Número de participants: 11 + 2 tour líders (Carles Oliver & Sergi Sales)
Número d’espècies observades: 88
Prefaci: Els OrnitoReptes són les sortides de descoberta ornitològica que organitzem conjuntament Barcelona Birding Point, Birding Catalunya i la Fundació Plegadis. A continuació us presentem la crònica del nostre OrnitoRepte més agosarat, que va estar força marcat per la meteorologia. El vendaval del dissabte va fer molt difícil i poc comfortable l’observació d’aus, amb unes condicions en les que amb prou feines es podia sortir dels vehicles ni obrir les finestres. Parar un trípode o fer un passeig eren missions pràcticament suïcides! Però, malgrat tot, vam aconseguir trobar i gaudir de les espècies més essencials dels hàbitats que vam explorar. El diumenge, com a compensació, vam gaudir d’unes condicions gairebé ideals a l’estepa i vam poder observar molt bé les diferents espècies que allà hi viuen. Ja de tornada, un seguit de parades ens van proporcionar bones observacions d’un seguit d’espècies que a alguns dels participants se’ls hi havien resistit al llarg de força temps com el colltort o la tallareta cuallarga!
Dia 1. Un cop el grup es va trobar als afores de Barcelona ens vam dirigir cap a Fraga, a on teníem estrablert un segon punt de trobada per a aquells clients que així ho volguessin. Ja que el segon punt de trobada era un restaurant vam aprofitar per esmorzar una mica, només faltaria! A fora, el vent ja bufava de valent, fent preveure una jornada d’allò més complexa.
D’aquí ens vam dirigir a explorar les extenses zones de conreu de secà amb racons d’estepa natural que s’estenen entre Fraga, Candasnos i Alcolea de Cinca. Només arribar a la primera zona a explorar ja vam poder veure algunes terreroles comunes i calàndries. Al llarg del cap de setmana les observacions van anar millorant fins que tothom les va poder veure força bé. Vam provar de fer una parada i explorar la zona a peu, però el fort vent no ho feia gens agradable era poc productiu, així que vam tornar als vehicles amb només un grapat de caderneres i alguna calàndria passa volant.
Tot continuant l’exploració amb els vehicles no vam trigar gaire a observar el primer estol de xurres en vol. Hi volaven 4. Semblaven haver sortit d’un rostoll a prop de nosaltres i tot repassant el camp amb els binocles vam poder trobar una parella alimentat-se al terra que malauradament va sortir volant abans que tothom les pogués gaudir. Com que totes semblaven dirigir-se cap al mateix sector ens vam apropar, amatents de qualsevol moviment.
Un cop a la zona a on semblava que les xurres s’havien aturat, no vam trobar a relocalitzar-les, però novament van tornar a sortir volant, aquest cop oferint bones observacions a tots els membres del grup!
El vent continuava bufant de debó, però com a mínim ja teníem les xurres al sarró. Vam continuar explorant la zona, gaudint de cogullades fosques, milans negres i de la primera d’un bon grapat d’esmerles al llarg dels dos dies del viatge. Una mica més enllà el Robert va trobar el primer tallarol trencamates de la sortida, i tothom al primer vehicle va poder gaudir de molt bones observacions malgrat el vent. Mestrestant, al segon vehicle es conformaven amb un trobat que es deixà fer molt.
Malgrat el vent, el dia semblava bo per a rapinyaires i no vam trigar a tenir-ne la prova quan una àguila daurada va aparèixer sobre un petit turó i va anant perdent alçada fins aturar-se a sotavent d’un petit arbust en un observació força maca en la vam poder gaudir de la bona maniobrabilitat d’aquests ocells en situacions de vent fort com la que estàvem experimentant.
Una mica més enllà ens vam aturar per explorar uns tallats i no vam trigar gaire a gaudir de molt bones observacions d’aufrany però també de ballesters passa volants i cotxa fumada. La sort va fer que un aufrany decidís aturar-se ben a prop nostre, oferint bones oportunitats fotogràfiques.
Tot amb tot ja havia passat bona part del matí així que vam decidir de tornar al punt a on havíem aparcat quasi tots els vehicles i vam marxar cap a l’Oest. De camí, nombrosos milans negres i aligot comuns ens observàvem. Vam arribar a la zona de Bujaraloz cap a l’hora de dinar i un cop amb l’estómac ple vam començar a explorar les immenses planes que rodegen aquest peculiar poble.
Només sortir del restaurant es va fer palés que el vent no només no afluixava, sinó que anava a més. A la sortida de Bujaraloz vam poder veure un parell de estols de xoriguers petits alimentant-se als camps del voltant a més de terreroles comunes i rogenques. Vam començar a cercar la petita població de piocs de la zona, amb molta atenció als diferents llocs típics per a l’espècie en aquesta època de l’any. Aquí i allà vam trobar còlits grisos i diferents estols de gralles i gralles de bec vermell que, preferiblement, s’alimentaven als guarets de la zona. Poc després vam localitzar un grup de xurres que s’alimentaven a prou distància per poder observar-les al terra sense molestar-les i tot el grup va poder gaudir de bones observacions, tot i que mantenir el telescopi dret era quasi una proesa i alguns van preferir continuar gaudint de l’escalfor de la furgo.
Però anava passant la tarda i els piocs no apareixien. I quan tot just pensàvem ja en canviar de zona per provar alguna altra cosa vam trobar un pioc alimentant-se en un guaret força alt a quasi un quilòmetre de distància de nosaltres. Després de fer una primera observació des d’aquesta distància ens vam apropar una mica amb els vehicles, fins a tenir una molt bona observació dels dos individus però sempre amb molt de compte de no destorbar-los. Un dels exemplars es va estirar a terra, relaxat, i el seu cap amb prou feines sí es veia per sobre el tall de gramínies. A la seva esquerra, l’altre exemplar continuava picotejant el terra, ja fora del guaret, permetent-nos gaudir d’una fantàstica observació de l’au sencera amb una bonica llum de tarda. Llàstima del vent!
Després d’una bona estona amb els piocs, vam decidir de fer via cap a l’allotjament. I quan sortíem de la zona vam tenir la sort de trobar-nos amb uns altres dos exemplars de pioc quasi a peu de pista! Tant a prop que de fer no vam poder evitar espantar-los… Tots dos van aixecar el vol i es van dirigir pista amunt, cap a la zona a on havíem esta gaudint dels altres dos mascles.
De camí a l’allotjament encara vam fer una última parada en un racó arrecerat del vent. Aquí el paisatge ja era totalment diferent. Havíem deixat enrere les eternes planes cobertes de cereal per a endinsar-nos en un paisatge de petits barrancs a on el terra argilós, ben compactat al llarg de mil·lennis, ha format petits tallats horitzontals. És el país del còlit negre, una espècie en regressió al Nord-est peninsular degut a la davallada del sobre-pastoratge en moltes zones i la conseqüent recuperació de la vegetació.
Aquí, a recer del vent, vam poder fer un petit passeig. Per sobre nostre va passar un bernat pescaire, amb evidents dificultats per mantenir el rumb… Aquí també vam veure tallarol capnegre amagant-se bé entre els matolls i un parell de milans negres tot just arribats de terres africanes. I llavors van aparèixer: Una parella de còlits negres que pel que sembla havien estat amagats força a prop nostre tota l’estona. Al llarg dels següents minuts es van anar movent pel vessant costerut, oferint molt bones observacions a tots els participants del tour. La parella anava aturant-se al llarg del tallat horitzontal però en un moment determinat un mascle de còlit ros va arribar a la zona, provocant un conflicte en el que els còlit negres no van parar fins a fer fora del seu territori l’intrús.
Molt contents amb aquestes observacions vam fer cap al nostre allotjament per poder tenir una mica de descans abans de sopar, tot pregant per una metereologia més benèvola al dia següent.
Dia 2. Després d’un bon esmorzar ens vam dirigir a una de les zones més famoses per a observar aus estepàries del continent europeu. Només arribar ja s’entreveia que podia ser un bon dia. El vent havia calmat i un estol de xoriguers petits acompanyats de gralles de bec vermell i dos fantàstics esparvers cendrosos, torlit i xoriguers petits ens van rebre a l’entrada de la reserva. Una mica més enllà unes xurres van aixecar el vol d’un camp de conreu.
El cel s’emplenava dels cants de terreroles comunes i calàndries a mesura que el matí avançava. Ni tant sols es va caldre baixar del vehicle per observar les sempre fantàstiques aloses becudes. Només arribar amb els vehicles a la zona seleccionada vam ser rebuts per un mascle cantant uns 100 metres de les furgonetes. Aguantant la respiració, una ràpida ullada amb els prismàtics ens va descobrir un mascle cantant força a prop. Nervis dins la furgoneta. L’ocell es movia ràpid entre la vegetació. Apareixia cantant aquí i allà, però sempre escàpol. Finalment va decidir estar-se quiet en un arbust menor i d’allà estant el seu peculiar cant ens arribà diàfan. Dos altres mascles responien tot deixant anar els seus curiosos refilets des de l’altre banda de la pista forestal.
A poc poc, tots els participants van anar connectant amb el mascle que, tot variant de postura, s’assegurava que el seu cant arribava a tots els racons de l’estepa. La lluita amb les finestretes de la furgoneta va ser mítica, però al final van cedir i tothom que va voler va capturar una imatge més o menys bona d’un dels ocells més difícils de veure a Europa.
Contents amb aquest espectacle, gaudit per tothom als dos vehicles, poc ens podíem esperar que la funció encara ens havia de donar el seu millor acte. A l’altre banda de la pista un segon mascle cada cop cantava més a prop fins que al final va emergir de l’estepa per cantar a peu de pista! Un altre cop, arraulits dins les furgonetes, vam gaudir d’aquesta observació. En un moment determinat algú va veure un tercer exemplar, aquest movent-se davant per davant del nou mascle. Anava amb una terrerola rogenca i al cap de pocs segons teníem als tres ocells alimentant-se a escassos centímetres els uns dels altres. L’observació es va perllongar en el temps i quasi tothom va poder gaudir de les evolucions d’aquestes dues aloses becudes entre el timó.
En un moment determinat el vent tornà. No fort, però contundent. I el descens en l’activitat dels ocells va ser evident. Semblava un bon moment per marxar. A uns centenars de metres d’aquell raconet, ja fora de la zona sensible, vam fer una parada per estirar les cames i comentar les observacions. Eufòria!
Era encara força d’hora així que vam decidir d’explorar un petit racó de bosc de ribera no gaire lluny de la zona a on érem. De camí vam gaudir de bitxac comú, tallareta comuna, capsigranys i algun rapinyaire.
