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ZEISS DTI thermal imaging cameras. For more discoveries at night, and during the day.

UAE - January 2023 (1 Viewer)


Virtually unknown member
United Kingdom
Since I returned from my last trip at the end of February 2022, due first to global and then changing personal circumstances, I have been unable to travel beyond my home area of the Chilterns. Things changed again in early winter and, restrictions having been removed, I was free to think about another birding holiday. Having the opportunity to attend an event in Abu Dhabi in late January I set about planning for the United Arab Emirates.

A request for information on the Information Wanted sub-forum resulted in some useful information and a link to the UAEbirding website; thanks to Jos Stratford, albatross02, Phil Andrews, Welsh Peregrine & DMW for their valuable input. The website mentioned is a bit out of date but it is a very useful site and along with eBird hotspots a plan formed.

I purchased 'Birds of the Unites Arab Emirates' (Helm) for ID's & the Explorer UAE Mini Map for planning sites/routes/accommodation locations from Amazon. I also downloaded the relevant Google Maps to allow off-line use but this did not work too successfully for some reason so I ended up using mobile data a lot of the time.

Once the event ticket was secured flights were booked to give me a week in total, a car hired through Rentalcars and hotels booked in three cities via Trivago.

Tuesday 24th January:

Early morning taxi to Heathrow for a slightly delayed flight (according to the pilot's announcement for a slight technical problem) with Swiss to Zurich and then a consequently quicker than expected transfer for a Swiss flight to Dubai. Arrived late evening local time, picked up the Europcar hire car (Kia Piccanto) after a bit of a wait and headed off into the still hectic late evening traffic chaos to find my hotel for the next three nights.
Looking back it's six years since I last visited - interested to see from your postings how much has changed.
For some reason the formatting toolbar is not working for me when typing threads so I can't do my usual italics for a place name, bold species names for a first trip appearance and underlining for a lifer - so I'll try an asterisk (*) after the latter.

Wednesday 25th January:

Despite a late finish last night I set off early to try to avoid the worst of the traffic and headed to Al Jazeerah Khor, just south of Ras al Khaimah. Birds seen from the hotel room window and on the way to the car included Feral Pigeon, House Sparrow, Eurasian Collared Dove and Ring-necked Parakeet. On the journey north House Crow, Common Myna and Laughing Dove were added as common roadside birds.

On reaching my destination I parked near the Emirates Roundabout (which had a resident Red-wattled Lapwing) as far off-road as I dare put my low clearance motor. The dunes between the coastal road and the lagoon are apparently used by the locals to try out their 4-WD monsters in the sand and as a park up for snapchat photos with a view, so I tramped up the vehicle tracks to the top to be confronted with a massive area of mudflats and mangrove islands at low tide (true to form I had failed to check tide times).

So I set up the scope just below the downslope of the dune for a bit of shelter from the off-shore wind. But first there was plenty of action in the scrub between me and the shore, so the binoculars were brought into action first: a Grey Francolin * perched on the wall of the adjacent property gave great views of my first lifer; a few Pallid Swift feeding overhead with a single House Martin for company; Indian Roller and Hoopoe flopping about in front of the taller shore-line trees; noisy White-eared Bulbul and Red-vented Bulbul in the smaller bushes; the prize for colour going jointly to a male Purple Sunbird just in front of me and a hawking Arabian Green Bee-eater * in the middle-distance.

Then it was time to turn to the scope and begin checking out the mud. Closest to the shoreline it was alive with Little Stints with Kentish Plovers mixed in and a little further out large numbers of Lesser Sand Plover * with a few Greater Sand Plover in the same scope view for good size comparison and a couple of Pacific Golden Plover. Nearer the edge of the water there were a few each of Redshank, Greenshank, Common Sandpiper and Turnstone. As the water deepened towards the mangroves there were scattered smaller numbers of Curlew and Black-tailed Godwit and hundreds of Greater Flamingo in the larger pools. The edges of the mangroves and the distant bank between the lagoon and the Arabian Gulf were patrolled by Grey Heron, Great Egret and Western Reef Heron *. A small sandy island towards the adjacent residential development hosted a mix of resting Black-headed and Slender-billed Gulls and a single Heuglin's Gull *. There were also a few sleeping terns with them but I couldn't make out what they were. However, a few Gull-billed Tern were also flying up and down the shore and whilst watching these a comparatively huge Caspian Tern flew through.

