the morning produced Isabelline Wheatears but also lovely views on a pair of Arabian Wheatears. Here, massive cliffs hosts good populations of Fan-tailed Ravens, and we also got excellent views on Blue Rock Thrush. One of the goals to come to these cliffs is to look for Verreaux Eagle, a large eagle living in broken terrain that has in the Dhoffar a small population.
Unfortunately we could not find any Verreaux Eagle during our visit, but got proper views on a Long-legged Buzzard, another really sought-after bird of prey in this region.
Early in the afternoon we went to explore the palm groves inmediatly around Salalah. This is a large area that also includes some interesting open corners. Again, the wind made our exploration a bit more difficult than usual but still we got excellent views on at least 3 Crested Honey Buzzards and 14 Spotted Thick-knees. En route, we also enjoyed 2 Greater Spotted Eagle and the only one Booted Eagle along the tour.
It was already bit late in the afternoon so we went back to the hills to explore a small, narrow valley. Full of hope to be sheltered against the wind, we arrived there at 16:30, and after enjoying the wonderful small gorge surrounded by a lovely decidous forest, our efforts were granted with good views on 4 Bruce’s Green Pigeons in a tree nearby. Happy after this rather unexpected reward, we moved up in the gorge until we reached a proper corner, really sheltered from the wind.
Here we all waited for the sunset, and some minutes later we were all enjoying wonderful views on 2 Arabian Scops Owls, a recent split from African Scops Owl (2004). Really happy after the a quite productive day, we went back to our accommodation for a good dinner and rest!
Day 7. After 3 days of strong winds, we finally woke up in a calm, very promising day! An early start was mandatory today to catch up with our offshore starting North from Salalah. But before arriving to the departing harbour, we did make a stop en route to check some superb reedbeds. Here, at raising, we enjoyed excellent views on 4 Pheasant-tailed Jacanas while feeding on the floating vegetation. 2 Whiskered Terns were patrolling the area, crossing in the air with the many Western Marsh Harriers leaving their roost. These reedbeds are not only refugee for the Harriers, but also for 3 Barn Swallows and hundreds of Common Mynas that were also leaving at that time. A carefully checking of the flocks revealed a Rosy Starling, then 2 more. Later a small flock of 6, 10, 14 and scattered individuals all along with Mynas! At the end, we estimated no less than 42 Rosy Starlings moving out from the reeds!!!
Well, went to the harbour, but had to do a last stop before arriving, an obliging Abdim’s Stork was having a short walk along the road itself, just a mile away from the harbour! Once by the boats, we enjoyed excellent views on Heuglins & Sooty Gulls, and close ups to Western Reef Egrets. The sea was calm, and beyond the typical views on the roosting Black-crowned Night Herons, this offshore provided as a starter magnificent views on a 60+ False Killer Whale pod, and got quite long and close views on these large dolphins!
On birds, we did have as many views on Masked Booby as never before. No less than 25 individuals were counted, mainly passing by but also on the water along with Sooty Gulls. Persian Shearwaters were not uncommon, and we all enjoyed really good views in passby birds. After a careful scanning, we finally found 2 Jouanin’s Petrels that, even if didn’t allow us close views, provided excellent comparitions with both Persian & Flesh-footed Shearwaters. When we were coming back, a Leatherhead Sea Turtle emerged in front of boat, allowing a short but good view.
In our way, a pod of Indo-Pacific Bottlenose Dolphins provided really good looks, and a single Red-necked Phalarope was the perfect end for our pelagic!
Once on the ground, we came back to the hotel for an early lunch, and after a short break, we drove South to explore some wetlands. Our first stop was to see what we could find in a small river mouth. As usual, it was fithered with waterfowl: Greater Flamingoes, Eurasian Teals, Eurasian Curlews, Black-tailed Godwits, Wigeons but also 5 Eurasian Spoonbills, 17 Garganeys, 28 Greater White-fronted Geese, 5 Terek’s Sandpipers and 1 Red-knobbet Coot (the only one of the tour!).
A second stop was devoted to do some sea watching. It didn’t take long to see our first targets: large flocks of Socotra Cormorants emerged from the see, flying in dense formations towards South. 1, 2, 3, 4 flocks, each one numbering 100 to 200 individuals! Around, tens and tens of terns (Lesser Crested but also Greater Crested, Sandwich and Common) and 5-7 Brown Bobbies with some “close” views.
To end the day, we drove inland all along a valley. Our purpose was to explore a small wady with some jewels living on them. Only a few minutes after arriving, a Hooded Wheatear appeared in the area, providing really good looks. For the next speciality we had to wait until sunset, but was worth it not only because of the caravans of camels in their way to their resting place, but also (and especially) because of the wonderful views on a hadsome Desert Owl that came out from the darkness. Very satisfied after such a great views, we still had a last surprise in the form of a Eurasian Stone Curlews that appeared under the lights of our van to end the day!!!
Day 8. Our time in the Dhoffar was ending, and today we were facing a long transfer. But we still had some time for enjoying great birding. Our first stop was inmediatly West of the Dhoffar massif. Here, a short walk in desert like ambient allowed us to contact with two lovely Asian Desert Warblers, a bird that we were missing until that moment!
From there, we drove a bit until arriving to the first of two locations where to explore the wonderful grass fields in this part of the country. Our first stop didn’t produce much our of Yellow Wagtails until 1 male Amur Falcon just appeared in front of us!! This is an amazing falcon, quite similar to Red-footed Falcon. It nests in Central Asia and overwinters in Southern Africa. In Oman it is a scarce migratory and winter speciality, always pretty scarce!
Our second location, only 40 minutes away from the first one, offered us 3 Namaqua Doves, 2 Pallid Harriers, small flock of Bimaculated Larks and 4 Greater Hoopoe Larks.
After lunch, we just finished our transfer, reaching Duqm well before dinner.
Day 9. This day was devoted to enjoy the massive tydal planes around Masirah Island. Here, a section of coast extending for more than 50 miles, it is thought to be the main wintering pole for waders in Arabia with 1 milion birds estimated!
But before reaching this Eden, we had to do a stop en route. A small wady, usually totally dry, had water! Stop and check. Desert Wheatear and Levant Shrikes were noted, also 3 Citrine Wagtails and an interesting flock of 23 Wood Sandpipers were feeding in the stream along with 6 Temminck’s Stints. While checking for something else, 4 flocks of Chestnut-bellied Sandgrouses passed over us. Two of them stopped up in the stream, but we could not located on the ground.
Almost two hours of road separate Duqm from our secret corner for Crab Plovers. When arrived, it was late morning. A large mudflat was in front of us, and large amounts of waders were feeding on it. Here we had many Curlew Sandpipers feeding along Little Stints, Dunlins and some Sanderlings. Both Lesser Sandplover and Greenshanks were common all along, with many Redshanks and Bar-tailed Godwits here and there. We took our time to check some flocks of gulls, but nothing interesting came out this time…
After some scanning, we finally found our first flock of Crab Plovers: 4 individuals appeared in the distance! After some waiting, more and more Crab Plovers were arriving, totalling 47 in the best of our accounts. We really had great views on these massive birds, walking in the mud or having small arguments with the very common Western Reef Egrets!
In the afternoon, we moved 30 miles to the South to check a different spot. There, again by the mudflats, we were surprised to find 4 Spotted Redshanks (our only 4 of the tour!), but also 4 handsome Saunder’s Terns fishing in front of us at close range, all of them showing the well defined outer black primaries. In the mud, 2 Broad-billed Sandpipers were found and allowed good views along with Dunlins and Curlew Sandpipers. But the very best of the stop were the 4+ Great Knots that were roosting along with Bar-tailed Godwits. Even if far away, the birds allowed good views on their unmistakable bill when one of them decide to have a look around.
Day 10. Last full day of the tour. A sunny, calm day to enjoy our last birding. During the morning we had a pair of stops expecting to improve the views that we had on Lappet-faced Vulture during the second day of the trip. Unfortunately, we failed to find out any of them. Instead, we had 3 Crested Honey Buzzards, Egyptian Vulture and lovely views on typical Northern species including Arabian Bee-eaters, Indian Rollers, Delicate Prinias and Indian Silverbills.
Once in Muscat, we still had a pair of hours to explore Al-Qrm Park before going to the airport, so we enjoyed several White-eared Bulbuls, Bluethroat, Eurasian Whimbrels and Pallid Swifts in close views as they were coming down to drink water in a stream. But the real treat of the visit was a handsome male Yellow Bittern that appeared that showed up well inside a mimosa tree that was by the water. A wonderful addition to our list and a great way to end our tour to Oman.
After sunset, we still had time for a final stop by one of the most amazing, smart and surprising mosques in the city. A good way to say goodbye to this country, that hosts a gorgeous array of birdlife, and where every single stop can produce great surprises!
Una vegada més, ben d’hora al matí, un grup d’ornitòlegs es cita per tal d’encarar un OrnitoRepte. En aquest cas, als Aiguamolls de l’Empordà i amb l’objectiu de gaudir de la calàbria agulla!
Som ben bé 30 persones, amb un bon grapat de telescopis i càmeres de fotos. El dia ha sortit radiant, amb un sol que anuncia un altre dia dominat per l’anticicló que ha fet desaparèixer les precipitacions al llarg de l’hivern, deixant força ecosistemes en una situació precària. La jornada va gaudir d’un temps molt estable, amb només una mica de vent mentre estàvem a la platja. Però, comptat i debatut, no va ser res de l’altre món.
El grup comença a caminar per la zona del Mas Matà i ben d’hora apareixen els primers ocells d’interès: En la distància, un estol de capons reials (Plegadis falcinellus) fa una aparició fugaç mentre els aligots (Buteo buteo) i arpelles comunes (Circus aeruginosus) aixequen el vol dels seus posaders preferits. El grup avança per una zona de canyissar, i no triguem en sentir el reclam característic de la boscarla mostatxuda (Acrocephalus megalopogon) a les tofes de canyís. Tot amb tot, aquest esquerp ocell no es va deixar veure gaire bé, i només va aparèixer en vol un parell de vegades. Quan tornàvem al camí principal, una xivita (Tringa ochropus) va fer acte de presència a la zona.
Un cop als prats inundats del Mas Matà vam poder gaudir dels bons estols de territs variants (Calidris alpina) i dels molts becadells comuns (Gallinago gallinago) que s’hi alimentaven. Amb ells, fredelugues (Vanellus vanellus) i agrons blancs (Agrodiaetus albus) però també grassets de muntanya (Anthus spinolleta), xarxets (Anas crecca) ¡, cogullades comunes (Galerida cristata) i alguna simpàtica cuereta torrentera (Motacilla cinerea). El nostre camí cap a la platja va tenir alguna parada per gaudir de la munió d’Anàtides a l’aguaït del bruel. Aquí, els estols de xarxets i ànecs cullerots (Spatula clypeata) tot just sortien dels canyissars a on havien passat la nit. Era d’hora al matí, però una parella de cabussons emplomallats (Podiceps cristatus) ja anava assajant la seva sincronització de cara a la primavera mentre els ànecs grissets (Anas strepera) s’ho miraven des dels canyissars.
La resta del camí fins la platja no va tenir massa més espècies d’interès, fora de les oques comunes (Anser anser) que se sentien reclamar per les maresmes.
Un cop a la platja va arribar el moment de treure partit als telescopis. Les calàbries no ho van posar massa fàcil, però després d’uns minuts de recerca, 3 calàbries agulles (Gavia arctica) van aparèixer en la llunyania, una mica a contrallum. Mentre maldàven perquè tots els telescopis trobessin la seva calàbria, un gavot (Alca torda) també va reclamar la seva quota d’atenció, afegint una mica més de caos ornitològic al grup. Ambuna mica de sort, les calàbries agulles es van anar desplaçant cap al Nord, i la llum va millorar molt fins aconseguir unes observacions més que bones! Mentre hi gaudíem, un cabussó emplomallat i un corb marí emplomallat (Gulosus aristotelis) també van aparèixer, donant una bona oportunitat a tots per comparar formes, proporcions i comportament del corb marí, el gavot, el cabussó i les calàbries.
La platja tampoc estava lliure d’interès. Tot i que lluny, un petit estol de territs de tresdits (Calidris alba) es va deixar veure prou bé mentre un parell de pigres grisos (Pluvialis squatarola) els va passava volant per sobre. Mentrestant, unes poques baldrigues mediterrànies (Puffinus yelkouan) cavalcaven les onades mentre un estol d’unes 200 baldrigues (Puffinus sp.) descasaven a força distància. Els xatracs bec-llargs (Thalasseus sandvicensis), amb el seu característic reclam, van tancar la nostra estada a la platja!
A continuació vam desfer el camí fins a l’aparcament i, un cop als vehicles, uns vam dirigir a El Cortalet, a on vam fer una merescuda parada de servei abans d’explorar els hides més propers al Centre de Informació.
