uaetripi

UNITED ARAB EMIRATES

15 to 22 February 2006

I would strongly recommend the UAE for a gentle week's winter birding if, like me, you desperately need some winter sun. It has many virtues:

It is very safe and feels relaxed, no police checkpoints etc. as in Israel or Egypt

  •   Locals are nearly always polite and pleasant (c.f. Israel)
  •   There is an excellent infrastructure: Western-type food is readily available, hotels and roads are usually excellent   (and often empty), and I always felt that there would be a competent hospital if disaster struck
  •   Distances are short; you can repeatedly visit if you dip out (which I did repeatedly)
  •   Lots of local knowledge. Simon Aspinall and Tommy Pedersen were very helpful with my enquiries and I am very   grateful to them. There are several expat birders willing to take birders out in their 4x4 WD machines; not cheaply,   it comes (Feb 06) at 900 dirhams (D) a day (about £140), but you will be birding dawn to dusk and you can really   get to grips with some difficult birds such as Pintailed Snipe
  •    Good birding but not too many species to swamp beginners. Lots of difficult groups such as wheatears, pipits and   wagtails, lesser whitethroats, and big gulls. Some very high-quality species as rare visitors at stake-outs, e.g. Taiga   Flycatcher and Egyptian Nightjar
  •   Good photographic opportunities; no shooting, birds not too wary
  •    The weather! Not too hot but pleasantly warm at all times in the winter; easy to sleep in the car.

 

On the down side, it certainly isn't cheap, but it is value for money. Also, if like me, you enjoy pioneer birding - go elsewhere!

For these reasons, I think that the UAE is now first choice for first-time birders to the Middle East.

General:
About 6.50 Dirham (D) to the pound.
My flight: £320 British Airways from Heathrow. Booking earlier is cheaper.
Car hire: £98 for good wheels (Peugeot 206) from Hertz booked in England; fly-drive no problem. Good value.
Food: easily available in garage supermarkets (though less so on the east coast).

Hotels

  •   Grand Hotel Mercure on Jebel Hafit (tel.37838888) for a luxury was money very well spent: 450D (usually 550D   for a double / night) in a luxury room with fabulous views, swimming pool, gym and first-class food. The gardens   are a birding magnet and must be superb during migration. Strongly recommended if you can afford it.
  •   Ain al-Faydah Hotel, in the suburb of Al Ain below Jebel Hafit. Must have been a lovely hotel but getting tatty. At   110D, good value; recommended.
  •   At Ras al-Khaimah, the Ras al-Khaimah Hotel (tel. 72362999) looked imposing and expensive, but was very   pleasant and cost only 275D. I couldn't find the bin-Majid Beach Hotel - has it been redeveloped?
  •   Fujairah Beach Motel, 210D (tel. 92228111), on the west coast, fine, with helpful staff.
  •   I didn't stay in the Kalba Breeze Motel (175D) 3 miles to the south.

I didn't stay near Abu Dhabi or Dubai, either sleeping in the car or travelling to Al Ain (1-2 hours) for dawn birding. I am certain that they will be more expensive, but there is an airport Hotel and a YHA in Dubai; cost unknown.

Birding Information:
Books: Colin Richardson's / Simon Aspinall's guide 'The Shell Birdwatching Guide to the UAE' (Hobby Publications 1998) is indispensable but rapidly becoming out-of-date - the pace of change in the UAE is astonishingly fast. Many sites have disappeared, e.g. al-Ain Camel Track, but others such as the Pivot Fields are really good instead.
'The Birds of the UAE' (Richardson 1990) is a very useful guide to what you might see - but dating fast. Weekly gen. is readily available via Twitcher's Guide (hellyer@emirates.net.ae)
Tommy Pedersen is putting together a website www.tommypedersen.com that promises to have superb site gen with fine photos (aerial and otherwise) to guide you.
Other contact points: tommy777@eim.ae and peter@extinfo.gov.ae

 

PLEASE send your information in to Tommy or Peter Hellyer as your records are very valuable!

