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focus March 2003




Last month the UAE celebrated its sixth national Environment Day, and with it, Dr. Claude Martin, Director General of WWF-International, was in the capital to attend the latest environment conference & exhibition and announce the dedication of the Abu Dhabi island of Qarnein as a 'Gift to the Earth'. That the latter was made possible was due to the aspirations of Sheikh Hamdan bin Zayed, UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs and deputy chairman of ERWDA, and the combined efforts of WWF and the Emirates Wildlife Society. Gifts to the Earth is an imaginative WWF initiative relying on the inherent philanthropy of individuals and governments to safeguard, in perpetuity, important sites such as Qarnein.

Internationally renowned for its seabird colonies, not to mention its nesting turtles and coral communities, the safeguarding of this veritable 'seabird capital' of the Gulf is vital to the long term survival of interdependent communities unique to the region. Pledging Qarnein's future in this way, will, we hope, go some way to starting the ball rolling - in the right direction (and faster). Other initiatives will have to follow if we are to see sustainability in all that we think and do. Protection of Gulf fisheries is one other obvious plaice where action is needed, and urgently. One would hope that the Emirates Natural History Group can be part of the process, in particular in its membership studying and publishing findings about the UAE's flora and fauna, and in assisting governmental and other non-governmental bodies as and when it is able.

Thinking out loud with a word processor: Overfishing, pollution and misplaced development could result in a collapse of our fisheries, and no fish = no seabirds. No fish also means no livelihood for many hundreds of people, and for others perhaps no food even. Certainly there's nothing sustainable about this scenario. We all want our cake and to eat it, but as the sage, tho' anonymous English North Country saying goes … 'you can't have fish and chips without fish'. Can't argue with that.

Simon Aspinall - Chairman

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Inter-Emirates Weekend: Thurs / Fri 20th-21st March

Trips for the Weekend - Updated Schedule

Thursday afternoon - 20th March
Visit to the Fujeirah Museum and the newly restored Fujeirah Fort plus one or two other sites. We will leave The Oceanic at 3 p.m. and drive to Fujeirah Museum where we will meet Mr Madani at 3.30 pm. We will spend half an hour or so looking round the Museum and then go on to Fujeirah Fort for about half an hour and then to the Heritage Town for about half an hour minutes. There will be a charge of Dh3/- per person for both the Museum and the Heritage Town. Entry to the Fort is free. After that there is the option of going on to Kalba Museum and the Fort opposite to it.

Short Dhow Trip to Haffa from 3 p.m. to 6.30 p.m This will last about 3 and a half hours at a cost of Dh100/- for adults and Dh50/- for children over 3 under 12 years. Snorkelling will be included. No food will be included but tea and coffee and water will be available. Minimum of 20 people and Maximum of 40 people. A deposit of Dh 50/- will be required to secure your place on this trip. Meet in the lobby at the Oceanic at 2 p.m. and leave in convoy for Dibba Port to arrive at about 2.30 p.m. for a 3 p.m. start.

(No visas are required but some form of identification such as driving licence or photocopy of passport should be with you.)

Spring Flower Trip to Zikt/Al Owais Dam led by Jenny Irwin and Mary-Anne Pardoe. Brigitte Howarth will also go on the trip to identify insects. To meet in the hotel lobby at 2.45 p.m. Trip will last from about 3 p.m. to 5 p.m.

Brigitte Howarth will also be setting up some insect traps in the vicinity of the hotel.

Programme for Thursday Evening - 20th March

This will take the form of a buffet supper/BBQ in a delightful outside setting in the gardens not far from the beach followed by an entertaining quiz set by Beryl Comar and Sandy Fowler.

Friday 21st March

Full day dhow cruise including snorkelling. Meet in the lobby of the Oceanic Hotel at about 7.30 a.m. and we will go in convoy to Dibba Port (AL MINA) Oman, arriving at about 8 a.m. for registration and embarking at about 8.30 to 9 a.m.

  • Price for Day Cruise per person less group discount
  • Minimum Group 20 persons: Maximum 40 persons. Children open.
  • Price net: Dh235/- per adult. Children under 12 years at 50%: Dh115/-. Children 3 years and under free.
  • Day Cruise to Haffa and Lima Bay includes Breakfast, Hot Lunch, soft drinks and water from dispenser.
  • Bring Hat, sunblock and swim gear.
  • Available on board at extra cost:
  • Bottle water (small) Dh1/-
  • Beer Dh10/-
  • Wine(per glass) Dh10/-
  • Mask Dh20/- per day
  • Fins Dh20/- per day
  • Snorkelling Set Dh35/- per day.
  • A deposit of Dh120/- will be required to secure your place on the trip.
  • (No visas are requi red but some form of identification such as driving licence or photocopy of passport should be with you.)

