This was actually not a birding trip per se. My mother was celebrating her anniversary and wanted her immediate family to join. As we are a little spread out around the globe, Oman seemed to be the logical choice as it was more or less in the middle for everyone.
I did not want to slow loading of this page down too much, more pictures are here: Trip photos.
Oman is not really cheap, at least not coming from Vietnam. My mother paid for everything and I thus do not know all the details. Whilst local restaurants were cheap, with us paying around USD 40.00 for 6 of us, the international Hotels and restaurants were considerably more expensive, I spent close to USD 300.00 on one dinner for all of us (which admittedly included plenty of wine and beer).
For ease of use prizes are quoted in US Dollars throughout the report but at the time we were there, one Oman Rial (OMR) was just over 3 US Dollars.
The best exchange rates are to be had at the ubiquitous money changers in Muscat and Salalah, airport and hotel rates are not very favorable. Credit cards are widely accepted.
Transportation and accommodation:
As we arrived in Muscat too late to connect to Salalah, we spent one night at the Treasurebox Hotel in Muscat. Located just a few minutes from the airport and next to the Great Mosque, this is a pretty new hotel with decent rooms and good breakfast. We paid bout USD 100.00 for the room without breakfast and without 17% tax; not that cheap when considering that the restaurant was closed and I had to lug our own bags. We stayed there again on the way back, that time the hotel cost USD 200.00; which I thought was too much (especially as I had to carry our bags once again).
In Salalah we stayed at the Crowne Plaza Resort Salalah. Currently, there are really only two up-market choices in Salalah, this hotel and the Hilton Salalah Resort. The problem with the latter is that it is right opposite the huge commercial harbor of Salalah. The Crowne Plaza was a bit of a mixed bag: nice property with plenty of birds, good rooms, generally friendly staff let down by mediocre food, spotty service and absence of management. Considering the rooms were close to USD 300.00 a night, I would have expected better. As a matter of fact I wrote a complaint letter for the first time in my life; I am still waiting for a reply.
Finally we stayed at the Qitbit (Qatbit) Motel and Resthouse, which has to rate as our worst night in Oman. The owner is very friendly, and there is a bird sighting list, but the food was atrocious and the rooms horrible. Neither one of us (only Ha and myself at this stage) slept a wink because of the gazillions of Mosquitoes, and there weren't even any birds (OK, not the hotel's fault that one). For all of this we paid close to USD 100.00, which is way too much for what was on offer.
As we were 6 adults and a child, my parents had rented a van. In all reality you do not really need a 4-wheel drive for most birding spots around Salalah as the roads are very good and roads are being surfaced at an incredible speed. We only rented a 4WD to go to the desert and for the trip from Salalah to Muscat. Petrol is ridiculously cheap, filling the 140-liter tank of the Nissan Patrol we rented was only USD 25.00. I am afraid that I have no idea what we paid in rental fees as, once again, my mom took care of that.
We had one day with lots of rain, apart from that it was glorious sun and blue sky every day! Temperatures were also very pleasant and even cool at times early in the morning. If you do come at that time of the year bring a light jacket or sweater, both for the mornings and the air-conditioned restaurants where temperatures are usually set to freezing.
We did have the most amazing sight in Qitbit where we woke up with fog the like of which I had never seen before. Visibility was less than 20 meters and the fog did not clear until late in the morning.
Food and Drink:
If you have eaten Lebanese food than there will not be many surprises here for you with Tabouleh, Hummus and Falafel everywhere. As there are a large number of Indians and Pakistanis working in the Oman, curry houses are all over the place.
We ate in the hotel quite often as the local restaurants do not serve alcohol, and what is a holiday without a cold one? If you drink harder stuff, stock up at the Duty Free; all alcohol in Oman is very expensive.
On the whole I would say that food was good but generally not exceptional.
Dangers and annoyances:
Ha was happy: there are no leeches in the Oman! However, there were plenty of Mosquitoes as well as heaps of Gnats at Muntasar; long-sleeved shirt, trousers, and a scarf to cover your face are strongly recommended for that site.
The Oman is known as a very safe place and crime is almost nonexistent. There is apparently the odd case of Malaria but we did not bother to take any precautions as we deemed the risk too low.
