Sunday, 18 November 2012

Birding in the UAE Part Two - I think my head has melted

So after chillin' in Chris & Noreen's garden for the first day,  getting several hours of very relaxed birding in and still managing 5 life ticks, I decided to head out into the urban environment of Jebel Ali, where I was staying in Dubai, to see what else would be kicking about.

Chris had already told me about a park fairly close by, so I had scoped it out on Google Earth and had a rough idea of how to get there. He had also mentioned there were lots of taxis about that I would have no problem getting one back to the house and that they were relatively cheap. Taxi? From the park? Jeez, its not that far!

So as the guys left for work and school I was loading up with water bottles and heading out.

Grey Francolin (Francolinus pondicerianus) aka the "suicide bird"
I had already been asked to ID the "very loud bird with suicidal tendencies" - by this Chris's sons. They explained to me it was a grouse-like bird that always waited until the car was right next to it before deciding it was on the wrong side of the road and shooting out in front of the car, to the terror of the vehicles occupants.

They turned out to be Grey Francolins, a species that had been deliberately introduced to the UAE. I don't know why, possibly as prey for hunting with falcons?
They are also a contender for the world's noisiest bird with a distinctive alarm call.
Apparently in certain parts of Asia, where this bird originates, there is no higher compliment for a lady than when her man tells her she "runs like a partridge".......hmmm I think I'll pass on that one.

I slowly made my along the long dusty path that runs beside the boundary fence of the local covered reservoirs, several Green Bee-eaters were feeding and I sat in the shade of a Date Palm and watched one individual scanning the air for flying insects then darting upwards to catch them then returning to its vantage point. After studying him for a while longer I realised he was about to cough up a pellet of the more indigestible parts of the insects that were his breakfast.
Green Bea-eater (Merops orientalis) coughing up a pellet. You can just make out a black mass emerging from the birds bill.
Another bird which I saw pretty much everywhere I went in Dubai where there were trees, was the Purple Sunbird. They are crackin wee birds with quite a nice light, tinkling song. The males are only purple for about 4 weeks or so as they try to find a mate then they drop back into their eclipse plumage which is exactly the same as the female apart from a vertical black stripe running from chin to upper breast.

Eclipse plumaged male Purple Sunbird (Cinnyris asiaticus) note the black stripe from chin to throat and upper breast.

Female Purple Sunbird on the toxic Sodom's Apple plant

Other species I saw in this area, which is effectively a large housing estate included; Common Myna, White-cheeked Bulbul, Red-vented Bulbul, Laughing Dove, Collared Dove, House Sparrow, Crested Lark, House Crow, Indian Silverbill and Rose-ringed Parakeet (also known as Ring-necked Parakeet and can be found breeding in the south of England)

Red-vented Bulbul (Pycnonotus cafer) seen in about a 1:10 ratio when compared with the White-eared Bulbul
Rose-ringed Parakeet or Ring-necked Parakeet (Psittacula krameri) feeding on dates

I carried on down through the houses until I reached the park area, encountering a fairly large number of House Crows there, also Indian Roller with its amazing blue wing pattern and a good number of Hoopoe feeding away on the short grass of the park area seemingly unperturbed by the groundsmen whizzing around on their sit-on mowers. Result!
Hoopoe (Upupa epops) feeding on grubs
 I nearly was run over by one of the mowers as I was completely oblivious to anything else going on around me as I had gotten to within about 8ft of one of my favourite birds and I was happy to stay sprawled out on the grass watching it feed. Fantastic, mad looking birds!

By now I had been out for about 3½ hours it was very hot and I had run out of water. So I decided to head back to Chris's for some cold drinking water and air conditioning. I spotted another Indian Roller on the way out of the park area but couldn't get close an the bird was wisely hiding in the shade of the trees, unlike the photographer who was stood out in the midday sun slowly melting.
Indian Roller (Coracias benghalensis)
I carried on back through the houses heading for base camp, slowly beginning to feel hotter and hotter and more and more thirsty. I confess I had to stop in the shade of a tree and take a breather half way back - my head was pounding and felt like it was melting and I was about to puke. Hmmm not good!
I just sat there for five minutes while I got my act together, looking across at a piece of dry, dusty wasteland at the side of the road, the last place I expected to find a wader - a pair of Red-wattled Lapwing, coping with the heat much better than I was. Amazing.

Spurred on by the tick, I walked at what can only be described as "a snail's pace" the rest of the way back to Chris's house where I drank about a gallon of icy cold water and basked in the chill of the AC.

Checked the outside temperature - 45°C!
Oh and I may have had a wee siesta after seeing that number.

Now I understood Chris's parting shot about taxis....

In the next episode: I have to get up at stupid o'clock, see nearly all of the emirates in one day and LOTS of birds but feel like dying again at lunch time.

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