A full day's archaeological trip with Professor John Fox visiting archaeological sites in the area and sites in the Wadi Bih area. Details are as follows:

  • Leave Oceanic Hotel at 8.30 a.m. with the following stops
  • 7 km north of the hotel, visit the Al-Bidya Mosque, built ca.640 C.E. and still in use. The watch towers on the hill above the mosque have pottery beginning about 800 years ago.
  • 37 km north, visit the battlefield with the remaining headstones of the 10,000 fighters killed in the battle of 633 C.E., during the Ridda Wars, when the local tribes attempted to break the allegiance with the Islamic forces.
  • 74 km north. The rendezvous point for two walks, one arduous and one easy, to examine the ruins of mountain-top archaeological settlements overlooking the incomparable Wadi Bih. We will examine the petroglyphs and cut block masonry of this mysterious and yet undated archaeological horizon. The dates offered from the archaeologists range from the Iron Age (about 700 BC to the 19th Century AD). A little radiocarbon dating would certainly help with the possible chronology. You will see the most breath-taklng scenery in the Emirates/Oman.
  • Members of the excursion will be free to return on their own, if they should so desire.
  • Saloon car in good condition may make the trip but 4WD strongly preferred. Would depend on the condition of the road on the day. Lunch and water need to be carried with usual preparation for the hike.
  • For the excursion to Wadi Bih, it would be useful to consider bringing stout walking shoes, hat, sun screen, walking stick (you will appreciate this more than you would have ever thought), camera and tracing paper for recording petroglyphs (optional).

A half day shelling trip with Sandy Fowler. Start time will depend on the tides but hopefully to start at about 9 a.m.

Areas to visit are:

  1. Khor Fakkan Corniche South Port End. (The best shelling is from where the storm drain runs into the sea back towards the Oceanic Hotel)
  2. Graffiti Beach/Lullaya Village (beyond the Oceanic Hotel in the Dibba direction) to see the colony of Terebralia palustris living in the storm drain.
  3. Wentle Beach - north from Graffiti beach past Bidya Mosque and not far from the Sandy Beach Motel. This is the beach to find wentletraps.

Details of how to reach these areas will be given out.

Useful things to bring:

  • Old trainers or similar for beaches in case there is tar
  • A bum bag - leaves hands free for shell collecting
  • A small container such as a camera film container for small fragile shells
  • Plastic bags for bigger shells.

Birding with David Bradford. Leave hotel at 8.00 a.m.
Visit Khor Kalba to see: White-Collared Kingfisher, Syke's Warbler, Indian Pond Heron, Waders

Then visit Fujeirah Beach to see: Gulls, Terns, Waders

Then Qurrayah ponds to see: Ducks, Waders

Return to Oceanic Hotel for lunch at about 12.30 p.m.

p.m. to Dibba point - sea watch for: Gulls, Skuas, Terns

Fujeirah National Dairy Farm to see: Waders, Raptors, Wagtails, Rollers

End of Programme about 5.00 p.m.

Do it yourself trips

  • Traditional bullfighting on Friday afternoon at about 4. p.m., just outside Fujairah on the way to Kalba.
  • Snorkelling around Shark Island. This can be arranged with the Oceanic Hotel. They have two boats which hold 9 people each. Cost is Dh30/- per person and the boats go out at 11 a.m. and return about 3.30 p.m. Anybody interested should contact the Oceanic Hotel to make arrangements.
  • Visit Zikt /Al Owais Dam to see spring flowers. Map available. (From the Oceanic Hotel go north to Dadna. Just before the place where fruit and vegetables are sold, there are a few white houses on the right and a bump. Turn left. Take the black top road and go on until you reach houses. Turn to the right and follow the track to the dam. There is water and there are flowers. You can wander by car or on foot. You could get up the track in a saloon car although it may be a little rough at the end).
  • Visits to Fujeirah Museum and Kalba Museum. Fujeirah Museum is open from 2 p.m. to 6.30 p.m. on Fridays. Kalba Museum is also open on Fridays from 4.30 p.m. to 7.30 p.m. Kalba Fort opposite the Museum is also open.
  • For those who want to relax at the Oceanic Hotel there is Spa Ayurveda!

Please email Lena Linton with your choices on Don't forget also to email Lena as soon as you have made your hotel bookings. We need to know who is coming on the trip so that we can give everyone labels with their names printed on. If anybody needs the hotel details again please email me on either or

Valerie Chalmers

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Conserving Sahelo-Saharan Wildlife

Report of an illustrated talk given by John Newby on 7th January 2003 to ENHG members at the Cultural Foundation.

John Newby has recently arrived in the UAE as director of the Terrestrial Ecology Research Centre (ERWDA), and is well-known among naturalists as an expert on the Sahara Desert. The talk he gave combined a description of the Sahelo-Saharan region with the major conservation issues confronting this huge area. He concluded by offering some solutions available to governments, NGOs and other interested bodies.

The talk was divided into five sections:

  1. a brief geographical description of the Sahelo-Saharan region
  2. climate and types of vegetation within each zone
  3. characteristic fauna
  4. the threat to wildlife
  5. solutions.

For UAE residents used to good tarmac roads, easy communications and short journeys, the S-S region offers a complete contrast, except climatically. The deserts of Arabia are an extension of the Sahara, and much of the flora and fauna derive from it.

Each zone within the region was illustrated in terms of rainfall, flora and fauna, and land use. These zones are classed as : wooded grassland, Sahelian grassland, sub-desert scrub, sandy desert, montane habitats and gueltas.

