Sunday, 30 September 2012

State of emergency

Well, it wasn’t a bloody Baillons, but it took us a few days to get on top of it. My assembled crack team (particle physicist, doting father, Yorkshire comedian and itinerant drifter of no fixed abode) invested much time and effort next day trying to pin it down, and despite mp3s, a ghetto blaster, garden shears, matches and a 5 litre canister of kerosene, it was all to no avail save for a 5 second glimpse for Simon, whose instant response was LITTLE. No luck for me, that day or the next, although I did somewhat limit my chances by sticking to the plan and clearing off to Lulu on Friday morning for a bout of more active hunting. At least out there if I found a bird that I couldn’t see, nobody else would be able to either. There has been plenty of migrants coming through throughout the second half of September, and Lulu, as usual, gave me a great sampling: three each for Golden Orioles and Nightjars plus the usual drizzling of Sylvias, wheatears – including my second Red-tailed of the year, shrikes and co. Plenty more this week have included a most unusual autumn Whinchat, a rather early Bluethroat and daily Spotted Flycatchers and hirundines, especially Sand Martins which are probably having their best ever September. All that has been great, but hardly in the league of

 yee gods - Little Crake

and an early start on Saturday morning, my fifth attempt at the time (and I have failed again a few times since), finally produced a countable, even decent view. Once we cleared that little urchin up, the temporary deadlock was well and truly broken and the year ticks started flowing again: Namaqua Dove within 30 minutes (only my 3rd ever on AD), next day Eurasian Spoonbill (was confident this one was coming eventually) and, a few days later, Temminck’s Stint, another target, but only just. A seemingly more secure target when all this began, Thrush Nightingale had long since been written off due to a miserable May, as I have just one autumn record, as opposed to ten spring ones in the entire country but the finding of one or two off-island on Friday last gave me hope and this culminated 24 hours later when one scudded across the road at the racecourse and was then professionally pished out off a dense bougainvillea for a wicked and educational view. Caspian Plover and Egyptian Nightjar, both also seen off-island last week (within 30 minutes of each other!;:-) have yet to appear closer to home, although represent real and rather long shots respectively. However, proof that I still was on a roll yesterday came when we found a roosting Barn Owl at Emirate’s Palace – my closest ever as I have never got within 6 feet of any in Norfolk – and only my fourth on the island plus the first, for anyone as far as know, since 2008. 

So I was over the hills and far away, until I decided to concur with Nick and revise a few targets. Moorhen, two Marsh Terns and Red-tailed Wheatear all doubtfully missed the cut back at the start of the year, so adding them to the expected total, now revised to 180, seems reasonable and means that for almost everything left that isn’t a target, I have seen two times (or less) locally in six years of hard slogging.


Total so far - 186 (103%)
Last additions – Thrush Nightingale and Barn Owl (29th September)

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

The song remains the same

Another night, another boot. The golf course had flames licking round the edges rather nicely on arrival; my old friend, that Whiskered Tern had pulled in two more marsh terns tonight and one was a marvellous, neat juvenile White-winged that gave terrific views; only my 5th ever locally and not one I was sure I would get on the current campaign. Soon after that, I turned to find a Hobby steaming across the lake towards me, then for it to settle on the closest large boulder and give the best (i.e. most static) view I have ever had of the species; here in the Emirates they are usually hyper-kinetic. It was my 15th in 6 years here on AD and, marginally, my earliest ever in the autumn. As if that wasn’t enough, a long-awaited pratincole also materialised, an easy juvenile Collared giving great close-ups and nice, instructive flight views. The only fly in the ointment (or date in the chocolates, to introduce some local flavour) was a glimpse of a crake, seemingly – but not certainly - a snapper, crashing into the reedbed. A 45-minute stake-out produced Purple Herons, both bee-eaters, Yellow Wagtail, Clamorous Reed and a Turkestan Shrike and two wonderfully spotty Jiffy-jiffies striding round on the fairways (Chris – take note, if you are still with us) but no crake. So that is tomorrow’s project, with reinforcements called and tapes ready. Would it be fair to say you’ll be joining me in hoping that, if it is a snapper, it isn’t a bloody Baillon’s, Nick?!

Total so far - 180 (102%)
Last additions – White-winged Tern, Hobby and Collared Pratincole (19th September)


Tuesday, 18 September 2012

Basket case

a.k.a 100 + a whiff of VAT, whatever that is.

I think I have commented before on the effect of year-listing on your brain and I found myself in the middle of another egregious example this afternoon. Furiously thrashing round to find some material in which to bury the fact that last week’s Scaly-breasted Munia was #173, I found myself scanning through a flock of 200 mynas trying to find a Bank, which would have been # 176 i.e. 100.00%. Luckily I failed, leaving that coveted position open for another hour when a Golden Oriole – yeeeeeeehaaaaaaaaaa – flicked across in front of me and then sat up for a nice view. In between munias and la oriole I had the double whammy of Garganey swimming through the legs of a Little Egret out on the golf course during a busy evening of waders and, straight after la oriole I came up with one of the best, most workable shorebird flocks I have found on Abu Dhabi island, eventually culminating in 2 Broad-billed Sands, only my second ever AD record. My third Green Sandpiper (and second Garganey) was in the same flock and other goodies in the last few days have included decent waves of Isabelline Wheatears, Tree Pipits and Swallows, the odd Roller and Ortolan, a nice sprinkling of shrikes of four flavours, and bee-eaters daily, including up to 15 Europeans coming in to roost on a couple of evenings. Rarest of all, at least nationally, was my second Great Reed Warbler of the year, memorably thudding around on a lawn and traumatising the Whimbrels. No bother counting the primary tips on that one!

