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WINGS Birding Tours – Narrative


2018 Narrative

Half the group assembled at Muscat airport, fresh off the red-eye flight from London. We met the other half of the group at Seeb on the outskirts of Muscat before continuing west to our first stop, Ras Al Suwadi. Here we got to grips with some of Oman’s commoner coastal birds, such as Western Reef Egret, Heuglin’s, Steppe, Sooty and Slender-billed Gulls, Greater and Lesser Crested Terns and Greater Sand Plover, plus a bonus Arctic Skua. On land, species included Desert Wheatear, White-eared Bulbul, and a fine male Eastern Black Redstart. We reached the hotel late afternoon and finished the day with some birding around the grounds: Red-wattled Lapwing, Shining Sunbird, Laughing Dove, and an unexpected Striolated Bunting were all added to the list, as well as taking a look at some of the pale huffufae House Sparrows (split by some authorities into the Indian Sparrow group).

Starting the group’s first full day in Oman with some more hotel birding, we caught up with a Spotted Flycatcher in the hotel grounds as well great views of an Indian Roller, four Indian Silverbills, Little Green Bee-eater, and a Hoopoe. Next up was the site of the former Sun Farms – originally a magnificent site, now a shadow of its former self but still a great birding location. New species for the list here included Hen Harrier, Short-toed Eagle, Turkestan Shrike, Graceful Prinia, and close, prolonged views of an Asian Desert Warbler. Heading back to the coast, to Liwa, we caught up with a flock of seven Chestnut-bellied Sandgrouse feeding on the track ahead of us along with a small group of Black-crowned Sparrow Larks. Waders included a Terek Sandpiper, several Kentish Plover, and more Greater Sand Plover. Four Isabelline Shrikes showed well in the mangroves and, on a nearby football pitch, we found a Red-tailed Wheatear, two Isabelline Wheatears, and three Water Pipits. Heading west we stopped at Shinas where the floods by the car park were packed with birds: Greater Flamingo, Spoonbill, waders, gulls, and, surprisingly, two Great White Pelicans and a juvenile White-fronted Goose. We finished the day close to the UAE border where we caught up with a female Variable Wheatear, our first Plain Leaf Warbler of the trip and, after dark, point-blank views of a Pallid Scops Owl.

Day 3 was spent driving through the Al Hajar mountains, with stops en route producing Hume’s Wheatear, Lappet-faced Vulture and Grey Francolin. We finished the day near Nizwa where we caught up with more Hume’s Wheatears, Stiolated Buntings and Pale Crag Martins before dusk well, when we ended the day with a sighting of a singing Omani Owl close to Nizwa.

Day 4 was a driving day, leaving the mountains behind and heading into the desert. Sightings at stop offs en route included Steppe Eagle, Eastern Imperial Eagle, and Egyptian Vulture. After dropping out bags in our rooms at the desert oasis hotel of Al Gaftayn, we headed into the hotel grounds for some birding. Anything can, and does, turn up at this site and on our visit we were able to find Turkestan Shrike, Common Rosefinch and two Red-breasted Flycatchers. A flock of at least 7 Blue-cheeked Bee-eaters, fresh from crossing the desert, dropped in to roost as dusk fell.

Day 5 started with some early morning birding around Al Ghaftayn with much the same as yesterday, plus two Bimaculated Larks feeding behind the petrol station. We continued on to Qatbit, another desert oasis, where we found a Barred Warbler. Continuing south to Salalah, we finished the day on Oman’s southern coast enjoying the sight of hundreds of terns feeding offshore, including White-winged Black, Greater and Lesser Crested, and Common, briefly joined by a Jouanin’s Petrel.

Day 6 started close to our hotel, at East Khawr on the outskirts of Salalah. Here we enjoyed close views of a variety of waders, wildfowl and terns, including Garganey, a Black Tern – a rarity in Oman – and a stunning white Common Sandpiper. From here we headed to Sahnawt Farm, where we found dozens of Singing Bush Larks and added Glossy Ibis to the tour list. Lunch was taken at Ayn Razat, which turned out to be something of a purple patch – a Grey-headed Kingfisher, a Masked Shrike, a White-breasted Waterhen, and an Eastern Olivaceous Warbler were all found, despite the throngs of picnickers who has flocked to the site to eat their lunch too. We finished that day at the beautiful Al Baleed Archeological Park, Salalah’s originally port, where we gained point-blank views of Spotted Thick-knee and Pale Crag Martin, as well as enjoying a trip around the museum.

