Photographer Documents Qatar's Rich Bird Life

(MENAFN- The Peninsula) mohamad bwary | The Peninsula

Qatar is home to captivating wildlife. Among this is the rich and diverse cluster of birds as over 400 species migrate to the country annually.

Qatari photographer and environmental researcher Hamad Al-Khulaifi has spent years documenting birds in Qatar's wild.

Founder of the Qatari Environment Lens, which works under the umbrella of the Friends of the Environment Center, Hamad Al-Khulaifi in this interview talks about his passion for wildlife photography.

Spending two years in the wild to document a Pharaoh eagle owl was one of the highlights of his career, among other testing yet fulfilling wildlife adventures.

Here is an edited version of the interview

When did you start bird photography and what drew you to it?

I began my journey five years ago in 2017. I always loved to photograph nature and felt that this was my calling. Of course, I tried experimenting with various subjects before I found that birds and wildlife photography was my forte.

Once I picked up the basics, it took practice and patience which soon allowed me to produce beautiful pictures of different types of birds. I wanted my photos to reflect the beautiful environment of Qatar, knowing that my country is the destination for approximately 430 species of migratory birds annually.

I like to take pictures in an unconventional way. There is a movement or a story in every picture, and I love how a picture that I took can speak for itself.

Are there many rare birds recorded in Qatar?

Certainly, many rare birds have been sighted here, and the rarest of them is a type of quail, and its name is the 'white quail'. This bird does not cross the Arabian Gulf. It is native to South Asia and Europe, and it usually does not come to Qatar. It was strange that it was able to reach the country, where it was sighted for 32 days before it migrated.

Some of these rare birds found in the region are birds that have wandered away from their usual migratory path, due to natural factors, such as air, wind, and heat. Oftentimes, these birds can be found in the north of Qatar.

Another rare species which had been monitored is the 'brown griffin'. It was sighted twice in Qatar, first in 2021 and then in 2022. The brown griffin is threatened with extinction, as it entered the Red List of Endangered Species due to overfishing, and drought. This bird is known to feed on carrion and dead animals. Till now, we are still unsure as to why it landed in Qatar twice.

Do you see any impact of climate change on the migration of birds?

Climate change, drought, and the melting of snow in the Arctic cause an imbalance in the migration of birds. Over the years we have noticed that sometimes birds come to us in large numbers, while there are some that no longer migrate to Qatar. This is because climate change can alter the path of bird migration, because bird migration is directly related to cold and heat, and also birds migrate in search of food.

What are the types of migratory birds?

Birds that we have in Qatar are called 'winter visitors', and this type of bird comes at the beginning of the cold season and spends the entire winter period in Qatar, after which it migrates back to its original home.
As for the migratory birds that pass through Qatar, they come from northern Asia or northern Europe heading to Africa, where they stay for two days in Qatar and then migrate.

I am now working on another type of classification of birds, in which migratory birds was sighted here and made Qatar as their breeding station. They then come with spring migration and leave Qatar with their chicks.

Most of your pictures have birds with their prey in action. Is there a reason behind this?

It is a form of environmental research that I am working on. It is generally said that birds eat all insects, which is not true at all. There are birds that eat a certain type of insects only, some types of birds eat only spiders, while some others only eat worms. This benefits the environment as it ensures balance.

What is the longest time you have observed a bird?

My work involves dealing with numerous challenges and entails passion due to the nature of this kind of photography. One of the most challenging ones to document was the Pharaoh eagle-owl, which resides in Qatar, and is known to be elusive as it lives in the arid wild highlands. It took more than two years to document the life of this bird from the moment when the eggs were resting on a nest until they become chicks, and how they are fed during the day and night.

The aim is to pass on this information to future generations.

What purpose drove you to do this type of photography, most especially birds?

We, as a team of bird watchers, also from the Qatari Environment Lens, visit farms and some reserves and photograph these birds to register them in the database of the Ministry or some international organizations, where they are constantly recorded and this data is uploaded such as the name of the bird, shape, location, and time.

Have you travelled outside Qatar for the sole purpose of documenting birds?

Among my other trips abroad, I have travelled to Turkiye and northern India for this purpose. In Turkiye, I saw many beautiful species of wildlife and birds.

Meanwhile, the trip to northern India, which forms the lower ranges of the Himalayas, was specifically chosen because they have 1,200 different species of birds. Within 10 days, I was able to document 180 birds even though it was not in season. What distinguishes this experience is that the birds are very distinct, and their colours are beautiful. The reason behind this evident diversity is India's strict rules forbidding hunting, so most of the birds are friendly and not afraid of humans.

Do you take up projects with institutions or countries?

Prior to the World Cup, a German company wanted to produce a documentary film on Qatar. I worked with them as an environmental consultant for 'Pearls In The Sand'. The focus was the environmental aspect, as it showed the world that Qatar is not only about buildings and cities, but there is another, innate life, that revolves around these animals that live in the desert at high temperatures.

The film garnered high views in Europe, and will be released in Qatar in April.

In the past few days, we have noticed a video going viral about an injured eagle in a clinic. Can you tell us more about it?

All birds, when migrating from one place to another, lose a lot of fat and feel tired, as they land. When this eagle landed in a farm and wanted to feed on pigeons, the workers saw him and while trying to make it go, unintentionally hurt him. They hit the eagle and broke its leg. The bird was almost on the verge of dying when a young man brought it to me. I got the bird treated in a special clinic for birds. It is one of several cases that I have received, in addition to owls, seagulls, flamingos, and many birds, and have watched them return to good health and then released.

Usually, injured bird are received at the Falcons Clinic in Souq Waqif, headed by Dr. Iqdam Al-Karkhi, where they do a very excellent job.

Being a certified trainer in environmental culture and social development skills, tell us about the workshops you conduct.

I hold photography workshops apart from having sessions on raising environment awareness among students. I have held school lectures for the preparatory and secondary stages, which revolve on topics around how to preserve environmental life and reject poaching, and on how we tend to destroy the environment. It is said that man is the first enemy of the environment, but we must try as much as possible to preserve sustainability in the environment and preserve it for future generations.

More videos and photos can be found on Hamad Al-Khulaifi's instagram and twitter accounts.


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