Sunday, 27 May 2012

The fading Spring!

On Thursday 24th, I drove north from Mender to Al Quoa Fodder Fields. It was very quiet: 5 European Rollers & 3 Marsh Warblers being the only migrants present. Several pairs of Red wattled Lapwings were breeding, as were at least 50+ pairs of Crested Larks.

European Roller

At least four pairs of Red wattled Lapwing
had nested & had young.

 I then drove to Al Ain and met up with Huw. He was kind enough to once again drop what he was doing & gain me entrance into the Al Ain Water Treatment Plant. The White-rumped Sandpiper was again on show, together with a Terek Sandpiper & 3 Little Stints. A good inland record was of a fine full summer plumage Lesser Sand Plover, no doubt on its way to the Tibetan Plateau, which is of course my next port of call as well!

We had a quick look at Zahker Pools: Spoonbill; Purple Heron; Little Bittern and a Ferruginous Duck all still hanging around. The 14 Eurasian Coot could well be breeding.

0 species added (290 species total): 650 kms travelled.

After the Thursday evenings festivities, Carol & I enjoyed a leisurely breakfast & briefly visited Safa Park in the middle of the day, on Friday. An adult Shikra was nice, & a lone Upcher's Warbler was the only migrant I could find.

Upcher's Warbler has a long spring migration
 through the UAE.

0 species added (290 species total): 160 kms travelled.

Sunday 27th, saw me birding the MPG's in the vain hope of adding to my stagnent year list! As expected, it was very quiet: 11 Marsh Warblers & a Common Nightingale were the only migrants present. The four pairs of Eastern Olivaceous Warblers were much in evidence. This is still the only known breeding spot in the whole of Arabia! Which is quite remarkable!

0 species added (290 species total): 80 kms travelled.

Saturday, 26 May 2012

A farewell to Andrew!

A group of UAE birders met up in the Stables Bar in Dubai last Thursday evening (24th May).The occasion was Andrew's leaving party.  Andrew, will very shortly be leaving us after 19 years in the UAE.
 I met Andrew in September 1993, when he moved into the apartment that I was vacating here in Abu Dhabi. He quickly got into his birding stride & was a frequent member of the group that birded Al Wathba Fields for over a decade. He was also a very keen birder on Abu Dhabi Island and we all enjoyed his company on many really good birding days.

Andrew, notice the empty glass!
Nora & Carol.
Simon & Grace
Andrew, one pint later!
Me & the boy!
Another pint later! Andrew trying to
 master modern technology!
A few years ago, he moved first to Sharjah & then Dubai, with his job working for the Higher Colleges of Technology, so I saw a little less of him. But he continued to be a passinoate birder in his new surroundings and was a regular visitor to the Dubai Pivot Fields and more recently Mamzar Park.
Andrew, with his famous white socks!

We had quite a lot in common apart from our love of birds & birding. Andrew had lived in Zambia for 14 years and married a local girl. They still have a house & farm there. He also has a small house in Southhampton and another residence on the Isle Of Wight which is rented out.
A slightly more unusual residence of his, is his railway carriage on the beach on the Isle Of Wight! It is strategically positioned to keep an eye on a small Little Tern colony. I am sure he will divide his time between all these places now he has the time to do as he pleases. I know he is particularly looking forward to birding this autumn in England. Something which he has never done, as for many years he has been overseas.

We wish him all the very best in his twilight years and look forward to birding with him again in both Zambia & the UK.

On the edge of the Empty Quarter!

The Empty Quarter is a vast area of desert, which is mainly in Saudi Arabia & just straddles over into the territory of the UAE. It is a huge area of desert wilderness, with hardly any human habitation. However oil is under the surface and that is why I was there, conducting an environmental baseline survey, before exploration proceeds. I was based in Qasawira Camp, but most of my travels were in the Mender Concession.

The land of the mega-dunes.
Stunning desert scenery.

Large, flat sabkha plains are found
inbetween the high dune fields.

The main highway to Qasawira Camp!

We try to make people as environmentally aware
as possible. Here, written in three languages!
Saltbush vegetation is often found
at the base of the large dunes,
 where underground water collects.

It is big dune & big sky country & is fantastic for just exploring. My three days down there, were not that productive, mainly because of the time of year, but it was nice to just drive & walk around. It is this area that has been chosen as a release site for the critically endangered Arabian Oryx and the endangered Sand Gazelle. Both are now firmly introduced into this region and seem to be thriving. Young are now been born in the wild & the animals are wandering ever more widely, as the programmes progresses and it has been very successful.
A herd of Arabian Oryx, at home,
in their natural habitat.
A satellite tagged animal in a holding pen,
ready for release.
In the early 1970's
this species was on the very edge of extinction!
This particular herd roam extensively
 over this huge area.
A wonderful UAE conservation success story!
The critically endangered Sand Gazelle.
Animals are fed & then slowly encouraged to wander
 further afield & forage for themselves.

The vast expanses of the Empty Quarter pose a huge barrier to bird migration. Many birds must perish each season. Any shade is used, so this grove of trees was very attractive, holding 35 Marsh Warblers!

