Bulletin 19 - March 1983: Seventh Annual General Meeting (January 17 1983)



Seventh Annual General Meeting (January 17 1983)

The meeting, held in the Federal Building, was attended by 38 members and followed the established routine of previous AGMs with a series of reports followed by new elections to the Committee and a social evening.

Chairman's Report

'Bish' Brown commented first on the short tenure of office of Giles Roche, who was elected Chairman in 1982 but who left Abu Dhabi in April and is now in Cairo -- still avidly collecting bees and wasps at every opportunity. Egypt's gain is Abu Dhabi's loss, for Giles' previous experience on the committees of similar societies in Qatar, Malaysia and London would have been of great benefit to the ENHG.

1982 was a reasonable year, but not outstanding. Membership at 191 was down on 1981, reflecting the newly-independent status of the Al Ain Group. One or two UAE nationals showed interest and it was to be hoped that this trend would continue in order that the Group might eventually pass on a body of data and also enthusiasm to the local population.

The Group's main activity centred on the Monday evening meetings, which were again well-attended. Martin Willmot was commended for his often thankless task as Programme Secretary, and it was felt that in future this job should be shared among a three-person sub-committee. Rental for the Community Centre Hall was recently raised so it was essential to persuade attending non-members to join.

Practical activities in the Workroom on the fourth Monday of each month were not well attended in spite of the available facilities and not much progress was made towards creating a worthwhile museum during the year. The Archaeology Recorder arranged trips to Umm an Nar, one of which was joined by members of the Al Ain Group, and the Geology Recorder also ran a number of trips, though none specifically for ENHG members. Organising field trips is always a problem and it was felt that for 1983 a co-ordinator should be found to arrange such outings. It was emphasised that they would be working trips, not picnics, designed to promote the understanding and scope of natural history in a variety of locations.

1982 saw the continued publication of Bulletins, this time Nos. 16, 17 and 18. The majority of articles consisted of original material based on recordings. The black and white photography experiment in Bulletin 17 was not a success due to technical factors but the idea has not been abandoned completely. Bulletin 18 saw the first foray into articles in Arabic, a difficult task for translators because of the specific nature of the subject matter. Good natural historians do not necessarily make good translators, and vice versa.

In order to keep the membership more fully informed on recordings and activities, the Newsletter was expanded into a monthly publication. Val Stokell volunteered to co-ordinate this task and has done a good job, buoyed up by infectious enthusiasm. An understudy is now required prior to Val's departure from Abu Dhabi later in the year.

As a final duty, tne Chairman thanked all those members who had undertaken to help in various ways during 1982 -Muriel Giles for running the Monday evening tea-bar along with occasional helpers Maureen Ticehurst and Susan Goldsmith, not forgetting Beth Brown who did the job for almost five years until standing down earlier in the year. The general membership was thanked for its co-operation, and the 1982 committee for its support, including Abdulla Dawood, for his help and advice on various occasions.

Recorders Reports

1. Birds - Jenny Hollingworth.

Records continued to be received from the Abu Dhabi area on a weekly basis, and intermittently from other areas including the offshore islands of Das, Zirku, and Qarnayn, and Zakum Supercomplex. Such records were transferred onto official forms with the ready help of Peter Yates and Nick Jephson. The demise of the Sewage Farm in 1983 is causing concern to birdwatchers as practically all Abu Dnabi records have come from this one location in the past. The 1981-82 winter had brought such migrants as the Spotted Eagle and Pallid Harrier, plus teal, wigeon, pintail and shoveller in number. Tne spring migration Drought an increased number of small waders, plus interesting additions such as Bluethroat, Woodchat Shrike, Desert Wheatear, Bluecheeked Bee-eater, Ortolan Bunting, Red-throated and Tawny Pipit. During the summer sightings were reduced as expected, but still included the Purple Heron, Cattle Egret, an Egyptian Goose and Ruddy Shelduck plus the ever faithful Night Heron. All the above were Sewage Farm recordings. Unusual recordings for autumn 1982 included Stone Curlew, Squacco Heron, Rock Thrush and Lanner Falcon.

Visits by members to other areas of the UAE brought in useful records of expected mountain and desert species such as Brown-necked Raven, Purple Sunbird, Hume's Wheatear, Sand Partridge, Egyptian Vulture and Black-crowned Finch-lark.

