Blue-tailed Bee-eater
Real Birder

United Arab Emirates Trip Report 24th November to 3rd December 2007

     

    GETTING THERE

    Having previously booked a holiday in the UAE, which had to be cancelled as it coincided with the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Centre, it has always been our intention to visit the area when conditions allowed. The UAE is probably the safest Middle East destination especially for some of those special desert dwelling birds.

    Having spent many hours trawling through trip reports and seeking advice we plumbed for a 10 day break in November. I was not convinced that November was the most prolific month to visit, but there should still be enough birding interest to satisfy us and the weather should be comfortably warm, something our old bones appreciate.

    Our trip should coincide with the end of the autumn migration and the start of the winter arrivals. One thing is clear; almost anything can turn up at any time in the UAE.

    As with most birding holidays, a birding hierarchy begins to evolve; these usually manifest themselves as new birds (lifers), birds that are particular to that location or birds that are sufficiently different from most other birds that they take on an almost mystical attraction. Crab Plover, Grey Hypocolius and Pharaoh Eagle-Owl fall into the latter category with the many desert dwelling wheatears and warblers falling into the location category. Add the many over-wintering and autumn passage waders, terns and gulls that are on offer, then the UAE becomes a very viable winter birding trip. 

    Still being a little apprehensive about birding in the Middle East we elected to engage the resident birders as guides for some of the time and we used Steve James. Steve was very obliging, always promptly replying to our emails, giving good sound advice and putting an itinerary together which included all the special birds of the region.

    In order to maximise the birding potential we decided on a two centre holiday with 5 nights spent on the Arabian Gulf coast and 4 nights on the Gulf of Oman. This should give us the best opportunity to encounter most of the special birds of the region.

    FLIGHTS

    Our preferred airline was Emirates; the main reasons for our selection were that they have a very good reputation as an airline and they fly daily from Birmingham, our nearest airport. By flying out every day it gave us flexibility both on dates and duration of the holiday. We decided to travel business class which cost £1,330:50p each.

    Both our flights and accommodation were booked through Dubai Travel which is a subsidiary of Air Travel Corporation.
    We found Dubai Travel very accommodating and efficient in all our dealings with them.

    ACCOMMODATION

    Our choice of hotel on the Arabian Gulf coast was the Palm Tree Court. This is approximately 40k from the airport and it forms part of the Jebel Ali complex which is described in Colin Richardson’s Birds of the United Arab Emirates: A Complete Guide to Their Status and Distribution as being set in vast grounds consisting of a “rich and varied habitat”, with over 120 species recorded in the grounds by 1990. Our room was a sea front junior suite costing £1,704:62p on a B&B basis. 

    Our choice of hotel on the East coast (Gulf of Oman) was the Hilton at Fujairah. The cost for this was £680:00 again based on bed & breakfast only.

    Buy Birds of the Middle East and North Africa from AmazonAs we have previously stated in other trip reports, our comfort is very important; birds are obviously our prime consideration, with our comfort a close second.  Poor accommodation can spoil a birding holiday, whereas comfortable digs, good food and acceptable wines can only enhance the whole birding experience. Holidays haven’t always been so luxurious, with both tents and caravans employed in our early birding holidays. Both hotels were recommended by Steve for their location with regard to birding sites and for the standard they offered. Unless you have a very tight schedule I would not recommend staying in Dubai as the traffic is horrendous.  

    REFERENCE BOOKS & MAPS

    We used the old Birds of the Middle East and North Africa by Hollom, Porter, Christensen and Willis as well as the old Birds of the Middle East, but there are now two more up to date books, with a second edition of Birds of the Middle East (Helm Field Guides) and the new Birds of the United Arab Emirates (Helm Field Guides). We also found the UAE Road Map very useful, along with The Birds of the UAE mentioned above.