The one big danger are drivers and camels. Whilst pretty well-behaved compared to Vietnam, people do tend to drive fast and usually sit in huge four-wheel drives. Camels are a real nuisance as they own the roads and will cross when and where they please. When you see cars with hazard lights on, slow down as there will be camels. For this reason I would also not like to drive at night, hitting one of these buggers is bound to end in tears for all involved.
Oman is still a pretty conservative society and women in particular are probably well-advised to cover up a little bit. This does, of course, not apply for the hotels but I was personally a bit shocked to see foreign women walking on the public beaches in Bikinis whilst the Omani women were covered from head to toe. Only my personal opinion but, contrary to what I heard from one tourist, spending one's money in a country does not entitle one to disregarding laws and traditions.
A word on place names:
Whilst most places are extremely well signed out, the spelling of the same location varies considerably as they are transcribed from Arabic. We saw the same place spelt in three different ways within a hundred meters. If you see a sign and the name sounds roughly like what you have in your book than you are probably on the right road (and the 4WD's at least have a very huge spare petrol tank if not).
I still have a hardcover copy of Field Guide to the Birds of the Middle East by R.F. Porter et al and I think this is still the book to take along. The hardcover is out of print, but the paperback is still available, for example here.
Another indispensable book to bring is Birdwatching guide to Oman by Dave Sargeant and Hanne & Jens Eriksen. I bought the second edition which came out earlier this year; it is widely available at the airport shops and the "Family Bookshops" in Muscat and Salalah. Apart from detailed site accounts the book also has a wealth of general information as well as an annotated check list of Oman's Birds.
Finally, and also from Hanne & Jens Eriksen, there is Common Birds in Oman. This is a photographic guide to 250 common (and some not so common) birds and contains some great pictures.
Incidentally, this enterprising couple also runs a great website with up-to-date information on birds seen: Birds Oman.
Of course we are all very grateful to our parents who not only had the idea of meeting in Oman but also footed the billJ. They organized a great trip for all of us (not easy as we have widely varying interests) and also enabled me to see my brother and wife (it's been 11 years) as well as my niece for the first time. Whilst not always seeing eye-to-eye (which family does) it was great meeting up again.
28th of October:
Arrived in Muscat after flying via Bangkok and landing for a "technical stop" in Karachi. Dark by the time we arrived and thus no birding. Immigration was efficient enough and within minutes we were in a taxi (get the ticket from the official taxi stand) that took us to our hotel nearby. Once we checked in, and after we found out that the hotel served neither dinner nor alcohol, we walked to a nearby restaurant for forgettable food but at least the beer was cold.
29th of October:
Got on the morning flight to Salalah, ticking off the, to us, familiar Common Mynas on the way to the airport. Decent plane and a good 2-hour flight even though I did not realize that they do serve alcohol in the business lounge; one just needs to ask for it. Also picked up copies of "Common Birds of Oman" and "Where to watch Birds in Oman" at the airport shop as I had forgotten the former and the latter had not arrived from the UK in time.
Our parents were waiting for us upon arrival and we just had time for spotting a Common Kestrel before hopping into the car for the short drive to the hotel. After a rather heated argument with the full-of-herself receptionist (my parents had clashed with her earlier in the dayJ), we settled into our very nice room and caught up with our parents. As our rooms were adjacent and both had direct access to the extensive gardens, we managed to see our first lifers at the same time: the palm trees in front of us were full with Tristram's Grackles, Rϋppell's Weavers, African Silverbills and Grey-headed Kingfishers (the latter would be almost all gone just a few days later). Not a bad start at all and Ha and I were pretty chuffed even though these were admittedly common birds. We also saw 2 of the largest Chameleons I have ever seen; we would find out that these were actually also quite common in Oman. Both Collared and Laughing Doves were very numerous, too and we saw the first of many Ring-necked Parakeets.
Impossible to miss were the Sooty Gulls, they were continuously moving up and down the coast. There were also some larger gulls but I was not up to the identification challenges of those on our first day in the Oman.
After lunch, we headed to the nearby "East Khawr", a five minute's drive from the hotel. Khawrs are small inland lagoons that obviously attract all sorts of birds. Whilst waiting for my mother to get the car, Ha and I added Yellow-vented (White-spectacled) Bulbul, Shining Sunbird, and White-breasted White-eyes to our rapidly growing list. Incidentally, I do prefer to call the Bulbul White-spectacled to avoid confusion with "our" Asian Yellow-vented Bulbul.
