New! Northern Oman

Birding at the crossroads of Europe, Africa and Asia

2023 Dates
  • 14 Jan - 26 Jan 2023
Duration13 Days
2023 Price
Price TBC
Max Group Size12
More Info

Prices TBC

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At the edge of the Western Palearctic, the Sultanate of Oman is situated between Europe, Africa and Asia and offers a refreshing reminder of a bygone age amid the landscapes of the Arabian Gulf. Overdevelopment has yet to blight its most spectacular locations and cultural traditions remain remarkably undiluted, making the Sultanate one of the best places in the Gulf to experience traditional Arabia. Lying biogeographically within the Afrotropical realm, but geographically within Asia, species from both areas are represented as well as those from the Palearctic. Habitats vary, including sandy beaches, lagoons, tidal mudflats, agricultural fields, windblown sand dunes, stony desert and precipitous canyons and rocky wadis in the mountains and this is reflected in the very special birds likely to be seen. Key targets on this tour include Crab Plover, Arabian Tropicbird, Jouanin’s Petrel, Pallas's Gull, Lappet-faced Vulture, Omani Owl, Indian Roller and Hume’s Wheatear.

The avifauna of Oman is both abundant and diverse, and on this detailed tour of the north spread our time around two coastlines and also visit the rugged mountain interior. Beginning around the bustling capital of Muscat, we investigate a several wetland sites, rocky coasts and beaches, the Northern Al Hajjar Mountains and enjoy a boat trip out to Al Fahal island. Other sites close to the city include Ras-as-Sawadi, Qurayyat, Al Qurm National Park and Al Ansab and all offer a great variety of birding from shorebirds, raptors to passerines. North-west along the Al Batinah coast and close to the UAE border, Collared Kingfisher (kalbaensis  subspecies) is a target alongside resident and migrant species.

Oman recently hit the headlines among western birders with the discovery of a new species to science in 2013, Omani Owl. And with just a small known population deep in the Al Hajjar Mountains, finding it can be quite the challenge! There are of course no guarantees though we will try, with several opportunities during our circuit. we also aim to see Pallid Scops Owl during night-time excursions too. Added to this is the greatest wader show in the Middle East. Oman’s east coast put simply is a wader paradise of outstanding importance for migratory birds along the West Asian-East African Flyway. Well known for its biodiversity and offering a buffet for the hundreds of thousands of pausing migrant waterbirds as they pass over the Arabian Peninsula. On Masirah Island, stunning Crab Plover will be the headline act standing out alongside Great Knot, Terek Sandpiper, Broad-billed Sandpiper, Greater and Lesser Sand Plover and many more perhaps including wintering Socotra Cormorant.

Among the other possible species on this tour are Greater Flamingo, Egyptian Vulture, Greater Spotted, Steppe and Eastern Imperial Eagle, Chestnut-bellied, Spotted, Crowned and Liechtenstein’s Sandgrouse, Cream Coloured Courser, Sociable and Caspian Plover, Pin-tailed Snipe, Variable, Hooded and Persian Wheatear, Citrine Wagtail, Black Crowned Sparrow-lark, Desert and Hoopoe Lark Syke’s, Asian Desert, Plain Leaf Warbler and Striolated Bunting to name but a few. Mammals might include Desert Hedgehog, African Wildcat, Sand Cat, Striped Hyena, Caracal, White-tailed Mongoose, Arabian Tahr, several Fox and Gazelle species, Honey Badger, Arabian Wolf, a range of gerbils, jerboahs and bats, and whales and dolphins offshore. Many land mammals are now endangered, and hard to find.

Aside from great birding, at first glance much of Oman suggests a country made up of savage, sparsely populated landscapes. This is not entirely true, stunning often untouched beaches are another feature and in parts of the country the contemporary is very prominent, particularly in the lowkey glitter and bustle of the capital, Muscat. Despite the trappings of modernity, much of the country retains a powerful sense of place and past. Busy souks continue to resound with the clamour of shoppers bargaining over frankincense, jewellery and food. Venerable forts and crumbling watchtowers still stand sentinel over towns they once protected especially in the mountains. While birding remains the priority, in between we find time to take in some of the cultural highlights of Northern Oman on this exciting tour.

Enjoy your complimentary pre-flight overnight hotel before your holiday begins. Full details from our office! Read more about our Pre-flight Service here!

Day 1: Sat 14 January 2023 - UK- Oman
We fly London to Muscat overnight arriving in Oman in the early hours of Sunday morning, and after breakfast and a little rest, board our vehicles and get straight into birding locally.

