Arxiu de la categoria: Tours & Itineraries Reports

Catalonia in winter Birding Tour, 2020 Trip Report

Number of days: 6

Tour participants: 5

Dates: February 6th to 11th, 2020

All images along the tour by Brian Buffery, Giovanni Grieco and tour leader Carles Oliver.

The tour participants to the tour flew into Barcelona prior the tour started. We met the next morning in their hotel neat the airport for an early morning transfer to the Pyrenees. Temperature was high as a result of several days of high pressures, and temperatures escalating above 20C in the days before the tour started.

Day 1. Once in the Pyrenees, we drove up until 1600 metres high and spent some time in a rocky slope with small cliffs. There, we got good views on Rock Buntings, singing and showing up really well. European Crested Tits were also noted, but we didn’t have any other good bird. From there, the lovely lane brought us throught Mountain forests with small flocks of Mistle Thruses and Common Crossbills. Once the forests end, the lane crosses some alpine meadows show. Due to the long period of high temperatures, the snow was few, and concentrated in a certain slopes. We spent some time scanning, with little success. Only a few Eurasian Griffons were moving in the sky, joined by 1 Common Raven.

Black Redstart (Phoenicurus ochruros), a common but always wonderful flycatcher to see.

We spent some time scanning the snowed slopes with little luck, and we were about to leave when 3 Snowfinches flew from a spinned slope, really high up in the mountain. Despite teh birds were extremelly far away we decided to spend some time scanning the slope.  But nothing. Sowe drove half a mile, and scan again. And now we were more lucky as a nice flock of about 25 Snowfinches showed in the sky, flying from a close slope. The birds we actually doing some short flights to inmediatly reland in the slope, so we got excellent views on the birds walking on the snow, feeding and preening. Unfortunately all birds were a bit far up in the slope, so not really excellent chances for photography. We spent about half an hour waiting for the birds to eventually come down the slope and have closer views. Unfortunately the birds never came really closer.

Happy after the enjoying a species I was not expecting to find, we kept our way and came back to the mountain pass. There, there was a good number of Eurasian Griffons passing by, producing some really good views. Here we also got excellent views on a flock of Alpine Chough flying over, calling, and playing in the sky as only a Chough can do.

Only a pair of minutes after the Chough did its show, a large raptor was seen along with Eurasian Griffons. Moving slowly above the slope, an impressive adult Lammergeier was moving to our position. Everybody connected with the bird of prey way before the bird was close, so everybody enjoyed excellent views on the bird approaching us… The majestic bird just passed over us, the snow reflecting on the underwings so we all enjoyed the details of the axiles, the underwinds and its iconic moustache. The bird was around for some minutes, and we still had a second Lammergeier passing by before we moved to our accommodation for some rest.

We got our first views on Lammergeier (Gypaetos barbatus) in the first morning of the tour.

After some resting, we still had time to explore a wooded slope in search of some new species. The area was full of Common Crossbills, some of them singing. A lovely Iberian Green Woodpecker was a celebrated spot in the group. The area was full of birds: Eurasian Siskin, Mistle Thrush, Rock Bunting, Shorttoed Treecreeper and Crested Tit were also noted. Big flocks of migratory Common Chaffinches were around. We did a number of stops along the lane, and among them 2 Citril Finches passed over our heads, calling. Unfortunately only one tour participant had a view in these birds.

The afternoon was going away and as the night came we moved to a proper spot for the most difficult of the Owls in Europe. We didn’t have to wait long because soon after sunset we had a Tengmalm’s Owl singing quite close to our van! The bird started singing about 80 metres away so we just walked inside the open woodland, trying to find the small owl. We enjoyed a wonderful listening but despite our efforst, we never so this scarce owl!

Sunset is to arrive to the Pyrenean subboreal forest.

Day 2. After a good rest, we just started our second day by spending some time in the same lane where we were the last afternoon. Our goal was to have better views on Citril Finches. But that morning we were no lucky about them. After this we spent the rest of the morning in a mountain pass closeby. A huge flock of above 70 Red-billed Choughs was feeding on the greenish slopes that were supposed to be snowed. High temperatures for 15 days in a row right before the arrival of the group had been meltering the snow, and despite our efforts we were uncapable to find any Alpine Accentor, the main goal of the morning.

Crag Martin (Ptynoprogne rupestris) showinfg the tail markings.

After lunch we drove to the steppes for some afternoon birding. Our first stop was to check some corners looking for one of the most sought-after species in this habitat. Meanwhile, we enjoyed very much to find a large flock of over 150 Eurasian Tree Sparrows. Several other species were recorded around including Eurasian Reed Bunting, Corn Bunting, European Stonechat, Eurasian Skylark, Northern Lapwing, Common Kestrel, Crested Lark, Common Buzzard, Meadow Pipit and several more!

To spot Little Bustards (Tetrax tetrax) out of the nesting season can be difficult.

In our second stop we were more lucky, and after some scanning we found 12 Little Bustards in a nearby field. They were hiding in a filed with tall vegetation and we could only count them after a long wait and search of the small neck appearing above the grass. While enjoying them, we got other good birds around including 1 Great White Egret, Grey Heron , Mistle Thrush and Zitting Cisticola.

But a good surprise was to come. In a nearby field, a large flock of over 150 European Golden Plovers was resting. It look like the typcical large premigratory flock. While trying to count the Bustards, Gio was scanning the plovers and he was lucky enough to find out a 1st winter Eurasian Dotterel right in the center of the flock! What a nice spot!!!

Eurasian Dotterel (Charadrius morinellus) in a flock of Golden Plover close to Linyola.

After such a great spot we just moved to a nearby wetland for the last stop of the day. The large fresh water lagoon is placed in the middle of a large plain, and attracks good number os Western Marsh Harriers that roost in the reedbeds. We counted no less than 23 of them! Eurasian Teals, Northern Shovelers, Common Snipes, Reed Buntings, Water Rail, Northern Lapwings, Redcrested Pochards and big numbers of Great Cormorants and Western Jackdaws were all enjoyed, but probably the best birds for most of the tour participants were the Western Swamphens showing in the reedbeds, and noisily calling as the sunset approached. A wonderful end of the day!

During the afternoon we found this roosting place with +150 Eurasian Tree Sparrows (Passer montanus).

Day 3. This day we drove up a long valley, into the a Catalan shire called Pallars, to look for some Pyrenean especialities. Our first stop was in a huge gorge. There, we hope for the most wanted bird for many birdwatchers visting the Pyrenees in winter, the Wallcreeper. During a pair of hours we walked and scouted the rocks all around, hoping for any movement in the cliffs. Whitebellied Dippers were singing, very active in the river, and we counted 4 in single corner of the river! Some Eurasian Griffons were also moving in the sky, and didn’t take long until the massive silouhette of 1 Lammergeier appeared from the massive cliffs. Red Kite and Rock Bunting were also enjoyed.

After a long search, we finally found an extremelly distant Wallcreeper in a big, plain rock face. Only 1 tour participant saw the bird, so we all spent a lot of time trying to refind the bird. Some minutes passed away, and nobody was having the Wallcreeper…but suddenly a something moved in the rocks really close to us, inmediatly at the other side of the river: Wallcreeper!

Wallcreeper (Tichodroma muraria), always a challenging bird!

We were having a Wallcreeper right there, and this time everyone in the group found the bird without difficulties! We spent a pair of minutes enjoying of the bird moving in the rock face, beside a huge cavity. As always, it was great moment for anyone in the group!! After taking photos and recording videos we were enjoying the bird until it moved away from the rock face… and then came the typical question, was that the same bird that we were looking for extremely high up, or was it a different one? Who knows…

In this stop we still enjoyed a pair of other good birds before going for a coffee stop as Shorttoed Treecreeper and Eurasian Crag Martin showed really well in our way to the car.

After our pic-nic stop, we spent a pair of hours exploring a wooded lane, a wonderful spot for Citril Finches. Again, Common Crossbills were common and active. There were flocks of Eurasian Goldfinches and Common Chaffinches and, while scanning the flocks looking for something different, we enjoyed 2 superb Lammergeiers flying ove us in beautiful light. After a long, long scanning, 2 Citril Finches were seen when driving down the lane so we inmediatly stopped, with the finches calling around and moving in the trees for a some seconds before they moved away as they seemed associated to a huge flock of Common Chaffinches. We scanned over and over the flock but we were uncapable to refind them. Mistle Thrush, Fieldfare and Hawfinch were noted in the while.

One of the 4 Lammergeiers (Gypaetos barbatus) seen during that day.

The last stop of the day was to look for Eurasian Black Vulture. The Catalan Pyrenees holds a small population of about 50 individuals, concentrated in a pair of valleys but expanding in range and numbers. The whole day had been poor in raptor activity and, when we did arrive to the observation place, the raptor activity was minimal. Still, there were some Eurasian Griffons flying and after some hard scanning we found at least three distant Eurasian Black Vulture circling along with them. Another Lammergeier was also found, by the way. Here we also enjoyed some small birds including Cirl Bunting, Great Spotted Woodpecker and Sardinian Warblers. After this stop we drove back to our accommodation for a good dinner and rest.

Day 4. Early morning start to explore the steppes. After a transfer we did arrive to the dry lands where most of the specialities are to be found. Unfortunately the weather was not good at all, as it was extremelly windy… Windy days can be terrible in the steppes, being quite easy to miss most (or all) the good birds in such a conditions.

But we were confident so our first stop was in a corner were Sandgrouses use to feed in early morning. A first look to the area revealed no activity at all. Only 1 or 2 Calandra Larks were flying, almost no songs in the sky. A distant Red Kite was the most notiable… We moved slowly along the lane, carefully scanning the fields that were hurt by the wind. It took us a good while until we found the first Blackbellied Sandgrouse on the ground. A male. Did an effort to get the scopes out so everybody could enjoy despite the really strong wind. Some minutes later, a small flock of 5 Pintailed Sandgrouses moved from a nearby filed, coming closer to us. It took some time to put everybody in the birds as they mild so well even if it was so few grass! Our happiness was complete when we realised that there were also some Blackbellied Sandgrouses on the ground, only few metres away from the Pintailed’s!! So, at the end, we had both species together side by side, feeding, preening and enjoying the hard morning weather!

Due to very strong winds, this is the best image we got on a Pin-tailed Sandgrouse.

Black-bellied Sandgrouse (Pterocles orientalis) during one of the last tours to Morocco. No images during this tour…

A short drive in the area around provided us with good views on Thekla, Calandra & Sky Larks. Also Little Owl, Iberian Grey Shrike and Redbilled Chough. Due to the wind it was again little movement of raptors in the sky, or that is what it looked like until 4 Golden Eagles appeared in the sky at the same time! Two adults and 2 juveniles playing long time with the wind at short range.

This obliging Golden Eagle (Aquila chrysaetos) was the first of the 5 seen during the day!

After a coffee stop we still had time to enjoy some good views on Lesser Shorttoed Larks before changing the habitat to explore some cliffs nearby.

The short drive to the clay cliffs produced several White Storks, some of them in their nests, Spotless Starlings, and Common Buzzards. Once arrived, we were suprised by a bird moving in the cliff.A Wallcreeper!!! Amazing. It is not normal to see a Wallcreeper so low, and it is even more strange to see it in a clay cliff which is not especially in the middle of the plains! Again everybody enjoyed the bird while moving up. Higher, a Blue Rock Thrush was also really showy. After a pair of minutes enjoying the bird we lost it and spent some time looking for the Black Wheatears living in this spot. After some minutes we had a pair of Black Wheatear moving in the broken slope. Here we also got the firsts Black Redstarts and Common Chiffchaffs of the tour.

This Wallcreeper (Tichodroma muraria) was totally unexpected, and shared cliff with Blue Rock Thrush and Black Wheatear.

After such a wonderful stop, we faced our transfer to Ebro Delta, a pair of hours of driving with several surprises in the way. The area between Lleida Steppes and Ebro Delta is a complex, hilly area crossed by Ebro river. It is good nautral border and a natural corridor that many birds use between the Mediterranean coast and the Pyrenees. The afternoon was sunny and calm and soon we realised that it was a good number of birds of prey migrating. After a pair of stops we had 1 Short-toed Snake Eagle, 1 Black Kite, 1 Northern Goshawk, several Common Buzzards and a few Eurasian Sparrowhawks moving North.

Once in Ebro Delta, we spent the rest of the afternoon in the Northern Bay, where we enjoyed good views on a long list of species. Slender-billed & Audouin’s Gull were the most celebrated but the list also included Whiskered, Caspian & Sandwich Terns, Black-necked Greve, Red-crested Pochard, Kentish Plover, Greenshank, Common Sandpiper, Knot, Eurasian Oystercatcher, Bar-tailed Godwit, Eurasian Curlew, Little Stint, Dunlin, Common Snipe, Common Redshank, big flocks of Greater Flamingoes and Mediterranean Gulls plus ruff views on a female Bluethroat that showed shortly due to the strong wind! After such a great end of the day, we drove to our accommodation for a good rest and plentiful dinner. 

Day 5. After enjoying our breakfast we went out to take a fast look to a small pond just by our hotel. There, we had a good surprise as a male Little Bittern moved in the reeds providing good looks. Cetti’s Warbler and Little Egret were also seen there!

But our first serious stop of the day was by the largest fresh water lagoon in the delta, called l’Encanyissada. A pair of stops were enough to catch with some of the most sought-after species. While flocks of Greater Flamingoes were passing over, we enjoyed wonderful views on Western Swamphens. In the lagoon there were flocks of Blacknecke Grebes but out attention was focused in the reedbeds. Cetti’s Warbler was showing well in some small plants by the reeds and 2 Water Pipits were seen in a nearby channel along with Green Sandpiper. But all alarms went on when a “tak-tak” came from the reeds. There was a Moustached Warbler just along the edge of the reedbed, calling and moving really low in the brown steems. It didn’t take long until all tour participants were enjoying good views on this shy species!

But the bird spectacled kept going. A flock of 5 Wood Sandpipers flew over right at the same time that 1 Whitespotted Bluethroat male called from the reedbed. A bit of scan was required before all tour participants enjoyed excellent views on this bird. The male was actually quite showy and it was calling a pair of times as it was moving along the shore of the channel. A further scan along different channels revealed at least 5 Bluethroats, 2 of them being males in full summer plomage.

Bluethroat (Luscinia svecica) in typical winter habitat.

After such a successful stop we decided to move on to explore some salt marshes. The area is an important nesting place for several species, including Audouin’s Gull, and we could see that many of them were already back in the area. At least 80 Audouins’s were there along with Caspian Terns, Grey Plovers, Kentish & Common Ringed Plovers, 100s of Dunlins and at least 7 Little Stints in the middle.

Audouin’s Gulls (Ichthyaetus audouinii) already busy in their colony.

From there we end the morning by exploring a sand bar facing South. This is a good place where to enjoy waders, Terns and Gulls. Several Great Crested Grebes were on the sea, as the sand bar protects a large inner bay. Along with them, 4 Blackthroated Divers were fishing and offering great views, but the best was to discover 1 Great Skua resting on the sea, far away but still offering a god view. Closer, flocks of Dunlins & Kentish Plovers were really appreciated by the group, along with the Slenderbilled Gulls side by side to Mediterranean Gull. A good way to walk the path of telling them apart. Northern Gannet and Ruddy Turnstone were also enjoyed in this stop.

Western Swamphen (Porphyrio porphyrio) has become a common view in Ebro Delta.

To enjoy our picnic we went inside a wooded hide. From the hide, it didn’t look like a lot of birds, but we were having a good fun with the nice views on Western Swamphens and Cetti’s Warbler while a Booted Eagle was circling. Suddenly, a Great Spotted Cuckoo crossed the lagoon to stop right beside the hide! Wonderful!! This species of cuckoo arrives really early in the season and by the end of February you can expect some of them moving around, but due to the few time we had in the steppes, I was not expecting to see them at all!

Slim numbers of Booted Eagles (Aquila pennata) overwinter in Ebro Delta.

Great Spotted Cuckoo (Clamator glandarius) is a scarce migratory bird in Ebro Delta itself.

During the afternoon we drove up along a lane to explore a mountainous areas some 30 miles away from Ebro Delta. It is extremelly windy and we had to drive up and down the lane a pair of times before we succeed, but finally we got what we were looking for and 2 Alpine Accentors were seen in the lane, right in front of the car!!! The birds were just feeding by the lane despite the extremelly strong wind but unfortunately they flew off down the slope before we could take any image of them…

Spanish Ibex (Capra hispanica) in a typical view.

