United Arab Emirates__________________________________
This was the fourth birding tour to the United Arab Emirates by Birdwatching Breaks and probably the most challenging one we have operated. With the prospect of sunny skies and warm winter weather this tour appeals to clients wanting a dose of mid-winter sunshine. Sadly for those participating in this trip we had some of the most significant rainfall seen in the UAE for over 10 years. So much rain fell, that a two-day public holiday was declared! Given this and some other complications in the form of a visit to Dubai by George Bush, we can be reasonably satisfied with a species total of 173 species. Amongst the highlights were Sociable Lapwing, Crab Plover, a long staying vagrant Lesser Yellowlegs (1st for Arabia), Spotted Crake, Alpine Swift (rare in UAE), Masked Shrike, Hume's and Eastern Pied Wheatears and several regional specialities - Socotra Cormorant, Desert Eagle Owl, Sand Partridge, Sooty Gull White-cheeked Tern and Collared Kingfisher.
I would like to thank Steve James for his assistance in and around Dubai, Abu Dhabi, and inland at Al Ain. In total we travelled over 1400 kilometres.
January 12th/13th : Heathrow - Dubai - Al Warsen - Pivot Fields - Ra's al Khor.
Weather: Overcast and cool with light rain becoming heavy in the late afternoon.
We met up at Heathrow for our British Airways flight to Dubai. We arrived on time, but with passport control being particularly slow and a slight hiccup with the vehicle hire we eventually arrived at our hotel around 1am.
The next morning we met up with Steve for a days birding around Dubai. Our journey through Dubai’s traffic was something of a nightmare and our birding started later than scheduled. Al Warsen, a flooded gravel pit ensured a good start to our birding. Open waters here hosted Little and Black-necked Grebe, Pochard, Ferruginous and Tufted Ducks and Great Cormorants. Around the reed-edge we found Indian Pond Heron, Purple and Grey Herons and hunting Marsh Harriers. A vagrant Crested Coot was present with the resident Common Coots. A showy Bluethroat delighted at close range. Large numbers of gulls were present with large white-headed types comprising barabensis, cachinnans and taymyrensis. Overhead a House Martin drifted over.
The Dubai Pivot Fields are only a short drive away, an expanse of turf, long and short grasses and seasonal pools. On arrival, we carefully scanned across the fields finding a splendid selection of birds. Grey Francolin and Glossy Ibis were prominent and soon we were also enjoying White-tailed Lapwing and a single Sociable Plover, the latter being a globally threatened species. A Northern Lapwing is rare here, but somehow the group couldn’t quite get as enthusiastic about it as Steve did. And as for the European Starlings.... Isabelline Wheatear, Song Thrush and Crested Lark were easily seen, whilst a good selection of pipits were also present. Richard’s, Water and Tawny were all prominent whilst further searching resulted in finding some smart Red-throated Pipits and a Blyth’s Pipit. A possible Buff-bellied Pipit eluded confirmed identification. Wagtails included White and Yellow, the latter including individuals of the forms feldegg, thunbergi and beema. Flashes of exotic colour were provided by Indian Roller and Hoopoe.
Some pools held a selection of shorebirds comprising Wood Sandpiper, Little and Temminck's Stints, Black-winged Stilts, Common Snipe, Ringed and Little Ringed Plovers. Areas of reeds harboured Siberian Stonechat, Isabelline Shrike (form isabellinus) and elusive and non-cooperative Clamorous Reed Warblers. Some fallow fields were good for larks with Eurasian and Oriental Skylark present. A stunning male Pallid Harrier quartered the area, whilst a Greater Spotted Eagle was, as always, a great bird to see.
We left the Pivot Fields and visited a small pool where we found a sizeable flock of White-tailed Lapwings. Moving on, we stopped at a hide at Ra's al Khor. Large numbers of Greater Flamingos, more Greater Spotted Eagles, Osprey, Slender-billed Gull, Caspian Tern, Common Gull were among a suite of species that lifted the day list up. We then planned a visit to a park where we hoped to find Striated Scops Owl, however, the heavens opened and any chance of success was clearly scuppered, so we reluctantly headed for the hotel, a tired group pleased with our first day in UAE.
January 14th : Ghantut - Abu Dhabi - Al Wathba Camel Track and Lakes.
Weather: Overcast, cool, occasional light rain.
Due to a visit to Dubai by George Bush a number of road closures forced us into an earlier than planned departure from our hotel in Dubai. We planned to meet Steve at a service station at Ghantut. Our journey was mercifully problem free, but Steve got caught up in a road block and his arrival was delayed. We began birding at Ghantut until he arrived picking up Red-vented Bulbul, Southern Grey Shrike and Purple Sunbird. Once Steve arrived we headed into a plantation. An hour or so in here produced many Purple Sunbirds, Song Thrush, White-cheeked Bulbul, some Desert Lesser Whitethroats (at least call suggested that is what they were, even if their plumage suggested otherwise!), and a Plain Leaf Warbler. The nearby Polo club green was home to a smart Cream-coloured Courser.
