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Red-throated Bee-eater

Red-throated Bee-eater
join us for a fantastic tour of The Gambia this November

Saturday, December 27, 2014

OMAN RECCE TRIP - DAY 9 - DECEMBER 16TH 2014

MUHUT – SHANNAH BAY – QURIYAT – MUSCAT

Our final day began in the usual manner, waking at 6am decamping and driving off to the nearest birding spot. In this case we drove 50km eastward back to the coast at Shannah Bay.

 As we arrived the tide was just beginning to turn and from the pier that leads to the ferry terminal we were astonished by the sheer number of birds present. It was truly a spectacular sight and one I have never experienced before, we stood mesmerised looking out along the shoreline that stretched for miles, it was absolutely covered in birds, a conservative estimate was 25,000.
 
view from the beach into Shannah Bay
They were mainly waders but also huge numbers of herons, egrets, flamingos and cormorants, in fact at one point the sky darkened as 2-3 thousand Great Cormorants flew over us. We drove alone the sand flats behind the beach to get a closer look at the hoards of waders and after some searching we finally caught up with our most wanted bird, the CRAB PLOVER!!  We saw about 30 of them but all were distant views so no photographs I’m afraid.

 
 this is the wader list for Shannah Bay:
 
1.       Eurasian Curlew
2.       Whimbrel
3.       Black-tailed Godwit
4.       Bar-tailed Godwit
5.       Eurasian Oystercatcher
6.       Common Redshank
7.       Common Greenshank
8.       Terek Sandpiper
9.       Ruddy Turnstone
10.   Curlew Sandpiper
11.   Dunlin
12.   Sanderling
13.   Greater Sand Plover
14.   Lesser Sand Plover
15.   Grey Plover
16.   Kentish Plover
17.   Ringed Plover
18.   Little Stint
19.   Temminck’s Stint
20.   Crab Plover
21.   Common Sandpiper

 Other sightings included Osprey, Marsh Harrier, Short-toed Lark, Desert Wheatear and all the usual gulls and terns. What a fantastic place! We spent a couple of hours in the area trying to find tracks that would get us closer to other parts of the bay, without success, so, reluctantly we set off on our final leg of the journey back to Muscat. We had about 300km to travel and we had all day to do it in.

Desert Wheatear
 A late afternoon stop at a river estuary in the town of Quriyat produced a huge number of Great Black-headed Gulls as well as Sandwich, Leaser-crested and Swift Terns. Later we made a road-side stop to look at raptors, we found two magnificent Lappet-faced Vultures, 4 Egyptian Vultures and a Common Kestrel.

Blackstart - my final picture

 Our last stopped was look at a Hume’s Wheatear, we had seen a couple perched along the road and now we had one in the scope, my final lifer of the trip! Furthermore a falcon circled above us, we identified it as a Barbary Falcon, our final bird of the trip, not bad.

Well the trip was over, we spent the evening in Muscat, where we had a nice meal on the terrace of a restaurant overlooking the sea before driving to the airport for the flight home.

What a surprisingly excellent birding location Oman really is, all preconceptions of dry dusty desert conditions are quickly forgotten when you are confronted by lakes, lagoons, streams and marshes,  especially in the south where mountains, picturesque rivers, verdant woodland and river estuaries are abundant with vibrant wild-life.

Birds, Butterflies, mammals and reptiles are all waiting in good numbers for you to discover. There is also the possibility of discovering a 'first' for this under-watched region as we discovered the Lesser Whistling Ducks which are only the fourth record for Oman.


WATCH OUT FOR DETAILS ON OUR NEW WEBSITE FOR FUTURE TOURS TO OMAN.

Friday, December 26, 2014

OMAN RECCE TRIP - DAY 8 - DECEMBER 15TH 2014

ASH SHUWAYMIYYAH –KHAWR GHAWI  -  MUHUT

 Very little birding was done today as we continued our long sojourn back to Muscat, we covered about 600km and ended up camping just outside of the town of Muhut (or Mahoot). However, as usual, we had 2-3 very good hours of birding first thing in the morning. We got up at 6am and drove to the edge of town where a huge expanse of wetlands covered an area between the beach and the main road. The wetlands comprised of freshwater lagoons, marsh and open scrubland and was full of birds as usual.

