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|A Report from birdtours.co.uk|
Oman, 22 November-11 December 2006,
Oman is a great country for birding. If one is especially interested in raptors can find here the largest selection. Most eagles for example, from Verreaux’s to Booted, are present in winter. Also, a lot of difficult or rare species of the Western Paleartic are common here in winter or during migration. To this, Dhofar specialties add even more interest. I planned a visit to Oman after my wife Dina saw an evocative picture of the Wahaybah sands in a bookshop and wished to go there. Of course I was not going to disappoint her! Oman is a wonderful country: a lot has been written about this in other trip reports and I’m not going to add more. Just I want to say that the country, especially in the north, and to a lesser extent in the south, is subject to rapid transformations. New roads are being built and gravel roads are being paved making access to remote areas much more easy; plans are underway to realize new hotels on the coast and even mega-projects near the capital Muscat; parts of the territory around the major cities are becoming industrial areas, and so on. While this is certainly positive to the development and richness of the country, at the same time it has the obvious consequences we can imagine: disturb at sensitive sites, lost of important natural areas, grown of the mass tourism over the eco-tourism. I simply hope that things will not go too far and some of the magic of the traditional Oman will remain for ever.
For my visit I did heavy use (of course) of the excellent Birdwatching guide to Oman by Hanne and Jens Eriksen, Panadda and Dave E. Sargeant (and the internet updates at http://www.birdsoman.com). I have also to thank Jens Eriksen for first hand information, as well as Eric Durand and Georges Olioso for their help about some sites. Besides birding, I spent some relaxed days at the Wahaybah sands (a part from crossing a flooded wadi just before Al Qabil, facing an aggressive camel on the sands – never heard about that before – and bearing a small-scale sand storm).
General itinerary and accommodations. We arrived at Seeb airport of Muscat on 22 November at 9.30 pm, with a Lufthansa flight from Frankfurt. At the airport we rented a Toyota Echo for two weeks. We stayed in Muscat from 22 to 29 November, leaving on 30 November for Ras al Hadd. In Muscat we stayed at the Al Qurm Beach Hotel (26 OR per night), very close to the Al Qurm Park. At Ras al Hadd we stayed at the Ras al Hadd Beach Hotel (25 OR), which is close to the desalinization plant and conveniently close to the sea-watching point. On 3 December we left Ras al Hadd and went to Al Qabil, close to the Wahaybah sands, where we stayed three days (we had a room at the Al Qabil Resthouse, 24 OR). From Al Qabil, on 6 December, we finally drove early morning to Seeb airport to take the 10.40 am flight to Salalah. At Salalah airport we rented a car (a Toyota Yaris) and drove directly to Qatbit (275 km from Salalah) where we arrived at about 4.00 pm. We stayed (of course) at the Qatbit Resthouse (24 OR). After an early morning birding at Muntasar, on 7 December we moved towards Salalah birding en route (Al Beed Farm). At Salalah we stayed 3 days (we had a room at the Salalah Beach Villas, 29 OR) and on 11 December we left the country.
Visa. Getting the visa at Seeb airport is very easy. At the arrival you are queued to an exchange office where you directly pay 6 OR for the Visa (and change money if you like). With the payment receipt you go to the nearby immigration counters where you get the one month valid visa on the passport.
Driving. In Muscat the traffic could be awful at some hours. People drive very fast on the Al Sultan Qaboos Street. There are a lot of roundabouts and flyovers in Muscat, so taking the wrong exit is not a problem as you can easily go to the next roundabout and come back. Out of the capital the traffic is minimal but still people drive very fast, well beyond the 120 km/h speed limit.
Food and Fuel: both very cheap. Record was a meal for two at 1.4 OR at a restaurant near Al Mintarib. 5-6 OR were sufficient to fill with fuel the tank of the Toyota Echo.
These are the sites which I visited, with some comments where necessary:
Al Qurm Park (23 Nov and 26 Nov): the beach is very good for shorebirds but a lot of people are around as early as 6.00 a.m! Works are underway outside the fence on the rear part of the park. No more is possible to walk alongside the fence, at least it was so at the time of my visit. I was lucky to find the gate open so that I could enter and birdwatch the ponds and the scrub behind the mangroves. The smallest ponds are overgrown with vegetation and the water is barely visible.
