Indian Rollers are a colourful addition to Oman’s bird list. Photo: Richard Campey
The Sultanate of Oman – one of the most attractive, unspoiled, and safest countries in the Middle East – offers an extraordinary wealth of birds and an exceptionally pleasant, welcoming, and relaxed atmosphere in which to enjoy them. Located on the southern tip of the Arabian Peninsula, and with over one thousand miles of coastline, Oman’s varied habitats host a diverse selection of birds with significant elements drawn from the Europe, Asia and Africa. Offshore, Oman’s clean, fish-rich waters support an abundance of seabirds.
Now widely considered to be part of the Western Palearctic, we’ll sample the best that this fabulous country has to offer – from the riches of the north coast and the wader-packed mudflats of the east to the hidden oases of the Empty Quarter and the almost Afrotropical fauna of the south.
Day 1: The tour will start this morning at Muscat airport. From there, we’ll head west along the coast towards Sohar. We’ll make a stop half way to look for two star birds of the north coast: Sooty Falcon and Pallas’s Gull. The main Sooty Falcon breeding season will be over but we may be lucky enough to catch up with some lingering individuals. The drive will be further enlivened by frequent sightings of stunningly iridescent Indian Rollers, launching themselves from lamp-post lookouts to catch unsuspecting prey. After checking in to our hotel, we’ll spend some time birding the hotel grounds looking out for species such as Striolated Bunting, White-cheeked Bulbul, Red-wattled Lapwing, Grey Francolin, Chestnut-bellied Sandgrouse and Purple Sunbird. Night in Sohar.
Day 2: We’ll begin the day at Liwa where, as well as further chances of Pallas’s Gull, we’ll look for the Skyes’s Warbler and the elusive endemic kalbaensis subspecies of Collared Kingfisher. The afternoon will be spent close to the UAE border. The natural acacia forest here hosts two regional specialities in winter, the appropriately named Plain Leaf Warbler and the more exotic-sounding Variable (or Eastern Pied) Wheatear. While searching for these we are likely to encounter Arabian Babbler, Eastern Black Redstart, Asian Desert Warbler, Desert Lesser Whitethroat, Indian Silverbill, and perhaps a few Southern Grey Shrikes. As the sun sets we’ll listen out for Pallid Scops Owl which, if they can be located, often show down to just a few metres. Night in Sohar.
Day 3: From Sohar we’ll drive south through the Al Hajar mountain range. Frequent stops along the way should see us catching up with Hume’s Wheatear, Blue Rock Thrush and, with a bit of luck, Lappet-faced Vulture. With stops the drive will take much of the day so we’ll arrive in Nizwa with just enough light left to explore the impressive wadis on the south side of the Al Hajar range before we settle down to look for one of Oman’s most sought-after species, the recently discovered and near-endemic Omani Owl. The species can be hard to locate but, with some searching, we should be able to find at least one of these elusive owls. Night in Nizwa.
Day 4: Leaving Nizwa, we’ll head for Barr al Hickman on the east coast, stopping for further chances of Asian Desert Warbler, plus other species such as Red-tailed and Isabelline Wheatear, Eastern Orphean Warbler, Little Green Bee-eater and more colourful Indian Rollers. We’ll arrive at Barr al Hickman in the afternoon, where we’ll be greeted by the spectacle of hundreds-of-thousands of waders of dozens of different species including both sandplovers, Terek Sandpiper, Marsh Sandpiper, and, with some careful scanning, perhaps Great Knot. Once species that is so obvious as to require no careful scanning is Crab Plover, and we should hopefully find several dozen. Night at Mahoot.
Day 5: From Barr al Hickman, we’ll drive inland into the Empty Quarter. Much of the afternoon will be spent travelling as we aim to reach the oasis resthouse of Al Ghaftayn in good time to explore the hotel gardens before dinner. Night at Al Ghaftayn.
Day 6: We’ll start the day checking the hotel gardens for freshly arrived migrants before continuing our journey south to the oasis of Qatbit, which is a good site for Nile Valley Sunbird and occasionally hosts Hypocolius as well as regularly turning up rarities. We’ll arrive in Salalah in time for some south-coast birding before dinner. Night in Salalah.
