Sunday, 29 January 2012

A Fool’s Errand?

Sometimes you do something and you know its stupid, but you keep on doing it! It makes you wonder doesn’t it? I am of course, talking about supporting the England Cricket Team!

 Since I have been alive, this must be one of the more masachistic things that a true blue-blooded Englishman can do. Over the last forty years or so, we have seen the pride of England, snatch defeat from the jaws of victory time and time again! But Saturday’s play, possibly, hit the new heights of stupidity! After dominating the game for three & half days, we threw it away, in just short of two sessions, after lunch. How is this possible?

Well, I was watching it and I still don’t know! And it all started so well. A nice lay in bed, arrived at the ground to be escorted into our coporate box, complete with tea, coffee, juices and all the little snacks. Nice company in the form of Huw, Marion, Carol, John & Jim.

From left to right: John; Jim; Carol, me and Marion.
Taken just before the Massacre of the Innocents!

Huw, giving me the shifty Welsh stare!
Decoded, this means you are toast mate!

And just a regurgitated owl pellets cough away, Commander Ward, (formerly Mr. Lulu), sitting enjoying the spectacle of the English bowlers bowling really well and dismantling the Pakistan batting line up. So far so good. Then we all enjoyed our first beers of the day and sat down to a pleasant lunch.

Mr. Lulu, smiling, but not for long!

Swan bowling a maiden over.

The Barmy Army in a sober, sombre mood! 

Honest & to the point!

The AD version of The Hill, down under.

Sir Beefy despensing wisdom, in the lunch break.
  Upon resuming our seats (with spectacular views of the ground by the way) it immediately became apparant, that our boys bats had been replaced by sticks of rhubarb and their spines by jelly and custard! Had they been on the sauce at lunchtime as well? The Commander summed it up very well, by saying he was still birdwatching, as he was watching tits on the field of play. I would not disagree with his assessment!

Parus minor
 Parus major, of the South African race!

Captain parus.

John, thinking carefully about giving advice,
 to the poor unfortunates on the field of play!

England needed 145 runs to win, with all wickets intact and a day and half to get them. Piece of cake! No, this turned into humble pie! We all sat there and we cringed. Then we cringed again! The Pakistani supporters couldn’t believe it! Soon the drums were drumming and they were a credit to their team in their generous support. 

Corporate box tickets, means you get VIP Parking.
In AD, this means you get a softer, better class of sand to park upon,
than those other poor, miserable wretchers, that have to park elsewhere.

Andrew Strauss stated to the world’s media that England have to perform better! Never! I can now see why he isn’t a brain surgeon. Now I appeal to you all, if you have ever batted, at any level of cricket, (rounders will do) and ever owned an English Red Setter, then you qualify. Please apply to messers Strauss, Flowers and co & make sure you place a first class stamp on the envelope, as they really need you in a hurry!

Till the next time!

Saturday, 28 January 2012

In search of the Ruddy Quacker (again)!

Friday saw me curled up in bed, being head butted by our cat, exactly one minute before the alarm went off! Cat wanted food & I needed coffee. Robin arrived exactly on time & we were off, through the fog, to Al Ain.

Jacky found a Ruddy Shelduck last week. We had looked for it once but dipped. It turns out mainly to looking in the wrong place! This time we had good information from Huw & our hopes were high! It was a little chilly as we scoped the lake, plenty of ducks including 2 Ferruginous, but our bird was conspicious by its absence! As we walked away I glanced back to talk to Robin & glimpsed a flash of chestnut & white, landing on the pond. We soon had it firmly in the scope & it gave great views.

Ruddy Shelduck.
Photo courtesy of Huw Roberts.

A fine portrait shot from Huw.
On our way back to the car, close scrutiny of a small flock of Water Pipits revealed a fine Buff-bellied Pipit, among them. This could be the first record for Al Ain? Huw arrived and we arranged to meet Jacky at GM. Thanks Jacky & Huw, nice one!

Green Mubazzarah was quite productive, with Robin & Jacky finding a huddled up Eurasian Wryneck, which was a welcome addition to the year list. We all moved along to the back wadi, but it was strangely quiet. However, the weather was by now just great & we all enjoyed our birding together.

Eurasian Wryneck
Photo courtesy of Dave Clark.

