Page 1


11–19 November 2016 1 BirdQuest Tour Report: Oman (Custom Tour) 2016

An adult Masked Booby at sea off Mirbat. Cover: Desert Owl (All photos taken on this tour and by Mike Watson)

2 BirdQuest Tour Report: Oman (Custom Tour) 2016

Our tenth visit to Oman was a custom tour with a target list of some of the Sultanate’s most sought-after species, particularly Omani Owl. In fact this was our client’s only new bird in prospect! No pressure then. We eventually managed to see one after 24 hours of nocturnal searching, although this investment in hours of darkness on an already whistle-stop, shortened version of our usual itinerary seriously ate into our time for other birding possibilities in the north. However, we still had time to find a wintering flock of up to 13 Sociable Lapwings, a rare sight these days as well as regional specialties including Steppe Grey Shrike, Red-tailed and Hume’s Wheatears, Plain Leaf Warbler, Streaked Scrub Warbler and Striolated Bunting. The owls in the south of Oman were also high on our list of objectives but at least these (Desert, Arabian Spotted Eagle and Arabian Scops) were much kinder to us, allowing a little more time to enjoy the avian wonders of Dhofar, which included Arabian and Sand Partridges, Abdim’s Storks (530), Socotra Cormorant, Greater Spotted, Eastern Imperial and Verreaux’s Eagles, Baillon’s Crakes (five), Long-toed Stint, African Collared Dove, Bruce’s Green Pigeon, Grey Hypocolius, Nile Valley Sunbird, the stunning Arabian Golden-winged Grosbeak and the underwhelming Yemen Serin. An inshore pelagic boat trip off Mirbat resulted in point blank views of Persian Shear-

water, Jouanin’s Petrel and Masked Booby, whilst the usual selection of surprise migrants allowed an opportunity to add Demoiselle Crane, Pied Kingfisher, Black-throated Thrush, European Robin (7th record), Song Thrush, Whinchat and Eurasian Skylark to the Birdquest Oman list. The tally of Birdquest ‘Diamond’ bird species was a worthwhile 39 and a selection of interesting mammals included Rüppell’s Fox, (Arabian) Grey Wolf, Nubian Ibex and False Killer Whale. It was also nice to experience somewhere in the world with normal weather for the time of year for a change, hot and sunny and often with not a single cloud in the sky (nor any tropical storm or cyclone this time). However, the full ‘super moon’, at its closest and brightest for 100 years, did not help our owling - it was like daylight in the mountains at midnight! Oman remains the safest country in the Middle East with a stunning landscape, great road network, generally good accommodation throughout and a warm welcome for tourists. Mike Watson, November 2016

‘Eastern’ Black Redstart of the form phoenicuroides, Al Ghaftayn Rest House.

3 BirdQuest Tour Report: Oman (Custom Tour) 2016

Sociable Lapwing, Barka. Oman is a safe wintering ground for them.

It is now 46 years since the present Sultan, Qaboos bin Said came to power in 1970 and we witnessed the celebration of Oman’s National Day, with an endless procession of ornately painted cars bearing intricate patterns in green, red and white as well as slogans and images of the Sultan, who is genuinely universally adored, a rare phenomenon in the modern world. To understand why this is the case it is worth adding a little to and repeating my regular history of Oman. Oman, which is roughly about the same size as the UK but with a population of just over two million, remains one of the most liberal Muslm countries in the world and is happily almost totally crimefree. In 630AD it was one of the first countries to embrace Islam and today Ibadhis (one of the most traditional and tolerant branches of Islam, founded within 50 years of the prophet Mohammed’s death) comprise about three quarters of the Muslim population with Sunnis and Shi’as only 12% between them. Oman is unique in the Muslim world in this respect and this probably accounts for why it is such a safe country to travel in. The number of migrant workers from the Indian Subcontinent at around half a million represents a quarter of Oman’s total population! However, we heard that increasing numbers have struggled to find worthwhile employment lately and have been returning home. Whilst driving along modern Oman’s fast

highways, past new property developments it is easy to forget that as recently as 1970, when the present Sultan, Qaboos bin Said, came to power, it was a sleepy backwater, isolated from the rest of the world, with only one hospital and one school in the whole country, no telephones and only 10km of paved roads. The previous sultan, Said bin Taimur bin Faisal Al Busaidi, kept his subjects suspended in a medieval state with draconian laws against acts such as listening to music in public and the wearing of sunglasses! Anyone who left the country, for whatever reason, was immediately exiled and was imprisoned if they tried to re-enter. In fact even the gates of Muscat were closed every night! Vehicles were almost non-existent as all applications had to be personally approved by the sultan and all were declined. However, Oman was not always a sleepy backwater, having previously been an influential player in this part of the world. There are references to a sea faring and trading nation known as ‘Magan’ dating back to the third millennium BC. Its people traded frankincense and myrrh as far as Mesopotamia, Syria, Egypt, Greece, Rome and, later, China to where Abu Ubayda, a renowned Omani merchant and navigator, made the first voyage in 750AD. In 1290AD Marco Polo visited Oman writing ‘[Dhofar] stands upon the sea and has a very good haven, so that there is a great traffic of shipping between

4 BirdQuest Tour Report: Oman (Custom Tour) 2016

Little Owl, Wadi ‘Mac’, Al Hajar Mountains.

this and India, and the merchants take hence great numbers of Arab horses to that market, making great profits thereby’. He also noted ‘[the ships] have no iron fastenings and are only stitched together with twine made from the husk of the Indian nut [coconut]’. Realising the imminent threat to his country posed by its warlike communist neighbour, The Peoples Republic of South Yemen, the young (Sandhurst-educated) Qaboos, heavily supported by the British, deposed his father and took control, just as his father had done before him in 1930. The old Sultan spent the remainder of his life in exile as a resident of the Dorchester Hotel in London. Over the next four decades Qaboos has developed his country using its abundant oil and gas reserves and he is responsible for, amongst other things, creating a network of 11,000 km of paved roads. Part of his plan is to develop a knowledge and service economy, which will endure the depletion of Oman’s fossil fuels. Sadly he has not enjoyed good health in recent years and apparently the mood of the National Day celebrations was a little subdued in this knowledge, although reassuringly, he did speak to the nation this year. Without an heir, the sultan has apparently chosen his successor and everyone hopes for a smooth transition when the time eventually comes.

