Under the Patronage of H.E. Sheikh Nahayan Mubarak Al Nahayan

 The ENHG
Al Ain Chapter

Newsletter

The Emirates Natural History Group, Al Ain Chapter, PO Box 18057, Al Ain      January, 2006– Issue #232

A Spring Flowering of Date Palms
Notes inspired by Phoenix dactyliflora on a walk through Khudrah oasis.
Article & photos by Marion Campey
My top will be green until day eternal.
And those persons who lack bread and wine
Eat fruit from me until they become filled

                                                                                Draxt 1 Asurig
Date palms are dioecious, meaning there are separate male and female plants. Their respective flowers are carried in bunches at the top of the tree. Each male tree produces sufficient pollen to fertilise up to fifty trees hence the ratio of 1 male to 25-50 female palms in oases.

On the walk through Khudrah, we noticed that the long stems of creamy yellow female flowers (inflorescence) had burst out of the brown sheaths (spathes) that protected their early development.

They shoot up expectantly, and for a short period of 7 days, present a window of opportunity for fertilization from the male flowers. The date farmers do not let this chance pass by. The normal practice is to introduce bundles of the male inflorescence in the spadix of the female tree so that the male pollen can fertilise the female flower. This manual pollination is the norm and ensures a decent crop of dates. A single bunch (spathe) may contain up to a thousand dates with each palm producing an average of twelve bunches.


A stem of male flower (the pale stem at the bottom right)
has been introduced into the female florescence.
( Khudra Oasis)

       Male inflorescence in spathes for sale at Al Ain souq
This broadsheet is published free to families in the Al Ain area. If you are a member planning an activity with a natural history theme please notify us so that others can join you. Everybody is able to contribute to ENHG and Emirates recordings. For more on our activities please visit our website <www.enhg.org> or join our e-mail discussion group at ENHG@Yahoogroups.com. The Group meets at 7.30pm on the 2nd & 4th Tuesday of the month, usually at the Intercontinental Hotel. New Members are welcome.

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The ENHG   Al Ain Chapter Newsletter…                        February, 2006– Issue #232

A visit to Khudra oasis.

Friday 17th February.
Article by Marion Campey
We set out on our walk at the wadi crossing, leaving behind the cluster of white, flat roofed housing that is the “new” village and bringing with us that delicious sense of anticipation, of leaving the rest of the world behind. What will we discover this time?

The wadi curves around, wide and shallow from west to east where the gravel plain stretches out a little only to be gathered up and hemmed in by the spines of the Hajar Mountains. The wadi, plain and mountains form the natural limit to the oasis.

We choose not to enter the oasis at the crossing instead heading off to our left, along the curve of wadi, hopping over the smooth bedrock and pools that harbour polliwogs (tadpoles), waterskaters and the small Arabian toads. The different toad species can be identified by the distance between the eye and ear though not one of us attempts this exacting exercise. A dragonfly hovered dipping its rear in the water as it deposited eggs – the action of a determined ovipositor in spite of the large audience. On the northern side sedges and bulrushes grow and further along, donkey’s cabbage and euphorbia are noted. To our right, on the southern side of the wadi, conglomerate cliffs rise up to the oasis edge, forming a steep and water worn natural limit to the oasis. It is in these cliffs that maidenhair and wild orchid flourish, nourished by water seepage and sheltered from the hot sun. The seepage is heavily charged with fertilizer nutrients from the oasis garden causing algal growth in the lower stagnant pools.


        The wadi curves around, wide and shallow

                     Maidenhair and wild orchid flourish                 photos by R. Falconer
We glimpse a worker clambering up a date palm, using a sheath to haul himself over the spines to reach the top where the pale creamy flowers have burst out of the protective spathe. It is time for manual pollination and thus securing a bountiful date crop.

We keep a sharp eye out for water scorpions, of interest because their handy breathing tube which is suspended on the surface of the water though disappointingly none are spied. Water flows, trickling softly and further on, we find in one of the stagnant pools the discarded skin identified as that of a small freshwater cray.

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The ENHG   Al Ain Chapter Newsletter…                        February, 2006– Issue #232

A visit to Khudra oasis cont...