ENHG members were shown pictures of the characteristic fauna throughout the region: Dama gazelle, Dorcas gazelle, Barbary sheep, addax, and ostrich. Cornulaca monacantha and citrullus were selected as examples of typical S-S plants (both of which are common in the UAE. My parenthesis).

Bustards, a source of concern in the UAE, also featured as in need of protection in the S-S region. At least 300 species of birds either breed in or migrate through the area. Cheetah, and Golden Jackal are on the list of highly endangered species, parallelling the Arabian leopard and tahr for the UAE.

Threats to both flora, fauna and traditional life-styles are present in the form of overhunting, desertification and habitat encroachment. Hunting has been practised from prehistoric times as many petroglyphs and cave painting depict. The Romans were responsible for denuding large areas of this zone to provide spectaculars for the people of Italy. Today with the 4-wheel drive vehicle and modern weapons, it is not difficult to hunt down even the most elusive of animals. Civil war, a feature of the region, has also played its part. John quoted the traveller Nachtigal in 1870 who commented on the large herds of gazelle that roamed the region before the advent of the motor car. At this point in the talk we saw pictures of animals that had been killed by hunters and poachers in Niger and Chad.

John Newby may have the last photograph, taken in 1980, of the Scimitar-horned oryx, now extinct in the area.

Even highly adapted creatures have a limit, and the impact of droughts, compounded by hunting and human encroachment, can be disastrous for wildlife. There is a potential for habitat restoration, but this needs to be backed up by enhanced protection schemes throughout the region. For the most part, the S-S governments lack the funds to achieve this by themselves. The effects of desertification are increased, for example, by the abusive lopping of trees and overgrazing, which are promoted in part by desertification and increased aridity.

Solutions to the problems besetting the region can be listed as follows:

  1. increased national and international awareness of the problems
  2. the creation of protected areas
  3. increased international cooperation
  4. improved conservation and land-practices
  5. working with the local people and NGOs who know the environment best

John answered members' questions on the problems raised, and an informative discussion ensued on the various methods that could be used to implement the solutions proposed.

Allestree Fisher

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The Last Intact Ecosystem

Steve James' lecture on 18th February entitled 'Tales of the African Bush' had something for everyone-a useful introduction to South Africa for people who have not been there, wonderful photographs, some good solid information about the birds and mammals, and a selection of his own brand of humour.

Steve has invested in property beside Kruger National Park and he has already come to know a great deal about the local wildlife. His lecture included a whistle-stop tour of some of the more conspicuous birds and many of the mammals, from the less well-known serval and steinbok to the buffalos, rhinos, hippos, elephants, leopards and lions.

Kruger is a very well run, very long-established and very large National Park in the north-eastern part of South Africa, sharing with Mozambique a border more than 250 km long. It is popular with tourists but it is very well managed and the wildlife has learned to accept humans in vehicles as a normal and harmless part of the scenery. As a result, the animals behave in a way that is almost completely natural, and the habitat is allowed to develop and follow seasonal patterns with very little human interference. I say 'very little' rather than 'no' because the park managers do use fire as a management tool, and fires are also said to be caused by the many Mozambiquan refugees illegally trying to enter South Africa (many of whom do not evade the lions which have learned to regard them as easy prey).

There is no hunting in Kruger National Park so the herbivore populations are naturally regulated by food availability and predators - except for species too big to be preyed upon. The elephant population has become very large and, in order to reduce their impact on the vegetation, much of the border fence with Mozambique is being removed to give them more space. The park is big enough for the birds and larger animals to follow traditional seasonal movements, responding to food availability, which is primarily determined by rainfall. Kruger and its adjacent private parks, which also occupy a very considerable area, therefore represent one very large natural ecosystem. At this point I will stick my neck out and say that, with the possible exception of the rapidly declining Amazonian rainforest, it is the most intact and natural ecosystem surviving on Earth. I would contend that the suite and balance of species is more complete in this corner of South Africa than it is in any part of our marine environment, where species and communities have all been affected by over-fishing, global warming and pollution. The polar regions may still be natural to a very large extent, but faunal diversity is extremely low, as few species can survive the extreme climatic conditions. African savannas do not have an extreme climate so nature has had a freer hand to evolve, diversify and demonstrate to us the remarkable effects of competition and natural selection.

What do I mean by calling the wildlife of African savanna an intact ecosystem? Apart from the fact that the bird and insect fauna is very diverse, the mammal and reptile fauna still contain a very large number of predatory species, from the small to the large. The mammals include lions, leopards, hyenas, cheetahs, hunting dogs, baboons, and the reptiles include crocodiles, monitor lizards and a wide range of snakes.

Where else in the world is there any comparable range of predators? Clearly nowhere, but why should this be? The simple reason is that there is still a wide diversity of herbivorous and other species for the predators to feed on, and the ecosystem is still sufficiently complex for each species to avoid too much competition by occupying its own 'ecological niche'. The more complex reason, which demands a little investigation and pondering, is that in every other great land mass the suite of large animal species (the megafauna) has been severely truncated by human-induced extinctions.