As usual, meanwhile back to 2016 and our hit list. Having breakfast at our hotel next to Muscat’s international Airport we couldn’t help but notice the Indian Subcontinent bird species leaving their roost in the bushes of the car park, Common Mynas, White-spectacled Bulbuls, Purple Sunbirds and Indian Silverbills. The avifauna of Oman’s northern Batinah coast is distinctly Oriental in origin and, for this reason, some authors have proposed not to include this part of the country in a redrawn Western Palearctic. However, we favour including the whole of the Arabian Peninsula for the sake of simplicity, there will always be a degree of overlap. The main focus of this custom tour was Omani Owl and we had already shown it on three consecutive tours, the first birding tour operator to do so but as time goes by no one wants to become the first to miss it! As you now know, we did see it again making it four out of four attempts but this time it was far from easy. Since we last visited Wadi ‘Mac’ in October 2015 (coined by the Sound Approach after Johnny ‘Mac’ McLoughlin, who first heard the owl here in 2014) there had been no news of anyone trying for the owl, although by now quite a few folks know its whereabouts. Although I’ve now seen Omani Owl nine times there is still so much to discover about the best way to set eyes on it. We think they quickly become wary of playback, which might explain the lack of success for many visiting the ‘type locality’

5 BirdQuest Tour Report: Oman (Custom Tour) 2016

in the Al Hajar Mountains. We’ve had enough response to playback by relatively undisturbed birds in late October to know that the time of year is not a problem, although this time we also had the closest proximity of the moon to the earth on 100 years to contend with, leaving few shadows in which this highly nocturnal owl could hide. We suspect that general owl activity may have been subdued as a result so the 24 hours it took to see one is probably at the very extreme end of the scale. Previously it has taken me just 10 minutes! Our experience with owls of the desert, as well as Strix genus owls in general, is that they usually respond to playback, and are therefore easier to see, in the second half of the night. This has held true for Omani Owl so far (with the exception of the roosting hole sightings, which are now sadly a thing of the past). So we planned to be out in as many of the hours of darkness as possible, treating evening meal as breakfast. That meant we had time to do something this morning before we rested in the afternoon. Johnny Mac had found a small flock of Sociable Lapwings at Barka last winter so we decided to search for them on suitable fields of cut alfalfa grass in the area. The largest farm, with huge pivot fields, just opposite our resort still looked to be the best prospect, however, it seems that they no longer allow birders access. We explored the many other farms and eventually found

one with just the right stage of cut grass that the lapwings like and sure enough, BOOM! There they were. We found a scattered gathering of 13 birds amongst commoner Red-wattled Lapwings, some allowing close approach in the vehicle. Sociable Lapwing has undergone a steady decline in my lifetime and has been classified as critically endangered by BirdLife International since 2004 so it is always a thrill to see it. It faces a raft of threats including, recently, internet trophy hunting in Middle Eastern countries. The farm is not open to public access but we managed to gain permission and enjoyed some great views of these excellent birds. A Steppe Grey Shrike was a welcome distraction, hunting from the irrigation spray heads, several Grey Francolins and Namaqua Doves showed well along the farm tracks and Indian Rollers and Green Bee-eaters caught insects on the fields. Also from central Asia, a Steppe Eagle soared high over the farm and up to five Western Marsh Harriers were in the area. Other shorebirds included a Common Snipe and a Ruff and there was also a good number of Isabelline and Desert Wheatears. Tawny Pipits frequented the drier areas and Red-throated Pipits were in the grass, their sharp piercing calls reminiscent of Redwings. An interesting mixture of Palearctic, Oriental and Afrotropical species. We also enjoyed some fresh mint tea with the farm manager - tradi-

Steppe Grey Shrike, Barka.

6 BirdQuest Tour Report: Oman (Custom Tour) 2016

Brahminy Starling, Al Ghaftayn Rest House.

tional Arabian hospitality, for which they are rightly renowned. If only more people could experience this, then we might not have the rampant Islamophobia we see so often in the West these days. We decided not to stretch their welcome too much by publicising the location and send an endless stream of birders their way, as has presumably caused our original farm at Barka to close its gates to us, especially when this species can be seen so readily in southern Oman these days. One of our other regular stops on the Batinah coast, Ras as Sawadi, has gone downhill in recent years with much more human activity on the beach there but it is still worth a visit. The Sooty Falcons, which breed on the offshore islands have all gone south to Madagascar by 12 November but were replaced by four ospreys. Western Reef Herons were along the shore, a group of Great Cormorants was on an islet and a variety of shorebirds included three Eurasian Curlews a few Bar-tailed Godwits and around 80 Ruffs. The normally very productive occasionally flooded salt steppe behind the beach was very quiet today, admittedly in the middle of the day, with nothing of any note before we headed back to rest for the afternoon. Eventually the time came to return to Wadi ‘Mac’. I feel like I now know almost every stone in this wadi with the many hours spent searching there, particularly the owl-shaped ones here and there that

initially cause some excitement! We have seen the owls at two separate territories in Wadi ‘Mac’ and we checked both of these, hearing a distant compound-hooting male at the first site (the one where we found the roosting holes in 2014) followed by a contact call of a female at the second. However, the calls were out of reach of our big torch and the owls soon fell silent again. We did have some nice views of a Little Owl though. The Little Owls in northern Oman are quite dark brown, unlike the birds in the south, which belong to the pale, sandy subspecies saharae. I wonder if, like many birds in northern Oman, they ought to be associated with those across the sea to the north and would therefore be bactriana? The Sound Approach left this question unanswered in their wonderful book ‘Undiscovered Owls’ and to my knowledge they have not been assigned by other authors yet. An Arabian Red Fox flashed across our path and away into a hinterland of the side wadis. The midnight moonlight was incredible, reflected off the pale limestone walls like daylight and we had to wait until very late in the night before the moon dipped below the high ridges of the wadi and dark shadows crept across its floor once more. We could also clearly see Jupiter tonight, ‘on its side’ with four of its moons visible, aligned vertically. The good thing about reversing our birding day is that we get to finish with the early morning activ-

7 BirdQuest Tour Report: Oman (Custom Tour) 2016

European Robin, Qitbit Motel (7th record for Oman).

ity and as soon as the sky began to lighten from the east we could hear the songs of White-spectacled Bulbuls and the harsh chattering of Hume’s Wheatears. Pale Crag Martins wheeled around the high cliffs and various calls in the wadi below led us to perky little Streaked Scrub Warblers and chirping sparrow-like calls indicated the presence of Plain Leaf Warblers from Central Asia, which spend the winter in northern Oman. They quickly skipped from acacia to acacia. A couple of Arabian Babblers were also here and the harsh rattling of halimodendri race Lesser Whitethroats could be heard frequently. Desert Larks of the dull grey form taimuri and Striolated Buntings are also very easy to see at Wadi ‘Mac’ and the more open areas at the entrance to the wadi host Red-tailed Wheatears and Eastern Black Redstarts of the form phoenicuroides. We also ‘enjoyed’ some better views of Indian Silverbill here. We paid a visit to the ‘type locality’ (now of course simply the rediscovery locality) and had a quick look in the Al Ghubrah Bowl but things were very quiet here indeed in the midday heat so we did not hang around too long before returning to our resort for a much-needed rest. Ah well, 1-0 to the owls but still plenty to play for. The next night saw the moon full and brighter than for 100 years! Ugh. We had no choice but to try again tonight but it would be interesting to see what the owls did in such conditions. Well the answer is

that we don’t have a clue, as again we didn’t see one. We waited until towards the end of the night and the moon again dipped, although as the days went by it rose and fell later leaving no time in the second half of the night without its full glare. One bird did call again briefly at the second territory but wasn’t in view when we switched the beam on. The night was not completely wasted though. We had a bonkers close encounter with one of the Little Owls, which posed beautifully for the camera and in the morning we heard Lichtenstein’s Sandgrouse calling somewhere in the gloom. Each morning we also waited at the former roosting holes just in case a bird had returned there but to no avail. They are still worth checking just in case as time goes by as they might be used again in the future and they are by far the easiest way to see an Omani Owl! This morning we did not stay in the mountains until after dawn to bird there but instead returned to the Barka area for some photography from the vehicle, which proved very successful. Seven of the Sociable Lapwings were still here and were very obliging, allowing thousands of images but it is difficult to get anything more than a nice portrait of Sociable Lapwing. The wing-fanning shot will have to wait for next time. At least the early morning ‘golden hour’, low-angle light was great. We also saw a few new birds with more time to spare on this visit to the farm including Bluethroat, both Oriental and

8 BirdQuest Tour Report: Oman (Custom Tour) 2016

Birding the Empty Quarter (Clockwise from top): Empty Quarter desert near Qitbit, next stop Saudi Arabia; Black-throated Thrush; Pin-tailed Snipe trying to look like a plastic bottle and a male Bluethroat in Qitbit Motel garden. 9 BirdQuest Tour Report: Oman (Custom Tour) 2016

Grey Hypocolius (female), Mudday.