When we got to the Khawr, about half of Oman's Armed Forces seemed to be playing football and exercising and as such it was not too good for birds. One of quite a few Marsh Harriers spooked a flock of roosting White-winged (Black) Terns and there were numerous Indian Pond Herons about. Also very common were Crested Larks, and a few Indian Pond Herons were lurking in the reeds. However, it was just too busy and we retired to the hotel for dinner and some cold ones.
Ha's "Bird of the Day" was Shining Sunbirds, I went for the Grackles.
30th of October:
Off early to the nearby airport to pick up my brother and his family coming in that day from Sweden. On the way to the car we saw a few Hoopoes as well as another lifer for Ha in the shape of Graceful Prinia. We also saw a pair of fairly recent invaders, and birds that I really dislike, House Crows. I think the first birds I remember noticing as a wee lad were these rubbish birds, they were a real nuisance around the school in Mombasa, Kenya that I went to. Whilst waiting at the airport, garnering a lot of interest by the security staff, we kept ourselves entertained by watching the African Rock Martins and a single Osprey.
After picking up the rather tired rest of the family, we returned to the hotel for breakfast and another lifer for Ha seen from the terrace as two Greater Flamingos flew by. No offense to anybody, but Flamingoes always remind me of flying crucifixes (I hope the Pope doesn't read birding trip reports).
Once the Swedes had recovered, we headed for al Mughsayl. Actually I thought the site was called "Al-Maha" as I saw a road sign with that name. However, I figured out later that that was actually the name of a chain of petrol stations! Hundreds of gulls here, including a few Slender-billed Gulls. Lesser Crested Terns were also nice, but the bird of this site was our first Desert Wheatear. We would see loads of those throughout our stay, but the first one is always special, at least for me.
It is for this reason that Desert Wheatear was my "Bird of the Day", Ha liked the Flamingoes most.
31st of October:
Ha and I got up in the middle of the night to head for Ayn Hamran, one of the must-bird places in the Dhofar region. The very first bird we saw as soon as we got out of the car was an African Rock Bunting. A really delightful bird and yet another lifer for Ha. It was Ha, as usual, who spotted the next star bird, Bruce's Green-Pigeon. This was one bird we really wanted to see and it was really fantastic to stumble upon 5 of them within seconds of getting to the Ayn. When sitting quietly in a tree they are not easy to see; luckily I am blessed with a wife with really good eyes.
A group of Swedish birders had arrived just before us and they were hard to miss as they were a very noisy bunch. We thus gave up on our plan of walking up the trail and just stuck to the parking lot area. African Paradise Flycatchers were extremely common, we would find out throughout our stay that they were common all over Dhofar. There were also plenty of Rock Pigeon here and they are actually tickable as they are the real deal.
As it got warmer, we saw our first raptors. Whilst we did not see the Verreaux's Eagles that supposedly have their territory here, a Short-toed and a Booted Eagle were none too shabby. We also added another sunbird to our list, a very nice male Palestine Sunbird.
As we got into the car to head back for breakfast, Ha spotted some movement (if we were not married already, I would propose to her for her eyesight alone) and I reluctantly got out of the car again. Good thing too as we saw three Arabian Partridges. They were not really that shy, but it was still pretty much impossible to get a decent photo. Ah well, at least it was another lifer for both of us.
There were plenty of European Rollers on the way back to the hotel; like the Grey-headed Kingfishers we must have caught them at the peak of passage as numbers were considerably lower just a few short days later.
After a forgettable lunch at the hotel we headed to the nearby Frankincense museum. Very nice and interesting indeed, as were the Green Bee-eaters hunting over the ruins.
A few really good birds as contenders for "Bird of the Day"; Ha finally settled for the Arabian Partridges and I went for the Green-Pigeons.
1st of November:
Our first, and only day of rain. Actually it drizzled most of the day which was a shame as the whole family went on a day trip to Sadah, 200 kilometers away. Highlights were the absolutely stunning countryside (including waterfalls; a somewhat unexpected sight in the middle of the desert); lots of Dolphins very close to the beach, our first Frankincense trees, putting an army camp on full alert at the end of the road, and a raft of what must have been at least 500 Socotra Cormorants.
