Nature Photography in the Emirates

08 September 2015

Chapter: Dubai

Enthusiastic amateur photographers may wonder on the possibilities for Natural History photography here in the Emirates. The conclusion could possibly be……. it’s a desert therefore flora and fauna would be hard to find. Fair enough, that could be logical to some extent.  But the desert interestingly supports a great diversity of life and there are water bodies ……. and it rains!

Fascinatingly, if we go into depth, into the past of this desert region, you would be surprised to know, that the same desert, geologically existed as a fertile land. Prolonged erosion and deposition overtook to eventually make it an arid environment. The evidence is the fact that the sands overlie oil rich strata! Not to forget, the discovery a decade ago of hundreds of fossilized elephant footprints that dates back millions of years ago.

Climatically, the region is divided into two ecological zones; the coastal with hot - humid summers and warm winters and the dry inland region. Animals here have unique ways of tolerating the extremes in weather conditions. It could be burrowing, resting in holes below the surface of desert plants or rocks, or escaping the desert heat by lying below the sand surface! Many are nocturnal and torpor (hibernate).

Obviously you will see the ‘ship of the desert’; the camel in huge numbers. Camel breeding is pursued not only for its meat and milk but also for the popular camel racing.

The region presents an interesting spectrum for bird photographers. Many shorebirds; terns, gulls, rollers (pictured below), plovers on mudflats (250,000 plus waders), the rare indigenous white collared kingfisher, birds of prey (falcons, eagles, buzzards, vultures, ospreys) are seen.

Image © Hermis Haridas

Birds migrate and some adapt to desert conditions like the Hoopoe lark (pictured below) very commonly seen in this region.

Image © Nisha P.

Except for the hot summer months, you have a great variety of migrants joining the residents and one can twitch; as bird-watchers prefer to call close to 400 plus species of birds in UAE.  October to March corresponds to high migratory traffic.

Image © Nisha P.

Among many specialties are Socotra cormorant (pictured below) which number 200,000 plus, Sooty gull, Sooty falcon, Hume’s wheatear, Bridled tern, Striated Scops owl, Grey hypocolius, Houbara bustard, Persian shearwater, Crested honey buzzard, Eastern imperial eagle, White tailed lapwing, Blyth’s pipit, Trumpeter finch, Syke’s warbler, Crab plover and Egyptian nightjar.  

Image ©  Nisha P.

Other commonly found birds are various species of lark, gull, tern, bulbul, myna, sunbird, dove, parakeet, shrike, warbler, hoopoe, grebe, wagtail, egret, francolin, sandgrouse,  crag martin, munia, sparrows, owl, swift, stilt, lapwings and Green bee eater (pictured below).

Image © Nisha P.

The two coastlines, the Gulf of Oman and the Arabian Gulf, many islands and khors (inlet lagoons) like Ras Al Khor, Khor Dubai, Khor Kalba, Khor Al Baidah, Eastern lagoon in Abu Dhabi support wintering wading birds, herons, greater flamingos and plovers, etc. (Collared Pratincole; pictured below).

Image © Hermis Haridas

The Arabian falcon forms an interesting interaction between nature and man. It is like the date palm and camel; an integral part of desert life and the regions cultural heritage. The falcons originally were used for hunting by the Bedouin's for diet with meat. Nowadays falconry is regulated and practiced for sport. The main prey is the houbara bustard; supplemented by a successful captive breeding program.

Image © Hussain Nalwala

There is a remarkable variety of insect life. Bees, bugs, mantises, wasps, antlions (pictured below), Dragonflies, damselflies, beetles, grasshoppers, lacewings, ants, ladybirds, stick insects, cicada, crickets, butterflies, moths, scorpions, spiders, among many thousands (5000 to 10,000) of species.

Image © Shibu Mathew, LRPS

Image © Manu Reghurajan, LRPS

Image © Biju Varghese

Image © Zahooruddin Khan

Image © Hermis Haridas

The Date palms are an integral part of life and heritage for the Arab (44 million trees with 160 varieties) and the Ghaf trees (an indigenous species and National tree of the UAE) are revered for their longevity and capacity to survive in extreme temperatures.

Image © Clement Carol, LRPS

Image © Kumble Mahendra Nayak

Much of the UAE coast is lined with sandy white beaches. Along these beaches interesting flora can be seen. One such is the parasitic plant Desert hyacinth (Cistanche tubulosa), pictured below. Many halophytic plants can survive here as they can deal with high level of salt in the soil.

Image © Ovijit Roy, LRPS

The lilies, irises, daisies, violets, oleanders, borages, the regions only orchid Epipactis veratrifolia make you forget you are in desert country.

Image © Shibu Mathew, LRPS

Reptiles and amphibian though in small numbers are also found here. They range from lizards like the geckos to the dhubs (spiny tailed lizard) and include desert monitor, sand skink (pictured below), terrapins, several species of snakes (like Carpet vipers, Sand snakes also called wadi racers, the attractive Diadem snake and Saw scaled vipers).

Image © Joseph Antony

The two species of toads (Arabian toad and Dhofar toad) have unique adaptation. They can become dormant for upto three years or more.

Image © Zahooruddin Khan

Desert mammals are few and mostly nocturnal. The Arabian wolf, Arabian oryx (present in sanctuaries) hyaenas, jackals have become extinct in the wild. Rheem gazelle, Mountain gazelle, Sand cat, Cape hare, Rueppell’s fox, hedgehog can be seen in the wild.

The marine reserves protect coral reef, seagrass beds, marine turtles and the endangered dugong (sea cow) are an exciting prospect for underwater nature photography.  

The highest mountain is Jebel Hafeet (1500 meters). The mountains are still untouched with development and hold many interesting species of birds, insects, animals and plants. Jebel Jais (pictured below) is yet another interesting mountain to explore. Yes, plants like popcorn plant and eyelash plant exist!

Image © Sunil Jose

Many well maintained parks, golf courses, agricultural farms, fodder fields, apart from creeks (inlet lagoons called Khor), mud-flats, tidal marshes, palm groves, permanent pools in the wadi (river beds) mangrove forests, bird sanctuaries and nature reserves are good sites for nature photography.

Image © Kumble Mahendra Nayak

It is said that thousands of seeds lie dormant for years without germinating and with one rainfall the landscape could spectacularly change to various hues.

Image © Malabika Roy, LRPS

Sheikh Zayed (1918-2004), the Founder of United Arab Emirates and the recipient of the World Wildlife Fund’s highest conservation award, the Golden Panda, was an advocate of environmental conservation and had great foresight when it came to protecting wildlife. Today, there are many organizations in this region doing amazing work for environmental protection and wildlife conservation. 

Thanks to these organizations and conservationists; the region has witnessed earnest attempts for a sustainable balance between man and nature …….. and interesting subjects for our nature photography!

Mohammed Arfan Asif, ARPS

Chapter Organiser

Cover Image © Jeevan Nambiar

Comments (1)

20 November 2015

I have missed out on all this nature whilst visiting Dubai numerous times. I look forward to another trip and touching base with the Dubai Chapter

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