Però no podíem deixar de fer un últim intent per gaudir de gangues, així que ens vam desviar una mica… Malauradament no vam tenir sort amb les gangues, però sí que vam gaudir força de pardals roquers, trobats, terreroles comunes i d’una esmerla que va agafar una presa tot just davant nostre però que, malauradament, no es va deixar retratar.
Sortint ja dels secans, ens vam dirigir a l’Oest de Lécera a on uns quants reductes ben conservats de bosc de ribera que s’alternen amb parcel·les conreades articulen una excel·lent zona per observar ocells. Es tracta d’un dels molts petits nuclis del pardal de passa en aquesta zona de l’Aragó! Només arribar ens van rebre els cruixidells amb el seu cant i un petit passeig ens va permetre descobrir primer un colltort que cantava a tocar del camí i després una cotxa blava que es va esmunyir entre les pastures i la vegetació de ribera. Una àguila calçada va arribar al seu arbre de cria i ens va permetre bones observacions amb el telescopi. Aquí també vam detectar alguns ocells migradors com tallarol de casquet, bitxac rogenc i mosquiter de passa.
Al cel també havia activitat i vam poder veure una parella d’àguiles marcenques quasi a tocar d’una parella d’àguiles daurades!
Contents amb el resultat del matí, ens vam començar a dirigir a l’Est. A Bujaraloz una curta parada va servir per observar ànecs blancs, gamba roja comuna, corriols camanegres i algunes boniques cueretes grogues.
Més a l’Est, a Candasnos vam fer una parada per gaudir del nostre picnic mentre fèiem un cop d’ull a la llacuna. Hi dominaven els ànecs coll-verds però encara hi havien alguns morells de cap roig que empal·lidien al costat dels magnífics xibecs en plomatge estival. Aquí també vam sentir rascló, teixidor i balquer mentre que un falcó peregrí va aparèixer del no res per fer una passada només a l’abast d’aquests magnífics animals.
Acabat el picnic vam haver d’enfrontar-nos a l’ocell més difícil de tot el cap de setmana: la tallareta cuallarga! Sí, heu llegit bé!
Les tallaretes cuallargues poden ser una mica incòmodes de veure, però les que vam visitar comptaven amb un aliat d’allò més inesperat: Un pal metàl·lic!
I així és que mentre intentàvem que els participants es concentressin a trobar una de les 6 tallaretes cuallargues que rondaven pel bonic vessant cobert de brolla davant del qual ens havíem aturat, la majoria dels participants es deixaven emmirallar per les maniobres d’un modest pal metàl·lic de poc més de mig metre a la base del vessant. Pocs moments més frustrants deuen haver passat aquelles tallaretes que aquell dia, quan vint persones es van aturar a la carretera per mirar un modest pal metàl·lic.
Al poc temps tota la conversa girava al voltant del pal. Que si a l’esquerra, que si a la dreta, amunt, avall, a dins… Mentrestant, les tallaretes anaven fent, alienes a l’excitació que el pal semblava provocar. Però a poc a poc tothom va anar veient-les mentre s’alimentaven a les ginestes. I no patiu, perquè podem anunciar amb orgull que el pal que ens va destorbar tant ja no existeix, i ja no entorpirà mai més cap grup d’intrèpids ornitòlegs!
Val a dir que els vessants en qüestió també acollien abellerols, cogullades fosques i perdius roges.
Després d’aquesta èpica batalla vam decidir fer una segona visita a una zona per a tallarol trencamates, ja que el dia anterior no l’havien vist bé al segon vehicle. Sense masses problemes vam poder veure un bon grapat en un espai de terreny ben petit mentre les terreroles rogenques cantaven al nostre voltant.
D’aquí només teníem temps ja per a una última parada, que va ser per fer una visita a un duc al seu amagatall diürn i gaudir d’una bona observació amb els telescopis. Un cop acabats, vam encetar el trasllat final fins a Barcelona després d’acomiadar-nos dels participants que marxaven en direcció a Tarragona.
En definitiva, va ser un OrnitoRepte força reeixit malgrat el temps. I molt, molt divertit!
Llistat d’espècies observades
Ànec blanc (Tadorna tadorna)
Ànec coll-verd (Anas platythynchos)
Xarxet comú (Anas crecca)
Morell de cap roig (Aythya ferina)
Xibec (Netta rufina)
Cabussó emplomallat (Podiceps cristatus)
Cabusset (Tachybaptus ruficollis)
Bernat pescaire (Ardea cinerea)
Esplugabous (Bubulcus ibis)
Cigonya blanca (Ciconia ciconia)
Voltor comú (Gyps fulvus)
Aufrany (Neophron percnopterus)
Àguila marcenca (Circaerus gallicus)
Àguila calçada (Aquila pennata)
Àguila daurada (Aquila chrysaetos)
Milà negre (Milvus migrans)
Milà reial (Milvus milvus)
Esparver cendrós (Circus pygargus)
Arpella comuna (Circus aeruginosus)
Aligot comú (Buteo buteo)
Xoriguer comú (Falco tinnunculus)
Xoriguer petit (Falco naumanii)
Esmerla (Falco columbarius)
Falcó peregrí (Falco peregrinus)
Perdiu roja (Alectoris rufa)
Rascló eurasiàtic (Rallus aquaticus) — només sentit
Polla d’aigua (Gallinula chloropus)
Fotja eurasiàtica (Fulica atra)
Pioc salvatge (Otis tarda)
Cames llargues (Himantopus himantopus)
Torlit (Burhinus oedicnemus)
Corriol camanegre (Charadrius alexandrinus)
Gamba roja comuna (Tringa totanus)
Gavina riallera (Chroicocephalus ridibundus)
Gavià argentat (Larus michahellis)
Colom roquer (Columba livia)
Tudó (Columba palumbus)
Tòrtora turca (Streptopelia decaocto)
Xurra (Pterocles orientalis)
Falciot negre (Apus apus)
Ballester (Apus melba)
Colltort eurasiàtic (Jynx torquilla)
Puput (Upupa epops)
Abellerol comú (Merops apiaster)
Terrerola comuna (Calandrella brachydactyla)
Terrerola fosca (Alaudala rufescens)
Cogullada comuna (Galerida cristata)
Cogullada fosca (Galerida theklae)
Calàndria (Melanocorypha calandra)
Alosa becuda (Chersophilus duponti)
Roquerol (Ptyonoprogne rupestris)
Oreneta comuna (Hirundo rustica)
Oreneta cuablanca (Delichon urbicum)
Oreneta de ribera (Riparia riparia)
Trobat (Anthus campestris)
Cuereta blanca (Motacilla alba)
Cuereta groga (Motacilla flava)
Rossinyol comú (Luscinia megarhynchos)
Cotxa blava (Luscinia svecica)
Bitxac rogenc (Saxicola rubetra)
Còlit gris (Oenanthe oenanthe)
Còlit ros (Oenanthe hispanica)
Còlit negre (Oenanthe leucura)
Griva (Turdus viscivorus)
Merla comuna (Turdus merula)
Tallarol de casquet (Sylvia atricapilla)
Tallarol capnegre (Curruca melanocephala)
Tallareta cuallarga (Curruca undata)
Tallarol trencamates (Curruca conspicillata)
Tallareta comuna (Curruca communis)
Balquer (Acrocephalus arundinaceus) — només sentit
All images by tour leader Carles Oliver. All rights reserved
Overview: Our 9th Pyrenees Winter Break tour started in the Pyrenees right after a strong snow fall. During the tour the weather was sunny and not especially cold in the mountains. In the plains, we had a morning with some fog, but it didn’t stop us to find all main specialties living there.
Day 1: Once all tour participants were collected from the their accommodations around the International Barcelona Airport, a short drive lead us to the Pyrenees. Only 90 minutes away from the city and we were already in a wonderful location, a mountain range hosting all high mountain birds specialties living in the Pyrenees.
It was sunny, but the day before it had been snowing so a pair of high mountain lanes were closed during the morning. Our fist stop was dedicated to explore the meadows around Bagà, where the very first birds of the day and the trip was a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker that was hunging around the parking place. Here we had some common birds in the area including Cirl Bunting, Black Redstart, Eurasian Blue Tit and Eurasian Nuthatch. Here, the terraced landscape is fulfilled with lines of Poplars and a fast scan produced the first Iberian Green Woodpecker of the tour while was moving high in the trees. Several Common Chaffinches were around, and they all moved down to the ground to feed, followed by the Iberian Green Woodpecker.
Other birds in this first stop included European Stonechat, Meadow Pipit, Common Magpie and Eurasian Greenfinch.
After this good start we drove some miles up in a lane. Our goal was to arrive to the limit of the forest (About 1800 metres above the sea level), but we were stopped by a small flock of birds. Here we had the first Mistle Thrushes of the trip along with several Common Crossbills, Coal Tits, and Goldcrests. Still, our guests especially enjoyed the views on both Rock Buntings and European Crested Tits.
Once above the tree limit, we did another non planned stop. A gorgeous Lammergeier (aka Bearded Vulture) was sitting in the top of a rocky outcrop just beside the road, providing the group with incredible views! Common Crossbills were also around, adding with their calls a plus on the mountainous ambients of the sight. After ten minutes of observation, the Lammergeier decided to fly away, passing over the group and providing us with unforgettable memories of that moment.
From here we drove higher. Beyond the tree limit there were mixed flocks of Fieldfares and Mistle Thrushes feeding on the snowed slopes. The weather was stable, with only a brise and some scenic clouds, and many birds were taking advantage of the good weather to feed around. Here we saw more Rock Buntings and a flock of 11 Bramblings flew off from one of the last trees up the lane.
When we arrived to the mountain pass, we found chunky three birds feeding by the tarmac. 3 wonderful Snowfinches were right beside us, but unfortunately decided to flew off and down the slope. From here we decided to go for a short walk. Common Ravens were seen around, and a Peregrine Falcon appeared in a fast, low flight going down the slope in a mission. Up to 10 Eurasian Griffons were also seen exploring the thermals before a large flock of 60+ Snowfinches suddenly appeared in a small hillside some 150 metres away from us, and started feeding on the ground. We all enjoyed very much the finch spectacle with several calls, short flights and even fights. We waited a bit, not moving, and we were rewarded with the birds coming down the hillside just beside the tarmac. After 10 minutes of observation, the birds simply decided to go up the slope again, and disappeared beyond some large boulders!
Really happy after such a great sight, the group came back to the van, decided to explore that lane a bit more. Only a few miles away, a stop was made. Our short walk was again successful, as we found a lovely, obliging Alpine Accentor feeding really close to the road and, with some patience, we got some great shots on it. The views on the Accentor were perturbed by a large flock of 73 Alpine Choughs that suddenly appeared in the valley, offering good but rather distant views while a Lammergeier appeared again, crossing the valley in some seconds.
