Aqaba Bird Observatory: A bird-watcher’s haven in Jordan

English
Saturday, May 8, 2021

Situated in Aqaba, 1 kilometer away from the western border, rests a bird-watchers’ haven for migratory birds from all around the world.

Every year, wild birds flock from Europe, Asia, and Africa to Aqaba, where an especially prepared resting station is ready to receive them during migration seasons in spring and autumn.

The Aqaba Bird Observatory, which is located in Al-Salam forest near South Wadi Araba Border Crossing and spreads over an area of 0.5 square kilometers, is equipped with shallow and deep waters, herbal plants, trees, and green surfaces, all of which attract migrating birds. These diverse environments encourage diverse species of birds to land at the observatory. 

“Jordan is located in the second most important route for bird migration in the world. Our location is therefore a strategic location,” Feras Rahahleh, the observatory’s manager, told Jordan News in an interview over the phone.

Aqaba is considered a suitable resting place for these animals on their migration route and is known in bird-watching jargon as a “bottleneck area”, due to its closeness to the Sinai Desert and birds’ preference to fly over land instead of water, the manager added.

“Birds have to go through Aqaba to be able to get to Africa. Therefore, the availability of a suitable environment in Aqaba is attractive in a special way, as it’s the last resting spot before entering the Sinai Desert,” Rahahleh explained.

Over the past ten years, the observatory, run by the Royal Society for the Conservation of Nature, has seen over 270 bird species rest in its enclave after migrating for over thousands and ten thousands of kilometers, according to Rahahleh.

“There are around 436 bird species recorded in Jordan, 90 percent of those — if not a bit more — are migratory birds,” Rahahleh said. 

The observatory has also recorded over 20 unique rare bird species, two of which were recorded for the first time ever in Jordan in the years 2011 and 2013. 

The diversity in species “is what adds a huge qualitative value to the Aqaba Bird Observatory as a resting point for migratory birds during their migration,” Rahahleh explained.

According to Rahahleh, birds may rest at the observatory from less than an hour to up to two weeks. This variation depends on the bird itself and not its species and could make some bird species difficult to observe.

Rahahleh told Jordan News that Jordan does not have many bird-watching guides, which makes bird-watching underappreciated in Jordan in general. He added that people in Jordan tend to lean towards bird-hunting than bird-watching. 

“Unfortunately, in all Arab societies, and not just Jordanian societies, bird-watching does not have many enthusiasts,” Rahahleh said.

However, for bird-watchers who do live in or visit Jordan, the observatory boasts a unique and enriching experience.

“What makes the Aqaba Bird Observatory special is that a bird-watcher, during migration season, could observe over 80 different species in a two to three hour tour,” Rahahleh said.

Abdelhadi Abdelhadi, a bird-watcher and photographer who regularly visits the observatory during bird migration season, told Jordan News that bird-watching, unlike bird-hunting, is harmless.

“Bird-watching is actually not very popular… but it is on the rise, and so is awareness about it, because we are uploading beautiful pictures of diverse kinds of birds in Jordan,” he said.

Rahahleh also told Jordan News that the lack of human activities, including air traffic, during the COVID-19 lockdown last year increased birds’ sense of security and increased their presence at the observatory.

Source: Jordan news