Desert Birding

by Peter Barto on September 10th, 2013

Peter at the SanctuaryAh, the beginning of a new adventure! Always an exciting time. The first part of my trek involved a couple of days spent in the United Arab Emirates, in the city (and emirate) of Dubai. Located in the desert of the Arabian Peninsula and along the shores of the Arabian/Persian Gulf, Dubai is an interesting story – it’s incredible growth over the last few decades is well-documented, as well as its amazing, and quite manufactured, displays of prosperity.

Greater FlamingosOne of the unique aspects of this desert area is Khor Dubai, or Dubai Creek, a saltwater creek that pours in from the Gulf and runs northeast-southwest through the city. Over time the Creek has served as a minor port for dhows doing trade as far as India and East Africa. After winding through the city, the Creek ends over 8.5 miles down at the Ras Al Khor Wildlife Sanctuary. Translating as “Cape of the Creek”, Ras Al Khor is a wetland reserve and a vital area for migratory birds, probably best known as home to over 500 Greater Flamingos (Phoenicopterus roseus).

These wetlands support many other species of migratory birds, as well as crustaceans, small mammals and fish. The City of Dubai has taken great efforts to protect and preserve the biodiversity of this delicate ecosystem – first by fencing off the wetland, and the creation of three birding hides. These bird hides are a first step towards development of a more elaborate visitor education facility in the protected area (the WWF U.A.E. collaborated with Dubai’s Environment Department in creating the facility).

WetlandsAfter seeing the Burj Khalifa (tallest building in the world), the well-worn souks, the indoor ski runs and other icons of this desert metropolis, the sanctuary was a welcome diversion. We staked out one of the blinds and watched the flamingos taking off and landing – quite a sight. Egret, spoonbill, ibis and cormorant also stalked the area, with heat-shimmers giving a surreal aspect to the view.

If any of you find yourselves traveling to this desert city, I highly recommend visiting the reserve – there’s no gold to be found there but many treasures indeed!Dubai Birds