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Day 1: Sat 14 January 2023 - UK- Oman
We fly London to Muscat overnight arriving in Oman in the early hours of Sunday morning, and after breakfast and a little rest, board our vehicles and get straight into birding locally.
Day 2: Sun 15 January - Al Qurm and Al Ansab
We begin at wetland and coastal sites close to the city where we have a range of great birding options. In a largely desert environment, water of any sort warrants attention and Al Qurm offers a good mixture of habitats including wetlands, while the man-made lagoons and sewage treatment plant at Al Ansab has been one of Oman’s premier birding destinations for decades! Across both sites possibilities include Striated, Indian Pond and Western Reef Heron, Spotted, Baillon’s and Little Crake, Garganey, Pintail, Ferruginous Duck, Black-necked Grebe, Grey Francolin, Red-wattled Lapwing, Pin-tailed Snipe, Pacific Golden Plover, Marsh, Green and Wood Sandpiper and Little Stint. In surrounding scrub, Red-vented and White-spectacled Bulbul may both be seen along with Little Green Bee-eater, Purple Sunbird, Citrine Wagtail, Bluethroat, Brown-necked Raven and Common Mynah. Scanning offshore, Pallas's Gull winter in small numbers, Slender-billed and Sooty Gull are also likely, often roosting alongside White-cheeked, Whiskered, Sandwich, Lesser Crested and Greater Crested Tern. Later we may visit Seeb beach to check through more flocks of roosting gulls and terns. Overnight Muscat area for three nights.
Day 3: Mon 16 January - Al Fahal Island
Lying 4km off the mainland, Al Fahal (or Shark) Island is comprised of limestone and believed to be over 50 million years old, and we take a boat trip out into the Gulf of Oman to look for wintering seabirds, cetaceans and to view the island. The sea between here and the mainland has a particularly high coral diversity and there is a good chance of finding Persian Shearwater, Arabian Tropicbird, flocks of Red-necked Phalarope and perhaps pods of Spinner Dolphin during our voyage.
Returning to dry land and being so close to the lively commercial district of Muttrah within the historic quarter of Old Muscat, we take a little time away from birding. The site of the sultan’s palace and a pair of hoary old Portuguese forts, Muttrah Souk one of Oman’s most colourful is a disorienting labyrinth of tiny alleyways piled high with a bewildering array of exotic merchandise. Four kilometres southwest, the Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque is a splendid example of modern Islamic architecture and the only mosque in the country open to non-Muslims. We shall plan to visit both. Later, we may choose to venture inland towards the desert and mountains where a waste disposal site attracts eagles and vultures. While less active in recent years, it can still be good for Steppe Eagle with lesser numbers of Eastern Imperial and Greater-Spotted Eagle, Egyptian Vulture and if lucky Lappet-faced Vulture too. We may also see our first Hume’s Wheatear or Desert Lark here while scanning the skies for raptors.
Day 4: Tue 17 January - Ras-as-Sawadi and Al Hajjar Mountains
A morning visit to Ras-as-Sawadi, a promontory east of Muscat and jutting out into the Gulf of Oman should give us the expected range of waders, gulls and terns while sea-watching from the point can have its rewards with passing Masked Booby a possibility. Leaving the north coast and heading into the beautiful Al Hajjar Mountains to begin our search for its specialities. Entering the northern part of the range, new habitats may yield Sand Partridge, Desert, Persian, Hooded and Hume’s Wheatear, (Eastern) Black Redstart, Eastern Orphean Warbler, Striolated Bunting and more. Scarce Liechtenstein’s Sandgrouse are also possible, but it’s by night that these mountains have achieved recent fame among western birders when in 2013 a new, undescribed species was discovered here – the Omani Owl! After time exploring the Wadi’s by day, we return to our accommodation early and take a little time to relax before an (optional) night excursion to search for this highly prized species! If lucky, Pallid Scops Owl and the local form of Little Owl (Lilith Owl – a potential split) may be encountered too.
NB: Omani Owl – This is a very difficult species, with just a tiny known population thus far and with much still to learn. By visiting known Wadis deep into the central Al Hajjar Mountains, we hope to hear the birds calling, and subsequently track them to obtain a sighting but there are no guarantees. Excursions may last for several hours, and we may well attempt to try and find them on more than one night. All such excursions are of course optional.