Eurasian Skylarks and Richard’s and Caucasian Water Pipits. Any day with a Sociable Lapwing in it is a special one! Time for another rest before an evening visit now the score read 2-0 to the owls. As time was running out now we decided to have an evening session followed by, if necessary, a morning pre-dawn visit before we had to head south. I needed some sleep before the c.800km we had to cover the next day though. The evening visit was rather predictably the least productive of all our sessions, so 3-0 to the owls then. So we had one session left, I found myself in the last chance saloon once more. This sounds funny after the event but with a custom tour for one person with one possible lifer there is a lot at stake. We were both still well up for it though and checked both territories in Wadi ‘Mac’, where at least we knew there were birds present. We drew another blank at the first and then the second but continued a little way further, where there was a large smooth cliff face that remained in moon shadow, now scanning randomly with the spotlight. On went the big torch and...That’s it! Omani Owl in the torch beam. We had some decent looks for a while before it switched perches and disappeared into the darkness. We heard some calls now, the female’s begging or insistent ‘wuib’ call, usually calling for the male to hurry up and do something. Know that feeling? There was some clear compound hoot-

ing too before we relocated the/another owl in the torchlight but then this grew softer and we lost touch. Can you imagine the relief? Forget about the overall score, this was the winner. We stopped at the roosting holes for a last quick look just in case but, once again, nothing appeared to be using them and so began the long journey south. Fortunately the highways in Oman are modern and fast (although there are at least one million speed cameras) so we could tear up the Muscat to Salalah road, passing the super moon as it fell below the jagged peaks of the Al Hajars, turned red in the morning sun. What a wonderful sight! Leaving behind the last of the Indian Rollers, we pulled up in the car park at the remote Al Ghaftayn rest house, on the edge of the Empty Quarter, in the late morning and in record time. I commented that ‘we find an Omani rarity here every time we visit and I wonder what it will be this time?’ Our surprise present this time was a fine Brahminy Starling from India (22nd for Oman), in the company of a grim-looking adult Rose-coloured Starling, both rummaging in the even grimmer rubbish dump area of the rest house. There were a few other migrants in the garden, the most enjoyable of which was a tame male ‘Eastern’ Black Redstart of the form phoenicuroides that posed very nicely for us. I had missed out on the influx to the UK this year so it got a lot of attention from me. Separate spe-

10 BirdQuest Tour Report: Oman (Custom Tour) 2016

Arabian Scops Owl, Wadi Darbat.

cies or not, they are fine-looking birds. Also here were Red-breasted Flycatcher, Blackcap, Common Chiffchaffs and a Sand Martin. The small oasis a few kilometres to the south of the rest house had a small pool that hosted Red-wattled Lapwing, Common Redshank, Green Sandpiper, Little Stint, Caucasian Water Pipit and another Red-breasted Flycatcher, all way off course. Our last port of call was Qitbit. Probably the most famous of all of Oman’s migrant hotspots it has a rest house garden and a nearby oasis and has produced countless Omani rarities over the years. It is also another place where we never fail to find something good. Even as we drove into the garden towards the motel we notched up an adult male Black-throated Thrush and a Song Thrush, both fairly good Omani records. We set about checking the garden trees and bush tangles properly, finding Whinchat and a first calendar year Turkestan Shrike, which had not yet moulted some of its scaly mantle feathers, the first I’ve seen like this in Oman. Nile Valley Sunbirds were again conspicuous here, a fairly recent development. A few Red-breasted Flycatchers and Bluethroats were around the bushes behind the rest house against the back wall, where our best find went something like this. ‘European Robin’ ‘What? Are you kidding? Sure you mean EUROPEAN Robin?’ ‘Yes it’s just over there’ and there it was. I knew it would

be a mega for Oman but couldn’t remember how many previous records there were. A quick call to Jens Eriksen confirmed this was only the seventh. I have often commented ‘wouldn’t this bird be cool if it was a mega?’, well now I know. I don’t think I’ve ever been so excited about a robin before. We also located another Black-throated Thrush but this one was a first winter male so that made two… so far. A Pin-tailed Snipe sought refuge amongst the plastic bottles in a small pool in the cat-infested garden. I hope it had the good sense to leave soon. We also went for a drive along the new tarmac road that leaves Qitbit, heading directly north towards the Saudi border just to experience a feeling of walking in the desert in the Empty Quarter. Numerous folks have searched for Dunn’s Larks here, in fact there were some Spanish birders doing the same today, again to no avail. Better to wait for the next rain to bring the desert back to life before trying again I think. Instead we saw a Rüppell’s Fox bounding away from us into the distance, pausing to look around every once in a while. We saw another later, on a spotlighting drive, after a surprisingly tasty meal at the rather basic Qitbit restaurant. We still had a little light left for a quick look at the oasis where it was clear that the desert has been very dry since our last visit and the vegetation in this area has been heavily grazed by camels. Their droppings were every-

11 BirdQuest Tour Report: Oman (Custom Tour) 2016

Dahariz beach scenes, Heuglin’s (or Siberian) Gull above. 12 BirdQuest Tour Report: Oman (Custom Tour) 2016

Monsoon woodland at Ayn Hamran.

where and bushes where I recall photographing Turkestan Shrike last year for instance had simply disappeared. We did have a great view of an Asian Desert Warbler here, in the company of its Desert Wheatear ‘lookout’ and at the oasis bushes a ‘flock’ of three Black-throated Thrushes (male, female and first winter male – could they have been a family?) flew around calling, a shrill Redwing-like call, which I had not heard before and headed off into the desert night sky. Isn’t migration amazing? Qitbit has the feel of a remote island where anything is possible. We met some nice Spanish birders at Qitbit this evening, who were doing the Oman circuit, and showed us some jaw-dropping photos of Omani Owl, which they has just taken in a wadi on the south side of the watershed in the Al Hajars. Maybe the best field photos taken so far in fact! So, at last proof that they are definitely on the south side too, which opens up a huge range of new possible sites for them. On a dark desert highway, we headed southwest, passing the air force base and truck stop town of Thumrayt on our way to another remote oasis town at Mudday. Arriving early in the morning we quickly spotted a pair of the much hoped-for Grey Hypocolius flying around the southern end of the town, stopping in clumps of bushes and palms. We later saw a single male in the palms of the oasis itself and then a group of three birds, a male and

two females. It is possible the sightings all related to the same three birds or maybe there were six present? Although they were as wary as ever we enjoyed some great views. It struck me how inconspicuous they were inside the acacia bushes, their elongated shapes blending in well with the vertical stems of the sparse-leaved bushes. We could also hear their shrill wigeon-like contact calls as well as a more waxwing-like trill. Magic stuff! They even have waxy white tips to their primaries - I would like to start a campaign to have them renamed Desert Waxwings. Also at Mudday Nile Valley Sunbirds were everywhere, although all in eclipse. Some sandy coloured saturata form Desert Larks obliged for the cameras and we also had a few Siberian Chiffchaffs, our attention drawn to them by their ‘lost chick’ call. Asian Desert Warbler also obliged for the cameras, as did several Sand Partridges and a couple of African Collared Doves amongst a throng of Eurasian Collared Doves and Palm Doves. Wheatears now included our first Blackstarts. The local businesses again appeared even more run down in Mudday, surely the effect of the new road allowing access to Thumrayt in less than an hour taking their trade away. It is also worth mentioning that there is nothing to buy here nor any petrol station, the nearest is either 100km to the west or back at Thumrayt. Fortunately I didn’t run out yet.

