''This is a 'thank you' for the excellent Oman trip in February. Neatly missing the worst of the English winter, and
presenting us with a host of interesting birds from a real mix of sources, you could hardly have laid it on better.
And as someone drawn to raptors, waders, gulls, sandgrouse and wheatears I couldn't have asked for much
more either.''... Mr L, N Yorks.
''Just to say thanks again for a great holiday. Wonderful memories of so many eagles and, of course, the Bluethroat!
We both thoroughly enjoyed the experience in what was a new part of the world for us.'' Mr and Mrs T. Jan 2013.
Crowned Sandgrouse by tour member Ian Brookes
Oman is a peaceful, friendly country with strong connections to the UK, virtually no crime, and bird diversity second to none in the Middle East.
At this time of year, when the weather is just perfect, there is a very high density of wintering raptors. Greater Spotted, Steppe and even Eastern Imperial Eagles are plentiful and give excellent views. Now rare and local, the negevensis race of the huge Lappet-faced Vulture is regular at a couple of sites. Along the north coast magnificent Great Black-headed Gulls are in full breeding plumage, alongside Sooty, Caspian and Slender-billed Gulls. Crested and Lesser Crested Terns gather together in large roosts. A boat trip should give us close views of dolphins and Red-necked Phalaropes. We have permission to visit a large private farm where migrants can be seen in their hundreds. Irrigated grasslands attract flocks of waders and small birds which, in turn, attract raptors including Pallid and Montagu’s Harriers.
Our excursion to the deserts of central Oman is to witness flocks of sandgrouse, as well as to search the oases for other specialities. The southern region is influenced by a monsoon, resulting in flora and fauna unique in Arabia. The birds here have an African influence, with Bruce’s Green Pigeon, African Rock Bunting and African Paradise Flycatcher alongside South Arabian Wheatear and Pheasant-tailed Jacana.
Oman is a safe, welcoming country, if anything somewhat old-fashioned in terms of good manners and public behaviour. We always look forward to returning, and this will be our ninth visit.
After our flight we will go straight to the nearby Al Majan Hotel in Muscat, our base for the first five nights. From here we have access to the best sites along the northern coast, as well as nearby mountains, scrub and parkland.
We will visit the Ras Sawadi peninsula where we will check the woodlands for small birds. On the beach we can compare Greater and Lesser Sand Plovers and pick out Terek Sandpipers amongst the many more familiar species. Lesser Crested, Caspian and Saunder’s Terns rest up on the sand, dwarfed by the ‘king of gulls’, the stunning Great Black-headed Gull.
One day will be spent at the outstanding Sohar Sun Farms. Pallid Harrier, Chestnut-bellied Sandgrouse, Tawny and Red-throated Pipits, Isabelline Wheatear, Indian Roller and Black-crowned Finch-lark are amongst the regular species. Flocks of wagtails include White, Yellow, Masked and Citrine. Many marsh terns and waders are often around the pools, and a small flock of Sociable Plovers sometimes winters.
The verdant parks and gardens of Muscat are good places to catch up with the commoner species of the area such as Grey Francolin, Little Green Bee-eater, Pallid Swift, Laughing Dove, Isabelline Shrike, Pale Crag Martin, White-eared and Spectacled Bulbuls, and Purple Sunbird. The Indian influence is felt by the presence of Indian Roller, Common Myna and Indian Silverbill. Nearby, wintering eagles include Eastern Imperial, Greater Spotted and Steppe, often giving amazing views. They gather alongside Brown-necked Ravens, and Egyptian and Lappet-faced Vultures. Spectacular dry hills just outside Muscat are also regular sites for the sought-after Hume’s and Persian Wheatears.
One morning we will visit the old port of Muscat, with its Sooty and Slender-billed Gulls, Crested Terns and Western Reef Herons. From here we will take an inshore boat trip on the sheltered waters, where Red-necked Phalaropes congregate around pods of feeding dolphins. Common, Bottlenose and Spinner Dolphins are the most numerous. On one visit we watched 40 Long-beaked Common Dolphins attacking fish in massive swirling shoals known as bait balls.
Red-wattled Lapwing, Pacific Golden Plover, Arabian Babbler and Clamorous Reed Warbler are common, and we will search the local wetlands for the less common wintering species such as White-tailed Plover and Bluethroat.