Really happy about this spot, we moved to our final stop. A lovely Mediterranean gorge hosts some really good specialities. Weather conditions were hard so bird activity was really low. Still, we got good views in a female Spanish Ibex and we were about to leave when a call came from high up the cliff and a wonderful male Bonelli’s Eagle came down to inmediatly display over the valley. It called again just when dramatically dived in the sky to come back to the cliffs in a fast movement!!! What a incredible sight to end the day!!!

Bonelli’s Eagle (Aquila fasciata) displaying in late afternoon.

But this was not all. After dinner we just went out to the hotel grounds, were the tour participants enjoyed wonderful vews on 1 Eurasian Scops Owl that is actually nesting in a nest box right there!!!

Eurasian Scops Owl (Otus scops) already at nest at the end of February!

Day 6. Our last day of the tour we spent the morning in the delta. In our first stop we were scouting a large marshy area: big flocks of Blackwinged Stilts and Pied Avocets were resting there along with Northern Shovelers, Pintails, Blacktailed Godwits, Common Kingfishers, Shelducks and other goodies. Beyond this spot, the paddy fields around provided good birding and an accurate scan we enjoyed good views on 30 or more Ruffs but also Dunlins, European Golden Plovers, huge flocks of Glossy Ibises, obliging Lesser Shorttoed Larks and 1 Peregrine Falcon (probably a calidus race).

Young Greater Flamingoes (Phoenicopterus roseus) love to feed in the paddy fields.

It was time to head back to the airport but we still had time for a pair of fast stops around Barcelona. Our picnic stop by the airport reported Water Pipit. The afternoon was rainy and cold but we still tried to get the impressive Red-billed Leiothrix, an alien species living in some well forested areas in Greater Barcelona. By the time we did arrive, the temperature was low but we still managed good views on Firecrest as well as Monk Parakeet, Coal, Longtailed and European Crested Tits.

Ans this was the end of this wonderful tour to the Pyrenees, despite the really high temperatures!! Already ready for our next adventure, happening very soon.

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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!

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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.

Spain Tour 2019

Tour Participants: 5

Dates: From April 15th to April 26th, 2019

Number of species of birds seen: 227

 

Summary

During the tour the temperature ranged from 02ºC to 29ºC. We recorded 7 mammal species, over 227 species of birds and 3 species of reptiles. The species mentioned in the daily summaries are only some of those seen.

Day 1: Monday 15 April: Madrid to La Mancha Humeda and onto Extremadura.

Our trip begun with us meeting for a breakfast at our Hotel in Madrid. After meeting our local Guide and driver Carles we negotiated the Madrid traffic and made our way for the Navaesca lagoon and wetlands. As we left the city and headed into the Winelands and agricultural fields on route we enjoyed sightings of: Common Magpie, Black Kite, Common Wood Pigeon and Crested Lark.

Our first stop after a well deserved coffee break was Navaesca Lagoon south west of Madrid and here we enjoyed some amazing birding with highlights being: 50+ White-headed Duck, Cetti’s Warbler, Common Shelduck, Black-headed Gull, Ruff, Common Greenshank, European Penduline Tit, Bearded Reedling, Greylag Goose, Lesser Black-backed Gull, Red-crested Pochard, Little-ringed Plover and European Goldfinch to name a few. Luck was on our side this morning as we had really top cracking views of these species, we managed brief views of a Moustached Warbler but this unfortunately avoided us despite numerous attempts to relocate. We enjoyed our lunch watching the Whiskered Terns and had a good fly by sighting of a Mediterranean Gull.

White-headed Ducks (Oxyura leucocephala) are a scarce resident duck in Central Spain and along the Mediterranean coast. Image by tour leader Carles Oliver

After lunch the wind picked up and bird activity died down so we made our way to the Extremadura region.  On our way to the Extremadura region we enjoyed road side sightings of: Booted Eagle, European Griffon Vulture, European Black Vulture, White Storks nesting, European Stonechat, Hawfinch, Western Marsh Harrier and Corn Bunting. At our accommodation in Extremaduta we enjoyed amazing next door birding including sightings of European Blue Tit, Black Kite, Red-rumped Swallow, Iberian Magpie, Common Cuckoo, Black-winged Kite, European Bee-eater, Mistle Thrush, Common Chaffinch, Great Tit, Woodchat Shrike, White Wagtail, and Booted Eagle.

We got daily great views on Black-winged Kites (Elanus caeruleus) during our stay in Extremadura. The fact that one pair nested in our accommodation grounds helped a bit 🙂 Image by Carles Oliver

What a great start to our tour as we enjoyed sunset over the snow capped Monfrague Mountains. Our dinner was enjoyed over a glass of red wine as we chatted about the excellent first day we have enjoyed. Also hearing common cuckoo call its characteristic cuckoo clock call again is always an enjoyable experience. We all slept well after a great day of birding.

 

Day 2: Tuesday 16 April.                             Monfragüe National Park.         

Our morning begun nice and early with breakfast at our lodge as we could hear the birds waking up. We could hear Common Cuckoo calling from the breakfast table, which is not to shabby. We made our way towards the open fields know to be a good spot for both Little and Great Bustards. Lady luck was on our side and one of the first birds we saw in the area was a stunning male Little Bustard which offered us excellent views and and a flight display- wow this was enjoyed by all as these birds are now critically endangered so getting good views of this male was enjoyed by all. Just as we thought what more could we ask for, we had an incredible sighting of a Great Bustard displaying, what a pleasure. After some scanning we found a lek of about 5 males displaying for one females attention, it’s was most comical and most enjoyable to watch this behavior. Other highlights included: female Montagu’s Harrier, Black-bellied Sandgrouse, Common Buzzard, Eurasian Skylark, Eurasian Tree Sparrow, Whinchat, European Stonechat and Red-legged Partridge.

A quick coffee stop was enjoyed overlooking the Gredos mountain range, here we enjoyed a spectacular sighting of both Spainish Imperial Eagle and Cinereous Vulture flying right over us and giving us amazing views. On route to Monfragüe National Park we enjoyed sightings of: European Griffon Vulture, Booted Eagle, Great Tit, Eurasian Wren, Eurasian Blackcap, Woodlark, Spanish Sparrow, Lesser spotted Woodpecker and we hade a brilliant sighting of Western Orphean Warbler- sometimes a difficult bird to see!. As we enjoyed our lunch in the Oak fields we were treated to stunning views of a pair of Short-toed Treecreepers– it was most enjoyable to watch their behavior and antics. As we made our way into Monfragüe we enjoyed a cracking sighting of a Short-toed Snake Eagle with a snake in its mouth as it flew by and over us.

Little Bustard (Tetrix tetrix) showing really well in our tour. Image by Carles Oliver

 

The Monfragüe National Park is a special protected area for Birdlife in Spain and we enjoyed some wonderful sightings of the Griffon Vultures flying over us and in-front of us. Other top sightings included: Cinereous Vulture, Blue Rock Thrush, Sardinian Warbler, Rock Bunting, Black Redstart, Subalpine Warbler, Crag Marting, Peregrine Falcon and Black Stork. It was truly an amazing day birding in Extremadura and we all had a wonderful and busy day. As we made our way back to our accommodation we all chatted about the various sightings we enjoyed and also got chatting about the various conservation efforts been made in Europe to protect birds.

 

Day 3: Wednesday 17 April.                            The Caceres Plains and Arrocampo wetlands.                                                                                                               

Our day started nice and early with breakfast and coffee as we got ready for another exciting day of birding in Spain. We made our way to Campo Lugar to improve our views of Great Bustard. On route in the town of Campo Lugar we had great views of Pallid Swift. In the grasslands we were rewarded with excellent views of Great Bustard which was enjoyed by all. Other highlights included: Gull-billed Tern, Northern Raven and Calandra Lark.

In the town we enjoyed a lovely coffee in a small Spanish coffee shop and were treated to exceptional views of Lesser Kestrel colony on a tower, we also had a good view of our first Iberian Grey Shrike of the trip. After our coffee stop we made our way to check the nest boxes put up for the European Rollers and we had good views of the birds nesting and even mating- these are incredible birds that make an extraordinary migration from Southern Europe to Southern Africa and its amazing to see the birds in Spain that we see in Southern Africa. We also enjoyed sightings of Eurasian Hoopoe and Iberian Grey Shrike.

One of the many Great Bustards (Otis tarda) that we enjoyed in Extremadura. Image by Carles Oliver

We made our way to Alcollarin Dam to see which migrant water birds would be around and enjoy our lunch. Our day just got better and better from this point and we enjoyed some incredible birding at the dam and we had sightings of: Collared Practincole, Northern Lapwing, Common Ringed Plover, Common Kingfisher, Temminck’s Stint, Kentish Plover, Common Kingfisher, Eurasian Spoonbill and Black Tern– this is some incredible birding for Southern Europe and everyone enjoyed the avian gems on show. Just as we thought things could not get better we had a lovely sighting of two European Otters swimming in water in front of this- truly amazing and a mammal lifer for all on the trip. As we travelled we chatted about our great day and I enjoyed learning from Larry A about North America and the great birding he enjoys in the State of California. It was also intresting to hear from Larry how the Black Tern in the States is a different tern to the one we have just seen in Spain. Larry also enjoyed the sighting of the Temminck’s Stint as it was a bird he wanted to see.

Spanish Magpie (Cyanopica coocki), a must-seen endemic to get when birding in Southern Spain and Portugal. Image by Carles Oliver

The views of about 30 Collared Practincoles impressed Pam as they flew over head. We enjoyed some down time at the accommodation before dinner and enjoyed a wonderful dinner and some good Spanish wine as we chatted about our wonderful day, birding stories and finished off our listing.

Thekla Lark (Galerida theklae) in the grasslands near Campo Lugar. Image by Carles Oliver

Day 4: Thursady. 18 April.           Extremadura to the the Ebro Valley.

Our day begun a little earlier than normal as we decided we would check out the Arrocampo wetlands before moving onto the Ebro valley. We enjoyed a lovely breakfast before heading to the wetlands. Lady Luck was on our side and as we arrived at the wetland and made our way to the hide, we had a great sighting of a male and female Ferruginous Duck fly up and give us brilliant views of this hard to see species of Duck in Europe. It’s estimated that there are about 7 pairs left of these birds in Iberia so seeing a pair was really exciting and enjoyed by the whole group. The birds also decided to come and land on the pond in front of us and we got some really good views of this beautiful duck. Other highlights at the wetlands included: a Purple Heron, Little Bitten, Western Swamphen, Savi’s Warbler, Sand Martin and we unfortunately only managed to hear Water Rail. We were soon back on the road and heading for the Ebro Valley, today was set aside as a day of travel and we had a good 5 hours drive to get to the Ebro Valley and our accommodation.

European Bee-eaters (Merops apiaster) were a common view in several areas along this tour. Image by Carles Oliver

On the way we had panned a stop to try and find Bluethroat and Rufous-tailed Thrush but unfortunately the weather was not playing along and we had cold and rainy weather high up in the mountains with temperature dropping to 3 degrees Celsius- not ideal for bird watching. We did however get sightings of: European Serin, Eurasian Jay and Eurasian Robin. Our efforts were also rewarded with a wonderful sighting of a Common Salamander- Salamandra salamandra. This was a great find and this amphibian gem was enjoyed by the group, especially by Pam and myself.

We made our way to the Ebro Valley slowly as most of the drive was in the pouring rain, which did not help our birding efforts. As we approached our accommodation we went to the site where Dupont’s Lark occurs and tried our luck in locating this sought after species. Unfortunately the weather didn’t help us and the gusting wild and cold made finding the bird impossible. We did however enjoy views of a Golden Eagle hunting European Rabbits. We enjoyed a quick shower and freshen up before enjoying a lovely dinner together and a good nights rest.

Day 5: Friday 19 April.              Ebro Valley and transfer to Pyrenees.

Our morning begun nice and early so we could get out and try for the Dupont’s Lark again. After breakfast we headed for the area we had been in the previous day searching for the Lark and our luck changed for the better. With the weather being calm and cool with no rain and wind we knew this was our best chance to see the bird. Lady Luck again was on our side and within 30 minutes we had spectacular views on a male Dupont’s Lark– this was just great and made up for our efforts from yesterday. The bird performed well and we could all enjoy this beauty. Larry was particularly chuffed as he had thought we would not see the bird- patience and perseverance paid off.

Other highlights for the morning included: Greater Short-toed Lark, Western Bonelli’s Warbler, European Turtle Dove, Calandra Lark, Black-bellied Sandgrouse, Pin-tailed Sandgrouse, Carrion Crow and Willow Warbler. After a short coffee break we made our way to an area to try and improve our views of Pin-tailed Sandgrouse and this we did with 5 birds showing well in the scopes- we then got treated to a fly by and all had awesome views of these magnificent birds. Another highlight was a male Pallied Harrier flying over the grasslands which we all managed to get good views of- this species is rare in Spain and was a good record for the tour.

In the tour we were lucky and enjoyed multiple and long views on Dupont’s Larks (Chersophilus duponti) in the wonderful steppes close to Codo. Image by Carles Oliver

We stopped to enjoy some of Spain’s old castles and made our way to lunch in the town of Bujaraloz and after a wonderful lunch enjoyed some birding at a nearby pond with us seeing: Green Sandpiper, Common Redshank, Common Sandpiper, Little Ringed Plover and Northern Shoveler. We made our way onto the Pyrenees and our accommodation. A strategical stop was made at a spot to try and find Black Wheatear and this paid off with us getting some good views on a pair, we also enjoyed sightings of good numbers of Griffon Vultures as well as Thekla Lark, Sardinian Warbler and Spectacled Warbler. We made our way into the Pyrenees Mountains and the birding that lay ahead of us was off the charts with us getting good views of Long-tailed Tit, Egyptian Vulture, Bearded Vulture and a male Wallcreeper moving along the rock face, this was a magical end for this day, probably one of the best days during the tour!

This male Wallcreeper (Tichodroma muraria) delighted us with great, but a bit distant views, just in our first stop into the Pyrenees. Image by Carles Oliver

We quickly freshened up and enjoyed a wonderful dinner at our accommodation at, the foot hills of the Pyrenees. What a brilliant day.

 

Day 6: Saturday 20 April.                                                 The Pyrenees.

Our morning once again begun nice and early so we could get into the high mountains of the Pyrenees and target some of the special birds of the high altitudinal areas. After a lovely home cooked breakfast we made our way to the Portalet mountain pass at about 2000m above sea level. We had a few high mountain birds to target.

Not really an average sight on Egyptian Vulture (Neophron percnopterus). Image by Carles Oliver

The snow capped mountains and the scenery was absolutely spectacular and we enjoyed taking in the magnificent part of Spain before crossing into France. Soon after entering France we enjoyed some good birding with us getting good views of: Bearded Vulture, Northern Wheatear, Red Kite, Yellowhammer, Water Pipit, Alpine Accentor which put on a wonderful display. We also enjoyed the antics of the Alpine Marmots on the cliffs. We also had spectacular close up views of both Alpine and Red-billed Chough. What a great morning of birding.

Lammergeier (Gypaetos barbatus) showing superbly during our tour. Image by Carles Oliver

We enjoyed launch overlooking the snow capped mountains and made our way further into France to continue our birding and try for the elusive White-backed Woodpecker- we unfortunately only could hear this bird and could not get any views on the species, we did however enjoy good views of: Ring Ouzel, Tree Pipit, Common Firecrest, Citril Finch– a good bird to see and with exceptional views which made Larry’s day, Eurasian Nuthatch, Coal Tit, Goldcrest and a Song Thrush displaying for us- all in all some good birding. We made our way back up the Pyrenees through the maze of tunnels and into Spain to get to our accommodation in time for a lovely home cooked traditional meal. This is exactly what the group needed and we all had a well deserved nights rest after another good days birding.

The very scarce and located Spectacled Warbler (Sylvia conscipillata) was really showy in the early afternoon. Image: Carles Oliver

 

Day 7: Sunday 21 April.                                                   The Pyrenees.

Another early start was on the cards for us in order to get out to the San Juan de La Monastery to try for the elusive Black Woodpecker. A quick walk around our accommodation after our lovely breakfast yielded us good views of Common Rock Sparrow– our first bird for the day and new for the trip. At the monastery luck was on our side and we managed to get several views of the hard to find Black Woodpecker. We also enjoyed very close up views of: Eurasian Treecreeper, Eurasian Crested Tit, Coal Tit and Eurasian Jay.

