I’ve been a frequent visitor to Irakaya Farm for many months now. In his post I would like to dwell on its significance to the expatriate birder, and on its importance to Qatar as a precious natural resource.
From the Desert, A Garden
Driving out from Doha on the Salwa Road, which leads to the Saudi border, you could be forgiven for thinking you’re in the middle of a desert. The landscape, once you’ve left the cityscape of high rise buildings and shining steel and concrete, quickly reverts to the arid and barren landscape which is the default environment here in Qatar.
Reaching the turn off you leave the highway for the farm and then join a roughly made road which leads to a cement factory. You are surrounded by dozens of heavy trucks, all ferrying raw materials backwards and forwards to fuel the gigantic expansion of Qatar’s infrastructure.
There are two paradoxes that strike me. The first is between the finished, gleaming city of Doha, a jewel in the night sky, which juts into the Arabian Gulf and which represents the vision and drama of a country continuing to develop and grow — and this, the arid and bleak landscape of the vernacular Qatari environment.
The second, the subject of this post, is the contrast between the urgent exploitation of natural resources of which the cement factory is a good example, and the transformation of parts of this dry land, into parks, gardens, fields and farms.
The key which unlocks this possibility, is irrigation. Mastering the supply and distribution of water has been one of Qatar’s game changing achievements.
Every tree, every flower, each bush or lawn only exist here because irrigation systems have been deployed everywhere.
The farm sprawls for many acres on the boundary of the cement factory itself. As you pass through the gates, with the friendly security guard waving you in, there’s a sudden change in the atmosphere.
Sparrows gather in large flocks in a small copse that provides shade for the guard hut and there, spreading out in a vast, green steppe are fields of grass and wildflowers.
Wherever you look across this landscape, there are huge irrigation booms. They creep slowly over the landscape automatically, distributing water that is pumped from large, circular concrete reservoirs.
Frequently, these booms are followed by large numbers of Black-winged stilts and sandpipers. In the photo above (click to expand it), you can see a glimpse of a huge flock of stilts, numbering more than three dozen birds.
The presence of water begins an ecological process, that starts with plants, which in turn attract insects and other invertebrates and finally small animals (reptiles pre-dominate) and birds.
The startling sound of crickets, grasshoppers and bird song is a unique (for Qatar) feature of Irakaya Farm.
Of the many birds you can see here, among the most spectacular are the Bee-eaters. These are exuberantly coloured and highly acrobatic birds. There are both Green and Blue-cheeked varities here in good numbers.
The stilts, which I learn have proprtionately the longest legs of any bird in the northern hempishere, are comical looking. Their bright red legs are almost too spindly to believe are true evoltionary adaptations to their chosen habitat.
The Desert Lingers Close By
Although the vista can, depending on your exact location on the farm, extend in green swathes apparently to the horizon in every direction, in truth, you’re never far from the encroaching desert.
A reminder of this is presented by the birds themselves. There are numerous desert (or semi-desert) species on show, including many of the Wheatears.
I particularly like the Pied Wheatear, which looks very smart in its contrasting brown-black and buff livery.
This photo shows an Isabelline Wheatear in a typical pose. I’ve covered this understated but beautiful birds before, and I love the way they strike a pose.
Irakaya Farm has provided me with some memorable birding days, like a sighting of the Lesser Kestrel above. My time in Qatar is coming to a close, and I will have maybe just a couple of further opportunities to enjoy this remarkable place. There will be many memories I will treasure from this remarkable location.
Birderlife on YouTube
I’ve started to make videos of the locations, birds and other sights I come across. You can take a look at my latest video below, which illustrates some of the points I’ve made here with film of many of the birds I’ve discussed.
I’d love to have your feedback about the videos, so please leave a comment below.
Bird List 3-10-20
Lesser Kestrel, Black-winged Stilt, Desert Wheatear, Isabelline Wheatear, Desert Wheatear, Greater Hoopoe Lark, Black-crowned Sparrow Lark, Hoopoe, Western Marsh Harrier, Sandpiper, Little Grebe, Blue-cheeked Bee-eater, Green Bee-eater.