Oman - 13th Feb – 7th Mar 2011

Published by David Marshall (dmar77 AT googlemail.com)

Participants: David Marshall and Dr. Christine Booth

Comments

Introduction

We managed to miss our major holiday last year, so decided to amalgamate Christmas and last year’s holiday into a major trip with some solid winter sunshine. Having covered much of Morocco, Oman seemed to be a good option with the possibility of some great birds. We also understand that it has been proposed by at least one authority that Oman should be included within the Western Palaearctic region.

Taking the advice of several people, we decided to organise the trip ourselves. This gave us the opportunity of staying in the hotels of our choice, hiring a really good vehicle, and learning something about the culture of the people we were visiting. We had three weeks fantastic birding at a very reasonable price.

Flying direct to Muscat rather than economising by flying via another Gulf country was much more convenient. People we spoke to whilst in Oman who had taken the route via UAE wished they had flown direct.

Economies can be gained by shopping around. When in Oman we could have used budget hotels every night. A good choice of accommodation was always available simply by turning up.

Covering the Muscat region with one vehicle, flying to Salalah then covering the Dhofar region with another, then flying home from Salalah could have been cheaper as we were advised that Oman Air offers deals for accommodation in Salalah if internal flights are booked at the same time. Additionally, the one-way car-hire surcharge is avoided.

However for us, missing out Masirah Island (a must) and Barr Al Hikman would have spoiled a really good trip as it would have disconnected the north and south of Oman. Therefore we hired a vehicle for collection at Muscat Airport and drop-off at Salalah.

As always, ‘doing as Romans do’ and learning just half a dozen words of the language of the country one is visiting, in this case Arabic, made all the difference. English is spoken widely as the second language, all road signs are in English, personal safety was never an issue and we found nothing but help and guidance from everyone we met. We found Oman to be a very easy Gulf country for westerners to visit.

The timing of our visit coincided with the start of the uprisings in North Africa and the Middle East. There were ‘soft’ demonstrations in two of the cities we visited: Sohar and Salalah, but these never interfered with our itinerary, in fact we drove two blocks away from one demonstration in Salalah without knowing anything was happening.

Naturally, we met other birders at the well known birding sites and got up to date with all the birding news and info. In particular, we met two very pleasant German birders and four equally pleasant Finnish birders who were keen to help us with suggestions of planning a trip to their respective countries. And it was great to reciprocate with info on Shetland, Fair Isle, and the Western Isles.

Not surprisingly, the weather was sunny every day although the temperature varied from 15C in the hills to 35C in the desert.

Travel books on Oman recommend long trousers for men and women. Neither shorts nor bare arms are appreciated by the locals and do not elicit the best response, especially if then needing their advice or help.

Thanks are due to OSME, Ray and Alison Strugnell, Dave Sargeant, Hanne & Jens Eriksen and the Oman Tourist Office, London for information, help and guidance in planning the trip. Thanks are also due to all those who have submitted their bird reports on line, all of which were very helpful. Numerous others not mentioned above have assisted and thanks also are due to them, particularly Saad Shahab and Ahmed Al’Hadidi for Arabic language and culture lessons whilst in the UK.

Logistics:

Currency


We used a combination of cash and credit/debit cards. In practice we found that MasterCard and Visa were both widely accepted in all larger hotels, supermarkets and towns. Cash was very easily exchanged at ‘Western Union’ banks in the larger towns - they consistently gave a reliable exchange rate for GBP notes.

Car Hire

This being our first trip to a Gulf country we decided to book on-line from the UK, although having arrived at Muscat, most of the usual international and some extra local car hire firms were in the arrivals hall. However, on chatting at the Europcar desk whilst collecting our vehicle, they commented that it is cheaper to book on-line - as it happened therefore, booking on-line from the UK had been the right thing to do. Additionally, on arrival they had upgraded us from a 4WD RAV4 to a 4WD PRADO, which was THE perfect vehicle for the journey. On dropping off the vehicle at Salalah airport we found that we had covered 4360km in 3 weeks!

Europcar. www.europcar.com ‘pay at station’ rate including 2 drivers and pick-up Muscat, drop off Salalah. Oman Rial (OMR) 656.48 for 21 days.

