This report covers the short trip made by me to the United Arab Emirates from 17-25-Feb-1996. I was accompanied on this trip by my brother Frans. I intended to visit this region in the near future, especially after reading the 1990 report by Annika Forsten and the book The birds of the United Emirates by Colin Richardson. Also bird tours like Birdquest started to visit the region and their itineraries made me even more anxious to go. But up to this moment there are not any charters going to the Emirates from The Netherlands and regular airfares are quite expensive. The reason we decided to visit the Emirates now was first of all the fact the KLM offered a very cheap flight from Amsterdam to Abu Dhabi/Dubai in February (350 US$) and secondly the fact that Grey Hypocolius (a most-wanted species) was still present in the beginning of February.
We had to organise/prepare our trip within 14 days. Fortunately people like Max Berlijn, Tom v/d. Have, Colin Richardson and Jan v.d. Laan were very helpful. February is not the best month for birdwatching. In November and March you encounter more species and also greater numbers of each species, migrating through the country. Also in March the breeding birds start to arrive. For instance we had to work very hard to find Socotra Cormorant and Plain Leaf Warbler, while Max Berlijn on a Birdquest tour in November 1995 had plenty of both of them. Of course one cannot cover the whole country properly in 7 days. We focussed mainly on some specialties and succeeded in visiting most of the birding hotspots.
Well prepared birders can expect to observe 150/160 species in a 7/9 days period in February. We found our trip highly succesful. We saw 140 species, if accepted a new species for the Emirates (Palm Swift), and the 5 life birds I more or less expected to see. These were: Socotra Cormorant, Grey Hypocolius, Desert Eagle Owl, Plain Leaf Warbler and Hume's Wheatear. But also a lot of other interesting species, which are rather difficult to observe in the Western Palearctic can be seen.
As I mentioned before we had a very cheap flight with KLM from Amsterdam to Abu Dhabi. Normally we pay 3/4 times more for the same ticket. In other countries travel agencies provide charter flights, which include hotel and breakfast. And probably and this in not unimportant, they arrange your visa. As independent travellers we had to arrange our visas ourselves. A tourist visa is only arranged by a big, expensive hotel in the Emirates. You have to stay at least 1 night in this hotel. My travel agency in the Netherlands sent a fax to the Novotel Hotel in Abu Dhabi and this hotel arranged our visa. When we arrived in the country one of their emplyees was waiting for us at the airport with our visa. Make sure that they fax a copy of your visa to your home, because otherwise the airline company could give you some hassle at the airport. They want to be certain that you have a visa before you board the plane. This visa was not cheap. We had to pay around 90 US$.
Flights were punctual and trouble free. Flight time was 6 hours to the Emirates and 7 hours to Amsterdam.
The unit of currency is the Dirham.
1 Dutch Guilder = 2.20 DH.
1 US$ = 3.75 DH.
Accomodation is expensive in the Emirates. Finding accomodation was also sometimes rather difficult. On the third day of our visit the Ramadan ended, which ment that the whole country was on the move, and prices were raised. We had to pay 250 DH. for a room which cost 150 DH. the previous night. On 21-02 we spent 4 hours looking for accomodation in Sjarjah and Dubai. Without success. And just as we accepted that we had to spend the night in the car we found in the old center of Dubai a shabby room for which we had to pay the exorbitant price of 300 DH. So try to avoid the country at the end of the Ramadan. The advantage we had was that we were not tied to a certain hotel, as you more or less are when you book a charter with accomodation. So we could travel quite economical through the country and reduce driving time.
Novotel Abu Dhabi: 375 DH. incl. breakfast.
Al Fhaidah resthouse: 165 DH.
Marine Hotel, Kalba: 150 DH. first night and 250 second night.
Hotel Tanoor, Dubai: 300 DH.
Hotel Ras al Khaymah: 220 DH. incl. breakfast.
Hotel Zakher, Abu Dhabi: 200 DH.
Food was generally good and cheap. You can eat very cheap in the small local Indian and Arabian restaurants but also the meals in the larger, more expensive hotels are not very expensive. The shops are closed in the daytime during the Ramadan. But most supermarkets are open until midnight. We bought mineralwater, bread, bananas, marmalade etc. the evening before, and mostly we had breakfast and lunch out in the field.
The weather during our stay was generally very pleasant. Daytime temperatures varied between 25 and 30 degrees celsius. Excellent temperatures for birdwatching. Only between noon and 15.00 it got hot but never uncomfortable. We had a little rain in the afternoon of the 21th and strong winds on 21-02 near Qarn nazwa and on 22-02 at Umm al Quwain and Khor al Beidah. But people told us that it had rained heavily the week before we arrived.
We booked a car at Budget which we prebooked and prepaid in the Netherlands. This was cheaper than arranging it in the Emirates. You do need a major credit card and an international driver's license. We hired a brand new Toyota Tercel (B-category) with airco for 8 days and we had to pay 500 Dutch. G. = 295 US$ for this car. Including all taxes, insurances and unlimited mileage. The cheapest car (A-category) cost only 350 Dutch G. a week, everything included. During our stay we drove around 2000 km. and had no problems with this car. The roads in the Emirates are very good. Most cities are connected by 4-lane, sometimes 6-lane highways and otherwise by other, good, tarmac roads.
