Arxiu de la categoria: birding in Oman

Oman Birding Tour 2020 Trip Report

Dates: February 5th to February 14th, 2020

Number of participants: 5

Number of species: 194

All images in the trip report by tour participants Bauke Kortleve & Philippe Marchessou and tour leader Carles Oliver.

Flocks of Tristam’s Starlings (Onychognatus tristramii) can be seen in rocky scarpments in the Dhofar, but also inside mountain villages.

Day 1. Coming all tour participants from a variety of countries, we all flew into Oman along February 4th. We met for dinner, and those arriving later in the evening, for breakfast early in the morning, in February 5th. 

After enjoying our delicious breakfast we left the accommotadion and started the tour. Temperature was 18ºC in a lovely sunny day. After negotiating the traffic in Muscat we did arrive to Al-Ansab Lagoons, a small natural reserve inside Muscat providing really good birding.

Despite some diversion at the main gate, we did arrive to the typical places. Inmediatly after getting out of the van we got the firsts Purple Sunbirds of the tour. A lovely male singing in bright glossy black coloration and a female feeding in the rich vegetation of a rocky slope. White-spectacled Bulbuls were also seen around.

Graceful Prinia (Prinia subflava), one of the first birds to appear in the tour.

One of the view points over the lagoons was offering a wonderful spectacle. A flock of 9 Greater Flamingoes was an evident spot in the lagoon while waders were coming in and out. We soon noticed some Marsh Sandpipers feeding along with Ruffs, Little Stints and at least 1 Temminck’s Stint. In the wàter surface there were several Mallards, Gadwalls, Northern Shovelers, Pintails as well as Little Grebes and Eurasian Coots. The few bushes around the view point were also having some nice birding activity, and we got our first Clamorous Reed Warbler, and 3 lovely Indian Silverbills feeding on the grassy vegetation.

A short walk around produced several Common Chiffchaffs (probably all of them abietinus race) and 2 Grey Wagtails in a nearby stream. A second pool was flattered with ducks, including several Common Pochards, 1 Tufted Duck and 3 Garganeys. In the shores of the lagoons, some Great Cormorants were roosting along with Great White Egrets and Grey Herons. And with them, 1 first winter Purple Heron was trying to don’t be discovered.

Purple Sunbirds (Cinnyris asiaticus) are a common view in Northern Oman.

Al-Ansab has three different hides, and from the last one we enjoyed the first Citrine Wagtail of the tour, a bird highly celebrated in the group. Several Common Moorhens were feeding in front of the hide, but everything moved fast when Keith spotted a Grey Francolin beside the reedbed! The bird provided with really short views before it went behind a tamarisk. Decided to improve our views, we just walked to the opposite side of the hide and got good views on 3 birds moving around. While looking for the bird we got our first Lesser Whitethroats of the trip! Some Green Bee-eaters were flying around, showing superbly, and the photographers in the group hap time to enjoy with them while some Pale Crag Martins were flying around. Beyond, in a hilly area, we found 1 Persian Wheatear at the same moment that 3 Pallid Swifts screamed in the sky because of the fast flight of a Western Marsh Harrier. That was definately a good start for our tour. 

We later came back to this same spot for our picnic lunch, with a similar list of species and the only (and really interesting) adding of 1 Eastern Orphean Warbler that move from a low bush in front of us and produced short but decent views before flying back up to the canopies, and blind out.

Citrine Wagtail (Motacilla citreola) in almost full summer plomage.

After such a good start we moved to the coast, a short transfer of 15 minutes, to explore a number of mudflats. In two locations we got a good list of waders including a flock of 15+ Temminck’s Stints, Lesser Sand Plover, several Ruffs, Common Snipe, Wood Sandpiper, Common Ringed Plover, Common Redshank, Greenshank, Ruddy Turnstone, and Dunlins.

We then move to the Al-Qurum Natural Reserve, inmediatly East of Muscat, where we did two stops, seaside and inland.

In the seaside we had the change for first views on Caspian Gulls along with Greater Crested, Lesser Crested & Sandwich Terns. Heughlin Gull were common, as they were the Steppe Gulls. In the beach we also got Eurasian Whimbrel and a nice flock of mixed Lesser & Greater Sand Plovers roosting on the river mouth. Everything under the close view of Common Mynas.

Small numbers of Crested Honey Buzzards (Pernis ptilorhynchus) overwinter in Oman.

Our second stop was to explore a pair of corners inland., just following along a small stream. We parked the car and inmediatly had two raptors in the sky, being moved by House Crows. There were 2 juvenile Bonelli’s Eagle, one of them quite pale, that were having some difficulties against the crows. Happy with such a nice encounteer we entered the path to stop again as 1 Isabelline Shrike catched our attention. The bird was standing high up in a bush, with a lovely afternoon light. Few minutes after the group was delighted to see 1 Crested Honey Buzzard circling quite low above the area, joined in the blue sky by the first Western Osprey of the tour. The path brought us to a nice corner of marsh while Rose-winged Parakeets were calling in the sky. A short walk around revealed a lovely and rather surprising Desert Whitethroat, a bird considered still a race of Lesser Whitethroat (treated sometimes as a form of Asian Lesser Whitethroat) for many, but considered as a full species for others. The bird was showingly small and extremely pale, depending on the angle being almost as sandy as a Asian Desert Warbler, with a slight contrast between the mantle and flight feathers. It gave us a great view of some minutes long, being able to have proper looks to the rather dark lores, well contrasted with the sandy mantle. Once everyone in the group had good looks on the bird, we all kept moving along a rich vegetated corridor, where 1 Song Thrush flew out of our way. Just few metres beyond, 2 Clamorous Reed Warbler were showing superbly in the dense vegetation, joined by a Great Reed Warbler some meters away!

Clamarous Reed Warbler (Acrocephalus stentoreus) showed really well in Al Anqsar.

Once in the marsh we enjoy some nice waders and kept scanning the few Common Snipes, hoping for a Pin-tailed Snipe to appear. Never did it. Al-Qurum Natural Reserve is having several interesting corners. A short-walk around brought us to a place with some big trees and several open spaces, here we had 3 Indian Rollers flying around and showing really well in the afternoon light.

Indian Rollers (Coracias benghalensis) are common in a variety of landscapes in Northern Oman.

The well known central lagoon was the only place during the trip where we saw Indian Pond Herons, a minimum of 3 of them were seen along with some Squacco Herons. A correct identification of these species is always challenging, and the best way to tell them apart is from the bill and lore coloration. Indian Pond Heron is always having a black final area in the lower mandibule, a well defined and contrasted patch (above 30% of the bill length) while Squacoo Heron shows a more difuse blackish area in the lower mandibule. Besides, Indian Pond Herons usually shows blackish lores, helping a lot in a correct identification of the bird.

The central pond not only produced all Indian Pond Herons of the trip, but also 2 Red-crested Pochards females (scarce bird in Oman), 1 female Tufted Duck, Gull-billed Tern, and the firsts Striated Heron and Black-crowned Night Heron of the tour. 

Back to the car, we just drove to a different corner of the park while enjoying the sunset. Was not still dark when we got inside a lovely, quiet corner, having some big trees. After some minutes of scanning we found our goal for that evening, a wonderful Pallid Scops Owl singing and showing superbly. We had the bird for about 25 minutes, barely 15 metres away from us. The view was so great that even some local people came to enjoy the views in the scope!!!

Pallid Scops Owl (Otus brucei) produced long views in our first evening in Oman.

Glad after such a good start for our tour, we came to our accommodation for a great dinner based in Arab, Indian and International cuisine.

Day 2. After a good rest we drove West to a small river mouth with rich mangroves, a good place to look for some specialities. Our main hope was to contact with the local race of Collared Kingfisher, a splitable population with slim populations along the Eastern coast of Arabia. We arrived quite early to the place, enjoying good views on Indian Rollers along the last part of the road, but despite our efforts we could not contact with any Collared Kingfisher. Instead we had 2 Common Kingfishers moving in the mangroves, Western Marsh Harrier, Western Osprey, Lesser Sand Plovers, 2 Bar-tailed Godwits, Lesser Whitethroats (blithy), and the best views on Greater Hoopoe Lark along the tour as one bird was singing and displaying just beyond the mangroves.

Numbers of Steppe Eagles (Aquila nipalensis) were less spectacular than in previous years, but we still enjoyed tens of them during the tour!

We then had a stop and some rest before driving up Al Hajar Mountains, where we were going to spend the rest of the day, staying there a bit beyond sunset. After a 60 minutes transfer we did a first stop in the mountains, in a savannah-like ambient. There we enjoyed good views on 1 female Hooded Wheatear just next to 1 Isabelline Shrike. Once around the gorge, we explore a bit the area, and we all got good views on 3 Desert Larks feeding on the wadi, but also Eastern Black Redstart, Hume’s Wheatear, Pale Crag Martin, 1 juvenile Blue Rock Thrush and 3 singing Striolated Buntings that never produced a proper view. But probably the most interesting bird at that point was 1 Variable Wheatear moving in the rocky slopes, a bird that is one of the long list of scarce winter visitors to Oman.

White-spectacled Bulbul (Pycnonotus xanthopygos), the commonest Bulbul in Oman.

After this exploring we move to our last destination that day, one of the impressive gorges West of Samail. Here we had some time explore the bush in the wadi, producing really good looks on 1 Hume’s Whitethroat, Striolated Buntings and at least 4 Plain Leaf Warblers moving in the small trees in the wadi. The afternoonn was advanced and we spent some time scanning the cliffs in search of the most enygmathical bird in Oman, the poorly known, Omani Owl.

Plain Leaf Warbler (Phyllosocpus nitidus), one of the smallest on its genus, overwinters in small numbers in montane oases in Northern Oman.

In the time we were scanning, we were lucky to find out a nest of Egyptian Vultures high up in the cliffs, and enjoyed good views on the scope. A further scanning in the skyes around produced 4 more Egyptians, joined in the sky by the massive shape of a Lappet-faced Vulture. The birds were soaring and the Lappet-faced started to fly lower and lower above one slope, until it landed. Despite it was far away, everyone in the tour had excellent views on the scope of this scarce giant of the Omani skyes!

The impressive gorges in Al Hajar Mountains are home for the poorly known Omani Owl.

Glad aftert such a good selection of species, we waited until it was dark. Our scans in the cliffs were unseccful to find any roosting owl. Once the darkness arrived, we were soon surprised by the song of an Omani Owl coming from high up in the cliffs. A short series of 4 or 5 “uuu”, not really different from the typical Tawny Owl song. We had the bird singing 3 times, and for a while it looked like it was a second Omani Owl replaying far down away in the gorge. Still, and despite our efforst, it was not possible to get anything else than these impressive calls in the middle of the quiet night.

Day 3. After a good breakfast we transfer South. A 90 minutes drive brought us to a different landscape of open acacia grassland, and the first oases of the tour. But earlier we had a roadside stop, since about 40 Steppe Eagles were flying around, quite close. They were also on the hills around, and a proper scanning around produced as well several Egyptian Vultures, 1 Griffon Vulture, 1 Greater Spotted Eagle adult and 2 Eastern Imperial Eagles! Along with, several Brown-necked Ravens. The images of the raptors in the sky was an amazing and all enjoyed really much! Other good birds around included 2 Striolated Buntings (best views on the tour were here) and 2 Hume’s Wheatears.

Striolated Buntings (Emberiza striolata) can be suprisingly difficult to spot.