After a long search, we finally managed great looks on this Alpine Accentor (Prunella collaris). Image by Carles Oliver

Despite the rather poor light, Ring Ouzels (Turdus torquatus) gave us great sights up in the Pyrenees. Image by Carles Oliver

We made our way further into the Pyrenees towards Echo valley. Roadside birding included Griffon Vultures, a Booted Eagle being mobbed by a Red Kites and Egyptian Vulture. We headed high up into the mountains to our lunch stop and while having lunch enjoyed great sightings of Dunnock, European Robin and Coal Tit. We birded the area after lunch and had some really good birding with highlights being Citril Finch, Cirl Bunting, White-throated Dipper, Grey Wagtail, Short-toed Treecreeper, Marsh Tit and Common Chiffchaff. We all had some time to relax before dinner and enjoyed another wonderful home cooked meal by our host. The place we are staying is a traditional Spanish farm house that was built in the 1700s and had been tastefully upgraded and gives a lovely warm feel to it. The host is so welcoming and Larry S, Larry A, Pam and I really enjoyed staying here. The warm hospitality and traditional home cooked meals were welcomed and enjoyed by all. We all had a good nights rest after another great days birding in the Pyrenees.

 

Day 8: Monday 22 April.                                  Lleida Steppes.

We had a slightly earlier start today so we could get into the lower Step areas and Open fields of the lower Pyrenees to target a few birds we had missed. After a lovely home cooked breakfast we said our goodbyes to our wonderful host and headed out. The area in which we started our birding has some of the best Steppes and open grassland in Spain and as soon as we got into the area we had a wonderful sighting of a Short-eared Owl that was perched and proceeded to give us a wonderful fly by- a highlight for all on the tour and a great start.

We enjoyed some good birding with highlights being: Little Owl, Black-eared Wheatear, Calandra Lark, Common Redstart, Tawny Pipit, Whinchat, Thekla, Greater-short Toed and Lesser-short Toed Larks. The hard scan around pay off when we finally got 2 Great Spotted Cuckoos feeding in an open field. We managed to get long and wonderful views on both birds on the ground, but we could not get too much close of them since they were feeding on a sensitive field, nesting ground for Sandgrouses and Larks. After a slight drive and a short coffee stop we stopped along a small stream and enjoyed some more birding with our first views of: Eurasian Golden Oriole, Wood Warbler, Common Nightingale and Alpine Swift. We also had some really good views of Rock Bunting and Cirl Bunting.

Eurasian Eagle Owl (Bubo bubo) in a late evening sight that included some great vocalisation. Image by Carles Oliver

We made our way further south to Fraga, just outside or Lleida and checked into our accommodation for the night. We decided to take a slight afternoon break as tonight we are going to take a night drive and target some of the nocturnal birds in the area. We all deserved the slight bit of downtime and after a slightly earlier dinner went off into the late afternoon and night to see what nocturnal birds we could find. Luck was once again on our side and we had an incredible night drive with us getting great views of Eurasian Eagle-Owl, Western Barn Owl and Eurasian Scops Owl. We were very lucky to get great views of all of these species and it made it an Owltastic day, with us seeing 5 species of owl in the day, that being: Short-eared Owl, Little Owl, Eurasian Eagle-Owl, Western Barn Owl and Eurasian Scops Owl. We all enjoyed a good nites rest after another great days birding.

 

Day 9: Tuesday 23 April.                                       Lleida to Ebro Delta.

Another early start was on the cards for this morning so we could make our way to the Ebro Delta but still try and connect with a few birds we need in the area. After a lovely breakfast we were soon on the road and heading for the flowing step landscape just outside of Lleida. The break in the rain meant we could try see what birds were active and we had some good sightings with highlights being: Common Nightingale– finally some good views, Eurasian Hobby, Ortolan Bunting, Subalpine Warbler– great views, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Rock Sparrow and improved views of  Eurasian Jay.

Wood Warbler (Phylloscopus sibilatrix) is a scarce migratory bird in Catalonia. Due to a huge irruption, during the tour we enjoyed a good number of them. Image by Carles Oliver

A stop along the nearby stream yielded us with a great sighting of Hawfinch- a difficult and tough bird to see, and we got good views. We soon were back on the road, heading for the Mediterranean coast. A quick lunch stop was enjoyed at a local tapas bar before making our way to a spot to try for Dartford Warbler– luck was on our side and we enjoyed good views on a pair of birds and also got some good views on a Common Whitethroat– the first for the trip. We soon moved onto a local wetland to check for any migrating birds and got rewarded with good views of Wood Warbler, Western Bonelli’s Warbler and Eurasian Tree Sparrow.

We made our way down to the coast and arrived at the Ebro Delta in the late afternoon to some perfect weather conditions and we got treated to some exceptional and exciting birding. We enjoyed views of: Curlew Sandpiper( breeding plumage), Eurasian Oystercatcher, Grey Plover, Slender-billed Gull, Dunlin, Common Shelduck, Garganey, Western Osprey and Bar-tailed Godwit in breeding plumage which was enjoyed by all as no one had seen the bird before in breeding dress.

Curlew Sandpiper (Calidris ferruginea) in almost full summer plomage at Ebro Delta. Image by Carles Oliver

As we left the bay we had the most incredible sightings of Audouin’s Gull, Mediterranean Gull, Black-headed Gull, Slender-billed Gull and Eurasian Curlew all sitting in the open offering excellent photo opportunities and also gave us a chance to compare the different Gills next to each other and therefore learn how to ID them. Both Larry’s enjoyed this opportunity. We made our way to our accommodation close to the Ebro Delta, settled in and had a lovely dinner talking about our great day and completing our lists. We all had a good nites rest after another great day.

 

Day 10: Wednsday 24 April.                                                  Ebro Delta.

We begun our day once again with an early start and a lovely breakfast and then headed out to explore the Ebro Delta and surrounds for the day. A walk around our accommodation yielded us sightings of Black-crowned Night Heron, Mediterranean Flycatcher (a really good bird to have in Catalonia since is nesting in the islands of the Western Mediterranean), European Pied Flycatcher and Little Bittern. We made our way north into the Delta to the point and had some really good birding with highlights being: Icterine Warbler, Western Yellow Wagtail, Purple Heron, Collared Pratincole and Red-crested Pochard. Unfortunately the wind picked up badly and this halted our birding, we decided to stop for a coffee break and try plan B.

Black-crowned Night Heron (Nycticorac nycticorax), a common nesting heron at Ebro Delta. Image by Carles Oliver

Baillon’s Crake (Porzana pusilla), a wonderful sight close to Ebro Delta! Image by Carles Oliver

We did have some excitement in one of the Subalpine Warblers we saw and photographed as we thought it could have been the recently split- Moltoni’s Warbler but after extensive checking and sending pics to experts we decided that is was a Western Subalpine Warbler. We also enjoyed watching a flock of about 50 Yellow Wagtails in a field close to the car and this gave us a chance to study the different races and we decided we have races from Italy, Iberia, NW Africa and Central Europe all in one spot- interesting stuff which was enjoyed by all but especially Larry S as he could also photograph the birds well. Our plan B kicked into place and we decided to enjoy lunch in a near by hide and boy did this work out as we had some exceptional birding which included: Little Stint, Baillon’s Crake, Spotted Redshank, Ruff, Marsh Sandpiper, Temminck’s Stint, Little Ringed Plover, Common Ringed Plover, Common Snipe and Wood Sandpiper. What a lunch stop!

Ebro Delta is always a guarantee and this time provided with really close views on Collared Pratincoles (Glareola pratincola). Image by Carles Oliver

The biggest surprise of our lunch was the Jack Snipe that showed up and was on display feeding right in front the hide offering exceptional views- this was truly amazing as this is a hard bird to see and to see it so well was amazing. The bird was also a lifer for all on the trip. We decided to take a slight break from the wind before heading out again in the late afternoon. The afternoon was enjoyed coming to grips with the different Gulls and Terns of the area, and we enjoyed the late afternoon watching the terns coming into roost, we enjoyed good sightings of Caspian, Little and Whiskered Terns. We enjoyed a lovely traditional dinner at the lodge while we chatted about the excitimng day and also enjoyed working through our checklists and rounding off another great day. After dinner we enjoyed a slight walk around the accommodation and got good views of the nesting Eurasian Scops Owl.

And this Jack Snipe (Lymnocriptes minimus) was probably the most celebrated bird of the tour. Image by Carles Oliver

Although this Temminck’s Stint (Calidris temminckii) moulting to summer plogame (see the Black center in the wing feathers) was also a hit! Image by Carles Oliver

 

Day 11: Thursday 25 April.                         Ebro Delta and Tortosa Beseit Natural Park.                                                                                                                      

We started our day once again nice and early with a lovely breakfast before heading out for some birding. The weather looked promising and we enjoyed great views of Black-crowned Night Heron at our accommodation. We made our way into the Delta and had a good sighting of Common Reed Bunting at the local wetland, the species we saw is actually Iberian Reed Bunting, the race is know as Witherbyi and could in the close future become a new split and species so it was really good to get good scope views on this endangered species. Other highlights included: Common Shelduck, Caspian Tern, Eurasian Penduline Tit, Great Reed Warbler and Lesser Black-backed Gull.

Bonelli’s Eagle (Aquila fasciata) controlling its territory from an advantatged point. Image by Carles Oliver

We made our way off the Delta towards Tortosa Beseit Natural Park to try a spot we know of for Bonelli’s Eagle. Luck was on our side and we arrived at the nesting area and had great views of the pair sitting up on the rocks, we also managed to get great scope views on a chick sitting on a neat nest- wow what a great sighting of this endangered Eagle. We made our way down into the Delta for lunch and had some good road side sightings of Short-toed Snake Eagle and Booted Eagle. Just before we lunch we got lucky and had a Red-footed Falcon fly by us while driving and we managed to relocate the bird and have exceptional views. The bird was flying and hawking insects and also perched close to us. We enjoyed lunch in the field and had our first European Honey Buzzard for the trip fly pass and offer decent views.

Red-footed Falcon (Falco vespertinus), again a scarce migratory bird in Catalonia that we were lucky yo enjoy in Ebro Delta. Image by Carles Oliver

We decided to take a short break before heading out in the afternoon to do some shore birding. Our afternoon birding was a great success with us enjoying some top birding at one of the local hides. Highlights at the hide included: Melodious Warbler, Water Rail, Eurasian Spoonbill, Temminck’s Stint, Marsh Sandpiper, Willow Warbler and fabulous views of the Jack Snipe in-front of us in the open purring on a show. We had a fabulous sunset over the water with the Greater Flamingoes and Pied Avocets offering us great shots as we got the reflections off the water- what an incredible way to spend our last evening on tour. We enjoyed a lovely dinner and chatted about the great day and tour we have had and how it’s sad that it’s already over. We all enjoyed the wine on offer and took a short walk outside to locate the resident Eurasian Scops Owl and we all have good views of the bird on the nest box. We all have a good nites rest after another great day.

Melodious Warbler (Hyppolais polyglotta) showed really in Ebro Delta along with its much scarcer relative Icterine Warbler (Hyppolais icterina). Image by Carles Oliver

Eurasian Scops Owl (Otus scops) provided with great sights in our accommodation at Ebro Delta. Image by Carles Oliver

 

Day 12: Friday 26 April.                             Ebro Delta to Barcelona via Llobregat Delta.                                                                                                                     

Our final day of the tour started with a lovely breakfast and a walk around our accommodation. The weather was juts perfect for our last day and our walk after breakfast rewarded us with great views of a Garden Warbler which was new for the trip. We were soon on the road and made a short stop along the coast to scan for sea birds and this rewarded us with scope views of a Mediterranean Storm Petrel, closer to the shore we enjoyed views of Lesser Black-backed Gull and a European Shag sitting on the rocks giving us wonderful views.

Mediterranean Shag (Phalacrocorax aristotelis desmarestii), a splitable race to take in count. Image by Carles Oliver

Soon we were back on the road towards Barcelona and the Llobregat Delta to see what we could find. We decided to bypass Barcelona and spend some time at the Llobregat Delta before ending the trip later in the afternoon in Barcelona. A stragic stop just outside of the Llobregat Delta rewarded us with good sightings of a pair of Iberian Green Woodpeckers; we got some really good views of these birds. We also enjoyed views of Monk and Rose-ringed Parakeet. Larry S took some time to enjoy and photograph the Common Swifts flying over head. We moved onto the Delta to enjoy our lunch in one of the bird hides. This worked our really well and we enjoyed some good views of: Northern Shoveler, Garganey, Collared Pratincole, Ferruginous Duck, Common Shelduck, Ruff, Common Greenshank and Common Redshank. What a way to enjoy our final lunch of the tour. We then knew we had to make our way into the hussel and bussel of Barcelona City to get to our hotel for the night.

After negotiating the Barcelona traffic we made it to our hotel in the city center and it was time to say our goodbyes after an incredible birding trip through the country of Spain. It’s always sad saying bye to lovely guests like Larry S, Pam and Larry A and it’s was an end to an incredible tour. We had a great time together, the trip was enjoyed by all and I had a great time. Our goodbyes were said and it’s always rewarding to have guests say they loved the tour and will back with us again. I would like to thank Larry S, Pam and Larry A for a wonderful trip, for the Enthusiasm, patience and all the laughs and good times we enjoyed.

And this was the end of the trip. Please contact us for more birding in Spain and other countries by info@barcelonabirdingpoint.com or visit our website with plenty of information about, http://www.barcelonabirdingpoint.com

 

 

 

Finland & Finnmark Birding Tour 2018 Trip Report

Dates: 11th June to 20th June, 2018

Tour participants: 4

 

Day 1. As usual in this tour, all participants assembled at Helsinki Airport for an afternoon flight to Ivalo. After a quiet flight we landed in Ivalo, deep inside Arctic Finland late in the afternoon and headed directly to our accommodation in a cold and rainy weather. After dinner we went for short walk around and connected with some common birds. Here we got our firsts Yellowhammers singing but also Fieldfares and Redwings. A nearby lake offered also good views on Tufted Ducks and a pair of Goldeneyes.

Day 2. We wake up again in a cold, wet morning with only 4ºC. An early start was mandatory to catch up with some of the key species we were looking for during our techinically first day of the tour. After some pre-breakfast in our accommodation we drove some miles South of Ivalo, where a patch of mature forest host some of the main targets in the tour. We left the highway and started exploring the canopies in search of some birds. Everything was really quiet as a slim rain was falling down. We drove some miles, checking some corners with little result but, at one point of the lane we stop the van as one wonderful female Capercaillie was standing up by the lane, barely 10 metres away of the van and totally in the out! We enjoyed very much of that view. We slowly went a bit back, and as not raining any more we could enjoy with the view of the bird really long. The wonderful bird was studying as for a pair of minutes and then slowly started to move into the forest walking on a bare slope. We still had time for improve the view and the shots as the bird stoped a last time to take a last glance on us before disappearing in the vegetation.

This female Capercaillie (Tetrao urogallus) was really close to be the first bird of the tour. Image by tour leader: Carles Oliver

Absolutely amazed of having a Capercaillie as one of the first birds of the trip we kept driving up. Here there is a moment when the forest become really mature, having good old trees around. We parked the car and walked around. Bramblings were singing around and a Common Snipe was flying over. Here, we had also some common birds in this kind of habitat including Tree Pipits, Redwings, Willow Warblers and Common Cuckoo flying over. Bramblings were especially active that morning and several males were singing, flying around and dispalyinhg. We just walked a bit along a path slightly going up the slope. Here we had a bird flying away from us, and as briefly stopped, we discovered a wondeful Ring Ouzel that unfortunately almost inmediatly took off and disappeared inside the forest. From the top of the slope we could scan around and from there we got a male Capercaillie standing up in the middle of the path, some 400 metres away from us! What a wonderful view. Unfortunately the bird was fast in disappear and, despite our efforts, we could not relocate that massive grouse. We kept scanning and got lucky since 3 Siberian Jays came out of the forest and gave us wonderful views while feeding on the top of the trees and moving aroung in the canopies. Few metres away, a wonderful Siberian Tit was calling so we took advantage and enjoy wonderful views.

Siberian Tit (Poecile cinctus) is one of the main targets for many birdwatchers visiting Finland. In 2018 there were many of them! Image by Carles Oliver

After such a wonderful start we decided to drive a bit along the tracks. It was still cold and cloudy but with no rain for long. Along the driving we got some Green Sandpipers singing here and a pair of Greenshanks. Common Snipes look like being everywhere. After some kilometers we enjoyed another wonderful moment as one male Black Grouse was standing inside the forest, 20 metres away from the minibus! We again enjoyed walk-away views on the bird, having different angles on it so everybody could enjoy the bird. Suddenly, a second bird appeared from a small ditch in the forest, feeding on the berries. This second male had not see us at all and when saw us flew us, closely followed by the first bird. Wonderful! Black Grouse is a quite difficult bird to get in June and we were not expecting to see this species along the tour at all! We still had a pair of stops along the track, having a total of 5 more Siberian Tits along this way!!