Extinction is part of the natural evolution of life on Earth. Species evolve, adapt, and divide or radiate into other species. As they do so, other species decline and slide into extinction. There is a natural background extinction rate, but there have also been periods when the rate has suddenly increased.

Some of these extinction episodes have been caused by sudden climate change, others by super-volcanic explosions and asteroid collisions, and the most recent, in the last 50,000 years, has undoubtedly been caused by humans. Few people would contest that this extinction phase is still going on, probably faster than ever, but how many people realize that the megafauna of Europe, Asia, Australia, and the Americas has been decimated as a result of human activity during that period? Why should it be that Africa alone has retained a near-complete megafauna?

My contention, which is supported by a number of authors, but is still not part of established scientific thought, is that large mammal species survived in the savannas of Africa because that is precisely where early hominids and Homo sapiens evolved. As hominids gradually became better hunters, the animals evolved with them, learning to avoid being hunted, learning to cope with fire, and learning to avoid the most harmful aspects of human activity.

As early humans spread into Europe and Asia, however, they had a huge impact on the large herbivores-camels, gazelles, deer, boar, sheep, goats, aurochs, horses, bison, mammoths, etc. As the prey resource was reduced, partly by hunting, partly by fire and partly by domestication, the predators declined, became geographically restricted or died out altogether. Thus Eurasia lost the mammoth, sabre-toothed tiger, and the lion, and the leopard, cheetah, wolf, bison, bear and rhinos became very geographically restricted. The tiger would not have survived in the wild until today without intense conservation efforts.

In Australia the marsupial fauna contained several predators, none of which survived very long after the arrival of the first humans, probably around 50,000 years ago. The major phase of extinction in North America was much later, around 10-12,000 years ago, shortly after the arrival of people of mongoloid descent from Asia. The native herbivores had no instincts to protect them from the new unknown predators and their populations plummeted. Various deer, giant ground sloths, sabre-toothed tigers, and the short-faced bear soon declined to extinction. The fossil record and archaeological evidence on these continents are not yet complete enough to fully document the chronology of human arrival, decline of large herbivores and extinctions, but the circumstantial evidence is very strong. If one has any doubts about the potential impact of humans, one only has to look at the evidence from Madagascar and New Zealand, both of which were colonized by humans relatively late in history, at about A.D.900. In each case the arrival of humans was shortly followed by extinction of many of the larger vertebrates (perhaps most notably by the diurnal lemurs in Madagascar and 11 species of flightless moas in New Zealand). Hunting was clearly a major factor in both cases, but habitat change and introduction of alien species such as rats were also very important.

So the African savannas, which represent the cradle of humanity, escaped any sudden arrival of humans, intense hunting pressure and drastic habitat change. Humans no doubt used fire to catch animals but fire was also part of the natural cycle and the animals could cope with it. From a global perspective, therefore, it was only in the savannas that humans and other mammals evolved in relative harmony, with humans not playing the dominant role. This makes the large surviving examples of the ecosystem incredibly important as a global resource. Fortunately the governments in most countries of southern and eastern Africa appreciate the importance of the resource and look after it relatively well given their scarcity of resources. Let us hope they can continue doing so in the long term.

The richness of the southern African scene is in stark contrast to the plight of wildlife in Arabia and in northern Africa. John Newby's lecture on 7 January, while giving us a fascinating insight into an area few westerners visit, painted a very depressing picture. Lack of water was always a major constraint to biodiversity in and around the Sahara, but human pressures, mainly through over-grazing and hunting, have been adding inexorably to the stress in recent decades. The once common addax and scimitar-horned oryx are now doomed to extinction in the wild, and a formerly quite varied and very well adapted suite of animals is a shadow of its former self. People have little interest in nature conservation if their families are starving.

Is there any hope that humanity can learn from its miserable long-term global record, to adopt sensible policies and take enlightened local action? Just as military action should always be the last option in international relations, so captive breeding and introduction to artificial reserves should be the last option in biodiversity conservation. There are unlikely to be many new protected areas on the scale of Kruger, but it is vital to establish areas where wildlife takes precedence, and they must be big. We should thank Steve and John for giving us a deeper insight into these issues.

Dick Hornby

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Mar 6-7 Family camp and sand driving instruction

Fifteen carloads of ENHG members embarked on an overnight field trip on the afternoon of Thursday, 6 March 2003. The trip was multipurpose, with one contingent interested in some sand driving instructions courtesy of Alan McGee and his able marshals, while others were more interested in less mechanized endeavours.

Alan chose an excellent camping site near Wathba with moderately high dunes and occasional Ghaf trees. Our base camp was set up beneath two Ghaf trees sitting atop a low rise. Aside from the Ghaf trees, the main flora at the site were salt bushes. Alan, Patrick, Jim, Peter Rothfels and Rick gave sand driving instructions on Thursday afternoon and on two occasions Friday morning lead by Peter Melville, geared to prepare members for driving challenges that would be encountered in the upcoming Liwa trip. Graham Walsh-Green gave a talk on nature photography on Thursday afternoon, with a follow-up lesson on the Friday.

