On the 23rd of December we drove to Joutseno in good winter weather. It was cold and snowing. We tried to find Marsh Tits that had been present for some time but without luck. Only better birds we saw were a Goshawk and a flock of 5 Chaffinches. The sun was already setting when we continued towards Helsinki and after a long drive we were finally in Helsinki-Vantaa airport much too early.
We ate pizza and waited for our flight that finally left towards Dubai about 30 minutes late from the schedule. It was already Christmas Eve when we tried to sleep in the plane.
Somehow it was very hot in the plane and the seats were narrow and hard. So we didn’t sleep well. I was watching mountainous Iran landscape and found out that there weren’t many people living as there we almost no lights at all. After a long flight we finally landed to Dubai.
We drove around the huge airfield by bus to Terminal 3 where we just walked to the next bus that drove exactly the same round again, passed our previous plane that was being cleaned and continued to Terminal 2. There we had a couple of hours wait for our flight to Oman, Muscat.
From Dubai airport and from the plane we could see the high buildings of Dubai, the most spectacular was 828 meters high needle Burj Khalifa. Only birds we saw in Dubai were Collared Dove, House Crow and Laughing Dove.
Our flight to Oman left again 30 minutes late but I was sleeping the whole flight. We landed to Seeb airport which was surprisingly small but very nice. We managed to get our visas easily (of course we had applied them beforehand) and soon we were waiting for our luggage. Pretty soon we found out that Hanna’s bag wasn’t coming and soon heard that it was still in Dubai. It was coming on the next flight that was 3 hours later.
So our schedule was going to change right away. But anyway we went to get our brand new Kia Sportage 4 wheel drive from Budget, got some local money (Rials), bought some alcohol to our Trangia cooker and something small to eat and drink. Finally we also could strip long underwear that we were still wearing…
From the airport windows we saw Common Mynahs, Rock Doves and House Sparrows and finally after a long waiting Hanna’s back arrived and we could hit the road.
Luckily we had our navigator with us and of course with Oman maps. We also had Oman map on my phone, so we could find away from the airport and to the right road towards the mountains.
We soon passed a small pool that had some Cattle Egrets, a Grey Heron, a Great White Egret, some Black-winged Stilts and a Marsh Harrier was flying over the reeds.
It was already getting dark when we finally turned to one big wadi. Finally we were on the right spot where we parked and got out and started to listen to owls. We had got exact coordinates to a place where some years ago found new owl-species, Omani Owl had been at least a couple of years ago.
We were surrounded by high cliffs and almost full moon was giving so much light that we could see the landscape surprisingly well. After some time we hadn’t heard a thing but then a car stopped to us and a voice asked: ”Are you searching for owls?”. The group of 3 young Spanish birders were searching for Omani Owl too. They hadn’t got so exact information about the place, but somehow they knew the area where to search. Of course we were soon listening the area together.
Spanish group had an amazing torch with them and they were scanning the cliffs with it, almost too often. Later we found out that they didn’t even know how Omani Owl was calling, like many foreign birders they just wanted to see it.
We were walking on the wadi-road for hours but heard only a possible, too distant Barn Owl an saw briefly a nightjar-looking bird in flight. We also saw some foxes and a cat that looked like a domestic one. After many hours trying, we were too tired to continue and made a camp under one tree and went to sleep to our tent.
On Christmas night we woke up a couple of times to listen but heard nothing except some crickets. Finally we woke up at 6 a.m. when it was still completely dark, but soon the sun was rising and surprisingly quickly it was shining over the mountains.
From the cliffs and trees next to our tent we could hear Striolated Bunting singing and soon we heard calls that were easy to identify as a Plain Leaf Warbler. We found the bird soon and it even started to sing. Soon we found some more Plain Leaf Warblers and the first Hume’s Wheatear high from the cliffs.
Other birds in the wadi were House Sparrows, White-spectacled Bulbuls, Pale Crag Martins and stunning semirufus Blackstarts.
We continued further along the wadi to a small plantation where we found a Red-tailed Wheatear, a Bluethroat, a Red-breasted Flycatcher, some Chiffchaffs and Purple Sunbirds and a Grey Wagtail. Soon we heard strange calls from the rocks and then saw a flock of Grey Francolines in flight. They landed to a tree nearby and we managed to see these birds quite well. And soon they started to call intensively.
When we were driving back towards the main road we stopped a couple of times on the more vegetated parts of the wadi and still found more Striolated Buntings, Plain Leaf Warblers, Black Redstarts, the first Lesser Whitethroat of the trip and a Long-billed Pipit.
Finally we were continuing towards the mountains and after we had passed a check-point where only 4 wheel-drives were passing through, we started to climb towards Saiq plateau. We were climbing for more than 20 kilometers and saw a Blue Rock Thrush, a couple of Hume’s Wheatears, a Kestrel and a Long-billed Pipit.
We continued to Wadi Bani Habib where we parked to the end of the road and walked down to well vegetated wadi. We found some Chiffchaffs (both Siberian and Common), Plain Leaf Warblers and Lesser Whitethroats. Most of the Lesser Whitethroats sounded like halimodendri, but we also heard some blythi-type of birds. Also normal-type of ”tsec” -calls were heard, but probably other subspecies can call like that too. Other birds we found were a female Common Redstart, a couple of Song Thrushes and we heard calls of Sand Partridges.
There was an old abandoned village in the wadi that had been bombed in Jebel Aghbar war. Hanna found a large shell of an old bomb there. When we had climbed the steep stairs back to the parking place, we saw an Egyptian Vulture soaring above the mountain.
Once we were back on the main road we continued higher again. But the landscape was so arid that we didn’t really know where to start birding. So we found only some more Chiffchaffs, Plain Leaf Warblers, a Kestrel and a Blue Rock Thrush and a Song Thrush. Views were great and we stopped often for photographing scenery and searching for vultures.
Finally we started to drive down along the never-ending downhills towards Birkat Al Mawz. There we started a long drive around the mountains and on the way we saw some Arabian Green Bee-eaters and Collared Doves. It was already getting dark when we turned to a small road and continued to a wadi from where we had much newer information about Omani Owl.
We were again listening for hours and finally heard something else except the crickets too. First we heard a distant Pallid Scops Owl and then also a calling Barn Owl.
There was surprisingly lot of traffic on the tiny wadi-road and some locals were driving back and forth the wadi and lightening the cliffs with huge torches. It seemed that they were hunting something. Locals didn’t bother us too much, they just shouted: ”How are you?” or ”Good evening” and kept on driving.
Finally after 5 hours waiting and walking around the wadi I decided to mimic Omani Owl and surprisingly we heard one clear hoot from the top of the cliffs. It was like answering: ”Here I am”. But then we waited for an hour more and heard nothing anymore.
It was almost 2 a.m. when we gave up and went to sleep to our tent that was right on the place where we had heard the Omani Owl.
Second mountain day
On the Boxing Day we had to wake up too soon. But when we heard Lichtenstein’s Sandgrouse calling from the sky, we were fully awake. Again there were Striolated Buntings singing and also an Indian Silverbill flew over us. From the trees we found Plain Leaf Warblers, Chiffchaffs and halimodendri Lesser Whitethroats. We also saw a Long-billed Pipit and found a small flock of Desert Larks before we packed up and continued towards Al Ghubrah.