The wadi is left behind, as we scramble up onto the gravel plain, the oasis framed to the south by the jagged mountain range against which the date palms, mango trees and minaret form a memorable profile. The group, led by Brien, focuses on a small circular area of cleared plain. It’s majlis seating area, created knowingly on a bit of prime real estate with “views forever”!
We find out that another kind of cleared shallow depression with a clay surface have been created for the use of watering donkeys. The archaeology extends over the next several hundred metres to include a school, the remains of housing, a cemetery, mosque, terraces and small weirs. It is noted that in an Islamic grave, the body, i.e. face, fingers and feet, is oriented towards the west (Mekkah) even though the grave’s alignment is north/south. It is polite not to walk on the graves and also to acknowledge, through a simple prayer, the presence of deceased persons.


                                 The group, led by Brien, focuses on a small circular area of cleared plain               photo by R. Falconer

We clamber back down into and across the wadi to enter the oasis at the eastern end, skirting the “old” and still inhabited village where children play and call out “how are you?” the generic and well meant greeting that is used instead of “hullo”. Cow and goats are penned, aloe vera, cactus, grow in clusters. A small open-sided mosque has an Arabic inscription painted on one wall, which roughly translated means “mistakes will be forgiven as Allah has a big heart”. Thus fortified by such generous words, we continue on admiring fruiting figs and nabj, flowering mangoes and date palms. The garden is well planted and we spy young papaya trees, citrus, and greens including mint, rocket onions, radish, parsley.

So we wander out where we started, having completed a full circle and glimpsed a little of oasis life, flora and fauna, and touched by the mystery that is the past.

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The ENHG   Al Ain Chapter Newsletter…                        February, 2006– Issue #232

An Old Friend Passes

Article by Brien Holmes

I am sad to report that our dear friend Obaid of Khutwah has passed away. This morning (Friday, February 24, 2006) we included Wadi Khutwah on our tour in anticipation of Tuesday's trip of Al Ain English Speaking School students to the oasis on Tuesday. When we arrived at the 'town square', one of the gentlemen explained the locked door of Obaid's house. Evidently Obaid was ill and was taken to hospital in Buraimi a few weeks ago. He passed away at the hospital.
As many of you know, Obaid lived in his house in Khutwah with his sister Fatima. I believe Fatima is now living with her daughter Mariam in new Khutwah.
For many years, Obaid was a generous host to members of the natural history group any time we visited the oasis. He always had fresh coffee and dates for visitors. He sometimes shared his mid-day meal with us. A few years ago, he was featured on the front page of the Friday magazine of Gulf News after we invited a Gulf News reporter and photographer to join us for a visit to Khutwah.
I first met Obaid about seven years ago when I walked past his blue doors and poked my head inside. My intrusion was met with an enthusiastic greeting and he and I sat down for dates and coffee. I saw him a few more times that season, and was introduced to his sister Fatima. Then a period of a few years passed when, for one reason or another, we did not see each other. As Obaid told the story, it was five or six years, but my recollection it was only a couple.
Nonetheless, one day I rang the bell and wandered in again. Immediately Obaid smiled and it was obvious that he recognized me. And so began a friendship that lasted until just a few weeks ago.
There are many stories about Obaid -- the time he tried to explain to me that he needed a massager for his arthritis, the time he asked me to bring 100-meters of plastic pipe for water, the day the women students from the Higher Colleges met him, finding a replacement element for his electric heater -- but for me there is one day that was very special. It was the weekend I and three others had been stuck in the mountains as we tried to walk from Musah to Khutwah. I had left my truck in the town square beside Obaid's house, as I had a hundred times before. (Obaid always insisted he knew the sound of my truck and would reprimand me thoroughly if I visited the oasis and did not stop in to see him.) After the helicopter picked us up, I was given a ride to Khutwah to retrieve my truck. When we pulled in to the square, waiting there were several of the laborers who worked the farms at Khutwah and, crouched on the rocks outside his gate, Obaid. If you were a regular at Khutwah, you know Obaid seldom, if ever, wandered outside the gate. When he saw me and realized we were all safe, he smiled and insisted I go to the market and buy a sheep so we could all celebrate the happy ending. It was an incredible moment. As Jerry observed this morning, it is the end of an era. Attached are a few photos of Obaid.