Pheasant-tailed Jacana
 One of the first good sightings was of a Pheasant-tailed Jacana, it was very flighty as we have found whenever we encountered this species, so we never managed to get good pictures of it. Scanning the largest pool we recorded a good number of ducks: Shoveler, Pintail, Teal, Garganey, Common Pochard and Gadwall. Then to our great surprise and delight a group of 9 Whistling Duck flew in, they turned out to be Lesser Whistling Duck a rarity for Oman and a lifer for both of us.


Dancho in the early morning light with a string of Whistling Ducks behind him


 
Other birds in and around the pool included: Common Moorhen, Eurasian Coot, Common Snipe, Little Stint, Common Sandpiper, Greenshank, Ruff, Greater Flamingo and the usual array of herons and egrets.
a good sighting - only the 4th for Oman - Lesser Whistling Duck
 
We then walked to the beach for a spot of sea-watching, there were a lot of birds out there, we managed a good list which included two new birds for the trip with Masked Booby being another lifer for the two of us. Greater Crested Tern, Little Tern, Swift Tern and Lesser Crested Tern were out there, also Socotra Cormorant and hundreds of gulls.
 

another sighting of Daurian Shrike
  
The 3-4 hours was spent putting some mileage on the clock, it was about 1pm when we pulled up at our second (and last) birding site of the day. This was Khawr Ghawi which is a huge lagoon some 8km in length and about 500 meters wide, it stretched out running parallel to the sea and separated from it by a huge sand-dune system. It was tidal, the tide was almost high so some mud remained exposed. The whole area was covered in birds even scoping the very distant horizon we could see birds. Waders dominated as you would expect but gulls came a close second. One new wader for the list was Greater Sand Plover, it was great to see this species alongside Lesser Sand Plover, Ringed Plover, Grey Plover and Kentish Plover. Also present were: Dunlin, Terek Sandpiper, Little & Temminck’s Stint, Whimbrel, Eurasian Curlew, Eurasian Oystercatcher, Bar-tailed Godwit and Greenshank.
Lesser Sand Plovers with Ringed Plover
 
In the distant we could see hundreds of Greater Flamingos and even more Slender-billed Gulls, an Osprey sat on a sand-bar and many herons and egrets were dotted about all around the lagoon.

 

That concluded our birding for the most part, other than sightings from the car (Common Kestrel, Brown-necked Raven) and a stop to stretch our legs, where we saw Asian Desert Warbler, our birding day was over.
a Curlew with a very long bill - probaby Asian (Eastern) Curlew
 

We drove until 5pm and on reaching our destination we set up camp and we to bed. Tomorrow is our last full day, we still have about 350 kilometers to travel but we intend to go out with a bang and try to bag our most wanted wader, the Crab Plover, watch this space.

 



OMAN RECCE TRIP - DAY 7 - DECEMBER 14TH 2014


WADI DARBAT – TAWI ATAYR (SINK HOLE) – WADI HANNA – DROVE NOTHWARD TO ASH SHUWAYMIYYAH

 We were up with lark once again and by 6am we had packed up our tents and were on our way. It was another crystal clear day and it was about 20C even at 6am! We drove back to Wadi Darbat and parked in the main car park. A large lagoon stretch for a couple kilometers both up and downstream, it was too deep and too wide to cross so we stayed on the rocky side and walked ‘upstream’.

 

Bruce's Green Pigeon
 
8The thick riparian vegetation had mature trees including a fruiting fig tree, this was full of birds with over 20 Bruce’s Green Pigeon, a flock of about 15 Abyssinian White-eyes and innumerable White-spectacled Bubuls. We spent a couple of hour in and around this area making more sightings of: Bluethroat, Desert Whitethroat, Shining and Palestine Sunbirds, Blackstarts, Tristram’s Starling, African Paradise Flycatcher and we watched a Long-legged Buzzard being mobbed by Common Kestrel and Fan-tailed Ravens.
Shining Sunbird
 

 The lagoon produced Grey Heron, Common Sandpiper, 3 Greenshanks and a couple of Citrine Wagtails.

 As it warmed up a few birds of prey began to appear, four birds came over together they were all eagles: two Imperial, one Short-toed and one Steppe Eagle. Earlier a Bonelli’s Eagle drifted along the ridge above us.