On the way we saw a Grey Wagtail and the first Indian Roller of the trip. There was a new motorway being built and it was very difficult to find the right roads towards our destination, but somehow we managed. Finally we were in Al Ghubrah plateau that was surrounded by distant cliffs. It was hard to imagine that this huge stony plateau was sometimes full of water during the rainy season.
The area was so big that again we had difficulties to decide where to start birding, but anyway we soon found some aucheri Great Grey Shrikes and Red-tailed Wheatears. After we had flushed a couple of Sand Partridges and seen also Pale Crag Martins, Arabian Green Bee-eaters, a couple of Long-billed Pipits, a female Common Redstart and Black Redstarts, we continued to the end of the road to small village of Wukan. We did a mistake and drove up to the village where was only a tiny parking place in the end of extremely steep uphill. Of course there was a car coming down just before we reached the parking place. I turned quickly to the beginning of the parking place without noticing very high boulder and got our car almost stack from the bottom. Luckily there was only a tiny scratch on the bottom even though I though the whole car was broken as the sound had been awful. We should have parked down under the village and walk the last hundreds of meters.
And after all we didn’t see any reason to stay up in the village for long as we saw only some Pale Crag Martins. So soon I wanted to drive back down as I didn’t want to have another car driving up before we go.
We still did a couple of stops on the plateau but pretty soon we were driving down again. We stopped in Al Ghubrah village, but local children were throwing stones from a hill to cars that were driving under them, so we didn’t want to leave our car parked. Luckily these children were just toddlers and their stones were too big, but probably they could have managed to hit a parked car? So after we had seen some Purple Sandbirds, Indian Silverbills and White-eared Bulbuls we kept on driving.
Car change and towards the coast
We still walked on one vegetated wadi and found some Plain Leaf Warblers, a Blue Rock Thrush and a couple of Menestries’s Warblers before continued towards Muscat. On the way we saw a Desert Wheatear and later some Indian Rollers. And again close to Seeb airport we saw the same birds by the pool plus there were now some Glossy Ibises too. We couldn’t find any place to fill our tank, but luckily gas is cheap so returning our car with half tank wasn’t expensive either.
The scratch wasn’t luckily noticed at all and soon we were in Budget office where we got now much smaller Suzuki 2 wheel drive for the rest of the trip. This car was very much cheaper than 4 wheel drive, 10 days were cheaper than 2 days with Kia.
Our Suzuki wasn’t the best car to drive but after some driving it got easier. We were happy that car trunk was spacious and all of our luggage fitted in without a problem. We had a long drive towards the western coast and Barr Al Hikman.
Soon we were driving on a desert where almost no birds were seen. Before it started to get dark we saw only bird to mention, a Brown-necked Raven. In the darkness we saw a Red Fox, a long-eared hare and some king of mouse.
Driving in darkness was pretty dangerous as Omani drivers weren’t very good. They were overtaking very badly after driving a long time far too close even though there was space to overtake. Some overtakers pushed us to shoulder as they were just keeping their speed without even thinking to change the line. And once when I was driving on the shoulder, there was suddenly a huge truck-tyre on our way! And with rental cars we couldn’t drive faster than 114 km/h as then rental cars started to beep. Once we had a truck coming towards us on our line. The driver had probable fell asleep, but luckily woke up in time and managed to get back to his line. Later there had been a very bad accident where both cars had completely burned. There was no traffic control, all cars were just driving around the crash site on the desert and trucks had to wait someone to come to clean the road. There were also camels walking along the road and speed-bumps in every village and around every police station that were plenty. Some of them were painted, some marked with a sign that almost never was on the right place and some weren’t marked at all. And most roads were 120 km/h so we really had to be careful to notice every single bump!
Finally when we were getting close to Filim, we started to search a place where to camp. The first track went to a rubbish tip but the along the second track we found a suitable place. After cooking, we ate well and were soon sleeping under extremely bright stars.
Barr Al Hikman waders
On the 27th of December we woke up again before the sunset. We packed our car and after we had seen a small flock of Desert Larks, we continued towards Filim.
We had checked the timing of tide already at home, so we knew that water-level was now rising. But when we got to the shore, we could see that water and birds were still very far.
There were lots of waders but they were still very far. So first we were mostly identifying Flamingos, Spoonbills, Great White Egrets, Grey Herons, different kind of Western Reef Egrets and Great Cormorants. There were also plenty of gulls and terns. Gulls were mostly Heuglin’s and Steppe but there were also 20 Sooty Gulls. Terns were 20 Caspian Terns, a Gull-billed Tern and the best ones 5 Saunder’s Terns.
Slowly the rising water was pushing birds closer and we started to identify waders. Curlews, Whimbrels, Black- and Bar-tailed Godwits, Grey and Pacific Golden Plovers, Greater and Lesser Sand Plovers, Kentish Plovers, Oystercatchers, Turnstones, Black-winged Stilts, an Avocet, Greenshanks, Redshanks, Spotted and Marsh Sandpipers, about 100 Terek Sandpipers, a couple of Common Sandpipers, lots of Dunlins and Little Stints and some Curlew Sandpipers and a couple of Common Snipes were seen. But the best birds were more than 100 Crab Plovers and Great Knots that in the beginning only 3 were seen in flight but later we counted at least 70 still quite distant birds.
Other birds seen were Marsh Harriers, Ospreys, some Sommon Kingfisherrs, a couple of Citrine Wagtails, Desert Wheatears, Common Chiffchaffs, Clamorous Reed Warblers and a Bluethroat.
While the water was still rising, we tried to find a good spot where birds would be closest to the shore, but unfortunately not many waders came close. There were still some reefs in the middle of the distant shore where huge flocks of birds gathered. So after some time, we decided to change our plans and leave towards south. We had planned to stay in Barr Al Hikman area for 2 days, but as we had already seen the species we had hoped, we wanted to get one extra day for the future.
So soon we were driving through the deserts again and saw only some Brown-necked Ravens and Hanna saw a Hoopoe Lark briefly.
Finally we were in our next destination which was beautiful Khawr Dhurf. We managed to drive pretty close to the lagoon and walked to the shore. Right away we saw some Pintails, Shoverels, Teals, Gadwalls and Garganeys, Great White Egrets, Grey Herons and Western Reef Herons, Great Cormorants, 3 Pochards and a Black-necked Grebe. Heuglin’s and Steppe Gull flock had also some Slender-billed Gulls and 2 Pallas’s Gulls. Caspian and Gull-billed Terns were numerous and a Sandwich Tern was flying over the sea and again we saw 5 Saunder’s Terns. There weren’t many waders but 8 Avocets were nice and other birds seen were White Wagtails and a couple of Crested Larks and a Desert Wheatear.
It was getting dark when we continued towards south. While we were driving along the coast we saw a few Ospreys roosting on the poles along the road.
