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UNITED ARAB EMIRATES

28 January–5 February 2022

The UAE is home to many Middle Eastern specialities including Socotra Cormorant, Crab Plover, Sooty Gull, Saunders’s and White-cheeked Terns, Pallid Scops-owl, Egyptian Nightjar, Collared Kingfisher of the endangered endemic subspecies kalbaensis, Arabian Babbler and Hume’s Wheatear. Covering a variety of habitats from mountains to deserts, oases and mudflats, we will also search for such sought-after winter visitors as Plain Leaf Warbler.

Day 1 Overnight flight from London to Dubai, one of the Emirates.

Day 2 Early-morning arrival in Dubai followed by a one-and-a-half hour journey south along a motorway to Ghantoot, formerly a regular wintering site for Hypocolius. Although it is unlikely that we will see this species here in the adjacent date palms nor gain access to the sports complex comprising mostly of Polo Fields, we can view large areas of grass through the gates. Waders, wheatears, pipits and wagtails can be seen feeding on the polo fields with probable species including Kentish Plover, Pacific Golden-plover, Ruff, Cream-coloured Courser, Desert and Isabelline Wheatears, Tawny and Water Pipits and White Wagtails whilst in the surrounding scrub, Grey Francolin, Green Bee-eater, Red-vented Bulbul and Graceful Prinia can be found. Over the years we have also found Caspian Plover and Sociable Lapwing here. Moving on, we now head inland to the real desert region of the UAE and before long we will be looking for Greater Hoopoe-larks along the sides of the road and hopefully hear their evocative song, the true voice of the desert amongst the sand dunes. By now it will be getting close to lunchtime so we will head into a man-made oasis at Al Qudra which is absolutely full of birds. It will be difficult to concentrate on our lunches as raptors are constantly patrolling overhead, often extremely low and these may include Booted, Greater Spotted, Imperial and Steppe Eagles, Black Kites and even the possibility of Lappet-faced Vulture. The lakes support a few waders with Common Snipe, Black-winged Stilt and Temminck’s Stint possible. After having our fill of both lunch and birds here, we will make a further two-hour drive to Al Ain for a two-night stay. Al Ain is known as the Garden City of the UAE and is in the Emirate of Abu Dhabi. After checking into our hotel adjacent to a shopping mall on the edge of the city and if time allows, we will drive to Green Mubazzarah, another man-made oasis at the foot of Jebel Hafeet, the second highest mountain in the UAE, a monolith rising over 1000 metres out of the desert with the Oman border at the top. Two nights Al Ain.

Day 3 Early morning is the best time to look for the shy Sand Partridge on the slopes of the Jebel and we will start immediately after breakfast. WE may also see Arabian Partridges and Chukar, which have been introduced to the Jebel. This is the only location in the UAE where Hooded Wheatears are seen regularly and we will also look for Mourning Wheatear which has wintered here for several years. Brown-necked Ravens scavenge scraps in the car park at the top which can be surprisingly cold also the stunning views for many miles make the discomfort bearable. Desert Larks scurry around like little clockwork mice whilst Egyptian Vultures patrol the skies. Peregrine Falcon (pelegrinoides) occurs here but we would have to be very lucky to see one, Eurasian Kestrel is more likely. Next we will head back down past the rulers palace to a hotel grounds where White-spectacled Bulbul, Blue Rock-thrush, Hume’s Wheatear and Indian Silverbills can all be found whilst Rock Martins breed on the buildings. A surprising number of rarities have been found in these hotel grounds including Rufous-backed Redstart, Black-throated Thrush and Ring Ouzel. Continuing back down the mountain we reach Green Mubazzarah which we will explore before the crowds arrive. Indian Rollers perch up on the lamp posts whilst Red-wattled Lapwings, Crested Larks and Persian Wheatears patrol the grass. Although these are all much-wanted species, it’s in the adjacent wadi that we will search for our main target bird here, Plain Leaf Warbler. By slowly walking about a kilometre of the wadi with its scattered Acacia trees, we can also expect to see Arabian Babbler, White-eared Bulbul, Lesser Whitethroat, (Eastern) Black Redstart, Purple Sunbird and Striolated Bunting as well as numerous Laughing Doves. Other warblers overwinter in this wadi and as well as Common Chiffchaff, Ménétries’s Warbler is also a possibility. Our next site is quite nearby but completely different in habitat; a gravel desert dotted with scrub and man-made water-filled ditches where firstly we will look for Asian Desert Warbler before taking a break for lunch. Asian Desert Warblers can often be found by looking for Desert (or other) Wheatears as they seem to have a symbiotic relationship with the wheatears sitting high up on bushes acting as lookouts for danger whilst the warblers scuttle through the bushes. This is also a very good place for Clamorous Reed Warbler; they are quite common along the reed-fringed channels. Most of the sites around Al Ain are quite close together so we will now move on to Zakher Lake, a large reed-fringed man-made lake surrounded by sand dunes where all the grey water of the city ends up. The lake is always full of birds, especially duck with many northern wintering species including Gadwall, Eurasian Teal, Eurasian Wigeon, Northern Pintail, Northern Shoveler, Tufted Duck and Ferruginous Duck. Grey and Purple Herons, Glossy Ibis, Great White and Little Egret and occasionally Eurasian Spoonbill share the lake edges with waders which may include Dunlin, Common, Curlew and Green Sandpipers, Common and Little Ringed Plovers and Little Stint. Bluethroats winter here but are not easy to see and Citrine Wagtails and Water Pipits can sometimes be found whilst Pallid Swifts and Barn Swallows hawk insects over the lake and Western Marsh-harriers quarter the reedbeds. On a previous occasion we were even fortunate enough to see a Sand Cat. Depending on how much daylight we have left, we may now visit nearby fodder fields where we will look for Black-crowned Sparrow-lark and Namaqua Dove or Al Jimi Oasis where we will search the trees for roosting Pallid Scops-owl before returning to our hotel for the night.

