Sunday 3 May 2015

Fujairah and Dibba beaches, UAE

A week ago Friday around the middle of the day Andrew Bailey and I visited Fujairah and Dibba beaches. Althouh the rest of my weekend in UAE has already been reported, I delayed this blog while I sought more expert advice than myown on the identity of some of the many terns we saw.

Indeed the highlight of this session was when some fishermen brought their catch ashore and 50 or so terns were attracted.

Most of the terns spent much of their time in the air looking for spilt catch. However there were always a few on the beach at any given moment.

A majority but by no means all were common tern.

whiskered tern

One that obviously wasn't was a whiskered tern in summer plumage.

Some were much more difficult to identify. Thanks to Oscar Campbell in UAE the one below has been identifed as a common tern and probaly a second calender year bird which is already quite bleached.

common tern

Some of the other terns in small numbers were as easy to identify as the whiskered tern. They were sandwich tern, lesser crested tern and great crested tern.

sandwich tern

In the group below next to the sooty gull there is one bird which is probably white-cheeked tern. It is the one on the left. The others are common tern.

white-cheeked tern (l) and 3 common tern (r)

Oscar Campbell has commented that it probably is a white-cheeked tern however it should be in breeding plumage "(unlike all White-cheeks in the Gulf, where birds are at nesting islands from late March) and the structure does not look especially different from the background Commons - in direct comparison, the bill of White-cheeked often looks very slender and narrow which is not the impression I am getting from this bird. It does look a little small but that might be an artifact of the image".

I would add that the legs do appear a little shorter than the other birds.

mixed terns

In the above picture the dark bird appears again.

Despite my concentration so far on the birds on the ground, most birds spent most time in the air.

common tern

Above is a common tern in flight.

Saunders's tern with common tern

There were also single birds of two other species: Saunders's tern and roseate tern. The latter is the rarest tern in the region at this time of year. I think Andrew Bailey for identifying it as a Bangsi type which has an orange-red bill. It wasn't present for as long as the other terns and I failed to get a photograph.

slender-billed gull

There were a few other birds on the beach. A few slender-billed gull were among them.


Three sanderling were running along the sandy beach.

socotra cormorant

The terns were not the only birds to be attracted to the fish catch. Slowly but surely a group of socotra cormorant which were swimming drifted closer and closer to the shore. In the end they were less than 5 metres from the fisherman's boat.

more socotra cormorant

Straight after we left the beach we headed towards a water ditch a kilometre north. It appears to have been formed from the dirty water running off from a small development. Apparently some good birds have been seen there. However these types of site are very hit and miss and often depend on the amount of water released over the preceding days. This time the water levels were low.

glossy ibis

This time birds were limited to a glossy ibis and two moorhen.

dhow with great crested tern and lesser crested tren

An hour before we reached Fujairah beach we birded Dibba harbour and beach. This is where our encounters with terns began. A dhow in the harbour held fifteen lesser crested tern and a few less great crested tern. It's good to be able to see the two birds together. The great crested tern is notably larger, has a darker mantle and wings. It's bill is paler and yellower.

great crested tern

It was here we saw our only great cormorant of the weekend.

cormorant with terns

In all we saw nine species of tern over the weekend and it was really useful exposure to difficult group of birds to master.

In the next blog I return to looking at Salalah, Oman.


  1. Apparently the Roseates we've been seeing are a form known as arideensis, not bangsi. I think the latter has some black on the bill (or the bill can be entirely dark) but the former often doesn't. See this link.

    Our bird was very similar to the 2nd and 4th images on that page except for the leg colour - I don't have an explanation for that, but everything else fits.

    Tommy and Oscar have both asked if we have a photo....If only it had settled on the beach.

    Re the other terns:

    1. Are we sure the dark tern to the right (and left) of the Sooty Gull isn't a Whiskered? Look at its size compared to the Sandwich.
    2. Is the lone bird in flight definitely a Common? I wouldn't mind a second opinion on that.
    3. Are we sure the tern in flight with the yellowish bill in the last of the pics in the tern sequence is a Saunder's, and not Lesser Crested?

  2. Andrew, as for the IDs, thats why I delayed to take advice and I am quoting the advice I got. It is not my certainty it is others. Put your ideas on the UAE forum and see what reaction you get!

    As for the roseates: Its a bit more complicated still. I have a thesis that shows even the birds in Australia vary from coast to coast.

  3. OK, have posted the 3 pics on the UAE ID forum. Let's see what Oscar thinks. despite his protestations, I still think he's the best person on terns I know.