Es podria dir que vam estar de sort, perquè des dels hides vam gaudir d’un bon estol de grues (Grus grus) que sembla haver fet hivernada a l’Empordà. Aquí hi havien força ànecs, destacant diferents ànecs blancs (Tadorna tadorna) però també una trentena d’ànecs xiuladors (Anas penelope) i fins i tot un xibec (Netta rufina) i una femella de morell cap roig (Aythya ferina). Un petit estol flamencs (Phoenicopterus roseus) posava la nota exòtica mentre una arpella comuna (Circus aeruginosus) s’alimentava d’un xarxet que havia caçat feia poc. A la maresma no es pot badar, i una cigonya blanca (Ciconia ciconia) estava ben a l’aguaït per si podia pispar-li una mica de xarxet al rapinyaire.
Les closes que boregen l’Estany del Cortalet sempre són d’interès, i tot i que aquest cop hi havia molts pocs ocells, encara ens van oferir una última sorpresa: un mínim de 3 pinsans mecs (Fringilla montifringilla) alimentant-se al terra junt amb pinsans comuns (Fringilla coelebs). Aquesta fantàstica troballa li debem a la família Naspleda, que ens van assenyalar el primer dels mecs! Al llarg d’una bona estona tot el grup va gaudir de les anades i vingudes dels pinsans i, a la vegada, d’altres espècies com titelles (Anthus pratensis), bitxac comú (Saxicola torquata) i un mascle de tallarol capnegre (Sylvia melanocephala). Una bona forma d’acabar un altre OrnitoRepte existós, no sense abans sumar a la nostra llista un petit estol de mallarengues cuallargues (Aegithalos caudatus) acompanyades de mallarenga carbonera (Parus major) i un raspinell comú (Certhia brachydactyla).
In the falll of 2021 it looked like the Covid-19 pandemia was at its end, or at least that it was giving us a well deserved truce. Several countries had relaxed their restrictions, and many reopened to tourism, even if still requiring specific tests or documents to go beyond their borders.
In this context, we arranged with a small group of clients a trip to Oman. This tour was delayed from January 2021, but circumstances forced them to choose the end of October to visit the country, even when probably the best season to explore this unique nation goes from mid-November to January. The option proved really productive and interesting despite the rather high temperatures (from 21 to 34ºC), and some windy afternoons, especially in the North of the country.
Day 1, October 26th. The group arrived in stages during the day before (October 25th) to meet during the evening in the inmigration checkpoints at Muscat International Airport, and we all transfer for a welcome dinner in our nearby hotel.
After enjoying the Omani food, our first day was devoted to explore some wetlands inside Greater Muscat. Our first stop was at Al Ansab wetlands, a small area of ponds and reedbeds recently recovered by the local water company. But even before arriving to our first spot, we got a first good surprise in the way of a 1st winter Woodchat Shrike (Lanius senator) right in front of our hotel. We didn’t know at that moment, but that was our only Woodshrike of the whole tour!
Al Ansab was starting to get the winter visitors. There we got good numbers of Eurasian Teals (Anas crecca), Northern Shovelers (Anas clypeata), Gadwalls (Anas strepera), Ruffs (Philomachus pugnax), Wood Sandpipers (Tringa glareola), Little Stints (Calidris minuta), Common Snipes (Gallinago gallinago), Pied Avocets (Recurvirostra avosetta) and Temminck’s Stints (Calidris temminckii). A flock of 5 Ferruginous Ducks (Aythya nyroca) was a nice surprise, and the group enjoyed very much the good and different views on Marsh Sandpipers (Tringa stagnatilis) along the lagoon. Here we also had first views on some common species in the area: Purple Sunbirds (Cinnyris asiaticus), Delicate Prinias (Prinia lepida) and Indian Silverbills (Eudice malabarica) were showing all around while flocks of White-eared Bulbuls (Pycnonotus leucotis) were noisily feeding in the tamarisks around. Some dizzing up in the sky announced the presence of some Citrine Wagtails (Motacilla citreola) in the area, moving to the extensive grasses where flocks of Common Mynas (Acridotheres tristis) were feeding. In the distance, the distinctive call of a flock of Grey Francolins (Francolinus pondicerianus) pointed us to the correct corner, and allowed us all good views on them.
A short walk exploring the area produced a good number of other species. In the reedbeds and scrubs we got good views on Clamarous Reed Warbler (Acrocephalus stentoreus) and on a fast-moving Savi’s Warbler (Locustella luscinioides). The extensive canopies around had 2 abietinus-like Common Chiffchaffs (Phylloscopus collybita) and at least 1 Siberian Chiffchaff (Phylloscopus tristis) answering to the calls + a very vocal Red-breasted Flycatcher (Ficedula parva), and the first of a long list of Spotted Flycatchers (Muscicapa striata) along the tour. The channels around were full with Great White Egrets (Agrodietus albus) and Western Reef Egrets (Egretta gularis) + 2 Little Egrets (Egretta garzetta) and one 1st winter Purple Heron (Ardea purpurea). Small flocks of Arabian Green Bee-eaters (Merops cyanophrys) & Blue-cheeked Bee-eaters (Merops persicus).
In the way out, we still had a chance to enjoy 5 Garganeys (Spatula querquedula), 1 male Wigeon (Anas penelope) and our first Greater Spotted Eagle (Clanga clanga) patrolling the wetlands and showing usperbly, but probably the best bird was a male Pied Wheatear (Oenanthe pleschanka) showing well in our way out of this hotspot.
Our second move was to explore some coastal areas, where we had first views on several common waders but also the very firsts Greater Sand Plovers (Charadrius leschenaultii) and Lesser Sand Plovers (Charadrius mongolus) of the tour. Here we also got good views on a flock of Pacific Golden Plovers (Pluvialis fulva), sometimes showing side by side with Lesser Sands. In the sea side we had also good views on Lesser Crested Tern (Thalasseus bangalensis) and good comparition with Greater Crested Terns (Thalasseus bergii) and Common Terns (Sterna hirundo). A fast seawatch revealed here 1 Pomarine Skua (Stercorarius pomarinus) and 3 Common Gulls (Larus canus) moving along with 2 Caspian Gulls (Larus cachinnans).
After some rest we moved to Al Qrum Natural Park for an evening birding. Despite being a bit quiet if compared with other visits, especially when talking about passerines, the area still produced excellent views on Red-vented Bulbul (Pycnonotus cafer), Common Kingfisher (Alcedo atthis), Bluethroat (Luscinia svecica), Citrine Wagtails (Motacilla citreola), Spotted Redshank (Tringa erythropus), Purple & Striated Herons (Butorides striata), the first Crested Honey Buzzard (Pernis ptilorhynchus) of the tour while it was being harrased by a flock of House Crows (Corvus splendens) , several Indian Rollers (Coracias benghalensis) and a rather surprising Spanish Sparrow (Passer hispanoliensis) male!
Day 2. Early morning start to explore some of the wonderful inland landscapes in Northern Oman. A short transfer from Mascate allows a substantial change in the landscape, and the impressive Al Harar Mountains show up. This morning we enjoyed some gullies and open, dry plains with scattered thornbush. It is a wonderful landscape and prove to be full of birdlife.
A combination of short walks soon prove to be really productive. The firsts Lesser Whitethroats (Sylvia curruca) were soon seen, some of the singing. Here they all look like from halimodendri, with evident black lores and absence of supercillium. A small flock of Sand Partridges (Ammoperdix heyi) were feeding around, but only allowed short views as they were running away. As we got inside the gullies, we found some normal birds for this landscapes including Blue Rock Thrush (Monticola solitarius), Plain Crag Martin (Ptynoprogne obsoleta) and our firsts Persian Wheatear (Oenanthe chrysopygia) and Levant Grey Shrikes (Lanius excubitor aucheri) of the tour + a rather distant Hooded Wheatear (Oenanthe monacha). The areas with some vegetation concentrated several Purple Sunbirds, and along with them Lesser Whitethroats but also 1 Wood Warbler and, at least, 1 Eastern Olivaceous Warbler (Iduna pallida). Here we were also delaighted with close views on 2 Arabian Babblers (Turdoides squamiceps), a species often difficult to find! While enjoying these wonderful birds we got a bird sitting in a bush, and turned out to be a Brown Shrike (Lanius cristatus). Now the group split into two, with some people admiring the Shrike, while others trying to get good shots in the nervous Babblers. But the party was no over, because right there a pair of Levant Scrub Warblers (Scotocerca inquieta) just showed out in the same scrub where Shrike was shinning out! This was a brilliant moment of the tour, with three top birds showing simultaniously!
The sun was already really high, and it was getting warm so we started to move towards our lunch stop. After a good rest and food in the shade, we move to our afternoon location. During the next hours we were to explore one of the many huge gorges in the area. Here we were expecting to find the poorly-known Omani Owl (Strix butleri), but our chances were really decimated due to the strong wind. Even inside the gorge, the wind and the dust made birdwatching quite difficult and uncomfortable. We explored some oasis like corners in the gorge, and despite the difficult conditions, we got good views on Hume’s Wheatears (Oenanthe albonigra), Striolated Buntings (Emberiza striolata), Palestine Rock Dove (Columba livia palaestinae) and a single Plain Leaf Warbler (Phylloscopus neglectus). We spend some time scanning the cliffs, despite the poor visibility due to the dust in the air, but we got no sign of the owls. Still, our perseverance was granted with good views on a single Arabian Tarh (Arabitragus jayakari)!
Day 3. Early morning transfer to Liwa, the Western patch of mangroves holding a pair of very interesting species. Our hope was to connect with the endemic & scarce race of Collared Kingfisher (Alcyon chloris kalbaensis) living here. The area is also noted for herons and waders. Here we got some Striated Herons & Western Reef Egrets along with Clamorous Reed Warblers, but got no sign of the Kingfisher. Still, the area was filled up with migratory birds. Here we got the only Northern Wheatear (Oenanthe oenanthe) and the only Red-backed Shrike (Lanius collurio) of the trip. Here we also got first views on Desert (Oenanthe deserti) and Isabelline Wheatears (Oenanthe isabellina). We counted 8 Indian Rollers feeding in the wires around, and minimum of 2 Pied Wheatears (Oenanthe pleschanka) moving in the same area. The large scrubby plains around the mangroves also produced excellent close up into Asian Desert Warbler (Sylvia nana), and 2 Eastern Black-eared Wheatears (Oenanthe melanoleuca) feeding along with a flock of Tawny Pipits (Anthus campestris) and Crested Larks (Galerida cristata)!
In our way back to Mascate we did a stop in a golf course, enjoying flocks of Ruffs feeding in the short grass and being joined by Citrine & Yellow Wagtails (Motacilla flava). Here we also got some Common Snipes, Lesser Sand Plovers, a single Great Reed Warbler (Acrocephalus arundinaceus) and flyby male Pallid Harrier (Circus macrourus) before going back to our accommodation.
Day 4. This was the day of our transfer between Mascate and Salalah. And despite the long driving, it was also a great birding day. A number of selected stops produced a really interesting list of birds.
In the North, we enjoyed some birding in the stonnny planes beyond Al Harar Mountains, where we were lucky enough to have intimate views on Lichtenstein’s Sandgrouse (Pterocles linchtensteinii) just by the lane! Here we also Black Redstart (Phoenicurus ochruros) and Indian Silverbills.
For our picnic time, we enjoyed a small garden where a Red-breasted Flycatcher (Ficedula parva) seemed to be waiting for us. Here, already quite in the South, we got our firsts Abyssinian White-eyes (Zosterops abyssinicus) and intimate views on Spotted Flycatchers (Muscicapa striata). In the afternoon we had some time to explore some grass farms along the road, despite having another windy afternoon. It can be said that we arrived at the right time, as the fields were filled up with Greater Hoopoe-larks (Alaemon alaudipes), Isabelline Wheatears and Tawny Pipits. It always fascinated me how these areas, surrounded by hundreds of kilometers of desert, can hold such a wonderful birdlife!
The fields were full of birds, and a minimum of 2 Pallid Harriers and 3 Montagu’s Harriers (Circus pygargus) were hunting in the area along with 10+ Common Kestrels. Here we also counted 10+ European Rollers (Coracias garrulus) & Turkestan Shrike (Lanius phoenicuroides). The place was covered with Larks. Beyond the very common Crested Larks, we were surprised by a flying flock of Greater Short-toed Larks (Calandrella brachydactyla) that never stop in the short grass in front of us, but a pair of minutes later we got a small flock of 4 larks stopping close to the fields, and we were all happy to see that they were Arabian Larks (Ammomanes eremodites), formerly considered conespecific with Dunn’s Lark (Ammomanes dunnii), and a scarce bird in Oman!
Back to the road, we still had a last detour, this time to enjoy some Sandgrouses. Just in time, we were granted with several flocks of Chestnut-bellied Sandgrouses (Pterocles exustus) flying around us and stopping in the desert, while flocks of both Spotted (Pterocles senegallus) and Crowned Sandgrouses (Pterocles coronata) were also offering excellent flight views! A wonderful way to end our birding time. Only one hour after this we arrived to our accommodation in Salalah to get some rest and comment all the excellent birds that we got along the day!!
Day 5. Our first day in Salalah was one of the most wonderful that I remember in this area. We had an early start and covered the short distance between our accommodation and the first location of the day, and area of open woodland mid way up to the Dhoffar plateau.
