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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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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