13 BirdQuest Tour Report: Oman (Custom Tour) 2016

Arabian Cobra, Ayn Tobruq intersection. 14 BirdQuest Tour Report: Oman (Custom Tour) 2016

Bonelli’s Eagle, Tawi Attair.

While the desert has been dry this year, the monsoon rains in Dhofar have been good, as we could see driving through the mountains and then down the long slope of the escarpment. The grass, although now brown, was long and many trees were still in full leaf. As stark a transition from the rain shadow of the Empty Quarter to the coastal mountains and plain as you can see anywhere. Our first Fan-tailed Raven was seen on the descent and eventually we neared our destination in the Dahariz quarter of Salalah. Before checking in we made a quick detour to Khawr ad Dahariz (or ‘East Khawr’ as it popularly known to birders ). Pintail and Garganey were our first ducks of the tour. A flock of Greater Flamingos graced the lagoon and Squacco Herons hunted in the marshy area at its southern end next to the beach. A couple of Pheasant-tailed Jacanas, fresh from India for the winter, were notable and we also added Marsh Sandpiper, Temminck’s Stint and Curlew Sandpiper to the trip list. Meanwhile just along the beach in front of our hotel there was a truly massive feeding frenzy of gulls. The sardines run again in November and about twice a month the local fisherman of Dahariz fish the inshore waters here and then haul their nets on the shore. It is a huge operation done by a combination of Toyota pickups and by hand and attracts every gull for miles around. I’ve only seen it once before, in 2009. The fish are landed

and then carried by hand to the waiting trucks, into which they are thrown and then driven through the streets of Dahariz to processing factories. It is an incredible sight and seems to have become something of a tourist attraction now. A very worn Arctic Skua passed by here as did an osprey and Masked Booby. Our list of priorities in the south included three owls, so again we adopted a mostly nocturnal routine to make sure we saw them. Resting in the afternoon we headed out after our evening meal. The two arboreal owls are by far the most range restricted of the trio so we decided to start with them. Although both are distributed in woodland all along the escarpment we usually try at well-known sites to the east of Salalah. Without giving too many trade secrets away we toiled for hours looking for the magnificent Arabian Spotted Eagle Owl before we finally got one. This owl is mostly silent at this time of year, although we did hear some brief hooting calls. After a couple of nice views it melted back into the trees and away. Arabian Scops Owl is in contrast simple to see. It is so common in these woodlands and responds very readily to playback and it only took a few minutes to get one. However, later we also saw one hawking for moths along the edge of some woodland. We could track it down easily and it even appeared to be interested in the moths attracted to our spotlight. Definitely walk-

15 BirdQuest Tour Report: Oman (Custom Tour) 2016

Frankincense Tree in Wadi Ashawq and Desert Lark of the subspecies saturata. 16 BirdQuest Tour Report: Oman (Custom Tour) 2016

Eastern Imperial Eagle (first winter), Raysut Tip

away views of this one! We also saw a European Nightjar during this session as well as pack of three Arabian Wolves, their eyes reflecting green in the torch beam before they got to their long leggy feet and loped off into the trees. Again showing the value of a big torch that casts a beam far away! We saw a couple of feral dogs later, which can cause some confusion in this area but they were clearly simply domestic dogs gone wild indicated by their coat pattern and short-legged appearance. It had taken us so long this evening that little time was left to drive far to the west for the remaining target, Desert Owl, as well as a very full morning of birding ahead and we decided to get some sleep for a change instead. The first morning birding Dhofar is always very busy. To start with we had a hot tip for Arabian Golden-winged Grosbeak, probably the most sought-after bird in the south, after the owls. In fact the drinking pool was the same place we saw it last October, so it was already well known to me. We even had time to remove some unsightly rubbish from the pools that might spoil our photos. Soon enough there was a steady stream of Cinnamon-breasted Buntings, African Silverbills, Blackcrowned Sparrow Larks, Tristram’s Starlings and Palm Doves dropping in to drink and after about one and a half hours, a pair of lovely grosbeaks appeared in the mesquite bush by the pools. They

were very nervous and did not come down to drink and after a while they flew off. Later I checked my rather poor photos and saw that they seemed to be looking down at something. Then out of the shadows, it appeared, an awesome two metres long Arabian Cobra, cautiously smelling the ground and the air with its black forked tongue. Wow! A lifer and one of the highlights of the trip for me. Sadly an ill-timed camel herd came along just at this moment and the cobra spooked at around 50 metres from them and shot back into cover! This was interesting enough to see in itself. No wonder we never see cobras while birding in this area. Also here were Namaqua Doves, Eurasian Hoopoes and a singing Turkestan Shrike. Next stop was Ayn Hamran, one of our favourite birding spots in Dhofar. On a hot and sunny morning raptors were conspicuous and included Greater Spotted, Steppe, Eastern Imperial and Shorttoed Snake Eagles. The sun was already quite hot now and the woodland was quiet but still produced some great views of the percivali form of Blackcrowned Tchagra, Bruce’s Green Pigeon, African Paradise Flycatcher, Arabian Warbler, Abyssinian White-eye and Shining Sunbird. The desert plains were full of Isabelline and Desert Wheatears. Nearby Ayn Kheesh was as quiet as ever with not another soul around and again lots of birds drinking from the camels’ water trough but there were

17 BirdQuest Tour Report: Oman (Custom Tour) 2016

Low-res rarities in Dhofar: (clockwise from top left): Pied Kingfisher, Khawr Rori; Long-toed Stint, East Khawr; Black-headed x Citrine Wagtail hybrid, Khawr Rori; Pied Cuckoo, Khawr Rori; Demoiselle Crane, Raysut Water Treatment Plant & Arabian Golden-winged Grosbeak (looking down at the cobra!) at the Ayn Tobruq/Ayn Athum intersection. 18 BirdQuest Tour Report: Oman (Custom Tour) 2016

Jack Snipe, Khawr Rori.

no grosbeaks and only a Grey Wagtail was new for the trip. Heading back into the mountains we wound our way up to the eastern edge of the escarpment at the totally awesome Jabal Samhan. This stupendous viewpoint looks out over the Mirbat Plain and has never let us down yet for Verreaux’s Eagle. We saw this super-impressive hyrax-eater again here, including some sky dancing, followed by the pair mating! Just like last year at this time. Gangs of Fan-tailed Ravens went about their business noisily and mobbed a passing Longlegged Buzzard. Tristram’s Starlings whistled ‘who are you?’ and a few Arabian Wheatears were along the cliff top. We also spotted a couple of Carter’s Rock Geckos, flashing their white tails. Back down at the 300 metres deep limestone sinkhole at Tawi Attair we arrived just in time for the evening performances. In nice light we watched four Arabian Partridges slowly descending into the sinkhole to roost as well as the pair of Bonelli’s Eagles, which nest in the crater and allowed their usual habituated views. The drab and wholly underwhelming Yemen Serin also appeared, again four birds feeding in bushes on the crater’s rim but what a mega now that Yemen itself is off limits again (it is occasionally also seen further west in Dhofar towards the Yemen border). A flock of 10 Blue-cheeked Bee-eaters flying high overhead at Tawi Attair was a lovely way to end another action-packed birding day.