Really happy after this really successful start we went all the way down and did our way for the last stop of the day in a scrub hillside not far from our accommodation. It was already early afternoon, offering a calid light for the sightings to come. Our short walk up the hill produced some interesting sights including a large flock of Cirl Buntings feeding on the ground along with 2 Woodlarks, 4 Rock Buntings, 2 Redwings, 14 Rock Sparrows and the firsts Iberian Grey Shrike of the trip. In the skies, several Red Kites were moving around and we counted 3 Griffons Vultures and 1 adult Lammergeier. Here we also had the only Citril Finch of the trip, unfortunately a flying bird that provided poor views.
After this stop we just drove the short distance to our accommodation.
Day 2. After enjoying a lovely breakfast we left our accommodation. The first stop of the day was devoted to explore a lovely corner of the Segre River that crosses the beautiful Cerdanya valley. Here we enjoyed White-throated Dippers, Cirl Buntings, many Redwings and 2 Bramblings among several Chaffinches. Here we also had an Eurasian Woodcock that flew off from a nearby meadow, an uncommon bird to have here in day light!
From here we went up in the forested slopes, to spend some time in a boreal forest. As usual, the area was quite full of activity and it didn’t take us long to enjoy good views on Short-toed Treecreeper, Goldcrest, European Crested Tit, Firecrest and Coal Tit but also Common Crossbill, Goldfinch and Greenfinches. But the most celebrated sight here was a Black Woodpecker moving really low in a pine tree that offered us lovely scope views.
Happy after this lovely views we drove up to Andorra. During the hour long drive, a pair of stops were necessary to enjoy both Lammergeier and Golden Eagle. Once in Pas de la Casa we had a stop for a coffee while enjoying the urban Alpine Choughs that live around the sky resort. By the time of our arrival it was snowing a bit, providing the sight with a wonderful alpine setting!
From here we drove back to Catalonia to have a final stop in the large fields that are the core of the Cerdanya Valley. There we enjoyed large flocks of Eurasian Skylarks, several flocks of Cirl & Rock Buntings, Meadow Pipits, Linnets and Corn Buntings but also the only 2 Hen Harriers of the tour, including a lovely male.
Day 3. Transfer to a different section of the Pyrenees. We drove West for about 90 minutes before to arrive into a small gorge in a secondary road. This was our first attempt to find a Wallcreeper, and we didn’t have to wait long! We waited for the bird in a small, old bridge, and only a few minutes after we got out of the vehicle, a wonderful Wallcreeper right in front us, providing excellent views for some minutes. The bird, always in search of insects that look for shelter in the rocky crevices, started to climb up the wall and we could follow its itinerary for several minutes. It kept doing short flights, and flickering its wings to show out its wonderful red panels (a way to keep other Wallcreepers away from that cliff).
Here we also had other interesting birds living in the cliffs including Blue Rock Thrush and Crag Martin. The Wallcreeper, after showing out for about 15 minutes, finally disappeared behind a rock, and this was the time for us to move to our next stop.
Leaving the hills behind, we drove to one of the few corners around Lleida where traditional wheat farming is still dominant. These areas host an abundant birdlife, and the number and variety of birds of prey is quite stunning. It didn’t take long before we had several views on Western Marsh Harriers, Red Kites and also Common Buzzards, some Griffons, Eurasian Sparrowhawk and even 2 Goshawks. All of this before the real goal of this stop appeared in one of its preferred trees: the long-staying Long-legged Buzzard! This bird of prey, nesting from Bulgaria to the East until the Arabian Peninsula, is a huge rarity in Catalonia and always worth a visit! This time we had excellent scope views, and also the chance to compare the size of this large Buzzard with a much smaller Western Marsh Harrier that was perched in a tree next to the Buteo hawk.
A small flock of Little Bustards had been some weeks feeding in a field nearby, and we covered the short distance to enjoy lovely scope views of 7 of this endangered bird, another victim of the farming intensification in Europe.
From this place we drove East to explore some of the dry canyons immediately South of Lleida. A pair of stops here allowed us to enjoy not only Stock Doves, Red-billed Choughs and Little Owl, but also on the scarce Black Wheatear. Here, between the abandoned terraces and the small cliffs of these canyons we were lucky enough to find a female Eurasian Eagle Owl hatching on its nest! A wonderful sight to end the third day of the tour!
Day 4. Early start to explore the massive steppe lands South & West of Lleida. On the contrary of the previous day, the morning was foggy around the city so we decided to go up to the highlands West of Lleida to try to scape the fog. And we did it, partially.
As soon as arriving to the steppes we enjoyed large flocks of Corn Buntings but also Calandra & Mediterranean Short-toed Larks. They were feeding on the ground along with Common Linnets, Meadow Pipits and Goldfinches. It was sunny, but the fog was not far away and it was moving our way, so we didn’t have a lot of time!
We were lucky and 4 Black-bellied Sandgrouses flew off from a nearby field, allowing great flight views and nice photo opportunities. We scanned in different fields looking for Pin-tailed Sandgrouse, but we were unsuccessful. Finally, we decided to move to lower area to keep scanning. A pair of stops were necessary to enjoy Iberian Grey Shrikes and Thekla’s Larks and by we arrived to the new location the fog started catching us up. It was a pity because at soon as we arrived a flock of 14 Black-bellied Sandgrouse flew off from the field, but 8 more remained. A fast scan in the place allowed us to find 12 Pin-tailed Sandgrouses, some of them really close to us and the fog allowed great scope views despite it ruined the photo chances of the moment.
Decided to escape the fog, we drove East to check another place in Los Monegros. There, around Bujaraloz, we went in the search of the small population of Great Bustards that subsists in the area. Here it was sunny and it only took us 5 minutes to find a lovely flock of 17 males walking around in a wonderful field full of flowers. After enjoying this great birds we took our time to check a pair of corners around, where we found more Pin-tailed Sandgrouses but also Merlin and 1 Golden Eagle.
It was already lunch time so we covered the short distance to a small lagoon. From its view point we had a good selection of waterfowl that included Little & Great Crested Grebes, Gadwall, Eurasian Teals, Common Pochards, Shovelers, 5 Red-crested Pochards and 1 male Pintails. The reedbeds around were having some Great White Egrets and Grey Herons and a short walk by reed produced Penduline Tits, ruff views on an elusive Cetti’s Warblers, several Reed Buntings and a shy Bluethroat that not allowed any photo. The fields around were having large flocks of Chaffinches and we were happy to pick up a Brambling from there as well!
From here we had a final stop in a different wetland very close to Lleida, where the fog was still persistent. Here we had short walk along the reeds. It was little movement, but finally our perseverance was rewarded with good views on 2 Bearded Tits that appeared really close in the reeds. They were really celebrated by the tour participants, and the afternoon ended with 2 Common Kingfishers chasing each other in the fog!
Day 5. Last morning of the trip before heading back to Barcelona Airport. This morning was devoted to explore the wonderful habitat of low, sparse scrubland where the poor understood Dupont’s Lark lives. This species is to be found in poor soils with a rich gradient of salt on it, resulting a landscape of low, scattered scrubs. The songs of both Calandra & Mediterranean Short-toed Larks were constant in the air. The morning was sunny, and the temperature was higher than the day before. We spend some time exploring the area by combining short walks and slow drives, and after less than hour we were enjoying a Dupont’s Lark while feeding on the ground. It was interesting to see the bird excavating the soil with powerful movements of its whole body, pushing its long bill into the soft soil to get a small prey before starting its short, fast runs between the tussocks of grass.
This was quite a phenomenal way of ending our tour. After this we just drove back to Barcelona, where we had a final stop around the airport to enjoy Iberian Green Woodpeckers, Eurasian Hoopoes, Zitting Cisticola and a rather unexpected light form Booted Eagle!
All images in this trip report by tour leader Carles Oliver except by the especifically signed under a different name. All rights reserved.
Overview: 7th tour exploring Oman, a country that seems to hold countless surprises for any birdwatcher. In the crossroad between the Horn of Africa, the Western Palearctic and the Indian subcontinent, Oman shows a wonderful variety of winter and passage birds.
Some birds living in the coastal Dhofar hills, isolated by the sea but also by the massive sand desert that goes on for over 1000 miles well inside Saudi Arabia, have walked down an interesting speciation process, producing a number of endemics. At the same time, this area keeps being colonised by a number of African species, arriving from Yemen via the Aden Strait.
The weather during the tour was sunny and pleasant, always between 20ºC to 25ºC, out of a pair of days of stronger heat in the North of the country. In the South, we had a pair of windy days, but the wind didn’t destroy any of our birding options, and we kept enjoying an excellent birding in the Dhofar. On birds, it is interesting to note that this winter was poor in Harriers. Normally, one can expect double figures of Montagu’s or even Pallids during the tour, but this time we only got one of each! Numbers of Steppe Eagles were also low, and looks like the main overwintering spot for the bird has been definately re-establised inside Saudi Arabia.
In the same way, both numbers of Ducks and Shrikes were low, especially in the wetlands in the Dhofar, where Ducks can be very common depending on the year. Still, it was a good variety of ducks, and we got good views on both Turkestan & Isabelline Shrikes.
It is also worrying how rare the Arabian Grosbeak is getting during the last years. By the other hand, happy to see more Sandgrouses than ever before in the trip, with hundreds & hundreds of Chestnut-bellieds’s, and really good numbers of both Spotted & Crowned.
Day 1. After an afternoon flight we landed in Muscat International Airport. Once the whole group was assembled there, we moved to our accommodation placed only a few miles away from the airport.
The next morning we had a lovely breakfast and the group enjoyed the very first Common Mynas, Pale Crag Martins and House Crows of the trip. It was a sunny and rather warm morning in Muscat. Our first stop was devoted to explore Al Ansab lagoons. This small wetland has been closed due to maintenance works. Unfortunately one of the works have consisted in a new pavilion next to the main view point over the best lagoon for waders and ducks. Hopefully this will not affect the variety of birds that the area is normally holding.
In Al Ansab we got the very first views on some common birds in the north of the country including Grey Francolin, Indian Silverbill, Red-wattled Lapwing, Delicate Prinia, White-cheeked Bulbul and Purple Sunbird. Beside this, the lagoon offered a good array of waterfowl and waders including Black-winged Stilts, Greater Flamingo, Eurasian Teal, Common Snipe, Kentish Plover, Pintail, Whiskered Tern, Eurasian Moorhen, Crested Lark, Common Ringed Plover and the first of some Marsh Sandpipers. The grass around had 3 Citrine Wagtails, 1 White Wagtail, Desert Wheatear and 1 Western Yellow Wagtail.
