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focus November 2001

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Editorial

Lots has been happening recently for ENHG members. Bird watching and Archaeology field trips were both extremely popular and very successful. A big thank to Simon and Allestree for organising these events. With the fantastic weather at the moment, it is hoped that more of our members will get into the field. Your committee is working hard to try and establish an ENHG website. This is a mammoth task, one that we sincerely hope you will contribute to. If you have a particular expertise in one particular area, for instance shells or botany, then please contact us, as we are always looking for people to contribute articles etc. Also, we are hoping to get an unparalled selection of photographs of the natural history & culture of the UAE. Ideally we want to cover all areas of the country and all the different sub-groups which come under the broad umbrella of natural history. All photographs will be fully acknowledged and returned after scanning. So please lets see your best shots of the natural history of the UAE. Prints and slides both equally welcome!

We are having a country fair in March, with lots of naturally history themes, lots of games, quizzes (not so serious) and fun things to do. We have considered a lot of ideas for this family day out but more would be considered. Tell us what you would like to do and the committee will do its best to accommodate you. Please note that due to a national holiday on 1st January there will be no indoor meeting on this date. All paid up members receive Focus every month, either by post or by e-mail. Post is a very slow way of delivering our newsletter and we would like to encourage all our members to if possible set up an e-mail address to assist us in our service to you, the members. This should be a proper emirates.net or similar account, not hotmail or yahoo, which cannot take large attachments.

If this is not possible for you, you can view the ENHG newsletter on line by going to this url in any cyber café.

However, it might take you several minutes to download, depending on the speed of your computer.

Hope to see you all at our next meeting.

Steve James, Chairman of ENHG.

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Like to help the ENHG?

If you have a bit of spare time on your hands, we need your help! We are currently looking for a librarian to organize our ENHG Library and publicize what we have available for members to use. If you feel you could help, then please contact Arlene on 050-6411939.

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Subscription Reminder

All members are politely reminded that subscriptions are now due for renewal. Please see Hazim, the subscription secretary, at the next meeting.

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Award Nominations invited

Nominations are invited from paid-up Group members for the two annual awards made by the Group:

Sheikh Mubarak bin Mohammed Award for Natural History.

This Award was introduced with the sponsorship of our patron, HE Sheikh Nahayan bin Mubarak, and is the country's premier natural history award.

It is intended to acknowledge the contributions made by an individual, primarily through original research and publication, to the scientific study of the archaeology, history and natural history of the UAE.

The Award comprises an inscribed silver dhow and a cash sum.

The Bish Brown Award

This Award was created to commemorate one of the Group's founders, J.N.B. 'Bish' Brown, who laid the foundations of much of the scientific recording of the country's wildlife. The Award itself, a silver falcon, was donated by former Vice Chairman Dr. Terry Adams and his wife and former Group Secretary Caroline Adams, and is held for a year by each recipient.

It is intended to acknowledge contributions made by an individual in terms of promoting study and conservation of the UAE's environment, wildlife, history and heritage, whether through formal study, encouragement of educational awareness or other means, and can, therefore, be given to amateurs as well as professionals.

Nominations for both Awards can be made by members of any of the UAE's three natural history groups, in Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Al Ain. Nominees, however, need not be members of any of the Groups, although serving officers of the Abu Dhabi ENHG (Chairman, Vice Chairman, Treasurer and Secretary) are not eligible.

The choosing of the winners will be made by the Committee of the Abu Dhabi ENHG at its January 2002 meeting. Sheikh Nahayan will present the awards to the winners early in 2002.

Nominations should be sent by post to The Chairman, ENHG, PO Box 45553, Abu Dhabi, or by email, by 15th December 2001.

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Mid-Shaban and moon calendars

The full moon this week has some significance for many of our Muslim colleagues as the full moon notes the middle of the month of Shaban. For one discussion of this event, you could visit the site below: http://www.muslimmedia.net/Islamic%20services/night_shaban.htm

There are many other sites which provide background information on this event.

If you are interested in the moon's cycle, there are several computer programs you can download which keep you informed of the moon's cycle. You can use these programs, for example, to see when there will be a full moon to illuminate your desert picnic or a lack of moonlight for some star gazing.

You can also get this information at http://www.googol.com/moon/ which has information about our moon and features links to many other interesting sites.

