In June 1973 the then Chief of Staff of the Abu Dhabi Defence Force, the late Lt. Col. J.D. Wellings, compiled a list of birds he had recorded on Abu Dhabi Island since 1971. This list provides an interesting comparison with recordings of more recent times. However, these notes here do not attempt to comment on every species listed in 1973, only on the commoner varieties seen on the Island.
Most of the areas found to be productive for record purposes then are still so today, namely gardens, roundabouts, sewage farm (under construction in 1971), tidal creeks and breakwaters. Being in the military Col. Wellings had access to some sensitive areas; fortunately, detailed observations of such species as Graceful Warbler and Kentish Plover have been continued more recently in the same spots.
With the development of the Eastern Ring Road, some of these once sensitive areas have been opened up to a wider public but caution should still be exercised with photography. Although the road scheme has destroyed a large part of the foreshore in the area it has still proved to be very productive. The best time for sightings is at low tide, the times of which can be found in local papers.
In his opening paragraphs Col. Wellings makes no pretence that his list is without errors or omissions and these notes in no way imply any criticism of his work. They are an attempt to update some of the records only.Cormorants
Cormorants were noted overflying Bateen Airport in the 70s and to this day flocks of several hundred can be seen following the same routes and timings. They are normally seen moving at first light from the southwest to land in the tidal creeks north of Sadiyat Island. Aircraft flying at the same time as the flocks have to exercise great caution as the cormorants are not really too bothered with air traffic control regulations. The birds are not, as many people think, migrating but just changing feeding grounds. The species of cormorant seen in the early 70s is more likely to have been the Common rather than the reported Socotra, which rarely flies over land.Ducks
It is possible that the general duck population has increased over the years as only single birds or very small flocks are mentioned in the list, whereas Teal are fairly common now in large numbers. Mallard are not uncommon and Shovellers have also been recorded.Flamingoes
This species, then as now, can be seen throughout the year in varying numbers. The highest count in 1972 on one day was 57, compared with the 300-400 seen more recently. It is fair to say that the flocks do break up into smaller units which can be found in tidal creeks and to the west as far as Hail Island. Fortunately, the dredging that has taken place over the years has not had an adverse effect on the wintering population, as was once feared. At the present time (January 1975) the flocks are small but can still be seen in the creeks and lagoons off the Eastern Ring Road.Herons
In general the herons sighted now are the same varieties as in the 70s, with the exception of the Little Green Heron, a very unusual visitor that turned up in December 1984. The Reef Heron remains abundant, with the slate grey version in the majority. It is indicated in the list that this species was breeding here, but to date this has not been confirmed. This year it is intended to survey the mangroves for possible breeding sites. Also seen, but not as frequently or in such numbers, are Grey Herons, Purple Herons, Egrets and occasionally Squacco and Night Herons.Kentish Plovers
These continue to be commonplace in the tidal creeks and salt flats and were thought in the 70s to breed although no nests were found. It has now been confirmed (see Bulletins 20, pp 6-8 and 24, p 27) with several nests found, that the Kentish Plover is a breeding species on the Island.Sea Birds
The variety of sea birds in the list is comparable to that today and it is possible that there has been a population increase. It would appear that Caspian Terns are now present in larger numbers.Ring-neck Parakeets
These birds were seen in the early 70s in small flocks and were thought to have been escapees from Abu Al Abyad Island to the west. They can be seen now in flocks of up to 30+ as well as in pairs and singly. It is more than likely that the population has increased but as yet no confirmed sightings of nesting birds have been made. They are normally heard screeching well before they can be seen in flight. Unless in the vicinity of trees, it is best to look up for sightings as they fly high and fast. At times it is possible to see them feeding on Acacia arabica trees where they strip the seed pod, hold it in one claw and then open it with their bills.Palm Doves
Only two were seen on 25/4/73 but they were reported to be common in the Buraimi area. Now, there hardly seems to be a locality without its stock of Palm or laughing Doves. Curiously enough the list makes no mention of pigeons.HouseSparrow
"Surprisingly few" is the verdict of the list. In fact the Sparrow population did not explode until the later 70s. Before that even its residency was in doubt.Graceful Warblers
Then as now the Graceful Warbler was very common and at the time thought to breed although no nests were found. As is now known (see Bulletin 20, pp 2-6) the sewage farm and surrounding scrub .areas support large breeding colonies from February/March. The Scrub Warbler was also thought to breed but as yet this status has not been confirmed.Conclusion
With the increase of cultivated areas on the Island, which in turn has increased the insect population which provides a food source for both resident and migratory birds, it is fair to assume that the varieties and numbers have increased over the years and will continue to do so. Some apparent increase may, however, be attributable to the fact that many more people go bird watching on a regular basis. Fears that the construction of the sewage farm would prove ornithologically disastrous proved unfounded, as this area remains one of the most productive for sightings. It was Col. Wellings' hope that his list might be used as a basis for a more comprehensive publication on the birds of Abu Dhabi. Although no such work has yet been published it is felt that the progress made in the field of ornithology by the ENHG would have been much appreciated by him.