From Al Ansab we went to Muscat River, where we were delighted by hundreds of waders. Dunlin, Little Stint and Greenshank were propably the commonest species but we also got good views on several Lesser Sand Plovers, Temminck’s Stints, Western Reef Egrets, 4 Black-tailed Godwits and 2 Marsh Sandpipers. The area was also nice for terns and in two different mixed flocks we counted 4 Common Terns + 2 Whiskered & 1 White-winged Black Tern. In the way to the beach we were surprised by tens of Chestnut-bellied Sandgrouses in the way to their drinking ponds.
Once in the beach, we noted 2 Greater Crested Terns along with several Slender-billed Gulls, Sandwich Terns and the beautiful Lesser Crested Terns. Here we also had the chance to see together Greater Sand & Lesser Sand Plovers, and it was useful to see how different the birds are in attitude, size and coloration. The small sand bar at the end of the river was also having several Heuglin’s & Steppe Gulls (both now considered Lesser Black-back Gull races) and the always gorgeous Sooty Gull.
From here we drove some miles away to look for the tiny population of Black-winged Kites living in Oman. It didn’t take long before we found two adults, probably the same birds that we found nesting in the area back in November 2022. We really enjoyed this wonderful bird, and the stop was also granted with the firsts Arabian Bee-eaters of the trip, and the first Indian Roller! Back to the coast, we scanned some flocks of gulls in search of Palla’s Gull, and again didn’t take long before we found 7 of them, with some individuals showing a wonderful black head. What a beast! A further scanning of the flock revealed not only some Black-headed Gulls but also 2 Caspian Gulls. Beyond, the beach was also having Eurasian Whimbrel and Oystercatcher.
After a nice lunch we explored some parks around Muscat. Unfortunately Al Qurm was closed, and the only accessible point was the coastal promenade so we turned around and went to Al Wustah, where we got good views on 2 Alexandrine Parakeets, Red-vented Bulbuls, White-spectacled Bulbuls and a flyover Bonelli’s Eagle. Late in the afternoon we went back to the Al Qurm promenade, where we enjoyed with the many Pallid Swifts passing by, and good (but distant) views on Pacific Golden Plover, Eurasian Curlew and Bar-tailed Godwit to end the day.
Day 2. Driving South from Muscat, we went to explore the very impressive mountain landscape of the Al Harar Mounts. These peaks, reaching 3000+ meters above the sea level, extend for over 700 kilometres in Northern Oman and neighbouring Emirates. We spent the morning in a small valley immediately below the mountains.
Here we chose to explore a small plain that leads into a gorge. We did a number of stops along the tracks of the plain. Persian Wheatear was the very first specialty to be noted. Up in a wire, we had good views on the first of many Levant Grey Shrike, now considered to be inside the Great Grey Shrike complex. A bit beyond, 2 Desert Larks were seen so we decided to go for a small walk, and we were glad to see that the Desert Larks were actually moving along with 2 Striolated Buntings. Suprisingly, these were the only Striolateds of the tour!
Further inside the plain, we had a stop in the dry river bed (called wadi in Arabic). Here we saw some Lesser Whitethroats, Black Redstart and several White-cheeked Bulbuls. An Eastern Orphean Warbler showed briefly while a pair of Indian Rollers were moving in the rocks nearby. When coming back to the vehicle we got the first Plain Leaf Warbler of the tour, and a wonderful Hume’s Wheatear was perched nearby, providing good photo opportunities.
There were certainly some good birds in the area so we decided to go further on in the valley, but the upper walk didn’t produce anything beyong Purple Sunbirds, Plain Leaf Warblers and Lesser Whitethroats. Back the vehicle, we were granted with a Lappet-faced Vulture appearing up in the sky! Always a wonderful bird to have!!
After lunch we drove into a massive gorge. This breathtaking corner of the world is one of the very few sites where Omani Owl is known to exist! It was early in the afternoon, and in our way in we had more Hume’s Wheatears and Indian Rollers. We also explored a small corner with oasis-like vegetation, and we got some Siberian Chiffchaffs calling and performing well and the first Grey Wagtail of the trip. In the distance, two Egyptian Vultures were noted in the top of the cliffs. We did wait until dusk, expecting to get something from one of the most unknown Owls in the planet, and our efforts were well granted. First with really distant houls, but even before dusk we got 1 Omani Owl calling up in the cliffs while flying and, later in the evening, a male was heard singing at least twice not really far away.
Of course, we did look for this closer bird for some time, but we absolutely failed to get anything else from such an enygmatic bird. After this we drove down the gorge and covered the short distance to our accommodation, where we had the chance to taste the local cuisine.
Day 3. Early morning start to transfer South to Salalah. Despite the big distance, we did once again very well. After breakfast, we drove South some miles and, taking advantage of the wonderful morning light, we had some birding. We didn’t have to walk far from our vehicle to get a Ménétrie’s Warbler feeding on the lush vegetation. We followed the bird tree to tree and got good views, but we were distracted by an Asian Desert Warbler that popped up from a bush only a pair of metres away from us. Indian Rollers were flying around, as there were the first Brown-necked Ravens of the trip. We kept walking the area and only 5 minutes later we found some Arabian Babblers calling in the distance. We had to move fast to catch them up but finally got good views on this specialist of desert scrublands and oasis-like places. When following the Babblers a wonderful party of Lichtenstein’s Sandgrouses flew off from the bare soil, leaving the group wanting more from them! When scouting the area in search of the Babblers we got 2 juvenile Tawny Pipits.
After such a great stop we had some driving, and our next real birding stop didn’t come until the afternoon. Our typical picnic place was this time empty of birds, and only 1 Isabelline Shrike & 1 Western Marsh Harrier were noted. But in the afternoon we had plenty of time to explore the famous desert farms in the way to Salalah. Here we had soon several Isabelline & Desert Wheatears along with a Northern Wheatear. We drove around looking for anything moving, and we were granted with a lovely male Pallid Harrier that the tour participant Otger was fast to catch up when flying low. We enjoyed this beuatiful bird of prey when he was really busy, flying into the green fields, where it was hunting boles, and moving later to the bare ground around to feed on them. The Pallid Harrier repeated the operation three times, and our group was delighted to see this uncommon behaviour once and over.
A further drive in the area brought us to an open fleld beyond the farms. This is a place that normally concentrates a large number of Sandgrouses, and this time was not different. Soon, we had tens of Chestnut-bellied Sandgrouses moving around, and we got good scope views on them and also in Spotted Sandgrouses, far more scarce here. A Marsh Harrier was patrolling the area, moving flocks of tens of Sandgrouses once and over as he was patrolling the area. Back to the farm, a large flock of Namaqua Doves provided good looks, with some obliging individuals. In the distance, a large flock of 80+ White Storks were circling up in the sky. We decided a do some walk in the area, and we were lucky to find 2 Pied Wheatears (one adult male, and one putative 1st winter female) feeding around along with a male Siberian Stonechat and the only one Greater Short-toed Lark of the trip!
From here we drove to our accommodation in Salalah, even if we had to go into a lay-by due to a Short-toed Snake Eagle that was standing by the road.
Day 4. Early morning start to explore the gorgeous South of Oman. Our first morning stop was devoted to go to Ayn Hamran, a plentiful birding location and one of the corner of wonders in the country. Here went fast through a number of common species in the South. African Silverbills, Rüppell’s Weavers, Cinnamon-breasted Buntings, Abyssinian White-eyes, Arabian Sunbirds, African Paradise Flycatchers and Tristam’s Starlings were fastly seen. A female Eurasian Sparrowhawk was quite a surprise, considering that they are really scarce so far South. A 1st year Imperial Eagle just passed over us but it did it in a wrong moment since we were tracking a secretive Arabian Warbler moving inside the canopy. We had excellent views on it, and while searching for this bird we just found the first Eastern Olivaceous Warbler of the morning. We then moved around the stream, and we were lucky to be fast in finding a gorgeous & obliging Arabian Grosbeak! This is one of the most scarce and difficult to find specialties in the area. The bird showed up for at least 15 minutes and we could register its song, take videos and really enjoy this wonderful bird. A second bird was noted to be calling around, but we never found it.
Close by, a Black-crowned Tchagra was feeding on the ground, and the group again had excellent views in the rather small and delicate Arabian race of this common species in Africa.
The morning was already wonderful, and it was only 9:00! We kept walking around. Delicate Prinias were also showy, but they could not compete with the Grosbeak! A Turkestan Shrike was seen at close range but in a difficult angle, and Clamorous Reed Warblers were heart, but never seen. A Red-breasted Flycatcher were heard around, and after some scanning we found the bird catching flies low in the fig trees. For our surprise, a second individual was also calling in the area.
From here we walked to the large fig trees. This is a place attacting several birds. There were plenty of Bulbuls, White-eyes, a 2nd Eastern Olivaceous Warbler and, after several scanning and some walk, we got to have close views on a beautiful male Bruce’s Green Pigeon. The blue of its eyes is something that many birdwatchers dream to see once in their lives! 3 more Bruce’s flew out the same tree while several African Paradise Flycatchers were hunting around.
After such a great start we came back to the coast, not without a stop in the desert-like plain to see the firsts Black-crowned Sparrow-Lark of the trip, and a lovely flock of 6 Chestnut-bellied Sandgrouses that the tour participant Magda saw when we were only a few feet away! In the coast was windy, but not that much. While enjoying our picnic in East Khawar, we had a view on the wildfowl around. Here we had the firsts Squacco & Indian Pond Herons of the trip, and some Citrine Wagtails were walking in the patches of tall grass around. 3 Eurasian Spoonbills were roosting in an island. Waders in the area included Black-tailed Godwit, Little Stint & Wood Sandpiper but also Marsh Sandpiper, Ruff and Temminck’s Stint. 1 Greater Spotted Eagle came to provide close views while taking an eye on the several Gulls and Terns roosting around. Here we had 4 Gull-billed Terns, Caspian Tern, Common Tern and 1 White-winged Black Tern. The gulls were all Steppe, Sooty, Heuglin’s and Slender-billeds, with only 4 Black-headed Gulls in the large flocks. In the water there were small parties of Garganeys and a single 1st winter Purple Heron was also seen moving in a close patch of vegetation.
