Trip Report: United Arab Emirates, March 9-17, 1996

Tim Earl;

March 9

Every birding trip to a new country starts in the hotel grounds at day-break and this was no exception. Here I picked up two new bulbuls, White-eared and Red-vented, both of which were striking, the latter particularly so. A small party of six Silverbills were also lifers as they swung on seed heads of a clump of exotic grass. A flock of about 100 Ruff flew over as we went to breakfast.

Our first stop was at the Emirates Golf Course where we saw Chestnut-bellied sandgrouse coming in to drink at a small pool outside the grounds. This area was to become a vast lake later in the holiday as the heaviest rains for years began the next day. Red-wattled plover was another lifer, to be seen all over the country.

A walk around the golf course gave us views of Indian roller, Rosy starling and Lesser whitethroat. A Pintail snipe flushed and gave fleeting views. Down to Khor Dubai where a much longed for lifer, Broad-billed sandpiper, proved disappointing. Roosting among sandplovers and in a dull non-breeding plumage, these birds did not stand out. It was an exciting cite, however, with highlights including Gull-billed tern, Great black-headed gull, Terek sandpiper, a fly-past of the first of many Hoopoe larks to be seen on the trip.

Common shelduck             Tadorna tadorna
Grey francolin              Francolinus pondicerianus
Pintail snipe               Gallinago stenura
Broad-billed sandpiper      Limicola falcinellus
Ruff                        Philomachus pugnax
Lesser sandplover           Charadrius mongolus
Red-wattled plover          Vanellus indicus
Heuglin's gull              Larus heuglini
Chestnut-bellied sandgrouse Pterocles exustus
Ringed-necked parakeet      Psittacula krameri
Indian roller               Coracias benghalensis
Isabelline (Red-tailed) shrike  Lanius isabellinus
Rosy starling               Sturnus roseus
Common myna                 Acridotheries tristis
Isabelline wheatear         Oenanthe isabellina
White-eared bulbul          Pycnonotus leucotis
Red-vented bulbul           Pycnonotus cafer
Graceful (prinia) warbler   Prinia gracilis
Indian silverbill           Lonchura malabarica

March 10

We headed inland and, turning off the main road to Al Ain at one of several stops, we watched a soggy Hoopoe lark, always a thrilling sight. This species was to become the trip bird for me as they displayed and sang in a number of places. This individual was in the chorus line, perhaps even a warm-up artist.

Red-tailed, Desert and Hume's wheatears were picked up at the entrance to "Fossil Valley" along with Menetries', Desert and Orphean warblers, Bonelli's eagle, Blue rock thrush, and Sand partridge. At the top of the valley, a place called the Hanging Gardens, we had good views of Pale leaf warblers and Barbary falcon. I at last got good views of Purple sunbird. Pallid, Montague's and Marsh harriers, Black-eared kite (the eastern form of Black kite) several pipits and Bimaculated lark followed at a camel race track outside Al Ain.

Black-eared kite            Milvus lineatus
Pallid harrier              Circus macrourus
Montague's harrier          Circus pyarus
Bonelli's eagle             Hieraeetus fasciatus
Barbary falcon              Falco pelegrinoides
Sand partridge              Ammoperdix heyi
Swift                       Apus apus
Brown-necked raven          Corvus ruficollis
Blue rock-thrush            Monticola solitarius
Hume's wheatear             Oenanthe alboniger
Red-tailed wheatear         Oenanthe xanthoprymna
Desert wheatear             Oenanthe deserti
African rock (Pale crag) martin Hirundo fuligula
Plain leaf warbler          Phylloscopus neglectus
Desert warbler              Sylvia nana
Orphean warbler             Sylvia hortensis
Menetries' warbler          Sylvia mystacea
Black-crowned finch-lark    Eremopterix nigriceps
Desert lark                 Ammomanes deserti
Greater short-toed lark     Calandrella brachydactila
Richard's pipit             Anthus novaeseelandiae
Tawny pipit                 Anthus campestris
Water pipit                 Anthus spinoletta
Purple sunbird              Nectarinia asiatica
Corn bunting                Emberiza calandra

March 11

The smudge marks in my field note book tell the tale, not of tears, but torrential rain, a common feature of deserts. We popped up to the top of Jebel Hafit where, in lulls between the storms, we had Hume's wheatear (Hooded could not be found) Rock thrush, Brown-necked raven and Egyptian vultures. The gullies were great torrents with boulders tumbling down them and the land below was a sheet of water.

