Biodiversity refers to the number, variety and variability of living
organisms. Many scientists believe that the world is facing a mass extinction of
diversity, largely because of human activities. A major contributor to depletion
and extinction, second only to habitat loss, is the introduction of species into
new environments. They are often called exotic species. Human exploration and
colonisation has dramatically increased the spread of exotic species. Whenever
and where-ever humans have settled far from home, they have tried to introduce
familiar animals and plants, often with catastrophic results.
Some of our most abundant wild animals and plants, especially those that do
well in urban or disturbed areas, are introduced species that have become
established. The European Starling introduced in North America, Eucalyptus tree
around the world and most insect and plant pests are exotic species. It is
estimated that over 2,300 exotic animal species and over 4,000 exotic plants are
now established in the United States! And the situation is still on-going,
numbers are increasing every year.
Many exotics have disastrous effects on native flora and fauna. They often
leave behind the factors that have evolved with them and that control their
population and in new lands they spread. Very quickly these newly established
populations can grow out of control. Exotics are a factor contributing to the
endangered or threatened status of 42% of animals and plants on the U.S.
endangered species list.
The spread of exotics replaces healthy, diverse ecosystems with biologically
impoverished, homogeneous landscapes. A good example are places with a
Mediterranean climate in southern Australia, west coast of U.S. and South
Africa, previously had few plant species in common (although they did show many
examples of convergent evolution, leading to similar landscapes). They now share
hundreds of weedy exotic species, mainly from the Mediterranean region.
It seems that no area of the world is safe from introduced species. Hawaii,
the world's most isolated island group, over 3,500 kilometres from any major
land mass has now over 2,500 alien arthropods. With increased travel, we sail
and fly these unwanted guests, to even the remotest parts of the globe.
Here in Abu Dhabi the situation is much the same. The bright, colourful birds
we take so much for granted, flying around the city are mostly alien species.
The two species of parrot, the three species of bulbul and the vocal Grey
Francolin are all non-native species. They have become a part of the Abu Dhabi
landscape only because of human intervention. Exotic species are not confined to
birds, both Rock Hyrax and more recently the European Red Squirrel have either
been deliberately introduced or escaped from captivity and can be found in Abu
Dhabi Emirate. But do these exotic species do any harm, here in the Emirates?
Only time and research will provide the answer to this question. But I
believe that this is rather missing the point. What these alien species are
doing, is detracting from the uniqueness of this country. Social and cultural
values are quite rightly, jealously guarded in this part of the world. Surley,
we should use the same values to conserve the biological diversity that makes
Arabia unique? Do we really want the UAE to look like other parts of the world?
To both visitors and ex-patriots alike what draws us to the country, is its rich
heritage, culture and social customs, which set this place apart from the rest
of the world. For me, the diversity of nature was a natural draw. Species that I
couldn't see in my home country pulled me like a magnet to the UAE. The reason I
like this country so much, is because its not like other parts of the world, its
uniqueness is a national treasure, to be guarded at all costs. Once the UAE
starts to loose its distinctiveness then I think this will be a sad day for all.
Steve James (Chairman of the ENHG)
Return to top of page.
A Tall Tale from Steve James
Those of you, who know me well, probably know that I wander a great deal. No,
not in my mind, but in body! I like nothing better than tramping jungle trails,
climbing mountains, descending gorges and crossing seas, all to see more birds
and animals of this diverse world. But sometimes nature can come to you in
unexpected ways. This is one of those times and one of those days, which was not
a regular day at the office!
My friend Paul, (sadly now no longer with us) and I were in southeast Peru,
staying for several weeks at a jungle lodge on the Tambopata River, which is one
of the many tributaries of the mighty Amazon. We had intensely birded the area,
so we knew the maze of trails that threaded their way through the lowland jungle
quite well. If you have never been in tropical lowland rain forest, then its
quite dark, a little bit spooky but also very magical. There are a myriad of
sights and sounds that occupy your senses for each second, as you gently probe
ever deeper, trying to discover just a few of its secrets.
We had been bird and animal watching from dawn till dusk every day for
several weeks without a break. So on this particular morning Paul just couldn't
get the motivation to leave his comfy hammock (yes, a hammock, not a bed) twenty
minutes before dawn. I'm on the trail alone, its dark, very dark as only a
tropical night can be. (No electricity here). Its still ten minutes before dawn
and the sounds of the jungle are overwhelming. The insects are at full blast and
the haunting cry of a Bartlett's Tinamou adds to the atmosphere. Slowly I creep
silently forward, ever deeper in to the forest. It starts to get light (which
happens very quickly near the equator); suddenly I hear a noise like a gun going
off, right above my head. It's a tremendously loud, cracking sound, which can
only mean one thing in a forest, TIMBER!