Here we were soon enjoying a long list of specialities. The area was fullfilled with Cinnamon-breasted Buntings (Emberiza tapahisi), small flocks of Rüppells Weaver (Ploceus galbula) and some African Silverbills (Eudice cantans). The firsts Palestine Sunbirds (Cynniris osea) were also seen feeding in the highest part of the fig trees while the whistles of Tristam’s Startlings (Onychognatus tristamii) announced the arrival of some of flocks of them.
2 Brown-headed Kingfishers (Halcyon leucephala) were perched in low branches, trying to locate one of the large locustes that they predate on, while the always nervous African Paradise Flycatchers (Tersiphone viridis) looked like concentrated around a small pound nearby. A short walk around the area soon allowed us to find the first of 4 Arabian Warbler (Sylvia mmemelanea) seen that morning while feeding in some dense thickets. This individual was moving along with a Lesser Whitethroat, and allowed a good comparisition of size, structure and behaviour. One bush away, a Isabelline Shrike was also a good find, and a fast check in the thickets below it revealed a wonderful pair of Arabian Black-crowned Tchagras (Tchagra senegallus percivali) and our first Graceful Prinia (Prinia gracilis). The morning was being wonderful but it took better was a distant pale Shrike was seen. When landed, the Shrike described a cercle with its tail, and that meant only one thing! We fast moved closer and enjoyed good views on a 1stw Masked Shrike (Lanius nubicus), a pretty scarce migratory bird in Oman! The bird was quite nervous and didn´t allow any close ups.
Back to the denser area we then found a wonderful mixed flock moving in the thickets: Here there were 2 Tchagras, 2-3 Arabian Warblers, some Abyssinian White-eyes, 4 Lesser Whitethroats, 1 African Paradise Flycatcher and 2 handsome Eurasian Wrynecks (Jynx torquilla) that gave excellent views! Just beside them, but not really moving along, we also got excellent views on one pair of Blackstars (Oenanthe melanura). Another great adding to our wonderful morning list! We then decided to explore better the stream nearby. Here we had good numbers of Buntings, African Silverbills, Laughing Doves and White-eyes that were coming down for a bath. Here it was also a handsome Grey Wagtail (Motacilla cinerea) and 2 Green Sandpipers (Tringa ochropus). Suddenly, a Black-crowned Night Heron (Nycticorax nycticorax) landed in a nearby tree. But the most exciting of that corner was the flock of 4 Arabian Grosbeaks (Rhyncosthrurus percivali) flying over us and briefly landing on a tree, some 50 metres away from us. Two o the tree clients got good but brief views on them, but one of the members of the group could not connect with them. We spent quite a long time trying to relocate them, but we got nothing at all. Instead, we got our only Common Redstart (Phoenicurus phoenicurus) along with Spotted Flycatcher, Turkestan Shrike and a minimum of 6 African Paradise Flycatchers feeding in a lovely corner!
After such a wonderful start of the day we moved into a small gorge having a wonderful stream with rich swamp vegetation. Despite the heat, we also got an excellent selection of birds here: 2 Bonelli’s Eagle (Aquila fasciata) were hunting in the area (one of them hovering for almost 1 minute!), a large flock of 40 Pallid Swifts were also feeding in the skies. Down in the stream, a flock of 4 Wood Sandpipers were a good start. Citrine Wagtails were calling around and some Western Reef Egrets were feeding. Bird activity was low due to heat, but butterflies and dragonflies were at its best! We still spent some time by the stream, and our persistance was finally granted when a Yellow Bittern (Ixobrychus sinensis) flew from a patch of reeds to the next, showing well, but briefly.
After some rest, we went to spend the afternoon in the Raysut river mouth. Here we got a long list of specialities, but probably the most unexpected bird was an African Openbill (Anastomus lamelligerus) resting along ith Grey Herons! It turned out to be only the 2nd record of this species for Oman!
The areas was as good as always about birding. Here we got our first full adult BalticGull (Larus fuscus fuscus) of the trip. Also a minimum of 7 Terek’s Sandpipers (Xenus cinereus) that were really celebrated. Largo flocks of gulls (mainly Heuglin’s) were in the shore along with a flock of Greater Flamingoes (Phoenicopterus roseus). Around, several waders that included Lesser Sand Plovers, Curlew Sandpipers (Calidris ferruginea), Bar-tailed Godwit (Limosa lapponica), Temminck’s Stint (Calidris temminckii) and several Greenshanks (Tringa nebularia). A flock of Glossy Ibis (Plegadis falcinellus) was flying around, trying to decide where to stop. A nearby Greater Spotted Eagle seemed really interested in the flock, while the 3 Western Ospreys (Pandion haliaetos) in the area were concentrated in the rocky outcrops. Several species of terns were around, including 4 White-winged Black Terns (Chlidonias leucotos), 1 Black Tern (Chlidonias niger) and several Lesser Crested Terns.
The last stop of this exciting day was in some sea cliffs South of Salalah. Here, the sea was fullfilled with Gulls and Terns. There were literally thousands of Terns, mainly Lesser Crested and Greater Crested, but here we also got Sandwich & Common Terns and at least 12 Bridled Terns (Onychoprion fuscata). Still, the most celebrated bird of the stop was one pretty close Persian Shearwater (Puffinus persicus) that all the tour participants got in the scopes! A wondeful way to end a extremely productive day!
Day 6. A new early start, this time to go back to the desert in search of some of the most iconic species living in Oman. We arrived to the location soon after the sun raising and soon had good views on Blackstarts and a confiding Bluethroat (Luscinia svecica). This oasis is a particularly good place for Grey Hypocolius (Hypocolius amberinus), although it was a bit early in the season for them. We spend some time scanning different corners of the lush vegetation in search of this wonderful bird.
Sand Partridges (Ammoperdix heyi) were singing in the desert around, and a small walk allowed us to have good views in a male singing from the top of a small cliff. When coming back to the oases, a pair of Desert Larks (Ammomanes deserti) stole the show and gave us excellent views, and good photo chances. Back to the oases, 2 Lesser Whitethroats were calling in the trees right at the same moment that the first flock of Chestnut-bellied Sandgrouses arrived calling and passed over us in search of water. Only a pair of minutes later we had the only Nile Valley Sunbird (Hedydipna metallica) of the tour, as one male showed briefly in the top of one of the trees. Almost at the same time, a flock of 18 Crowned Sandgrouses landed in a nearby plateau. We walked up but, unfortunately, we couln’t refind them on the ground… It was already mid-morning, and hundreds of Chestnut-bellied Sandgrouses were flying around the oases, providing amazing flight views that the whole group enjoyed very much. From our advantatged point, we also found a Bar-tailed Lark (Ammomanes cinctura) feeding in the bare soil. Here we also enjoyed the best views on Arabian Green Bee-eater (Merops cyanophrys) along the tour. We still spend some more time in the area, trying to find any Hypocolius, but we couldn’t not find any of them and the only remarkable addings to our list were a pair of Desert Wheatears and a distant Turkestan/Isabelline Shrike.
Back to Salalah for lunch and some rest, we spent the afternoon visiting a pair of hotspots around Raysut. Our first stop was to visit a water compound, where we got some European Rollers and a good set of waders including some Marsh Sandpipers and the only Little Ringed Plover (Charadrius dubius). Still, the most remarkable in this site was the flock of 27 Abdim’s Storks (Ciconia abdimii) that were resting around the compounds. This was a very awaited bird for the tour participants, and the presence of 2 White Storks (Ciconia ciconia) made a perfect combination to compare sizes and bills.
Then we moved inland to explore a gorge. In our way, an African Sacred Ibis (Threskiornis aethiopicus) flew over the car: another extra adding!
Once in the wady, we enjoyed some good views in 1 male Hooded Wheatear (Oenanthe monacha) while flocks of Sand Partridges were flying all around. It was a really quiet afternoon, and the songs of some Striolated Buntings helped us in our wait to the sunset. Big rock boulders were scattered in the way, and we had good views on a Rock Hyrax (Procavia capensis) moving in the rocky terrain. Once the night arrived, it didn’t take long until some “hooloes” came out of the cliffs around, and a pair of minutes after that we got horrific views on 1 Desert Owl (Strix hadorami) calling from different places around us in a magical moment that was considered for most of the tour participants and the best moment of the tour!
Happy after such a wonderful sight, we came back to our accommodation for a great dinner and rest.
Day 7. After enjoying a good breakfast we lived our hotel and drived North to enjoy a wonderful offshore in search of the good specialities living in the Arabian Sea. It was a pleasant and calm day, a bit warm but excellent to go into the sea. Our short transfer was not free of excitement because along the way we enjoyed the first Steppe Eagle (Aquila nipalensis) of the tour and an intimate view on Western Osprey (Pandion haliaetos) when arriving to the harbour.
Once in the getting out of the harbour, we got good views on Striolated Heron before getting out to the Ocean. Only a few minutes after leaving the harbour we got the first bird of interest as 2 Persian Shearwaters flew quite close to our boat. There were several Sooty Gulls around, with some Great Crested Terns passing over and Heuglin’s and Steppe Gulls in the move. A pair of Green Sea Turtles () were seen as getting away from the continent, but they didn’t allow any photo. Only some hundreds of yards away a black silhouette was seen flying over the water: The first Jouanin’s Petrel (Bulweria fallax)!
During the next 2 hours we enjoyed a minimum of 12+ Jouanin’s Petrels, with some really close views. This was, by far, the best offshore for Jouanin’s of all our trips to Oman. The calm day also allowed us to have good views on 4+ Flesh-footed Shearwaters (Ardenna carneipes), 7 Masked Boobies (Sula dactylora), 2 Red-necked Phalaropes (Phalaropus lobatus) and a distant Bridled Tern.
Back to the continent, we headed to the impressive plateaus of the Dhoffar Mountains. In our way up, we found an Arabian Chameleon (Chamaeleon arabicus) and forced up to stop our way up. Once in the upper areas, we soon were enjoying good views in some large flocks of Fan-tailed Raven (Corvus rhidipurus) that were concentrating in large fig tree along with Tristam’s Starlings. The wires around proved to be producive and time to time a Red-throated Pipit (Anthus cervinus) was sitting on them, providing some great views. Our next target was the rather enygmathic Yemen Serin (Crithagra menachensis). We first tried at the typical place, but got nothing out of a nesting Blackstart and 2 Tree Pipits (Anthus trivialis). Then we drove some miles away to a place that worked really well during our last tour. Soon after parking we saw that the place was full of birds. Here we had 5+ Red-throated Pipits, 2 Tawny Pipits, 1 Ortolan Bunting (Emberiza hortulana) flying over, 1 Long-billed Pipit (Anthus similis) showing superbly in a stone wall, 2 Singing Bush Larks (Mirafra cantillans) feeding on the ground and a wonderful Yemen Serin that appeared in the same stone wall by one abandoned house. This was again one of the top moments of the tour, as confidence in finding this bird was low among the tour participants. The place was even more productive than that: 4 European Rollers, 1 Montagu’s Harrier and the first Eastern Imperial Eagle (Aquila heliaca) of the trip were an awesome complement to this site list!!
We kept riving North to arrive to some stunning cliffs overlooking the coastal plain and the ocean. In our way, several Isabelline Wheatears were seen along with Tristam’sStarlings and Common Kestrels. Once in the cliffs, we soon had good views on Arabian Wheatears (Oenanthe lugentoides) and Blue Rock Thrushes (Monticola solitarius) plus distant views on 1 Verreaux’s Eagle (Aquila verreauxii).
It was still early afternoon, so we drove back to Salalah to explore some areas in the palm tree orchads. Here we got excellent views on 10+ Spotted thick-knee (Burhinus capensis), Indian Pond Heron (Squacco grayii), 3 Shining Sunbirds (Cinnyris habessinicus), 1 Crested Honey Buzzard and 2 Arabian Chameleo. The sunset was close, so a new short transfer brought us to small gorge where we enjoyed some wonderful owling.
only a few minutes after our arrival we started listening the typical ouling of the ArabianEagleOwls (Bubo milesi). Formerly considered conspecific with African Spotted Owl (Bubo capensis), this is now a new Arabian endemic and a much sought-after speciality. There were some birds calling around. 3, 4? Difficult to know. They all appeared to be quite high in the cliffs until one bird sunddenly started to call from only 150 metres away from us, in a large tree. We moved close to the tree, trying to locate the bird while was still calling, but got nothing. Fortunately, a 2nd individual appeared in the sky, flying over us and stopping in the same tree! That was a lucky sight!!
Very happy after such a great sight we then concentrated in the many Arabian Scops Owls (Otus pamelae) calling around. It didn’t take long before we were all enjoying a wonderful Scops Owl right in front of us. Another magical moment to add in this tour!! Little Owl (Athene noctua) was also noted calling in the clifffs, despite we never arrived to see it.
Day 8. This day we started to have a last visit to the open Euphorbia habitats inmediatly South of Salalah. Here we had excellent views on both Steppe and Eastern Imperial Eagles. We were in search of better views on Arabian Grosbeak, but never got them. Still, we did get 1 Steppe Grey Shrike (Lanius pallidirostris) and a 1 “lucionensis” Brown Shrike (3rd official record for Oman if accepted)!
