Linda and I go back 29 years to when we were neighbors in Baldwinsville, a town just north of Syracuse, New York, in snow country. Linda was relatively new in the neighborhood and spotted me across the street, 9-months pregnant with Jeff. I was not easy to miss! I remember hearing the doorbell ring one afternoon, and when I answered it there was Linda who, after introducing herself, gave me a little gift for the baby, a small quilted teddy bear in an embroidery hoop frame. It hung on Jeff's door for years, and I still have it tucked away.
Our children are close in age, so Linda and I volunteered for many PTA events together. We drove our daughters through snow and ice to skate in Fulton, and we hung out at her backyard pool together for many a Summer. Several years in a row we took a weekend Girl Trip: the first to New York City, another to Concord, Mass, and then after Linda had moved to Cary, North Carolina, we met up for a weekend in Ashville.
Once Linda's girls were in college, she and her husband moved back home to California, and Linda and I continued with cross-continental visits. She came to NYC for a theater weekend, and the next year I flew to Napa and toured the wine country with her. She came back to NYC for another theater weekend, and I flew to San Francisco where she and Randy had relocated.
In the Fall of 2005 Doug and I and Linda and her husband, Randy, rendezvoused in Paris for a 10-day trip that took us from Paris to London to Tournai (Belgium) and then back again to Paris. By this point Linda's pastime of looking at birds had developed into a serious hobby. Throughout the trip she was always on the lookout for birds, which amused us all no end. Her excitement drew us in, and it was fun.
A few years later Linda, now an avid birder, invited me on a birding trip to Panama. She booked a 10-day guided trip with a handful of other birders that took us from the shores of Panama, to jungle trails along the Panama Canal, to the cool Highlands, and finally to a cloud forest on the slopes of the dormant volcano, Baru, on the Costa Rican border. It was absolutely amazing.
So I guess I should not have been surprised that Linda would, without hesitation, book a flight to come visit me in the U.A.E. As she pointed out over lunch a few days ago, we do have a history of meeting up in some interesting places.
So without further ado, here are a few highlights of Linda's visit to the United Arab Emirates:
After visiting the Falcon Hospital we went to the Grand Mosque, and Linda loved it. The sun came out enough so that the water in the surrounding reflecting pools sparkled, and the white marble of the mosque dazzled.
But the excursion Linda most looked forward to was a visit to the Ras al-Khor Wildlife Sanctuary in Dubai. We'd Googled "birding in the U.A.E.", and this location came up as one of the best spots to find a variety of birds. Supposedly there was a bird blind complete with a Leica telescope on the sight. We booked a car service for the day, and at 8:30 a.m. the driver arrived to take us to Dubai.
The directions from the website were pretty sketchy as I've discovered is often the case in this part of the world. We had a map we'd printed off the website, but it was not terribly good either. It turned out our driver's English was so-so at best, so we explained as best we could that we wanted to see birds. The driver didn't say a word to that, but I could his eyebrows lift. Most people go to Dubai to shop at one of the duty-free over-the-top malls, and I would bet the farm we were the first clients ever to say we wanted to go to Dubai to find birds. We showed him the map and the directions, and when we said "Ras al-Khor" he said he knew where that was.
One and a half hours later we found ourselves in Old Dubai along the Dubai Creek. The creek, which is really an estuary, dead-ends in the wildlife sanctuary, about 8 km. from the coast. We knew we were close, so Linda and I were hopeful. We could see gulls gliding above the creek which was filled with the most incredible array of old, wooden dhows piled high with cargo. We drove on, and then, to our surprise, the driver circled around and headed back. We told him to wait, that this was NOT the sanctuary. Clearly he was confused. We pulled out the map once again and pointed, and he told us that "no", that area was all built up. Linda, who would not be denied her birds, declared that she'd seen a bird report from a short while ago, and that there was in fact a wildlife refuge somewhere!
So off we went along the highway. The driver pointed to the right where the creek opened up into a shallow pond with mudflats. We could barely see anything for the high construction fence blocking the view. He was right about the construction - there was lots of it. We drove on, and I was beginning to despair when suddenly the fence stopped, and I could see the wetlands. Then just ahead I spotted an unmarked turn-off mostly obscurred by trees and bushes, so I told the driver to take it. As we pulled in I saw trash cans with pictures of pink flamingos on them. "This is it!" Linda and I yelled in unison.
There are flocks of Greater Flamingos and Eurasian Spoonbills in the distance. Closer in you can see herons and egrets (Great and Little) on the left.
We saw a pair of Marsh Harriers skimming along the tree-tops, but the best bird of all for me was a magnificent eagle that flew in and landed right in the middle of all the other birds. I was stunned that its arrival did not cause the others to take flight, but not a single one seemed to care. It sat still for quite a long time, so Linda and I got beautiful views, but we were so enthralled we forgot to take a photo. I am going to cheat and paste an image (below) pulled from the web so you can what this bird looks like.
All in all, Linda and I saw 29 different species of bird on our Dubai Day Birding Trip, and she added 4 new species to her Life List.
For her last day, Linda and I mostly talked and talked. We had a leisurely lunch, she shopped for gifts at the Central Souk, and we just hung out.
Linda took the red eye home last night, and as I type this she is on the last leg of her trip, flying from Amsterdam to San Francisco. I was amused to see her Facebook post from Amsterdam where she said was birding out the airport window, trying to identify a particular gull.
I don't know when I will next visit with Linda or where it will be. But one thing I can guarantee is that no matter where it is we meet up, some birding will happen.