As I focussed further out I could see a dark raptor on the ground on one of the distant islets without tall vegetation and although I kept returning to it the distance did not allow me to get any identification features. Further to the north I could just make out a couple of flocks of Cormorants perched on sandbanks but all appeared to be Great as I could see the white 'thigh' flashes as they moved about. But concentrating on this area produced a small flock of Eurasian Spoonbill and some Oystercatchers. Giving my eyes a rest from the scope I just sat admiring the scene for some time and had an Osprey and a Marsh Harrier fly along the length of the lagoon and then saw the dark raptor take off and fly over me inland - a Great Spotted Eagle *. A well timed break! Returning to the scope I began to scan from where I had left off back toward me and through the mass of unidentifiable small and medium sized waders and small gulls a couple of birds really stood out as deserving close attention - a smart Crab-plover * (there was also a second present) and an almost summer plumaged adult Pallas's Gull *.

A brief walk around the scrub to stretch my legs, and again in an area of dunes just down the coast, did not produce anything else so I set off further north toward the Omani border for a complete change of scene and headed up Wadi Shaam. I very carefully coaxed the car up the gravel tracks and parked at the far end of the wadi as far as the road allowed. As I got out of the car a black and white bird flew across in front of me and perched up close by - a fine Hume's Wheatear *. I wandered around on the gravelly plain, among the old building ruins and alongside a gully and picked up a pair of Striolated Buntings * near some buildings, Eurasian Crag Martins overhead, Crested Larks scuttling around on the ground, White-spectacled Bulbuls * in the scrubby trees, a Kestrel hovering over a slightly greener area and a male Blue Rock Thrush perched on a massive boulder. I also spent some time just taking in the mountain scenery.

It had been a nice sunny day but the clouds seemed to be building so I set off slowly down the wadi and turned back south. The plan was to drive around the Hamraniyah Fields area, inland of Ras al Khaimah, to look for anything taking advantage of any irrigation. But by the time I got there dusk was starting to fall as was the drizzle which then became rain! I was not expecting this! So I didn't see anything new and set off back to base after a great starting full day.

1. Al Jazeerah Khor
2. Wadi Shamm


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A great first day - and made even better by giving me an armchair tick as I didn't know the Green Bee-eaters had been split into African, Asian and Arabian, and I've seen Asian and Arabian - much appreciated!

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Thursday 26th:

Thanks Chris and Owen - yes it was a great start.

Up and out before first light this morning to avoid the worst of the traffic and because the weather was forecast to turn wet again later in the day. Headed north again, this time to just beyond Umm al Quwain to check out Khor al-Beida. Common roadside regulars crows, mynas, pigeons/doves and parakeets were all seen en route. The uaebirding description of access to this site suggests that you need to walk down the side of the grounds of an abandoned palace development but this is now a fully completed upper tier residential area so I drove down the access road to see if a nearer point of access had been included. It hadn't so I returned to the road junction, parked on the waste ground out of the way of obvious tracks and set off for the coast. Its a bit of a walk and the habitat to start with is not inspiring as it is much disturbed by dumping, vehicle tracks and some form of small industry. So I covered this first bit of the walk quite quickly as the clouds had thickened already and drizzle threatened and as I was spending just a week in a desert landscape I had not brought any coat or waterproof with me!

At the end of the new housing, the habitat becomes what appears to be more natural with very low scrub on sand/gravel with a few taller shrubs in a thin strip alongside a small water-course. In this patch were a few calling House Sparrows but my attention was caught by a couple of more slender birds with them - Indian Silverbill *. The presence of water had also attracted Red-wattled Lapwing, Hoopoe, Roller, White-eared & Red-vented Bulbuls and Green Bee-eater. Walking on past this area the landscape was fairly flat and barren but I soon saw Crested Lark and stalked a confiding Desert Wheatear. Crossing a well used sand 'road' (that would get you much closer in a 4-WD but not suitable for an ordinary car after yesterday evening's rain) I came to the edge of the khor. The tide was out again (will I never learn?) and it was a bit quiet with just a couple each of Curlew & Whimbrel, a few Common Sandpiper, some Pacific Golden Plover and a flock of Gull-billed Tern hawking overhead. However once the large flock of House Crows had decided that I wasn't a good source of food they resorted to hassling a Greater Spotted Eagle out of the mangroves where it was perched and I watched the aerial dispute for some time at relatively close range.

Deciding there was not going to be much else here I started back toward the car, seeing the Desert Wheatear again. Approaching the taller vegetation again it became clear that the previous day's rain had drained off the infrastructure/land and the small area of water had now spread across the track and a detour through the scrub was necessary. I saw a bedraggled shrike in the taller scrub, obviously having just bathed, and even though I could get quite close without disturbing it the state of its plumage meant I could only narrow down the ID as far as 1st winter Isabelline type. Returning through the more degraded habitat I had more Crested Lark, a close by and on the ground Green Bee-eater and good views of a nice adult Southern Grey Shrike.

