For a couple of years now, I have been chasing a bogey bird whenever I visit Dubai. The Arabian Babbler is a reasonably common bird with a preference for arid, scrubby areas. The best place to find them in Dubai is Mushrif Park, slightly west of the international airport, but four visits there had so far been unrewarded by Turdoides squamiceps.
Whilst this would be my fifth visit to the park, the babbler had been relegated to “hopefully also”, rather than the prime target bird on two of the previous visits, so this was to be my third targeted attempt to find them.
Mushrif Park can be productive on its day and Green Bee-eaters are reliable enough to brighten up a dull day. House Sparrow, Eurasian Collared Dove and Laughing Dove are abundant and vie to distract the eye at every turn. There is a paved road with an accompanying cycle path that describes a circle around the park. A couple of roads cut back through the circle to the central area which boasts a fast food restaurant, a mosque and toilets.
But this is not a tale of adversity or heroic feats to attain a prize, I walked about 400 meters before spotting a couple of birds with cocked tails shading beneath a bush. This is the classic signature that I had been hoping for and I spent the best part of 45 minutes watching a small group interacting. There were at least three birds, but possibly four or even five.
Arabian Babblers live in co-operative groups usually consisting of a breeding pair and their offspring. The offspring remain and help out raising subsequent broods. More complex groups form when potential breeding males and/or females join. Status within the group is determined by the breeding pair and productive activity, such as feeding the new brood, grooming and helping to defend the territory can enhance standing within the group.
Most experts would have us believe that the diet consists of invertebrates, small vertebrates such as geckos and lizards, berries and seeds. After my extensive observations, I can add chicken, corn-on-the-cob and onions to that list.
Mushrif Park is a popular picnic and barbecue destination with facilities dotted liberally around the park. A few scraps are inevitably left behind and the babblers were looking to take advantage of the easy pickings.