On the way back we passed the Sahnawt farm and saw our first White Storks of the trip. Ha promptly chose those for her "Bird of the Day", I took the Cormorants for lack of much else.
For dinner we went to the competition, the Hilton Hotel on the other side of Salalah. Food was very good and the service was better than at the Crowne Plaza, even the port of Salalah looked nice at night; though in my opinion the Crowne Plaza remains the hotel of choice for its beach and huge garden, at least for the time being.
2nd of November:
After a leisurely breakfast, Ha and I decided to do the 3-kilometer walk to the East Khawr. Whilst not really a beach person myself I have to say that the beach here is certainly one of the nicer ones I have seen. Add to that Eurasian Curlews, Bar-tailed Godwits, a couple of Ruddy Turnstones, and heaps of Heuglin's Gulls, and it was a very pleasant walk indeed.
The Khawr was much quieter than on our fist visit and 52 Greater Flamingos made for a great sight. We also gave it our best shot at identifying the numerous waders. Actually, it was just me that tried, Ha gave up as she felt they all looked the same. A sentiment I tend to agree with. Luckily, there were a few of the easier waders present to keep me amused in the shape of Kentish and Ringed Plovers, a couple of Grey Plovers, Common Redshanks and Greenshanks, and the usual Common Sandpipers. Next to a flock of White-winged Terns we also saw the only 2 Gull-billed Terns of the trip.
As usual we (I) had forgotten to bring something to drink and it was getting hot. Thus, after a short chat with another birder, we slogged back for lunch and a cold beer. On the way I also finally managed to get Ha on my favorite wader, Terek Sandpiper. There were a few of these around, they look very out of proportion and remind me clowns (don't know why); just great birds.
Refreshed, we headed out again for Khawr Sawli. Actually, I had forgotten the "Where to watch Birds in Oman" at the hotel and thought we were at Khawr Rawri, a mistake I only realized in the evening. Duh! Surprisingly few birds, but we did finally see our first Blackstarts as well as a few Blue-cheeked Bee-eaters.
The Blackstart was a lifer for both of us and thus made it on the "Bird of the Day" honor list.
3rd of November:
Whilst a holiday, I still had to train for a Half-marathon later in the year and I got up in the middle of the night to do my 20-kilometer run. Running along the Sultan's Palace seemed to take forever; he sure cannot complain about being crowded in! Halfway mark was at the Salalah Nature Reserve where I spooked 50+ roosting Glossy Ibises (sorry guys).
My brother wanted to go diving today and thus the entire family drove to Ras Mirbat, a headland 55 kilometers from the hotel. Ha and I let the others do their thing and settled in for some sea-watching, passing a few Omanis on the way who obviously use the place to secretly skull beers. We did not see all that many different species, but huge numbers of Sooty Gulls and Greater Crested Terns. Every little rock sticking out of the water had a Western Reef-egret on it, holding their ground against a few Grey Herons. Ha spooked the only Oystercatcher of the trip and we had close fly-by views of Sandwich Terns carrying fish (presumably) back to their nests. As we were about to leave a single Booby flew by. Regrettably it was not the wished for Masked but "only" a Brown Booby, supposedly the much rarer of the two species.
A very late lunch followed and the rest was spent swimming and drinking beer.
"Bird of the Day" was the Oystercatcher for Ha as it was her first, I chose the very elegant Sandwich Tern.
4th of November:
We finally made it to Khawr Rawri, after ending up at the wrong Khawr a couple of days earlier. We never actually made it inside as we had enough birds to keep us busy at the end of the Khawr near the road. Still no Crakes, but a Greater Spotted Eagle sitting on the ground and waiting for the sun (it was surprisingly cool that morning). Some movement turned out to be one of the target species of this site: Arabian Warbler. Quite a skulker, but we eventually managed to get good views of it.
As it got warmer, two Ospreys circled along the cliffs but we were much more interested in the pair of Bonelli's Eagles that appeared to have their territory here.