Day 2: Sun 15 January - Al Qurm and Al Ansab
We begin at wetland and coastal sites close to the city where we have a range of great birding options. In a largely desert environment, water of any sort warrants attention and Al Qurm offers a good mixture of habitats including wetlands, while the man-made lagoons and sewage treatment plant at Al Ansab has been one of Oman’s premier birding destinations for decades! Across both sites possibilities include Striated, Indian Pond and Western Reef Heron, Spotted, Baillon’s and Little Crake, Garganey, Pintail, Ferruginous Duck, Black-necked Grebe, Grey Francolin, Red-wattled Lapwing, Pin-tailed Snipe, Pacific Golden Plover, Marsh, Green and Wood Sandpiper and Little Stint. In surrounding scrub, Red-vented and White-spectacled Bulbul may both be seen along with Little Green Bee-eater, Purple Sunbird, Citrine Wagtail, Bluethroat, Brown-necked Raven and Common Mynah. Scanning offshore, Pallas's Gull winter in small numbers, Slender-billed and Sooty Gull are also likely, often roosting alongside White-cheeked, Whiskered, Sandwich, Lesser Crested and Greater Crested Tern. Later we may visit Seeb beach to check through more flocks of roosting gulls and terns. Overnight Muscat area for three nights.

Day 3: Mon 16 January - Al Fahal Island
Lying 4km off the mainland, Al Fahal (or Shark) Island is comprised of limestone and believed to be over 50 million years old, and we take a boat trip out into the Gulf of Oman to look for wintering seabirds, cetaceans and to view the island.  The sea between here and the mainland has a particularly high coral diversity and there is a good chance of finding Persian Shearwater, Arabian Tropicbird, flocks of Red-necked Phalarope and perhaps pods of Spinner Dolphin during our voyage.

Returning to dry land and being so close to the lively commercial district of Muttrah within the historic quarter of Old Muscat, we take a little time away from birding. The site of the sultan’s palace and a pair of hoary old Portuguese forts, Muttrah Souk one of Oman’s most colourful is a disorienting labyrinth of tiny alleyways piled high with a bewildering array of exotic merchandise. Four kilometres southwest, the Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque is a splendid example of modern Islamic architecture and the only mosque in the country open to non-Muslims. We shall plan to visit both. Later, we may choose to venture inland towards the desert and mountains where a waste disposal site attracts eagles and vultures. While less active in recent years, it can still be good for Steppe Eagle with lesser numbers of Eastern Imperial and Greater-Spotted Eagle, Egyptian Vulture and if lucky Lappet-faced Vulture too. We may also see our first Hume’s Wheatear or Desert Lark here while scanning the skies for raptors.

Day 4: Tue 17 January - Ras-as-Sawadi and Al Hajjar Mountains
A morning visit to Ras-as-Sawadi, a promontory east of Muscat and jutting out into the Gulf of Oman should give us the expected range of waders, gulls and terns while sea-watching from the point can have its rewards with passing Masked Booby a possibility. Leaving the north coast and heading into the beautiful Al Hajjar Mountains to begin our search for its specialities. Entering the northern part of the range, new habitats may yield Sand Partridge, Desert, Persian, Hooded and Hume’s Wheatear, (Eastern) Black Redstart, Eastern Orphean Warbler, Striolated Bunting and more. Scarce Liechtenstein’s Sand­grouse are also possible, but it’s by night that these mountains have achieved recent fame among western birders when in 2013 a new, undescribed species was discovered here – the Omani Owl! After time exploring the Wadi’s by day, we return to our accommodation early and take a little time to relax before an (optional) night excursion to search for this highly prized species! If lucky, Pallid Scops Owl and the local form of Little Owl (Lilith Owl – a potential split) may be encountered too.

NB: Omani Owl – This is a very difficult species, with just a tiny known population thus far and with much still to learn. By visiting known Wadis deep into the central Al Hajjar Mountains, we hope to hear the birds calling, and subsequently track them to obtain a sighting but there are no guarantees. Excursions may last for several hours, and we may well attempt to try and find them on more than one night. All such excursions are of course optional.

Day 5: Wed 18 January - Quaryyat and east to Ras Al Jinz
Leaving Muscat and working our way along the under-watched North-east coast, we plan a series of stops for coastal species. Quarayyt is one such site with a range of habitats including coastal ‘Khawrs, the towns harbour and inland desert. Coastal possibilities include a range of waders including herons, gulls and terns. Scrubby bushes and dune systems attract Black-crowned Sparrow Lark, plus pipits, wagtails, wheatears and shrikes. while scarcer species recorded in the inland wadi’s have included Desert Lesser Whitethroat, Rufous Bush Chat, Liechtenstein’s Sand­grouse and Bonelli’s Eagle.