After this good start, we then drove all the way to the sewage farms beyond Thumrait. There we got some excellent birding despite the intense heat. When arriving, we got 2 males Pallid Harriers having a nap in a small shade. Such a gorgeous sight took most of the group by surprise since they were resting right by the lane! Once inside the farms we were surprised by 4 Namaqua Doves (Oena capensis) flying over the grassy fields. The number of birds was low, but of top quality. Here we found 1 Pied Wheatear, 2 Siberian Stonechats (Saxicola maurus), 1 EurasianWryneck and 2 Rose-coloured Starlings (Pastor roseus) that were really celebrated in the group! Here we also got some Tawny Pipits, White Wagtails and a good number of Black-crowned Sparrow-lark (Eremopterix nigriceps) and Crested Larks, the only larks that afternoon.
Day 9. After enjoying a wonderful breafkast in our hotel in Duqm we drove North to explore the massive mudflats around Masirah Island. Our main target for that day was to locate some Crab Plovers (Dromas ardeola), a large black-and-white wader specialised in feeding on crabs and other hard-shield arthropodes. Desite their large size, they can be surprisingly hard to find, especially in the vasts tidal plains around Masirah Island. Fortunately we had a good place from previous years, so we headed directly to that place.
This very extensive mudflat concentrates around 1 milion waders in winter, so it is always a great place to visit. Here we had Tereks Sandpipers, Lesser & Greater Sand Plovers, Curlew Sandpipers, Kentish Plovers, Bar-tailed Godwits, Redshanks, Ruddy Turnstones, Little & Temminck’s Stints and also 7+ Broad-billed Sandpipers (Limicola falcinellus), some of them moving in mixed flocks with several other species. We arrived soon after high tyde, so many waders were really close to the shores when we arrived. In the bush around 1 Clamorous Reed Warbler was calling, and 2 Red-throated Pipits were also in the move. Still, the most interesting passerine was being harrased by a Dunlin in the beach. I first thought that it was a Sparrow, but fastly I found myself screaming to everybody since we were having a Turkestan Short-toed Lark (Alaudala heinei) right in front of us! We were lucky because everybody had good views on the bird before the Dunlin became really agressive and defitanely expulsed the lark away from the algae! Excellent!
We were right comenting this rather unexpected adding when they appeared. At the beggining only two of them. Distant. Adult and a 1st winter still asking for being fed. Always great to see one of the most spectacular waders in the world! After almost half an hour more Crab Plovers appeared. Extremely far away, but they were coming every time a bit closer until we got excellent views on a small flock of 5 that provided more than decent views and allowed some shots. At the end of the morning we counted some 55 of them!
Here we were also scanning for Terns and Gulls. Still far from the gull concentrations in winter, we were delighted with several close ups to Heuglin’s Gull, with some Steppe & Caspian Gulls in the middle. A rather Saunder’s Tern (Sternua saundersi) showed up for us, and some further scanning produced 1 Parasitic Jaeger (Stercorarius parasiticus) harrasing Slender-billed Gulls. After some more views in the Crab Plovers, we moved to our accommodation for some afternoon rest after 3 very intense days!
Day 10. Very last day of the tour. In our way to Mascate from the East coast we still had time to stop and have some proper birding. In the way North there are a pair of reliable stops for raptors. We didn’t have a lot of time but in our visit to a small recicling place we saw 5+ Lappet-faced Vultures (Torgos tracheliotos) and 27+ Egyptian Vultures (Neophron percnopterus) along with some Brown-necked Ravens (Corvus rufisollis) and 2 Steppe Eagles!
Happy after such a great stop we decided to have a last stop in some meadows near Mascate. Here we were again granted with some good surprises, since we got views on Jack Snipe (Lymnocriptes minumus) first and on 1 Pin-tailed Snipe (Gallinago stenura) later! Here we also got Marsh Sandpipers and a female Pintail (Anas acuta) as the very last species appearing in the tour before covering the short distance to the airport for a late afternoon flight back to Europe!
Participants: 22 Guies: Sergi Sales i Carles Oliver
El dia va començar amb un cel quasi ras i temperatures fresques. A trec d’alba els participants van anar arribant al punt de trobada vora Tàrrega, i força abans de l’hora acordada ja hi èrem quasi tots. Hi havia força ganes de tombar i de retrobar-nos amb la natura i els amics després de força setmanes amb la mobilitat força reduïda degut als diferents confinaments.
Aquesta sortida, enmarcada en la sèrie d’OrnitoReptes que impulsem junt amb la Fundació Plegadis i Birding Catalunya, pretèn apropar espècies emblemàtiques o poc conegudes a ornitòlegs de tots els nivells.
Un cop recordat el protocol anti-Covid, ens vam dirigir als vehicles. Alguns van quedar aparcats per tal de fer la corrua més sostenible. Uns pocs quilòmetres van ser prous per contactar amb les primeres espècies. Alguna arpella vulgar (Circus aeruginosus), cogullades vulgar (Galerida cristata), els omnipresents cruixidells (Emberiza calandra) i vols esporàdics de grives (Turdus viscivorus) entre els ametllers, que ben ràpidament van deixar pas al complexe cant de la calàndria (Melanocorypha calandra), amb bones densitats a la zona.
La primera parada del matí va servir per observar algunes espècies de força interès. L’ambient era força agradable i la llum, perfecta. Les calàndries emplenaven el cel amb els seus cants mentre un llunyà esparver cendrós (Circus pygargus) mirava de trobar algun talpó despistat als guarets plens de flors. Mentre resseguíem l’esparver el primer sisó (Tetrax tetrax) es va fer notar a les nostres oïdes. Un mascle cantava no massa lluny, als guarets. Poc després en vam sentir un segon, i després encara un tercer. Abans i tot que els poguéssim trobar, el típic so de les ales d’un mascle va imposar-se als cants de les calàndries, i tot el grup va gaudir del primer de molts vols de sisons.
Val la pena recordar, que els mascles de sisó disposen d’una adaptació a les seves plomes de vol. Unes poques d’elles presenten un perfil asserrat que, en vol, produeix el típic “siseig” que dóna nom a l’espècie.
Al llarg del següent quart d’hora vam gaudir de tot un seguit d’observacions de sisons en vol i aturats en diferents guarets. Hi havia força activitat de mascles marcant els seus territoris de festeig, alhora que sortien a perseguint altres mascles, considerats “intrusos”. Entre aquestes observacions val la pena destacar la de 3 mascles perseguint a una femella en vol. Quan no ens miràvem els sisons, anàvem repassant els aligots (Buteo buteo) i arpelles vulgars que tombaven per la zona cercant alguna cosa d’esmorzar. La nostra petita caravana de vehicles va continuar explorant la zona, i poc després es va veure forçada a aturar-se, ja que en Sergi Sales va trobar un mussol banyut (Asio otus) aturat a un arbre a una banda de la pista. Ràpidament vam fer sortir tothom i, un cop enfocat el mussol amb els telescopis, tots els participants van poder gaudir d’una bona observació d’un adult de mussol banyut!
Aquesta troballa va provocar força somriures. El dia començava força bé: repte assolit amb fantàstiques observacions de un mímim de 6 sisons (encara en vindrien més) i un mussol banyut…
El nostre periple pels guarets ens va portar llavors fins a un punt elevat des d’on poder gaudir d’un extens camp ple de flors. Aquí vam trobar una parella de torlit (Burhinus oedicnemus) que segurament tenien el niu a la zona. Una mica d’espera va ser prou perquè al mateix guaret aparegués un mascle de sisó cantant, seguit uns minuts després per una femella de la mateix espècie, en actitud d’exhibició! Cua aixeca, passos curts i mesurats, ales a voltes un xic caigudes… Semblava la típica actitud que precedeix l’aparellament. La femella va passar un parell de vegades amb la cua aixecada i parcialment oberta a tant sols un parell de metres del mascle, aturant-se ara i adés. Però, increïblement, el mascle no va arribar a mostrar cap tipus d’interès per la femella… Llàstima, perquè una còpula de sisó no és una cosa que es vegi cada dia!
Abans de marxar d’aquest punt encara va aparèixer una perdiu roja (Alectoris rufa) al mateix guaret, poc abans que una terrerola vulgar (Calandrella brachydactyla) i una piula dels arbres (Anthus trivialis) passesin pel damunt del cap dels guies, reclamant.
La temperatura començava a pujar de forma notable. La previsió metereològica alertava de temperatures altes per l’època de l’any; no es va equivocar. La última parada a la zona de conreu de secà va ser per visitar una zona de cria de xoriguer petit (Falco naumanni). De camí, però, un parell de bitxacs rogencs (Saxicola rubetra) en migració va fer les delícies del grup! Un cop arribats als encontorns de la colònia, els xoriguers petits no van fallar, i tot el grup va poder apreciar alguns dels atributs que permeten diferenciar l’espècie del força més abundant xoriguer comú (Falco tinnunculus), com la coloració de cap, ales i pit del mascle; la llargada de les ales respecte de la cua; els seus singulars reclams…
La comparació amb altres rapinyaires passavolants com milà negre (Milvus migrans), aligot comú (Buteo buteo) o esparver cendrós (Circus pygargus) potser també va ajudar a establir relacions de mides. Qui sap!
Des d’aquí vam començar a sortir dels secans, tot gaudint del vol d’alguna puput (Upupa epops), algun estol de gralles (Corvus monedula) o les corredisses d’alguna perdiu roja a tocar de la pista. Però tot es va aturar en aparèixer el primer gaig blau (Coracias garrulus). Amb tothom fora dels vehicles, vam poder gaudir d’un bon espectacle mentre un parell d’aquests increïbles ocells feia els seus acrobàtics vols nupcials, tot deixant veure el blau elèctric de les seves ales. Tot un espectacle de color d’una espècie que ens regala la seva presència només al llarg de 4 mesos i escaig, de començaments de maig, a començaments de setembre.
Un cop sadojats de gaig blau i de secans, ens vam dirigir al proper Estany d’Ivars. La temperatura ja quasi havia deixat de ser agradable, i ens enfrontàvem a uns dels primers dies de calor de la temporada.
Un curt desplaçament en vehicle va ser prou per fer-nos arribar a un punt d’observació privilegiat sobre l’estany. Només sortir del vehicle vam poder sentir els cants de rossinyols (Luscinia megarhynchos), tallarols capnegres (Sylvia melanocephala) i algun esporàdic oriol (Oriolus oriolus). Mentre disposàvem els telescopis, un conspicu teixidor (Remiz pendulinus) va aturar-se ben a prop, permetent una molt bona observació. També es va deixar veure una bosqueta comú (Hippolais polyglotta) que cantava ben a la vora i que gentilment es va acabar exhibint a dalt de tot d’una figuera. Amb els telescopis va ser una observació excel·lent.
El punt d’observació de l’estany permet una bona visibilitat de la llàmina d’aigua i de les abundoses zones de fanguissar que l’estany deixava veure, fruit d’una assecada total que pretén eliminar diferents espècies invasores (tant sols el temps dirà si amb èxit, o no). Diferents estols de cames llargues (Himantopus himantopus) aprofitaven aquesta circumstància, i força d’ells ja estaven niant, o amb actitud de fer-ho properament. També hi havien força cabussons emplomallats (Podiceps cristatus), així com importants contingets de gavina riallera (Chroicephalus ridibundus) i gavià argentat de potes grogues (Larus michahellis). Amb ells, un estol de 8 fumarells carablancs (Chlidonias hybridus) acompanyats per un solitari fumarell negre (Chlidonias niger) que van fer les delícies dels participants.
El sol picava una mica, i mentre el Sergi anava explicant la història recent de l’estany, hom aprofitava per anar repassant els limícols presents als fanguissars. Corriols petits (Charadrius dubius) i grans (Charadrius hiaticula), un parell de territs variants (Calidris alpina) i un estol de 7 fredelugues (Vanellus vanellus). Però la sorpresa va arribar quan el Carles Oliver va trobar un territ gros (Calidris canutus) en plomatge estival alimentant-se a la zona. Cares de sorpresa, també de incredulitat. No era pas per menys; aquesta suposava la 1a cita d’aquesta espècie a l’estany. Però és que el territ gros es movia, ni més ni menys, que amb un territ de tres dits (Calidris alba), una espècie també excepcional a l’Estany. La reacció no es va fer esperar: tothom als telescopis!
Només un parell de minuts després de la troballa del territ gros, en Sergi Sales cantava un tètol cuabarrat (Limosa lapponica), una espècie terriblement escassa a Ivars! La cosa estava força interessant, i mentre continuàvem repassant la zona, anàvem gaudint dels estols de cigonyes blanques (Ciconia ciconia) i els voltors comuns (Gyps fulvus) que s’anaven remontant per sobre l’estany, amb l’aparició també d’un falcó peregrí (Falco peregrinus) que de ben segur s’havia sentit atret per l’abundància de preses potencials.
