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Gazelle July/August 2001



DNHG Field Trip Policies

Members are reminded that DNHG field trips are cooperative ventures among the participants, for their mutual benefit and enjoyment. DNHG field trip leaders are not normally professionals or experts, but fellow members who have agreed to share heir time and their knowledge with other participants, on a volunteer basis. The relationship of trip leaders and participants is that of co-venturers, not professional and client. For these reasons field trip participation is limited to DNHG members and their bona fide non-resident guests.

Various dangers are inherent in travel in and around the UAE and in the exploration of the natural environment, whether by automobile, by boat, on foot or otherwise, and whether on-road or off-road, in the cities or countryside, in the mountains or deserts or at sea. By participating in DNHG field trips, members accept these risks, and they accept responsibility for their own safety and welfare. Field trip participants are normally required to sign a waiver form to this effect. Without these understandings, the DNHG would be unable to sponsor field trips or to recruit volunteers to lead them.

Field trips vary in both format and organization, depending on the nature of the trip, the number of participants, and the preferences of the field trip leader. If the number of participants is limited and sign-up is required, members should make every effort to honor their commitments or to give timely notice otherwise, as a courtesy both to the trip leader and to other members who might like to have the chance to participate.

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Hotter Than, Well . . .

Report by Gary Feulner

The weatherman predicted 48 degrees at the coast and 43 inland, but dry air and a wet wadi made it a perfect late June day in Wadi Sarfanah, in the mountains E of Al-Ain. Because it has permanent water, this wadi has long been inhabited. The ancient falaj is now concreted, but tunnels dug in earlier times to traverse awkward parts of the wadi banks are still visible. So is scattered copper slag on nearby gravel terraces, although no mining or smelting site was obvious to untrained eyes.

In the wadi, Arabian toads (Bufo arabicus) were calling and mating and we saw an exceptionally large robber fly (the Highwayman) make a meal of a red and yellow hornet (Vespa orientalis) – some would say it was a fitting end to the latter trouble-maker. Large Nile leeches (Limnatis nilotica) were common in the water, as they are in a number of the larger plantation wadis and falajes from Khudayrah pools southwards. A wadi racer seemed to have only minor difficulty navigating the slippery slopes of a narrow waterfall chute, despite the absence of arms and legs.

Above the wadi were several recent mud cup nests of Pale Crag Martins, always under shaded overhangs. Nearby were clusters of the white, circular egg attachments of the Fan-Footed Gecko, which specialises in reverse slopes. Within a protected grotto we found an abandoned Rock Dove nest just a foot above the waterline, and even a solitary small bat (probably the Naked-Bellied Tomb Bat).

The highlights of the day? It was a three-way tie: (1) a pair of mating wadi racers, (2) a pair of Lappet-Faced Vultures, and (3) a lone clam shrimp (gravid with yellow eggs) in an isolated puddle on a bedrock terrace. Normally clam shrimps are seen only shortly after rains.

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Surface Water Vs Bottled Water? You decide!

Report by Peter Cunningham

Water from Wadi pools has always been utilised by humans throughout the Arabian Peninsula as Falaj systems, cisterns and wells indicate. A review of available literature however, indicates the lack of formal studies concerning the physical parameters of freshwater pools and streams of the Hayar Mountains of the United Arab Emirates and Oman. For this reason, in the course of more general field studies, samples were taken at two disparate sites in a well-known wadi, both to serve as reference and as a baseline for comparisons.

Water samples were taken at a depth of 30 cm below the surface of pools in Wadi Hatta (Hatta Pools) and Wadi Qhafi (tributary of Wadi Hatta), respectively. The samples were sealed in sterilised containers and cold stored for analysis at the Laboratory Unit of the Al Ain Water Department, Abu Dhabi Water and Electricity Authority. Results of the analysis are presented in Table 1.

Water from both Wadi Hatta and Wadi Qhafi fall between the classification of hard (<120 mgl-1) and brackish (1 000-10 000 mgl-1) (See: Hanna, S. & Al-Belushi, M. 1996. Introduction to the Caves of Oman. Sultan Qaboos University, Sultanate of Oman.). According to Al Basit (Laboratory Unit of the Al Ain Water Department), water from both pools is chemically potable although not bacteriological potable. This means that water has to be treated chemically before deemed suitable for human consumption. Analysis of the water was conducted during the summer of 1999 without taking seasonal variations into consideration. The results therefore indicate not absolutes, but data points within a natural cyclical change. Further studies are necessary to determine the general quality and seasonal variability of surface water.