Once arrived to the oases we spent some exploring. It was plenty of Little Bee-eaters and 5 Indian Rollers spotted, very vocals at that location. Graceful Prinia, Purple Sunbird, Common Chiffchaff (abietinus race), and distant views on Lesser Whitethroat were also noted, including a very pale individual. Here we came to look for Yellow-throated Petronia and, in the search, we found 1 Red-breasted Flycatcher, a really appreciated bird for the tour participants. When coming to the car, a slim sparrow appeared right in front of us. With the dark and long bill, plane and dark head, this Yellow-throated Petronia showed up only for few seconds before flying away, and unfortunately most of the tour participants never contacted with the bird. We still had time scanning around the oases, but we could not refind the bird.

Indian Silverbill (Euodice malabarica) keeps good populations in Northern Oman.

After this stop we just did a fast stop in the grassy savannah like ambient next to it, having our first looks in the trip for Desert & Isabelline Wheatears. Common Kestrel and Crested Lark were also noted.

Day 4. After a mostly transfer day went for a pre-breakfast walk around our accommodation, located in a remote coastal area i North-east Oman. A short-walk around the hotel produced wonderful views on Black-crowned Sparrow-larks. We could see them singing and displaying in the sky as well as feeding on the ground in small flocks, including both males and females. At the same time, a flock of 8 Tawny Pipits were seeing, as well as Brown-necked Ravens, Indian Silverbills, Desert Larks, a closeby Isabelline Wheatear and some Desert Wheatears

Black-crowned Sparrow-Lark (Eremopteryx nigriceps), the second commonest lark in Oman.

After breakfast we drove South to the area were Crab Plovers are normally found. Along the way, a sandy desert of golden dunes offered incredible landscapes. Some kilometres South of our accommodation we saw a tiny area with water and some bush. Taking advantage of this, we did a stop and explore around. Inmediatly after living the car we had 1 Persian Wheatear, an encouraging start. The tiny water pond didn’t look like having so much else, until a Sylvia warbler flew out from a bush, a Menetries’s Warbler! The bird flew away, but not far. We had all to run a bit and scan a lot but finally everybody got excellent views in actually 2 Menetries’s Warblers (one of them a male showing a slight pinkish tint in the breast, as James noticed).

Menetries Warbler (Sylvia mystacea) male.A scarce overwintering bird in Oman.

Happy all after such a wonderful spot we came back to the van for a final, short drive. We were at place about 10 o’clock. The huge bay, was full of Sooty Gulls and Slender-billed Gulls. Heuglhin’s & Steppe Gulls were also common. A first scan of the area produced big numbers of Western Reef Egrets, Bar-tailed Godwits, Little Stints, Eurasian Oystercatchers, Lesser & Greater Sand Plovers, Dunlins, Grey Plovers plus about 30 Curlew Sandpipers, some Sanderlings, and some Eurasian Curlews. Some Gull-billed & Caspian Terns were flying here and there. But no Crab Plovers. We kept scanning, and scanning. But nothing. Waves and waves of waders were moving into the bay, mostly Bar-tailed Godwits and Dunlins, but not only.

And then Bauke suddenly noticed that we were having 3 Crab Plovers right in front of us, really close! We all had excellent views, and a fast re-scanning produced produced 14 of them! Suddenly all appeared. Only ten minutes later, a counting along the shore produced 47 Crab Plover!!!!

We enjoyed wonderful views on Crab Plover (Dromas ardeola), a massive, elegant a really sought-after wader.

We had time to enjoy of the Crab Plovers, and all the waders around, including 1 Greater Sand Plover in almost full summer plomage. 1 Clamorous Reed Warbler was in the small mangroves by the shore, and 2 Little/Saunder’s Terns were flying around,1 of them showing clear characters of Saunder’s (An extended blakish, well contrasted primaries from P9 to P7 or P6). After long enjoying the Crab Plovers and the birding expectacle around we moved a bit, to scan for different kinds of Gulls. Our main goal was Palla’s Gull, but we couldn’t find any this time as we were a bit in the season for them, this year. Instead we got nice views on 1 full adult Baltic Gull (Larus fuscus fuscus) and several Greater Crested, Lesser Crested & Sandwich Terns.

After some more birding we came back to our accommodation for some rest and eventually enjoy of the swimming pool.

Greater Sand Plover (Charadrius leschenaultii) in almost complete summer plomage.

Day 5. Long transfer until Salalah, but with interesting stops in the middle. First stop early in the morning to explore a nice desert patch with some vegetation. Here we got our first Southern Grey Shrike (aucheri race) and nice views on Desert Wheatears. But the best was the nice views on the first Asian Desert Warbler of the tour. We got the bird tipically moving in the low, small bushes but also literally running on the sand, for long just following a male Desert Wheatear, a behaviour related several times to this species nesting in Central Asia.

Desert Wheatear (Oenanthe deserti) is the commonest among the wide variety of Wheatears in Oman.

The second stop was a bit later in the day, to explore the formerly famous an excellent Qitbit Hostel. This accommodation is now abandoned, and its gardens are not any more a magnet attracting specialities. Here we only got 1 Eurasian Hoopoe, and a small flock of Common House Martins joined by 1 Barn Swallow

Southern Grey Shrike (Lanius meridionalis aucheri), a resident bird in Omani deserts.

As this location was empty of any interest we drove some more miles, to explore some Sewage Farms. Here we found an authentical magnet for birds. Just got into the farm, a harvested field was filled up with birds. Both Isabelline & Desert Wheatears (the second with interesting examples of 1st winter birds) were common. Also White & Yellow Wagtails. Tens of Tawny Pipits were also feeding in the many insects. A nice surprise was a flock of 9 Cream-coloured Coursers feeding in the area, allowing nice photo opportunities. The field was also having tens of Crested & Black-crowned Sparrow-Larks. 3 Marsh Harriers & 4 Common Kestrels were feeding in the many grasshopers, and a male Pallid Harrier was really celebrated by the tour participants.

Cream-coloured Coursers (Cursorior cursor) in the sewage fields. A magnet for birds in the desert.

A bit beyond, a second field was also having a good birdlife. In this case, out of the regular species, we enjoyed 4 Common Cranes and 1 female Montagu’s Harrier scanning the field on search of any potential prey.

As the sun started to go down we came to the road, whilling to arrive to Salalah. But some Sandgrouses made this to happen later than expected. Some Greater Hoopoe Larks crossed the road just minuted before a small flock of Chesnut-bellied Sandgrouses flew off from the side of the road. We stopped the car inmediatly, but unfortunately nobody connected with birds, this time. More flocks were in the air so we decided to drive slowly to scan properly the surrounding areas. Just few miles away, a wonderful flock of Spotted Sandgrouses were flying low around, and decided to stop in front of car, right by car, providing excellent views to all tour participants! 

Happy after such a wonderful end of the day, we just covered the last miles to our hotel in Salalah, where we enjoyed the first of a row of wonderful dinners, and a good rest.

Isabelline Wheatear (Oenanthe isabellinus) is a common bird in Oman during winter.

Day 6. Our first in Salalah was devoted to get proper views in some of the many sought-after species living around this city. We explore the well known Ayn Hamrat, a location combining indigenous decideous forest, riverside & savannah like ambients, with a nice bushland and a wonderful stream.

Just got out of the car and we got our firsts Cinnamon-breasted Buntings, a wonderful bird that was coming in small flocks to drink water from the stream. Common & Green Sandpipers were spotted along the stream, as well as 1 Grey Wagtail. We went for a short-walk when James spotted 1 juvenile Shikra perched in a fig tree, overlooking the main pond in the stream. 

Shrikra (Accipiter badius) keeps

Right after a Palestine Sunbird flew over, providing with a first glence of this beautiful species. The attention of group was captured then by Keith, whom spotted a small flock of Arabian Partridges running away from us. They climbed up the hill, providing us with excellent views. Many Abyssian White-eyes were around, in small (and sometimes not that small) flocks. The first of several African Paradise Flycatchers was seen, and the group was enjoying with such a wonderful bird when Keith went on again, this time with our first Arabian Warbler skulking in the vegetation a bit up in the slope, around from where the Partridges were moving. But got really good views but another bird claim of attention, since a wonderful Eastern Imperial Eagle was soaring low in the slope, probably hoping for a Partridge. The bird, slowly circling, showed the beautiful barring in the head and extending also to the throat. What a bird!

Arabian Warbler (Sylvia leucomelaena) inhabits forest edges and tall bushland.

But Keith was not giving up and again hit us, this time with a Black-crowned Tchagra low in the bushes! The bird was moving on the group, tacking advantage from the shady area to discover and capture insects. Few meters beyond we found our first Blackstart, quite confiding and showing us the beautiful black of its tail as it was open it several times. A pair of Shinning Sunbirds was in the same tree were the Blackstart was, and all the group had great views on the shinning green coloration of the male, but we got distracted by a small flock of African Silverbills that shortly landed in front of us. By that time we had a different bird in the sky, now was time for a 1st winter Short-toed Snake Eagle, that soared low among the decidious trees. At that moment Bauke had the 2 first Fan-tailed Ravens of the tour flying up in the cliffs, and we could even listen their toy-like calls from the distance. That was right before we had our firsts Long-billed Pipits moving in the bare ground, under the trees. These birds showed really tame, just as the African Paradise Flycatchers around, for enjoyment of the photographers in the group.

African Paradise Flycatcher (Tersiphone viridis), a wonderful drop of African birdlife in Oman.

We then decide to go down a bit the stream, prior taking a look the dry plains around. Some Black-crowned Sparrow-Larks were around, and James spotted our first Steppe Grey Shrike in a branch, overlooking the open space. Back to the woods, we took a look to the well vegetated stream, were we got 2 White-breasted Waterhens calling from the dense vegetation, a 1 Common Snipe flying from the shore.

Flocks of Tristam’s Starlings were coming to drink water, locating them by their beautiful wistles far before we could see them. They were joined by several Ruppell’s Weavers, and many Cinnamon-breasted Buntings. The fig trees above the area was having some Sunbirds, including two wonderful Palestine Sunbirds, for admiration of the group. 

We kept scanning around, the trees filled up with birds, when 1 Asian Koel just appeared in front of us! This is a really overwintering bird in Oman, and almost became the hit of the day for at least 1 member of the group! 

Asian Koel (Eudynamys scolopaceus), a really scarce overwintering bird in Oman.

After some time by the stream we decided to do a second short-walk, this time a bit beyond, and our effort was really worth it. At some point, a small flock of 4 Arabian Golden-winged Grosbeaks passed over us, calling and stopping a bit beyond. A bit of running was required but we arrived at the place were the birds landed. They were calling all around, even singing! A really long half a minute passed away until we relocated the birds in a distant bush. Great! We got everybody in the birds, with excellent views despite not being inmediatly close to us.

This is probably the best image that the group could get in Arabian Golden-winged Grosbeaks (Rhynchostruthus percivali).

We dediced to go back bu the stream, maybe the Grosbeaks were coming to drink water…They never did. For instance we got 1 Isabelline Shrike. After a nice picnic by the shade of the many trees we just went to the next location, overlooked by 1 Booted Eagle.

We spend some time in afternoon exploring Raysut. Unfortunately this year there were few Steppe Eagles in the area, and that day more interesting bird we had at the rubbish dump was a solitary White Stork. We also got 1 Citrine Wagtail, 1 Temminck’s Stint and 5 Little Ringed Plovers and a small flock of Whiskered Terns by visiting different ponds. 

