We thoroughly recommend arriving a day early and staying in an airport hotel, just to rest and have a good night's sleep before the tour starts tomorrow.

- 4th November 2024
Early am arrival to join the 8am tour start. Our first port of call will be some reclaimed sewage pools just a 10 minute drive from the airport, where we have our first opportunity to set up scopes and view some common wildfowl and in the last few years it's been a good spot for Ferruginous Duck. There are other species such as Greater Flamingo, as well as our first shorebirds that could include Temminck's Stint, and it's one of those places that could provide the odd surprise as it is still migration time. In the surrounding area there's Grey Francolin, Red-wattled LapwingPurple Sunbird, and more importantly, Delicate Prinia. Depending on recent news, we may well head straight to Ras Al Sawadi and take a boat out to the nearby islands in the hope of connecting with a lingering Sooty Falcon. They have usually departed by the first couple of days of November, but we have seen them once on 4th November, so fingers crossed. It's an interesting boat ride that could give us close views of Socotra Cormorant, a variety of terns, Western Reef Heron, and there's the added attraction of more shorebirds and gulls on the nearby beach. In fact the Batinah coast holds a variety of decent shorebirds such as Greater and Lesser Sandplovers, Terek Sandpiper, and we can usually find a flock of Pacific Golden Plovers somewhere. And there's also Grey Francolin, Black-winged KiteShort-toed Eagle, Chestnut-bellied Sandgrouse, Indian Roller, Pale Crag MartinSteppe Grey ShrikeWhite-eared and Red-vented Bulbuls, Bank Myna (rare), Purple Sunbird and Indian Silverbill to name a few.

As we have 4 nights 'in the north' we will stay at 2 or 3 different locations in order to get the best out of our time here, probably staying along the coast first before heading up onto the Sayq Plateau. One of the most amazing ornithological discoveries happened in the Al Hajar Mountains as recently as 2013 when The Sound Approach team discovered a new species of strix owl. (We thoroughly recommend reading their article about this amazing discovery). We will visit several different wadis at night, not too far from our accomodation where this mysterious bird inhabits extremely tall cliffs in remote areas. Omani Owl (Strix butleri) has been seen infrequently over the past few years by a handful of lucky observers, some of whom scaled the cliff sides to obtain a sighting. Needless to say, we won't be scaling any cliffs, but we have heard this owl on several occasions. Maybe 2023 will be our year? Our chances of finding Pallid Scops Owl are pretty good and we havent missed it yet.

During the daytime, these same scenicly magnificent wadis are home to several other specialities of northern Oman such as Red-tailed Wheatear, Hume's WheatearStreaked Scrub Warbler, Plain Leaf Warbler and Arabian Babbler. There's also one area in particular where we have a great chance of finding Lappet-faced Vulture as well. Other species we hope to find include Sand Partridge (but they are easier further south), Lichtenstein's SandgrouseEurasian Woodpigeon, which is an isolated population and a potential split, Desert LarkLong-billed Pipit, Desert & Pied Wheatears and Striolated Bunting. And somewhere over these few days we will come across a few migrants and wintering species that could include Rufous-tailed Rock-ThrushBlack-throated Thrush, Ring Ouzel, Eurasian Siskin, Common & Black RedstartsLesser Whitethroat, Tawny Pipit, and the mountain form of Desert Lark is regular at high elevations,

We will leave early and drive four and a half hours to our next hotel near the shorebird mecca of Barr Al Hickman. We will have 2 nights to thoroughly explore this ridiculously underwatched area that is home to millions of shorebirds. Undoubtedly the star bird is Crab Plover and whilst finding them isn't difficult, getting good views can take a bit of work, usually involving driving across the desert to somewhere secluded along the shoreline. But it is worth the effort. Amongst the multitude of shorebirds we will also look for Great Knot, a species present in small numbers but usually stays reliable to one or two high tide roosting sites. Other great species include Broad-billed Sandpiper, Terek Sandpiper, and in 2022 we found the 1st Grey-tailed Tattler for Oman here. Just scanning through the millions of shorebirds present is a highlight in itself and it's a fantastic place to see all of those familiar shorebirds from Europe - but in huge numbers.