Now, I don't know if you know, that a falling tree is a very common way of
dying in the jungle! You hear trees giving up the struggle and crashing to the
earth quite frequently. I expected to be crushed by a falling limb any second.
So, two seconds after the noise, I was felled to earth. It was like a tremendous
dead weight on my right shoulder, it knocked me flat on my stomach and I was
stunned and dazed. However, nature had not quite finished with me yet. I was
brought back to sudden consciousness by an indescribable pain, a sharp pain, as
if I had been knifed. And then to my absolute horror I felt the large dead
weight moving on my back and shoulder! I tried to rise but couldn't. This thing
had me in its grip, literally. As I turned my head, I looked straight in to the
eyes of a most beautiful animal. It looked straight back at me, in fact it
looked through me and very slowly it started to move. The vice like grip on my
shoulder relaxed and slowly, this enormous weight was lifted from my back.
It seemed like an eternity before I was free of the beast. I tried to stand
but I couldn't. I was badly shaken and winded. It seemed the animal was in no
rush to leave either. It moved slowly and carefully across the trail, with not
even a glance in my direction.
The animal was of course a Three-toed Sloth, quite a big one about the size
of a seven-year-old child. It must have been sleeping on a branch, when it
suddenly gave way. Gravity did its job, and it plummeted to earth, its fall
cushioned by an unsuspecting human! But the story doesn't quite end there. Being
one of the slowest animals on this planet means that its not the fastest getaway
artist in the world. I marked the spot by dropping my rucksack and hobbled back
to the lodge. Paul was woken by my ramblings, as I searched for my camera and
big lens. Together we marched to the spot and it was still there, about two
metres off the ground, slowly climbing to safety, in its forest canopy home. So
that's how and why I got fabulous photos of an eye level Three-toed Sloth. But
to see them, you will have to wait for my talk on Peru, won't you?
A very slothful Steve James.
Return to top of page.
(Part Five of a new series)
Lepus capensis Linnaeus 1758), known in arabic as “Arneb”
is thought to have three sub-species living in the Emirate of Abu Dhabi; L.c.
arabicus, L.c. cheesmani, and L.c. omanensis. All three are nocturnal and
show similar behavioural characteristics.
Desert hares typically weigh less than 1200 grams, with females weighing
slightly more than males. Their fur coloration does not show any marked seasonal
change, however there is a tendency for the fur to be more rust coloured in
summer than in winter, when they tend to become more grey coloured. Hares can
breed all year round, but typically peak breeding activity occurs in the cooler
Social interactions between hares are most commonly observed shortly after
sunset when they emerge from their daytime resting sites (known as forms) to
feed and interact with other hares.
Desert hares are well adapted to the harsh desert conditions, they can
tolerate very high ambient temperatures, using the insulating properties of
their fur to prevent absorption of heat. It is also thought that their ears,
which when resting cover approximately two thirds of their body, provide shade
from the sun. In addition to providing daytime shade, at night, the large ears
of desert hares allow them to hear potential predators such as foxes and even
the wing beats of eagle owls. They also have very large eyes for watching out
for potential predators and also for mate recognition. Their feet are covered in
thick long hares, which allow them to move easily on soft, hot sand.
Desert hares, in the past, were hunted for food by bedouin using saluki dogs
or falcons and these hunting methods remain a part of Arabic culture.
Unfortunately, however, due to over grazing by domestic stock, much of the hares’
habitat has been degraded and the population has declined. In response to this,
the hunting of hares was made illegal in the early 1980s.
Return to top of page.
The moon disappeared on Tuesday night, 9 January 2001, as it moved into the
earth's shadow in the first lunar eclipse of the new millennium. The sun, earth
and moon line up once a month (on the 15th day of each Islamic month) creating a
full moon. When the three celestial bodies are in perfect alignment, then the
moon passes through the earth's shadow, creating a lunar eclipse. The lunar
eclipse that occurred in July of 2000 involved the moon passing directly through
the center of the earth's shadow. In contrast, the eclipse that we witnessed in
January was caused by the moon passing through the edge of the earth's shadow,
producing a lunar eclipse of relatively short duration.
