Birdwatching guide to Oman, 2nd Edition
Updated 2 march 2019
If you are using our Birdwatching guide to Oman, 2nd Edition, you may want to check out the updates listed below, especially if you are visiting the country for the first time.
Cyclone Mekunu hit the south coast of Oman in May 2018 and caused major damage to roads and to some birdwatching sites in the Salalah area. A minor cyclone in October 2018 added to the misery.
The coast highway between Shuwaymiyah (9.4) to Hasik in Dhofar is open. You can now travel along the coast from Ras Al Hadd (3.4), via Barr Al Hikman (8.1), Ad Duqm (9.1), Sawqirah, Ash Shuwaimiyah (9.4), Hasik, Hadbin, Mirbat (10.11) and on to Salalah, all on paved roads suitable for 2WD. If driving from Muscat to Salalah and back it makes sense to take the coastal road one way and the central desert road on the return and make a grand loop.
(1.1) Al Ansab Wetland. The construction of the new Muscat Expressway is finished. There are plans to turn Al Ansab Wetland into a nature reserve with better access to the public. You can visit now, it is free, but prior booking is needed. Check out their website, http://www.haya.com.om/AlAnsabWetland.aspx. The wetland is closed on weekends (Friday-Saturday) and on holidays.
(1.2) Al Qurm Natural Park. This park is a excellent introduction to common and many not so common species. The coastal highway is a good spot to scan the mangroves and the mudflats for herons, waders, gulls and terns.
New site: Saham Sewage Treatment Plant. This is a new site located inland from Saham some 40 km south of Sohar. From the main intersection (24º08.547’N 56º52.549’E) in Saham, go west (inland) for 3.0 km and turn right at 24º07.787’N 56º51.001’E. Continue north for 3.4 km, turn left and the plant (24º09.114’N 56º49.373’E) is 700m ahead. The main attractions are the ponds behind the plant, so park at the plant and walk behind. No permit is required. Greater Spotted Eagle and Western Marsh harrier is common in winter and there will be a variety of ducks and waders. Namaqua Doves are regular there.
(2.2) Sun Farms, Sohar. The farm is now permanently closed. It is still possible to get in though noy through the main gate. There is a motel just north of the Shell petrol station. Behind this motel is a track along the old farm fence. Follow this track around the north-east corner and continue for about 1 km along the fence. The fence is broken several places and it is possible to drive in with a 4WD. There may not be many birds, though. There are many smaller farms between Barka and Sohar, especially on the inland side of the main highway. Sociable Lapwings have been seen by driving the roads among farms near Barka. Access may be obtained by asking at the gates.
New Site: Al Multaqa Waste Disposal Site. This is a new waste disposal site and has replaced the old Al Amerat site. It is located along the highway from Wadi Aday to Qurayyat. From the last roundabout in Wadi Aday (23º27.553'N 58º29.935E), continue for 10 km towards Qurayyat and take the second major exit located at 23º23.171'N 58º29.423E. Turn right at the exit roundabout and continue on the paved road for about 5 km till a flat overlook is reached. From here the waste disposal site can be seen. This is also a reliable site for Hume's and Red-tailed Wheatears.
(3.1) Qurayyat. The new dual carriageway from Muscat is finished. The exit for Qurayyat is 71 km from the last roundabout in Wadi Aday where the new road starts. This exit is at 23º12.415'N 58º55.004E and will take you to the Waste Disposal Site (near 'S' on the map in the guide). The waste disposal site is now closed but surplus water from the treatment plant has created some small pools that attract a good selection of waders. The new road continues to Sur and is a fast way to the northeast coast of Oman.
(7) Dawkah Farm This farm was excellent for birds in recent years but now seems to be closing. The farm is just over 200 km north of Salalah along the Salalah - Muscat highway. Going north from Salalah ignore the signpost to Dawkah but turn left onto a paved road 1.8 km north of that sign. The turning point is at 18º40'30"N 54º04'48"E. After about 6.5 km turn right onto another paved road that goes straight to the farm after about 5 km. If the gate is open, just drive in, but during a visit in January 2019 it was not possible to get in and the fields all looked dry with a Bedouin camp instead. It now seem Al Beed Farm (Al Balid Farm, site 7.5) and Shisr (site 7.6) are is better choices.
