Afghanistan Analysts Network – English

Context and Culture

Flamingo Watching in Dubai

AAN Team 2 min

‘Listen to the birds. That’s where all the music comes from.’ (The first of Captain Beefheart’s 10 Commandments of Guitar Playing) ‘If you can’t listen to them, watch them at least. It gives you some peace of mind after watching the war.’ (AAN Senior Birdwatcher Thomas Ruttig)

No, the Emirates are not only megahigh-rises, never-ending shopping malls and six-lane freeways. Apart from some development in arts (see the Dubai galleries or the second wing of the Sharjah Art Museum with an interesting collection, confronting installations by Iranian artists with old Quran manuscripts), astonishingly there is also some interesting bird watching in the middle of that city.

Okay, it is still Dubai-like: In a place called Ras al-Khor, at the upper end of Dubai Creek, the Environmental Department has erected two watch-huts only a few meters from the highway to Hatta at the Omanian border. They can be reached through some reed-covered walkways, barely 100 meters long. (Some broschures say you need to register for access a few days before you go but that is not the case. You just drive there and walk the few meters.)

An UAE policeman, from India of course, hands us good binoculars and even a stronger long-glass. But even without, you can see a large colony of flamingos, with the Dubai skyline in the background. What a contrast, but still beautiful. Mainly because the birds are apparently not disturbed by that kind of environment, with another large construction project not too far away, The Lagoon, that had alarmed environmentally concerned inhabitants of Dubai as I read in a local newspaper recently. But it is calm for the time being – another victim of Dubai’s burst bubble crisis. We are told that some 2,700 birds have been counted at Ras al-Khor this year, the highest number ever. Some of the birds, we are told, are migratory (to Turkey) while others have settled down in Dubai. (Read our earlier blog on the lost flamingos of Afghanistan here.)

They are Greater Flamingos, with streaks of scarlet feathers on the white rump, long pink legs and the characteristic, banana-like beak in the same colour. We see some flying in majestically and groups of others walking off in a long file. Unfortunately, some junk is floating on the lagoon, plastic bags etc. Later, driving to the hotel, it becomes obvious that groups of flamingos dot a long shallow stretch of the creek all along that highway.

We are told that there are also birds of a second, smaller flamingo species but we did not see any. But they are not breeding here. Apart from the flamingos, we see spoonbills, different kinds of egrets and herons (white, grey, reef), some species of waders, buzzards, ducks and ibises (most probably the Glossy Ibis who is actually brown). Bulbuls contribute some sweet sound from the bushes just outside the lookout.