Compare the results of Table 1 with the chemical analysis as presented on the labels of some well-known natural mineral water brands in Table 2.

Table 1. Bacteriological, physical and chemical comparison for water samples from Hatta Pools and Wadi Qhafi as determined in June 1999.


Hatta Pools

Wadi Qhafi

Bacteriological Analysis
Plate count of organisms per 1.0 ml
Too numerous to count
Too numerous to count
Coliform organisms per 100 ml
Faecal Coliform organisms per 100 ml

Physical Analysis
Conductivity (umho/cm)
Turbidity (NTU)

Chemical Analysis: mg/l
Carbon Dioxide
Chloride (CL)
Calcium Hardness
Magnesium Hardness
Sulphate (So4)
Total Hardness
Trace (0.003)
Trace (0.004)
Total Dissolvable Solids

Table 2. Chemical analysis for Al Ain Natural Mineral Water, Masafi Pure Natural Mineral Water and Gulfa Natural Spring Water as determined on the labels.


Al Ain



Chemical Analysis: mg/l      

Total Dissolvable Solids
nd - no data      


My sincere appreciation to the Laboratory Unit at the Al Ain Water Department, Abu Dhabi Water and Electricity Authority, for analysing the samples and Gary Feulner for his ideas regarding this short communication.

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Summer Shelling at Khor al-Qurm

Report by Sandy Fowler

Rumours of impending development of Khor al-Qurm, the pretty lagoon between Jazirat al-Hamra and Ras al-Khaimah, prompted Gary Feulner and Sandy Fowler to explore it this summer, despite the heat, before it was "improved." As recounted in Sandy's Rough Sheller's Guide, he had tried once before to visit the barrier beachfront the easy way, and learned that it was not so easy. This time they waded across the khor, choosing a gap in the flamingoes.

What started as a general look-see and record of the area, also turned into (for Sandy, at least), an interesting exercise in dehydration physiology -- Gary seemed impervious to dehydration, but of course, he’s younger than your Seashell Recorder! -- trying to see how well fluid balance could be maintained and minimal dehydration suffered over the space of 5 hours on a shadeless beach in the late June sun, despite both participants being well experienced and knowledgeable in the problem. Sandy lost out.

The initial lengthy wade out through a few inches of water, estimated to be at 40 degrees C, revealed remarkable numbers of mud creepers, Cerithidea cingulata and some brown and white banded Potamides conicus, numerous Osilinus kotschyi, and an occasional Clypeomorus bifasciatus persicus, all happily grazing in such seemingly inhospitable conditions. Occasional tight clumps of mud creeper shells proved to be the work of hermit crabs.

Several isolated islands separated the shore from the seaward beach, with mud flats and channels between. The landward shorelines up to and even under vegetation yielded plentiful specimens of the brackish water pulmonate snail Salinator fragilis and the small striped mussel Musculista senhousia (both previously uncollected by Sandy). Each of two heavy Barbatea mussel shells found in the silty intertidal zone was home to a Nodilittorina arabica, a tiny winkle which normally lives on intertidal rocks.

Along the sheltered shores of the islands there were a few dozen scattered but rather small mangrove bushes. These are the Arabic qurm for which the khor is somewhat optimistically named. Two of the largest were in flower and spendidly scented. A few mangrove tree snails (Littoraria intermedia) were found on lower stems as a bonus. At least five species of crabs were recognized on the mud flats but little bird life was seen, save for the Greater Flamingoes on the way out and disturbed Crested Larks on the spits.

The beachfront itself yielded nothing spectacular in shelling terms, but near the crest of the beach Sandy was delighted to find an old specimen of the large, elongated clam Lutraria australis to swell his collection by three species for the day. Most surprising was finding a vehicle track on the outermost beach. Just how they accessed it was a mystery that was investigated without success.

After a break for rehydration, the channel at the south end of the khor was also scouted (tried again to figure out how they got that car across), but was unimpressive save for the amount of washed up local fishermen’s garbage – the worst I have ever seen – and colonies of the large, knobby Thais savignyi on the rocks at and just above the tide line. Towards the south end of the barrier island, embedded shells were common in the beachfront rocks, which appeared to be recently lithified sediments.

It was perhaps not the most exciting or memorable of shelling visits both have made, but this is now the only relatively undisturbed khor remaining in Ras al-Khaimah, and its loss, in the name of "development," would be irreplaceable and environmentally inexcusable.