As Raysut was not as great as the last years, we just went to the sea, where big flocks of birds were waiting for us. At least 15 Terek’s Sandpipers were seeing in the place, along with several Lesser & Greater Sand Plovers, Little Stints, 1 Curlew Sandpiper, 1 Intermediate Egret, several Heughlin’s Gulls, Caspian Terns, 12 Western Ospreys, 1 Black-eared KIte, 4 Steppe Eagles, Grey Plovers, Dunlins, and mixed flocks of Citrine & Yellow Wagtails (beema & thumbergi races.

We still got time for a last stop, and we went to explore the Museum. There we got unforgettable views on Spotted Thick-knees, sometimes just a few meters away from us! We counted a minimum of 10. Other interesting birds in the gardens of the museum included Ruppell’s Weaver, Palestine Sunbird, Citrine Wagtail, Laughing Dove and Squacco Heron.

Spotted Thick-knee (Burhinus capensis) in glorious afternoon light.

A really short drive brought us back to our accommodation for a well deserved rest.

Day 7. This day we basically explored the some spots North of Salalah, and in particular the mountainous areas in Dhoffar. 

But before we went up to the hills we did spend some time in the early morning. We left the car right beside a big river moth, and got the firsts birds of the day. Green Sandpiper, Eastern Black Redstart and Isabelline Shrike. A fast scanning of the lagoon revealed 9 Cotton Pygmy Geese, including a drake male. Marsh Sandpiper and Black-tailed Godwit were both feeding in the shores and it didn’t take long to locate the first of 3 Pheasant-tailed Jacana, feeding on the floating vegetation or even swimming along with Common Moorhens.

Cotton Pygmy Goose (Nettapus coromandelianus) has become really scarce in Oman in recent years.

1 Greater Spotted Eagle was standing up in a tree, thinking about possible preys. In the water, 4 Garganeys were spotted, while the shore produced Temminck’s Stint, Lesser Sand Plover, and 1 Curlew Sandpiper. The only one Eurasian Spoonbill of the tour passed over us while 2 White-winged Black Terns were roosting on a floating branck. Happy after such a good selection of birds, the group started to move, but we then we found 2 Red-knobbed Coots! Despite they were not very close, we all got good views on the main remarks.

Red-knobbed Coot (Fulica cristata) keeps being considered a rarity in Oman, with some individuals overwintering around Salalah.

After such a great place for allus we drove up to hills, to keep having some incredible birds.

A 30 minutes drive brought us up to the hills. In the way, some Steppe Eagles offered good views and a few Long-billed Pipits crossed the road. Once in the area, Bauke spotted the first Arabian Wheatear of the trip in a wire. It was a nice male, and was busy feeding 2 hungry young birds that allowed beautiful views on this small species. 

Arabian Wheatears (Oenanthe lugentoides) are early nesters.

Just arrived to our main destination, we parked the van and started scanning around. 1 gorgeous Bonelli’s Eagle was patrolling the area, in really low, and slow flights producing what was the best views I ever had in this species! During the next hours we saw this same individual patrolling a small patch of land, always extremelly low. What a present for all of us!

This Bonelli’s Eagle (Aquila fasciata) kept flying above our van for several minutes in the Dhofar Mountains!

This hillsides are literally filled up with Cinnamon-breasted Buntings. It is difficult to understand how they can be so common… Wherever you look around, there were small flocks of these birds. Still, there are many other birds around. As we were walking around, Keith pointed out 2 Arabian Partridges. Both Shinning & Palestine Sunbirds were seen feeding around, while flocks of Tristam’s Starlings were flying over. Fan-tailed Ravens were also common, with rather nasal, short calls emerging from the sky as they were diving in groups going after the raptors they could find in the sky. Now was time for a juvenile Eastern Imperial Eagle to be joined by the ravens…

Arabian Partridge (Alectoris melanocephala), another Arabian endemic that provide with excellent views.

As we walked around we found a number of Tree Pipits, overwinter in the area in good numbers, but also Lesser Whitethroat, Tawny Pipits, African Silverbills and Ruppell’s Weavers. Suddenly, a tiny rock got alive from under our feet and became a wonderful Singing Bush Lark that stand for us for a walk-away views that allow all tour participants enjoy all the details of birds, including those alula lovers in the group!

Singing Bush Lark (Mirafra cantillans) is a common bird in the Dhofar high grasslands.

Some uplands in Dhofar region are full of beautiful Tree Pipits (Anthus trivialis).

Our walk was being really productive and improve after we found 1 Eurasian Wryneck feeding on the ground along with Cinnamon-breasted Buntings. Some Blackstarts were also present, one pair even nesting in a wall hole, and 1 Short-toed Snake Eagle flew over us, getting an advice from the local Bonelli’s, you better don’t do that again.

And finally, after some hours of scanning, we got a small flock of Yemen Serins drinking water along with Buntings. We were really lucky this time, and at the same time that we saw them, a flock of 5 just came directly to us, stopping in a wire right in front of us and providing excellent views. They were calling and soon some 10 birds more joined the party. They were in the wires but also on the ground and even on the roof of a close building!! We enjoyed the birds for ten minutes and then decided to move for a further exploration of the area.

After some scanning we got excellent views on a flock of Yemen Serin (Crithagra mechanensis).

The Yemen Serin is endemic living in mountain plateaus in Yemen and Oman, with only a handful of locations where to see the bird. Nowadays Oman is the only place where to try to see the bird safely.

A short drive lead us to an advantaged point where scan for raptors and small passerines. Unfortunably the area was now foggy, but we still got excellent views on a pair of Arabian & Desert Wheatears, Eastern Black Redstart and amazing views on a juvenile Eastern Imperial Eagle perched on a dead tree few metres away from the van!!!

juvenile Eastern Imperial Eagle (Aquila heliaca), in an impressive view by our van.

Arabian Wheatear (Oenanthe lugentoides) inhabits mountain rocky areas in the Dhofar.

This was a wonderful end of the day. We still had a chance for a stop in local bakery and enjoy nice local sweets before we head back to Salalah.

Back in the city, we still invested some time in its famous Sun Farms. There we had some interesting birds including a flock of about 120 Pacific Golden Plovers along with at least 3 European Golden Plovers resting in a plugged field. Not far from there, a flock of 7 Whitewinged Black Tern were flying around in a small marshy area inside the same farm. 1 Yellowbilled KIte was seen flying around the area. It was time to come back to the our accommodation for a nice rest and dinner.

Pacific Golden Plovers (Pluvialis fulva) in Salalah Sun Farms.

Day 8. Offshore day. We arribed early morning to the harbour. There, the many traditional fishing boats were filled up with Sooty Gulls, allowing wonderful views. Around the smaller boats, some Grey Herons and Western Reef Egrets were a good entertaiment while our boat was ready.

Once out of the harbour, we enjoyed a really plain sea. Heuglin’s Gulls were flying around, and small flocks of Greater Crested Terns provided excellent views. It didn’t take us long until we got the firsts Red-necked Phalaropes feeding in floating algae. During the 4 hours of the boat trip we got several flocks, totalling at least 50 birds.

Red-necked Phalaropes (Phalaropus lobatus) are a common view offshore Dhofar.

The Arabian Sea around Salalah is also really good for sea mammals and we were pleased to find a big herd of more than 200 Indian Spinner Dolphins. These small dolphins were swimming quite fast to the South, and we enjoy close views as we followed for some minutes. The image of these small dolphins, spinning and jumping around was a really enjoyable moment!

Spinners Dolphins (Stenella longirostris) were a good company while scanning for sea birds in our offshore North of Salalah.

Back to duty we turn again into the sea, to keep a bit of distance from the coast. Soon, we have the first Masked Booby flying over, and some minutes later we had good views in a flock of 4 of them while Red-necked Phalaropes were busy feeding and wondering around. We kept scanning around and we had short views on a distant dark Shearwater. The bird looked like a Fled-tailed, but was a distant, brief view so could not identify. 

Masked Boobies (Sula dactylatra) nest not far from the continent in Oman.

The density of birds is low in this sea, but we were lucky to have a Red-billed Tropicbird passing above us, and the whole group enjoyed great views in a bird that was really celebrated. That was brilliant! And only a pair of minutes after we had a dark, long-tailed Petrel flying around, a Jouanin’s Petrel! Unfortunately it was too fast for some of the tour participants, but not a bad view at all. We kept fighting for a better view until Keith just saw another Jouanin’s coming directly to us from the back of the boat, and this time everybody got excellent views on the Petrel as only passed 20 metres away from us!! Happy after the great views in such a scarce bird, we still were scanning for some time, looking for Persian Shearwaters. During the next half and hour we still had 2-3 more Jouanin’s, but never got any Shearwater.

The vey scarce Jouanin’s Petrel (Bulweria fallax) is normally one of the top targets for any birder visiting Oman.

Glad after the good offshore, we just came to our accommodation to have some rest before going for an afternoon outing.

After having a good rest we did have some late afternoon birding to explore some planes North of the Salalah, where we had some interesting birds including a flock of 11 Eurasian Stone Curlews in flight, 1 Eastern Imperial Eagle and flocks of Greater Short-toed & Crested Larks. As the sunset was arriving we went to a forested area. There we had our first Red-tailed Shrike of the tour perched in some death vegetation, and while we were enjoying this beauty we got our first Arabian Scops Owl singing from the woods. 

After some scanning we finally connected with a wonderful male Arabian Scops Owl that provided us with stunning views. At least other 3 birds were singing around in a sight that was highly celebrated! Happy after such a nice encounter we came to the accommodation for a good rest.

Arabian Scops Owl (Otus pamelae) proved that can cooperate for photo tours!

Day 9. Really early morning start with a short transfer to the desert to look for a number of desert specialities. We had some drive until Mudday, a small oases some 35 kilometers to the Yemen border. Here we first had a break to enjoy our take away breakfast just after the raising. 

Both Laughing & Eurasian Collared Doves were singing in the place along with Whitespectacled Bulbuls. A pair of Blackstarts were also a nice view while enjoying our breakfast. A first walk around produced little out of 2 Lesser Whitethroats (halimomendri race), 1 Song Thrush calling in flight and 1 Brownnecked Raven passing by. 

Then we walked until the corner where we enjoyed most birds one year ago. After a pair of minutes of searching we were grateful to find 1 male Nile Valley Sunbird, calling and showing really well in the wires and in the palm trees around. This bird was really celebrated by the group, and it was soon joined by a female! 

Nile Valley Sunbird (Hedydipna metallica) male, a typical inhabitant of oases in Oman.

Only a pair of minutes later, and when most of the group was still enjoying the Sunbirds, a bird came in flight, it was a female Grey Hypocolius!!! The bird directly landed in the wires right in front of us, giving us wonderful views before diving into a thick young palm tree. Everybody was extremely happy at that moment as the Hypocolius is one of the most sought-after birds in the region!!! The bird only showed for half a minute,and we were just talking about this point when a second Hypocolius landed in the same wire. And this time was a superb male!

Grey Hypocolius (Hypocolius ampelinus) male & female (below), probably the most celebrated birds of the tour, showing superbly in early morning light.

This time everybody enjoyed of a long sight in the Hypocolius allowing several shots,and even went vocal a pair of times before diving as well in the same thick bush where the female went down from the wire!