This made a visit to the Al Ain sewage ponds interesting as we picked up several waders including Wood sandpiper and Black-winged stilt. Yellow-vented bulbul and Little green bee-eater were also seen. In the afternoon another local valley provided good views of Little owl, Lesser kestrel Arabian babbler and Stone curlew.

Egyptian vulture            Neophron percnopterus
Lesser kestrel              Falco naumanni
Wood sandpiper              Tringa glareola
Stone curlew (Eurasian thick-knee)  Burhinus oedicnemus
Black-winged stilt          Himantopus himantopus
Little owl                  Athene noctua
Rufous-tailed rock-thrush   Montecola saxatlis
Yellow-vented bulbul        Pycnonotus xanthopygos
Arabian babbler             Turdoides squamiceps

March 12

A flat plain between the Al Ain - Dubai road and Al Ain Mahdah road provided the best views of Hoopoe lark and Black-crowned finch lark. Both species were singing and provided great views, particularly the Hoopoe larks which could be heard at a considerable distance. Someone in our party said they are also called the Kamakaze lark for the technique of flying up into the air and descending beak first, wings folded like a Gannet, to below the two-foot high vegetation before pulling out. I think some must have ended buried in the desert to a depth of several inches after the technique failed.

Desert warblers were behaving to type chasing Desert wheatears, and a lone Hoopoe reminded us how the lark got its name.

In Fujairah we checked into the hotel and I immediately got Sooty gull on my bed list. A mile down the road towards Khor Kalba we investigated the constituents of a gull and tern roost picking up White-cheeked tern, Greater and Lesser crested terns, Saunder's little tern, Slender-billed and Yellow legged gulls. White-collared kingfishers showed well at Khor Kalba.

Whimbrel                    Numenius phaeopus
Sooty gull                  Larus hemprichii
Great crested (Swift) tern  Sterna bergii
Lesser crested tern         Sterna bengalensis
Common tern                 Sterna hirundo
White-cheeked tern          Sterna repressa
Saunder's little tern       Sterna saundersi
White-collared kingfisher   Halcyon (Todihramphus) chloris
House martin                Delichon urbica
Yellow wagtail              Motacilla flava flavissima

March 13

Picking up where we finished the night before revealed Heuglin's gull (or race, take your pick), Sandwich tern and Arctic skua to add to the rest. Khor Kalba gave up its Indian pond herons (one in breeding plumage) easily with all birds well down the bank showing well. (We had no Squacco herons.) So too did the White-collared kingfishers and a Greater sandplover.

In the far distance Blue-cheeked bee-eaters put in a brief appearance tempting us into a chase. We never caught up with them but in one of the many huge but shallow pools (man does it rain out there) we had Temminck's stint, Citrine wagtail, Little ringed plover and Wood sandpiper.

Back at Khor Kalba we spent an hour surrounded by Booted warblers (ssp Sykes, H.c.rama) and a lone Olivaceous which was very close in appearance. In the foothills near Wahlah we picked up a most obliging Üpcher's warbler, about 70 Pale rock sparrows and the humbug-headed House bunting (ssp E.s.striolata).

Black-necked grebe          Podiceps nigricollis
Cattle egret                Ardeola ibis
Indian pond heron           Ardeola grayii
Short-toed eagle            Circaetus gallicus
Spotted eagle               Aquila clanga
Temminck's stint            Calidris temminckii
Greater sandplover          Charadrius leschenaulti
Arctic skua                 Stercorarius parasiticus
Blue-cheeked bee-eater      Merops persicus
Clamorous reed warbler      Acrocephalus stentorius
Booted warbler              Hippolais caligata
Olivaceous warbler          Hippolais pallida
Üpcher's warbler            Hippolais languida
Pale rock sparrow           Petronia brachydachyla
Citrine wagtail             Motacilla citreola
House bunting               Emberiza striolata

March 14

A seawatch into the Gulf of Oman produced a Socotra cormorant which proved how different some birds can be to their illustrations. A long-winged bird with swan-like neck, its feet trailed behind like those of a diver in flight.