We will head west into the vast  interior, known as the 'Empty Quarter', or Rub Al Khali. This drive to Qitbit may well give us our first chance of finding Spotted Sandgrouse or Asian Desert Warbler, and there's a few other species inhabiting this barren land such as Brown-necked Raven, Greater Hoopoe Lark and possibly Bar-tailed Lark. Eventually we will reach the remote outpost of Qitbit and hopefully have a little time to check out the surrounding area. Any self-respecting migrant is going to linger here amidst the lush green trees and there can be a staggering variety of species here. Anything is possible and as well as this being one of the spots Grey Hypocolius occasionally winters, other possibilities include Eurasian Scops Owl, Asian Koel, Eurasian Wryneck, Masked & Woodchat Shrikes and Menetries's Warbler, We have also observed Steppe Buzzard, Jacobin Cuckoo, Red-breasted FlycatcherSiberian ChiffchaffHume's Warbler, the 4th Hume's Whitethroat for Oman and others. Night in Qitbit. 

We will spend the early morning around the Muntasar oasis, an excellent site that can sometimes attract a flock of Spotted Sandgrouse. As this is an oasis with a permanent water source, you just never know what you will find. If we get here before sunrise there's a chance of Egyptian Nightjar, whilst there's two races of Great Grey Shrike possible as well as flocks of Blue-cheeked Bee-eatersAsian Desert Warbler, Water Pipit, Yellow Wagtails of several different races, occasionally African Collared Dove, and both Turkestan and Daurian Shrikes. On previous visits we have found European Nightjar, Great Snipe, Tawny Pipit, Siberian Chiffchaff, Song Thrush and many other commoner migrants. Seeing Dunlin and Temminck's Stints out here in the middle of the desert is also a very humbling experience! Anything could appear here and we are sure of a surprise or three! 

Heading to Thumrayt mid-morning we will check a couple of farms along the way and these irrigated fields act like a magnet, offering us further chances of some really good species. There's always a slim chance of Arabian Lark but we won't be holding our breath!. Amongst a wide variety of species present along our route, we could see flocks of White Storks, Chestnut-bellied and Spotted SandgrouseEastern Imperial, Steppe & Greater Spotted EaglesPallid & Montagu's HarriersLong-legged Buzzard, European Roller, flocks of larks usually compromise Greater Short-toed, some Black-crowned Sparrow-Larks and the odd Bimaculated Lark, as well as both Desert & Isabelline Wheatears. There's a relatively new site called Shisr Fields that in the past 2 years has become THE place to visit way out here in the desert and where on our last tour we saw a small group of Sociable Lapwings and flocks of Rosy Starlings. It's also a good place for Cream-coloured Courser, and we've also seen Eurasian Cuckoo and Siberian Stonechat here, whilst major rarities such as Wattled & Brahminy Starling have been observed by others. This will undoubtedly mean a late arrival at our hotel in Thumrayt tonight.

Early this morning we will make the pilgrimage to the small desert village of Muddayy where a small flock of Hypocolius can usually be found. They are becoming quite elusive but we've seen them on every tour so far, so fingers crossed! This is also a good area for Sand Partridge, African Collared Dove, Hooded Wheatear, Desert Lark, Bar-tailed Lark, Blackstart and Nile Valley Sunbird. In between searching for Hypocolius we will have to drive a few minutes away to a small watercourse where at the appointed time hundreds of Chestnut-bellied Sandgrouse fly in to drink. And if we are lucky, there should also be tens of Crowned Sandgrouse mixed in with them. When we discovered this spot, no-one else knew about it, but unfortunately the word has spread and quite often other birding groups try and stand too close to the pools and disturb the flocks of sandgrouse. So hopefully we are early enough in the season to avoid this!

We are usually finished birding here by lunchtime and will then drive just under 2 hours to Salalah, where we will stay for the next 5 nights. A whole different mix of birds will confront us in the late afternoon and we should see African Paradise-FlycatcherArabian and Palestine Sunbirds, Abyssinian White-eyeRüppell’s Weaver, African Silverbill and Cinnamon-breasted Bunting amongst others. This evening we can stay out until sunset and wait for Arabian Scops Owls to become active. They usually perform vey well and can be quite inquisitive.

Days 10 - 13   SALALAH AREA
We are in for a very busy stay here in Salalah! Just what we do and where we go each day will vary on what species we are targetting. There are a number of specialities to find and there's plenty of great general birding to be had, with a species mix comprising birds from the Afrotropical, European and Oriental regions all meeting here. Arabian Golden-winged Grosbeak will possibly be our No.1 target and we will visit a series of wadis running into the Jabal Al Qara escarpment that have streams running through them, creating a green and lush habitat in this desert environment.

