As I’m sure many are aware by now, I’m sadly leaving the UAE on 15th March and returning (eventually) to the UK after over 9 years here. When I arrived, I wasn’t expecting to stay longer than 4 weeks and my ambitions were limited to seeing 20 or so potential lifers in that period. What I found (in addition to several new birds) was an exciting, vibrant and interesting country with a friendly and welcoming birding community.
Never, not for a single minute, did I dream that this decidedly average birder would nearly achieve the feat of seeing 400 species in the country. Nor did I expect to be part of the exciting new frontier of UAE pelagic birding, to contribute to papers in ornithological journals, nor even to find one, never mind several, new birds for the country. All of these achievements due, in some way or other, to the people I have met and friends I have made who have helped me develop my birding skills, influenced my interests and ways of thinking – or just simply found me a bird. To all of you, thank you!
I leave with many amazing memories; way too many to list here, though I hope this abridged trip down memory lane brings back some happy moments for you too. Apologies if I dredge up any traumatic dips….
• July 2009 - my first life bird ticked in the UAE (Grey Francolin (!), Dubai Pivot Fields).
• August 2009 - my first UAE twitch – a Masked Booby at Kalba.
• December 2009 - finding my first rare bird in the form of a Little Swift at Dubai Pivot Fields.
• January 2010 – my first trip to Sila’a with Oscar, Simon & Graham Talbot. The first outing of the Fantastic Four unearthed a Redwing in the workers’ plantation!
• January 2010 - camping with the same guys in Musandam the following weekend for Eversmann’s Redstart. Driving up to the Sayh plateau seemed an amazing adventure to the top of the world.
• January 2010 – twitching Oscar’s Wilson’s Phalarope at Al Wathba Lake. Still the UAE’s biggest ever twitch – I think more than 10 birders turned up!
• January 2010 – dashing down to AD to borrow Oscar’s kayak for a crazy solo twitch across to Lulu Island for Hypocolius. Jan 2010 was truly a landmark month; the time when I finally felt part of the UAE birding community and the start of some great friendships.
• June 2010 – the first ever Kalba pelagic. Arranged by Graham and the first meeting with our now legendary skipper, Abdulla. Our crew of just 6 found a Flesh-footed Shearwater on our maiden voyage and started a trail of deep-sea discovery.
• December 2010 –helping a couple of stranded Swedish birders see Hypocolius at Sila’a during National Day weekend whilst the Fantastic Three (as in Four minus one…) went on a mega rampage during the camping trip I’d dropped out of. And then spending the rest of the weekend chasing their finds. Whilst I managed to get the male Eversmann’s on Delma during the short time between ferries and the Taiga Flycatcher following a mad dash back to Sila’a off the ferry, it took a couple of years before I was to banish the heartache of Red-billed Tropicbird. The mental scars still haven’t fully healed, even now….
• January 2011 – Oscar & I find the first Cretzschmar’s Bunting for the country at Al Ankah. My first “first”!
• October 2012 – successfully twitching a Himalayan Vulture in the DDCR and finding a record number of Lappet-faced Vultures (47) and the country’s first Cinereous Vulture the same morning. We followed up with Eurasian Griffons the following weekend during an unprecedented influx of vultures.
• December 2012 – the Mesopotamian Crow twitch to Siniya Island that nearly ended in disappointment until we found the bird on the way back. We were to find the same bird at Khor al Beida the following month!
• March 2013 – Graham & I track down the Great Stone-curlew at Khor Qirqishan. Cue high-fives, huge smug grins and a celebratory cup of tea…
• October 2013 – finding the first Pheasant-tailed Jacana at Wamm, coupled with a Calandra Lark a few minutes later.
• October 2014 – my first “Arabian first” as a mystery warbler with two wing bars at Mamzar turns out to be the first record of Large-billed Leaf Warbler on the peninsula. I was already on a high after picking up my first Green Warbler 20 minutes earlier!
• October 2015 – finding the UAE’s first Collared Flycatcher at Mamzar – even if I stuffed up the ID at the first attempt...
• March 2016 – after 3 years of fieldwork with Oscar and many kilometres walked in 30+ degree heat, finally discovering the first ever Egyptian Nightjar nest in the UAE and proving beyond doubt the species as a breeding resident.
• November 2016 – twitching Peter’s amazing find of White-capped Bunting. Not forgetting the bizarre first failed attempt of the “ornithological survey” team arranged to look for it!
• December 2016 – Jacky’s Little Bustard at Wamm and its amazing ability to hide in as little as 3” of grass.
• November 2017 – finding and sound recording an odd pipit at Hamraniyah, eventually confirmed as Paddyfield Pipit by Oscar & Simon; the first recorded in Arabia.
• May 2018 – the thrilling deep sea high-speed pursuit that led to the first live record of Leach’s Petrel in the UAE.
• December 2018 – my last UAE tick (#396 on current taxonomy) and the finding of a (very, very distant) Great Crested Grebe in the far reaches of Dubai Creek that will be remembered more for the feat of finding it without the aid of the Hubble telescope than for the views themselves!
I hope to return periodically, keeping in touch via this forum and continuing my role on the EBRC committee. This is more “See you later” than “Goodbye”….
The birding fraternity in UAE will certainly miss you Mark. I noticed there was no mention of the Roseate Tern which you spotted in Kalba :)
See you soon.
And the 'See you later' instead of a 'Goodbye' is better than any Little Bustard in the UAE (for me), any day of the week, Mark. UAE Birding without you will not be the same. Not even close.
It was great meeting you in 2009. It will be great re-seeing you in 2020. 2021. 2022......etc. You will be cold (back home)
You will be missing the thrill of Abdallah's tea
You will miss Sila'aa
You will miss. Us. You will.....
....... be back