Itinerary - very skewed as it was dominated by repeated (and usually unsuccessful) attempts to see four species: Eversmann's Redstart, Egyptian Nightjar, Sykes' Warbler and (number one target ) Hypocolius:

15.2.06
Late flight (arrived 0300 - ugh). Left only 3 hours dark, so I slept in car at Ghantut.

  1. Two attempts to connect with Hypocolius, I didn't realise that late afternoon (roosting time) is best, so a bit of a waste of time. Ghantut is not the most exciting of birding sites and there seem to be very few Hypocolius still around, but it may now be the only 'reliable' site in the UAE.
  2. Abu Dhabi city (1 hour's drive) - connected with Taiga Flycatcher, a lovely bird, many thanks to Simon. Didn't know about a Crested Honey Buzzard in Mushrif Park but that was a difficult bird.
  3. Al Wathba Camel Track in late afternoon - no longer watered, so it is not what it was, but still plenty of larks and pipits. I didn't realise that the Egyptian Nightjars like the central tracks (see below), not the asphalt road next to the camel tracks, so I didn't look in the right place…

Drove to Al Ain (1-2 hours) and spent hours trying the find the Ain al-Faydah Hotel; eventually slept in the car.

16.2.06

  1. Some dawn birding round Green Mubazzarat chalets at the base of Jebel Hafit; first Red-tailed Wheatear.
  2. Drove up the hill with close views of nice birds (Hume's Wheatears, Sand Partridges) etc. - excellent.
  3. Good birding in Mercure gardens - superb views of Hooded and Hume's Wheatear together and eastern-race Ring Ouzel, but no Eversmann's Redstart, a bird I really wanted to see (one wintering individual present for 5 weeks).
  4. Briefly to Al-Ain Equestrian Club, the golf course was empty of people but lots of birds; strongly recommended for 2-3 hours at migration.

Slept in Hotel Mercure - pure bliss.
A warning about Al Ain - it is enormous, probably at least 30km across, and a map is very helpful. You could get lost there for life.

17.2.06

  1. Unwisely spent more time looking for the Eversmann's in the hotel gardens.
  2. Headed north to the East Coast; some brief birding in the midday heat at the base of Jebel Rawda (in Oman) was well worth it: Desert Warbler, Plain Leaf Warbler and 'picata' Eastern Pied Wheatear.
  3. The mangroves at Khor Kalba were a key site but a massive disappointment: it was Friday afternoon (beware! Everyone's day off) and dozens of boy racers were smashing up the sand dunes, unaffected by a 2-hour sandstorm that made birding miserable. I had reasonable views of 2 pairs of White-collared Kingfishers sitting on dried mud along the seaward side of the creeks (near (5) on map 16 in the Shell guide) with plenty of Sand Plovers; and distant Persian Shearwaters and Socotra Cormorants offshore through the swirling sand - but no Pond Herons or Sykes' Warblers, even at dusk.

Night in Fujairah Motel, easily located by driving along the coast road.

18.2.06

  1. Met Tommy Pedersen at dawn at entrance to Fujairah Dairy Farm, Dibba, for the best day's birding. Superb site deserving two full mornings; good views in flight of 4 Pintailed Snipe and poor view (+ call) of Oriental Skylark were the highlights, with a variety of pipits and wagtails, but I managed to miss the Waterhen that Tommy saw briefly.
  2. Stopped for an hour at Qurrayah Pools just north of Fujairah; great vagrancy potential. Good for gulls.
  3. Fujairah port beach: quiet but some good views of Socotra Cormorant and several species of tern.
  4. Al-Ghurfa Breakwater -quiet.
  5. Khor Kalba where we spent a lot of time trying to find a Sykes' without luck. Tommy went home and I spent hours more in the mangroves close to the old bridge, then waded up a creek at low tide on the landward side ((3) on map 16 in the Shell guide), crossed the creek and walked over the finger of land between the two main creeks. I flushed a Pond Heron at last and had superb views of a (very surprised) Collared Kingfisher but again dipped on Sykes' Warbler. They certainly do not abound in the mangroves, perhaps some of them leave for the winter? I know a Swiss tour dipped on Sykes' the week before I was there, so this is certainly not an automatic stake-out for them! I stayed till dark (which was low tide) expecting to see lots of feeding Pond Herons, but was unsuccessful for a second evening. Again, this species is not as straightforward as visitors might hope.