Robin, Jacky & Huw birding the back wadi.

The pool at the end of the wadi, is once again full.
Derrick had just arrived back in the UAE  from a very successful bird marathon around southern Africa, where he even managed to photograph our old house in Mutare, Zimbabwe. It is looking a bit in need of tender loving care these days!

Our old house in Mutare, Zimbabwe.
Looking a little bit different, from when we lived there.
Photo courtesy of Derrick Wilby.

The newly enlarged Zakker Sea!

The combination of deep blue sky and red sand,
 makes for an attractive setting.

He esconsed himself over looking Zakker Pools (or is it Zakker Sea these days)? He was looking for the Marbled Duck. We all joined him, but no joy over the duck. Birding was good but nothing new. The area of reeds where the Eurasian Bittern & the Moustached Warblers were is now cut off, its an island! Boat needed!

Robin, Derrick & I transferred our attention to the Al Ain Water Treatment Plant. By looking over the back wall, we recorded lots of duck and waders & right at the end, I spotted a lone Eurasian Golden Plover.

Jacky had now returned from his lunch (he lives nearby) and we drove around the back of Ain Al Faydah. A little bit of water present, but nothing worthwhile.

The view of Jebel Hafeet, from Ain Al Faydah.

A Black crowned Sparrow-lark was a year tick for me. Jacky, then took us to a new site, the Cement Factory Pools. A few things were noted, and it is certainly a site to keep an eye on, in the migration season.

Cement Factory Pools, a newly created
 waterbird habitat in Al Ain. 

Our last stop was Wadi Al Ain, but 4 Glossy Ibis proved to be the highlights. Thanks for your company and refreshments Jacky.

Robin & I arrived in MBZ City and he went off to his Burns Supper & whisky tasting evening! Thanks for your company Robin. I had a most welcome evening in with Carol. Sometimes it is nice, just to stay home!

3 species added (total 210): 420 kms travelled.

Thursday, 26 January 2012

A quick dash to Al Ain.

The end of the working day saw me piling into Robin's car, for a mad dash to Al Ain. Jacky had found a Ruddy Shelduck the other day and I needed it for my year list! We rolled up to the Al Maqam Resort, scanned the first lake, nothing. On to the second, a fishing Osprey (unusual here, as it is so far inland) and even rarer, an Indian Pond Heron. This species being new for my year list. Maybe it had moved to Zakker Pools? So, armed with binoculars, optimism and the newly arrived Huw, we went. Plenty of birds, but not our bird! 2 Common House Martins were scant consolation.

Osprey, very unusual this far inland.

The track to Wadi Tarabat

Wadi Tarabat holds an impressive suite
 of mountain species.

Where is it then?

The Odd Couple: armed to the teeth with technology
and not afraid to use it.
Dangerous men, do not fratenise with them!

As the light was fading, we decided to visit Wadi Tarabat for owls. The weather was decidedly chilly, so cold infact, that no owls turned up! An absolute insane Southern Grey Shrike kept following us around, coming to within a couple of metres of our heads! I have never witnessed this type of behaviour from this species before. Weird!

Southern Grey Shrike
Photo courtesy of Huw Roberts.

2 species added (total 207) 400 kms travelled.

Bad weather, a major dip, but still a good day out!

After relaxing yesterday, I was once more in the car by 4.30 am & hammering north to Khor al Beidah. A week ago Neil had found a Merlin in the dunes here & yesterday Simon saw it in the same place. It is highly unusual for a Merlin to hang around in the same place in winter in the UAE. This is a rare and elusive winter visitor, that’s why I was here!
I hit the rain at Shahama, and as I drove northwards, it became more intense with spectacualar lightning, making the lanscape briefly daylight. But, by some unseen magical force, as soon as I arrived at the khor, it stopped raining. I began my search and three hours later, I was still looking at every little bump in the dunes. I drew a complete blank. Disappointed, I began to check the waders arriving at high tide. The spectacular Crab Plovers were obvious, the 12 Great Knot less so. The birds were pouring in in their hundreds, but just as I settled down to enjoy the spectacle, three Pakistani labourers, drove up in their truck and proceeded to clean it using sea water! Don’t they know this is salt water? Needless to say, the waders didn’t hang around and my quest for Broad-billed Sandpiper remained unfullfilled. A nearby Brown-necked Raven croaked at me from the top of an unbuilt hotel. Three year ticks, but nothing special.

