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WINGS Birding Tours – Narrative

United Arab Emirates

2017 Narrative

Our tour to the United Arab Emirates was a tour full of contrasts, birding rocky mountain ridges, desert lakes, city parks and coastal mudflats interspersed with a couple of visits to a dairy farm (superb for migrants), the beach, and a camel race track!

Each habitat produced its own special birds, and our first morning in the mountains provided us with Eastern Mourning, Hooded, Red-tailed and Hume’s Wheatears followed by Egyptian Vultures and Sand Partridge, a great start! From the mountains we descended to the local park and started to see our first Eurasian Hoopoes, and Green Bee-eaters before chancing upon a vagrant Blackthroated Thrush. More excitement in the park in the form of two ‘pond’ herons, initially thought to be Indians, but after consulting more birders they had to be downgraded to ‘only’ Squaccos. Nearby we saw Plain Leaf Warblers and Striolated Buntings and the first of several Lesser Whitethroats, including several giving the rattle call usually associated with the eastern taxa. Zakher Lake was very productive and flocks of Ruff and Little Stints were complemented by Citrine Wagtails, Bluethroat and Western Marsh Harriers. Nearby we targeted a day roosting Pallid Scops-Owl as well as Asian Desert Warblers. Close to Abu Dhabi we were expertly and enthusiastically shown around Al Wathba wetlands by ex-pat birder Oscar Campbell. With his up to date knowledge we were soon enjoying White-tailed Lapwings, Temminck’s Stint, thousands of Greater Flamingos, and this bird rich area was so productive that only the setting sun brought an end to our birding, shortly after we had seen Ferruginous Ducks, Red-crested Pochard, Grey-headed Swamphens and Black-necked Grebes. A simply fantastic days birding!

Leaving Al Ain behind we worked our way north, ending the day at Wamm Farm. An unusual location nestled at the base of a mountain ridge and close to the coast. The fodder fields were full of birds and we saw Long-billed, Tawny and Richard’s Pipits, followed by Isabelline and Desert Wheatears. Both Bonelli’s and Eastern Imperial Eagles drifted overhead and we were excited at the thought of coming back here in a few days.

Birding the desert close to Dubai was very productive and in a short space of time we saw Cream-coloured Courser, Chestnut-bellied Sandgrouse, Bimaculated Lark and Black-crowned Sparrow Larks. With the desert specialities successfully under the belt we visited a nearby lake, stacked with birds! Overhead we saw Lappet-faced Vulture and a male Pallid Harrier, and the lake itself was full of ducks, waders and gulls. After a relaxing lunch we then headed to a local city park, with Oriental Honey Buzzard, Greater spotted Eagle before returning into the desert, and despite a strengthening wind we had great views of a Pharaoh Eagle Owl, perched and then hanging in the wind above his favoured ridge.

The next day’s weather forecast wasn’t great, strong winds from the north, but in hindsight it probably gave us a great days birding the following day. In the storm we not only managed to see such sought after species as Crab Plover, Pallas’s Gull and Socotra Cormorant, but some real surprises such as a Black-legged Kittiwake (7th record for the Emirates) and a couple of White-cheeked Terns, presumably pushed inshore by the adverse weather. Waders were a real highlight with both sandplovers, Pacific Golden Plover and Great Knot amongst a bewildering array of large white-headed gulls and several Saunders’s Terns.

The next day was calm, and one of those days where everything fell into place beautifully. In the mountains we saw Streaked Scrub Warblers, plus Trumpeter Finch and Desert Larks. We were soon back at Wamm farm, lots of Indian Rollers, a European Golden Plover, Common Snipe, Siberian Stonechat. It felt as if there were new birds around and this was confirmed minutes later when the 5th Great spotted Cuckoo for the Emirates flew in front of us and perched briefly in roadside bushes. We worked the fodder fields again, more of the same pipits but then also an Oriental Skylark and a Common Quail. A couple of the group managed to see an Eversmann’s Redstart before we tried our luck on the other side of the road. Here we saw a Wire-tailed Swallow, 3 Red-rumped Swallows and Nicks persistence rewarded us with the hoped for Variable Wheatear! After birding the farm for nearly 5 hours we headed back to the coast for fresh juices and coffee, whilst watching Sooty Gulls, Saunders’s Tern and Green Turtles.

On our final morning, there was just time for a few hours birding close to the airport. From our shady spot, we could enjoy not only the dramatic skyline of Dubai but also 20 Greater Spotted Eagles, a Steppe Eagle, Shikra, Western Reef Herons, Eurasian Spoonbills and Slender-billed Gulls. A great way to finish a relaxed weeks birding in Arabia.

– James Lidster

Created: 07 March 2017