Black Grouse (Tetrix tetrix) is a bird that we don’t expect to see along the trip, but this year got incredible views! Image by Carles Oliver

Happy after this wonderful start we went for coofee before driving South for some more birding. After some nice and warm coffee we started our transfer South towards Oulu, but before we still had a short stop not far away from the highway, since one pair of Northern Hawk Owl had been seen around. We did a short walk around, doing an accurate scanning. Northern Hawk Owls use to stop quite in the out, many times on tree tops, but they also can be hard to find out. After about half an hour of scanning we got nothing and we were really about to withdraw when one of the tour participants found a wonderful young Northern Hawk Owl standing up in the middle of one garden. It was a quite grow up chick, already capable to do a short flight… We all have wonderful views on the bird. Some minutes later we managed to find a second chick, deep inside the garden. Suddenly a Great Spotted Woodpecker called around and the shape of an adult Northern Haw Owl passed above us to stop in a close wire, allowing really good views. We all enjoyed very much of this moment. The adult was really garding the area so we went a bit away to make them feel better. After some minutes the adult came closer to the garden and stopped in a tree top nearby. It was moment for us to leave and keep moving South.

Northern Hawk Owl (Surnia ulula), one of the most sought-after birds of the trip. Images by Carles Oliver

 

 

Glad with the wonderful morning we had all enjoyed, the transfer South was really pleasant. We did some stops in the way, anyway. The first exploration of he tour in a typical wader nesting place was quite productive. We got (distant) views on 2 Common Cranes, some summer plomaged European Golden Plovers, Reed Buntings singing, several Meadow Pipits and 2 Whooper Swans. The second stop was a bit less productive: 1 Western Osprey flying around plus a really interesting Little Bunting singing in the low rank vegetation! We scanned hard trying to find this really bird but unfortunately we never found it… The transfer also produced some typical roadside birds in the way of 1 White-tailed Eagle, Goldeneyes and Red-breasted Mergansers.

Once in our accommodation we had a good rest before having dinner. After dinner we took advantage of the wonderful light outside so went for a short walk. In the fields, some Rooks were moving here and there, being this species quite scarce in Finland. Skylarks and Reed Buntings were singing and we enjoyed of wonderful views in a pair of Pied Flycatchers nesting inmediatly around the parking place. 1 Common Rosefinch was also singing from the top of a tree, but didn’t allow any photo… We went then for a short walk in a close marsh. There we had wonderful views on some male Ruff showing stunning summer plomages, moving in the tall grass. Common Snipes were displaying all around and a Lesser Whitethroat showed briefly inside a bush.

A short walk introduced us until a platform. In front of us had a wonderful view on Liminganlahti estuary. Flocks of Pintails were in the marshes. Wigeons, Eurasian Teals and Whooper Swans were all common. More distant, a huge flock of 300+ Common Cranes were roosting in the marshy area. Little Gulls were flying over in what was a wonderful scene to be admired! Several waders were moving around. Wood Sandpipers, Green Sandpipers and Eurasian Curlews were spotted. Also a wonderful flock of 20+ Spotted Redshanks in wonderful summer plomage! This is species is the one which is leaving before the nesting areas, located more to the North. The flock we saw were probably males already in their way South! Back in the marshes, a proper scanning revealed a Short-eared Owl flying over, being “joined” by 2 Hooded Crows.

Eurasian Curlew (Numenius arquata) is a common breeder in Liminganlahti. Image by Carles Oliver

Happy after such a wonderful end of the day we just came back to our accommodation for a good rest.

Day 3. We wake up with in a wonderful sunny morning and went off our accommodation for an early morning birding. Our first goal was to explore a pair of lagoons offering potential good birds. In the short transfer to the lagoons we had some nice birds. 100+ Common Cranes were feeding in a farmland along with Northern Lapwings and Eurasian Curlews. In the highway South of Oulu we got a wonderful male Pallid Harrier flying over, something quite unexpected and celebrated.

Hundreds of Common Cranes were seen around Liminganlahti. Image by Carles Oliver

Our first stop was in a lagoon. A fast scanning produced Common Scoter along with Goldeneyes. Distant Whooper Swans were also noticed. A second scanning produced good views on 4 wonderful Velvet Scoters and also the only 2 Goldcrests of the trip in the trees around the lagoon. Our second stop was also quite successful. Parked by a busy road we searched in a pair of ponds. We didn’t wait long since 1 Terek’s Sandpiper flew inmediatly in front of us producing really nice views! After a little while, the bird went to the opposite side of the lagoon but then we got 2 more Terek’s close enough to enjoy good views and some more shots! This was absolutely great since Terek’s Sandpiper has become really rare in Finland with only a handful of pairs around Oulu! Around the place of the Terek’s we got other nice birds including Common Whitethroat and Common Rosefinch.

Terek’s Sandpiper (Xenus cinereus) has become extremely scarce in Finland. Image by Carles Oliver

Satisfied for this rather unexpected success we scanned a bit around and got some Sedge Warblers in a nearby reedbed. The water body and shores around were having Common Ringed Plover, Wood Sandpiper, Common Redshank and Eurasian Teals. Before going to forest, we still had some time check the estuary itself, where we got several Little Gulls moving, a distant Greylag Geese, Western Osprey, and the very first Arctic Tern of the tour was delighting us with good views.

After such a great start of the day we moved to check for some owls. Not far away from Oulu there are several locations for many of the species living in the country. We first went to a place for Eurasian Pygmy Owl, located on a mature spruce patch. After few scanning we got absolutely amazing views on the bird as it was perched only three metres away from us. We enjoy it long views on this wonderful tiny owl and we left the place without disturbing it!

Eurasian Pygmy Owl (Glaucidium passerinum) delighted us with wonderful views deep in a mature forest. Image by Carles Oliver

We then went to check a place for Ural Owl but we had no luck and the nest was empty…No signal at all on this bird at the location. But around there it was also a nest of Great Grey Owl so went to try this bird. In the way, we had 3 Eurasian Woodcocks flying from the lane and 1 Eurasian Nuthatch showing really well as we parked the mini bus. We spend quite a long time looking for the nest this massive arctic owl but we finally got lucky and enjoyed incredible views on the Great Grey Owl lying on the nest. The nest was located in a really low location so we were not expecting to see the bird that close!! We still had some time looking for the pair of the Great Grey Owl as it had to be roosting nearby but despite our efforts we could not find it at all.

This Great Grey Owl (Strix nebulosa) was always vigilant to our movements. We never came closer and failed to find the male, probably nearby. Image by Carles Oliver

After a short stop to have some coffee we kept going our route. A nearby place was having a pair of nest boxes for Tengmalm’s Owl so we went to check. The first nest box was damaged so could not host anything. Second nest box was apparently in good conditions but looked like having no owls inside. We neither saw any signal of activity below the nest box. We started the way back to the van when a several calls of Tits and Blackbirds came from the direction of the nest box. We fastly went to check and found a wonderful Tengmalm’s Owl stiking its head out of the nest box! What a wonderful sight, especially after thinking we were going to miss this bird!!! We had good views on the bird for a pair of minutes, when it went down in the whole and disappear. Happy after another wonderful sight we came back to mini bus.

Tengmalm’s Owl (Aegolius funereus), probably the most difficult owl in Europe, was offering rather typical views while blocking the entrance of its nest. Image by Carles Oliver

In the way we had good views on 2 Spotted Flycatchers and had 2 Song Thrushes flying as well as Eurasian Treecreeper. In a nearby field, a Common Kestrel was hunting. We still had plenty of time so we went on driving for a way until a new place where to try Ural Owl. And this time we got lucky.

A Scottish Pine forest surrounded by farmlands is hosting a nest box. In our short walk until the area Yellowhammers and Tree Pipits were singing all around. Eurasian Jay was also seen, being the only was sight of the bird in the tour! Once in the place, we proceed with a proper scanning around. We got 1 Eurasian Treecreeper but little more out of that. About to leave the area, we did a last, desperate scanning and then we got a wonderful adult Ural Owl standing deep inside the forest!

The massive owl was a wonderful view inside the deep canopy and could enjoy the bird long. We had time to scan around and actually found a grown chick of Ural Owl closer to us, inside an area of young trees. This was already wonderful and really celebrated in the group! After enjoying the birds a good while we went back to the minibus to keep going on.

Ural Owl (Strix uralensis) proved to be, once more, a tricky bird. Image by Carles Oliver

 

We had good views on a passing Pallid Harrier in the early morning while driving towards Oulu so we decided to go back to that area and scan for eventually have better views. In the way, we got excellent views on Black-tailed Godwits in one of the very few nesting places in Finland! Once in the place we scanned the large fields and we fastly got noto ne but 2 males Pallid Harriers in diferent areas of the field! One of the birds moved our way and we had chances for some nice shots, despite the wind! 2 Short-eared Owls were also hunting in the area and were a nice add to our day list (5 owls in a day, not bad at all!).

Black-tailed Godwit (Limosa limosa) is a scarce nesting bird in Finland. Best populations to be found around Oulu. Image by Carles Oliver

 

It is a poor imatge but views on Pallid Harriers (Circus macrourus) were superb. Image by Carles Oliver

After this wonderful day we just had a 90 minutes transfer to Kuusamo. In the way we had first views on Black-throated Divers in splendid summer plomage. Once where arrived to the hotel we went for a good dinner and a long rest.

Day 3. This day we were concentrated around Kuusamo, where a number of key species can be seen. We had a really early start to look for Grouses. We drove around expecting to connect with some of them but we were unlucky that morning and we could not find any. We did a number of stops and enoyed good views in both Smew and Surf Scoter. Goldeneyes and Tufted Ducks were widespread. While enjoying one male Surf Scoter we got 2 Siberian Jays moving really close to our minibus and a pair of flocks of Common Crossbills feeding around and the common view of Mealy Redpolls flying around.

Siberian Jays (Perisoreus infaustus) can be really tame, once you find them! Image by Carles Oliver

We then went to explore Parikaala, one of the best places where to try Red-flanked Bluetail. Just arrived to the parking place we got a good views on a small flock of Parrot Crossbills moving up in the canopies. A walk around produced good views on Tree Pipits as well as the only one European Crested Tit of the trip! In our walk we were joined by the distant call of a Black-throated Diver and the display flights of Wood Sandpipers. After some walk we started looking for Hazel Grouses in one of their favourite corners. We carefully scanned around hoping to see the bird grazing or resting on a tree branch, No results until the clear call of a male came to us. It was not specially far away. More scan. Little walk. The bird was calling a second time. We waited long in the place, hoping for a movement to come out from the canopie but, unfortunately, it never hapenned.

Few minutes later a different song came to us. 1 Red-flanked Bluetail was singing around. We scanned the tree tops around and got distant views on males singing from a tree top! We tried to get closer but far before we arrived the bird was down again….

 

We kept going up and enjoyed really good views in a pair of Bohemian Waxbills feeding on berries in a small tree. 1 Scandinavian Willow Tit passed by, calling, and god good but brief views on the bird. But then everything went fast because 1 Tree-toed Woodpecker was calling in the distance. We gather until the area where the bird was calling and scanned around. Nothing. Moved to small elevation giving us a good view from where to scan the area and then we got the bird in a tree and inmediatly took off flying to out left, allowing really good views in flight! The bird went away quite far so we walked dow and track the area. Its call came out several times but we never could reconnect with the bird…

Numbers of Bohemian Waxwings (Bombycilla garrulus) had dropped since our visit in 2017. We hardly saw 10 individuals in the whole trip. Image by Carles Oliver

We then decided to try again the corner where the Red-flanked Bluetail was singing and this time we were lucky as the bird showed up really well, singing out from the top of a tree. This area is normally having different males (we counted no less than 6 in 2017) but this year it appeared to be only one… Happy after this successful views we went the way back to the car. Around the parking place the flock of Parrot Crossbills were still visible alowing good views.

This was the only one Red-flanked Bluetail (Tarsiger cyanurus) for us this year. Passerines overwintering in Asia proved to be really scarce. Image by Carles Oliver

After this productive morning we went for a good and early lunch and some rest. The afternoon came soon and before going for dinner we went for some birding not far from our accommodation. We were to enjoy some water birds in one of the many lakes near Kuusamo. Fieldfares, Hooded Crows and Redwings were all common views. The short track to the platform was having a close Little Bunting singing around and we were soon enjoying good views on this scarce bird!

Intimate views on Little Bunting (Emberiza pusilla) near Kuusamo. Image by Carles Oliver

From the platform we could enjoy Whooper Swans but also close views on Black-throated Divers, Goldeneyes and displaying Common Snipes.

Day 4. This day we had a really chilly and wet morning. Went to a different spruce area hoping for more Red-flanked Bluetails to be but, unfortunably was really windy. We only got some Bohemian Waxbills and 1 Scandinavian Willow Tit. Still, we decided to spend some more time by the road hoping for some activity. Song Thrush was singing and a Common Crossbills. A single Willow Warbler was singing in the canopy. Weather was stil cold and unfriendly but then we did lucky as suddenly 1 Three-toed Woodpecker passed by our side, allowing good views in flight and going inside the dense canopies! We scouted all the area around but the windy conditions were not the best to find anything on the trees. After some more time in this area we decide to leave for some warm coffee!

After a good warm coffee we just started moving North but stopping in a nice lake inmediatly North of Kuusamo. Once more we got excellent views on Whooper Swans, with Greenshanks and Reed Bunting singing around. 2 White-tailed Eagles were seen flying around and a small flock of Common Terns were feeding in the lake. Goldeneyes, Red-breasted Merganser and Tufted Ducks were all seen but the bird that was really celebrated was one wonderful Red-necked Grebe in nesting plomage, showing really well by the opposite shore of the lake.

Black-throated Divers (Gavia arctica) are a common view in Finish lakes. Image by Carles Oliver

Goldeneyes (Bucephala clangula) are the commonest ducks in most freshwater lakes in Northern Finland, along with Tufted Ducks. Image by Carles Oliver

After this great stop we kept driving North for some 90 minutes, until we crossed a patch of wonderful ancient spruce forest. This is also a good place were to stop so we did so to take a look. Bramblings and Redwings were all around along with Tree Pipits. A pair of Bohemian Waxwings flew over and 1 Common Cuckoo was heard singing nearby. Many Willow Warblers were singing around, some of them really road by road. In the low vegetation in the left side of the road we got something bigger moving and we were grateful to see 3 Pine Grosbeaks feeding on berries few inches from the ground. The birds came down to the road picking on the dart. The birds allowed us to come closer and we got excellent views in on them three bu thre group really enjoyed the male, showing really nice colours.

A small flock of Pine Grosbeaks (Pinicola enucleator) was feeding on dart in a minor road. Image by Carles Oliver

Back to the car we kept moving and scanning. Some more miles North we had to stop again, this time because of a small flock of Parrot Crossbills feeding also on the dart! After these happy findings we kept driving North for a pair of hours to arrive back to Ivalo, where we sleeping some miles of the town.

Day 5. This day we went to explore some bog areas for waders West of Ivalo. Here large areas are occupied by shallow water marshes. The dense vegetation around hosts several interesting species. We arrived early morning and scan around. Some really nice Wood Sandpipers were singing and displaying around and the sound o the displaying Common Snipes were constant. Some Mealy Redpolls passed by, calling. Then a small bird flew from the grass around to end a close tree and we found ourselves enjoying the very first Red-throated Pipit of the trip. The bird allowed good views, despite being a bit inside a small tree. Happy after this good start we kept scanning and found a Jack Snipe displaying in the sky, passin over us over and over and allowing excellent views. We did a small short walk in the marshy area and easily got 1 Red-spotted Bluethroat running in front of us. After some metres of run the bird just turn so everybody in the group had excellent views.
We still had some time around with the wonderful Jack Snipe still flying above us, displaying and diving into the dense vegetation. 2 Greenshanks were also singing in the bog and 1 European Golden Plover was also noted.

Red-spotted Bluethroat (Luscinia svecica svecica) was also a really celebrated bird in the group. Image by Carles Oliver

After such a good start for the day we went for a short walk in a nearby hill. Up in this hills the tundra dominates the landscape and it is possible to find really exciting species.

The short walk was dominated by dozens of Meadow Pipits singing and showing in the short grass lands. European Golden Plovers looked like being everywhere and 1 Eurasian Whimbrel was noted close to a small mountain pass.

From here we got an impressive view on this area of Scandinavian Alps, some sumits still with snow in the distance, while the Eastern part of the view was blocked by the rocky scarpment of a nearby peak. The scan around the area produced more European Golden Plovers and 1 Eurasian Dotterel showing really well in the Western part of the meadow. We tried to approach when something really floating passed over us: 1 Long-tailed Skua!