We could spend all day at Quaryyat, though if time we can birdwatch around Sur Lagoons or at Khawr al Jaramah. We may get lucky with a bonus Crab Plover or Pallas’s Gull here, more regular fare including Gull-billed Tern and a small flock of resident Greater Flamingo. Continuing to Ras Al Jinz, one of the most beautiful and luxurious areas of Oman, the coastal beaches here are stunning and thankfully protected from nearby development by the Turtle sanctuary. At this season Green Ridley and Hawksbill Turtle are resident, though off the coast rather than on the beaches. Overnight Ras Al Jinz for one night.

Day 6: Thurs 19 January - Ras Al Khabbah south to Masirah Island
After a leisurely start to the day we head south pausing at Ras Al Khabbah, a dramatic headland boasting great sea-watching potential in the right conditions. A good site for Arabian Tropicbird and Masked Booby, Persian and Flesh-footed Shearwater, a wandering Jouanin’s Petrel from the south is also possible and vagrants have included White-faced and Swinhoe’s Storm Petrel. Continuing our drive south we come to Barr al Hikman, a large bay on the east coast. Here we focus on waders, and depending on our arrival time may visit a couple of the northern viewpoints to scan the large flocks before taking our evening ferry from Shannah Port to Masirah island. Overnight Masirah for three nights

Days 7 & 8: Fri 20 & Sat 21 January - Masirah Island
The vast coastal mudflats stretching from the west side of Masirah Island to Barr al Hikman on the mainland really are THE wader mecca of Oman. Many thousands of birds can be present and stunning Crab Plover is our primary target. Depending on tides, light conditions and favoured feeding areas we plan to spend both days enjoying the masses of birds searching for Great Knot, Greater and Lesser Sand Plover, Kentish Plover, Terek, Marsh, Broad-billed and Curlew Sandpiper, Little Stint, Greenshank, Bar-tailed Godwit and Whimbrel alongside huge numbers of more familiar UK species. Groups of Greater Flamingo and Spoonbill draw the eye, flocks of gulls may include Heuglin's (Siberian) and Caspian Gull, a regular flock of White-cheeked Tern sometimes exceeding 50,000 individuals and raptors may include fishing Osprey, Marsh and Pallid Harrier. Access to the tidal bays can often be better from the Masirah side and the numbers of waders and terns can be higher, so we deliberately take our time exploring the area to appreciate the spectacle fully!

The northern part of the island is something of a migrant trap, and after poor weather in autumn falls of passerines can occur and among them recent scarcer species have included Pin-tailed and Great Snipe, Wryneck, Olive-backed Pipit, Black-throated Thrush and Red-breasted Flycatcher. Masirah has also been one of the most regular sites in Oman for wintering Asian Koel in recent years too. Mammals include Arabian Gazelle and a subspecies of Cape Hare, the latter endemic to Masirah. Also a sea turtle breeding ground of global importance, four species occur; Loggerhead, Green, Hawksbill and Olive Ridley, while two restricted range lizards endemic to Oman are also present.

Day 9: Sun 22 January – Barr al Hikman and the Southern Al Hajjar
We take the early morning ferry back to Shannah, and once there have a couple of birding options before the drive north back to the mountains. We could take a few more hours enjoying the waders at Barr Al Hikman, where the wader density is among the highest recorded globally, making it one of the most important coastal wetlands in the world. A nearby inland site which often retains water year-round can attract sandgrouse, Chestnut-bellied and Spotted being the most likely with Crowned possible and Liechtenstein’s the rarest. Growing vegetation around the water here also supports Plain Leaf, Lesser Whitethroat (halimodendri), and Asian Desert Warbler, while Pale Crag Martin, Tawny, Red-throated and Water Pipit, Black-crowned Sparrow Lark, Desert and Hoopoe Lark may also be found.

Later we travel north-west through desert into the southern part of the Al Hajjar Mountains. Among the birds likely to feature on roadside stops are Sand Partridge, Namaqua Dove, Desert Lark, Long-billed Pipit, Streaked Scrub Warbler, Persian, Hooded and Hume’s Wheatear, Turkestan and Daurian Shrike. Arriving in the mountains, time spent close to our accommodation late-afternoon may prove productive for raptors with Lappet-faced and Egyptian Vulture, Bonelli’s, Short-toed (scarce), Great Spotted Eagle and others possible. After dark we take further (optional) excursions for owls if required. Overnight Nizwa for 2 nights.

