Tuesday, 15 April 2014

2014: my comings & goings!

At the request of one of the members of my family, I have been asked to write down where & when I will be this year! She got a bit of a shock when she found out I was in Boston & she didn't know I was going! So, here is my schedule for the year. If it changes, (as these things are want to do), then I will edit accordingly.
25th April: fly to Shanghai & onwards to Taiwan for the Bird Tour Asia SE China & Taiwan trip.
17th May: arrive back in Abu Dhabi.
20th May: fly to Boston for a three week late spring/summer trip around Massachusetts & Maine.
10th June: arrive back in Abu Dhabi.
16th June: fly to Johannesburg for month long safari with Rowan & Ceggy.
17th July: arrive back in Abu Dhabi.
21st July: fly to London, mainly for Rowan's graduation ceremony.
30th July: fly back to Abu Dhabi.
4th August: fly to Johannesburg for seven week safari.
23rd September: fly back to Abu Dhabi.
28th September: fly to Makassar, for the start of Bird Tour Asia Sulawesi & Halmahera trip.
18th October: fly to Sabah Borneo, for the start of Bird Tour Asia trip.
1st November: fly back to Abu Dhabi.
19th November: fly to Bogota, for the start of Rockjumper Colombia Mega Trip.
20th December: arrive back in Abu Dhabi for Christmas & New Year with family.
And I do believe that is the end of an action packed 2014! Let's see how it all pans out shall we?

Saturday, 12 April 2014

April round up

Emirates Palace Hotel Marina,
 looking towards the city.
Oscar, ready for action!
 Ahh! Stuffed life sized camel toys!
It could only happen in the UAE!
It was a very hot afternoon - nice water bottle though!
I was away in Boston until 8th April, so today was my first day in the field. I was busy in the morning, sorting the after party debris in my house! But I was itching to get out & about.
It is my birthday today & so did a little walk around the Emirates Palace Hotel with Oscar. In the previous few days there had been lots of quality migrants around, but today was very quiet, although we saw a couple of quality species:
Pale Rock Sparrow taken at 50x magnification!
Pale Rock Sparrow.
A nice spring male, Ortolan Bunting.
Taken at 50x magnification with my new camera.

European Bee-eater 1; Tree Pipit 1; Common Redstart 2; Pale Rock Sparrow 1;  Common Whitethroat 2 Willow Warbler 1 of the acredula race; 5 Scaly-breasted Munia; Ortolan Bunting 1 & best of all, a nice Cinereous Bunting! The weather was very nice, if a little hot.
Dusk over the Emirates Palace Hotel,
looking towards the Jumeirah Towers.
On 14th, while driving into town on 30th Street, I had a fine adult Crested Honey Buzzard circling low over the road.
A little bit of excitement on the morning of the 15th, I was driving into town, when a piece of metal (I think it was some kind of rod, or bolt) flew off the back of a lorry into me! I manage to swerve, so it didn't come through the windscreen, but it did hit my tyre & my tyre immediately exploded! It was rush hour, so vehicles everywhere, but I managed to hold the car straight ( I was doing 120kmph)! No major damage to either me, or the car, but certainly something you don't want to happen too often!
 The front wood, next to the MPG's.
The back wood, now sanitised & not the habitat
 it used to be for migrant birds.
 Taken on 50x with the new camera.
I did my chores, which included the Chinese Embassy, to set the visa process in motion. Then I went birding to Mushrif Palace Gardens. It was very hot & not much around, but I did record 3 Common Redstart; 1 Common Nightingale & 6 Eastern Olivaceous Warblers.
Western Cattle Egret:
taken on 50x magnification, then cropped.
The walk around the Abu Dhabi Racecourse was not much better: 1 Little Grebe; 5 Cattle Egrets; 2 Egyptian Geese; 1 Curlew &  9 Red-throated Pipits. Slim pickings indeed! So I called it a day & ended the day in the swimming pool at home, with Rowan. The temperature by then, was fantastic!
Rowan cooked a nice meal for me, but I forgot to take my tablet & after two mouthfuls, I was sick! I continued to be sick for the next eleven hours, finally getting some sleep at 5.10 am this morning. So when Oscar phoned me around 7am to tell me that he almost certainly had a Taiga Flycatcher that morning, I wasn't at my best!
I returned to the front wood next to Mushrif Palace Gardens (16th) in the afternoon. But, I couldn't find the bird. When Oscar arrived, I had been looking in slightly the wrong area. We found it & enjoyed quite good views. It was flighty & difficult to photograph, but this is the best of over 50 shots I took!
Adult female Taiga Flycatcher.
Other species recorded included the long staying female White-throated Robin, (complete with deformed bill); 1 Barred Warbler; 1 Willow Warbler; 3 Common Redstart & a Common Nightingale.
 Female White throated Robin.
Feeling much better this morning (17th), so up & out of the house at 5.30 am, heading for Mushrif Palace Gardens. The objective of course, was to get better photographs of the Taiga Flycatcher. it was only just getting light when I arrived, far too dark to bird watch the wood, so I wandered around the park area finding 1 Wryneck; 1 Daurian Shrike; 1 Lesser Whitethroat & 2 Willow Warblers.
Taiga Flycatcher: the best I could do in the dim,
 early morning light!

