Dubai (United Arab Emirates) 1-4th November 2019

February 08, 2020  •  Leave a Comment

In November 2019 I went on a short trip to Dubai in the United Arab Emirates for a work training course. From what I had read and heard, I had a feeling that Dubai was probably not going to be my cup of tea - for a start the place isn't exactly renowned or marketed as a wildlife destination. However, I wasn't sure if the opportunity to photograph desert animals would ever come my way again so I was keen to make the most of the opportunity.

I managed to get some information about wildlife watching there in advance of my trip and it wasn't particularly encouraging. It transpired that November wasn't really a good time of year for reptiles (too cold) and I was told that mammals were just generally hard to see there. Either way, I thought I would give it a go so I decided to hire a car so that I had the freedom to get out of the city and do some exploring (in the little free time I had when I wasn't on the course).

Arriving in the early hours of the morning, I picked up my rental car and (after some trouble figuring out how to get out of the airport and then the city) made my way down to an area of man-made lakes south of Dubai itself. From the map it looked like a good spot so I was keen to do some exploring. In wasn't a fruitful night or morning - the area was absolutely chock-full of happy campers / fishers making loads of noise and I didn't feel entirely comfortable wandering around with my camera gear - in truth I had hoped for somewhere a little more remote!

After a long morning sat in the car (in the dark), the sun eventually came up and life began to appear. Birds were fairly abundant but very wary - it was challenging to get close to anything, even using the car as a hide. I managed a couple of photos, but nothing too special:

Grey francolin (Francolinus pondicerianus)Grey francolin (Francolinus pondicerianus)

Black-winged stilt (Himantopus himantopus)Black-winged stilt (Himantopus himantopus)

I was really hoping to see and photograph some mammals on the trip, but sadly I didn't have much luck. At one point, I got rather excited when I caught a glimpse of some Arabian gazelle (Gazella arabica), not too far from where I was. I ventured out of the car with my camera and tried to sneak up on them using the dunes as cover...but when I next caught sight of them they were already on the horizon!

It would have really made the trip for me to have seen an Arabian oryx (Oryx leucoryx). This animal is very special, having been formerly declared 'Extinct in the Wild' then subsequently saved due to a successful captive breeding programme. I knew that they (admittedly semi-wild / domesticated animals) could be found in the Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve but trips there seemed to be extortionately priced, and the 'safaris' advertised online seemed to have a strange lack of focus on wildlife watching. I had been given the impression that they could also be found in the area that I planned to explore, but I didn't manage to see any.

I was very fortunate in one regard - one of the people that I had spoken to online before my trip was going to be in town from my second day onwards, and he offered to show me round some locations where he had seen reptiles. On the night he arrived, we drove to a patch of desert somewhere just outside of the city and explored for a few hours. My associate was excellent at finding reptiles and I'm very grateful for his help, for which he asked for nothing in return.

The highlight of the night for me was seeing these two Arabian horned vipers (Cerastes gasperettii) in the sand:

Arabian horned viper (Cerastes gasperettii)Arabian horned viper (Cerastes gasperettii)

Arabian horned viper (Cerastes gasperettii)Arabian horned viper (Cerastes gasperettii)

They were very different to the vipers that I have grown accustomed to seeing in the tropics, and I was delighted to see them.

I'm not sure if it's obvious from these photos, but prior to this trip I made a change to my macro lighting setup. For the last couple of years I've been using a ringflash (Nissin MF18) for all my macro photography. I've generally found it to be an excellent bit of kit for straightforward 'documentation' photography...which is mostly what I do. However, in a lot of situations the lighting is a bit boring and it's quite bulky to have in my camera bag. I've also been keen to experiment with properly diffused lighting, so I thought I would have a go at doing what a lot of macro photographers do and make my own diffuser. So I did - using my standard flashgun, a reflector and some thin foam sheets.

After my first attempt on this trip I'm a little on the fence about it. The pros of the setup are that I think the light is nice and diffused, and I only need to take one flashgun out with me. The cons are that, when attached to the camera, the thing is quite big, clumsy and flimsy, and at the minute it takes me forever to get it set up! Time will tell if it's going to work out!

Back to the wildlife! We also saw numerous geckos, again very different in appearance and habits to the geckos that I've seen in SE Asia:

Middle Eastern short-fingered gecko (Stenodactylus doriae)Middle Eastern short-fingered gecko (Stenodactylus doriae) Southern tuberculated gecko (Bunopus tuberculatus)Southern tuberculated gecko (Bunopus tuberculatus) Arabian short-fingered gecko (Trigonodactylus arabicus)Arabian short-fingered gecko (Trigonodactylus arabicus)

There wasn't too much insect life when we were there, but I managed to get a photo of this Arabian darkling beetle (Pimelia arabica) - we saw quite a few, but they usually had their heads buried in the sand!:

Arabian darkling beetle (Pimelia arabica)Arabian darkling beetle (Pimelia arabica)

The next night we went on a very long drive out of the city to a 'wadi' (the Arabic term for a valley) where we had hoped to see some more snake species and possibly some mammals. It was a very adventurous drive, but sadly we put a lot more in than we got out! Despite hours of driving and several more hours clambering over rocks and wading through rivers, we saw very little. No snakes or mammals at all.

What we did see was a lot of Arabian toads (Sclerophrys arabica). I didn't know the species until I looked it up after the trip. In fact, the ones I saw all looked quite different and I spent ages with them, wrongly thinking that I was photographing several different species!:

Arabian toad (Sclerophrys arabica)Arabian toad (Sclerophrys arabica)

Arabian toad (Sclerophrys arabica)Arabian toad (Sclerophrys arabica)

We also saw another new gecko species (a Banded ground gecko Trachydactylus hajarensis) which was a nice bonus:

Banded ground gecko (Trachydactylus hajarensis)Banded ground gecko (Trachydactylus hajarensis)

In all, I found the trip interesting and I'm pleased that I got to see a few desert species. Dubai's not somewhere that I'd go out of my way to explore again, nor somewhere I would rave about to wildlife lovers, but if you have a layover for a flight there then there's some interesting stuff to see outside of the city.

It's also probably more productive at a different time of year, if you have the luxury of choice!




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