The Day the Omani Owl Was ‘Born:’ Interview with Magnus Robb

The Omani Owl taken by Arnoud van den Berg & The Sound Approach.

Omani Owl, Strix omanensis, 26 May 2013, Al Hajar, North Oman (Arnoud B van den Berg/The Sound Approach)

On Friday, October 4, 2013, news broke that a probable new owl species had been discovered in Oman – specifically the Al Hajar Mountain region in the northeastern part of the country. Magnus Robb, the man who first heard the owl, originally detected its strange, three-parted hoot in a sound recording.

Omani Owl, Strix omanensis, 24 May 2013, Al Hajar, North Oman (Arnoud B van den Berg/The Sound Approach)

Omani Owl, Strix omanensis, 24 May 2013, Al Hajar, North Oman (Arnoud B van den Berg/The Sound Approach)

From a friend’s perch in Holland, Magnus sat down with us to share a first-hand account of how he discovered several individuals of this rare, quiet, and elusive bird. He also discusses his team’s follow-up attempts to obtain more evidence, including photographs and better recordings.

Many birdwatchers will soon want to twitch this owl. Magnus tells us what he thinks of that.

What’s next for the owl? First, the appropriate taxonomic authorities (IOU – the International Ornithological Union – and BirdLife International) will examine the evidence and if a consensus is reached, the owl will officially become a species. If it cannot, then more evidence will attempt to be gained to settle the question beyond scientific reproach.

Magnus is a birder and a sound recordist for The Sound Approach, a team dedicated to documenting bird songs, especially in the western Palearctic region. He was in Oman making recordings for an upcoming book called “Undiscovered Owls.” Funny, that.

Total time: 29 minutes.

For more information:

  • Team Diary
  • Details of the find were published Friday in the journal Dutch Birding.

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Laura Kammermeier

Laura Kammermeier is the creator and managing editor of Nature Travel Network. She is a writer, website producer, traveler, birder and a birding/nature travel consultant. Laura has traveled Uganda, Europe, Ecuador, Belize, Honduras, Israel, and throughout the United States Read More

Leave a Comment

  • John Stewart-Smith October 7, 2013, 09:08

    Congratulations on the Omani Owl.
    I served as a pilot in the Abu Dhabi/UAE Air Force 1969/78 and paid many visits to Oman and Fujayra etc during those years. I was founder/chairman of the Abu Dhabi Natural History Group which has flourished and expanded since I left in 1978. I was also Bird Recorder while there. It may be of interest that I recorded an “unrecognised” owl that occupied a large tree at the edge of Fujayrah landing strip (where I parked my “Islander” aircraft during visits.) Although I heard and saw this owl I never managed a picture. The Omani Owl may have a wider distribution than the Hajar mountains.
    I still have several contacts in the area, including a son who is serving in UAE Armed Forces.

    Reply
  • Magnus Robb October 7, 2013, 14:07

    John, when you say ‘recorded’ do you mean ‘sound-recorded?’ If so we should be able to identify the owl. I see that Fujayrah is in a mountainous area with wadis, that forms an extension to the Al Hajar chain. Google Earth shows it at roughly 25 24’N 56 15’E. You may well be right that Omani Owl ocurs there. It would be great if somebody living in the UAE could go and check it out. A small caveat however is that Omani Owl does not seem to be much of an arboreal owl. If your mystery owl actually lived in the tree then perhaps it was something else.

    Reply
    • John Stewart-Smith October 8, 2013, 04:23

      Magnus,
      Not sound recorded, recorded visually. The actual position was 25deg06min45secN56deg21min18secE which was a flat stone/sand plain between the sea and the mountains that we used as a landing place for military transport aircraft to resupply our troops in that area.
      I take your point that the Omani Owl is not arboreal but that may be because of lack of trees rather than lack of inclination! The tree where I saw the owl was the only tree in the area. By chance, I have a picture of “my” aircraft parked by the tree — but no owl pictures. I will raise the subject with a few of my contacts in the area. Meanwhile you might like to ask any local to describe a bird with the local name of “sufrait.” That was the name given for a bird I never saw but heard occasionally. It sounded slightly owl-like. I found local names for birds varied widely from place to place.

      Reply
      • Laura Kammermeier October 8, 2013, 08:54

        An interesting thread! It would be great if a connection can be made with “sufrait” and the Omani Owl.

        Reply
        • John Stewart-Smith September 18, 2016, 10:41

          I have just returned from the UAE where I collected a conservation award from the Emirates Natural History Group and was a guest of the UAE University and the UAE Government. Sadly, I forgot to mention “your” owl while there, but I have re-established personal contacts that may assist in gathering specific information from the UAE. Scops Owls were common in Al Ain while I was there on my recent visit.
          Please let me know if I can assist.
          Regards
          John Stewart-Smith

          Reply
          • Laura Kammermeier September 27, 2016, 17:02

            John,
            Thanks for connecting here about the Owl, I have sent your info to Magnus Robb and hope that he will respond.

            Thank you, Laura

          • Magnus Robb October 3, 2016, 10:37

            Dear John, I take it your aware that Omani Owl was recorded in Fujairah last year? Just one bird so far, I think, and it was not found again this spring. I can send you an article about it if you missed it. I’m sure there will be more. Thanks for your offer of contacts. If I manage to get to the Emirates to assist in the search, I will certainly ask you for those.
            All the best,
            Magnus