Finally, if you would like a moon calendar which shows the phases of the moon for each day of the year, I recommend pollymoon's calendars. Visit http://www.pollymoon.com . You can order calendars which Polly ships airmail. The calendar also lists the dates for the annual meteor showers -- 11 events are listed -- which can make a desert barbecue an unforgettable event.

Brien Holmes

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Early Birds catch their Worms!

Birding SIG Field Trip 05/10/2001

Friday 05/10/2001, the Birding SIG held their second field trip of the new season.

We joined a field trip to Al Wathba Camel Racetrack, near Abu Dhabi Island, organised by the Abu Dhabi chapter of the ENHG, and lead by well-known local birder and author, Simon Aspinall.

The autumn migration is its peak during early October, and we expected to see a wide variety of bird species at the racetrack, including large numbers of migrants and significant numbers of birds of prey. Meeting in the Prisunic car park at 0545, we set off for Al Wathba at 0600 and arrived at the racetrack at approximately 0730. We parked near the grandstand and pulled out our "bins" in order to spot our first species of the day, the Early Rising Abu Dhabi Birder. We quickly spotted a flock of this semi-resident creature, near to a herd of browsing 4x4s - a much favoured parasite species, in the cultivated fields in the centre of the racetrack.

Taking great care to safely negotiate camels racing hard for home at the end of a mornings training and the equally fast moving vehicles of the supporters accompanying them, we navigated our way across the racetrack and entered the fields.

Parking our vehicles a safe distance down wind of the flock of Birders, we cautiously approached them on foot. However, the ever-alert leader of the flock quickly observed us. Proving to be both sociable and gregarious, the flock of approximately 25 birders opened ranks to greet us.

So began a wonderful mornings birding at Al Wathba Camel Racetrack in the company of the ever welcoming, knowledgeable and enthusiastic birders of Abu Dhabi Island.

Our expectations of a memorable mornings birding were quickly confirmed. The air was full of birdsong and birds of all kinds, including swallows, larks, and harriers, were swooping and wheeling across the sky.

We first walked along a track running through the middle of the fields, stopping several times to scan the adjacent fields with binoculars and telescopes. Then, after moving our vehicles to a more suitable parking place, we made a circuit over the fields, walking in line abreast so as to cover the greatest area possible.

As we walked over the fields, swallows swooped between us gobbling up grasshoppers and other insects we disturbed, as we stepped through the grass. Francolin flew out, virtually from under our feet, as we approached the taller clumps of grass where they had been hiding. We even started a hare running, much to the surprise and delight of us all.

The birds we saw during the morning included:

  • Pacific Golden Plover
  • Blue cheeked Bee-eater
  • Sand Martin
  • Yellow Wagtail
  • Crested Lark
  • Black crowned finch Lark
  • Short toed Larks
  • Hoopoe Lark
  • Black Tern
  • Whiskered Tern
  • White winged black Tern
  • Purple Heron
  • White Stork
  • Swallow
  • Desert Wheatear
  • Isabelline Wheatear
  • European Roller
  • Kestrel
  • Marsh Harrier
  • Montague Harrier
  • Stonechat
  • Grey Francolin
  • Isabelline Shrike
  • Chestnut-bellied Sandgrouse

At 1200 we decided to call it a day, made our farewells of the new friends we had made and returned to Al Ain, arriving at Prisunic at about 1315.

Many thanks to Simon Aspinall and to the Abu Dhabi chapter of the ENHG for an absolutely unforgettable mornings birding.

Thank you also to our intrepid group of enthusiastic and good humoured, novice and experienced birders, who pulled themselves out of bed at an ungodly early hour on Friday morning. They all arrived punctually for the start of our trip, which allowed us to depart on time for the hour plus drive from Al Ain to Al Wathba.

The records gathered from the field trip were forwarded to the Twitchers' Guide for the United Arab Emirates, and appeared in the issue for the week ending 5th October 2001.

The Guide, a weekly news feature of bird sightings in the UAE and neighbouring areas of Oman, is edited by Simon Aspinall and Peter Hellyer.

Records of sightings can be submitted to Simon or Peter by:
Snail mail: P.O.Box 45553, Abu Dhabi, UAE
Fax: 02-4450458

You can also send your reports by email here.

We encourage all our members to share and contribute their sightings with the Guide, whether collected individually or on an ENHG field trip.

The next Birding SIG field trip will be held in a couple of weeks time - watch out for forthcoming details.