Next we headed into Abu Dhabi, where a stop in a strip of trees near a palace produced Chiffchaff, Red-breasted Flycatcher, Masked Shrike and for Vernon, Eastern Olivaceous Warbler (which we all heard calling). Nearby, checking a harbour we enjoyed good views of Great Black-headed Gull, Saunder’s Tern, Lesser Crested Tern and some distant Socotra Cormorants. A pod of Indo-Pacific Humpback Dolphins were close to the shore and were seen well.
A quick visit to a small park was disappointing as we heard but could not see the hoped for Forest Wagtail. Moving on to Al Wathba Camel Track we stopped by a grassy slope where a flock of White-fronted Geese was something of a surprise! A Common Stonechat of the form rubicola was also present. Driving slowly round the camel track we searched for Bimaculated Lark, which duly obliged and then a short walk through some low scrub produced an elusive Desert Warbler and a slightly more showy Desert Wheatear.
A short drive to the nearby Al Wathba Lakes provided a very birdy end to the day. The lake was full of birds with large numbers of ducks including Shelduck, Ruddy Shelduck, Shoveler, Pintail, Teal, Mallard and Wigeon. Shorebirds included Marsh Sandpiper, Avocet, Ruff, Redshank, Spotted Redshank, Green Sandpiper and plenty more. Clamorous Reed Warblers were eventually seen by most in the group, whilst plenty of Marsh Harriers were congregating ready to roost. A large falcon zipped by and was thought to be a Lanner, a rather scarce bird in UAE. As dusk began to fall we sifted through the flocks of hirundines present over the lake. We found at least 3 Pale Sand Martins amongst the more numerous Sand Martins and Barn Swallows. A shallow pool on the reed edge hosted a Spotted Crake that provided an excellent end to a splendid day’s birding.
January 15th: Jebel Hafit, Green Mubazzarah and Neima Pools.
Weather: Cloudy with intermittent rain, often heavy, all day.
The day started with a walk around the hotel grounds. Thick cloud and fog provided a challenge too far for birding and all we could muster was a single White-spectacled (Yellow-vented) Bulbul, and even that could barely be seen in the murk. Abandoning the high elevations we headed down the mountain to Green Mubazzarah. En-route, a wheatear on a fence post proved to be our first Red-tailed of the trip, and we enjoyed further individuals during the day. Once at Green Mubazzarah it was cool and drizzly but at least we could see! Here we quickly found a group of Arabian Babblers that performed well. Clamorous Reed Warbler, Chiffchaff and a smart Bluethroat were present in a reedy ditch. On the surrounding rocky crags we found Sand Partridge, which were very obliging and we obtained good scope views. Blue Rock Thrush and, more importantly, Hume’s Wheatear eventually afforded good views to all, even though the latter seemed destined to elude Ivan for quite a while. Grassy areas hosted Water Pipit and a smart Black Redstart of one of the orange-bellied races. The area was popular with many people and birds were a little difficult to come by and our quarry, the Hooded Wheatear, clearly didn’t like the rain. We contented ourselves with Desert Larks until the rain intensified and an early lunch was taken.
After lunch we headed to Neima Pools. A Lesser Yellowlegs had been present here for some time and we hoped to see this new bird for Arabia. On arrival Steve quickly located it and we enjoyed good views of this vagrant. Other birds included Ruddy Shelduck, Glossy Ibis, Garganey and a selection of commoner ducks and waders. Nearby we explored some Sabkha type habitat. Here we quickly located a Ménétrie’s Warbler and although it gave us the run around for quite a while we all secured a decent view eventually. Nearby a Desert Warbler was seen well.
Moving on to a wadi near Green Mubazzarah we found some obliging Striolated Buntings, more Red-tailed Wheatears, Desert Lesser Whitethroat and Plain Leaf Warbler. Returning to the Hooded Wheatear site we searched in vain for this speciality of the area, but did enjoy scope views of Barbary Falcon (thanks Vernon!).
After this we embarked on the long and very wet drive to Dibba on the east coast via some spectacular mountains roads, arriving around 2000 hours.
January 16th: Fujairah - Khor Kalba – Fujairah National Dairy Farm Gravel Plain.
Weather: Overcast, with heavy rain through the morning. Dry in the late afternoon, even with some sun!
Our planned morning visit to Fujairah National Dairy Farm at Dibba was abandoned due to heavy rain. So, we headed south down to Kalba. Just outside the Fujairah container port we encountered thousands of gulls, which included good numbers of Sooty Gulls. Heuglin’s Gulls of the form heuglini (as opposed to barabensis) were also present as was a Whiskered Tern. Nearby on the Fujairah Beach we enjoyed good views of Crested, Common and Sandwich Terns, Great Black-headed Gull and Curlew. Continuing on towards Khor Kalba we found roosting terns on a sand bar. Many were Lesser Crested, but there were a number of Common Terns and two White-cheeked Terns were also located and eventually seen by all in the group! Nearby from the bridge over the creek we quickly found a smart Collared Kingfisher and, despite the rain, we all enjoyed good views of this stunning kingfisher. At least two other individuals were also present. Common Kingfisher was also seen here and Indian Pond Herons skulked along the edge of the mangroves. Flocks of waders were moving about and I was amazed when two sandplovers dropped in and proved to be a Greater and a Lesser, allowing us to appreciate the differences between these two very similar species. Further flocks of both Lesser and Greater Sandplovers were seen later. A few Whimbrel, Redshank, Kentish and Ringed Plovers were also present.
