Last stop for Asia in my celebration of nature on the seven continents is Sir Bani Yas Island where the arrival of colorful birds inspires migratory ponderings.
Gazelles were strewn across the lawn, munching their way through dinner en route to wherever it was they disappeared for the evening. A Western Yellow Wagtail followed the pack, gleaning insects disturbed by the gazelles’ grazing. A Eurasian Hoopoe flitted in and out of the mix, hopping through the grass briefly before returning to the foliage above. Barn swallows swooped across the swimming pool’s surface while House Sparrows and White-eared Bulbuls alighted at the infinity edge, all sipping delicately from this man-made waterhole. It was as I watched these evening norms that I noticed a new visitor to the Al Sahel Villa oasis on Sir Bani Yas Island in Abu Dhabi.
It was bigger and sharper than other birds I’d seen and it glowed yellow as it pirouetted across the sky. This was something new. Perhaps a European Bee-eater? I’d heard mention that the first of the winter visitors had arrived this week. I followed my elusive avian guide away from the reception area and into the mosaic of trees and sand behind a row of guest villas. The individual I followed blended into distant branches. Before I could pursue, a different bird alighted from a nearer tree. And then another, and another. It wasn’t exactly a cloud of them, but there were several. At any one time there were a couple to a few flashing their colors across the sky while the rest blended into the tree tops, their brilliant colors muted in the shadows and their long sharp bills helping them to look as branches themselves.
My bee-eater wanderings took me to a hillock where I could see the sun sinking toward the ocean. It was a brilliant red, pink and orange globe that, like the birds, was gaudy in the sky but muted as it sank toward the shadows below. The sun’s circular base simply disappeared above the horizon until it had blended to nothingness. The birds too had now disappeared. Only a few tardy gazelles remained, making their way through the shadows to their noctural abodes. All of them – the gazelles, the bee-eaters, the sun – on a cyclical migratory journey.
A loudspeaker crackled in the distance and a deep voice began the evening prayer. The Arabic words were still foreign to me but the chanted rhythm was now familiar, the pattern repeated at dawn, mid-day, and now. Cyclical journeys. Humans were not beyond this concept and there was something soothing about the notion. I gazed once more at the darkening horizon and turned toward my own evening domicile.
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