Birds of the United Arab Emirates


When I first met Simon Aspinall in 1991, during his initial visit to the United Arab Emirates, we became friends immediately. Not just because he was glowing in his appreciation of my book The Birds of the United Arab Emirates (whose title he obviously liked!), but because he had a quiet knowledge of all things natural and was able to appreciate and identify everything he saw, especially the birds. We soon became close friends and now, exactly 20 years later, he, together with Richard Porter, can be credited with this field guide to all the birds of the UAE.

The book was published just a few weeks before Simon's long illness sadly caught up with him, and following his death it now stands as a tribute to both his courage in the face of adversity and his enthusiasm for and knowledge of Middle East birds. This very quickly produced edition has come about thanks to generous funding from the Environmental Agency in Abu Dhabi. Clearly, that body’s funding opened the way to publish such a book of birds in a country with a relatively low population and virtually no native birdwatchers. It adds to the stack of references on the region's birds and is an offshoot of the second edition of the authors' Birds of the Middle East, published in 2010.

On the face of it, this book appears to be a simple cut and paste version, with all the relevant Middle East bird illustrations by John Gale, Mike Langham and Brian Small rearranged and inserted to make up this guide. There are, though, three extra plates comprising a selection of escapes and introductions, highlighting a trend by UAE residents to bring in a wide selection of exotic birds for their amusement, subsequently allowing many to escape without tags or markings. The text too is very recognisable, but slightly adapted from that in the Middle East guide to suit the UAE.

The book itself has many positive features: the text, maps and illustrations are all readable on the same facing pages, and the field and habitat descriptions are short and generally very accurate. It is a pleasure to find that many of the illustrations of European and Asian migrants are painted in the non-breeding plumages in which they occur in the UAE, although I think that many more first-winter examples would be useful. The unusual eastern subspecies are well covered too.

It is not always clear from the text how rare some migrant species are, for example whether they have been seen once or 20 times. And I feel the small-scale, Middle East-wide maps don't show the breeding range within the UAE in enough detail; nor is the wintering range shown. They are generally the same as those used in the authors' 2010 Middle East guide. Fortunately, this detailed breeding distribution is known, and covered in some of the reference books listed at the back, including my own book published in 1990. In my opinion the list of UAE references is much too short and doesn't concentrate enough on UAE literature, of which there is a huge amount available.

All 445 species seen in the Emirates are featured, including Grey Hypocolius, Crab Plover, Saunders' Tern and Hume's Wheatear, but incredibly the list is already out of date. Several new species have been added to the in 2011, including Asian Paradise-Flycatcher, Great Stone-curlew, Swinhoe's Storm-petrel and Franklin's Gull. Such is the nature of this dynamic country for birdwatchers, a great place to discover new species or simply to top up your life list – and this is the field guide to take with you on your next trip to the Emirates.

·      Birds of the United Arab Emirates by Simon Aspinall and Richard Porter (Christopher Helm, London, 2011).

·      240 pages, 102 colour plates, numerous maps.

·      ISBN 9781408152577. Pbk, £24.99. 

Available from Birdwatch bookshop