The afternoon was still young so we drove South of Salalah to check a major wetland. In the way, Booted & Greater Spotted Eagles were noted. Once South of the city, it didn’t take long before we got the first Terek’s Sandpipers feeding in the mudflats along with Lesser Sand Plovers, Dunlins, Common Redshanks, Ruddy Turnstones and a couple of Bar-tailed Godwits. Out in the sea, Moises located the first Brown Bobby fishing close to the coast, followed by 3 more and 1 Masked Boobby. Socotra Cormorants were also present, fishing in small parties or alone, and allowed lovely scope views. Back in the shoreline, we found the African Openbill that has been in the area since the last fall. It spent a lot of time feeding in shallow water, surrounded by several Western Reef Egrets and Grey Herons. On the beach, 13 Ospreys and 2 Greater Spotted Eagles were counted sitting on rocks or directly on the bare sand. There were also some terns, including some Lesser & Greater Crested Terns.
Far South, we still had another stop in a wetland, this time a bit twitch the Lesser White-fronted Goose that had been there during the last weeks. Twitch is not something you can do really often in Oman, and it is always welcome! It didn’t take long to locate it feeding in the grassy patches at the river mouth along with some Pintails and Grey Plovers. Here we also got 8 Red-knobbed Coots, several Garganeys, a distant Indian Pond Heron, and close views on Pacific Golden Plover. A further exploration of the place produced 2 lovely Pheasant-tailed Jacanas, one of them showing a little bit of its majestic nesting plomage. A bit of sea watching nearby produced little of interest out of 10+ Brown Boobies and a small party of Socotra Cormorants feeding around.
While vesperting we drove some kilometers in a nearby wady. Even if the access was difficult, it was worth it when a Desert Owl started calling in the area despite the wind! It took us some time and some walk around, but we finally got breathtaking views on this amazing and poorly known owl!
Day 5. After the amazing day before, we could not expect much more, but the day proved us wrong! An early morning stop in a reedbed produced little out of a Crested Honey Buzzard that Moises saw in our way back to the vehicles and that turned out to be the only one of the trip!
From the coast we decided to climb up to the Dhofar highlands, probably the most remarkable place for birds of prey in Oman. The area was filled up with Imperial Eagles, and we counted at least 12 of them! 1 Short-toed Snake Eagle was also seen before stopping forced by a running flock of the endemic Arabian Partridges in one side of the van. Arrived to the top of the mountain, we could enjoy the gorgeous cliffs that are facing the Arabian Sea. Here we enjoyed several Fan-tailed Ravens but also Pale Crag Martins, Common Kestrels, and a lovely pair of Arabian Wheatears. Verreaux’s Eagles proved harder, as it could not be in another way, and required some scanning from different places but finally we got a nice adult soaring around that, even if distant, were one of the highlights of the day!
Some Rock Hyrax were feeding around, or hiding in the shades from the very powerful eagle that is always looking for them! The Hyraxes led us to two lovely Red-legged Buzzards that were patrolling the area. When leaving, a Long-billed Pipit was also seen moving in the rocky slopes. When moving in the Dhofar one should always have an eye in the sky, and once again proved correct, since we got both Lappet-faced Vulture & Eurasian Griffon moving around, both being scarce species in Southern Oman.
From here we drove to a proper place for picnic, and after enjoying our packed lunches we moved in search of some specialties. Both Palestine & Arabian Sunbirds were seen, although not at close range. Cinnamon-breasted Buntings were virtually everywhere along with African Silverbills, and we were lucky to picked up some Yemen Serins feeding on the ground along with them! At the beggining we saw only 3 but a further scanning produced at least 10, some of them providing really close looks. Here we also got 4 Tree Pipits. But the most surprinsing was to see a large flock of nearly 50 Bruce’s Green Pigeon leaving a tiny tree next to our group. We had been in this area, enjoying the Yemen Serins, for almost 15 minutes and nobody notice any single of the 50 Bruce’s…
Back to the vehicles we drove down to the coast, with a nice stop to enjoy the small population of Baobabs that subsists in the Dhofar. Here we got Arabian Warbler, Common Chiffchaff and a lovely African Paradise Flycatcher in shining nesting plumage and showing out its 2 long tail feathers. What a cracker!
Once in the coast, we take a look into a pair of small corners but we got little, and probably the most interesting sights in both places was a “fulvescens” form of Greater Spotted Eagle, and a juvenile Bonelli’s being moved by an Osprey; definately not a common combination to see in the sky!
After a coffee stop, we did drove back to the hills to explore a wonderful corner: A stream that runs down the mountains and that is covered with lotus and floating vegetation, small reedbeds and mangrove-like bushes. What a great place! Here we did a walk along the stream, and soon we got the first Bluethroat of the trip; a female. Grey Herons, Wood Sandpipers and Little Egrets were around in good numbers, and a low scanning produced great views into 2 White-breasted Waterhens. This bird, often really elusive, was another of the highlights that day. Two Snipes flew off, and one of them really sounded like a Pin-tailed Snipe but unfortunately we could not relocate the bird, neither hear it again… Here we also got 4 Black-crowned Night Herons, Indian Pond & Squacco Herons, 3 Citrine Wagtails at close range in lovely afternoon light, a showy male Bluethroat and a calling Diederick Cuckoo that called 3 times from a large tree but never showed out.
Day 6. Early morning start. This was the morning of our offshore. But before arriving to the harbour we had a stop in a small river mouth. Here, in previous tours we have counted tens of Rose-coloured Starlings living the reedbeds where do they roost, but this time we only got one along with several Common Mynas, some Western Marsh Harriers, Rüppell’s Weavers, 2 Yellow Wagtails and 1 adult Purple Heron. Once in the boat, we sailed out and fastly discovered that it was a quiet day, with very little movement in the sea. Despite this, we got excellent views on a number of Persian Shearwaters passing by the boat, some at close range. Small flocks of Red-necked Phalaropes were flying around, as there were some Masked Bookies, including some great views inmediatly above the boat and on the sea. Both Green & Loggerhead Turtles were seen a number of times, again quite close. But the clymax came when a Jouanin’s Petrel showed up in front of the boat! It was quite distant but still possible to see its typical shape and jizz and the long body. Unfortunately, not eveyone in the group catched up with the bird…
Back on the harbour, we got some close views on Striated Herons before living for our next stop. In the way back to Salalah, we scouted a large plain and our efforts were rewarded with a flock of 10 Cream-coloured Coursers that showed really well along with Isabelline Wheatears. After lunch, we revisited a pair of river mouths but we didn’t get that much different from our previous visits so we moved to check one of the typical places for Spotted Thick-knees to be roosting. They were there, and we enjoyed lovely views on 12 of them before moving for our last stop.
Back to the forested valleys, we explored a small stream, where we were surprised to find another Red-breasted Flycatcher having a bath along with Citrine & Grey Wagtails and 2 African Paradise Flycatchers. We enjoyed long views on the Flycatcher while searching for other goodies to appear, but everything we could find was a Hottetotta genus Scorpion. Here we waited until sunset, and with the very last lights of the day we were surprised to hear a Rufous-scrub Robin calling from the bush land. We scanned a bit but the last light of the day didn’t help and we never got a visual on this always wonderful ground flycatcher. Only a few minutes after the Robin was calling, we got the first call of an Arabian Eagle Owl coming from the opposite slope. During the next half an hour we struggled to find and approach the bird but every second of it was worth it when we finally got this endemic owl only a few meters away in a really unforgettable experience for all of us!
Day 7. The morning of this day was devoted to explore the oases at Mudday. This is the only reliable place for Grey Hypocolius in Oman, and there were only 2 birds reported at the end of December (in our trip on early December 2022 we were lucky to see 4 of them!). The Hypocolius proved to be as hard as ever, and it really took us an extra effort and patiente to finally connect with one of them, even if shortly! In the meanwhile we had time to enjoy at least 4 Nile Valley Sunbirds, 3 Blackstarts (they were suprisingly scarce this time in all the places we went!), several Sand Partridges including some birds drinking from a water hole, my first African Collared Dove in the place for some years, an Imperial Eagle, a lovely male Caucasian Bluethroat, the only Montagu’s Harrier of the trip, 1 Arabian Bee-eater and a lovely Hooded Wheatear!
A part from all of this was the experience to see 60+ Crowned Sandgrouses coming down to drink water in different flocks. Their calls, the very shy movements and behaviour and the very special beauty of the Sandgrouses on the ground at close range keep being for me one of the most wonderful birding experiences on Earth!
The very first glympse of the male Hypocolius was when it was feeding in a bush, only a few meters from us. The bird flew off before everyone in the group could have something of it, but it looked like not being far. We accurately scanned all the bushes and palm trees around, but we didn’t have a clue. From there we moved to check other corners around, getting our range of search bigger and bigger. Finally we dediced to come back to the exact place where we first saw the bird and scanned around for several minutes. Finally, right was I was about to give up, the bird appeared right in the same bush as it was the first time! Didn’t stay long there, though, and we still had to follow the bird up in the palm trees where it was hidden and, after a slowy scan, finally got excellent views on this amazing species, and eveyone had really good looks on it.
Really glad for this amazing view we went back to Salalah to have some lunch and rest. In the afternoon, we went to check the well known Raysut ponds. It was cloudy when we arrived, even about to rain! But of course, it didn’t rain at all. Here we counted 120 Abdim’s Storks, double figures of Whites‘, and 9 Red-wattled Lapwings (including one of the spur-winged x Red-wattled hybrids that live in the area). Other interesting species here included several Little Grebes, 1 Marsh Sandpiper, 1 Common Snipe (little numbers of Snipes this year) and Temminck’s Stints.
Back to the coast, we headed to West Kawhar, a place that very few people check (because normally is very little there). But we were lucky, not only because of the flocks of Pacific Golden Plovers at close range that provided great views but especially because we were lucky to find a Long-tailed Cormorant! Checking the dead trees around I was surprised to find this juvenile, small Cormorant with a long tail and a vivid red eye. The bird was extremely small (for a Cormorant) with a humbed head and whitish underparts. It may not be very exciting for those that have visited tropical Africa, but it happens to be a first for Oman! Very happy for our luck, we did some photos of the bird and pair attention to all main details with the scopes before leaving to our last wetland stop in a in the Dhofar.
Our last river mouth produced little out of a lovely flock of 5 Cotton Pygmy Goose. This is actually one of the best corners for ducks but it was almost empty…
Another point that is well worth checking in Salalah are the several farms around. You can choose any of them, for sure you will get excellent birds. Our farm was close to the beach, and just arriving to the place we found a tiny pond with some reeds. Here, a Clamorous Reed Warbler eluded us again, but we were happy to enjoy some Citrine Wagtails, Bluethroat and Green Sandpiper. Once in the fields, we soon had a large flock of Rosy Starlings flying around, that eventually stopped in the top of a thicket allowing really good scope views. Here we got another large flock (200+) of Pacific Golden Plovers, one of them showing what it look to be a complete summer plomage. Another surprise was to find 2 Common Cranes here, and we enjoyed them while some Red-throated Pipits and Yellow Wagtails were flying above us. The visit ended with brief views on a Siberian Stonechat.
