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Old Sunday 19th January 2014, 15:35   #1
Andrew Whitehouse
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Birding at the Crossroads: Oman, Dec 2013 - Jan 2014

I recently returned from an excellent two-week trip to Oman. It was my first trip to the Arabian Peninsula and so there were plenty of new birds to see. Oman, for those unfamiliar, is something of a crossroads for birds. In the northeast there's a strong south Asian influence, whilst in the southwest an African influence takes hold. In the winter, large numbers of birds from further north in the Palearctic find a warm and pleasant home, which further adds to the diversity.

Oman is a very easy country to travel in. The roads and infrastructure are very good, there are plenty of places to stay in most areas and, in areas where there aren't, camping is usually straightforward. Omani people are generally very friendly and helpful and there doesn't seem to be much hastling of tourists in any areas. English is quite widely spoken. Weather at this time of year is very pleasant, with daytime temperatures around the mid-20s celsius and comfortable nighttime temperatures. On only two occasions did I reach for a fleece, once in the mountains and once in the desert early in the morning. It was generally sunny and there was no rain. Sometimes it was quite windy.

For the birder, a large amount of information is now available. For help with identification I mainly used the Birds of the Middle East field guide, particularly as a smartphone app. This is good but it's useful to have some other guides to cover tricky or scarce species e.g. the Collins Bird Guide and guides to the Indian Subcontinent and the Horn of Africa. For finding sites the Birdwatching Guide to Oman by Sargeant, Eriksen and Eriksen is extremely useful. It's a very good site guide, which others could learn from. Particularly helpful are the coordinates for sites, which I could easily load into my Satnav. In general I had little difficulty in finding places. I also found two recent trip reports very helpful, one by Petter Olsson (Nov 2012) and one by Stephen Menzie (Jan 2013). The latter in particular is very helpful for directions and for advice on driving to areas with a 2WD vehicle. The birds of Oman website, run by the Eriksens, is also very useful for updates and news of recent sightings:
http://www.birdsoman.com/

Some costs were as follows:
Flight: London Heathrow to Muscat and return to Aberdeen with British Airways - £507.
Car Hire: Europcar, compact car 13 days - £339.
Hotels: I mostly stayed in hotels, which were okay. Omani hotels often tend toward the excessively grand but poorly maintained. There's a bit of faded glory about many. Prices are mostly not that low e.g. £30-40 a night. Camping is probably a better option if you want to keep costs down and see a few more night birds. Fuel, food and water are generally very cheap in Oman (petrol is probably around £0.20 a litre!).
Ferry: the ferry to Masirah from Shannah was 8 OMR each way (£12.66).

Itinerary:
29th December - overnight arrival in Muscat.
30th December - Al Ansab Lagoons - Ras as Sawadi - Sun Farms, Sohar - overnight in Sohar
31st December - Liwa - Khatmat Milahah - Shinas - Sun Farms, Sohar - overnight in Sohar
1st January - Sun Farms, Sohar - Al Hajar Mountains - overnight in Misfat al Abriyyin
2nd January - Misfat al Abriyyin - Jabal Shams - Wadi al Muaydin - Filim - overnight near Barr al Hikman
3rd January - Filim - Shannah - ferry to Masirah - Sur Masirah - Hilf - overnight in Hilf
4th January - Hilf - ferry to Shannah - Ash Shuwaymiyyah - overnight camping in wadi
5th January - Ash Shuwaymiyyah - Jinawt - Ras Mirbat - Khawr Rawri - Wadi Darbat - overnight in Salalah
6th January - Wadi Darbat - Ayn Hamran - Khawr Taqah - Khawr Rawri - East Khawr - overnight in Salalah
7th January - Raysut - Al Mughsayl - West Khawr - Al Baleed - Jarziz and Sahnawt Farms - Crowne Plaza Hotel - overnight in Salalah
8th January - Ras Mirbat - Tawi Atayr - Wadi Darbat - Khawr Taqah - Sahnawt Farm - Al Mughsayl - overnight in Salalah
9th January - Mudhai - Shisr - Qatbit - overnight in Qatbit
10th January - Qatbit - Muntasar - Sur
11th January - Ras al Hadd - Sur Sewage Works - Qurrayat - overnight flight to London
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Old Sunday 19th January 2014, 15:51   #2
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30th December 2013: Al Ansab – Ras as Sawadi – Sun Farms, Sohar

I arrived in to Muscat in the middle of the night and, after getting some rest in a nearby hotel, set off at 7am to the nearby Al Ansab Wetlands. This is actually the sewage works and a few weeks previously I’d contacted the water company to arrange the visit. This is fairly easy to do via their website. I got to the car park a bit late, passing a huge queue of yellow sludge tankers on the way, and there was no one there to greet me. I began by having a scan of the first marshy pool. Fourteen Greater Flamingos stood in the shallows, along with an array of ducks and various waders. The best of these were four White-tailed Lapwings that delicately picked through the pools. In the reeds and scrub a few Graceful Prinias, Clamorous Reed Warblers and Streaked Weavers darted and sang. A couple of Rock Martins speeded overhead and a male Desert Wheatear perched up on the fence by the football pitch.