Day 10: Mon 23 January - Sayq Plateau
The Sayq Plateau regions are among highest and formerly most inaccessible inhabited regions in Oman. In modern times, a tarmac road allows access, however the plateau remains one of the most beautiful and wildest places in the country! We spend a full day exploring the remote, stunning landscapes slowly checking orchards and scrub around the villages and sheltered Wadi’s along the 32km stretch of road. Any small pools can attract wintering migrants including Asian scarcities, and a few Plain Leaf Warbler occur alongside Hume’s Wheatear, Striolated Bunting and Blue Rock Thrush. The mountain provides an important refuge for endemic and relict species with at least fourteen plant species, eight reptile and three fish species or subspecies endemic, or near endemic to Oman. The rare Arabian Tahr, endemic to the mountains of Northern Oman still occurs, as do Arabian Gazelle and Arabian Wolf though all are endangered and hard to find.

Days 11 & 12: Tue 24 & Wed 25 January - Al Batinah coast
Travelling north-west through the mountains may give us associated species and we pay a short visit to Jabrin Fort, one of over 500 in Oman and a finest example. Reaching the coast close to the UAE border, the Al Batinah region boasts several great birding sites and we plan to spend the next two days exploring them in detail. At either Shinas or Liwa we search for Collared Kingfisher (of the kalbaensis subspecies) and Syke’s Warbler, two specialists of the area though the former can be challenging to find and may require more than one attempt! Also likely in the mangroves are Arabian Babbler, Graceful Prinia and Clamorous Reed Warbler, while marsh habitat supports Cattle Egret, Glossy Ibis, White-tailed Plover, Little and Temminck’s Stint, Ruff, Wood and Marsh Sandpiper, Water Pipit and Yellow Wagtail. Birding on the coast can be equally fruitful with Socotra Cormorant, Arctic and Pomarine Skua, Pallas’s, Sooty, Caspian, Steppe Gull, Caspian, Greater and Lesser Crested, Little, Saunder’s and Bridled Tern among the possibilities.

Nearby Sohar Sun Farms supports a wide range of species and though access is not as straight forward as it used to be, time here or viewing from outside the enclosure can offer a large variety of species. Cream Coloured Courser, Pacific Golden, Sociable and Caspian Plover, Pin-tailed Snipe, Citrine and Yellow Wagtail, personata White Wagtail, Richard’s, Blyth’s and Red-throated Pipit and Bimaculated Lark are among the scarcer species recorded. At Khatmat Milahah, we search open ground specifically for Variable (Eastern Pied) Wheatear and the Acacia trees hold a few Plain Leaf Warbler. Also likely are Greater Spotted Eagle, Indian Roller, Asian Desert and Menetrie’s Warbler, Southern Grey and Daurian Shrike, Isabelline Wheatear and Indian Silverbill. Overnight Sohar area for 2 nights.

Day 13: Thur 26 January – Return UK
In the morning we transfer back to Muscat and if there is time before our flight back to the UK, can spend some time birding around the city. Otherwise, we head straight for Muscat International Airport and return to London Gatwick.

Please note: all itineraries are given as a guide only. Actual holiday content may vary according to the judgement of your guide, and elements beyond our control (eg weather).

What's included in your holiday price:

  • return scheduled flight from London Gatwick - Muscat. Airport taxes, baggage and hand luggage up to airline included limit.
  • airport transfers, ground transportation, accommodation and meals as specified.
  • the services of Heatherlea leaders.
  • The Heatherlea Pre-Flight Service offers everything you need at the airport, including hotels, car parking, airport lounges, regional flights, and upgrades. Let Heatherlea take the strain! Pre-flight airport hotel and lounge included free of charge subject to terms and conditions. Read more....

What's not included in your holiday price:

  • travel to and from departure airport before and after holiday, in-flight meal, baggage above airline included limit.
  • incidental tips, expenses of a personal nature including drinks and personal insurance.

