Dubai UAE - Trip Report (late March 2018)

To: "birding aus" <>
Subject: Dubai UAE - Trip Report (late March 2018)
From: "Tom Wilson" <>
Date: Tue, 17 Apr 2018 22:01:31 +1000
Hi all
I return to the UK reasonably frequently for family visits and although I have 
transited through the Middle East several times in the past, I have never 
stopped for a proper look (I don’t count an hour walking around the car park at 
Abu Dhabi Airport in 2008).  Hence, on the last weekend of March 2018, I took 
the opportunity when I was returning from a family event in the UK to stop in 
Dubai for a couple of days.  When I booked my fare, I considered both the 
airlines’ offerings and the birding opportunities.  An RFI to birding-aus 
indicated that the UAE was better than Qatar and Dubai probably better than Abu 
Dhabi so Emirates got the gig.  (I also was advised that Oman is pretty for 
birding good too, but not sure if I could get there from Sydney and then onto 
London).  The UAE has an active birding community, albeit quite small.  They 
have an excellent website ( that is packed with good 
information on a range of sites, but also gives details of people that provide 
guiding services. I felt that a guide would be useful here, not only because 
they know the birds and the best places to see them, but also because my 
research indicated that often a knowledge of the etiquette for access to some 
sites could be important (and in retrospect so the guide can do the driving – 
UAE drivers can be more than a touch frenetic).  Through a recommendation 
received to my RFI (Thanks Rob H), I ended up engaging the services of Stewart 
Kirkaldy for a day. I was hoping for 2 days but sadly that wasn’t possible.  
Stewart had been out the week before with another visiting birder so had worked 
out some good sites for a range of birds and confirmed that my prime target- 
Crab Plover – was still around.  It was migration time, so as well as the 
residents there would be quite a few birds moving through.

I planned my trip for Friday/Saturday, as that is the weekend in the UAE.  I 
arrived in Dubai late Thursday evening and stayed close to the airport at the 
Holiday Inn Express.  This was quite comfortable and was a good base as it was 
close to Stewart’s house.  The hotel isn’t in the super luxury bracket but it 
had good amenities – notably a cash machine on site and a little shop that sold 
food and cold drinks – the bed was comfortable and the room allowed space to 
spread out.

Stewart picked me up at 6am on the Friday morning and we headed north through 
Sharjah to an estuary called Khor al Beida in the Umm al Qaiwainn emirate.  The 
estuary/inlet is fed by the waters from the gulf and is a huge expanse of mud.  
The tide was out and the visit was timed so that the incoming tide would push 
the birds towards us. This was very much to assist with my target bird – Crab 
Plover – which at high tide can disappear into the mangroves.  We viewed the 
estuary from a rough road across the sandy foreshore but also made use of the 
higher vantage points offered by some half built palaces/mansions on the dune 
tops.  We saw a distant Crab Plover, and then a closer one, almost immediately 
so we started on sorting out the remaining waders – and there were thousands to 
sort out.  Other species seen included Greenshank and Redshank, Godwits, 
Eurasian Curlew and Whimbrel, Grey, Golden, Kentish, Lesser Sand, Greater Sand, 
Ringed and Little Ringed Plovers (7 plover species), Terek and Curlew 
Sandpipers, Dunlin, Western Reef Egrets, Grey and Purple Heron and Greater 
Flamingo.  (Photos unfortunately confirmed that a suspect Red Knot – a good 
bird for UAE – was actually a Curlew Sandpiper.) In the mangroves and flying 
above us we had Pallid Swifts, Pale Crag Martin, Purple Sunbird, Graceful 
Prinia, Crested Lark, Green Bee-eater and Southern Grey Shrike.  The three 
birds seen everywhere – Laughing Dove, Collared Dove and House Sparrow – were 
abundant here. As we motored along, we also found a group of dens with desert 
foxes looking out at us – an unexpected sighting.  We spent a couple of hours 
here and the tide had pushed the birds well up as we finished, so we got a 
close up view of an immature Crab Plover and great views of the male Sand 
Plovers colouring up.  We also found about 15 Crab Plover on a very distant 
sandbank, so all up I saw about 20 of them.

After a short but very nice breakfast stop just up the coast, we made a short 
detour to the Umm-al Qaiwainn Breakwater.  Before we set off along the beach, 
Stewart scanned the (very flat) sea and found a very distant Pallas’ Gull 
sitting on a buoy, which saved us a long hot walk across the soft sand.  As 
well as the gulls, we saw some big flocks of cormorants (which may have 
contained Socotra Cormorants, although we couldn’t be sure at the distance).  
There were also Gull-billed, Crested and Lesser-crested Terns out over the 
water.  We looked at the inlet that is protected by the breakwater and found 
some very smart White-cheeked Terns fishing – they look a bit like Whiskered 
Terns in breeding plumage but the swallow-tails were a useful feature.  