We had driven 600 km during the day when we finally arrived at Ash Shuwaimiyah. There we made a decision that we wouldn’t try to drive along the Wadi as we had no idea if it was drivable with our car. So we continued along the coast some 20 kilometers and found a rocky track towards the shore. We drove through an open gate and saw some people on the shore with head-lights. We had no idea what they were doing but we put up our tent and started cooking. We just hoped that they wouldn’t close the gate at night.
Ash Shuwaimiyah area
On the 28th of December we woke up next to a nice beach and soon we had packed and tried to drive to the shore. The track was in very bad shape so after all we had to walk. When we were on the beach we found out that the people that had been there in the evening were tourists camping in the shore and taking faked holiday pictures to Instagram.
There were huge numbers of terns on the sea but they were too distant. Most of them seemed to be Whiskered Terns but some White-winged Terns and a couple of Common Terns were also seen. Bigger terns were easier and they were mostly Greater Crested Terns but also some Lesser Crested Terns and Sandwich Terns were seen.
Along the beach we saw a couple of bigger flocks of gulls and most of them were Sooty Gulls but again both Heuglin’s and Steppe Gulls, some Caspian Gulls and a Black-headed Gulls were identified. After some scanning to the sea we found the first Masked Booby and later a few more were seen. But the reason why we had been staying in this place were Socotra Cormorants that were perched on the wall quite far. There has sometimes been tens of thousands of them but now we counted about 1000 birds. and unfortunately they were much further than we had expected.
After some time we headed towards Ash Shuwaimiyah again and on the way we saw the first Arabian Wheatear and some Desert Larks.
Luckily we noticed a khawr before turning to the wadi. There were quite a good number of birds and some better ones too as we found 4 African Pygmy Geese, some Coots and Moorhens, 2 Avocets, 2 Squacco Herons with an Indian Pond Heron, a couple of Western Cattle Egrets, some Common Ringed Plovers, a Red-necked Phalarope and some 20 ducks with the first Wigeons of the trip. Other birds seen were a couple of Red-tailed Shrikes, Clamorous Reed Warblers and a Pintailed Snipe that was identified after we had seen it a couple of times and managed to get some pictures
Next we continued to Wadi Ash Shuwaimiyah and in the beginning the track was in quite good condition but pretty soon we found out that it was impossible to continued further with our car. The best places would have been 20 kilometers inside the wadi. Anyway we stopped a couple of times to walk in this beautiful wadi and found a couple of Arabian Wheatears, Tristram’s Grackles, some Hoopoes, White-spectacled Bulbuls and a beautiful male Common Rock Thrush.
Ordinarily we had planned to stay over night in the end of the road where Lichtenstein’s Sandgrouses and Desert Owls were supposed to be but 4 wheel drive would have been necessary. So now we were already driving back towards the main road and soon headed towards south again.
Next 200 km we were first driving along the coast but soon got inland to mountains where we saw a Bonelli’s Eagle, a Steppe Eagle, an Arabian Wheatear, some Desert Wheatears and Desert Larks. While we were driving up and down the mountain-road we found a beautiful oasis with palm-trees and a small pool. A Coot was swimming on the pool, Tristram’s Grackles were noisy on the cliffs, a couple of Arabian Green Bee-eaters were flying around and we also saw a Blackstart. I also saw 2 birds very briefly in flight but all I managed to notice was some amazingly bright blue on their back. I had no idea what I had seen…
When we were driving again we saw another Blackstart and a falcon that probably was a Barbary Falcn but it was seen too briefly. Near Hasik we checked a couple of khawrs but saw only a Coot and a Yellow Wagtail. Later we saw an Arabian Green Bee-eater, a Booted Eagle, a Greater Spotted Eagle and a beatifully bright-coloured lizard crossing the road.
The coastal road was very scenery and as it was local weekend there were lots of families and groups of people under big acasia-trees spending holiday and having barbecue.
Finally at Dhofar
After long driving we were in Dhofar where we headed straight to Mirbat and to Khawr Stimar. We almost immediately found a flock of 4 African Sacred Ibises and also a Pheasant-tailed Jacana that was with some waders. Also a couple of Ruffs, Black-winged Stilts, Black-tailed Godwits, some ducks with a single Tufted Duck, a couple of Marsh Harriers and Western Cattle Egrets, a Little Egret and a couple of Isabelline Wheatears were seen. We also heard prinias which are here in south Delicate Prinias.
We had planned to stay in hotel for next night so we went to Mirbat Marriot to ask the prices for the cheapest rooms, but those prices weren’t for us. So after we had photographed some Common Mynahs and House Crows and got rid of our rubbish-bags, we continued towards Ras Mirbat and parked our car as close to the shore as possible and walked to do some afternoon sea-watching.
Soon Hanna started to talk about some storm petrel -looking birds that were flying only short distances very far on the sea. I tried to find them too with my scope but soon found a Persian Shearwater flying low over the sea. Luckily Hanna found it soon too and then we saw the small birds too and they were Red-necked Phalaropes. In an hour we saw altogether 6 Persian Shearwaters, 4 Masked Boobies and surprisingly 2 African Pygmy Geese flying on the sea. Also a Water Pipit was seen.
We had noticed that there was a motel next to our sea-watching place so we went to ask prices again. The French owner gave us a small discount and we got a nice room with 30 Rial. But then there was no warm water and the bathroom was full of some small flying insects. Anyway it was nice to have very good food in the restaurant, spend some time on the internet, and then sleep on a soft bed!
On the 29th of December we were sleeping too well on our comfortable bed as I had put my alarm wrong. Luckily I woke up just before the sun was rising and soon we had packed everything and heading towards the mountains and Wadi Hanna.
The instructions to Wadi Hanna were quite a mess but with navigator and printed satellite-pictures we found out that we were after all much closer to the place than we were supposed to get with our car. With the maps on my phone we could be sure where we were. So we parked our car and walked along a poor track towards the wadi and soon after we had seen the first bigger Baobab trees, we started to find some interesting birds.
We were now so south that the species were completely different than in north. So now the common bunting was a Cinnamon-breasted Bunting. Soon we found the first amazingly beautiful male African Paradise Flycatcher and after some walking more female-plumaged birds. A flock of Arabian Partridges flew over the track and luckily some of them stopped to the rocks and we could take some pictures of them. On the top of Baobab-trees we saw flocks of Abyssinian White-eyes and some Siberian Chiffchaffs and we also found some Blackstarts and the first Arabian Warbler.
We walked down to a small spring and found more Abyssinian White-eyes, Siberian Chiffchaffs, African Paradise Flycatchers, Blackstarts but also a Red-breasted Flycatcher, a Green Sandpiper, a couple of Palestine Sunbirds, a Sparrowhawk and a Bonelli’s Eagle. We also managed to find a place where small birds were drinking so we stayed there for some time taking pictures. Once we had climbed pack to our car, we found one or two Black-crowned Tchagras.
Wadi Hanna was very nice place, but we didn’t know if all the other places were even nicer, so pretty soon we headed towards our next destination which was Tawi Attair.