THE DESERT AND QIT-BIT OASIS
Oman is isolated from the rest of Arabia by a vast desert named the Empty Quarter. This desert encroaches into the middle of the country thereby dividing it up, roughly, into three zones: the Indian influenced north; the central desert and the African influenced south.
On day seven we will take a short flight south to Salalah then drive deep into the desert to the Qit-bit oasis, for a two night stay. The next morning we will position ourselves at a nearby desert spring to witness the arrival of hundreds of sandgrouse. Spotted and the handsome Crowned Sandgrouse fly many miles every day for this life-saving drink. The gentle yet far-carrying calls of these hardy birds are a memorable sound in this spectacular landscape.
The trees and pools around our guesthouse attract Desert Wheatears, Eastern Black Redstarts, and Ménétries’ and Asian Desert Warblers, while Hoopoe Larks often display at this time. The list of migrant birds and rarities here is amazing. Even the Grey Hypocolius has wintered recently.
Our drive back to the southern coastal region takes us through a mountain pass that is excellent for South Arabian Wheatear, Arabian Partridge and Long-billed Pipit. Our first groups of Tristram’s Grackles should be seen in the frankincense trees that grow here and once provided Oman with its biggest trading resource.
In the quiet seaside town of Salalah we will settle into the fabulous Salalah Hilton for a luxurious four night stay on the coast, with Ruppell’s Weavers, Graceful Prinias and Shining Sunbirds in the gardens. Masked Boobies and Indo-pacific Humpback Dolphins feed just offshore. Ospreys are frequent, and Socotra Cormorants pass by. Brown Booby is scarce but regular.
This region has a monsoon season, so the vegetation is quite different. Acacia and Baobab trees are found, giving the area a real African feel. African Silverbill replaces its Indian sister-species. Fan-tailed Raven is the common corvid, Verreaux’s Eagle is resident and the striking African Rock Bunting is easily seen. Wooded valleys are home to Palestine Sunbird, African Paradise Flycatcher, Arabian Warbler, White-breasted White-eye and Black-crowned Tchagra. Fruiting fig trees are worth checking for the handsome Bruce’s Green Pigeon. The coastal lagoons have a good range of wintering waterbirds including Ferruginous Duck, Intermediate Egret and Pheasant-tailed Jacana.
There are a couple of large farms here too, where we will look for Singing Bush-lark, Cream-coloured Courser, Yellow-billed Kite and migrants. A small breeding population of the localised Yemen Serin has been found at a dramatic site in the hills, where Bonelli’s Eagles and Striolated Buntings nest.
The sun-drenched, azure, southern coastal wetlands are a magnet for a multitude of terns, waders, raptors and passerines, and are set against a backdrop of the splendid Dhofar Mountains. We regularly see up to 400 Steppe Eagles here.
In the late afternoon on our last day in Oman we will take a shuttle flight from Salalah to Muscat, connecting with our overnight flight back to the UK.
On some days breakfast will be taken at 8am, allowing time for productive pre-breakfast walks in hotel grounds. On other days breakfast will be at 7am so that we can get into the field earlier. Basic fitness is all that is required. Full days will be spent in the field with short walks on the flat. A little uphill walking is necessary, but this will be at a sensible pace. On hot days there will be a longer break in the middle of the day, with birding in the mornings and late afternoons.
ACCOMMODATION AND FOOD
Full board accommodation is provided, with five nights at the Majan Hotel near Muscat, two nights at the Qit-bit Hotel and four nights at the Hilton Hotel in Salalah. All hotels are of good or excellent standard, with good food, except at Qit-bit, which is simple but clean. All rooms are en suite. Picnic lunches will be the norm, although we will have lunch in restaurants on a couple of occasions.
PRICE INCLUDES …..
All birdwatching excursions with expert leader, full-board accommodation (starting with lunch on 21st, ending with lunch on 1st), soft drinks at meal times, local transport by mini-coach, boat trip, internal flights, international flights and airport taxes.
WHAT IS NOT INCLUDED
Travel insurance. Cost of obtaining a visa on arrival (£35), items of a personal nature, alcoholic drinks, laundry.
Return flight from both London Heathrow and Manchester (connecting in Abu Dhabi) to Muscat using the scheduled services of Etihad. Outbound flight departs in mid-evening; return arrives back early morning.
Lesser Crested Tern
Crowned Sandgrouse by tour member Ian Brookes
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