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Shelling Report June 2001

Report by Sandy Fowler

DNHG member Yvonne Kerek, has reported finding a specimen of Argonauta argo on Rams beach in April this year. To the best of my knowledge, this has not been recorded before within the Gulf, but the specimen is without doubt A. argo.

A photograph of her A. argo at the top and of A. hians below clearly shows the difference.

In addition, she produced 2 specimens of Vasum turbinellus and a good specimen of Harpa ventricosa found on a small beach by Khor Fakkan, and previously identified as being found at Masirah Island and Southern Oman only. This underlines the need for reporting shell finds. Although "Seashells of Eastern Arabia" will probably remain the standard text on shells of the area for all time, it will need updating – it probably needs it now. If you’re not sure of your finds – call me!

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Fish or Foul?

Report by Gary Feulner

On a summer visit to the plantation and wadi at Khudayrah, north of Mahdhah, I noticed Arabian killifish (Aphanius dispar) in the wadi where the road crosses to enter the plantation. This was a surprise, since I had carefully studied the fish populations in this and a number of other wadis several years ago, and I had not found the killifish here, only the common wadi fish Garra barreimiae and the larger Cyprinion microphthalmus. I knew, however, that killifish are sometimes introduced for mosquito control, and recent human introduction would explain why they were found only at the road crossing and not higher up the wadi.

Sure enough, when I asked an older resident about this, he informed me readily that the Municipality provided two types of fish, a large one and a small one. The small one is apparently the killifish and the large one is almost certainly Tilapia (Oreochromis sp.). Assuming that the Municipality in question is the Municipality in Mahdhah or Buraimi, the introduction of Tilapia seems to be a departure from normal Omani practice, since, with one exception (also in the greater Mahdhah area), I have not seen Tilapia in Oman, although it is now relatively common in UAE water bodies situated near human habitation or cultivation.

I also noticed a number of dead fish and toads at Khudayrah, and relatively few large fish. I wondered about the reason for this, knowing that traditional fishing (via a dam and weir) is still practiced in this wadi. However, my informant replied immediately that this was the result of pesticide (in powder form, if I understood correctly) used to kill mosquitoes. It also kills off the big fish, he said, and only the small ones survive. Other sources in Oman have acknowledged the indiscriminate effect of such pesticides, but have pointed out that the former scourge of malaria is still unhappily recalled throughout Oman, and that the visible control programs are popularly well-regarded.

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Summer Surprises

Report by Gary Feulner

Who says summer wildlife watching has to be dull? A July visit to the plantation and wadi at Khudayrah featured, among other things:

  • in the main plantation and satellite fields, dates, figs, mangoes, limes, guavas and even a few arbors of grapes.
  • at the plantation, two of the UAE's more reclusive reptiles, the skinks Mabuya tessellata and Ablepharis pannonicus.
  • under cultivation, alfalfa (lucerne) and the characteristically associated Asian Grass Blue butterfly.
  • in the wadi, the rare willow (Salix acmophylla), a cat skeleton and skull (wildcat?), and several giant waterbugs (Lethocerus sp.) in all stages of development from eggs to nymph to adult.
  • also in the wadi, a hand-dug channel some 100m long to bring additional surface water into the established concrete falaj system.
  • up a side tributary, a timid but friendly local camp dog cooling off in a bedrock pool, and a pair of Liechtenstein's sandgrouse.
  • on the gravel plains above the side tributary, gazelle droppings and the rarely-seen banded gecko Bunopus spatalurus.
  • overhead, above the main palm groves, an aerial squadron of more than two dozen European bee-eaters, performing maneuvers.
  • on the road home, a flattened specimen of the flamboyant blue and orange Blue-Headed Lizard, Trapelus flavimaculatus.
  • in the shade whenever possible, a couple of warm but satisfied DNHG visitors; and we weren't the only ones – as always on a Friday in Khudayrah, we encountered local residents strolling or picnicing up the wadi, and in this instance also a small group of non-resident UAE nationals.

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Drought Scouting Questions

Report by Gary Feulner

A mid-July visit (on Friday the 13th) to upper Wadi Baraq, in the mountains near Fili, revealed a sad state of affairs. Where three years ago there were pools and fish and reeds, the wadi is now bone dry, and examination of a new cistern showed that the water table was some 8-10 meters below wadi level. The cistern is used to water a resident herd of goats (some penned and others free-roaming), sheep and even several cows. Does this make sense?