Observers gathered on rooftops throughout Abu Dhabi. The moon was almost
directly overhead here in the Middle East, and the totality of the eclipse
occurred just before midnight, giving us an excellent view here in the cradle of
civilisation. The shadow intruded across the lower right corner of the moon (if
you were facing east, as we were on Steve James's roof that night). Lunar
brightness diminished slightly when the moon entered the earth's penumbra, but
the real event began at approximately 10:50 p.m. when the umbra began
encroaching on the moon in stages, lunar surface features highlighted by the
advancing shadow. By 11:50 p.m., only the barest sliver remained of the upper
left corner of the moon, and its disappearance marked the onset of totality,
lasting for about one hour. The colour of the moon during the total eclipse is
often described as deep copper in colour. To us, it looked more like the colour
of a wet paper bag, especially given the gathering clouds we had to look
through. We lit candles and drank fermented beverages to appease the awesome
celestial forces so much greater than ourselves. Our duty performed, we headed
off to slumber, dreaming of the moon gradually reappearing as the shadow
completed its transit, sliding off the moon's lower left corner.
When the alignment of the earth and moon is reversed, which happens on the
occasion of a new moon as opposed to a full moon, and when the alignment is
likewise perfect, then the earth passes through the moon's shadow, creating a
total solar eclipse. There was a partial solar eclipse in California on
Christmas day. The next total solar eclipse will occur on the Summer Solstice,
21 June 2001, and it will be observable from Southern Africa.
Anyone interested in a trip to Lusaka for the event should contact Charles
Return to top of page.
Rob Gregory, an international expert on Arabian Gulf pearling, addressed a
packed house at the Abu Dhabi Cultural Foundation on Tuesday night. Mr. Gregory,
resident in Bahrain, had traveled to Abu Dhabi under the sponsorship of Omeir
Travel Agency to address the fortnightly meeting of the Emirates Natural History
Group in Abu Dhabi.
After welcoming remarks from ENHG Chairman Steve James, Mr. Gregory delivered
a fascinating discourse on the 5,000 year history of traditional Arabian Gulf
pearling, centered on the pearlbeds surrounding the island of Bahrain. Beginning
with the Epic of Gilgamesh, Gregory sketched the history of pearling in the
Gulf, pointing out that by the early 20th century Bahrain was home to a fleet of
4,200 fishing vessels and a total diving population of 30,000 men. His lecture
also highlighted the great value placed on natural pearls throughout history,
and the touristic value of recreational pearl diving today.
Deputy Chairperson Riemke Riemersma presented a vote of thanks to Mr. Gregory
following the lecture. ENHG Committee member Charles Laubach expressed gratitude
on behalf of the Group and all in attendance to Omeir Travel Agency for
sponsoring Mr. Gregory's trip from Bahrain to Abu Dhabi.
The Emirates Natural History Group is a public interest organization
patronized by His Excellency the Minister of Higher Education, Sheikh Nahyan Bin
Mubarak Al Nahyan. The Group is dedicated to promoting the study and
appreciation of the natural and cultural histories of the U.A.E., and membership
is open to all residents of the country. The Group holds approximately 22
meetings every year, and conducts an active program of between 15 and 20 outings
Return to top of page.
Birdwatching can get up your nose sometimes. As a newbie on the ornithological
scene in the UAE, resolved from the first not to yield precious time, weekends
evermore, to scope, bins and LBJs on pongy ponds, I am proud to announce my
100th tick. I have surrendered.
The 100th was probably the best, a little green bee eater, all iridescent
greens and turquoise hues, a spectacular welcome to the world of twitcherdom in
the dungpits of Mafraq. Marsh Sandpipers, Citrine Wagtails, Ruffs and Snipes,
White-tailed Plovers and did-he do-it's all flew in through the fetid air to
offer a wing of welcome. And then we were off, three happy boglodytes, knackered
and nauseated, to the great green airy spaces of Al Wathba.
The Emirati earth and sky open up to observant eyes when you're there. No
mobiles or Etisalat bills, throat hawking or internet delays, only the
occasional twitchy sort of ticking noise from my fellow birdbrains. I had never
looked through a scope before at a bird. What a joyous privilege to see a
Sociable Plover socialising with Pacific Goldens, an enigmatic Egyptian Nightjar
in the pitch of night sitting stupefied in the headlights of the Land Rover, a
ruby eye spot catching the glare of the beam. Or a red-rumped and (what a
rarity, this!) an Indian Cliff Swallow spotted, identified and ticked by none
other than your esteemed Editor himself!