I then drove round to a place near Umm al Quwain harbour where you can park up near the small fisheries industry buildings and get a view out toward another side of the mangroves but at a distance. Right in front of where I parked was a floating pontoon with a couple of Socotra Cormorant * perched up and preening. On other perches in the harbour were a few loafing Black-headed and Slender-billed Gulls plus one each of Steppe Gull * and adult Pallas's Gull for much better views of the latter than yesterday. I then set up the scope on the edge of the harbour wall and although quite a distance a scan produced: Mallard near the man-made edges: Greater Flamingo in the deeper pools; Oystercatcher, Black-tailed & Bar-tailed Godwit, in the shallows; Greenshank, Redshank and one Marsh Sandpiper on the waters edge with another Crab-plover (again for an upgraded view on yesterday); Whimbrel and Turnstone on the mud; and Grey Heron, Great & Little Egret and Western Reef Heron on the edges on the mangroves.

My scanning interrupted by a heavy shower, I drove around to Umm al Quwain corniche and with the weather now dry had a look along the narrow beach in front of the breakwater but only added a single Sanderling. With rain again threatening and looking to come from out to sea and a southerly direction I decided to head north and drove toward Wadi Bih, inland of Ras al-Khaimah. Once in the wadi there are various eBird hotspots mentioned on the uaebirding site and I meandered the car along the gravel tracks around the small farms finding again a few mountain species like Striolated Bunting, White-spectacled Bulbul and Hume's Wheatear. At one stop I heard and then saw a couple of Brown-necked Raven * overhead and on a wander across a small plain a ravine offered great eye-level views of a flock of half a dozen Pale Crag Martin *. One target for this location is to find an area of standing water and then wait for potential Sandgrouse to come in shortly after dark. I found a possible location but it was too early so I followed the popular road from the top end of the wadi to the road-head near the top of Jebel Jais (at 1,934m the highest point of the UAE in the Hajar Mountains, although the actual high point of the mountain is apparently in the Musandam part of Oman) and admired the view for a while - the temperature up here was more like I suspect it was back home in the UK!

I then headed back down the road and returned to Wadi Bih and my water-side stake-out to wait for dark. I wasn't overly hopeful and sure enough nothing turned up by the time it was too dark to see whether anything had or not. So I started the drive back to Dubai which turned into a bit of a nightmare as thunder and lightening started and the heavens opened by the time I was on the motorway back south. The 'slow' lane was flooded, the 'fast' lane full of wet sand blown off the central reservation and the remaining lane(s) occupied by traffic moving slowly in the heaviest rain I have experienced for many years - to the point where all the heavy lorries and much of the other traffic had pulled off onto the hard-shoulder to wait things out. The road infrastructure / drainage is obviously not up to dealing with this sort of thing, not surprisingly as I guess it doesn't happen very often. Ironically, I heard on a local English language radio station I found on the car radio that Abu Dhabi had been increasing their cloud-seeding flights recently!

Photo: View from Jebel Jais.


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Friday 27th January:

Today being my last day based in Dubai I decided to check out some of the local city parks before heading south, starting at Dubai Creek Park. My satnav took me to gate 4 where I parked and went to the booth and asked how much the entrance fee was. The answer was 5 dirham but you can no longer pay by cash or credit card but have to use a pre-loaded 'nol' card but this can only be obtained for 15 dirham (it also gets you into other attractions in the city) from gate 1! So I returned to the car, noting a small flock of Western Cattle Egret on the grass beyond the boundary fence, and set off for gate 1. Parking up again I asked the lady in the kiosk for the relevant card but her machine was not working properly, she just shrugged and told me to go in anyway through an open turnstile with a security guard who just let me through when I explained.

I set off anti-clockwise around the network of paths and soon realised that the park was packed with the common urban species: Collared & Laughing Doves, Ring-necked Parakeet, Roller, Hoopoe, Green Bee-eater, House Crow, White-eared & Red-vented Bulbul, Purple Sunbird and House Sparrow. There was also Red-wattled Lapwing on the lawns, Grey Francolin lurking in the shrubberies, a single Rufous Turtle Dove in a palm, a couple of Wood Pigeon feeding under some trees with the Feral Pigeons and some Pied Myna * mixed in amongst the numerous flocks of their Common cousins. Walking down the edge of Dubai Creek a Whimbrel and a Common Sandpiper were on the shoreline, Great Cormorants in flight and a Caspian Tern patrolled up and down. I enjoyed strolling around this birdy park and the views of the city skyline were impressive, especially the Burj Khalifa which is even taller than you expect.

