Bulletin 3 - October 1977: Bird Watching on Abu Dhabi Island

Bird Watching on Abu Dhabi Island

by Mark A. Hollingworth

Abu Dhabi is situated on a coastline that faces northwest and is ideally positioned to attract migrants. Seasonal migrations are on a north-south basis with many species breeding in southern and central Asia and wintering in Arabia and Eastern Africa. This basic migratory route traverses great areas of desert and consequently any tree of area of greenery is a haven for birds. Abu Dhabi has cultivated gardens, watered central reservations, and a tidal creek, thus offering many opportunities for birds and bird watchers.

The Arabian Gulf has many scattered islands where colonies of seabirds breed. These seabirds must also migrate when changing temperatures affect their food supply. If strong northwesterly winds coincide with migration, many seabirds are pushed against the coast and impressive movements take place. These movements may be observed from vantagepoints on the coastline and Abu Dhabi has two such points.

The spit running northwest behind Al Khalidiya Hotel is approximately one kilometer long. Good numbers of breeding terns from adjacent islands may be observed in the May to August period, particularly in the early morning and the late evening. In the autumn more birds arrive from their northern breeding grounds and through the winter until April large numbers may be observed. The best place to sit is on the northwesterly point of the spit, the object being to count the numbers of individual species as they pass. On 11th March 1977 between 1700 and 1815 hrs I counted the following:

Sandwich Tern 192

Lesser Crested Tern 40

Swift Tern 2

Tern Species 250

Socotra Cormorant 6

Sooty Gull 1

Lesser Black-backed Gull 10

Arctic Skua 1

On the 8th July 1977, between 0530 and 0700 hrs, David Corfield and I counted similar numbers, but of different species:

Sandwich Tern 4

Lesser Crested Tern 1

White cheeked Tern 160

Bridled Tern 11

Caspian Tern 3

Saunders Tern 80

Socotra Cormorant 2

Arctic Skua 1

Other species seen here include Reef Heron, Lesser Sand Plover, Great Blackheaded Gull, Slenderbilled Gull, and various small waders.

The Batin has several areas of greenery, some deserted beaches, and areas of reclamation. In the bushes and trees the following species have been seen: Hoopoe, Masked Shrike, Isabelline Shrike, Redstart, Wheatear, Pied Wheatear, Willow Warbler, and Chiffchaff. The beaches and reclamation areas can hold large numbers of waders and the best count to date was on the 24th August 1977 with 120 Lesser Sand Plovers, 40 Turnstones, several Little Stints and Ringed Plovers.

Some of the roads behind the Hilton are very quiet with well-watered central reservations. In April, one road, approximately 300 meters long, boasted the following birds counted from the car in half an hour: 2 Palm Dove, 1 Hoopoe, 12 Wheatear, 1 Pied Wheatear, 2 Redstart, 2 Whinchat, 2 Male Rock Thrush, 4 Isabelline Shrike, 30 Ortolan, and 40 Red Throated Pipit. This was at midday, and the numbers were probably greater at dawn and dusk.

The tidal creek on the east side of the island with the associated sewage outfall is more impressive for waders than anywhere I have seen in Europe. Vast numbers of birds can be observed either feeding or migrating, with very heave movements late in the day. Some samples of maximum counts include 450 Curlew Sandpiper, 100 Kentish Plover, 200 Lesser Sand Plover, 56 Grey Plover, and 100 Little Stints. Other species seen near the creek are Reef Heron, Great White Egret, Purple Heron, Little Bittern, Greyleg Goose, Osprey, Marsh Harrier, Collared Pratincole, Blackwinged Stilt, Graceful Prinia, Bee-eater, Clamourous Warbler, Great Grey Shrike, Oyster Catcher, and Flamingo. First records for the UAE include a male Black Francolin and Baillon's Crake.

I have described the primary birdwatching areas of Abu Dhabi but really birds can be found anywhere. In two warehouses in the Port I have seen Blue Rook Thrush, Hoopoe, Pied Wheatear, Yellow Wagtail, Spotted Flycatcher, Willow Warbler, with Sooty Falcon seen nearby.

When people tell me there are no birds in Abu Dhabi I tell them they have never looked!


On some recent regular Monday afternoon jaunts around Abu Dhabi island, the Editors have observed between 20 and 30 different species of birds. These have included Kingfishers, a Collared Kingfisher, Glossy Ibris, Spoonbills, Swallows, Sand Martins, Shovelers, White-tailed Plovers, Bar and Black-tailed Godwits, Golden Oriole, Nightjars, Kestrels, Desert Lesser Whitethroat, Desert Warbler, Black-winged Stilt, Ringed-necked Parakeets, Collard and Turtle Doves.

We have dutifully sent off our completed forms to the Bird Recorder.


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