The Omani Lesser Flamingo their larger, less common, Greater Flamingo, and hundreds of other waders make their temporary homes in as places as diverse as Al Mughsail, Bar Al Hikman, Khor Rori, Masirah Island, Muscat, Raysut, Qurriyat, and Wadi Darbat along the shallow coastal waters and wetlands of the Sultanate through September and October, and their return journey in March and April. Like the giraffe, they bely their ungainly appearance and stature with the elegance and grace for which the animal kingdom compensates its ‘ugly ducklings.’
The flamingo is probably the ‘film-star’ of the wetland’s scene, but the Herons, Oystercatchers, Stilts, Cranes, Storks, Egrets, Cormorants and Spoonbills offer remarkable drawing power. Cormorants for example, may not be beautiful, but are graceful movers, Herons and Egrets for just two, are all put in the shade by the grace, elegance, and lazy economy of movement of the Flamingoes who socialize, come, and go with a remarkable lack of fuss, taking off with a fluidity that must be seen to be appreciated, while landing is done almost in slow-motion, and on tippy toes. They are incredibly beautiful to watch, and time passes quickly as you can get ‘lost’ in their comings and goings.
The coloring of the majestic flamingoes is diverse, not species oriented, but those with more of the fluorescent pink color have greater carotene intake from their shrimp and spirulina algae diet. They are quite delicate too in the feeding, as they agitate the mud and water around them with their broad webbed feet, and then filter the bugs, shrimps, and algae through their bills. A passive creature, the calm of the flock is only occasionally disturbed by fighting, but it tends to be very short-lived, and more ‘spats’ than bitter rivalry.
With significant breeding grounds in Africa, and traditional migration to South and South East Asia every year as hundreds of species escape the cold, the Sultanate has become a welcome place, a haven for their annual migratory odysseys to Gujarat and Rajasthan in India. The African breeding nurseries are under considerable ecological threat from industrial pollution in the form of heavy metal poisoning, and urban development, threatening the future of many of these species. Wetlands International said recently that surveys have demonstrated that the Omani wetlands and salt plains environments are exceptionally important environmental sites for these hundreds of bird varieties and deserve a sustainable management plan.
You will probably not see the lizards, snails, snakes, frogs, toads, of the tidal mangrove, rush, and seagrass salt flats, and lagoons of the Sultanate, but they are there, mostly out of sight, if not out of mind, along with the shellfish, mussels, cockles, and oysters, the crabs, and crayfish, the worms, algae, and larvae, that all contribute to the ecological richness of the wetlands. You will also rarely see the fish life, but shads, eels, sole, flounders, carp, sand sharks, even tilapia and bream inhabit the shallows. The flies, nymphs, gnats, sandflies, and mosquitoes all contribute to the overall ecology. However, what you will see, in all its glory, is birdlife, and the long-legged, slim-shanked waders are not only interesting and elegant, but draw our attention , signpost, the remarkable eco-systems of the wetlands of Oman.
TEXT BY RAY PETERSEN
PHOTOS BY LENA PETERSEN