To end the day, we chose another visit to wooded valley, and here we got really nice views on 1 Arabian Scops Owl. At least 3 more were heard singing around before going back to our accommodation for a very deserved rest.
Day 8. After breakfast we went back to explore farms. This time we had a first stop in a different one. Surprisingly we didn’t have any Harrier at all, but the place was literally fullfilled with Yellow Wagtails. Hundreds, thousands of them were moving around, following the tractors but, in fact, everywhere. Both feldegg & beema races were noted, with some thunbergi probably also there. Large flocks of Ruffs were in the move along with Glossy Ibises. On the ground, we got some lovely views on Red-throated Pipits including some salmon-breasted ones. But the most celebrated bird here was an Oriental Skylark that landed only a few meters away from us, and after some accurate scanning of the soil, showed well for some seconds before leaving.
The visit had been so great so we decided to do a fast stop to the farm where we had been birdwatcher the previous afternoon. There, we got lucky to find the Rose-coloured Starlings bathing in a small pond only a few meters away from us. Besides, 4 Little Ringed Plovers were also seen at close range. Back to the proper farms, we listened some Red-throated Pipits before a wonderful Richard’s Pipit appeared and stop only some 20 meters away from us. All the group enjoyed wonderful views on the bird both with the scope and with the bins before the bird moved to a taller grass corner.
From here we drove back to the desert. In this day we faced a transfer North for an overnight in Duqm, but we still didn’t give up of birding! After a pair of hours of car we stopped in a new farm. Just driving the road we got some flocks of Sandgrouses flying in the distance so we decided to explore the fields around. Here we were granted with 12 Cream-coloured Coursers, Isabelline Shrike, tens of Chesnut-bellied Sandgrouses, Black-crowned Sparrow-Larks and some Levant Grey Shrikes.
Back to desert, we kept driving North. To cross the desert is always wonderful and not absent of birding opportunities, and after some miles we got a pair of Greater Hoopoe Larks nicely moving in the bare soil. We got even lucky to listen its beautiful song, a long whistle that is often (like this time) joined by a short displaying flight. Really happy with these great views we went back to hit the road until the afternoon, when we did a last stop to enjoy the lovely light. There, not far from Duqm, we did a stroll around and we got really good views on 1 Asian Desert Warbler doing its way while following a male Desert Wheatear.
Soon after that we arrived to our nice accommodation in Duqm, where we enjoyed a well deserved rest before dinner.
Day 9. After breakfast, our day started by doing a short walk to the small garden of our accommodation. Here we found a Red-breasted Flycatcher during our last visit in early December and, suprinsingly, the bird was still moving in this tiny garden! Purple Sunbirds were also seen here. A short drive led us then to a small canal with a rich reedbed where we saw 3 Wood Sandpipers, some Eurasian Teals, a Green Sandpiper and the very firsts Mallards of the tour (a flock of 6).
From here we transfered North to the massive mudflats around Masirah Island. There is an estimation of 1 million waders overwintering here, and once you visit the area you may consider this estimation as conservative. Soon, we had some Kentish & Lesser Sand Plovers along with Dunlins, Curlew Sandpipers and Little Stints. We took some time to check some of the several flocks of Gulls around, but nothing different appeared despite the good photo opportunities.
Back to the mudflats we enjoyed with the arrival of thousands of waders to the feeding areas. Bar-tailed Godwits were really common, as there were Dunlins, Common Redshanks, Grey Plovers, Eurasian Curlews and Greater Sand Plovers, some of them showing already a promising summer coloration. The scan around produced the very first Broad-billed Sandpiper, that was celebrated in the group. At the same time, a Clamorous Reed Warbler showed out from the mangrove vegetation, and we all finally got some views on a species that had been eluding us for all the tour long. A small flock of 7 Spotted Sandpipers were also seen, and when we were checking this gorgeous waders the very first Crab Plover appeared right in front of us! Always a gorgeous bird, almost the size of a Little Egret, the Crab Plovers move often here in pairs that consist in an adult with a juvenile that constantly beg for food. Little by little, more and more Crab Plovers were arriving, and we were able to see some birds catching and feeding on crabs. In only 30 minutes we counted up to 70 birds. Other species also appeared here including Caspian & Gull-billed Terns. We hoped for some Little/Saunder’s Terns to appear, but we didn’t have luck on this.
Our final stop of the day was to check a different corner of this massive mudflats. Here we had barely the same birds than in our previous stop out of Crab Plovers. Still, we got at least four more Broad-billed Sandpipers, 1 Striated Heron in the mangroves and some Eurasian Whimbrels for our day list.
From here we transfered to our accommodation, arriving there a bit after sunset.
Day 10. Last morning in Oman. We drove the distance between our accommodation from Muscat with some stops in the way to take a look on some raptors. First a lienatus-like Black Kite, but later 3 Lappet-faced Vultures joined by 1 Imperial Eagle and some Egyptian Vultures were a good entertaiment for the very last miles before arriving to Muscat. Our last serious birding stop was devoted to explore the famous Al Mouj Golf Courser in search of the White-tailed Lapwing that had been seen during the last weeks. We were not lucky on the lapwing, but we still had some nice addings to our list including Ferruginous Duck (1 male), Eurasian Wigeon and 3 Greater White-fronted Geese. Along with them, we also had several Red-wattled Lapwings, Indian Rollers, Ruffs, Western Yellow Wagtails and Little Grebes in the ponds.
From here we just drove the very short distance to the airport, and got ready for our flights back to Europe!
And this is how we ended our 7th tour to Oman. Already looking forward our trip in 2024 to have more incredible sights in this awesome birding country!
Overview: With a delayof two years due to the pandemia, out tailor-made tour to Texas went on finally in October 2022 with 3 tour participants. Originally the idea was to start to the tour at the beggining of November, but part of the clients wanted to be moved to late October so finally the starting date was decided to be Otober 15th. During the tour we thinly explored the large woodlands North of Houston and the desert-like areas around Del Rio but the main effort was to enjoy birding in the many hotspots along the Mexican border between Hidalgo and the Golf as well as around Corpus Christi.
Weather in average was stable, with a couple of days of light rain and low temperatutes for the season. In Corpus Christi we had some days of strong winds, making birding a big uncomfortable and sometimes frustating. The last day of the tour was also marked by strong winds and rains.
Really looking forward to be back in Texas. This time in November, as originally planned!
Day 1. Our guests attented the tour from differents countries so we met at Houston International Aiport. It was the afternoon but we could still have almost a pair of hours of birding. We fastly moved to a corner nearby to enjoy the first bird in the Americas. Here, a short walk produced 5 Scissor-tailed Flyatcher, American Kestrel and Cooper’s Hawk but also common birds like Carolina Chickadee and Blue-grey Gnatcatcher. A small pond was full of Killdeers as well as some Greater Yellowlegs, Wilson’s Snipe and 3 Baird’s Sandpipers. Here we also had a flock of 4 Westerm Kinbirds, that turned out to be the only sight of this species nesting from the mid-West to the Pacific Ocean.
Day 2. After a good rest we left our accommodation to explore Sam Houston National Forest. Before that, a 10 minutes short walk around the parking lot produced a good summary of the garden birds living in the area. Here we got some really common birds like Northern Cardinal, House Finch, Downy Woodpecker, Blue Jay, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Carolina Wren, Orange-crowned Warbler and Ruby-crowned Kinglet.
After a short transfer we did have a first stop inside Sam Houstol NF. Soon, we connected with some of the many Pine Warblers around and Brown-headed Nuthatches showed up very well but high. We certainly didn’t have to wait long for the very especialty of the area to appear, and after some minutes, a mixed flock of Woodpeckers revealed to not Red-bellieds but also 3+ Red-cockaded’s and even a rather unexpected Hairy Woodpecker! It took some time but everybody in the group had excellent views on the Red-cockaded Woodpecker, a quite endangered species linked to long-leave pine savannas. A further walk into the area produced several Carolina Chickadees but also the first White-eyed Vireo, Tufted Titmouses and Eastern Phoebe of the trip.
After such a great start, we started moving East. While driving the area both Red-shouldered and Red-tailed Hawks were noted. It was a sunny and calm day and by midday temperatures went high up.
We arrived around San Antonio by the early afternoon, and even if it was still warm we stop around Crescent Bend Nature Park for some birds. A nice flock of Eastern Meadowlarks provided good looks in the yellowish prairies and we were surprised by the presence of 5+ Crested Caracaras, some of them providing close up views. Once arrived to Betsen????? we had a short walk around. Here we got our first Ruby-throated Hummingbird of the trip but also Lincoln’s Sparrow, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Ladder-backed Woodpecker, Lesser Goldfinch and Nashbille Warbler. At sunset, we were surprised byt the wholoes of a Barred Owl that, despite our efforts, was reluctant to show out.
Day 3. This day started with a massive rain and very low temperatures. Theoretically, the morning was devoted to explore one of the main wetlands south of San Antonio, but due to the bad weather we just went directly with the transfer West right beside the Mexican border at Del Río.
En route we had a first stop when the rain stop to explore some open lands and farming. Here we were surprised by a number of good birds including Western Meadowlarks, Golden-fronted Woodpecker, Dickcissel, Vesper & Lark Sparrows and the first Vermilion Flycatcher that was extremely welcome by the group.
The transfer to Del Rio was fast and easy, and marked by a Ferruginous Hawk spotted by the highway. The weather was still really fresh and temperatures clearly lower than average, even fresh! Just arrived to Del Rio we went to explore some corners around the city. Our first stop was to explore the Cementrey ______ and here we found 12+ Eastern Bluebirds, 10+ Vermilion Flycatchers, small flocks of Lark Sparrows feeding along with Lincoln’s and House Finches, several Scissor-tailed Flycatchers and a dark form Red-shouldered Hawk. Following the border between Mexico and USA we also had our first of mane Great Kiskadee. The area is rich in lake and ponds, and in one of the them we got Ringed Kingfisher but also first views on Common Yellowthroat, Northern Rough-winged Swallow, a lovely male Northern Harrier and Neotropical Cormorant before going for dinner and rest at our comfortable accommodation.
