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 late this evening in Dubai with a transfer from the airport to our hotel. Night in Dubai.
Day 2: We’ll start our birding early by heading north from Dubai to visit two areas: Khor al Beida, a fantastic tidal bay on the Persian Gulf, and some grass-growing farms near Ras al Khaimah. At Khor al Beida we’ll look for Crab-plover, and hope to find any Great Knot that are mixed in with the roosting waders. 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! At the grass-growing farms we should find a good selection of wintering pipits, wagtails, waders and more. Night in Dubai.
Day 3: After an early breakfast we will explore the desert an hour from Dubai, targeting specialist desert species including Cream-coloured Courser, Chestnut-bellied Sandgrouse and Black-crowned Sparrow-Lark. During the heat of the afternoon we’ll switch coasts, driving two hours to the east coast, where we’ll check various harbours and beaches for gulls and terns. Socotra Cormorant and Sooty Gull are regular in this area and 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. Night in Fujairah.
Day 4: We’ll begin by visiting a rocky wadi 30 minutes from Fujairah to search for Streaked Scrub Warbler and Striolated Bunting. Our focus will then switch to some 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! Night in Fujairah.
Day 5: Waking up in Fujairah will give us another chance to look for terns and gulls whilst the beaches are quiet, with White-cheeked Tern high on the target list. From Fujairah, 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 afternoon, we’ll drive west towards Abu Dhabi, pausing to search some fodder fields that hosted 4 Sociable Lapwing in 2018. Night in Abu Dhabi.
Day 7: In the morning we’ll visit the excellent Al Wathba Wetland Reserve to look for White-tailed Lapwing, Grey-headed Swamphen and more; our last visit yielded Baillon’s Crake and Moustached Warbler. After lunch we’ll head back to Dubai, where 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 8: Flight times permitting, we should be able to enjoy the spectacle of wintering Greater Spotted Eagles against the unique backdrop of the Dubai skyline before we transfer to the airport, where the tour ends.
Updated: 17 October 2018