Friday, March 16, 2012

Dubai Dubai Birdie

This past weekend Maureen and I were fortunate to pick up a couple of lifers, officially carrying both of our world lists into the 300s. Not only did the milestone provide us with a sense of accomplishment, but we took great satisfaction in having crossed the threshold together. We've always birded as a team, and try our very hardest to make sure that we both see the same species. But despite all of this, Maureen's life list is one bird longer than mine. This is the story of that bird.

If you've been following the blog lately, you know that we travelled to the Seychelles islands in the summer of 2009. The flight from the U.S. is rather long, and requires a layover in either Europe or the Middle East. As a group, we and our fellow travelers decided that an extended stop in Dubai would be well worth our time, and so we planned for three adventure-packed days on the Arabian peninsula.

Outside one of Dubai's many spice shops

One of the minarets that regularly announced the call to prayer

Our birding there was mostly incidental, but we constantly scanned every which way while we walked around the city, or looked out from inside our taxis, or from our hotel windows. There were quite as many Rock Pigeons and House Sparrows as you're likely to see in any city in the world, but also plenty of opportunity to find new and exotic (to us) birds.

I don't know what this is for, but it's a great logo

Dubai is an incredible city. In fact, it's superlative. It has the tallest building in the world, the biggest mall in the world, the biggest amusement park in the world (under construction), and so on. To make it even more incredible, Dubai has sprung up in the midst of a tremendous desert, and all within a very short period of time.

Burj Dubai - the tallest building in the world

One of the highlights of our visit was spending time in that desert. We arranged for an SUV convoy to take us in a wild ride over the dunes of the Arabian Desert. As much as I was hoping to see some birds of prey out there, both earth and sky were almost completely barren. One of the very few patches of green we saw landed us a passing glimpse of a gazelle.

This particular form of entertainment is known as "dune bashing". It's a wild ride, for sure

The Arabian Desert in all it's glory

Either an Arabian Mountain Gazelle or a Sand Gazelle - can't figure out which. Although the names do suggest one as more likely than the other.

After stopping to watch the sun disappear behind the dunes, we were taken to a desert camp, where a merry melange of Middle Eastern delights were being prepared for us. There, we had the pleasure of riding a camel, and were later treated to a tremendous show of belly dancing (I've seen belly dancing before, but this woman was an artist).

Camels: the original SUVs

Just riding a camel. Whatever.

Incredible belly dancer. I had not fully appreciated the artistic merits of belly dancing until this

Dinner was a buffet featuring various Arabian specialties. Everything was very tasty, and I remember having several helpings of some dishes. I ate the same food as Maureen and her family, and nothing tasted out of the ordinary. And yet one of those blasted bites gave me goddamned food poisoning. I won't give you the details of how I spent my time that night after we arrived back at our hotel, but I will say that I was only about half-conscious all the next day.

Sun setting behind the dunes

Enjoying a perfect moment in the desert, pre-food poisoning

That day was devoted to sightseeing. We hired a guide to show us all of the must-photograph places around town. We saw the Burj Dubai, the Dubai Mall, architecture, attractions… everything we had wanted to see. I did my best to soldier on, and I didn't want to miss a moment of this once-in-a-lifetime visit. I think I retained the gist of it, even if I wasn't able to enjoy as much as I would have like at that moment.


The Burj Al Arab. You can't tell, but I probably felt like I was dying at this moment

But the one thing I absolutely cannot recall is Maureen excitedly calling out to me from the front seat, trying to rouse me out of my stupor as our van passed by an open square. "Honey, look! Look at the bird!!" is what she reportedly said. It should tell you something about just how low I was feeling right then that I couldn't even be bothered to raise my head to look out the window.

Asian Pied Starling

What I missed out on was an Asian Pied Starling. It's not an uncommon bird in its range, so it's likely that I'll pick it up if I'm even in the region again. But that's not something I see happening anytime soon. And that's the story of why Maureen's life list is, and will likely remain, one bird longer than mine.

Asian Pied Starling, also known as a Pied Myna


  1. Looks like a fun stop--Dubai seems to have lots of color if not always lots of birds. I enjoyed the story a lot, though not from a sadistic perspective at all...
    By near coincidence, I got food poisoning in Las Vegas, perhaps the American equivalent of Dubai. Maybe there's a lesson to be learned.

    Your face looks a little bit naked in these photos Nicholas, but I daresay you and Maureen look better in the desert than ol' Lawrence of Arabia.

    Do those camels have muzzles on to keep them from spitting on people? I've heard they do that.

  2. Thanks, Laurence! Dubai is a great place to spend some time, but it's juuuuust a teensy bit more restrictive than Las Vegas. They're definitely both known for pushing the envelope in their own ways, though. I'd love to go back some time just for the birds. Hoopoes, at least, are on my bucket list.

    I think you're right about the muzzles. They may bite, also.

    1. I can only marry one person per day in Vegas.

      Those Hoopoes are truly some of the most bizarre (also, awesome) birds in the Milky Way. Is Dubai an especially good place to see them?

    2. They have a fairly wide range, so as long we as do some traveling to that region again there's a chance we'll cross paths.

  3. That cool logo seems to be the official seal of the Dubai Municipality: Great story but so sorry about your illness and missing the bird!

  4. Thanks, Amy! That's some nice detective work on your part, tracking down the logo!

  5. Melanie here! I enjoyed this piece, please email me--I have a question about your blog. MelanieLBowen[at]gmail[dot]com