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OMAN

Arabian & Migrant Specialities

Birdquest’s Oman birding tour explores one of the newest but most enjoyable Middle Eastern birdwatching venues. Our Oman tour turns up a host of resident and migrant specialities including Jouanin’s Petrel, Persian Shearwater, Socotra Cormorant, Sooty Falcon, Arabian and Sand Partridges, Sooty Gull, Saunders’s and White-cheeked Terns, Spotted, Lichtenstein’s and Crowned Sandgrouse, Pallid and Arabian Scops Owls, Hume’s (or Omani) Owl, Desert Owl (formerly considered to be Hume’s Owl, but now determined to be a different species!),Forbes-Watson’s Swift, Plain Leaf, Ménétries’s and Arabian Warblers, Arabian Babbler, Red-tailed, Hume’s and Arabian Wheatears, Blackstart, Tristram’s Starling, Nile Valley and Palestine Sunbirds, Yemen Serin, Arabian Golden-winged Grosbeak and often the much-sought-after Grey Hypocolius, the sole member of its family. The optional short Bahrain extension adds Egyptian Nightjar and Mourning Wheatear, as well as a better opportunity to see Grey Hypocolius.

Tuesday 23rd October — Thursday 1st November 2018
(10 days)


Northern Oman Extension: Saturday 20th October — Tuesday 23rd October (4 days)

Bahrain Extension: Thursday 1st November — Saturday 3rd November (3 days)

Leader: a Birdquest leader

Group Size Limit: 10

Tour Category: Easy walking for the most part and comfortable accommodations almost throughout

The range-restricted Jouanin's Petrel is one of several much sought-after specialities on this tour (Mike Watson)

The range-restricted Jouanin's Petrel is one of several much sought-after specialities on this tour (Mike Watson)

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/Persian 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 (some wooden dhows are still used to this day, although sadly they no longer use sails). Their seafaring travels gave the Omanis an understanding of, and a tolerance for, foreign cultures, religions and peoples that has lasted to this day, and is something that sets them apart from the more inward-looking cultures of the rest of Arabia.

Interestingly 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 60 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.

Our Oman tour concentrates on by far the most ornithologically interesting part of this large country, the southern province of Dhofar.

Salalah is 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, Desert Owl (now split from Hume’s bor Omani Owl), Forbes-Watson’s Swift, Blackstart, Arabian Wheatear, Arabian Warbler, Palestine Sunbird, Fan-tailed Raven, Tristram’s Grackle, Arabian Golden-winged Grosbeak 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 more widespread Afrotropical species including Bruce’s Green Pigeon, Greyish Eagle Owl, 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, Sooty Gull, Saunders’s Tern and quite possibly the regionally-endemic White-cheeked Tern, while an offshore boat trip should produce such exciting birds as the little-known Jouanin’s Petrel, Persian Shearwater, Masked Booby and Bridled Tern.

After exploring the Salalah area we will head inland, making our way through the desert plains to the edge of the Rub al Qali, or Empty Quarter. Here a desert oasis attracts hundreds of Spotted Sandgrouse every morning and often the less common Crowned Sandgrouse, while other desert specialities of this inhospitable part of the world include Sand Partridge, the rare and nomadic Asian Dunn’s Lark, Asian Desert Warbler and often the enigmatic Grey Hypocolius, the sole member of its family (Hypocoliidae).

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 indeed any small clump of trees and bushes attract a tantalizing selection of tired migrants which may well include Ménétries’s Warbler and sometimes vagrants from further east in Asia. Other oases in this area hold small populations of African Collared Dove and Nile Valley Sunbird, both of which have a breeding toehold in southern Oman.

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!

During the optional Northern Oman pre-tour extension we will be concentrating on finding the decidedly enigmatic Omani Owl, which was thought at first to be a new species, but which has been shown to be the same as the original type specimen of Hume’s Owl, from southwest Pakistan! For this we head for the spectacular Al Hajar Mountains, where we will explore the deep canyons that the owl inhabits.

This area of stark, jagged limestone ridges and deep wadis is also home to the huge Lappet-faced Vulture as well as such specialities as the little-known Pallid (or Striated) Scops Owl, Rufous-tailed and Hume’s Wheatears, Plain Leaf Warbler, the perky Streaked Scrub Warbler (nowadays considered a monotypic bird family), Arabian Babbler and Striolated Bunting. We will also pay a visit to a coastal island where Sooty Falcons nest until late in the autumn, feeding their young on migrant birds before migrating to Madagascar.

The short optional post-tour 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 Mourning Wheatear.

Birdquest has operated tours to Oman since 2004 (and to Bahrain since 1995).

