University is a place where people often get caught up. It is easy to forget that whilst we are hungover or under library lockdown, there is a world around us and the seasons are changing. This year the Wessex Scene plans to change this, exploring the world of wildlife through publishing your pictures. Whether you’ve snapped a photo worthy of David Attenbourgh commentary or whether it is just a heartwarming snap of a squirrel holding a nut, we are interested in sharing your photos and your stories.
To kick off this series, we’ll head straight to the secret underwater forests of Abu Dhabi. Horizontally full of vast deserts and vertically pushing the sky with scrapers, the Emirate seem an unlikely place to find forests. Wildlife photographer Leanna Crowley finds the coast is home to a different type of forest to those on land; one which requires a kayak to get to.
Mangroves present a unique maze of submerged salt tolerant trees, which have long captured the curiosity of biologists and the fancy of small fish and waders. Mangroves are rich in nutrients from the decaying trees, providing an ideal home for small invertebrates and a nursery ground for young fish. Yet in the tidal waters of Abu Dhabi, 40 km2 of mangrove still remain a bit of a question mark, despite the fact that they make up 75% of the mangroves of the UAE. The species ID guides currently available remain hazy and uncertain as to what wildlife inhabits this secret stretch of underwater forest.
During the summer, wildlife photographer and University of Southampton student Leanna Crowley paddled out into many a warm Arab night to set matters concerning feathers straight. Swashing through water which glowed under the light of the kayak and equipped with a large lens which she likes to affectionately call ‘the creeper’, she ventured out to form a new and improved wildlife ID guide for a local eco water sports company. She found herself pleasantly surprised by the diversity of birds, which comically strutted and paraded around the shallow mangrove waters.
‘I didn’t expect flamingos’ said Leanna, ‘I had no idea that there would be flamingos in the Arab states’.
That would have come as a surprise to me too. Surely these flamingos must be migrants?
Yeah they are. I’m told that in winter this place is filled with flamingos, and more birds in general. They all come here to avoid the cold. There were 3 flamingos that I could find, which apparently are a trio that stay behind every summer, whilst the rest of the flock leave. Nobody really knows why.
Aside from the purpose of providing good photographs, these flamingos may be loitering over summer due to alternate reasons. Climate change is suspected to be shortening and changing flamingo migration patterns. According to research, flamingos will not migrate unless they absolutely have to. Maybe these particular flamingos are simply quite comfortable in Abu Dhabi waters.
So aside from flamingos what other species of bird do you get in the Abu Dhabi mangroves?
Mostly wading birds, like herons, sand plovers and spoonbills who fly down from their nests to feed at dusk. The herons amuse me, they try to sneak up on their prey by hiding behind tiny stalks. Somebody needs to kindly tell them that they are clearly huge and visible.
It sounds like an incredible habitat to photograph. Although it must be challenging photographing birds you haven’t seen before with limited ID guides?
Definitely. In comparison to the UK there is very little research here. I mean the ancient Arabs actually were the ones to originally create the word for mangroves, so people have known about them for a long time. But the country Abu Dhabi is in itself is still new, it is only about 60 years old and things are still catching up.