Once at the agricultural region of Hamraniyah we found Green sandpiper and Grey wagtail, many Quail and saw our first Sparrowhawk as it chased a passerine through a hedge.

Woodchat shrike showed well at a lunch stop site and in fields later in the day we picked up all the harriers (including a female Northern - only the second confirmed record for the UAE) Steppe buzzard and Spotted eagle. Red-rumped swallows, Rose coloured starling and Bank mynas were plentiful and a few Spanish sparrows were found in with abundant House sparrows.

Socotra cormorant           Phalancrocorax nigrogularis
Hen (Northern) harrier      Circus cyaneus
Buzzard                     Buteo buteo
Quail                       Coturnix coturnix
Green sandpiper             Tringa ochropus
Woodchat shrike             Lanius senator
Bank myna                   Acridotheries ginginianus
Red-rumped swallow          Hirundo daurica
Spanish sparrow             Passer hispaniolensis

March 15

To Khor Al Beidah where the Great Dip occurred - no Crab plovers... No worries to me but some people were a little disappointed. Great knot were showing well, some with those brilliant rufous epaulets, Terek sandpipers were abundant along with many other shorebirds, Northern wheatear and more Hoopoe larks, again displaying.

Closer to Dubai we picked up Whiskered tern and on a sewage pit next to a camel track Pied wheatear, White-tailed plover, Garganey, Spotted redshank and Marsh sandpiper.

Garganey                    Anas querquedula
Glossy  ibis                Plegadis falcinellus
Spotted redshank            Tringa erthropus
Marsh sandpiper             Tringa stagnatilis
Great knot                  Calidris tenuirostris
White-tailed plover         Vanellus leucurus
Whiskered tern              Chlidonias hybridus
Northern wheatear           Oenanthe oenanthe
Pied wheatear               Oenanthe pleschanka

March 16

After a long drive to Abu Dhabi, picking up Avocet at Al Ghar lake, we searched woodland overlooking the Al Wathba camel track for Hypocolius, with great success. They were not easy which was a relief. Birds you have to work for are always more rewarding. Rufous bush chat was also found in the grove.

On the track itself we found Small sky lark, Red-throated and Tawny pipits, Quail, Sand martin and young Barn swallows which had fledged in the UAE just after Christmas.

Our last stop was at the Zabeel fish ponds where Pied starling joined all the others, one Green-backed heron and several Black-crowned night herons joined the list.

Striated (Green-backed) heron   Butorides striatus
Black-crowned night heron   Nycticorax nycticorax
(Pied) Avocet               Recurvirostra avocetta
Asian pied starling         Sturnus contra
Rufous-tailed scrub-robin   Cercotrichas galactoides
Sand martin (Bank swallow)  Riparia riparia
Grey hypocolius             Hypocolius ampelinus
Small (Oriental) skylark    Alauda gulgula
Red-throated pipit          Anthus cervinus

March 17

Our return to Khor Al Beidah for another futile attempt at Crab plover produced Black-eared wheatear for the list but further superb views of the assorted waders.

In the late afternoon we went out to Qarn Nazwa where the red-bellied race of Black redstart (ssp P.o.phoenicuroides) showed wonderfully well along with several migrant Rock thrushes, Red-tailed wheatears and Upcher's warbler.

The day ended with superb views of two Desert eagle owls and later in Mushrif Park we saw two Striated scops owls.

Striated (Pallid) scops owl Otus brucei
Eurasian eagle owl          Bubo bubo
Black-eared wheatear        Oenanthe hispanica

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This page served by Urs Geiser;; July 18, 1996