Each year, nearly two million birds wing their way to the UAE. Many of them land at Al Wathba Wetland Reserve, around 40km from the centre of Abu Dhabi, where they join local feathered friends in a protected oasis.
Diversity is the draw here: there are more than 250 species of bird to see, as well as some 37 plant species and an abundance of aquatic life. The reserve’s most impressive population, however, has to be its flamboyant greater flamingos. More than 4,000 of the gangly pink birds call Al Wathba home in spring and autumn, and the number is rising each year.
The striking phenomenon certainly makes for a good photograph, but little compares to experiencing the birds up close. What particularly can’t be conveyed in an image is just how noisy these creatures are, as they communicate through loud honking calls.
You can learn about the reserve at the visitors’ experience centre, but the best way to explore it is on one of its two trails (1.5km and 3km). You’ll make your way through salt flats, fossilised sands and dunes, passing by incredible birds such as the black-winged stilt or the crested lark as you go. The longer loop only takes about 45 minutes to walk and gives you a better view of the flamingo herd.
The creation of Al Wathba Wetland Reserve was a happy accident. In the late 1990s, the Al Mafraq water treatment facility leaked and flooded the surrounding area. The water was the ideal habitat for brine shrimp, which in turn attracted flamingos and other birds. The wetland reserve was established by the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan and is the first area in the emirate designated for protection by law so everyone – from experienced ornithologists to anyone who appreciates natural beauty – can continue to enjoy it, not least our feathered friends.
Al Wathba Wetland Reserve opens to the public from 1st October subject to the flamingos’ breeding season until the end of April. You can visit on Thursdays and Saturdays from 8am to 4pm (last entry at 2pm). There aren’t any visitor facilities so bring your own drinks and snacks. More information is available here.