 
Charaxes species

As we drove out of the valley we found a falcon perched on a dead tree not too far from the road, it turned out to be a Barbary Falcon, nice sighting,  further along we stopped to photograph a Eurasian Hoopoe.

 

The ‘Sink Hole’ at Tawi Atayr was about 30 kilometers further north which too us through some scenic mountains along an empty road. We stopped to look at a few species perched on wires and bushes noting many African Rock Buntings, Desert Wheatears and lots of doves. We parked up at the ‘’Sink Hole’ car park and found an obliging Arabian Wheatear but our search for Yemen Serin failed to produce one. The ’Sink Hole’ was impressive sight it was about 200 meters in diameter and you couldn’t see the bottom, furthermore we had excellent views of an Imperial Eagle as we stood on the viewing platform. On the way back to the car park we spent some time photographing Sunbirds.

Tristram's Starling
 

At Wadi Hanna we a similar result as at the Sink Hole, we dipped on our target species the Yemen Serin,  we did see a pair of Bonelli’s Eagles, an Arabian Warbler and the usual Rock Buntings and Bulbuls.

 We then drove over 120 kilometers to our stop-over point, passing through some magical coastal scenery, beautiful mountains and lush green valleys, at several places you had to remind yourself that you were in the Middle East and not Europe. Perhaps camels on the beach brought us back to reality or the white sand and turquoise coloured sea did the trick.
Bruce's Green Pigeon - obviously a Villa fan with claret and blue in his eyes

 A couple of stops produced some good finds, one valley held a nice pool of shallow water where we found a Red-necked Phalarope, also several waders, ducks and gulls. We arrived at Ash Shuwaymiyyah at 6pm, we quickly found a motel and went out for dinner. It appeared that the town was inhabited predominantly by Pakistanis, so we ate Pakistani food and loved it!

 

 

coastal scene
 

Tomorrow we have another long drive ahead of us as we make our way back to the north along the coast.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

OMAN RECCE TRIP - DAY 6 - DECEMBER 13TH

EAST KHAWR – AYN RAZAT – KHAWR RAWRI – AYN HAMRAN – WADI DARBAT

Whilst it is freezing in the UK we are suffering 31C most days, but we still manage, it’s tough but some-one has to do it.

 Our day started at 6am as we left our accommodation in the suburbs of Salalah and drove straight to the beach at East Khawr. A huge lagoon was separated from the sea by beautiful white sand dunes and at the beach end of the lagoon there were shallow pools and grassy islands. The whole area was covered in birds it was amazing. Countless Little Stints ran on the beach with hundreds of Kentish, Ringed and Lesser Sand Plovers, a large flock of Ruff joined Common Snipe, Common Sandpiper, Redshank, Greenshank, Dunlin, Curlew, Black-tailed and Bar-tailed Godwits. We found numerous Squacco, Grey and Purple Herons also Reef, Little, Intermediate and Great Egrets, Eurasian Spoonbill and our one and only Sacred Ibis.

East Khawr - looking from the beach
A roost of Marsh Harriers held about 12 birds, we also saw Osprey, Great Spotted Eagle and a Honey Buzzards. A little sea watching produced Caspian, Lesser Crested, Swift and Gull-billed Terns and two new birds for the trip; Socotra Cormorant and Persian Shearwater. Add to that a number duck species, Pintail, Shoveler, Garganey, Teal, Gadwall and a number Citrine Wagtails. Not to mention hundreds of gulls of 6 species, it was quite a start to the day. Just before we left a couple of Chestnut-bellied Sandgrouse dropped onto the adjacent heath.
 
Sacred Ibis - my first 'real'  one
 
Eurasian Curlew

Intermediate Egret
Next we drove inland to visit a wooded area around a wadi near Ayn Razat. We had a great time there listing several new birds for the trip and getting a few lifers as well. A huge well-maintained park-garden was furnished with many flowering shrubs and it was on these that we found both Palestine and Shining Sunbirds, such lovely colours, but a bugger to photograph. We then found Tristram’s Starlings, African Rock Bunting, Abyssinian White-eye, Blackstart and our next new species, Bruce’s Green Pigeon, superb. We also had a brief view of Golden-winged Grosbeak before it flew off. Just before we set off for a walk up the valley alongside the river we found a couple of pipits feeding on a rocky hillside, after careful study we identified them as Long-billed Pipits

Ayn Razat Wadi
upper wadi


Long-billed Pipit

the male Tristram's Starling
.Up the valley the river disappeared underground and the vegetation thinned out but we still found Arabian Warbler, Arabian Partridge and in the sky above the mountains we saw Lapper-faced Vulture, Short-toed Eagle, Verraux’s Eagle, Steppe Eagle and Imperial Eagle.