As soon as I thought it was light enough, I entered the wood & found the Taiga Flycatcher without difficulty, but a succession of dog walkers made the bird flighty & difficult to observe, never mind photograph! Birding was much better this morning & I enjoyed a good variety of migrants:
The injured, White-throated Robin.

Crested Honey Buzzard, (a nice adult); 1 Wryneck; 3 Barred Warblers; 3 Blackcap; 6 Eastern Olivaceous Warblers & 1 Willow Warbler. The White-throated Robin with the injured bill, was again on show. It is obviously not on top form, as it shows no indication of summer plumage at all & this bird could over-summer out of necessity.
Peter Hellyer.

Half way through the morning, I met up with Andrew Bailey & enjoyed his company for just over an hour. As Andrew was getting ready to leave, we bumped into Peter Hellyer, who is almost as rare as a spring Taiga Flycatcher these days. Nice to see you out & about Peter.
I then walked around the Abu Dhabi Racecourse & Golf Club, but by now it was full of golfers & it was getting really hot. Best birds were:
2 Little Grebe; 5 Cattle Egret; 1 Curlew; 1 Whimbrel; 1 Common Sandpiper; 1 European Roller & 7 Red-throated Pipits.
A nice morning's birding though & good to see Andrew & Peter.
In the afternoon, it was very hot, so Rowan & I had a pool party! Nobody else was invited! While in the pool, I did spot a rather fine summer plumaged Barred Warbler scuttling around in the bushes where the Tortoise roams. A new bird for the garden list. I decided that the sun was over the yardarm (it wasn't, but who cares)? So I made a pitcher of Pimms No 1 Cup. It was much appreciated by Rowan, as well as by me!
For the Philistines out there, who don't know Pimms (Barbara & Angela spring to mind) have a look at their website, it is rather fun: http://www.anyoneforpimms.com/
It is now 3am on Friday 18th. The alarm has just informed me of the time & I have that awful drive to Sila ahead of me. I really hate this road, because it is boring, but dangerous at the same time! But I do like birding the far west, there is usually something around of interest. So I was off driving once more through the night. I made good time & was in position just after dawn. First I birded the town park, then the marsh & a small orchard/farm.

 Palm tree in the park.
 Each with its own colony of
House Sparrows breeding.
 Sila marsh
 Looking from the marsh towards a small
 cultivated area.

The orchard/small farm.
 Nothing can exist here without irrigation.
 It takes a real specialist, to survive in this habitat!
 The tip of Sila peninsula.

 Then I drove out to the end of the peninsula, which is another 20kms. It was very hot around 37 degrees Celsius & migrants were in short supply. But I persevered & in the end, saw quite a few species:
3 Pallid Harrier; 1 Green Sandpiper; 1 Terek Sandpiper; 24 European Turtle Dove; 2 Namaqua Dove; 13 Pallid Swift; 2 Little Swift. This is a rare bird here in the UAE, both birds flying quite low but very fast north-west over the very tip of the peninsula. They didn't hang around. I did though, but they never came back! 4 European Bee-eater; 3 European Roller; 2 Hoopoe; 15 Barn Swallow; 1 Red-rumped Swallow; 4 Tree Pipit; 2 Red-throated Pipit; 1 Tawny Pipit; 7 Rufous Bush Robin; 1 Common Redstart; 1 female Black-eared Wheatear (a scarce migrant); 1 Isabelline Wheatear; 8 Clamorous Reed Warbler; 1 Upcher's Warbler; 3 Willow Warbler; 1 Spotted Flycatcher & 4 Turkestan Shrike.
No! it is not that kind of duty free!
 It is on the Saudi border after all!