(7.4) Qatbit The gardens look dry and depressing, but good birds can still turn up, especially during spring and fall migration.
(7.6) Shisr There is a new, paved road to this excellent site. From Thumrayt head north and go straight through the roundabout where a right turn would have taken you to Marmul. Continue for another 34 km and turn left at 17º57.296' 54º00.951'. This new road ends at Shisr after 51 km. There are several farms along the way and many farms just before arriving at Shisr. It is possible to drive around these farms and one can walk everywhere, it seems.
(8.1) Barr Al Hikman. The coast road from Ras Al Had to Barr Al Hikman via Al Ashkharah is now paved all the way. The hotel at Shannah was open, but is closed again. A few primitive rooms may be available at the restaurant by the old ferry terminal. Otherwise there are motels in Al Hijj and at the turnoff from the main Sinaw - Ad Duqm highway. This highway is being expanded into a four-lane highway from Sinaw to this turnoff.
(9) The Southeast Coast. A new road along the coast from Shuwaymiyah to Hasik is open. The road from Marmul to Thumrayt is paved all the way and a paved road has been constructed between Shelim and Marmul. The road from Shelim to Sawqrah is also paved. It is now possible to drive all the way along the coast from Ras Al Hadd to Salalah on paved roads.
(9.1) Ad Duqm. Massive construction is underway for a deep sea harbour at Ras Ad Duqm. As of January 2019 is was not possible to visit any birdwatching sites at Ad Duqm.
(10) New site: Al Baleed Archaeological Park, Salalah.. Located in town just west of the Crowne Plaza Hotel. Entrance is RO 2 per car. There is an observation tower at the eastern end of the park overlooking the main lagoon but light is poor during midday. The tower can also be reached at any time from the new Al Baleed Restaurant parking lot. This restaurant has an upper deck from which the birds can also be viewed. Behind the frankincense museum near the entrance to the park there is a small area of trees and bushes with identification labels. Spotted Thick-knee can usually be found hiding under these bushes. This bird may also be seen in the garden of the Crowne Plaza Hotel especially near the minigolf area.
(10) New site: Wadi Nahiz.. Located in the Dhofar Mountains along the road Salalah -Thumrayt highway about 20 km north of Salalah. The turnoff is well signposted at 17º11.617'N 54º06.860'E.Drive down into the wadi and explore the many side wadis as well. Lush vegetation ensures an interesting mix of birds including several raptors.
(10.1) Farmlands.Sahnawt Farm does not allow visitors, but part of the farm can be viewed from outside the fence. In the morning try along the east side, in the afternoon along the west side, or all day from the main highway. Jarziz Farm is now closed and turned into a construction site, even the extension near the airport fence.
(10.2) East Khawr (also called Khawr Dahariz). An excellent site. The birds vary greatly throughout the day. In early morning it can look a bit empty, but then from 10 am to 2 pm it can be teeming with birds. Best viewed from the track that runs along the beach and from the east side of the khawr (= lagoon). The small park next to East Khawr is now gone. An alternative park in Salalah is located near the Lulu Hypermarket and with entrance at 17º00.770'N 54º04.371'E.
(10.3) Ayn Razat. No change, a good site for the local land birds.
(10.4) Ayn Hamran. A top site for land birds. Best in early morning. Weekend afternoons can be busy with local picnicers.
New sites: Ayn Tobroq and Ayn Athum. Two site just east of Ayn Hamran and having similar birds though a couple of important differences. Go east out of Salalah and continue for 5.4 km past the Ayn Hamran roundabout til you get to the next roundabout at 17º3.064’N 54º18.526’E. Turn left here and drive 4.7 km and turn right at 17º5.409’N 54º19.371’E. There is an Arabic road sign at the turnoff for the two ayn’s. After 1.3 km the road splits at 17º5.435’N 54º19.974’E. Here the road sign in English shows a left turn to Ayn Tobroq and continuing straight towards Ayn Athum. At this junction is small water station. A small pool of water is always present and attracts Arabian Golden-winged Grosbeaks in the morning and Lichtenstein’s Sandgrouse just before it get pitch dark in the evening. This may be the best place in the Salalah area for this sandgrouse.
