Sunday, 5 February 2012

Going Wild in Wadi Bih!

It’s 2.59 am, I know this fact, because I have just woken up one minute before the alarm goes off. I seem to have this uncanny ability to do this, despite setting the alarm at different times. I have no idea how this works, but I have always been able to do it. Very strange!

The car is packed and I am waiting for my companion, Robin. He rose at 2.30 am, in order to drive to my house and car share. The miles and associated costs of a big year, mount up! He arrives and with the minimum of fuss, we are driving north, into the night.

We arrive at our first stop the Al Karran Water Treatment Plant (Sewage works)! It is a particularly unlovely spot, but the birds don’t seem to mind.

Al Karran Water Treatment Plant

Mosquitoes swarming at dawn.
Or the clouds of mosquitoes! Both Robin and myself had never seen anything quite like this. As it started to get light, literally hoardes of mosquitoes rose up above the trees and started co-ordinated swarming. Luckily for us, they were well above our heads.
3 Greater White-fronted Geese and 3 Ferruginous Ducks were the highlights, but a good selection of waders were also seen. No hirundines at all. This winter has been particularly bad, for this group of birds.

The western entrance to Wadi Bih.

A winter morning.

We moved on and entered Wadi Bih. The Ru’us Al Jabil (head of the mountains), is a range in the greater Hajar Mountains. The highest peak ( Jebel Al Harim) is 2,087 m. above sea level. The mountains are divided by wadis, of which Wadi Bih is the largest.

Typical habitat at the lowest end of the wadi.

Wadi Bih starts in Ras Al Khaimah and runs roughly eastwards, crossing into Oman before re-entering UAE territory again, close to Dibba, on the east coast. Unfortunately, one can no longer drive its entire length due to border difficulties. The whole area has tremendous environmental, historical and cultural significance.

A side wadi, with acacia trees.

Towering peaks and the dry river bed.
 The wadi is quite wide in places.

Looking towards Omani territory.

Birding here is quite an experience, as you are surrounded  by spectacular scenery. Narrrow gorges, high cliffs, boulder strewn wadis and cloud covered mountain peaks are all part of the natural mosiac.

Searching for Chukars.

I am over here!
 Our mission was to find two localised species; Chukar and Trumpeter Finch. Chukars are closley associated with the mountain geology found in Iran and central Asia. This just extends down into the Hajar Mountains and thus the birds are at the edge of their range here. The furthest south they are found in the UAE is around Masafi, but here they are very low in numbers and consequently difficult to find. All other places where you can see Chukar are of released birds and therfore not countable for my big year! Trumpeter Finch has a slightly wider distribution, being closley associated with mountains, even isolated one like Jebel Hafeet. But, they are usually hard to find here.

Robin quickly spotted some game birds running and they proved to be Chukars. We both enjoyed great views. The Trumpeter Finch proved to be a different story! We searched hard, but all my usual spots drew a blank and we never saw them. Other good birds included a pair of confiding Scrub Warblers; Red rumped Swallow and best of all, an Eversman’s Redstart. This species is a central Asian one, here, on the very edge of its wintering range and an excellent species to see.

The often elusive, Scrub Warbler.
Photo courtesy of Derrick Wilby.

I spotted a fine adult Bonelli’s Eagle high overhead but Robin missed it, because he was putting sun block on (because of orders from his partner Anne) and he put some in his eyes! I always knew that sun block was bad for you!

Robin, searching for Trumpeter Finch. 

Me, taking a breather! A little bit to the right Robin,
then walk straight on!
Remains of old settlements are still commonly found.

Today, many of the Shihuh people
 live on the coast.

Wadi Bih used to be wild and totally unspoilt, but recent developments have altered this slightly. However, it is still a brilliant place to explore. One can climb up tributary wadis, looking at the remains of old houses and walls that were the boundaries of small fields. Graveyards are quite common and a testament to how long this place has been inhabited by the Shihuh tribe. Indeed a number of prehistoric tombs have been discovered and excavated, some dating as far back as the Hafeet period (3200-2600BC).

Getting ready for marriage.

We came across this sight in one of the side wadis. People arriving amid lots of gunfire, to start the local wedding celebrations.  
It was time to move on and we made the short drive to the water treatment plant again. Good birding but nothing new. We then made an exploratory trip to a nearby fodder field complex, at the base of the mountains. We saw few birds, but the potential is certainly there for future visits.

Previously unknown (to us) fodder fields.
Rarityland? It certainly looks a great place for migrants.

 One of the four Eurasian Kestrels,
 feeding on large insects on the grass.

I was on edge, because Andrew Ward (of Commander and Mr. Lulu fame) had rung, saying the 2 Red-crested Pochards were back. The pedal was pushed to the metal, but despite our best efforts, they departed around 30 minutes before our arrival! We searched other likely places, but nothing doing!

We arrived home to be greeted by Carol and cold beer! Not a bad ending, to a very good day out.

4 species added (total 214) 590 kms travelled.

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