Simon & I teamed up for a 2-day camping trip to Sila & Delma with hopes high for the almost traditional unearthing of hidden gems during National Day weekend. Although bird numbers were disappointingly low, we did manage to extract some pretty decent finds, including a gem of unbelievable beauty from a very unexpected quarter....
Sila was extremely slow to catch fire, with a heavy dew dampening activity for the first hour or two after the fog lifted and it wasn't until we hit the harbour marsh that things picked up. Whilst getting our kit sorted for the usually-dreaded yomp around the marsh, we first picked up a tree full of Corn Buntings before scanning right to reveal a Pied Kingfisher some 200m away perched high above a tiny farm pool. Not far in to the farm, we picked up a couple of Bluethroats and a superbly showy Caspian Stonechat. At the back of the marsh we kicked out a couple of juvenile Black-crowned Night Herons, only the 4th record for the species at Sila. Not much else to get excited about for the rest of the morning, though a Common Quail, flushed from at our feet in the park, eventually showed itself in the open (at least for me). As we were leaving, we also had great views of a Common Starling, another species rarely recorded at Sila.
Heading to catch the early evening ferry at Jebel Dhanna, we decided to kill some time by checking out the gardens at the Danat & Al Dhafra hotels. They initially appeared to hold the usual multitude of bulbuls & sparrows until my bins fell on a strange, apparently black & white bird that looked like a funny Hume's Wheatear feeding with sparrows in deep shade. Alerting Simon with an expletive-laden exclamation, it soon dawned what we were looking at as patches of purple revealed themselves as the bird changed angles. A Violet-backed (aka Amethyst) Starling! After feeding heavily on fallen dates, it flew into nearby palms before flying off westwards. Further investigation & research is required to determine if the bird is likely of wild origin, though there is one previous record of the species in the UAE from 2000.
The generally quiet theme continued today on Delma, with very little of note, though we did succeed in locating at least half a dozen Hypocolius deep in a thick tangled tree, so deep that we could only estimate their number by their calls, with obscured views occasionally. Most of the action was centred on the many roundabouts, most of which held varying numbers of Water & Meadow Pipits, European Stonechats, Steppe Grey Shrikes, Skylarks and Corn Buntings. The park held a very late Red-backed Shrike, whilst the water treatment plant chipped in with both Masked Shrike and Red-breasted Flycatcher, with Curlew Sandpiper on the beds.