Now, for those in the dark about these things, the origin of the word BIRD.
It is an acronym of Bins In (a) Right Dangle, which describes my lamentable
efforts at spotting any of the above. Convinced I'd got the Swallow, I found I
was pointing my bins 180 degrees away from everyone else at a distant pigeon. I
suddenly developed a twitch (a real one) in my leg and had to sit down.
Whereupon, in my dread sense of life's futility, I thought of my Eskimo friend,
and this curious tale:
One very cold winter's day, he went up to his long-suffering wife in the
igloo and asked if he could could borrow the paraffin heater on one of his
birdwatching jaunts in the family kayak.
She reluctantly agreed and so off he went, installing the heater in the back
of the boat until, after an hour or so, the whole thing blew up and everything
sank without trace.
Except my friend, that is. He managed somehow to get back to the igloo where
an enraged wife was waiting for him and the heater.
"I've told you before, you idiot Inuit, you can't have your kayak and
May your bins undangle this new millennium.
Return to top of page.
This short article is a brief round up of the most important ornithological
activity in December. It is based upon Simon Aspinall and Peter Hellyer's
reports, which may be found on the Internet or received direct by e-mail.
Khalidiya in Abu Dhabi on the first day of the month produced a juvenile
Honey Buzzard, an Indian Roller (rare here in Abu Dhabi), 2 Lesser Whitethroats,
7 Desert Lesser Whitethroats and a Black Redstart. A visit to Al Wathba camel
track on 3rd produced four species of Harrier (one Hen Harrier, still present)
and a Brown-throated Martin. A venture down the old Mussafah track found that
land reclamation and dredging work had removed the once prolific inter-tidal
wetlands, with scarcely a wader to be seen. However 700 Greater Flamingoes were
on a newly created pond behind the bund.
On 6th a Red Squirrel was found at Maqta (yes, I know its not a bird!) yet
another alien species to add to the ever growing collection.
The next day a trip to Al Wathba had a raptor speciality day. 3 Hen Harriers,
2 Montague's. 2 Pallid and 5 Marsh Harriers, 2 Honey Buzzards, Peregrine and a
Barbary Falcon! Also present were 140 Chestnut-bellied Sandgrouse, 32
Bimaculated Larks, an Oriental Skylark and 4 Steppe Grey Shrikes. An adult
Crested Honey Buzzard flew across the road at Mushrif Palace Gardens, while I
was on "child picking up duty" on 9th. An evening visit to Al Wathba
produced a remarkable 3 Short-eared Owls and 5 Egyptian Nightjars. This is
obviously the "new frontier" in bird watching in Abu Dhabi! The next
day 2 Honey Buzzards were soaring over Abu Dhabi, but no sign of the Crested.
Where else in the world can you regularly see both species of Honey Buzzard,
often together, allowing all the identification features to be studied?
Back at Al Wathba on 14th, the Sociable Plover decided to once again show
itself and was present till the month end. 2 Blyth's Pipits were to be expected
but not so the rare (here) Reed Bunting found feeding in the middle of a fodder
field. The same day, one lucky observer found a juvenile Lesser Spotted Eagle
over Western Lagoon.
A walk around Khalidiya on 15th recorded 44 Chiffchaffs, an Orphean Warbler
and a Black Redstart. The next day the previously reported Tawny Eagle and a
Booted Eagle were soaring over the city, while one eagle-eyed observer found a
Red-breasted Flycatcher while collecting his mail at the post office!
The hirundine hotspot of Al Wathba once again came good with the UAE's first
Indian Cliff Swallow! With it was a nice Red-rumped Swallow. I think we can all
stop looking at swallows and martins now, as we have recorded the lot! Anyone
out there trying to prove me wrong? 6 White-tailed Plovers were on Al Wathba
On 25th, yes Christmas day (don't some people ever stop birding?) 5 Barn Owl
chicks were looking very healthy at a secret location in the city.
Two days later a return visit to Al Wathba recorded 2 Spotted Eagles and a
Peregrine. And 28th saw an adult Crested Honey Buzzard and a Honey Buzzard over
Abu Dhabi's Health & Equestrian Club, while on Eastern Lagoon 140 Greater
Flamingoes, 12 Spoonbills and 70 Cattle Egrets were seen.
