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
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
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
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
- 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
- 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
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:
- Khor Fakkan Corniche South Port End. (The best shelling is from where the
storm drain runs into the sea back towards the Oceanic Hotel)
- Graffiti Beach/Lullaya Village (beyond the Oceanic Hotel in the Dibba
direction) to see the colony of Terebralia palustris living in the storm
- 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
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 email@example.com. 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 firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.
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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:
- a brief geographical description of the Sahelo-Saharan region
- climate and types of vegetation within each zone
- characteristic fauna
- the threat to wildlife
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
Solutions to the problems besetting the region can be listed as follows:
- increased national and international awareness of the problems
- the creation of protected areas
- increased international cooperation
- improved conservation and land-practices
- 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
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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
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
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.
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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
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.
- 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.
- 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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
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".
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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
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
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.
(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 www.uaeinteract.com Records, please, to
Hellyer@emirates.net.ae OR Hudhud10@emirates.net.ae
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Forthcoming ENHG Field Trips
||An overnight camping field-trip to the Liwa Oasis. Camping in
the sands with a survey of life in the dunes. Returning via Ghayathi.
||Desert ecology camping field-trip (Chris Drew leading) This
trip, previously postponed, will focus on reptiles and rodents in the Umm Al
||Overnight camping field-trip to Ra's Al Khaimah covering
archaeology, flora, fauna and sea shells.
||Overnight camping fieldtrip to the East Coast, incorporating
visits to Ohala and Wadi Hayl
Allestree Fisher, Excursions Secretary
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ITEMS FOR SALE ON ENHG STALL
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.
100Dhs (facts about the region - aimed at the kids)
150Dhs (Peter Hellyer's highly readable, informative book - get him to sign your
30Dhs (useful little waterproof guide to the region's shells)
20Dhs (find out about our local turtles)
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 )
25Dhs (Marijcke Jongbloed - Know your local wild plants)
The island of Abu Al Abyad,
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
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!
NEW ISSUE OUT
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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||WWF in the UAE
||To be advised/confirmed
||Sailfish in the Gulf
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Hazim al Chalabi
(editor of Tribulus)
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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
Abu Dhabi Company for Onshore Oil Operations (ADCO)
Abu Dhabi Gas Industries Limited (GASCO)
Al Fahim Group
Al Nasser Holdings
Le Royal Méridien Abu Dhabi
Nama Development Enterprises
National Bank of Abu Dhabi
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