Dubai is more than just a most desirable hotspot for the touring millions that hit the city each year – it’s also a default destination of migrating birds of every description! Can anyone imagine that just a little distance away from the glamorous city are ancient wetlands containing a wildlife haven? It’s true – Ras Al Khor Wildlife Sanctuary is a precious protected bird sanctuary that’s home to over 20,000 water birds belonging to more than 67 species. Want to know more?
Dubai’s Amazing Wetland Wildlife Haven!
Ras Al Khor Wildlife Sanctuary Dubai is a blissful 6-kilometer-long mixed stretch of intertidal mudflats, salt flats, lagoons, scrub lands and ancient mangroves. Situated right at the mouth of the Dubai Creek, this sanctuary provides a safe home to birds that come to Dubai to winter. What’s more, this enchanting bird sanctuary also has over 500 species of flora and fauna!
For any avid birdwatcher, this bird sanctuary is a real treat. There’s no better sight than watching the sky turn pink when thousands of pink flamingos take to the heavens at sunset. Arm yourself with a pair of binoculars and watch 170 bird species that stop over here on the east African–west Asian flyway.
The Bird Watching Hides Of Ras Al Khor!
Two platforms, or hides as they’re called, have been built complete with binoculars, so that visitors can enjoy watching the birds feeding and taking flight. The two hides are open to visitors from Saturday to Thursday, from 9 A.M. to 4 P.M. Note that the hides are completely fenced in. There is no direct access except via the set routes.
The Flamingo Hide: The flamingoes roost close to the hide, including the elusive Greater Flamingo, so you get to have a good view. Watch the flamingoes feed voraciously as they are fed by hand by the park rangers in the afternoon. The flamingos are good about sharing their reserve with other bird species such as grey herons, eagles, marsh harriers, avocets, pintails, ringed plovers, teal, kingfishers, snipe and spoonbills. These birds flock the hide to feast on the delicious queen fish and the meter-long milk fish that throng the nutrient-rich waters. Look up towards the Zabeel fish ponds and you can watch the Great Spotted Eagles and other raptors soaring overhead.
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The Mangrove Hide: This hide overlooks the rich mangrove forest on the southern edge of Ras Al Khor. The Mangrove Hide has a full-time guard to watch over the birds. The roosting birds wade into the water to catch their fish, directly under the mangroves. A fabulous Leica telescope is made available from 10 A.M. to 3 P.M. for visitors. The Mangrove Hide is a great place for wading birds such as the Pacific Golden Plovers and Broad-billed Sandpipers. The Broad-billed Sandpipers visit the Mangrove Hide from April to July.
You might get to see more than 403 birds at the Mangrove Hide during peak summer, though many species can be missing for long periods. Raptors roam over the Mangrove Hide parking lot, and Greater Spotted Eagles are usually available to watch from October to April. Several rare birds have been spotted here over the years – the Red-crested Pochard, Demoiselle Crane, Great Crested Grebe, Lesser Spotted Eagle, and the Pied Kingfisher.
How And When To Visit Ras Al Khor
If you’re traveling solo or with a group smaller than 5 members, you don’t need a permit to visit the sanctuary. However, all media members, group tours, organizations and academic institutions need to obtain a permit from www.dm.gov.ae in advance of the visit.
It’s best to apply at least three days prior to the visit, as the organizers require at least two working days to process your permits. Apply directly to the Marine Environment & Wildlife Section, Environment Department, Dubai Municipality. Once you receive the electronic permit, print it out, and provide a copy to the sanctuary staff when you arrive.
Visiting The Sanctuary:
To get to the sanctuary, grab a taxi or rent a car from the closest Metro station. Drive along the Dubai to Hatta main motorway (E44), and then head towards Al Ain on E71. Watch out for signposts for Hatta, and then turn back on the Dubai – Hatta Road, towards Dubai. Watch out for a turnoff to the sanctuary from the 4-lane highway along the way, and enter into it.
It’s best to visit the Mangrove Hide during low tide, when the mangroves are above the water. Any time of the day is suitable, as long as the tides are low. You can walk or drive to the Flamingo Hide from the Mangrove Hide, a distance of 2.73 km. However, it is not permitted to walk or drive to the Mangrove Hide from the Flamingo Hide.
The words ‘Ras Al Khor’ literally translate to ‘Cape of the Creek’. It’s an enchanting and unexpected enclave of wilderness right in the middle of the city’s traffic and sprawling urban infrastructure. The 620-hectare Ras Al Khor sanctuary is situated at the very head of the 14-kilometer-long Dubai Creek. Even if you are not a bird watcher, the amazing ecosystem of the sanctuary is worth a visit. Observe how the sabkhas saline flats, the intertidal mudflats and mangroves co-exist with lagoons, pools and tiny islands between the Arabian Gulf and the Al Awir Desert. It’s truly incredible!