Thursday, 6 February 2014

February round up

Four Americans descended on my house at the end of January. Craig; Barbara; Kirk & Diane were all great friends & seasoned travellers.  Two were keen birders & two were not, so I had to try & balance the tour accordingly. I hope I succeeded!
We had three very full days in the field; the first day around Al Ain & down to Al Qua, with a late afternoon drive back to my villa through some relatively unspoilt lowland desert. (Of increasing rarity here in the UAE).
The second day was a drive northwards to Khor Al Beidae where we enjoyed a leisurely breakfast whist watching a myriad of wading birds including the amazingly charismatic Crab Plover. Then we drove to Hamranyiah Fields & quickly found our main quarry: the wintering Caspian Plover. This bird has been here a while now & it shouldn't be wintering this far north. A Buff-bellied Pipit was also found amongst the more abundant Water Pipits. We quickly continued further north & into the magnificent scenery which is Wadi Bih. It really is dramatic here, in these deeply incised wadis. We meet up with Robin, Ann & Liz & enjoyed some birding & sight-seeing together. There is also a new road which carves dramatically up the side & eventually to the top of Jebel Jis. The last bit of road is a little narrow & the drops seem very impressive from this narrow ledge vantage point!

 The road to heaven?
The new Jebel Jis Road.
 One of the small farms which
dot the floor of Wadi Bih.
 Birding inside the farm.

Recent rainfall, meant the flowers
 were in full bloom.
 Sand desert, with an isolated jebel
in the background.

Barbara getting a little intense!
 Wadi Hilou.

Diane, Barbara, Kirk & Craig. 

 One of the recently reconstructed watch towers,
 found in the wadi.
A large water catchment well.

 The final day was a drive across to the east coast at Fujairah, then down the coast to Kalba and an exploration of Wadi Hilou in the Hajar Mountains. unfortunately, we got ensnarled in a bad traffic jam & the detour cost us sometime and also meant we couldn't get to our last birding location!
A good time was had by all & the guys & girls were a joy to take around the country.
Till the next time!

It is the 6th, I was Up at 5 am & out of the door! Enjoyed a wonderful dawn light drive through the lowland desert on my way to Al Qua. The weather was lovely & not another car in sight!  nearly all the sprinklers were on when I arrived, (which limited my options somewhat), so I walked around the edge, alongside the row of large trees. Birds were sparse, but included 42 Cattle Egrets, leaving their overnight roost. 3 European Marsh Harriers glided over and 3 Eurasian Kestrels were sat atop of the sprinkler heads. A female Eurasian Sparrowhawk was causing havoc, among the local small bird populations in the trees.
Al Qua Fodder Fields - a green oasis amid the sand.

Passerines were few & far between: single Desert & Isabelline Wheatears showed well and as I walked across the short grass I started to flush up some pipits. 3 Richard's; 91 Water; 2 Meadow & a single Red-throated Pipit were noted. 5 Eurasian Skylarks were also in evidence. Then I heard a call, the flight call of Bimaculated Lark & a flock of ten flew over, leaving the fields to go & feed among the numerous seeds left by grazing camels in the nearby desert. I sat by the car enjoying my breakfast and looking for no-existent raptors! My only consolation, was a female Namaqua Dove which whizzed over my head! Khalifa called & we agreed to meet at the Mecure Hotel on the summit of Jebel Hafit.
I set off and made a minor detour to Sijya Fort, which is a recent reconstruction. The authorities' have done a sterling job & it is a pleasure to visit & view how things used to be in the not so distant past.
 Terrible late morning light, spoilt this shot.
 Wonderful carved entrance doors.
 All the rooms facing inwards, towards the courtyard.

 One can walk up this narrow staircase,
onto the roof, where you get a great view!
 The international border fence
 between the UAE & Oman.
 Looking into Oman- fantastic ghaf trees
& underdeveloped desert.
The way the UAE used to look,
 even twenty years ago!

Khalifa was as punctual as ever & we enjoyed a stroll & a chat around the Mecure Hotel Gardens.
The hotel gardens are a migrant trap,
 for migrating birds.
One of the many introduced Chukars.
Khalifa, waiting in vain
for the Eversman's Redstart!
A female Eastern Black Redstart.

 Both Blue Rock Thrush & Hume's Wheatear showed well. The introduced tame Chukars fed by our feet on the grass! " eastern Black redstarts were noted. But despite playing a tape, the wintering Eversman's Redstart could not be found! My fourth time of looking & still no success!
 The road to the top of Jebel Hafit.

 Half way up the mountain -
looking down, into the nearby plain.

