x Abu Dhabi, UAE Friday 21 July 2017

Rare birds get Fujairah tourists in a flap

Recent spotting is only the second recorded instance of the Bay-backed Shrike breeding in the region.

The Bay-backed Shrike is a small bird of less than 20 centimetres.
The Bay-backed Shrike is a small bird of less than 20 centimetres.

A rare Bay-backed Shrike and its offspring have been spotted near Fujairah, marking only the second recorded instance of the small, colourful bird breeding anywhere in the Arabian Peninsula. The adult and two chicks were spotted earlier this month in Masafi, on the edge of the Hajar mountains, by Nigel Milius and Wendy Hare, bird watchers from New Zealand on a stopover to the UK. The husband-and-wife team had been told that because of the high temperatures, June was not the best time of year for bird watching in the UAE. However, on June 7 luck was seemingly on their side, and the pair were able to confirm their rare find by making a call to the local guide and environmental science lecturer, Steve James.

"We watched them for 20 minutes or so as they were moving about over an area probably about 80 metres across, sometimes perching, sometimes on the ground," said Mr Milius. "The adult was catching insects and feeding them to the youngsters, though the youngsters were also catching their own. All three were very active." Since 1970 there have been just 17 recorded sightings of the Bay-backed Shrike. Dr Reza Khan, the director of Dubai Zoo and a bird expert who confirmed the sighting, said it was only the second recorded instance of the bird breeding anywhere on the Arabian Peninsula. The first one was in 2004 in Musandam. "This is great news for the region," said Dr Khan. "In simple terms it means natural habitats in the UAE are improving or [have] improved at least in some places less used by human beings." Bay-backed Shrikes live in India, Pakistan and Iran. It is most likely that they end up on the Arabian Peninsula while migrating between habitats in spring and summer, said Oscar Campbell, a science teacher based in Abu Dhabi and a keen bird watcher. "Some birds get blown off course by chance," said Mr Campbell. "Iran is not so far away." "This year was quite wet so Masafi and the neighbouring hills were reasonably green," he said. "This is probably why the birds stayed." A small bird of less than 20 centimetres, the Bay-backed Shrike usually feeds by perching on top of a tree and searching for insects and lizards. It can catch insects mid-flight or dive to take them from the ground. "Some species of shrike are quite famous for catching their prey and, if not hungry, sticking it on a thorn to eat it later. This has earned them the name 'butcher birds'," said Mr Campbell. "They are one of very few families of birds that do that but I am not sure if the local ones do that," he said. It is not sure whether the birds will remain in Masafi. When Mr Campbell saw them, the young ones appeared to be "suffering a little" in the heat. "But they are quite big already, they will most probably survive," he said. "[These] birds, after they fledge, like to explore the local area. They will probably disappear from the nest site in a week or two." @Email:vtodorova@thenational.ae