Long-tailed Skua (Stercorarius longicaudatus), a really smart bird both on the ground and in flight. Image by Carles Oliver

The bird just flew over to stop in some 100 metres away, in a tiny hill stiking up from the grassy plain. We had incredible views on the birds when a second individual came from the same side and both birds went to the sky for a full dispaly of flights, dives and
chasing. After this incredible sight we came back to the Dotterel. If was not there any more. A bit of scan was necessary to relocate the bird, but we all got it again in the bins, now definately more far away. We tried to approach but unfortunately the bird flew along with 2 European Golden Plover and we lost track of them.

Still having some time before lunch we decided to go a bit closer of the rocky scarpment, expecting species related with this kind of landscapes. We scanned all around with little feedback and were about to leave when 1 Snow Bunting appeared from somewhere! The bird just landed close to us, allowing some nice views while the bird was feeding.

Snow Buntings (Plectrophenax nivalis) typically favours the contact area of rocky scarpments with tundra grasslands. Image by Carles Oliver

Happy after this nice morning, we just went down for a nice lunch. But prior lunch we had a stop in a stop lagoo, where a nice flock of 17 Red-necked Phalaropes was feeding. Wonderful, some of them beautiful females! Along with them some male Ruffs but also Eurasian Teal. Bluethroats were singing around, including a brief view on a male. Here we also got a small flock of Arctic Terns in their way to nesting sites. Already really close!

All the group was delighted with the intimate views on Red-necked Phalaropes (Phalaropus lobatus). Image by Carles Oliver

Some male Ruffs (Philomachus pugnax) were at its best. We enjoyed a good variety of plomages. Image by Carles Oliver

After lunch we did a pair of stops in different ponds and bog but we did not have any other result out of the firsts Arctic Redpolls of the trip! 2 birds flying and perched low in a small tree that gave us really good views.

The rest of the afternoon we just took advantage of the feeders in our accommodation to enjoy excellent views on Pine Grosbeaks. The feeders also attrack large numbers of Mealy Redpolls and some Bramblings. The feeders also attrack Pied Flycatcher, Greenfinches, Common Redstart and Red Squirrels.

Day 6. Early morning once again to go North, into Norway. Still, before crossing the border we had a good stop along the way. A extensive area of bog is having small populations of Broad-billed Sandpiper. Here we had Wood Sandpipers, Ruffs, Golden Plovers and Common Snipe displaying. 2 obliging Siberian Tits were also a good addition along with Common Waxbills and distant Great Grey Shrike and 1 Black Grouse flying across. Unfortunately we had no contacts on the main target there…

Feeders are the best option to enjoy close views on Mealy Redpolls (Liniaria flammea). Image by Carles Oliver

One of the nine Siberian Tits (Poecile cinctus) seen during the tour. Image by Carles Oliver

 

Along the road we had some stops: Common Crossbills (always worth checking) but also Rough-legged Buzzards and Tufted Ducks were seen.
Once in Varanger we did a short stop in Nesseby. Here we had excellent views on a flock of Red-necked Phalaropes and some Ruffs. Common Ringed Plover, Bar-tailed Godwit and Dunlin were also nice addings to the trip list. Beyond Nesseby flocks of Red-breasted Merganser and Goosanders were seen on the fjord. Also large flocks of Common Scoters (200+) along side Surf Scoters.

Wood Sandpiper (Tringa glareola) keeps good densities in Lapland bogs. Image by Carles Oliver

Kittiwakes were already a common view, with flocks of hundreds of them moving along the coast, along with Herring, Great Black-backed & Common Gulls. Along the road we had firsts views on nesting Parasitic Skuas, sometimes allowing really close views! Along the shore, White-tailed Eagles were a common views, sometimes alone but sometimes congregated in small flocks.

Rough-legged Buzzards (Buteo lagopus) are a common view in the lower areas of Varanger. Image by Carles Oliver

Our way to Vadso produced a nice surprise in the way of 2 Tundra Bean Geese resting by the road! This was a rather unexpected finding! Oystercatchers & Common Eiders were already everywhere, even along the acess bridge to Vadso. A short walk in the area produced wonderful views on Common Redshank singing but also lovely views on Arctic Redpolls and Red-throated Pipit feeding around. Some elusive male Ruffs were also spotted in the tall grass, althought they were reluctant to show properly. The small lagoon was having some Red-necked Phalaropes and the place produced good views in the only one Pomarine Skua of the trip!

Along the trip we enjoyed some good views on Arctic Redpolls (Liniaria hornemanni), always a wonderful bird to see. Image by Carles Oliver

Red-throated Pipits (Anthus cervinus) replace Meadow Pipits in the tundra areas in Finnmark. Image by Carles Oliver

 

Our attention was concentrated in trying to find Steller’s Eider (had one around in 2017) but no luck this time.

The final drive to Vardo still produced a Short-eared Owl by the road so another stop had to be made. Once arrived to our accommodation we got a good rest before dinner. After dinner, we still had 1 hour to enjoy the midnight light. A short drive was done and got excellent views on Little Stint, Temminck’s Stint, Horned Larks, Red-throated Pipits, Parasitic Skuas and a wonderful male Lapland Bunting!!! What an amazing end for the day!

A stop was required as this Short-eared Owl (Asio flammeus) was hunting by the road. Image by Carles Oliver

Parasitic Jaegers (Stercorarius parasiticus) nest in low tundra plains, not far away from the shore. Image by Carles Oliver

White-tailed Eagles (Hieraaetus albicilla) are always a superb view. Image by Carles Oliver

Day 7. This day we didn’t go for a really early start but have some time to recover. Our boat to Hornoya was our first appointment so after breakfast we went to the dek. Here we had a good scan around while Arctic Terns were flying around us. Black Guillemots were also a good attraction, but being a bit elusive this time. A second year Glaucous Gull was found roosting in one of the buildings at the other side of the harbour, providing with good views in the scope.

Once in the Arctic Ocean we were soon enjoying with thousands and thousands of Guillemots were carpeting the Ocean. Razorbills were also numerous and Puffins were also moving around in good numbers. As approaching the island, the noise and the smell becomes more intense. Here, 250.000+ are nesting in a huge colony. Atlantic Shags were also all along the shore, always in the big rocks protecting the island. Even before arriving to the island we got some Brunnich’s Guillemots showing really well along with other auks.

This is what you can expect when approaching Hornoya. 1000s of Guillemots but, can you find the Brünnich’s Guillemots in the imatge? Image by Carles Oliver

Once in the cliffs, Brunnich’s Guillemots tend to nest quite high so it makes more difficult to have excellent views on the birds. Still, with a bit of patience, the whole group enjoyed great views on them. A walk around easily produce ridiculous views on Atlantic Puffins. Several Parasitic Skuas were flying around, patrolling in search of a easy prey. Along with them and the hundreds of auks in the sky we also got 1 Gyr Falcon patrolling above the colony of Herring Gulls. Gulls were not happy about the presence of the predator and they made sure the Falcon to notice about! We had a good sight and the bird disappeared in the massive movement of birds in the sky. As the group was a bit disperse taking photos, not everybody enjoyed the Falcon. We hoped for the bird to reappear, but never happened. We kept enjoying the magnificient concentration of birds and also picked up really good views on Rock Pipit (littoralis) and really close views on Black Guillemot.

Atlantic Puffins (Fratercula arctica) and Razorbills (Alca torda) in Hornoya. Image by Carles Oliver

 

Brünnich’s Guillemot (Uria lomvia) was really celebrated for our clients. Image by Carles Oliver

 

General view of part of the colony at Hornoya. Image by Carles Oliver

Great Black-back Gull (Larus marinus) predating on Atlantic Puffin. A belt of predators surround the colony. Image by Carles Oliver

Black Guillemots (Cepphus grylle) avoids the big colonies and nest in small parties. Image by Carles Oliver

Scandinavian Rock Pipit (Anthus petrosus litorallis). a good adding for the list. Image by Carles Oliver

 

Once back in Vardo we went for lunch. In the afternoon we went along the coast, expecting some nices species. We again got nice views on Lapland Buntings, Temminck’s & Little Stints, Shore Larks & Whooper Swans in the tundra. In the coast, the firsts flocks of Long-tailed Ducks were seen along with Common Eiders and Red-throated Divers.

Temminck’s Stints (Calidris temminckii) were once the commonest wader in most of coastal tundra in Varanger. Now they have become scarce. Image by Carles Oliver

Lapland Buntings (Calcarius lapponicus), always a wonderful bird to see in summer plomage. Image by Carles Oliver

Day 8. This day we drove even more North to explore the Northernmost fjords in Varanger. Along the way we stopped several times. Roadside birding in this part of the world can inlcude Long-tailed Skuas but also Rough-legged Buzzard, Scaup, Long-tailed Duck, Red-throated Diver and others.

Arctic Tern (Sterna paradisaea), a urban bird in Varanger! Image by Carles Oliver

A selected stop in the higher plateau produced 3 Snow Buntings along with Dotterel, Tundra Bean Goose, Long-tailed Duck, Lapland Bunting, Golden Plover and Eurasian Curlew. A proper scan around allowed us to find the first Rock Ptarmigan of the trip! A short drive and we were having really close views on the bird, still showing a good number of white feathers.

Tundra Bean Goose (Anser rossicus) was also really celebrated by our clients. Image by Carles Oliver

 

Male & female Rock Ptarmigan (Lagopus mutus), a really nice finding. Image by Carles Oliver

 

Always worth to check the lakes when being in Varanger, Scaups (Aythya marila) can be around. Image by Carles Oliver

 

During the afternoon we arrived to coast. Here we had more scanning, this time in the shore. Several Common Eiders were roosting and feeding and we were lucky enough to find 1 female Steller’s Eider feeding along with them! We approached the group and everybody had excellent views on them despite the misty ambient!

An adult female Steller’s Eider (Polysticta stelleri) was showing really well despite the difficult weather conditions. Image by Carles Oliver

After enjoying long this lovely duck we just went to our accommodation for some rest and good dinner.

Day 9. This day we spent the morning in exploring a patch of coast producing good birding most of the times. But before we had a second visit to the Steller’s Eider, being now really more far away than the afternoon before. We also had another stop in the way, this time to explore a nice landscape for grouses. And we were right in our thoughts since we had 2 Willow Grouses flying around, one of them stopping for some seconds on a rock before disappearing in the grass! A brief view, but worth it! We scanned around trying to relocate them, but was impossible.

This female King Eider (Somateria spectabilis) didn’t stole the show despite the fog in our last full day of the tour. Image by Carles Oliver

Kept going our way. Once in the patch of coast, the area was totally foggy. We just kept driving until the closest village, where we had a coffee. The fog was not going to disappear so we moved to shore to scan for birds. A small corner looked like interesting and we cheeked all Eiders around, and we were lucky since a female King Eider was among them! This was one of the most celebrated bird of the tour, along with Steller’s Eider!! We had a good time enjoying this bird, most of the time sleeping but sometimes active and moving along with 2 Long-tailed Ducks and Common Eiders.

As it was foggy we started drive back until we found a window without fog. Stop and check. Beside the car, 2 Twites flew off up to the cliffs! In the sea, we fastly saw several Northern Fulmars moving along the coast. About 30% of them were of the beautiful blue form. There were still some fog. We did some scouting looking for Yellow-billed Divers, but never found them… and only got Black-throated Divers. Instead had several flocks of Common Eiders and Long-tailed Ducks. Also some Manx Shearwaters moving up and down. One of the tour participants found 1 Fin Whale moving close to coast. Wonderful spot!

After some more scanning in a pair of Windows in the fog we just drove South for a final overnight near Ivalo, where we arrived for some rest and a good dinner.

Day 10. Final morning of the trip and still some time to check for some birds. It was rainy and really chilly but went to a corner offering good chances for buntings. We waited under the rain but nothing happened for long. We were really about to leave when, suddenly, a bird came out of the vegetation to stop in a nearby tree and started singing: was 1 Rustic Bunting!

Light was poor and we were all wet and cold but this very last minute sight was absolutely worth it!!!

After this we just drove to the airport to take our flight home. Never tired of birding in Lapland. Join us!!!

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!

Please check our website for the upcoming issues of this trip. If not finding the information, please contact us: info@barcelonabirdingpoint.com

The Gambia Tour January 2019 Trip Report

Dates: 15th to 22nd January, 2019

Tour participants: 7

Seen bird species: 243

Day 1. We wake up on 16th January at our accommodation by the Gambian coastline. We just arrived the day before in an evening flight from Barcelona, where the tour participants had being assembling during the day from different countries.
Our first morning in The Gambia, and as the whole tour, was sunny and calm so we headed to the restaurant of the hotel for a good breakfast. While enjoying the coffee, we also had firsts contacts with some common birds in the area.
Yellow-billed Kites were ovicous in the sky along with Pied Crows. Speckled Pigeons were spotted in the roofs around and some Hooded Vultures were overflying the hotel grounds. Western Cattle Egrets were taking an eye to our tables and at some point they looked like seriously considerin to join us for breakfast… Flocks of Village Weavers were passing along with some Purple Glossy Starlings. The surprise of the morning came along with our second coffee in the form of 3 Royal Terns. A good surprise to get in the terrace of the hotel.

Egyptian Plover (Pluvianus aegyptius) was the most celebrated of all targets appearing in the tour. Image: Philippe Marchessou

After breakfast we moved to the nearby Kotu Bridge. This is one of the main spots in coastal Gambia as it combines mangroves nicely preserved with paddy fields and scrubs. From the bridge we easily went on some common species: Pied Kingfishers were all around along with Long-tailed Cormorants and Pink-backed Pelicans. Several Western Reef Egrets were fishing in the shores along with some Squacco & Grey Herons and a single Great White Egret. In the muddy areas we spotted a flock of 20+ Common Ringed Plovers and 4 Little Ringed Plovers. Spur-winged Plovers were all over, calling and chasing each other. Around the bridge we found a obliging Broad-billed Roller and everybody in the group enjoyed excellent views in wonderful morning light. In the bush around we also had good views on the active Beautiful Sunbirds, including 2 wonderful mails, few inmature males and several female type birds. A proper scanning in the mangroves rapidly produced 1 Striated Heron down the river, joined by 1 Squacco and some wonderful Black Herons, some of them in the darkest area of the river banks.
Up in the sky there were Hooded Vultures and Yellow-billed Kites along with African Palm Swifts. A fast scanning produced also 2 Mottled Spinetails, a rather scarce bird in the area, and some Wire-tailed Swallows that happenned to come to the bridge, where they came down to stop in the wires around.
The bush land around the bridge kept producing good birds: Blackcap Babblers were seen flying over and 2 Long-tailed Glossy Starlings showed in glorious morning light. A pair of minutes after 1 Golden-tailed Woodpecker came out showing in some nearby branches. This was a quite celebrated bird as it was the first important target in the trip to appear. But the bird festival was not out, of course.

Giant Kingfisher (Megaceryle maxima) is a massive kingfisher not always linked to water coursers. Image by tour participant Philippe Marchessou

A further scanning in the mangroves revealed 30+ Senegal Thick-knees roosting in the shade. Also 2 Malachite Kingfishers were pointed out. It was coming up a wonderful morning and was only to improve as the scanning from the bridge revealed 1 male Subalpine Warbler and close views on African Darter. One of the tour participants listened a Eurasian Reed Warbler so we came to try to have good views in the bird. This was a nice decision as we got the Reed Warbler but also a showy Northern Puffback male scattering inside the bush and finally crossing the small road with a short flight. Lovely views.
We started to scan beyond but before we even got any bird with the scope we had 2 Giant Kingfishers flying over our heads and heading the scrubs beyond the bridge. These massive Kingfishers can be difficult to spot but we were lucky enough to enjoy them for long, as one of the individuals came back to one of the wires of the bridge for a while. At this time we also got 2 stunning Blue-breasted Kingfishers coming out of the mangroves to stop in a low post inside the water, just by the bridge.
Scanning up the river we still got excellent views on Western Grey Plantain-Eater and African Grey Hornbills.
It was time to move and enjoy a walk in the paddy fields but we were again retained in the bridge. This time was a second male Subalpine Warbler showing well in the ranked vegetation and a small group of Red-chested Swallows that arrived to feed around.

This Broad-billed Roller (Eurystomus glaucurus) was the first thw group enjoyed as step down from the van. Image by Carles Oliver

We finally got to move from the bridge and started a short walk around. We inmediatly connected with the first of many Yellow-billed Shrikes while Senegal Coucals seemed to be common around. The followed a thin path getting inside rice fields and crossing a number of small marshy areas. Squacco Heron, Sedge Warbler, Reed Warbler, Yellow Wagtail and Wood Sandpiper we all seen at this point. The place is known as a good spot for Little Bittern. Unfortunately we were uncapable to enjoy any of them. Flocks of Bronze Manninkins were flying around and we soon found ourselves enyoing Little Bee-eaters. They offered wonderful views when stopped in the low branches, sometimes few inches from the ground. The dense scrubland around is good for a variety of birds and we enjoyed more Manninkins, Red-billed Firechin, 2 Little Weavers, 1 Black-headed Weaver building a nest and 1 male Splendid Sunbird. A Common Whitethroat female came out of the dense vegetation and offered good but short views to most tour participants.

