Al Ansab Wetlands — story of a budding ecosystem

Driving past the Muscat Express Way, the Haya Water Treatment facility is a landmark that drivers don’t miss. Depending on the direction the highway is approached, one gets to see the yellow trucks waiting their turn.
One would never think that amidst all the modern facilities, lies a sanctuary for Oman’s vast biodiversity. Today Al Ansab Wetlands boasts close to 300 bird species stretched over 18 kilometers and featuring four lagoons.
We were told the best time to catch a glimpse of the birds was early in the morning. So while the traffic moving on Muscat Expressway were mainly of people going to work, we were heading for a morning with the birds at Al Ansab Wetlands. To visit Al Ansab Wetlands, one has to take a prior appointment that can be obtained by calling the toll free number 80077111 or by filling the online form on their website
Even though we arrived a little later than planned, the diverse display of birds in their habitat did not disappoint.
The first lagoon the wetland management team took us to was a shallow lagoon that is much loved by the flamingos who were spending their day rather leisurely.
Their plumage was mainly white and a look through the binoculars showed the flexibility of their beautiful long necks. Along with the flamingoes, the lagoon was also the home to various other birds. Just when I thought that their bright colours depended on their diet or their age, one of the birds stirred the muddy water while others continued to scoop food from the mud. They enjoy the many microorganisms that grow in the water along with tiny shrimps that live in it too. Watching these birds in their natural habitat is not only beautiful, but also a calming and relaxing experience for the watchers.
The location we were at had a bird hide right next to the water, which meant we could view the birds up-close. Whilst Mohammed al Barwani, a member of the Wetland Management Team told us about the other bird watching areas, he explained how in August, this very view was completely different. Just a month ago there would not have been many birds to watch, where as in September the birds begin to fly in. As we drove past a stream, we were given an exceptional treat – a large group of birds, at least five different species, in addition to the common Mynah.
According to Mohammed Al Barwani, a wetlands expert, the summer is breeding season for native birds such as the graceful white- tailed Lapwing, doves, Grey Francolin, sparrows and Red-Wattled Lapwing.
Every week the management team conducts surveys recording the number of birds and species residing and/or visiting the Wetlands. Most of the birds out of the total are migratory or winter birds.
Various birds have started nesting in these wetlands, making it a popular breeding ground for a variety of local and migratory birds. Most of the 290 species of birds that visit are migratory birds coming in from Asia, Africa and Europe. Most of the them arriving between the months of November up until April.
“This is a conservation area especially for the birds and the Omani plants, which has been encouraging the biodiversity such as insects and even snakes,” explained Al Barwani.
So this is how the story of this growing ecosystem goes. The water brought in the greenery and the rest happened naturally with a little help from the humans.
With Stagnant water comes unwanted pests and in order to control the mosquitoes, the team introduced Wadi Fish and Tilapia fish. The fish eat the larva of the mosquitos which is an effective and natural way of keeping the mosquitoes at bay.
“The fish actually attracted various other birds and animals to the wetlands, another being the – snake- Wadi Racer. They are shy of humans, if they spot humans then they rush to hide,” pointed out Al Barwani.
In the wetlands, the visitor areas are developed and other areas are left to developed naturally. Even dry wood and leaves remain exactly as they are. “No cleaning, so the habitat remains undisturbed,” said Al Barwani.