After a while I noticed another birder was at the car park and was surprised to see it was a young Omani woman with a scope. She turned out to be there to meet me and show me around. So, off we went around the rest of the wetlands. Indian Silverbills cavorted in the grass; Purple Sunbirds, Red-vented and White-spectacled Bulbuls were in the bushes; Bluethroats and Citrine Wagtails around the margins. The ducks included seven Ferruginous Ducks, as well as more familiar species. A few smoky grey Western Reef Herons perched around the edges of the main pool, whilst dozens of Little Stints picked their way through the flowing water at the outfall. A couple of Daurian Shrikes gave splendid views as they surveyed the scene and some noisy Red-wattled Lapwings were along a creek. Later, two Grey Francolins disappeared off rapidly and a couple of Black-necked Grebes, a Whiskered Tern and a Water Pipit were seen back at the first pool. I had flight views of a couple of Jack Snipe, in amongst the more numerous Common Snipe.

After such a splendid start, I was wondering if the rest of the day would be a bit of an anti-climax. I needn’t have worried. I headed north out of Muscat and arrived at the picturesque coastal site of Ras as Sawadi. This is a headland that looks out over a few rocky islands, the largest of which can be reached across sand flats at low tide. Those sand flats were strewn with gulls, terns and waders. The gulls were most confusing but certainly included numerous Slender-billed Gulls, several dark and peculiarly shaped Sooty Gulls, and the more prosaic looking Heuglin’s Gulls and various Caspian/ Steppe type things. Best of all were the hordes of what I still like to call Great Black-headed Gulls. Over 200 were counted, most of them adults with sooty heads and long, yellow legs. They always seem to be bigger than you expect a gull looking like that to be. The abundant terns were mostly Lesser-crested and Swift Terns but there were a few Sandwich Terns and a single Caspian Tern too. Overhead a couple of Ospreys wheeled and another Desert Wheatear was around the car park.

Waders were the big feature. Many of the species were familiar but there were hundreds of Kentish Plovers and lots of Greater Sandplovers. I managed to pick out a couple of short-billed Lesser Sandplovers too, and there were no doubt more of these. Two fantastic Terek Sandpipers scuttled busily across the sand, almost tripping themselves they were going so fast. After crossing over to the island I had a look out to sea. Three Arctic Skuas were bothering the passing terns and over the water hundreds of small, pale birds were flitting and sometimes landing on the water. They were Red-necked Phalaropes and there must have been over a thousand – mostly far out but a fantastic sight. The island was otherwise devoid of birds, aside from a Green Bee-eater that perched up on a crag.

After a longer drive northwards I found the entrance to the Sun Farms at Sohar, one of the most famous birding sites in Oman. After signing in at the gate I drove around the cattle sheds, rough scrub and brush and through absolutely scads of birds. The sheds were running with doves, House Crows, Common Mynahs, White Wagtails and sometimes even waders. Dozens of Red-wattled Lapwings poked their heads through the brush. A small muddy pool held a Temminck’s Stint, two White-tailed Lapwings and a Glossy Ibis. The brushy areas were regularly dotted with Southern Grey and Daurian Shrikes. Sometimes there were bigger birds too: turquoise and pink Indian Rollers.

A highlight was a beautiful male Pallid Harrier that sailed casually over the fields, almost circling me as it did so. I stopped abruptly on one track as an interesting looking passerine flitted onto the road behind me. This proved to be a dapper male Black-crowned Sparrow Lark. A larger group of thirty or more were up in one of the fields, along with a Tawny Pipit. A stealthy pair of Namaqua Doves, tinier than doves ought to be, scuttled through the bushes. A few Isabelline Wheatears strutted about. As dusk descended a gang of Arabian Babblers busied themselves along the perimeter fence. What a fantastic place.

I then headed through the busy traffic and confusing road layout to my hotel in Sohar for the night, very tired but, with 94 species under my belt already, very satisfied.

1. Common Sandpiper, Al Ansab
2. Wood Sandpiper, Al Ansab
3. Western Reef Heron, Al Ansab
4. Terek Sandpiper, Ras as Sawadi
5. Daurian Shrike, Sun Farms, Sohar
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Old Sunday 19th January 2014, 15:57   #3
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Here are a couple of shots of Great Black-headed Gulls, as well as some landscape shots from Ras as Sawadi.
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Old Sunday 19th January 2014, 20:06   #4
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31st December 2013: Liwa – Khatmat Milahah – Shinas – Sun Farms, Sohar

I spent this day along the coast from Sohar up to the UAE border. It eventually proved quite productive, even though at one stage I thought I might not get very far. I began the day along the coast at Liwa, where a creek runs down to the sea with mangroves on one side and a sandy beach on the other. It is a well-known site for Collared Kingfisher, which I didn’t manage to find. For a time that was the least of my worries though.

One of my great aspirations when travelling is to become more like Jos Stratford. One classic Stratford move I’d never managed was to get my car stuck. This ambition was soon to be fulfilled however. I drove alongside the creek for a while, along a fairly clear and firm track. Eventually the track began to get sandier and I decided that I should be cautious and not go any further. I then made a fatal error. I decided to turn the car around but this took the front a metre or two off the track and the front wheel was soon almost a foot deep in sand! Despite a bit of digging, the car was clearly going nowhere in a hurry. Luckily, off in the distance I noticed a much better equipped vehicle with its owner not too far away. I trotted over and explained the situation. Happily he seemed willing to help. With a rope attached he gave instructions: not too fast on the gas or you will be in the water. I looked behind to the creek not far away. With a couple of goes I was out the sand and back on the track, breathing a little more easily.

