ABU DHABI // Nick Moran arrived in the capital nearly six years ago with a casual knowledge of some of the UAE's more well-known fine feathered friends, but left as an expert. And he proved it at the weekend, snatching the title of Bird Brain of Britain 2010. The competition was part of the British Birdwatching Fair, at Rutland Water Nature Reserve in the UK. Thousands of bird enthusiasts attend the annual event.
Mr Moran, 34, was pitted against three other candidates, first answering general questions and then moving onto his area of special interest: rare birds of the UAE. It was not a topic he was familiar with when he arrived in Abu Dhabi. "I knew some of the iconic species, but I did not know anything about the rare birds that are harder to spot," he said. This quickly changed, and Mr Moran became the secretary of the Emirates Bird Records Committee, a position he still holds from afar.
Yet he did not expect to win after being quizzed before an audience of 500 in the intense style of the British television show Mastermind, and he was surprised to take the top prize. "It is quite high-pressure and not something I imagined doing," he said. Mr Moran was representing the Ornithological Society of the Middle East, the Caucasus and Central Asia ? an all-volunteer organisation ? at the competition. His win earned the society £1,000 (Dh5,701) to spend on conservation projects in the region.
Since he left the UAE in July 2009, Mr Moran's life has taken a turn. Once the head of the biology department at the British School Al Khuibarat and an amateur bird watcher, he now works full time for the British Trust for Ornithology. "I stopped teaching," he said. "I changed my career completely." Although overseas, Mr Moran still keeps an eye on the UAE's bird conservation issues. "The number one pressure is development," he said. "This can involve flattening of areas of natural desert."
One species in particular that is being affected is the Hoopoe lark, known to scientists as Alaemon alaudipes. Once easy to spot, the lark is now a hard find. Destruction of estuaries, mudflats and mangroves is also an issue, Mr Moran said. "When these areas are reclaimed, the birds that live there have nowhere else to go," he said. "If you take the habitat away, it does not take any great science to be able to say that the birds will not be able to survive."