Fuel Price.

0.12 OMR litre, equating to 19.5p litre – yes, this is correct!! Petrol in the UK at the same date was £1.35 litre!! One comment – it is customary to tip the fuel attendant with a couple of small coins as they rely on tips for their living and are always very grateful.

Accommodation

Oman has not gone down the route of cheap package holidays and on looking online in the UK, it seemed that hotels in Oman were either going to be 5 star and hugely expensive or 2 star and very basic. As in most countries though, once there we found lots of small hotels not accessible on-line from the UK. Most hotel prices were negotiable at the hotel desk and apart from one stay, all the rooms we stayed in were very clean. Prices were no more expensive than the UK and in most instances cheaper when comparing like for like.

As with the car-hire, we decided to book ahead for the first two nights accommodation in Muscat so we knew where we were going to put our heads when we first arrived and also for two nights at the Qitbit Motel in the Empty Quarter. Booking from the UK proved unnecessary but did mean we simply went to our hotel on our arrival in Muscat and were booked in at Qitbit – the only place to stay near Muntasar.

Muscat – Treasure Box Hotel, Way 3709, Building 631, South Al Ghubrah, Bousher, Muscat. Booked on-line in the UK with Booking.com 57.35 OMR per room B&B inclusive of municipal, tourism and service charge. Omani 3 star, but in the UK it would have been 4 star. More expensive than our usual accommodation, but with Austrian management and of very good quality, it was just right to start our travels in good shape after the flight and jet-lag. Being the capital, Muscat is the most expensive place to stay.

Sohar – Green Oasis Hotel, Al Muwaiylah Street, approx 1 mile NW of the ‘Globe’ roundabout - take the service road from the globe and head for Sohar Main hospital. www.Geocities.com/sohar hotel - Simply turned up and negotiated 30 OMR per room B&B for their ‘Best’ room inclusive of all taxes and charges. Omani 2 star, and would have been the same grade in the UK.

Sur - Sur Plaza Hotel (previously Sur Mercure Hotel), on main road east of town centre. Turned up and negotiated OMR 40 B&B per room inclusive of all taxes and charges. Omani 3 star but in the UK it would have been 3-4 star, but we felt the bathroom was tired and the touristy restaurant expensive. On the second night we found an excellent and inexpensive Indian, the ‘Sur Sea Restaurant’ in the town centre.

Hilf, Masirah Island - Danat Al Khaleej Hotel, approx 1-2km from ferry [follow signs for the top quality but expensive Swiss Belle Hotel and ‘our’ hotel is on the right]. Turned up and negotiated 20 OMR per room B&B inclusive of all taxes and charges. Omani 2 star and would have been 2 star in the UK. Only accepted cash.

Hayma – Al-Wasta Hotel (near to Shell petrol station, approx 1 mile north of town centre). Best we could find in Hayma. Turned up and negotiated 15 OMR room only, inclusive etc. – note no food available in the hotel but good choice of small restaurants in the town. In the UK would have been 1 – 2 star. Only accepted cash. Went on to Al Ghaftain for breakfast.

Qatbit – Qatbit Motel – Nowhere else to stay. Booked on-line from the UK, 25 OMR per room B&B inclusive. Only accepted cash.

Salalah – Hamdan Plaza Hotel, Ar Rubat Street - opposite the new Lulu hypermarket. Turned up and negotiated 40 OMR per room B&B. Omani 3 star, but in the UK it would have been 4 star. This is a well run, smart business hotel rather than a tourist hotel, with a good restaurant. Shorts &/or beach gear at this hotel would definitely be a no-no.

Salalah Hotel Near Central Market, opp. ONTC Bus station, Salalah. Did not stay there as we thought it might be noisy, but it was clean and very good budget value. Quoted us 15 OMR per room B&B inclusive etc.

Also in Salalah near the airport is Al Nile Suite Hotel which was recommended to us as being good and inexpensive although we did not visit it.

Al Ghaftain Motel – as we had stayed at Hayma we did not stay here, but had a very good breakfast.