It is difficult to explain how happy the group was at this point. And it was only the beggining of the day! After enjoying the Hypocolius we just did a short walk around and got the second Redtailed Shrike of the tour catching the morning light in some dead bush. Was not even nine in the morning! In the area where the vegetation was more rich we got some Common Chiffchaffs moving up and down but the surprise was to find the second Red-breasted Flycatcher of the tour moving in the low palm trees along with an African Paradise Flycatcher. What a strange pair of hunters in the middle of the desert!!

One of two Red-tailed Shrikes (Lanius phoenicuroides) that we enjoyed in the last days of the tour.

As was still early in the morning we went to have a look in a nearby oases. Only 3 miles away there is another corner with luxurian vegetation and some palm groves around. But the area was surprisingly empty of birds. We had a pair of short walks and were productives at the end, as we enjoyed the best views on Asian Desert Warbler of the trip, and a Desert Lark that landed in a small clay cliff in front of us.

Red-breasted Flycatcher (Ficedula parva) in palm groves at Qitbit.

Back to Mudday we soon were surprised by the calls of tens of Sandgrouses. Flocks and flocks of Chestnutbellied Sandgrouses flew over the oases. Among with them, we got good views on 12 Crowned Sandgrouses flying quite lowl. We decided to follow them, and after some minutes we got the place where they seemed decided to land.

Crowned Sandgrouses (Pterocles coronatus) are a difficult target in Oman. In this issue we got unforgettable views!

After a short wait, the first 4 Chestnutbellieds landed in a hillside, fastly followed by more and more, and by a small flock of Cronwed Sandgrouses that decided to land just beside us!!! Suddenly we looked like surrounded by Sandgrouses, with the Crowneds decided to approach a tiny pond of water, and the more numerous Chestnut-bellieds offeing us extremely good views as about 40 birds were coming to drink water in a small stream!!!!! What a wonderful sight!!!!

Chestnut-bellied Sandgrouses (Pterocles exustus), the commonest Sandgrouse in Oman.

We had a wonderful hald an hour, enjoying flocks of Sandgrouses coming to drink water in the tiny pond. And after this time they vanished as fast as they arrived! Extremelly happy after such a wonderful morning, we started the way back to Salalah, with a nice stop in our way to enjoy a lovely Bartailed Lark in the side of the road.

Back in our accommodation, we enjoyed a short break to recover from the early start, and we went South of the city to explore some coastal areas.

The first stop could not be more productive, as we enjoyed good views in a massive flock of over 200 Socotra Cormorants feeding in the sea. They typically move in extremelly dense flocks, and keep feeding all together in giant fisheries. Along with them there were several Sooty Gulls but also 12 Brown Bobbies, some of them quite close to the coast. Some Tristam’s Starlings came to the view point, adding some excellent photo chances to the place!

Liltte Stints (Calidris minuta) were common in many coastal mudflats and other wetlands.

A bit more to the North, a superb river mouth reaches the Arabian Sea. A stop there was mandatory, and we had a good variety of birds including some Garganeys, Tufted Duck, Greater Whitefronted Goose, 5 Pintails, LIttle Stints, 2 Curlew Sandpipers, Eurasian Teals, Greater & Lesser Crested Terns, Blacktailed Godwit and several species more.

As we still had some time, we did a small detour exploring a nearby wadi, and we were lucky enough enjoy 4 Sand Partridges running in the rocky slopes as well as a close by Arabian Wheatear male!

Part of the group exploring a wadi around Salalah.

Typical Dhofar coastal area.

Day 10. Last day of birding of the tour. In the early morning we went back to a palm grove are in Salalah, hoping for some views on Bruce’s Green Pigeons, a bird that had been scaping from us along the tour. We spend some time in the area, adding 1 Crested Honey Buzzard and good views on Yellow Wagtails (meena) but being uncapable to find any pigeon.

We then moved to the Sun Farms of the city, where we did have Sand Martins and Whitewinged Black Terns. Unfortunately was quite windy and we didn’t get permit to get inside the farms so we decided to move to a nearby wetland to spend the last time before taking our plane back to Muscat.

Blackstart (Oenanthe melanura), a common but localised bird in Dhofar area.

Once in the wetland, we were once again surprised by the variety of birds. Despite the wind, the water was full of ducks including Garganey, Eurasian Teals, Northern Shovelers and 2 Pintails. Common, Gullbilled, Whiskered and 8 Whitewinged Black Terns were all added to the list of the place. Marsh Sandpipers and Temminck’s Stints were the most interesting waders. Blackwinged Stilts, Greater Flamingoes and Graceful Prinia were all noted. As a good end, James spotted a Namaqua Dove in a fence.

This Namaqua Dove (Oena capensis) was the last adding to the tour list.

After this last birding we headed to the Salalah Airport, where a short internal flight brought us to Muscat for a comfortable overnight before everyone could take a plane back home!

In 2021 we will go back to Oman, join us for a good fun and a great birding!

info@barcelonabirdingpoint.com   \    http://www.barcelonabirdingpoint.com

OTHER WIlDLIFE

Variable Colotis (Colotis phissada) in Sun Farms 150 miles from Salalah.

Diadem Butterfly (Hyppolimnas myssipus)

One-pip Policeman (Coeliades anchises) at Al-Ansab lagoons.

Blue Pansi (Precis orithya) was present in some well vegetated locations.

Mantidae sp. in a desertic area close to Masirah Island.

Oman Birding Tour 2019 Trip Report

Dates: 29th January to 7th February, 2019

Tour participants: 5

Seen bird species: 210

Tour Leaders: Sergi Sales & Carles Oliver

After an afternoon flight we arrived to Oman beyond midnight. Passport controls were fast and we arrived to our hotel in Musqat after a comfortable shuttle transport from the aiport.

Day 1. After a good rest and a great breakfast in our hotel we went for a short walk in some tree just by our accommodation. It was time to have a first contact with some common species in Northern Oman. Probably the first bird of the tour were 2 Purple Sunbirds, seen feeding in the trees along a small gorge. Just around, a wonderful Indian Roller was hunting from the wires crossing the gorge. Indian Silverbill, Common Myna and several Laughing Doves were also seen and celebrated. We also had the interesting local race of House Sparrow, being smaller, duller and more grey in the upperside than the races we are more used.

Green Bee-eater (Merops orientalis), a wonderful small bee-eater to be found in Northern Oman. All images in this trip report by tour leader Carles Oliver. All rights reserved.

After this small taste by our hotel we drove a short distance to explore the Al Ansad Wetland. This is a small complex of lagoons with riparian vegetation that can be really productive. A first scanning produced Black-headed Lapwings, Crested Larks, Purple Sunbirds, White-spectacled Bulbuls and 1 White Wagtail. A juvenile Bonelli’s Eagle just passed over us giving excellent views in the morning light.

The firs lagoon was really productive. It hosted a good selection of ducks including Mallards, Gadwalls, Eurasian Wigeons, Pintails, Eurasian Teals, Tufted Ducks and Common Pochards. About 20 Greater Flamingos were roosting in the lagoon joined by 5 Eurasian Spoonbills. Black-winged Stilts, Ruffs and 1 Black-tailed Godwit were feeding inmediatly around. By the reedbeds we found 1 Eurasian Coot along with several Eurasian Moorhens and Little Grebes. Grey Heron, Cattle Egret and Great White Egrets were also present in small numbers.

Temminck’s Stints were common with at least 8 birds feeding along with some Little Stints. At least 3 Marsh Sandpipers were also present along with several Common Sandpipers. The good scanning of the area produced as well 1 Citrine Wagtail and 2 Yellow Wagtail (one of them being a male beema race). Some Common Snipes flought off and the Bonelli’s Eagle came back and had a second flight over the water. Was in that moment that the only White-tailed Lapwing of the trip came up from behind a sand bar and we all could enjoy good views on the bird for a pair of minutes. This was already a good start!

Graceful Prinias (Prinia gracilis) are a common view in a number of grassy habitats in Nortern Oman.

Unfortunably the bird was a bit far and came down again to the opposite side of the bank. We spent several minutes trying to relocate the bird, but was impossible.

Happy after such a good start we just moved on along the path. Not far from there we were distracted by the first of several Graceful Prinias singing from the top of a bus. A closer view was demanded so we moved on just at the moment than a flock of Sand Partridges flew off from under our feet! After some good shots in the Prinia our attention was concentrated by a very close Little Green Bee-eaters catching insects at short range. Its footage from the minor branches of a small tree was really productive in photographic terms!

The area was still producing interesting sightings. A group of White cheecked Bulbuls were moving in the bushland and 1 Indian Silverbill was busy while bringing nest material inside a small tree. The same juvenile Bonelli’s Eagle that we saw flying over the lagoon was now sheltered by the shade of a small cliff. A last walk in the area produced some Great Cormorants, the first Greater Spotted Eagle high up in the sky and good views in 1 rather unexpected Eastern Orphean Warbler skulking inside a bush!

Green Bee-eater (Merops orientalis) showed out really well in the firsts days of the tour.

We then went to the coast, where we had some food near the beach while we were scanning around. Here we had several Heuglin’s Gulls moving in the coast along with the commoner Black-headed Gull. Also some Caspian Gulls were seen, mainly adults. 2 Sooty Gulls passed by but unfortunately a bit far away for everybody in the group to enjoy them. At least 2 Great Crested Terns were moving in the coast and we had really good views as one approached the dock where we were scanning from. A tiny wady in our way was also providing good birds, special mention to our first Greater Sand Plover, Pacific Golden Plover along with Common Sandpiper and Common Redshank.

Common Myna (Acridotheres tristis) is a recent arrival to Oman, just arrived to Southern Oman a few years ago, where it is as common as in the North.

 

The slender Red-wattled Lapwing (Vanellus indicus) is the commonest Lapwing in the region, by far.

We decided to spend the rest of the day in Al Qurm Park. This is a well known birding spot in Musqat hosting some very interesting specialities. Our arrival to park was really good as 1 Indian Roller was hunting in the parking and only few metres inside the park we had our first Grey Francolin of the trip running up the slope. In the trees, a Common Chiffchaff was seen (here presumably all Chiffchaffs belong to abietinus or tristis races, thought now Siberian Chiffchaff is claimed as a diferent species for some). A small channel of water connects the big central lagoon of the park with the sea. This channel proved to be really productive as we fastly spotted 1 Striolated Heron hidden in the shady bank. Few metres away from it we found 1 Acrocephalus. Silence and check for some seconds before confirming that was a Clamorous Reed Warbler! This was a bird really celebrated by the group. The bird provided really good views in the out for quite long, moving always really low in the vegetation, but clearly in the out. The channel itself was attrackting some Pallid Swifts to drink water and we all enjoyed lovely views on these birds. A Purple Heron flew over and its shade made Common Sandpipers and Black-headed Lapwings move away. Inside the park we enjoy a new Indian Roller until a small shrike was located in the top of the tree. At first it looked like a Isabelline but finally it turned up to be a Red-tailed Shrike, a recent split from the former.

Two images on a 1st winter Red-tailed Shrike (Lanius phoenicuroides). Pair attention in the vermiculated extending all along the flank, with a tawny vental area contrasting with white undertail coverts. Uppertail coverts appear reddish, but not uniform as expected on Isabelline Shrike.

 

Clamorous Reed Warbler (Acrocephalus stentoreus brunnescens) was spotted a pair feeding in the out along the tour.

 

Striated Heron (Butorides striata atricapilla) is a scarce resident bird in dense vegetated marshy areas.