Having walked up one side of the Khawr, we headed to the northern side were we immediately saw the other target bird here: Black-crowned Tchagra. A great bird but, once again, a bird that was not so easy to get views of. As we were still celebrating, a large, long-tailed bird zipped by. Luckily, it settled in a bush not too far away and the scope revealed what, for me, was one of the highlights, a Jacobin Cuckoo! My first ever and what a great bird it was.
We spent another hour or so before heading back to the hotel and, after lunch, to the Frankincense Market. Frankincense used to be really big business in the Oman; as a matter of fact Khawr Rawri used to be a port where much of this sweet-smelling resin was shipped from. In recent years the government has been active in reviving the trade and Ha did her part in supporting this initiative (anyone needs some Frankincense?).
Obviously the Jacobin Cuckoo was "Bird of the Day" for me whilst Ha chose the Tchagra.
5th of November:
Ha and I let the others sleep and headed back to Al Mughsayl for another try at sea watching. We first checked out a couple of small pools nearby. Not much there but we did add Garganey and Gadwall to our list.
We left the car at the Cafe there and walked on down to the blowhole. Not much blowing actually, the tide was too low. However, great vies down onto to sea from the platforms there and within seconds I had the 2,000th bird for my life list when the first Persian Shearwaters flew by. When there were no birds, Ha and I were entertained by numerous turtles, some of them huge, and groups of Dolphins that sometimes seemed close enough to touch. A fantastic morning really that got even better when we found a number of Common Noddies balancing on buoys nearby. We also saw a single Booby, but again it was a Brown Booby and not the hoped for Masked.
We had breakfast at the Cafe there and it was really good. They had a great Lime-mint juice and excellent Mutton Shwarmas; I'd go back for that alone.
On the way back to the hotel we stopped at the Raysut rubbish tip. Smelled none too good but the sight of 100+ White Storks, hundreds of Steppe Eagles and a couple of Greater Spotted Eagles made up for that.
It was a late lunch after that and a day on the beach. In the evening we headed back to Khawr Rawri; not for birding but for a sun-downer. Really magic though we had a bit of excitement when a car drove up and we scrambled to hide the booze; drinking in public is a no-no in the Oman.
"Bird of the Day" for Ha was Common Noddy. I took the Persian Shearwater. Not really the most spectacular bird in the world, but as it took my list to new levels it more than deserved the honors.
6th of November:
After what was, for a change, a latish breakfast we headed for Taqah after previously having failed to find it. A really nice small town; most other towns in Dhofar left a lot to be desired architecturally. Right at the entrance of the town is a small Khawr that supposedly is good for Pheasant-tailed Jacana and Crakes; we missed out on both. However, we did add 15 roosting Pacific Golden Plovers and 4 Eurasian Spoonbills to our trip list and spent quite some time just enjoying the scenery. We eventually headed for the Taqah cliffs where within seconds of getting out of the car we finally caught up with two Masked Boobies; a bird I really wanted to see. We also saw 5 Swifts that fit the bill for Dhofar Swift, a bird over which there appears to be much confusion. Hopefully it will get sorted out one day and we can add it to our list. Just before reaching the hotel on the way back we spotted a raptor in a palm tree by the road. The bird first had us stumped a little as views were from below, but eventually we nailed it as Oriental Honey-buzzard. Not a commonly reported bird for the Oman, but apparently that is because it is overlooked a lot.
In the afternoon the whole family headed up into the mountains to Jabal Sanhan to enjoy spectacular views of the coast many hundred meters below. Here we saw our first Desert Lark, lots of Fan-tailed Raven harassing an Imperial Eagle, and our first South Arabian Wheatear, a stunning male no less. My brother also managed to flush a Hare of undetermined species; I really would have liked to find a book on Omani mammals but no joy.
Ha's "Bird of the Day" was the Imperial Eagle. Not a bad choice but I was really happy with the Masked Booby, I find Boobies really great albeit bizarre; they always seem all out of proportion to me.