Day 5: Wed 18 January - Quaryyat and east to Ras Al Jinz
Leaving Muscat and working our way along the under-watched North-east coast, we plan a series of stops for coastal species. Quarayyt is one such site with a range of habitats including coastal ‘Khawrs, the towns harbour and inland desert. Coastal possibilities include a range of waders including herons, gulls and terns. Scrubby bushes and dune systems attract Black-crowned Sparrow Lark, plus pipits, wagtails, wheatears and shrikes. while scarcer species recorded in the inland wadi’s have included Desert Lesser Whitethroat, Rufous Bush Chat, Liechtenstein’s Sandgrouse and Bonelli’s Eagle.
We could spend all day at Quaryyat, though if time we can birdwatch around Sur Lagoons or at Khawr al Jaramah. We may get lucky with a bonus Crab Plover or Pallas’s Gull here, more regular fare including Gull-billed Tern and a small flock of resident Greater Flamingo. Continuing to Ras Al Jinz, one of the most beautiful and luxurious areas of Oman, the coastal beaches here are stunning and thankfully protected from nearby development by the Turtle sanctuary. At this season Green Ridley and Hawksbill Turtle are resident, though off the coast rather than on the beaches. Overnight Ras Al Jinz for one night.
Day 6: Thurs 19 January - Ras Al Khabbah south to Masirah Island
After a leisurely start to the day we head south pausing at Ras Al Khabbah, a dramatic headland boasting great sea-watching potential in the right conditions. A good site for Arabian Tropicbird and Masked Booby, Persian and Flesh-footed Shearwater, a wandering Jouanin’s Petrel from the south is also possible and vagrants have included White-faced and Swinhoe’s Storm Petrel. Continuing our drive south we come to Barr al Hikman, a large bay on the east coast. Here we focus on waders, and depending on our arrival time may visit a couple of the northern viewpoints to scan the large flocks before taking our evening ferry from Shannah Port to Masirah island. Overnight Masirah for three nights
Days 7 & 8: Fri 20 & Sat 21 January - Masirah Island
The vast coastal mudflats stretching from the west side of Masirah Island to Barr al Hikman on the mainland really are THE wader mecca of Oman. Many thousands of birds can be present and stunning Crab Plover is our primary target. Depending on tides, light conditions and favoured feeding areas we plan to spend both days enjoying the masses of birds searching for Great Knot, Greater and Lesser Sand Plover, Kentish Plover, Terek, Marsh, Broad-billed and Curlew Sandpiper, Little Stint, Greenshank, Bar-tailed Godwit and Whimbrel alongside huge numbers of more familiar UK species. Groups of Greater Flamingo and Spoonbill draw the eye, flocks of gulls may include Heuglin's (Siberian) and Caspian Gull, a regular flock of White-cheeked Tern sometimes exceeding 50,000 individuals and raptors may include fishing Osprey, Marsh and Pallid Harrier. Access to the tidal bays can often be better from the Masirah side and the numbers of waders and terns can be higher, so we deliberately take our time exploring the area to appreciate the spectacle fully!
The northern part of the island is something of a migrant trap, and after poor weather in autumn falls of passerines can occur and among them recent scarcer species have included Pin-tailed and Great Snipe, Wryneck, Olive-backed Pipit, Black-throated Thrush and Red-breasted Flycatcher. Masirah has also been one of the most regular sites in Oman for wintering Asian Koel in recent years too. Mammals include Arabian Gazelle and a subspecies of Cape Hare, the latter endemic to Masirah. Also a sea turtle breeding ground of global importance, four species occur; Loggerhead, Green, Hawksbill and Olive Ridley, while two restricted range lizards endemic to Oman are also present.
