Saturday, 7 January 2012

Twitching the Wild West of Abu Dhabi Emirate.

I know it is the weekend, because I am up at 3.30am. I normally rise at 5.15am, during the week. It is dark and a little cold outside. I begin my drive. Now, I hate this road, three hours in a straight line. So, why do I do it? Well, because this road leads to Sila, a rather unremarkable town, close to the Saudi Arabian border. Unremarkable in appearance, but seen through the eyes of a birder, a place with strange mystical qualities! You see it has a remarkable propensity for turning up rare vagrants in the various habitats dotted around the town. That's why we put ourselves through this torture. That's why we leave cosy, warm beds to venture forth into the black night. On this occasion it was for a genuine UAE vagrant (Redwing) and a rare winter visitor (Eurasian Robin). By the way, you are correct, we are all nuts!
I arrive as dawn is breaking, no sign of life, apart from 1,200 Collared Doves roosting in the mesquite bushes. No sign of the camping boys at all. I start my walk towards the farm, regretting my decisions to wear sandals in the cold morning air. Then, I hear the roar of an engine, under strain. It is of course Talbot driving in normal mode! They come bouncing into view and park. A strange assembly of persons descend from the vehicle. First of all, is the driver, Graham, wearing something from his winter collection!

Graham, looking suitably satorially elegant!
 But, will his unique style catch on
 with the masses?

The next personage, strongly resembled Little Red Riding Hood's brother. Simon, is obviously of the opinion, that as both rarities here show strong flashes of red on their plumage, he would do the same! Trying to blend with the background perhaps?

Simon, blending in with the environment!

The final member of this distinguished trio, was Mark, looking relatively normal. I think this must be his new year's resolution, to look more normal, because it is the first time it has become apparent to me.
We walked to the site of the rarities. Quickly, Simon spotted the Robin, and a short while later, all were enjoying good views. Then, a Song Thrush flew over, followed by its companion, a seeping Redwing! It was skittish, but all obtained good flight views & brief perched views when it was in a palm. Both in the bag, before 8am! Not a bad start to the day!
We fan out, covering the wider area. I find a nice immature Pallid Harrier perched on top of a post. A European Stonechat was on the edge of the marsh. This species has had a recent upsurge of records and I think this  is a genuine change of status. A nice, Eurasian Sparrowhawk surveyed us from a nearby bush. A golden orb appeared in the sky. It couldn't be the sun, as there was no warmth emanating from it.
We moved off to the orchards, I spotted a lovely blythi Lesser Whitethroat. Dove blue head, contrasting with the black lores and snowy white underparts & dark tail. Nice, far better than its much drabber relatives the Desert Lesser Whitethroat, which were also present. A Eurasian Sparrowhawk was the best of a bunch of winter migrants.
It was now time for our morning's beverage and this is where Simon's superior skills of boiling water, came to the fore. Simon revealed his expertese to all and rumour has it, he will be the next big thing on reality TV.

Simon, showing us all how it is done!

From left to right: Mark; Graham; Simon & myself.
Photo courtesy of Graham.

I then moved off after being suitably refreshed (thanks for the coffee boys)! 7 Meadow Pipits graced a nearby roundabout. Sila Park was quiet, with 4 Daurian Shrikes being the best of a poor bunch. The nearby fooder fields were not much better: 4 Namaqua Doves & 6 Eurasian Skylarks grubbing around, on the seed littered floor. It was now time to drive to Jebel Dhanna for our appointment with Khalifa.
Khalifa had recently found a western race Black Redstart, which is quite possibly, the first for Arabia as well as a UAE first! At 1.30pm people started to arrive. Some arriving in more style than others!

Our Dubai birding cousins,
 showing us all how it is done!

There was quite a gaggle of us enjoying the bird, which performed on cue. Certainly, one of the biggest twitchers in the wild west. (Mark; Simon, Graham,Andrew Ward; Khalifa; Mike; Tommy & Maya).

A potential first for Arabia!
Nice finding Khalifa!

The more normal (in these parts)
 Eastern Black Redstart.
Photos courtesy of Khalifa.

Khalifa, one of a new generation of UAE
nationals who are interested in natural history.

Most of us then moved up the mountain, to see Mourning Wheatears which are regular winter visitors here.  These small fodder fields, atop Jebel Dhanna, provide a strong pull for tired migrants. We saw five individuals, a UAE tick for Andrew! (he is now one ahead of Simon, but who is counting)?

Mourning Wheatear, a regular winter visitor
to the extreme western parts of AD Emirate.
Photo courtesy of Khalifa.

This part of the mountain holds introduced Ural Sheep, an endangered Asiatic species. they are increasing and breeding well here. 

A fine male Ural Sheep.
Photo courtesy of Khalifa.

c300 animals are resident on Jebel Dhanna.
This is an important population
of this endangered species.
Photo courtesy of Khalifa.

The boys in action, stomping the fields.
Photo courtesy of Graham.

Our last port of call was the base of this isolated mountain. Khalifa had spottted a Eurasian Blackbird here a few weeks ago. So we went to check it out.  No blackbird, but at least 14 Eurasian Stone Curlews were in the area. A notable concentration and certainly my highest count together in the UAE. An excellent ending to a fine day out.

Eurasian Stone Curlew,
 which seem to be common in this area.

8 species added (total 137 species). 720 kms travelled.

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