7th and 8th of November:
The whole family headed out to the dessert to spend a night in a Bedouin camp. Not too many birds on the way, though we did see House Martin on the way, another addition to our trip list. We also briefly stopped at farms near Shisr, but apart from 20+ White Storks, Barn Swallows, and 2 Marsh Harriers there wasn't much. I really had a blast driving through the desert; I rarely drive here in Vietnam as the traffic is just to chaotic; it was great to let fly without having gazillions of motorbikes around me. Anyway, the camp was quite busy with a huge group of Swedes, my brother and his family felt quite at home and were not seen again for the rest of the stay. The camp could have been really nice if only some attention had been paid to it; regrettably everything was a little run down and there was way too much rubbish around. The food was good, however, and we had remembered to bring some booze as the camp was "dry". Nice evening but I buggered off when everybody started singing Swedish folk songs. Luckily there was plenty of room all around to put one's camp bed; I have never been to keen on this round-the-camp-fire, boy scout sort of thing.
It was a beautiful night with a sky full of stars; I cannot remember ever having seen so many. I had a lot of time admiring the stars and the odd shooting star as it was hard to sleep; temperatures must have been close to freezing. The camp provided sleeping bags and blankets but it was still bloody cold.
Thus I think all of us were pretty happy when the sun came up and we managed to get some hot tea in. Even better was the fact that we had Black-crowned Finch-larks at our feet and, somewhat shyer, a Hoopoe Lark nearby. On the way back we stopped at Ubar where it took us forever to nail down a Rufous Bush-robin. Another good bird here was a Black Redstart and we also saw our first Brown-necked Raven taking a keen interest in some garbage. Finally, just before heading back to the coast, we saw a Barbary Falcon perched on the telephone wire running along the road.
It was that Falcon that was "Bird of the Day" for Ha, I took the Black-crowned Finch-larks purely because of their cuteness factor.
9th of November:
Today Ha and I wanted to finally visit the Salalah farms. We had tried on a previous morning but the Omani army was playing at war that day and all the roads leading to the farms were blocked. The idea was to first go to the Sahnawt farm and then to the Jarziz farm. Alas, it was not to be: there had been an outbreak of some unspecified disease at Sahnawt and access was strictly forbidden. Bummer that as the two farms apparently hold quite different birds. Nothing we could do about that and we headed to Jarziz.
The farms are huge, with large areas used for growing grass. As we got there, some of the grass was being mown, the tractor doing the mowing was followed by what must have been a good 100 or so White Storks. Mind you, they weren't all that white as the tractor threw up a lot of dust and the storks were following as closely as they possibly could without getting caught up in the machinery. They were joined in the fray by numerous Cattle Egrets as well as White and Yellow Wagtails. All this was watched by a few Common Kestrels and Isabelline Shrikes perched on wires around the fields. Both Collared and Mourning Doves were extremely common here but, hard as we looked, no Namaqua Doves. A Greater Short-toed Lark gave great views whilst the Singing Bush-larks were a lot more retiring. As it got warmer, a couple of Spotted Eagles and a Short-toed Eagle started circling lazily over the fields, presumably looking for lunch.
We passed the East Khawr once more on the way back to the hotel. Not much new in the way of birds except for some Curlew Sandpipers. In the afternoon I went for a 25-kilometer run through the desert. Way to tiring to really look out for birds but I did see Greater Cormorants and Hoopoe at a water hole I passed en route.
The Singing Bush-lark was "Bird of the Day" for both of, both because it was a lifer for both of us as well as the fact that it was a lot of effort to get good views of it.
10th of November:
Ha and I wanted to give the huge sinkhole at Tawi Atayr another shot. We had gone with the whole family a few days before to look for the local specialty, Yemen Serin, without even getting a whiff. We first took a look at Wadi Darbat, ticking a single Southern Grey Shrike along the way. Darbat was very windy and there were few birds about. We did see a few more Bruce's Green Pigeons and did add a handful of Black-crowned Night-herons to the list. We also had a few very tame Bluethroats and yet another group of Swedes. The number of Swedes in Oman is amazing, there cannot be many people left in Sweden during the winter.
At the sinkhole we once again saw loads of African Rock Buntings as well as African Paradise Flycatchers but still no Serins. The sinkhole is also a good place for Rock Hyrax. A word of caution: if you are not good with heights, which I am certainly not, walking around the edge of a sinkhole several hundred meters deep is a bit nerve-wracking.
Not too many birds today and we both chose the elegant looking Southern Grey Shrike as our "Bird of the Day".