Accommodation & Road Transport: The hotels are mostly of good standard. At Qatbit and Thumrayt we stay in rather simple hotels, 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.

These are provisional prices

Tour Price: £2690, €3170, $3520 Salalah/Salalah. Northern Oman Extension: £890, €1050, $1170 Muscat/Muscat. Bahrain Extension: £930, €1100, $1220 Bahrain/Bahrain.

Price includes all transportation (excluding the Muscat-Salalah and Salalah-Bahrain flights if you are taking the extensions, as these are more economically arranged as part of your international travel), 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.

Single Room Supplement: £450, €532, $590. Northern Oman Extension: £165, €195, $216. Bahrain Extension: £150, €177, $197.

Deposit: £350, €420, $460. Northern Oman Extension: £100, €120, $130. Bahrain Extension: £100, €120, $130.

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.

The Birdquest group in the verdant Dhofar Mountains of southern Oman (Mike Watson)

The Birdquest group in the verdant Dhofar Mountains of southern Oman (Mike Watson)

Sunset over Masirah Island (Mike Watson)

Sunset over Masirah Island (Mike Watson)

The beautiful, date-loving Grey Hypocolius is another highlight (tour participant Mike Ashforth)

The beautiful, date-loving Grey Hypocolius is another highlight (tour participant Mike Ashforth)

Oman is probably the best place in the world to see Aquila eagles and we usually find several Imperial Eagles (tour participant Mike Ashforth)

Oman is probably the best place in the world to see Aquila eagles and we usually find several Imperial Eagles (tour participant Mike Ashforth)

... amongst the hundreds of Steppe Eagles (Mike Watson)

... amongst the hundreds of Steppe Eagles (Mike Watson)

The late-breeding Sooty Falcon can still be found in late October and juveniles like this one can be quite confiding (Mike Watson)

The late-breeding Sooty Falcon can still be found in late October and juveniles like this one can be quite confiding (Mike Watson)

Persian Shearwater is another range-restricted speciality we see on our pelagic voyages off Oman (Mike Watson)

Persian Shearwater is another range-restricted speciality we see on our pelagic voyages off Oman (Mike Watson)

We have not yet missed the elegant White-tailed Lapwing in Oman (Mike Watson)

We have not yet missed the elegant White-tailed Lapwing in Oman (Mike Watson)

A day-roosting Pallid Scops Owl is the grand prize of northern Oman (Mike Watson)

A day-roosting Pallid Scops Owl is the grand prize of northern Oman (Mike Watson)

Egyptian Nightjar has been very reliable at a couple of places in Bahrain in recent autumns and we have also seen it in Southern Oman (Mike Watson)

Egyptian Nightjar has been very reliable at a couple of places in Bahrain in recent autumns and we have also seen it in Southern Oman (Mike Watson)

Arabian Wheatear - one of two range-restricted black-and-white wheatears, which are common in Oman (Mike Watson)

Arabian Wheatear - one of two range-restricted black-and-white wheatears, which are common in Oman (Mike Watson)

The other is the smart Hume's Wheatear (Mike Watson)

The other is the smart Hume's Wheatear (Mike Watson)

The smart Desert Wheatear is a very common sight throughout this tour (Mike Watson)

The smart Desert Wheatear is a very common sight throughout this tour (Mike Watson)

Greater Hoopoe Lark can be found in the remotest desert regions of Oman (tour participant Mike Ashforth)

Greater Hoopoe Lark can be found in the remotest desert regions of Oman (tour participant Mike Ashforth)

Nile Valley Sunbird can be found at the extreme northeastern limit of its range (Mike Watson)

Nile Valley Sunbird can be found at the extreme northeastern limit of its range (Mike Watson)

We normally see a few migrants from southern Asia, such as this Little Pratincole (Mike Watson)

We normally see a few migrants from southern Asia, such as this Little Pratincole (Mike Watson)

Many of the flights and flight-inclusive holidays on this website are financially protected by the ATOL scheme. But ATOL protection does not apply to all holiday and travel services listed on this website. Please ask us to confirm what protection may apply to your booking. If you do not receive an ATOL Certificate then the booking will not be ATOL protected. If you do receive an ATOL Certificate but all the parts of your trip are not listed on it, those parts will not be ATOL protected. Please see our booking conditions for information, or for more for more information about financial protection and the ATOL Certificate go to: www.atol.org.uk/ATOL Certificate

Birdquest Ltd is Registered in England, Company No. 01568270. The address of our registered office is Two Jays, Kemple End, Stonyhurst, Clitheroe, Lancashire BB7 9QY

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