Birding In Qatar

Birding In Qatar
 
Introduction
On the face of it, Qatar does not look much like a birding paradise: building works, roads, scrubby desert and 40 degree heat. Yet scratch just below the surface and there is a fantastic birding opportunity for anyone with an interest, a 4WD vehicle, and a pair of binoculars.
Every year, billions of birds undertake a migration from central and southern Africa to Eurasia, and back again. The eastward branch of that migration route is above the Arabian Peninsula. The heat and the aridity of the region make this a grueling journey. Food and water are in short supply, so any offerings, however meagre, are seized upon.
 
Half a century ago Qatar was little more than a collection of low-rise dwellings, centred around the fishing and trading port of Doha. There was virtually no greenery and no water above ground.
 
Since then the expansion of the city has been staggering, and it shows no sign of slowing down. While it is true that some habitats have been destroyed by new developments, others have appeared almost overnight. Parks and gardens abound. Lakes, ponds, golf course water features are commonplace.
The sight, and scent, of these areas must come as a huge relief to these migrant birds, and they make full use of these refueling stops.
 
Where to go
 
Birds are everywhere; you just need to look – and look again. Of course, all along the coast there are waders, gulls and other shore birds to be seen.
 
Parks and gardens are always promising areas, especially early morning before people are around. The MIA Park, Al Bidda Park and Aspire Zone are a few within Doha. Al Shamal Park just outside Al Ruweis can also be very productive.
 
Even residential areas such as The Pearl can be productive. I lived there for seven years, and in addition to lots of cormorants, herons and other wading birds along the shoreline, I have observed common kingfisher, ortolan bunting, hoopoe, francolin and grey wagtails.
 
The best birding is to be found around some of the larger farms and sewage lagoons. The latter may not sound an attractive proposition, but these lagoons have partially treated water in them, so the experience is not as unpleasant as one might suppose.
 
Farms, though, offer the widest variety of plant species, and it is here where birds in abundance are guaranteed. Access to many of the farms, however, is problematic at best.
 
One of the reasons that Irkaya Farm is so popular is that there is a security man on the gate who will allow access to people he can see are birders. So wave your binoculars or ‘Birds of Qatar’ at him and he will let you in. (An offering of food and other goodies can help in that respect.)
 
Please note that access on Friday is not allowed after about 9am and the gates close by 11am because of prayers. There are no such restrictions the rest of the week. Access during Ramadan is also possible without too many problems.
 
Irkaya Farm is approximately 40km southwest of Doha off the Salwa Road at 25.008209 51.179691. Access is via the sand processing plant at the end of a long track.
 
Once inside, zig-zag in and out of the tracks around the fields and water storage containers and you can occupy around three hours.
You will soon discover which birds favour which areas, but always pay attention to the trees just inside the entrance, as well as the storage tanks.
 
Lagoons, which feed the storage tanks of the farm are accessed by the track which branches off to the right, around 200m before the farm entrance.  Allow at least one hour around here, and you will be rewarded with a host of wading birds.
 
Access to the coast is not as easy as one might think. Many areas are fenced off, or access is restricted due to building development.
To the north of Doha, Simaisma on the west coast has a jetty which can be quite productive along with a beach area and a small park.
 
The Corniche at Al Khor is always worth a look when the tides are right, and the same can be said for Al Thakira. Here there are extensive mangroves, particularly on the far side. This whole area is best accessed with a kayak which can be launched from the slipway. Huge numbers of herons, terns and flamingoes may be found around this area, as far south as Purple Island.
 
The port and coast around Al Ruwais are good spots.
 
On the west coast, the Ras Abrouq peninsula, north of Zirkreet is worth exploring. On the other side of the water is Bahrain and there are several species there which have not been observed in Qatar yet, so there is always a chance of first sighting in Qatar.
 
The beach at Dukhan is worth a quick stop on the way to the beach at Um Babb, just to the left of the jetty. Grey hypocolius have been spotted here during the autumn migration.
 
Sealine Beach resort, south of Doha is also recommended
 
The birding year
 
Much is made of the spring (March to May) and autumn (September to November) migrations, but while it is possible to amass 60 to 70 species in a day during the spring and autumn, 35 to 40 species can be observed at the height of summer and the middle of winter.
 
What to see
 
Trust me, anything is possible. Rarities show up in the most unlikely places at almost any time. Many wading birds are resident for much of the year. Coots, moorhens and grebes can always be found on the lagoons. Many of the lark species are here all year round, so too, are the shrikes and wheatears.
 
Some of the larger raptors may be found here during the winter months. Greater spotted eagles and long-legged buzzards and eastern imperial eagles may hang around for anything from a day or two, up to a couple of months.
 
Barn swallows and pallid swifts appear from March, as do the bee-eaters.
 
The numbers tend to fall away in late May as the temperatures rise, but through the summer months there will still be visiting groups of bee-eaters – mainly European, but some blue-cheeked also.
 
Reference works
 
Qatar Birds Records Committee publishes the full list of birds observed in Qatar at qatarbirds.org. This site also allows you to submit observations to the records committee. Note that many of the expert birders listed here have now left Qatar.
 
Common Birds of Qatar by Eriksen, Eriksen and Gillespie is available in bookshops. It is not the most comprehensive guide, but the photographs and descriptions will more than suffice for the casual birder.
 
Simon Price was a birder and photographer who lived in Qatar for several years. He has an active website: https://simonsbirdingblog.weebly.com/ Although he is now based in South Africa, it is worth scrolling through previous years as he took many incredible images at Irkaya Farm and Doha Golf Course.
 
John Thompson has an excellent photographic record of Qatar’s birds here:  http://www.pbase.com/luckyjon/birds_of_qatar
 
Qatar e-Nature is also useful for identifying most flora and fauna in Qatar.
 
Caution required
 
While claiming no birding expertise, I am a master at getting my vehicle stuck. The marshy coastline is unforgiving. Drop just two wheels in, and getting out is extremely difficult. The same applies to the farms after recent rain, or where irrigations booms have caused the ground to become saturated.
 
There are breakdown services in Qatar. Make yourselves familiar with them. The police are very helpful. They may be able to give you a tow, or at least contact a breakdown service.
 
The farm workers are very helpful, and on more than one occasion I have been towed out of the mud by a tractor.
 
Best to always carry a shovel, tow rope, and far more water than you think you will need. Carry jump leads, too. Batteries fail in the heat. Personally, I always left the car to idle when in remote locations. OK, it did not do much for the planet, but it was one less thing to worry about.
 
Please also be aware that the shooting, trapping and netting of birds is common in Qatar. Thousands of birds are slaughtered each year. It may be largely illegal, and you can report it to the Ministry of the Environment, but it is best to avoid any direct conflict.
 
Qatar Natural History Group
 
QNHG has many members who have an interest in birding. It may be possible to arrange field trips with like-minded members.
Although many British and American birders have left, other nationalities have moved in to take their place. Through QNHG it may be possible to make contact with some of these newer arrivals.
In recent years, Qatar has become a transit stopover for international travelers. QNHG has tried to welcome these people and take them out to show them the delights of Qatar’s birding.
Email one of the committee members for any suggestions as to possible contacts.
 
Richard Angwin (rhangwin@gmail.com)
QNHG Committee member 2017-2018
Qatar resident and birder 2011-2018
 
Europeen Bee Eater 
 Socotra Cormorant
Irkaya Farm 
 
Flamingos 
 
Heron Indian Pond 
 
European Roller
 
Thrush Rufous-Tailed Rock (F) 
Wagtail Grey 
 
 
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