Visit to Oman
Land of 1001 stars
Ruud and Kitty Kampf
Westeinde 69, 1636 VC Schermerhorn, The Netherlands
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for more about Oman: www.rekel.nl/Oman
Some help to navigate:
|A visit to Oman, Land of 1001 stars|
|Road to Marmul and to the coast|
|To the north again|
|West of the Wahibi Sands, through Nizwa|
|Jabal Akhdar, Hoti and further|
|Literature and links|
|wagtails||a page with pictures of wagtails|
|raptors||some of the raptors on the dump|
© Ruud Kampf, 1998, revised 2002
A visit to Oman, Land of 1001 stars
Why did we visit Oman? Quite simple, because of the 75th anniversary of KLM-airlines. The whole winter we saw advertisements in the newspaper with three, often quite exotic destinations. In one of the adds there was a flight to Muscat: Dfl 775 or US $ 455. After a short look in the atlas to find Muscat, I phoned the Oman embassy in The Hague: 'Can we travel freely and safe in Oman and can we camp, I asked him. 'Of course you can camp everywhere, we all do that, the employee told me. After that I phoned the research organisation TNO. One of their scientists worked on water exploration in Oman for several years. After his enthusiastic stories, I could only book a flight to Oman. We booked a rental car at Toyota Rent a Car in Muscat. They had a Toyota LandCruiser 4WD in Salalah, which we could bring back for them to Muscat. For seventeen days they charged us R.O. 500 including 2550 km free for 17 days ($70 per day, incl. 150 km/day). Every extra kilometer would cost 0.080 Bz ($0.20), a good reason not to drive too much!
We arrived in Oman in the night of 22-23 February 1995. The first night was a short one. It took a couple of hours to find the Mina hotel. The road map from 1982 we found in the rental car (a small Toyota for the first day in Muscat) was of little help in 1995 Oman. The imam started early, it was Ramadan.
The first hours we spent on the beach near the Gulf Hotel. There were quite a few gulls: Greater-Blackheaded (adult, huge!), Slender-billed, Sooty, Hering (yellow-legged). Among the terns were Sandwich and Crested Terns. With our sleepy eyes we didn't pay much attention to the Noddies flying far away.
We were so fascinated by all the new things that we saw, that we managed to miss the 2 o'clock flight to Salalah. Without any difficulty the people of Oman Air put us on the list for the four o'clock flight.
In the meantime we went birdwatching at the wetland system behind the Al Ansab sewage treatment plant near the airport. The most striking were three species of eagle in one group: 4 Steppe (1 adult), 1 Golden and 1 Spotted Eagle. We also saw a Long-legged Buzzard and Egyptian Vultures. Fortunately there were quite a few waders, mainly specialities from Siberia: Terek, Curlew, Temminck, Green and Wood Sandpiper. The Red-wattled Lapwing, White-tailed Lapwing (1), Graceful Warbler, Purple Sunbird were nice locals. There were many snipes, we identified only Common Snipe.
The Blacked-necked Grebe must be more common then indicated in the Oman Bird List. In the wetland system we saw a group of over 10, on February 25 seven male were displaying in Khwar Rouri (near Salalah) and on March 4 a group of well over 50 was feeding in Wadi Gharm.
Some pipits from Siberia: Red-necked Pipits + Citrine Wagtails.
With the four o'clock plane we flew to Salalah (850 km to the south for $ 83). Toyota Rent-a-Car was waiting for us at the airport. After the paper work and finding a hotel we went to the beach and watched the sunset. On the beach Blacktailed Godwits.
The information in Imported Bird Areas in the Sultanate of Oman proved to be very useful. We mainly followed its directions. We first drove to the east for a couple of days. We camped two nights near Khawr Rouri, one night on the beach near Mirbat and one night near the blowholes of Mugsaihl before driving north.
Ain Hamran (24/2)
In the pond at the end of the road several families were bathing and washing their clothes. As a male you keep your distance then. We found our first Palestine and Shining Sunbirds there. Several Citrine Wagtails were foraging in the forest. A pity that the landscape suffers so much under the overgrazing. On our way we saw several Crested Larks and the wonderful Black-crowned Finch Larks.