Bruce's Green Pigeon

The Bruce's Green Pigeon is obviously a Villa fan with claret and blue in his eyes!
EonBack on the road we visited another beach side lagoon at Khawr Raqri, it was a long walk in the heat of the day but it was worth it. There were about 20 species on show, all were seen earlier on the trip except for Glossy Ibis.

 Ayn Hamran is another wooded valley with a wadi and lots of birds, we arrived late afternoon when light was good and heat had eased off a little. Again the area was dripping with birds, the African Paradise Flycatcher was the star of the show with Masked Shrike coming close second. Another Arabian Warbler showed well as did more Blackstarts, Sunbirds, Bubuls and another Eurasian Hoopoe.
Masked Shrike is one of the most beautiful of all the shrike family 
 Well that concluded another great day out, we drove into Taqah to eat and then moved onto Wadi Darbat to set up camp, an African Scops Owl called as we put up our tents. We tried to call it out but it did not show.

 
 

 

 

 

 
 

Monday, December 22, 2014

OMAN RECCE TRIP - DAY 5 - DECEMBER 12TH 2014


AYN SAHNAWT – RAYSUT – WEST KHAWR – JARZIZ FARM – KHAWR TAQAH

 

Another early start saw us in the car and heading out of town at 5:30am it was still dark and the roads were empty. Our arrival at Ayn Sahnawt coincided with sunrise but there was a chilly wind coming up from the coast. At first the birding was slow but as soon as the sun cleared the horizon we were inundated with sightings. Blackstart, Spectacled Bubul, African Rock Bunting, Citrine Wagtail and all the waders that were seen yesterday were still present today.

 
8
Temminck's Stint
 Our walk took us across rocky terrain, we climbed a track to get good views into a ravine and soon new species were being found. Arabian (formerly Mourning) Wheatear was first on the ‘new’ list quickly followed by Abyssinian White-eye, this delightful little gem showed really well, we saw about 12 of them. Next came Palestine Sunbird, what a beauty that one is, at least 2 birds were feeding on one particular flowering shrub. As we dropped down into the ravine we could hear the loud call of the Tristram’s Starling, 2 of them were feeding near a waterfall, distant but nice views.



 
view of the pool looking into the valley of Ayn Sahnawt



Arabian Partridge was our next exciting find, we found one in a typical pose perched high on top of a huge rock, we also located 6 chicks down below her. Our walk up from the ravine was as eventful as our descent with lots of good sightings, we found a popular drinking spot where many birds we going to drink, we added Ruppell’s Weaver there, at least 4 birds came down, we had previously located two colonies where their hanging ‘nest-baskets’ could be seen.


Blackstart
 

As the air warmed we started seeing eagles up above the mountains, Steppe, Great Spotted and Short-toed Eagles were seen. Finally we walked up a very picturesque walk-way where a beautiful stream ran from the mountains. It was there that we added ‘bird-of-the-day’ when we found an African Paradise Flycatcher, what a stunner and boy did it show well.

Citrine Wagtail
 

So we set off back towards town to visit a tidal river adjacent to Salalah Port at Raysut, we arrived at high tide so most of the waders were resting up on the stony banks or shingle bars, We amassed quite a ‘wader-list’ with sightings of: Dunlin, Redshank, Greenshank, Ringed Plover, Grey Plover, Pacific Golden Plover, Terek Sandpiper, Lesser Sand Plover, Whimbrel, Common and Green Sandpipers, Western Reef Egret, Osprey, Imperial Eagle and a few common species, such as doves and bulbuls.