There were a few birds to be seen. A tacking call revealed the presence of a showy Sykes’s Warbler – a local speciality of the mangroves. At least one other gave good views. Lots of Common Kingfishers were about and a Striated Heron nervously stalked the margin of the creek. A White-cheeked Bulbul sang from a bush and an Indian Pond Heron was quietly waiting in the mangroves. On the beach were a few more Great Black-headed Gulls.

I then continued on northwards and decided to head right up to the border and the village of Khatmat Milahah. The village is surrounded by stony plains studded with scrubby trees and has a few noted specialities. Even though it was now late morning, it didn’t take too long to find all of the species I was looking for. At the first stop just north of the village a tit-like chattering revealed a Desert Whitethroat – a species that seemed to be very common here. Nearby a sharp chirping produced another speciality – a Plain Leaf Warbler, which zipped about the trees with incessant energy. At least three more were seen. A scan in the distance revealed an interesting looking bird perched atop a dead tree. Closer inspection was fruitful, when it was revealed to be a Variable Wheatear – a winter visitor that’s hard to see elsewhere in Oman. It gave some very nice views as it whizzed through the trees, sometimes perching up high, sometimes creeping low down. Also about were four Desert Larks and several Arabian Babblers. The next stop produced excellent views of a couple of Red-tailed Wheatears. Later on I added further Oenanthe with both Desert and Isabelline Wheatears putting in an appearance.

I then headed back down the coast towards Sohar but not before stopping at Shinas. This was another very good place, although the mangroves were a bit quiet. Just across the bridge from the main car park I enjoyed fantastic views of a Steppe Grey Shrike as it cavorted about the low saltbush. Overhead, five Chestnut-bellied Sandgrouse streaked. I then continued on down to the beach, parking by some fishermen’s huts and walking northwards towards the mouth of the creek. Plenty of waders were on the beach, including Greater and Lesser Sandplovers, Grey Plover and Sanderling. I was scanning through the waders and gulls along the shoreline when… oof! A Crab Plover! Wow – this is a bird I’ve always wanted to see, but I thought I’d have to wait until further into the trip to finally connect. Such a striking bird – those black triangles on the wings, the huge bill, the unexpectedly long legs. It allowed quite close approach as it trotted along the shoreline, the waves breaking through its clipped stride. There were over thirty Great Black-headed Gulls here too, a couple of Arctic Skuas offshore and another Indian Pond Heron in the mangroves.

I finished the day back at the Sun Farms. I spent most of the time around the cattle sheds and settling beds, which were all simply rife with birds. The settlings beds were buzzing with waders, and there were quite a lot in amongst the sheds too. Wagtails were also conspicuous with several Yellow Wagtails, including both feldegg and thunbergi. I was completely stunned to see a very striking looking wagtail perched on a concrete wall. With its white face, black upperparts and white coverts it was immediately obvious as an Amur Wagtail, which I knew was not at all common in Oman. I rushed back to the car to fetch my camera but of course the bird had disappeared. Eventually, after a long look around the settling beds, I found it again in a nearby cattle shed. I managed to get a few not particularly great shots. As it turned out, this bird had been present since late October and was the second record for the country.

I stayed till dusk, looking through the waders on a small pool by the edge of the barns, and then headed back to my hotel in the gloom.

1. Khatmat Milahah
2. Variable Wheatear
3. Red-tailed Wheatear
4. Steppe Grey Shrike
5. Crab Plover
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Old Sunday 19th January 2014, 20:09   #5
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Here are some wading bird shots from the muddy pools at the Sun Farms:

1. Black-winged Stilt (and Ringed Plover)
2. White-tailed Lapwing
3. Temminck's Stint
4. Green Sandpiper
5. Glossy Ibis
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Old Sunday 19th January 2014, 20:10   #6
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And here's the Amur Wagtail, in amongst the cows at the Sun Farms.
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Old Monday 20th January 2014, 21:15   #7
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1st January 2014: Sun Farms, Sohar – drive to Misfat al Abriyyin

I spent the whole morning at Sun Farms, which proved to me, as if I was in any doubt, what an amazing place for birds it is. I began at the settling beds, with Whiskered and White-winged Terns picking at the surface, a Jack Snipe bobbing in the corner and a wide assortment of gulls including a few Sooty Gulls. A couple of Common Starlings added some not inconsiderable excitement to the proceedings.

Driving out through the fields, a Greater Spotted Eagle glided overhead. This bird was in view on and off throughout the morning. An immature Bonelli’s Eagle was perched up on a telegraph pole and a juvenile Pallid Harrier scouted the grasslands and scrub. By mid-morning the air was filled with the calls of Chestnut-bellied Sandgrouse as they piled in to drink, presumably at the settling beds. Large numbers – certainly over a hundred – were present throughout the morning, although they were always nervous and hard to get close to. A few parties of Pallid Swifts drifted over, sometimes swooping low over the ground.

I noticed a few Isabelline and Desert Wheatears perched up on the low brush and thought this might prove a good place to explore on foot. Sure enough, it didn’t take too long wandering through the brush to find that the wheatears were being followed. After a bit of wandering I’d seen at least four very cute Asian Desert Warblers and around five Ménétries Warblers. A Red-tailed Wheatear was nearby.