We had two one-hour nature walks, one on Thursday afternoon and the other on Friday morning, mainly to observe tracks. Lizard and insect tracks were everywhere, while gerbil tracks were also abundant. We even saw two tracks left by snakes. A six-inch skink near our campsite eluded capture on Thursday night, as did a small gecko on Friday morning in the open desert. However, Alan McGee succeeded in catching a small agama on Thursday afternoon, allowing all of us to observe it closely as it attempted to elude us by running away, burrowing into the sand by wriggling, and playing dead.

The highlight had to be our encounter with the nest of an eagle owl, scraped away on the ground near a nearby Ghaf tree and outlined by sticks. The nesting owl fled at our approach, leaving behind three eggs in the nest. Dung and scat around the nest indicated that the owl's diet consisted principally of small rodents. One piece of scat contained a mostly intact rodent skull, and another contained several pieces of vertebrae. Only a single adult was observed as we approached the nest. For the rest of the weekend, we avoided a return trip to the nest to avoid excessive disturbance. Other than the eagle owl, bird life in the neighbourhood included several crested lark, abundant rock doves and house sparrows (more than one hundred house sparrows were roosting in two nearby palm trees), and one or two hoopoe larks calling in the morning.

Thursday night we got the ENHG bird scope out and turned it skywards, with Alan Carruth ably pointing out highlights. We got good views of the Pleiades, the Orion Nebula, Rigel, Betelguese, and the planets Saturn and Jupiter. Saturn's ring system was clearly visible, and all four of Jupiter's Galilean moons were visible along with some of the banding on Jupiter's surface. Of Jupiter's moons, Ganymede and Callisto were at ten o'clock, while Io and Europa were at 4 o'clock with Io and Europa noticeably changing position relative to each other. The Southern Cross was visible before midnight, and Venus and Mars dominated the predawn Eastern sky.

An additional party of sand drivers joined us on Friday morning. By all reports, everyone learned something and no one got hurt, which are the ingredients for a successful outing.

Many thanks to Alan and his marshals.

Charles S. Laubach

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Family Weekend 6-7th March - A big thank you.

I would just like to say a big thanks to all the people who helped out during the weekend. These include: Peter and Alison (for the driving on Friday), Graham and Anne (for the photography), Francis and Jan (for the fire), Allan and Charles (for the stars), Hazim (for organizing membership applications at short notice) and Peter, Patrick, Jim, and Rick for their part in getting the convoy to the site and helping with the Thursday driving lessons.

I would also like to thank all those who came and participated in such a good spirit. I think it was a really nice experience for us all.


PS. Following the success of the weekend Allestree and myself thought it would be a good idea to have at least one or two similar events each year. It will soon be too hot for this year but plans will be made for next.

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Squatters, Aliens and Residents

Most residents of Abu Dhabi would agree that the municipality does wonderful work beautifying the city by creating and caring for floral massifs, lawns, trees, shrubs and the landscaping of all the green areas. Abu Dhabi can claim to rival Al Ain as a city of flowers. When the zinnias are past their best, the hollyhocks are already in bloom. There is never a dull moment, - florally speaking -, whether it be along the Corniche or anywhere else, even in the dog days of summer. Naturally, most of what is planted as civic amenity is "exotic" in the sense that it is not part of the indigenous flora of the UAE. It would not be possible to produce such a display without the use of imported species. Desert flowers are, with few exceptions, characteristically inconspicuous, small and hidden. They need to protect themselves from the sun, from evaporation and from predators. However, there are some native trees that adorn the city. Most noticeably the date palm, the sidr and the ghaf. The local hop is used for hedges and borders (Dodonaea viscosa). Today very little of the former natural state of the island remains except along the shore-line. Indigenous plants have to survive where they can. And by and large, they do, although a good number of species have been lost on the island simply because their habitat has vanished or is so reduced as to make survival impossible. Such is the price of development on this crowded island. But there are comparatively large swathes of grass and parkland which are being watered regularly, particularly along the main roads, roundabouts and pedestrian areas. There is a limited area of parkland. Has anybody noticed what is happening to these green areas? They are being irrigated but not weeded. Weeding is limited to the flowers beds where the soil is being dug and replenished. It is particularly in the lawns and roundabouts just a little way from the centre of the city that the local flora is making quite a spectacular come-back. This may be the subject of a future article.

In the city centre, where pollution is greatest and where space is at a premium, there are squatters. Opportunists that germinate wherever humidity and soil conditions offer a foothold, are here. There are at least half a dozen very hardy plants that struggle for existence in the most uncompromising environment. All they need is a little dampness or a regular supply of water. Look out for them. You will not have far to look.