The central pond was low of water but as good as always. 1 Whiskered Tern was flying over and 1 Western Reef Egret was fishing along with some Cattle Egrets. Fastly our attention was for “Squacco like” herons around the pond. After some scanning we found the 2 firsts Indian Pond Heron of the tour, feeding along with 4-5 Squacco Herons. Little Grebes and Eurasian Coots were also present in the pond.

Indian Pond Heron (Ardeola grayii) is a scarce winter visitor but we got excellent views on Muscat itself. Image by tour leader Sergi Sales

We still had a further walk around the trees. Rose-winged Parakeets were everywhere and a Alexandrine Parakeet was heard in the air. It was time to go but then we found a wonderful tree full of Common Chiffchaff, Purple Sunbirds and at least two Lesser Whitethroats (Desert Whites?). As the area proved really interesting we decided to spend the rest of the afternoon in around. A short walk from the park allowed us to explore some tidal muds richly vegetated. Here we found some interesting passerines including Isabelline Shrike, 2 Bluethroats and Eurasian Reed Warbler. Some waders were present in the small mudflats including several Eurasian Whimbrel, 1 Eurasian Curlew, 15+ Spotted Redshank, Dunlin, Ruff, Little Ringed Plover and some Common Ringed Plover. 1 Intermediate Egret flew over us in its way to the sea and 1 Garganey took off from a tiny patch of marsh but the best bird in the spot was a Pin-tailed Snipe that took off along with 1 Common Snipe from the flooded areas. Some Snipes were moving around so we carefully checked every single bird leaving the area. At least 15 Common Snipes left in different waves and we got good views in 1 Spin-tailed showing the remarcable blackish uderwings and contrasted belly.

Purple Sunbirds (Cinnyris asiaticus) is one of the most unobtrusive birds in Northern Oman. Image by Carles Oliver

Happy after such a great encounteer we still looked for something else in this corner. Some Eurasian Moorhens were seen feeding in the grassy areas and 1 Grey Heron arrived for a evening meal. The time of our own evening meal was not far any more so we left the area for a good rest in the hotel and a dinner to go throught all the birds of our first day in Oman.

Spotted Redshanks (Tringa erythropus) at Al Qurm Park the first of the tour.

 

Day 2. After our good buffet breakfast we left our hotel to explore the Western coast of Northern Oman. But, as tyde was low, before going West we came back for a while to Al Qurm beach. Just arriving we found a small flock of gulls in the beach along with some terns. A fast scan revealed some Great Crested Terns along with Sandwich Terns. Most of the gulls were the splitable Steppe Gull (Larus fuscus babarensis) and got good views and comparision of structure with a lovely Caspian Gull adult. Heuglin’s Gulls were also present in the flock, including different ages and intermediate plomages. Not far after we found the first Palla’s Gull, a 3rd year bird. What a incredible gull! Not only the shape of bill but the general structure of the bird was simply massive. Here, all tour participants enjoyed very much with this flock of gulls and having adults of Caspian, Steppe, Heuglin’s and Palla’s all together in a small flock was really celebrated and appreciated for everybody! Small flocks of Slender-billed Gulls were also present at the beach.

Adults Caspian Gull (Larus cachinnans) -left- and 2 Steppe Gulls (Larus fuscus barabensis) -center and right- in Al Qurm.

 

Palla’s Gull (Ichthyaetus Ichthyaetus) was one of the most celebrated target in the crew and a wonderful bird to watch. Here an adult in winter plomage.

Around the flock of gulls there were some waders and it didn’t take long to spot some Lesser Sand Plovers moving in the sand. There were about 30 individuals in different smalls flocks. Here we also had  Greenshank, Kentish Plover, Whimbrels, Common Redshank, Western Reef Heron in light form (less common in the area) and Lesser Crested Tern. Again, we enjoyed views on Lesser Crested Terns side by side with Great Crested Terns so a good comparision on sizes, structure and colour could be made. Some Sooty Gulls were also flying around but we only had a single bird stopping on the ground. We spend some time enjoying these gulls and terns but also scanning around looking for other specialities. Some scouting inland produced 6 Common Snipe sleeping on the grass, Black-headed Lapwings, Common Kingfisher and Graceful Prinia and 2 Grey Francolins having a sand bath.

Lesser Sand Plover (Charadrius mongolus) in winter plomage. The combination of long legs, relatively thin bill and slightly contrasted lore allows to avoid confusion with Kentish & Greater Sand Plovers.

Back to the sea shore, we had big flocks of Great Cormorants flying around and we enjoyed how fast they moved as the nets of the fishermen were into the water. A nice espectacle to be seen! More plovers were arriving from the East, clearly bigger and heavier than all species around; 8 Great Sand Plovers! Again, a good comparision on size, shape and facial pattern was made with its relative the Lesser Sand Plover

2 Greater Crested Terns (Thalasseus bergii) -left- in an interesting comparative of sizes and structure with 2 Sandwich Terns (Thalasseus sandvicensis) at Al Qurm.

After such a wonderful stop we then drove to the West, towards the Sun Farms. These are water-assisted grassy crops being a magnet for a good number of species. Despite some reports of the explotation being abandoned from some years ago, we decided to approach and take a look. It was an excellent decision, as you will see.

We arrived to the area were the Sun Farms were and well, it was no sign of any grass anywhere. Still, even before arrived to the exact place we were obligated to stop the car and walk around as a family group of Arabian Babblers were moving just by the track. Unfortunately not everybody in the van enjoyed excellent views so we parked the car and walk around looking for this wonderful bird.

Arabian Babblers (Turdoides squamiceps) showed really well along the tour. Please note how coloration change depending on the light in these two images.

The flock of birds were still moving around in the semi-desert so we decided to do a short walk around expecting to improve our sight. Purple Sunbirds were everywhere and a nice flock of lined Indian Silverbills was welcome by the photographers in the group. A Common Kestrel was circling up in the sky among Pallid Swifts and Crested Larks were singing and moving all around. In a shade, a Tawny Pipit showed really well for a pair of minutes while 1 Hoopoe was diving its bill on the sand looking for warms, but still no signal of the Babblers. While searching for them we had another really good bird appearing. A characteristic “txac” call came from the acacias around us and, after some scanning, we all had excellent views on 2 Hume’s Whitethroat! This is a quite recent Split from Lesser Whitethroat inhabitating juniper formations in Iran and Afghanistan high mountains. They are easy to tell apart by calls but also due to the clearly darker head, auriculars and nape of the Hume’s if compared with Lesser. The back and mantle in Hume’s Whitethroat is also darker than in Lessers, showing really little contrast.

A further scanning in the area still produced a nice male Black Redstart of the Eastern phoenicuroides race and a superb male Pallid Harrier flying around and stopping in the low branches of a distant tree for some minutes. Namaqua Doves were passing over us and we could count up to 8 individuals of this beautiful bird. It was a very productive corner but since no signal of the Babblers around we decided to go on but, just when most of the people was in the car, we had 2 Arabian Babblers coming to us and stopping some 60 metres from us. More and more birds came front he tangles and we arrived to count up to 9 of them!

Indian Silverbills (Eudice malabarica) showing the white rumps in a typical group view.

We had the birds around for some minutes in what was a really unexpected encounteer in one of the most difficult species in the area! We moved but we didn’t really arrived that far away since we fastly found 1 male Black-crowned Sparrow-Lark some 35 metres from us. Not far, an obliging Isabelline Weathear was a good first for the trip.

It was time to go to our next location. A short drive allowed us to arrive to Liwa mangroves. This is home of two of the most wanted species for all birdwatchers coming to Oman: Collared Kingfisher and Sykes Warbler.

Red-vented Bulbul (Pycnonotus cafer) is a common bird in most of coastal Oman. Image by Sergi Sales

Tyde was low and we decided to go on with a short walk along the mangroves. Sooty Gulls were really common as walked in the beach and good numbers of Slender-billed Gulls were also seen flying around. Great Crested Tern was less common, with only few moving along the shore.

In the mangroves it was little movement. A small flock of Eurasian Whimbrels were looking for some food in the mud, joined by 4 Spotted Redshanks. A pair of Common Sandpipers were typically moving up and down along the shores. It was time for a bit of scan and most efforts were placed in the most suitable channel to host a Collared Kingfisher. After 15 minutes of scanning a chunky, white shade emerged from the mangroves to stop in outer skinny branches of a dead mangrove. This was a wonderful views even if not specially close. Things improved really much when the bird turned, showing the typical collar and the beautiful blue-greenish in the upperparts. This view was really celebrated by the group. A Common Kingfisher joined its relative for a better comparision of shape and size.

The bird showed for about 2 minutes and after that came back deep inside the mangrove. We still waited, hoping for a better view and some photo chances that never arrived. Still, the group was really happy to see such a scarce bird! Remember that Collared Kingfishers living at Arabian Peninsula are from “kalbaensis” race, an extremely endangered and more than a probable coming split from the nominal race living in most of Asia!!

Isabelline Shrike (Lanius isabellinus) male in Liwa mangroves.

More than happy about this wonderful sight we kept scanning the area looking for Sykes Warbler. All eyes were to the mangroves when a hard “tchak” came out from the dense vegetation. We scanned for long. First a Isabelline Shrike, after a Graceful Prinia showed nicely, but we didn’t get any other bird from the bush.
We still had some time before sunset so, decided to get somethin different from the area we just drove around the mangroves to the plains placed at the opposite site. A short drive around proved to be quite productive. A first small bush was having 2 White-eared Bulbuls, 2 Common Chiffchaff (not really grey ones) and a third species tha flew off. Not a long scan was necessary to enjoy the female Menétries Warbler. The bird stayed in a low bush for over 2 minutes so we had time enough for looking for the differences from this species and its relative, the Sardinian Warbler (a bird that was more familiar for some members of the group).

This female of Ménétrié’s Warbler (Sylvia mystacea) was the only one membre of its species to appear in the tour.

After driving for 5 minutes more we stopped in a different place and scanned around. 3 Isabelline Weathears were found along with the first Desert Wheatear of the trip. Up in a tree, a wonderful Southern Grey Shrike was looking for an evening meal. The last bird of the day turned up to be a Red-tailed Shrike!

Happy for the good birds of the day we just came back to our hotel for a good rest and dinner.

Day 3. Today we were leaving Muscat and starting our way South. Inmediatly beyond the city, an impressive spine of mountains goes up until 3000 metres high. This is area is home of very interesting birds, some of them unique. During that morning we crossed the mountains, spending some time in a key location looking for some of them.

Here the landscape is controlled by towering bare mountains speckled by small elevated plateaus. In the untouched valleys you can see sparse acacias in an semi-desertic ambient. Our first stop was really a random one. As always scanning the sky we finally got a good bird as 1 Egyptian Vulture was spot high up in the sky. It happen that it was a good place where to stop so we did so and, eventually, scanned around. At the other side of the road we got a Red-tailed Wheatear, a really good bird that may not appear in every tour. All the group was delighted with this little wheatear when a small, whitish bird appeared from the right, moving low in the scrubs. It was an Asian Desert Warbler! It was an amazing to see these two really good birds together! The Asian Desert Warbler flew off and, as not everybody in the group had got good views, we decided to do a short walk around. After some 5 minutes of scanning we relocated the bird and everybody had brilliant views on the tiny bird.

Asian Desert Warbler (Sylvia nana) in a typical view of the species.