Blue-breasted Kingfisher (Halcyon malimbica) -below- and Western Reef Egret (Egretta gularis) are two main targets for anyone visiting The Gambia. Images by tour leader Carles Oliver

Up in the air there were small parties of African Palm Swifts. The air was starting to be worm so more birds of prey were moving. They were all Hooded Vulture, Yellow-billed Kites and 1-2 Black Kites but we also got a Red-necked Falcon that gentlenly perched on the top of a tree, allowing excellent views in the scope. In our way back to the main road  2 African Spoonbills showed up in the sky.

Now we headed to a nearby pond while surrounded by Yellow-billed Shrikes, Senegal Coucals and Blue-checkeed Bee-eaters. Soon after a bright blue flash came from a palm tree and turned out in being a Blue-bellied Roller. This bird was particularly celebrated by the group and we kept enjoying it for some minutes. Belong the palm tree there were some scrubs and here we found out up to 4 Tawny-flanked Prinias that also performed really well.

We just kept going, enjoying Blue-cheeked Bee-eaters and Beautiful Sunbirds. Our next stop was a little pond near Kotu Bridge but before arriving we found a Lizzard Buzzard perched in our way. 2 African Pied Hornbills were trying to disturb it from that place, and they got it! The pond itself restulted a bit disapointed: 3-4 African Jacanas were in the shore but, out of this, we only got Greenshanks, Green Sandpiper and 2 Eurasian Moorhens (the only ones in the tour).

A beautiful dialogue was set up between Lizzard Buzzard (Kaupifalco monogrammicus) and 2 African Pied Hornbills (Tockus fasciatus) as the Hornbills were concentrated in disturbing the small raptors. They succeed. Images by tour participant Philippe Marchessou

Our way back was equally as productive as the way in. A Green Wood-Hopooe appeared in the wire around, allowing some excellent shots. Along with this bird we got a flock of 4 White-billed Buffalo-Weavers. But the most celebrated bird at this point was a pair of Pearl-spotted Owlets found by the path. These small owls, with close relatives in both North America and Europe, were one of the main attractions of the day! Around them, several Senegal Coucals were visible, Blue-bellied Rollers were still up in the palm trees and a delicate Fork-tailed Drongo was scanning the sky from a bush. But probably the most interesting bird of the way back was a lovely Grey-backed Camaroptera showing in excellent way really low in a bush and also moving on the ground while collecting nesting material. All members in the group enjoyed very much (as I did myself) with this wonderful bird and such a good views!

Pearl-spotted Owlet (Glaucidium perlatum) was the first of many species of owls appearing in the tour! Image by tour leader Carles Oliver

Green Wood-hoopoe (Phoeniculus purpureus) is common in a palm trees groves and semi-arid countryside. Image by tour participant Philippe Marchessou.

Back in Toku Bridge we just went to the nearby water point, kept by the Gambian Bird Association staff. This tiny water pond attracks good numbers of birds and it is a really productive. In 15 minutes of wait in the shade we got Vinaceous Dove, Red-chekeed Cordon-bleu, Red-billed Firefinch, and Northern Grey Sparrow. The waiting there was even more productive as we got an Isabelline (formerly Western Olivaceous) Warbler moving in a small tree inmediatly above the pond and a Yellow-fronted Tinkerbird up in a kind of fig tree.

All the group was delighted after such a wonderful morning! But it was lunch time so we moved into a nearby restaurant by the beach. Here we enjoyed some good food and had some rest from midday heat while scanning the sea. The sea watching was more or less productive as we got some Sandwich Terns moving up and down in the coast and 2+ Pomarine Skuas chasing terns far offshore. When about to leave we got the first Lesser Crested Tern of the tour perched on a floating balloon and everybody got nice views in the scope.

One of the 3 males Greater Painted Snipes (Rostratula benghalensis) roosting in the mangroves near Toku Bridge. A rather unexpected sight. Image by tour leader Carles Oliver

After our lunch we just headed to a new pond. The walk produced first views on the spectaculars Yellow-crowned Gonolek and Red-bellied Paradise Flycatchers along with Village Weavers and African Thrush skulking on the ground. Here we also got good views on a quite remarcable Nile Monitor feeding on some rubbish in the ground. At the pond itself, we scanned hard looking for our main target and we soon could enjoy good views on 3 male Greater Painted Snipes in the scope! They were really hard to see but we were lucky enough as one of them just moved a bit and we catched this movement. A severe scanning of the bank finally produced the three birds. At the same pond we also had Wood Sandpiper and Greenshank.

Little Bee-eaters (Merops pusillus) are a common view in coastal The Gambia. Image by Philippe Marchessou.

Just happy after such a good views on one of the main targets of the trip, we just came back to the small water point we visited earlier in the day. A different set of species were seen there: Red-cheeked Cordon-bleu, Red-billed Firefinches, Yellow-fronted Canary but also White-crowned Robin Chat! A final walk into the palm trees groves produced excellent views on Beautiful Sunbirds as well as the first sight on Senegal Parrot, a wonderful way to end the day.

Senegal Parrots (Poicephalus senegalus) are surprisingly noisy, even for a Parrot. Image by Carles Oliver

After such a great day we just came back to our accommodation for a great dinner and wonderful rest!

Day 2. This day we just headed North from our accommodation, arriving as far as the Northern border with Senegal. Our fist stop was at Kartong Mining Area. This is a former grave mining place, now closed and hosting a great birdlife. Just arrived we started enjoying good birds. Flocks of Piapiacs and Long-tailed Glossy Starlings seemed to be everywhere around, joined by Purple Glossy Starlings. Here we also got or first group of Callythrix Monkeys, a recent split from Grey Monkey. A first scanning around produced up to 3 Senegal Coucals, a common view in this location, as well as several Western Grey Plantain-eaters, Beautiful Sunbirds and 1 stunning Abyssian Roller perched on a fence. A White Wagtail passed by and stoped close by our van. This was moment that a Rufous-crowned Roller just punched the Abyssian Roller from its post! A walk around the area produced Tawny-flanked Prinia but also a Fine-spotted Woodpecker, both Greater and Lesser Blue-eared Glossy Starlings, Isabelline Warbler, 2 Zitting Cisticolas, 2 Black-rumped Waxbills and Woodchat Shrike. The water level in the whole area was really low and bird activity, limited.

You simply cannot get tired of Beautiful Sunbirds (Cinnyris pulchellus). Image by Carles Oliver

Scanning a second pond we had some African Jacanas, Malachite Kingfisher and 1 African Swamphen (the only one of the tour!) feeding out of the vegetation in a muddy area. Happy with this nice spot we all kept scanning around while taking a look to the skyes. It was already 10:30 and quite warm so it was a nice moment for raptors to move. As always, several Yellow-billed Kites and Hooded Vultures were seen soaring or circling in the sky but a proper scanning of the tree line in the distance revealed a mínimum of 3 Palm-nut Vultures, all of them wonderful adults.

This is a very special bird of prey spending most of the time in forest and palm-tree areas, where they look for palm-nut fruits, the base of their diet. They also scavenger, especially along water bodies and eventually predate on a long list of small animals, from invertebrates to young birds.

Senegal Coucal (Centropus senegalensis) -below- and Eastern Grey Plantain-Eater (Crinifer piscator) performed really well in morning light at Kartong marshes. Images by Carles Oliver

The views on the bird were great, although a bit distant. We also enjoyed two of them flying around and showing their wonderful plumage. While enjoying this raptors I listened both Black-crowned Tchagra and Sulphur-breasted Bush-Shrike singing from the far tall thickets, about 300 metres away. Despite our efforts to locate these birds, it was impossible to find out. Our effort was conpensated by a Grey Kestrel that kindly came to stop in a nearby palm tree. All the group enjoyed great views on this bird!

We still spent some time scanning a pair more of pools but with really poor results so we decided to move on and take a look to the nearby beach in search of some major targets. Once parked by the beach we all walked down to the shore, ready for a shortwalk along the beach. A first scanning easily produced several Sanderlings, 2 Eurasian Whimbrel, Ruddy Turnstones and 1 Grey Plover. The sky was full of terns moving up and down. As we walked North it was easy to find out Sancwich’s & Caspian Terns. Small flocks of Grey-headed Gulls were visible roosting on small rocks in the ocean or flying overs. We were fast in locate the first of many Lesser Crested Terns as well as several Caspians. We kept moving North with the wonderful blue of the sky and ocean as an unforgettable frame until we arrived to an area where the beach comes wider. A small scanning easily reveleaded 1 adult White-fronted Plover along with 3 Kentish Plovers. We all enjoyed great views on the tiny plover while moving on the beach. Again scanning the sea we got a female Western Marsh Harrier and the first small flock of Royal Terns moving along with other terns. We counted not less than 17 of them! A good number of birds where moving North in the bay. A Little Tern flying along with some Sandwich’s and Caspians. About 45 Pink-backed Pelicans where resting on the beach and the sea and then is when one of the local bird guides came to us to advice us on a group of Bee-eaters flying above the scrubland beyond the beach.

Eurasian Whimbrel (Numenius phaeopus) is a common overwintering bird in coastal The Gambia. Image by Philippe Marchessou

I think I was not the only one to missunderstand “Common Bee-eater” so I thought they were having a small flock of European Bee-eaters. Good spot but I personally kept concentrated in a far flock of gulls including some Audouin’s Gulls and other beauties. The surprise turned out when the “Common Bee-eaters” turned on to be Northern Carmine Bee-eaters so I fastly adviced the guys and moved inside the bushland. Everybody followed us and all the group was enjoying these wonderful birds in a pair of minutes. There were 5 of them, catching insects with fast flights from the thin branches of a 4 metres tall dead tree, A small partie of Blue-checkeed Bee-eaters were moving alongside and allowed excellent comparatives of such incredible species.

A gorgeous flock of Northern Carmine Bee-eaters (Merops nubicus) showed really well during our tour. Image by Carles Oliver

Structural differences between Northern Carmine Bee-eater (left) and Blue-checkeed Bee-eater (Merops persicus) are evident in this imatge. Image by Carles Oliver

Photographers were specially delighted with the views on these species of Bee-eaters and we spend enough time to scan around in a proper way. A good number of Pink-backed Pelicans were resting on the beach and we had good views on them and also a in some Hooded Vultures nearby. A Common Sanpiper, Eurasian Whimbrels and 2 Grey Plovers were around in the small ponds of the tiny estuary but probably the best bird were a pair of Senegal Eremomela moving quite fast in the dense vegetation.

After such as good spot it was time to head back to our van. It was already quite hot and the flock of gulls was not any more in the beach. Still, the walk back provided us with really good views on a juvenile White-fronted Plover and on a small flock of Mosque Swallows that were chasing insects above the scrubs.

White-fronted Plover (Charadrius marginatus) is a scarce coastal Plover in West Africa. Image by Carles Oliver

Once arrived by our we still had time to enjoy a good refreshment. Natural orange juice or some soda before going to our restaurant for lunch! But even in this resting time we got our small piece of good bird since 1 Tawny Eagle was spotted at the beach. Unfortunably the bird just flew off but we still had good views on the bird flying away from us. It turned to be the only one of this species along the trip… Amazed after this lucky encounteer we just finish our drinks and drove for about 20 minutes until a small and lovely restaurant by the river that works as Southern Gambian border. Here we enjoyed the best fish (and probably the best meal) of the trip while having some good birds. At the opposite bank of the river was Senegal so those (me included) working on list per countries were delighted with this!

So, in the Senegalese side of the river we enjoyed 2 Bar-tailed Godwits that were also new for the trip. There were several Pied Kingfishers, Western Reef Egrets, Great White Egrets and 1 Eurasian Oystercatcher (the only one of the trip!). A pair of other good surprises appeared as we spotted 1 Great White Pelican and a really distant Goliath Heron (this one in the Gambian side) walking along the shore.

Western Ospreys were extremelly active at the site and we had several wonderful views in two adults performing and calling around. After lunch we just sat by the river, in a good shade and scan around. 1 Slender-billed Gull appeared in the river (not sure what side) and a small flock of Gull-billed Terns were a non-top show up and down the river. Also Common Ringed Plovers, Spur-winged Plovers and the closest views on an Eurasian Whimbrel I have ever had! From were I was I could listen a call up the trees, behind our position so I went for a small walk and found 1 Isabelline Warbler (formerly Western Olivaceous Warbler) moving up in the riverside vegetation. A second bird moved along with and after some minutes the bird was finally showing well; it was a Brown Sunbird! A fast call and the whole group joined to have an excellent sight on the bird preening and standing for long. And then we realised there were two Brown Sunbirds and not only one.

As most Eremomelas, Senegal Eremomela (Eremomela pusilla) were moving in small parties. Image by Carles Oliver

We left the area really happy after such a good combination of good birds and excellent food. Our next stop was in Tanji Beach. Here we decicated a good walk around the coastal scrub looking for Four-banded Sandgrouses. Unfortunately and despite our efforts we could not find any of them… Still, the area was really rich in birdlife. Senegal Eremomelas looked like being everywhere, including a good flock of 11+ moving in the scrubs. Common Nightingales were calling in the dense thickets but we never got any view on them. One of the first birds in the area was our first Violet Turaco of the trip, that kept moving agaisnt the sun all the time! Black-billed Wood-Doves were also common and got several of them being flushed while looking for Sandgrouses. In the middle of our search a fig tree kept being full of birds, including two wonderful Bearded Barbets moving along with Common Bulbuls (local race called now Upper Guinea Bulbul). It is always a pleasure to enjoy such a wonderful birds!

The wonderful Bearded Barbet (Lybius dubius) occurs in a variety of habitat in The Gambia. Image by tour leader Carles Oliver

The area was also rich in finches, allowing excellent views on Red-billed Firefinches but also in Red-cheeked Cordon-bleu and Orange-cheeked Waxbills. A mixed flock of both species along with Bronze Manninquins was one of the hits of this afternoon. Back to the van we just drove back to the esturary were we scanned the flock of gulls looking for something special. Unfortunately we only got a pair of Black-headed Gull amongst several Grey-headeds’. It was a bit late in the afternoon and some fishermen were coming back to the beach. The Tanji fish market was waiting for them and the treasures they were bringing from the Ocean. It was an excellent decision because we enjoyed very much with the activity and the colours of the fish market but also because many gulls were attackted to the fish market, including 2+ Kept Gulls. We had really good views on the birds and a good comparative with a 1st winter Lesser Black-backed Gull. Well, don’t forget we got our first flock of House Sparrow of the trip!!!

Red-billed Firefinch (Lagonosticta senegala) is the commonest finch in The Gambia. Image by Carles Oliver

The Tanji fish market is a wonderful way to understand how coastal human comunities live in West Africa. Image by Carles Oliver

Happy with this rather last minute addings we came back to our hotel for a good rest and dinner.

Day 3. This day we were going the explore inland Gambia. Despite we didn’t check out of our coastal hotel we were not coming back to sleep there but going to Tendaba Camp, probably the best option to explore inland Gambia while avoiding long transfers. Well, the planning of the day was a bit difficult. Due to the drought most of the Egyptian Plovers were already back far inland or in Senegal but we were still having chances in a small pond at the Northern bank of the country. So we left our accommodation and headed to the main ferry crossing the Gambia River near Banjul. Unfortunately that day it was a meeting between Senegalese and Gambian PM so the ferry was overbooked! The result of this was a long, long wait first to get the tickets and then to cross River Gambia.

In our way to the ferry we had far away views on a flock of Greater Flamingoes and we passed by one of the only 2 Black-headed Herons of the tour.

During our wait we enjoyed views on some Cape (Kept) Gulls in the decks along with absolutely wonderful views on Pomarine Skuas (at least 11 of them!!!) chasing gulls and terns (mostly Lesser Crested Terns) by the beach, many times passing over the fishermen in the beach itself. We enjoyed very much these views but probably not enough to forget about the four hours long wait… To see these Skuas chasing all those terns and stopping right by the beach or on the sea was one of the most unexpected sights for many of our clients, and very appreciated!

Once at the Northern bank we drove up the river and after some miles we did our first stop. The first Dark-Chanting Goshawk was up in a pylon so enough reason to stop and take a look. At the same place we had some Namaqua Doves flying around, a common view in Tendaba area. Another road stop allowed us to connect with the first 4 Black-headed Lapwings of the trip. We kept driving a bit more and got “typical” road birding such as Brown Snake Eagle and Gabar Goshawk.