Al Ansab lagoons (24 Nov): the lagoons have been actually fenced and the sewage plants have expanded up to in front of the lagoons. All roads to the lagoons are now paved. I visited the site on Friday afternoon and found no one to ask the permit to cross the gate (which was closed). I birded a little in front of pond D from outside the fence. The water is barely visible.
Yiti (24 Nov)
Qurayyat (25 Nov): I visited only the khawrs. I did not visit the waste disposal site and the nearby wadi. Highly recommended site for the variety of birds.
Wadi Sunub (26 Nov and 28 Nov): this is the wadi that surrounds the former waste disposal site. I walked it quietly a couple of times and got good views of Sand Partridge and Lichtenstein’s Sandgrouse. Hume’s Wheatear was very easy here.
Al Amerat waste disposal site (near the capital, 24 Nov): I politely asked permission to enter and got it without problem. A lot of raptors here, and very close, including Lappet-faced Vulture.
Sun Farm Sohar (29 Nov): we got the permit to visit the farm directly at the entrance. Again I was very polite (but I’m so by nature!) in asking the permit. We had just to sign in a guestbook.
Ras al Hadd and Khawr al Hajar (30 Nov-2 Dec): I birded Khawr al Hajar instead of Khawr Jirama as during high tide the southern, muddy shores are easily watched from the paved road (so no need to walk in the mud). I easily saw both my target birds here, Crab Plover and Terek Sandpiper.
Ras al Khabbah (1 Dec)
Sur Sewage Ponds (2 Dec): the ponds now have concrete walls and are fenced. I did not try to enter, anyway. The water is no more visible from the road (with the exception of the smallest lagoon) as the vegetation around is very high.. All roads to the ponds are paved now. This site is not in Eriksen’s book. From the south-west outskirts of Sur take the road to Muscat (i.e. the road which then becomes the coastal road to Muscat via Tiwi). After 4.5 km a paved road to the right leads to the ponds.
The Wahaybah sands around Al Mintarib (3-5 Dec): highlights here was a flock of 33 Lappet-faced Vultures, probably on a carcass. We visited also the beautiful Wadi Bani Kalid.
Qatbit Resthouse garden and oasis (6-7 Dec): the garden of the Qatbit Resthouse are very good for passerines.
Muntasar (7 Dec): if you have a 2WD car, by far better driving from north to south the 14.2 km of graded road (good, even in fourth gear) instead of driving the 18 km of graded road (very bad) from south to north in order to reach the track to the oasis (see map in Eriksen’s book). This latter track is sandy but easily passable with a 2WD car.
Al Beed Farm (7 Dec): we found no one at the entrance to ask the permit to visit the farm, so we crossed the gate freely. We met no workers inside, but pivots were in function.
Khawr Rowry (8 Dec): highly recommended place for Dhofar specialties, raptors, waterbirds and seabirds. We started birding the scrub near the paved road, to move then towards the sea.
Khawr Taqah (8 Dec).
Khawr Al Maghsayl (9 Dec). The khawr itself was quite disappointing (not the beach and the small lagoon in front of). Moreover access to the wadi behind was impossible due to an army camp being present the day I visited it. Which was positive, as I consequently went toward the Yemen and saw a superb adult Verreaux’s Eagle and a rare Jacobin Cuckoo along the road!
Road to Yemen: worth for the landscape, and not only. South Arabian Wheatear very easy along the road.
Ayn Hamran (10 Dec). Highly recommended place for Dhofar specialties.
Ayn Razat (10 Dec).
23 November: Al Qurm Park (14.30-17.15)
24 November: Al Amerat waste disposal site (8.30-10.30), Yiti (11.30-12.30), Al Ansab Lagoon (16.15-17.15)
25 November: Qurayyat (only the khawrs)
26 November: Al Qurm Park (6.00-12.00), Wadi Sunub (16.00-17.30)
28 November: Wadi Sunub (15.00-16.30)
29 November: Sun Farm, Sohar (9.30-13.00)
30 November: en route from Muscat to Ras al Hadd, near Al Wasil (just after Al Mintarib), then Khawr Al Hajar in the afternoon.