Continuing uphill the road ends after 1.8 km in a parking lot at Ayn Tobroq (17º6.018’N 54º19.594’E). Here and the last 200m offer lush vegetation due to the permanent spring. It is an excellent place for all the Dhofar land birds including Arabian Golden-winged Grosbeak. Taiga Flycatchers have been seen on a couple of occasions.
From the previous junction continue straight for 5.4 km until the road end after a steep uphill drive in a parking lot at Ayn Athum (17º7.082’N 54º21.978’E). A water trough here has a leaking pipe that attracts birds when the weather is hot including Arabian Golden-winged Grosbeak.
(10.5) Khawr Sawli. Usually not many birds here these days.
(10.6) Khawr Taqah. The fence around the park on the inland side of the lagoon is completely broken in many places and it is easy to get in., but the site has deterioated. We hope the situation will improve as Khawr Taqah used to be a top site in the past.
(10.7) Khawr Rawri. A must, one of the best sites for water birds in Dhofar. Three areas should be explored: the main area at the archaeological park (entrance: RO 2 per car, opens at 8 am), the west site with access any time from Taqah (best in the afternoon with sun from behind) and the north side with access any time from the Salalah – Mirbat highway. The latter is reached by taking the rough track immediately before a bridge across the wadi when coming from Salalah. After about 100-200 m take another track to the right that leads down to the edge of the lagoon. Walk around this area including the tracks along the cliffs. In the main park, drive all tracks and look carefully from near the retired dhow (boat). There are always good birds to be seen from here. Also try seawatching from the eastern headland at the seaside of the park. Latest news: the sandbar is still broken after cyclone Mekunu and all vegetation at the inland end of the lagoon was washed away. It will come back, though, given enough time.
(10.8) Wadi Darbat. Excellent site for land birds including a good variety of raptors. A water fall was still flowing in January 2019 after cyclone Mekunu that caused severe damage to Wadi Darbat.
(10.9) Tawi Atayr. Another must-visit site. From the parking lot take the obvious footpath to the overlook platform. Bonelli’s Eagles can usually be seen from here. If not seen immediately just wait a while. Yemen Serins may sometimes be seen from the parking lot as they feed between the tree and the small building. Also sometimes seen behind the building drinking from leaking pipes. They also feed in the area to the north of the sinkhole and can be seen (and heard) in the trees between the sinkhole and the farm buildings above. From Tawi Atayr continue on the mountain road for 15 km to Jabal Samhan that ends in a small parking lot. Before getting to the end of the paved road, park at the obvious telecommunication tower. While enjoying the spectacular scenery look for Verreaux’s Eagle patrolling the area. Sometimes in can be foggy here. If so, try another day. The whole Tawi Atayr area is excellent for raptors.
(10.10) Wadi Hanna. The turnoff is easily overlooked. It is 3.4 km from the main coastal road from Salalah to Mirbat. Look for the first Baobab trees and the turnoff is very close. The exact location of the turnoff is 17º3.144’N 54º36.616’E.
(10.11) Mirbat. Good seawatching site except in mid-winter when few seabirds are around. Try also the road to the Marriott Hotel. A few hundred meters before the hotel entrance take the paved road on the left to a small village (G on the map on page 145). Drive through the village and continue along the unpaved track through a wadi and turn right to get good views of the lagoon (called Khawr Stimah). Another lagoon (Khawr Baqlah) is about 4 km further. Again, take the track on the eastern side of the wadi for better views. Not many birds here, though. It is no longer possible to reach Ras Janjari. The two lagoons at mouth of Wadi Stimah and at Wadi Baqlat look excellent and may have benefitted from cyclone Mekunu. Excellent birds were found there in January 2019.
(10.12) Salalah Nature Reserve. Despite its name there is not much to be seen here and a permit is needed to enter. Probably the time is better spent elsewhere. A wadi across the street from the nature reserve can be good for birds.
(10.13) Ayn Sahnawt. Birds here similar to those at Ayn Razat and Ayn Hamran.
(10.14) West Khawr (also called Khawr Awqad). From the road heading towards the coast on the west side of Salalah Nature Reserve (G on page 147) turn into the road in front of some very large villas (some more impressive than others) for about 2.8 km. Right before the last villa take the sandy track to the seaside of the villa and continue right to the lagoon. The views from here are better that from the inland side of the lagoon.