I continued on to a field that I had seen being cut two days previously. I suspected this might be a good place to spend some time and so it proved. Namaqua Doves trotted through the thicker brush at the sides of the field and Indian Rollers perched on the irrigation booms. In the field itself were larks and pipits. A Eurasian Skylark and a couple of Greater Short-toed Larks were soon found. Most of the pipits were Water Pipits and Red-throated Pipits. After some scrutiny I found at least two japonicus Buff-bellied Pipits, all dark streaks and white bars. A couple of Richard’s Pipits also flew in. A bird I didn’t expect to see here was Striolated Bunting – normally a species of rocky ravines. But here were at least five in amongst the other small birds. One even landed on my car! I also found an Ortolan Bunting sitting quietly in the grass. I was busy photographing a Buff-bellied Pipit when I noticed another lark nearby. The short crest and bright rufous and buff plumage strongly suggested an Oriental Skylark. Excellent stuff.

I had to move on so made my way back towards the cattle sheds and the main road. As I did so, I stopped near a small pool. Looking to the other side in the rough brush I noticed something different in amongst the numerous Red-wattled Lapwings. With a big white supercillium meeting at the nape it could only be a Sociable Lapwing – fantastic! Then I quickly realised that it was living up to its name and there was a whole bunch of them – fourteen in all. They trotted quietly along through the brush just twenty or thirty metres away – absolutely gorgeous. Looking over to the small pool I noticed that I could actually see three species of lapwing within fifty metres, as a White-tailed Lapwing was coyly striding through the mud.

But that was enough for the Sun Farms. I was soon heading up into the mountains on a long drive to the village of Misfat al Abriyyin, perched on the edge of a cliff amongst luxuriant gardens. Not much was seen on the journey, aside from a few Brown-necked Ravens and Rock Martins. I eventually arrived at Misfat at dusk and settled into my stone room above the valley.

1. Prime birding habitat at the Sun Farms
2. Namaqua Dove
3. Indian Roller
4. Little Stint
5. Little Ringed Plover
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Old Monday 20th January 2014, 21:17   #8
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Some of the triple Vanellus action:

1&2. Sociable Lapwing
3. Red-wattled Lapwing
4. White-tailed Lapwing
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Old Monday 20th January 2014, 21:19   #9
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And here's something for those of you enjoy a slightly lower quality of photo, the record shots of this world, if you will:

1. Black-crowned Sparrow Lark
2. Buff-bellied Pipit
3. l-r Water Pipit, Buff-bellied Pipit, Oriental Skylark
4. Ortolan Bunting, very much in amongst the grass
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Old Monday 20th January 2014, 21:40   #10
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I'm following this thread with interest Andrew. I remember Sohar Sun Farms well though the Sociable Plovers are a bit gripping.
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Old Tuesday 21st January 2014, 17:32   #11
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Excellent report, some cracking birds too.

Looking forward to the next section !
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Old Tuesday 21st January 2014, 19:18   #12
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2nd January 2014: Misfat al Abriyyin – Jabal Shams – Wadi al Muaydin – Barr al Hikman

Before breakfast I had a short wander round the village of Misfat, through the verdant palm groves and drier scrub. The first bird was a Song Thrush – a bit of a scarcity in Oman. The palm trees were busy with calling Siberian Chiffchaffs and the scrubby areas with White-eared Bulbuls, Desert Whitethroats and Striolated Buntings. A Blue Rock Thrush perched atop one of the old buildings in the village.

From the village it was down into the valley and then up again along the road to Jabal Shams – Oman’s highest peak. I drove along with the windows down, which was a good move as an interesting call alerted me to the presence of the first species I hoped to see: a Long-billed Pipit. It zipped around a wadi for a bit before I managed to get good scope views of it singing and preening on a rock. The scrub was busy with what seem to be the characteristic winter birds of this habitat: Desert Whitethroats, Plain Leaf Warblers, Striolated Buntings and Arabian Babblers. The next stop for a bird whizzing through the bushes was also worthwhile, as that bird turned out to be a smart Turkestan Shrike – much more contrasty looking than the other ‘Isabelline Shrikes’ I’d been seeing. The other species I was hoping for took a bit longer but eventually I noticed a black and white bird perched on a telegraph wire and there was a Hume’s Wheatear, gleaming glossy black in the sun. A couple of Desert Larks were in the same spot and higher up was a Red-tailed Wheatear. I decided to head back down the road but, with the mid-morning heat kicking in, raptors were starting to soar. In one direction three Egyptian Vultures and a Bonelli’s Eagle could be picked out. In another up to four Steppe Eagles were gliding along a high ridge. That wasn’t all though. Two very large shapes drifted on fingered wings that barely flapped: Lappet-faced Vultures.

The next stop was a bit of a drive across the mountains to Wadi al Muaydin. The car struggled a bit along the stony track and the midday sun wasn’t too promising. The wadi was very pleasant though and Hume’s Wheatears were numerous – perching up nicely and even singing. A Long-billed Pipit gave very close views on a telegraph wire and there were plenty of Plain Leaf Warblers, Desert Whitethroats and Striolated Buntings. The main bird I was hoping for was more tantalising however. A loud repeated call from a Sand Partridge was as close as I got, even though it sounded not too far away.