Frequently you encounter so-called HUMPS on the road, which were planned to slow traffic down and they definitely do. A few time we used dirt roads which were not too bad and never got stuck. We found the Emirates an easy country to travel around and only in Dubai we encountered traffic jams. Be careful though when driving at night, because animals like cows, goats and camels frequently walk on these roads.
Petrol in the Emirates is very cheap. We never paid more than 20 DH. to fill up our tank. We took Thomas Cook traveller cheques with us, which were easy to cash at the airport and at the money exchange offices in the larger cities. We also carried some cash dollars, and in the larger hotels we paid with credit card.
Annika Forsten - U.A.E. February 27 - March 8, 1990 and
February 11-17, 1995
J.Hellkvist - U.A.E. February 7-14, 1996 (E-mail: Joakim.Hellkvist@abc.se)
Absolutely essential is Colin Richardson's book about the Birds in The Emirates. It includes some useful maps.
Colin Richardson, P.O. Box 50394, U.A.E. TEL/FAX (+9714) 313378
He is very helpful for visiting birders.
We flew with KLM directly from Amsterdam to Abu Dhabi. We arrived at Abu Dhabi at 20.00 p.m. It took us 30 min. to get through customs, change money and to pick up our car. After dinner we phoned Colin R. and after some shopping we went to bed.
After an early brakfast we went to the Al Wathba Race course to look for Grey Hypocolius. At the desk of our hotel we received a fax from Colin with some info about the Al Ain Area. As soon as we arrived at Al Wathba we started to bird in the bushes between the main road and the Race Track. Within 20 minutes we discovered the birds and had excellent views of at least 3 males and 2 females. We met a local birder and with him and his 4-wheel drive we birded the Race track itself. Great views of 2 males Pallid harriers, Lanner falcon, some small groups of Chestnutbellied Sandgrouse, Richard's, Tawny and Water Pipit and Pied/Desert Wheatear and Shorttoed larks.
Around noon we drove to Al Ain Race Track. In January no less than 80 Grey Hypocoliusses were seen here. We dipped and did not see much else, probably because we visited the area in the middle of the day. We decided to drive up the Jbel Hafeet for Hume's and Hooded Wheatear. We failed to find the latter but we saw at least 3 Hume's Wheatears. Also: Egyptian Vulture, Pallid Swifts, Desert Larks, Redtailed Wheatear and House Bunting. When we returned to Al Ain at the end of the day we observed our greatest surprise of the trip: 2 Palm Swifts. If accepted a first for the country. The typical jizz, uniform colour and especially the long projecting tail made identification rather easy. Took a room in the Al Faydah Resthouse and very satisfied after a extremely successful day we went to bed.
We got up at first light and left for Oman for an oasis, called "The hanging Gardens". We struggled to find the right entrance track and after 1.5 hour we found the place. Very nice area, but you have to be there in the early morning or late afternoon. Some species seen were: A Barbary Falcon, A Plain Leaf Warbler (Frans only), Desert/Redtailed Wheatear, Desert Warbler, Menetries Warbler, Desert Lesser Whitethroat, Purple Sunbird and House Bunting. We decided to drive to Hatta, find accomodation there and to bird the area around Hatta. Unfortunately the only accomodation in Hatta is the very expensive Hatta Fort Hotel, So the Hatta region did not get the attention from us it deserved. After a short rest we drove straight to Fujeirah and Kalba. We took a room in the marine Hotel in Kalba. Rather basic but conveniently located near Khor kalba. Also cheap according the Emirates standards. 150 DH. They were fully booked for the next 2 days. If we wanted to stay we had to pay 250 DH. for the next night. It turned out that the next night several people had to spend the night in their cars. We spent the last hours of the day at the edge of Khor kalba. We observed 2 Squacco herons, heard several Clamorous Reed Warblers and had good vies of a Isabelline Shrike.
Early morning drive to the Masafi Wadi (40 Min. drive). Arrived at the spot at 7.15 a.m. and had breakfast in the field. Superb area. We birded the north side of the wadi until noon. We failed to find Plain Leaf Warbler (Quite common here in november). We did see: Sand Partridge, Bruce's Scops Owl in his daytime roost, Desert lark (7), Longbilled Pipit (2 birds, 1 singing), Isabelline/Pied and Redtailed Wheatear, Rock Thrush (3 males), Blue Rock Thrush (1 male), Menetries Warbler, Desert Lesser White Throat, Arabian babbler and Southern Grey Shrike (L. Pallidirostris). We returned to Kalba and birded some gravel lakes. Another desert Warbler and 1 Lanner Falcon. We also scoped through some huge flocks of gulls and puzzled about Lesser Blackbacked/Heuglin's Gulls. At low tide we observed at least 3 White-collared Kingfishers, 5/6 singing Booted Warblers and heard several Clamorous reed Warblers. On the beach 7 summer-plumaged Great Black-headed Gulls were observed.
