Common Rock Thrush, Sayq Plateau

THIS MORNING WE HEADED TO ONE OF MY FAVOURITE PLACES IN OMAN, deep in the Al Hajar Mountains, Wadi al Muaydin. Within its steep canyon walls we saw another couple of Plain Leaf Warblers, their presence betrayed by their sparrow-like calls but little else as a company of soldiers on exercise marched past. Continuing uphill, the car engine straining up one million switchbacks, to the Sayq Plateau we passed Hume’s Wheatears and Long-billed Pipits by the roadside and spent the rest of the afternoon around Sayq itself. Wadi Bani Habib delighted with its abandoned village and picturesque almond groves, dotted with cherry trees and pomegranates, as did the various viewpoints over the wonderful terraced fields of Al Ayn (‘the spring’), which cascade over the travertine deposits of the hillsides below. Formed in an earlier, wetter climate the light coloured calcareous travertine was deposited by mineral-laden spring waters flowing from the surface and evaporating. In fact Oman was once part of Gondwanaland and during the last Carboniferous and Permian periods (280-300 million years ago) it was close enough to the South Pole at 40 degrees south to undergo several glaciations! We took a little time to admire these impressive sights and at the same time keep an eye out for birds. Activity was quite low in the afternoon as is often the case on the plateau but we did manage a White-eared Bulbul, the first I have seen up here, as well as a Barbary Falcon whacking a pigeon above the town and a pair of Egyptian Vultures doing a rollercoaster display high over this natural amphitheatre. The evening was cold and windy so we decided against any owling here and retired for a drink at our hotel. No beer here sadly, only Italian wine this time.

Plain Leaf Warbler, Wadi Al Muaydin

The steep canyon walls of Wadi Al Muaydin

Early morning up on the Sayq Plateau, at over 2000m above sea level, was excellent with clear cool air and great visibility. Many of my old favourites were in their usual haunts. A pair of perky Streaked Scrub Warblers were at a site at which we have seen them on successive tours since 2006 and we also saw three of each Common Rock Thrush (all males) and Blue Rock Thrush, nine Red-tailed and 13 Hume’s Wheatears, a male Pied Wheatear, an out-of-place Desert Wheatear and plenty of phoenicuroides form Black Redstarts. Sticking with the thrush family I was happy to see two Oman lifers in the form of a flock of 18 Mistle Thrushes (feeding on juniper berries at Da’an Al Pesaiteen, the biggest flock ever in Oman by far, in fact double the total number of birds previously seen) and accompanying them, and even better, a fine male Ring Ouzel, the eighth record for Oman! Both are rare birds indeed in Arabia! Three of the Mistle Thrushes (or maybe even different birds?) were still around in the late morning drinking from the water tank at D.A.P., alongside a Green Sandpiper and a coutelli form Water Pipit. Also here were at least five Siberian Chiffchaffs, giving their ‘lost chick’ call and one was even singing the ‘speeded up Coal Tit’ song. A couple of brief Common Wood Pigeons evaded almost all of us and I have never seen hunters up here before but we saw plenty of guns this time unfortunately, which does not bode well for the pigeons and partridges here. We checked another settlement in the afternoon, which looked very promising but in the now cloudy weather we only managed another couple of Siberian Chiffchaffs. In contrast to the coast, all of the chiffchaffs up on the plateau appeared to be tristis.

Desert Lark of the grey local form taimuri - they evolve to look like the substrate on which they live

Siberian Chiffchaff, Al Manakhir, Sayq Plateau

Ancient Olive tree, Sayq Plateau (Iphone 5S hipstamatic)

Al Qasha viewed from Al Ayn, Sayq Plateau