UNITED ARAB EMIRATES
3–11 February 2016
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, 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 Hypocolius and Asian species such as Collared Kingfisher.
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 transfer to Al Ain, known as the garden city, for a two-night stay. We will travel through some of the country's most remote sand-deserts en route to Al Ain, where we will arrive in time for lunch. In the afternoon we will visit one or more of the wetlands around the city, where we will see many wintering ducks and waders including Red-wattled Lapwing and Temminck's Stint and possibly White-tailed Lapwing. In the late-afternoon we will drive up a spectacular road that will take us almost to the summit of the stunningly beautiful Jebel Hafeet, the second-highest mountain in the UAE. En route it is likely that we will see our first Desert Larks and Hume's Wheatears, whilst good numbers of Egyptian Vultures can normally be watched at very close range. There should still be enough light left for us to visit the extensive gardens of our hotel, where we should see Rock Martin, the eastern form of Black Redstart, Blue Rock-thrush and Indian Silverbill as well as more Hume's Wheatears.
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. This is the only location in the UAE where Hooded Wheatears are seen regularly and we should enjoy close encounters. Next we will head back down the jebel to a nearby wadi, which is a reliable spot for wintering Plain Leaf-warbler. By slowly walking about a kilometre of the wadi with its scattered Acacia trees, we can also expect to see Green Bee-eater, Isabelline (both Daurian and Turkestan) and Southern Grey Shrikes, Lesser (Desert) Whitethroat and Striolated Bunting as well as numerous Laughing Doves. Nearby is a man-made oasis of greenery which attracts many birds including Grey Francolin, Tawny and Water Pipits, Crested Lark, White-cheeked, Yellow-vented and Red-vented Bulbuls, Red-tailed Wheatear, Graceful Prinia, Ménétries's Warbler and Purple Sunbird. After lunch we will look around the jebel for soaring raptors, which may include Barbary Falcon and Bonelli's Eagle, before visiting a nearby stone desert with sparse vegetation, which has proved to be a reliable spot for Black-crowned Sparrow-lark as well as Isabelline Wheatear and Brown-necked Raven.
Day 4 After some early-morning birding around the jebel, 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 Pied Wheatear, while roosting Pharaoh Eagle-owl is also possible. We will arrive in Kalba around lunchtime and, after checking into our conveniently-located hotel for a two-night stay, we will head out to Khor Kalba. 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 30 pairs remain. Indian Pond-heron is a regular winter visitor to the mudflats whilst Striated Heron, Western Reef-heron, Clamorous Reed-warbler and Sykes's Warbler are resident in the mangroves.
Day 5 We will check Khor Kalba again immediately after breakfast as it is also an excellent site for Chestnut-bellied Sandgrouse. We will then slowly work our way north to Dibba, on the border with the Omani region of Musandam, checking the beaches for seabirds en route. Along the 60-mile eastern 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, Bridled and Saunders's Terns are all possible; while there may be Caspian, Lesser Black-backed (Heuglin's), Pallas's and Sooty Gulls present. Sometimes it is possible to see a few Persian Shearwaters offshore but Socotra Cormorant is more likely. Later we will visit the famous dairy farm which is another migrant hot-spot. Its irrigated pastures are usually full of birds, with good numbers of Indian Rollers as well as White Wagtails (including personata) whilst overhead we should Red-rumped Swallows feeding on the insects attracted to the cattle. Many superb birds have been found here in recent years including Black-shouldered Kite, Oriental Honey-buzzard, Pied Bushchat (found by the Birdfinders leaders), Black-winged Pratincole, Bay-backed Shrike and Little Bunting. Waders can often be seen in the drainage ditches here. We will stay until dusk as this has recently proved to be an excellent site for nightjars and, amongst the regular Egyptian Nightjars, we may find a vagrant Sykes's Nightjar.
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 a wadi (usually dry) for about a kilometre looking for typical mountain species. We may find Long-billed Pipit and some winter visitors should still be present including (Hume's) Lesser Whitethroat. Early migrants may include Southern (Steppe) Grey and Woodchat Shrikes and residents are represented by Lichtenstein's Sandgrouse, Scrub Warbler and Arabian Babbler. Our next destination will be the extensive fodder-fields around Digdaga and Hamraniyah. Here there are large numbers of Rose-ringed Parakeets whilst the greenery attracts Common and Bank Mynas, Rosy Starling and Pallid Swift. Raptors quarter the area with Pallid and Montagu's Harriers being almost common. We will study all the sparrows for Spanish Sparrow and listen out for the calls of Common Quail and Corn Bunting in the fields. Three nights in Dubai.
Day 7 Today we will head for the wonderful Dubai Pivot Fields and Wimpey Pits, magnets for migrants with the green fields and water attracting birds from miles around. On the Pivot Fields we will find many pipits and wagtails, including Red-throated and Tree Pipits and possibly Blyth's or American (Buff-bellied) Pipit, both of which have wintered in recent years. Citrine Wagtail and Western Yellow Wagtails of several races can be found together with Greater Short-toed Larks. On the nearby Wimpey Pits there should be many common passage waders and Common and Pintail Snipe will provide an identification challenge! Ducks may include Ferruginous Duck and a recent feature of these pits has been breeding Purple Swamphen and Red-knobbed Coot. 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. Kentish Plover is resident and migrants and winter visitors, including Great Egret, Eurasian Spoonbill and Terek and Curlew Sandpipers, are likely to be present in impressive numbers. The site is a major staging point for Broad-billed Sandpipers, which often join flocks of Greater and Lesser Sand-plovers. Greater Flamingo is resident here in large numbers and we may see Caspian and Gull-billed Terns at roost and Greater Spotted Eagle, Osprey and Eurasian Marsh-harrier hunting overhead.
Day 8 Our first destination today is the nearby Al Jazeerah Khor, a large area of mudflats and lagoons flanked by a bank of high red sand-dunes. We will search for passage warblers, which may include Asian Desert, Eastern Orphean and Ménétries' Warblers, whilst Socotra Cormorants are possible offshore. Moving up the coast we will keep a lookout for Greater Hoopoe-lark on the way to Khor al Beidah, where highlights may include Crab Plover, Great Knot, Terek Sandpiper and Lesser Sand-plover amongst the commoner passage waders. Next we will visit the breakwater at Umm al Qawain, which is excellent for cormorants and terns. In the afternoon we will head back south towards Abu Dhabi to Ghantoot, where the plantations and carefully-landscaped polo grounds provide a stark contrast to the surrounding desert. Our primary target species here will be the highly sought-after Hypocolius; although a regular migrant, numbers have been decreasing over the years. We may also find Cream-coloured Courser and Pacific Golden-plover here. Our next stop will be at the Al Wathba Camel Track, which is another migrant trap. The lush fields attract numerous pipits, wagtails, larks, swallows and raptors. Finally, after dinner, we will visit Mushrif Park, where Pallid Scops-owl can be found feeding under the lights.
Day 9 There might be time to revisit some local sites before returning to the airport for our flight to London.
General Information While afternoons can be hot, early mornings can be chilly. There are no compulsory health requirements and the country is largely insect-free. Walks are generally easy, although in the heat it can sometimes be tiring and some walks along wadis need a little extra effort.
Group size Minimum number for tour to go ahead: 4; maximum group size: 16. There will be 2 leaders irrespective of group size.