Day 7: We’ll start the day close to our hotel at East Khawr where we should be guaranteed close views of a variety of waders. The species list here is long with Little Stint, Kentish Plover, and White-winged Black Tern amongst the most numerous species, with smaller numbers of Temminck’s Stints, Curlew Sandpipers, Marsh Sandpipers, and occasionally Broad-billed Sandpipers. In recent years this site has proved reliable for Long-toed Stint.
Later we’ll move on to Salalah’s famous farms. The state of the farming activity plays a part in the birds we’re likely to see here, but possibilities include White-tailed Plover, Sociable Plover, Demoiselle Crane, Namaqua Dove, Siberian Stonechat, Singing Bushlark, Rose-coloured Starling, Richard’s Pipit and Red-throated Pipit.
We’ll finish the day at Al Baleed Archaeological Park, home to the ancient ruins of Salalah’s original port and also a good birding location. Spotted Thick-knees give great views in the park’s arboretum, while the waterway has, over the years, played host to a number of scarce birds such as Malachite Kingfisher and Pygmy Cotton-goose. We’ll keep our eyes on the sky as this area is good for Crested Honey-buzzard. Night in Salalah.
Day 8: We’ll leave the hotel early and head east to Mirbat, where we’ll take to the sea in search of the region’s two sought-after seabirds: Jouanin’s Petrel and Persian Shearwater. Other species likely to be encountered while on board include Bridled Tern, hundreds of Red-necked Phalarope, as well as a host of cetaceans and sea-turtles. Travelling back towards Salalah we’ll stop off at Taqah, where we should find Pheasant-tailed Jacana, Indian Pond-heron, and a collection of other waders. This site is also our best chance of finding the localised Yellow-billed Kite. Night in Salalah.
Day 9: The morning will be spent at Ayn Hamran which is a known location for the smart Verreaux’s Eagle. While we’re waiting for the eagle to appear, we’ll have a chance to entertain ourselves with a host of small birds coming to drink at the irrigation channel – species such as Cinnamon-breasted Bunting, Rüppell’s Weaver, African Silverbill and, if luck is really on our site, Arabian Golden-winged Grosbeak. We also stand a good chance here of catching up with Black-crowned Tchagra. The afternoon will be spent at Wadi Darbat, a wide, lush wadi that hosts an impressive variety of species including Bruce’s Green Pigeon, Arabian Warbler, African Paradise Flycatcher, Abyssinian White-eye, and a variety of raptors and water birds. As the sun sets, we’ll listen out for Arabian Scops Owl and Arabian Eagle Owl. Night in Salalah.
Day 10: We’ll start the day with some local birding, checking East Khawr again before heading west to Ruysat rubbish dump. Hundreds of Steppe Eagles spend the winter feeding on rubbish here, along with smaller numbers of Imperial Eagles and, at the nearby sewage treatment plant, we’ll search for Abdim’s Stork and Pintail Snipe. From here, we’ll head further along the coast to Mughsayl, a coastal lagoon and vegetated wadi perfect for crakes such as Baillon’s Crake and White-breasted Waterhen, and herons such as Yellow Bittern and Intermediate Egret. We’ll visit the nearby blow-holes – spectacular 3-metre high spurts of seawater – a location that gives us the best chance of the trip to find Brown Booby. After dinner, we’ll head up the wadi to search for Hume’s Owl – another rare desert owl, before returning to Salalah that night. Night in Salalah.
Day 11: On our final full day, we’ll head into the mountains north of Salalah where we’ll look for the near-endemic Yemen Serin at the impressive Tawi Atayr sinkhole. Frequent roadside stops will give further chances for Singing Bushlark and European Roller if we haven’t caught up with those species elsewhere. Night Salalah.
Day 12: If time allows, we’ll check East Khawr after checking out of the hotel and before heading to Salalah Airport where the tour ends.
Updated: 04 January 2019