Dinner at Fujeirah Hilton. A noisy night, because of the end of the Ramadan.
Again an early drive to the Masafi Wadi. At last we succeeded in obtaining satisfying views of a very obliging Plain Leaf Warbler. Also 1 pair of Scub warblers was observed. Then a short drive to Dibba where we visited the harbour. Here we flushed a lonely Stone Curlew and also Crested (12), Lesser Crested (2), Sandwich Terns and Sooty Gull (3). When we checked the beaches, south of Dibba for terns, we found a lot of local people camping there. So we decided to travel to the west coast, find accomodation in Sjarjah and to try for the Eagle Owl near Qarn nazwa in the evening.
We wasted 4 hours in Sjarjah and Dubai, looking for accomodation and at last we found a shabby room in the center of the old city of Dubai. In the evening we visited Qarn nazwa where we had superb views in the scope of a calling Desert Eagle Owl. Also some Black-crowned Finch larks were seen here. Satisfied we drove back to Dubai and got stuck in a major traffic jam.
We stayed in bed until 9.00 a.m. A much needed, long sleep. We arranged by phone the Ras al Khaymah Hotel in Ras al Khaymah. A special deal for Thursday/Friday night (220 DH, including breakfast). At 10.30 we left for Um al Quwain where we expected to see Socotra Cormorant. We spent several hours in the area but we failed to find the species. We left the place and drove to Khor al Beidah where we were supposed to meet Colin Richardson at 16.00 (high tide).
We birded Khor al Beidah from 14.30 - 17.00 (With Colin from 16.00). We scoped through the wader flocks. Because of the strong winds we were not able to locate the 5/6 Great Knots which were present in the area. They stayed too far out in the middle of the compact flocks of Bartailed godwits. We saw a lot of waders but did not made any exact counts. Only the Crab Plovers (220 exx). We observed Ringed/Kentish/Greater and Lesser sandplovers, Dunlin, Curlew/Terek Sandpiper, Little Stint. During a walk in the dunes we observed Black-crowned Finch lark, also 2 Hoopoe-Larks and 1 Lesser Shorttoed Lark.
In the morning we birded extensively around Rams, north of Ras al Khaimah. We saw at least 6 Spotted Eagles, and during a sea watch at the pier of Rams we were extremely lucky that 2 Socotra Cormorants passed closeby and so the identification was satisfactorily made. At the end of the pier we also saw a female Blue Rock Thrush. During the hottest time of the day we paid a brief visit to an area, called Digdaga. Beside the fact that the time of the day was not good for bird activity, the area was full of picniccers. So we did not stay very long in the area. Instead we drove to Wadi Bih were we would try to observe Lichtenstein's Sandgrouse in the early evening.
Wadi Bih is a very nice area, though a bit crowded on a week-end. We birded the area around the "Sandgrouse Pool". Some Wheatears we saw puzzled us for a while. One of them showed caracteristics of a female Eastern Pied Wheatear. We made descriptions, and after consulting Colin Richardson afterwards we concluded that we indeed observed a female E. P. Wheatear. A pair of Scrub Warblers was also very approachable. In the early evening a Little Owl started to call and at 18.35 a small group of Lichtenstein's Sandgrouse flew in and could be observed in the headlights of the car. The night was again spent in the Ras al Khaimah hotel. We phoned to the manager of the Emirates Golf Course and arranged permission for a visit the next day.
Our last full day in the field. Our plan was to be at the entrance of the Golf Course at 8.00 a.m. but because of the heavy traffic in Dubai we arrived there at 8.45. Met the manager and started to walk along the south-west side of the fence, just inside the Golf Course. There was a lot of activity, just outside the Golf Course, because there are expanding the Golf Course. In the south-eastern corner, just outside the fence, is a small pool with adjacent a small marshy area. We spent an hour or so, observing and studying Common and Pintail Snipe. We also flushed a Jack Snipe. Our only Little Ringed Plover was seen here. A Bluethroat was skulking in the marshy vegetation. During a stroll on the Golf Course itself we saw 5 Rose-coloured Starlings (3 adult + 2 Juv.).
Later we drove further to the Jebel Ali Hotel where we had lunch and we spent an hour or so in the hotel area. Only new species seen here was a Song Thrush. We decided to drive to the Al Wathba Race Track again. This would be our last birding spot in The Emirates and we liked to end with some more views of Grey Hypocoliuses. And within 10 minutes we observed at least 7 birds and this was a nice ending of our short but very satisfying trip. We drove to Abu Dhabi and took a room in hotel Zakher, which we arranged the evening before by telephone.
We drove the short distance to the airport where we had to be at 6.00 a.m. At 8.05 a.m. we flew with KLM from Abu Dhabi to Amsterdam, where we arrived at 12.30 local time.
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