Bordered on three sides by the Arabian (Persian) Gulf and on its fourth (southern) side by Saudi Arabia, Qatar is a small desert state comprising mainly stone (jebel) desert and more limited areas of dune. It is one of the hottest countries in the world with summer temperatures above 50 degrees Celsius, and is certainly one of the driest, being the only country in the world with no natural standing fresh water. More than 90 per cent of the country’s land surface is saline, being inhospitable to all but the most halophytic of plants.
Despite this harsh, salty, hot and arid environment, Qatar can provide excellent birding from August through to May. Geographically, the peninsula of Qatar juts some 150 km northwards into the Arabian Gulf. The right wind conditions in spring, autumn and even winter can bring thousands of migrants flooding into the country.
People and 'progress'
The State of Qatar has an indigenous population of 250-300,000, supplemented by an immigrant workforce of more than 1.5 million. Oil and, especially, natural gas have fuelled Qatar’s meteoric development from poor, sleepy pearl fishing backwater to a modern affluent society with international investment interests and political ambitions. Per native capita, it is the richest country in the world.
Rapid development has created a stereotypical Middle Eastern landscape of skyscrapers and multi-lane highways. It has also brought parks, gardens, farms and freshwater lagoons – all sustained by partially treated effluent discharged from the bustling cities of Doha and Al Khor.
Birds and wildlife
As for birds, claims of the historic occurrence of exotic species such as Arabic Ostrich are now considered erroneous, though there is no doubt that the now extirpated Macqueen’s Bustard was once a regular winter visitor.
Urban areas now host the typical array of invasive, introduced and opportunistic Arabian-Asian species, including White-eared and Red-vented Bulbuls, the ubiquitous Common Myna, House Sparrow (of the eastern indicus group), Indian Silverbill, Laughing & Eurasian Collared Doves, Alexandrine & Ring-necked Parakeets and the occasional House Crow (which thankfully has yet to gain a strong foothold in the country).
In rural areas, characterised by seemingly unending miles of stone desert with scattered sprawling pivot farms, commonly found species include Spanish Sparrow, Namaqua Dove, Corn Bunting, Crested Larks and Grey Francolin. Of particular interest to the visiting birdwatcher will be resident and passage species such as Arabian Grey Shrike, Greater Hoopoe and Desert Larks, Lilith Owl, Indian Reef and Striated Herons, Indian Reed Warbler, Ferruginous Duck, Graceful Prinia, Green-backed (African) Swamphen, four forms of Stonechat, Rufous-tailed Scrub Robin – plus of course some key target birds such as the Arabian endemic Socotra Cormorant, Menetries’s Warbler, Red-tailed Wheatear, Crab Plover, Cream-coloured Courser, Saunder’s and White-cheeked Terns, Black-crowned Sparrow-lark and the notoriously unpredictable (Grey) Hypocolius.
The peak periods to visit Qatar for birding are September-November and February to April, though birding can be good any time between August and May.
All sites mentioned below are publicly accessible, though as with anywhere in the Middle East you should use common sense and respect local customs, and avoid birdwatching and photography near sensitive buildings/areas.
Although ear-marked for development, this is currently Qatar's only major area of ‘hospitable’ freshwater. As well as wintering herons and ducks in abundance, the site holds waders, gulls, terns and passage migrants. Breeding birds include herons, Indian Reed Warblers and African (Green-backed) Swamphen. In winter, small numbers of Socotra Cormorants mingle with tens of thousands of Great Cormorants. Warning: Do not venture along the prison side of the lagoons or you are likely to be asked to show ID papers and to move on.
Al Khor and Al Thakira
The east coast conurbations of Al Khor and Al Thakira nestle on the shore of a large lagoon and harbour with extensive stretches of dense mangrove. The mangroves undoubtedly hold good numbers of birds but are extremely difficult to explore and often unproductive. In winter, hundreds of herons and waders are present in the lagoon, accompanied by gulls and terns. Al Khor Corniche (promenade) and Al Thakira slipway provide good vantage points for scanning the mudflats and water.
Fuwairit Beach and sandbar
In winter, large numbers of terns and many gulls gather on the low tide sand bar. Pallas’s and Steppe Gulls predominate, along with Lesser Crested Terns. The nearby lagoon provides shelter for herons, roosting waders and terns. In spring and autumn, migrants can be found in the village, mangroves and salt marsh scrub surrounding the lagoon. Socotra Cormorant can be seen all year round in small numbers.
Qatar's premier biodiversity hotspot whose pivot fields and surrounding 'jebel' desert have produced 238 species of birds, representing some 76% of all species recorded in Qatar. Access to the farm is currently being formalised, though birders may continue to arrive ad-hoc and will be allowed entry. The farm is soon to come under full protection of the Ministry of Environment and will be declared a national wildlife refuge. Unfortunately, locals regularly attempt to access the farm to hunt and trap the abundant seasonal wildlife. Although quiet in the stiflingly hot summer months, the farm is worth visiting anytime from August (although it is still very hot and humid at this time) through to May. Regular sights include dozens of harriers of three species, six species of lark as well as migrant pipits, chats, thrushes, warblers etc. There is also an an interesting selection of breeding species such as Rufous-tailed Scrub-Robin, Lesser Short-toed Lark, Red-wattled Lapwing, Arabian Grey Shrike (of the form aucheri – formerly Southern Grey Shrike) and Lilith Owl.