 
African Paradise Flycatcher
 
 
 
 
 


From there we made a brief visit to Raysut cliffs, where there is a popular sea-watching  lookout point. We stayed for 15 minutes only seeing Sooty Gulls and a couple of unnamed terns, but we did see a number of Rays down in the clear blue water, these elegant creatures ‘glided’ through the water with a graceful ease, what a superb sighting.

one of the picturesque pools at Ayn Sahnawt 
 

Next we travelled west back towards Salalah where we visited another wetland area close to the beach. At West Khawr there is a large shallow lagoon situated immediately behind the beach, many species were seen there. The highlights were sightings of Greater Flamingo, Eurasian Spoonbill, Northern Shoveler, Temminck’s Stint, Little Tern, Little Grebe, Marsh Harrier, lots of other waders and gulls, terns and egrets. The shoreline was teaming with bird life too, Sooty and Slender-billed Gulls, Sanderlings and many more waders.

Arabian Partrdige

 
A brief respite from wader-watching was had when we visited a huge farm complex on the edge of town, Jarziz Farm has good reviews in the bird books but unfortunately it has degraded since those books were written. We drove around the site and only saw a handful of species, one good sighting was of Pallid Harrier and the rest were of species that we see most days.

 

African Rock Bunting
Our last site on the day’s itinerary was another beach side wetland area out eastward from town, called Khawr Taqah. It was excellent, there is a huge man-made system of pools next to a huge white sand beach area where several natural pools occur. The whole area was full of birds, we had some lovely sightings. The Pheasant-tailed Jacanca was the highlight, three of these oddities were seen well, but before we could get pictures of them a Marsh Harrier flushed the lot. We made two visits to these pools and listed over 20 species including 16 Garganey, 3 Purple Herons, 4 Squacco Herons, 2 Caspian Terns, 2 Whiskered Terns, Clamorous Warbler and lots of gulls.




African Tiger Butterfly


The beach pools were stuffed full of waders, gulls, terns, wagtails, herons and egrets. Despite many people walking around the birds did not flush, we had a great time in the late afternoon sunlight. Wow, what a day, we listed just under 100 species but must have seen 10,000 or more birds.


Friday, December 19, 2014

OMAN RECCE TRIP - DAY 4 - DECEMBER 11TH 2014

 

MUNTASAR OASIS – QATBIT MOTEL GROUNDS – WADI RABKUT – THUMRAYT LAND-FILL PROJECT – AYN SAHNAWT

 We had a mixed bag of fortune today, a few dips and some excellent sightings throughout the day. It was another superb day weather-wise, but it did reach a high of 31C.

 Our day began in the dark at 5am as we fell out of bed and into the car, we had a 40 minute drive to the oasis and we wanted to be there by first light. Our arrival coincided with sunrise and as we sat in the car waiting for the light to improve we noticed a ‘rail’ type bird walking in the short grass next to the nearest pool, we soon established that we had found a great bird for the list, White-breasted Waterhen, fabulous! Unfortunately I had seen this species a few days earlier in Australia. We were out of the car pretty sharpish and soon listing more birds, Common Snipe, Wood Sandpiper, Bluethroat, Water Pipit, Asian Desert Warbler, Great Grey Shrike, Desert Wheatear, a single Pintail and hundreds of Laughing and Collared Doves. A Citrine Wagtail joined the White Wagtails but we still had no sighting of the Hypocolius. We also logged a Ruppell’s Fox, a small fox with big ears.

 

a few pics of Desert Wheatear in the morning light



 Before we left the area we waited for Sandgrouse to arrive for their morning drink and after waiting for a short period a flock of about 40 Spotted Sandgrouse came down about 100 meters from us. They refused to come over to the water and flew off again.

 We ate an omelette with Arabic bread for breakfast back at the motel and then spent an hour or so walking the grounds. We found Nile Valley Sunbirds, Common Chiffchaff, Plain Leaf Warbler, Red-breasted Flycatcher, Brown-necked Raven and a Song Thrush, but the star bird was a Ménétriés’s Warbler seen by my companion, Dancho.

Citrine Wagtail
 We had 270 km further south to travel today so we set off around 10:30am with our planned first stopped some 200km down the road. The roads are empty in this part of Oman, they are wide and straight and fast, we arrived at Wadi Rabkut at 12 noon. It was baking hot but a nice breeze kept us cool. The wadi was wide and long, we walked for 5 minutes before we found Asian Desert Warbler and Desert Wheatear. We then found Hoopoe Lark, Desert Lark and Bar-tailed Desert Lark all in the same little area.
view of the very dry wadi Rabkut
 A nice find was a Mountain Gazelle and just after that Dancho put up four Sand Partridges, another target species in the bag.

