Sunday, 20 November 2011

Vultures at the DDCR 19.11.11

Reports from the Dubai Desert Conservation resort of 8-10 Lappet Face Vultures feeding on a Camel carcass earlier last week prompted the arranging of a mass gathering for Saturday morning at the reserve,  thanks to the generosity of the Reserve Wardens there.  We arrived at 09:45am and departed into the desert in 4x4 vehicles arounf 10:15am.  I opted not to drive this time , although I absolutely love driving the dunes,  I wanted to concentrate on my surroundings for a change rather than the next Sand dune to negotiate !!  We soon arrived at the carcass but no vultures in sight unfortunately.  Just a couple of Desert Wheatears and Desert Warblers.   We decided to hang around for a while - eventually a dot in the sky gradually came closer to revel itself as a lone Vulture,  never descending enough to get any decent pics I'm afraid.

Lappet-faced Vulture (Aegypius tracheliotos negevensis)

Eventually we moved on to see what else we could find in the reserve, these included a nice Yellow Spotted Agama sunning itself but not displaying the lovely Blue and Yellow colours unfortunately.   Not too many Sand or Arabian Gazelle spotted this time but there were many small herds of Arabian Oryx encountered.

Yellow Spotted Agama (Trapelus flavimaculatus)

Yellow Spotted Agama (Trapelus flavimaculatus)

Arabian Oryx (Oryx leucoryx)

Arabian Oryx (Oryx leucoryx)

The highlight for me was to be the sighting of a fabulous Pharoah Eagle Owl.  This was found amongst a small oasis of Ghaf trees.  Apparantly there are several now known to be in the reserve with at least one pair known to have bred this year.

Pharaoh Eagle-Owl (Bubo ascalaphus)

On a final note, our friendly Warden told us of sightings of some Houbara Bustard which were part of a large number released into the wild over the last year or two.  They were (and continue to be) hunted close to extinction in the UAE.  Although only released birds, I was still very keen to see them (if we could find them).  We eventually found three birds sheltering behind small scrub,  my first ever sighting of this bird.  I was very pleased indeed.

Houbara Bustard (Chlamydotis undulata)

Houbara Bustard (Chlamydotis undulata)

Houbara Bustard (Chlamydotis undulata)

A fabulous 4 hours in the reserve,  enjoyed thoroughly !

Saturday, 12 November 2011

Dubai Pivot Fields 12.11.11

Quick scoot round the Pivot fields this afternoon revealed the following :

Unusual visitors being the Golden Plover, Pied Wheatear and Northern Lapwing.

Western Cattle Egret Bubulcus ibis ibis 2
Northern Lapwing Vanellus vanellus 1
Red-wattled Lapwing [sp] Vanellus indicus 20
White-tailed Lapwing Vanellus leucurus 20
Pacific Golden Plover Pluvialis fulva 3
Kentish Plover [group] Charadrius alexandrinus alexandrinus/dealbatus 5
Little Stint Calidris minuta 1
Temminck's Stint Calidris temminckii 4
Common Stonechat [sp] Saxicola torquatus 2
Pied Wheatear Oenanthe pleschanka 1
Isabelline Wheatear Oenanthe isabellina 2
Western Yellow Wagtail [sp] Motacilla flava 5
White Wagtail (White-faced) [group] Motacilla alba alba/dukunensis 60
Richard's Pipit [sp] Anthus richardi 1
Tawny Pipit [sp] Anthus campestris 5

White-tailed Lapwing (Vanellus leucurus)

Tawny Pipit (Anthus campestris)

White Wagtail (Motacilla alba alba/dukunensis)

Pied Wheatear (Oenanthe pleschanka)

Pacific Golden Plover (Pluvialis fulva)

Pacific Golden Plover (Pluvialis fulva)

Northern Lapwing (Vanellus vanellus)

Thursday, 10 November 2011

Pied Cuckoos everywhere !

Well only 2 in the UAE .......

News of Pied Cuckoos in Kuwait and Oman, the latter in great numbers it seems, the UAE did manage 2 at the Fujeirah Dary Farm over the last weekend.   This was actually a first for me having missed the last record in 2009 despite hours of searching.   Initially there had been some confusion over wether there were indeed 2,  studies of images suggested there were 2 but this became conclusive when I saw them both in the same Acacia bush.   Having satisfied myself with the Cuckoos I then decided to wander around the farm , starting by the tree-line by the cattle sheds, I flushed a bird from the trees and having seen many of these in India I instantly called White-throated Kingfisher but I needed to be 100% convinced.  A subsequent refind ensured I could confidently call this bird.   A brief landing in the cattle sheds allowed photographic evidence.  Not sure how many records there have been in the UAE but I know they are not frequent.   Some pics from the day .......

 Pied Cuckoo (Clamator jacobinus)
 Pied Cuckoo (Clamator jacobinus)
 Pied Cuckoo (Clamator jacobinus)
 Pied Cuckoo (Clamator jacobinus)
Pied Cuckoo (Clamator jacobinus)
 Masked Wagtail (Motacilla alba personata)
 Ortolan Bunting (Emberiza hortulana)
Steppe Eagle (Aquila nipalensis )
White-throated Kingfisher (Halcyon smyrnensis )

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Simon Aspinall 1958 - 2011

It is with deep regret that I post this Blog today. I never met Simon but I do know he was a much loved and very much respected birder in the UAE and further afield for many many years. I am saddened that I will never meet this wonderful person that I have heard so much about. The following is an obituary posted by one of Simon's very good friends Peter Hellyer, I leave it to Peter to best describe Simon :  

It is with great sadness that I report that Simon Aspinall died in Norfolk this morning, 31st October, after a valiant struggle against motor neurone disease. He was 53. 