Waders roosting at high tide,
 in front of the half built hotel.

I drove south to Dubai. I arrived at Ras Al Khor, the tide was coming in. It was blowing a gale, but the raptors were up in the air seemingly enjoying themselves. Eight Great Spotted Eagles; 3 Ospreys and at least eight Marsh Harriers. In the distance was an immature Bonelli’s Eagle, spiralling ever higher.

Looking across Ras Al Khor at
 the tallest building in the world.

A large blob of brown, being harassed by four Marsh Harriers, revealed itself to be an Eastern Imperial Eagle. It eventually slunk off low, out of sight, on the main khor. My 200th bird for the year! I started to check the small waders, among the tundrae Ringed Plovers was a lone Broad-billed Sandpiper. A welcome find. As I was leaving I bumped into Mark Smiles, who told me about 4 Purple Gallinules at Al Warsen lakes. Another place to check before the day was over.
I thought the bad weather might keep the hoardes at bay in Safa Park. This is a good location for unusual migrants and I had high hopes. However, I was wrong on both counts; the people were there in force and the swaying trees appeared to be birdless. More out of desparation I phoned Mike Barth. He was home and informed me that 2 Brahimny Starlings were present in his garden. I invited myself around & minutes later saw them. Now in 2007, this had been one of my last ticks of the year, as it is a tricky species to find, for an Abu Dhabi based birder. I thanked Mike & moved on to the Dubai Pivot Fields. The wind was now ridiculous and no small passerines were on show. Closer scrutiny revealed the 2 Sociable Lapwings, now starting to attain a more adult, breeding pumage and between them a fine European Golden Plover. I flushed it to make certain of the ID, both the call and the silvery underwing were conclusive. I was particularly pleased by this bird, as it is a tricky one for anyone’s years list.

Al Warsen Lakes, with International City
 in the background.

Doubled up against the wind, I quickly walked around Al Warsen. A flock of 25+ Yellow-crowned Bishops contained a Scaly-breasted Munia. Great, to get this one out of the way. After an hour of searching, my eyes were watering in the wind and a lone Purple Gallinule decided to reveal its prescence. 10 year ticks and because of the weather, I called it a day, slightly early. It just wasn’t enjoyable being out there anymore.

10 species added (total 205) 430 kms travelled.

Saturday, 21 January 2012

A day out on Al Yazi

Carol, Rob & myself were invited to a little outing on Al Yazi, a very nice, 42 foot cruising boat, which is maintained by Captain Maarten (he needed to take it out for a little spin to turn the engines over, as this boat is not used very often by the owner). Al Yazi means little gazelle in Arabic. I suggested a little trip to Lulu Island. I must admit, that I did have a motive; it is one of the most reliable locations for Grey Hypocolious these days.

Carol, getting used to the good life!

Ann & William: Crew team 1.

Carol & me: Crew team 2.
Captain Maarten.

We all met up at Marina Harbour on Abu Dhabi corniche. Ann & William were also invited and after a few formailities, we set sail. Setting sail is not really the correct terminology, as we cruised for only a few hundred meters, before docking on the far side of Lulu Island.

Our transport for the day.

View of AD Corniche, looking from Lulu Island.

Power boat racing, all part of the birding scene in AD.

 I then set off on my quest to find Hypocolious, not too difficult surely? There were 17 birds present in December. I trudged through the soft sand. Not a sign, infact very few migrants at all: 6 Song Thrush & a European Stonechat being the best. I phoned Oscar, to get the location where he had last seen the birds in December. I trudged again! But then I spotted a fine male, sat on top of a bush. It remained there for a few seconds and when it flew, a female accompanied it. Nice!

It's the one on the left!

Me, with my new toy! (I wish)!

I then rejoined the rest of the party, to discover they had started on the beer, without me! I quickly endevoured to catch up on my companions! We had a very pleasant afternoon, chatting, in a very nice setting. Thank you Maarten, for inviting us.

1 species added (total 195) 70 kms travelled by car & 2 kms travelled by boat!

Friday, 20 January 2012

Drongo Mania!