Then it was time for the road, down off the mountains and through the barren desert plains. After a few hours I found my way to Barr al Hikman – the legendary mudflats of Oman and surely one of the finest sites for shorebirds in the world. I drove down to Filim for the final hour of the day. The tide, as expected, was well out but waders were still plentiful on the nearer patches of mud: Dunlin, Little Stint, Curlew Sandpipers, a lone Broad-billed Sandpiper and lots of scuttling Terek Sandpipers. A Striated Heron flew out of the mangroves. A few Ospreys passed overhead and Kingfishers darted along the creeks. Tomorrow morning the tide would be coming up and I had high hopes of what it might bring.

1. Hume's Wheatear
2. Long-billed Pipit
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Old Tuesday 21st January 2014, 19:20   #13
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Thanks for the comments. I was very relieved to see the Sociable Lapwings - a bird I've waited a long time to catch up with.

Here are a few landscapes:
1&2. Around Misfat al Abriyyin
3. Jabal Shams
4. Wadi Al Muaydin
5. Filim
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Old Wednesday 22nd January 2014, 19:36   #14
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3rd January 2014: Filim – Shannah – Masirah Ferry – Sur Masirah – Hilf

I arrived at Filim with the sun just rising and the tide a little higher than the previous evening, but definitely coming in. The mudflats were plastered with waders so it was all looking good. The species were similar to yesterday but there were more of most. Dozens of Terek Sandpipers scooted about the drier areas. Broad-billed Sandpipers were scattered in amongst the other small waders, sometimes being surprisingly inconspicuous until I got my eye in. A couple of Marsh Sandpipers were in amongst the Greenshank. In the distance I could see the distinctive silhouettes of Crab Plovers – at least sixty wading about at the edge of the mud. They never came very close though, so the views weren’t great. A couple of tiny Saunders’ Terns showing their grey rumps fished the channels.

There was one species in particular that I was looking out for but I wasn’t sure what my chances were. Scanning out across the mud and through the multitudes of waders I came upon a rather dense group off beyond a small mangrove island, perhaps four or five hundred metres away. Medium sized, greyish with short legs and a medium length, slightly down-curved bill: they had to be what I was looking for – Great Knot! There were quite a lot of them too – around fifty as far as could be told at that distance. They flew up a bit as they tide pushed them and eventually disappeared off. A few reappeared on the nearer mudflats, with three showing reasonably well. More were seen distantly, roosting in amongst the Bar-tailed Godwits.
That was mission accomplished, a little more easily than anticipated.

I stopped briefly at the sewage works at Hijj, hearing some sandgrouse overhead and seeing a few Greater Flamingos and various commoner waders. More waders were lining the road to Shannah, which was more-or-less a causeway with the tide now well in. Shannah is where l left the mainland of Oman for the island of Masirah about an hour or so offshore. Reversing on to the ferry was a strange experience but the boat ride was rather pleasant. As the boat left the jetty, several Humpback Dolphins cavorted through the sea. The birding was a bit uneventful on the journey, although a group of 18 Red-necked Phalaropes as we neared Hilf in Masirah were good.

I only had one night in Masirah so did a quick drive along the coast road to Sur Masirah, an area of mudflats with similar birds to Barr al Hikman. The numbers were lower than on the mainland but the diversity of waders was similar. Nine Crab Plovers gave good views as they trotted through the surf. A Steppe Grey Shrike was rather flighty in an area of scrub. Egyptian Vultures were conspicuous along the road, with at least five seen.

I spent the last few hours of the day in Hilf – the ‘capital’ of Masirah (and pretty much the only town). The best places in the town are the sewage works and an adjacent orchard, which provide the only significant cover on the island. Sadly they were locked and fenced off so I would have to make do with walking around the perimeter. The rocky beach nearby was a fruitful spot. Scattered amongst the other waders were at least 15 dainty Pacific Golden Plovers. The trees in the orchard were frustrating, with some concerted pishing bringing out several Chiffchaffs but nothing else. Surely there must be something good in there. Well, there was and they were a bit easier to see. A couple of Oriental Turtle Doves perched up in some bare branches to give decent views.

I crossed over the road to a bushy area that stretched down to the beach. Perhaps I’d find a few passerines in here, I thought. I didn’t find any of them, but I did find three Greater Flamingos! A small outfall flowed through the bushes and it proved to be rather busy with birds. There were lots of waders, including a lovely Marsh Sandpiper, but it was the snipe I was most interested in. A few Common Snipes had flown off but I got a brief view of an interesting looking bird on the deck. It disappeared off for a bit though and I was worried that it had got away before it reappeared alongside the creek as the sun was setting. Despite the gathering gloom I had very good views through the scope and began to tick off the features: shortish, broad-based bill; bulging supercillium; scapulars evenly edged white on both sides; brown barring on coverts; tail projecting only slightly beyond wingtips. It was all there – a Pin-tailed Snipe! What a great end to the day – I’d be having another look at this spot in the morning.