Books, Reports, Articles and Maps

Books


Eriksen, J., Sargeant, D.E. & Victor, R. (2003) Oman Bird List 6th Ed. Pub: Centre of Environmental Studies and Research, Sultan Qaboos University, Sultanate of Oman

Porter, R. & Aspinall, S. (2010) Birds of the Middle East 2nd Ed. Pub: Christopher Helm, London

Sargeant, D.E., Eriksen, H. & Eriksen, J. (2008) Birdwatching guide to Oman 2nd Ed. Pub: Al Roya Publishing, Muscat, Sultanate of Oman

Svensson, L., Mullarney, K., & Zetterstrom, D. (2010) Collins Bird Guide 2nd Ed. Pub: Harper Collins Publishers Ltd. London.

Reports and Articles

On-line trip reports by Paul Bourdin, Oscar Campbell, Phil Gregory, Heindle & Schmitt, Forrest Rowland, Joseph Verica, Jan Vermeulen and others.

Maps

Reise Know-How, World Mapping Project “Oman 1:850,000”
Purchased in London before departure

Oman Ministry of Tourism, “Sultanate of Oman 1:1,300,000”
Free of Charge from Oman Tourist Office, London
A surprisingly good map, includes new and projected roads and expanded city plans

Oman Ministry of Tourism, “Salalah, Sultanate of Oman 1:10 000”
Free of Charge from Oman Tourist Office, London
Detailed map of Salalah and Dhofar region

GPS is invaluable, especially in adverse conditions and for relating new roads to those in Sargeant & Eriksens’ books

Local Contacts

dominicharmer @ haya.com.om Dominic is the (very helpful) Al Ansab Wetland Manager and can arrange guided tours of the wetlands. Access is by prior arrangement.

Diary

13 Feb.

Overnight flight from London Heathrow to Muscat with Oman Air – very comfortable with just two seats (rather than the usual three) together so nobody was sandwiched in the middle.

14 Feb. 25C, wind SE force 3

Al Qurm NP. Birded from bridge at east end by the Black Mangrove forest (Avicenia marina) for waders. Very special for us, in the adjacent scrub at the bottom of the hill, were three species of Bulbul (White-eared, White Spectacled/yellow-vented and Red-vented), Indian Silverbills and Purple Sunbirds (brevirostris ssp) which are restricted to the north. Good views of gulls, terns, godwits, Squacco Herons and waders on the sandbanks near the Costa Coffee shop north of the road. Overnight: Muscat

15 Feb. 24C, wind S force 3

Grand Mosque. Touristy visit - beautiful gardens, first views of the cabayensis Laughing Dove, the sub-species found in all areas except the Dhofar region.

Muscat Port. The waterfront provided excellent views of Slender-billed, Black-headed, Sooty, Armenian, Caspian and Yellow-legged Gulls.

Al Ansab Lagoons. Booked visit in advance in the UK. Good selection of ducks and waders – highlights for us were Red-wattled Lapwing of the aigneri subspecies and Citrine Wagtail. Green Sandpipers were also present. Overnight: Muscat

16 Feb. 24C, wind S force 1

Ras As Sawadi. Parked at car-park and walked eastwards over the sandy beach to view the channel and Ras As Sawadi island. Excellent views of Greater and Lesser Sandplovers, Great Crested, Lesser Crested and Caspian Terns, Great Black-headed Gulls and the dark morph of the Western Reef Heron.

En-route back along the road to As Sawadi village provided our first views of Grey Francolin (mecranensis) running through the scrub. Overnight: Muscat

17 Feb. 25C, wind W force 2

Sohar Sun Farm. We were delighted to meet John Atkins.

Signed in at the desk on arrival. It now seems that the area under cultivation at Sohar Sun Farm has much reduced in size but it is still an excellent site for birding. It must have been fantastic in the early days, but does now have the advantage of increased habitat diversity as the uncultivated areas are reverting to semi-desert.

