Tuesday, 14 February 2017

A quick dash to Oman!

I needed to do a visa run for the UAE immigration & Khalifa put the idea of the Omani Owl into my head, so I needed no further encouragement! We met up in Al Ain on 12th February & crossed the border at Meyzad & drove to Jebel Akhdar. 

The fabled location!

Late afternoon.

It really is a very nice spot.

Khalifa & his trusty chariot.

Khalifa & I.

One of the ancient watch towers
 which used to guard the wadi.

We arrived on site around 4.30 pm, it was a bright sunny afternoon with a little breeze. Not bad conditions at all! Khalifa had done all the homework & we set about checking the area for an owl to be sunning itself! After about an hour, we both heard a series of owl calls high up about 500m from us. We rushed to the area but couldn't see the bird as it was calling from behind a ridge (& it was impossible to climb). One possibly two birds called for around nine minutes, then silence. Fifteen minutes later, one possibly two birds called in duet. It is difficult to be certain because of possible echos in the wadi.

Arabian Red Fox.

It got dark, nothing calling at all. We started the search by torchlight & after about one & half hours Khalifa thought he saw an owl fly, but I didn't see it & it was quickly lost to sight. We spent quite a while looking for it but without success. We then moved on about another 300 m & I picked eye shine up in the torch. It was the Owl perched in a tree, but partially hidden! We tried to get better views but it turned its head so no eye shine & we lost it. We spent another hour in the field but no further sightings or indeed calls. No photos I am afraid. We slept in the car & was woken by a large herd of goats in the morning!

An Omani dawn.

It is a long & windy road to the very top.

Small groups of feral donkeys roam the hillsides.

After again briefly searching the area we left to explore Jebel Akhdar. This is a spectacular location & it rises far above the surrounding plains & it is so big! Birds were thin on the ground but we recorded both Lappet faced & Egyptian Vultures; Humes & Red tailed Wheatears; Plain Leaf Warbler, plenty of Desert Lesser Whitethroat & Eastern Black Redstarts but little else.

Al Ain

Looking down into the village.

Fruit gardens

Male Eastern Black Redstart


Male Purple Sunbird

Arabian Toad

Found in the falaj system.

Terraced farm land.

An abandoned traditional house.

Omani homes often having elaborate doors or gates.

The more modern part of the village.

Khalifa in his natural habitat?

An unusual mosque.

We spent quite a bit of time in the villages of Al Ain (a different one from the one in the UAE) & Sayq looking for the Black throated Thrushes which had been seen recently. But no luck.

The hotel.

The hotel is in a fantastic setting 
on the edge of the canyon.

The view.

Yours truly!

Hume's Wheatear

The interior was equally spectacular.

The library.

We then retired to a spectacular hotel for a very nice, if expensive lunch amid grand surroundings. 

The rest of the afternoon was spent exploring the mountain & then we once again visited the Omani Owl site, but the wind had picked up & we neither heard nor saw anything. We then made our way back to the UAE & I arrived home at 1.30 am, tired but pleased with the trip.

Monday, 13 February 2017

February in the UAE

Al Wathba Reserve

2nd February saw me visiting Al Wathba Reserve. It was a lovely morning but with it being morning, the sun is in the wrong place for viewing birds & it isn't open in the evenings when the light is perfect for viewing! Very frustrating!

Part of the flock of Greater Flamingoes,
seen from the hide.

Brings back memories of my roots!

I was there mingling with the Prince!

Greater Spotted Eagle

European Black headed Gulls.

This was my very first time to visit since it has become a reserve, but I know the place well after birding here for many years. In some places the habitat has deteriorated & the variety of species is less than before, but it is still a great place to go birding. I was a bit surprised by the number of visitors( being mid week), It is obviously a popular attraction.

Best birds were: 

2,300 Greater Flamingo; 167 Common Shelduck; 7 Avocet; 1 Spotted Redshank 150+ Curlew Sandpiper & a Wood Sandpiper.

Cattle Egrets

This species has become an increasingly common 
winter visitor to Abu Dhabi.

Eurasian Hoopoe

Song Thrush

White Wagtail

Graceful Prinia.

The next day I enjoyed a wander around Mushrif Palace Gardens & the nearby woods. The weather was cool & very windy, so not great for viewing.

Best birds were:

5 Song Thrush; 1 male Black throated Thrush (which gave poor views); Eastern Black Redstart & 2 Hoopoe.

Maarten, myself, Peter, Dick & Willem.
Over 130 years of ENHG membership sat here!

On the 7th I attended the ENHG meeting with Jens & Hanne Erikson speaking on the Wildlife of Oman. It was an excellent talk & great to bump into old friends again!

Abu Dhabi Racecourse.

Male Shikra

This species is becoming increasingly 
well established in the city.


On 9th I birded Mushrif Palace Gardens & Abu Dhabi Racecourse. It was quiet for migrants in he wood, but raptors were in abundance with 3 Crested Honey Buzzard; a pair of Shikra; female Sparrowhawk & 2 Common Kestrels. Four species of raptor in the city is pretty special.
 I also found a European Tree Pipit in the middle wood, which is a good winter record. Menetries Warbler, 3 Eastern Olivaceous; 8 Desert Lesser Whitethroat & around 20+ Common Chiffchaff.
The racecourse held a female Gadwall, Gull billed Tern, a Greenshank & a Steppe Grey Shrike.

The view of the city from the water as we sent off.

The intrepid explorers!

Tanya, Maarten & Alia.

Indo-Pacific Hump-backed Dolphin.

Six were around the boat, but difficult
 to photograph.

A young Hawksbill Turtle

Picked up to be taken to the
 rehabilitation centre.

This individual was covered in barnacles,
 which makes it impossible for them to dive for food
 & so they starve to death.

Grey Heron & Socotra Cormorant

Socotra Cormorant

Great Cormorants.

Greater Flamingo.

Great Black-headed Gulls.

The Arabian Gulf is an important wintering ground
 for this species.

Steppe Gulls.

Slender-billed Gulls.

Adult Slender-billed Gull, coming into
 breeding plumage.

Among the Slender-bills are a few of these.....

European Black-headed Gull

The 11th was an ENHG trip around the inshore islands off Abu Dhabi. As usual Maarten provided the transport & twelve of us enjoyed a wonderful five hours off shore, exploring the inshore channels which are inaccessible from the mainland.

Caspian Terns

This is quite an impressive number
 for AD in winter.

Lesser crested Tern

Most migrate, but smaller numbers winter here.

European Oystercatcher & Saunder's Little Terns

European Oystercatchers & Whimbrel.


Best birds were:

700+ Greater Flamingo; 600+ Greater Cormorant (an unusually high number); 10 Soctora Cormorant; 92 Great Black headed Gull; 145 Saunder's Little Tern; 40 Lesser Crested Tern; 56 Caspian Tern; 5 Osprey & Steppe Grey Shrike.