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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 19 July 2018

Birdwatcher’s year-long global tour takes him to the Emirates

Noah Strycker is on a global birdwatching tour that has taken in 27 countries since January 1 as part of an adventure that he will catalogue in a book.
A species of wheatear bird in the UAE. Courtesy Noah Strycker
A species of wheatear bird in the UAE. Courtesy Noah Strycker

DUBAI // It is every ornithologist’s dream to sight and record as many different species of bird in as many countries as possible, and Noah Strycker is doing his very best to make that deam a reality.

The American is on a global birdwatching tour and has so far been to 27 countries since January 1 and visited the UAE this month. His goal? To record more than 5,000 species by the time he completes his journey at the end of the year.

Mr Strycker landed in Abu Dhabi on September 11 and spent the following day – “officially the hottest” of all so far on his journey – identifying 129 species, including 39 new entries on his list.

“It is an amazing place for birdwatching,” he said, because the Emirates’ location made it easy to see resident birds and a large number of migrants. The 28-year-old was accompanied on the local leg of his trip by UAE residents Oscar Campbell and Mark Smiles.

The pair scouted the route a week in advance to ensure they would be able to show Mr Strycker as many birds as possible. The group visited a desert area on the outskirts of Dubai, the Khor Al Beida mangrove in Umm Al Quwain, a beach in Fujairah, a spot in the mountains around Masafi and a dairy farm in Dibba.

They saw 129 species that day, of which 39 were new entries in Mr Strycker’s list, including the cream-coloured courser, “a very nice bird which only lives in barren deserts”.

The men also chanced upon a green warbler, which breeds in Turkey, migrates to India and is rarely seen in the UAE.

“That was very lucky,” said Mr Campbell of the sighting, which is only the 14th recorded in the Emirates.

Mr Strycker flew in to the UAE from Uganda. Prior to that, he travelled around Africa, as well as visiting Europe and the Americas. He started his journey in Antarctica and is now in India, where he has managed to improve the current record for a global year of birdwatching, held by a British couple who recorded 4,341 species in 2008.

By the end of the year, Mr Strycker hopes to have travelled to 37 countries, stopping at points in Asia and visiting the Pacific Islands and Australia.

Throughout his journey, the few belongings he has with him are crammed into a 40-litre backpack; a few clothes and toiletries, a mosquito net and sleeping bag, malaria pills and water purification tablets. He also carries a small laptop, a camera, binoculars and a spotting scope.

The author of two books, Among Penguins: A Bird Man in Antarctica and The Thing with Feathers, Mr Strycker signed a publishing contract to describe his current adventure. The advance on that contract is funding his trip.

“My goal is to break even but that means I am on an extremely tight budget,” said Mr Strycker, who spent four and a half months planning the journey.

More crucial than money, he said, was the ability to connect with fellow birdwatchers from all over the world through the internet and social media.

“It is a kind of a post-modern birdwatching adventure,” he said, adding that rather than hiring guides he was relying on enthusiasts such as Mr Campbell and Mr Smiles.

Mr Campbell, a chemistry teacher and the chairman of the Emirates Bird Records Committee, agreed.

“It is quite nice about birdwatching that people will quite easily volunteer to help,” he said. “It is a very big adventure but, for me, it would be a little bit too fast,” he said of Mr Strycker’s project. “It takes a lot of perseverance, it takes sleep deprivation and things like that.”

vtodorova@thenational.ae