Les polles blaves (Porphyrio porphyrio) es deixaven veure a la vora dels canyissars mentre anàvem mirant de trobar algun altre limícol de interès. Unes quantes valones (Tringa glareola), un estol de 8 gambes roges vulgars (Tringa totanus) i 2 territs menuts (Calidris minuta) van engrossar la llista, fins que el plomatge negre i blanc d’un remena-rocs (Arenaria interpres) va aparèixer alimentant-se de bracet amb el territ gros! Un altre limícol amb comptadíssimes observacions a l’Estany d’Ivars. El remena-rocs, no podia ser menys, va originar noves cues als telescopis!
Després de gaudir moltíssim des d’aquest punt d’observació, ens vam apropar a l’estany per fer una exploració a peu i de més a prop. El curt trajecte va trobar un grup d’abellerols (Merops apiaster) com a companys de viatge que va fer les delícies dels fotògrafs del grup. Un cop arribats a peu d’estany els cants dels rossinyols bords (Cettia cetti), rossinyol comuns (Luscinia megarhynchos), boscarles de canyar (Acrocephalus scirpaceus) i balquers (Acrocephalus arundinaceus) van col·lapsar les nostres oïdes amb el seu fantàstic paisatge sonor. Des de la nostra nova posició vam revisar un altre cop les zones a on es concentraven els limícols, trobant-les totes, però malgrat ser-hi més a prop, el poc angle entre la vegetació va dificultar una mica l’observació.
Deixant de banda els limícols, ens vam endinsar al bosc de ribera, a on vam poder gaudir de bones observacions de rossinyol, i de rapinyaires passa volants com milà negre o àguila marcenca (Circaetus gallicus). Les boscarles de canyar es van deixar veure unes quantes vegades, mai massa estona, però sí que vam gaudir força en trobar un niu d’aquesta espècie, típicament ancorat a dues tiges de canyissar.
Això va ser ben bé la cirereta final d’un matí d’allò més espectacular, amb un balanç d’espècies força complert i variat, fins i tot per a l’època!
Una forma prou espectacular d’enllestir el primer de molts OrnitoReptes! Consulta el calendari aquí i escull quin és el que més t’interessa!
Day 1. During August 14th the tour participants arrived to Cape Town. The lovely accommodation where we were hosted welcomed them or organised a transport from the airport, and we all met in the next morning, when an early start was mandatory to catch up with our boat. Yes, today was offshore day! So, before raising we all met, and drove the short distance to the harbour. Our small boat was there waiting for us and during the short chating with our experienced captain we really saw the firsts birds of the tour. Harbault’s Gulls were really common, and the harbour had some Kelp (Cape) Gullsflying around. In a close dek we had a small flock of Ruddy Turstones, and a flyby Grey Heron pointed the right direction to connect with the first flock of Cape Cormorants having some rest in the outer dek.
Once the last details were ready, we sailed off in a really calm ambient. The raising light produced some epic views on the bay, while our boat was gaining distance from the coast. We didn’t have to wait long until we saw our first speciality; as usual, one or two Subantarctic Skuaswere soon wondering around, to lose interest after some seconds. Our boat kept its way while enjoying flocks of Cape Cormorantsflying low over the sea, and some African Penguins close to a small bay, probably getting in the ocean from a nearby colony. Soon after we got the firsts Sooty Shearwaters of the day, a sign of being close to leave the Bay, and soon as meeting the waves of the open ocean we contacted with the first of many White-Chinned Petrel. Some of these lovely birds were flying around along with a pair of Sooty Shearwaters when we got the first unexpected sight as 1 Flesh-footed Shearwater appeared along with the Sooties to do a pair of fasts flybies and go back into the sea!
Shy Albatross (Thalassarche cauta) during our offshore from Cape Town. Image by Carles Oliver
That was a very fortunate encounteer since this species is normally easier to see in the North-east of South Africa. We were just chating about when the captain informed us of some whales around. The boat change the direction from South to West, and a pair of minutes later we were enjoying 2 Humpback Whales right in front of us. Humpback’s are often found around the boundary of the continental platforms, so this was the rights place for them to be. Happy after such a nice sight we turned South to keep exploring the ocean. 3 Shy Albatrosses pointed us the right way, even if they were not really close. We got some 15 minutes of rude sea, and after that the ocean appeared as calmed as the Aegean Sea in a summer day! More White-Chinned Petrels appeared and inmediatly after we got a very close Shy Albatross that landed some metres from our boat. One of the tour participants spotted the first Black-crowned Albatross of the tour while the captain adviced us about 3 Wilsons’s Storm Petrels in the back! Personally, I was concentrated in a majestic IndianYellow-nosed Albatross coming from the front of the boat. I was enjoying the view when second bird appeared behind, clearly bigger and greyish than the Sooties Shearwaters around. It didn’t take long to see that it was a massive Southern Giant Petrel that came really close to the boat to fly around and stop on the sea. We spent some 10 epic minutes enjoying all of these species. Unfortunately the Wilsons’s Storm Petrel (the only ones of the tour) never came really close but some really close Pintado (Cape) Petrels were a good consolation for all tour participants.
Humpback Whale (Megaptera novaeangliae) just South of New Hope Cape. Image by Carles Oliver
For some time we were having Shy, Black-crowned & Indian Yellow-nosed Albatrosses flying around plus Cape & White-Chinned Petrels passing close to the vessel. We moved half a mile just to explore a bit beyond and there we got a superb Northern Giant Petrel that directly came to our boat to pass by extremely close before stopping and harrasing an Atlantic Yellow-nosed Albratross.
We were all delighted of being so lucky when our captain got a message: a fish carrier was close. These massive boats fish in the deep water South of the Good Hope Cape and can wonder for weeks in large areas of the ocean.
Even 2 miles away from the boat the massive concentration of wildlife was evident. Thousands of sea birds were following it, including all the species that we saw before but also the firsts Cape Gannets of the trip. There were also an important number of South African Fur Seals and tens and tens of Albratrosses of different species. We approached a bit more and a carefully scanning revealed at least two Antarctic Prions, a scarce species that was really celebrated by the tour participants. For some time we were trying to keep track on these small, lovely petrels to try to get some shots, but it was really impossible to get them close in the mess of 100s of Sooty Shearwaters, Cape Gannets, Antarctic Skuas and Albatrosses around.
Adult Indian Yellow-nosed Albatross (Thalassarche carteri).
Subantarctic Skua (Catharacta antarctica)
Southern Giant Petrel (Macronectes giganteus)
Even when approaching we realise that there were some major species among the long queue of birds following the carriers. And now that we were close we could confirm at least 7 Southern Royal Albatross following the carrier. These authentic giants cover enormous distances to feed. It is known that they can come to Southern Africa to feed for some days from their nesting colonies in New Zealand!
The movement of the birds was constant, with waves and waves of birds getting in and out. And then, along with 3 Southern Royal Albratross we saw at least 2 Northern Royal Albatross, a really scarce species in these trips and something we never expected to see in our tours to South Africa! All tour participants enjoyed good views and photos on the birds, and we were about to go back to Cape Town when a last surprise was still waiting for us: Our captain found 1 Spectacled Petrel just passing by us along with White-Chinneds!! This was the perfect way to start our way back to the coast.
Southern Royal Albatross (Diomedea epomophora)
This was our only one Spectacled Petrel (Procellaria conspicillata), a species not very common in the area.
Southern Royal Albatross (Diomedea epomophora)
A mess of South African Fur Seals (Arctocephalus pusillus) moving along with Sooty Shearwaters (Ardenna griseus), Cape Gannets (Morus capensis), White-chinned (Procellaria aequinoctialis) & Cape Petrels (Daption capense), Kelp (Cape) Gulls (Larus dominicanus vetula) , Subantarctic Skuas (Catharacta antarctica) plus Shy (Thalassarche cauta) & Black-browed Albatross (Thalassarche melanophris).
Back in the Bay, we still had a pair of stops to have close views in both Bank & Crowned Cormorants. Both species are endemic to Southern Africa, and globally endangered. We all had good views along with South African Fur Seals having a good sun bath.
Back on ground we had a moment to sit and enjoy some extra meal. The sandwiches on the boat were great, but it was also nice to enjoy some food on the ground, actually! After a passionate chating on seabird conservation efforts, we moved to our next location. Still time to visit two spots, both really close to our accommodation.
Crowned Cormorant (Phalacrocorax coronatus), an endemic near threatened of Southern Africa.
As anyone coming to Cape Town, it is always mandatory to enjoy some one of the African Penguins colonies around the city. African Penguins started to colonise some beaches in the Greater Cape Town about 25 years ago in a natural process of expansion. Our time in the African Penguin colony not only produced excellent views in this highly especialised birds, but also served as a first contact for the group with some common species such as Cape Wagtail, Southern Double-collared Sunbird, Karoo Prinia, Cape Bulbul, African Oystercatcher, Cape Turtle Dove, and Yellow Canary. We also enjoyed good views on Yellow Mongoose and Cape Hyrax, both endemics of Southern Africa and a good adding to our mammal list!
African Penguins (Spheniscus demersus) really close to Cape Town.
The last stop in this long, intense, and incredible first day was to explore a small marshy patch really close to our accommodation. This small wetland is just under a rocky slope, providing a good mixt of species, from the hills to the reedbeds. A first look in the area allowed us to locate the firsts Blacksmith Lapwingof the tour, feeding in the short grasses around the pond along with 2 Crowned Lapwings. The water level in the pond was surprising low but stil supporting some birds including several Cape Teals, some Yellow-billed Ducks, African Black Duck, 1 Hottentot Teal, Malachite Kingfisher and 2 Red-knobbed Coots; Grey Heron and Little Egret were fishing around while a colony of Cape Weaver were busy preparing the nests. A lovely song came down from the rocky slope and soon were all enjoying a Cape Rock Thrush singing from the small ridge. A bit lower in the slope we found the 2 firsts Cape Spurfowls, while a Common Fiscal was overlooking the area in search of the last prey of the afternoon. The group withdrew to the van, that was parked by some Common Starlings & Red-eyed Doves. Happy after such a great day, we came back to our accommodation for a deserved dinner & rest!
Common Fiscal (Lanius collaris)
In this small pond we got the only 2 Red-knobbed Coots (Fulica cristata) of the tour.
Day 2. The second day of the tour was devoted to explore False Bay Eastern side. Here we were to explore a pair of spots expecting to find some of the specialities living in the famous fynbos and rocky areas around. Always with the Ocean as a background, we first explored a small plain with some rocky outcrops. The group didn’t move from the van when we found the first Cape Grassbird of the tour, along with Red-winged Starlings and a gorgeous male Orange-breasted Sunbird. Great start! In front of us, a short walk along a beautiful, open fynbos with a large rocky slope to the left, that soon produced Cape Bunting, Fiscal Flycatcher, Cloud, Zitting & Pipping Cisticolas (or Neddicky, its wonderful local name), Greater Double-collared Sunbird, Yellow Bishop, and some Cape White-eyes. A pair of White-necked Ravens provided excellent views both in flight and on the ground.
The morning had been sunny and warm until that far, until a cold fog came front the Ocean. We kept on for a further exploration revealing one of the main targets of the stop, as after some scanning we located a Ground Woodpecker perched on a rock. We all enjoy great views on what soon turned up into two individuals. They were really active, moving from a pair of big boulders to the ground to feed, and then back to the boulder to rest. This is a endemic species of woodpecker living in areas without trees. They nest on banks, where they do excavate a tunnel as a kind of bizarre Kingfisher. As we were enjoying the bird, the only one Cape Siskin of the tour just flew over and stopped for some time in a dead branch! This is another endemic, and sometimes a hard target!!
Ground Woodpecker (Geocolaptes olivaceus) male providing excellent views.
Cape Rockjumper (Chaetos frenatus) was one of the main targets in the tour.
We were clearly in the good way. A pair of Rock Kestrels came to the sky just by the time that a Sentinel Rock Thrushstarted singing. It was being a great morning, but even improved when a whistle came from the slope. It took us quite a lot of scanning but we finally found out 2 Cape Rockjumpers moving on the grouns while calling each other. We could enjoy over 5 minutes of these birds moving in the slope, appearing and disappearing in the rocks. Mid way beetwen a Wallcreeper and Roadrunner, these birds are really worth to see!!
Back into the car, we had a short drive until our next stop, a small Botanical Garden by the hills carpeted with fynbos. In here we had a first contact with common species living in woodlands or tall scrubs such as Olive Thrush, Southern Masked Weaver, Laughing Dove, Brimstone Canary, Cape Robin Chatbut also enjoyed great views in a small flock of Swee Waxbillsand the only views on Cape Sugarbid and Blue-Mantled Crested Flycatcher of the trip!
Glad after this great morning, we had a small lunch break in a lovely road restaurant. After enjoying some local cuisine, we still had one stop before driving back to Cape Town. A close coastal wetland provided us with a different set of species. The wetland is surrounded by a rich grassland where we enjoyed Cape Spurfowl, African Pipit, Plain-throated Martin, African Stonechat, Bokmakierie and Jackal Buzzard.
Swee Waxbill (Coccopygia melanotis)
Kittlitz’s Plover (Charadrius pecularius).
Once in the marshy area, a general look into the area revealed large flocks of Hartlaub’s Gulls roosting in different islands and, along with them, a small flock of 3 Antarctic Terns. This is again a scarce species so we were really glad to enjoy them.