I then drove a little further west towards the Saudi Arabian border & swung a right down the Ras Gumeis Peninsula & drove over the bridge to Gagha Island. This is quite a nice, if a little barren spot.
 Newly arrived White-cheeked Terns.
A late Great Cormorant.

There were newly arrived White-cheeked & Bridled Terns on off shore rocks, getting ready soon for the serious business of raising chicks in the middle of an Arabian summer! A late Great Cormorant was on a nearby rock.
 The migrant trap bushes!

An area of saltbush.

Then I turned my attention to the land habitats, which here, are a little meagre! A few limp trees & bushes (& I mean a few)! A smidging of grass & that is about it. But it does have the effect of concentrating migrants in the tiny patches of cover. My first good bird was a fine Bimaculated Lark posing on some rocks! Not normal habitat for this species!
I then birded the scrappy trees & bushes & it proved to be quite birdy & productive:
1 European Turtle Dove; 3 Pallid Swift; 1 European Bee-eater; 3 European Roller; 6 Barn Swallow; 2 Tree Pipit; 3 Rufous Bush Robin; 2 European Rock Thrush (aka Red-tailed); 1 Upcher's Warbler; 2 Turkestan Shrikes & a fine summer plumaged Steppe Grey Shrike. Not a bad haul, considering it was the middle of the day.
I then started heading back west & called in at Jebel Dhanna Hotel, which only produced 1 European Turtle Dove; 1 Barred Warbler; 1 Turkestan Shrike & a Sykes's Wagtail. I checked out the marsh, but in the heat it was lifeless, just 1 Tree Pipit showing itself. I then headed off on the long drive home & ended the day with a quick swim in the pool.
Perhaps the understatement of the year, is that I slept well! I awoke on the very early morning of 19th feeling excellent & sprightly! So sprightly in fact, that I went for an early morning swim in the pool! This was followed by two lightly boiled eggs, toast & juice outside reading the Daily Telegraph! So this is what retirement feels like!
 I packed my bags & was on the road again, this time heading for Fujairah &  Kalba. Simon had found 2, 1st winter Kittiwakes yesterday. A rare bird in the UAE & an excellent find. So I was off to try & see them. I arrived at Fujairah Port Beach & not a bird in sight! Nothing! I received a phone call from Khalifa saying he was ahead of me, further south along the coast & he had found a superb full summer plumaged Black Tern! I raced further south & found thousands of gulls & terns on the beach.
 The crowded beach at Al Histeen,
just north of Kalba.
 Sooty Gulls; Common, White-cheeked
& Sandwich Terns
 Sooty Gulls, with an out of focus
Indian House Crow in the foreground.
 Sooty Gulls & Common Terns.
A closer look on 50X magnification.

280 Socotra Cormorant; 3,150 Sooty Gull; 2 Steppe Gull; 5 Black-headed Gull; 16 Slender-billed Gull; 2,600 Common Tern; 75 White-cheeked Tern; 5 Whiskered Tern; 3 Swift Tern; 8 Lesser Crested Tern; 1 Gull-billed Tern; 2 Little Tern & 6 Saunders' Little Terns. Also around 65 Sanderling running around, still in full winter plumage.
The only problem was I was the wrong beach! I wasted an hour here before I found this out & upon arrival at the correct beach saw the prize. Unfortunately, it was at a range of 300m & I couldn't get any meaningful shots. But slightly earlier, Khalifa had!
 The prize!
A superb summer plumaged, Black Tern
 What a great bird!
All three photos, courtesy of Khalifa.

Mike Barth arrived just as the bird flew south & despite trying hard we didn't relocate the bird. Sorry Mike!
Immature, Greater Flamingo.

Khalifa & I then scanned Kalba Harbour & despite seeing 2 Greater Flamingos there + a rich assemblage of gulls & terns, we couldn't re-find the Black Tern.
Captain James & Abdulla.
He looks like a bit of a Boston Bubba to me!

