Sunday, 20 October 2013

December round up

It is December, the last month for my little quest! It is the 1st & we are all waiting for the boat to take us to Sinaiya Island off Umm Al Quwain. This island is normally off limits to visitors but we can go around it in a boat & look close inshore. We are looking for a Mesopotamian Crow found & photographed by a researcher on the island. On the way across, lots of gull, terns & waders, including fantastic flocks (& stunning views) of 175 Crab Plovers & 62 Great Knot. I spot a small raptor perched on a low snag on the island. Through the scope, it turns out to be an immature female Merlin. What a start & what a bonus bird! 

 Arriving on the island.

Flocks of Socotra Cormorants were everywhere!

Large numbers of waders lined the shore.

 Good numbers of Crab Plovers.

Sinaiya is home to a huge Socotra Cormorant colony & our information is that the crow is found scavenging on the edge of this colony. The only problem is cormorants are everywhere in both directions! We begin the long search. Nothing, but on the way back, Mark gives a shout! He has the bird walking through the colony! We all quickly get on to the bird & enjoy prolonged & good, if slightly distant views. Well done Mark! 
Mesopotomian Crow

We disembark & I drive across the mountains to the FNDF to look for the Taiga Flycatcher that was found the previous day by a visiting group of birders. After  short search I find it, together with a Red-breasted Flycatcher for direct comparison! What a day & what a start to the month!
The next day I am birding the Emirates Palace Hotel looking at a nice Buff-bellied Pipit. The phone rings. It is Khalifa he is watching a Forest Wagtail, but he is in Jebel Dhanna!  It is late afternoon, I look at my watch, can I make the drive before dark? It is over 250 kms from here & I have to drive through the city to get to the main highway! I go of course. I drive like a mad thing & get there in the increasing gloom. Khalifa is waiting for me (bless him)! But the bad news is, it has just flown off to roost high in a nearby tree! We spend the next few minutes looking for it, but without success, it really is dark now. It is a long, lonely drive home!
On the 3rd I am guiding & dashing around. First stop Ghantoot for 6 Cream coloured Coursers. Then a look look at the Dubai Pivot fields which were very productive with 4 Sociables & a European Golden Plover on display. A lunch stop at Ras Al Khor was great for raptors: 8 Great Spotted & unbelievably 3 Bonelli’s Eagles soaring over the area. In the afternoon we drove to Yas Island. We don’t see the Black-winged Kite but do see 99 Grey Hypocolius coming into roost. A great end to a very good day.
I am guiding again the next day, this time around the Al Ain sites. We do well, with Barbary Falcon; Short-toed Eagle and a fine male Hooded Wheatear showing brilliantly. We move on to Al Dharah Fodder Fields & score with a beautiful calidus race adult male Peregrine. What a beauty! A rare visitor from the high Arctic & what a bird it is. Among the expected species we find 25 Namaqua Doves.

Forest Wagtail - at last!

It is the 5th & I am driving back to Jebel Dhanna again! This road definitely gets longer the more I drive it! The Forest Wagtail is strutting its stuff in the little patch of woodland. Excellent, I get some average photos & greet Khalifa with a beaming smile. Thanks mate, a good find. But then I am off to catch the Delma Island Ferry. The crossing is enlivened by a nice Red-billed Tropicbird flying by. I make camp on a peninsula at the southern end of the island. It is a very peaceful, tranquil setting.

 The brilliant new ferry - 
totally different from the old one!

 My home for the night.

A falcon trapper was close by.

I arise very early on the 6th. Plenty of migrants; 16 Lesser Short-toed Larks; European Robin; 2 Red-breasted Flycatchers; Orphean Warbler and a flock of 29 Corn Buntings.
Early the next morning I am back on the mainland to catch another boat this time to Qarnain Island. Qarnain is one of the jewels of the Arabian Gulf with huge seabird colonies & it is also a magnet for vagrants! 

 A first view of Qarnain Island

 The boys, on the way over.

On arrival, we received some 
great Arabic hospitality.

 Then we were off, to explore this great island!

 The far peak, is where the Tropicbirds nest.

Red - billed Tropicbird

 Of course, we were at the wrong time of year for the gull & tern colonies, but the Red-billed Tropicbirds were still present along the cliffs. We were treated to wonderful views as they soared over our heads – a great spectacle. We also found one or two young birds tucked deep inside rocky holes in the scree slopes, but they were difficult to photograph. A few migrants included 3 European & a Siberian Stonechat. But then I heard a familiar call! Siskin! After flying around the island it eventually settled & we all got superb views of it feeding on grasses – it was obviously starving!


 Great Black-headed Gull

 A pod of around 100 Bottle-nosed Dolphins
entertained us on the way home!


 We returned to the mainland and two Variable Wheatears were on a workers building in the dock. A good ending to a memorable day. Thanks Mohammed for organizing the trip.
The 8th saw me undertaking the long drive back to Wadi Bih in search of the Brown Shrike, which as still present. This time I found it without difficulty. I then called in at Al Jazirah Khor & 2 Siskins flew over calling! Typical!
The next three days saw me touring the southern oilfields of Shah,Qasawira & Assab. An unexpected find was an immature Mediterranean Gull on 10th on the sewerage overflow pond next to the accommodation at Qasawira. This bird was totally lost & hundreds of kilometers away from the coast. It was gone the next day, no doubt to perish somewhere in the high dunes of the Empty Quarter. A wintering Wryneck & a Rose-coloured Starling were found at Assab Camp on 11th.
The 14th saw me touring the entire east coast looking for a Brown-headed Gull. Despite extensive searching no joy! This would have been a UAE tick for me.

 The very scenic Zakher Pools.

Khalifa, birding the area.

Black-eared Kite

On 15th I was in Al Ain & visited Zakher Pools: a Peregrine dashed over & a Black-eared Kite showed well.  29 Ferruginous Duck loafed around ( a UAE record)? At the nearby Water Treatment Plant an adult Crested Honey Buzzard gave great views.

Pallid Scops Owl 

 I also found a roosting Pallid Scops Owl at Ain Al Faydah. I called Jacky & it was still present when he arrived. Nice one!

 Jouanin's Petrel

Six days later on 21st I was on Abdulla’s boat & were were treated to a very unexpected sight – flocks totalling 609 Jouanin’s Petrels! Once we got into the deep sea they seemed to be everywhere. Wonderful stuff! Strangely, not much else was observed on this trip.
A quick trip to Safa Park on 28th saw me viewing my second Taiga Flycatcher for the year.
My last day- 31st December a look around Al Wathba Lake produced 46 Common Shelduck & 31 Pied Avocet. Nearby Mafraq Marsh held 24 Glossy Ibis.

Then that was it -  the year was over. My total was 331 species for the year! Not bad, but I dipped on four species which I should have seen. The year was also overshadowed by Carol’s condition. I was ready to call the Big Year off in July, but she insisted I continued. I suppose she thought it would keep me occupied!

Can this total be beaten? Of course it can, but not easily! 331 species in a year takes a lot of doing. One has to be determined & you have to plan well. The amount of lonely driving you do is also considerable. Would I do it again? I don’t think so. It is just so hard & it takes over nearly all aspects of your life, for one year. If you see my post at the end of December 2011, you will see that I achieved most of my goals. But I was lucky in that so many new birds were recorded for the UAE this year. I feel satisfied, but not elated. It really was a fantastic year for me birding in the UAE. My achievement is tinged by sadness. It is the last day of the year & I already know what the new year will bring. I am dreading it.

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