More information:

Accommodation: Is en-suite throughout, in comfortable, well-located areas. The accommodation ranges from clean, friendly, local guest houses to 4*, very modern and western hotels with excellent wi-fi and possibly even swimming pools. All accommodation is located in the heart of their respective cities or along a beachfront on the Arabian Sea coast.
Food: Food is good throughout. Breakfast is usually served as a buffet, and lunch and dinner are usually traditional local dishes, although Western food is also available in some of our hotels. With influences from Indian, Persian, North African and Mediterranean cuisines, Omani food is a delicious fusion of spices, marinades and herbs. Vegetarian and other diets are welcome, even though the standard cuisine of the Middle East is very much based on meat. All meals will include water, and a water dispenser will be available on our bus, please bring your own water bottle so you can refill it as you need to.
Dress Code: Although there is no official dress code, Omanis tend to dress conservatively. Men should wear tops that cover their shoulders. Shorts are usually tolerated (except in mosques), but long trousers are preferred. Women should preferably wear loose clothing. It is essential to have arms and shoulders covered at all times, and have long trousers or skirts/dresses below the knee. It is always helpful to carry a shawl or scarf to cover the hair, especially in a mosque, where women must have their hair covered and wear long-sleeved shirts to cover the wrists and long trousers or skirts that cover the ankles.
Walking: The holiday is not strenuous. Walking can be described as generally slow and easy, on roads, paths and tracks, with some gentle inclines in the more mountainous areas.
Weather: Typical January temperatures range from about 18ºC to 25ºC, but nights can be cooler, as can our time at higher altitudes and whilst at sea. Sunshine should be plentiful however, although in January some rain is possible. Please bring sunscreen and long-sleeved clothing.
Insects: Biting insects are not likely to be a problem, but can be expected at times in wetland areas, and we recommend a good insect repellent.
Group size: Is restricted to 12 clients maximum.
Flights: Are by scheduled airline, from London Gatwick. We may be able to offer flight arrangements from another airport and/or or quote without flights so you can make your own arrangements. If you wish to add an extension either before or after your holiday, please contact us and we will be happy to arrange this for you.

Your Leaders:

Ed Hutchings

Established wildlife writer Ed grew up partly in East Anglia and partly in the Middle East, infusing his early interest in all things natural with an element of the exotic. After a decade-long career as a sommelier (guests will not be left wanting for wine recommendations in his company), he dipped his toe in the conservation world, and hasn't looked back!

His passion for birds, botany, history and architecture alongside his Arabic language skills mean that he is the ultimate guide in Oman and he is just as likely to be pointing out fascinating buildings, as well as the local wildlife!

Ed will be joined by Mark Warren with seven or more clients.

Mark Warren

A favourite of many Heatherlea tours, Mark is an experienced Leader worldwide, and is very much looking forward to his first tour of Oman!

Why choose Heatherlea for your birding and wildlife holiday?

Our overseas holidays are planned with care to offer great birding and wildlife, led by capable Leaders who really look after you. Every holiday is run the 'Heatherlea Way', and we hope our Overseas Adventures remind you of the quality and care so many of you enjoy in Scotland. That means rewarding and exciting days in the field, and good quality accommodation and meals, with a real flavour of the country we are visiting. Heatherlea always seek to include the personal touches that make all the difference.

Heatherlea holidays are not ‘dawn to dusk’ expeditions. Our less-intensive approach is ideal for those who want to relax whilst experiencing the best wildlife watching, and wherever possible we organise early or late activity on an optional basis. We also take sensible breaks when in very hot places and regular comfort breaks on every holiday whenever possible. All itineraries are planned carefully around the best wildlife opportunities, and you won’t miss out on memorable wildlife, whilst enjoying relaxed, informal days that are great fun.

The really important part of any wildlife holiday is the experience for you, our valued customer. Heatherlea invest in many things to offer you the best possible service;

  • We have been organising birding and wildlife holidays for over 30 seasons, and have a highly experienced and capable office team. We also offer a telephone and email service outside normal office hours.
  • Heatherlea overseas holidays have a maximum of 12 clients per trip, putting the emphasis on personal service, and helping you get the best possible experience.
  • Our holidays often include things which others might invite you to pay yourself, for instance Departure Taxes and tips to hotels.
  • All elements of our holidays are sold under our own licence, ATOL 6113. Under ‘Flight-Plus’ legislation it is a legal requirement of any tour operator to hold an ATOL licence for the supply of any overseas holiday where a flight is involved, if that holiday includes either overseas accommodation and/or car hire. It can be a criminal offence for an operator to book flights as part of a package without an ATOL licence. Heatherlea also hold full Tour Operator Insurance for your added protection.
  • Heatherlea is your complete wildlife holiday provider. Our ‘Back Office’ team can organise all your pre-flight and other travel needs. Our specialists will help you book the right services, at the best price. Book holiday extensions through us, and your ATOL protection is extended further. We don’t charge extra for this service.
  • Heatherlea is a limited company, registered in Scotland, and registered to pay VAT (applies to all holidays within the European Union).

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The Mountview Hotel, Nethybridge,
PH25 3EB Scotland

T: 01479 821248