11th of November:
We left well before dawn as we finally wanted to nail a Nightjar. I had seen a few already, one even in downtown Salalah, but never managed to get Ha on it. The trend continued as I saw two more on the way to Khawr Taqah but Ha only had unsatisfactory glimpses. However, we did both have excellent views of Rϋppell's Fox next to the road. Once at Taqah we parked at the edge of the Khawr and almost immediately saw an Eurasian Nightjar hawking for insects in the very first dawn light. As there wasn't much else new about, we headed once more for Ayn Hamran.
As there were no noisy Swedish birders about, we headed up the little trail. My constant scanning of the cliff edges paid off when we finally saw a Verreaux's Eagle. A truly magnificent bird; Ayn Hamran is apparently the place to see it in the Oman. Heading back down, we saw a pair each of Black-crowned Tchagras and Arabian Warblers as well as about 40 Arabian Partridges. They were not really shy but it was still quite a challenge to take photos as they would not really let us approach closely.
After lunch we gave the sinkhole at Atayr a last try. I still did not enjoy standing next to an abyss, but we just had to find the darn Serins. We must have spent a good 2 hours there without catching a glimpse. My mounting frustration was not helped by Ha getting onto a Nile Valley Sunbird that I absolutely failed to see! Luckily then that we finally did see a flock of about 10 Yemen Serin just as we were about to call it a day. The Serins are actually not much to look at, the word "dull" springs to mind, but what makes them special is that this population was only discovered in 1997, not by birders but spelunkers! At that time this find meant a range extension of over a thousand kilometers though I believe another population has since been found near Salalah.
Anyway, after three tries we finally had that bird in the bag and it certainly was my "Bird of the Day". Ha, however, was more than just a little underwhelmed by the Serin and opted for the Verreaux's Eagle instead.
12th of November:
An early start saw us return to Khawr Tawri. As we got out of the car, a stork flew over us which I pegged as Abdim's Stork. However, a second look confirmed that it was actually a Black Stork, a good bird for Oman where they are not all that common. A Blue Rock-thrush was hanging around the cliffs and a few Clamorous Reed-warblers were skulking, where else, in the reeds.
After hanging around the top end of the Khawr a little (and once again seeing Crakes but unable to ID them), we took the road inside, paid the entrance fee (as there is an archeological site in there) and checked out the deep part of the Khawr. I was secretly hoping for some ducks, but there were none; maybe it was still just too early in the year. However, we did see a single Pheasant-tailed Jacana and, deep inside a bush, a Menetries' Warbler.
That was our last day of birding in Dhofar as Ha and I would leave for Muscat by car the next day. My parents, who had done the trip before, opted to stay a couple of more days in Salalah and then join us in Muscat, my brother and family would fly back to Sweden the next day.
Ha had never seen a Black Stork before and made that her "Bird of the Day", I took another bird that made me work very hard, the Menetries' Warbler.
13th of November:
After seeing my brother off, Ha and I hit the road for the 1,000 kilometers to Muscat. We were both very happy that we chose to cross the dessert by car, but the driving can get monotonous at times. The road is very good, actually too good, it makes staying awake hard at times, and I drank lots of Coke (something I usually never drink) to keep me going.
Really not a lot of birds in the dessert, but a couple of hours into the drive we finally saw a Lappet-faced Vulture, or to be precise, six of them. They took off as we approached and as they crossed the road above us they came within a few meters of us. An amazing spectacle as they really are huge.
Late afternoon saw us arrive at the Qitbit Hotel. As I mentioned in the introduction the hotel is not really good and the birding was pretty lousy as well. Just bad luck as the entries in the logbook from just a couple of days earlier had some really good birds. We were just out of luck and apart from an out-of-place Garganey, Black Redstarts and both Isabelline Wheatear and Isabelline Shrike there wasn't much. Lucky I had brought beers with me (another "dry" hotel), that was about the only highlight of the evening.
Sure made choosing a "Bird of the Day" easy though, the Lappet-faced Vultures had absolutely no competition.
14th of November:
After a horrible night we were glad when it was over. However, when we stopped outside we saw ....... nothing! Overnight, fog had rolled in. Now I am not talking about a little bit of mist, this was fog thick enough to cut with a knife; straight out of a horror movie. We thus had one of the most forgettable breakfasts we have ever had first; especially considering how much it cost, but the fog just would not lift. As we did not know how long the fog would last, we decided to head for Muntasar as originally planned. This entailed creeping down the highway with my head sticking out of the window to, hopefully, hear any truck coming our way. Luckily there was only little traffic as the trucks did not slow down much, in spite of the fact that visibility was at times below 10 meters.