Along the bedrock course of a nearby gorge, which would have been one of the last refuges of water, were found the charred carcasses of a dozen donkeys, burned, presumably, to minimize odor and disease. Did they die a natural death, from drought? At least four other donkey carcasses (and a cow) were found elsewhere in the area. Or is it possible that they were they killed as competition with livestock for food and water?

At least one pending question has now tentatively been answered. A few years ago, Wadi Baraq was noted as being unusual in having the Arabian killifish Aphanius dispar as its only fish, whereas in virtually all other mountain wadis the endemic Garra barreimiae is present and is more common. If, however, Wadi Baraq is subject to complete drying up, as appears to be the case, this may periodically eliminate all of the fish. Garra has no way to recover in the short term, but the Arabian killifish is available from official sources for mosquito control. The population originally seen there is now more confidently presumed to have been artificially introduced. The test will come when the rains fall again and the wadi fills. Will the fish come back on their own, or will they need "help"?

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Al Maha by Night

Report by Gary Feulner

Not everybody has the same idea of spending a night at the Al Maha Desert Resort, so off we went with boots, flashlights and blacklights at 9 pm for a walk in the dunes. The guides at Al-Maha are all professionally trained in wildlife and conservation, but had asked for a little help to better acquaint new staff with the specific plants and animals to be found here in the UAE. We were pleased to assist.

Peter Cunningham led by lantern light and did not disappoint. Before long we had turned up several Arabian Sand Gecko Stenodactylus arabicus (an almost transparent gecko, the UAE's smallest, with stumpy, webbed forefeet), the Dune Sand Gecko Stenodactylus doriae (another pinkish nocturnal variety that earns its name), and a small Sawscale Viper E. carinatus. Peter had gone to work even before the evening had properly started, finding a specimen of Pristurus minimus, a small diurnal semaphore gecko that lives on sand, at the Al Maha gate at sunset.

A small number of insects and spiders were encountered. Both the geckos and the spiders seemed to profit from the attention of human observers and particularly their flashlights, which attracted abundant insect prey. Also observed were two of the larger desert scorpions, the black Androctonus crassicauda and the yellowish, broad-bodied Apistobuthus pterygocercus, which has a distinctively enlarged second tail segment. Back at the guest chalets, pale, thin-bodied, fast moving camel spiders were hyperactive under the driveway lights.

In the course of the evening, it became clear that the Al Maha staff are already well familiar with the habits of a number of distinctive resort denizens, and we hope to be able to share their observations and experiences from time to time. One possibility that became evident is that we may have a species of trap door spider in the UAE that has so far gone unheralded.

The next day began at 5.30am with dramatic demonstration flying by falcons Aisha (a saqr) and Rasha (a peregrine), after which the birds drank from a bowl of water – a phenomenon that would greatly surprise most European falconers.

This was followed by a walking tour of the native plants on the reserve, during which approximately 30 species were identified, with a few additions and subtractions in comparison to a similar exercise conducted 2-1/2 years before. Again, the Al Maha staff had obviously kept their eyes open, since they arranged to pass by several problematic specimens. In light of a perceived tendency to landscape the local desert out of existence, it is also a pleasure to report that the Al Maha property remains very much a desert environment – still the real thing.

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Book Reviews

Arabian Wildlife No. 11 (Summer 2001)

For those who left town a bit early for the summer, the latest issue of Arabian Wildlife will be available at our September meeting. This issue includes, among many others others, articles about humpback whales, smuggled cheetahs, radio tracking of Gordon's Wildcat, sailfish, mangrove sites on the Batinah coast, spiders, sea turtles, and the traditional and modern use of the Henna tree.

Also included is a short report on the discovery of tadpole shrimp (Triops sp.) in UAE soils. The tadpole shrimp is a primitive crustacean, famous for its ability to survive drought for as much as a decade, and then emerge and multiply rapidly in desert ponds after rain. Tadpole shrimp are found elsewhere in Arabia and other arid regions, but had never been reported in the UAE. Are these what Christine Namour's herons were eating in puddles at Jebel Ali after last Fall's rainstorm in Dubai? (See the October 2000 Gazelle)

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Ajman Museum

The Ajman Fort is the second largest in the Northern Emirates and now houses the Ajman Museum. It is conveniently located on Ajman's central square, just a block from the beach and only about 1 km from Ajman's two beachfront hotels. The Museum is well done and features both indoor and outdoor exhibits of traditional mud and barasti (palm frond) buildings, Ajman archeology, traditional costumes, traditional medicine, a traditional souq, functioning windtowers, weaponry, musical instruments, and traditional fishing, pearling and agriculture. The Museum is open mornings and evenings, from Sunday to Thursday, and evenings on Friday. Closed Saturday.