01 December: Ras al Hadd (at dawn), Khawr Al Hajar (8.30-9.30), Ras al Khabbah and surrounds (10.30-11.30).
2 December: Road from Ras al Hadd to the Sur Sewage Ponds (morning), then Ras al Hadd (15.15-17.00)
4 December: Wahaybah sands at Al Wasil
5 December: Wadi Bani Kalid
6 December: Qatbit oasis (16.45-17.45)
7 December: Muntasar (7.00-9.30), Qatbit Garden (11.00-11.20), Al Beed Farm (12.45-13.45), en route to Salalah.
8 December: Khawr Rowri (9.00-13.00), Khawr Taqah (16.30-17.30)
9 December: Al Maghsayl, then road to Yemen (all day)
10 December: Ayn Hamran (8.45-11.00), Ayn Razat (11.30-12.30)
Complete Annotated Checklist
What follows is a complete annotated list of the birds I saw. I totaled 179 species (or more, depending on how some subspecies are treated), 79 of which were lifers. Of course migration was almost over at the time of my visit and I missed some good birds, but on the other hand I could not bear missing Pallas’s Gull, a bird which arrives quite late in its wintering quarters. Also I could not search, for lack of time, for desert birds such as Bar-tailed Desert Lark and Dunn’s Lark. Birds without any note were common ones or easily seen in the proper habitat (ducks, shorebirds, some terns and herons, gulls, etc). In bold are the lifers.
1) Black-necked Grebe: one bird at Qurayyat
2) Persian Shearwater: seen at Ras al Hadd (6-7) on 1 Dec, Al Maghsayl (2), and Khawr Rowri (2).
3) Masked Booby: one at Ras al Hadd on 1 Dec, two from the hotel at Salalah on 8 Dec, then seen at Al Maghsayl (3), and Khawr Rowri (2).
4) Brown Booby: Khawr Rowri (1) and Al Maghsayl (6-7).
6) Socotra Cormorant: Qurayyat (5 imm.) and Al Maghsayl (a flock with more than 100 indd.)
7) Night Heron: one seen at Ayn Hamran
8) Striated Heron: one seen at Qurayyat
9) Squacco Heron: seen at Qurayyat (2) and at Khawr Taqah (1).
10) Indian Pond Heron: Khawr Rowri (2) and Khawr Taqah (2).
11) Cattle Egret: seen only at the Sun Farm, Sohar
12) Western Reef Heron: common along the coast. Dark morph predominates.
13) Little Egret
14) Great White Egret
15) Purple Heron
16) Grey Heron
17) White Stork: more than 150 birds were at Sanhawt farm, Salalah on 8 Dec.
18) Glossy Ibis: seen only at Khawr Rowri (4) and at Al Maghsayl (15)
20) Greater Flamingo
21) Shelduck: 11 present at Qurayyat
28) Tufted Duck: 2 birds at Al Maghsayl
29) Black Kite: only seen at Al Beed Farm
30) Lapped-faced Vulture: 4 at Al Amerat, a flock of 33 together near Al Wasil, Whahayba Sands, probably on a carcass.
31) Egyptian Vulture: a common sight. Highest concentration at Al Amerat (100+).
32) Short-toed Eagle: seen at Wadi Sunub on 26 Nov (1), one near Wadi Bani Kalid on 5 Dec, and one at Ayn Hamran.
33) Marsh Harrier
34) Montague’s Harrier
35) Long-legged Buzzard: a juv. was present at Al Qurm Park on 23 Nov.
37) Greater Spotted Eagle: Al Qurm Park (1 on 23 Nov), Al Amerat (3), Qurayyat (1), Khawr Rowry (4)
38) Steppe Eagle: Al Amerat (30), Al Wasil (4), Wahaybah sands south of Al Mintarib on 4 Dec (5), road through Salalah mountains (2), Ayn Hamran (2).