  1. The ubiquitous Chenopodium murale ("goosefoot" family) will make a go of it wherever there is dust and damp, created perhaps by a dripping air-conditioner. This plant colonises flower beds, grass, verges, wherever it can. You will recognise it by its large triangular leaves and the elongated spikes above the leaves. In favourable conditions, and if nobody is watching, it can grow up to a metre in height.
  2. Purslane (Portulaca oleracea) is a little more fussy than the chenopod. It does need water and a small depth of soil. This cohabits with exotic shrubs, characteristically in the middle of the road. When you are next at a traffic light, just look down to the shrubs et al. between the two carriageways. You are likely to see some purslane. This plant has little difficulty is propagating itself in any environment where there is a little regular water. It has green or purple stems, and a conspicuous flower in the shape of a yellow star.You will see it at the edges of a flower border, and even among the sesuvium planted by the municipality. If you want to park your car to take a leisurely look, go to the Mina, where all six plants mentioned here are doing well.
  3. Another opportunist is Euphorbia hirta. This one also benefits from dripping water, but can also withstand prolonged drought, which the purslane cannot. This is an erect species, with colourful red and green leaves. The stems are often reddish, and the flowers are green clusters between the paired leaves. Euphorbias are very varied in appearance, but they all have one thing in common: a white sap will appear when you break the stem of the plant.
  4. Another euphorbia is euphorbia serpens, which is often difficult to spot. Characteristically it covers the ground, is completely prostrate unless supported. A good place to see this one is along the eastern lagoon between 25th and 31st Street. But there are large quantities in the central reservations: just look as you cross the reservation on foot. The leaves have cleft tips, and the flowers are minute. You will need a magnifying glass.
  5. Phyllanthus rotundifolius can be confused with a ghaf seedling. This is another member of the euphorbia family. The leaves are pinnate and it has a woody base, which gets woodier as the plants grows bigger. It will grow to approx 30 cm in good locations. This plant can survive on very little.
  6. Finally we have Pluchea dioscoridis, a composite, which can grow larger than any of the previous five. I have seen bushes in the villa areas of the city as high as three metres. It has a pale green leaf, is a large shrub, and has clusters of pinkish or off-white flowers. I saw one trying to make it in a hanging basket on the street near the Al Massa cinema. Just a little distance from the centre there are many of this species. When in flower it is an extremely attractive shrub. It is referred to in the Checklist as a "wasteland weed".

Farther out where there is more grass and more space, you will see lawns invaded by a number of dandelion-like species. These are either Sonchus oleraceus (sow thistle) or a species of launaea. Rather than suppressing these weeds, the motorised lawn mowers simply help the distribution of these plants. Some lawns are almost completely taken over by sonchus at this time of year. This plant is easily recognisable by its large toothed leaves which clasp the stems. Launaea, a composite like the sonchus, is able to survive in drier habitats. The most frequently observed species is perhaps Launaea nudicaulis which can grow up to 1 metre. There is a basal rosette with triangular toothed leaves. The upper stems are devoid of leaves.

Grass verges are often invaded by native grasses. The most conspicuous of these is Chloris virgata which has up to 12 brown spikes from a central stem. It can grow up to 50 cms. Other grasses such as Sporobolus spicatus and Dactyloctenium aegyptium are also very common throughout the city. One alien which carving a niche for itself here is the Manila Tamarind (Pithecellobium dulce) Originally planted as civic amenties, these trees now colonise the irrigated patches of the date palm and elsewhere, including waste ground. Very soon they will be classed as "naturalised aliens".

Allestree Fisher

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TWITCH IT! - Report for February 2003

Evidence of spring migration getting under way could be detected at the end of the month, with a number of good birds being seen in and around the island. These included a buff-bellied pipit at the Health and Fitness Club and a forest wagtail at Mushrif Palace Gardens and a merlin at Al Wathba Camel Track, as well as the long-staying goldfinch and wintering masked shrike, crested honey buzzards and honey buzzards, wryneck and red-breasted flycatcher. Ostrich and emu also figure this month! Reports from Ghantut, Al Ain, Balghelam island, Al Wathba Camel track and Lakes and Ghiyathi complement a good round-up for the month. Migration should be in full swing in March - so get out there!

To the day by day reports.

On 1st February, Mushrif Palace Gardens still held the masked shrike, red-breasted flycatcher and a brace of tree pipits.

On 3rd February, c. 100 greater flamingos were at Al Wathba Lakes, with 3 marsh sandpipers, a wood sandpiper and numerous redshanks. 10+ shelduck were present among the other ducks.

On 5th February, a marsh harrier and a crested honey buzzard were soaring together at Mushrif Palace Gardens while a clamorous reed warbler and a red-breasted flycatcher were down below.

On 6th February, a visit to Balghelam island, found around 2,000 shorebirds feeding, including good numbers of curlew sandpipers, dunlin, Kentish plovers, both lesser and greater sand plovers, grey plovers, redshank, greenshank, bar-tailed godwits, and turnstones, with 8 oystercatchers. Also on the island were 2 ostriches (not, sadly, of the syriacus race!) and 3 emu.

Bateen Airbase Park in Abu Dhabi produced another masked shrike and a grey-headed wagtail. A visit to Al Wathba Camel Track found 3 marsh harriers, a pallid harrier, 9 red-wattled plovers, 50 Pacific golden plovers, 55 bimaculated larks, 23 skylarks, 8 red-throated pipits, 4 water pipits, a common stonechat, 5 isabelline wheatears, 4 desert wheatears, 3 isabelline shrikes and 4 Southern grey shrike. Al Wathba Camel Track on 7th February turned up a steppe eagle, 3 marsh harriers, a pallid harrier, a long-legged buzzard (dark morph) a merlin (m), 70 Pacific golden plovers, 35 chestnut-bellied sandgrouse, 25 bimaculated larks, 20 skylarks, an oriental (small) skylark, 4+ Richard's and 4+ Blyth's pipits, 35 tawny pipits, 12 red-throated pipits, 5 water pipits, 6 yellow wagtails, a Siberian stonechat, a bluethroat, a song thrush, 12 isabelline wheatears, 8 desert wheatears and two very early pied wheatears, 8 starlings, a steppe grey shrike, and 4 isabelline shrike. 18 Egyptian nightjars were seen after dark. A flock of 60 avocets was at the adjacent Al Wathba Lakes.