Drove (1-2 hours) to Ras al-Khaimah, a pleasant and easy journey.

19.2.06

  1. Visited al-Jazeerah Khor and had a horrible shock - it's gone! It's been filled in and is a monstrous building site. Still had good, close views of Saunders' Terns feeding.
  2. Khor al-Beidah at lowish tide - square miles of mud with lots of birds, hard work! Great views of Crab Plover and 10+ species of wader but no Great Knot.
  3. Visited Dreamland Beach briefly as a good site for the Finch-lark - lots more waders but no larks.
  4. Back briefly to Khor al-Beidah - the warders were all roosting! I enjoyed excellent views of the roost only 200m away with several Great Knot. It was very revealing that these birds were roosting so close to a well-used track - there is clearly minimal persecution in the UAE. I strongly recommend that any wader buff tries to visit this high-tide roost, sadly I didn't have the time really to count it properly.
  5. Drove for 2 hours through the back of the cities (Sharjah, Dubai) to Ghantut for a wasted attempt at Hypocolius again. The one really bad drive I had, the signposting is minimal. The best strategy for Hypocolius may be to sit on top of the 'Hill' by the empty hotel and see them fly in to roost; the Swiss group saw one (just the one) on a telegraph wire for 5 minutes. Then they are said to sit calling (sounds like Wigeon) in the tops of trees in the plantation.
  6. 1 hour journey to al-Wathba where I had brief views of 2 Egyptian Nightjars flushed from the central tracks. Be very careful, the tracks are often sandy and treacherous, and it would be very easy to get stuck an hour's walk from the Grandstand after dark….

About 90 minutes drive to Ain al-Faydah hotel along empty roads.

20.2.06

  1. Early morning at Green Mubazzarat hoping for Plain Leaf Warbler - instead, several very conspicuous Clamorous Reed Warblers not present earlier in the week and a mobile adult male Long-tailed Shrike not seen since early January.
  2. Back at Tommy's urging to Mercure gardens - and again, no Eversmann's; one Song Thrush as consolation.
  3. Lahbab fields on the Hatta road and finally a Finch-lark - but only in flight - and my first Woodchat of the year.
  4. Finally to the Pivot-fields, which are heaven for pipits, wagtails and some larks and waders. This site needs several visits really to get to grips with the pipits, many of which were in heavy moult and often wet - and so even less identifiable than usual! I think I had Blyth's, Richards's and Buff-bellied but I am not claiming any. It would be a good site to tackle with a local expert if you really want to crack these pipits, Oriental Skylark and Pintail Snipe.
  5. Another unsuccessful check at roost time for Hypocolius at Ghantut on the way to…
  6. Al-Wathba for another unsuccessful attempt to get better views of Egyptian Nightjar…

21.2.06
With a 1015 flight and a bath at the end of it, I decided to sleep out - but that idea didn't work as we had torrential rain the next morning!

  1. The pipits at the Pivots just didn't appear at dawn and the Sociable Plover was again not showing.
  2. Quick spins to visit Nouakchott Road Marsh (the other side of the road) and ..
  3. to pay homage to Ras al-Khor, and I was just able to check in in time.