39) Imperial Eagle: Al Amerat (1 juv), Sun Farm Sohar (1 subad), Sur Sewage Ponds (1 juv), Khawr Rowri (1 juv) and one juv at Al Maghsayl. This latter tried to catch a Bridled Tern which was soaring over the cliff at the blowholes!!
40) Verreaux’s Eagle. Bird of the trip. A magnificent adult soared for a while over my head near the Frankincense wadi along the road to Yemen.
41) Booted Eagle: Sanhawt farm (3, pale morph), Salalah.
42) Bonelli’s Eagle: 1 juv at Al Qurm P. on 26 Nov., Al Ansab lagoons (1 juv), Khawr Rowri (1 subad), Al Maghsayl (1 juv), road to Yemen (2 adults).
44) Lesser Kestrel: seen only at the Al Beed farm
46) Amur Falcon: a 1st-cy near Ras al Khabbah on 1 Dec and 2nd-cy female at the Al Beed farm. Both very confident birds. Both very confident birds.
47) Barbary Falcon: Wadi Sunub (1) on 26 Nov.
48) Arabian Partridge: unexpectedly easy to see at Ayn Hamran. I walked quietly the upper part of the wadi bottom, as suggested in Eriksen’s book, and I saw 20-25 birds. Also seen at Ayn Razat, on the slopes above the pools (8).
49) Sand Partridge: seen in Wadi Sunub (7-8 indd) on 26 Nov., on the left slopes just after the goat-keepers’ settlements.
50) Grey Francolin: Al Qurm P. on 23 Nov (3), Al Ansab lagoon (6), Qurayyat (3), Sun Farm Sohar (6).
51) Little Crake: one at Khawr Taqah.
54) Pheasant-tailed Jacana: Khawr Taqah (1)
56) Black-winged Stilt
57) Crab Plover: seen at Khawr Al Hajar on 30 Nov (1) and 1 Dec (2).
58) Cream-coloured Courser: two birds at the Al Beed Farm.
59) Little Ringed Plover
60) Ringed Plover
61) Kentish Plover
62) Lesser Sand Plover: common along the northern coast. I did not check the Dhofar beaches for this bird. More than 15 were at the khawr outlet of Al Qurm on 26 Nov and tens at Khawr Al Hajar.
63) Greater Sand Plover: common along the northern coast. I did not check the Dhofar beaches for this bird. More than 30 were at the khawr outlet of Al Qurm on 26 Nov and tens at Khawr Al Hajar.
64) Pacific Golden Plover: at Al Qurm Park (greater pond in the rear of the park) on 23 Nov (8-10) and 26 Nov (10-11).
65) Grey Plover
66) Red-wattled Plover: a common bird in the north.
67) White-tailed Lapwing: seen only at the Sun Farm, Sohar (1).
69) Little Stint
70) Temmink’s Stint
71) Curlew Sandpiper
74) Common Snipe
75) Black-tailed Godwit
76) Bar-tailed Godwit
81) Green Sandpiper
82) Wood Sandpiper
83) Terek Sandpiper: seen only at Khawr al Hajar on 30 Nov (6-7) and 1 Dec (12).
84) Common Sandpiper
86) Red-necked Phalarope: rafts seen at sea from Ras al Hadd and Ras al Khabbah
87) Sooty Gull
88) Pallas’s Gull: Qurayyat (12-15), Ras al Hadd (3 on 11 Dec), Ras al Khabbah (1), Sur (3 on 2 Dec), Khawr Rowri (3).
89) Black-headed Gull
90) Slender-billed Gull: very common. Hundreds at Yiti and Qurayyat.
91) Siberian Gull: less numerous than Caspian Gull in the north, but the majority on the Dhofar coasts. I did not check thoroughly but nominate heuglini appeared predominant. Bigger and paler mantled birds could have been taimyrensis.
92) Caspian Gull: very common in the north, less in the Dhofar. Both barabensis (most numerous) and cachinnans.