 A selfie from Khalifa!
Sneaky eh? While my back was turned!
That T-shirt cost $12,000!
Photo courtesy of Khalifa.
 We then met up with Abdulla for an afternoon boat trip.
First we went south towards the Omani border, which was again very productive. Then a quick burst out to sea for 15 kilometres & back via Fujairah, running parallel to the beach until we reached Kalba again. It was great to see the guys again. It had been a while and we enjoyed tea & biscuits on the high seas. An excellent tradition!
Abdulla, catching dinner!

Abdulla did a spot of fishing, while Khalifa & I were birding & taking lots of photos.
 Persian Shearwater.
 Shockingly poor shots of Sooty Shearwater.
Only included to document sightings in the Indian Ocean,
where the literature says, it is rare to non-existent!
Not true!
 A superb light phase Arctic Skua.
 A different bird.
 Dark phase Arctic Skua.
 The subject of their attention - a Common Tern.
White-cheeked Tern.
Arctic Skua chasing Sandwich Tern.
Yes, it did get the fish!

285 Persian Shearwater; 5 Sooty Shearwater; 21 Arctic Skua; 175 Red-necked Phalarope & plenty of Bridled; White-cheeked & in particular Common Terns. We enjoyed several impressive skua chases which were quite thrilling to watch. All in all, it was a brilliant afternoon out on the sea.
Sunset over the coastal mountains, near Kalba.

We never did get to see those Kittiwakes! But there is always another day!
It is 21st April & I was up at the crack of dawn, driving into the city, to bird Mushrif Palace Gardens. It was a beautiful morning, the only problem was there was precious little around! I flushed the adult Crested Honey Buzzard out of its usual roosting tree. The Taiga Flycatcher was still flitting around in the same place, as was the unfortunate White-throated Robin. But for the rest, it was so quiet! 1 Common Redstart; 1 Barred Warbler; 1 Blackcap; 3 Willow Warblers & the usual 6 Eastern Olivaceous Warblers, which are once again breeding here. I returned home for breakfast slightly disappointed with the morning.
I ventured out again in the afternoon. This time I met up with Robin & we birded the Emirates Palace Hotel.
The ultra modern, almost science fiction skyline,
 which is Abu Dhabi today.

It was a very hot afternoon, but surprisingly not too humid. It was slow going, migrants being thin on the ground, but the best were:
5 Common Sandpiper; 1 Hoopoe; 1 European Bee-eater; 1 Tree Pipit; 2 Red-tailed Rock Thrush; 1 Common Redstart; 1 Isabelline Wheatear; 1 Masked Shrike; 3 Turkestan Shrike; 3 Scaly-breasted Munias; 2 Ortolan Bunting & a superb male Black-headed Bunting.
 Male Red-tailed Rock Thrush.

 Taken on 50x magnification.
Black-headed Bunting - the bird of the day.
It was a very nice afternoon out, both Robin & I thoroughly enjoyed ourselves.
It is Wednesday 23rd April, I had originally intended to visit the east coast today, but a couple of things cropped up, that I had to do in town. So as dawn broke I was walking around Mushrif Palace Gardens & the next door wood. Highlights:
1 Crested Honey Buzzard; 1 Hoopoe; 1 Song Thrush; 2 Common Nightingales; 1 White-throated Robin (same bird as before); 4 Blackcap; 3 Barred Warbler; 3 Lesser Whitethroat; 1 Common Whitethroat & 6 Eastern Olivaceous Warbler.

A tramp around the Abu Dhabi Racecourse produced: 1 Curlew; 1 Whimbrel; 1 Common Greenshank; 1 Common Sandpiper; 2 European Black-headed Gull & 2 European Roller. It was amazingly quiet, with no passerine migrants at all.
I met up with Robin for a walk around the Emirates Palace Hotel in the afternoon. To put it mildly, it was a tad humid! We with both dripping all afternoon! It turned out to be a virtual bird desert, with only 1 European Roller; 1 Red-tailed Rock Thrush; 1 Red-throated Pipit; 1 Tree Pipit; 1 Masked Shrike & 2 Ortolan Buntings. No common migrants at all! At dusk we both retired to the bar at The Club & enjoyed a very pleasant evening!