United Arab Emirates Trip Report
My wife and I visited the United Arab Emirates from April 13th to 20th. The weather was excellent with temperatures between 33 and 41 °C. Humidity was acceptable (however, the hottest months are from July to September with temperatures close to 50°C). We stayed with friends in Sharjah, an Emirate NW of Dubai. Because of the high temperatures in the area, the number of birds was not so high as reported in other trip reports for periods between e.g. December and late February. For those who want to stay in hotels, there are a number of wonderful hotels at the beaches of Dubai and Sharjah, such as the Kempinski, the Holiday Inn, the Carlton and the Golden Beach Hotel, all along the Corniche Road. The roads are of very good quality, even those through the desert. Traffic in Dubai is intense and be sure to drive carefully at the many roundabouts.
This report contains coordinates of some important reference points (for usage with GPS)
Preparation for the Visit to the UAE
A lot of trip reports by several birdwatchers have been issued in recent years We also used the very useful Dutch guide book on "OMAN en de Verenigde Arabische Emiraten", written by Greet Van Deuren and published by Dominicus. The book contains different maps which are extremely useful as the normal roadmaps which you can buy locally are not of high quality (Michelin and other map makers could do a very good job here).
We used the Field Guide to the Birds of the Middle East (by R F Porter, S Christensen, P Schiermacker-Hansen), the famous guide of Lars Jonsson (birds of Europe and the Middle East) and the new Collins Bird Guide. Unfortunately, we were too late to order Colin Richardsons guide birds of the United Arab Emirates (which seems to be very useful as it contains maps of the IBAs - ‘Interesting Birding Areas’).
A good advice is to use a Global Positioning System unit (GPS): We used the Magellan GPS 300 which proved to be very helpful in finding back our journey to different places such as nice spots for birdwatching, picture taking, lunching etc. In this report, you will find the coordinates of some important reference points. If you have a mobile phone which is operational in Europe, it will also function in the UAE; the company there is Etisalat. You can easily call on the highways, in the middle of the desert as you will see the many communication antennas at several places along the highway.
Flights and Visa
We took the British Airways flight BA 107 from London Heathrow (LHR) airport leaving on April 13th at 12:30 local time: the plane was a new Boeing B.777 (registration G-ZZZA). The flight took exactly 6 hours and 25 minutes. Price for an economy ticket "Brussels - LHR - Dubai - LHR - Brussels" was BEF 19,240 or 476 Euro’s. Flights are daily. When boarding the B.777, just have a look at the two GE engines, they are the biggest that you can find in the commercial aviation.
A Visa is necessary. There are three ways in obtaining this : (1) either you fly with Emirates Airlines - in this case, this airline is doing the necessary administration; (2) you stay in a hotel - in this case, the hotel does the administration; (3) either you stay with friends - in this case, your friends will be asked to do the necessary work. Obtaining a Visa only takes a couple of days. In any case, be sure you get a fax of your Visa before your departure, because you can only board the aircraft after showing your passport and a copy of the Visa. The Visa is, as mentioned in other trip reports, relatively expensive, totalling 500 Dhs (Dirhams) for two. One Dirham is equal to around 10 BEF or, for one US dollar, you get around 3.65 Dhs.
The time in the UAE is the time of Belgium +2 (or +3 in Winter).
Arrival in Dubai
Upon arrival in the Dubai arrival terminal, go immediately to the office at the left side which is delivering the Visa’s : Show your faxed copy and within minutes you will get the original Visa. Then, proceed with your passport and Visa to the passport control officers : There may be a long queue depending on the number of simultaneous arriving planes. Then, you can go immediately to the baggage claim area where your luggage may already be taken off the transport band due to possible delays at the passport control (we stayed there for at least 45 minutes).
Either you can take a taxi, or rent a car. We rented an AVIS category D car (Honda Civic / Toyota Camry class) for 252 Dhs per day. Make sure you book a car with airco ! Petrol is very cheap. Make also sure you check the condition of the car prior to departure (look for possible damage).
Driving in Dubai
The roads are excellent: to, from and in Dubai, you have 4 lane up to 6 lane highways. They are very clean. Roundabouts are important reference points: each roundabout has an architectural symbol, such as a little boat, a camel, an open book, etc. Be careful at these roundabouts as the locals are driving very fast and take their place on the road ! Each day, we have seen fresh accidents in the city. Once you are away from the city, traffic becomes simple and relaxing: the highways are really excellent and lighted at night. Alongside the highways, you will often find flowers and many trees, feeded by a genius watering system, even in the middle of the desert !
A small detail is that the weekend in the UAE starts on Friday while people start working again on Sundays.
Day 1 (April 14)
Visit of Khor Ajman (a Khor is a kind of water estuary / creek). We saw about 25 Flamingos, 4 Western Reef Herons, 3 Black-winged Stilts, and lots of waders such as Ringed Plovers. The coordinates of this place are 25°21’92"N(orth) and 055°27’78"E(ast). The only disappointing thing is that the area is spoiled by garbage. Fortunately (?), the birds don’t care.
Then we visited the Khor Dubai, or better known as the Creek. First, we visited the Dubai Creek Golf Course at 25°15’01"N and 055°19’64"E. You can have an excellent lunch outside at the border of the Creek. From there we crossed the Creek using the Al Garhoud Bridge at 25°13’91"N and 055°20’54"E to go to the Creekside Park (entrance fee) with coordinates 25°16’25"N and 055°17’71"E.