The vast salt lagoons and marshes were also having small flocks of Kittlitz’s Plovers as well as several Greater Flamingoes and Pied Avocets. A distant juvenile African Fish Eagle being harrased by a African Marsh Harrier female was also a great sight, Back in the car park, our 3 firsts Levaillant’s Cisticolas were singing around, allowing good views.
It was time to go back to Cape Town, were we would spend the rest of the afternoon enjoying the wonderful False Bay Nature Reserve. Due to a traffic jump, we did arrive to the False Bay NR a bit later than expected. Despite that, the birding was stunning. In the lagoons around it was a complete set of the ducks living in the area including several Cape Teals & Shovelers, Yellow-billed Ducks, Red-billed Teals plus the most sought-after species: Southern Pochards (30+) and Maccoa Ducks (12+). We also got two flying Spur-winged Geese, a Purple Heron plus flocks of Cattle Egrets and Glossy Ibises. The ponds were also having small numbers of Little, Black-necked and Great Crested Grebes, all of them with nesting populations in the tip of Africa.
Southern Pochard (Netta erythrophthalma) in False Bay Nature Reserve at sunset.
A short walk around provided first views on Black-shoulded Kite and the endemics Grey-winged Francolin & Cape Sparrow. It was some gorgeous patches of reedbeds, and there we found our only 3 African Swamphens of the tour along with Black Crakes, a nice Little Bittern (African race), Lesser Swamp Warblersand flocks of the very soiny Little Rush Warbler. A really sought-after African Railcalled a pair of times but, despite our hopes, never appeared in the out…
It was already time to go back to the car. Pied Kingfishersand Great White Egrets were hurring to catch a last fish when we discovered a small flock of Spotted Thick-knees in a plouged area. Back to car, we still had at least one more African Rail calling… No time for more, time to enjoy a nice local wine and have some dinner!
Day 3. The weather became stormy during the last evening, and during the whole night we were having a heavy rain in Cape Town. This day we were supposed to spend most of the day in Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden. When we did arrive the weather was even worst, with some strong wind. So we did a second coffee and wait for some time. After some wait we managed to spend 90 minutes of birding in Gardens, always with some rain and poor visibility. Still, we got good views in 2 Sombre Greenbuls, Common Chaffinches (introduced here by the British), Cape Batis, 4 Forest Canaries, Familiar Chats, 1 flyby Lemon Dove and several Cape Robin-chats. A lovely Knysna Warbler was singing in the undergowth but despite our efforts it was not possible to see this elusive bird. So, after some time in the gardens, it was clear that the weather was not going to improve so we decided to start moving to our next area to explore.
But before we could enjoy 2 Spotted Eagle Owls roosting in one of the largest trees in the Botanical Garden! It was really a pity that we had to cancel the wonderful walk we had in mind.
Spotted Eagle Owl (Bubo capensis) roosting in Cape Town Botanical Gardens.
Southern Double-collared Sunbird (Cinnyris chalybeus) female, one of the commonest birds in the area.
Cape Robin-Chat (Cossypha caffra), one of the many endemics to enjoy.
The rain was still heavy, so we moved a bit earlier than expected to the West Coast National Park, a coastal area inmeadiatly North of town. The weather in that area was clearly better, with only some high clouds and a really comfortable temperature. Our first stop was to do a walk in a small open area. Here, with the dense scrubland surrounding the dense scrubland, we had first views on really common species living in this dry fynbos such as Karoo Scrub Robin, Bokmakierie, Karoo Prinia and Grey-backed Cisticola. A short walk around also produced Speckled & Red-faced Mousebirds, Chestnut-vented Tit-Babbler, African Hoopoe, Ant-eating Chat and Cape Clapper & Karoo Larks. Small herds of Bontebock and Eland were feeding along with Common Ostriches and flocks of Pied & Wattling Starlings. This was a really enjoyable place but time was running and we had to check a different corner.
Karoo Scrub Robin (Cercotrichas coryphoeus), one of the most conspicuous birds living in the Karoo bushland.
Cape Shoveler (Spatula capensis) female.
Chestnut-vented Tit-Babbler (Sylvia subcaeruleum)
South African Shelduck (Tadorna cana).
Stenbook (Raphicerus campestris), one of the mammals we could enjoy at West Coast National Park.
A small pond in the middle of the karoo beyond provided with other interesting birdlife. Here we got Black Crake, 2 Cape Shovelers and Little Rush Warblers while a small flock of Common Waxbillswere drinking water. In the short walk to pond we got the first of many Black Harriers flying over the karoo in a majestic image. In the water, a pair of the endemic South African Shelduckswere really celebrated. But the best was to come. After a while checking the pond, a call came from the swamp, barely few metres from us; a Red-chested Flufftail! No movements allowed and after a pair of minutes of wait, a Flufftailjust runned in front of us!! Great!! In the way to car we still enjoyed more Black Harriers but it was already a bit late so we drove to our accommodation close to the National Park but we still had a last stop in an open area close to the B&B, where good views on 2 Fiery-necked Nightjars flying around, singing and performing a beautiful display!
Glad after this wet but incredible day, we had a good dinner and better rest.
Day 3. Early morning breakfast in our small sea-side accommodation, overlooking the Atlantic Ocean from a small cliff. This day was calm and bright but it was a ruff sea out there! From our terrace we enjoyed some Rock Martins flying around but also sometime far more special. Distant in the sea we got at least two Southern Right Whales breathing under the waves. Not every day you enjoy some whales while having your first coffee!
After breakfast we went back to the North Coast National Park, to concentrate in a walk in the limit of the dense fynbos and a large grassy patch. The karoo was full of birdlife and we enjoy great views on Levaillant’s Cisticolas, Karoo Larks, Karoo Scrub Robins singing. The walk was extremelly productive. In a short time we got all 3 species of Mousebirds living here: Red-faced, Speckledand the endemic White-backed). Temperature was extremely pleasant and that favour small birds to show including Protea Canary, Bar-throated Apalis, a gorgeous Malachite Sunbird displaying and the really sought-after Layard’s-Tit Babbler in a great view at short range!
Bar-throated Apalis (Apalis thoracica).
Karoo Lark (Calendulauda albescens), endemic to South Africa.
The also endemic White-backed Mousebird (Colius colius).
The amazing display of Malachite Sunbird (Nectarinia famosa).
Southern Black Korhaan (Afrotis afra), another sought-after endemic.
Wonderful meadows at West Coast National Park.
A short incursion in the seaside provided with excellent views on African Oystercatchers (Haematopus moquini)
One of the many Black Harriers (Circus maurus) that we saw at West Coast National Park.
Once inside the grasslands, we enjoyed the songs of Bokmakierie mixing with the ones from Cape Longclaws and Cloud Cisticolas singing in flight, with a small herds of Elands feeding here and there, and Common Ostrichessuddenly appearing from the karoo. An close, explosive song announced the first Southern Black Koorhanof the tour. This is another really sought-after endemic!
We were really lucky as the Koorhan was lekking close to us for some time, and all tour participants had amazing views on this bird. A further scanning soon reavealed some Cape Spurfowl (they had been noisy the whole morning) but also a flock of its more scarce relative, the Grey-winged Francolin, feeding by the end of the grass. A Cape Capped Lark just flew from our feet at the same moment that one of the tour participants found the first pair of Blue Cranes of the tour! What an amazing birds… The birds in this area look like endless! An African Hoopoeshowed up in a dead tree, and soon was joined by a different bird; a lovely Acacia Pied Barbet!
Our next stop was to explore a shore of the main lagoon in the National Park. This big lagoon, mainly salty, has several patches of reedbeds due to small springs coming from the subsoil. Here we got lovely views in both Greater and Lesser Flamingoes but also Hadeda Ibises, several Black-winged Stiltsand Pied Avocetplus close views on a pair of Cape Longclawnesting in the grass by the path. Here we also got Cape Teals, Crowned Lapwings and our only one Common Sandpiper of the tour. Among the several Cape Wagtails we were greeted with a Yellow Wagtail, a rather unexpected sight!
The lagoon itself was having some waders including Eurasian Curlews, Grey Plovers, Bar-tailed Godwits, Eurasian Whimbrels, Greenshanks, Common Ringed Plovers, Dunlins and 20+ Curlew Sandpipers. But probably most eyes were concentrated in some close African Oystercatchers. Around the bank we had some Western Reef Egrets and Grey Herons but also 1 Squacco Heron and Purple Heron. In the distance, we enjoyed 7 White-fronted Plovers moving along 2 Wood Sandpipers. Flocks of Great White Pelicans were moving over the lagoon, towards the depeer areas, mixing with the many Caspian & Gull-billed Terns that were pratolling it. In this location we also got 1 Black-tailed Goodwit, a really scarce species in the area…A really good bird for South Africa with most of the locations concentrated in this same lagoon!!!
Back to the fynbos, we headed to our next stop. We did some haults in the way to enjoy some Bonteboks appearing here and there. This beautiful antelopes were really close to extinction and by 1830 only 22 remained. Black Harriers were also stopping our way as we got not less than 6 of them in a short drive, including some close views. Once parked, we did a short walk in the area, a dry fynbos with some sandy open areas, and we soon had excellent views on our main goal, a Cape Long-billed Lark moving in the open area. But this corner was about to produce a bigger surprise. A small flock of birds was moving, mainly Southern Double-collared Sunbirds, but it also appeared our only Grey Titof the tour, another sought-after endemic. And when we were about to go back to our van, a wonderful male Dusky Sunbird appeared in the vegetation to provide us with a short, but terrific view! This species, is normally referred to live in Northern areas, but it has been expanding the range in recent years.
We then had a stop for our picnic enjoying some great views on the central lagoon, with large flocks of Cape Cormorants getting in and out from the sea. For us it was time to leave this National Park and drive inland to the karoo areas. The 90 minutes long drive proved to be extremelly productive. Along with several large flocks of Southern Red Bishop along the way, we had two stops in our way. Still close to the coast, we spend some time in a farm land, where we found several African Pipits, at least 2 Nicholson’s Pipits (a recent split from Long-billed Pipit due partly to allopatric distributions and sedentary habits of both populations) along with them, 3 Capped Wheatears, some Red-capped Larks and Malachite Sunbirds.
Next stop was already close to Ceres. Here, close to a mountain pass, we were surprised by 2 magnificient Verreaux’s Eagles and joined in the sky by 1 Peregrine Falcon. Here we also had first views for the tour on Alpine & African Black Swifts flying low at incredible speed!
Nicholson’s Pipit (Anthus nicholsoni).
Verreaux’s Eagle (Aquila verreauxii), another majestic bird of prey for the tour!
Beyond Ceres and the hills around, the landscape faces a dramatic change. An inmense desertic plain extends in an endless way. This is the karoo, an incredible ecosystem for wildlife, and especially for birds. Due to the limitations of time in this pre-tour, we only had some hours in the afternoon to explore the area. In future tours, we will dedicate one day and a half to explore this amazing place!
Even with our limited time, we can say that we did pretty well. A first stop in a small valley surrounded by mild bushy hills produced a number of goodies. Here we enjoyed more endemics such as Cape Penduline Tit, Chestnut-vented Tit-Babbler, Long-billed Crombec, Mountain Wheatear and Karoo Thrush. But probably the most celebrated bird in this stop was a wonderful male Black-headed Canarysuperbly perched in a small reedbed. Unfortunately the bird didn’t stay there for long before it came back to the plains beyond the small valley.
During the next hour, a combination of road birding and some selected stops provided with some good addings like Lark-like Bunting, Rufous-eared Warbler, Grey-backed Cisticola, Fairy Flycatcher, Karoo Chat and larks including Large-billed, Karoo Long-billed & Karoo Larks. A last stop was made in a dry stream and there we could enjoy good views on 1 male of the also endemic Namaqua Warbler that was singing in a really active way.
After such a nice (but unfortunately rather short) exploration of the karoo, we drove to our next accommodation beside Bontebok National Park, where we did arrive a bit beyond sunset.
Day 4. Bontebok NP & De Hoop Nature Reserve After a nice breakfast we drove the few miles into Bontebok NP, a small but really interesting protected area. Here we spent 3 hours in the morning, that were really productive! & De Hoop Nature Reserve. Some drive into the reserve produced excellent views on Bontebok, Cape Mountain Zebra, Grey Rhebok and Red Hartebeest.
A fast scan in the grasslands of the park from an advantage point produced the first of several Denham’s Bustardsduring the morning. Here we had some Red-capped Larks singing and we were surprised by a Secretary Bird flying over us, stopping in the grasslands and feeding not far from Denham’s. A further stop to enjoy some distant Cape Mountain Zebras was even more surprising since we found a Karoo Korhaan just beyond them, moving in the tall grass!
Southern Masked Weaver (Ploceus velatus)
This Secretary Bird (Sagittarius serpentarius) was rather unexpected, and really celebrated!
Grey Rhebok (Pelea capreolus), a wonderful antelope living in small herds.
The Mountain Zebra (Equus zebra), a very endangered endemic.
Denham’s Bustard (Neotis denhami) at Bontebok National Park.
Duets of Bokmakierie (Telophorus zeylonus) can be listened in nearly every thick bush.