The Group contributed information towards the Atlas of Breeding Birds of Arabia, and finally established beyond doubt that the long-tailed prinia breeding in marshy habitats around Abu Dhabi was in .fact the Graceful and not the Scrub Warbler, despite the often lacking distinct tail markings. Thanks here are due to Mike Crumbie's careful observations. Ian Fraser was thanked for his list of breeding species from Zirku Island, including the Red-billed Tropicbird.

1983 should prove interesting. The end of the Sewage Farm will at least mean a more balanced record in future for Abu Dhabi as a whole, with perhaps less emphasis on waders and more on passerines.

2. Geology - Richard Hulstrand.

A spring trip was conducted to Fossil Valley (Jebel Huwaya), east of Buraimi, along with two other ADCO geologists. The tour was primarily for parents and children of the American School but several ENHG members also went along. A variety of fossils was collected for school display.

Another trip was made in March from the outermost Tertiary limestone ridge along the western flank of Jebel Hafit. Good specimens of algae and colony coral were collected but still await precise identification.

A weekend trip was made in August to the Wadi Beh/Wadi Hail area east of Ras al Khaimah with some visiting Houston geologists to examine some of the UAE's oldest rocks.

3. Shells - Kathy Kirby.

Work has continued throughout the year both collecting and classifying shells. A total of 204 species have now been recorded, comprising 141 gastropods and 63 bivalves. Eleven new species were added to the Group's collection, some still to be identified.

The recorder appealed to all members who might have or collect any unusual shell to get in touch. The shell will not be retained by the Group. Special thanks were given to two members who brought in shells for identification, as a result of which five rare shells were recorded.

4. Hymenoptera - Ian Hamer.

Collecting in 1982 was a reasonably successful activity with approximately 80 species being taken. An exact number is not yet possible due to problems with identification. All specimens have been pinned, labelled and prepared for identification, but lack of adequate references has meant that classification is a laborious business. A limited number was identified by comparison with Giles Roche's specimens; we await further details from Giles in the not too distant future. Major success in splitting into genera has been achieved with the Sphecidae, by reference to a key left by Giles and other literature, but unfortunately no comprehensive keys are available for other groups. It is to be hoped that higher authorities will make positive identifications in due course and to this end the Recorder has attempted to net at least two specimens of each type, one for the Group's permanent collection. No material should be released for identification until the Group holds at least one good reference specimen. Assistance in the field of photography would be much appreciated.

Indexing of specimens has been temporarily neglected pending positive specialist identification. Lack of time has meant that checking on associated flora has also not been attempted.

The prime task for 1983 is seen as collecting a varied number from as many different locations as possible. Provided specimens are pinned and labelled, other activities can be completed at a later date.

Efforts in 1982 have been mainly concerned with the Aculeata (bees and wasps), tnough a fringe activity has been the collection of specimens from other groups, including parasitica. A Recorder specialising in one or more of these groups would be a distinct advantage for the Group. Recording bees and wasps represents a major commitment of time and effort and any assistance would be most welcome. Members are asked to contribute specimens provided the appropriate information on place and date of capture is included. It is hoped that regular Bulletin articles (see 'Hymenoptera Highlights II' in this issue) will stimulate further interest.

5. Archaeology - Rob Western.

In some ways a disappointing year. Press reports in June of the discovery of a 5,000 year old site at Ras Ganada on the Abu Dhabi - Dubai coastline have not yet been confirmed. If they are, then subsequent investigations should shed some light on archaeological knowledge of Umm an Nar, the only other contemporary site on this coastline. It was unfortunate that Serge Cleuziou was unable to lead a fieldtrip to Hili, nor was he able to give the Group his customary Spring talk on the season's excavations. Occasional reports still come in of development projects destroying both known and potential sites, particularly in Ras al Khaimah, while other sites continue to be eroded and spoilt by thoughtless tourism and lack of official protection.

On the brighter side, more members are taking an interest and bringing in artefacts for the Recorder's perusal. Three field trips to Umm an Nar were organised in 1982 and a fourth very early in 1983, while a survey along the coast north of Abu Dhabi revealed a series of aligned stone squares which were probably once a feature of bedu campsites. Sporadic checking at Site I off the Al Ain road showed that the dunes are shifting inexorably and revealing a further variety of sherds and other artefacts dating back to the eighteenth century.