Only a small point on the Asian Desert Warbler. I’m personally used to see African Desert Warbler and I was glad to see how different both species are. More than what you can expect from the plates. Asian Desert Warbler is far more grey than its African counterpart and the grey body is having an evident contrast with the orangish tail. In the African Desert Warbler, all body is strong sandy colourated.

Our road stop also produced Isabelline Shrike and Northern Wheatear. We still drove for about half an hour before arriving to our next stop, a gorgeous gorge with a wadi and a pair of oasis-like corners. This is a well known place for the recently discovered Omani Owl, one of the main targets in the trip. As we got inside the gorge we had several Striolated Buntings singing around as well as Lesser Whitethroats in the scattered trees, Purple Sunbirds, Pale Crag Martins and 4 different Egyptian Vultures. Here we spent several time scanning some roosting places of Omani Owl but with no result. Then we moved up in the wadi until a small oasis. In the way, a Bonelli’s Eagle made us stop and it was a good decision to do so since we had 1 Lappet-faced Vulture appeared high in the slopes and showing really well for half minute! This was a bird really celebrated by the group!!

Egyptian Vulture (Neoprhon percnoptreus) flying above a gorge in Northern Oman. Always nice to see that this species is doing well somewhere outside the Pyrenees!

Once arrived we walked a bit around. An obliging Red-tailed Wheatear was a good chance to compare the species with other wheatears while taking some shots. Nearby, 1 female Common Rock Thrush was also showy in the rocks. This is a quite scarce overwintering bird in Oman. A further walk lead us to a small group of trees. Here we easily located the firsts Plain Leaf Warblers and we had a good time enjoying the nervous moviments of this tiny Phylloscopus until the whole group had good views on them. There were al least 5 birds there! Here, a Hume’s Leaf Warbler was also calling in the canopies. We kept scanning but nothing different appeared until 2 Bonelli’s Eagles adults flew over soaring fast and disappearing beyond the gorge.

Rufous-tailed Rock Thrush (Monticola saxatilis) juvenile.

 

Hume’s Wheatear (Oenanthe albonigra) looked like common in a pair of gorges South of Muscat. Image by Sergi Sales

 

Red-tailed Wheatear (Oenanthe chrysopygia) was the commonest wheatear in the broken landscape of the Northen Oman mountain chains.

After lunch we left the mountains, crossing the desert in our way to our accommodation inland Oman. Before sunset we did a small stop in a suitable place. Here we got good views on Brown-necked Ravens, Desert Wheatears, 3 Black-crowned Sparrow-Larks (1 male, 2 females) and 1 Asian Desert Warbler.

After such a successful stop we came back to the place where Omani Owl has been seen in recent years. We searched quite long and waited until sunset, but nothing. We were about to leave, already quite dark, when suddenly an owl just appeared from the cliff, diving into the dark, we barely had a view with our torches before the bird disappeared in the dark. We still had 30 minutes more of reseach but unfortunately we could not have any other sight. At some point we decided to move to our next accommodation, with a convenient stop in the way so we could have some dinner.

We arrived to our accommodation, and recharged energy for the coming day.

Day 4. This day was basically a road day in our way to Salalah. After breakfast we headed to Qirbit for some morning birding. Once the oasis by Qirbit we did a walk around expecting some small birds. The desert around was hosting some Desert Wheatears and we got really good views on our 3rd Asian Desert Warbler for the trip. A aucheri race Southern Grey Shrike was calling from the oasis vegetation and several Eurasian Collared Doves were around. We spent about 25 minutes at the oasis and we only got 2 Lesser Whitethroats and 1 Black Redstart.
After such a disapointing numbers we came back to our Qitbit to explore the gardens. These gardens have been really famous for several years and a must for every single birdwatcher exploring inner Oman. Unfortunably the motel in Qitbit is now close and the gardens abandoned so the variety of birds here has collapsed. We didn’t know about we it was evident that the place had once better times. We still had a good surprise in the gardens since a Black-throated Thrush flew off from one of the trees!! The moved into a dense vegetated patch and we decided to follow it. After some wait we had the bird flying to a small pond of water and got good brief but good views on the bird while drinking water.

As Qitbit was disapointing for us in terms of birds we kept driving some more miles South to arrive to a number of farms where irrigation allows a variety of grassy crops. It was midday so quite hot but we still were expecting some good birds. Along the track accessing the farmland we had a number of good birds including several Isabelline Wheatears along with some Desert and Northern. The area was literally full of grasshopers so the presence of 1 Isabelline Shrike was justified. In one of the stops to check around we got 3 Black-crowned Sparrow-larks singing and moving around. Crested Larks were all over. A random stop produced wonderful views on 1 Long-billed Pipit by the car, and everybody enjoyed quiet long. Around, several Tawny Pipits were also seen, some of them performing superbly.

One of the 2 Pied Wheatears (Oenanthe pleschanka) noted in the ferms.

Once by the crops we noticed an even higher density on Wheatears and also Tawny Pipits. 2 Pied Wheatears including a moulting young male were an excellent adding to the tour list. A little walk by the grass produced several Yellow & White Wagtails and we all surprised to listen 2 Quails singing in the field! Several Laughing Doves were in the area, and this was the first place where we noticed the dark form of this beautiful species. The walk was not especially interesting until we got a bird landing in the field. It was a small lark. It was a Skylark actually. It was moving along with a White Wagtail and it looked clearly smaller, thin-billed than the European Skylark. Then a Common Kestrel appeared so all birds flew off to confirm the bird (birds as it was a second one!) to be Oriental Skylarks thanks to the wing patern when flying (mainly the lack of white stripe in the …..

We still spent some more time in the fields. The Oriental Skylarks flew really far away so no chance for a relocalization. After some time without any relevant activity we decided to leave to Salalah.

African Lime Butterfly (Papilio demodocus) were common in the farm land in the desert.

Before living we invested some time on butterflies. Here it was a great variety so we enjoyed some of them, taking good images. After a good driving we finally approached the incredible Jhoffar Mountains. Here, in the road mountain pass, we did a fast stop to enjoy some birds. The firsts of many Fan-tailed Ravens were seen around, offering good chances for photographers in the group. Also Tristam’s Starlings were really showy, with small flocks of about 10 individuals moving around. The short stop turned in a longer one since a small flock of Wagtails included some interesting ones. There were 4 White Wagtails and some Yellow Wagtails including a male Balkan Yellow Wagtail (feldegg). A proper scanning in the White Wagtails produced a Masked Wagtail (personatta) in winter plomage. Beyond the wagtails, an large area of graminea was covering part of the slope. There we saw a small flock of Singing Bush Larks moving around, flying up and down to disappear in the tall grass. Despite our efforts, we couldn’t have a view of the birds on the ground, yet.

Tawny Pipits (Anthus campestris) were common in around the grassy areas in the desert.

There were also some raptors in the area. 1 Common Kestrel was hovering in the area around and 2 wondeful males Montagu’s Harriers passed by the highway with lovely afternoon light. In the distance, 1 Short-toed Snake Eagle was also a good spot!

After such a productive end of the day we arrived to our accommodation in Salalah for a god rest after a long driving day!

Day 5. After a wonderful breakfast in our hotel in Salalah we left towards Raysut, expecting to spend the whole morning in the area. Still, before heading to Raysut we invested 1 hour in a small wetland near our accommodation. Here we got the first views of many of Rüppel’s Weavers, including a wonderful male building a nest. The ambient was clearly warmer than in Muscat. Along with Rüppell’s Weavers we got Graceful Prinias, as common as in the Northern part of the country.

Rüppell’s Weavers (Ploceus galbula) are really common in the Dhofar area. Image by Carles Oliver

The small wetland is in fact a river mouth, known many times as Eastern Salalah Wetland. Here, the floating vegetation was perfect for a number of species and many Eurasian Moorhens were seen taking advantage of it. A Great Reed Warbler appeared from the riverside vegetation while Wood & Green Sandpipers flew around. 7+ Citrine Wagtails were seen feeding, walking and a very obliging stopping really close. In the open water it was a good flock of 15+ Tufted Duck along with Northern Shovelers and Eurasian Teals. But the lagoon was having also one of the most celebrated birds of trip, a small flock of 8 Cotton Pygmy Geese were roosting in the center of the lagoon, providing good views when one of the males put its head up for a pair of minutes! Happy after this happy encounteer we kept scanning around. Both shores were having some Squacco Herons and, at least, 2 Indian Pond Herons were along with them. Some Gull-billed Terns were flying over the lagoon, joined by 1 Whiskered Tern. A further scanning in the right shore, where more floating vegetation was concentrated, produced 1 Pheasant-tailed Jacana swimming along Moorhens!

One of the many Citrine Wagtails (Motacilla citreola) seen around Salalah.

The group was really satisfied after these nice findings. In our way back to car a Common Chiffchaff came across our way and stopped in a branch, preening.

We left the area towards Raysut. The place is well known due to the great concentration of eagles, mainly Steppe Eagles, but also other interesting species. Even before arriving to the rubbish dump we had our firsts Steppe Eagles flying over in a wonderful variety of plomages that will make enjoy every single raptor lover! When being closer we counted hundreds of them circling in the sky, taking advantage of the first thermals. We knew that earlier that week somebody estimated about 500 Steppe Eagles to be in that rubbish dump. Well, they were probably right! Along with the Eagles we also saw a more impressive spectacle: Hundreds of Abdim’s Storks circling in two different flocks! Previous census numbered in about 150…Here there were at least 300 of them!!

Steppe Eagle (Aquila nipalensis) around Raysut, where hundreds of them can easily seen.

Happy about this incredible spectacle we drove a bit expecting to find some raptors on ground. No long drive was required. After some hundreds of metres we got at least 6 Steppe Eagles on the ground in a wonderful set! We took our time studying the plomages and structure of the birds and, after that, we drove to some lagoons SW from the dump. Unfortunately the lagoons seemed to be totally dry and only a handful Tristam’s Starlings and a pair of Desert Wheatears were left in the place.

Juvenile Steppe Eagle (Aquila nipalensis). This individual was flying on a flock of 50+ of them.

We then decided to move towards the coast, to find a different lagoon. Overpassing with the car it was evident that it was having water. A flock of 20+ Greater Flamingoes were there, feeding in the deepest part of the lagoon. At the other side, with small lagoon of shallow water and wide areas of rocks, a party of 150+ of White Storks were roosting, preening or tentativally trying to catch a fish or something from the minor lagoons.
We parked and walked until an apropiated view point. 2 Caspian Terns were flying up and down the river. Lower, 1 Whiskered Tern was doing so, stopping sometimes by a solitary Squacco Heron. Some Grey Herons were also in this part of the river. Tens of Rüppell’s Weavers were in the reeds and their whistles were a constant sound in our ears. In the sky, 2 Western Ospreys were patrolling the lagoon. One of them tried for 4 times to catch a fish but with no luck at all…Finally flew the area toward to sea in a short flight, probably to rest and wait until better times to come. The sky was providing a lot of activity. 4+ Black-eared Kites (race lineata of Black Kite) were also patrolling the sky, probably unhappy after the unsuccessful attemps of the Osprey. Waves of birds of prey were coming down the river from the rubbish dump, located some miles up by the river. They were mainly Steppe Eagles but along with them we spotted our firsts 2 Eastern Imperial Eagles of the trip! An intense scanning of the raptors produced also 8+ Greater Spotted Eagles circling and also stopping in the cliffs by the lagoons. They were clearly coming to take a bath and drink water. One of this Greater Spotted Eagles came down the lagoon and stopped right in front of us! An amazing view of such a incredible bird. Delighted after such a wonderful sights we walked a bit down the lagoons, approaching the area of pools were most of Storks and Herons were. We didn’t cover a long distance before we had to stop again due to 2 magnificent Great White Pelicans flying low over us. This a species considered as a rarity in Oman so we were not really expecting to enjoy them in this tour! The birds passed by us going to the see, joined by a small flock of Barn Swallows.