We then drove around to the eastern base of this immense mountain & saw Huw, photographing insects in a patch of localised greenery. He had enjoyed a successful morning, videoing a wasp capturing a live caterpillar & taking it down its hole! So, both Huw & the wasp were happy!
 Huw in action!
 He does achieve some fantastic results though!
Notice the knee pads! Excellent!
 The eastern side of the mountain.

 Natural deep pools are found in
the deep shade of the mountain.

 Khalifa, climbing down
from the dam.

Khalifa & I moved on to the nearby small dam tucked away almost in the mountain (if that is possible)! There were some deep pools of water around, but few birds present apart from at least 10+ Striolated Buntings, some singing.
We said our goodbye to Huw & we left with the intention of visiting Zakher Pools. However, Khalifa received a call from home & shortly after a violent sandstorm blew in. So I headed home a little early, to find Mohammed Bin Zayed City,  bathed in bright winter sunshine!
All in all, an excellent winter day out.

Friday 21st saw me meeting up with Captain Maarten & the guys for a morning's birding on Lulu Island. This is a man made island just off Abu Dhabi main island. It has some scrubby vegetation and is good for migrants. It is also a major wintering spot for that most wanted of birds, Grey Hypocolius!
The gang on Al Yazi, from left to right: Justin;
Andrew W; Oscar; Andrew B; Guy; Robin.
Maarten in the foreground.

The weather was perfect and we set out criss-crossing the island. It wasn't long before we spotted our first group of 12 Grey Hypocolius and after a bit of patience, we all had good views through the telescope. By the end of the morning, around 62 birds were seen, which is a below average turn out for this species at this time of year.

Robin, Andrew Ward & Justin pondering a possible
 mode of transport on the island!
 A Red-spotted Bluethroat
coming into summer plumage.
 Both photos courtesy of Peta Ishwerwood.

It was very pleasant chatting & walking over the island but migrants were in short supply! 2 Great Black-headed Gulls; Red-rumped Swallow; singles of both Blue & Red-tailed Rock Thrushes; 4 Song Thrush; a Bluethroat; 3 Menetries, five Desert Lesser Whitethroats & a Desert Warbler. 2 Turkestan Shrikes and 2 Desert & a single Isabelline Wheatear. Slim pickings indeed!

The beautiful manicured gardens of the EP Hotel.
 Eurasian Kestrel
Turkestan Shrike

I then went to the Emirates Palace Hotel. Being Friday & mid-day it was quite disturbed and birds were thin on the ground. best were a Wryneck &  an adult Masked Shrike.

I woke up early on Saturday 22nd to find myself surrounded by dense fog! I continued with my plans & drove to Al Qua, but it was a tense drive! Dense fog hampered my progress & it took me an hour longer than usual, to do the drive. I arrived at the fields & it was cold & wet! I couldn't see anything! So, I sat on my chair & had breakfast under the trees. Then I heard the harsh call of a Brambling! A few seconds later & I was looking at four birds, among a host of House Sparrows in the trees. If it hadn't been for the fog, I probably wouldn't have found them, as my usual routine was to go straight out into the fields.

A very poor shot of a Crested Honey Buzzard.

The fog slowly lifted & the temperature rose (slightly). I set off across the fields:
2 Quail; 1 adult Crested Honey Buzzard; 1 female Sparrowhawk; 1 adult male Lesser Kestrel (good for this time of year); 3 Eurasian Kestrels; 6 Bimaculated Larks; an Oriental Skylark; 2 Song Thrush; 11 Eurasian Skylarks; 75 Water, 3 Tree; 2 Red-throated; 1 Meadow; 4 Blyth's & 5 Richard's Pipits. An adult male Pied Wheatear was right on time!

The unfortunate Red Fox.

My drive home was uneventful, but I did see a Red Fox, (which was a road casualty) on the roadside.

On the last day of the month (28th) I had a quick look around Al Wathba Camel Racetrack.  It is now a dry & dusty locale, a far cry from its green, pleasant & bird rich past. The small area of green grass in front of the grandstand held: 10 Water Pipit; 6 White Wagtail & a Pied Wheatear. The racetrack itself, held a single Bimaculated Lark. Extensive walking over the fields only produced: a Skylark; a Menetries Warbler; 3 Clamorous Reed Warblers; a Red-rumped Swallow & a Sand Martin.. A single Marsh Harrier flew overhead.
I had a quick look at the old raptor watching point, but no raptors! A nearby pool held 14 Black winged Stilt; single  Common Snipe,  Wood Sandpiper; Temminck's Stint & Ruff. Two Common Moorhens were also present.
On my way home a had a glance at Nagda Lake. This place used to hold birds but today only a lone Northern Shoveler on the lake itself & on a nearby rocky outcrop a female Blue Rock Thrush.  

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