David Pratten

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ENHG visit to Umm Al Qaiwain museum, and the Ad Dour / Tell Abraq archaeological sites 18-19th October 2001

This was a very popular trip, with a party of around thirty people in eleven vehicles. One pair even drove all the way from Muscat. We were on our way to camp amidst an ancient burial ground! What strange creatures we are!

At this point I have to point out that, although I find it interesting, and it fuels my imagination, I am no expert in archaeology. Please forgive any inaccuracies, and refer to the references for the expert details. The 8am start, and the drive to Umm Al Qaiwain were all pretty painless. On arrival our efforts were rewarded with a warm welcome from the museum director and her staff. Cups of tea and coffee, dates, and petit fours were all on our refreshment menu.

The museum itself is housed in the old fort, which has been carefully refurbished. The contents are a mixture of archaeological artefacts, and fabulous jewellery. There are also impressive reconstructions of typical rooms, and displays showing aspects of the original inhabitants' lifestyle. This museum is very well cared for, and the staff very friendly. It is well worth a visit. The entrance fee is 4Dh per person.

After saying our goodbyes we made for the shade of the palm trees on the well-manicured lawns along Umm Al Qaiwain's Corniche. Here we had our lunch. Large numbers of Socotra Cormorants had gathered just offshore. While we watched, they all flew off in a long undulating chain consisting of hundreds, if not thousands of birds. It really was a fascinating sight. Flitting amongst the palm trees were an Indian Roller, and a Little Green Bee-Eater. On the shoreline were some plovers and sandpipers, and in the shallows were a number of stingrays. Fortunately nobody stood on one of those!

Soon it was time to leave, and we made our way to the Ad Dour archaeological site, where we set up camp. I was beginning to wonder why we were camping amidst a site used as a dump by demolition contractors, when I realised that the piles of rubble were far older, and much more interesting than the usual piles of concrete, and plaster, that one finds dumped in the desert. This material was quarried from the local sedimentary reef rock found along this coast, and had been used to construct the various building and tombs surrounding us. The area is vast. I was truly amazed at the scale of the site.

It seemed that every other stone was in fact a shard of pottery. There was even a fair collection just outside the entrance to my tent. There was plenty of variation amongst the fragments. Some grey-black, some brick red, others glazed blue and green. Some pieces were thick and heavy, others thin and delicate. The shallow curvature of some pieces suggested very large vessels.

The area is roughly 4km long by 1km wide, and was inhabited from 200 BC to sometime in the 3rd century AD. It seems that the town had once functioned as a port, but once the khor, which led up to it, became silted up, the settlement ended. The site is now some distance from the sea. There are a great number of tombs, a remarkably intact temple, a large house, and a fort with watchtowers. It seemed strange to me that we could wander around the site freely. Normally, I would have expected such a place to have controlled-access.

As the heat of the day faded, we strolled around the site. Allestree, Molly and Keith provided the commentary. In between Allestree giving us details of the site's layout and background, Molly and Keith introduced us to the various insects and plant-life. Like they say 'It's easy to look, but seeing is the hard part'. On this occasion we certainly saw a great deal. I really enjoyed this informal style of tour, and judging by the interest shown, so did the others. The warm orange glow of the setting sun lit the scene perfectly. I began to wonder what the former inhabitants would have made of us, and what we have made of their world. The BBQ was a relaxed social affair, giving us all a chance to make new friends, and discuss our interests. The late-night stalwarts tackled politics, and put the world to rights, as usual. As I curled up to sleep in my tent, I remember thinking that we were camped amongst the ruined buildings, and tombs of an ancient people about whose life we could only guess by piecing together the clues they had left behind. I hoped the place wasn't too haunted!

I shouldn't have been concerned because I slept like a log, and was pleasantly surprised that the temperature during the night was so comfortable. After a leisurely breakfast we broke camp and set about getting the saloon cars through the soft sandy bits, and back onto the road. In between pushing, digging and towing, we had another chance to socialise, and I was even treated to some excellent physiotherapy on my aching back!

Once back on the road we made the short trip to the Tell Abraq site. The day was heating up, and it was beginning to feel rather warm as we wandered around the main ruins. My attention was momentarily distracted by the Marsh Harrier, which was quartering the lake nearby, much to the annoyance of the Red-Wattled Plovers on the little island in the middle.