Day 4 After some early-morning birding and revisiting any sites we need to around Al Ain, we will head first north then east towards Kalba. Our first stop will be at Qarn Nazwa, a rock monolith surrounded by stone desert. This is a regular site for Variable Wheatear, while roosting Pharaoh Eagle-owl is also possible. We will have a picnic lunch her before continuing on to Kalba arriving mid-afternoon. Although Khor Kalba is now closed ostensibly to allow the vegetation to recover from fishmens' nets, quad bikes and other tourist activities, they have now built a luxury glamping resort on it! This is one of the best sites in the UAE for a number of specialities. Its extensive mangroves are home to the kalbaensis race of Collared Kingfisher, the endemic race of which only about 30 pairs remain. Indian Pond-heron is a regular winter visitor to the mudflats whilst Striated Heron, Western Reef-heron and Sykes's Warbler are resident in the mangroves and fortunately, we can still view the best areas despite the closure of the bridge. Depending on the state of the tide, waders hunt the mudflats including Eurasian Oystercatcher, Common Redshank, Common Greenshank and Eurasian Whimbrel whilst at high tide, Green Turtles and numerous fish can be seen swimming under the bridge. Sometimes Chestnut-bellied Sandgrouse and wintering Great (Steppe pallidirostris) Grey Shrikes can be found on the adjacent stony coastal plains. At dusk we will head north to our comfortable hotel in Fujairah for a two-night stay.

Day 5 After an early breakfast, we will return to Khor Kalba again if we still need any of the target species otherwise, we will head north along the coast towards Dibba, on the border with the Omani region of Musandam, checking the beaches for seabirds en route. The sheer number of House Crows on our journey is astounding for this invasive species. Along the sixty-mile east coast fishermen trawl whitebait directly from the beaches with their four-wheel drive vehicles; seabirds find this very attractive and occur in abundance. White-cheeked, Common, Sandwich, Lesser Crested, Great Crested and occasionally Bridled and Saunders's Terns can be found whilst gulls may include Caspian, Lesser Black-backed of both the barabensis and heuglini sub-species, Pallas's and Sooty Gull. Sometimes it is possible to see a few Persian Shearwaters offshore but Socotra Cormorant is more likely. Later we will visit a famous dairy farm called WAMM farms, which is a good wintering site for a number of species and a renowned vagrant hot spot. Its irrigated pastures are usually full of birds, with good numbers of Cattle Egrets and Indian Rollers as well as White Wagtails (including Masked Wagtail personata), whilst overhead we may find Red-rumped Swallows feeding on the insects attracted to the cattle. Many superb birds have been found here in recent years including Black-winged Kite, Pied Bushchat (found by the Birdfinders leaders), Black-winged Pratincole, Bay-backed Shrike and Little Bunting. More likely however are Long-billed Pipit and Isabelline and Red-tailed Shrikes. We are close to the Oman border fence here and whilst we have to be careful training our optics on the border as they are quite sensitive about this, we should keep a ‘casual’ lookout for Bonelli’s Eagles which breed in the adjacent mountains. We may stay until dusk as this has recently proved to be an excellent site for nightjars and, amongst the regular Egyptian Nightjars, a vagrant Sykes's Nightjar was found in the winter 2008/9.

