''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.
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 them stand resident Sooty Gulls and wintering, Steppe, 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 host 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 such as the Hypocolius. The southern region is influenced by the Indian Monsoon, resulting in flora and fauna unique in Arabia. The birds here have both African and Arabian influences, with Bruce’s Green Pigeon, African Rock Bunting and African Paradise Flycatcher alongside South Arabian Wheatear and with luck Arabian Golden-winged Grosbeak. The localised Yemen Serin has become a regular sighting in the south.
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 eleventh visit.
Our base in Muscat will be the Majan Hotel, which is situated near to the splendid Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque. From here we have easy access to the best sites along the northern coast and the mountains inland of the capital.
The verdant parks and gardens of Muscat provide a good place to start the tour and catch up with the commoner species of the area. Grey Francolin, Laughing Dove, Little Green Bee-eater, Pallid Swift, Isabelline Shrike, Purple Sunbird, African Rock Martin, and White-eared, Spectacled and Red-vented Bulbuls all occur. The Indian influence is felt by the presence of Indian Roller, Common Myna and Indian Silverbill.
We will visit the Ras Sawadi peninsula where we will check the extensive beach for Greater and Lesser Sand Plovers. Sometimes we can pick out the distinctive Terek Sandpiper amongst the more familiar species. Both Crested and Lesser Crested Terns rest up on the sand dwarfed by the ‘king of gulls’ the stunning Great Black-headed Gull.
Inland the scrub woodland harbours an interesting mix of resident and wintering species. The sociable Arabian Babbler lives here in small family groups amongst the low vegetation. Southern Grey Shrikes sit sentinel on the acacia trees, whilst below them Desert Lesser Whitethroats and Menetries’s Warblers chatter in alarm. This is a regular wintering site for the sought after Red-tailed or Persian Wheatear.
Nearby cultivated farms hold flocks of larks and wagtails including Bimaculated and Crested Larks, White, Yellow and Citrine Wagtails. Scarcer pipits may include Buff-bellied, Blyth’s or Richards Pipits as well as the commoner Red-throated. Wet areas hold less common wintering species such as White-tailed Plover and Bluethroat. Large congregations of Laughing and Collared Doves attract hunting raptors. We have regular sightings of Pallid and Montagu’s Harriers as well as Steppe, Greater Spotted and Eastern Imperial Eagles.
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.
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.
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’s 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; we have seen them on our last three visits.
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 and sometimes the scarce Masked Booby can be seen.
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 Sociable Plover, Bimaculated Lark and Pallid Harrier, and various other 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, 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 several hundred Steppe Eagles here along with smaller numbers of Greater Spotted and Eastern Imperial Eagles. Whilst Crested Honey Buzzards can be seen in Salalah town.
CLIMATE AND PACE
Warm, sunny days are the norm, and by visiting at this time of year we avoid the very hot summer temperatures. Rain is rare at this time. The average maximum daytime temperature is around 25˚C. 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. Short walks will be taken on level ground at a sensible pace. Full days will be spent in the field, but on hotter days there will be a longer break in the middle of the day.
ACCOMMODATION AND FOOD
Full board accommodation is provided, with one night at the Majan Hotel in Muscat, two nights at the Qit-bit Hotel, four nights at the Hilton Hotel in Salalah and five nights at the Majan Hotel, Muscat. 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 occasionally have lunch in restaurants.
PRICE INCLUDES …..
All birdwatching excursions with expert leader, full-board accommodation (starting with lunch on 26th, ending with breakfast on 7th), soft drinks at meal times, bottled water throughout, local transport by mini-coach, internal flights and international flights.
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 London Heathrow to Muscat using the scheduled services of Oman Air. Outbound flight departs in mid-evening; return arrives back early evening. Flights are also available from Manchester with Etihad Airways which fly to Muscat via Abu Dhabi. See booking form for details.
Cream-coloured Courser can sometimes be found at the large irrigated farms
Sooty Gull, an attractive gull of coastal regions
A young Steppe Eagle near Salalah, hundreds winter in this area
Black-crowned Tchagra sometimes show themselves
Desert Wheatears are a common winter visitor to Oman
Lesser Crested Terns gather with gulls and other terns on the sandy beaches of the north coast
Crowned Sandgrouse coming in to drink at a water hole in the "Empty Quarter"
click here to see the photographs in our Oman Album
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