When we had driven up to the mountain, we found a dead cow along the road and it was no surprise that there were lots of Fan-tailed Ravens but also 2 Eastern Imperial Eagles nearby. While we were photographing these birds we also saw a small flock of Rüppell’s Weavers on the bushes.
Finally we parked to Tawi Attair and soon found out how bad condition this touristic place now was. There had been a cafeteria somewhere in the past but now even some walls had fallen down and yard had been used as cattle feeding area. There were no signs at all either. Anyway the sinkhole was visible and there was a wooden path going towards it. But we didn’t head straight there but started to walk around the buildings and between the buildings and a farm that was a bit higher one the hillside.
Our target was a Yemen Serin that had been found in this place at 1997. This species was otherwise found only in Yemen. We found lots of Cinnamon-breasted Buntings, House Sparrows, Rüppell’s Weavers, a couple of Arabian Wheatears, a few African Silverbills, a Tree Pipit and some Shining and Palestine Sunbirds. After I had seen the first male Shining Sunbird I realized what that two birds I had seen in the oasis day before had been, the electric-blue flash on these birds back was beautiful. We also saw a coupe of Bonelli’s Eagles, Eastern Imperial Eagles and Steppe Eagles, Fan-tailed Ravens and Pale Rock Martins but we couldn’t find any Yemen Serins.
So after a hot search, we headed to the sinkhole as we knew serins had sometimes been seen there too. The view was spectacular and it was a surprise that a couple of other tourist that came there started to walk towards the bottom of the sinkhole. We didn’t know it was possible to go down and it was too hot to do so anyway.
On the cliffs we saw and heard plenty of Tristram’s Grackles, one more African Paradise Flycatcher and some Abyssinian White-eyes, but still no Yemen Serins.
After some relaxed watching to the sinkhole, we walked back to check the area around the old coffee-house. And finally Hanna found a single Yemen Serin perched on the electric-wire. Luckily I managed to see it too before it flew far towards the farm.
This was enough of Tawi Attair so after we had visited shop nearby, we continued higher to the mountain. Finally we parked close to Jebel Samhan view-point next to a big communication-tower.
We had hardly managed to get out of our car when we saw a Verreaux’s Eagle falling straight down from the sky behind the cliffs. We hurried after it and saw it again falling behind the next cliffs far a way. Altogether we had seen this bird for maybe one second, but of course it had been easy ti identify.
We took something to eat and drink with us and found a good place to sit and wait for the eagle. The view was amazing and it wasn’t hot at all on the top of the mountain.
But for the next hour we only saw a couple of Barbary Falcons flying very quickly over us a couple of times. Once we had walked back to parking place, we met a Dutch couple who had just moved to Oman after many visits earlier. We were talking about birds and birding when we finally saw an Eastern Imperial Eagle flying over us and a couple of Verreaux’s Eagles came under the cliff to chase it away. Now we saw these eagles beautifully and after some flying they flew back under the cliff but another of them turned and landed to the top of the cliff almost to the place where we had been sitting earlier. So we managed to get some pretty good pictures of this stunning eagle both in flight and perched.
We were happy when we started to drive back down towards the coast. But luckily we remembered that some birders had seen some Horsfield’s Bush Larks between Tawi Attair and Wadi Darbat. We drove some time before we found a little bit greener field with dry taller vegetation. The field didn’t really look good at all but after just 20 meters walking, we flushed a Horsfield’s Bush Lark. And after all we found at least 10 of them only 100 meters from our car. So it seemed that this species is very easy to find also in the mid-winter.
When we were approaching Wadi Darbat we found out that it was a much more touristic place than any other place we had visited. On the first water-fall there were several groups of school-children and quite a few other tourists. We found easily Abyssinian White-eyes, a couple of African Paradise Flycatchers, Blackstarts and a couple of Little Egrets but soon continued along the road to a more quiet place. There we found same species but also a couple of Green Sandpipers and Garganeys and lots of Rüppell’s Weavers. And it didn’t take long before Hanna found a Bruce’s Green Pigeon hiding in an figtree. Unfortunately this bird was too shy to get good pictures and soon it flew behind the trees and disappeared.
While we were cooking we heard very funny Bruce’s Green Pigeon calling straight above us. But again when we found the bird visible, it left. After we had eaten, we walked around a couple of pools but found only a Common Snipe, a Squacco and a Purple Heron, a couple of Tawny Pipits and Turkestan Shrikes. A couple of Bonelli’s Eagles were soaring on the sky and a Kestrels were chasing each others above the cliffs. Pale Rock Martin flocks were flying over us and in one flock I saw a Red-rumped Swallow.
When the sun started to set all other people had left. And soon Arabian Scops Owls started to call. They had funny burring call. And soon they were calling all around us! We heard at least 12 birds and pretty easily managed to see one very well.
We had hoped to get to internet much better during the trip, so we didn’t know which part of this much bigger area than we had expected birders had heard Arabian Eagle Owls. Luckily our good friend Mikko Ala-Kojola helped us and sent some coordinated that were in Observation.org by SMS.
So after some listening we put up the camp to a parking place right next to the coordinates and sat down to listen. We also walked around the area and even drove a little bit to cover bigger area but didn’t hear anything else except Arabian Scops Owls and crickets. Only once we heard a Long-eared Owl -type of bird calling shortly, but it stopped too soon. It would have been a good record…
Finally we gave up and went to sleep. But at night I woke up at 3:40 to a low calls and I had to listen a couple of calls before I woke up Hanna and said: ”There it is now!”. And an Arabian Eagle Owl was calling right above our tent! We got out and found the bird on the top of a tall tree but it flushed almost immediately and flew further and didn’t call anymore.
More Dhofar places
On the 30th of December we woke up early and it was still completely dark when we packed up. A couple of Arabian Scops Owls were still calling. Soon we were driving towards Ayn Tobrok and we were there already before the sun was rising.
Around the spring we found several African Paradise Flycatchers, Abyssinian White-eyes, Rüppell’s Weavers, a Blackstart and heard calls that sounded very good, but it took a long time before I saw the bird and could identify it as a Taiga Flycatcher!
We waited for a long that our target-bird would arrive to drink to the pool, but only after a couple of hours the first birds arrived to drink and they were Chestnut-breasted Buntings. A couple of big herds of Camels came to drink to the pool and one shepherd tried to give us one litre of Camel-milk, but somehow we managed to refuse. He was speaking Arabic but we managed to understand that he also invited us to eat to his house later and told that he at least sometimes had bigger and smaller owls in his garden. We managed to refuse this offer too and finally he moved away with his Camels.
We saw some Steppe Eagles, a a Short-toed Eagle, some Kestrels and a Common Snipe but our target bird was still missing. Once we heard very promising calls from the top of the hills, but we could hear the bird or birds moving to wrong direction. Then finally I saw 2 birds flying over us. They looked perfect except they were smaller than I had expected. Hanna also managed to see these two birds flying over us and they indeed were Arabian Golden-winged Grosbeaks. Somehow the grosbeak-name had made me thought that these birds were bigger than they really were. But these birds never landed they just flew over the valley as far as we could see.