Levaillant’s Cisticola (Cisticola tinniens)
We still some more time driving in the area, adding 2 Southern Black Korhaans displaying and 1 rather unexpected Rufous-breasted Sparrowhawk going for Levaillant’s Cisticolas in the grasslands. After this driving we explored the evergreen vegetation along the Breerivier. Here we got excellent views on Southern Tchagra, Bokmakierie, Pied Acacia Barbet, Brown-hooded Kingfisher, White-backed Mousebird, Bar-breasted Apalis, Sombre Greenbul, Cape Grassbird, Greater-double Collared Sunbird & Pin-tailed Whydah among many others.
We enjoyed a nice picnic by the Breerivier before driving to the coast for an afternoon exploration of the De Hoop Natural Reserve. In the between both natural sites we enjoyed many flocks of Blue Cranes feeding on the farming areas, many times around the water holes but most of the times feeding in the fields, many times really close to the lane. Along with them several Capped Wheatears and African Pipits. Here we also enjoyed a pair of small flocks of Grey-backed Sparrow-Lark. Surprinsigly the only sight of the species during the tour. Around the ponds there were plenty of Egyptian Geese and Spur-winged Geese.
Once we arrived to De Hoop Natural Reserve we didn’t have to wait long until we got our first good bird since we had a stop by the lane to enjoy a small flock of Cape Vultures feeding in a carrion! Cape Vulture is an endemic species with decreasing populations. In Western Cape there is only one colony left, inside the De Hoop Natural Reserve. There were 8 birds and we even were granted with a massive Martial Eagle joining them in the carrion!
Blue Cranes (Anthropoides paradiseus), another endemic to enjoy during the tour.
Agulhas Long-billed Lark (Certhilauda brevirostris), a Lark only living around the Agulhas Cape.
Cape Vulture (Gyps coprotheres). There is only one colony left in the this South African province.
Bontebok (Damaliscus pygargus), a superb endemic antelope living in South Africa.
Cape Spurfowl (Ptermistis capensis).
We went throught grasslands and fynbos with scattered herds of Elands, Bontebok and Red Hartebeest while driving towards the sea. In our way we got good views in a number of birds but nothing really special out of 2 Southern Black Korhaan displaying. Once by the ocean, we concentrate in locating the main goal for the late afternoon; to find some whales.
All the coast East from Cape Town has become really famous since host good densities of Southern Right Whales that come here from June to December. The can be seen all along the coast but there are some areas wheere the whales can come especially close to the coast.
After some scanning enjoying African Oystercatchers, Antarctic Skuas and Kelp Gulls we were able to locate up to 3 Southern Right Whales, two of them really close to the beach. It was a female and her calf that spent half an hour feeding and playing only 40 metres away from the sandy beach!
We were lucky and could enjoy the whales for long before driving to our accommodation in the De Hoop Natural Reserve.
Day 5.Knysna & Garden Route. This day we drove East to explore the famous Garden Route and its impressive montane broad-leave forests, the Southernmost of the Afromontane ecoregion! This can be considered as a small adding for our clients that year, and something not planned to do in futures issues of the tour, since we will broadly cover this ecosystem in our main tour exploring South Africa.
After leaving Bontebok early in the morning, we drove for a pair of hours until the Garden Route. During the way we had some nice birds as we got some Black Saw-wings here and there, and some Forest Buzzards along the way. Even some miles before arriving to Knysna the change in the habitat is evident with some wonderful corners covered by a gorgeous broad-leave forests and large Yellowwoods (Afrocarpus & Podocarpus) just by the road.
Knysna Turaco (Tauraco corythaix) is restricted to the coastal Afromontane forest in South Africa and a small patch inside Kruger National Park.
Grey Cuckooshrike (Coracina caesia).
White-starred Robin (Pogonocichia stellata).
Blacksmith Lapwing (Vanellus armatus)
Our first stop in the morning was a short walk North of town. In a 90 minutes short-walk we enjoyed a good number of specialities including large flocks of Yellow-throated WoodlandWarbler normally joined by some Cape Batises. Terrestrial Brownbuls & Sombre Greenbuls were also common and their calls filled the moist atmosphere. After some walk we were granted with great views on one of the targets that morning, as a Chorister Robin-Chat showed up by the path; a bird that was really celebrated for everybody in the group. Some monumental trees were along the path, with some Outeniqua Yellowwood (Afrocarpus falcatus) growing above 40 metres tall!
More and more Yellow-throated Woodland Warblers were showing in mixed flocks with Cape White-eyes and lovely Collared Sunbirds, but not far from one of these flocks we got 2 Southern Black Tits, the only ones during the tour! With little time to enjoy them as they were moving fast, a superb Grey Cuckooshrike appeared from the undergrowth to show superbly for a couple of minutes while moving in the branches. But the most celebrated species in this stop was the Knysna Turaco, another beautiful South African endemic. In our way back to the van we still enjoyed great views in 1 male White-starred Robin while moving in the low strate of the forest.
After a short driving we arrived to the second spot to explore the moist forest. A lovely path that partially runs along a small stream. Here we got some good birds even before getting in the forest. In a clearing by the van, some Amethyst Sunbirds were feeding around us. Once inside the forest, we were surprised by the 2 Lemon Doves taking off at close range. The birds flew into the forest and took us really long to relocate them! Some Knysna Turacos appeared in the while, and provided again excellent views. Some Red-billed Wood-Hoopooes were also moving high in the canopies. After such a nice start we decided to walk a bit more. Activity was low but we were granted by finding a lovely Knysna Dwarf Cameleon in the path!!!
Happy after such a great finding we kept a bit more inside the forest. And we were granted with some nice birds, at the end! A small flock of Black-headed Orioles were moving up the trees, calling and singing and we got nice views on them. Suddenly, a Greater Honeyguide appeared right in front of us, while a Klaas’ Cuckoo was calling deep in the forest. We moved a bit closer to the Cuckoo and then the Orioles started to move, and along with them we got 3 Grey Cuckooshrikes, 1 Olive Woodpecker and 1 Scaly-throated Honeyguide!
African Spoonbill (Platalea alba).
After some lunch we drove some miles to a salty wetland to look for different specialities. Here, our main target was the rather scarce Chestnut-banded Plover. And after some scanning we found at least 14 of them feeding in the salty marshes. The area was plenty of Curlew Sandpipersand Pied Avocets, and some Little Stints were also present.
Lesser & Greater Flamingoes provided gorgeous views in sunset light. Here and in the fresh water lagoons around we got good views on African Spoonbills, Whiskered Terns and the only Goliath Heron of the tour!
Day 6. Garden Route – Cape Town. Last morning of birding around the Garden Route. This time we choosed an open land with some old trees. The landscapes resembles the acacia thornbush even if the forest is really close. The area proved to be extremely productive!
Red-necked Spurfowl (Pternistis afer).
Southern Boubou (Laniarius ferrugineus).
Cape Longclaw (Macronyx capensis).
Yellow Mongoose (Cynictis penicillata).
Burchell’s Coucal (Centropus burchelli).
Southern Tchagra (Tchagra tchagra).
Pale Chanting Goshawk (Melierax canorus).
We enjoyed a good mixed of open land, woodland & scrubby areas. Emerald-Spotted Dove, Fork-tailrd Drongo, Yellow Weaver, Brown-hooded Kingfisher, Southern Boubou, Pale Chanting Goshawk, Burchell’s Coucal, Cape Longclaw, Red-necked Spurfowl, African Hoopoe, Southern Tchagraand Capy Glossy Starling to name a few, but the most celebrated bird of the last morning of the tour was the Knysna Woodpecker, again an endemic with a small range that appeared after a long scanning in a open woodland by the savannah open space
Really happy to enjoy all of these birds, we started the drive back to Cape Town where evening flights were waiting for all the tour participants, and the guides!
Larks constitute a Family of birds normally living in open countryside with most of the species related to dry lands, grasslands and semi-arid countryside. Africa is the continent with the higher number of species of Larks, with a wide variety of them also living in Asia, Australia and Europe. Only a reduced number of Larks are present in the Nearctic.
Since most of Laks are adapted to live in semi-arid countryside, they are mostly terrestrial and normally have brown upperparts, often with stripes in both the upper side and the underside.
Chestnut-headed Sparrow-Lark (Eremopterix signatus) female in a lava field. Affar Region, Ethiopia. November 2016. Image by Carles Oliver.
It is because of this that Larks are often seen as one of the most difficult groups of passerines for many birdwatchers. In Europe, probably one of the most trikky species to tell apart are Thekla & Crested Larks. Even local birdwatchers with a long experience in the field, show evident problems to tell these two species apart from each other.
Here we will try to help a bit in this sense, remarking some interesting differences between both species.
Many, many field guides remark some general differences between Thekla & Crested Lark. Some of the most important field marks to point out a Thekla Lark from a Crested are its shorter crest, and its rather shorter, heavier bill. Well, despite these remarks can be useful in many cases, we should not try to identify these species only based on the length of the bill or the crest. This is not only because of young Crested Larks tend to show shorter bills and crests, but also because of intraspecific differences in the length of the bill inside the same species, gender differences and also because appreciation of these characters in the field can be difficult depending on the light, the distance to the bird and the angle of observation.
In the next lines we will try to point out some interesting tools for a correct field identification of the European races of these species:
COLORATION & STRUCTURE,
The general coloration of Thekla Lark is grey to dark brown, while Crested Larks are normally close to be sandy colorated. Always being light brown. Structurally, Thekla Lark is slightly smaller, but also more compact and shorter tailed than Crested Larks are. Its winds are also shorter, and the general sensation of the bird when flushed out is of a “large Woodlark”. Crested Lark shows longer “hands”, and the sensation of the bird in flight is “diffuse”. Still, these differences can be difficult to notice in the field when not used to dealing with Larks.
Crested & Thekla Larks ringed by Sergi Sales in Lleida Steppes, Catalonia. Image by Josep Martínez Ortiz.
Underwing is one of the most useful remarks to tell apart both species. Crested Larks always show creamy, brownish underwing while Thekla Lark shows whitish underwing covers. This is useful in all plomages and all ages, at least for the European races of both species.
The most useful remarks to identify correctly these species in the field are, by far, the facial and breast markings. About the breast, Crested Larks show a fine streaked, and this delicate pattern clearly expands to the flanks in all plomages. The markings have a diffuse end in the breast. Compared with those in Cresteds, breast markings in Thekla Larks appear heavy, being more a dropping than a barring. In fact, many people compare the breast pattern of these two species with that in Eurasian Sparrowhawk versus Northern Goshawks, being Crested Lark the closer to the fine streaked Sparrowhawk, and Thekla Lark the one with heavy dropping resembling Northern Goshawk. Moreover, breast markings in Thekla Larks show an abrupt end, and you easily can draw an imaginary line that separates the markings from the really white belly. This is not possible to do with Crested Larks since their diffuse barring does not show a clear border. Its extension to the flank makes this even more evident.
One of the things we must think about when dealing with these species is to pair attention to the facial markings. Thekla Lark presents a really complex facial pattern if compared with those in Crested Lark. Thus, Thekla shows evident complete eye-ring; a well defined, long supercilium that; almost complete malar stripe and a even (but not always), with some barring in the ear covers (unstreaked in Crested), and a white dot just behind the submoustachial stripe. Most of these patterns are absent or are really diffuse in Crested Larks. Most Crested Larks show a supercilium, but are also not well defined and barely extend beyond the eye.
When looking at the head of a Thekla Lark, all of this produces the sensation of treasuring a lot of information, and thus it contrasts a lot with the head of a Crested Lark, giving the sensation of emptiness or lack of information.
Crested Lark (Galerida cristata) in Lleida Steppes, Catalonia. May 2020. Image by Carles Oliver
Crested Lark shows a longer, thinner bill than Thekla Lark, with a noticeable hooked tip in the upper mandible. Be aware about young Crested Larks, that often show shorter bills. A close view with good light in a Crested Lark, it should be possible to see the darker tip of the bill (absent in Thekla Lark).
Thekla Lark’s tail is slightly shorter than Crested’s. Regarding ringing bibliography, tails in Thekla Lark males rank from 54 to 62mm, while in Crested Larks go from 59 to 69mm. This difference links perfectly with what was explained about the structure of both species, as Thekla Larks is clearly more compact in flight, and can recall a much shorter tailed species. The longer tail in Crested Larks tends to make this species somehow bigger.
But beyond the length, tail coloration can be also a good point to tell these species apart. Again Thekla Lark shows a more contrasted pattern, with brown to orangish outer tail feathers and upper-tail coverts. The tail also shows a strong contrast between these feathers and two blackish central bands. All of this is again reproduced in Crested Larks, but they lack the rusty tinge in the upper-tail covers. Moreover, the contrast between the outer feathers and the inner bands is poor, and in many worm birds it tends to disappear!
Thekla Lark (Galerida theklae) in Lleida Steppes, Catalonia. March 2019. Image by Carles Oliver
In Europe, these two species coexist in Mediterranean areas, and many times we can find them in areas with a large fragmentation of habitat as a result of human activity or environmental factors. Thus, we often find both species living side by side whether because their habitats are mixed or because they touch each other. But even if in most cases we cannot trust only in habitat selection to identify these birds, is still a useful tool that can help us in the fields.
