x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

World wade quest by lovers of rare plovers

The aim of the marathon Wader Quest journey is to raise awareness and collect funds for a project to save one species, the spoon-billed sandpiper, from extinction. A bird-watching couple will travel to the UAE next month as part of a year-long quest to highlight the fate of waders.

DUBAI // Birdwatchers are known for going to great lengths to pursue their hobby, often travelling huge distances to see a particularly rare specimen.

One pair of British-based twitchers are taking it to new extremes with a year-long trip, visiting 15 countries on six continents, to view waders.

Rick and Elis Simpson are due to set out November 1, and one of their first landfalls will be in the UAE. The couple are due to arrive on November 12 and will be linking up with local birdwatchers to search for rare wader species.

In addition they hope to talk to schoolchildren about the global plight of waders, many of which are threatened.

The aim of the marathon Wader Quest journey is to raise awareness and collect funds for a project to save one species, the spoon-billed sandpiper, from extinction.

"We are very excited about our visit to the UAE, not least because we will see some interesting waders," said Mr Simpson, a 54-year-old writer from the UK.

"The main reason for visiting the UAE is the promise of seeing the crab plover, a magnificent and dramatic black-and-white bird, the white-tailed plover, a much more subdued but still delightful and delicate bird, and the cream-coloured courser, a denizen of hot regions and deserts that we may find difficult to see elsewhere.

"We may be lucky and catch some birds that are on their way to west Africa - one that would really excite us would be the Caspian plover. There is also a small chance that the rare and endangered sociable plover may put in an appearance in the UAE."

Mr Simpson's wife is a 38-year-old bird and wildlife photographer from Brazil. The couple decided to include the UAE in their itinerary after meeting Dubai-based enthusiast Tommy Pedersen, who runs the uaebirding.com website.

The pair met Mr Pedersen, an Emirates Airline captain, while they were living in Brazil, and took him birdwatching there during a stopover.

"The UAE has been lingering in our subconscious since we met Tommy," said Mr Simpson. "He spoke about the area and its birds with such enthusiasm that we knew that one day we must visit the country.

"Nestling between Europe and Asia as it does, it has some very familiar European birds that live cheek by jowl alongside, to us, exotic Asian-based species and families."

The couple are funding the trip themselves, though they hope to pick up sponsorship along the way.

Cash raised will support a spoon-billed sandpiper captive breeding programme being run by the UK's Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust.

"The whole idea came from a realisation that time was running out for the spoon-billed sandpiper," said Mr Simpson. "We wanted to see one before they became extinct.

"It suddenly dawned on us that what we were talking about was a species going extinct, a dramatic and irreversible tragedy. We felt that instead of simply seeing one, we should be doing something to help in the fight to save it."

There are few in the world as dedicated to the cause as the Simpsons, Mr Pederson said. "Everyone in the birding world knows about the spoon-billed sandpiper and the huge problems it faces, but few of us will be able to do much about it. Even fewer will be willing to give up a year of their lives like Rick and Elis intend to.

"When I heard about Wader Quest I was impressed by their determination to do something, to make a difference, and was delighted when they asked me to be involved on a local basis in the UAE.

"It is heartwarming to know there are still people like these in the world who are prepared to put their lives on hold for the sake of a unique but small bird."

csimpson@thenational.ae