Welcome to Birdquest
Birdquest’s Oman birding tour explores two of the newest but most enjoyable Middle Eastern birdwatching venues. Our Oman tour has comprehensive coverage and turns up a host of resident and migrant specialities including Jouanin’s Petrel, Persian Shearwater, Socotra Cormorant, Sooty Falcon, Arabian and Sand Partridges, the strange Crab-Plover, Sooty Gull, Saunders’s and White-cheeked Terns, Pallid and Arabian Scops Owls, Hume’s Owl, the recently-discovered Omani Owl, Arabian (Greyish) Eagle-Owl (a potential split), Spotted and Crowned Sandgrouse, Plain Leaf and Arabian Warblers, Arabian Babbler, Hume’s Wheatear, Blackstart, Nile Valley and Palestine Sunbirds, Yemen Serin and of course the much-sought-after Grey Hypocolius, the sole member of its family. The optional short Bahrain extension adds Egyptian Nightjar and Iranian (or Eastern/Persian Mourning) Wheatear, as well as further opportunities to see Grey Hypocolius.
Friday 3rd November —
Thursday 16th November 2017
Bahrain Extension: Thursday 16th November — Sunday 19th November (4 days)
Leader: Hannu Jännes
Group Size Limit: 8
Tour Category: Easy walking for the most part and comfortable accommodations almost throughout
Once a hermit kingdom that let in few outsiders, the wild desert beauty of Oman is legendary. With a small population of just two and a half million in a land area of approximately 300,000 square kilometres, Oman is the second largest country in Arabia and is not truly a ‘Gulf State’, having only a tiny section of coastline on the Arabian Gulf (in an isolated enclave on the Musandam Peninsula).
This is still a largely unspoilt land of spectacular landscapes and contrasts, ranging from rugged mountains that rise to over 3000m and deep gorges and ravines to vast desert plains, endless miles of spectacular white sand beaches, palm groves, coastal lagoons, mangroves and modern, intensively irrigated farms that look wildly out of place amongst the surrounding arid landscapes.
Most of northern and interior Oman is extremely arid, the surface of the land being marked by ancient, usually dry wadis and jagged, bare mountains, although a broad fertile coastal strip in the north (the Batinah) supports farming and provides most of the country’s fresh fruit and vegetables. The southern province of Dhofar is quite different, in that it has a clearly monsoon climate with significant rainfall during the cool and overcast summer months (called the Khareef), a time when northern Oman swelters under clear blue skies.
The Omani people are proud, honest and hard-working, and in many ways quite different to their Bedu neighbours to the west. The Omanis are outstanding seamen and they have long traded far and wide across the Indian Ocean, helped by their expertise in boat building (dhows are used even to this day, although sadly they no longer use sails). However, it was Frankincense rather than trade with South Asia and East Africa that brought what is now Oman to the attention of the ancient world. Frankincense trees (of the genus Boswellia) grow only in southern Oman, Yemen, northern Somalia and Socotra, and the aromatic gum, which both burns and has medicinal properties, became an important part of the religious rituals of the ancient world, being used in rites in the temples of ancient Egypt, at Jerusalem and in ancient Rome, as well as in many other places. The frankincense offered to baby Jesus was, at that time, more valuable than gold and the Roman author Pliny even wrote that control of the frankincense trade had made the south Arabians the richest people in the known world!
Sadly the use of frankincense declined and Oman’s fortunes declined accordingly, although for a time in the 17th and 18th centuries Oman’s ships dominated the Indian Ocean and her political influence was felt as far afield as East Africa. Later Oman became a quiet and undeveloped backwater, a situation that only really changed with the accession of the outward-looking Sultan Qaboos Bin Said in 1970. When one sees modern, oil-rich Oman today it is hard to believe that most of the country was virtually in a medieval state less than 50 years ago.
For the birder and traveller Oman has obvious appeal, not least the fact it has one of the most diverse and speciality-rich avifaunas in the entire Middle East, with a unique mixture of Palearctic, Oriental and Afrotropical breeding species enriched by a formidable diversity of migrants and vagrants.
We will begin our travels at Muscat, from where we will travel by boat to an offshore island where Sooty Falcons and Red-billed Tropicbirds breed and both Persian Shearwaters and Jouanin's Petrels can be observed during the crossing.
From Muscat we will head northwest to Sohar and explore the acacia and Ghaf woodland close to the border with the United Arab Emirates in search of Sand Partridge as well as Variable Wheatear and Ménétries’s and Plain Leaf Warblers, three wintering specialities. Further south the mangroves at Liwa are home to an isolated and apparently resident population of Sykes's Warbler (which may even transpire to be something entirely different) as well as the endangered Middle Eastern kalbaensis form of the widespread Collared Kingfisher.
Next we head into the spectacular Al Hajar Mountains of northern Oman, to look for the recently (re)discovered Omani Owl, which inhabits the deep canyons here. This area of stark, jagged limestone ridges and deep wadis is also home to huge Lappet-faced Vulture, the little-known Pallid (or Striated) Scops Owl, Desert Lark, Long-billed Pipit, Rufous-tailed and Hume’s Wheatears, Streaked Scrub Warbler and Striolated Bunting.
From here we travel far across the interior desert to the Arabian Sea east coast near Masirah island. Our remote goal is the peninsula of Barr al Hikman, the greatest and yet least-known waterbird spectacle in all Arabia and indeed the entire Middle East. Here, hundreds of thousands of shorebirds pass the northern winter months, providing an astonishing spectacle. Amongst the commoner species, we shall be concentrating on the strange Crab-Plover, which is positively numerous, as well as Great Knot and Broad-billed and Terek Sandpipers.
