Marhaba’s Guide to the Natural World and Nature Reserves in Qatar
Migratory birds are becoming increasingly attracted to Qatar since the introduction of parks, gardens and agriculture. Several species breed in Qatar before escaping the summer heat. Ornithologists have identified over 280 species of which 25 are year‐round residents. On the Al Khor coast there are gulls, cormorants and waders, geese, mallard and teal in the ponds and reeds. At Bir Zekreet you can see flamingos. Other popular places to spot birds are Arumaila Park, Doha Golf Club, Khor Al Adaid, Ruwais and Sealine Beach Resort. ‘Common Birds of Qatar’ by Fran Gillespie is the first guide to birds of this country, with over 400 photographs.
A desert safari is a must. Most local tour companies offer package tours, which vary in price depending on the size of the group, with overnight camps and sunrise desert safaris available. Take part in dune-bashing with a professional guide, stop for a swim and outdoor sports, and recharge with some barbecued food and refreshments. The overnight tour is at a desert camp with traditional Bedouin tents, filled with Persian carpets and plush cushions. Alternatively, set the alarm clock and travel out early to see the sun come out over the desert dunes.
Khor Al Adaid (The Inland Sea)
The Inland Sea is one of Qatar’s finest treasures and a tourist hotspot. Best undertaken in a four-wheel-drive to reach the country’s southernmost point – it’s also a good idea to go in a convoy and go with somebody who has been before. Enjoy the crescent-shaped sand dunes that rise above the shallow tidal lake. Local tour companies organise day trips and overnight camps and provide drives along the dunes, as well as picnics, barbecues, folkloric entertainment and occasionally, camel riding and sandboarding.
Oryx Farm (Almaha Sanctuary)
Enjoy seeing Arabian oryx at the Al Sheehaniya nature reserve. Once threatened with extinction, the graceful oryx were shipped in from Oman and now live and breed in Qatar, and Almaha Sanctuary is home to one of the largest herds. Known as maha in Arabic and referred to as al wodhi (the clear), because of its light colour, catching a glimpse of an oryx in the wild is rare, so arrange a visit with one of the local tour companies listed at the end of this section.
Scuba diving is a very popular pastime, given the clear and warm waters surrounding the country, and is the perfect way of getting up close and personal with the local marine life. Qatar is making strenuous efforts to protect the marine ecosystem. Vehicles, tyres and old building materials have been deposited on the sea bed to draw back marine life and over the last 20 years these man-made reefs have seen a resurgence in sea life. Various species can be seen, including: bottlenose dolphin; dugong (or sea cow); Hawksbill turtle; blue angelfish; long-spined sea urchin, sea squirt; surgeon fish; blue-spotted stingray; and ghost crabs.
Also read: Chapters of Life
Singing Sand Dunes
Stories of strange, low-pitched sounds in the sand have intrigued people for generations in Qatar and it’s one of the few places in the world it can be heard. The sound is caused by the friction when a thin layer of sand blows down the leeward side of the dune. The eerie resonant humming can be heard from up to 10 km away as it is amplified by the crescent shape of the barchan dunes. You can find the ‘Singing Sand Dunes’ 40 km southwest of Doha. Although the ‘singing’ occurs naturally, you can trigger it by sliding down the dune or running along its crest; you will be able to hear and feel the vibration. Take a large tray with you for an impromptu slide down the sand. Be warned – the sand is very hot during the summer.
Umm Tais National Park
There is a national park on the northeastern tip of Qatar on the uninhabited island of Umm Tais. The mangrove forests, beaches and varied geological structures, changing water levels and sea currents, provide a varied habitat that is teeming with marine and bird life. It also nurtures an important turtle‐nesting beach. For further information contact one of the local tour companies.
Author: Sarah Palmer
Photo description: This is the elusive Hawksbill turtle – let us know if you’ve seen one!
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