Day 9: Sun 22 January – Barr al Hikman and the Southern Al Hajjar
We take the early morning ferry back to Shannah, and once there have a couple of birding options before the drive north back to the mountains. We could take a few more hours enjoying the waders at Barr Al Hikman, where the wader density is among the highest recorded globally, making it one of the most important coastal wetlands in the world. A nearby inland site which often retains water year-round can attract sandgrouse, Chestnut-bellied and Spotted being the most likely with Crowned possible and Liechtenstein’s the rarest. Growing vegetation around the water here also supports Plain Leaf, Lesser Whitethroat (halimodendri), and Asian Desert Warbler, while Pale Crag Martin, Tawny, Red-throated and Water Pipit, Black-crowned Sparrow Lark, Desert and Hoopoe Lark may also be found.
Later we travel north-west through desert into the southern part of the Al Hajjar Mountains. Among the birds likely to feature on roadside stops are Sand Partridge, Namaqua Dove, Desert Lark, Long-billed Pipit, Streaked Scrub Warbler, Persian, Hooded and Hume’s Wheatear, Turkestan and Daurian Shrike. Arriving in the mountains, time spent close to our accommodation late-afternoon may prove productive for raptors with Lappet-faced and Egyptian Vulture, Bonelli’s, Short-toed (scarce), Great Spotted Eagle and others possible. After dark we take further (optional) excursions for owls if required. Overnight Nizwa for 2 nights.
Day 10: Mon 23 January - Sayq Plateau
The Sayq Plateau regions are among highest and formerly most inaccessible inhabited regions in Oman. In modern times, a tarmac road allows access, however the plateau remains one of the most beautiful and wildest places in the country! We spend a full day exploring the remote, stunning landscapes slowly checking orchards and scrub around the villages and sheltered Wadi’s along the 32km stretch of road. Any small pools can attract wintering migrants including Asian scarcities, and a few Plain Leaf Warbler occur alongside Hume’s Wheatear, Striolated Bunting and Blue Rock Thrush. The mountain provides an important refuge for endemic and relict species with at least fourteen plant species, eight reptile and three fish species or subspecies endemic, or near endemic to Oman. The rare Arabian Tahr, endemic to the mountains of Northern Oman still occurs, as do Arabian Gazelle and Arabian Wolf though all are endangered and hard to find.
Days 11 & 12: Tue 24 & Wed 25 January - Al Batinah coast
Travelling north-west through the mountains may give us associated species and we pay a short visit to Jabrin Fort, one of over 500 in Oman and a finest example. Reaching the coast close to the UAE border, the Al Batinah region boasts several great birding sites and we plan to spend the next two days exploring them in detail. At either Shinas or Liwa we search for Collared Kingfisher (of the kalbaensis subspecies) and Syke’s Warbler, two specialists of the area though the former can be challenging to find and may require more than one attempt! Also likely in the mangroves are Arabian Babbler, Graceful Prinia and Clamorous Reed Warbler, while marsh habitat supports Cattle Egret, Glossy Ibis, White-tailed Plover, Little and Temminck’s Stint, Ruff, Wood and Marsh Sandpiper, Water Pipit and Yellow Wagtail. Birding on the coast can be equally fruitful with Socotra Cormorant, Arctic and Pomarine Skua, Pallas’s, Sooty, Caspian, Steppe Gull, Caspian, Greater and Lesser Crested, Little, Saunder’s and Bridled Tern among the possibilities.
Nearby Sohar Sun Farms supports a wide range of species and though access is not as straight forward as it used to be, time here or viewing from outside the enclosure can offer a large variety of species. Cream Coloured Courser, Pacific Golden, Sociable and Caspian Plover, Pin-tailed Snipe, Citrine and Yellow Wagtail, personata White Wagtail, Richard’s, Blyth’s and Red-throated Pipit and Bimaculated Lark are among the scarcer species recorded. At Khatmat Milahah, we search open ground specifically for Variable (Eastern Pied) Wheatear and the Acacia trees hold a few Plain Leaf Warbler. Also likely are Greater Spotted Eagle, Indian Roller, Asian Desert and Menetrie’s Warbler, Southern Grey and Daurian Shrike, Isabelline Wheatear and Indian Silverbill. Overnight Sohar area for 2 nights.
Day 13: Thur 26 January – Return UK
In the morning we transfer back to Muscat and if there is time before our flight back to the UK, can spend some time birding around the city. Otherwise, we head straight for Muscat International Airport and return to London Gatwick.