World’s rarest bird spotted in Abu Dhabi for the first time ever

Bird watchers are in luck as the migration season surrenders a rather unique feathered friend on an Abu Dhabi golf course.

Image: UAE National News Agency

One of the rarest birds in the world has been spotted on Saadiyat Beach Golf Course in Abu Dhabi by two members of the Emirates Bird Records Committee (EBRC).

Oscar Campbell and Simon Lloyd, the EBRC members, caught a glimpse of a Steppe Whimbrel, Numenius phaeopus alboaxillaris, an extremely rare sub-species of the widespread Whimbrel that regularly passes through the Emirates in spring and autumn.

The bird spotted here in Abu Dhabi was a juvenile that was born this year and is the first time a juvenile Steppe Whimbrel has been seen anywhere in the world.

Rarest of the five Whimbrel sub-species, Steppe Whimbrels are estimated to have a global population of only around 100 birds.

Steppe Whimbrels were first described in 1921 from a bird collected in Mozambique in 1906, although birds later shown to be of this sub-species had been collected in Russia as far back as the middle of the 19th Century. However, it was declared Extinct in 1994. A tiny population was re-discovered in its Southern Russia breeding grounds in 1997, with a few scattered confirmed records there up until 2009, but none since.

No more than 19 breeding pairs have ever been located, at three breeding sites, and the maximum number ever seen together is 11, which were on migration on the Caspian Sea.

In 2016, two wintering adult birds were found in Maputo, Mozambique. In subsequent years, sightings of only seven birds have been confirmed from Mozambique. In 2018, a single bird, fitted with a satellite tag, was tracked in 2018 northwards to Yemen, where the tag fell off.

The discovery by EBRC members Campbell and Lloyd, who are also teachers at the British School Al Khubairat, was made on 29 August 2020. The bird was re-found on 31 August by another EBRC member.

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