United Arab Emirates 7-9 Feb 2010
- a birding stopover on our way to South India -
John van der Woude  -  www.jvanderw.nl
On our flight from Europe to South India with Emirates, we used the free stopover in Dubai for three days birding. First we went to a Crab Plover site in the Northwest, then crossed over to the east coast at Kalba (mangroves, with a rare subspecies of Collared Kingfisher), from there to the region around Al Ain (mountain, desert), and then back through the desert to Dubai.

We (Nollie and I) went for six lifers: Crab Plover, Socotra Cormorant, Steppe Grey Shrike, Hume's Wheatear, Red-tailed Wheatear and Hooded Wheatear. We only missed the latter. The full species list is at the bottom.

Renting a car at the airport is easy and good value for money. Accommodation is plentiful and can often be booked in advance on the internet. We stayed at Ajman (N of Dubai), Fujairah (east coast) and Al Ain. The roads were very good, and apart from Dubai usually quiet. Road maps are good (like our Rough Guide map) but road works can cause deviations. Signs are in English. Petrol is very cheap of course.

Tommy Pedersen's www.uaebirding.com is a must while preparing a trip here. Download his file UAE-all.kml and save it, then open the kml-file from the menu in Google Earth (which by now every birder should have on the computer anyway). This procedure will show a multitude of birding sites in the UAE, and you can zoom in very far because the UAE is very detailed in Google Earth. Nevertheless, I also used Pedersen's older birding site maps, which I found by searching in Google on pedersen + name of the birding site (see the list of the main birding sites at uaebirding.com). For the latest sightings and tips, visit the Forum of uaebirding.com. Thanks also to Tommy for checking the species list below.

This was just a short stop-over visit, but worthwhile it was! We may do this again, because Emirates is a very interesting airline as it offers so many destinations in South Asia for a very reasonable rate, and all flights operate via Dubai.

Map of northern UAE, taken from Google Maps (please check there too).
1 = Dubai international airport
2 = highway 311 (is preferred route from airport to Khor Beida, sites 3 and 4)
3 = Barracuda beach resort just SW of Dreamland Aquapark
4 = Emaar sale centre
5 = Wadi Masafi (just N of village Masafi)
6 = hotels in Fujairah
7 = Kalba inlet & mangrove
8 = upgraded highway from Kalba westward
9 = good road towards Al Ain
10-14: see map below
15 = nice shortcut road through sand desert
16 = Dubai Pivot Fields, see detailed map below

9 = road from first map
10 = Mercure hotel (through Al Ain, follow signs for Jebel Hafeet)
11 = end of road at Jebel Hafeet mountain
12 = Green Muzzabarah park
13 = Ain al-Faydah recreation park
14 = fodder fields (c. 15 km from nr. 13)

How to find the Dubai Pivot Fields. Be sure to drive on the southern (eastward) side of road 44, or else maybe try via the 54 and 67. This is site 16 on the first map.

View across the Khor Beida tidal inlet, from the shop of Barracuda Beach resort, north of Um al Quwain along road 11. This resort is c. 500 m SW of the better known Dreamland Aquapark. The photo shows an enclosed strip of the Khor and this was full of waders (like both sand plovers), but I am not sure what the purpose and future of the strip will be. Crab Plover was visible in the distance, on sand bars. Socotra Cormorant was a bit closer.

We got a closer view of Crab Plovers (but still with scope of course) from the Emaar sale centre a few km south of Dreamland/Barracuda (see map). In total we saw about 200 Crab Plovers dispersed over the tidal area, between many Greater Flamingo. I understood that birding further SW (left) than this Emaar site is not advisable, as you will be scoping then too close to the palace of Um al Quwain, and can be interrogated.

On our way from the west coast to the east coast we visited the wadi N of Masafi, where we got Red-tailed Wheatear, Sand Partidge and Striolated Bunting.

The Masafi wadi lies in a interesting intermontane basin, which we did not further explore due to lack of time. But we may have more stopovers in Dubai in the future, so this could be an area to visit again and more thoroughly.

Coastal mangrove just S of Kalba, on the east coast of the UAE. Famous for the rare subspecies of Collared Kingfisher (kalbaensis), which we saw indeed. Also Isabelline Wheatear, Isabelline Shrike, Long-billed Pipit.

Along the Kalba inlet. Are there Steppe and Caspian Gulls on the photo?