(10.15) Al Mughsayl. The main highway across the wadi was complete washed away by cyclone Mekunu, but a small, paved road has been constructed to take the traffic around the mouth of the lagoon. A road opposite the Maha petrol station leads to a good seawatching site. Park at the restaurant and walk up to a naturally shaded overlook. Light is best in the afternoon. At the same Maha petrol station a track leads into the wadi, first along the main lagoon then beside a small pool on the left and a bit further on a small pool on the right. These small pools can be very good and were expanded by cyclone Mekunu. Most of the vegetation at Khawr Mughsayl and the pools were washed away but will slowly recover. Further on is the Desert Owl (formerly Hume’s Owl) site, but the owl is not guaranteed any more. Probably too many visitors with tape recordings.
(10.16) Jabal Qamar. The road further west towards Yemen can be explored as can the many side tracks leading down to the coast. The scenery is spectacular and with birds similar to other nearby sites already mentioned.
(10.17) New site: Raysut Dump and Sewage Plant. These two sites have been excellent in recent years and are top sites for raptors and storks in unbelievable numbers.
From Salalah head west past the Hilton Hotel (a new roundabout here) and turn right at the next roundabout at the Shell petrol station (16º57.877’N 54º59.649’E). Continue on the road for 3 km and and turn left at the roundabout. After 1.1 km the road reaches an intersection. Continue straight here for the dump as the road skirts the southern fence of the dump. As access to the dump is now restricted, this is the best place to watch the many eagles. The number of Steppe Eagles (an Endangered species) may reach 1600 or more with birds of all age groups being plentoful. This has to be one of the top sites for eagles anywhere. Unfortunately, there are plans to move the whole dump into the desert near Thumrayt, but for now the eagle spectacle can be witnessed.
Go back to the small intersection and turn left for the sewage treatment plant, a top birdwatching site. Enter the site after 2.7 km and park if you are told to do so and walk around the site, otherwise just drive in and around to the back of the site. Make sure you check all the ponds on the far side of the plant. Eagles (Greater Spotted, Eastern Imperial and Steppe) and Black Kite can usually be found and hundreds of White Storks and in recent years even more Abdim’s Storks come to rest here at midday. Also many waders, wagtails and swallows at the ponds. For several years Spur-winged Plovers have been resident here.
More eagles can be found in the area between the dump and the sewage plant. Hundreds of Steppe Eagles winter here (the max count is 825) plus a dozen or more of Eastern Imperial and Greater Spotted Eagles are found here. In fact, it is quite possible to get excellent views of seven species of eagles (Short-toed Snake, Greater Spotted, Steppe, Eastern Imperial, Verreaux’s, Bonelli’s and Booted Eagle) in one morning by starting at the Raysut sewage treatment plant and driving to Tawi Atayr and Jabal Samhan later in the morning. Lesser Spotted and Golden Eagles are rare in Oman.
(10.18) New site: Raysut Lagoons. This is a series of lagoons formed from surplus water from a new water treatment plant (not the one mentioned above). From the Shell petrol station roundabout mentioned above continue towards Raysut harbour and Al Mughsayl. After 700m the main highway crosses a wetland. On the right is Raysut Lagoons. Turn off the highway just beyond the lagoon and park here. You can now walk for a km or two along the western side of the lagoon.
The beach side of the lagoon is perhaps even better for birds. To reach this site go back to the roundabout at the Shell petrol station and turn right towards the sea. After 200 m at the T-junction turn right and continue along the rough track that ends at the sea. A WD drive is needed here, but you could walk in. Large numbers of herons, storks, waders, gulls and terns are usually present as are Western Ospreys and Black/Black-eared Kites. An immature Brown-headed Gull (2nd record for Oman) has been present here during the winter 2018-19.(10.19) New site: Mudday (Muday, Mudhay, Muddai). The village of Mudday in the desert interior two hours drive from Salalah is well worth a visit as it is THE site in Oman for a number of much sought after species such as Sand Partridge, Grey Hypocolius, Nile Valley Sunbird and African Collared Dove.