A large number of bird species have been recorded in Azraq, most of which are migratory. Jordan lies on the main migration route between Russia and Africa, and many birds stop in Azraq to rest on their long journey. Several birds of prey stop to drink and hunt at the pools on their autumn migration, such as the Honey Buzzard and Montague’s Harrier. Other migratory birds include the Ruff, Avocet, Little Stint, Kentish Plover, and the Little Ringed Plover.
Many species of birds stay for longer periods of time, making Azraq their winter home. One such species is the large, majestic Crane. In flight, the Crane looks enormous, with long wings, an outstretched neck and long projecting legs. You can often hear its loud, nasal trumpet blasts in the distance, announcing its advance. Cranes migrate in family flocks, flying in V-shaped formation or in a staggered line. In the spring, Cranes perform a grand courtship dance, in which they raise their plumes, make trumpeting noises and bow deeply. There are also many species of wintering ducks, including the Shelduck, Shoveler, Teal, Wigeon, and Mallard. In autumn or winter you may also spot the Coot, diving for plant stalks and small creatures.
With the restoration of the marshland, several species of birds have returned to breed in Azraq, such as the Hoopoe Lark, Cetti’s Warbler, the Desert Finch and the Marsh Harrier. The salt mounds formed in the mudflats in the dry season provide important areas for breeding birds. The sighting of one breeding pair of Marbled Teal - a rare, globally threatened bird - was a particularly exciting discovery.
Azraq Castle is one of the historic desert castles. It is located in the village of North Azraq. Because of its strategic location close to the borders of several countries and near a water supply, the site has been occupied by many different civilizations, including the Umayyads, Ayyubids and Ottomans. It was made famous during World War I, when T. E. Lawrence, better known as Lawrence of Arabia, used the castle as his military base during the Arab Revolt against the Turks.
The story of Azraq is one of both destruction and regeneration. The signs of destruction are clearly visible: The two main marshes and pools have been drastically reduced over the past years, due to massive extraction of groundwater. Grazing pressure and slow-burning fires in the marshland further degraded any surviving vegetation, leading to a dramatic decline in the number of birds visiting the region.
At the Ramsar Convention of 1977 the Azraq Oasis was declared to be an internationally important wetland and a small wetland reserve was established in the southern areas of the oasis. At that time the wetland contained large areas of permanent marshland and several deep spring-fed pools. Unfortunately, many of these have dried up because of massive extraction of groundwater from the oasis. The cities of Amman and Zarqa are now trying to locate alternative water sources and farmers are being encouraged to adopt more efficient irrigation practices. The main pools have been dredged and water is being pumped back into them through irrigation pipes. Water buffaloes have also been reintroduced to control the
invasive reeds and keep areas of open water for birds. Birds are now returning to the oasis, but not in the vast numbers it once attracted. The endemic killifish has also been rediscovered and a rescue programme is underway to save it from extinction.
While the Azraq Oasis is still far from its former glory, this restoration project is the first of its kind in Jordan and represents a real attempt to reverse a destructive trend.
The best time to visit Azraq is late Autumn, Winter or Spring. Winter rains often create pools and marshes over the reserve, which continue to attract many seasonal species of birds. The success of bird-watching visits depends largely on the amount of water that has accumulated in the reserve.