Rare UAE sighting of Radde's accentor excites birdwatchers

The small brown bird with black patches over its eyes and crown was only previously recorded in the Emirates in 2012

There has been a rare UAE sighting of Radde's accentor – a small bird that favours alpine habits.

The brown bird with black patches over its eyes and crown, which are separated by white eyebrow stripes, had previously been recorded only once in the Emirates, back in 2012.

It can be found from Turkey through to parts of Syria and Iran and as far east as Turkmenistan, but does not normally visit the UAE.

Radde's accentor – scientific name Prunella ocularis – breeds in rocky areas, near the treeline, in bushes and scrub.

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A few seconds later someone said it is one of the rarest. You have hit the jackpot
Reza Khan

Reza Khan, the former manager of Dubai Zoo, who is now principal wildlife specialist at Dubai Safari Park and Dubai Municipality, saw the bird in Wadi Shees Park in Khor Fakkan, Sharjah, this week. The park is a noted haven for flora and fauna.

He took a picture and shared it with his birdwatching friends on WhatsApp groups.

“A few seconds later someone said it is one of the rarest. You have hit the jackpot,” said Mr Khan, who was carrying out an official bird survey when he saw the Radde's accentor.

“I couldn’t identify it at the time as I didn’t have a book with me. It is very rare to find it here.”

It was still there on Friday, added Mr Khan.

Wadi Shees Park in Khor Fakkan is a haven for flora and fauna. Pawan Singh / The National

The species typically migrates from high altitudes to low altitudes in winter.

Mr Khan said the bird is classed as a vagrant by ornithologists. This means it was found outside of its normal range.

It could be that the bird was blown off course by a storm, has a faulty internal GPS, which steered it the wrong way or may have got confused due to the effects of climate change.

In the aftermath of Cyclone Shaheen, several species of birds which are not usually found in Oman visited the country, with white cranes, ospreys, flamingos and species of geese seen wading in the flood waters.

Radde's accentor is not the first vagrant species recorded in the UAE, Mr Khan said.

“A few years back, in 2018, I found an American bird,” he said.

Rare sighting of sociable lapwing in Abu Dhabi

And at the start of the month, a birdwatcher spotted a white-breasted kingfisher in Sila, on the UAE border with Saudi Arabia.

It was the sixth time the species had been recorded in the UAE. They are normally found from south China to Egypt.

Mr Khan said he went there to see if he could spot the kingfisher a couple of days later. He did not, but saw a brambling instead. It was only the third time the bird, a finch common in Europe and Asia, has been seen in the UAE.

Mr Khan said Sila is a particularly good birdwatching site because it is the first land birds reach after flying over the Arabian Gulf.

“We have recorded many birds there,” he said.

“Because when they cross that is the first place the birds see. They may be there for a few hours or for the day.”

The sighting of record numbers of another critically endangered bird in Abu Dhabi this year excited conservationists.

At least 34 sociable lapwings – scientific name Vanellus gregarius – were recorded at Al Maha Pivot Fields on February 16. This is almost three times the previous record, when 12 were sighted.

Numbers have declined more than 90 per cent since the 1930s, with just 24,000 left in the world.

Updated: December 18th 2021, 7:03 PM