While driving along the seaside of the mangrove-rimmed inlet, watch for songbirds on top of the sand ridges along the track. Steppe Grey Shrike here. Many gulls were on the other side of the track, like Caspian Gull and Sooty Gull.

After the long drive from Kalba back through an impressive mountain chain (first Hume's Wheatear) we arrived late at our Mercure hotel (69 euro) in the Al Ain mountain which rises from the surrounding desert plains (just visible left).

This is the very good road up to the Jebel Hafeet mountain of Al Ain. In vain we searched for Hooded Wheatear here but we saw several other good birds (like three other wheatear species), and Al Ain has some nice greener areas too (above left in photo).

The Green Muzzabarah park at the foot of the mountain of Al Ain. We did not see that much here (Purple Sunbird) but it can have interesting migrants of course.

Fodder fields (the greener area behind the sand dunes) SW of Al Ain, along the road which follows the border with Oman. The fields are at c. 15 km after the Ain al-Faydah recreation park near Al Ain. We drove on the tracks around the fodder fields (east side) and saw several larks in the fodder (Black-crowned Sparrow-Lark, Greater Short-toed Lark and presumed Bar-tailed Lark), and also Indian Silverbill.

A side road cutting through the vast desert between the Al Ain area and Dubai.

Dubai Pivot Fields, a famous birding area southeast of the Dubai metropolitan area. It took some time to find the entrance but it is very rewarding. It is situated a few km east of the large intersection of the E311 and the E44, and then on the south side of the E44, just past the Dragon Mart shopping mall. Then take the road along the green area for 500 m or so and go left to the entrance. At the small office, ask politely for permission to enter. We think you're not supposed to walk on the grass, but with our scope we could see practically all birds from the track.

A feldegg yellow wagtail (Black-headed Wagtail) in the vast grassy area of the pivot fields. Wagtails abounded in this field, we also had a Citrine Wagtail, and Richard's Pipit.

The pivot fields are also well-known for White-tailed Lapwing (not on this photo, but we saw 20 in the area closest to the highway). Clamorous Reed Warbler was singing in the reeds, and a Pallid Harrier (a 'boa') flew past us.

Driving back to Dubai airport along the many-lane highways in the evening for our night flight to South India, we just saw the recently finished tallest building in the world, in front of the sun.

                                Species list (IOC names)
birding sites:
Bd - Khor Beida
WM - Wadi Masafi
Ka - Kalba
AA - Al Ain
PF - Dubai Pivot Fields
x - elsewhere (roadside and/or common)
* - lifer