By now it was about midday and starting to get rather hot. The weather had been 
a bit milder the week but the heat had come in over the week, which made the 
next few stops a bit more challenging.  From Umm al Qaiwainn, we drove a 
reasonable way south and inland (which was my choice from the options that 
Stewart gave) to the Abu Dhabi emirate sites of Green Muzzabarah and Jebel 
Hafit (near the city of Al Ain) hoping for a good range as observed there the 
week before, but the increase in heat duffed us over a bit.  Green Muzzabarah 
is a well watered park with space for barbecues, as well as lots of rocky 
outcrops.  Despite the heat, which made the birds less active, we saw more good 
birds, including Arabian Partridge, Arabian Babbler, lots of Hoopoes, a 
Clamorous Reed Warbler (seen as well as heard which is not easy apparently), 
distant Egyptian Vultures, lots of Grey Francolin, Red Wattled Lapwing and Pied 
Wagtail.  A wheatear of some ilk made a fleeting appearance at the historic dam 
site but then disappeared before we could get a good look at it.

Up on Jebel Hafit, which is a big mountain that rises up from Green Muzzabarah, 
we stopped at a couple of spots, including at the hotel close to the summit and 
the summit itself.  The hotel grounds are well watered and are attractive to 
birds – we saw Hume’s Wheatear, Eurasian Sparrowhawk, Egyptian Vulture, 
Wryneck, Blue Rock-thrush, Spectacled, Red-vented and White-eared Bulbul, 
Indian Silverbill, more Arabian Babblers and a very dark “sylvia” warbler later 
confirmed as a Lesser Whitethroat.  Closer to the summit we got fleeting views 
of a Desert Finch, distant views of Brown-necked Ravens and closer views of the 
vultures, including several young birds.  They roost on the communications 
towers at the summit and could be seen settling down on the platforms as the 
sun set.  A couple of good buntings seen the weekend before (Cinereous and 
Striolated) declined to put in an appearance and we couldn’t find the Trumpeter 
Finch at its normal spots.  Try as we might, none of the House Sparrows were 
willing to be Pale Rock Finches either, so a few good species were left on the 
table for my next visit.  We finished up at Jebel Hafit as the sun set and 
drove back to Dubai in the dark, finishing at the hotel at about 9pm.

I went solo around Dubai on my second day, visiting Ras al Khor Wetland 
Sanctuary (morning) and Mushrif Park (mid-afternoon/evening).  (I used taxis 
and ubers to get around - in retrospect I should have probably hired a car as 
it would probably have been cheaper but the Mushrif Park visit was a spur of 
the moment thing after deciding that huge skyscrapers and shopping malls were 
not really my thing after all).  Ras al Khor is a lagoon off Dubai creek and is 
in the middle of teh urban area – teh famous skyscrapers are visible from the 
hide.  There are two hides at the reserve, although I only visited one (think 
it was the lagoon hide – not the flamingo hide where the flamingo hordes are 
bigger).  The hides are built into the reserve’s perimeter and I don’t think 
one can walk around inside the reserve.  The reserve had a good range of birds 
but patience is definitely required at the hide as the birds move in and out of 
view – the Greater Spotted Eagles (7 separate birds) were responsible for some 
of this movement. There was a Great-billed Pelican there (a UAE rarity) as well 
as hordes of Greater Flamingos, herons/egrets (7 species + Glossy Ibis) and 
lots of waders. I also saw a Booted Eagle, a pair of Shikra, Ospreys and 
Western Marsh Harrier (so it seems a good spot for raptors) and two large 
dark-backed gulls with dark yellow legs (which I think were Steppe Gulls). I 
spent about 3 hours there and returned to my hotel (where I changed my plan on 
what to do in the afternoon following a conversation with another birder at the 

Mushrif Park is a bit further out from the centre but still not an expensive 
taxi ride away.  Birding here is in scrubby desert country, although teh park 
has a more cultivated/green central area as well.  Birding here was harder work 
as it was hot in the afternoon but saw some nice Southern Grey Shrikes, plenty 
of Hoopoes and 2 female Menetries’ Warblers (away from the central area in the 
scrub near the perimeter fence).  I got better views of Arabian Babblers than 
the day before near the spot mentioned for them on the UAE Birding site guide 
and also saw another Shikra and a Honey Buzzard cruising overhead. Mushrif Park 
is famous in birding terms for its Pallid Scops Owls which like to hunt on some 
floodlit grassy areas near the mosque.  As I wasn’t flying out until early 
Sunday, I hung around until after dusk hoping they would oblige - I heard and 
saw them but in a very dim part of the park away from the normal area for them. 
 I think Saturday evening is not a great day to go looking as the park was too 
busy and noisy for the owls to visit their preferred floodlit areas.

After that slightly disappointing finish, I returned to my hotel, freshened up 
and headed for the airport before I flew back to Sydney.  I know I left some 
good birds for another visit and I would want to visit some desert areas next 
time to try for some other regional specialities such as Cream-coloured Courser 
and Hoopoe Larks and a visit to the East Coast for Sooty Gulls. I can highly 
recommend the sites I visited and Stewart as a guide. If you’re thinking of a 
visit, remember that the UAE weekend is Friday/Saturday and schedule 
accordingly.  Birding in the summer months would be very hot but I understand 
that there are some good species to be had at all times of year.

Tom Wilson


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