Khor Al-Adaid (The Inland Sea)
Currently listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site, Khor Al-Adaid (aka Khor Al Udeid) is lauded by travel agencies as a top tourist attraction. If dune bashing is your thing, then maybe it is worth a visit; but do not go there expecting to see lots of wildlife, especially birds. Apart from a few distant Greater Flamingos and the odd pair of nesting Western Ospreys, the area offers little of real interest to the visiting birder. Do not be mislead by articles describing thousands of birds; these are written by those who have never picked up a pair of binoculars, let alone birdwatched in the area!
Sealine Beach Resort
A daily admission fee is payable for entry to this hotel resort and its extensive grounds, which stand like an isolated green emerald on the east coast amidst hundreds of square miles of desert and dunes. In spring and autumn, the manicured gardens, football pitches and 'wild' areas of scrub, bushes and trees within the hotel grounds can produce a quite exhilarating day's birding. Falls of migrants in the spring are regular, and these can bring hundreds of wagtails, pipits, buntings, chats, thrushes and warblers, along with shrikes, bee-eaters, rollers and harriers. In autumn, bird numbers are smaller but the quality is high, with the emphasis on rarities…
This picnic area on the west coast is a somewhat disappointing sight to behold, being heavily littered and soiled with the detritus of human beach goers. But in the palms and trees can be found migrants, in both spring and autumn. In fact, this whole stretch of coastline is worth exploring when birds are on the move north or south. The star bird is Hypocolius, which occurs in small flocks, albeit unpredictably on its journeys to and from Saudi, Bahrain and Iran. Occasionally, groups overwinter, though this phenomenon is becoming increasingly rare. Socotra Cormorant can often be seen offshore in small numbers.
Number of Species
Number of bird species: 316
Fatbirder's very own checklists are now available through WebBirder
A Birdwatcher's Guide to Qatar
by Oldfield Colour & b/w illustrations, maps, 111pp 1994 Paperback
Common Birds of Qatar
By Hanne Eriksen, Jens Eriksen and Frances Gillespie | Published by the Authors & Distributed by NHBS | Softcover | 2011 | 248 pages, 400 col photos, dist maps
See Fatbirder Review
ISBN: 9789948157472Buy this book from NHBS.com
The Birds of the Middle East
Richard Porter and Simon Aspinall | Christopher Helm | Paperback | Aug 2010 | Edition: 2 | 384 pages | 176 colour plates | 636 colour distribution maps
ISBN: 9780713676020Buy this book from NHBS.com
Guides & Tour Operators
Local birders willing to show visiting birders around their area…
CloudBirders was created by a group of Belgian world birding enthusiasts and went live on 21st of March 2013. They provide a large and growing database of birding trip reports, complemented with extensive search, voting and statistical features.
2014 [03 March] - David Karr
On arrival at the locked gate, I sighted a small flock feeding on the ground. These were Namaqua Doves, which immediately flew off once I had alighted from Wayne’s vehicle. I was soon to learn from Wayne that birding from a vehicle was almost mandatory as most species spooked once they spot a biped…
Most of Qatar, with its flat desert and scanty vegetation, supports only a sparse and restricted avifauna. Of 255 species recorded in the country, about 23 breed, 78 are winter visitors and 104 are more-or-less regular migrants; the rest are vagrant or are rarely recorded…
Friends of the Environment Centre
FEC is striving in collaboration with the Government, NGOs and the Private Sector to achieve better bird conservation goals through field surveys, and offering effective environmental educational and awareness programmes focusing on students, families and local communities .
Qatar Bird Club
…the page on the Natural History Group that deals with the Qatar Bird Club. It gives notices of meetings and lists the newsletters published…
Qatar Bird Records Committee (QBRC)
The recognised authority for the recording of wild birds in Qatar, QBRC reviews submissions from visiting and resident birders and maintains the Qatar List. The three-man committee comprises Jamie Buchanan (National Recorder), Simon Tull and Neil Morris (Secretary)….
Qatar Natural History Group (QNHG)
A friendly international membership group whose interests span culture, social history, the natural world and archaeology in Qatar. Monthly evening seminars are supplemented by field outings led by local resident experts….
Forums & Mailing Lists
To post to list: firstname.lastname@example.org
List contact: email@example.com
To subscribe to list: firstname.lastname@example.org
Open to visiting and resident birders (though you will need to sign up and be approved by the administrator), this is an informal forum designed to share news of sightings and help birders connect with each other. Qatarbirding is not intended for discussions about captive birds, falconry, or the hunting of birds…
Simons Birding Blog
Birding blog and photographic record of wildlife in Qatar…
The government has placed increased emphasis on the conservation of biologicalresources. The marine and terrestrial eco-systems of Qatar includes several importantspecies of flora and fauna of bio-diversity value, a few of which are believed to bethreatened and endangered…
Photographers & Artists
Photographer - Dileep Anthikad
Photography facilitated me to see the world around me from a different angle and portrays it in a natural and unique way…
Photographer - John Thompson
Probably the best single collection of bird images from Qatar published online.
Photographer - Neil Morris
Fine photographs of birds and other fauna from British birder currently resident in Qatar…