The main text is written by Steve James.
This used to be one of the best locations for migrants in the UAE due to the large areas of grass being grown in the middle of the track. Then the authorities turned off the water supply & the fields are now barren. Consequently, this location is a shadow of its former self and now warrants only a short visit. If you are reading old bird reports about this site, you will realize what you are missing! However, it is still worth a look and remains excellent for certain hard to find species. It is recommended that this site be visited in conjunction with the nearby Al Wathba Wetland Reserve.
Directions and access:
Coming from Dubai: Stay on the E-11 until you take the E-22 road to Al Ain. Staying on the E-11 sounds easy, but beware: at position 24.552108 , 54.694382 you will have to bear right towards Ghweifat. Failing to do so leads you straight into Abu Dhabi.
After exiting the E-11 onto the E-22 towards Al Ain, you will drive 5.2 km before taking the right exit onto 1st Street. Take this south and cross the Al Ain Truck Road (E-30). You will now have the camel racetrack on your left side. Drive past the grandstand and at the second set of speed bumps, turn left down the hill, at 24.229309 , 54.653793. The small grassy area in front of the grandstand is now on your left. Turn slightly left at the bottom and park on the raised area, off the road.
Safety warning: Under no circumstances should you park on the dirt road itself. Four wheel drive vehicles are used in camel training here, are often driven recklessly and can be a major safety hazard. Also do not stand in the road, or next to the racetrack itself.
Coming from Abu Dhabi:
A late afternoon, or evening visit is beneficial, as one can then stay on until dark, looking for nocturnal species.
September through April is the best time to visit.
Drive down towards the racetrack with the grandstand on your left side.
Check in front of the grandstand which now holds the only area of watered grass, as well as the large hedges, which surround the grassy area. This is a favoured locale for all kinds of open country migrants.
Next, drive back along the racetrack, passing the way you came in on your right. The camel racetrack is now on your left hand side. Look for larks on the racetrack itself, feeding on seeds found in camel droppings (I kid you not)! The odd Bimaculated Lark may be found among the very common Crested Larks, as well as both Greater and Lesser Short-toed Larks. After 200 m, pull over off the road, next to the barren fields on your left. Park here, and walk over the fields, exploring carefully. This is the best area for Bimaculated Lark. Numbers often exceed twenty birds in this area (from November until March) and indeed, it is the single best location for this species in the UAE.
A variety of wheatears and pipits may also be found here.
Return to your car and take any of the small dirt tracks which bisect the fields. Be careful of soft sand if you are in a normal car, you can easily get stuck here, with nobody to help you out!
There is a wide track which runs parallel to the grandstand along the whole length of the area. Turn left, (the grandstand is now on your left), drive down the track slowly looking for larks and pipits feeding alongside the track. Scan the fields for perched wheatears, Cream-coloured Courser and and other wintering or migrating birds.
The sides of the track are also a favoured spot for feeding Chestnut-bellied Sandgrouse and small numbers can be flushed from here. In 2009, a Macqueens Bustard was found along this track.
Park your car anywhere along this wide track. Walk across the track and explore the fields furthest away from the grandstand. Along the furthest edge of these fields, you will see more natural looking (although still disturbed) desert habitat. Walk along this edge, looking for Greater Hoopoe-lark (at dawn and dusk); Black-crowned Sparrow-lark and in the saltbush vegetation, both Menetries’ Warblers and Asian Desert Warblers.
There is an outflow of water is present since late 2008; well worth a look. Accessible on foot or in a 4WD car. It is located at 24.247632 , 54.650389.
Please note that the following lists of species are those that may be found here in recent years (after the water was turned off).
Grey Francolin; Red-wattled Lapwing; Chestnut-bellied Sandgrouse; Collared Dove; Laughing Dove; Rose-ringed Parakeet; Barn Owl (rare); Pharaoh Eagle-owl; Little Green Bee-eater; Black-crowned Sparrow-lark; Greater Hoopoe-lark; Crested Lark; White-eared Bulbul; Red-vented Bulbul; Graceful Prinia; Purple Sunbird; Common Mynah; House Sparrow and Indian Silverbill.
