Wednesday, 25 November 2015

Oman: the central desert

This was to be our longest day of traveling. We drove over 700 km in the day plus the one hour ferry crossing from Masirah Island. We traveled inland from the east coast to the main Muscat-Salalah road, before heading south alongside the Saudi border into Dhofar, the southernmost region of Oman:

Cars in Oman have an alarm that sounds as you get to 120kph. A constant audio alarm, not dissimilar to a continental European police siren. This is surprisingly effective at preventing speeding. The trick was to set the cruise control as close to 120kph as possible without the alarm sounding and then sit back and relax. 
    Unfortunately there was not much else to do. For much of the journey there was simply no scenery. Just a straight road and flat desert. When Richard and I travel together we have a rule that we only drive for one hour at a time and then swap over. This prevents too much driving fatigue creeping in and meant we could cover about 100km per hour easily, hour after hour. I got lucky. I was at the wheel for the left turn onto the main road south: in 7 hours of driving I was the one who got to turn the wheel, woo-hoo! Below, typical desert scenery, flat and straight:

Google Earth gives a good indication of the terrain: 

After travelling all day we were grateful to arrive at Qatbit at around 4pm. We woke the rather grumpy owner up and tried to book a room, only to be told they were full.  Not the news we wanted, especially as we were literally in the middle of nowhere. We assumed a bird tour group were staying that night, there seemed little other reason to stay here. Having been sitting in the car for so long, we took the opportunity to see what birds we could find in the trees around the hotel. We discovered a few migrants, including this Hoopoe:

A Spotted Flycatcher was joined by our only Red-breasted Flycatcher of the trip. There were a few warblers, but all proved to be Chiffchaffs. A couple of Isabelline Shrikes were present, including this very grey looking Turkestan shrike:

Then we had to make a decision on where to spend the night. We had few choices. The owner directed us to Salalah some 200km south, interesting, as we knew there was a hotel much closer at Al Ghaftan, 110km north. It is in the wrong direction and means that we have to retrace our steps for another hour back north, but we have no choice. As it turns out the Hotel at Al Ghaftan and it's owner are much nicer than our experience of Qatbit. Even better, 5 minutes into the drive back north I glimpse some shapes by the roadside as we flash by at 119.9kph. "Sandgrouse, right by the road!". I execute a swift U-turn and we carefully drive up to a small flock of a dozen Spotted Sandgrouse:

Richard gets some excellent pictures of this desert species:

We check into the Al Ghaftan hotel, eat and then sleep in another hotel that we do not see in daylight. The next morning we are up early and drive back south, past Qatbit to be at Muntasar Oasis, some 17km off the main, road shortly after dawn:
Above, a Pajero in the desert. The one on the left obviously. 
Below, on the horizon Muntasar Oasis appears:

As we approach the oasis we pass a camel herder and his camels. These are Arabian Camels and are very dark, some almost black:

Camel tracks:

 The Camel herder insisted that we photograph him:

The Oasis:

Water always attracts birds, especially in such hot, dry conditions. Wood and Common Sandpipers fed on the edge of the pools, we flushed a few Common Snipe (but no Pin-tailed) from the marshy areas. A Great Grey Shrike was present, with the common Turkestan Shrikes:

There were Desert and Pied Wheatears, a Spotted Flycatcher and two Spotted Sandgrouse flew overhead. Male Desert Wheatear:

Pied Wheatear, top right and Desert Warbler, bottom right:

Pied Wheatear:

Asian Desert Warbler:

We had hoped for rather more than the two Spotted Sandgrouse that came down to drink, but it is always good to see sandgrouse. Male Spotted Sandgrouse:

Below, the female bird on the left, with spotted neck and breast, the male on the right:

Muntasar was pleasant but not exactly brimming with birds, but I had high hopes of our next stop, a farm in the desert 80km south. We eventually found Dawkah Farm, the access track is now off the main turning to Dawkah and were able to drive right in. The farm consists of five huge green circles of irrigated grassland that stand in desert sand. From the perspective of a migrating bird in the air they look like this:

From the ground, like this:

In such a barren habitat these damp green areas are simply full of birds. The short grass circle was the best: Tawny and Red-throated Pipits strolled past Desert and Isabelline Wheatears. Hoopoe Larks fed in front of Cream-coloured Coursers, while overhead Blue-cheeked Bee-eaters and Marsh Harriers swooped about. Below, Blue-cheeked Bee-eater:

Best of all, for us, were the many Black-crowned Finch Larks. The males were super smart:

Hoopoe Larks: 

Away from the short grass we found more Desert Warblers, Desert Wheatears, Turkestan Shrikes and our only Rose-coloured Starlings of the trip: 

In the heat of the day we left Dawkah Farm and headed to the southern coast of Oman, to Salalah the capital of Dhofar. What would await us there?

No comments:

Post a Comment