93) Gull-billed Tern: seen only in the Dhofar
94) Caspian Tern
95) Crested Tern
96) Lesser Crested Tern: seen at Qurayyat (15-20), Al Qurm beach on 26 Nov (2), Sur on 3 Dec (1), Al Maghsayl (6-7) and singles every days at Ras al Hadd.
97) Sandwich Tern
98) Common Tern: some birds seen at Ras al Hadd, Khawr Rowry and Al Maghsayl.
99) Bridled Tern: Ras al Hadd on 2 Dec (2), Khawr Rowry (2), Raysut on 9 Dec (10), Al Maghsayl (more than 20 indd.).
100) Whiskered Tern
101) White-winged Black Terns: tens at Sun Farm Sohar
102) Lichtenstein’s Sandgrouse: flushed 7 indd. in the Wadi Sunub on 26 Nov. The birds landed not far on the slopes, so that I could get scope views of them.
103) Crowned Sandgrouse: seen at Muntasar (7).
104) Spotted Sandgrouse: only 3 at Muntasar, but 44 along the road from Al Beed Farm to Thumrayt.
105) Chestnut-bellied Sandgrouse: 38 at the Sun Farm Sohar, 1 near Ras al Khabbah on 1 Dec, 7-8 indd. at Khawr Rowri.
106) Rock Dove
107) Collared Dove
108) Turtle Dove: 2 seen at the Sun Farm Sohar
109) Laughing Dove
110) Bruce’s Green Pigeon: only one seen at Ayn Hamran, but only in flight. Must go back to Oman for this…….!
111) Ring-necked Parakeet
112) Jacobin Cuckoo: one (pale morph) seen along the road to Yemen on 9 Dec.
113) Koel: one seen at Muntasar.
114) Swift sp.: seen at Al Qurm Park a the sunset.
115) Common Kingfisher
116) Little Green Bee-eater: a common bird, seen daily.
117) European Roller: seen at Muntasar (1) and Al Maghsayl (1).
118) Indian Roller: common in the north.
119) Hoopoe: Qurayyat (1), Ayn Hamran (1).
120) Black-crowned Finch Lark: near Ras al Khabbah on 1 Dec (3), Al Beed Farm (1) , Khawr Rowri (2).
121) Desert Lark: 5 pale birds (azizi?) on 25 Nov in a wadi en route to Qurayyat. 3 birds (deserti) near wadi Sunub on 28 Nov and 3 birds en route to Wadi Bani Kalid on 5 Dec.
122) Hoopoe Lark: 3 birds seen at the Al Beed farm and nearby desert.
123) Crested Lark
124) African Rock Martin: a common bird.
125) Barn Swallow
126) Tawny Pipit
127) Tree pipit: one was at Muntasar.
128) Water Pipit
129) Grey Wagtail: seen only at Ayn Hamran.
130) Citrine Wagtail: Al Qurm Park on 23 Nov (1) and 26 Nov (2), Sun Farm Sohar (1), Khawr Rowri (4), Khawr Taqah (2).
131) White Wagtail
132) Masked Wagtail (M.a. personata): 3 birds at the cattle pens of the Sun Farms Sohar.
133) Yellow Wagtail
134) White-cheeked Bulbul: more than 10 indd. were in Al Qurm Park on 23 Nov.
135) Red-vented Bulbul: 5-6 indd. in Al Qurm Park on 26 Nov, and 2 indd on 26 Nov same site.
136) Yellow-vented Bulbul: a common and widespread bird.
137) Grey Hypocolius: 4 seen at Muntasar.
138) Bluethroat: two seen in Al Qurm Park on 23 Nov.
139) Black Redstart: semirufus, seen at Qurayyat (2), Wadi Sunub (1) on 28 Nov, Wadi Bani Kalid (1), Qatbit garden (2).
140) Blackstart: Khawr Rowri (1), Al Maghsayl (1), Ayn Hamran (4).
141) Isabelline Wheatear: Sun Farm Sohar (5), Qatbit garden (1), Al Maghsayl (3).
142) Desert Wheatear: a widespread bird. Peak of 10 birds at the Sun Farm Sohar.