When we back on the coast our first place was Khawr Taqah which was completely overgrown. It was surrounded by a walk-way, but it was easy to see that this park wasn’t really used. We found some African Silverbills and Rose-ringed Parakeets from the trees and on the lagoon we saw some Flamingos, Shovelers, a couple of Moorhens and saw 2 Purple Herons in flight. A Reed Warbler was singing on the reeds.
We continued to East Khawr which was much better. But there were also lots of people, so we checked the lagoon only from the eastern shore. A couple of Greater Spotted Eagles were perched on the trees calling all the time, in a flock of waders we saw Ruffs and Black-winged Stilts and 2 Squacco Herons and an Indian Pond Heron were on the opposite side of the lagoon. We also heard a couple of Water Rails calling shortly.
We drove to the other side of the khawr but couldn’t see the lagoon any better but found a small pool where were some Ringed Plovers, Temminck’s Stints and a Citrine Wagtail.
Nearby was a park which had earlier been a regular place to see Crested Honey Buzzards, but now the park seemed to be completely closed. It was also very dry and we couldn’t see any birds inside the park even though we walked around it. Only some House Crows were on the trees outside the park. So we walked to the beach and sat for a little time on the shadow and watched to the sea where a couple of Masked Boobies were seen.
Next we drove to Al Baleed Archaeological Park where we walked behind the Fransiscence Museum and easily found about 15 Spotted Thick-knees from the shadows of the bushes. These birds were pretty easy to photograph. We also continued along the park to a big birdtower-like tower from where we could see the khawr. Moorhens, a couple of Mallards and Little Grebes, 3 Purple Herons, 2 Spur-winged Lapwings and again a singing Reed Warbler were found. Then we decided to go to visit the museum as it was the hottest time of the day.
In the afternoon we tried first to see somehow to closed Sahnawt Farm. Along the main road we couldn’t see much, just a Citrine Wagtail, about 10 displaying Horsfield’s Bush Larks, some Barn Swallows and very distant flocks of Whiskered Terns and Western Cattle Egrets. There were also Rock Doves everywhere on the farm. But in the heat of the day there was also lots of haze so visibility wasn’t very good.
From the western side of the farm we could see the area much better but all we found were 5 European Rollers, lots of Rüppell’s Weavers with one single bird in full breeding plumage, some flocks of African Silverbills and a Turkestan Shrike. From the eastern side we didn’t find any good place. some eagles were soaring on the sky, but after all we were a little disappointed that it was not possible to get inside the gates.
We continued next to Ayn Razat which was much smaller than we had expected. There wasn’t much good-looking habitat around the spring. I also forgot to use hand-brake on the parking place while we were packing our bags. Our car was stupid and it didn’t have a parking gear at all, so our car was slowly sliding to a post and once again there was a scratch in our rental car… So I wasn’t in very good mood when we started birding around the spring.
The only good-looking park was closed so we tried to see if there was something through the fence. There were plenty of Palestine and some Shining Sunbirds on the flowering bushes and some Hoopoes, White Wagtails and Water Pipits were walking on the grass.
Outside the fence we saw only lots of Rüppell’s Weavers, a several Oriental garden lizards, Short necked skink and a couple of funny tame Nile rats. On the spring we saw a male African Paradise Flycatcher catching something from the water but unfortunately it moved away before Hanna could get any pictures.
Pretty soon we continued to Ayn Hamran that we expected to be very good place but once we got there it didn’t look that amazing. There was also a small spring that was surrounded by a concrete and some trees around. But a stream continued down and there were more tree along the stream. There was also some trees and bushes higher up on the valley. But also here we soon found out that there weren’t many wintering birds and migrants. It seemed that this time f year wasn’t as good as November or February when there are more migrants. Another reason for less birds may have been autumn rains, there were much more vegetation in the desert than usually, maybe birds were just spread around?
So again we found Abyssinian White-eyes and Rüppell’s Weavers, some African Paradise Flycatchers, Shining and Palestine Sunbirds and African Silverbills easily. We walked along the stream and found a Green Sandpiper, a Red-breasted Flycatcher, a couple of Song Thrushes, a Turkestan Shrike and heard some Arabian Partridges. Lower along the stream we found some figtrees and there were about 20 Bruce’s Green Pigeons. Again they were extremely shy but some better pictures were finally got before they had all flight away.
We also climbed higher to the valley where we could enjoy a beautiful sunset. When there were nobody else around anymore, we put up our tent under one of the biggest trees.
Soon we heard a Wolf howling on the top of the closest mountain and then a couple of different Wolves answering from the other tops further. Then it was quiet for a long time until we heard a distant Arabian Eagle Owl. We tried to walk closer but soon found out that the bird was very far. We had thought the call of this owl is much weaker as the bird we had heard earlier had sounded so weak, but it seemed to carry a long way anyway.
Soon after we had got into our tent, an Arabian Scops Owl started to call right above us. I thought it will keep us awake all night, but luckily it stopped calling soon. At night we woke up when a herd of Camels passed our tent. And then a couple of them stayed under the tree and started eating the lowest branches. They were jumping to their back-feet to reach the branches and it was very noisy. We couldn’t make them to go away, so we moved to sleep into our car, as we were a little bit worried if camels could somehow stumble with our tent-strings. They are quite heavy animals…
We woke up a couple of times to listen and heard a couple of Arabian Scops Owls and once the Arabian Eagle Owl was calling much closer. We walked again after it, but it stopped and was later calling much further again.
Early in the morning we walked around the spring and tried to see the Bruce’s Green Pigeons better. They were as shy as before and other birds were different kind of calls of Lesser Whitethroat, a Song Thrush, a Reed Warbler and the other birds seen already in the evening. soon we packed and were driving again.
When we passed Al Baleed, we saw 3 Bruce’s Green Pigeons perched on the wire. Hanna managed to get some pictures of these not so shy individuals.
Finally we were in Raysut where we first parked along the main road and walked to the shore. There were lots of birds on the wetland: big flock of White Storks, some Glossy Ibises, Western Reef Herons, a couple of Squacco and Indian Pond Herons, an Intermediate Egret, 3 African Sacred Ibises and ducks and waders. While walking to the shore we saw a Pheasant-tailed Jacana that flew to the other side of the road too soon.
There were already some Steppe Eagles and a couple of Black Kites soaring on the sky, and an Osprey was perched on the beach. Wader-flocks had same species that we had seen earlier: Dunlins, Little Stints, plovers and at least one Wood Sandpiper. Also ducks and gulls were familiar species, but in the flock with them was a young White-fronted Goose and we also saw the first feldeggi Yellow Wagtail of the trip.
After scanning the flocks for some time, we continued towards the famous rubbish tip. Unfortunately there was no other place to watch to the rubbish tip than a side of busy road. Luckily we found a shadow of a couple of small buildings and there was a dead camel next to the road that attracted some eagles. The camel was too close to the road so eagles didn’t land, but some came to soar much lower.
But most of the eagles were already perched on the hills of the rubbish tip and lots of them were flying over us towards the hills but very high. Almost all eagles were Steppe Eagles – there were hundreds of them! Also a some Eastern Imperial, a Greater Spotted and a Bonelli’s Eagle were seen.