A graduate in Environmental Science from the University of East Anglia, Simon first came to the UAE in 1993 to work for the Environmental Research & Wildlife Development Agency, ERWDA, (now EAD). He brought with him a wealth of experience in the UK, having worked for nine years with the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds and the Nature Conservancy Council and then for three years for the NCC and the Joint Nature Conservation Committee on projects in southern England. The latter led to his first two books on Coastal Birds of East Dorset and Birds of the Solent. 

Simon threw himself energetically both into field research in Abu Dhabi, and into the developing birdwatching fraternity, and was quickly co-opted to membership of the recently-established Emirates Bird Records Committee. He rapidly began writing as well – by the end of 1994, he had written or co-authored a total of ten papers and book chapters, including, with Colin Richardson, then EBRC Chairman, and myself, the UAE chapter in BirdLife International’s Important Bird Areas in the Middle East. In 1996, his first book on UAE birds appeared, Status & Conservation of the Breeding Birds of the United Arab Emirates, a seminal work based upon hundreds of hours of fieldwork. 

In 1997, offered the choice between taking a salary cut at ERWDA or leaving the organisation, Simon struck out on his own as a freelance ecological consultant. Two years as my part-time Environment Editor at the daily Emirates News followed, until the paper closed, with Simon taking responsibility for the weekly ‘Twitchers’ Guide’, which we had started with Colin Richardson in 1994, and which continued on-line until 2006. 

He also handled environmental studies for the Abu Dhabi Islands Archaeological Survey, ADIAS, of which I was executive director, until it ceased operations in 2006. In that capacity, he rapidly developed a keen eye for the identification of previously-unrecorded sites , helping to develop our understanding of Man’s relationship with the environment of Abu Dhabi’s deserts and elsewhere in the UAE. 

During the late 1990s, the carrying out of environmental surveys became increasingly standard practice and Simon worked on projects throughout the country and also in Azerbaijan and Pakistan. He continued to carry out fieldwork long after he was first diagnosed with motor neurone disease, until its steady progress made that no longer possible. 

While in the UAE, his primary interest was always birds and more books followed, including, in 1998, the popular Shell Birdwatching Guide to the United Arab Emirates, written with Colin Richardson. This was followed in 2003 by a revised 2nd edition of Breeding Birds, in Arabic, published by EAD. A 3rd edition, re-titled Breeding Birds of the UAE, appeared in 2010, as did the highly-acclaimed 2nd edition of Field Guide to the Birds of the Middle East, written with Richard Porter. Two more books followed this year, both commissioned by EAD, Birds of the UAE – a guide to common and important species, with Salim Javed and Jens and Hanne Eriksen, and, due shortly, the Field Guide to the Birds of the United Arab Emirates, with Richard Porter, the first country guide to any of the Gulf states. These and other works, like Important Bird Areas of the United Arab Emirates, a co-authored paper that appeared in British Birds in 2006, have done much to introduce the country’s birds to an international audience. 

Besides his books, book chapters, articles in journals and reports flowed rapidly. At a rough guess, he authored or co-authored well over a hundred different papers and reports on the UAE’s birds and other fauna and flora. 

Simon was never interested just in birds. Terrestrial ecology as a whole fascinated him while he was also for over a decade the co-ordinator of the UAE Marine Mammal Database. He was also interested in palaeontology and made several major Late Miocene fossil finds in Abu Dhabi’s Western Region. This equipped him to engage in publishing that extended far beyond birds. In 2004, he was co-editor, with me, of Jebel Hafit – A Natural History, this being followed the next year by another joint production, The Emirates: A Natural History. Insofar as both publications are of scientific merit, it was largely due to Simon’s expertise. 

As UAE birders will know, Simon was an engaging and inspiring colleague in the field – ever ready to share his own expertise. For many years an ENHG committee member, he served a spell as Group Chairman and was awarded the annual Sheikh Mubarak Award, for his contributions to knowledge of the country’s natural history. Simon will be remembered partly for his unparallelled contributions to UAE natural history and, of course, as the first UAE birder to pass the 400 mark on his checklist. His last ‘tick’, his 415th, was the Wilson’s phalarope at Al Wathba Lake in January last year. His comment earlier this month, on seeing a picture of the latest addition to the UAE checklist, Great Stone-Curlew, was ‘about time’. He had predicted it over a decade earlier. 

In her introduction to the Field Guide to the Birds of the UAE, the Secretary General of the Environment Agency – Abu Dhabi, Razan Al Mubarak, pays this tribute: "I take particular pleasure in acknowledging the contribution made by Simon Aspinall over the last two decades to studies of the UAE’s environment, including its birds. His books on the topic, including this one, provide the foundations on which others will be able to build for many, many years to come.” Many of us, though, will remember him just as much for the strength of character he displayed as the motor neurone disease inexorably took hold. He was not someone who let his determination fade. A couple of days before he was taken to hospital in late August, we sat together in Norfolk to look over the final proofs of the UAE Field Guide and to discuss the next project that he wanted to get under way, the tracking of Abu Dhabi’s pallid swifts that Oscar announced on the Forum yesterday. He also told me to get over to Cley and look out for the young barn owls flying over the field at the back of his house. Sure enough, two appeared and performed magnificently – the best views I’ve had for many a year. 

His parents, Jack and Sylvia, sent me an e-mail while they were waiting for the ambulance to come to take him to hospital, though he returned after ten days, irritated by the young nurses who treated him, or so he said, like a ‘silly old git,’ and spent his last weeks in bed at home, gently and peacefully fading away. While he was waiting for the ambulance, they told me, Simon had his ‘spirit undaunted, eyes still twinkling.’ It is like that I wish to remember him – a great friend, an incredible colleague and an inspiration. 

Peter Hellyer

Simon Aspinall 1958 - 2011