143) Red-tailed Wheatear: seen only in the north. Yiti (3, included 2 en route), Qurayyat (1), Wadi Sunub (1) on 26 and 28 Nov, en route to Misfal (Nizwa) (1) on 27 Nov, Khawr al Hajar (1), en route to Wadi Bani Kalid (1), en route from Ras al Hadd to Sur (2) on 2 Dec.
144) South Arabian Wheatear: 3 male and 1 female along the road to Yemen.
145) Hume’s Wheatear: Yiti (4, included 2 en route), en route to Qurayyat (3), Wadi Sunub (3) on 26 and 28 Nov, en route to Wadi Bani Kalid (1), en route to Misfal (1) on 27 Nov.
146) Song Thrush: one bird at the Qatbit garden.
147) Graceful Prinia
148) Clamorous Reed Warbler: Al Ansab (1 seen, 4-5 heard), Al Qurm Park (heard) on 26 Nov, Khawr Rowri (1), Khawr Taqah (1).
149) Ménétries’s Warbler: Muntasar (1), Khawr Rowri (3), road to Yemen (1).
150) Arabian Warbler: Khawr Rowri (1), Ayn Hamran (3).
151) Desert Warbler: Qurayyat (2), Qatbit oasis (2), Muntasar (3).
152) Desert Lesser Whitethroat: a common bird in the wadis, even with very scarce vegetation (e.g. a few scattered acacias).
153) Lessert Whitethroat: seen at Ayn Hamran (2).
154) Wood Warbler: only one at Ayn Hamran.
156) Red-breasted Flycatcher: only 1st-w birds seen. Muntasar (1), Qatbit garden (2), Khawr Taqah (1).
157) African Paradise Flycatcher: a beautiful bird. Seen at Ayn Hamran (4) and Ayn Razat (3).
158) Arabian Babbler: Qurayyat (10), Sun Farm Sohar (1).
159) Purple Sunbird: a very common bird in the north, even on the Wahaybah sands!! Only a few males were in their breeding plumage.
160) Shining Sunbird: Khawr Rowry (2 males and 2 females), Khawr Taqah (1 female), Ayn Razat (2 males).
161) Palestine Sunbird: Khawr Rowry (2 males and 2 females), Ayn Hamran (1 male), Ayn Razat (3 males).
162) White-breasted White-eye: common, numerous at Ayn Hamran
163) Black-crowned Tchagra: only one seen at Ayn Hamran.
164) Isabelline Shrike: 1-3 birds seen almost daily. In the north seen only isabellinus birds, in the south also some phoenicuroides.
165) Great Grey Shrike: Sun Farm Sohar (2), Al Qabil (1) on 3 Dec, Wahaybah sands south of Al Mintarib (1) on 4 Dec, Muntasar (1).
166) Steppe Grey Shrike: near Ras al Khabbah (1) on 1 Dec, Al Beed farm (1).
167) House Crow: common in the north. Some birds seen also at Raysut, much darker than in the north.
168) Fan-tailed Raven: common in the Dhofar.
169) Brown-necked Raven: max concentration of 20 indd. at Al Amerat, seen almost daily but not in the Dhofar.
170) Tristram’s Grackle: common in the Dhofar, e.g. 10+ birds at Al Maghsayl.
171) Starling: only one bird at the Sun Farm Sohar.
172) Common Mynah
173) House Sparrow
174) Rüppell’s Weaver: common in the Dhofar.
175) Indian Silverbill: common at Al Qurm Park (e.g. 30 on 26 Nov). Seen also in the Wadi Sunub (6) on 26 Nov.
176) African Silverbill: common in the Dhofar.
177) House Bunting: seen only in the Wadi Sunub on 26 Nov (2) and 28 Nov (8) and en route to Qurayyat (1).
178) African Rock Bunting: Khawr Rowri (2), Ayn Hamran (5), Ayn Razat (2).
179) Red Bishop: one seen at Al Qurm Park on 26 Nov. An escape, but a beautiful bird.
Ernesto Occhiato, email@example.com