Obaid of Khutwa

 


Brien with Obaid

         Obaid          courtesy of Gulf News
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The ENHG   Al Ain Chapter Newsletter…                        February, 2006– Issue #232

On-Road in the U. A. E.            a Tuesday presentation by Gareth Leggett on his new book

Thanks to the kindness of Dr. Al Naboodah of the Zayed Centre for Heritage and History, February 14, Valentine’s Day eve found a large gathering of ENHGers in the lecture hall to listen to Gareth Leggett’s presentation on his book, “On-Road in the U.A.E.” Gareth’s presentation was not only about on-road experiences to be had in the UAE, it was also about how he researched the book and about the publishing woes facing anyone interested in publishing a book in the UAE. He made the book available for 45 Dh’s to those attending (regular 65Dh)

The book, and Gareth's stories of exploring this amazing corner of the world, is a very welcome addition to the library of anyone interested in this home away from home. And you do not need an expensive off-road vehicle to see many amazing sites!!

17 easy-to-follow routes -- and we do mean easy to follow!
- 5 what he calls feeder routes --interesting things to see on some of the roads many of us drive often (those new dual carriageways all multiples of "11")
- a handy route rating system -- very original!
- satellite maps, photos and tidbits
- transliteration of handy expressions in Arabic -- missing from the latest editions of many off-road books

and much more . . .

Thank you Gareth – we await the next edition…

Thanks for the Help
Chris Henry has volunteered to maintain the workroom at AAESS and has done a smashing job of getting things back into shape – We needed help badly. So thank you, Chris – we hope you stick around.

 


 

     Gareth’s book is a handy trip book in the UAE
Dove: a short story
By G. Kershaw

There was a dove on my doorstep
this morning.

It was still alive.

I herded cats, my cats,
They didn’t know what to do.

Nor did I.

They’re failing cats and pampered.

The dove was vermillion and lavender and grey
Beautiful and half dead.

I put it away from the cats on the back balcony all day.

I told my son I would look after it, while he went to school;

I shoo-ed him off to school.

I found the dove dead on my absent daughter’s back balcony just now;

I threw the dove in the skip outside

and I didn’t tell my son.


18/1/2006

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The ENHG   Al Ain Chapter Newsletter…                        February, 2006– Issue #232

The ENHG - AAESS Year-7 Hanging Gardens Geology Tour

article & photos by W. Moore
This year the ENHG has expanded its program for school-aged youth taking 40-ish Al Ain English speaking School year-sevens to the base of the Hanging Gardens / Jebel Qatar hike on a geological expedition (along with numerous teachers and parents – thank you very much). “LET’S ROCK N’ ROLL WITH WEATHERING” was an opportunity for the students to get out of the classroom and into nature, head-on. We were graced with cloudy skies and gentle showers – a sure sign of goodness. The three types of rock (can you

40-ish AAESS year-sevens at the base of Jebel Qatar
 name them?) were identified and discussed, field sketches were drafted, the causes of the various weathering patterns were discussed with hands on sensitivity. Photos were taken. It was a truly excellent adventure, Brien! Let’s do it again!


Can you find Juni?

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The ENHG   Al Ain Chapter Newsletter…                        February, 2006– Issue #232

The ENHG – Al Ain Chapter 1981 -

Article by Brien Holmes

As reported by the Abu Dhabi chapter of the ENHG in the March 1981 issue of their publication, The Bulletin, “The Al Ain group formally became the Al Ain Branch of the ENHG in 1980 but a regular liaison capacity is still required between the two groups. The Al Ain Branch has published its first Report and Proceedings (September 1980), a copy of which is in the library.”

The first few seasons were a little rough for the fledgling group but the Al Ain chapter soon established a consistent stride and the chapter has been moving from strength to strength, due in large part to the population of expatriates at the UAE University and, later, the two campuses of the Higher Colleges of Technology, along with professionals from the three local hospitals and various government and private sector organizations. The Al Ain chapter is managed by a Committee of volunteers; they meet on the first Tuesday of each month.

The chapter currently holds general meetings on the 2nd and 4th Tuesdays of each month (July, August and December excepted) at the Al Ain Intercontinental Resort hotel. The group organizes field trips that are normally held on Fridays each week. From time to time, weekend field trips are held to destinations including Ras al Khaimah and Nizwa. In all instances, the group makes an effort to include all individuals, regardless of age, physical condition or experience.


