Spotting an Arabian chameleon

Spotting a Mediterranean chameleon. The name sends a shiver down the spine for this young wildlife shutterbug from Muscat. Since 2015, he has been on the lookout for this reptile native to southern Arabian peninsula.
During the recent Eid holiday trip to Salalah for Khareef festival, he was able to successfully track and capture them through his lense.
For Bavish Kizhakoodan Balan, Salalah is his favourite destination, having visited over 10 times since 2015.
His inner sense of feeling for Salalah begins with the onset of Khareef. Along with his photographer friends called ‘backbenchers,’ they travelled by a 4WD.

Each year they wait for Eid holiday announcements to begin their cherished journey to Dhofar Governorate to capture the rich wildlife of Salalah on their cameras.
Their 1,000-odd km journey from Muscat to Salalah is marked with fun and frolic. The photography lovers possess the same wavelength of capturing photographs in the wild.

Other than the chameleons, the group also was able to spot Arabian Partridge, Arabian Scops, Spotted Eagle, Shining Sunbird, African Paradise Fly catcher, Dhofar Toads, Pelicans, Diederik Cuckoo, Ruppell’s Weaver, and Spotted Thick-knee.
Recounts Bavish about his close encounter with chameleon and who has been trying hard to trace the species over the years.
“After driving for two long hours, it was sheer luck to spot an Arabian chameleon on our first day of visit to Ayn Razat Park. We were very careful while driving on the road as the chameleon gently graces on the tarred roads as it is known for slow movement, changing its skin colour. Due to its slow movement the creature can be identified by its long tail. For capturing this, I used a Canon macro lens for its head and by siding backwards got its full body in action through a telelens.”
At first Bavish saw the chameleon sitting on a black colour wood, and edged closer to it. The chameleon recognising their presence began to move to a tree branch which was green in colour. Here, it automatically transformed its colour to green.
“To capture a good photo with eye on focus is tough. Since the past four years I have been searching for these colourful lizards. This year, my efforts paid off. My eyes were fixed to every tree branches to locate them. They tread slowly, sometimes crossing our path. We cannot notice them because the chameleon while crossing the road changes its body colour to dark as a camouflage,” he recollects.
Althaf, Baiju, Shine and Aji George accompanied him during their wildlife hunt in Salalah by visiting several locations to shoot.
Their five-day trip was laced with several memorable moments.
Also on their bucket list was the Diederik cuckoo which flew and landed on the branch near to them. These are short-distance seasonal migrants moving with the rains. Hence they were lucky to locate them during Khareef. “We were packing our bags when the monsoon rains lashed and suddenly heard a voice which was the cuckoo.”
While heading to Hasik, after crossing Mirbat, their team member Baiju spotted a Spiny-tailed lizard on a rock crevice.
The moment they stopped the car the lizard gazed at them and slowly crawled back to the cave. A few minutes later the gecko peeps out, at which time Sinai Agama, an Agamid lizard found in arid areas, was spotted on the rock. When the lizard arrived, Agama changed its colour to blue. The Agama only needed to convey that he was not a threat for the lizard.
“I was extremely happy to get both the lizards on a single frame,” says Bavish.
During their return from Hasik, they spotted few flamingos on the roadside and stopped the car.
“While we were approaching them for a closer shot they started to move in the opposite direction. At the same instant, I saw a pair of camels. I moved fast for a good frame, finally was happy with a beautiful frame during sunset with dancing flamingo behind the camel,” he says.
Photography is a deep passion for ‘backbenchers’ from Kerala and working in various companies in Muscat.
They scrambled several places like Wadi Nahiz, Ittin, Gogob Waterfalls, Ayn Razat Park, Ayn Athum, Ayn Garziz, Dahariz beach, Airport Area.
When rains lash Dhofar, they want to pack their bags again. The photographic buddies say Salalah is blessed with a wild variety of flora and fauna with its landscape and scenery resembling monsoon season in Kerala.
They are also members of Friday Shoot Out Muscat (FSO) and Indian Social Club Photography Group (ISCPG).
Finally, Bhavish has a piece of advice for photographers: “Please do not throw stones at the bird to make it fly or don’t hurry to get that shot. Instead, wait for that perfect movement and nature will provide you with a chance. It is better to take photographs of chameleons in their natural habitat and not capture or cage them to keep them at home and photograph. Also respect your partner and do not interfere with his opportunity.”