Dark Chanting Goshawk (Melierax metabates) during our exploration in Gambian Northern Bank. Image by Carles Oliver

A fast stop at Kaur produced flocks of thousands of Red-billed Queleas flying into the reeds that were dramatically chased by a Lanner Falcon. Squacco Heron, Wood Sandpiper and Pied Kingfisher were also showing nicely. Soaring above the reeds and the floodplains we also got 2 Montagu’s Harriers (juvenile and male) and 1 Western Marsh Harrier. Before our main destination we still had another road stop, this time for 4 Black-headed Lapwings posing by the road.

We finally arrived to the small pond where we were specting to have our target. We all jumped out of the car and inmediatly were enjoyed walk-away views on 1 Egyptian Plover!!! It was worth the extra effort, after all! The bird was moving in the shore along with other waders (Common Sandpiper, Spur-winged Plover, Green Sandpiper) and was extremelly tame, allowing all member in the group to enjoy suberp views and not worst images. It was also incredible to see the behaviour of the bird, a mixture between a Plover and a Stone Curlew…

Egyptian Plover (Pluvianus aegyptius) cooperated to get a wonderful series of shots! Images by Carles Oliver

 

The pond itself was really rich in birdlife. While we were approaching the Plover we had 2 Pale Flycatchers moving low in the rank vegetation. A really short walk around allowed some excellent and unexpected specialities. 1 Brown Snake Eagle showed really well and the dead branched os a pair of trees were a true magnet for a good number of species. 2 Bearded Barbets were showing well, promptly replaced by 2 African Collared Doves! The largest tree was the most interesting small birds (mostly finches) were all the time moving around. A small group of 10+ Cut-throat Finches was moving around, also Red-billed Queleas and Red-billed Firefinches. 3 Exclamatory Paradise Whydahs showed up in the trees, 2 of them showing full lenght tails!! This was a very celebrated bird in the group. Finches were coming and going. A flock of 3 Northern Grey Sparrows came in but something smaller, rather yellowish appeared along with them; it was a female Sudan Golden Sparrow!! Wow, this was quite unexpected and an excellent bird to see, really! Next flock came in, this time lovely Namaquas Doves that were moved by 2 Long-tailed Glossy Starlings. It took a pair of minutes the finches to came back, this time more Cut-throat Finches than before but this time along with 3 White-backed Seedeaters.

Bearded Barbet (Lybius dubius) was one of the many species enjoyed at the tiny pond where the Egyptian Plover was. Image by tour leader Carles Oliver

This was a great spot and I’m just looking forward coming back there next year! But it was time to move. Time to go back to the Southern bank of Gambia. This time the ferry near Tendaba was fast and still allowed us a final stop in the savannah before going to our accommodation. Dark-Chanting Goshawk was showing again superbly so we did a random stop, trying to find something else. I we did it. Nearby it was a small flock of 3 African Wattled Lapwings moving in the semi-arid contryside. Not easy to see and took us some time until everybody in the group enjoyed good views on them. Before going back to our van, 2 Bruce Green Pigeons flew over allowing fast but intense views on these magnificient birds.

Vinaceous Dove (Streptopelia vinacea) -left- and male Namaqua Dove (Oena capensis) in a lovely comparative. Image by Carles Oliver

By the time we arrived to Tendaba it was almost dark but we were happy after enjoying excellent views on the Egyptian Plover and other great birds!

Day 4. Early morning start this time to enjoy the mangroves by Tendaba Camp. The mangroves are part of the large Kiang National Park. Here we enjoyed wonderful views on Western Reef Egret, Striolated Heron, Blue-breasted Kingfisher, African Fish Eagle, African Cormorant (lucida race of Great Cormorant), White-throated Bee-eaters, Wahlberg’s Eagle, Collared Sunbird, hundreds of African Darters and the only one Purple Heron of the trip. The boat trip goes in a laberinth of channels penetrating in the mangroves and it is wonderful way to explore such a incredible habitat.

The group enjoying the mangroves at Kiang National Park. Image by Carles Oliver

A quite hard scan was necessary to discover some of the White-backed Night Herons roosting in the mangroves but after some minutes everybody in the little boat got great views and some shots in the birds. We counted 4 birds in different spots, a number quite low if comparin with other times. Soon before living the mangroves we listened 1 African Blue Flycatcher so we stopped, scanned trying to find out the bird. Unfortunately it was no way and better views on the bird were relicted to a flash of a shadow moving up in the canopy. Back to the river we experienced how strong the wind was. The river at this point is about 1 quilometer wide so it can take some time to cross. It was quite hot and a pair of waves brought a kind of not very wellcome refreshment to some of the tour participants. Fortunalety was only a pair of times and we came back fast to Tendaba, where went to enjoy a walk around.

White-backed Night Heron (Gorsachius leuconotus) showed well despite being really deep inside the mangroves. Image by Carles Oliver

African Darter (Anhinga rufa) is a common view at Kiang National Park. Image by Carles Oliver

The hill beyond Tendaba Camp can be quite good for birding. Despite being quite windy we still had lovely views on Abyssinian Roller, Pygmy Sunbird (male and female), Beautiful Sunbird and European Bee-eaters. A pond equiped with a small hide provided excellent views on both Namaqua Doves and several Black-billeds Wood-Doves. Here we also had Red-billed Queleas, Northern Red Bishop, Black-rumped Waxbills, Red-chekeed Cordon-Bleus, 2 Bush Petronias and Northern Grey Sparrows.

Pygmy Sunbird (Hedydidna platura) ranks among one of the most espectacular Sunbirds in The Gambia. Image by tour leader Carles Oliver

It was quite midday and time to move on. Our next stop was the famous Raptor Bridge, where we stopped for a pic-nic. Here we enjoyed the best raptor action of the trip. Just arrived we had a good troop of Hooded Vultures and Yellow-billed Kites moving over. Also 4+ Rüppell’s Vultures, 10+ White-backed Vultures and 2 Eurasian Griffons were flying over. 3 African Harrier Hawks were also well visible, including 1 juvenile. One pair of Grasshoper Buzzards was also appearing two or three times in the sky. The tree that was offering us its shade had 1 Isabelline Warbler and close to the bridge it was also 1 Black-headed Heron, Squacco Heron, Intermediate Egret and 1 White Stork (!). White Stork is a commonview on passage but really scarce in winter time in The Gambia so always a really good bird to see!! We kept scanning for raptors. Our efforts were compensated with a Wahlberg’s Eagle showing well as well as with 1 Palm-nut Vulture cincling along with White-backeds’.

Palm-nut Vulture (Gypohierax angolensis) is one of many targets of the trip. We enjoyed several views on the bird. Image by Carles Oliver

After our canned pícnic we moved to our last stop of the day, to visit a small patch of untouched native forest. The walk around was really good and produced good views on Swallow-tailed Bee-eaters, a juvenile Greater Honeyguide, Fine-spotted Woodpecker, ruff views on Double-spurred Francolin (one of our client got moret han ruff views), Blue-spotted Wood-Doves, Western Bonelli’s Warbler and wonderful Green-headed Sunbirds attending a small pond.

Green-headed Sunbird (Cyanomitra verticalis) is a scarce resident in a gallery forest and other habitats. Image by Carles Oliver

But these wonderful birds were not the real reason of our visit. When arrived a local guide was waiting for us. The first bird he showed us was a pair of Greyish Eagle Owl roosting low in a tree. 5 minutes more of walk were mandatory to arrive to our next target, and we got excellent views. Both female and male Standard-winged Nightjars gave us amazing views, the male showing the penants in the wings…Unforgettable! Last stop, deep in the forest, allowed us to enjoy 1 African Wood Owl up in the trees. Wow, a think these were the best 90 minutes of the tour for some of our clients!!

Greyish Eagle Owl (Bubo cinerascens) at its roosting place. Image by tour leader Carles Oliver

 

Standard-winged Nightjar (Macrodipteryx longipennis) female (above) and male (below) was a nice and unexpected finding. Please pair attention in the male wing projections! Images by Carles Oliver

African Wood Owl (Strix woodfordii) was surprinsigly hard to find up in the gallery forest canopy! Image by Carles Oliver

After this wonderful last stop we just headed back to our hotel, where we had a wonderful extra long shower and also extra long dinner!

Day 5. In a new sunny and lovely day we directly went to the famous Abuco Natural Reserve. Several good birds to be discovered. A first scanning from one of the view points allowed to see Broad-billed Roller, Osprey (extremelly close), Giant Kingfisher (even closer), Squacco Heron, African Darter, African Grey Woodpecker, Black-necked Weaver and Heuglin’s Masked Weaver. The place was having a good activity and didn’t take long until one of the tour participants talk about a dark-and-reddish bird skulking on the ground…A fast scan in the area produced great views on 2 Western Bluebills! The small patch of vegetation was having a good activity and we also enjoyed Little Greenbul and Black Crake. 1 juvenile African Harrier-Hawk came into the trees nearby, moving into the water the only one Nile Crocodile that we saw along the tour.

We enjoyed obliging Western Osprey (Pandion halietos) -above- and Giant Kingfisher (Megaceryle maxima) -below- at Abuco Natural Reserve. Images by Carles Oliver

A small walk around proved to be really productive. A tiny pond rich in floating vegetation produced excellent views on a pair of Western Bluebills along with Bronze Manninkin and a gorgeous Oriole Warbler feeding really low in the vegetation. A female Common Wattle-Eyed was also moving along with the Oriole Warbler, allowing good views to all tour participants. Here we also got excellent views on both male and female Grey Woodpecker working on a tree. 1 Snowy-crowned Robin Chat was quite showy for some time, alway on the ground under dense cover. Both African Paradise and Red-bellied Paradise Flycatchers were common in the forest, many times associated with White-eyes. Our walk deep inside produced also 2 Grey-headed Bristlebills moving low in the vegetation. This is a quite shy Babbler that can be quite difficult to see. Blackcap Babblers are not that difficult but always a pleasure to enjoy. A pair of flocks gave us good views. Our walk deep in the forest brought us until a place with really big trees. Was time to scan. Not long until we got a Westen Grey Plantain-Eater flying over…and then appeared the 1st Green (now called Guinea) Turaco. First one, but then more Guinea Turacos were joining the trees. Violet Turacos came also along. The birds were looking for the fruits they typically feed on so were moving slowly in the branches or “jumping” from one branch to the next. That corner was still rich in small birds and we catch up with a nice flock of 5+ Yellow-breasted Apalis moving up in the canopies.

Violet Turaco (Musophaga violacea), always in search of mature fruits, was showing really well in Abuco Natural Reserve. Image by Carles Oliver

Guinea Turaco (Tauraco persa) was always moving high up in the canopies. Image by Carles Oliver

Still time for exploring a pair more of corners so we went on and find an open space with good activity. Here we enjoy great views on Swallow-tailed Bee-eaters, nice views on a Lesser Honeyguide and a small flock of Lavender Waxbills moving in and out in the low branched of a dead tree. Fanti Saw-wings were flying low in the clearing and eventually stopped by the Bee-eaters. A bit beyond we still had time check a last tree. Not less than Bearded Barbets were in the place!

Swallow-tailed Bee-eater (Merops hirundineus) inhabits dense forest edges, normally moving at low level. Image by Carles Oliver

Little Greenbul (Adropapus virens) is common in gallery forest and dense mangroves. Image by Carles Oliver

Western Bluebill (Spermophaga haematina) is one of the most spectacular passerines living in the gallery forest. Image by Carles Oliver

For lunch we went to the nearby mangroves, where a restaurant in the tide area offered a good selection of food and shade plus obliging Callythrix Monkey feeding on the fish and Beer (!) and, in fact, anything they could get.

Mudskipper (Periophtalmus koelreuteri) -above- and Callithrix or Green Monkey (Chlorocebus sabaeus) -below- were two of the main attractions in our last visit to the Gambian mangroves. Images by Carles Oliver

In the afternoon we went to spend some time in Brufut Reserve. Here a local guide was waiting for us to guide us into a special tree. Both Brown and Blackcap Babblers were around, Western Red-billed & African Grey Hornbills appeared and some African Thrush showed briefly in the vegetation. In the tree, a superb pair of Northern White-faced Owls. All tour participants got again wonderful views in this unique owl. Great!

The group enjoyed 2 Northern White-faced Owls (Ptilopsis leucotis) roosting in a tiny tree. Image by Carles Oliver

We then kept scanning around. We got ruff views on Yellow-throated Leaflove and African Pygmy Kingfisher. A Grey Woodpecker didn’t stole the show and, with a perfect light, was the main character of several shots. A short walk around brought us (again) to a huge fig tree. Several sunbirds were feeding there including Beautiful, Variable and 2 Copper Sunbirds showing typical black, rather long undertail. The tree was full of Common Bulbuls, Yellow-fronted Serins and Village Weavers but also had some Western Grey Plantain-Eaters. Finally we got really good views on 2 African Green Pigeons feeding high up in the tree.

Copper Sunbird (Cynniris cupreus) male moulting to breeding plomage. Note the long, black tail. African Green Pigeon (Treron calvus) attended a busy fig tree (below). Images by Carles Oliver

Then we had a small walk around. 1 African Golden Oriole flew over while a obliging flock of Orange-cheeked Waxbill showed up in perfect light. A juvenile Greater Honeyguide also flew over our heads. Our guide brought us to another special corner where, after some reseach, we enjoyed Long-tailed Nightjars male and female. The birds looked like quite nervous so we worked quite hard to not disturb the birds at all. I have to say that the all tour participants did really well on this, despite being a bit challenging since the female was a bit to close to the path! Still not out because a final walk produced Klaa’s Cuckoo, another Copper Sunbird and several Red-chested Swallows. At the end we just sat down by a pond. Several birds came to it. Good numbers of Blue-spotted Wood-Doves, Lavender Waxbills, African Paradise Flycatcher, Guinea Turaco, African Yellow White-eyes, Yellow-throated Leaflove, African Thrush, Little Greenbul and Eurasian Reed Warbler all came our of the dense vegetation!

Yellow-throated Leafloves (Chlorocichla flavicollis) were one of the most celebrated birds from our visit to Brufut. Image by Carles Oliver

Red-cheeked Cordon-bleu (Uraeginthus bengalus) is one of the commonest small finches in The Gambia. Image by Carles Oliver

Black-necked Weaver (Ploceus nigricollis) inhabits well forested habitats in The Gambia. Image by Carles Oliver

Red-bellied Paradise Flycatcher (Terpsiphone rufiventer) at Brufu Natural Reserve. Image by Carles Oliver

Long-tailed Nightjar (Caprimulgus climacurus) was one of the most wanted birds by the group! Image by Carles Oliver

Well, happy all after such a wonderful day, we just came to our accommodation in a short transfer to enjoy the rest of the evening.

Day 6. The las full morning in the trip we went to explore Pirang National Forest. This is one main spot for the always extremely difficult White-spotted Flufftail. Best time for the bird is, probably, October-November. Despite this, we dediced to go and try (in Catalonia we say “let’s throught a stone and see what happens”). Well, this time nothing happened. We wait a long time but unfortunately nothing came out of the jungle. Despite this, Pyrang was giving us some good birds. The first was (finally) proper view on a Double-spurred Francolin when we were arriving to the location. Inside the forest we enjoyed a pair of excellent views Green Hylia and excellent views on African Pygmy Kingfisher on a water pond. A Little Greenbul was also really obliging despite the pond was quite deserted (probably 2 African Harrier Hawks were the responsable on this low activity). Deep in the forest we also got ruff views on a Buff-spotted Woodpecker. Once again we were brought to one of these special places. Deep in the forest, a Chattering Bluebill was listened callin but, despite our efforts, we could never conect with this small cuckoo. A nest of Verreaux’s Eagle Owl, where we could see one adult (probably a female) along with a chick. What a incredible view on such impressive bird.
At this corner of the forest it was a lot of activity. A flock of 30+ African Yellow White-Eyes were moving up in the canopies. Along with them Paraside FLycatchers, Common Wattle-Eyes, Isabelline Warbler and Yellow-breasted Apalis.