                              Folks gather in the morning, then convoy out to the site of the week                      photo by W. Moore
On its field trips, the chapter makes an effort to contact local residents and has, in many instances, established a relationship with local residents and farm laborers. The group donates food and school materials to a family in Ray (on the route between Mahdah and Hatta), donated food and supplies to Obaid and Fatima Al Ka’abi in Khutwah, and food and supplies to farmers in Jazirah. (Regrettably, Obaid recently passed away and his sister Fatima is now in the care of her daughter in nearby “new” Khutwah.) At Musah, the group has been generously greeted by Saif Al Ka’abi and his family; the chapter is investigating ways to assist that community. When ever possible, the group makes an effort to thank the local residents for the opportunity to wander around their farms.
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The ENHG   Al Ain Chapter Newsletter…                        February, 2006– Issue #232

The ENHG – Al Ain Chapter 1981 – cont…

During each season, additional activities are organized for members with special interests. For example, members interested in challenging mountain hiking can join the events of the Ibrahim Zakhour Triple Crescent Award. This program offers individuals an opportunity to climb some of the more challenging peaks in the district. Each Saturday evening the group holds a “curating” session as the Al Ain chapter is the custodians of one of the largest collections of insects for the UAE and northern Oman, much of the collection donated by Mike Gillett. The group holds regular trapping sessions using the generator and equipment purchased by the chapter.

The group is proud of its modest efforts to subsidize research for natural history topics. It has provided funds in support of: DNA research on human remains found at archaeological sites in the UAE; the study of the chemistry of camel brains; a research study of dhubs; and the investigation of plant, animal and insect life in a typical mountain oasis and wadi. Individual members have contributed articles and photographs for various publications of both the private and public sectors.

The chapter provides support and field guides, including worksheets, for a variety of field trips arranged for students of the Al Ain English Speaking School and the Gem School of Dubai.


                                               There is no way to show it all, so here are just a few of the things we do                        collage by W. Moore
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The ENHG   Al Ain Chapter Newsletter…                        February, 2006– Issue #232

The ENHG – Al Ain Chapter 1981 – cont…

Annual events of the Al Ain chapter include an Iftar Dinner (organized in cooperation with the Zayed Center for Heritage and History), a photography competition, an Annual General Meeting, and a celebration of the holiday season with a Christmas Eve in the desert event. Members of the Al Ain chapter also participate in the annual Inter Emirates Weekend, sharing activities with colleagues from chapters in Abu Dhabi and Dubai.

The group maintains a “work room” at a location donated by the Al Ain English Speaking School. The chapter’s assets, including computer, maps, generator and collections, are kept in the space, along with the chapter’s modest library of books, magazines, articles and videotape.

The Al Ain chapter has a variety of strategies to maintain communication with members and report on its activities. The traditional Newsletter has evolved from a paper publication to an internet communication and remains the official publication of the chapter. The group has an email discussion group, courtesy of YahooGroups.com. The email service has been in place for more than five years. The Al Ain chapter also maintains a large website (www.enhg.org) with a collection of pages covering all aspects of natural history. The site was originally established as an archival site built around the articles and images published in the Abu Dhabi chapter’s publication The Bulletin, making these materials available to a wider audience since the original publication is not widely available. Since its inception, the website has become a source of information including an internet history of field trips, documentation of plants and insects, as well as information and links relevant to the natural history of the UAE and Oman.

Of special interest to the group is the history of copper smelting in the region over the past 5000 or more years. The group has made an effort to record smelting sites and revisit sites recorded in the past (ie Wadi Safafir). The search for copper mine sites continues. Likewise, the group has a special interest in the archaeology at Jabeeb where ancient falaj, smelting hearths and occupation sites have been recorded. These sites are under threat from development and the group has worked in close cooperation with the Al Ain Museum to identify sites and recommend their protection and preservation. Other sites of special interest include the graves and settlements of Jebel Qatarra and the Jebel Hafit period tombs of Jebel Aqbar.

The Al Ain Museum is one of several “partners” operating in conjunction with the Al Ain chapter. Other partners include PIC (investment consultants), Emirates Environment Group and the Al Ain English Speaking School, all of whom collaborated to set up a waste collection station (metal and paper). Other partners include the Zayed Center for Heritage and History (part of UAE University), the Abu Dhabi Concert Committee and the Al Ain Intercontinental Resort hotel.

For at least five years, the Al Ain chapter, working in cooperation with the Abu Dhabi Concert Committee and the Al Ain Intercontinental Resort, has organized field trips free of charge for the subscribers of the annual Al Ain Classical Music weekend. At least seven different field trips are organized for each Thursday and Friday morning of these festival weekends.

The Al Ain chapter is working with the management of the Mercure Hotel on Jebel Hafit to develop an interpretive nature trail on the mountain.

The group will continue to evolve into the future, no doubt, determined to maintain its spontaneity and to explore the natural history of the UAE and northern Oman, finding new and innovative ways to share their discoveries with individuals and organizations around the world.

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