Mention Dubai and you conjure up images of sun, sand and shopping, to say nothing of glamorous hotels and sparkling nightlife. But look hard enough and you can find another side to the city, as we did when we visited the Ras Al Khor Wildlife Sanctuary with its teeming bird life.
Wetlands of the Ras Al Khor Wildlife Sanctuary
Situated about ten miles to the south of Dubai, Ras Al Khor lies at the end of The Creek, the waterway around which the city was originally founded. The wetlands cover an area of 620 hectares and include mudflats, sabkhas (salt flats), lagoons and pools.
Birdlife at Ras Al Khor
There are three hides at the sanctuary (although only two were open when I visited), staffed by helpful wardens and equipped with powerful telescopes and binoculars, so that visitors can get the best possible view of the birds.
Up to 67 species of water birds make their home here, their numbers rising to many thousands in the winter months. Notable winter visitors include plovers and black headed gulls, as well as curlews and redshanks. Broad-billed sandpipers can also be seen; this is the only place in the whole of the UAE where they congregate in large numbers. When I visited black winged stilts were much in evidence and, if you are lucky, eagles or other raptors sometimes make an appearance too.
But for me the highlight was the long lines of flamingos, graceful as ballet dancers. Although more numerous in winter, they are present in the sanctuary all year round.
Planning a visit to Ras Al Khor
The Dubai metro does not go as far as Ras Al Khor so a car is necessary to reach the sanctuary. A hire car may be the best option as the hides are about a mile apart. If you take a taxi make sure you book your return trip in advance as it is not easy to flag down a taxi from the reserve.
The reserve is open from 9am to 4pm, Saturday to Thursday. The birds are more abundant in the winter months and, to have the best chance of seeing lots of birds (as well as avoiding the heat of the day!), a visit early in the morning or later in the morning is recommended. There is no entrance charge.