This was purely intended as a brief stopover on the way home from four weeks in Africa. Three nights/two days in Dubai was hardly enough time to do any justice to Dubai birding or indeed to Dubai, but then again birding in temperature ranges of 33-43 deg was not the most pleasant anyway. We intended to stop over on the way home since our flight from Dar es Salaam in Tanzania would get in around 10:30 pm, connecting with a flight to Sydney departing 12 hours later, so we thought we may as well stay at least one night, why not a few. With two separate occurrences of oversold flights for two different airlines we ended up losing one night anyway, not arriving until 5:30am, and lost a bit more to sleep the next morning. I had planned to go birding with Tommy Pedersen for a half day on the 16th, but his work schedule changed and ruled this out. Consequently I took myself to a few spots by taxi.
Although based on an experience of two days I can hardly claim to know about the place, I can say that getting around Dubai seemed both easy and difficult – it was easy enough to get to spots by taxi and surprisingly easy to arrange to be picked up at a later time. It was difficult to get around on foot in parts (at least in the district where we stayed), not just because of the heat, but because much of the newer parts of the city seem to be designed to be experienced from a car rather than on foot. Add to this the disruption caused through construction. Even in a car, you may have to spend considerable time trying to back track or overshoot just to reach a point where you can turn around so as to get to the desired (i.e. opposite) side of the road, because the main roads are like major freeways. Honestly the scale of development in Dubai is mind-blowing.
Birding turned out to be surprisingly good and I managed to see 44 species with 20 lifers on this trip at what must be the deadest time of the year for birding. On the first afternoon I visited Safa Park, leaving the main birding for the next day. On the basis of visiting somewhere relatively easy to get to which should offer quite a few new birds for me I decided to go to the Pivot Fields, and on advice form Tommy, Neil Tovey and Steven James, I got there very early (by 6am). I after nearly three hours I went straight from there to the Mangrove Hide at the Ra’s al Khor Wildlife Sanctuary and tried to get birding in to the earlier hours of the day (before the temp would hit 40).
I’d thoroughly recommend checking out Tommy’s comprehensive websites Birding the UAE and UAE Birding which have details of recommended sites and contact details for guiding, in addition to information about the birds of the UAE as well. The latter is the newer website and information is being transferred across from the fomer. Between this and extra information from Tommy and Neil I managed to get to three sites with no problems.
Overall I saw 44 species (including introduced species), of which 20 were lifers for the trip (underlined).
Dubai airport is insanely huge, and hardly ideal birding, nevertheless I picked up a few birds in transit on the way to Tanzania (House Sparrow, Laughing Dove, Feral Pigeon) and added a few more while we were waiting in some part of the car park adjacent to a road – managed to add 2 lifers, Indian Silverbill and White-eared Bulbul.
Great for introduced birds, and a pleasant patch of green, even if it was stinking hot. I visited from around 4:30-6:00pm, and by the time I left quite a few people were using the park, whereas it was still and dead quiet when I first arrived. Despite the heat I liked this as it meant that I wasn’t likely to be considered to be spying at anyone in the park because there was almost nobody else there. I managed to add Purple Sunbird, Western Reef Egret (a single bird flying over) Red-wattled Lapwing, and Indian Roller to my list. Quite a few Eurasian Hoopoes were probing the lawns with their long bills. As far as introduced birds went, lifers included Alexandrine Parakeet (small flock of these was present as was the more common Rose-ringed Parakeet), Grey Francolin, Pied Myna (Starling). A single Shikra hung around in the trees in the central wooded area. By 6:00pm I had looped my way through most of the park, lost a few litres of water and decided to head out.
This site is said to be one of the best for birding in Dubai, and it proved very productive for me. I managed to direct my driver (instructions on how to get there in the website), tipped him well and asked about him picking me up for a return journey. He gave me the card of his brother and told me that they drove in shifts, his would be over but his brother would pick me up if I gave him a call 30min beforehand. Once inside, I started walking around parallel to the fence around the main pivot field. I saw lots of Purple Sunbirds, White-eared Bulbuls and others already seen on the trip, but quickly added 2 Little Green Bee-eaters, and the first of several Crested Larks in grass. I soon came across the first of several flocks of Indian Silverbills. Further around the edge I saw my first Blue-cheeked Bee-eater and then the first Graceful Prinia, before walking into the grass in the main pivot field.