Migration was very much in evidence with particularly large flocks of Skylarks, pipits and Red-rumped Swallows. Highlights were: 2 White-tailed Lapwings on the sewage ponds; a Sociable Lapwing now ‘Critically Endangered’, a flock of at least 23 Indian Rollers, Bimaculated Larks, an Oriental Skylark and a Woodchat Shrike niloticus on the Pivot Fields; and Chestnut-bellied Sandgrouse and Asian Desert Warblers on the uncultivated farmland. Raptors included Great Spotted, Short-toed and Bonelli’s Eagles; Marsh and Pallid Harrier. Overnight: Sohar

18 Feb. 25C, wind W force 2

Shinas. Parked at the picnic site next to the Black Mangroves south of Shinas. Highlights were Little Green Bee-eaters of the muscatensis subspecies, an Aucher’s Grey Shrike (Lanius meridionalis aucheri), and Sykes’s Warblers. We searched unsuccessfully for White-collared Kingfisher.

Khatmat Milahah. Very hot in the middle of the day with no wind. The GPS proved useful here in navigating around the Ghaf (Prosopis cineraria) woodland. Highlights were 2 Arabian Babblers, Little Green Bee-eaters, and a semirufous Black Redstart

Sohar. Three Little Owls were calling in the grounds of the Green Oasis Hotel at dusk. Overnight: Sohar

19 Feb. 25C, wind Still

Sohar Sun Farm. Searched the cattle sheds and found Masked (Motacilla personata) and White Wagtails; Kentish, Ringed and Little Ringed Plovers; and Little Stint. Other highlights were 3 White-tailed Lapwings at the sewage ponds and a male Rufous-tailed Rock Thrush on migration

Rustaq Fort. Interesting town in the mountains overlooking the Batinah coast.

Al Qurm NP. Evening visit to see the crepuscular Baillon’s Crake but dipped. Highlights were close views of Indian Reed Warblers (Acrocephalus brunnescens) recently split from Clamourous Reed Warbler (A. stentoreus) and a flock of Streaked Weavers [Al Qurm is excellent for naturalised ‘escapees’]. Overnight: Muscat

20 Feb. 25C, wind Still

Qurayyat. Unable to bird at the coast because of road closures for the ‘Round Oman’ cycle race!
The waste disposal site up in the hills yielded Great Spotted Eagles, adult and juvenile Egyptian Vultures and two Lappet-faced Vultures in flight; in addition to the many millions of flies of indeterminate species!!

Dibab. Good lunch-stop on an embankment overlooking the estuary. Excellent views of Great Crested and Lesser Crested Terns, and wintering Whimbrel. Overnight: Sur

21 Feb. 25C, wind S force 5

Khawr Jirama. Discovering a track leading out over the shallow lagoon to a disused fishing hut, excellent views were to be had, and just as importantly, shelter from the strong southerly wind shaking the scope. Large numbers of terns including Great Crested, Caspian, White-cheeked and Sandwich; and also of gulls. Of particular note was a flock of eighty Great Black-headed Gulls in their fresh breeding plumage. Other specialities included Terek Sandpiper, Greater and Lesser Sandplover and of the now ‘Vunerable’ Socotra Cormorant

Ras Al Hadd. Very large numbers of large white-headed gulls on the beach, but the gusting wind prevented thorough scope identification. Close-up views of Caspian, Great Crested and Sandwich Terns were had in the harbour along with Armenian, Yellow-legged, Slender-billed and Sooty Gulls. Two Persian/Red-tailed Wheatears (Oenanthe chrysopygia) were found on the rocky slopes on the south side of Khawr Al Hajar. Overnight: Sur

22 Feb. 25C, wind S force 3

Coast road Sur to Masirah Island.

Ras Al Khabbah. A 20 mins sea watch yielded only a single Great Black-headed, two Slender-billed and eight large white-headed gulls.

Rubu Wadi bridge. Excellent views of a wetland area from the vantage of the bridge. Brief stop without a scope yielded 35 Greater Flamingos, 12 Grey Herons and a Great White Egret.