After we had photographed eagles for some time we headed to sewage water treatment plant where the kind workers let us drive in and walk freely around the area. It seemed that they even stopped some machines when we arrived and it wasn’t really smelling bad almost at all.
From the pools we found a big flock of 450 Abdim’s Storks, tens of Western Cattle Egrets, some Spur-winged and Red-wattled Lapwings, a Little Ringed Plover, a couple of Temminck’s Stints and a Wood Sandpiper.
We walked around all pools and found a couple of Namaqua Doves from the bushes and some Citrine Wagtails and feldeggi Yellow Wagtails.
Then we thanked the workers and let them to continue their work. And it really seemed they started to work once we left.
We headed back to the rubbish tip but found out that the Camel had been moved away and all the eagles were now flying very high on the sky, or sitting on the hills too far to photograph. So we continued to a small pool that we had found on Observation.org before the trip. After a little bit searching we found a Little Pratincole. We accidentally flushed it and it was flying around the pool where were also some Flamingos, a Marsh Sandpiper and a couple of Wood Sandpipers. We decided to leave so the pratincole was able to land back.
Then we stopped along the main road but went to walk to the other side of the road where we found a couple of small overgrown lagoons where weren’t many birds visible. It was the hottest time of the day and also the hottest day so far! Only funny observation was when we saw a flock of Little Grebes chasing a swimming snake.
We still drove through huge harbor area where were lots of construction going on. We managed to find to the shore where we climbed to a hill to do some seawatching. The time of the day was wrong and also haze was bad. So we didn’t see any seabirds but we saw a couple of Green sea turtles and a big ray swimming under us.
Once we were back in the car we decided that we had been visiting enough places around Salalah. Some of the places had been worse than we had expected so we didn’t see it necessary to start exploring places that weren’t said to be so good. So we were soon driving again towards west and Al Mughsaul.
Al Mughsaul and owling again
In Al Mughsaul we found out that driving to wadi had changed as autumn storms had broken the road for several hundreds of meters. We had to go around one mountain to get to the village. Floods had also destroyed the khawr completely so there was no reason to check it for birds. Anyway the new track to wadi was easy to find so we started to drive along it.
We knew that we should drive 6 km from the beginning of the ordinary track to get to the best area of the wadi and the first 4 km was usually possible to drive with normal car. But we had no idea what how was the track after last autumn. The beginning of the track was pretty bad but then it got much better.
We continued along the track and followed again printed satellite-picture and maps on my phone. After 4 km the track continued almost similar with some pretty soft areas, so we continued driving and after all managed to drive about 6 km to a place where it was impossible to drive further. We parked our car and Hanna started cooking and I went to walk along the track further to see how the track was changing. We had different kind of information about our target bird, it was said that it was 4 km from a place where it was possible to get with 2 wheel-drive but also that it was 2 km from a place where it was possible to get with 4 wheel-drive.
I think it was impossible to go much further with 4 wheel-drive, so I didn’t walk far and when I got back the food was ready and there was a tame Arabian Wheatear male next to our car. Female was staying much further all the time. Once this male was perched on our wind-screen and moved then to side-mirror, while I was sitting in the car.
Luckily our friend Mikko Ala-Kojola had again helped us and sent us coordinates where our target bird had been only a couple of days earlier. And surprisingly we found out that the gps-point was only 700 meters from us! We just had to hope that the point was in right place, but of course we were ready to walk along the wadi if necessary.
When we had eaten it was already getting dark. So we started to walk along the wadi and after about 600 meters when it was only 6 p.m. we heard a nice call of a Desert Owl! But right after that a herd of Camels was coming along the track and we of course moved away from the track. But for some reason all Camels got scared of something or then just started to run for some reason. And next 15 minutes there were more and more camels coming and they all started running in the same place. So we didn’t hear anything. Camels were going close to our car where shepherds had a camp.
While we were sitting on the rocks and waiting for the owl to start again, shepherds were probably counting Camels with their torches and we could see the shadows of the Camels in front of us on the cliffs. It was amazing!
After the Camel show it was completely dark and we walked to a place that was about 1.5 km from our car to sit down to the rocks. Finally Desert Owl started howling again and then it was calling for a long time and moving around the wadi. Once we heard a female type call too. An after a long wait the male was finally calling on the closest wall so we could see it pretty well with our head-lights. It was still too far to photograph, but we didn’t want to disturb the bird, so we were happy to see it well enough.
Once we were walking back to our car we saw several funny-looking frogs on the track. We had to use stones to get our tent up and when we were sitting down in the darkness, another Desert Owl started calling much closer. We could still hear also the further bird.
We were eating something good and celebrating New Year for some time listening a couple of Desert Owls. We couldn’t use any light as a huge Mole Cricket was following the light all the time.
But after all we were so tired that we went to sleep very early. So the year changed while we were sleeping, but we woke up a couple of times to listen that Desert Owls were calling for whole night.
New Year – same hassle
On the 1st of January we still heard one Desert Owl after 6 a.m. The second year-tick was Arabian Wheatear and 3rd Tristram’s Grackle.
Pretty soon we were driving back along the wadi and for some reason driving back was much more difficult. We hit the bottom of the car a couple of times and almost got stuck to the rounded river gravel. We also found that there was no plate under our car engine, so we collected lots of sand and stones with us!
Finally we managed to get to the main road and then we had some problems with our car. There were many loose but also stack stones in different places under our car that driving was very noisy. We stopped in the service station, but I could only get rid of some loose stones.
We bought some drinks and snacks and took a risk and started driving towards west from where we hoped to take a road toward north to Mudday. We had no idea what kind of road it was, but we decided to have a look.
It was good that we were soon climbing up to the mountain along very curvy and steep road as we got rid of most of the rocks and sand. Pretty soon the car seemed to work OK again. But still after several days we could hear some rocks dropping from the bottom.
The views were stunning but there weren’t many birds on the mountain. Just some Tristram’s Grackles and wheatears. Finally we were stopped at military check-point where we were asked where we were going. When we asked Mudday, they had no idea where it was. One man finally knew the place and he told us that the road is: ”Good, but not good-good”. When we asked if it has asphalt, the answer was: ”No” with a big laugh.
We didn’t want to drive 100 km more along bad roads, so we decided to turn around and it meant that we had a long drive back to Salalah, then north to Thumrait and then west to Mudday. But it wasn’t so bad as in Al Mughsaul we saw some dolphins close to the shore, while passing Raysut we saw that the big flock of White Storks and some Glossy Ibises were still present and north from Salalah we saw an Arabian Partridge standing on a rock next to the road and couple of adult female Pallid Harriers.
When we had turned towards Mudday, we were in a real desert again. It was no surprise that we saw a couple of Hoopoe Larks along the road. There was almost no traffic but right when we saw some sandgrouses along the road, there were cars coming both ways. We managed to turn back and drove slowly towards the birds, but they were shy and started flying straight away from us. Luckily we had managed to identify these 4 birds as Chestnut-bellied Sandgrouses and they could be identified from our bad flight-pictures too.