In summary, I had about 148 species without trying; 160+ would be easy in a week if you spent less time chasing a few difficult species. The first spring migrants were appearing (Northern Wheatear, Garganey, Woodchat, hirundines), and I suspect that some wintering birds had gone (??Eversmann's). I would like to have visited several sites such as Hamraniyah fields, Hanging Gardens and Masafi (in the mountains), and to have gone to Dibba and the Pivot fields at least twice.

Most of all, the Sayh plateau in Musandam, Oman, has regular wintering Eversmann's Redstarts. Vehicles can't enter Oman (except Jebel Rawda, an aberration) without Omani insurance, which I didn't have; and it is probably a job for 4WD anyway. The Sayh would take most of a day but a very exciting one!

DAILY LIST

15 February

Bungalow Road by Ghantut   0700-0830
Indian Roller  1
Rose-ringed Parakeet  4
Menetries Warbler  1 m

Ghantut   0830-0930, 1200-1330
Great Black-headed Gull  1 ad
Blue-cheeked Bee-eaters   2 overhead
Olivaceous Warbler  1
Lesser Whitethroat group - 'althaea'  3
Southern Grey Shrike  2
Comments: probably a waste of time looking for Hypocolius - not aware they were probably only roosting

Ministry of Justice Woods, Abu Dhabi   1430-1630
Hoopoe  1
Olivaceous Warbler  3
Chiffchaff  5
Taiga Flycatcher  1 - beautiful little bird, thanks!

al-Wathba Camel Track   1730-2030
Marsh Harrier  2
Ruff  10 + 40 : two parties feeding on camel track
Skylark  ++
Bimaculated Lark  9 - including in song-flight
Tawny Pipit  4
Isabelline Wheatear  1
Desert Wheatear  2
No Egyptian Nightjar as I didn't realise that the tracks in the centre were their habitat.

16 February

Chalets, Green Mubazzarat   0715-0830
Common Sandpiper  1
Pale Crag Martin  2+
Hume's Wheatear  1pr
Red-tailed Wheatear  1
Blue Rock Thrush  1m 1f

Road up Jebel Hafit   0830-0930
Egyptian Vulture  1 ad
Sand Partridge  10 = coveys of 6 + 4 singles
Pale Crag Martin  2
Desert Lark  3 prs
Hume's Wheatear  3prs+

Hotel Mercure grounds, Jebel Hafit summit   0930 - 1500
Egyptian Vulture  1 ad, 1 imm
Pale Crag Martin  10+
Hooded Wheatear  1 imm m - superb views
Blue Rock Thrush  3m - singing, territorial
Ring Ouzel  1m
Black Redstart  1f-type, territorial in lower garden but NO Eversmann's
Yellow-vented Bulbul  1

Al Ain Equestrian Centre   1530 - 1700
Little Grebe  >20
Mallard  50
Teal  40+
Garganey  1 f
Pintail  3
Tufted Duck  2
Pochard  2
Marsh Harrier  1
Red-wattled Plover  1
Black-winged Stilt  4
Common Snipe  15+ under bougainvillea as predicted!
Common Sandpiper  3
Wood Sandpiper  1
Pallid Swift  3
Water Pipit  3 - the only pipits seen
White Wagtail  >100
Bluethroat  1
Southern Grey Shrike  2
Comment: unfortunately incomplete checks on fairways - perhaps 30%

Green Mubazzarat   1715-1730 Briefly
Egyptian Vulture  2
Common Sandpiper  3
Mourning Wheatear  1m singing

Hotel Mercure grounds   1815-1845 (i.e. dark)
Swift species  >100 flying E along Jebel in small groups of up to 10... migrating Common Swifts (?) - but impossible to identify with certainty in the poor light.

