United Arab Emirates__________________________________



United Arab Emirates 2008

...with Mark Finn

December 19th - 28th

Our second departure to the UAE in 2008 was once again very successful despite the continuing pressures of development and traffic especially around Dubai. Highlights of the tour included Greater Spotted Eagle, Crab Plover, Striated Scops Owl, Hume’s and Hooded Wheatears, Collared Kingfisher, White-cheeked Tern and the regional-endemic Sooty Gull. In addition to these wonderful species we encountered thirty-five species of waders, a good range of wintering species and a few surprises notably Blue-cheeked Bee-eater, Sociable Lapwing, Olive-backed Pipits and Steppe Grey Shrike.

December 19th: Heathrow, Dubai, Ghantoot.

We met up at Heathrow Terminal 5 the new departure point for British Airways from London. Security and various other elements at the airport passed without any delays. The flight to Dubai arrived slightly ahead of schedule due to tail winds. On arrival in Dubai we passed through customs and passport control before heading west to Ghantoot our base for two nights.

December 20th: Ghantoot, Safa Park, Pivot Fields, Al Warsen Pits, Rhas-al-Khor, Mushrif Park

Weather: Sunny although rather murky in Dubai, west winds 26 C

Due to time changes the night was a short one. I had arranged for Steve James to join us for the day in and around several key Dubai birding sites. We started with a careful scan over the ‘closed’ Ghantoot Polo Fields which were full of Cream-coloured Coursers, Pacific Golden Plovers. Ruff and a single Sociable Lapwing. Other species of interest were Desert Wheatear, Southern Grey Shrike and fleeting views of at least three Grey Hypocolius. Time was pressing as we headed back towards Dubai and the attractive setting of Safa Park. At the entrance gate we were greeted by colourful Indian Rollers and a pair of Graceful Prinias. Our main interest was in the numerous stands of trees attracting wintering passerines. Common Chiffchaffs were particularly numerous along with a single Lesser Whitethroat. On the ground feeding Grey Wagtails and at least six Olive-backed Pipits, a scarce winter visitor to the Arabian Peninsula. The artificial lake held Little Grebe, Mallard, Egyptian Geese, and on the perimeter, Common Sandpiper, White and Citrine Wagtails. Near the cafe our first Isabelline Shrike was located sitting in the top of a banana plant. Next on the agenda were the Pivot Fields an area used for growing grass and the end product of turfs. This is probably one of Dubai’s premier sites for birds and we quickly located Red-wattled, White-tailed and Northern Lapwings, Common Moorhen, Black-headed Wagtail and two subspecies of Yellow Wagtails notably Sykes’s, and Grey-headed. A short walk around the fields added Marsh Harrier, Eurasian Kestrel, Temminck’s Stint, Little Ringed Plover and a group of Whiskered Terns. On the outer edge bushes attracted a first year Rosy Starling, Common Stonechat and Green Sandpiper. Under the water sprinkling system we located a Richard’s Pipit feeding with the abundant Water Pipits. Back to the van and another walk towards longer grasses where we located Blyth’s Pipit, calling Oriental Skylark, Bluethroat and two Corn Buntings. Al Warsen Pits is a shadow of its former self with the commoner ducks present plus Purple and Grey Herons and two immature Great Black-headed Gulls. Rhas-al-Khor was the penultimate destination an important refuge near the centre of Dubai. On arrival Greater Spotted Eagles were observed being mobbed by Brown-necked Ravens and House Crows. Marsh Harriers were common and an Osprey perched on top of a sign. Extensive muddy areas attracted Great, Little and Western Reef Egrets, Eurasian Spoonbills, Dunlin, Little Stint, Greenshank and Common Snipe. We were also entertained by a hunting Peregrine Falcon, Common Kingfisher and feeding Greater Flamingos. We ended the day at Mushrif Park without success for the resident owls. Back to base a tired but happy group a great first day in the Emirates.

December 21st: Ghantoot, Al Wathba Camel Track, Al Wathba Lake.

Weather: Sunny with light west winds 29 C

At first light we made the short trip up the road to visit an area of acacia trees next to the Polo Club. The common bird species were everywhere either flying over or perched on bush-tops in the early morning sun. Notable sightings included Arabian Babbler, Eastern Orphean Warbler and Desert Lesser Whitethroat. After breakfast we visited the Golden Tulip Hotel and its extensive gardens. Southern Grey Shrike, Indian Roller and Common Chiffchaff present in acacia trees. On the canal edge several waders including Greater Sandplover. In the far distance Socotra Cormorant and a party of Heuglin’s Gulls. Next on the agenda was the camel track near the town of Al Wathba. Although a shadow of its former self the area still attracts good numbers of birds. Along the entrance road a pale phase Booted Eagle. I parked up in an area of scrubby desert which looked promising for birds. Desert Wheatears and Tawny Pipits were very common either on the ground or perching on old stand pipes. The latter often attracted Asian Desert Warblers looking for insects. Marion then located a Menetries Warbler hiding in the middle of a small bush. On the track Isabelline Wheatears and White Wagtails. Overhead a steady flow of Barn Swallows, Pallid Swifts and Pale Rock Martins. At lunchtime we recorded a first winter Golden Eagle and hunting Marsh Harriers. Our final birding spot was at Al Wathba Lake an area under increasing pressure from building work and construction associated industries. The lake held Greater Flamingo, Greater Spotted Eagle and a wide range of shorebirds in Avocet, Black-winged Stilt, Curlew and Marsh Sandpipers, Spotted Redshank and Little Stint. At 1700 hours we left for Al Ain the garden city of the UAE for a night stop.

December 22nd: Jebel Hafeet, Green Mubazzarah, Dibba.

