Photos by Sreenivasan TP
A flash of brilliant blue streaks across the sky, catching my attention and drawing my eyes upwards as I sit on the rocks overlooking the sea. I watch rivetted as small birds take notoriously high-speed dives into the calm waters to catch fish, and I am hooked. Keen to know more about these fascinating creatures, I do a bit of research only to discover an interesting and little-known fact. Oman offers some of the best and most varied birding experiences in the region — and the best time for bird watching in Oman starts now, from September through to February.
Located at the meeting point of three continents: Europe, Africa and Asia, the Sultanate has a wealth of unspoilt geographical diversity, from a long coastline, rugged mountains, hidden fjords, marshy mangroves and lagoons to arid deserts and mudflats. This makes the country a magnet for a wide range of bird species. With its position at the eastern-most part of the Arabian Peninsula, Oman is perfectly situated along avian migratory routes making it a great place for bird watchers to observe a variety of African, European, Oriental and Palaearctic birds as they undertake their seasonal journey between nesting habitats and the warm weather that Oman has to offer. Many birds, especially water fowl, migrate from distant regions like Siberia, and fly over five thousand kilometres to the Sultanate. Offshore, Oman’s clean, fish-rich waters support an abundance of seabirds.
There are some amazing birding sites across almost every region of the Sultanate. One of them in fact, the Wetland Reserve situated at Al Wusta is ranked among the top 25 sites of international importance for winter migratory birds in the Middle East. The area has large salt landfills that offer a complex ecosystem with its own unique biodiversity. Similarly, Musandam with its rugged mountain ranges is home to the Chukar, a member of the Partridge family while Barr Al Hikman is famous for its flocks of Greater Flamingo.
The eastern and central regions of Oman are the best places to see Herons, Waders, Sandpipers and Plovers. Qurum Natural Park and coastal khawrs (lagoons) like those at Al Ansab, are great places to watch native Omani bird species such as the Grey Francolin, Red-wattled Plover, Laughing Dove, Arabian Babblers and Indian Silverbills. The series of khawrs along the Dhofar coast on each side of Salalah are also excellent sites for a range of water birds throughout the year, particularly Khawr Taqa and Khawr Rawri. Even the busy city of Muscat is not without its beauties. The greenery of the city attracts pretty colourful birds like the Little Green Bee Eaters, Yellow-vented Bulbuls, Purple Sunbirds, Indian Rollers and the Graceful Prinias.
Muscat is also one of the best places in the world to study the Steppe eagle. The Sultanate attracts 10 per cent of the world’s hawks, including the endangered Sooty Falcon which is known to frequent the Dimaniyat Islands. Other seasonal visitors to the islands include Ospreys, Reef Herons and White-cheeked Terns.
Birdwatching excursions can easily be arranged through registered tour-operators in Muscat. All you need are comfortable walking shoes, drinking water and good quality binoculars to watch the birds without disturbing them. If the lure of seeing these beautiful winged creatures in their natural habitat is not enough then listen to the experts. Recent studies suggest that birds have a positive effect on our mental health and well-being especially when we dwell in an urban setting. The study, led by Dr Daniel Cox from the University of Exeter, found people had lower levels of depression, anxiety and stress when the number of birds they saw in the afternoon increased, irrespective of the species. So, do yourself a favour, as the weather cools down, take the opportunity to explore the thrill of bird-watching — you’ll get as an added bonus, to enjoy the invigorating fresh air and Oman’s spectacular scenic beauty.
BY MARY OOMMEN