1. Broad-billed Sandpiper at Filim
2. A gloomy shot of Pin-tailed Snipe
3. Reversing on to the ferry at Shannah. Don't forget your camel.
4. Coming into Hilf on the ferry
5. The beach at Hilf
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Old Thursday 23rd January 2014, 20:04   #15
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4th January 2014: Hilf – Masirah Ferry – Travel – Ash Shuwaymiyyah

The spot was again quite busy, with additional birds popping in such as Glossy Ibis, Indian Pond Heron and a couple of Bluethroats. The Pin-tailed Snipe was seen again but not as well. The birds were bothered by an immature Barbary Falcon, which went to perch up in the trees at the sewage farm. A subadult male Pallid Harrier also flew through and the first Black-crowned Night Heron of the trip was seen in flight. The most notable bird was a tar-black male Asian Koel, which cavorted about the dead trees – a scarce winter visitor to Oman, and one that this area seems particularly good for.

The ferry was rather uneventful, aside from a few presumed Saunders’ Terns. Once on the mainland, I had a long journey ahead through the desert. Birds were few and far between: a couple of Egyptian Vultures, the odd Kestrel or Brown-necked Raven, a Southern Grey Shrike. The best were a couple of Hoopoe Larks, one of which showed very nicely in its typical ‘moonscape’ habitat.

My destination was reached by around 4.30 – the wadi at Ash Shuwaymiyyah. This is just inland from the south coast and includes a few lush spots amongst the dry and stony slopes. One such spot are the ‘hanging gardens’ about half way along the wadi. I set up camp here for the night and had a wander around in the late afternoon. The most numerous birds were White-spectacled Bulbuls, including one creamy coloured leucistic bird. A Bluethroat and a few Clamorous Reed Warblers were in the wetter patches. I was surprised to see a medium-sized rail-like bird clamber aloft with legs trailing. It proved to be a White-breasted Waterhen – another scarce winter visitor. I saw it a couple more times as it poked about the damp marshes.

The main event was yet to come however. I settled down at dusk by a sizeable patch of muddy water and waited. Things were starting to get a bit gloomy and nothing had happened. I was starting to worry that my quarry was going to evade me. Then a soft flutter. And then another. Across the other side of the pool were a few plump shapes and, peering through the gloom, I could make out an intricate head pattern a double breast-band. These were Lichtenstein’s Sandgrouse, coming in for their drink at nightfall. Ten of them arrived, waited carefully and then trotted quickly over to the water. Then, another flutter, and they were gone.
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Old Thursday 23rd January 2014, 20:13   #16
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Nice report, pics and birds.

Some friends were talking about going this winter, certainly looks like a cracking destination.
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Old Thursday 23rd January 2014, 20:31   #17
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Quote:
Originally Posted by dantheman View Post
Nice report, pics and birds.

Some friends were talking about going this winter, certainly looks like a cracking destination.
Cheers Dan. It's very much recommended as a destination. I'm tempted to say that if you're thinking of going somewhere in the Western Palearctic next winter then don't: go to Oman instead! That's probably a bit sweeping but it's as good for WP species as anywhere but has added Asian and African stuff thrown in. And it's a doddle to do.
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Old Friday 24th January 2014, 20:23   #18
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5th January 2014: Ash Shuwaymiyyah – Jinawt – Ras Mirbat - Khawr Rawri - Wadi Darbat

Things were rather quiet early in the morning, with the sun yet to brighten the wadi. The first bird of the day was a good one though – a smashing male Arabian Wheatear. This species was very common and conspicuous in the wadi – much more so than at any other site that I visited in fact. Further up the wadi is a date palm plantation, with more lush vegetation and plenty of birds. Tristram’s Starlings swoop about and fill the air with their whistles. A few warblers flitted through the palms, including a Ménétries Warbler. Most dashing of all were the Shining Sunbirds, the males of which certainly live up to their name with brilliant, dazzling colours.

A few other birds were along the valley – Desert Larks, Tawny Pipits and Striolated Buntings – but the bird I was hoping to see was missing so far. Then, as I drove back along the track a shape on a bank to the side of the road somehow didn’t look quite like a rock. Stopped and put the bins up – Sand Partridge! In fact there were three of them tucked up quietly on the bank, a male and two females. Gorgeous soft brown and pink things.

I left the wadi and made my way into the village of Ash Shuwaymiyyah. I reckoned the lagoon on the edge of town behind the beach would be worth a stop. It certainly proved to be so. My initial sweep with the scope across the small lake provided some interesting sightings. First up was a Pheasant-tailed Jacana, its long toes finding a way across the floating vegetation. A second bird was seen later. Next was a Cotton Pygmy-goose, diminutive amongst the other ducks. Rather incongruously there were also some non-pygmy geese – five White-fronted Geese in fact. Not something I expected to see on a sandy lagoon by the Indian Ocean! Six Spoonbills, a Great Black-headed Gull and five Pacific Golden Plovers added to the throng. A Cattle Egret seemed quite long billed – possibly an eastern bird coromandus. Offshore things were interesting too. Three Masked Boobies were scything into the sea along with hordes of terns. A bit further along the coast at Jinawt, several Socotra Cormorants were fishing.

I then drove for a few hours along the new road along the coast, which is genuinely spectacular as it winds through canyons and around bays and beaches. In places the road was still very much under construction, but that didn’t stop it being open for business. Not too many birds were around: a few groups of Red-necked Phalaropes offshore, a Desert Lark, a couple more Shining Sunbirds and lots of Tristram’s Starlings.