After a long drive we finally made it to Mudday where we first stopped at a Camel-farm. There were lots of Collared Doves but they were extremely flighty and even though we saw several promising looking birds in flight, it took some time to find one African Collared dove perched. This should’ve been a good spot for Sand Partridge too but we didn’t find any in a short walk.
Soon we continued through the village to a small picnic-area where was a small pool surrounded with date palm-plantation. The ground was so wet that it was impossible to go to the forest, so we decided to wait next to the pool and see if there were any birds coming to drink or just showing on the trees nearby.
After some waiting we heard cat-like calls from the trees, but we didn’t see anything. Soon I saw a black and white looking bird flying towards the village but with binoculars I realized that it was actually green and yellow – a Nile Valley Sunbird. Luckily soon we found a couple of them more and Hanna got some pictures too. We also heard at least a couple of African Collared Doves calling with Eurasian Collared doves.
Once I was walking a little bit around the trees and of course then Hanna saw a Grey Hypocolius briefly. We waited for some time it to show up again, but then headed towards the village to see if there were any other good places for birds. We had driven maybe 200 meters when I saw a Grey Hypocolius flying from acasia to another one. Luckily it stayed visible for some time, so we saw it pretty well.
The day was again very hot, so pretty soon we decided to start driving again. Before Thumrait we saw again a couple of Hoopoe Larks and after some more driving we turned again towards west and Shisr.
There were already some green fields after 10 kilometers but pretty far from the road, so we kept on driving. After 75 km from the main road there were more fields and we started to see some birds. We saw an Isabelline Shrike, a couple of Montagu’s Harriers and once we were on the village we saw a Lesser Grey Shrike.
In the village we visited an archaeological site that had so poor information signs that after all we didn’t really know what place it was. Then we drove along some roads and tracks to find out where the best fields were. We still found some Tawny Pipits and a Pied Wheatear.
But sun was setting again so we concentrated to find a suitable place to camp. After all we drove a couple of kilometers along a very bumpy track to the desert where we thought would be no traffic at all.
But we were wrong. Whole night there were cars coming trough the desert as it was the short cut to Shisr from the main road. 4 wheel-drives were passing our tent very fast, but after all we slept very well.
2nd of January the night was cold, it was +9 degrees when we woke up. The whole area was in quite thick fog and our tent was completely wet.
We started birding from the palm-trees that were in the beginning of the track and then continued to check the best-looking fields we had found on the previous evening.
We found a couple of Isabelline Shrikes, an aucheri and a pallidirostris Great Grey Shrike, Desert and Isabelline Wheatears, the same Pied Wheatear, Tawny Pipits, Kestrels and Marsh Harriers. We also saw the first Skylarks, Short-toed Larks and a Red-throated Pipit of the trip and the second Tree Pipit and a male Pallid Harrier.
But pretty soon we decided to start driving towards the main road and then north. On the way we saw again a few Hoopoe Larks. We still decided to visit Dawkah Farm even though we knew it was as good place as it had used to be. Farming had almost completely been stopped but from an old abandoned field we found a flock of Short-toed Larks, Tawny Pipits and a couple of Desert Warblers.
When we were driving again all we saw in 150 km was a single Brown-necked Raven. Finally we were in Qitbit where we drove to a motel that was behind a service station. We were there early and probably during the praying time, but after some waiting we wound the owner. We got a simple room and right then the electricity went off. But the owner went to put the generator on immediately.
We just relaxed the hottest time of the day and it was good to have shower too. It was also good to be in a dark room so eyes got some rest too as it had been so sunny all the time during our trip.
At 3 p.m. we headed to an oasis that was nearby. It was very thick-vegetated so we couldn’t see any water but clearly there was water as there were some many animal footprints going into the bushes. We saw some Common and Siberian Chiffchaffs, a female Common Redstart, a Clamorous Reed Warbler and an Isabelline Shrike. The air smelled sulfur and we heard that many farms had quit because of there was so much sulfur in water.
In the afternoon we were checking the garden of our motel where had been many good birds during the years. But this winter clearly wasn’t good as we found only Chiffchaffs and Lesser Whitethroats (which one of them had different very nasal call), a Black Redstart, a couple of Song Thrushes and a young Pallid Harrier that was flying low around the garden.
Qitbit motel yard wasn’t nice because of truck-drivers were using it as a toilet. Otherwise the place was pretty unclean too. The restaurant nearby wasn’t very tempting, so we cooked in our room. But anyway it was good to have shower and soft bed – but internet would’ve been nice too. After all we were the only people staying in the motel, but aggregate was on whole night making electricity for us.
On the 3rd of January we woke up at 5 a.m. and visited the oasis again. We saw a couple of jumping mouse on the headlights, but not a single bird.
After we had collected our luggage from the motel, we were soon driving towards Muntasar. There were supposed to be traffic-signs but after all we had to use my phone-maps again to find the right road. Then we realized that this track was in quite bad shape and it was still more than 20 km to Muntasar. We had no idea if we could make it with our car.
But at 7 a.m. we saw the oasis and soon were walking around this big thick-vegetated area. There was water in a couple of places and also the desert behind the oasis was very green for several kilometers. It was again very humid and foggy. Surprisingly there were again some people visiting the water-pools, so we weren’t so worried anymore what would happend if our car would brake down.
Again there were the same species: both Chiffchaffs, Lesser Whitethroats, Clamorous Reed Warblers, Isabelline Shrikes and a loose flock of 10 Kestrels flew over us. We also saw a Crested Lark, a Desert Wheatear, 3 Bluethroats and 6 Water Pipits with one paler pipit that we never saw well – it might had been a Buff-bellied Pipit.
We were waiting for sandgrouses to come to drink. They were supposed to come after 9 a.m. and there had been hundreds or even thousands of them in the past. But some newer trip-reports told that there had been every year less and less birds coming. One year earlier only some birds had been seen landing to desert and not coming to drink at all.
After 9 a.m. Collared Doves started to arrive to drink, so at least the water was still drinkable. There were some dead Mallards and corpses of a White Stork and a Great Cormorant and the only living bird on the pools was a Little Stint. We kept on waiting and heard a Turtle Dove singing shortly.
But when 10 a.m. we still hadn’t seen a single sandgrouse, we decided to give up. Maybe there was enough water in the desert as it was so green in big area? So soon we were driving towards the main road where we managed to get without problems.
After a long drive in the north again
It was a long drive towards north and in next 500 kilometers we saw only a flock of Rock Doves on the rood of one service station, 12 Brown-necked Ravens and a couple of brief wheatear sights. When we came close to the mountains, we started to see some birds again.
After a long and exhausting drive we turned to the same wadi where we had been on the first night of the trip. We had decided to give one more try for Omani Owl as this place was reachable with our car.
In the evening we saw a Red-tailed Wheatear, a Hume’s Wheatear, a Plain Leaf Warbler, Striolated Buntings, White-spectacled Bulbuls and heard a Grey Francolin.
When it was completely dark a family of Red Foxes were making a lot of noise on the cliffs. Then we heard a Little (Lilith) Owl calling shortly from distance. We cooked again big portions of food and managed to stay up until 11 p.m. when we were too tired to continue and went to sleep to our tent.