Khawr Rouri (24-25-26/2)
We spent quite some time around Khawr Rouri ([IB027], Importing Bird Areas in the Middle East). There are many birds here at the end of February. The Widgeons, Mallards, Shovelers, Garganays, Teals, Spoonbills, Black-tailed Godwits, Ospreys, Great Cormorant etceteras were familiar to us. Did we have to go that far to see these birds? Many new species:
Beach and sea, between Salalah and Mirbat
Oman has wonderful sandy beaches. The abundance of crabs attracts many birds, like Western Reef Herons. There were many Sanderlings, both species of Godwits and Grey Plovers. We saw several Masked Boobies. There were not many other seabirds as in autumn [see Jensen]. But the number of terns and gulls is rather high.
While watching seabirds we often saw dolphins, sometimes in bigger groups. Easy to recognise were the Indo-Pacific humpback dolphins (unmistakable hump on the back). On February 24 we saw a group of over hundred False Killer Whales (dark, rounded head, rather small, curved dorsal fin). They regularly jumped out of the water. According to Baldwin these Killer Whales are commonly seen. He reports a group of 80 as the largest he ever saw. We could not identify some smaller dolphins.
Khawr Taqah (24/2)
Khawr Taqah [IB028] is worth a visit, but not so attractive for a longer stay. It is close to the city of Taqah. Birds are like in Khawr Rouri. Extra's were a Shellduck and a Ruddy Shellduck (scarce and irregular according to the Oman Bird List),a Great Grey and an Isabelline Shrike.
The Taqah Dump (27/2)
A dump is always worth a visit. The Taqah dump is near a field where sardines and other fishes are dried. This smell is very strong. In its vicinity we saw a group of 20 Kentish Plovers (strange to see them in the desert). On the dump itself 6 Steppe Eagles and two or three Spotted Eagles.
Tawi Attir (25/2)
We didn't make all the way to Tawi Attir. It was too hot there and on the way up there were already many birds that were new for us and worth a closer look. Palestine Sunbird, Blackstarts, Little Green Bee-eater, African Rockbunting, African Silverbill, Lap-faced Vulture, Fan-tailed Raven, Arabian Red-legged Partridge.
Wadi Darbat (26/2)
Wadi Darbat [IBO26] is an area of outstanding beauty with a very special fringe of '1000 and 1 night', aptly described by Fiennes. It is not easy to get there (17.05N, 54.26E), a 4WD car is necessary. It is a pity that only a small part of the wadi is protected by a fence from overgrazing. When we were there everything was yellow and dry. It must be a wonderful landscape after the wet season in autumn. We spent a large part of the day in the wadi. It is wise not to come too close to the houses. It was the only time in Oman that people told us to move on.
Special birds were: a group of 15 Bruce's Green Pigeons, Short-toed Eagle, Long-legged Buzzard, Lesser Kestrel, Hoopoes, African Paradise Flycatcher, Rüppels Weavers, Arabian Warbler, etc. A South Arabian Wheatear had his nest in the ceiling of the cave above the wadi.
East Khawr (27/2)
In this small khawr [IBO32] near Salalah we saw tens of Kentish Plovers and several Lesser Sand Plovers.
Sun farms (27/2)
This large farm was well worth a visit. We asked permission to get in, and it was no problem. I think every visit will be different. The Barn Owl was at home. He was sitting 1-2 meter under the rim of a square open well behind the white mosque. When you just peek in, you won't disturb the bird(s).
A tractor was mowing one of the meadows. It attracted thousands of wagtails and pipits. Every time the tractor passed they flew up. Later a group of 30 Storks arrived from a high altitude. Birds of prey: 3 Steppe and 1 Spotted Eagle, Lesser Kestrels, 2 Marsh Harriers.
From Salalah we drove west to the Raysut Harbour 27 February. We didn't get permission to enter the harbour area, so we drove around a little compound, past a BP-office, until we reached a cliff overlooking the sea. To our surprise at least 20 Red-billed Tropic Birds were circling around above the water, calling loud. In the water were large shoals of fish with a length of about 30 cm. The water seemed to boil, so much fish there was!
From Raysut we drove the 30 km to the blowholes of Mugsaihl and camped on the beach. The blowholes are nice, it sounds like a giant monster with asthma. On the beach and in Khwar Mugsaihl [IBO32] Redshanks, Godwits and Grey Herons, a 'Dutch' mixture.
Next morning we drove a bit further to the west. The winding road in and out of the valley of Wadi Afwal is a wonderful example of road engineering. This area was a natural border during the communist uprising 25 years ago.
Further to the west the coast was beautiful: a rugged landscape with beautiful sandy beaches. We saw only a few birds, but the whole atmosphere was impressing. Several Manta Rays jumped out of the water.