Day 4. The day started as cloudy as the day before, and with temperatures 10ºC below the average of the season! A great weather to explore the desert. Our first visit to Seminole Canyon State Park was concentrated into exploring its plains and bushland, famous for its rich birdlife. A short walk throught the plains fastly produced a good number of species. After only a few minutes a calling came from the bushlands, and after checking we all glad to find a wonderful Pyrrhuloxia sitting near the top of the bush, calling. The excitation came to the group, the bird flew off and despite all our efforts we were uncapable to relocate the bird. Sparrows seem to be everywhere, with small flocks constantly moving in the grassland. Here we enjoyed great views on Cassin’s, Vesper, Lincoln’s, White-crowned, Clay-coloured and Lark Sparrows. Black-throated Sparrows looked like specially common in this dry ambient, and after checking several flocks we were surprised by a Harri’s Sparrow sitting along with Lark Sparrows! That’s a good bird, with really thin records in the area.
Turkey Vultures were pratolling the sky while a massive number of Monarch Butterflies were doing its way South to their winter. There were thousands of them, many times gathering in small “flocks”. Their number was so numerous than we drove over tens of them while approaching the area. Not possible to skip them all in the road, and the tarmac showed tens of them dead or badly injured in a very sad view.
After enjoying the plains we finally decided to go down to the rocky areas. In our way to the rock scarpments, a Black-tailed Gnatcatcher left the group wanting more of it. Once if the rocks, we were lucky to find out a lovely pair of Rock Wrens doing its thing along the cliff edge in a wonderful sight. In our way back the clouds cleared for a while, and we could only see a flock of Eastern Meadowlarks and some Scissor-tailed Flycatchers.
After lunch we moved North, amid to explore some more desert-like ambients. During the next 3 hours we explored different valleys and plains. The sky was again cloudy and we could enjoy a good selection of the birds living in the scrublands. The fast moving Black-tailed Gnatcatcher gave us a hard time but finally everybody in the group could connect with it. While searching for the Gnatcatcher we were surprised by a fly over flock of Woodhouse Scrub-Jays! Along the afternoon we had three flocks of this restless species but never got any shot! Canyon Towhee was another great adding to our list, providing excellent sights as Common Ground Doves did along the tracks of the area as well as at least 3 Chihuahuan Ravens along the roads.
Day 5. Early morning morning start to explore another corner in the Seminole State Park. This time we went into a very impressive gorge in search of the sought-after Canyon Wren, a specialist on rock faces that spend a lot of time in crevices and ravines and thus, difficult to locate. In our short walk in the ravine we got the first Black-crested Titmouse of the trip as well as Golden-crowned Warbler and Common Raven. It didn’t took long before we located the first Canyon Wren, moving in fast, almost mouse-like runs along the crags. Investing some time, we got more than decent views in this awesome bird and we even had a second individual in another corner of the canyon. Back to the vehicle we decided to drive back to the same place we were the morning before, expecting to find a Roadrunner in the area. Another walk was required to explore the place, and even if we didn’t find any Roadrunner, we were regarded with a fine selection of birds. The flocks of Sparrows were as active as they previous day, and we had the same species as the day before but adding a Lark Bunting and, the most unexpected, 2 Green-tailed Towhees that showed up at two different places! ere we also hot the only Say’s Phoebe of the trip along with a pair of Scaly Francolins flying out of the bushland.
After such a great morning at Seminole we still had a last stop at Del Rio to explore one of the urban parks. Here we got a nice selection of birds including the first House Wren of the trip but also both Ringed & Velted Kingfishers, Yellow-rumped Warblers, Common Yellowthroats and Lesser Goldfinches to name a few.
we drove South in search of the birding hotspots along the Rio Grande. Along the way, we enoyed several Harri’s Hawks in the posts, and also several Crested Caracaras. A stop in some small ponds near Freer provided the first Blue-winged & Green-winged Teals of the tour along with a minimum of 2 Cinnamon Teals. When approaching the our accommodation, a Broad-winged Hawk just passed over our van, giving a great end to this day!
Day 6. Our first day exploring Rio Grande was devoted to the Santa Anna State Park. This large natural reserve protects an extensive patch of indigineous evergreen forest. Once upon the time, this valley had been covered with this lush vegetation, but nowadays only small number of locations remain. Black-crested Titmouses, Golden-fronted Woodpeckers, White-eyed Vireos and Grey-backed Gnatcatchers fullfilled the parking place with its song and calls, and the group enjoyed very much taking images of all of them. Green Jays appeared also almost inmediately, with their harsh calls announcing their arrival and 3 Inca Doves were feeding on the ground.
Walking into the habitats in Santa Anna is like transporting yourself into a different era, which majestic trees covered by !!!!!!!!. Once inside the park, we were surprised by the first Clay-colored Thrush perched in a low branch. Curve-billed Thraser was calling a bit beyond and we had to wait a bit until the bird showed up. The time invested was worth it not only because of the good looks on the Thraser but also because a Red-eyed Vireo decided to walk into view! The calls of the Great Kiskadees were constant and they were easily found in the top the trees along our way. At some point we saw a Kisadee chasing a smaller, colourful bird and we were all surprised to see that it an Altamira Oriole that decided to stop in the out at the top a dead tree! Couch’s Kingbirds were also around in a wonderful combination of birds. But the Altamira Oriole was not alone and we count not 2 but 5 of these great birds moving tree to tree, sometimes perching in the out and vocalising.
This had been a great start of our day! Approaching the first basins we added some species to our list including both Pied-billed & Least Grebes, Lesser Yellowlegs, Snowy Egret, Long-billed Thraser & some Cave Swallows moving along with Northern Rough & Barn Swallows. In our way out, a wonderful Blue-headed Vireo jumped out from the vegetation, but only for a few second before flying bak up to the canopies. When arriving to the parking place, the first flock of Plain Chachalacas appeared in our way, providing great looks.
After a short midday break we went to explore the farming around the border wall between the USA and Mexico. Certainly not an easy place to do birding due to the several border patrols, but with great birds and gentle police officers all the way long. Our first stop could not be better as we got 1 Swainson’s, 2 White-tailed and 2 Red-tailed Hawks that seemed to be hunting the area along with 1 Northern Harrier. Here we also found 2 obliging Burrowing Owls that were extremely well appreciated by the group. The area was full of Scissor-tailed Flycatcher and back to a woodland we enjoyed 1 Tropical Kingbird before has one of the surprises of the day, a wonderful Eastern Screeching Owl that was half way out of its nesting box and provided amazing scope views!
Back to the open lands, some paddy fiels around were full of Western Cattle Egrets but also White Ibis and one of the very few White-faced Ibis along the tour! A bit more of drive in such a great area allowed us to find a Grey Hawk hunting just by the road, and we could see how this very elegant small bird of prey captured a water snake a few meters away from us! Beyond this point we had a short-walk in a patch with dense scrubs allowed us to see the first Tenneesse Warbler of the trip and the second Clay-colored Thrush of the day.
Day 7. Bentsen State Park is often related as a birding heaven due to the massive number of species noted here. Its extensive mesquite habitats, combined with woodlands, thickets and water bodies allows a wonderful birding all year round and it is specially noted for birds of prey both resident and migratory. Soon after getting inside the natural area we got a family group of Chachalacas feeding on the ground and a small flock of warblers including Nashville, Tennesse and 3+ Black-and-White’s, a wonderful start under any circumstance. The mesquite ambients were great and beyond Eastern Phoebes and Orange-fronted Woodpeckers we got excellent views on Verdin,Eastern Poo-weet and White-tipped Dove. A Lazuli Bunting flew over and briefly stop in a tree, but not everybody connected with the bird before flew off. A bit beyond, a pair of Grey Hawk flew low over the path, allowing again excellent views on the birds! The air was steadily warming up and by 10:20 we saw 2 Cooper’s Hawks circling. Red-railed Hawks were also noted right before an endless stream of Turkey Vultures appeared in the sky. With their characterystic flight, balancing their body and the wings up, hundreds of them were flying quite low. All the county is famous for being a natural corridor for birds of prey in migration, and in the half an hour that we spent at the Bentsen Hawk Torrer we enjoyed impressive raptor action involving not only hundreds and hundreds of Turkey Vultures but also some Swainson’s, 3 Broad-winged, some Red-shouldered’s, 3 Sharp-chinned’s, 1 Merlin, tens of American White Pelicans and the only 2 Wood Storks of the trip circling along with some Black Vultures. In our way back, we were delighted to find a flock of 15+ Wild Turkeys in the road itself.
Back to the thickets around the headquarters of the park, we got a nice flock of birds feeding on thickets around. New species for the trip inside the flock icluded: 3 Yellow-throated Warblers, 2 Wilson’s Warbler, Baltimore Oriole and Black-chinned Hummingbird.
In the afternoon went to explore a small natural reserve not far away from Bentsen and we got excellent views on Green Kingfisher, Wilson’s Warbler, Buff-bellied Hummingbird. Other interesting species here included Rufous Hummingbird, Spotted Sandpipers, Least Grebe and the only one Green Heron of the trip!
An evening stop was added in a small pond between roads. Here, the small lagoon produced Black-necked Stilts, Long-billed Dowitchers, Greater Yellowlegs and Blue-winged Teals but everything vanished when 2 Cooper’s Hawk launched themselves in a king of coordinated attack to the waterfowl! The lagoon went empty, but only for a pair of minutes when 4 Mexican Ducks arrived, allowing great scope views before leaving. This is a great species to have. Formerly considered conespecific with Mallard, nowadays is treated as a different one, with small (but maybe overlooked) populations in the American side of the Rio Grande Valley. In the fields around 3 Nothern Harriers were hunting along with a White-tailed Hawk. A walk in a small area of mesquite produced little songbirds but we were surprised to find a Common Parauque roosting on the ground! Delighted to find this speciality of the mesquite, we enjoyed walk-away views on the bird. Later in the evening we came back to the open fields, and with the very last light of the day we had a Common Whir-Pool flying around us. Some Burrowing Owls were calling around and in our nocturnal drive out of the area a Coyote appeared in front of the van allowing great views!
Day 8. A very early start of the day was necessary to accomplish the intense program for that day! First stop at Estero Llano State Park, where we were delighted with the image of tens and tens of Black-bellied Wistling Ducks early in main lagoon early in the morning. Bird activity was nice and the reedbeds around not only provided good views on Common Yellowthroat but also on Sora, Yellow-crowned Night Heron, American Moorhen and Solitary Sandpiper. The lagoons had good number of ducks including Gadwalls and Mottled Ducks. A walk around also produced Wilson’s Warbler, Lincon’s Sparrows, the first Bronze Cowbirds of trip as well as Great Kiskadees and Ruby-crowned Kinglets.
A second stop in another nature reserve nearby produced our best views on Green Jays along with some Yellow-throated Warblers, the only one Northern Parula of the trip and close up views on Ladder-backed Woodpecker.
