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Natural History Group Records and Collecting

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by Michael P.T. Gillett

(The following article appeared in the Al Ain Newsletter of March 1993.)

Reviving the Recording Habit

For well over a hundred years it has been the established practice of Natural History Societies and Groups like outs to maintain records of their local flora and fauna, as well as palaeontological and archaeological discoveries. Even in the UK, where the flora, fauna and fossils are amongst the most extensively studied in the world, such groups of interested amateur natural historians still maintain their records year after year. More importantly, through their recording they continue to make, not only interesting discoveries, but also a major contribution to conservation issues.

How important it is then to live up to our name as the Al Ain ENHG and to strengthen the pattern and the substance of our recording activities since, unlike for the UK, our local flora and fauna have not been well studied. Such records that we are able to collect are not just kept locally by our own Group but are much more widely divulged. Twice a year they are sent to the Abu Dhabi Group for collection with their own records and publication as the Recorders Reports in Tribulus. Any records arising from Omani territory are communicated to Michael Gallagher at the Oman Museum of Natural History for inclusion in the Oman Central Record. Records relating to birds, particularly nesting ones, may be useful for the Atlas of Breeding Birds of Arabia project and so on. Part of our records may come from individuals who stumble upon an occasional item of interest or they may result from the collective sightings of Group members during the course of one of our field trips, whilst examination of road casualties is another common source of records in the UAE. Amongst other things, such casual records may be of common or widespread species, but who knows they could represent:

  • the sightings of rare migrant species (birds, butterflies etc.)
  • rediscovery of 'lost' or doubtful species
  • discovery of 'species new to science', new to our region or introduced from elsewhere
  • finding of medically or economically undesirable species (mosquitoes, crop pests etc.)

On the other hand, recording by the Group might represent the results of specific endeavors to study the Natural History of a given location or of a special type of habitat. Those involved might make repeated visits to study areas and conduct systematic observation of the local species over a period of time. The records obtained in this way are, of course, scientific rather than casual. Whilst such recording may equally include casual sightings as in the examples given above, they are more likely to represent knowledge in depth of a variety of species in a given area/habitat, their ecology and their life histories. Such records are, therefore, especially relevant to the monitoring of possible environmental threats.

Both types of records are important. We need to know what we have in our area. Anything unusual will attract enthusiasts anxious to carry out further studies. But we must not forget our common species, especially if we come across them under unusual circumstances. We can never have too many records and in the past I suspect that we have suffered from having too few!

It would be nice if every record provided come with its English, Arabic and current scientific name and synonomy. Some findings lend themselves to such presentation, since there are reasonably good books available with which to identify birds, butterflies and plants. All too often, however, our sightings will not be so readily identified, but that does not mean that they can not be added to our records. For example, if bats are seen fling about in the twilight, their identification will not be possible, but by adding them to our records we will eventually build up our knowledge of these interesting mammals. Small animals such as insects etc. are especially hard to identify. Photographs or, much better, collected specimens (about which more next month in Part 2) can be crucial to the recording process.

Having covered the subject of what to records, which is basically anything and everything, it is now necessary to describe how to record. In this month's issue there are two forms: one for recording flora and one for fauna. Their use is self-explanatory and the forms can be photo-copied over and over again to accommodate the vast number of records, which I am sure will flood in over the coming months! Remember that the desert and the mountains are beautiful, but especially so in the coming months when the spring ephemeral flowers are in bloom and the air is alive with the busy buzzing of a myriad insects. If you want to see butterflies in profusion and in numbers far greater than I can even remember from my days in Brazil, then take some trips out to sites where Acacia tortilis is flowering at the beginning of May. Only don't forget to take your forms and to bring them back nicely filled in!

Your records can be handed in to me or to any other committee member at the Group's meetings. It is also possible to hand in lists of the better-known species, such as birds, together with an indication of where, when and how many were seen. Everything will be carefully considered and I will bring it all together in a yearly report which will appear in the November Newsletter. Finally, besides passing on your records to me, you could give even consider writing up your own account of any particularly interesting sightings either for the Newsletter or for Tribulus.


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