Thursday, 6 December 2012

Helter Skelter

That is what it has felt like in the last few weeks. The longest and most prolific glut of rarity arrivals I can remember here in the UAE is still ongoing, and earning a decent slice of the action hasn’t been too hard – all that’s been needed is to get out birding. Albeit mostly off island, and therein lies the issue. Not only have I been not finding anything fittingly monster locally despite hard grafting (and one very near miss), I am also been lured elsewhere to try my luck further afield, so reducing my time trying here. As a result, Common Starling is now looking very dicey and neither even Taiga Fly or Shikra (two of each far flung elsewhere recently and either a fitting placeholder for my AD 250th!) seem a shoo-in anymore. Hence a little more undignified twitching has been unavoidable, resulting in, after two attempts and much suffering, an ultra-elusive, willow-the-wisp Olive-backed Pipit crawling around under thick hedges (as, consequently, were its would-be observers). Still, these are cracking birds and despite being one that I hit almost annually somewhere in the UAE, in my book total show-stoppers so and so well worth chasing. And all that is quite apart from the fact that it was also my third new pipit on the island this year. Whilst chasing the pip, a Hume’s Warbler starting calling merrily and was soon giving great views (so another semi-hole now filled fully; the one back in March was technically a twitch as I was 20 minutes behind the pace that day) and, on a similar theme a few days later, I heard Red-breasted Flycatcher calling whilst out jogging pre-work. It took me a couple of visits to actually see it but, fired up by its discovery I trawled the island that afternoon to find my latest ever bloody Tree Pipit (i.e. it really should have been my own OBP) and, later, a species that that, whilst a target, I had long abandoned any hope of getting anywhere near at all – Scops-Owl! This was only my 7th in the UAE ever and came as a real bolt out of the blue, suddenly appearing as I investigated a frenetic mobbing party, expecting to find the no more than the usual malignant moggie.

So that was the next wave, but the subsequent trough was deeper than usual. Another 6AM start and another four hours of ultra-professional bush-kicking out on Lulu two days later looked like being the usual tale – some nice birds but nothing to get anyone cursing. Until, that is, my second pass of the lake produced a deliberate soft tekking, again and again. Everything was right – it was 30th November, rares were pitching in everywhere, the habitat was textbook (dense low bushes right alongside standing water) and the call was spot on. Unfortunately, so was the behaviour – two hours later, along a mere 50m of vegetation no amount of gentle imitation, enthusiastic pishing, patient waiting, restrained bush-juddering and ultimately violent thrashing made a blind bit of difference. Dusky Warbler, for that is what it surely was, avoided hitting the back of the net (although it glanced the crossbar once). By the end of all that, over an hour later than promised, I had to leave. However, I guess I achieved one of my regular objectives on each trip out here – there was one person cursing profanely…

Two Wigeon a few days later hardly seemed to count, despite being as statistically rare as Dusky Warbler at least in my experience, over the last five years here. Which would you rather have seen? Yep, me too.

Finally, and more predictably, the usual late autumn back-up case has not been too bad either, with plenty of Hypocolius available on tap, up to three Oriental Honey-Buzzards now in and appearing regularly and the first Pallas’s Gulls suddenly widespread from late in November. But with the latter settled back in, it’s nearly time to call Time, at least from my end.

Total so far - 196 (109%)
Last additions – Olive-backed Pipit (23rd November), Eurasian Scops-Owl (28th November) and Eurasian Wigeon (5th December)

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