Reward for plover lovers on birdwatching trip to the UAE

Rick and Elis Simpson toured the UAE this week, in search of the crab plover on their year-long birdwatching quest.

Elis Simpson and Rick Simpson, watching the Crab Plover at one of the sites near E 11 road in Umm Al Quwain. Pawan Singh/The National
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UMM AL QUWAIN // The call of the crab plover drew intrepid bird enthusiasts Rick and Elis Simpson to the UAE this week, and they were amply rewarded.

The UK couple have just embarked on a year-long journey to view wading birds in 15 countries on six continents.

They have identified one species in each country that they particularly want to see. In the UAE, that was the crab plover. This black-and-white specimen has long grey legs and a distinctive black bill. Crab plovers breed on remote islands off Abu Dhabi and, uniquely among waders, build their nests in burrows they dig in the sand.

Many of the birds spend the rest of the year on the crab-rich tidal wetlands of Khor Al Beidah at Umm Al Quwain, one of the very few places in the world where the species can be seen easily.

The Simpsons recruited Dubai expert Tommy Pedersen to take them there and guide them to the birds on Wednesday morning.

A large flock of gulls came into view on the water as the three continued along the shore. Suddenly another large flock could be seen - and, to the delight of the Simpsons, Mr Pedersen confirmed that they were crab plovers.

"It was a dream come true," said Mr Simpson, 54, a writer. "To see them as well as we did makes your knees tremble and your heart stop, and you just want to punch the air and go, 'Yes!'"

The pair began their Wader Quest on November 1, travelling to Thailand before the UAE. They are funding the trip themselves and their aim is to raise awareness of the plight of waders, many of which are threatened globally as their habitats are developed.

Other birds they saw at Umm Al Quwain included Eurasian oystercatchers, dunlins, bar-tailed godwits, grey plovers and a huge osprey.