Day 6 After breakfast we will start our westerly journey back towards Dubai. En route we will stop at Masafi. Here we will walk along several dry wadis for around a kilometre looking for typical mountain species. During past visits we have seen Little Owl, Lesser (Hume’s) Whitethroat, Great Grey (Arabian aucheri) Shrike and Scrub Warbler as well as species we have previously seen on the tour. We will have a picnic lunch here before moving on to our next destination which will be the extensive fodder-fields around Digdaga and Hamraniyah in Ras Al Khaimah. The attractiveness of the fields vary from year to year depending on whether they are being watered but when we find one that is, the greenery attracts large numbers of birds including many wagtails and pipits with Western Yellow Wagtails and American (Buff-bellied) Pipit being a target. Rose-ringed Parakeets are present whilst the greenery attracts both Common and the scarcer Bank Myna. We will also study all the House Sparrows for Spanish Sparrow and listen out for the calls of Common Quail and Corn Bunting in the fields. Depending on time, we can now head towards the fabulous Khor Al Beide for waders or, if it’s getting late, head south to our hotel for the last three nights in Dubai.

Day 7 Today we will head back into the desert to the Al Marmoom Desert Conservation area specifically for sandgrouse. A large area of stony desert with small drinking pools is favoured in the morning by groups of Chestnut-bellied Sandgrouse and in amongst them we may find groups of the introduced Pin-tailed Sandgrouse. There is also a further chance for Black-crowned Sparrow-lark here whilst both Montagu’s and Pallid Harriers quarter the area and larger eagles sit around in dead trees. Huge numbers of Eurasian Collared-doves can be found on these plains and in amongst them the occasional wintering European Turtle-dove. Macqueen’s Bustards have been reintroduced into the area so we will keep a watch for these as well. Moving on, we will visit what was formerly known as Wimpey Pits but is now sadly derelict, the lake remains but is now surrounded by a high fence. Fortunately, we can still see the lake so we can watch out for the specialities there which include Grey-headed Swamphen and White-tailed Lapwing. In the afternoon we will visit Khor Dubai Wildlife Sanctuary, an area of extensive mudflats within the city of Dubai where thousands of waterbirds feed including an impressive flock of resident Greater Flamingos. The site is a major staging point for Broad-billed Sandpipers, which often join flocks of other waders, whilst we may also see both Caspian and Gull-billed Terns. Raptors are constantly soaring overhead, an impressive sight against the towering skyline of huge skyscrapers including the Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world. Not too far away in Mushrif Park, a famed city park protecting indigenous Ghaf woodland. It’s very busy here Fridays and Saturdays but during the rest of the week virtually deserted so we will try to time our visit right! The whole park is full of birds and has attracted many rarities over the years with Black Drongo seen on a previous tour. We will have lunch here and spend the afternoon walking around until dusk including a ‘raptor watch’ from a vantage point where Oriental Honey-buzzard and Shikra have been regularly seen from. As we will be looking for Pallid Scops-owl in the evening and so likely to be quite late arriving back at our hotel, we will eat at a quaint snack bar which has food for all tastes.

Day 8 Our first destination today, depending on tides, will be Khor al Beidah, where highlights will include Crab Plover, Great Knot, Terek Sandpiper and both Greater and Lesser Sand-plovers. If however, the tide is wrong we will head up to the breakwater at Umm al Qawain which is an excellent place to watch Socotra Cormorants passing. An incoming tide is the optimal time to check through all the waders but calculating tides isn’t an exact science here as the Persian Gulf doesn’t have a large tidal range and winds and weather patterns can make a huge difference. If necessary, we can swop birding with day seven to make sure that we are here at the optimum time for birding. Scanning through the waders is very enjoyable, especially as they gradually get closer and closer and Ruddy Turnstone, Sanderling and Eurasian Curlew can be added to our lists as well as Osprey. We will then head south on a two-hour journey towards Abu Dhabi and the Al Wathba Wetland Reserve where we will have lunch followed by a walk around the lagoons. By now if will become increasingly difficult to add new birds to our lists but Pied Avocet and Wood Sandpiper are both possibilities amongst the hordes of ducks and waders. Nearby is the Al Wathba Camel Track, another migrant trap and famed for its wintering Egyptian Nightjars but since they stopped watering the fodder fields a few years ago the site has become less attractive to birds. Alternatively, we can visit sites in Abu Dhabi if rarities have been found; on a previous tour we successfully found both Indian Paradise-flycatcher and Forest Wagtail in Mushrif Palace Gardens. As we are likely to be late returning to our hotel we will stop on the motorway at a shopping mall where a huge variety of food is available.

Day 9 There may be time to revisit some local sites before returning to the airport for our flight to London.

General Information The climate will be warm to hot with rain unlikely, mornings can be chilly. The pace of the tour is moderate with generally easy walks mostly on level ground except for one or two wadis but long days will be spent in the field with early starts and some late evenings. There are no special health requirements and the country is largely insect-free. Accommodation standards and food are both good. Visas are not required for visitors from most countries.

Group size Minimum number for tour to go ahead: 4; maximum group size: 16. There will be 2 leaders irrespective of group size.

Persian Wheatear

Persian Wheatear