After a few hours sleep we were off on another midnight owling session, this time for many people’s nemesis owl, Desert Owl. Many hear it in Oman but far away in the darkness. We have put in a lot of time searching for this bird over the years and know of at least four regular territories in the Dhofar mountains. The super moon was still illuminating the night landscape but a little less bright now and partly veiled in clouds, which probably helped us a little. We hiked slowly, passing by three territories and waiting for some time at each one, without a response, until we got to the fourth. It was another WOW(!) moment, a female responded immediately from a smooth limestone cliff face and we were able to approach quickly to around 20 metres range, well within DSLR reach for a change. Desert Owl often hoots back at us from the top of the cliff or at least high up it. It was no coincidence that we saw it here, as we first discovered this territory in 2009 and it later transpired to be a nest site, found by the Sound Approach team. After a few photos the birds moved up a little higher so we left them to it and simply sat in the darkness listening to them. We could also hear two different males of the other territories in the distance joining in with their noisy neighbours, an amazing chorus! Bats fed around us and we also heard some rocks being dislodged by something nearby but we couldn’t see what

19 BirdQuest Tour Report: Oman (Custom Tour) 2016

Persian Shearwater, at sea off Mirbat.

made the noise. We did find some tracks of a single large dog-like mammal nearby later, maybe a Striped Hyena or wolf, which both inhabit this area? We hiked back to our vehicle after dawn, birding along the way and seeing three Sand Partridges and a very smart Southern Grey Shrike as well as more Desert Larks and Arabian Wheatears. Best of all though was the family party of four Nubian Ibex, a female, two youngsters and a large horned male. Yet another wow moment and a Birdquest Oman mammal lifer. The marshy pools in this area always hold something interesting and are particularly reliable for crakes. Our count of five Baillon’s Crakes on one small pool was something special though and they were even becoming a little territorial in their behavior. Also here of note were Squacco Heron, Arabian Partridge, Garganey and Citrine Wagtail. We could also make a short detour to admire a fine Frankincense tree close-up, which had happily not been hacked as much as many of the more accessible trees in this area but we could see a little resin oozing from one of its scars. Back along the coast at Al Maghsayl a large raft of around 300 Socotra Cormorants was present, together with a few Great Cormorants, riding the surf by the blowholes in the rocks there. A bottle-nosed dolphin was close inshore and a Brown Booby flew past – this is a good site for this species. We also add-

ed Glossy Ibis, Eurasian Coot, Black-winged Stilt, Terek and Wood Sandpipers and Long-billed Pipit in this area. Raysut Industrial Area, just west of the city of Salalah is not one of my favourite places. The dump and the water treatment plant both stink to high heaven, they are inhabited by a gazillion flies and the air is filled with the dust from the nearby limestone crushing plants. What a great combination! However, it is a brilliant site for birds. We were allowed access to the dump itself and got face to face with the winter gathering of hundreds of large eagles there, mostly Steppe but also a good number of Eastern Imperials. Thankfully there were no Greater Spotted this time, hopefully they will adapt to more natural sources when the dump finally closes. We heard there are plans to replace it with an incinerator. Amidst the dust, insects and foul smelling bags of rubbish there was one tipping area that the eagles were particularly fond of. You can imagine why. This is where the dead farm animals are dumped. Horrible bloated cow corpses with contorted facial expressions and there was even a camel down there too that we could recognize amongst this mess. Nevertheless, between fly swatting sessions, we got some great close range views of the eagles, which are normally only possible from a hide.

20 BirdQuest Tour Report: Oman (Custom Tour) 2016

Jouanin’s Petrel, at sea off Mirbat.

Raysut Water Treatment Plant, adjacent to the dump, was full of storks and we counted 530 Abdim’s Storks with probably more out of sight here and there behind the dividing banks of the water tanks. There were also around 200 White Storks and a lone immature Demoiselle Crane, a Birdquest Oman lifer! A Ruddy Shelduck was only our second in Oman and other ducks included Eurasian Wigeon and Northern Pintail. Also new for the trip were Little Grebe, Black Kite and a few flava wagtails, which included one adult male Grey-headed. Shorebirds also abounded but there was nothing else new amongst them. East of Salalah after lunch we visited the lovely Khawr Rori. There couldn’t be a bigger contrast to the Mordor-like landscape of Raysut. After a quick look around the rebuilt ruins of Sumharan, apparently the former palace of the Queen of Sheba, the peaceful reed-fringed khawr held a wide variety of waterbirds. The highlights were Greater White-fronted Geese (distinctly long-billed and maybe of the eastern form albicans?), Intermediate Egret, Greater Spotted Eagle (five immaculate first winters), Red-knobbed Coot, Pied Avocet, Pheasant-tailed Jacana, Jack Snipe, Caspian Tern, Pied Cuckoo (our 85th in Oman!), Pied Kingfisher (the continuing 8th for Oman) and a male taivana lookalike wagtail presumed to be a Citrine x Black-headed Wagtail hybrid in exactly the same

spot as November 2015 (I wonder if it could be the same bird?). In the ‘also here’ category were Purple Heron, Great Egret, Bonelli’s Eagle, some nice views of Blue-cheeked Bee-eater and Indian Reed Warbler amongst many others. We ended another truly classic birding day in Oman with a visit to East Khawr, where we found an elegant Long-toed Stint amongst the other shorebirds, mostly Little Stints and Ruffs. Again it was in exactly the same spot as we saw one in both November 2014 and 2015! Maybe another returning bird? A couple of Caucasian Water Pipits were also here, a scarce bird in the south. At last I could enjoy a good night’s sleep and I switched off the air con in the room to listen to the waves of the Indian Ocean crashing on the beach outside. Wonderful! It is always sad to leave Oman, especially after this unexpected and very enjoyable custom tour and we ended on a high with a pelagic boat trip out of Mirbat. I never did an early morning boat trip before this one and it proved to be a good call by our boatman, mostly owing to the fact that we can see the same birds without the sea being quite so choppy as it usually gets up a bit as the wind picks up in the afternoon. Not far out of the port we started to see Jouanin’s Petrels and Masked Boobies. We tallied 41 of the former and around 15 of the latter in total with both species affording some

21 BirdQuest Tour Report: Oman (Custom Tour) 2016

Greater Spotted Eagles, Khawr Rori.

great views. Persian Shearwater was harder to get until towards the end of the trip when, after a few fly-bys a couple of then landed next to our chum and proceeded to paddle up to the boat, dwarfed by the Sooty Gulls. Not quite the hand feeding of 2009 but fantastic stuff nevertheless. We tallied exactly 10 of these sought-after regional specials this time. We also saw a few Common Terns and Bridled Terns but no phalaropes at all this time, maybe they have already moved south as we were couple of weeks later than our usual dates for this part of the itinerary. We saw a few turtles closer to shore but the stars of the pelagic were the cetaceans. Just as we were about to head back to port we noticed some blows and dorsal fins appearing to the west. Blackfish! There were at least four False Killer Whales and many more bottle-nosed dolphins. They were presumably here for the sardine run and appeared to be cruising eastwards with a purpose, although our boatman was not keen to hang around as they can pose a serious danger to small boats, tipping them over. In fact we saw a couple of dolphins right under our boat and could hear them clicking away under the water. Another wonderful wildlife encounter! We still had some time left for a couple of hours birding before we caught our late afternoon flight to Muscat so we called in again at Khawr Rori, adding Eurasian Spoonbill but nowt else and then