On 8th February, 16 common sandpipers were roosting on a small island in one of the Abu Dhabi Golf & Equestrian Club lakes, with 18 pintail and 155 bank mynahs floating also thereabouts.

On 10th February, Al Wathba Camel Race Track had 55 bimaculated larks, 3 Blyth's pipits, 2+ Richard's pipits, a steppe grey shrike and a merlin. The mistle thrush was still at the Mercure Hotel on Jebel Hafit, along with a Hume's wheatear, 2 hooded wheatears, a desert lark and a black redstart. A crested honey buzzard, 2 tree pipit, a red-breasted flycatcher, 2 isabelline shrike and a masked shrike were in Mushrif Palace Gardens.

On 11th February, 9 pintail and a black-headed wagtail were at the Abu Dhabi Health and Fitness Club. On 12th February, 55 cattle egrets, 9 Western reef heron, 2 grey herons, an osprey, 8 grey plovers, 13 whimbrel and 44 Indian house crows were at Abu Dhabi's Eastern Lagoon with a wryneck and the red-breasted flycatcher in Mushrif Palace Gardens.

On 13th February, a coot was at the ADNOC housing complex at Ruwais. Also seen there was a hybrid between a great black-headed gull and a cachinnans type gull, being chased by a turkey! Ghiyathi resthouse gardens produced our second mistle thrush of the winter, and only the 12th UAE record. A sparrowhawk, a song thrush (in full song) and a clamorous reed warbler (also in full song ) were in Mushrif Palace Gardens.

Also on 13th February, a male hypocolius and 6 song thrushes were in the Ghantut plantations and 25 Pacific golden plovers and 4 isabelline wheatears at the Ghantut polo club.

Birds at Al Ain Camel Race Track on 13th February included 4 desert and 30 crested larks, 3 Indian rollers, 4 isabelline wheatears, 3 Southern grey shrikes and 45 yellow-vented bulbuls.

On 14th February, 3 marsh harriers, a pallid harrier, a long-legged buzzard, 68 Pacific golden plover, 9 red-wattled plovers, 15 bimaculated larks, 20 short-toed larks, 18 skylarks, 2 Richard's pipits, a Blyth's pipit, 25 tawny pipits, 12 red-throated pipits, 12 water pipits, 6 yellow wagtails, a bluethroat, 9 isabelline wheatears, 13 desert wheatears, a song thrush, and an isabelline shrike were at Al Wathba Camel track, with 14 Egyptian nightjars after dark.

On 17th February, 3 honey buzzard sp. were above the ERWDA offices in Abu Dhabi, one definitely a crested.

On 19th February, 3 pied wheatears were at Al Wathba Camel Track.

On 20th February, at least one male hypocolius, 4 Ménétries' warblers, and lesser whitethroats were at Ghantut.

Also on 20th February, a trip to Al Jazeerah Resort garden, at Ghantut, found a Saunder's little tern over the canal, 4 blue rock thrushes, a Ménétries' warbler and 20 chiffchaffs.

On 22nd February, 2 hypocolius and a red-rumped swallow were at Ghantut.

On 23rd February, the Abu Dhabi's eastern electricity sub-station area and nearby lagoon and mangroves had 3 great white egrets, a glossy ibis, 114 greater flamingos, 16 spoonbills, 2 ospreys (one on the nest), 11 oystercatchers, a great black-headed gull and 10 Caspian/Steppe gulls.

On 25th February, a forest wagtail was found at Mushrif Palace Gardens. Also seen during a walk around the wood, the gardens and the nearby Health and Fitness Club were a night heron, 47 cattle egrets, 9 mallard with 8 newly-hatched young, 2 common sandpipers, a wryneck, a tree pipit, 7 meadow pipits, 5 water pipits, a buff-bellied pipit (H & F Club), a grey wagtail, a grey-headed yellow wagtail, a desert wheatear, a pied wheatear, 8 song thrushes, 3 olivaceous warblers, 2 Orphean warblers, a steppe grey shrike, a red-breasted flycatcher, 5 isabelline shrike, the long-staying goldfinch and the wintering masked shrike.

At Al Wathba Camel Track on 28th February were 6 marsh and 2 pallid harriers, a long-legged buzzard, a peregrine falcon, 82 Pacific golden plovers, 3 ruff, 10 quail, 35 chestnut-bellied sandgrouse, 6 hoopoe, 50 skylark, 150 short-toed larks, a hoopoe lark, a lesser short-toed lark, a red-rumped swallow, 110 tawny pipits, 36 water pipits, 8 meadow pipits, 5 red-throated pipits, 4 Blyth's pipits, 13 Richard's pipits, a Siberian stonechat, 14 desert wheatears, 6 Menetries warblers, a chiffchaff, 21 isabelline wheatears, a pied wheatear, 7 bluethroats and 2 isabelline shrike.