Road to Marmul and to the coast
On February 28 we drove first via Teetam and Ayun to Thumray through some nice landscapes, sometimes very flat and open with no life on first sight. When you looked better there were even flowering plants with butterflies and lizards. The big wadi's were beautiful, but not many birds. Only some Fan-tailed Raven and Steppe Eagles.
After we passed Thumray the landscape became even more empty. On 17.43 N, 54.18 E the desert was a bit greener then elsewhere however. We spent some time birding, we needed the time, several new species:
We camped several km from the main road near a drinking place for camels. Hardly any birds, only some Sandgrouses. It was a very dark and silent night. Silence and 1001 stars, something you won't find in Holland.
PDO-desert farm (1/3)
The next morning we saw trees along the road (18.01 N, 55.01 E). It pointed out to be a PDO-desert farm (PDO = Petroleum Development Oman). As a by-product of the oil search water is found. In this farm water from a deep aquifer is used for irrigation. We kindly got permission to go birding on the farm. Such a rather big green spot must also be a nice surprise for many migrating birds, especially pipits and wagtails.
Further along the coast, Saqirah
It was not easy to get through the oilfields of Marmul. Several road signs were missing. But thanks to our Global Position System (GPS) we got through. We paid a short visit to Saqirah, where we found no good beach for camping, but did see some birds: Osprey, Spoonbill, 4 White-phase Western Reef Heron and a Great White Heron. We camped a bit further to the north of Al Lakbi on a beach with 15 Oystercatchers. At that point we were 300 km away from Salalah and 630 km from Muscat as the crow flies.
Khwar Shumayr (2-3/3)
The next day (2 March) we drove towards Khawr Shumayr, which is an excellent lagoon. The lagoon is also described in the Important Bird Areas in the Middle East as Khawr Ghawi [IBO23], 18.34 N, 56.38 E. We drove from the main road in the direction of the sea and saw 2 Cream-coloured Coursers nearby. The desert changed in dunes with a hundreds of Lesser Sandplovers! Sandplovers everywhere. We drove a track through the dunes to the north. On the beach lots of birds, but the group 54 Crab Plovers pleased us most. They were rather shy, but I could make some pictures.
We pitched our tent near the end of the spit. When we were doing that a big falcon came low over. Grey, rather short round wings: a Lanner?
Until now the weather was not important, it was nice up to a bit warm, 25-30° C and mainly sunshine. But the last days the weather changed. Beautiful black clouds appeared above the white sand and the blue ocean. It became quite windy, 5-6 B north. Late in the afternoon it started to rain. When I checked the tent I was wet within two minutes. Who bothers, it is still 25° C. Rain in Oman was a little bit unexpected, but it turned out to a rainy period of several days. Despite the weather we had a very nice time and saw many birds:
We spent some time watching seabirds, but beachcombing was more productive. Many of the shells on the beach had tenants: small hermit crabs. We found a skull of an adult turtle and a backbone of a whale. The big shield of an adult sea turtle is probably still on the beach.
To the north again
Khawr Shumayr was again a place to stay longer, but we had to go north again. We drove small ungraded roads parallel to the main road. There are many tracks, easy to drive as long as you avoid loose sand. Under way a very friendly family of fishermen/goatkeepers invited us. They offered us coffee and dates. The women and girls were beautiful dressed because the Ramadan had just ended.
In Wadi Dihab we saw 6 gazelles. We paid a short visit to the Three Palm lagoon (Khawr Dirif [IBO21]). It was raining and there were not many birds. We found a few ducks however: Pintail, Shoveler, Widgeon and a couple of Broad-billed Sandpipers.
When we arrived on the main road again it was clear that driving was not easy. Over 10 percent of the unpaved road were pools now. The rest was very, very muddy. In the pools along the road frogs started to remember that they were still alive. A very strange sound in the desert.
When we crossed the Wadi Gharm a Booted Eagle in a tree along the road side (first we thought it was an Osprey) and a Barbary Falcon on the road shoulder (19.02 N, 57.32 E). It began to get dark already so we drove trough the wadi until we found a place to pitch our tent. Some fisherman had given us some fish and although it was raining cats and dogs we cleaned and cooked them and the fish tasted very good.
Wadi Gharm (3-4/3)
The next morning (4 March) we drove further through the wadi in the direction of the ocean. About two km south of the main road (19.00 N, 57.32 E) there were some nice old woods in the wadi.
The desert is getting greener with the hour now. Everywhere green sprouts. Dead wood comes to life again. It is very nice experience this rainy period.