The parks and city grass zones are extremely well maintained and watered : as such, you may expect lots of birds in the parks, the Golf areas etc. We saw Collared Doves, Turtle Doves, Laughing Doves, Ring-necked Parakeets, Barn Swallows, Yellow-vented Bulbuls, Red-vented Bulbuls, the White-cheeked Bulbuls, the Common Mynah and lots of House Sparrows (they are much more common in the UAE than in our northern countries these days).
Day 2 (April 15)
Visit of the city: The Souk (25°20’79"N and 055°23’08"E), the Corniche road, and the old center with gold shops, herb shops and many places for souvenirs (25°16’25"N and 055°17’71"E).
Day 3 (April 16)
We visited the Emirate Umm Al-Qaiwain by driving north through the Emirate Ajman. We reached the beach at 25°29’66"N and 055°33’35"E where we saw Western Reef Herons, Grey Plovers and Crested Larks. Somewhat further you find the harbor at 25°35’42"N and 055°34’03"E where close to this point you find the Socotra Cormorants. We returned to the wonderful Kempinski Hotel at 25°25’43"N and 055°26’59"E for lunch and sunbathing enjoying many passing Terns and some Kentish Plovers, Gull-billed Terns, and Curlews.
Day 4 (April 17)
Trip to the Emirate Al Fujairah, situated east of Dubai at the coast of the Gulf of Oman. The best way is first to take the direction of the Sharjah International Airport (25°20’39"N and 055°27’47"E) and then continue direction DHAYD (at 25°16’97"N and 055°52’74"E) and MASAFI (at 25°17’96"N and 056°09’94"E): at Masafi, you will find alongside the road some markets (‘Friday markets’) : some kilometers further, you have to turn right direction Fujairah.
At the first roundabout in Fujairah (at 25°07’33"N and 056°19’17"E), you take the main "boulevard" to the coast / beach which you reach at 25°07’29"N and 056°21’45"E. For driving to Khor Kalba, famous for its White-collared Kingfishers, you turn right and follow the coast for about 12 kms. Along the coast, we saw thousands of gulls at 25°03’72"N and 056°21’59"E : Slender-billed Gulls, Sooty Gulls and many different Terns. You will reach the mangroves of Khor Kalba at 25°00’88"N and 056°21’62"E. There is a little bridge that is allowing you to go to the other side of the water. Do respect the free running camels !
We had our lunch at the nice Fujairah Hilton at 25°08’16"N and 056°21’41"E: lunch can be taken at the beach side in the shadow looking at the ocean (with dozens of tankers heading for the Street of Hormuz). On the garden grounds, we found the Indian Roller and the House Crow.
Day 5 (April 18)
Trip to Al Ain and Mountain Jabel Hafeet.
When located in Dubai or Sharjah, you need to cross the Creek with the Al Garhoud Bridge (25°14’04"N and 055°20’32"E), and head to the Interchange at the Wafi Centre at 25°13’70"N and 055°18’91"E. Turn left, direction Al Ain; at the left side, you will see the huge Wildlife and Waterbird Sanctuary that we visited in the evening. Then, you will enjoy an excellent highway (max 120 km/h) through the desert. You will also see the real desert landscape with sand dunes up to 200 meters high. Be ware of lonely camels. You approach Al Ain at the roundabout with the typical coffeepot (dallah) at 24°20’29"N and 055°48’31"E. You can bring a short visit to Al Ain.
From there, we continued south to the Mount Jabel Hafeet : an excellent road with many parkings brings you easily to the top of the mountain (1500 meters) that you reach at 24°03’46"N and 055°46’58"E. You will also see that a palace is being build on the top (private) while a new hotel is close to be finished (we guess by end 2000). The mountain has no grass, no trees, no flowers, but you can find the Egyptian Vulture, the Black / White Wheatears, Rock Doves and Brown-necked Ravens. From there, you will see the landscape which is mainly a desert area. Up north you will discover a green recreation area, called Ain Al-Faydah at 24°05’39"N and 055°43’24"E. We visited this later on. You will also pass the Zoo at Al Ain to be found at 24°11’33"N and 055°45’63"E.
As said, when we returned to Dubai, we also visited the Wildlife and Waterbird Sanctuary that you can find at 25°11’48"N and 055°18’61"E. Here we saw over 100 Flamingos, Grey Plovers, Bar-tailed Godwits, Oystercatchers, Greater Sandplovers, some Blue Herons, Great White Egret and many plovers such as the Kentish Plover.
Day 6 (April 19)
Day 7 (April 20)
Returning the Rental Car
You just drop the car on the public parking (there are no specific Rental Car parkings). You take a parking ticket and submit this with your keys and contract to the rent-a-car office located in the old terminal (where you have arrived). Then, you pay the sum.
Departure terminal: is situated in the brand new building. Check-in is at the first floor. Then go to the passport control to submit your original Visa and passport. Service is quick. Afterwards, you enter the really huge taxfree area (I guess the biggest one in the world).
We returned to London LHR airport with a British Airways B.777, registration G-VIIT (flight number BA 108) : the flight lasted 7 hours and 17 minutes.
A special thank to our friends Ayse and Sarven who gave us a lot of practical information for visiting the area in the best conditions.