Ashkhara Harbour. Large numbers of gulls and herons

Pool just before Shannah turning. This little pool east of the main road held Curlew Sandpiper, Redshank, Dunlin and Kentish Plover

Shannah Harbour. There is now a new ferry terminal and the ferries run to a strict daily timetable. Large numbers of gulls, primarily Sooty Gulls, resting on the slipway

Sur Masirah, Masirah Island. A late afternoon visit targeting Crab Plover. Twelve very distant Crab Plovers associating with Oyster Catchers were eventually located with the aid of the scope. This being a very important species for us to see, we found a track leading to their general area for good binocular views. Overnight: Hilf

23 Feb. 25C, wind W force 3

Hilf Sewage Works. Wide open gates allowed us to enter without restriction. The usual species were present on the ponds and four Marsh Harriers were circling the trees opposite. Much of the adjacent orchard is now a construction site.

Sur Masirah. On our return visit to this very large bay we found four groups of Crab Plovers, totalling 24 individuals. Although they were noisy and skittish as on the previous day, we had wonderful views. Also of note were the large number of Osprey and 8 Egyptian Vultures.

Ras Abu Rasas. This is the southernmost tip of Masirah Island and held the most spectacular numbers of gulls. Not only were the beaches were covered in gulls but also the outlying rocks. We estimated there must have been 6000 birds at least, half being Sooty and the remainder a mixture of Large White-headed Gulls which included Heuglin’s, Caspian, Yellow-legged and Armenian Gulls.

We found the new edition of Birds of the Middle East extremely helpful in gull identification, particularly the comparison table on page 156. Overnight: Hilf

24 Feb. 30C, wind E force 3

Masirah Island to Hayma via Ad Duqm

Shannah ferry to Barr Al Hikman. Massive numbers of waders but impossible to identify or count as the tide was very low and the birds a great distance away. It would have been several hours before the tide came in, and as we wanted to get to Hayma before dark, we reluctantly decided not to wait but carry on our journey.

Barr Al Hickman. If this was a travel report rather than a bird report we would have fully described taking the track down the peninsula. This part of the trip turned out to be equal to our expedition to the Yemen border in terms of exhilaration, isolation and objective danger. We had a large amount of water on board along with 8 planks of wood in case of getting stuck in the sand or a getting a puncture, so we decided to test the situation by driving half way down. It should be pointed out that the birds of Khawr Al Milh are located 50km away at the base of the peninsula, a round trip of 100km.

It soon became obvious that to drive down the whole of the peninsula would have been foolhardy without a second vehicle and tow rope. The advice we had previously received of considering the outcome of a double puncture in that situation was in the forefront of our minds. Looking at the map before leaving the UK it had seemed a possibility to go all the way to the tip, but when faced with utter isolation, desiccating heat and only one vehicle, it became clear that a problem that would have been an irritation in a safe environment could have led to a desperate situation there.

Filim. An excellent site with very high numbers of relatively few species of wader which included Bar-tailed Godwit, Little Stint, Dunlin, Grey Plover, Oyster Catcher, Turnstone, Curlew, Whimbrel, Terek Sandpiper, Kentish Plover and a flock of 17 Crab Plovers. Great Knot were probably there but unfortunately, as the tide was still out and the birds silhouetted against the sun, we did not have the time to wait for good light and positive identification.

In this fragile environment it was with regret that we noticed on looking over towards Mahawt Island women were breaking off branches from the Black Mangrove trees to collect the leaves, presumably for cattle feed. Mangroves play a critical role in shore stabilization and such destruction contributes to the demise of the surrounding ecosystems. Beyond the island were 45 Greater Flamingos’ and large numbers of Herons, Egrets and waders.

Al Khaluf. Interesting drive over the sebkha to Al Khaluf whose beach held large numbers of white-headed gulls. We made a rough estimate 1000 birds, predominantly Armenian and Heuglin’s Gulls, and the pulse quickened to see a feeding frenzy out to sea.

To properly comb Barr Al Hickman and the surrounding area would necessitate 3 - 4 days with a fully equipped second 4WD vehicle. We therefore consoled ourselves that at least we sampled the delights in preparation for a second trip.

Ad Duqm. This one-time fishing harbour has, we were advised by a local person, been designated to be the sixth largest port in the world. Even if this is an exaggeration, an absolutely massive area of constructional activity is underway to provide a terminal for an oil pipeline from Saudi Arabia and the UAE running directly to the Arabian Sea. Overnight: Hayma

25 Feb. 33C, wind Still

Hayma to Qitbit.