17 February

Hotel Mercure grounds   0645-0715, 0845-0900
Black Redstart  1 f-type
Ring Ouzel  1
Lesser Whitethroat  1 'minula'

Green Mubazzarat   0730-0815
Common Sandpiper  2
Indian Roller  1
Pale Crag Martin  2
Blue Rock Thrush  1f
Silverbill  2
Menetries Warbler  1m
Red-tailed Wheatear  2
Yellow-vented Bulbul  1

Al Ain   0930
Cattle Egret  1 on roundabout

[Jebel Rawda, OMAN   1130-1250
Little Green Bee-eater  1 pr
Tawny Pipit  1
Eastern Pied Wheatear  1 'picata'
Red-tailed Wheatear  2
Desert Warbler  1
Plain Leaf Warbler  1
Arabian Babbler  2 ]

Mahda - Fujeirah road west of mountains   1300-1410
Hoopoe  1
Little Green Bee-eater  1
Indian Roller  3

Khor Kalba   1410-1830
Persian Shearwater  3+
Socotra Cormorant  3
White-collared Kingfisher  5+
Common Kingfisher  1
GSPlover  >10
LSPlover  >10
Curlew, Whimbrel, Dunlin, Greenshank, Terek Sandpiper etc.
Sooty Gulls  >200
Sandwich Tern  5+ along creeks

Comments:

  1. Loads of boy racers smashing up the dunes
  2. Sandstorm 1600-1800 making visibility very poor
  3. NO Sykes warblers / Indian Pond Herons, even at dusk
  4. The Collared Kingfishers were really obvious on a patch of dried mud /sand on the seaward side of the creeks about 1 km south towards the border - 2 pairs were often sitting out on the mud squabbling! Lots of Sand Plovers there as well.

18 February

Fujeirah Dairy Farm, Dibba   0700-1100
White-breasted Waterhen  1 (Tommy only; first for site)
Chestnut-bellied Sandgrouse  42
Pallid Swift  2
Good selection of sandpipers etc.
Pintailed Snipe  4 (all in flight)
Eurasian Skylark  14
Oriental Skylark  1 in flight
Sand Martin  1
Barn Swallow  2
House Martin  26
Citrine Wagtail  3
Tawny Pipit  15
Long-billed Pipit  1
Meadow Pipit  3
Red-throated Pipit  2
Water Pipit  25
Clamorous Reed Warbler  1
Bluethroat  5
Isabelline Shrike  2 (one phoenicuroides, one isabellinus)
Rosy Starling  11
Common Starling  2

Qurrayah Pools   1200-1300
Glossy Ibis  1
Wigeon  1
Teal  70
Pintail  1
Black-winged Stilt  30 (breeding)
Red-wattled Lapwing  5
Little Stint  1
Temminck's Stint  1
Common Tern  1
Sooty Terns  200
LOTS other gulls!
Citrine Wagtail  1
Isabelline Shrike  1

Fujairah Port Beach   1320-1340
Socotra Cormorant  10
Lesser Crested Tern  20
Sandwich Tern  2
Common Tern  15
White-cheeked Tern  4

al Ghurfa Breakwater   1345-1400
Swift Tern  2

Khor Kalba   1410-1830
Indian Pond Heron  1 flushed from out of mangrove
Clamorous Reed Warbler  1
Eastern Olivaceous Warbler  1
NO Sykes Warblers, even at dusk

19 February

Jazeerah al-Khor   0850-0910
Saunders' Tern  5
Comment: now a horrible building site with the original khor filled in - vanished! AVOID!

Khor al-Beidah 0950-1250 (low tide), 1400-1420 (high tide roost)
Flamingo  >30
Spoonbill  1
Great White Egret  3+
Oystercatcher  90 (high-tide roost count)
Crab Plover  85 (high-tide roost count)
Terek Sandpiper  5 on mud
Great Knot  8+ (high-tide roost count)
Bar-tailed Godwit, Pacific Golden Plover etc
Gull-billed Tern  5-10
Caspian Tern  1
Little Green Bee-eater  2 prs
Lesser Short-toed Lark  1+
Isabelline Wheatear  2+
Desert Wheatear  2
Comment: sadly I didn't have the time to do a full count at the roost.