                    booby spec.?        Ka?          out at sea against the light, between gulls
                  Sand Partridge           AA        Ammoperdix heyi
                  Grey Francolin           AA        Francolinus pondicerianus
                Greater Flamingo  Bd                 Phoenicopterus roseus
              Eurasian Spoonbill  Bd                 Platalea leucorodia
               Indian Pond-Heron        Ka           Ardeola grayii
                      Grey Heron  Bd    Ka           Ardea cinerea
             Western Great Egret  Bd    Ka           Ardea alba
              Western Reef Heron  Bd    Ka           Egretta gularis
                 Great Cormorant        Ka           Phalacrocorax carbo
             * Socotra Cormorant  Bd                 Phalacrocorax nigrogularis
                  Western Osprey  Bd                 Pandion haliaetus
                Egyptian Vulture           AA        Neophron percnopterus
           Western Marsh Harrier  Bd    Ka           Circus aeruginosus
                  Pallid Harrier              PF     Circus macrourus
           Lesser Spotted Eagle?  Bd?                Aquila pomarina - right overhead
                  Common Kestrel                  x  Falco tinnunculus
          Eurasian Oystercatcher  Bd                 Haematopus ostralegus
                   * Crab-plover  Bd                 Dromas ardeola
              Black-winged Stilt        Ka           Himantopus himantopus
             Red-wattled Lapwing              PF     Vanellus indicus
            White-tailed Lapwing              PF     Vanellus leucurus
          European Golden Plover              PF     Pluvialis apricaria
                     Grey Plover  Bd                 Pluvialis squatarola
            Common Ringed Plover  Bd                 Charadrius hiaticula
            Little Ringed Plover              PF     Charadrius dubius
                  Kentish Plover  Bd                 Charadrius alexandrinus
              Lesser Sand Plover  Bd                 Charadrius mongolus
             Greater Sand Plover  Bd                 Charadrius leschenaultii
                    Common Snipe              PF     Gallinago gallinago
               Bar-tailed Godwit  Bd                 Limosa lapponica
                        Whimbrel  Bd    Ka           Numenius phaeopus
                 Eurasian Curlew  Bd    Ka           Numenius arquata
                 Common Redshank  Bd                 Tringa totanus
               Common Greenshank  Bd                 Tringa nebularia
                Common Sandpiper                  x  Actitis hypoleucos
                    Little Stint  Bd                 Calidris minuta
                          Dunlin  Bd                 Calidris alpina
             Slender-billed Gull        Ka           Chroicocephalus genei
               Black-headed Gull        Ka           Chroicocephalus ridibundus
                   Pallas's Gull        Ka           Ichthyaetus ichthyaetus
                      Sooty Gull  Bd    Ka           Ichthyaetus hemprichii
             Caspian/Steppe Gull        Ka           Larus cachinnans/barabensis (see photo above)
                                  Bd    Ka           Larus spec.
                Gull-billed Tern        Ka           Gelochelidon nilotica
                    Caspian Tern  Bd                 Hydroprogne caspia
             Lesser Crested Tern        Ka           Thalasseus bengalensis
                   Sandwich Tern        Ka           Thalasseus sandvicensis
                   Common Pigeon           AA        Columba livia
          Eurasian Collared Dove                  x  Streptopelia decaocto
                   Laughing Dove                  x  Stigmatopelia senegalensis
            Rose-ringed Parakeet                  x  Psittacula krameri
                    Common Swift                  x  Apus apus - early!
                    Pallid Swift           AA        Apus pallidus
                   Indian Roller                  x  Coracias benghalensis
             Collared Kingfisher        Ka           Todiramphus chloris kalbaensis
               Common Kingfisher        Ka           Alcedo atthis
                 Green Bee-eater                  x  Merops orientalis
                 Eurasian Hoopoe                  x  Upupa epops
               Isabelline Shrike        Ka           Lanius isabellinus
            * Steppe Grey Shrike        Ka        x  Lanius pallidirostris
                      House Crow  Bd                 Corvus splendens
                Bar-tailed Lark?           AA?       Ammomanes cinctura - at fodder fields in desert
                     Desert Lark                  x  Ammomanes deserti
         Greater Short-toed Lark           AA        Calandrella brachydactyla
                    Crested Lark                  x  Galerida cristata
      Black-crowned Sparrow-Lark           AA        Eremopterix nigriceps
              White-eared Bulbul           AA        Pycnonotus leucotis
               Red-vented Bulbul  Bd                 Pycnonotus cafer
         White-spectacled Bulbul  Bd                 Pycnonotus xanthopygos
                Pale Crag Martin           AA        Ptyonoprogne obsoleta
          Clamorous Reed Warbler              PF     Acrocephalus stentoreus
                 Graceful Prinia                  x  Prinia gracilis
                 Arabian Babbler     WM    AA        Turdoides squamiceps
              Lesser Whitethroat                     Sylvia curruca
              Desert Whitethroat           AA        Sylvia minula            
                     Common Myna                  x  Acridotheres tristis
             Isabelline Wheatear        Ka           Oenanthe isabellina
               Northern Wheatear        Ka AA        Oenanthe oenanthe
           * Red-tailed Wheatear     WM    AA        Oenanthe chrysopygia
                 Desert Wheatear                  x  Oenanthe deserti
               * Hume's Wheatear           AA     x  Oenanthe albonigra
                Blue Rock Thrush           AA        Monticola solitarius
                  Black Redstart     WM    AA        Phoenicurus ochruros
                  Purple Sunbird           AA        Cinnyris asiaticus
                   House Sparrow                  x  Passer domesticus
               Indian Silverbill           AA        Euodice malabarica
            Yellow Wagtail spec.              PF
            Black-headed Wagtail              PF     Motacilla feldegg
                 Citrine Wagtail              PF     Motacilla citreola
                   White Wagtail              PF     Motacilla alba
                 Richard's Pipit              PF     Anthus richardi
               Long-billed Pipit        Ka           Anthus similis
              Striolated Bunting     WM              Emberiza striolata
Note. At Wadi Masafi we saw a Lesser Whitethroat with a 
rather dark cap - may have been Hume's Whitehroat?