I am back in the car, driving once more to Dubai. Along the very same road, I travelled yesterday! The cause, was revealed when I turned on my phone this morning. There were two messages awaiting me from Neil & Simon, they both said the same thing: Black Drongo in Al Barsha Park!
Black Drongo is a very rare bird here in the UAE, so rare infact, that only a handful of birders have actually seen one previously.
 Rob & I sped up the highway. After a little difficulty, we found the park. It didn't really look the kind of place for migrants. But we walked to the spot and there it was, fly-caching from some small trees, right out in the open.

Black Drongo in flight.
Photo courtesy of Khalifa.

We also spotted some other characters, lurking in the shade, just waiting for the right moment. All were hiding behind their rather large lenses.

Huw, Mike & Khalifa,
armed to the teeth with technology!

The drongo proceeded to just keep its distance away from us. But all obtained good views and we could see the field feaures, which separate this species, from the closely related Ashy Drongo, which is also a rather rare visitor to the UAE.

Black Drongo.
Photo courtesy of Khalifa.

On the way home, Rob & I chatted about the fact that we might be the only two birders, to have seen two Black Drongos in the UAE!

1 species added (total 194) 340 kms travelled.

Thursday, 19 January 2012

Looking for LEO's.

I spent yesterday (17th) at the Coral Reefs of the Gulf Conference organised by New York University here in Abu Dhabi. And very good it was to. A quick look around the marina, at the Intercontinental Hotel, produced my 190th species for the year: Striated Heron.

1 species added (total 190) 70 kms travelled.

It is now Wednesday 18th and I am now battling death, on the road from Abu Dhabi to Dubai. This is the daily commuter dash, between the two cities. Since 2008 economic crash, many people who live in Dubai, actually now work in Abu Dhabi. The consequence of this, is what we see before my eyes just now. Total chaos! The reason I am doing this dash myself, is that I am meeting Simon and we are searching for LEO’s.

A LEO, but not the one we are looking for!

No, not those LEO’s, I mean that is stupid isn’t it? Searching for Lions in the UAE! Unfortunately, it is not a stupid, as it sounds. A couple of years ago now, I was walking across the desert next to Al Wathba Lake. Dusk was falling, when I heard the unmistakable contact call of a Lion! Now, hearing a Lion on the telly, or even in a zoo, is one thing. But on foot, in soft sand, all alone in the desert, is quite another thing entirely! I quickened my step and looked over my shoulder! It called again! This time I could pin-point where the sound was eminating from. It was the nursery, that grows all kinds of plants for the municipality in AD. It was of course, in a cage. It is still there today, two years later and nearly every visit, as dusk gathers, it starts to call, but no animal ever answers.

I survive the drive and enter Mushrif Park, in Dubai. I am always surprised, at the amount of natural trees here. Among the planted ones, are some of the oldest Ghaf trees in the country. It is also the largest area of natural forest left. Once again, I vow to return to do this area justice, but I never seem to find the time to come and bird here, which is a bit of a shame. I meet up with Simon, we hatch a plan, to try and spot our LEO's which are of course Long-eared Owls!

A patch of Ghaf woodland in Mushrif Park.

Simon & Khalifa.

What I didn't know, was that Simon had already seen the Long-eared Owl. He was turning up tonight, just to help me find the exact spot. Thanks.

Khalifa, Neil & Mike arrived. I wandered off and found a couple of Arabian Babblers & then bumped into Martin Williams from Scarborough, Yorkshire. He has been living in Hong Kong longer than I have been in the UAE!

The Owleters! From left to right:
 Khalifa; Simon; Neil and Mike.

As dusk approached, we trudged through the soft sand, Simon, in some very nice black working shoes! Not so nice this morning though, eh?

Simon, wearing his owling shoes!

We waited quite a while, then Khalifa whispered he had just seen a large bird, gliding through the trees on our left. I walked across the path to get a better angle & saw the Long-eared Owl, perched on the side of a tree. But, it immediately took off, gliding directly away from us. Despite our combined efforts, we didn't relocate it.

Khalifa & I then went in search of Pallid Scops Owl, and after a short search, I picked one up in the torch beam. We took some shots, which were not very good.

Pallid Scops Owl, being difficult!

We tried for Barn Owl, but no joy. So we headed off into the night. I arrived home at 9.45 pm.

3 species added (total 193), 350 kms travelled.