Dreamland Beach   1300-1400
Western Reef Heron  27 in loose group with lots of fighting, displaying going on
Crab Plover  21
Little Green Bee-eater  2
Barn Swallow  1
Isabelline Shrike  1f phoenicuroides
NO Finch-larks

Ghantut   1630-1750
Rose-ringed Parakeet  6+
Little Green Bee-eater  2
Pale Crag Martin  3
Barn Swallow  1
Black Redstart  1
Southern Grey Shrike  2+
No hypocolius!

al-Wathba Camel Track   1910-2040
Egyptian Nightjar  2 flushed but seen very poorly

20 February

Green Mubazzarat   0710-0840
Kestrel  1
Green Sandpiper  1
Common Sandpiper  4
Pale Crag Martin  2
Black Redstart  1m 'semirufus'
Blue Rock Thrush  2f
Red-tailed Wheatear  1
Clamorous Reed Warblers  5 showing very well along stream.
     Definitely not there in those numbers earlier in the week - clear evidence of passage.
Chiffchaff  1
Isabelline Shrike  1f
LONG-TAILED SHRIKE  1m

Hotel Mercure grounds   0850-0950
Desert Lark  2 prs
Pale Crag Martin  3+
Hooded Wheatear  1 imm m
Black Redstart  1f-type
Blue Rock Thrush  2m
Song Thrush  1
Ring Ouzel  1m
Comment: visited again on recommendation of Mr Tommy Pedersen - NO Eversmann's seen....it had actually gone.

Qarn Nazwa   Briefly
Rose-ringed Parakeet  1
No Eastern Pied Wheatear

Lahbab Fields N   1220-1320 (incomplete)
Red-wattled Plover  40+
Pallid Swifts  5 Hoopoe  2
Rose-ringed Parakeet
Skylark  5+
Short-toed Lark  10+
Black-crowned Finch-lark  1m (but only in flight)
Tawny Pipit  2
Isabelline Wheatear  3
Desert Wheatear  2
Woodchat Shrike  1m
Southern Grey Shrike  1
Isabelline Shrike  1m phoenicuroides

Pivot Fields, Dubai   1400-1645 (very incomplete)
Cattle Egret  11
Little Egret  2
Glossy Ibis  5+
Marsh Harrier  2 including a very dark one - never seen one like that before!
Great Spotted Eagles  1+2+ 1 overhead - just 2 birds?
Collared Pratincole  2
Red-wattled Plover  40
White-tailed Plover  6+
Golden Plover  1 (brief description available)
Kentish Plover  6
Ringed Plovers  3
LR Plover  c12
Temminck's Stint  35+ !!!
Common Snipe  c20
Ruff  1
Hoopoe  5
Pallid Swift  >10
Skylark  20+
Oriental Skylark  1 - identified by call
Red-throated Pipit  >10
Tawny Pipit  5+
Water Pipit  >20
Several unidentified pipits - Richard's / Blyth's + ?Buff-bellied
  >50 Yellow Wagtails inc. beema, feldegg??
White Wagtail  >100 Citrine Wagtail  >25
Common Starling  18
Isabelline Wheatear  5
No sign of the Sociable!

Ghantut   1730-1800
Rose-ringed Parakee  6t
Lesser Whitethroat  1
No hypocolius

al-Wathba Camel Track   1910-2030
No Egyptian Nightjar on tracks this time

21 February

Pivot Fields   0650-0730
HEAVY RAIN making pipits even less identifiable
Golden Plover  1 - but Sociable again not seen

Nouakchott marsh   3 minutes
White-tailed Plover  >40
Black-winged Stilt  >40
Pratincole sp   1
Spotted Redshank  1
No hirundines

Khor Dubai   10 minutes
Great White Egret  12
[Yellow-billed Stork  1 - almost certainly an escape]
Spoonbill  6

About 148 species even though I wasn't trying!

Dave Murdoch
damurdoch@doctors.net.uk