Ornithologists studying owls in the Jebel Akhdar mountain range have discovered a new species, and have named it the Omani owl (strix omanensis).  Studies of its sound recordings have confirmed that it is a new species, according to Magnus Robb, a British wildlife sound-recorder and author who has recorded six Omani owls so far.
The owl was noticed in March this year when Robb and fellow researchers of Sound Approach, an international project that aims to catalogue and understand bird sound, heard an unfamiliar hooting in the background while recording sounds of another species. They believe this is the first new bird species to be discovered in the region in 77 years.
According to a statement from Sound Approach, the Omani owl is greyish white with clear, orange eyes and a deep, low-pitched hoot which distinguishes it from the other species . The owl is similar to Hume's owl that was discovered in 1878 and is found in Saudi Arabia, Jordan and some parts of Salalah.
The statement quoted Robb as saying, “I was recording a species I know well, when I noticed some faint owl-like hooting in the background with a rhythm I had never heard before. My colleague René Pop and I tried in vain to find the mystery bird again the next night, but it was only on the last night of our trip that we heard it again.”
A month later, he was back in the mountains, this time accompanied by Arnoud B van den Berg, a colleague from The Sound Approach. During visits in May and July to look for new individuals and gather photographs, the team made a total of 137 sound recordings, and observed the owl's behaviour.
According to Robb who, along with his team is writing a book, 'Undiscovered Owls', “Tracking it down again wasn’t easy. This owl inhabits vertical terrain and its voice is difficult to hear. Worse still, in April the bird was virtually silent. Eventually, we heard one. What a relief to actually glimpse it perched on a rock, confirming that this was indeed an owl and looked like nothing we had seen before.”
Keith Betton, a representative of The Sound Approach, told Muscat Daily, that they ‘believe the Omani owl and Hume’s owl came from the same species thousands of years ago’.
“But over time, it got isolated and remained undiscovered. It is important as it is a rare discovery that they have found in a long period when many species are declining. We think it’s quite important and are very keen that the bird is protected. We hope the bird is protected in its natural surroundings.”