With a small break in the rain we had a short walk along the edge of the mangroves. Hardly good weather in which to search for Syke’s Warbler. Unsurprisingly we were unsuccessful in this search, but did enjoy a smart breeding plumaged Striated Heron. With the rain still falling we headed back to the hotel for lunch and a seawatch. The seawatch produced Osprey, good numbers of Great Cormorants and Grey Herons (100+) but nothing to really get excited about. However, the rain had at last relented and Hoopoe, Indian Roller and Pale Crag Martins were all seen from the restaurant balcony.
We spent the mid-late afternoon on the edge of the Fujairah National Dairy Farm. A large flock of Bank and Common Mynahs was popular with the group, as were some Indian Silverbills. Isabelline Shrike of the form isabellinus showed at close range on the farm fence. Two Eurasian Sparrowhawks were noted and out on the gravel plain we found a smart male Desert Wheatear. After dark we spent two hours searching for Egyptian Nightjar. Before Christmas at least 12 had been present at this site. However, perhaps unsurprisingly, the nightjars seemed to have found the rain unpleasant and had moved out. As a result we found just a single bird, which did not linger very long and was missed by some in the group.
January 17th: Fujairah National Dairy Farm and Park - Masifa - Ras-al-Kaimah.
Weather: Warm and sunny!!
After breakfast we headed back to the Dairy Farm, a green expanse overlooked by stark mountains. We walked along the edge of the farm finding a showy Bluethroat, Black-winged Stilt, Striolated Bunting and Red-tailed Wheatear. Indian Rollers were perched on many of the irrigation sprinklers. Siberian Stonechats flitted about and a flock of White-fronted Geese got up and flew off into the sun. The nearby mountains looked good for raptors and right on cue, at 10am a Bonelli’s Eagle was found drifting along the distant ridge. A Short-toed Eagle soon followed drifting over our heads at close range. Some small bushes were favoured by a flock of House Sparrows and amongst them we found 2 Spanish. The cow pens had a couple of smart White Wagtails of the form personata (known at Masked Wagtail) and a Grey Wagtail. Overhead a flock of Pallid Swifts were hawking insects and amongst them an Alpine Swift was a UAE rarity.
Content with our morning here we continued on to Masafi, where we stopped for lunch in a cafe and then headed to the nearby wadi. The town’s rubbish dump is here and we located Hume’s, Red-tailed and our first Eastern Pied (Variable) Wheatear here. A walk up the wadi produced a stunning Black Redstart. Desert Lesser Whitethroat was by now a familiar bird and we were pleased to encounter more Sand Partridges. Returning to the vehicle we found a Long-billed Pipit. Finishing a bit early we drove to Ras Al Khaimah seeing our first Brown-necked Ravens on the way.
January 18th: Ras-al-Kaimah – Khor al Beidah - Umm-al-Qawain - Qarn Nazwa - Dubai.
Weather: Warm and sunny.
Today we headed back towards Dubai along the coast road visiting several birding sites along the way. The tide was rather high at Dreamland Beach so we continued on to Khor al Beidah, where we found a sizeable concentration of shorebirds. Most important for most in the group was the presence of Crab Plover here, and we enjoyed these unique birds at reasonably close range. Amongst the hordes of waders here, new for our list were several Terek Sandpipers, good numbers of Dunlin and quite a few Bar-tailed Godwits. A small group of Gull-billed Terns were also new. A Desert Warbler popped up in the close by vegetation and, as is often the case, it was associating with a Desert Wheatear (much like Stonechats associating with Dartford Warblers on a UK heathland).
Umm al Qawain was our next stop. Here we did a seawatch with Great Black-headed Gull, Socotra Cormorant, Caspian Tern and a distant Pomarine Skua being our main successes. After grabbing some provisions for lunch we headed inland to Qarn Nazwa. Here an exploration of the sparse trees produced another Desert Warbler and Desert Lesser Whitethroat. The rocky slopes were home to Hume’s and Red-tailed Wheatear whilst Pale Crag Martins hawked along the ridge. A few km along the road we stopped to look around a small farmed area. Here we found many Purple Sunbirds, an Isabelline Shrike that was perhaps most likely a karelini type and as we left a nice male Pallid Harrier. We ended the day at the rocks of Qarn Nazwa where at dusk we were treated to a fine performance from a Desert Eagle Owl, a great way to end a challenging but ultimately rewarding trip to the UAE.
For details of the full species list or to request further information about the next time we will be offering this trip. Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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