Thekla Lark is a specialist that can be only found in areas of natural steppe and semi-desert vegetation. The bird can be found in plains and ondulations as long covered by natural steppe or semi-desert vegetation. In addition, Thekla Lark is also found in hillsides with low scrubby vegetation (even if it is quite dense) with some sparse trees.
Crested Lark is a generalist species. It has successfully adapted to live in farming areas, but also in periurban and industrial soils, where they find excellent conditions based on bare soils. Crested Lark tends to avoid any hills or mountains, but in low densities can be found in small patches of proper habitat inside hilly areas (even tiny farmed valleys inside a large hilly area can support some Crested Larks).
As many hillsides and steppe areas are just surrounded by farming areas, both species can be detected in several locations almost at the same time. Moreover, Thekla Larks living in hillsides with dense scrubs, may use the surrounding farm lands to feed, even if they keep using the hillsides to nest.
Crested & Thekla Larks complex spatial distribution due to habitat selection in a Los Monegros. Aragón, Spain. June 2016. Image by Carles Oliver
Last but not the least, both species are resident. However, they tend to do small winter movements. Crested Larks tend to associate with large mixed flocks of other Larks and Finches in winter, while Thekla Lark is less likely to do so.
As a general conclusion, the best way to tell apart Crested from Thekla Larks is to take in count different aspects including face patterns and general coloration. Tail & wing lenght are also important, but probably some experience is required for a correct identification if only using this features. Underwing and tail pattern are the best way to tell them apart, since they are constant in all ages and plomages, but many times to see these details is not easy in the field. Habitat selection can be also used, but it is necessary to be aware on how close both species can be found in the field.
I hope that these tips may help you on the trikky world of larks ID. Now it is time to test your new skills in the field!
Bibliography: Demongin L. (2016) IdentificationGuidetoBirdsin theHand. Beauregard-Vendon.
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.
Day1. 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 PurpleSunbirds 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-spectacledBulbuls 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 GreaterFlamingoes was an evident spot in the lagoon while waders were coming in and out. We soon noticed some MarshSandpipers feeding along with Ruffs, LittleStints and at least 1 Temminck’sStint. In the wàter surface there were several Mallards, Gadwalls, NorthernShovelers, Pintails as well as LittleGrebes and EurasianCoots. 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 CommonChiffchaffs (probably all of them abietinus race) and 2 GreyWagtails in a nearby stream. A second pool was flattered with ducks, including several CommonPochards, 1 TuftedDuck and 3 Garganeys. In the shores of the lagoons, some GreatCormorants were roosting along with GreatWhiteEgrets and GreyHerons. And with them, 1 first winter PurpleHeron 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 CitrineWagtail of the tour, a bird highly celebrated in the group. Several CommonMoorhens were feeding in front of the hide, but everything moved fast when Keith spotted a GreyFrancolin 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 LesserWhitethroats of the trip! Some GreenBee-eaters were flying around, showing superbly, and the photographers in the group hap time to enjoy with them while some PaleCragMartins were flying around. Beyond, in a hilly area, we found 1 PersianWheatear at the same moment that 3 PallidSwifts screamed in the sky because of the fast flight of a WesternMarshHarrier. 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 EasternOrpheanWarbler 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’sStints, LesserSandPlover, several Ruffs, CommonSnipe, WoodSandpiper, CommonRingedPlover, CommonRedshank, Greenshank, RuddyTurnstone, 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 CaspianGulls along with GreaterCrested, LesserCrested & SandwichTerns. HeughlinGull were common, as they were the SteppeGulls. In the beach we also got EurasianWhimbrel and a nice flock of mixed Lesser & GreaterSandPlovers roosting on the river mouth. Everything under the close view of CommonMynas.
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 HouseCrows. There were 2 juvenile Bonelli’sEagle, 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 IsabellineShrike 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 CrestedHoneyBuzzard circling quite low above the area, joined in the blue sky by the first WesternOsprey of the tour. The path brought us to a nice corner of marsh while Rose-wingedParakeets 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 SongThrush flew out of our way. Just few metres beyond, 2 ClamorousReedWarbler were showing superbly in the dense vegetation, joined by a GreatReedWarbler 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 CommonSnipes, 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 IndianRollers 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 IndianPondHerons, a minimum of 3 of them were seen along with some SquaccoHerons. A correct identification of these species is always challenging, and the best way to tell them apart is from the bill and lore coloration. IndianPondHeron is always having a black final area in the lower mandibule, a well defined and contrasted patch (above 30% of the bill length) while SquacooHeron shows a more difuse blackish area in the lower mandibule. Besides, IndianPondHerons usually shows blackish lores, helping a lot in a correct identification of the bird.
The central pond not only produced all IndianPondHerons of the trip, but also 2 Red-crestedPochards females (scarce bird in Oman), 1 female TuftedDuck,Gull-billed Tern, and the firsts StriatedHeron and Black-crownedNightHeron 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 PallidScopsOwl 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.
Day2. 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 IndianRollers along the last part of the road, but despite our efforts we could not contact with any Collared Kingfisher. Instead we had 2 CommonKingfishers moving in the mangroves, WesternMarshHarrier, WesternOsprey, LesserSandPlovers, 2 Bar-tailedGodwits, LesserWhitethroats (blithy), and the best views on GreaterHoopoeLark 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 HoodedWheatear just next to 1 IsabellineShrike. Once around the gorge, we explore a bit the area, and we all got good views on 3 DesertLarks feeding on the wadi, but also EasternBlackRedstart, Hume’s Wheatear, Pale Crag Martin, 1 juvenile BlueRockThrush and 3 singing StriolatedBuntings that never produced a proper view. But probably the most interesting bird at that point was 1 VariableWheatear 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’sWhitethroat, StriolatedBuntings and at least 4 PlainLeafWarblers 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, OmaniOwl.
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 EgyptianVultures 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-facedVulture. 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 OmaniOwl 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 OmaniOwl 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 SteppeEagles were flying around, quite close. They were also on the hills around, and a proper scanning around produced as well several EgyptianVultures, 1 GriffonVulture, 1 GreaterSpottedEagle adult and 2 EasternImperialEagles! Along with, several Brown-neckedRavens. The images of the raptors in the sky was an amazing and all enjoyed really much! Other good birds around included 2 StriolatedBuntings (best views on the tour were here) and 2 Hume’sWheatears.
Striolated Buntings (Emberiza striolata) can be suprisingly difficult to spot.
Once arrived to the oases we spent some exploring. It was plenty of LittleBee-eaters and 5 IndianRollers spotted, very vocals at that location. GracefulPrinia, PurpleSunbird, CommonChiffchaff (abietinus race), and distant views on LesserWhitethroat were also noted, including a very pale individual. Here we came to look for Yellow-throatedPetronia and, in the search, we found 1 Red-breastedFlycatcher, 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-throatedPetronia 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 & IsabellineWheatears.CommonKestrel and CrestedLark were also noted.
Day4. 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-crownedSparrow-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 TawnyPipits were seeing, as well as Brown-neckedRavens, IndianSilverbills, DesertLarks, a closeby IsabellineWheatear and some DesertWheatears.
Black-crowned Sparrow-Lark (Eremopteryx nigriceps), the second commonest lark in Oman.
After breakfast we drove South to the area were CrabPlovers 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 PersianWheatear, 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’sWarbler! 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’sWarblers (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 SootyGulls and Slender-billedGulls. Heuglhin’s & SteppeGulls were also common. A first scan of the area produced big numbers of WesternReefEgrets, Bar-tailedGodwits, LittleStints, EurasianOystercatchers, Lesser & GreaterSandPlovers, Dunlins, GreyPlovers plus about 30 CurlewSandpipers, some Sanderlings, and some EurasianCurlews. Some Gull-billed & CaspianTerns were flying here and there. But no CrabPlovers. We kept scanning, and scanning. But nothing. Waves and waves of waders were moving into the bay, mostly Bar-tailedGodwits and Dunlins, but not only.
And then Bauke suddenly noticed that we were having 3 CrabPlovers 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 CrabPlover!!!!
We enjoyed wonderful views on Crab Plover (Dromas ardeola), a massive, elegant a really sought-after wader.
We had time to enjoy of the CrabPlovers, and all the waders around, including 1 GreaterSandPlover in almost full summer plomage. 1 ClamorousReedWarbler was in the small mangroves by the shore, and 2 Little/Saunder’sTerns 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 CrabPlovers 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 BalticGull (Larus fuscus fuscus) and several GreaterCrested, LesserCrested & SandwichTerns.
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.
Day5. 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 SouthernGreyShrike (aucheri race) and nice views on DesertWheatears. But the best was the nice views on the first AsianDesertWarbler 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 DesertWheatear, 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 EurasianHoopoe, and a small flock of CommonHouseMartins joined by 1 BarnSwallow.
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 & DesertWheatears (the second with interesting examples of 1st winter birds) were common. Also White & YellowWagtails. Tens of TawnyPipits were also feeding in the many insects. A nice surprise was a flock of 9 Cream-colouredCoursers feeding in the area, allowing nice photo opportunities. The field was also having tens of Crested & Black-crownedSparrow-Larks. 3 MarshHarriers & 4 CommonKestrels were feeding in the many grasshopers, and a male PallidHarrier 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 CommonCranes and 1 female Montagu’sHarrier 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 GreaterHoopoeLarks crossed the road just minuted before a small flock of Chesnut-belliedSandgrouses 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 SpottedSandgrouses 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.
Day6. 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-breastedBuntings, a wonderful bird that was coming in small flocks to drink water from the stream. Common & GreenSandpipers were spotted along the stream, as well as 1 GreyWagtail. 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 PalestineSunbird 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 ArabianPartridges running away from us. They climbed up the hill, providing us with excellent views. Many AbyssianWhite-eyes were around, in small (and sometimes not that small) flocks. The first of several AfricanParadiseFlycatchers was seen, and the group was enjoying with such a wonderful bird when Keith went on again, this time with our first ArabianWarbler 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 EasternImperialEagle 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-crownedTchagra 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 ShinningSunbirds 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 AfricanSilverbills 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-toedSnakeEagle, that soared low among the decidious trees. At that moment Bauke had the 2 first Fan-tailedRavens 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-billedPipits moving in the bare ground, under the trees. These birds showed really tame, just as the AfricanParadiseFlycatchers 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-crownedSparrow-Larks were around, and James spotted our first SteppeGreyShrike 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-breastedWaterhens calling from the dense vegetation, a 1 CommonSnipe flying from the shore.
Flocks of Tristam’sStarlings were coming to drink water, locating them by their beautiful wistles far before we could see them. They were joined by several Ruppell’sWeavers, and many Cinnamon-breastedBuntings. The fig trees above the area was having some Sunbirds, including two wonderful PalestineSunbirds, for admiration of the group.
We kept scanning around, the trees filled up with birds, when 1 AsianKoel 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 ArabianGolden-wingedGrosbeaks 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 IsabellineShrike. After a nice picnic by the shade of the many trees we just went to the next location, overlooked by 1 BootedEagle.
We spend some time in afternoon exploring Raysut. Unfortunately this year there were few SteppeEagles in the area, and that day more interesting bird we had at the rubbish dump was a solitary WhiteStork. We also got 1 CitrineWagtail, 1 Temminck’sStint and 5 LittleRingedPlovers and a small flock of WhiskeredTerns 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’sSandpipers were seeing in the place, along with several Lesser & GreaterSandPlovers, LittleStints, 1 CurlewSandpiper, 1 IntermediateEgret, several Heughlin’sGulls, CaspianTerns, 12 WesternOspreys, 1 Black-earedKIte, 4 SteppeEagles, GreyPlovers, Dunlins, and mixed flocks of Citrine & YellowWagtails (beema & thumbergi races.
We still got time for a last stop, and we went to explore the Museum. There we got unforgettable views on SpottedThick-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’sWeaver, PalestineSunbird, CitrineWagtail, LaughingDove and SquaccoHeron.
Spotted Thick-knee (Burhinus capensis) in glorious afternoon light.
A really short drive brought us back to our accommodation for a well deserved rest.
Day7. 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 leftthe car right beside a big river moth, and got the firsts birds of the day. GreenSandpiper, EasternBlackRedstart and IsabellineShrike. A fast scanning of the lagoon revealed 9 CottonPygmyGeese, including a drake male. MarshSandpiper and Black-tailedGodwit were both feeding in the shores and it didn’t take long to locate the first of 3 Pheasant-tailedJacana, feeding on the floating vegetation or even swimming along with CommonMoorhens.
Cotton Pygmy Goose (Nettapus coromandelianus) has become really scarce in Oman in recent years.
1 GreaterSpottedEagle was standing up in a tree, thinking about possible preys. In the water, 4 Garganeys were spotted, while the shore produced Temminck’sStint, LesserSandPlover, and 1 CurlewSandpiper. The only one EurasianSpoonbill of the tour passed over us while 2 White-wingedBlackTerns 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-knobbedCoots! 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 SteppeEagles offered good views and a few Long-billedPipits crossed the road. Once in the area, Bauke spotted the first ArabianWheatear 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.