Sahnawt Farm (although this will now be known as ‘Saw nowt’ Farm, well there were some distant marsh terns and a couple of Eastern Imperial Eagles but I wouldn’t want this to spoil a good nickname) and finally East Khawr, where there was a stack of shorebirds. Little Stints had increased to c.180 and Kentish Plovers to c.40 but there were not any rarities this time. Dahariz Park hosted some good birds last winter but was very quiet during our visit, although Grey-headed Kingfisher finally made it on to our trip list. It would have been disgraceful to miss this one, even on such a short itinerary. The final word was had by another gull fest on Dahariz Beach, where the fishermen were at work again. We had a great time in Oman, seeing some excellent regional specialities and showing what can be achieved on a short trip. It was also useful to keep up-to-date with the Omani Owl situation for our next group tour. See you in Muscat in 2017? ‘Bird’ of the trip 1. Omani Owl 2. Desert Owl 3. Arabian Spotted Eagle Owl 4. Long-toed Stint 5. False Killer Whale

22 BirdQuest Tour Report: Oman (Custom Tour) 2016

Sociable Lapwing, Barka.

SYSTEMATIC LIST OF BIRD SPECIES RECORDED DURING THE TOUR The species names and taxonomy used in the report mostly follows Gill, F & D Donsker (Eds). IOC World Bird Names. This list is updated several times annually and is available at Species which were heard but not seen are indicated by the symbol (H). Species which were only recorded by the leader are indicated by the symbol (LO). Species which were not personally recorded by the leader are indicated by the symbol (NL). Species marked with the diamond symbol (◊) are either endemic to the country or local region or considered ‘special’ birds for some other reason (e.g. it is only seen on one or two Birdquest tours; it is difficult to see across all or most of its range; the local form is endemic or restricted-range and may in future be treated as a full species). Conservation threat categories and information are taken from Threatened Birds of the World, BirdLife International’s magnificent book on the sad status of the rarest 10% of the world’s avifauna, and updates on the BirdLife website: E = Endangered, V = Vulnerable, NT = Near Threatened, DD = Data Deficient. Greater White-fronted Goose Anser albifrons Three at Khawr Rori, only the third time we have seen it in Oman. Ruddy Shelduck Tadorna ferruginea One at Raysut Water Treatment Plant. Our second in Oman. Eurasian Wigeon Anas penelope Noted at Raysut and Khawr Rori. Northern Shoveler Anas clypeata First noted at Wadi Ashawq. Northern Pintail Anas acuta The first at East Khawr was followed by some at Raysut and Khawr Rori. Garganey Anas querquedula First noted at East Khawr. Eurasian Teal Anas crecca Noted at Wadi Ashawq, Raysut and Khawr Rori. See note. Arabian Partridge ◊ Alectoris melanocephala Maximum four at Tawi Attair plus two more in Wadi Ashawq. Sand Partridge ◊ Ammoperdix heyi c.20 at Mudday and three in Wadi Ashawq. Grey Francolin Francolinus pondicerianus Up to c.20 at Barka.. Persian Shearwater ◊ Puffinus persicus Ten on our Mirbat pelagic. Jouanin’s Petrel ◊ Bulweria fallax A total of 41 on our Mirbat pelagic. NT Little Grebe Tachybaptus ruficollis Around 10 at Raysut and Khawr Rori. Greater Flamingo Phoenicopterus roseus First noted at East Khawr and a maximum of c.20 at Khawr Rori. Abdim’s Stork Ciconia abdimii Another amazing minimum count of 530 at Raysut Water Treatment Plant. White Stork Ciconia ciconia Around 200 at Raysut. 23 BirdQuest Tour Report: Oman (Custom Tour) 2016

African Collared Dove, Mudday. Glossy Ibis Plegadis falcinellus One at Khawr Maghsayl and two at Khawr Rori. Eurasian Spoonbill Platalea leucorodia A single immature at Khawr Rori. Striated Heron Butorides striata Three noted at Mirbat Harbour. Ssp brevipes. Squacco Heron Ardeola ralloides Around 20 noted in Dhofar. Western Cattle Egret Bubulcus ibis Up to five at East Khawr and two at Khawr Rori. Grey Heron Ardea cinerea A scatter of sightings with a maximum of five at Mirbat. Purple Heron Ardea purpurea Two at Khawr Rori and one at East Khawr. Great Egret Ardea alba Noted only at Khawr Rori. Intermediate Egret Egretta intermedia Two at Khawr Rori. Little Egret Egretta garzetta A small scatter of sightings with a maximum of c.10 at Khawr Rori. Western Reef Heron (W R Egret) Egretta gularis First noted at Ras as Sawadi. Masked Booby ◊ Sula dactylatra c15 on our Mirbat pelagic and another two off Dahariz Beach, Salalah. Brown Booby Sula leucogaster One off Al Maghsayl. Great Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo Eight at Ras as Sawadi and another off Al Maghsayl beach. Socotra Cormorant ◊ Phalacrocorax nigrogularis A feeding flock of c.300 off Al Maghsayl beach. VU Western Osprey Pandion haliaetus A total of 10 noted, the first at Ras as Sawadi. Short-toed Snake Eagle Circaetus gallicus Two at Ayn Hamran in Dhofar. Greater Spotted Eagle Clanga clanga One at Ayn Hamran and up to five first winters at Khawr Rori. VU Booted Eagle Hieraaetus pennatus Two in the Dhofar Mountains. Steppe Eagle Aquila nipalensis Maximum estimate in Dhofar of around 300 at Raysut. Eastern Imperial Eagle Aquila heliaca A tally of 17 in Dhofar was a high total. VU Verreaux’s Eagle Aquila verreauxii A pair at Jabal Samhan in the Dhofar Mountains. Bonelli’s Eagle Aquila fasciata A pair at Tawi Attair and a single at Khawr Rori. Western Marsh Harrier Circus aeruginosus Maximum five at Barka and a scatter of sightings thereafter. Montagu’s Harrier Circus pygargus/ Pallid Harrier Circus macrourus A ringtail near Ayn Hamran was the only record. Black Kite Milvus migrans One at Raysut. Long-legged Buzzard Buteo rufinus One at Jabal Samhan in the Dhofar Mountains. Baillon’s Crake Porzana pusilla Five around a single pool in Wadi Ashawq. Common Moorhen Gallinula chloropus Common in Dhofar, the first noted at East Khawr. Eurasian Coot Fulica atra Two at Al Maghsayl was the only record. 24 BirdQuest Tour Report: Oman (Custom Tour) 2016

Turkestan Shrike (juvenile), Qitbit Rest House.