Al Ghaftain - After a good breakfast stop, walked around the gardens which have now become quite neglected but nevertheless worthwhile. Birds here included Chiffchaff, Black Redstart, Hoopoe, Desert and Isabelline Wheatear.

Muntasar – A recce in preparation for the next day’s visit at dawn. Few birds in the heat of the day.

Qitbit Oasis – Highlight was a Steppe Grey Shrike (Lanius pallidirostris) and a Hoopoe Lark in the nearby scrub.

Qitbit Gardens – PM visit - well irrigated and well managed, the gardens enabled some excellent close views of a male and female Menetries’s Warbler drinking from a leaking hosepipe. Other important species for us were Siberian Chiffchaff (Phylloscopus tristis) and a female Shining Sunbird associating with a vagrant male Purple Sunbird. Overnight: Qitbit

26 Feb. 35C, wind Still

Muntasar – Left Qitbit in the dark at 5.30AM for Muntasar, driving along the graded roads and tracks to the oasis, arriving while it was still dark. The first bird to appear was a Red-breasted Flycatcher landing on a post at 6.30AM as dawn broke. Siberian Chiffchaff and Menetries’s Warblers were feeding in the trees around the oasis.

At 08.45 Two Crowned Sandgrouse were spotted flying and landing in the desert far away from the pools. We had thought that they would be generally associating with the Spotted Sandgrouse, but these cryptic birds remained fully independent, keeping themselves to themselves as we watched them feeding in the desert.

At 09.15 the calls of the first group of Spotted Sandgrouse were heard coming in to the pool and groups of 5 – 18 birds at a time continued arriving until 10.15. To our great surprise, the duration of their stay at the pool was only one to four seconds, and in this fractional amount of time the birds had taken a drink of water and departed. Over the course of the hour we counted a total of 280 birds.

Qitbit Gardens – Late AM to dusk visit – The birds in the gardens are surprisingly numerous and it was worth spending a number of hours covering the grounds. Despite the heat, we found several species new to us: Variable Wheatear (Oenanthe picata), Black-throated Thrush, Small (Desert) Whitethroat (Silvia minula) and just as it was getting dark, two Grey Hypocolius. Overnight: Qitbit

27 Feb. Heavy early morning mist, 30C, wind Still

Qitbit to Salalah – Big journey and a non birding day. Overnight: Salalah

28 Feb. 26C, wind Still

Ayn Hamran – Arrived just after dawn to find all the trees full of birds: Ruppell’s Weaver, Abyssinian (White-breasted) White-eye (arabs sub-species), African Paradise Flycatcher, Arabian Warbler, African Silverbill, 2 (percivali) Black-crowned Tchagra and the Dhofar sub-species of Laughing Dove senegalensis. Keeping an eye on the mountain ridge rewarded us with a Verreaux’s Eagle, the size of which made the Fan-tailed Ravens seem the size of sparrows and Pale Crag Martins the size of flies! It may be of interest to note that the this Eagle was first described by Lesson in 1831 and named after the French naturalist Jean Baptiste Verreaux.

Khawr Taqah – Now severely degraded with the construction of a new hotel complex eliminating the reed bed on the entire eastern bank. Now the preserve of Grey and Squacco Herons and Moorhens.

Taqah Beach – Noted Caspian and other Large White-headed Gulls plus a group of 12 Great Crested Terns. Overnight: Salalah

1 Mar. Sunny, 15C, wind Still

Tawi Atayr – Arrived at the sink-hole before dawn to enjoy the dawn chorus of Ruppell’s Weavers, Yellow-vented Bulbuls, Abyssinian (White-breasted) White-eyes, Palestine and Shining Sunbirds and Striolated and Cinnamon-breasted/African Rock Buntings, the latter of the arabica sub-species. Excellent area for raptors incl. a pair of Bonelli’s Eagles living in the sink-hole, Eastern Imperial and Steppe Eagles, a Long-legged Buzzard, and a Barbary Falcon. In the rocky area near to the farm buildings were Southern Arabian (O. lugentoides), Isabelline and Eastern Mourning (O. lugens) Wheatears. Brief views were had of Yemen Serin in shrubby trees clinging to the edge of the sink-hole.