    Buy Birds of the United Arab Emirates from Amazon             Buy Birds of the Middle East from Amazon             Buy UAE Roadmap from Amazon             Buy The Birds of the United Arab Emirates from Amazon
    
    

    DIARY, SITES & BIRDS

    Day 1 - Saturday 24th November

    Leaving Birmingham on time in a Boeing 777 we arrived at Dubai International in the early hours of Sunday morning. Our arrival coincided with the start of the world rugby sevens and the arrivals hall was full with thousands of people snaking their way down taped off lanes to passport control. Our dismay at this sight was soon tempered as we were ushered to a priority checkout area; here we were processed in double quick time and passed onto Emirates staff who organised our car and driver. Soon we were speeding through the very heavy traffic on our way to the hotel. Even though you are told that Dubai is a gigantic building site, nothing quite prepares you for the sheer volume of building that is taking place 24hrs a day, 7 days a week. On arrival at the Palm Tree Court hotel, which was well away from the hustle and bustle that is Dubai, we had just enough time to unpack whilst we waited for a turkey & ham sandwich ordered from the 24hr room service and making ourselves a cup of tea, before climbing into our gargantuan double bed at about 03:00am. With the UAE being 4hrs ahead it was actually 11:00pm according to our body clocks, so we weren’t desperately tired.

    Day 2 - Sunday 25th November

    View from room balconyMonday dawned bright and sunny, as all our mornings did during the holiday. I was up at dawn, cup of tea in one hand, bins in the other, birding from the balcony. Common Myna, White-spectacled & Red-vented Bulbul, House Crow, and an assortment of gulls greeted me as I scanned the grounds & beach below.

    After a hearty breakfast, we visited the extensive landscaped grounds and the adjacent marina, where we were informed Striated Heron could sometimes be found. With the heat getting stronger and only Indian Silverbill and a very confiding Indian Roller added to our list we returned to our hotel for lunch and catch up with much needed sleep.

    Day 3 - Monday 26th November

    MarinaThis was our first day birding with our guide Steve James. Steve is an excellent birder with all the knowledge of both the birds of the region and the birding sites that comes with living for many years in the UAE. We had agreed to meet Steve at 06:00 in the hotel reception, a call on the room telephone at 05:45 informed us that Steve was in reception and he would see us when we were ready.

    After the usual meeting and greeting we were soon in Steve’s 4x4 heading for our first site which was Al Warsan Lakes (formally Wimpey Pits). Access is not allowed as the whole area is being developed, so birding was done through a chain link fence from a busy main road; this, combined with the sun still low in the sky and in our eyes, made both birding and photography a tad difficult. However we manoeuvred around the pool so that views were more acceptable, birds seen only in silhouette now became more defined and easier to identify, although I have to admit Steve had no problems and was calling birds almost immediately.

    Birds of Al Warsen

    Caspian and Black-headed Gull, Whiskered Tern and many Grey and Purple Heron were seen with both species of Heron together with several Great White Egret in the same tree. Duck species encountered included Ferruginous, Mallard, Pochard, Tufted and Shoveler. Both Common and Red-knobbed Coot were also present together with Little and Black-necked Grebe. Clamorous Reed Warblers were calling from the reed fringes with one particular bird giving good views. A juvenile Night Heron (the only one for the trip) was well spotted by Jude, half hidden in a low bush. A Marsh Harrier quartered the pool putting both Black-winged Stilts and several Ruff to flight. Both Swallow and pale Crag Martin competed for air space with Little Green Bee-eaters. Birds that we would encounter most days of the holiday were also present, these included Graceful Prinia, Purple Sunbird, Collared and Palm Dove, White cheeked Bulbul plus Common Myna and House Sparrow.

    Pivot Fields

    This is a large area where turf is cultivated for the construction industry. We spent a couple of hours slowly exploring the area, paying particular attention to any area that had been recently watered. It soon became apparent that anywhere in the UAE which is either green or holds water is a magnet for birds. It also soon became clear that the opportunity to see birds whilst travelling from one site to another was fairly remote.  

    Birds of the Pivot Fields

    Hoopoe, Red-wattled, White–tailed and Eurasian Lapwing were present, whilst a single Sociable Plover gave good views, along with Grey Francolin, several fly byes by small flocks of Chestnut-bellied Sandgrouse, Common & Pin-tailed Snipe, Ringed & Little-ringed Plover, Glossy Ibis, Collared Pratincole, Wood Sandpiper, Little & Temminck’s Stint, Cattle Egret, Greater-spotted Eagle, Pallid Harrier, Kestrel. Pipit species encountered were Tawny, Richard’s, Water, Red-throated, Long-billed and Meadow. Several sub-species of Yellow Wagtail were seen along with several Citrine Wagtail, both common and Rose-coloured Starling, Pallid Swift, many Indian Roller, Isabelline Shrike including the Daurian race and Southern Grey. A couple of Bluethroat, both Crested Lark & Skylark, Stonechat (Siberian), Silverbill and Graceful Prinia.

    White-tailed PloversWhilst eating the breakfast Steve provided during every trip, he suggested we went for a better look at the White-tailed Plovers, which he said would have dropped into another site just a couple of minutes away.

    Nouakchott Street Marsh

    This again was a small body of water surrounded by development and obviously used as a local dump. Just as Steve had predicted 20> White-tailed Plover were in residence together with Snipe, Black-winged Stilt, Red-wattled Lapwing and half a dozen Little Stint.

    Ra’s Al Khor

    Ra's al Khor Wildlife SanctuaryRa’s Al Khor was our next stop. This was again a large body of water with a large colourful sign at the entrance to a bird hide informing all that this is the first site in the UAE to be given RAMSAR status and that it was a wetland of global importance.

    On our arrival Steve was quick to spot a large raptor high above the Dubai skyline. The obliging bird came closer and closer, giving us excellent views of a Greater-spotted Eagle. On entering the hide we were greeted by the warden for the hide armed with both binoculars and telescope should you need them. I have to admit that on our visit the majority of the birds were at the far end of the reserve, giving in the main distant views. Several hundred Greater Flamingo were feeding in the shallows at the far end of the lake. Most of the species seen here had already been observed at the other sites that day with the exception of Greater Cormorant, Little Egret, Osprey, Grey Plover, Redshank, Greenshank, Black-headed Gull, Slender-billed Gull, Gull-billed Tern and Caspian Tern. Having spent about half an hour in the hide we were encouraged to sign the visitor book by Steve; he said that it is important to show that the site is patronised by tourists in order to help justify  the resources used in its upkeep.

    Safa Park

    Safa ParkWe arrived at Safa Park by early afternoon; this is a very well maintained park in the outskirts of Dubai city, with large areas of manicured lawns, flower beds, a boating lake and small area of woodland. I think Steve would be the first to admit that our visit was a little disappointing with few species on offer whilst we were there. The visit did however produce a bird that was a firm favourite with Jude, the “Alexandrine Parakeet”.

    Birds of Safa Park

    Lesser Desert Whitethroat, Chiffchaff, Flamingo, Widgeon, Teal, Caspian Gull, Grey Francolin, Citrine Wagtail, Ring-necked Parakeet and Red-wattled Lapwing. Although not a long list, Safa, as with many of the sites in the UAE, has a habit of producing very good birds.

    Anyway the skyline with the world’s tallest building dominating; makes a good backdrop beyond the boating lake.

    Boating pool at Safa Park with Dubai City skylineGhantoot Polo Club

    A fleeting visit to this site gave us our main quarry straight away with several Cream-coloured Courser scurrying around the inner polo fields.

    Ghantoot

    This site was within spitting distance of the polo fields and the area was a favourite roost site for an over-wintering Grey Hypocolius. We invested a couple of hours at this site with no sighting. Although, as is our way, we weren’t overly disappointed, Steve was, as this was the first target species we had dipped out on and one that we would not see anywhere else. However this story does have a positive end; whilst looking for the Hypocolius Steve heard a small flock of birds creating havock, he said “I think we may have an Owl about”. How right he was; once we had located the creating throng Steve was quick to draw our attention to the culprit, an Eurasian Scops Owl. Ill wind or what!

    A great day, bird wise and a chance to get to know our guide.               
        
    Day 4 - Tuesday 27th November

    Flamingo at Jebel Ali Golf CourseAnother day when we were left to our own devices. After breakfast we decided to continue where we left off on the Sunday, we would explore more of the adjacent grounds including both golf course and marina. Ignoring the signs to “keep off” the golf course, we explored the bushes adjacent to the first tee. From here we slowly wandered through the trees and bushes that separated the first tee from the 9th, it was here that we saw a lake containing a juvenile Flamingo and the course manager saw us. Trying to be inconspicuous at my size is not an option and we were soon engaged in conversation with the manager. He was a very personable guy and was soon giving us advice on how to negotiate the golf course without being felled by a stray ball. One useful piece of information he gave us was that there was a small bar serving cold drinks at the halfway point of the course. Having seen very little bird wise and being tormented by Little Green Bee-eaters who knew to fly off every time I was about to press the shutter release, we made our way to the bar. Here we met the barman who was very obliging, both with our drinks and information on how he brings cooked rice daily, to feed the birds that gather around his bar.Peacock He also informed us that he was Burmese and told us of the many birds that could be seen there. Still no birds of note and the temperatures in the low 30’s we made our way to the marina for another cold drink and another unsuccessful look for the elusive Striated Heron.

    Losses cut, we returned to the hotel via the grounds of the Jebel Ali Hotel where we came across the Peacocks we had heard on several occasions. Once back at the Palm Tree Court we spent the rest of the day getting to know our surroundings a little better, availing ourselves to a small snack for lunch and the rest of the day just chilling out.        

    Day 5 - Wednesday 28th November

    Once again we were up and ready to be picked up by Steve at 06:00.

    Zakher PoolsZakher Pools

    Our first stop today was Zakher Pools where a Lesser White–fronted Goose had been reported with half a dozen White-fronted Geese. A very rare bird for the UAE and a species very much on the decline elsewhere. Zakher Pools are maintained by the disposal of non-potable water and in a very surreal setting, sited as they are in large sand dunes. To see herons, egrets, and Ibis roosting on sand dunes is not a sight you encounter very often. Approximately an hour was sufficient to cover the pools.

    Grey Heron on the sand dunesBirds of Zakher Pools

    White-fronted & Lesser White-fronted Geese, Western Reef Heron, Grey Heron, Little & Great Egret, Glossy Ibis, Little Grebe, Marsh & Pallid Harrier, Greenshank, Temminck’s & Little Stint, Kentish Plover, Citrine & White Wagtail, Desert Warbler, Desert Wheatear, Water Pipit, Crested Lark, Graceful Prinia.

    Green Mubazzarah

    Our second site of the day was the Green Mubazzarah. This again is an area of arid hills that have been transformed by continuous irrigation creating a green oasis around which a residential and holiday development is taking place. A small stream provides a permanent source of water which is a magnet to both resident and passage birds. Steve had said it was an area where we would see several species of wheatear and he wasn’t wrong.  

    Hume's WheatearBirds of the Green Mubazzarah

    Grey Francolin, Indian Roller, Red-vented and White-spectacled Bulbul, Rock, Collared & Palm Dove, Barbary Falcon, Kestrel, Short-toed Eagle, Isabelline & Southern Grey Shrike, Rose-ringed Parakeet, Little Green Bee-eater, Common Myna, House Sparrow, Eurasian Hoopoe, Brown-necked Raven, Tawny & Water Pipit, Desert & Crested Lark, Pale Crag Martin, Blue Rock Thrush, Chiffchaff, Song Thrush, Clamorous Reed Warbler, Eastern Olivaceous Warbler, Red-wattled Lapwing, Common Sandpiper, Black Redstart, Indian Silverbill, Graceful Prinia, Hume’s, Red-tailed, Mourning, Desert and Hooded Wheatear.

    Death Valley (local name)

    Death ValleySteve explained that this is not an area to bird for any length of time in the summer when temperatures often nudge 50°, hence the name. A very specific environment with very specialised species of birds. Our main quarry here was Sand Partridge of which we saw several, although most sightings were of birds disappearing around rocks. Ménétries’s and Desert Warbler were also a possibility although the former eluded us throughout the trip.

    Birds of Death Valley

    Egyptian Vulture, Sand Partridge, Desert Lark, Hume’s Wheatear, Black Redstart, Small (Desert) Whitethroat, Olivaceous Warbler, Desert Warbler and Plain Leaf Warbler.

    Long-legged BuzzardNeima Pools

    We had passed these pools earlier in the day on our way to the Green Mubazzarah and I had looked forward to visiting them later that day. A Long-legged Buzzard was seen perched on an electric pylon, one of the few birds actually seen whilst travelling. It was during this visit that I saw a delicate long legged wader; I drew Steve’s attention to it calling Marsh Sandpiper. On closer inspection it was identified as a Lesser Yellowlegs; the first ever recorded in the UAE. A few phone calls later and the local birders of the region were informed, starting the “big twitch”.

    The "big twitch" for the Lesser YellowlegsBirds of Neima Pools

    Little Grebe, Grey Heron, Common Teal, Mallard, Shoveler, Black-winged Stilt, Red-wattled Lapwing, Common Snipe, Greenshank, Lesser Yellowlegs, Green Sandpiper, Wood Sandpiper, Little & Temminck’s Stint, Ruff, Whiskered Tern, Collared & Palm Dove, Crested Lark, Sand & Pale Crag Martin, Water Pipit, White Wagtail, Citrine Wagtail.

    Qarn Nazwa

    This was to be our last site of the day, arriving half an hour before dusk and waiting for the Pharaoh Eagle-Owl to make an appearance. We were not disappointed when the owl put in its appearance in good light affording very good views of this magnificent bird.
       
    Day 6 - Thursday 29th November

    Today was our last day on the Arabian Gulf coast and the last at the gorgeous Palm Tree Court. With bags packed the previous night we were once again meeting Steve in the reception at 06:30am. Although this time we also had our suitcases.

    Khor al BeidaKhor al Beida

    This was the first site visited en-route to our second hotel, The Hilton at Fujairah, which was situated on the Gulf of Oman coast. Although the tide was out and many views of the birds were distant, they were very acceptable through the scopes. This site was a particular favourite of the trip, especially as it contained the long sought after Crab Plover.

    Birds of Khor al Beida

    Cormorant, Grey Heron, Great & Little Egret, Western Reef Heron, Greater Flamingo, Osprey, Marsh Harrier, Grey Francolin, Crab Plover, Eurasian Oystercatcher, Grey Plover, Ringed Plover, Kentish Plover, Lesser & Greater Sand Plover, Whimbrel, Curlew, Bar-tailed Godwit, Common Redshank, Greenshank, Terek Sandpiper, Caspian Gull, Slender-billed Gull, Gull-billed Tern, Collared Dove, Palm Dove, Little Green Bee-eater, Crested Lark, Tawny Pipit, Desert Wheatear, Asian Desert Warbler, Purple Sunbird and House Sparrow.  

    Umm al Qaiwain breakwater

    This is a recognised sea watch point and a dumping ground for all the plastic bottles in the UAE. However a short stop here was rewarded with fly pasts of several rafts of Socotra Cormorant.

    Birds of Umm al Qaiwain

    Socotra Cormorant, Grey Heron, Western Reef Heron, Caspian Gull, Heuglin’s Gull, Black-headed Gull, Pallid Swift, Little Green Bee-eater, Crested Lark and Pale Crag Martin.

    Digdagga

    This site was en-route to our final site of the day and consisted of a collection of small irrigated fodder fields viewed from the main road and a site that will stay long in the memory for the sheer numbers of Hoopoe seen in 2 adjacent fields; I counted well over 40.

    Birds of Digdagga

    Grey Francolin, Red-wattled Lapwing, Ruff, Feral Pigeon, Collared & Palm Dove, Pallid Swift, Indian Roller, Crested Lark, Pale Crag Martin, Tawny & Water Pipit, White-cheeked Bulbul, Siberian Stonechat, Isabelline Wheatear, Daurian Shrike, Brown-necked Raven, Common Myna.

    Ras Dibba

    This was our final site of the day and another sea watching point. It was also the site where Steve had had Red-billed Tropicbird a few weeks earlier. It had been decided to use this site for a late lunch. Sat on a small wall under the shade of a tree, we ate lunch and sea watched for about an hour. Steve thought the site wasn’t being as productive as it could so we decided to up stumps and take the 45 minute drive to our chosen hotel, itself a well known spot for sea watching. We decided to get ourselves ensconced in our new hotel, have a quick shower and meet Steve for a drink on the Beach terrace and continue the sea watch.

    Birds of Ras Dibba

    Black-headed, Siberian, Caspian, Heuglin’s and Sooty Gulls, Swift & Common Tern, Persian Shearwater, Common Sandpiper, Ringed Plover, Greenshank, Common Redshank, Indian Roller and Rock Dove.

    Day 7 - Friday 30th November

    A different hotel but the format remained the same; we would meet Steve in the hotel lobby at 06:00am so as to be at our chosen site in the relative cool of the early morning. Incidentally I have to point out at this point that it had been agreed that another of the local bird guides, Neil Tovey, was to lead our birding on this coast. As it turned out Neil was indisposed so Steve kindly stepped into the breach. As Steve’s home is in Abu Dhabi, a four hour drive away, it was impractical for him to travel back & forth so he decided to sleep under the stars on his bedroll in some low hills approximately 40k from the hotel. Unknown to Steve we had tried to acquire him either an hotel room, or at the very least, a staff room, with no luck. Our stay coincided with a bank holiday week-end celebrating “National Day” so rooms anywhere in Fujairah were non existent. This does however demonstrate Steve’s dedication and willingness to do all he can for the visiting birder.

    Fujairah Dairy FarmFujairah Dairy Farm was the chosen site with Steve informing us that we were to be joined by Derek Wilby, a very enthusiastic South African birder and photographer. Derek’s sightings and photographs form a regular contribution to the UAE birding web site hosted by Tommy Pedersen. Although the dairy farm is one of the premier birding sites in the UAE and accounts for many records, I have to admit it wasn’t our favourite. The farm again is an extensive expanse of grass, irrigated to provide fodder for the large herd of milking cows. The birding here consisted of walking slowly through the 100mm long grass flushing birds which were then identified, mainly in flight and silhouette. I have to say at this point that this is the only way that this area can be birded and did not in any way disturb the birds, who just flew a couple of hundred yards usually over our shoulder to an area already covered. To complete the site properly takes about 4 hrs.      

    Birds of Fujairah National Dairy Farm

    Steve James and Derek WilbyCattle Egret, Eurasian Widgeon, Common Kestrel, Amur Falcon, Grey Francolin, Red-wattled Lapwing, Caspian Plover, Green, Wood and Common Sandpiper, Ruff, Black-headed Gull, Rock Dove, Collared & Palm Dove, Rose-ringed Parakeet, Little Green Bee-eater, Indian Roller, Hoopoe, Crested Lark, Skylark, Pale Crag Martin, Richard’s, Long-billed, Blyth’s, Tawny, Meadow, Water & Red-throated Pipit, White, Masked (Motacilla alba personata), Citrine, Grey and several sub-species of Yellow Wagtails, White-spectacled Bulbul, Bluethroat, European & Siberian Stonechat, Red-tailed, Desert & Isabelline Wheatear, Graceful Prinia, Clamorous Reed Warbler, Purple Sunbird, Turkestan, Daurian & Southern Grey Shrike, House Crow, Bank & Common Myna, House & Spanish Sparrow and Indian Silverbill.

    Ras Dibba

    Having left the dairy farm it was decided that we pay another visit to the sea watching point which was back up the coast and in the direction of our hotel. It was arranged that we would meet Derek there after we had spent a little time driving around a large area of scrub where Hoopoe Lark could sometimes be found. After about half an hour, having picked nothing new up, we left to join Derek.Beach bar at the Hilton

    Derek was well ensconced when we arrived surrounded by half a dozen Indians curious at what he was doing. Derek reported that once again passage was slow and not a great deal was happening. We spent approximately three quarters of an hour before saying our goodbyes and returning for some more civilised sea watching from the beach bar of the hotel.

    Birds of Ras Dibba

    Persian Shearwater, Cormorant, Grey Heron, Great Egret, Little Egret, Western Reef Heron, Common Redshank, Common Sandpiper, Black-headed Gull, Lesser Crested, Swift & Common Tern.

    Qurrayah Pools and Shoreline

    Our final site of the day and what a site. This was a series of inter-connected pools used in the main to dump oil and burn car tyres. We saw several very sorry individuals who had obviously strayed too close to the oil and would probably not survive. However, nature is tenacious if nothing else and birds do make a home in this hostile environment.

    Birds of Qurrayah Pools & Shoreline

    Moorhen, Black-winged Stilt, Red-wattled Lapwing, Ringed Plover, Common Redshank, Little Stint, Ruff, Caspian Gull, Black-headed Gull, Collared & Palm Dove, Little Green Bee-eater, Indian Roller and Indian Silverbill.