Demoiselle Crane ◊ Grus virgo An immature at Raysut Water Treatment Plant. Spotted Thick-knee Burhinus capensis Three in Dahariz long after midnight, returning from an owling excursion. Eurasian Oystercatcher Haematopus ostralegus Around 10 at Ras as Sawadi and two at Dahariz Beach. Black-winged Stilt Himantopus himantopus Around 10 at Raysut and another five at East Khawr. Pied Avocet Recurvirostra avosetta Two at Khawr Rori. Red-wattled Lapwing Vanellus indicus Common on the Batinah coast and also a single at Al Ghaftayn Oasis. Sociable Lapwing ◊ Vanellus gregarius Up to 13 at Barka. CR Grey Plover (Black-bellied P) Pluvialis squatarola A juvenile at Khawr Rori was the only record. Common Ringed Plover Charadrius hiaticula A single bird at East Khawr. Kentish Plover Charadrius alexandrinus Four at Ras as Sawadi and up to c.40 at East Khawr. Lesser Sand Plover Charadrius mongolus Several at Ras as Sawadi and one at Khawr Rori. Ssp pamirensis. Greater Sand Plover Charadrius leschenaultia Four at Ras as Sawadi. Ssp columbinus. Pheasant-tailed Jacana Hydrophasianus chirurgus Two at East Khawr and another two at Khawr Rori. Jack Snipe ◊ Lymnocryptes minimus One very obliging bird at Khawr Rori. Pin-tailed Snipe Gallinago stenura One in Qitbit Motel Garden. Common Snipe Gallinago gallinago A tally of seven, the first at Barka. Black-tailed Godwit Limosa limosa Up to five at East Khawr and c.10 at Khawr Rori. NT Bar-tailed Godwit Limosa lapponica Four at Ras as Sawadi. Eurasian Curlew Numenius arquata Three at Ras as Sawadi. Ssp orientalis. NT Common Redshank Tringa totanus First noted at Al Ghaftayn and then a scatter of sightings in Dhofar. Marsh Sandpiper Tringa stagnatilis One at East Khawr, two at Raysut and four at Khawr Rori. Common Greenshank Tringa nebularia First noted at Ras as Sawadi and another 15 thereafter. Green Sandpiper Tringa ochropus One at Al Ghaftayn Oasis was the only record. Wood Sandpiper Tringa glareola Singles at Al Maghsayl, East Khawr and Khawr Rori. Terek Sandpiper Xenus cinereus One at Al Maghsayl. Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos A maximum of eight in Ad Dahariz Park. Ruddy Turnstone Arenaria interpres Two at Mirbat. Little Stint Calidris minuta The first was at Al Ghaftayn Oasis and then a maximum of c.180 at East Khawr. Temminck’s Stint Calidris temminkii Singles at East Khawr and Khawr Rori. Long-toed Stint ◊ Calidris subminuta One at East Khawr was only our fourth in Oman. 25 BirdQuest Tour Report: Oman (Custom Tour) 2016

Arabian Wheatear (female), Jabal Samhan.

Curlew Sandpiper Calidris ferruginea Maximum up to 20 at East Khawr. Dunlin Calidris alpina Maximum c.10 at East Khawr. Ruff Philomachus pugnax Around 80 on the beach at Ras as Sawadi and then c.40 at East Khawr in Salalah. Slender-billed Gull Chroicocephalus genei Common at Ras as Sawadi and Al Maghsayl in Dhofar Sooty Gull ◊ Ichthyaetus hemprichii Abundant in Dhofar. Caspian Gull Larus cachinnans Noted at Ras as Sawadi, Mirbat and Dahariz Beach. Heuglin’s Gull Larus [fuscus] heuglini Noted at Ras as Sawadi, Mirbat and Dahariz Beach. Gull-billed Tern Gelochelidon nilotica Singles at East Khawr and Khawr Rori. Caspian Tern Hydroprogne caspia Two at Khawr Rori. Greater Crested Tern (Swift T) Thalasseus bergii First noted at Ras as Sawadi. Lesser Crested Tern Thalasseus bengalensis First noted at Ras as Sawadi. Sandwich Tern Thalasseus sandvicensis One at Khawr Rori. Saunders’s Tern ◊ Sternula saundersi/Little Tern Sternula albifrons Noted at East Khawr, Mirbat and Khawr Rori. Bridled Tern Onychoprion anaethetus Eight on our Mirbat pelagic. Common Tern Sterna hirundo Three on our Mirbat pelagic. Whiskered Tern Chlidonias hybridus Maximum c.40 in Dhofar. White-winged Tern (W-w Black T) Chlidonias leucopterus Maximum c.10 at East Khawr, Salalah. Parasitic Jaeger (Arctic Skua) Stercorarius parasiticus One off Dahariz Beach, Salalah. Lichtenstein’s Sandgrouse ◊ Pterocles lichtensteinii Heard in Wadi ‘Mac’ and Wadi Ashawq. (H) Rock Dove Columba livia Small numbers seen throughout the tour. Eurasian Collared Dove Streptopelia decaocto Common throughout the tour. African Collared Dove ◊ Streptopelia roseogrisea At least two at Mudday amongst the Eurasian Collared Doves. Laughing Dove (Palm D) Spilopelia senegalensis Very common throughout the tour. Namaqua Dove Oena capensis A total of 12 tallied, the first at Barka. Bruce’s Green Pigeon ◊ Treron waalia One at Ayn Hamran. (NL) Common Kestrel Falco tinnunculus One at Barka and three in Dhofar. Rose-ringed Parakeet (Ring-necked P) Psittacula krameri Several in the north on the Batinah Coast. Jacobin Cuckoo (Pied C) Clamator jacobinus One at Khawr Rori. Arabian Scops Owl ◊ Otus pamelae Two spotlit and another c.10 heard in Wadi Darbat. Arabian Spotted Eagle-Owl ◊ Bubo [africanus] milesi One heard in Wadi Darbat and another seen at Ayn Athum. 26 BirdQuest Tour Report: Oman (Custom Tour) 2016

Nile Valley Sunbird, Mudday.

Desert Owl ◊ Strix hadorami A pair seen in Wadi Ashawq plus another two males heard only. Omani Owl ◊ Strix omanensis One seen and another heard-only at Wadi ‘Mac’ in the Al Hajar Mountains. Little Owl Athene Noctua Two seen in Wadi ‘Mac’. Ssp uncertain, possibly bactriana?. European Nightjar Caprimulgus europaeus One seen in Wadi Darbat. Ssp unwini. Swift sp. Apus sp Two swifts at Ayn Hamran were too far away to identify. Indian Roller Coracias benghalensis Common in northern Oman. Grey-headed Kingfisher Halcyon leucocephala One in Dahariz Park. Green Bee-eater Merops orientalis Very common in northern Oman and two noted in Wadi Ashawq. Blue-cheeked Bee-eater Merops persicus Ten at Tawi Attair and six at Khawr Rori. Eurasian Hoopoe Upupa epops Nine tallied, the first at Barka. Black-crowned Tchagra Tchagra senegalus Two seen at Ayn Hamran. Ssp percivali. Red-tailed Shrike (Turkestan S, Rufous-t S) Lanius phoenicuroides A total of seven logged, the first at Qitbit. Southern Grey Shrike Lanius meridionalis A total of four, the first at Barka. Steppe Grey Shrike ◊ Lanius pallidirostris One at Barka was the only record. African Paradise Flycatcher Terpsiphone viridis Two at Ayn Hamran and one at Tawi Attair. House Crow Corvus splendens Common in the north and sadly becoming established around Salalah now as well. Brown-necked Raven Corvus ruficollis Around 40 seen en route through the centre of the country. Fan-tailed Raven ◊ Corvus rhipidurus Up to 40 per day in Dhofar. Grey Hypocolius ◊ Hypocolius ampelinus A minimum of three (one male) and a possible maximum of six at Mudday. Desert Lark Ammomanes deserti Around 10 in northern Oman (Ssp. taimuri) and 11 in Dhofar (Ssp. saturata). Black-crowned Sparrow-lark ◊ Eremopterix nigriceps A total of 12 logged was a low figure. Oriental Skylark Aluda gulgula One seen and heard calling at Barka. Eurasian Skylark Alauda arvensis One seen and heard calling at Barka. Crested Lark Galerida cristata Common in northern Oman. White-eared Bulbul (introduced?) Pycnonotus leucotis Five noted in Northern Oman. White-spectacled Bulbul ◊ (Yellow-vented B) Pycnonotus xanthopygos Common throughout the tour. Sand Martin (Bank Swallow) Riparia riparia One at Al Ghaftayn was our only sighting. Barn Swallow Hirundo rustica Small numbers noted throughout the tour. Pale Crag Martin Ptyonoprogne obsoleta A scatter of sightings, especially in mountainous wadis. Streaked Scrub Warbler ◊ Scotocerca inquieta A total of 10 in the Al Hajar Mountains. 27 BirdQuest Tour Report: Oman (Custom Tour) 2016