In the grass, Yellow-crowned Bishops buzzed occasionally like big bumblebees; beautiful, but not officially on the UAE list so can’t count them. Large numbers of Bank Mynas and Red-wattled Lapwings probed in areas where the grass had been recently cut, four Glossy Ibis were picking up invertebrates and in one spot I managed to spook a small Tringa sp. sandpiper (without getting good views) in an area where the sprinkler had just past leaving puddles of water on the ground. Of course there were Cattle Egrets and a single Great Egret.
I headed back out to the perimeter, near an area where rubbish was being dumped (called “sand dune” on the map of the site on the web page, but perhaps not for much longer), I surprised my first Grey Francolins for the site and a bright yellow (lutino) Budgerigar flew past (an escapee). Back into the main pivot field area and two Indian Rollers flew around, along with more Eurasian Hoopoes and a single over-summering Barn Swallow. On the edge of the main field there was an area of short turf, and I encountered the first White-tailed Lapwing – a more delicately built and slender bird than the Red-wattled Lapwing.
Between the large field and the small was a long strip of tall reeds (“Moustached Reeds”) along a marshy depression, and at one end of this the water surface of a small pond was visible, where I saw a Clamorous Reed Warbler and a small flock of Streaked Weavers (introduced from South-east Asia). A Pale Crag Martin flew past hawking after insects. More Graceful Prinias were in the reeds, but try as hard as I could the only weavers I kept seeing were Streaked, although someone else passing through here on the previous day had seen Baya Weaver. On the grass of the smaller pivot field I saw many more White-tailed lapwings along with Black-winged Stilt, and a flock of Chestnut-bellied Sandgrouse flew over. I headed back to the main field and called the driver to give him a half hour’s notice. As I headed in to the centre of the main pivot, I managed to get a good view of the mystery sandpiper which turned out to be a Green Sandpiper – overall darker than a Wood Sandpiper, longer bill and clearly showed the dark underwings as it flew off. The Chestnut-bellied Sandgrouse were drinking in this area so I had very nice views of these brilliant birds, and I came across a group of four Blue-cheeked Bee-eaters.
Although I managed to miss out on a couple of birds someone else had seen the previous day, including Southern Grey Shrike, I was still very pleased and would definitely recommend this site.
Ra’s al Khor Wildlife Sanctuary (Mangrove Hide)
The driver had picked me up slightly early at the pivot fields and we went straight to Ra’s al Khor, which was on the other side of the road. That is to say we drove several km further on before we reached a roundabout/intersection where we could turn back and come in the opposite direction. I managed to arrive here 5 minutes before opening (9:00am) so I dutifully waited for the guard who sat in the shade of the hide waiting to open the gate. I might add that the reserve is fenced off AND there are signs telling you that it is prohibited to look into the reserve except at the hides (not sure why) so no peeking with bins while you are waiting.
The hide itself was well set up with plenty of drinking water (essential), I noted that it had a tripod, bins and a scope (scope arrived another 10 minutes or so after opening time). 9:00am may be the opening time but it was already very hot (approaching 40 degrees no doubt) so I intended to be there as early as I could. The tide wasn’t very good though – it was out and it looked like the sort of place that would be better at a higher tide when birds which might otherwise be still roaming all over the estuary would be forced up onto the flats. There were mudflats right in front of the hide, but most birds were some distance away. This may explain why someone else who went the next day saw a much greater variety of shorebirds and higher numbers.
Nevertheless I saw two new species, Slender-billed Gull and Kentish Plover. In addition to these there were large numbers of Greater Flamingos (approx 200 and although c.130 of these were very distant some were quite close), Black-winged Stilt, a single Redshank and a white morph Western Reef Egret with some dark flecking in the feathers. Aside from a few House Sparrows (which were obligingly close) and the obligatory Laughing and Collared Doves, land birds were conspicuously absent. At this time of year in hot weather, I’d recommend perhaps trying this site instead on a mid to high tide.
Species underlined are lifers, those denoted with an asterisk “*” are introduced, i.e. fully naturalised and on official list.
1) Grey Heron: 1 at Ra’s Al Khor (17/7).
2) Great Egret: 1 at Pivot Fields (17/7); 1 at Ra’s Al Khor (17/7).
