Bulletin 23 - July 1984: East Coast Revisited, Ornithologically
East Coast Revisited, Ornithologicallyby J. Hollingworth
After a gap of about five years a weekend trip to the eastern coast of the united Arab Emirates at the end of March 1984 revealed great environmental changes but a remarkable similarity in bird life.
The journey via Sueyhan and Dhayd produced quite a variety of desert birds. This is a good time to be travelling through the desert since the birds are more conspicuous while they are scouting for nesting material or food. We saw Hoopoes and Crested Larks, Brown-necked Ravens, Great Grey Shrikes, a Kestrel and a Pallid Harrier swooping for food. quite close to the road. A stop for lunch in a wadi off the road between Dhayd and Masafi, which did not have any visible water but boasted a small grove of palms and a few cultivated fields, gave us more species. A pair of Little Green Bee-eaters was in residence among the trees and the surrounding rocks revealed Pale Crag Martins, Sand Partridges, Desert Larks and a Red-tailed Wheatear carrying nesting material.
Our first port of call on the east coast was Khawr Al Kalba, a still beautiful mangrove-surrounded inlet almost on the border with Oman. Along the shoreline were large numbers of Sooty Gulls and Cormorants. In the dunes were Crested Larks and a pair of Black-crowned Finch Larks, the male a very striking black and white from the front and a typical sandy-coloured bird of the desert from the back. Clamorous Reed Warblers called from the mangrove but we saw no sign of the large numbers of Booted Warblers that were previously common to the area. There were very few Herons on the banks, but this may well have been due to the high tide. However, two White-collared Kingfishers were seen and these are definitely 'the' speciality of Khawr Al Kalba, this being their only known breeding area in the Gulf region. An Osprey was closely observed sitting on the bridge and fishing with Terns of several species.
The search for a campsite took us north to Qurayyah where we turned west on gravel tracks making for the Shariqiyin Mountains. passing first through the new town and then the old, now almost deserted village, we saw Arabian Babblers, House Crows and Indian Rollers in good numbers. Having selected a campsite at the foot of the hills, erected the tent, unpacked, collected firewood and built a fire we finally flushed a party of Sand Partridges, on whom we had virtually pitched the tent. These birds sit so tight in rocky crevices, perfectly camouflaged, that out of the large number I have seen, I have never been able to observe any at close quarters for any period of time.
An early morning walk in the mountains gave us several species such as Great Grey Shrikes, Bulbuls, Desert Larks, Hume's Wheatears, Scrub Warblers and a pair of Purple Sunbirds. This latter is a bird I associate more with lush gardens and date groves and it was something of a surprise to find them sitting on a bush on quite a barren mountain slope. A visit later in the day to a very impressive wadi nearby which had a lot of water and vegetation gave us fine views of a flock of about ten Indian Silverbills feeding and flitting around a clump of trees in a deserted courtyard. These are small sandy-brown birds with pale underparts and darker wings and tails. Their most distinctive feature is the white rump and almost pointed tail. We sighted a couple of Common Sandpipers on the rocks in the wadi itself, and three Hoopoes at various stages of our journey. The area remains one of the loveliest spots of the UAE. In spite of a great deal of development and road building in certain areas the bird-watching regions have remained largely untouched. The development has taken place mainly in areas that were previously barren anyway and so has not involved the destruction of the environment. The roads, giving more access to previously remote spots, pose a greater problem as they let in the human animal with his seeming inability to take his litter home with him.
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