Once again, Allestree did an excellent job of explaining the significance of the site, and gave me an excellent opportunity to snatch some sermon-on-the-mount photos! This site is much older, dating back to the 3rd millennium BC. It was excavated in 1973 but all work stopped in 1991 due to administrative problems. Again we were totally free to wander about the area. There is a tomb, in which 20 skeletons were discovered, foundations of defence towers, and evidence of barasti housing. Some of the artefacts found here were from far and wide, suggesting a trading history, and it's thought that one of the commodities on sale was local copper from the mines in the Hajar mountains. Another fascinating site, and well worth a visit. I wonder what secrets it still has to tell.

The heat took its toll, and we eventually had to retreat to the shade of the palm trees on the Corniche, for lunch. The shade and the sea breeze made it much more comfortable, but the long drive back to Abu Dhabi, beckoned, and we were soon on our way back home. Thanks to Allestree and Pam for their hard work, and to everyone for making it an enjoyable weekend.

Roy L Richards

References:
Hellyer P: Hidden Riches, Union National Bank, 1998
Potts D J: Ancient Magan, Trident Press, 2000
Darke D: Discovery Guide to the UAE, Immel Publishing Ltd, 1998
Tribulus, ENHG, Various articles, 1991 to present

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Twitch It Guide!

This short article is a brief round up of the most important ornithological activity from October. It is based upon Simon Aspinall and Peter Hellyer's Twitchers Guide, which may be found on the Internet, or received by e-mail.

The month started in fine style with a Purple Heron, Caspian Plover and a nice male Namaqua Dove at Al Wathba Fodder Fields. The next day a Red-necked Phalarope was spinning on a small pond at the Health & Fitness Club in Abu Dhabi.

On 4th October around the Intercontinental and Hilton Hotels were, a Nightingale, the first Chiffchaff of autumn, 3 Desert Lesser Whitethroats and 6 Menetries' Warblers. A Kingfisher was on Western Lagoon and 2 Wrynecks in Bateen Airbase Park. Later on in the evening a nocturnal drive around Al Wathba Fodder Fields produced 15 Egyptian Nightjars, finally dispelling their "rare" status!

An ENHG foray to the Fodder Fields produced a rare (here) Black Tern on 5th October. Pin-tailed Sandgrouse was also seen, along with 5 White Storks, both Montagu's and Pallid Harriers, Stone Curlew, White-tailed Plover, 56 Pacific Golden Plovers, Collared Pratincole, 2 Whiskered and 5 White-winged Black Terns. A wide variety of shrikes and wheatears were also seen, as well as a Stonechat and 6 Rose-coloured Starlings. On the same day a Quail, Wryneck, Masked Shrike and 2 Tree Pipits were in Mushrif Palace Gardens.

On 8th an unwini race of European Nightjar, European Roller and Isabelline Shrike were all in Mushrif Palace Gardens. The next day 2 Crab Plovers were on Sammailiyah Island, just off Abu Dhabi.

On 11th, Hoopoe, Barred Warbler, 4 Whitethroats and 10 Olivaceous Warblers were all recorded in and around Mushrif Palace Gardens. However, the highlight was a Black-shouldered Kite which floated over just before sunset. This was a first record both for the island and Abu Dhabi Emirate. Fortunately this bird was seen throughout the rest of the month at a variety of locations in the city, enabling most resident birders to get to grips with it. A nocturnal visit to Al Wathba produced Stone Curlew, Short-eared Owl and both European and Egyptian Nightjars.

The following morning at Al Wathba 4 Montagu's and a Pallid Harrier provided fine views, as did three species of snipe! One each of Jack, Pintail and Common Snipe. A Pin-tailed Sandgrouse was still flying around and a female Namaqua Dove was flying around. Will it ever meet up with the male? 275 Short-toed Larks, Whinchat (rare in autumn) and a good variety of wheatears, pipits and shrikes were seen. The highlight was a Little Swift passing over Abu Dhabi Racecourse for three very fortunate observers.

2 Masked Shrikes and a Red-breasted Flycatcher were good finds on 14th in Mushrif Palace Gardens and an immature Honey Buzzard was noted nearby.

Cattle Egrets were slowly building up throughout the month and 19 were at the Health & Fitness Club on 16th. 2 Green Sandpipers, Steppe Grey Shrike, Ortolan Bunting and a Richard's Pipit were also seen. The next day a Wood Warbler was found in Mushrif Palace Gardens, which stayed a couple of days. A rare mid-week outing to Al Wathba Fodder Fields produced Spotted Eagle, 2 Quail, 4 Collared Pratincoles, 9 Tawny Pipits and a Steppe Grey Shrike.