Asian Desert Warbler, Mudday.

Common Chiffchaff Phylloscopus collybita Common at the Empty Quarter oases/rest houses. Siberian Chiffchaff Phylloscopus [collybita] tristis Three at Mudday. Plain Leaf Warbler ◊ Phylloscopus neglectus Six in Wadi ‘Mac’ in the Al Hajar Mountains. Indian Reed Warbler Acrocephalus brunnescens Several seen at Khawr Rori. European Reed Warbler Acrocephalus scirpaceus Heard singing at Khawr Maghsayl. (H) Graceful Prinia Prinia gracilis Several noted throughout the tour. Arabian Babbler ◊ Turdoides squamiceps Two at Wadi ‘Mac’. Eurasian Blackcap Sylvia atricapilla A single at Al Ghaftayn and two in Qitbit Motel garden. Lesser Whitethroat Sylvia curruca Commonly seen in the Al Hajar Mountains (halimodendri) and in the south. Arabian Warbler ◊ Sylvia leucomelaena Three seen at Ayn Hamran and one at Tawi Attair. Asian Desert Warbler ◊ Sylvia nana One at Qitbit Oasis and two at Mudday. Abyssinian White-eye (White-breasted W-e) Zosterops abyssinicus Noted at Ayn Hamran and Ad Dahariz Park. Common Myna Acridotheres tristis Sadly abundant and now even common in Salalah. Brahminy Starling Sturnia pagodarum One in Al Ghaftayn Rest House garden (22nd for Oman). Rosy Starling Pastor roseus One in Al Ghaftayn Rest House garden with the Brahminy Starling. Tristram’s Starling ◊ (T Grackle) Onychognathus tristramii Around 70 noted in Dhofar. Song Thrush Turdus philomelos One in Qitbit Rest House garden. Black-throated Thrush Turdus atrogularis Three at Qitbit (adult male, 1cy male and female). European Robin Erithacus rubecula One in Qitbut Motel Garden (7th for Oman). Bluethroat Luscinia svecica One at Barka and five at Qitbit. Red-breasted Flycatcher Ficedula parva Two at Al Ghaftayn and four at Qitbit. Black Redstart Phoenicurus ochruros Three at Wadi ‘Mac’, two at Al Ghaftayn and three at Qitbit. Ssp phoenicuroides. Common Redstart Phoenicurus phoenicurus One at Ayn Hamran. (NL) Whinchat Saxicola rubetra One in Qitbut Motel Garden Isabelline Wheatear Oenanthe isabellina First noted at Barka and very common on the Dhofar Coastal Plain. Desert Wheatear Oenanthe deserti A common feature of the tour, around 40 logged. Blackstart ◊ Oenanthe melanura Noted from Mudday southwards into Dhofar. Hume’s Wheatear ◊ Oenanthe albonigra Seven logged in the Al Hajar Mountains of Northern Oman. Red-tailed Wheatear ◊ (Persian W, Rufous-t W) Oenanthe chrysopygia Three at Wadi ‘Mac’. Arabian Wheatear ◊ (South A W) Oenanthe lugentoides Eleven noted in Dhofar. 28 BirdQuest Tour Report: Oman (Custom Tour) 2016

False Killer Whales, at sea off Mirbat.

Nile Valley Sunbird ◊ Hedydipna metallica Four at Qitbit Rest House Garde and c.30 at Mudday. Shining Sunbird ◊ Cinnyris habessinicus Noted at Ayn Hamran, Tawi Attair and Dahariz Park. Purple Sunbird Cinnyris asiaticus Common in northern Oman, first noted at Seeb. House Sparrow Passer domesticus Very common in northern Oman. Ssp hufhufae. Rüppell’s Weaver ◊ Ploceus galbula Several in Dhofar. African Silverbill Euodice cantans Common in Dhofar. Indian Silverbill ◊ Euodice malabarica Common in northern Oman, first noted at Seeb. Black-headed Wagtail Motacilla [flava] feldegg x Citrine Wagtail Motacilla citreola A male hybrid at Khawr Rori. Grey-headed Wagtail Motacilla [flava] thunbergi A male at Raysut plus several unidentified flava wagtails. Citrine Wagtail Motacilla citreola First noted at Wadi Ashawq, part of a total of four logged. Grey Wagtail Motacilla cinerea Noted at Ayn Kheesh. White Wagtail Motacilla alba A small scatter of sightings. Richard’s Pipit Anthus richardi One at Barka. See note. Tawny Pipit Anthus campestris A small scatter of sightings in the north. Long-billed Pipit Anthus similis Two in Wadi Ashawq. Red-throated Pipit Anthus cervinus Three at Barka. Water Pipit Anthus spinoletta Two at Barka, one at Al Ghaftayn Oasis and two at East Khawr. Ssp coutelli. Arabian Golden-winged Grosbeak ◊ Rhynchostruthus percivali Two-three at the Ayn Tobruq intersection. Yemen Serin ◊ Crithagra menachensis Four on the rim of the sinkhole at Tawi Attair. Striolated Bunting ◊ (Striated B) Emberiza striolata Around 20 in the Al Hajar Mountains. Cinnamon-breasted Bunting (African Rock B) Emberiza tahapisi Abundant in the Dhofar Mountains. Mammals Red Fox Vulpes vulpes Singles at Wadi ‘Mac’ and Nahkl. Ssp arabica. Rüppell’s Fox (Sand F) Vulpes rueppellii Two in the desert around Qitbit. Grey Wolf Canis lupus Three seen at Wadi Darbat. Ssp arabs. Egyptian Rousette Rousettus egyptiacus Seen drinking from the swimming pool at Salalah Beach Villas. False Killer Whale Pseudorca crassidens At least four on our Mirbat Pelagic. Indo-Pacific Bottle-nosed Dolphin Tursiops aduncus One offshore from Al Maghsayl and c.20 on our Mirbat Pelagic. Nubian Ibex Capra nubiana Four in Wadi Ashawq. 29 BirdQuest Tour Report: Oman (Custom Tour) 2016

Oman 2016  

A custom birdwatching tour targeting Oman's special birds

Oman 2016  

A custom birdwatching tour targeting Oman's special birds