It took as a very harrowing 45 minutes to do the 14 Kilometers to the Muntasar turn-off; I think we both felt much better once in the dessert. The fog just did not shift and I almost drove into the little pool at Muntasar. These pools are apparently one of the best places to see Sandgrouse in Oman and, according to the log-book at the motel, everybody that came here before us saw them. We did not even get a glimpse, which was extremely disappointing as really the only reason we undertook the long drive through the dessert was to see these bloody birds. Even when the fog finally started to lift at round 11 o' clock there were hardly any birds, a couple of Chiffchaffs and a Bluethroat did nothing to alleviate my disappointment. Ah well, win some, lose some.
Not much else to write about for the rest of the day. We stopped for lunch at the Al Ghaftayn Hotel, seeing our first House Sparrows of the trip. Should Ha and I ever come that way again I think we would opt for this place instead of the Qitbit Hotel. I did not see the rooms, but the restaurant was much cleaner and the food was way better than at Qitbit. After that we continued to Muscat where we checked in, picked up our parents at the airport and fell into bed.
"Bird of the Day"? Any of the Sandgrouse, if we had but seen one. Really one of my more miserable days of birding as I had particularly hoped to show Ha a Sandgrouse (actually, I had a worse day shortly after, involving a Spoonbilled Sandpiper, but you will have to wait for the next trip report for that one).
15th of November:
My parents, Ha and I had a good and fairly late breakfast (all the long days were beginning to wear down both Ha and myself) and headed for one of the must-see places in Muscat, the Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque. Absolutely huge, the 4,343 square meter carpet covering the floor of the prayer hall and the 14 meter tall chandelier are both the second largest of its kind in the world. Should you visit: dress code is quite strict, especially for women. I really was impressed by the Mosque, even more so because it is surrounded by nice gardens which were full of Indian Silverbills, Purple Sunbirds, and Red-vented Bulbuls; all birds not seen in Dhofar. Already the day was much better than the previous one, bird-wise.
On the way to lunch, we stopped at a small park near the Chedi Hotel. However, the small lake that apparently used to be here had gone and there weren't all that many birds. We did, however, see a Common Kingfisher as well as a pair of White-cheeked Bulbul. There appears to some disagreement as to whether the second species is a genuine colonist or feral.
We also tried to visit the gardens of the Al Bustan Palace Hotel, but security would not let us in; we probably looked to poor. Instead we went to the nearby Yacht Harbor where we entertained by a Hume's Wheatear.
That evening we went to the Souk of Muscat. Whilst interesting to visit, there wasn't really much to shop apart from a lot of kitsch. Dinner was at a fantastic Indian restaurant the name of which I just cannot remember. However I do remember that we both picked Hume's Wheatear as our "Bird of the Day".
16th of November:
Our last day in Oman and we headed for the outskirts of Muscat, near Mutrah. The first birds seen a the Oasis there were a couple of Indian Rollers, familiar birds for Ha and myself. Less familiar was the only Egyptian Vulture of the trip, the bird accompanied us the whole time we were there. The highlight here were about 10 Sand Partridges; though very shy we managed to get pretty good views. We also saw another Lappet-faced Vulture and a few Desert Whitethroats here.
In the afternoon we paid a quick visit to Al Qurm park. Like most parks it was not really supposed to open until 16:00 but the gate was open and nobody stopped us walking around. There were lots of Great Cormorants and Red-wattled Lapwings here, as well as Common Teal, Mallards, and Shovelers. A single Black-necked Grebe was hiding between all the Little Grebes and we saw 4 Grey Francolins near the Amphitheatre on the way out.
And that was the end of another fantastic trip. Our parents took us to the airport for our flight to Bangkok where we spend a couple of days recuperating (and where Ha drank the Hardrock Cafe empty, but that is another story) before heading back to Vietnam.
"Bird of the Day" was once again a unanimous decision, with the Sand Partridge taking top spot.
Feel free to contact me for any additional information at: hannostamm(at)hotmail.com.
List of Birds seen: