Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Feeling lucky today?

A fine surprise for one UAE birder!

I started birding in 1962 (my mother said it was a phase I was going through)! Everytime I go into the field, anywhere in the world, there is that anticipation. What will the new day bring? In the back of your mind, is the thought of finding a mega-rarity, for your local patch; the county or even the country! It is probably this uncertainty and the added excitement, which keeps us all going.

I have found quite a few rare birds over the years in many countries, each one fondly remembered with a smile, as I relive the days events in my mind. But some birds just blow you away! It shouldn’t be here! But, it is! You are looking at it now!

I doubt very much that Reza Khan, thought he would find a new bird for the UAE as he drove across the Hajar Mountains on to the east coast plains. Reza is an excellent all round naturalist, of the old school type, his mind probably wandering among a host of natural history topics. Finding a rare bird was the last thing on his mind, as he photographed a few gulls idling on the Fujairah Port Beach. But one stood out from the throng, a small gull with a black head. He photographed it & continued his day, only posting the pictures on the UAE birding forum that evening. Little did he realise, he was about to cause a maelstrom!

 If you are a birder, it was easy to identify, it was a full summer plumage Franklin’s Gull! A first for the UAE and only the second for the entire Middle Eastern region. It doesn’t get any rarer, or better than this! The only problem was Reza had found it mid-week and I was at work!

If you are a twitcher, the tension mounts, as you wait. You wait for good news that the bird is still there. You wait for news on which of your friends has seen it. You wait, and as you wait the nerves start to play and your mind plays tricks on you. Will it still be there at the weekend? Well, there is only one way to find out. The alarm called shrilly at 2 am! But, I was already awake, I had one shot at this bird, as my weekend had been filled for me, by my wife! I had to be back in Abu Dhabi by 9am! Not a problem, a mere drive across the desert & mountains, find the bird, drive back, shower & change & be ready to go out by 9am. The only slight problem, is that Fujairah (where the bird was) is around 260 kms from my house. If you drive like a maniac, or even a Talbot, one can make it in three hours. But then you have to get back again. Errm! Do the math, not much time for error.

I have a place for everything & everything in its place. That is my motto for birding trips. I was on the road, complete with all my gear, in ten minutes. I didn’t stop. As dawn was breaking, I was on the beach, scanning for my prey. Gulls a plenty, but my gull, the one I had come so far to see, wasn’t amongst them. As I put my bins down, I looked to my right, a glossy black head and a large eye, with a prominent white eye ring stared straight back at me. I smiled, my camera clicked & I put the news out that it was still here.

Mike Barth & Ahmed Ali arived, but I was leaving, my time was up. Both seemed stunned that I was there before them, and that I was leaving so soon. As you drive home, you have that great feeling of mission accomplished & all the tension flows out of you. But it is then and only then, that you relax and start to get tired. You still have a three hour drive ahead of you & your wife is expecting you to be charming & interested in what the day offers, as it slowly unfolds.

So, at 8.52 am, I parked the car, entered the house to find my wife still sleeping (it was the weekend after all)! Carol woke, Oh you didn’t go then love? You are still here! Yes, I replied I am here, aren’t I? 

Reza, if you are reading this, you did alright!

Franklin's Gull - looking very at home.

Dark upperwing very distinctive
 here in the Middle East.

Franklin's Gull - so far from home!

Back drop of the Hajar Mountains,
 the bird is showing dusky underwing,
 which is characteristic of this species.

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