I think this is a Mountain Gazelle
Moving on we drove another 30km south and stopped just outside of the town of Thumrayt where a large Land-Fill project which had been reported to have been attracting a good number of migrant eagles. It looked deserted when we got there except for several Pale Crag Martins, but when we stepped out of the car and scanned the surrounding hills we found many eagles. Some circled above us, others sat on the hills but all we could find was 11 Steppe Eagles, a great bird, but we expected a couple more species.

Our final stop was just outside of the town of Salalah, it was a lovely little valley with a stream running through it, very picturesque and full of birds. It was late afternoon now, the light was superb and we enjoyed a lovely hour or so sitting by the stream and watching the birds come to drink or feed in the water.

 
two views of Ayn Sahnawt
 
 
 
Waders on show included, Temminck’s Stint (3), Greenshank, Green Sandpiper and Common Snipe, we also saw Grey and Purple Herons, Black-crowned Night Heron, Citrine, White and Grey Wagtails.

Citrine Wagtail
 A few goodies included our first African Silverbill, Cinnamon-breasted Bunting, Tristram’s Starling and a Blackstart! Other sightings included Eurasian Hoopoe, Black Redstart and we heard Arabian Partridge calling from the hillside.

 The light began to fade and as we prepared to drive into town to find accommodation we bumped into a local guy who just happened to rent out apts. We followed him into the suburbs where he showed us a nice two bed apt which he let us have very cheaply for a few nights, where’s the catch – watch this space.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

OMAN RECCE TRIP - DAY 3 - DECEMBER 10TH 2014

SAMAIL - QATBIT - MONTASAR OASIS

We had travelled some 100km south of Muscat in the direction of Salalah last night, we pitched our tents in the mountains near Samail in the light of a full moon on very stony ground.

Another beautiful morning greeted us as we emerged from our tents at 6am, we were surrounded by a barren mountainous landscape with a picturesque village below us. We soon packed up our camping gear and jumped into the car and set off southward towards Salalah.

many, seemingly wild, camels roamed the desert
 
Salalah, which is a further 1000 km south, is to be our final destination on the south coast and we hope to travel most of the way today. As a consequence we didn’t do much birding, we passed through miles of desert where there was no sign of life, not a single tree nor blade of grass, just stony desert and a very flat landscape. After four hours we pulled into a ‘rest; area where a motel had planted many trees and bushes, a short walk produced little, Desert Wheatear, Desert Whitethroat, lots of House Sparrows, Laughing Doves and Collared Doves.

 
here they are again trying to hide behind some grass

Birds seen along the roadside included Brown-necked Raven, Desert Wheatear and Hoopoe Lark. At 1pm we reached our target destination for the day, Qatbit, some 700km south of Muscat. There we booked into a roadside motel and had lunch in a nearby restaurant. A few birds were seen in the grounds of the  motel, all were seen earlier except for Common Chiffchaff.

 
Asian Desert Warbler
 
Great Grey Shrike - subspecies - aucheri
For our afternoon excursion we drove into the desert to visit an oasis where our most wanted bird, the Grey Hypocolius is sometimes found. This was an oasis-recce trip because intended to re-visit the area tomorrow. After about 45 minutes driving along desert tracks we arrived at the oasis which consisted of a small wetlands with open pools and reedy areas. Quite a few trees stretched for miles around they were thinly spread and were mainly acacias.
 
We soon found a number of birds but not as many as I had expected: an Asian Desert Warbler showed well and a ‘pipit’ species disappeared before we ID’d it. A single of each of the following were also found: Green Sandpiper, Wood Sandpiper, Common Snipe, Northern Pintail, Southern Grey Shrike – aucheri  as well as hundreds of doves and a few Brown-necked Ravens.

a couple of views of the oasis, camels included

 

Before we left a couple of large flocks of Crowned Sandgrouse circled above us they wanted to land to drink but a local ‘farmer’ had brought over a large herd of Camels to water them this deterred the Sandgrouse from alighting.

 We left the area as the sun went down arriving at our motel just as it got dark at 6pm.