I stopped in Mirbat to look out to sea from the headland at Ras Mirbat. The seabirds weren’t really happening, aside from dozens of Red-necked Phalaropes. I continued on along the coast road towards Salalah. Khawr Rawri was my first stop and a pleasant one too. A Blackstart greeted me as I got out of the car. Lots of waders were around the shore, including Marsh Sandpiper, Temminck’s Stint and Black-tailed Godwit. Glossy Ibis and Squacco Heron were also on show and a Gull-billed Tern sailed over the water.

Then as the light began to fade I worked my way up into the hills and Wadi Darbat, where another world awaited. This was a world of trees and grass, a bit like an African savannah. That probably helped to explain the Cinnamon-breasted Buntings and Ruppell’s Weavers that abounded on the slopes. As the sun set the calls of several Arabian Scops Owls echoed around the wadi. What a gorgeous spot. I’d be back in the morning.

1. A watery spot in Wadi Ash Shuwaymiyyah
2. The ship of the desert, as I called my car. And a camel.
3. The Hanging Gardens
4. A view along Wadi Ash Shuwaymiyyah
5. The lagoon in the village
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Old Friday 24th January 2014, 20:25   #19
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1. Lights, camel, action
2. Sand Partridges
3. Desert Wheatear - maybe the most commonly encountered passerine in Oman
4. Cattle Egret, looking a bit 'Eastern' I thought
5. Cotton Pygmy-goose. Note the blue plastic bag, characteristic of the area
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Old Friday 24th January 2014, 20:27   #20
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1. White-fronted Geese, looking a bit out of place on a lagoon by the Indian Ocean.
2. Pacific Golden Plover and Temminck's Stint
3. Pheasant-tailed Jacana
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Old Monday 27th January 2014, 20:35   #21
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6th January 2014: Wadi Darbat – Ayn Hamran – Khawr Taqah – Khawr Rawri – East Khawr

Early in the morning I drove up the steep slope towards Wadi Darbat. At the junction of the road that heads back down into the wadi a large crowd of Arabian Partridges were strutting about giving splendid views. A good start to proceedings. Down in the valley things were busy. A Booted Eagle sailed over the trees. Hoopoes flew up from the grass. A few Red-throated and Tree Pipits were scattered about. Then there were the local specialities. Ruppell’s Weavers and Cinnamon-breasted Buntings were numerous. Amongst them were the black-rumped African Silverbills. In the trees the green and white Abyssinian White-eyes were numerous. Even more decorative were the numerous African Paradise Flycatchers, some of the males with long tails and white flashes in the wings. Strange gurgling calls revealed the brightly coloured Bruce’s Green Pigeons, which sometimes gave furtive views in amongst the tree canopy.

This was great but then things got more interesting. First up was a strange and seemingly unidentifiable wheatear – somewhat like a Variable but with a peculiar rump and tail pattern. It flitted about engagingly with a couple of Blackstarts. Next was a small flycatcher in a denser area of trees. It looked strikingly grey-brown with a white eye-ring and short tail. Then I noticed an orange throat patch coming through, clearly isolated by the grey breast. Blimey – a Taiga Flycatcher, I thought: a rare and perhaps even unknown species in Oman. It rapidly disappeared before eventually surfacing again a short distance away and giving seem reasonable views. A few shots snapped, I was fairly happy I had some documentation at least.

Having spent much of the morning at Wadi Darbat I was keen to move on to other sites. Next stop was Ayn Hamran, a lovely spot by a small pool surrounded by thick scrub and high mountains. As I arrived a group of Swedish birders were just leaving. Had I seen anything good, they asked. Well, I just saw this flycatcher in Wadi Darbat, I replied. A Taiga? As it turned out, they had seen exactly the same bird the day before! Quite a coincidence, given the habitat at Wadi Darbat. It turned out it was the fourth record for Oman – reassuring to know that others had come to the same conclusion as me at least.

Ayn Hamran proved rather good. The nearby scrub soon produced a couple of cracking Black-crowned Tchagras, strutting about on the ground at almost point-blank range. A pair of Arabian Warblers soon gave fine looks in the scrub and a Turkestan Shrike was also performing well. The best was to follow though. A few passerines were coming down to the small channel of water coming from the pool to drink. Most were Cinnamon-breasted Buntings but then a bigger bird plopped down. Crikey – Golden-winged Grosbeak! This is perhaps the hardest of the Dhofar specialities to find and here was one giving gorgeous views as it drank. Soon it was off, but that was very much mission accomplished.

I continued on, almost running over four Chestnut-bellied Sandgrouse along the road, and headed down to the beach past Khawr Taqah. Peering through the railings to the small lake, a couple of Pheasant-tailed Jacanas were trotting across the floating vegetation. The inlet by the beach was busy with waders: lots of Pacific Golden Plovers and a few Temminck’s Stint amongst the throng. Two Indian Pond Herons and a couple of Squacco Herons were along the marshy parts of the channel. A Greater Spotted Eagle drifted overhead. Next I had a look around the northern arm of Khawr Rawri, finding Purple Heron, Blue Rock Thrush and Bluethroat. On then to another lagoon, the East Khawr in Salalah. Here there were more waders, including a Red-necked Phalarope and another Pheasant-tailed Jacana.