    Day 8 - Saturday 1st December

    Khor Kalba

    Sunrise at Khor KalbaThis was to be our last day with Steve and he had a trip to the nearby mangroves of Khor Kalba as his finale. Two special birds were the targets, the White-collared Kingfisher (which is almost exclusive to this site) and Sykes's Warbler, an elusive little bird as we were to find out. Incidentally, not a site to visit if you don’t like to feel mangrove mud squelching between your toes, as well as mud spattered legs and in my case, bins and camera too. Jude had tummy trouble this morning so it was just me who greeted Steve in the hotel lobby at 06:00am. The short drive to the site meant we arrived just before a glorious Arabian dawn. Birds came thick and fast once the sun rose, as did the local Arab population who intended to spend their bank holiday at this magical spot. Although the birding was good I was fascinated by the Green Turtles passing by, their presence betrayed only by their need to breath. Having got good, but distant views of Collared Kingfisher soon after day break, we had to tramp through the mud of the mangroves in order to locate Sykes's Warbler. After lots of pishing, with only glimpses for our troubles, we finally got the views we required just before the mangroves petered out into the coarse sandy bank of the river. Incidentally much closer views of the Collared Kingfisher were obtained here.

    Green TurtleKnowing that Jude had always wanted to see Turtles in the wild we returned to the hotel to see if she was feeling well enough to join us. I shouldn’t have doubted; when we caught up with her she was doing a spot of birding of her own in the hotel grounds, having availed herself of a light breakfast. We returned to the site where Steve directed us to the narrow access bridge saying “if you want to see the Turtles this is the spot.” How right he was again; we spent the next half hour totally spellbound, watching Turtles in the crystal clear waters beneath our feet.

    Certainly one of the highlights of the trip and a fitting finale to our time with Steve. We returned to the hotel where we had lunch with Steve before he started his long drive home.         

    DCollared Kingfisheray 9 - Sunday 2nd December

    A leisurely start with a late breakfast (full English of course) saw both of us drawing suspicious looks from the hotel guests as we slowly wandered around the hotel grounds inspecting all the trees and bushes for birds. It was during this sortie that we found a Hume’s Leaf Warbler, not a common bird for the area, with the odd bird turning up from time to time. After a lunch that took well over an hour to appear (not unusual for the hotel), we again settled ourselves in the shade of the beach bar, sipping rock shandy and checking all fly-bys for that special bird.  

    Birds of the Hilton Hotel

    Persian Shearwater, Cormorant, Little Egret, Western Reef & Grey Heron, Ringed Plover, Common Redshank, Greenshank, Common Sandpiper, Sooty, Caspian & Heuglin’s Gull, Greater(Swift), Lesser Crested, Sandwich, Whiskered, Common & Saunders’s Terns, Grey Francolin, Isabelline Wheatear, Chiffchaff, Hume’s Leaf Warbler, Indian Roller, Rose-ringed Parakeet, Common Myna, White Wagtail, Purple Sunbird, House Crow, Graceful Prinia, Palm & Collared Dove, House Sparrow. 

    Day 10 - Monday 3rd December

    Today we were up early, packed, had breakfast and spent the last hour birding the hotel grounds. Our transport arrived spot on time only to find that the flight had been delayed for just over an hour. The flight home was uneventful, arriving back to a cold damp Britain.

    MOANS, GROANS & MEMORABLE MOMENTS

    Moans & groans on this holiday were few and far between.

    Moan

    The appalling service at the Hilton; not what you would expect from a five star hotel.

    The repair work taking place around the beach bar area with sawing and hammering a constant backdrop.

    Groan

    Being charged £2:00 for a small glass of fresh milk to replace the evaporated milk supplied as part of the tea & coffee making facilities in the room.

    Memorable moments

    Steve’s expert knowledge, his very pleasant disposition, his attentiveness and attention to detail.

    Seeing the Crab Plover - one of those birds that has been on my most wanted list for many years.

    Lesser YellowlegsThe atmosphere whilst waiting silently in the desert for the appearance of a magnificent Pharaoh Eagle-Owl.

    Daybreak at Khor Kalba and the subsequent spotting of the Green Turtles.

    The finding of the Lesser Yellowlegs and the buzz that ensued throughout the small population of resident birders.

    The sheer opulence of the Palm Tree Court Hotel and its extensive grounds.

    CONCLUSION  

    The trip list wasn’t massive at 169, but the birds encountered were a mix of both familiar and the new, with some very special birds mixed in. Both Judy and I would have no hesitation in recommending the UAE as a great place to watch birds; we would also gladly recommend the small band of bird guides who do so much to make your birding experience a memorable one.

    Species List

    Bird Photos

    Pat & Judy Hayes

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