Most of the birding sites are within 20 - 45 minutes of our lovely hotel, so we can visit many different sites and habitats each day. Ayn Hamram is usally our first stop and is one of our favourite sites which has permanent water and a pool, as well as some much-needed shade created by several large trees once the day heats up.. We've found the 7th & 8th Blyth's Reed Warbler for Oman here, as well as seeing species such as White-breasted Waterhen, Bruce's Green-PigeonGrey-headed Kingfisher, European Roller, flocks of Blue-cheeked Bee-eatersEurasian HoopoeForbes-Watson's SwiftTurkestan, Daurian and Masked Shrikes, BlackstartRed-breasted Flycatcher, White-spectacled BulbulGraceful Prinia, Arabian WarblerEastern Olivaceous Warbler, Upcher's Warbler, and once we saw a Wolf!

Nearby Wadi Kheesh can have many of the same species but is more arid and is another site for Arabian Grosbeak. A drinking trough often proves attractive to many birds mid-morning and provides fascinating entertainment as they are often oblivious to our presence and we get exceedingly close views.

The famous Ayn Tobruq and it's drinking trough has proven to be unreliable for grosbeaks recently but is still a very important site to check in the early morning. The drinking trough and dripping tap provide a valuable source of drinking and bathing water for all the usual species as well as Namaqua & Laughing DovesBlack-crowned TchagraTristram's Starlings and sometimes Eurasian Wryneck. The drive along the plains usually holds several large eagles and we have had Eastern Imperial, Steppe and Greater Spotted Eagles all feeding on a carcasss on several visits in this area. The plains are also good for Black-crowned Sparrow-Lark, and we can usually find Cream-coloured Courser somewhere out in thsi vast area. And once we had a Caspian Plover too.

Ayn Razat is another wadi with permanent water with all the same species although is very good for Arabian Partridge, Arabian Warbler, and is also one of the better spots for Arabian Eagle Owl. We've also had White-breasted Waterhen, Long-billed Pipit, Arabian Warbler and once found an African Openbill, which was a 1st for Oman although this is disputed!

Meanwhile up on the plateau at the famous sinkhole of Tawi Atayr we can find a small flock of Yemen Serins roving around the lip of this large hole! There's usually a pair of Bonelli's Eagles giving superb views and we can look down on them as they soar across the chasm, whilst this one of many sites that has Arabian Partridge. Further across the plateau is Jabal Samhan, the stake-out for Verreaux's Eagle and there can be no better view to watch this spectacular raptor. It's also a decent spot for Arabian Wheatear and Fan-tailed Raven too, and one of the few places we've seen what used to be called Barbary Falcon, although that species has been lumped into Peregrine Falcon now.

The furthest wadi heading east is Wadi Darbat, easily the most wooded of all the valleys running into the escarpment. It's home to several pairs of Arabian Eagle Owl and numerous Arabian Scops Owls but it can be quite difficult to work. Again, there's a permanent water source and species such as Cotton Pygmy Goose and Malachite Kingfisher have been seen here. It has a nice cafe at the far end and it's always worth scanning for Forbes-Watson's Swifts, as well as Pallid and Alpine Swifts, plus there's usually a variety of raptors including Booted and Short-toed Eagle present. Probably the biggest draw is for anyone looking for mammals at night as various species have been seen, including a Wolf by one of our groups

What adds to the excitement of birding the Salalah area is the numerous inland lagoons or khawrs as they are known. They prove attract to many resident and migrating species from points east and west and add such an unpredictability to our birding that you just never know what to expect. Below Wadi Darbat is Khawr Rawri, which used to be the premier birding site in the region. That was until a typhoon wrecked the habitat but it is slowly recovering and still draws in plenty of good birds. Even along this portion of coast we can still find Arabian Partridge, whilst the lower section of the lagoon holds roosting egrets and herons, and shorebirds can include Broad-billed Sandpiper, Kentish Plover and Pin-tailed Snipe. Last year there was a Black Stork present here too. The higher reaches of the lagoon have better habitat and we've seen Pheasant-tailed Jacana, a variety of shrikes, and there's usually a flock of Citrine Wagtails present along with numerous races of Yellow Wagtail. And on one occasion there was a flock of Rosy Starlings.

