Samara Wetlands

Year of compilation: 1994

Site description
This lake is c.8 km across and straddles the Tigris, running from the Samara Dam c.25 km north to Al Dor. Soils are mostly alluvial, and in some parts hills reach the river forming cliffs. Elsewhere the river banks are gravel. The lake and marsh above Samara dam extend for more than 5 km, and have large beds of Phragmites and Typha with a rich growth of submerged vegetation, particularly where the water depth is c.1.5 m. Riverine forest dominated by Populus euphratica occurs in patches along the banks and more especially on small islands. Much of the area is cultivated, mainly with date-palm gardens, wheat fields, orchards and some vegetables, and there is grazing by sheep and cattle. Parts of the river bank are used for gravel extraction, some such sites being now filled with water and surrounded by a thick growth of Populus and Tamarix. 2014 updates. Samara Wetlands were listed originally as an Important Bird Area (IBA008) list by Evans (1994). They are formed by the Samara Barrage, which was built in 1955 on the Tigris River, near the town of Al-Dure north of Samara City. The barrage regulates the water flow to Al-Tharthar Lake through the Samara (Tharthar) Canal, which extends from Al-Dhloee’a town to the southeast edge of Tharthar Lake.

Key biodiversity
A wide range of species breed, including Phalacrocorax pygmeus (possibly: see box), Marmaronetta angustirostris (possibly: see box), Accipiter nisus (probably), Falco naumanni (possibly), Columba palumbus, Halcyon smyrnensis, Ceryle rudis and Pycnonotus leucotis. Tadorna ferruginea has bred in the area. The site is used by large numbers of waterfowl and other waterbirds outside the breeding season; other wintering species include Circus aeruginosus (20) and Ticehurst et al. (1921–1922) noted vast flocks of Eudromias morinellus and several flocks of Eremophila bilopha wintering near Samara. At least 3,000 raptors move through the Tigris valley in this general area on passage. At least 146 species have been recorded at the site.

Non-bird biodiversity: Fish: the river and lake hold endemic cyprinid species. Flora: the general area is very important for harbouring wild relatives of important cereal crop species.

2014 updates. Additional Important Bird Observations: In total, 70 bird species were seen. In addition to Iraq Babbler, Marbled Duck Marmaronetta angustirostris (Vulnerable), Ferruginous Duck Aythya nyroca (Near Threatened), and European Roller Coracias garrulus (Near Threatened) were observed in the breeding season and Pallid Harrier Circus macrourus (Near Threatened) on passage. The site also held four breeding Sahara-Sindian Desert biome-restricted species but these did not trigger inclusion under A3 criterion. Other Important Fauna: One Otter specimen was killed near the dam by a farmer and delivered to the Iraqi Natural History Museum in Baghdad. It was examined and identified as Eurasian Otter Lutra lutra (Near Threatened) by the author (Al-Sheikhly, 2012; Al-Sheikhly & Nader, 2013). Fish: Data were collected in winter of 2009 using a fisheries frame survey methodology. When the site was visited the team found that fishing was officially not allowed for security reasons. However, that winter one person was seen using an electro-fishing device and he showed the survey team his catch of five species in the following catch ratios: Carassius auratus (25%), Cyprinus carpio (10%), Liza abu (50%), Mesopotamichthys sharpeyi, (5%), and Silurus triostegus (10%). Though not in his catch, the fishermen indicated that two others (Luciobarbus esocinus and L. xanthopterus) were also present at the site.

Pressure/threats to key biodiversity
The lake appears to be under the control of one important government official for private use and for conservation. Duck hunting is common away from the dam and there is the possibility of the extension of agriculture and of mineral extraction, but there are no other major threats apparent. No conservation measures are known to have been officially proposed. 2014 updates. This site is under strict military supervision due to the presence of the barrage. Political and military activities in this region may have led to its environmental preservation due to reduced civilian uses of the wetlands, particularly with regard to bird populations. However, significant environmental impacts were observed. Although hunting and fishing are prohibited around the dam, the presence of electro-fishing equipment in the winter of 2009 seems to indicate otherwise. The local people of Samara also hunt game birds and waterfowl in the eastern part of the wetlands after getting permission letters from Iraqi authorities. Such activities are primarily practiced during the winter, targeting wintering and migrant birds. Habitats are also threatened by an increase in construction especially the rapidly expanding urbanization of Samara city as well as the activity of military vehicles and troop training exercises without an environmental action plan to ensure species and habitat conservation. Solid wastes and garbage mainly plastic bags and water bottles were observed in a few scattered locations. Agriculture activities and cultivated areas were observed in places on the western edge of the wetlands. Agricultural practices in the Samara area in general, especially for seasonal vegetables and crops like wheat, corn and sunflower were considered a high threat.

Habitat and land use
No botanical survey was conducted here but there are beds of reeds, reedmace and carex with some terrestrial species bordering the marsh (Tamarix sp., Populus sp. and Eucalyptus sp.). Dense reed beds and submerged aquatic vegetation are the main features upstream from the dam, attracting a significant number of migratory waterfowl and raptors. Part of the site extends northwest along the main highway towards Tikrit, and is characterized by the same wetland habitat as the eastern side. To the west it becomes an arid steppe, covered with scattered xerophytic vegetation and a few fields of wheat, corn, and date palms. The side closer to Tikrit features dense reed beds that continue along the riverbank, in addition to scattered shrubs and thickets with an underlying gravel matrix. Archeological ruins from the Abbasid dynasty have been found close by, including Malewat, the ancient Samara mosque, and the Al-Ashiq palace to the west.

Data-sheet compiled by Dr Khalid Y. Al-Dabbagh.

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2023) Important Bird Areas factsheet: Samara Wetlands. Downloaded from on 25/03/2023.