Returning to the car I set off toward Ra's al Khor as drizzle was again threatening and I hoped to make use of the shelter of the hides. If approaching from the south beware that the satnav location for the Mangrove Hide given on the uaebirding site leads you to a spot on the opposite side of a 4 lane highway, two parallel 2-lane roads and a service road from the parking area and it then involves a tortuous re-route, road works and U-turns to get to where you can approach from the north. I eventually parked and was getting the scope sorted when the gate-man called me over and said the hide was closed - when I asked why he said it was always closed! I suspected a possible mistranslation but he told me the next hide around was open. So I carried on the short distance to the Flamingo Hide, which was indeed open. There were hundreds of Greater Flamingo and, through the bins, Spoonbill, Grey Heron, Great & Little Egret and Reef Heron were obvious and a closer check revealed a couple of Intermediate Egret where good size comparisons were possible. With the scope I also picked out some more distant Mallard, Black-winged Stilt, Curlew, Greenshank and a Grey Plover plus Black-headed and Slender-billed Gulls.

I next headed to Safa Park. The first parking area I found had payment machines that only accepted coins and I did not have enough to pay the fee and there were no shops in the area to get change. So I had a bit of a drive around and found what seemed to be a free parking area but it was the other side of a busy dual carriageway and I could not see any apparent way over. So I gave up and headed out of the city to Musharif National Park. Here I bought my 'nol' card to get in and parked in the main area setting off for a wander around what is a sort of adventure park/pic-nic area/woodland reserve beyond the suburbs. Although a family orientated location it was fairly quiet and large enough for me to be able to enjoy wandering around the native woodland areas in peace. The so far very common species were again common and for most of the time other birds were a bit sparse, although I did add White Wagtails trotting around the mown grass areas, had a couple of Barn Swallow over and an elusive bird in a more dense area eventually gave itself up as a Graceful Prinia *. By then the thunder and lightening of the previous day had returned and I had to shelter for a while under the roof overhang of a toilet block. Once the downpour was over, almost as suddenly as it had started, I continued my wandering back to the general area of the centre. Passing a block that seemed to be an orchard of larger trees, a large raptor lifted out of the top of one of the trees and disappeared into the canopy of another. I had seen a large raptor overhead before the rain storm but did not get any ID characteristics and it seemed as though this form was going to continue but I stopped for a good look around nevertheless. A wise move as I located another two large raptors in the tops of other trees in the orchard and one flew over to join the no longer visible first bird. These two remained hidden but the two visible ones and the close flight views I'd had allowed me to be sure that there were at least 4 Crested Honey Buzzard. The smaller birds in the trees seemed to generally ignore them but had a very different reaction when a Shikra shot through - a great few minutes.

With plenty of day-light still left and the clouds building again back toward the direction of the coast I set off inland to Qarn Nazwa. The interest here consists of three large outcrops in a sand desert area. Passing through the small adjacent town I tried to gain access to the eastern side of the outcrop but this area seems to have been completely taken over by adventure companies for 4-WD and dune buggy rides and was busy with noisy vehicles. So I returned to the town and turned south down a minor road to get close to the fenced-off western outcrop and the suggested stake-out for the main target species. I found a roadside pull-off and set up the scope in preparation. I must admit I was by this time not too hopeful as the road was busy with local traffic plus a lot of 4-WD's and buggies. There was also loud music coming from the other side of the 'mountain'. While it was still light I had a circling flock of Common Swift overhead and, scanning the slopes, watched two Arabian Sand Gazelle cross a sandy stretch and disappear behind a smaller rocky outcrop. The sun was now setting over the dunes so I turned my attention back to the summit of the outcrop. Luckily, as the sky darkened the vehicle activity lessened and the music stopped and shortly I heard the strange, booming 'booooor' call of my target. Putting all my concentration on scanning the serrated skyline I saw a superb Pharaoh Eagle Owl * fly up from the other side of the ridge and perch up on the top - unfortunately with its back to me but I could see the desert breeze ruffling it's feathers. I kept focused on it until it flew off out of sight just before it got too dark to see anything.

A great end to the day and time to head south to my second hotel in Abu Dhabi.

Photos: The order of the pictures in this post have changed so I have added the last few digits of the file number for clarity.

1. Dubai Creek Golf Club across the creek from Dubai Creek Park [092032];
2 & 3. Burj Khalifa from Dubai Creek Park & R'as al Khor respectively [092336 / 112501];
4. Contrasts - from Flamingo Hide at R'as al Khor [113624];
5 & 6. Five-striped Palm Squirrel - Musharif NP 150333 / 150335];
7. Sunset over the desert Qarn Nazwa [175354].


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