The cormorant colonies of Musandam

By now, everyone in the Sultanate would already have heard about the Musandam Peninsula. About an hour away if one flies by plane or six hours away if one is to take the ferry by the National Ferries Company (NFC), it is popular especially during summer because of its remarkable beaches, long stretch of coastline, scenic and historical islands, towering cliffs, fjords and turquoise waters.  Birds are important part of Musandam. The Peninsula is after all ideal for marine life and here, even the marine birds celebrate. The rich marine life plays as a major attraction of the land and here, there is an island named Um Al Tair Island or the Birds Mother Island.

Not a lot of things has been written about this island. Located about seven kilometres of the east coast of Musandam, one of the key species that can be found here that bird watchers look out for are the ospreys.
A quick drive through Khasab will reveal inviting beaches. Its continuous stretch of clean seashore will urge you to take a walk. The spectacularly picturesque roads leading to Bukha are extremely popular with the visitors to the governorate.
Although on a different assignment and with particular interest in the historical background of the peninsula as well as the new and improve operations of the NFC, it was hard to miss some of the inhabitants of the island who bask in its extraordinary shores.
We came across a cove of which nestled in the area were white modern fishing boats, fish catchers and old sun bleached wooden boats. While the reminder of human presence dominates the scene, the shores were owned by cormorants who were standing and enjoying the gentle waves and the shore.
There was no soul in site and instead of people, there were a long line of them.
Cormorants are coastal birds that prefer to build their colonies among cliffs, islets, shores and even trees. Their body weight, according to research, can range from 0.35 to 5 kilograms with wing span of about 45-100 centimetres.
Expert bird watchers described them as primitive looking because of their long necks which make them almost reptilian. They have long thin bills that is hooked at the tip. Like ducks, their feet have webbing between their four toes.
They are supreme fishers with some their species able to dive as deep as 45 metres. Because of their movement underwater, they adapted shorter wings.
The cormorants of Musandam noticeably liked to be together. As we explore the long stretch of beach, they were also there forming a long line on the shore interrupting the scenic beauty of white sand and blue water.
But there is discipline in their huge number because although there’s hundreds of them, they were standing in a line each ensuring that all the other birds have a vantage point of view of the sea.
To me, an outsider looking in, they seem to study the sea with great intensity. When they head for the water, they go together floating around gently seemingly supporting each other.
These coastal seabirds are a regular sight as we continue to explore the sea. The cormorant colonies are well settled and are nonchalant when the boats or the dhows pass by. They stand undisturbed on cliffs and edges of rocks that jut out of water. The birds can often be seen with their wings held out. They are probably drying their wings after a good catch.
There is an incessant activity among them. Every so often, some are seen swimming near the edge of the cliff, while others chose to sit on the stones. Their long necks curve to different directions which becomes attractive as they gather together.
The cliffs of the peninsula are very important for the sea birds because they are the roosting places.
Here, in this part of the Sultanate, humans and birds live in peace and symbiotic relationship. The locals have grown accustomed to having them around, lying on the shore minding their own business.
Fishermen and cormorants seemingly have respect for each other — the humans recognizing the talents of the birds as great fishers while the birds see the humans as a welcome addition to their already growing family.

LAKSHMI KOTHANETH