When we drove on the wadi got broader. First we found a beautiful pink salt lake with a layer of fresh rain water on it. Several kilometer further the wadi ended in a big khawr, separated from the ocean by a sandbar. Again we saw thousands of waders. Along the banks walked Marsh Sandpipers, Lesser Sandpipers, 1 Ruff and the usual small sandpipers. A couple of hares and gazelles in the wadi.
It was a nice to see that many birds took advantage of the feeding Flamingo's (50). They swam around the legs of the Flamingo's to feed in the disturbed water:
Wadi Gharm is not mentioned in Imported Bird Areas in the Middle East, it should be. From the main road you can reach the khawr by following a track along the south side of the wadi, along an old abandoned mosque and a water well.
Late in the afternoon we continued in the direction of Ra's Madrakah. We drove parallel to the coast until a wonderful valley with black rocks and fossil corals. From there to the main road. At 19.04 N, 57.42 E two Chestnut-bellied Sandgrouse and three Cream-coloured Coursers. According to the Oman Bird List the Courser is an irregular passage migrant, with a few individuals in winter and summer. We have seen 5 up to know. And despite all the kilometres on hardly travelled tracks we have not seen a Spotted Thicknee.
Ra's Madrakah (4-5/3)
We reached Ra's Madrakah late. It was not easy to follow the bumpy track to the beach in the dark. Eventually we pitched our tent near the beach in the dark. The following morning (5 March) was the first sunny day after a couple of days. We dried our luggage, cleaned the car and took a bath. I tried to do some birdwatching while snorkelling. It worked, I could approach a Sooty Gull and a Crested Tern until 1- 2 m. There were many seabirds around, among them several Masked Boobies and Socotra Cormorants.
Ad Duqm (5-6/3)
The main road to Duqm [IBO20] was muddy, but not too bad. We covered 80 km in 1.5 hours. The side road to Ra's Duqm was the worst muddy road I have ever seen. No problem for the LandCruiser however. It was a pity that a beautiful camping spot near the beach already had been occupied, the rest was too muddy. So we went into the hills for the night for a drier spot.
The number of gulls was much higher than mentioned in Important Birdareas. In the very early morning, before sunrise, huge groups of gulls rose from the mudflats. Maybe there were 50.000-100.000 gulls, perhaps more. Later in the morning of 6 March went birding around the fishfactory (delicious fish obtainable, but no phone).
The flat bay is big and not easy to oversee, waders:
Here also the mixture of arctic waders in considerable numbers, including Grey Plovers.
The Duqm area pointed out to be very interesting with high numbers of wintering gulls, terns and waders but it was difficult accessible after the rains. There was mud everywhere.
On our way north we took the side road to Duqm along the 'Rockgarden' (Oman Off-road, page 71). It was not just rocks in many shapes and forms but a interesting geological feature. The long, dark brown rocks were petrified mangrove trees, broken in pieces. The diameter was 2-3 m. It must have been huge trees.
Bar al Hikman, Filim (6-7/3)
On March 6 we drove rather quick to Filim, despite the very slippery main road (all the way 4WD switched on). It made us clear that it was not wise to continue to Barr al Hikman. We have seen a lot of coastal birds already. I would have liked to see Red Knots however, one of my favourite birds.
We camped one night just outside Filim. Both the village and the desalination plant are old fashioned. The flash evaporator was built before the energy crisis. Birds: many waders again, Curlew Sandpipers, Terek Sandpipers, Little Green Heron.
West of the Wahibi Sands, through Nizwa
On the highway waders in rain pools on several places. Because of the mud we left the main road. We drove about 30 km to the east to drive north through de desert. We stayed to the west of the Wahibi Sands however. The tracks were much easier to drive than the main road. The land is not empty. Every now and then we saw small camps. The Bedouin flag was everywhere: a plastic bag carried by the wind caught by a bush. On 20.56 N, 58.13, 2.5 km from the highway we found hundreds of Chestnut-bellied Sandgrouse in sparsely forested undulating desert, + 1 Great Grey Shrike and some Brown-necked Raven.
The rain had left a shallow lake, 1.5 km long, 500 m wide and up to 0.5 m deep in the desert (21.46 N, 58.25 E). As if to prove they really cross the desert during migration along the banks: 3 Lesser Sand Plover; 4 Kentish Plover; 2 Little Ringed Plover; 1 Dunlin and a Grey Wagtaill
We pitched our tent (7-8/3) close to the 'lake'. In the evening we took a short ride to the western edge of the sands. The desert plants were growing fast. It was a very special atmosphere with beautiful colours at sunset. The above mentioned birds were still there the next morning. Local birds included Desert Larks, Black-Crowned Finch Larks and beautiful displaying Hoopoe Larks. We did not see any Sandgrouse or Thick-knees.