Green Hylia (Hylia prasina) was personally one of the birds of the trip. Look at the massive supercilium and the bulky, rather sunbird-like bill. Amazing for a warbler! Image by Carles Oliver

 

Yellow-fronted Tinkerbird (Pogoliunus chrysoconus) appeared is a common bird in The Gambia, always in low densities. Image by Carles Oliver

 

A flock of Orange-cheeked Waxbills (Estrilda melpoda) delighted us while searching for African Pygmy Kingfisher. Image by Carles Oliver

 

Our best views on Palm-nut Vulture were deep inside the Pyrang forest! Image by Carles Oliver

 

We got intimate views on Verreaux’s Eagle Owl (Bubo lacteus) at its nest. Wonderful and rather unexpected! Image by Carles Oliver

A tiny African Pygmy Kingfisher (Ceyx pictus) was one of the most celebrated birds of the trip. It took as a long search! Image by Carles Oliver

Not a bad end to our visit to Pirang. For lunch we decided to go to another pícnic as this was allowing us to spend more time in interesting spots. A drive brought throught interesting places with some impressive butterflies. This little transfer was having a small and unexpected break since my cap get off my head and actually went off the car so we, of course, had to stop and went back (in a quite busy road) so I was able to get my cap back. Fortunelly I think only a pair of cars went over the cap before I could get it back!!!

Only got ruff views on 1 Guinea Baboon (Papio papio) despite being very vocal at Pyrang Forest. Image by Carles Oliver

Finally arrived to the place, a pair of selected stops produced some good birds, including a pair of views on Beaudouin’s Snake Eagle, one of the main targets of the tour and quite celebrated in the group!

Some road birding was really productive with nice vice on Scarlet-chested Sunbirds, ruff views on Mottle Spinetail & Stone Partridge, Little Weaver and Variable Sunbird.
Once we arrived to the savannah we started adding some new species. A Black-winged Kite was really close to the road, as it was a Long-crested Eagle. Some skinny trees produced excellent birds including Striped Kingfisher, Northern Black Flycatcher, Dark-Chanting Goshawks, White-rumped Seedeaters and a very distant African Hawk Eagle. The final drive to our accommodation was still successful, with Fork-tailed Drongo, Shikra, Rufous-crowned Roller, Yellow-billed Shrike and Gabar Goshawk as road birds!

Dark Chanting Goshawk (Melierax metabates) in typical tree. Image by Carles Oliver

Fine-spotted Woodpecker (Campethera punctuligera) joined a flock a Sunbirds attending the blossom in the savannah. Image by Carles Oliver

Black-winged Kite (Elanus caeruleus) was one of the many raptors appearing in our afternoon in the savannah. Image by Carles Oliver

Striped Kingfisher (Halcyon chelicuti) is one of many species of Kingsfishers living far away from water cousers. Their main prey are grasshopers and dragonflies. Image by Carles Oliver

Long-crested Eagles (Lophaetus occipitalis) are a common view in Sub-Saharan Africa but always a wonderful bird to see. Image by Carles Oliver

 

This wonderful male Shikra (Accipiter badius) just turned out while enjoying a colony of White-billed Buffalo-weavers close to our accommodation. Image by Carles Oliver

Day 7. Last day of our tour. This day we were concentrated in the grounds of our hotel. After breakfast we just went down to the gardens, where we had really good views on Oriole Warbler, White-crowned Robin-chat, Bronze-tailed Glossy Starling, Grey Woodpecker, Piapiacs, Broad-billed Rollers, a surprising Blue-breasted Kingfisher, Lesser Honeyguide, Village & Black-necked Weavers, Hamercop, Little Swifts, Purple Glossy Starlings and both Blackcap & Brown Babblers. Many of them allowing good photo chances. A short scanning in the sea produced a Great White Pelican, only the second of the trip!

Grey Woodpecker (Dendropicos goertae). Image by Carles Oliver

 

Western Red Colobus (Piliocolobus badius). Image by Carles Oliver

 

African Thrush (Turdus pelios). Image by Carles Oliver

 

Lesser Honeyguide (Indicator minor) was one of the main attraction of our morning in the gardens. Image by Carles Oliver

 

Oriole Warbler (Hypergerus atriceps) did really well in hiding. Images by Carles Oliver

 

Bronze Mannikins (Spermestes cucullatus) were really tame in the gardens. Image by Carles Oliver

 

White-crowned Robin Chats (Cossypha albicapilla), one of the most common and noisy birds in the gardens. Image by Carles Oliver

 

Long-tailed Glossy Starling (Lamprotornis caudatus). No comments. Image by Carles Oliver

 

Laughing Dove (Streptopelia senegalensis) are extremelly common, even for this species. Image by Carles Oliver

 

Long-billed Shrike (Corvinella corvina) was also hunting in our hotel grounds. Image by Carles Oliver

 

Blue-breasted Kingfisher (Halcyon malimbica) was showing superbly at the grounds. Image by Carles Oliver

 

Purple Glossy Starlings (Lamprotornis purpureus) are the commonest Lamprotornis in The Gambia. Image by Carles Oliver

 

Yellow-crowned Gonolek (Laniarius barbarus) is one of the most espectacular bush-shrikes in Africa. Image by Carles Oliver

 

Tawny-flanked Prinia (Prinia subflava). Image by Carles Oliver

 

Hooded Vultures (Necrosyrtes monachus) are extremely common in The Gambia. Image by Carles Oliver

 

Bronze-tailed Starlings (Lamprotornis chalcurus). Please note the short primary projection and the contrast between uppertail, rump and vental area. Image by Carles Oliver

After enjoying the grounds and a good lunch in the beach we just took off to the airport, where our plane back to Barcelona was waiting for the group!

It has been a gorgeous 1st issue for our The Gambia tour.
Remember, in December 2019 we go on with the 2nd issue!! Join us for birds & fun!!!!

The group, happy after some great birding days! Image by Junkung Jadama of Birding Gambia.

 

List of mammals of the tour:

  1. Guinea or Red Baboon (Papio papio)
  2. West Red Columbus (Piliocolobus badius)
  3. Patas Monkey (Cercopithecus patas)
  4. Callithrix Monkey (Cercopithecus sabaeus)
  5. Gambian Sun Squirrel (Heliosciurus gambianus)
  6. Striped Ground Squirrel (Euxerus erythropus)

List of reptilians of the tour:

  1. Gambia Agama (Agama weidholzi)
  2. Brook’s House Gecko (Hemydactylus brookii brookii)
  3. Nile Monitor (Varanus niloticus)
  4. Nile Crocodile (Crocodylus niloticus)

    One of the three diferent Nile Monitors (Varanus niloticus) that we saw along the tour. Image by Carles Oliver

 

Czech Republic Spring Tour. 2017 issue

Dates: March 8th – 12th, 2017

Number of participants: 3

Number of species: 84

Day 0. After our arrival to Prague and assemble with the rest of the group on March 8th, we started driving South towards Sumava National Park. The transfer is normally of about 120 minutes, but due to some works in the highway, our transfer was a bit longer than expected.

Because to this delay we were arriving during the night to our accommodation and lost the chance of searching for some owls around. We still had a short time around but unfortunately we got nothing of interest.

Day 1. After a very early breakfast we headed directly to look for one of the main target species of the trip: Black Grouse (Lynurus tetrix). After a short driving we arrived to the proper habitat and we started scanning all around looking for some birds already lekking in the meadows.

It didn’t take long to located the first 4 males in the open, standing up and very showing. After enjoying this very successful start we decided to move a bit to have a better view. This movement allowed us to find 2 more males even closer to us. One of them was in full display, showing the beautiful white feathers of the open tail and also heard the calls of the male.

Black Grouses in their leck in Sumava National Park. Image by participant Bauke Kortleve

Records shot showing the complex wing pattern in Black Grouses. Image by participant Bauke Kortleve

 

It was a quite active morning for birds and these same fields we had the firsts of many Yellowhammers (Emberiza citrinella), Mistle Thrushes (Turdus viscivorus), Skylarks (Alauda arvensis) and Common Buzzards (Buteo buteo). A distant European Green Woodpecker (Picus viridis) called from a lane of poplars.

In the while, 4 Black Grouses were flying over the field, showing their long, lyre-like tail and their wing white band, and stopped near the displaying male, reacting quite agresively…  This was one of the best moments of the trip! Wonderful.

Delighted for such as fast a wonderful sight in one of the main targets of the trip we decided to spend more time scanning some other of the favourite places for this species to display in the Sumava area. After a short drive we scanned different places around for them but we had no other views on the birds. Still, we got white-headeds Long-tailed Tits (Aegithalos caudatus caudatus) showing very well around as well as Marsh Tit (Poecile palustris), Great Tit (Parus major), Chaffinch (Fringilla coelebs), Redwing (Turdus iliacus) and Fieldfare (Turdus pilaris) as well as Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos) and 2 Common Teal (Anas crecca).

This area also produced lovely views on Great Grey Shrike (Lanius excubitor) showing very well in the taller bush while overwatching the open fields for preys. A further exploration of the area only produced some groups of Roe Deers (Capriolus capriolus), a pair of Ravens (Corvus corax) and a lovely flock of Eurasian Bullfinches (Pyrrhula pyrrhula europaea) feeding on ground.

After this we decided to try a pair of places for Hazel Grouse (Bonasia bonasa), a very shy species, very shy and thus many times not appearing. A first trial brought us to a typical habitat of spurce forest with some fir and, of course, hazel trees. Here it was a lot of activity with several Crested (Lophophanes cristatus) and Coal Tits (Periparus ater) moving around as well as Common Treecreeper (Certhia familiaris), European Nuthatch (Sitta europaea), Marsh Tit, Goldcrest (Regulus regulus) and Great Spotted Woodpecker (Dendrocopos major) moving around. Unfortunately we found no grouses in this spot but our effort was not lost since we had good views on 1 Hawfinch (Coccothraustes coccothraustes).

When coming back to the car we listen a Grey-headed Woodpecker (Picus canus) calling by the minor road we came by so we decided to go fast to try this really good bird. Once we arrived the bird was calling really close so we decided to walk a bit inside a field to try have the best view possible. We walked about 200 metres inside the area scanning all around but the bird seemed to move further away, clearly out of patch we were in. We were about to withdraw when a Black Woodpecker (Dryocopus martius) called from really close so we walked few metres towards the area where the huge woodpecker was calling from and, suddenly, two birds flew off from the ground, ten metres in front of us: Mistle Thrush to the left… and Hazel Grouse to the right!

We immediatly concentrated in the Hazel Grouse. The bird typically flew some 20 metres to stop inside a low fir. We decided to envolve the tree and scan very carefully the inner branches… nothing.

We decided we get a bit closer and then the bird flew off rear. We decided to do some waiting… 5 minutes and nothing. We are about to withdraw when, suddenly, the bird started singing from the canopy! It had to be really, really close (less than 20 metres!!). Still some more waiting (and taping) to try to attrack the bird, a main target for anyone in the group! Our waiting proved to be useful since the bird was suddenly appearing flight and stopping deep inside a fir, right in front of us!! We still waited, breathless. Some seconds after the bird flought immediatly above us in a impressive view, showing the very long neck and typical small crest of the males!! The bird stopped for a while in a visible place up in a fir, unfortunately too short for any shot right before it did a second flight over us!!

We had really good views on Hazel Grouse, despite it was really hard to photograph. Image by Bauke Kortleve.

What a view!! We all agreed we would not get a better views on that male as it was quite unlikely to do anything else but fly over us over and over. Very content with such a great (and rather unexpected) sight we headed to our accommodation for a wonderful garlic soup & gulash and some rest before concentrate in woodpeckers during the afternoon.

After lunch & rest we still had some three hours before dinner and we went directly to try to have good views on woodpeckers. After a short drive we arrived to one of the best places for them in Sumava and the place fastly proved its value since immediatly after leaving the car we had a Black Woodpecker calling really close to us. This time we enjoyed of really close views on it! Excellent start!

Black Woodpeckers are common in most of the forest in Bohemia. Here one obliging view in Sumava NP. Image by participant Bauke Kortleve

We kept going on and walked a mile or so, carefully scanning and listening for the main target, Grey-headed Woodpecker. We went into two different territories, trying to locate them, but everything we got was Great Spotted Woods, Nuthatches and a pair of Peregrine Falcons (Falco peregrinus) mating not far from us. Still, a wonderful sight! Landscape here was also impressive, with a mature Beech forest with some impressive Maple trees (Acer sp.) as a secundary tree.

As our scan was being not very successful we decided to come back to car and try somewhere else. But only 200 metres after walking we had a Grey-headed Woodpecker calling really close from the path! After some waiting we had excellent views on both male & female, perched in the trees around!!

Grey-headed Woodpecker has been decreasing in several spots accross Europe but is still having good population in Czech Republic. Image by tour leader Carles Oliver

Everybody was really happy after such a excellent and long views on the bird! But, as it took longer than expected, we decided to directly come to our accommodation in order to have dinner and to enjoy longer time to scan for owls during the sunset and dusk.

After an, again, wonderful dinner (salad & stew, good combination!) the group headed to our first place for owls. We didn’t have to wait long since even after we closed the doors of the car we were hearing a Pygmy Owl (Glaucidium passerinum) some 100 metres from the parking place. We immediatly go for it and, after some minutes of accurately scanning of the canopies we got the male singing from one of the trees! It was a beautiful image kept singing for several minutes, watching us at times but mainly taking an eye around… what a view!

Encouraged for this early success we then moved to an open area around, were Ural Owls (Strix uralensis) are likely to be hunting at dusk… unfortunately we had no luck this time… Still, we had a very close Ural Owl singing from the canopies but, despite we tried to find the bird, our efforts produced nothing. A further exploration of another territory still produced a good listenning in 1 Tengmalm’s Owl (Aegolius funereus), also known as Boreal Owl, singing in the area. Unfortunately, we got no sights in any of them…

Got really good views on Pygmy Olw despite the poor light! Images by tour leader Carles Oliver

Day 2. New very early start this time to scan in the highest areas of the Sumava National Park. After a good breakfast and about 40 minutes of driving we arrived to our first location of the morning. This is an open spurce forest where it Capercaillies are likely to show up in the tree branches during very early morning. Unfortunately, weather didn’t helped us so much, since it was quite foggy at times, windy when not foggy…

Despite our efforts scanning all canopies around we could not have any Capercaillie… only a distant Ring Ouzel (Turdus torquatus) and a overflying Northern Bullfinch (P. pyrrhula pyrrhula) were of interest. But just when thinking about leaving for a coffee, we listened a very, very distant Nutcracker (Nucifraga caryocatactes) calling in the large forest… We then decided to invest some time scanning and taping, and after some efforts, the bird came close and it was briefly located while calling from the top of a spurce tree!!! Excellent! The bird was very showy and turned up the white tail while calling, as normally Nutcrackers do when marking its territory. This sight was really short and, unfortunately, not every one in the group enjoyed the bird… We still invested quite long scanning all canopies around but no new signal of the bird was found…

After a short break for a coffee and warm up we headed to our next location. Our main goal was Three-toad Woodpecker, a really endangered species only living in mature conifer forests. Unfortunately, when arriving to the location was really windy and, during the two hours that we spent walking in the impressive primary forest we had no contact on any woodpecker at all! The best bird here was a pair of Willow Tits (Poecile montanus) quite showy when walking up the trail.

After lunch we started the transfer to Moravia (Eastern Czech Republic) but, before, we had time to visit an enclousure where about 25 Eurasian Bison (Bison bonasus) are living in half-freedom. A free population has been already living not far from Prague during the last years but unfortunately they are inside a military area so they are not possible to visit. Still, we were lucky to see the Bisons so well, as they were out of the forest and allowed good views on them! White Wagtails (Motacilla alba), Fieldfares and Yellowhammers we also all around!

A small herd of Eurasian Bison is visible in some enclousures near Sumava National Park. Unfortunately not released, yet. Image by tour leader Carles Oliver

After this and short stop in Holasovine village (UNESCO site) we drove to Nové Mlyny area for two more overnitghts.

Day 3. After a good rest we soon realised that this was in the way to become a great day. Even before leaving the parking place of the accommodation we had a fast-flying Syrian Woodpecker (Dendrocopos syriacus)!! We searched for the bird, but was lost quite far away…

A pair of minutes later we were enjoying a large flock of some hundreds of Tundra Bean Geese (Anser fabalis rossicus) and White-fronted Geese (Anser albifrons). A carefully scanning of the flock produced at least 2 Taiga Bean Geese (Anser fabalis fabalis)!

Winter Wren (Troglodytes troglodytes), Common Gull (Larus canus), Marsh Tit, Hooded Crow (Corvus cornix), Magpie (Pica pica), Common Kestrel (Falco tinnunculus) and Common Buzzard (Buteo buteo) were also around.

White-tailed Eagles gave us several good views during the lasts days of the trip. Images by participant Bauke Kortleve

After such a wonderful start we decided to take a look to the lake. Just few metres after leaving the car we had a Black Woodpecker overflying us! Wow! Once in the lake, we got even better views on the geese and also Mallard, several Goldeneye (Bucephala clangula) and drake Smews (Mergellus albellus) and Goosander (Mergus merganser). Black-headed Gulls</