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Thursday 22nd October - Saturday 7th November 2015
Cyclone Chapala! Despite the influence of the most severe depression ever recorded in the Northern Indian Ocean, our eighth Oman & Bahrain tour was another successful visit to this region, recording a respectable total of 242 taxa and 55 Birdquest ‘diamond’ species (regional specialities). Oman is well established as the premier birding destination in the Middle East for so many reasons. It is full of regional specialties, offers a fantastic migration spectacle as well as some great sea birding. The highlights this time were again Oman’s special owls. We saw Omani Owl again, only the third tour group to see it (the first and second were us too), as well as Pallid and Arabian Scops Owls, Lilith Owl and Arabian Spotted (the potential split from Greyish) Eagle-Owl. Cyclone Chapala may have disrupted our itinerary but it also brought us some great seabirding, notably Swinhoe’s Storm Petrels! A great mixture of Middle Eastern specialities and sought-after migrants included: Arabian and Sand Partridges; Persian Shearwater; Jouanin’s Petrel; Masked Booby; Socotra Cormorant; Lappet-faced Vulture; Crab-Plover; Sociable Lapwing; Long-toed Stint; Broad-billed Sandpiper; Sooty Gull; Spotted Sandgrouse; Common Wood Pigeon (of the Central Asian form casiotus); African Collared Dove; Bruce’s Green Pigeon; Forbes Watson’s Swift; Sooty Falcon; Steppe Grey Shrike; Fan-tailed Raven; Black-crowned Sparrow-Lark; White-spectacled Bulbul; Streaked Scrub Warbler; Plain Leaf Warbler; Arabian Babbler; Asian Desert Warbler; Ménétries’s Warbler; Abyssinian White-eye; Tristram’s Starling; Rufous-tailed Scrub Robin; Northern Caspian Stonechat; Blackstart; Variable, Hume’s, Red-tailed & Arabian Wheatears; Nile Valley, Palestine and Shining Sunbirds; Rüppell’s Weaver; Indian Silverbill; Masked Wagtail; Yemen Serin and Striolated Bunting. We also added Ruddy Shelduck, Greater Painted Snipe, Hooded Wheatear and, best of all, the long-awaited and wonderful Arabian Golden-winged Grosbeak to the Birdquest Oman List.
The Kingdom of Bahrain weighed in again with the most sought-after bird of the circuit, Grey Hypocolius (a wonderful pre-roost gathering of around 170 birds) plus Egyptian Nightjar and Iranian (or Persian/Eastern Mourning) Wheatear. A very good line-up worth the small detour across the Gulf! Oman remains the safest country in the Middle East with a stunning landscape, great road network, generally good food and accommodation throughout and a warm welcome for tourists. It was also good to see that Bahrain is back to ‘normal’ peace and quiet now after the turmoil of 2011’s ‘Arab Spring’ and even its roads are becoming less frantic (this will be difficult to believe for first time visitors), owing to a massive police presence. Our wonderful host, Mubarak, made our stay a very special one as usual. It is such a shame that many people are influenced by events in the rest of the Middle East and never get to experience traditional Arabian hospitality!