Weather: Hot with light winds 32 C.

At 0700 hours we embarked on a short walk around the hotel grounds. On the main entrance road we recorded the local races of Black Redstart and Desert Lark. On the cliffs the first Blue Rock Thrushes of the tour a rather localised bird in the UAE. Palms attracted Yellow-vented and White-eared Bulbuls and some rather pale looking House Sparrows. At the back of the hotel complex we found the rather scarce Hooded Wheatear, Striolated Bunting and first of several Sand Partridges. After checking out I travelled up towards the summit of Jebel Hafeet stopping for the first Hume’s Wheatears by the parking place. Down in the valley two Egyptian Vultures were noted another declining species of the Arabian Peninsula. The remainder of the morning and early afternoon was spent in Green Mubazzarah a rather lush, watered area of parkland. Birds of interest included Long-billed Pipits and a hunting Short-toed Eagle. It was getting very hot when we stopped for lunch under the shade of a cabin. From here we added Red-tailed Wheatear, Eastern Orphean Warbler and a feeding Plain Leaf Warbler. At 1430 we started our journey towards the town of Dibba on the East Coast. Our route took us through some beautiful and stark landscapes and also areas which appeared to be poor for the UAE. Checked in at our hotel for three nights on the coast south of Dibba.

December 23rd: Fujairah, Khor Kalba, Wadi Masafa.

Weather: Hot and sunny with light northwest winds 31 C.

The day started with a walk around the hotel gardens and adjacent beach. On an offshore rock a single Osprey and roosting Grey Heron and Western Reef Egrets. After breakfast we followed the coast road south to the port of Fujairah where we picked up lunch supplies. The first major birding stop was the sheltered harbour at Khor Kalba with its sandbars and shoreline. On the sandbar a wide range of gulls, including Heuglin’s, Steppe, Caspian, Great Black-headed, Black-headed and Sooty. Several terns were also present with Lesser Crested and Crested and Sandwich Tern at rest. Our next stop was the narrow channel at Khor Kalba which is dominated by stands of mangrove trees a rare habitat in the Middle East. Birds were abundant here with sightings of Great, Little and Western Reef Egrets (both colour phases), Indian Pond Heron, Grey Heron, Common Redshank, Greenshank, Greater and Lesser Sandplovers and at least two Terek Sandpipers. On the dry ground we encountered Isabelline and Desert Wheatears and Tawny Pipits. Lunch was taken by the khor itself with similar birds present in the channel plus a Black-necked Grebe. On the return to Kalba we flushed four Chestnut-bellied Sandgrouse and watched Isabelline and Steppe Grey Shrike the latter looking very pale against this arid habitat. Returned to the harbour area where we added Slender-billed Gull and White-cheeked Terns to the trip list. I decided to head inland to visit a wadi near Masafa. A short walk here produced Hume’s Wheatear, Plain Leaf Warbler, Black Redstart and Blue Rock Thrush. Returned to base after an excellent days birding on the East Coast.

December 24th: Dibba Dairy Farm, Dibba Park, Saqr.

Weather: Hot and sunny 31 C.

Pre-breakfast walk around the hotel gardens produced similar birds to yesterday with the addition of a Blue-cheeked Bee-eater perched on a wire. Our first birding stop was at Dibba Dairy Farm on the outskirts of Dibba, a rather lush area within an arid environment. In the cow-pens we located the rather beautiful personata race of White Wagtail. Adjacent areas attracted Eastern Pied and Isabelline Wheatears, Isabelline and Southern Grey Shrikes and flocks of Indian Silverbills. On the grassy areas Red-wattled Lapwings, Indian Roller, Common Snipe and at least two Richard’s Pipits. Overhead a flock of feral pigeons were spooked by Bonelli’s Eagle and a pale phase Booted Eagle. Other species present included Red-throated and Meadow Pipits, Common Chiffchaff, Song Thrush and Yellow-vented Bulbuls. Near the entrance gate a small pond lured Green and Wood Sandpipers. Lunch taken at Dibba Park which was very quiet for bird life. Afterwards we made the short journey to Saqr Park near the coastal city of Ras-al-Khamieh. Birding was tough here and we had to work hard to find our target bird. As dusk fell we walked towards a quiet area of the park and were eventually rewarded with fantastic views of Striated Scops Owl hunting for insects. We spent almost forty minutes watching this fascinating little bird. Tomorrow we head north and east and back towards Dubai for our final night in the UAE.

December 25th: Dibba, Umm al Quwain, Nazwar.

Weather: Hot and sunny with light west winds 31 C.

Checked out at Dibba and travelled towards the coast of the Persian Gulf. Like most of the coast here it is suffering from terrible development for the tourist industry. Many sights have gone under the bulldozer since 2007 although a few still remain. Our first stop near a canal produced several species including Bar-tailed Godwit, Ruddy Turnstone, Sanderling and a single Saunders Tern. We passed Dreamland Beach (now under concrete) and stopped near an overlook. The mangroves and sand bars here are still intact attracting a wide range of the commoner waders notably Greenshank, Grey Plover and Eurasian Curlew (later in the day several Terek Sandpipers were present). I then visited the protected reserve at Umm al Quwain where we eventually found wintering Crab Plovers one of the UAE’s key wintering birds. Very close views obtained before we headed down towards the point. Little of note offshore apart from straggly flocks of Socotra Cormorants. After our picnic we headed inland towards Nazwar to try and locate Desert Eagle Owls. We waited until dusk without success, the birds may have moved due to disturbance from road works. Soon it was time to head back towards Dubai for our final night. The end of an enjoyable birding tour of the Middle East.

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 enquiries@birdwatchingbreaks.com.

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