Birdwatchers in the UAE were pleasantly surprised to spot a very rare bird species in Dubai on May 29.
Known as the Basra Reed-warbler, the sparrow-sized bird has been listed as an endangered species by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). This is the second time that the rare bird was spotted in the UAE. The first time it was seen in the UAE was on April 26 in 2010.
Dr Reza Khan, an ardent birdwatcher and wildlife biologist based in the UAE for four decades, who has been following the bird, observing its ecology and behaviour since May 30, said: “Out of the nine species of Reed Warblers found in the UAE, Caspian and Clamorous Reed Warblers breed regularly while the others are migratory. However, Basra Reed Warbler is the rarest of all the Reed Warblers so far seen in the UAE because it has so far been sighted twice in the UAE.”
Sighting this warbler twice in the last 10 years indicate that it is a vagrant but a spring passage migrant to the UAE, Dr Khan said. “It was first sighted in Abu Dhabi’s Mushrif Palace Garden on April 26 by Oscar J Campbell and others and it was again spotted by Campbell who first spotted it at Bab Al Shams Desert Lake within the Al Marmoum Desert Conservation Reserve on May 29, 2020,” he said.
Elaborating on the rarity of the species, Dr Khan said: ” IUCN has registered Basra Reed Warbler as an endangered species in its Red Data Book because 90 per cent of its population is restricted to particular river marshland in Iraq. The numbers of this bird is now very few in the world, only few thousands left in Basra and a couple of hundred in the other parts of the world. So it is one of the rare species of birds in the world.”
Dr Khan added that sighting the Basra Reed Warbler twice in the UAE reflects that country’s habitats for this bird and other similar warblers are becoming attractive to migratory and resident warblers. “These man-made lakes with vegetation surrounding each and aquatic reeds enriching the habitats. These attracts insects and other invertebrates that are food for warblers. Also Reed beds provide shelter for the birds and perfect for building nests by the warblers in the reeds with the dry leaves and twigs of the reeds.”
He observed that the lone Basra Reed Warbler was 15-16 cm in length. ” The Great Reed is about 20 cm and Clamorours Reed Warbler is from 16 to 18 cm in length. Comparatively, its beak is longer and slimmer with downward bend of the upper beak, which distinguishes it from the rest of the larger reed warblers.