On the 4th of January we started in the wadi and saw the familiar species like Striolated Buntings, Plain Leaf Warblers, a Chiffchaff, a Lesser Whitethroat, a couple of Purple Sunbirds, a Hume’s Wheatear, some Black Redstarts and heard again some Grey Francolins.
Pretty soon we were on the road again and as we had been out of money already for a couple of days, we needed to find a way to get some more. Our Visa-cards hadn’t been working and we had a couple of days before realized that we got only that amount of cash what was needed for gasolin to get out from the desert. So we soon stopped to a large hotel to ask information how to get money on Friday which is like local Sunday.
There were lots of Purple Sunbirds, White-eared Bulbuls and Common Mynahs on the garden and we got information that some tourists had got the same problem with us and there was one ATM that had been giving money for those with problems. And luckily soon we got money and it was good to buy some cold drinks and snacks as we hadn’t been able to bye anything for a couple of days.
We continued driving north western side of the mountains and along the road we saw some raptor movement, some tens of Steppe Eagles and an Egyptian Vulture. Later we saw a couple of Egyptian Vultures more but still we hadn’t seen any Lapped-faced Vultures which was said to be common.
It was again a long drive and we were stopped a couple of times as we were close to UAE border. But we couldn’t visit as we had Visas only for one visit. When we were finally on the northern side of the mountains there were three big motorways going side by side towards north even though there weren’t many people living there. Our destination Khatmat Malaha was surrounded by these motorways and even though there had been big signs to this village there was no proper exit to the village at all. We just had to take a sandy track from the motorway.
We found the village and drove through it to a sparsely forested semi-deserted area where we started to search for Variable Wheatears.
When we started walking around the area, we Immediately started to see some birds. There were lots of noisy House Crows, Common Mynahs and Rose-ringed Parakeets on the trees, a few Hoopoes under the trees and from bushes we found about 20 Arabian Babblers. Also Black Redstarts, Purple Sunbirds, a few Arabian Green Bee-eaters, 3 Namaqua Doves, Graceful Prinias, nasally calling Lesser Whitethroats, a Desert Warbler and an Eastern Orphean Warbler were found. But only wheatears we found were an Isabelline Wheatear and one briefly seen female Pied Wheater -looking bird that I thought there was something wrong with it, but it disappeared too soon. Luckily Hanna managed to get some pictures of it and later, when we had checked what Variable Wheatear female should look like, we could identify it as Variable Wheatear!
It was getting late when we started to think if we should camp here in this quiet area or keep on going. We decided to drive towards south as we wanted to make sure that we could find our next place as the new motorways had changed driving to many places.
Luckily we found to Shinas easily and parked to a picnic-area next to the mangroves. Unfortunately there were some other people too and a couple of groups of youngsters were so noisy that we hardly slept at all before early morning. It seems that people are using some kind of drugs in this part of world too…
Shinas and Liwa mangroves
On the 5th of January when we woke up we saw small groups of White-cheeked Bulbuls flying towards mangroves. Altogether we saw at least a couple of hundreds of them. Also Common Mynah and House Crow were numerous but after some searching we found also some Clamorous Reed Warblers and Common Kingfishers.
On the shore we found a flock of gulls where were about 30 Pallas’s Gulls and on the sea we saw plenty of Greater Crested and some Lesser Crested Terns, a few Masked Boobies and a couple of flocks of Red-necked Phalaropes.
It was very difficult to observe the mangroves and when we didn’t find any Collared Kingfishers in an hour searching, we decided to continue to Liwa which was said to be better area for this species. First we were driving along a motorway again and saw a flock of hundreds of Black-headed Gulls feeding something on the road. But soon after that the motorway just suddenly ended and we headed to a tiny village-road! Luckily we managed to continue towards the right direction and found Liwa mangroves quite easily.
These mangroves seemed to be bigger and along a canal we could see this area much better. We found again some Clamorous Reed Warblers and a few Common Kingfishers and pretty soon heard calls of a Collared Kingfisher. But it was behind the mangroves and we couldn’t see it.
It was low tide and we hoped that kingfishers might be easier to see when they were coming out from the thick mangrove to last pools along the river. But we still had to wait the water-level to get lower. So we walked to the shore where we saw some waders with Greater and Lesser Sand Plovers, Kentish Plovers and 6 Saunder’s Terns, Greater and Lesser Crested Terns and at least 250 Red-necked Phalaropes on the sea. We also saw an Isabelline Shrike, a pallidirostris Great Grey Shrike and a couple of Tawny Pipits.
When the water was low, we saw 3 Striated Herons and then heard once more a Collared Kingfisher calling but it was still far inside the mangroves. So we decided to give up seeing this species and started to drive towards Muscat and Seeb.
End of the trip
We somehow managed to find to a bigger road which was surprisingly busy. Luckily after some driving it changed to a motorway and traffic was smoother.
On the way we saw several Indian Rollers and after many messy crossings we managed to find to Golden Tulip hotel where we had booked a room. The hotel was pretty close to the airport but still very difficult to find.
Surprisingly we got a big suite even though the prepaid price for the room was pretty much the same as on our previous motels.
It was great to have shower, but then we couldn’t relax yet as we had to drive to the airport to deliver our car. Somehow we managed to find right way to the airport and luckily the scratch on our car wasn’t noticed at all. Then we took a taxi back to our hotel and finally could relax in dark and cool room.
At 7 p.m. the restaurant opened and we went to eat really well. In the evening we still packed everything and then went to sleep early.
On the 6th of January we woke up very early and soon got a bus to the airport. The price of this hotel-bus was the same as taxi – so pretty expensive. After a couple of hours our flight left to Doha, Qatar. From the plane we could see the famous palm-tree -shaped island on the coast of Dubai. In Doha airport we saw Rock Doves, Collared Doves, Laughing Doves and some kind of gulls.
A couple of hours later our flight left to Helsinki and we were sleeping most of the flight. Finally we were in Helsinki and again we got information that one of our bags had disappeared. But anyway both our bags arrived which was a relief. Then we went to eat with my parents who had came to see us.
We still had a long drive to Parikkala and once again we made the only stop in Lappeenranta where we saw the familiar Eagle Owl as a year-tick.
When we were home we didn’t feel very well relaxed. We had been driving 4500 km in Oman and 700 km in Finland in 2 weeks, also had 4 flights and stayed up several night because of owls. Every day we had been birding or traveling from dawn till dusk. We both had also been sick all the time. Anyway we had managed to see 208 species in Oman which we both had got 27 lifers and 8 ”Greater WP” ticks, which is a category we won’t be collecting. We saw only few mammal species, mostly foxes, camels, some kind of desert mouses and Nile Rats. Lizard species were more numerous and we managed to photograph 2 different types of Rock Semaphore Gecko, Carters Semaphore Gecko, Short-necked Skink, colorful Dofar Agama and Oriental Garden Lizard. Butterflies and moths were surprisingly common in some places. Plain Tiger was one of the most amazing species we saw.