On 18th a visit to Al Wathba Lake found 9 Black-necked Grebes, Shelduck, 11 Pintail and a massive 625 Shoveler. Waders were well represented with 3 Black-tailed Godwits and 3 Spotted Redshank (both very uncommon in Abu Dhabi Emirate), 1,260 Little Stints, 4 Temminck's Stint and 96 Marsh Sandpipers coming to wash in freshwater in the late afternoon. This is a very significant number for the UAE. Out in the middle of the lake, riding the waves (it was windy that day) were 29 diminutive Red-necked Phalaropes. The same day 4 Wrynecks, 5 Spotted Flycatchers, 4 Masked Shrikes and a Blackcap were on Abu Dhabi Island.

The regular Friday morning bash to Al Wathba produced male Namaqua Dove, 16 Lesser Kestrels, Oriental Skylark, 4 Blyth's Pipits, 7 Richard's Pipits and 2 Steppe Grey Shrikes. Stone Curlew, Pintail Snipe, 6 Egyptian and one European Nightjars were all located after dark! While on the same evening a full summer plumage Black-headed Bunting was at the Health & Fitness Club and stayed for most of the week.

An immature Corncrake at point blank range was a suprising find at the Health & Fitness Club on 21st, with another at Al Wathba the next day! Luckily the former bird hung around for several days, allowing several birders to catch up with it.

On 22nd at Al Wathba juvenile Namaqua Dove and 2 Blyth's Pipits were the highlights. However 2 Cream-coloured Coursers hawking very high with Blue-cheeked Beeaters was a very unusual site. Abu Dhabi Island was covered in the evening and Honey Buzzard, Sparrowhawk, and Wryneck were found. Incredibly a Goldfinch was found in Mushrif Palace Gardens on 24th, which though elusive, hung around until the month end. This is about the sixth record for the UAE and a good find for the lone observer who heard it 'tinkling' above his head! 38 Cattle Egrets were roosting at the Eastern Lagoon, as was the Black-shouldered Kite.

The next day Al Wathba Fodder Fields produced 10 White Storks, a juvenile male Hen Harrier, Pintail Snipe, Pin-tailed Sandgrouse and at least 4 Egyptian Nightjars.

A Bluethroat was a nice find on 27th at the Equestrian Club, but even better was a lost Thrush Nightingale in the middle of the city on 30th.

October, as ever proved to be thrilling and unpredictable with great birding throughout the month. Why don't you come out and join us?

Steve James

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Committee members

Steve James (Chairman)
Mobile: 050 +6118846

Simon Aspinall (Deputy Chairman)
Mobile: 050+6424358

Wafa Morda (Secretary)
Ph: 6320126

Hazim al Chalabi (Membership Secretary)
Ph: 6654372

Peter Hellyer (editor of Tribulus)
Mobile: 050+6424357

Charles Laubach (Member at large)
Ph: 6275134

Arleen Edwards (Sales)
Ph: 4454992

Andrew Twyman (Sales)
Ph: 6668462

Richard Perry (Member)
Mobile: 050+4418623

Arun Kumar (Treasurer)
Mobile: 050+6150328

Dick Hornby (Member at large)
Ph: 6274049

Ingrid Barcelo
Mobile: 050+5325713

Allestree Fisher
Ph: 02- 6775717

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Corporate Sponsors of the ENHG 2001

The following companies are supporting the ENHG's conservation efforts in the region. Each company has made a commitment, each has made a difference and the environment thanks them all. We hope you, as ENHG members will in turn support these companies whenever you can.

  • ABN Amro Bank
  • ADCO
  • Al Fahim Group
  • Al Nasser Holdings
  • Al Sayegh Richards Butler Banque Nationale de Paris
  • Bin Hamoodah
  • British Council
  • British Petroleum
  • HSBC
  • METCO
  • Mobil Abu Dhabi
  • Mohammed Bin Masood & Sons
  • National Bank of Abu Dhabi
  • Omeir Travel Agency
  • Ready Mix Abu Dhabi Ltd
  • Simmons & Simmons
  • Union National Bank
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Patron: H.E. Sheikh Nahayan bin Mubarak Al Nahayan