Greater Flamingoes (Phoenicopterus roseus) in Raysut.

 

Greater Spotted Eagle (Clanga clanga) near Raysut ponds.

 

Great White Pelicans (Pelecanus onocratus), a really scarce species in Oman, were another of the main attractions in Raysut.

The ponds were fullfilled with birds. There were 120+ Grey Herons roosting in the roocky river bed, beyond the ponds. Along with them there were some Western Cattle Egrets, 1 Little Egret, some Western Reef Egrets (both white and dark forms) and 1 Intermediate Egret. The ponds were hosting Common, Wood & Green Sandpipers but also Greenshanks, Common Redshanks, 3 Ruffs and some Temminck’s Stints. A wonderful Pheasant-tailed Jacana already developing the typical breeding long tail projection was really showy and allowed some record shots. Here we also had good views on the impressive Pearl Emperor (Charaxes varanes) female, a wonderful large butterfly that flew over our group!

Beyond the ponds, the massive flocks of White Storks and Grey Herons were, for sure, hiding something else so we started scouting them. 1 African Sacred Ibis was found, to turn into 3 individuals later in the day. Also 1 Glossy Ibis was discovered feeding in what we supposed was a tiny pond. Beyond the Herons and the Storks, 1 Greater White-fronted Goose was moving in the scattered rank vegetation.

Beyond this area a small estuary was concealling the stream and the sea. A fast scanning concluded some 1000s of waders but also 4 Western Ospreys and some Greater Spotted Eagles on the beach. We just decided to come closer abd have a good scanning.

The area was simply great. Thousands of waders were feeding in the mudbanks. Many Dunlins, tones of Little Stints but also Common Sandpipers, Common Ringed Plovers, Common Redshanks, Greenshanks, Bar-tailed Godwits and some Kentish Plovers of the witish local race. 4 Eurasian Oystercatchers were counted along with several Eurasian Whimbrels. Here, some Lesser Sand Plovers were seen but the most popular wader were the Terek’s Sandpipers moving around. We counted at least 23 of them, some of them doing their typical short runs in search of food. These birds are authentical runners!

The lower Raysut ponds were hosting a incredible variety of birds!

In the sea, flocks of Socotra Cormorants were moving up and down and we enjoyed a pair of their typical massive flocks. Greater Crested, Lesser Crested & Caspian Terns were all around but the most interesting were two Saunder’s Terns moving South along the coast in what it turned out to be the two only Saunder’s of the tour, a species we were expecting to be commoner.

The area was really interesting. Also for gulls. Here we had good views on Heughlin’s, Steppe Gulls and also Caspian Gulls. It was funny to go throught the flock of gull, with some unclear individuals and many other showing typical characters of any of the species. A solitary Palla’s Gull was also noted in the flock.

The bay also produced good views on Delphins. In fact we got two different species with a small party of Indo-Pacific Bottlenose Dolphins and at least 1 Indian-Ocean Humpback Dolphin moving close to them.

Pheasant-tailed Jacana (Hydrophaisanus chirurgus), one of the most celebrated birds around Salalah.

After such a wonderful morning we just had a break for lunch. After our break it was time to go up in the hills to look for a number of other species. Now the landscape changed a lot with mild hills covered by a carpet of small decidous trees, with the impressive Dhoffar mountains in the back.

Cinnamon-breasted Bunting (Emberiza tahapisi) enjoy huge densities in the Dhofar region. Image by Carles Oliver

Flocks of Rüppell’s Weavers jeweled the road as we were approaching the location. African Silverbills joined them. Few minutes later the whole group was enjoying wonderful views on Cinnamon-breasted Buntings and Abyssian White-Eyes. Many of them were coming to drink water in a small channel.
A short walk around was soon producing interesting birds including Palestine and Shinning Sunbirds as well as a lovely flock of African Silverbills. White-eyes were extremelly common , moving up in the canopies but also low in the branches, few inches from the ground. One of these flocks brought associated a lovely African Paradise Flycatcher, one of the most celebrated birds in the afternoon. In total, we counted up to 4 individuals, including one showing a full breeding tail in whitish colour!
The walk was being very productive, especially after 2 Blackstarts appeared really close to the path, delighting us with cracking views! The lower vegetation around was also promising so we went a bit out of the bigger trees to take a look. It proved to be a wonderful decision since we soon had 1 Arabian Warbler moving in one of the small trees. The bird showed nicely and its movements reminded us those of an Orphean Warbler. Right side by side from the Arabian Warbler we had another surprise since 1 Black-throated Tchagra pop up from the very dense vegetation to give us poor views. The bird was moving really low in the scrubland so a bit of wait was necessary until the bird decided to “jump” into the open for half a minute!

 

Abysssian White-ete (Zosterops abyssinicus), another common bird in bushland and forested areas.

 

Blackstart (Oenanthe melanura), another of the “African” specialities of the Dhofar region. Image by Carles Oliver

The locations was proving to be really productive and the landscape around was dominated by the impressive rock faces of the Dhoffar mountains. Here the cliffs were monitored by a good number of raptors. They were mainly Steppe Eagles but we could also see 3+ Eastern Imperial Eagles, 1-2 Greater Spotted Eagle and 1 Golden Eagle.

Arabian Warbler (Sylvia leucomelaena) showed really well despite the poor image.

 

African Paradise Flycatchers (Terpsiphone viridis) were not scarce but sometimes difficult to see, often moving associated with White-eyes flocks.

 

Black-crowned Tchagra (Tchagra senegalensis) appeared briefly in the low scrubland.

Before heading to our accommodation we still had a last spot to try to add something else but we only added 1 male Blue Rock Thrush and several Isabelline Wheatears along with a superb Greater Spotted Eagle overwatching the whole area from a pilon.

Day 6. This day we drove some miles North from Salalah to enjoy our sea trip in search of some of the specialities living in this part of the Indic Ocean. The small harbour from where we depart was full of Sooty Gulls, alowing really close views on this lovely species. Moreover, the harbour was also hosting several Heuglin’s Gulls and some Caspian & Steppe Gulls. Inmediatly after our small boat left the harbour we had the first surprise in the form of a flock of Black-crowned Black Herons roosting on the external deck boulders. There were not alone but joined by several Gulls, some Grey Heron and 2 Western Reef Egrets. As the boat passed by we had really good views on the Herons.

Sooty Gull (Ichthyaetus hemprichii) portrait in the harbour few momments before starting our offshore trip. Image by Carles Oliver

Once in the open sea we started a hard work to attrack the some sea birds. Soon, a number of Sooty Gulls were following the small boat. A few minutes later we had the first target appearing in the way of a small flock of 3 Persian Shearwaters flying above the waves. Unfortunately they appeared as not interested in our small boat and kept flying away. Encouraged after such a good start we kept going off shore. Flocks and flocks of Red-necked Phalaropes were all over on the extremelly plain sea and their pure white bodies were like tiny lighthouses in the deep blue sea.
We enjoyed several close views on them but take good photos on them proved to be more difficult than expected.

Flocks of Red-necked Phalaropes (Phalaropus lobatus) were moving in the sea offshore Dhofar region. Image by Carles Oliver

The boat trip was going well but even improved as the 2 Masked Boobies flew over our boat! Great views on a really celebrated bird that, unfortunately seemed to have no interest at all in the food we were offering them. We kept scanning and feeding for long, expecting to attrack a Jouanin’s Petrel, one of the top targets in the offshore trip, but we had no luck in this…
We enjoyed up to 14 Masked Boobies with some great views and a second flock of Persian Shearwaters passed by us but no signal of the Petrel. Midway in the sea trip we got excellent views on Indo-Pacific Bottlenose Dolphins and enjoy some great views on them while jumping in the waves and chasing tunas. A Green Sea Turtle was also a good addition to our list! It was a quite large one (about 1,5 metres) and it was in the surface only for few seconds…

Masked Booby (Sula dactylatra) was one of the most celebrated birds on our offshore trip.

 

Socotra Cormorants (Phalacrocorax nigrogularis) were moving in large flocks along the coast.

 

Heuglin’s Gull (Larus heuglini) in winter plomage during our offshore trip.

 

Indo-Pacific Bottlenose Dolphin during our offshore trip near Salalah. Image by Sergi Sales

Once back on the continent we just went for something to eat. Happy for the relative
good sights during the sea trip we just changed and went to the explore the highest area in the Dhoffar Mountains. A number of lanes go up in the slopes, allowing excellent birding all around. The way up produced excellent views on Long-billed Pipit, Blackstarts and Isabelline Shrikes.

This juvenile Eastern Imperial Eagle (Aquila heliaca) was one of the most iconical image of the tour to Oman. Image by Carles Oliver

Once in the high plateau we were lucky enough to enjoy a nice flock of Cinnamon-breasted Buntings, Long-billed Pipits and wonderful views on Singing Bush Larks. Beyond there, a male Arabian Wheatear Scanning the slopes inmediatly around we found a incredible flock of 20+ Yemen Serins feeding on the ground and showing wonderfully in a rocky area close to the road. We were amazed to have such a great views on this species, being this area the only one place in the world where it is possible to enjoy it!

Singing Bush Lark (Mirafra cantillans) offered lovely views on our exploration of Dhofar Mountains. Image by Carles Oliver

 

Tristam’s Starling (Onychognathus tristamii) is a scarce urban bird in Salalah and around. Image by Carles Oliver

 

The group enjoyed long views on a flock of the near-endemic Yemen Serin (Crithagra menachensis) in the Dhofar. Image by Carles Oliver

 

Female Arabian Wheatear (Oenanthe lugentoides) showing the orangy patch in the ear-coverts and the difusely barred breast. Image by Carles Oliver

Happy after such a good views on many key species we kept moving in the slopes. Inmediatly around a small village we found 1 Eastern Imperial Eagle on a wood pilon. The bird showed nicely and allowed really good shots! Up in the sky, raptor action was increasing. In less than 15 minutes we counted 7 Eurasian Griffons, 10+ Eastern Imperian Eagles, Steppes Eagles, 1 Short-toed Snake Eagle and 1 Bonelli’s Eagle!
Still, the most wanted Eagle was not showing…yet. In our way up we did also a short stop in a pond and got one of the surprises of the trip.

The impressive landscape up in the Dhofar Mountains. Image by Carles Oliver

After such a great found we decided a proper stop in a pond and scan around. Many Abyssian White-eyes were moving around and 2 Shinning Sunbirds delighted us with its incredible colours.
Our last stop that day brought us to a wild scarpment. It was really windy and foggy so we were expecting little that afternoon. Fan-tailed Ravens were moving all around the cliffs and the area around produced wonderful views on Tristam’s Starlings. The scanning around was producing little else and we were already considering to leave when an enormous black and white shape emerged from the fog to fly up in the cliff: it was a Verreaux Eagle! The bird was just playing with wind, moving up and down in the cliffside. Few seconds after a second Verreaux Eagle appeared as well from the fog and we all enjoyed wonderful views in what is one of the most espectacular eagles on Earth! The birds kept appearing and disappearing from the bog for at least 15 minutes, doing incredible acrobatical flights and even stopping in the cliffs for short!!