With the day drawing to a close I headed back to Ayn Hamran. Raptors had been a short supply earlier but now they were busy catching the last of the late afternoon sun on the slopes. A couple of Short-toed Eagles and a Long-legged Buzzard hovered. At least three Steppe Eagles soared. A pair of Bonelli’s Eagle drifted across and a young bird flew the other way. Non-stop action. As night closed in, a distant Arabian Scops Owl trilled.

Some pictures from Wadi Darbat:
1. African Paradise Flycatcher
2. African Silverbills
3. Ruppell's Weaver
4. Taiga Flycatcher (not a wholly conclusive shot if I'm honest)
5. The weird wheatear
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Old Monday 27th January 2014, 20:37   #22
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Some more pictures, the first three at Ayn Hamran and the last at Khawr Taqah:

1. Golden-winged Grosbeak
2. Cinnamon-breasted Buntings
3. Chestnut-bellied Sandgourse
4. Indian Pond Herons
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Old Wednesday 29th January 2014, 01:43   #23
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First class birds Andrew! Loved the selection of your photos. Namaqua dove is one odd looking dove.
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Old Thursday 30th January 2014, 20:09   #24
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7th January 2014: Raysut – Al Mughsayl – Salalah

The first bird of the day was a good one: an Oriental Honey Buzzard that perched on the rooftops at my hotel, only to be mobbed eagerly by House Crows. The birding didn’t continue in the most glorious of surroundings, as I found my way to Raysut and a fairly grim, dusty industrial area. Just to keep it pleasant, my first port of call was the rubbish dump. I knew I’d got to the right area because I began to see eagles perched up on the roadside fences. Most common were Steppe Eagles but one magnificent adult and two juvenile Imperial Eagles sat nonchalantly at close range. It wasn’t just eagles flying around the dump but numerous Abdim’s Storks were rising up and flying towards the nearby sewage works. I headed over in that direction and soon found dozens of them crowded around the concrete pools. Eventually I counted around 350. Also around the sewage works were a couple of confiding Greater Spotted Eagles, a Marsh Sandpiper and a Green Bee-eater. At least forty Chestnut-bellied Sandgrouse came in to drink. As I headed back past the dump, around two hundred Steppe Eagles were kettled on the thermals, along with three White Storks and numerous gulls.

The surroundings became a little more tranquil after this, as I headed west to Al Mughsayl – a scenic location on the coast. The small lagoon by the road featured an Intermediate Egret together with a Spoonbill and a couple of Glossy Ibis. Perched on one of the buoys offshore was a Brown Booby. A track led off from the coast and into a wadi, where there were more pools. A Ferruginous Duck flew up from the first where there was also a Marsh Sandpiper. The wadi was good for raptors, including three Imperial Eagles, four Steppe Eagles and two Short-toed Eagles. A couple of Arabian Partridges scuttled up a rocky slope. I headed over to the concrete hide that looks out over the reedy khawr just inland from the coast road. A variety of wildfowl included no fewer than eight Cotton Pygmy-geese. Down on the beach lots of gulls and terns were gathered. After some scrutiny I reckoned the grey-rumped medium-sized terns were White-cheeked Terns. A single Great Black-headed Gull was also in the flock.

I then headed back in to Salalah and the West Khawr, where two Red-knobbed Coot were soon found bobbing about on the far side of the lake. The lake at Al Baleed Archaeological Park was a bit quiet but the rather grand observation tower provided some possibilities for looking for raptors over the city. Two Booted Eagles and a Greater Spotted Eagle were soaring over the palm plantations. A Village Weaver near the car park was presumably a bit plastic. Twenty-four Whiskered Terns and a White-winged Tern were gathered by the lagoon.

I then headed on to the city’s farms. The first was Jarziz, which looked good but I expect a lot of birds were hidden out of sight in the crops. Very noisy were the hundred or so Rose-coloured Starlings gathered in the shrubbery. A Peregrine – the only one of the trip – sailed over. Birds were more conspicuous at Sahnawt Farm, although this had to be viewed from the roadside. Lots of waders were picking through the irrigated crops: around 300 Pacific Golden Plovers and over 400 Ruff. A few Red-throated Pipits were amongst the wagtails and an Imperial Eagle was perched on a distant irrigation boom. Wandering along the road a bit further I bumped into the Swedish crew I’d met yesterday. They had good news. A quick scan through the Pacific Golden Plovers got me on to what they were looking at: a splendid Caspian Plover. This was a really smart bird, small but elegant with a really neatly demarcated breast with just a hint of red coming through. Over the fields at least three Pallid Harriers drifted.

I finished the day at the Crowne Plaza Hotel, just after night fell. A stroll around the small golf course soon revealed a couple of Spotted Thick-knees strutting briskly in the darkness. One gave some nice views as it cantered into a well-lit spot. Marvellous big-eyed birds.

1. Abdim's Stork
2&3. Green Bee-eater - closed and open-beaked
4. The coast at Al Mughsayl
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Old Thursday 30th January 2014, 20:11   #25
Andrew Whitehouse
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Thanks for the comments. You'll have spotted that this was a good day for eagles. Here's some evidence. The first four shots are from Raysut and the last one from Al Mughsayl.

1. Steppe Eagle
2. Imperial Eagle (juvenile)
3&4. Greater Spotted Eagle (juvenile)
5. Imperial Eagle (juvenile)
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