I say ‘belated’ as I usually aim to post such updates to coincide the with the release of each batch of EBRC decisions. Decisions from the last circulation (completed June 2021) have been online at the usual place (our front page; see https://www.uaebirding.com/ebrc and scroll down) for a while now and will also be imminently published in the next issue of Sandgrouse (September 2021). There were a couple of follow-up things that were under discussion during the course of June / early July (i.e. after the verdicts were finalized) and I wanted to mention those in this same post, so that held things back. I also have to confess that holidays in July and August also delayed this post.
Firstly, as ever, many thanks to all who completed RBRs; we really appreciate it when they are sent in, ideally not too long after the observation (!) but certainly before the following circulation is to begin (incidentally, the next one is scheduled for October / November 2021, as usual to coincide with publication of decisions in the February Sandgrouse of the following year). RBRs for download are available at the usual place – i.e. at https://www.uaebirding.com/report (click the red ‘here’ at the top of the second section). Note that RBRs are designed to be as quick as possible to fill in; whilst we welcome as much information as possible (and detailed information may be necessary for acceptance of certain difficult-to-identify species), for well-photographed records of straightforward species, only the yellow boxes on the form are essential. This means an RBR can often be completed in 5 mins or less.
Although it has been a pretty quiet summer for rare birds in the UAE, we look forward to a bit more action now that autumn has officially started and will be grateful for all incoming RBRs for birds you are fortunate enough to find. Note that whilst we (very strongly) encourage everyone to use eBird so that all observations (of common, as well as rare birds) can effortlessly make it into the UAE Bird Database (and, of course, eBird is an awesome resource to log, archive, store, filter and analyze all your own records and images), we also require a completed RBR for every species needing a description – a record in eBird and your images is an excellent start, but EBRC keeps a permanent archive of RBR documents, one per record. Feel free to reference the eBird checklist and associated images in the RBR, but please also make screenshots of a couple of the key images in the eBird checklist and insert into the RBR as well. Such screenshots are vital in case the online images ever become unavailable.
Note that early in 2021 there were a few changes to the species on the RBR required list; see https://www.uaebirding.com/description-species for an updated list. Whilst we generally remove most species when they reach 20 or more accepted records, for several reasons (mainly species that are particularly difficult to identify) we retain species on this list for longer. Given it is now early autumn, it might be topical to mention that Blyth’s Reed Warbler is one of those species, so if you are lucky enough to find one this autumn, do please try and get as many shots as possible, and submit an RBR. We have also added three species to the list that have become exceptionally rare in the last decade (Eurasian Dotterel, Bar-tailed Lark, Spanish Sparrow) so please prepare an RBR if you are lucky enough to find any of these.
The follow-up issues discussed after the circulation in June 2021 were:
1 - Brahminy Starling – we now have over 20 records of this species away from the Greater Dubai area, were there is a (very?) small population established from known escapes. These non-Dubai records are often from well-known migrant hotspots, involve non-adult birds and closely match the pattern off occurrence of Brahminy Starling in Oman (mainly mid-autumn to early spring with a clear November peak), where there are many more records and the species is regarded as a wild vagrant. We have decided to treat UAE records of this species, away from Greater Dubai, as wild vagrants, unless there is evidence to the contrary (e.g. unseasonal occurrence, atypical behavior, obvious plumage anomalies etc.). Hence Brahminy Starling now enters Category A of the UAE list.
2 - Asian House Martin – the three records of this species from the UAE were reviewed in the light of Leader et al’s recent (2021) paper discussing the identification and taxonomy of Common and Asian House Martins across the Palearctic region. Asian House Martin is almost unknown as a vagrant away from its normal range and its field characters and those of the taxon lagopodum, generally regarded as a subspecies of Common House Martin (but proposed in the paper as a candidate species in its own right) have been greatly clarified. As a result of this review, whilst the opinion of the voting members was not unanimous on each record, the overall consensus was that there was insufficient evidence to be certain that Asian House Martin had occurred in the UAE. This is no way reflects on the opinions or abilities of observers or EBRC members at the time of records; one of the RBRs in particular was outstanding in the detail provided and the decision made at the time was convincing, given what was known about the taxa involved at the time. However, in the light of new information, in the opinion of the current committee, these records do meet the threshold of evidence required. Sadly, Asian House Martin has therefor been removed the UAE list.
Finally, I need to end with some news concerning members of the EBRC. Firstly, Jacky Judas has now departed from the UAE to soon take up a new job in Saudi Arabia. Whilst we will miss another pair of eyes on the east coast, Jacky has agreed to remain as non-voting member of the EBRC for the time being and we wish him all the best for his new job, which will be in a very exciting part of the world. Secondly, as many of will already be aware, after approximately 20 years in Dubai, Tommy Pedersen has now left the UAE and moved back with his family to Norway. Whilst (I am delighted and relieved to be able to say) Tommy is staying on as both UAE Bird Recorder and eBird Regional Reviewer (for the UAE, amongst other areas!), we will of course miss his records and companionship in field. But that is not all…
It is difficult to overstate the impact Tommy has had on the UAE birding community during his time here. Let alone the tedious but very important book-keeping, he has been at the very center of the hub of the UAE birding community since he arrived. His amazing website, of which the forum where this is posted is but a small part, has been a mine of information for visiting and resident birdwatchers for many years and the amazing gallery of UAE bird photographs he compiled (see https://www.uaebirding.com/bird-photos), both from his own images and those of others, is still a quite outstanding repository of curated photographs, used by researchers, artists and authors far and wide, let alone by mere mortals like us. As some of the longer-term UAE birders reading this post will attest, the online forum Tommy established, financed, moderated and ran for over 10 years (and for which the current WhatsApp discussion groups are but a very pale, shallow imitation) was another amazing resource. I am not even going to start to talk in detail about the masses of site information, other natural history images, eBird work, grid references, database maintenance and provision of data to others, to name just a few. Quite apart from the practical use of all this information to so many people, more than anything else, Tommy promoted and fostered a sense of community and team spirit and general congenial togetherness that is quite unlike anywhere else. A large part of this came from him leading by example, as literally hundreds of the people who have met or corresponded with him, or otherwise been bowled over by his enthusiasm, will attest to.
So, Tommy, thanks for everything and good luck to you, Maja and all the family settling into your new life back in Norway. Whilst I am confident we will hear just as much form you online as ever, it would be much appreciated if you made sure to have the odd stopover in the UAE too, so we can see you in the flesh now and again as well!
This has already been the longest ever EBRC post I have ever written, so I think I better stop now. Well done if you got all the way to end!