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Natural UAE


The island of Abu al-Abyadh, so named after its dazzling white appearance, lies about 90 km west of the capital, Abu Dhabi. At 35 km long by 15 km wide it is the largest island in the UAE. It is privately owned and there is no public access. Although very few people have ever been there, Abu al-Abyadh is one of the best known localities in the UAE, the crab plover (Dromas ardeola) colony here having featured in the recent BBC series The Life of Birds.

Crab plovers belong in a family of their own and have an unclear evolutionary and taxonomic relationship to other families. Feeding almost exclusively off crabs, as their name would suggest, and nesting colonially in burrows they excavate for themselves, the crab plover is a rare bird. The world population, from coordinated mid-winter (non-breeding season) counts, is estimated to be 44,000 individuals, although at the present time the total number of pairs at all known colonies accounts for only four or five thousand birds. Clearly a number of colonies have yet to be found. The co-occurrence of a suitable feeding area close to a sandbank able to support tunnels accounts for the rarity of the species, which is restricted to the north-west Indian Ocean during the breeding season. Outside the breeding season, birds disperse as far as to Malaysia and South Africa, although most birds winter in Arabia itself, or in India and Kenya and Tanzania (in the latter countries involving birds from Red Sea colonies).

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