We got some impressive views on Verreaux’s Eagles (Aquila verreauxii) despite the intense fog! Images by Carles Oliver

Happy after such a successful afternoon we just headed back to Salalah, where a good last stop was waiting for us. Urban birding in Salalah can be really good so we went to one of its urban parks, close to our accommodation, to finish the day. Out of the common Laughing Doves, one of the first birds we got were to Plain Rock Martins resting in one of the buildings of the complex. They offered good views on a bird we could see in flight so far. Beyond the building a small lagoon offered really good views on a flock of Whiskered Terns and also a pair of Caspian Terns. Citrine Wagtails were quite common in the flooting vegetation and 1 Palestine Sunbird showed superbly in low rank vegetation. 2 Indian Pond Herons were also present, catching the afternoon light in a wonderful way. Passing over the lagoon by a small bridge, we explored a palm tree orchad. Here we got one of the main targets of the visit in the way of 2 Bruce’s Green Pigeons showing in a wondeful way, first in a wire, later on a tree while feeding on fruits. This was again a really celebrated bird for everybody in the group.

Bruce’s Green Pigeons (Treron waalia) on a feeding tree in Salalah. Image by Carles Oliver

We kept moving in the area. An open field beyond was hosting waves and waves of Yellow Wagtails, including some nice summer plomaged “feldegg” and “beehma” birds. 1 Isabelline Weathear was also really showy in the area, as it was a Graceful Prinia. The channel around is an interesting roosting place for waders and, at that time, tens of Common Sandpipers were concentrating in the area along with 15+ Greenshanks and several Green Sandpipers. Sun was starting to go down but before we left we still had another top target appearing in the way of 2 Spotted Thick-knees posing for us under one fot he small olive trees in the garden.

Pale Crag Martin (Ptynoprogne obsoleta) is much a urban bird in areas of Muscat and Salalah. Image by Sergi Sales

 

Citrine Wagtails (Motacilla citreola) were again a major attraction for the tour participants. Image by Carles Oliver

 

Spotted Thick-knees (Burhinus capensis) resting on an urban park in Salalah. Image by Carles Oliver

After such a great views we just came back to our hotel to enjoy another great buffet dinner.

Day 7. This day we had a very early start with a small tranfer back to the desert, were in a small oasis we were expecting to find Grey Hypocolius as well as other top target birds. After our transfer we enjoyed our packed breakfast while scanning around. Not long at all until we got the first good bird in the way of a gorgeous mal Nile Valley Sunbird just around our car. Not many time for photographs in this wonderful bird because 1 Grey Hypocolius just flew over us (!!) stopping about 200 metres away from us. We just moved on and after some searching in the area we got brief views on a wonderful male up in a palm tree! But was a brief view as the bird pop down and disappear. Spent some time around with little result out of more views on the male Nile Valley Sunbird, joined now by a female!

Nile Valley Sunbird (Hedydipna metallica) showed superbly, including this male singing and displaying. Image by Carles Oliver

 

Grey Hypocolius (Hypocolius ampelinus) female. A flock of 3 individuals were seen in our day in the desert. Image by Carles Oliver

We walked around hoping to have the Hypocolius appearing again but we got nothing but a pair of glimpses on 3 of them moving around. Blackstarts were singing around as the sun was getting higher.
Suddenly, a flock of birds appeared moving in the sky, Sandgrouses! A flock of 30 of them was moving in the distance, apparently moving down to drink water in a small pond beyond the vegetation. We just drove down the area, stopping in a decent distance to the pond. And then it came waves and waves of Sandgrouses, calling and flying extremelly fast around the pond. They were mainly Chestnut-bellied but also Spotted Sandgrouses were mixed with them.
First it was a flock of about 30. But then it came a second flock, and a third, and a fourth. Suddenly the sky look like full of them, with flocks coming in and out, landing, walking, flying fast from few inches to the ground or flying up in the sky while calling. This was propably one of the most remarcable momments of the tour. We estimated about 150 Chestnut-bellied Sandgrouses and 30+ Spotteds! In one the last flocks coming in we also got at least 1 Crowned Sandgrouse! It could not be better. Wrong. It could.
Right when all Sandgrouses were flying around with their noisy call, 2 Grey Hypocolious jumped on the wire just by our car, allowing some great views on them. ! female in particular stayed in the wire for about 5 minutes, allowing great images! We especially enjoyed the female, being there for some minutes while the male was only a little while…

Chestnut-bellied Sandgrouses (Pterocles exustus), the commonest Sandgrouse in Oman in our 2019 tour. Image by Carles Oliver

More and more flocks of Sandgrouses were coming down to drink water. Now not only in this corner of the oasis but also in many other areas around. So we moved a bit to try to get better views on the different flocks and, maybe, something different. But we were already at the end of the spectacle and we only got closer views on a small flock of Chesnut-bellied Sandgrouses walking right in the tarmac. They were there for a pair of minutes and after that they flew off. Very little movement of Sandgrouses were left already…2 Blackstarts were singing in nearby cliffs. Got a nice view on them before heading back to Salalah.

Back in the coast we decided to spend some time in ponds in Raysut. There we were compensated with great views in a big flock of Abdim’s Stork, a species that we had only in flight until that moment. But in the ponds we had a flock of 200+ having a bath or simply resting in the gravel shore. Along with them, a good number of waders including several Temminck’s Stints and some Little Stints. Little Ringed Plover, Greenshanks and Common Sandpipers were also there.

Abdim’s Storks (Ciconia abdimii) at Raysut ponds. Up to 200 were seen! Image by Carles Oliver

After an early lunch we just got back to the hills. This time we went a bit inside the fabulous decidous forests covering much of Dhoffar Mountains Eastern slopes. Here we enjoyed with several flocks of Abyssinian White-eyes and some African Paradise Flycatchers. A pool in the forested areas produced good views on a male Shikra posted in the shade, waiting for potential preys to come. The trees around were hosting good numbers of Cinnamon-breasted Buntings, Blacktarts but also 1 Siberian Chiffchaff that was calling in the canopies, making much easier to identify the bird. A small walk was done in nearby meadow, where we had a Red-throated Pipit flying over us.

This day we waited until dusk, and then we were to explore an interesting point for Arabian Scops Owl. We just waited until dark and after some minutes we got a wonderful Arabian Scops Owl calling really close to us. It was a question of minutes to get excellent views on the bird, and with the help of special lights we got incredible shots in the owl!

Arabian Scops Owl (Otus pamelae) gave us excellent views on our nocturnal trip around Salalah. Image by Carles Oliver

Happy after such a nice views we came back to the hotel for some dinner and rest.

Day 8. That sunny morning we went to try a different place for Arabian Golden-winged Hawfinch. In our way to the little pond were the birds use to come to drink we had a stop as 2 Arabian Partridges were standing by the road in lovely morning sun. Once in the pond, good numbers of Cinnamon-breasted Buntings and African Silverbills were attending the water. We decided to wait a bit. 1 male Namaqua Dove passed by the pond at the same time that a Greater Spotted Eagle was flying over. Few more minutes of waiting and a female Shikra appeared up in the sky, offering good views.We kept scanning around the ponds, were some flocks of Abyssinian White-eyes were also coming. Then, something moved fast around one of the ponds, and a fast scanning produced a Grey-headed Kingfisher! This was a surprising sight since this species is suposed to arrive in Oman during early April (!!). We anyway enjoyed very much this really unexpected bird as was flying around the pond, chasing dragonflies in a really effective way! The bird showed really well for up to 20 minutes, until a big herd of cattle came to drink water.

Grey-headed Kingfisher (Halcyon leucocephala) was an unexpected goodie in our tour. Image by Carles Oliver

 

African Silverbills (Euodice cantans) came to drink water in a pond at the Dhofar Mountains foothills. Image by Carles Oliver

It was already quite and it was clear that Hawfinches were not coming to drink water, so we decided to move, missing this wonderful bird. This day we were facing a transfer North but before that we were still having some time to check the Salalah farms.
We checked s two of them before driving North. In our first location we got Clamorous Reed Warbler and up to 5 Graceful Prinias. The grasslands were hosting several Singing Bush Larks that were singing and performing around. Up in the sky, 4 Forbes-Whatson Swifts passed over us, offering good views in both the general colour and the white spot in the throat. Out of this, the grasslands were poor in birds so we decided to move to a second farm. A drive around this second place produced Hoopoe, Green & Wood Sandpipers and the only one Yellow-billed Kite of the trip. Still, the area was poor again in birds so we decided to leave the area and start moving North.

Southern Grey Shrike (Lanius meridionalis aucheri), a resident shrike in Omani deserts. Image by Carles Oliver

In our way North we did one stop midway. A short walk in the desert produced 1 Chestnut-bellied Sandgrouse, 2 Black-crowned Sparrow-lark and 5+ Greater Hoopoe Larks chasing each other and doing acrobatical flights in a lovely afternoon light. After this good sight we just drive until Duqm, arriving a bit after sunset.

Day 9. This day we ha dan early breakfast and left North to explore the …… Bay. This is huge estuary concentrating hundreds of thousands of waders. When did arrive tide was low and birds very distant. Still, we had good views on several Bar-tailed Godwits, Kentish Plovers, Dunlins, Grey Plovers, Eurasian Curlews and Lesser Sand Plovers. Flocks of Greater Flamingoes were roosting in the water, just few inches inside the Ocean. There were several Caspian Terns flying up and down the area and there were flocks of Sanderlings all along the shore.

Despite this, and after 45 minutes of scanning, we were uncapable to connect with our main target in this point, the Great Knot. So, we finally moved some miles North to keep scanning the estuary but from the Northern side. We drove some 40 minutes scan around the deck where some ferries are connecting with Marisah Island.

Impressive flocks like this of Sooty Gulls but also Steppe & Heuglin’s Gulls were a common view on the estuary around in front of Marisah Island.

 

Flocks of Crab Plovers (Dromas ardeola) were moving in the inter mareal plateau along with several other waders.

In the beaches around there were literally thousands and thousands of Sooty Gulls. Along with them, huge flocks of Slender-billed Gulls were also a good views. Probably more than 7000 Slender-billeds and number even higher of Sooty Gulls! This wonderful espectacled were complemented by 100s of Caspian and Heuglin’s, being Steppe Gulls the less numerous in the area. A scan along the bridge giving access to the ferries produced a small flock of Common Terns, and not far away from them our only one White-cheeked Tern of the trip! Once in the deck we also enjoyed excellent views on Greater Crested Terns. Back in the mainland it was time for the tide to go down once more. Loads of waders came in. And along with the most common species we had wonderful views in 50+ Crab Plovers feeding in the shore and moving along with Bar-tailed Godwits. They were a bit distant but still this was definately one of the images of the tour for some of the tour participants and for sure a wonderful way to end the trip!

Brown-necked Raven (Corvus ruficollis) were showing really well in our way back to Muscat. Image by Carles Oliver

 

The best views on Black-crowned Sparrow-Larks (Eremopterix nigriceps) came right before heading back to Muscat. Image by Carles Oliver

In our way out of the area we still had a final stop since a really close Brown-necked Raven was offering nice views. Close by, a lovely Black-crowned Sparrow-lark gave us the best views on the trip, joined by a small flock of Tawny Pipits! These were the very last birds of the trip. After this we just drove back to Muscat for a nocturnal flight back home after a wonderful tour in Oman!

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