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New owl discovered in Oman

A new owl species has been discovered in the Middle East after its call was heard by wildlife recordists trying to capture sounds from a different owl.

Omani owl was heard first, spotted later

Omani Owl / Omaanse Uil Strix omanensis, Al Jabal Al Akhdar, Al Hajar mountains, Al Batinah, Oman, 26 May 2013 (Arnoud B van den Berg/The Sound Approach)

A team of bird call specialists has discovered what it says is a new species of owl in the Middle East after the bird's call was overheard while the team was trying to capture sounds from a different owl.

The bird, a medium-sized brown owl with large, orange eyes and dark grey "eyebrows" has been named the Omani owl to honour the people who live in that part of the southeast Arabian Peninsula where it was found.

The naming "might be good for its conservation because they might take some pride in it," said Magnus Robb, part of the team who discovered the owl and published a description of it in the journal Dutch Birding this past Friday.

Robb and his colleagues at the independent publishing company Sound Approach visited northern Oman to record the call of the extremely quiet pallid scops owl for a book about the owls of Europe, North Africa and the Middle East.

Robb told CBC’s As It Happens that, for five nights, every time he put his microphone in a tree, the pallid scops owl he was chasing moved to another tree.

Finally, on the fifth night, he got a recording he was pleased with, and went to collect it.

"I put on the headphones and heard this mystery owl in the distance. And I immediately thought, what on Earth was that?" he told As It Happens co-host Carol Off.

He hit the record button and listened as the owl switched to making slightly different sounds, suggesting that it was a type of owl called a strix owl. Robb said the nearest known strix owl was found 800 kilometres away, in southern Oman.

He described the new owl's call as sounding "a bit like a slow version of 'Here Comes the Bride.'"

Robb's colleague Arnoud van den Berg went back a month later and managed to capture a series of photos of the bird.

Robb said while the owl was previously unknown to science, at least one local herdsman was already familiar with it.

“He just didn’t know it was anything special.”

Sound Approach, started by Mark Constantine, founder of Lush Cosmetics, specializes in popularizing bird calls and songs, and publishes books with recordings that teach people to identify birds by ear.

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