3) Little Egret: 3 at Ra’s Al Khor (17/7).
4) Western Reef Egret: 1 dark morph flew over Safa Park (16/7); 1 white morph (with scattered dark feathers) at Ra’s Al Khor (17/7).
5) Cattle Egret: 10 at Pivot Fields (17/7).
6) Striated Heron: 3 at Ra’s Al Khor (17/7).
7) Glossy Ibis: 4 at Pivot Fields (17/7).
8) Greater Flamingo: c. 200 at Ra’s Al Khor (17/7).
9) Mallard: 6 on pond in Safa Park (16/7).
10) *Shikra: 1, possibly an immature male, at Safa Park (16/7).
11) *Grey Francolin: 4 adults, 2 of these with 5 juveniles, at Safa Park (16/7); 5 at Pivot Fields.
12) Black-winged Stilt: 23 at Pivot Fields (17/7); 17, including 1 small juv., at Ra’s Al Khor (17/7).
13) Red-wattled Lapwing: 1 at Safa Park (16/7); 61 at Pivot Fields (17/7).
14) White-tailed Lapwing: 14 at Pivot Fields (17/7).
15) Kentish Plover: 4 at Ra’s Al Khor (17/7).
16) Common Redshank: 2 at Ra’s Al Khor (17/7).
17) Green Sandpiper: 1 at Pivot Fields (17/7).
18) Slender-billed Gull: 2 at Ra’s Al Khor (17/7).
19) Caspian Tern: 1 at Ra’s Al Khor (17/7).
20) Chestnut-bellied Sandgrouse: 15 at Pivot Fields (17/7).
21) *Feral Pigeon: 1 at airport (17/6) and 6 at airport car park (16/7); many at Safa park (16/7); 2 at Pivot Fields (17/7).
22) Eurasian Collared Dove: 10+ at Safa Park (16/7); many at Pivot Fields (17/7); 5 at Ra’s Al Khor (17/7).
23) Laughing Dove: 1 at airport (17/6), 3 at airport car park (16/7); 10+ at Safa Park (16/7); Pivot Fields (17/7); 3 at Ra’s Al Khor (17/7).
24) *Alexandrine Parakeet: 6 at Safa Park (16/7).
25) *Rose-ringed Parakeet: 15 at Safa Park (16/7); 7 at Pivot Fields (17/7).
26) Little Green Bee-eater: 2 at Pivot Fields (17/7).
27) Blue-cheeked Bee-eater: 5 at Pivot Fields (17/7).
28) Indian Roller: 2 at Safa Park (16/7); 2 at Pivot Fields (17/7).
29) Eurasian Hoopoe: 10 (up to 5 at once) at Safa Park (16/7); 10 at Pivot Fields (17/7).
30) Crested Lark: 8 at Pivot Fields (17/7).
31) Barn Swallow: 1 at Pivot Fields (17/7).
32) Pale Crag Martin: 1 at Pivot Fields (17/7).
33) *White-eared Bulbul: few at airport car park (16/7); 6 at Safa Park (16/7); many at Pivot Fields (17/7).
34) *Red-vented Bulbul: many at Safa Park (16/7); 8 at Pivot Fields (17/7).
35) Graceful Prinia: 5 at Pivot Fields (17/7).
36) Clamorous Reed Warbler: 1 at Pivot Fields (17/7).
37) Purple Sunbird: 7 at Safa Park (16/7); 5 at Pivot Fields (17/7). Birds appeared to be mixture of female, breeding and non-breeding (but possibly young?) males.
38) *House Crow: 10 at Safa Park (16/7).
39) *Bank Myna: 46 (with 33 in one flock alone) at Pivot Fields (17/7).
40) *Common Myna: 1 at airport (17/6); many at Safa Park (16/7); 5 at Pivot Fields (17/7).
41) *Pied Myna (Starling): 9 (singles to threes) through Safa Park (16/7).
42) *House Sparrow: 1 at airport (17/6), 5 at airport car park (16/7); many at Safa Park (16/7); large numbers at Pivot Fields (17/7); 5 at Ra’s Al Khor (17/7).
43) *Streaked Weaver: 5 at Pivot Fields (17/7).
44) Indian Silverbill: 3 at airport car park (16/7); flocks common at Pivot Fields (17/7)