The crown jewel of the coastal lagoons is East Khawr, situated right on the very edge of Salalah. This is an awesome place and we will visit it multiple times. It produces new birds on every visit and every time we go there the species mix is completely different. Flocks of loafing gulls comprise of the ultra common SootyHeuglin's and Steppe Gulls, with many Slender-billed Gulls and the odd Black-headed and Caspian Gull. Most of them are almost in touching distance! There's always a Caspian Tern and Greater Crested Terns standing at the water's edge, which we usually drive right up to. Flocks of Common Terns often attract stunning White-winged Terns, although now we only have Little Terns as the current concensus is that Saunders's Terns don't occur at this time of year. The flock of Greater Flamingo's is usually joined by Eurasian Spoonbills, whilst a big flock of Glossy Ibis is always present, along with a huge flock of Ruff. This is one site you can have Indian Pond Heron standing alongside Squacco Herons, Wood, Green and Common Sandpipers next to each other, Marsh Sandpiper feeding alongside Common Greenshank (check out those bills), Little and Temminck's Stints feeding right next to our parked SUV's (look at those legs!). Get your camera's ready! And it's invaluable experience for birders of all abilities. We love this place! Add in species we've found such as Cotton Pygmy Goose cruising beside Garganey and Common Teals, groups of Red-knobbed Coots, the odd White-tailed Lapwing, and even Small Pratincole or the commoner Collared Pratincole and you can see why you can't be complacent here. as there are rarities to find! We even had a Masked Booby land on the beach once! 

On the othe side of Salalah is Raysut Sewage Works which holds a big flock of White and Abdim's Storks and is the best place to see Spur-winged Lapwing in the area. And this is just inland from a personal favourite of ours, of Khawr Raysut that has an enviable track record of producing rarities such as Crab Plover, Pallas's Gull, and where the same African Openbill likes to hang out. We even found Oman's 4th Dalmatian Pelican here. Many of the same species as East Khawr can be found here, but it is better for Lesser Crested Tern, Red-necked Phalarope, and both Broad-billed and Terek Sandpipers. The location is a little more remote than East Khawr and there's huge potential for finding something unusual. It is another fantastic location for observing gulls and terns including White-cheeked and plenty of shorebirds. Plus there's usually many Osprey's and Greater Spotted Eagles loafing on the mudflats when the tide is out. From the shore we have also seen Brown & Masked Booby feeding out in the bay.

Even in downtown Salalah there are several spots worth checking as it usually holds a few Oriental Honey Buzzards in the parks, there's a location for Spotted Thick-knee, and Salalah Nature Reserve held Oman's 2nd Buff-breasted Sandpiper in 2022. Other sites can yield Singing Bushlark, Yellow Bittern, Grey-headed Kingfisher and others. If there is access to Sahnawt Farm (although this is increasingly unlikely) it can produce some good birds and we have found White-tailed Lapwing, Masked Wagtail and Oman's 1st Banded Martin on our first tour.

Heading further east towards the Yemen border is Khawr Mughsayl, another rarity hotspot where we have seen Cotton Pygmy Goose, Pheasant-tailed Jacana and Oman's 5th Lesser White-fronted Goose. There's usually a few Red-knobbed Coots present and all the usual shorebirds, gulls and terns. The nearby beach is where we usually have our picnic lunch in the shade of one of the numerous buildings and even during midday a seawatch is worthwhile either here or from the restaurant overlooking the famous blow-hole. We've had White-cheeked Terns fishing right in front of us, both boobies are usually present, there's a huge flock of Socotra Cormorants somewhere in the bay, and we've even had Persian Shearwater, Jouanin's Petrel and Common Noddy just offshore too. It all depends if there's any fishing boats present! And just inland from here is Wadi Mughsayl, THE site for Desert Owl, although we have found our own site now for the owl. This wadi is a great place to get Arabian and Sand Partridges in the same flock, close views of Arabian Wheatear and sometimes Hooded Wheatear, This is only 45 minutes from our hotel so we may well visit a couple of times as it is a great area. 

And one morning we will undertake a pelagic out of Mirbat, just under an hour's drive from Salalah. The edge of the continental shelf isn't too far offshore and with the aid of some chum we hope to entice Jouanin's Petrel, Persian and Flesh-footed Shearwaters, whilst we should also see Masked Booby, Socotra Cormorant, Bridled Tern, and many Sooty Gulls, and hopefully something rarer! We keep hoping for a Swinhoe's Storm-Petrel..!

And there's plenty of evenings to ensure we get good views of Desert Owl, Arabian Eagle Owl and Arabian Scops Owl too!

Birding around Salalah is extremely exciting!

Day 14   END OF TOUR - 17th November 2024
This morning we will transfer to Salalah airport for our departing flights. Current timing is departing Salalah at 05:15 (Qatar Airlines)  or 11.30am (Oman Air) and arriving London Heathrow later the same afternoon..



All photos copyright Nick Bray/Zoothera Birding unless otherwise stated