Crab Plovers can be found wintering in the UAE. Photo:
Sun, sand and serious winter birding – the United Arab Emirates has it all! A mid winter trip to this safe, accessible Middle Eastern country offers a mouth-watering selection of birds that includes such iconic species as Crab-plover and Pallas’s Gull, alongside other species whose ranges make them very difficult to connect with elsewhere, such as Plain Leaf Warbler and Variable Wheatear. Situated at the southeastern corner of the Arabian Gulf, the United Arab Emirates is located at a key migration crossroads and the country’s varied landscape of mountains, deserts, and coastal mudflats supports over 400 species of bird, of which 330 are migrants from central
Asia and Siberia.
Day 1: The tour starts with a flight from London to Dubai, a modern, glitzy city with some great birding on its doorstep. We arrive in the evening and spend the night in Dubai.
Day 2: We’ll start our birding by exploring the desert an hour from Dubai, targeting specialist desert species including Cream-coloured Courser, Chestnut-bellied Sandgrouse and Black-crowned Sparrow-Lark. After lunch we’ll check a favoured wintering area for Crested Honey Buzzard, before heading out into the desert to look for Pharaoh Eagle-Owl. Night in Dubai.
Day 3: Heading north from Dubai, we’ll look for birds at Khor al Beida, a fantastic tidal bay on the Persian Gulf, where close views of Crab-plover are our goal. Great Knot should be mixed in with the roosting waders too. Nearby we’ll get the chance to test our ID skills on assorted gulls, with the aim of catching up with the Rolls-Royce of big gulls – Pallas’s Gull! Towards the end of the day we’ll switch coasts, driving two hours to the east coast. Night in Dibba.
Day 4: Our main focus will be the fodder fields near Dibba. Situated at the foot of an inhospitable mountain range, these fields provide an oasis for a wide variety of birds such as Variable Wheatear, Richard’s, Tawny and Long-billed Pipits, Indian Roller, Daurian Shrike and much more besides. Over the years this site has surely added more species to the UAE bird list than anywhere else in the country. In 2017 we discovered the country’s 5th Great Spotted Cuckoo here, so it’s a clearly a place to expect the unexpected! We’ll also visit a rocky wadi 30 minutes from Dibba to search for Streaked Scrub Warbler. Night in Dibba.
Day 5: Working our way south from Dibba, we’ll check various harbours and beaches for gulls and terns; Socotra Cormorant and Sooty Gull are regular in this area. Depending on tide times, we may scan Khor Kalba to look for the endemic kalbaensis race of Collared Kingfisher, as well as Indian Pond Heron and waders. From Kalba, we travel through impressive mountain and desert scenery to the city of Al Ain, where we’ll visit an oasis to look for Pallid Scops Owl. An artificial wetland outside Al Ain holds egrets, herons and waterfowl, as well as drawing in raptors like Marsh Harrier and occasionally Long-legged Buzzard, so we’ll pay that area a visit in the afternoon. Overnight Al Ain.
Day 6: Al Ain features an isolated ‘whale-back’ mountain called Jebel Hafeet and we’ll spend the morning birding on and at the foot of this impressive geological feature. The hotel grounds themselves have played host to such wintering rarities as Eversmann’s Redstart and Black-throated Thrush, so it’s a great place to wake up! Wheatears will be high on the agenda, with dapper Hume’s commonly encountered, at least one pair of Hooded in the vicinity and Red-tailed to look for too. Egyptian Vultures patrol the cliffs of a wadi at the foot of the mountain, where Plain Leaf Warbler, Sand Partridge and Striolated Bunting can also be found.
In the early afternoon, we’ll drive west towards Abu Dhabi, where we’ll visit the excellent Al Wathba Wetland Reserve to look for White-tailed Lapwing, Grey-headed Swamphen and more. Nearby dried-out fodder fields offer us a chance of Egyptian Nightjar to round off the day. Night in Abu Dhabi.
Day 7: Flexibility is the order of the day; we may check some of the parks round Abu Dhabi for wintering species like Masked Shrike or try sites between Abu Dhabi and Dubai for any desert species we’ve yet to find. It may be possible to organise a boat trip round some of the offshore islands round Abu Dhabi to look for waders, gulls and terns. Night in Dubai.
Day 8: There will be time to enjoy wintering Greater Spotted Eagles against the spectacular backdrop of the Dubai skyline before we transfer to the airport for our return flight home to London, where the tour ends.
Updated: 07 March 2017