Shade & water is at a premium here!

Marsh Warbler.

A Marsh Warbler looking for water.
Where trees have been palnted European Turtle Doves have moved in to breed. There are literally hundreds of pairs of this species in the deep southern deserts.
European Turtle Dove is a common
 breeding summer migrant here.
Brown necked Raven has its stronghold here,
in these vast deserts.
Over three days: 290 species (0 species added): 630 kms travelled.

A young male, Sand Gazelle.

A young Sand Gazelle.
Resting in shade, during the heat of the day.

Saturday, 19 May 2012

Exploring the Mountains & a pelagic trip!

It is Saturday 19th & I am still in bed at 8 am! A first for everything, I suppose! I have planned to go with Mark & Oscar for a quick trip in to the mountains to look for Trumpeter Finch, on our way to Kalba for a rendezvous with Abdulla.

The unusual sight of a watery Shawkha Dam!
We first search around Shawkha Dam. It is full of water, which is a surprise! 3 pairs of Red-wattled Lapwings are breeding, together with a pair of Little Ringed Plovers. A few Desert larks are drinking, but no Trumpeters.

Oscar & Mark birding the barren landscape.
The signs have no effect, as there is no enforcement -
the mountains & wadis are covered in litter!
Oscar, still smiling after
 yesterday's triumph!
We move on to the coast & check the Fujairah Port Beach. 5 Persian Shearwaters offshore & a host of Sooty Gulls, a few each of White cheeked & Common Terns. A few Sanderlings play hide & seek among the waves. pretty quiet really.

Persian Shearwater
We meet up with everyone else, & board the boat. It is very quiet! A lone Sooty Shearwater is in full moult & looks very folorn in the merciless heat. He sure is a long way from home, which ever way he has come!

Sooty Shearwater - a regular spring migrant
 in small numbers, in the NW Indian Ocean.
This bird is in very heavy moult.
Is it possible that they come all this way,
 to while away this time in these calm waters?

The distinctive silvery underwing, can clearly be seen.

The odd Persian Shearwater & the odd Red necked Phalarope, but not much else to be seen. Then a shout goes up! Dolphins heading this way! A pod of around 50+ dance around us giving great views. They are Long nosed Common Dolphins. Everyone on board enjoys their antics. But then it is over.
Long nosed Common Dolphins.

Possibly regular in this patch of ocean?

This pod was at least 50 strong.

We head further out to sea, but no seabirds. We come around close to the shore & immediately pick up Bridled tern flocks feeding. Right at the death is a Brown (Common) Noddy feeding with them. But the light is fading & although it comes close, my shots are poor.
A fine adult Brown (Common) Noddy.
We dock & begin the long drive home. England doing quite well in the first test match at Lords, (I get up dates from Carol & Neil). I feel a bit down. I expected a little more action at sea. This is my last trip for six weeks, back on the boat at the end of June. There are still a host of seabirds I need for my year list, to have any chance of success.

1 species added (290 species total): 550 kms travelled.

Yanky Doodle Dandy!

Friday, 18th & dawn sees me birding around the MPG's. It is quite a pleasant morning, although hot, not too humid. Marsh Warblers call from virtually every bush & tree. I eventually total 117 birds. There not much variety this late in the season though: 2 Common Nightingale; 4 Upcher's; 2 Common Whitethroat; 2 Willow Warblers & 2 Blackcaps being the pick of the bunch.

I set out & meet up with Carol for breakfast at the Club. We plan our day - perfect! We go shopping for among others things a new pocket, compact camera for my forthcoming trip. The phone rings & my day is turned upside down in dramatic fashion! Oscar, is on the line, he thinks he has got a White-rumped Sandpiper, at the Al Ain Water Treatment Plant! A first for the UAE! He calls back, they have just seen the white rump. I am on my way! Luckily for me, I had all my gear in the car,(Carol came down in our other car), so I don't waste time by having to go home first. I burn down the highway, probably going too fast for the Yaris's capabilities! I arrive to be informed the gates have just closed! I can see the bird in the heat haze, but not very good views. Huw drives me around to the main gate & he has permission to enter. We are in!

We find the bird and enjoy great, prolonged views. It is an adult coming into summer plumage. It sure is a long way from home. Infact, it is exactly half way round the world from where it should be! A great find Oscar -well done! Very reminescent of the Lesser Yellowlegs I found in Al Ain in 2007, which stayed for many months, for nearly everyone to get to grips with.

Khalifa takes a shot through my telescope, using his I- Phone! Quite a good result really! It really is a little far for my 400mm lens, but I take shots anyway!

Photo courtesy of Khalifa

Photo courtesy of Khalifa
Photo courtesy of Khalifa
Size comparison next to 2 Terek Sandpipers.
Photo courtesy of Huw Roberts.

Photo courtesy of Huw Roberts.
Photo courtesy of Huw Roberts.
Photo courtesy of Huw Roberts.
These are my best efforts!
 A bit dark & heavily cropped!

White-rumped Sandpiper,
size comparison with other waders.

1 species added (289 species total): 380 kms travelled.