On 8 March we continued north through a beautiful open landscape. Every now and then we came across a little village. Our first House Sparrow we saw at 22.05 N, 058.17 E.
We paid a short visit to Sinaw to confirm the plane back home. It was our first opportunity to phone since Salalah. After that we went to Nizwa. The big fort has been restored beautiful.
Jabal Akhdar, Hoti and further
From Nizwa we drove via Hoti in to the mountains. According to Oman Off Road it is a new road, but after the rains it was much older at once. A lot of the surface has been flushed away. Sometimes it was so steep that even the low first gear of the LandCruiser was too high. We were just in time to pitch our tent with day light at a dramatic, but very small spot with beautiful views at an altitude of nearly 1900 m (23.09 N, 57.25 E)
The next morning (9/3) sunrise was sensational, with all the clouds in the valleys and the beautiful colours. But it was cold, just 8 ° C. When we drove further along the road we found a much better place for camping just 100 m further. It was a kind of 'highland', with grass and trees.
The road ends at 2100 m at an escarpment with a beautiful view over a valley with dark green terraces at the end of Wadi Bani Awf, some 1000 m down. Rather dramatic, and also a pity that we could not drive further. It would have been a nice shortcut to the coast. Over the valley soared a Short-toed Eagle and an Egyptian Vulture together with our first Pallid Swifts.
On the way back: Desert Wheatear, Tree Pipits, Scrub Warbler, Hoopoe, Graceful Prinia and several skulking brownies.
Back in Qal'at Al Masalha we took a walk in the old village. The old fort is not restored yet. A very special atmosphere. The over 5000 Pallid Swifts above the village are mute compared with our Swifts. In the village Purple Sunbirds, Black Redstart, Graceful Warblers, Rüppels Weavers and House Sparrows. On our way to Muscat it started to rain again. There was a lot of dust in the air, it seemed to rain mud.
In the afternoon of March 9 we went to the wetland system behind the sewage plant again. We camped in the hills behind the plant.
March 10 we went up extra early for some birding in the wetland. The wetland system had much less birds than at the beginning of our trip. We saw Reed Warbler, Clamorous Reed Warbler, Graceful Warbler (very strange when singing, the inside of it's mandibles is black), Whitethroat, Isabelline Shrike, Chiffchaff/Willow Warblers, Purple Sunbirds, etc.
For breakfast we went to the small cafeteria near the entrance of the sewage plant. Nice Indian snacks and cookies.
We had decided to do the 'fine' landscapes today, so we went to the dump. It is not in Important Bird Areas of The Sultanate of Oman, but is easy to find: take the Ghalla Road from the Ghalla Roundabout, pass the Royal Hospital and the Lasab Camp. Take the tail of a full dumptruck, it will lead you to the dump. At the gate we were told that we needed a municipal permit to enter the dump. After some time we could make it clear that we desperately wanted to go in. We showed some papers and mentioned the Sultan Qaboos University several times. Finally we got permission for a short visit until eleven o'clock. The dump smelled terribly but we saw more than one hundred eagles and vultures.
In the afternoon of March 10 we drove through Muscat to Khawr Yenkit east of Yiti in Bandar Jussah. Most of the road is tarmac now. We camped at a beautiful spot on the beach (Snorkelling and diving in Oman, site 11, map 11. The coral reefs are at swimming distance. Beautiful, like an aquarium with too much fish.
Early morning birding at our last day (11 March) in Oman gave a couple of new species again: Indian Roller and Hume's Wheatear. And also: Squacco, Reef and Great Grey Herons, etc.
After several wonderful coral reef hours we have done some final birding near the Gulf Hotel, before we settled the bill for the LandCruiser. We managed to see some species we had missed before: Indian Silverbill, Common Mynah's, Grey Francolins. We also enjoyed the Arabian Babblers and the Little Green Bee-eaters again.
Back to Holland
We were early at the airport (we didn't want to miss the plane back) to find out that there is no restaurant at the airport, just a cafeteria. We arrived at Schiphol Airport at 11 March, early in the sunday morning and went at work at monday again.
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Homepage Ruud and Kitty Kampf, Schermerhorn, The Netherlands
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Homepage Ruud and Kitty Kampf, Schermerhorn, The Netherlands