1983 should prove an interesting year. It is intended to run a fieldtrip to Hili in February in conjunction with the Al Ain Group, and more trips to Umm an Nar can be arranged on demand. The July edition of the Bulletin will include an article on the early post-Holocene settlement of the Ain al Faidah area, contributed by Hans Georg Gebel of the University of Tubingen in West Germany. Meanwhile the material on display and in store at the' Workroom requires cataloguing and photographing and further help in this regard would be warmly welcomed.

6. Mammals - Val Stokell.

Val has acted as co-ordinator for this subject, collecting and cataloguing records. Unfortunately, very few records have been received apart from the usual foxes, hares and the occasional sea mammal. This is in the main due to the intrinsic problems of the subject -- a lot of time and patience is required to "hunt" the more unusual animals, many of which are nocturnal in habit. However, the continued existence of a tiny herd of Tahr on Jebel Hafit was proved by members of the Al Ain Group, and a small herd of gazelle were recorded in the desert southeast of Abu Dhabi. It is hoped that members will make more effort in 1983.

7. Plants - Rob Western.

The group has over 250 identified plant species on record, the vast majority coming in 1982. Most determinations were from Edinburgh Botanical Garden, with a few (particularly grasses) from Kew. Over a hundred individual specimens are mounted in herbarium folders and may be consulted in the Workroom. Among rarer plants collected during the year was a species of carnation from the hills near Khatt, in Ras al Khaimah, a thin twiggy plant called Sphaerocoma aucheri from the coast near Ghantoot and a new Tribulus from Kalba for the Group's records.

The Group possesses an extensive slide collection and the Recorder will give an updated talk later in the year. One of the bugbears of amateur collecting in the UAE is the problem of distinguishing among similar species, such as the coastal saltbushes, and it was one of the Recorder's main concerns during the year to classify as many as possible. Though not complete, at least some of the Zygophyllaceae make more sense now.

Looking forward to 1983, it is hoped that collecting will continue at the same pace, particularly in the Northern Emirates and central plains. The Group also intends to publish a modest series of keys to the flora of the UAE in order to popularise the subject and make a permanent record.

8. Reptiles - Bish Brown.

1982 was a good year for reptile recordings though many were mentioned only in casual conversation and without detail. More forms and photographs would be appreciated.

Lizards

One 'dhub' (Uromastix microlepis) was found in the centre of Abu Dhabi. It must have been brought in from an outlying area and was either released or escaped. It was returned to the Sueyhan Road area.

Skink reports were numerous and both the Sand Skink (Scincus conirostris) of the sand dunes and the Ocellated skink (Chalcides chalcides) of damp Abu Dhabi gardens were caught and photographed.

Around Abu Dhabi many Yellow-bellied house geckoes (Hemidactylus flaviridis) were observed at night catching insects around outside lamps. Dwarf rock geckoes (Pristurus rupestris) were active during the day, and under old pieces of wood or board the Abu Dhabi gecko (Bunopus tuberculatus) was found.

Several Jayakari's agamids (Agama jayakari) were recorded in mountain areas, replaced in some regions by the Blue-grey rock agamid (Agama sinaita). Toad-headed agamids (Phrynocephalus arabicus) were always active in soft sandy areas.

Eremias and Acanthodactylus species were also regularly seen. One specimen of the legless lizard Diplometopon zarudnyi was brought in from the Sahil area.

Snakes

There were many reports of snakes from the Hatta area but the 'good' photographs never materialised. A Sand boa (Eryx jayakari) was caught in the Sahil area.

Two or three dead sea snakes were brought in including the Yellow-bellied sea snake (Pelamis platurus) and Hydrophis species (probably Hydrophis lapemoides).

Turtles

Several were reported in the Futaisi channel but no positive identifications were made.

9. Traces - Martin Willmot.

Over the past two years Martin has studied animal tracks and signs and now has a formidable amount of data. Rather than a report of records kept, he presented an account of some of the more interesting incidents on his travels, ranging from tracking fox trails, checking nests and distinguishing among an array of beetle signs, to anecdotes about some of the more unsavoury 'traces' collected. Armed with little some than an infectious enthusiasm and a lot of determination Martin has created a viable and very interesting recording topic, and one that somebody should take up after his departure later this year.

 


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