To close out a very eventful month and year, a brief visit to Mafraq Sewage
Plant discovered a Ruddy Shelduck and a Lapwing, both scarce winter visitors
here. Who knows what 2001 will bring? One thing is for sure it will be difficult
to top the amazing year 2000 for rarities in Abu Dhabi.
Steve James If you would like to contribute to this feature then contact
Simon Aspinall at Aspinallsimon@hotmail.com We hope to hear from you.
Return to top of page.
(continued from last month's newsletter) The ENHG Committee thought that it
would be a good idea to conduct a survey of Geckos on Abu Dhabi Island. It
something that we can all do from the comfort of our own homes!
Geckos live on both outside and inside walls and are nocturnal; they catch
insects and are completely harmless. A favourite hiding place is in the hinges
behind doors and unfortunately this is why many of them meet an untimely end. If
the door gets closed quickly, that's it for the gecko!
A very good way to observe them is to leave a strong light on either outside
or inside your home. When the insects come, so will the geckos, if you have them
Please note that negative results should be sent in, this is very important
if we are to map the current distribution of geckos on the island. Nearly all of
the geckos you record will be the Yellow-bellied House Gecko, but two other
species are also likely. If you purchase the "Wild Reptiles" book
currently on sale, you will be able to identify the species of gecko that you
GECKO SURVEY: UPDATE
We have had quite a good response from members so far, but we would like every
one of you to respond, so we have as complete a picture as possible of the
distribution of geckos on Abu Dhabi Island.
"Wild about Reptiles" book is invaluable for identifying geckos to
species. The ENHG has it for sale on the sales stand at meetings. If you are
unsure which species you have, just say so on the form and we can always send
someone around to identify them for you.
Yellow-bellied House Gecko is the common one in the city, but there might be
Turkish Geckos and perhaps even Fan-footed Gecko.
So leave that light on, get "geckoing" and send in those forms
Gecko Survey (Please tick next to Yes or No)
||2 Home Phone Number______________
|3 What is your home
district? e.g. Bateen, Muroor etc.
|4 Are there geckos in your
||YES (go to Q 7) NO (go to Q 5)
|5 If not now, did there
used to be any in your home?
||YES (Go to Q 6) NO (go to Q 9)
|6 When did you last see a
gecko in your home?
||Less than three years ago Go to Q 8.
More than three years ago Go to Q 8.
More than five years ago Go to Q 8.
|7 Are geckos as common now
||YES (go to Q 9) NO (go to Q 8)
|8 Why do you think there
are less geckos now?
|9 Do your friends have
geckos in their homes?
||YES (give them a survey sheet)
NO (please fax this survey sheet to 02-4450502 or post it to P.O. Box 4783,
Return to top of page.
||Topic and Speaker
||Australian Peter Magee talking about ENHG sponsored excavations at
Muwaila. Peter is an expert in his field and will be able to shed new light
on the history of settlement in this region.
||Top ornithologist Tony Morris will be jetting in from "the sunny
UK" to regale us with his travels in Antarctica. Not many people get the
chance to go there, so this is the next best thing!
The ENHG Committee strive to bring you the very best lectures that we can
possibly arrange and these two lectures are in that strong tradition of world
class speakers on their subjects. We hope you can join us for two
Return to top of page.
The largest island in the Gulf and is only a 20 minute flight from Dubai.
Tourism is not developed and we will be venturing into the unknown. Be
prepared therefore for changes and surprises in the schedule.
There is a good website (http://www.qeshm.org)
Leave Dubai Airport: Wed. 14th Feb. at about 19:00 hrs (tbc).
Return on Fri. 16th Feb. at about 17:30hrs. Staying in a hotel and
sightseeing will be organised. There are old villages, quaint restaurants and
a very different life style to see on Qeshm. The people are extremely
hospitable. The experience will hopefully be of great value and interest.
Remember that Iran has rules that must be respected. Women must wear a
headscarf and robe that completely covers the arms and legs and closed shoes.
Best to buy an "abaya" here before departure in the souk. Shorts
not allowed for men. Long armed shirts and closed shoes recommended for men.
Strictly no alcoholic beverages allowed.
We should be staying in a beach hotel so perhaps swimming costumes are
allowed there and more relaxed dress.
I am in the process of organising things. The plane takes between 20 and 30
people. First come first served. Approximate cost 600 Dh plus food (food is
cheap) to be finalised.
We plan further trips if this one is a success.
Bill Dibb mob. 050 6222368 email@example.com
Return to top of page.