Tayq Sink-hole and Caves – approx 15km up the road from Tawi Atayr and well signposted, the Tayq complex is the third largest cave complex in the world and footpaths leading down to the caves can be viewed from the top. No doubt because it was mid-day there was not much around except for Crested Larks and Wood Pigeons but the area has excellent potential for raptors. Overnight: Salalah

2 Mar. 25C, wind SW force 2

Ayn Hamran – Arrived before dawn at 06.15 for excellent views of four flocks of 15-20 Arabian Partridge which came down from the hills some 30 mins. later, just after dawn.

Jarziz Farm – Much reduced cattle and cultivation of the fields has resulted in depleted numbers of birds from what must have been a terrific birding site. The cattle sheds held Sykes’s Wagtail (Motacilla flava beema) and at 09.30, over a hundred Chestnut-bellied Sandgrouse came into an irrigated field. A Turkestan Shrike (Lanius phoenicuroides) showed well at the rubbish pit. In the trees bordering the main Thumrayt road were an African Paradise Flycatcher, Shining and Palestine Sunbirds, Abyssinian (White-breasted) White-eye, Yellow-vented Bulbuls and a possible Plain-leaf Warbler.

In the pool adjacent to the farm buildings was a Citrine Wagtail, two Common Snipe and a Blue-throat representing the nominate of the species. Also noted were Isabelline Shrikes (Lanius isabellinus), two Black-crowned Sparrow Larks and significantly, the first two Barn Swallows indicating the start of Swallow migration. Unfortunately we did not find Singing Bush-larks, one of our target species for this site.

General note – discussing the Jarziz Farm with one of the managers, we learned that the farm is being run-down in preparation of closure in three years time. The farm will be relocated to a desert area where ‘sweet’ water has already been located.

Sahnawt Farm will not accept bird-watchers - despite us seeking permission at the highest level - on account of the strictest bio-security. We understand that this farm will also be moved to another site in the desert, although its current lease in Salalah has been extended for a further ten years. Overnight: Salalah

3 Mar. 25C, wind SW force 2

Al Mughsail – Arrived before dawn, in a last-ditch attempt to see Baillon’s Crake which we had missed at Al Qurm. Note Baillon’s Crake is best in the evening at Al Qurm but best in the morning in Dhofar. It would be of interest to ask whether these are defined populations of two separate races with a subtle genetic difference, having migrated from two distinct geographical regions or, whether the difference is due to the same population migrating to two distinct geographical areas and that they are simply behaviourally different in the south.

Eventually, a single Baillon’s Crake appeared in the reed bed at the southern end of the lagoon north of the road, viewable with a scope from the far (north) end. Two Black-crowned Night Herons flew out as we were observing the Baillon’s. On our return visit in the evening, on the seaward lagoon were 4 Pacific Golden Plovers.

Wadi Hashir – On entering the wadi bed we were regailed by several Long-billed Pipits and a little further up the wadi we discovered two Pale Rock Sparrows, three Kurdish (O. Xanthoprymna) and six Arabian Wheatears. Returning to the main road we discovered a small lagoon at the base of the cliff on west side of the valley (not described in Sargeant and Eriksen) where we experienced very close views of a pair of Greater Spotted Eagles.

Al Mughsail Blow-holes – A Blue Rock Thrush was found on the cliffs above the seats.

Journey to Yemen border – this was primarily exploration rather than birdwatching. After the army check-point we realised that we had left the ‘safety’ of the usual tourist area, and as we headed up on to the Jabal Al Qamar plateau our apprehension mounted. This developed into a real feeling of isolation when, on utterly deserted roads with no habitation whatsoever, a 4WD suddenly appeared from nowhere and tail-gated us for several miles. After steadily slowing down in the hope it would overtake us, we decided to come to a complete halt. When it did eventually overtake, it crawled past with the driver peering steadily into our vehicle. This was without doubt ‘unmarked national security’ checking us over a second time after we had already been through the army check-points. This is a very sensitive border area.