Cattle Egret; Western Marsh Harrier; Eurasian Sparrowhawk; Common Kestrel; CommonQuail; Black-winged Stilt; Little Ringed Plover; Kentish Plover; Pacific Golden Plover; Ruff; Pallid Swift; Blue-cheeked Bee-eater; European Bee-eater; European Roller; Eurasian Hoopoe; Bimaculated Lark; Greater Short-toed Lark; Lesser Short-toed Lark; European Skylark; Sand Martin; Barn Swallow; Richard’s Pipit; Tawny Pipit; Tree Pipit; Red-throated Pipit; Water Pipit; ‘Yellow’ Wagtails; Citrine Wagtail; White Wagtail; Isabelline Wheatear; Pied Wheatear; Desert Wheatear; Menetries’ Warbler; Asian Desert Warbler; Turkestan & Daurian Shrikes; Southern Grey Shrike; European Starling and Ortolan Bunting.
Scarcer migrant species might include:
Pallid Harrier; Montagu’s Harrier; Greater Spotted Eagle; Lesser Kestrel; Eurasian Stone Curlew; Cream-coloured Courser; Collared Pratincole; Caspian Plover; European Turtle Dove; Egyptian Nighjar; Oriental Skylark; Blyth’s Pipit; Meadow Pipit; Rufous Scrub Robin; Bluethroat; Siberian Stonechat; Northern Wheatear; Black-eared Wheatear; Rufous-tailed Rock Thrush; Song Thrush; Clamorous Reed Warbler; Common Chiffchaff; Red-backed Shrike; Lesser Grey Shrike; Steppe Grey Shrike; Woodchat Shrike; Rose-coloured Starling; Pale Rockfinch and Corn Bunting.
Recent rarities at this site have included:
Grey Phalarope; Macqueens Bustard.
For something a little different!
Stay until dark, then, drive slowly up & down the wide main track looking for nocturnal species. Use a spot light to cover the fields. Many nights are poor, with little recorded, but after several visits you have a realistic chance of seeing:
Eurasian Stone Curlew; Barn Owl; Pharaoh Eagle-owl, European Nightjar during migration and Egyptian Nightjar during winter. Sykes's Nightjar if you are very lucky.
The nearby plantations (called Al Wathba Woods) may be accessed by parking on the roadside on your way in to the fields, 150m before you reach the grandstand at 24.231319 , 54.650482. You can walk to where there is a gap in the fence and enter the plantation.
The authorities have also turned off the water supply to the trees. Consequently it is much drier now than a few years ago and attracts fewer migrant bird species. However, in migration times the following species may be recorded here:
Rufous Scrub Robin; Eastern Black Redstart; Common Redstart; Blue Rock Thrush; Song Thrush; Eastern Olivaceous Warbler; Upcher’s Warbler; Menetrie’s Warbler; Asian Desert Warbler; Barred Warbler; Lesser Whitethroat (rare); Desert Whitethroat; Common Chiffchaff; Spotted Flycatcher; Daurian Shrike; Turkestan Shrike and Southern Grey Shrike.
If you are birding this area in winter, then there is a nearby location that has the potential to see a variety of raptors.
Drive past the entrance to the Camel Racetrack. After 3.5 kms turn left at the roundabout. After 150m take a ‘U’ turn. Drive back the way you came for 50m and then turn right on a dirt track. Take the left turn and park after 100m at 24.231246 , 54.691394. Please note that this is a very sensitive location, as the Rulers Palace is close by. Stay unseen off the road and be discreet.
The plantations surrounding the palace and the palace grounds themselves have been stocked with Arabian Gazelle. They are fed regularly. This creates conditions for rodents to become abundant, and in some years a variety of birds of prey may be seen from here.
The commoner species include:
Western Marsh Harrier; European Sparrowhawk; Greater Spotted Eagle; Bonelli’s Eagle and Common Kestrel.
Rarer species include:
Short-toed Snake Eagle; Pallid Harrier; Long-legged Buzzard; Booted Eagle and Peregrine Falcon.
Please note that most days are unproductive, but it can be very good indeed in years when rodents are found at plague proportions.