More next month.

Peter Hellyer

(The Twitch It! Report is extracted from the weekly Twitchers' Guide newsletter, compiled by Simon Aspinall and Peter Hellyer, which can be found on the Ministry of Information website at Records, please, to OR

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Forthcoming ENHG Field Trips

Date Destination
Mar 27-28 An overnight camping field-trip to the Liwa Oasis. Camping in the sands with a survey of life in the dunes. Returning via Ghayathi.
April 3-4 Desert ecology camping field-trip (Chris Drew leading) This trip, previously postponed, will focus on reptiles and rodents in the Umm Al Zumul area.
April 10-11 Overnight camping field-trip to Ra's Al Khaimah covering archaeology, flora, fauna and sea shells.
May 8-9 Overnight camping fieldtrip to the East Coast, incorporating visits to Ohala and Wadi Hayl

Allestree Fisher, Excursions Secretary

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Abu Dhabi Bird checklist
10Dhs (free if spend over 50dhs )

Birds of Europe
100Dhs (bargain - covers most birds in this region)

Birdlife in Oman
120Dhs (Beautiful photographs by the Eriksens)

Birdwatching Guide to Oman 95 Dhs
(copies signed by Eriksens & Sargeants)

Birdwatching Guide to UAE 50Dhs (reduced from 60 Dhs) (Author: our chairman, Simon - get him to sign copies)

Breeding Birds of UAE
SB 30Dhs / HB 60Dhs (again reduced) Author: Simon - get him to sign copies.

Childrens Encyclopaedia
100Dhs (facts about the region - aimed at the kids)

Hidden Riches
150Dhs (Peter Hellyer's highly readable, informative book - get him to sign your copy)

30Dhs (useful little waterproof guide to the region's shells)

Sea Turtles
20Dhs (find out about our local turtles)

Indigenous Trees
30Dhs (Reza Khan, Director of Dubai Zoo - know your local trees)

Whales and Dolphins
120Dhs (Collins latest photographic guide)

Wild about Mammals
40Dhs (Marijcke Jongbloed mammals of the UAE )

Plant Checklist
25Dhs (Marijcke Jongbloed - Know your local wild plants)

The island of Abu Al Abyad,
Dh 125
Edited by Richard Perry
Published by the Environmental Research and Wildlife Development Agency, ERWDA, this book is a detailed look at the environment, wildlife, archaeology and geology of the UAE's largest island.

Feast of Dates
Dh 150
Written by leading archaeologist Dan Potts, and published by Trident Press, this book outlines the history of date cultivation and also examines the role of the date, and the date palm, in the traditional life of the people of the region.

15Dhs per pack (great to send home - local scenes)

ENHG T shirts, Caps, Sweatshirts
25Dhs, 25Dhs, 35Dhs (Buy any 2 - get 10Dhs off)

The Book-Table probably has the best collection of books and booklets on the UAE's natural history and heritage to be found anywhere in the capital, including many that are not available through the shops. Bring a well-stocked wallet or purse to meetings (and preferably a carrier bag too!) We can't promise something new for every meeting, but there are more new books in the pipeline!

Peter Hellyer


The latest issue of the Group's scientific journal TRIBULUS has now been published, and is available free to all members. For others, it will cost Dh 15 a copy - cheap at the price!
Managing Editor Peter Hellyer comments: "My apologies for the late appearance of this issue, Volume 12 (2) - which should have been out before Christmas! Work is now under way on Volume 13 (1), which the Editorial team hope to get completed and published before the summer break."
Back copies of TRIBULUS are still available upon application.

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Date Topic Presenter
18th March WWF in the UAE Fred Launay
1st April Ruus Jibal Gary Feulner
15th April To be advised/confirmed  
6th May Sailfish in the Gulf John Hoolihan

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Committee members

Simon Aspinall (Chairman)
Richard Perry (Deputy Chairman)
Wafa Morda'a (Secretary)
Hazim al Chalabi (Membership Secretary)
Peter Hellyer (editor of Tribulus)
Charles Laubach (Member)
Andrew Twyman (Sales)
Arun Kumar (Treasurer)
Dick Hornby (Member)
Ingrid Barcelo (Member)
Allestree Fisher (Excursion Secretary)
Drew Gardner (Member)

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Corporate Sponsors of the ENHG 2003

The following companies are supporting the ENHG's conservation efforts in the UAE. We hope you, as ENHG members, will in turn support these companies whenever you can.

Abu Dhabi Company for Onshore Oil Operations (ADCO)
Abu Dhabi Gas Industries Limited (GASCO)
Al Fahim Group
Al Nasser Holdings
Emirates Holdings
Kanoo Group
Le Royal Méridien Abu Dhabi
Nama Development Enterprises
National Bank of Abu Dhabi
Serco-IAL Limited

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Patron: H.E. Sheikh Nahayan bin Mubarak Al Nahayan