After exploring Barr al Hikman we will head inland, making our way through the desert plains of the Jiddat al Harasis, to the edge of the Rub al Qali, or Empty Quarter. Here a desert oasis attracts hundreds of Spotted Sandgrouse every morning and sometimes the less common Crowned Sandgrouse, while other desert specialities of this inhospitable part of the world include the rare and nomadic Dunn’s Lark. In this hot and utterly arid region it is bizarre to come across farms where grass and alfalfa are irrigated by huge circular gantries in the middle of the desert, but these fields and any small clump of trees and bushes attract a tantalizing selection of tired migrants. Oases in this area regularly attract the enigmatic Grey Hypocolius, the sole member of its family (Hypocoliidae), and also hold small populations of African Collared Dove and Nile Valley Sunbird, both of which have a breeding toehold in southern Oman.
Eventually we will reach Salalah, the ancient capital of Dhofar province. Here there are still some huge stretches of unspoiled white sand beaches fronting the Arabian Sea, coconut palms waving in the breeze and a series of interesting coastal lagoons, while inland is the rugged mountainous escarpment of the Jabal al Qara with its deep ravines and beautiful perennial springs. The woodland on the slopes, which includes frankincense trees and baobabs, will still be green after the transformation wrought by the monsoon rains and the whole area looks very different from the extremely arid mountains near Muscat. In this diversity of habitats we will be concentrating on South Arabian endemics and other regional specialities such as Socotra Cormorant, Arabian Partridge, Lichtenstein’s Sandgrouse, Hume's (or Desert Tawny) Owl, Blackstart, Arabian Wheatear, Arabian Warbler, Palestine Sunbird, Fan-tailed Raven, Tristram’s Grackle and Yemen Serin (the later only fairly recently discovered breeding here around 1000 kilometres to the northeast of the previous known range), as well as a series of Afrotropical species including Bruce’s Green Pigeon, Forbes-Watson’s Swift, Grey-headed Kingfisher, Shining Sunbird and Abyssinian White-eye. The coastal lagoons and beaches will produce a wide variety of waterbirds, very probably including Spotted, Baillon’s and Little Crakes, and perhaps White-cheeked Tern, while another boat trip should produce such exciting birds as the little-known Jouanin’s Petrel, Masked Booby and Bridled Tern.
Oman offers a brilliant mixture of easy desert birding, superb migration ‘hotspots’ and some exciting Arabian and Middle Eastern specialities that can be enjoyed in one of the safest countries on earth along with some spectacular scenery and the hospitality of some proud but friendly people who have held themselves aloof from the political tensions that have embroiled so many other Middle Eastern countries. All in all, a truly enjoyable trip!
The short optional extension will take us to the island of Bahrain in the central Arabian Gulf, famous as one of the best places for finding Grey Hypocolius and also a good spot for finding the rarely-observed Egyptian Nightjar, as well as Iranian (or Eastern/Persian Mourning) Wheatear, which is proposed as for a split from Mourning Wheatear.
Birdquest has operated tours to Oman since 2004 (and to Bahrain since 1995).
Important: The Birdquest group size limit is significantly lower than for most other Oman tours.
Accommodation & Road Transport: The hotels are mostly of good standard. At Qatbit and Thumrayt we stay in rather simple hotels and at Al Hij in a fairly basic hotel, but all rooms have private bathrooms. Road transport is by 4x4s and roads are mostly good (although there are some interesting experiences on desert tracks or even ‘off-road’!
Walking: The walking effort is mostly easy, but there are a few moderate walks, some over uneven ground.
Climate: Typically hot (or very hot) and sunny. Rain is unlikely, but it is fairly humid in the Salalah area.
Bird Photography: Opportunities are good.
Important Information for Pound Payers: Kindly note that the Pound prices shown here are based on post-EU-referendum exchange rate reality, unlike the website prices of most UK bird tour operators which are still based on outdated and hugely higher pre-referendum exchange rates. Consequently you can rest assured that we will not have to adjust these prices upwards at invoicing, unless the Pound falls significantly further, and if there is any recovery by the Pound you will receive the full benefit of the cost-saving by way of a price reduction at invoicing.
Tour Price: £3990, €4710, $5230 Muscat/Muscat. Bahrain Extension: £930, €1100, $1220.
Price includes all transportation (including the Salalah-Muscat flight, but excluding the Muscat-Bahrain flight which is more economically incorporated into your international tickets), all accommodations, all meals, bottled water, some drinks, all excursions, all entrance fees, all tips for local drivers/guides and for accommodations/restaurants, leader services.
Base prices for this tour are determined in US Dollars, the currency in which we pay for most tour services. The exchange rates applied at the time of costing were: £1 = $1.310 and €1 = $1.110. For those not paying us in US Dollars, prices may be adjusted (either downwards or upwards) at the time of invoicing should there be a change in the exchange rate. See booking information.
Single Room Supplement: £650, €768, $852. Extension: £150, €177, $197.
Deposit: £450, €600, $700. Extension: £100, €150, $150.
Air Travel To & From The Tour: Our in-house IATA ticket agency can arrange your air travel in connection with the tour from a departure point anywhere in the world, or you may arrange your own air travel if you prefer. We can tailor-make your itinerary to your personal requirements, so if you would like to travel in advance of the tour (and spend a night in an hotel so you will feel fresh when the tour starts), or return later than the end of the tour, or make a side trip to some other destination, or travel business class rather than economy, we will be happy to assist. Please contact us about your air travel requirements.
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