Total so far - 177 (101%)
Last additions – Golden Oriole and Broad-billed Sandpiper (18th September)


Sunday, 16 September 2012

You Whin some...

Having succumbed to the temptation of carbon-twitching - and subsequently dipping - Barred, Baird's and Baillon's in the last 7 days, it was time to banish the demons and get the bike out for an altogether more wholesome twitch. 36 miles later and a species that was in danger of sneaking under the radar was safely bagged: Whinchat (160). It was being chased around by the local Stonechats when I got there, only to vanish when I started trying to do something I thought I'd never do: take pictures with a mobile phone!

The reason for this about-turn was the arrival in my life of a smartphone. Yes, I have a camera. And yes, it takes OK pics. But no, I didn't have space in my minimalist cycling bag for it (nor the inclination to add any more weight / bulk). And no, it can't do something seriously cool that my smartphone can do: download the BirdTrack app so that I can log my lists electronically in the field, then click a button to upload them when/wherever there's network coverage! No more deciphering lists of 2-letter codes and counts when I get home (or worse still, trying to guestimate the tallies on those 'can't-be-bothered' days) - fantastic!

Phone-scoping isn't going to win me any prizes but then I'm not after any (otherwise I'd be selling my birding gear... and likely the house, too). However I reckon it captures the 'mood'... and if there had been something mega with the mipits, it would've captured that too.

 Autumn is here the other 53 that wouldn't fit in the frame

Percentage of target to date - 102%
Distance cycled - 542.3mls / 872.7km
Latest addition -  Whinchat (160) 16 September

Wednesday, 12 September 2012

500 Club

Great to see that Oscar is back in the game... or at least as much as he can be, competing in Abu Dhabi by car ;)  I was just beginning to think this was a one-horse race - Simon seems marooned on the 88% mark, Chris has chucked in competitive-birding-by-bike in favour of pavement-head-surfing, and Pete was last seen in pursuit of a suite of September rarities that fell just outside his circle...

A quick 8 miles this lunchtime failed to produce the hoped-for Whinchat. 9 Stone-curlews were the bird highlight, though a fox was slightly better value (let's face it, Stone-curlews don't exactly do much in the middle of the day). The big milestone, however, was pedalling past the 500 mile mark. Hardly outstanding - nor anywhere near Chris and Simon's totals in their county-wide non-motorised years - but it equates to around 50 hours in the saddle instead of the driver's seat, which is a start...

Percentage of target to date - 101%
Distance cycled - 504.0mls / 811.1km
Latest addition -  Caspian Gull (159) 2 September

Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Sanatorium… home again

Back to the blast furnace for the next campaign and have spent a fair bit of time pounding the golf course since returning. Seven visits in the 11 days of September so far is fairly thorough, especially given a few other (birding) balls to juggle but is quite necessary as, much more so than in spring, things tend to drop in for an evening, an hour or, in the case of five Wood Sands yesterday, about 15 seconds. Waders are generally the most obvious movers in September, especially in the first half of the month, but it has actually taken a little while for the smouldering to start. Finally started to fly yesterday with 11 species in an hour (out of 13 all month so far), which isn’t bad for nasty bit of pesticide-ridden grassland a stony-edged pool. I’m still in need of Pacific Goldie and Collared Pratincole, both sparse but regular at this time of year (and, at this rate, this means that Caspian Plover or a Broad-bill is now pushing it a bit) but have (finally) added Ruff and Green SandpiperRinged and sand plovers have also been showing nicely, with the latter represented by lots of demanding juveniles, as the attached will attest. Any takers?

Whiskered Terns in and out for a few nights have been nice and there was eventually some heron action tonight with three Purples flying around for ages. Passerines have been mostly slack, but Steppe and Lesser Grey Shrikes nearly side-by-side tonight was pretty classic and a very handy couple of not-so-Common Rosefinches have freed up the rest of the month and October for looking for something much more memorable. Or maybe merely Golden Oriole. Blue-cheeked Bee-eaters are currently daily as usual and Kingfisher was only my 3rd patch record, all of which have been in September down the years. Plenty of time yet; autumn runs until mid December out here...


Total so far - 172 (98%)
Last addition – Common Rosefinch (8th September)

Monday, 3 September 2012

Not to be outdone....

And Simon too has added another new species - a juvenile Garganey loafing with the Shovelers on Ibsley Water this morning - and yes, I did eliminate juv. Blue-winged Teal.....

Sunday, 2 September 2012


What a beaut (?!):

Caspian Gull (159) OML! Better still, t'was in the first 'gull field' I came to, having decided to pedal the gauntlet that is the A134 in the drizzle yesterday afternoon.

Percentage of target to date - 101%
Distance cycled - 496.0mls / 798.2km
Latest addition -  Caspian Gull (159) 2 September