Travelling east towards Yemen, driving down the zig-zags from the plateau was very hazardous with no traffic controls and no borders to the road which was still under major reconstruction. Our ‘outward’ journey ended 5km from the Yemen border which is simply a pile of rubble obstructing the road and a police station further down the hill. There was no doubt in either of our minds that this was the place to turn round and head back for Al Mughsail.

On our return journey we dropped down to the village of Dhalkout to find a picturesque fishing harbour and a tourist hotel under construction – one wonders!! We had imagined that we would be able to enjoy this harbour environment, but with all the events of the day spinning around our minds and still being in the sensitive border area, we simply could not properly relax and so prepared ourselves for the journey back across the plateau and headed off shortly after arrival.
Birds of note in the harbour were Steppe Gulls, Heuglin’s Gulls and a Pacific Golden Plover.
Overnight: Salalah

4 Mar. 29C, wind N force 5

Jarziz Farm – We returned to get a better look at the Plain Leaf Warbler, but were out of luck. The strong wind did not help.

Khawr Rawri – Most visitors to the area are there to see the archeologically very important 4th Century BC site of Sumhuram high on a promontory overlooking the Khawr.

Excellent for ducks including two Cotton Pygmy Teals, large numbers of Shoveller and three Ferruginous Ducks. We were somewhat surprised to find a single Greylag Goose grazing in the shallows. The khawr held large numbers of herons and egrets and of particular note were two Pheasant-tailed Jacana. A sea-watch rewarded us with 5 Masked Boobies which was followed by a very pleasant paddle in the sea. On the bank of the khawr hidden from view were three men illegally trawling with a net. They had already netted several large fish when we arrived and rushed off on being spotted. Overnight: Salalah

5 Mar. 27C, wind E force 2-3

Wadi Darbat – Arrived before dawn, parking next to the café. In the fig-tree behind the café were 19 Bruce’s Green Pigeons extremely well camouflaged with a further 2 in a bare tree close by. Up the strikingly beautiful limestone valley were a succession of pools yielding Squacco Heron, Common Sandpiper, Greenshank, Little Grebe, Bluethroat, Striolated and Cinnamon-breasted Bunting, and Grey Wagtail.

Of other interest were herds of cows and camels in excellent condition taking themselves in single file for their daily walk up the valley completely unsupervised. It was very pleasing to see animals in such good condition with complete freedom to roam at will.

Wadi Hanna – Access was very difficult to find due to large scale road construction. We eventually found the way with the help of a construction surveyor working on the new road and went down a steep track to what is now a small concrete sided reservoir to find very close views of African Paradise Flycatchers. Birding was interrupted by a most appealing herd of multi-coloured spotted goats! coming down the hillside to drink from the reservoir overflow.

Ras Mirbat – Excellent views of Masked Boobies diving for fish close inshore, an Osprey and an unidentified whale spouting offshore. Overnight: Salalah

6 Mar. 27C, wind Still

Salalah Nature Reserve – Large numbers of waders were roosting in the reed-beds at the west end of the lagoon including 40 Ruff. Both Gull-billed and Whiskered Terns were feeding over the lagoon. The main entrance is not readily accessible and the guard post at the west end next to the beach has long been deserted. A well worn track at the end of the fence next to the guard post allows a restricted access to the west end of the site. Very regretfully, our walk along the beach to the hide was interrupted by a pack of wild dogs! In the adjacent scrub were Siberian Chiffchaff, Graceful Prinia and Turkestan Shrike.

Howkut Farm – located west of the Salalah NR. Access can be gained after obtaining permission on site. Beautifully kept cultivations yielding 7 Yellow, 4 Citrine and 2 Sykes’s Wagtails and a possible Yellow-billed Kite.

Raysut Port – Birded from the container terminal – excellent waders included Terek Sandpiper and Pacific Golden Plover. A Steppe Eagle was roosting in a nearby tree.

Raysut Lighthouse – good place for House Crows in the south. Overnight: Salalah

7 Mar.

Return to UK via Muscat

NB. Since compiling this report and publishing, much has changed in North Africa and the Middle East, although Oman seems to have avoided much of the troubles.

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