Oman has a long history of boat travel – the centuries of trade with India and beyond are evident across the country – and on Day 7 we joined this tradition, boarding a boat and heading offshore. Our skipper skillfully guides us within almost touching distance of a dozen Persian Shearwaters, multiple Masked Booby, a single Brown Booby, and throngs of Red-necked Phalaropes. The biggest accomplishment of all, though, was that the leader managed to keep his breakfast down! Back on land, we headed to Taqah where, much to our bemusement, we dipped the coastal lagoon! Following a large cyclone in the summer, the lagoon has been destroyed; but, fear not, for the nearby landscaped pools had fallen into disrepair, with shallow islands and reedy edges forming. Here, we found two Siberian Stonechats, a Ferruginous Duck, and a Pheasant-tailed Jacana. We finished the day at a drinking pool where, although we didn’t find our elusive target – Arabian Golden-winged Grosbeak – we did get close views of many of Dhofar’s commoner species such as Cinnamon-breasted Bunting and African Silverbill, as well as catching up with Black-crowned Tchagra and Common Whitethroat.

Day 8 started at Ayn Hamran, where we caught up with our first African Paradise Flycatchers of the trip as well as several Red-breasted Flycatchers and Blackstarts. Lunch – stewed camel, for those who fancied it – was eaten at Wadi Darbat, where we shared the picnic site with a pair of Arabian Wheateasr. The whole afternoon was spent at this site, catching up with species such as Fan-tailed Raven and a host of eagle species; but the best eagle was to wait until late in the afternoon when the group sat drinking a coffee when a magnificent Verreaux’s Eagle soared over the wadi. Coffee and a Verreaux’s Eagle, what could be better? The birding didn’t stop there: we remained on site until after dark when we heard an Arabian Spotted Eagle Owl and two packs of howling Arabian Wolves, and managed to get great views of an Arabian Scops Owl in torchlight.

In contrast to the previous day, when a lot of our time had been spent in lush wadis, today was all about the ‘more industrial’ sites. We started Day 9 at a petrol station near to Thumrait where we found a flock of Chestnut-bellied Sandgrouse, and some of the group were lucky enough to find a Masked Wagtail. From here we headed to Mudayy, famous for the sporadic appearance of Hypocolius; but not today, sadly. Going from hot and dusty to downright stinky, we headed to Raysut dump and water settling plant (which is just a nice way of saying open-topped sewage treatment). The dump helps dozens of Steppe Eagles and hundreds of storks – a few White, but mostly Abdim’s. More Abdim’s Storks were at the water settling plant along with a juvenile Great Spotted Eagle, several Pin-tailed Snipe, a Marsh Sandpiper, a Little Ringed Plover, Temminck’s and Little Stints, four Spur-winged Plovers (a rare bird in Oman), a smart male Black-headed (feldegg) Wagtail, and a host of other waders and wildfowl. We finished our day back at Salalah’s farms where we hoped a harrier roost would form at dusk. It turned out to be a one-bird roost; but that one bird was an adult male Pallid Harrier, so no complaints from us!

Day 10, the final day of the tour, started back at Ayn Hamran where we caught up with Bruce’s Green Pigeon and a Palestine Sunbird, as well an intriguing shrike – not a Brown (although one had been reported from the same spot over the previous week) but “showing features of”. Perhaps the dreaded h-word? Lunch was taken at the Tawi Atayr sinkhole – impressive enough on its own, before you add the tens of Tristram’s Starlings and hunting eye-level Bonelli’s Eagle to the view! Perhaps less visually impressive but a regional endemic nonetheless, three Yemen Serins eventually gave themselves up and showed well for the group. We finished the day, and our tour of Oman, back at East Khawr where we once again enjoyed a selection of terns, waders and wildfowl, with the final addition to our trip list being, of all things, a Common Gull.

Following a vote by the group at the end of the trip, Verreaux’s Eagle was announced as the clear winner of the prestigious ‘bird of the trip’ title, followed by (in order of number of votes) Arabian Scops Owl, Grey-headed Kingfisher, African Paradise Flycatcher, Pallid Scops Owl, Yemen Serin, Persian Shearwater, and Abdim’s Stork.


-Stephen Menzie

Created: 09 January 2019