Bahrain is a group of islands on the western side of the Persian Gulf, approximately halfway between Saudi Arabia, 24 kilometres to the west and Qatar, 28 kilometres to the east. Bahrain Island is the largest island and consists of a low plain with a central hill, the Mountain of Smoke, the highest point of which is 134 m above sea level. There are five further small islands and many islets. Also part of Bahrain are the Hawar Islands, which lie close to the coast of Qatar and are about 16 kilometres southeast of the main islands. These were designated in 1997 as a Ramsar site, a wetland habitat of international importance for wildlife.

The wildlife of Bahrain is more varied than might be expected of this small group of islands in the Persian Gulf. Apart from a strip of the north and west of the main island, where crops are irrigated, the land is arid.

About 340 species of bird have been recorded in Bahrain, the majority being migrants on their way southwards in autumn and northwards in spring. There are a range of habitats to which they are attracted including cultivated areas, open countryside, marshes, mudflats and mangrove swamps. Visiting wetland birds include sandpipers, curlews and plovers, and the mangrove areas are favoured by egrets, herons, flamingoes, terns and gulls.

By contrast, the Hawar Islands have fewer habitat types and only about 60 migratory species have been recorded here. Many of these are seabirds and after the spring migrants have departed northwards, the breeding birds start to arrive. The Hawar Islands have been designated as an Important Bird and Biodiversity Area by BirdLife International. The main trigger species are the Western Reef Heron, Socotra Cormorant, White-cheeked Tern, Saunders's Tern and the Sooty Falcon. It is also an important wintering area for the Great Crested Grebe and the Greater Flamingo.

Socotra Cormorant

Socotra Cormorant © Chris Lansdell

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