In the afternoon we drove inside the massive Atascosa Wildlife National Refuge. Soon we got the first White-tailed Hawks of the trip along with several Ospreys, Loggerhead Shrikes and American Kestrels in the posts and wires. Once in the main laggoon, an enormous flock of ducks and American Coots was waiting for us. There were hundreds of American Wigeons along with 200+ Redheads, several Pied-billed Grebes, 7 Canvasbacks, 5+ Ruddy Ducks and 2 Ring-necked Ducks. In the shores of the lake we got the first Willet of the trip. Tricolorated Heron, Snowy Egret and Little Blue Heron were feeding along the shores, short distance from each, allowing good us to compare them with each other. In our way out of the Atascosa we were surprised to find the first Greater Roadrunner of the trip, gentlenly stopped by the road. It allowed wonderful views and some great shots. In the coming 3 miles we got another 3 Roadrunners, allowing all great views including a small hunting scene of the particular terrestrial cuckoo. But this was not the only surprise of the road, and some minutes a random stop in the road allowed us to find 3 Long-billed Curlews feeding in the farmland. Clouds of Red-winged Blackbirds and Brown-headed Cowbirds covered the area, and a good scanning in the distance produced 2 Aplomado Falcons in an aerial fight. This is an endangered species with tiny populations in the grasslands and dunes in Southern Texas.
Day 9. Parcs + Port Aransas Nature Preserve. Morning deserved to explore some urban parcs and small corners around Corpus Christi. Our first stop was at Pollywog Wildlife Sanctuary, where birding was a bit low but we still managed to enjoy good views in some migratory birds such as Yellow Warbler, Least Flycatcher and Audubon Oriole plus some interesting regular species including Marsh Wren, Sharp-chinned Hawk , Common Yellowthroat, House Wren and Grey Catbird. Our second stop, at Bucher Park, produced the best views on Blue Grosbeak of the trip along with and Ruby-throated Hummingbird and some warblers.
The shoreline around Corpus Christi is really interesting and a short stop in a marshy area produced excellent views on American Avocet, Western & Stilt Sandpipers, Sanderling, Ruddy Turstone, Marbled Godwit, Long-billed Curlew and some commoner species including Grey Plover, Black-necked Stilts and Brown Pelicans. A carefully scanning in the tidal plains produced not only Caspian & Foster’s Terns but also Snowy, Semipalmated & Piping Plovers, and Cabot’s and Royal Terns.
From here, we drove to the Port Aransas Nature Reserve to end our day exploring the reedbeds and freshwater ponds of these lovely corner. Here we were welcomed by a extremely tame Sora. The broadwalk along the marshes allowed us great views on Tricolorated Herons, white form Reddish Egret and lovely American White Pelicans & Short-billed Dowitchers in lovely afternoon light while a few Lesser Black-backed Gulls were flying over. A careful scanning of the reeds soon revealed an American Bittern appearing and disappearing, and a second Sora was seen walking along the edge of the reeds. There were some ducks, with the American Wigeons already back to show their lovely coloration and some Blue-winged Teals walking that path down. But our scanning of the reeds was abruptly broken by a Least Bittern that crossed the lagoon and landed really close to us, merging into the vegetion in a pair of seconds! Still enjoying this sight, a Clapper Rail just appeared from under our feet to do a short flight and land really close from where the Least Bittern blinded itself. After such a great afternoon we came to the hotel to enjoy a lovely dinner!
Day 10. Goose Island State Park + Skimmer. Early morning start to explore the Goose Island State Park, a first go for trying to connect with the Whooping Crane population overwintering in the area. A first walk in the forested areas produced the best views on Rose-breasted Grosbeak of the trip along with Grey Catbirds and White-eyed Vireos. From here, we went down to the island, where a few terns and waders were feeding. Here we were lucky enough to find a Wilson’s Plover feeding along with a Semipalmated Plover, and we all had goos scope views on both species feeding side by side. Walking in the marshes around we were also lucky, and a Clapper Rail just flew to us to land a few feet away from us. We could track the bird for over a minute allowing great views and photos on it! After a while and with no sign of any Crane we went to explore a close pond, where we found the first Anhinga of the trip plus 3 Indigo Buntings feeding in the grass around. and the only one Tree Swallow of the tour flying along with Barn Swallows
After a midday break we went to another corner combining reedbeds and tidal plains. Soon after our arrival, a Grove-billed Ani called from the thickets around and after soe efforts we got short but solid views on it. Common Yellowthroats were really active, and when arrived to the tidal area we saw a lovely flock of Black Skimmers resting along with many Laughing Gulls, 1 Ring-billed Gull, Avocets, Sanderlings, 2 Western Sandpipers, Marbled Godwits and Foster’s Terns. While scanning around a short call came from the reeds, and a pair of seconds later a lovely Nelson’s Sparrow appeared in the top of a bush beside our platform, showing its wonderful orange/pumcacke face with a lovely, well defined grey auricular patch. Apparently this is a scarcity around Corpus Christi, and a really good adding to our list!
Day 11. Morning start to explore a bit more the Bucher Park where we got a good selection of birds. Just parking, a Summer Tanager showed out by the van, and soon we contacted with some Warblers including Orange-crowned and Tennessee. Great Kiskadees were active as ever, and while scanning the trees we got an Ash-throated Flycatcher, another scarcity in the area in these dates. Still not recovered from this finding, a 1st winter Yellow-bellied Sapsucker just landed by our small group, allowing excellent (but short) views on the bird. When leaving the park, a female American Redstart just appeared in the low branches of a small tree, giving us a great end to our hour-long walk!
Our second stop of the day was to explore Oso Bay Wetlands. Here we were welcomed by flocks of Sandhill Cranes, just arriving from their nesting grounds to spend the winter in Corpus. Several Lincoln’s Sparrows were moving around along with some Savannah Sparrows, and another Ani was calling in the thickets. Crested Caracaras were in the move around and while enjoying the Thrasers and Grey Catbirds around a Firecrest-like call came to us, and we fastly discovered a Golden-crowned Kinglet feeding in the mesquites by the track. A bit beyond a superb Yellow-throated Warbler allowed some good shots and our visit to this location ended with a Sprague’s Pipit appearing from under our feet to show briefly before flying away!
After lunch, we went to the South Texas Botanical Gardens. Here we enjoyed the several ducks in the lagoons. American Pigeons and Blue-winged Teals were the most common but we also located 4 Mottled Ducks, 27+ Ruddy Ducks, 6 Ring-necked Ducks and 2 Lesser Scaups. 2 Black-necked Grebes were also noted, and Northern Harriers and Cooper’s Hawks were flying around to check the capabilities and reactions of the ducks. From here we moved North to end the day in __. There we got a Zone-tailed Hawk flying over being moved by a Red-shouldered Hawk, a really scarce species and fabulous adding for the trip! In the marshes it was little movement but we still got really close views on 2 Sedge Warblers that unfortunately didn’t allow any photo.
Day 12. Aransas Wildlife National Refuge is the very well known place where Whooping Cranes come to overwinter. Unfortunately we arrived a bit too early and the Whooping Cranes were not there yet. The exploration of the area started with a short-walk around the information center. It was a cloudy and windy day but we still got some small birds. Along with the typical species for the area, we enjoyed good views on a Yellow-breasted Chat, one of the largest warblers in North America, that appeared from a thicket along with Thrasers and Catbirds.
The marshes beyond produced good views on Herons and Egrets plus 2 Virginia Rails (one of them literally walking our path in front of us), 1 Clapper Rail, Common Terns, Gull-billed Terns, Reddish Egrets and the good views on Alligators. The main pond for ducks in Aransas didn’t produce so much, and a solitary Cinnamon Teal was the most interesting of a lagoon dominated by American Wigeons and Blue-winged Teals. We spent quite a long time looking for Whooping Cranes in the main watch tomer for them, but we didn’t get anything out a of a single Sandhill Crane moving in the marshes.
Back to the wood trails crossing the swamps we were lucky enough to find another American Bittern only 20 metres away from us. We waited quite long hoping for the bird to come out of the reeds, but never happened. In the meanwhile, another Sora walked around us providing, once more, great looks.
Day 13. Early morning stop in the marshes checking for something new to appear. The morning was warm and windy, and massive clouds in the horizon suggested the rain to come. In the tidal planes, Black Skimmers were again the main characters along with 2 distant Piping Plovers and Stint Sandpipers. 4 Frankling Gulls were noticed roosting along with Laughing Gulls, and a full adult American Herring Gull was a nice adding for the list of the trip.
Living Corpus, we transfered to Bolivar Peninsula via Houston. In our way we had a number of intense showers. We arrived to Houston with a windy and extremely cloudy ambient. A small park in the South West of the city was the place to explore. We only had 20 minutes before a massive rain started to come down. But we did have luck! The first bird we saw inside the park was an impressive Pileated Woodpecker doing its way in the woods. It called several times before flying away. Only a pair of minutes after that 3 American Robins showed out and 1 Downy Woodpecker came to feed around us. No time for more. A extremely intense rain started. We moved for lunch around the park, hoping for the weather to clear out in the meanwhile, but did the opposite. The rest of the transfer and afternoon we faced intese rains and winds and by the time we did arrive to the Bolivar Peninsula it was almost dark.
But right before going for dinner we had a short walk around our accommodation. The weather was surprisingly calm and clear, and in only five minutes of scanning we got a Great Horned Owl owling in the trees around and eventually it did fly over us, allowing a short but really intense sight!
Day 14. Our last morning in Texas was devoted to explore the marshy flatlands in the Bolivar Peninsula. After the strong storm and the heavy rain of the last afternoon, we faced a calm, cloudy morning. We had only a pair of hours, but it was worth to explore the Bolivar flat lands, specially after we had to cancel any birding in the previous afternoon due to rough weather.
In only a pair hours the group enjoyed the very last views on Crested Caracara, Northern Harrier, White Ibis, Loggerhead Shrike, Snowy & Reddish Egrets, Willets and Least Sandpipers. Clappers Rails were active in the marsh and we had a glimpse in a pair of them, and we were lucky enough to see a King Rail shortly flying above the vegetation, to land in the middle of the marsh and disappear but no before showing the nice contrast in the upperwings.. Here we also had excellent views on some Segde Wrens moving in the low vegetation, while a Nelson’s Sparrow showed shortly in the grass. After some checking, we finally connected with two Swamp Sparrows, and one of them allowed decent views while calling from the grasslands. Cabot’s & Fosters Terns were noted and in our way out of the peninsula we got a group of 4 Boat-tailed Grackles, another nice adding to the tour list.
From here we drove back to Houston with some juvelines Red-tailed Hawks and Blue Jays crossing the road, and two Bald Eagles cicling in the sky while refuelling was a magical way to end up our tour!
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!