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Phil Iddison's new Cordia tree

Phil Iddison of Al-Ain, a former DNHG speaker and our Inter-Emirates guide for a tour of the Al-Ain oasis, has been on the trail of an unidentified Cordia tree encountered during the tour. Starting with two known specimens, Phil has located other specimens in the Al-Ain/Buraimi area, and, in his photo collection, a previously unheralded specimen from the East Coast. He has also turned up another (but different) unknown Cordia on the grounds of one of Al-Ain's international hotels. But while the search is going well, the research is stymied. Phil's tentative judgment is that neither of the new Cordia species is among those listed in Plants of Dhofar, Trees of Oman, Flora of Egypt, or other references so far consulted.

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Jinn or Owls in Al-Jeer cave?

Report by Barbara Couldrey

After reading local newspaper reports about strange noises coming from a small cave about 300 metres above the Khasab road near the UAE border post, and hearing first hand from local Emiratis about the new ‘tourist attraction’, I decided to check it out for myself.

It is easy to identify the site as litter left by the many ‘tourists’ scars the landscape. The top part of the scramble is not for the faint hearted as there is already a lot of shine on the rather exposed rocks. The cave is about 3.5 m wide and is blocked by fine rubble about 8 m inside. As we approached the cave two Hume’s wheatears flew out, while inside crag martins cavorted about in the entrance. There was a fairly substantial nesting shelf near the roof of the cave (out of reach) with dropping marks running down the rock. A feather or two lay on the ground, some downy, another more like a dove wing feather. There was absolutely no noise in the cave so the jinns or nesting birds had flown.

On reaching the road we met two Emiratis who had actually seen and filmed a large owl in the cave (Eagle owl?) during ‘the breeding period’. I was promised a copy of the video! Let’s hope.

One of the several stories I have heard over the last month or two beats all the rest! It came from a well educated Ras Al Khaimah Emirati who had spoken to the now elderly son of a man who had taken a party through the cave many years ago . . . a 20 minute short cut to Fujairah! Only one adventurer survived.

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Oryx Nosh on Desert Squash

Report by Gary Feulner

One of the many commonplaces of Arabian natural history is that the so-called "Desert Squash" (Citrullus colocynthis) is unpalatable and is not eaten by any higher animals. This accounts for the conspicuous yellow "tennis balls" seen by so many roadsides and other disturbed sandy terrain in the UAE. And indeed, the desert squash, called Hanzal in Arabic, is used as a symbol of bitterness in Arabic poetry.

Well, live and learn. Greg Simkins, Reserve Officer at Al Maha Desert Resort, had at first propagated this conventional wisdom to visitors. Then he noticed that the Arabian oryx at Al Maha were eating the squash, and indeed, a recent visit confirms that, while the plant is present in scattered locations around the property, there are no "tennis balls" except in the chalet area inaccessible to animals. Greg did a bit of research and found that the oryx have an enzyme that neutralizes the toxins in the desert squash, making this additional food resource available to them – a very sensible strategy for one of the most desert-adapted large mammals.

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Life After Dubai

Former Gazelle editor Neil Curtis sends his regards to DNHG 'old-timers' and reports optimistically from British Columbia: ". . . a new, bigger and cheaper house, a much better daycare setup for Dylan, and I have become pretty good at using my Master's course as a way of generating income!"

"It was funny to arrive here as an absolute novice compared with having built up quite a bit of knowledge/contacts in the Emirates, but now I am 'up there' again. Of course in BC there's a load more experts around, lots of books to consult, and thousands of people into the backcountry and hiking, but given a bit of patience I think I am carving a bit of a niche for myself -- backcountry planning and management, with a focus on commercial recreation. It follows right on from a suggestion from Marijcke on research into guided hiking outings across the Ru'us al-Jibal as a way of getting local buy-in to protected area proposals. Watch out Emirates, you have been warned!

"Only recently did I get the opportunity to do my first real climb. About 1500m (I think), fantastic weather, up into the alpine to a peak on the Canada/US border in the Cascades. Fantastic lakes, gorgeous fresh water, and lots of snow to play around in higher up. Glissading down on our boots was a blast! Also finally getting better with the plants. Of course the problem here is that there are just so many of them [and] very few of the families match up with those I learned in eastern Arabia."

On the professional front, Neil has had temporary and part time assignments with the BC Ministry of Environment's land management division, British Columbia Assets and Land Corporation (working on the commercial recreation team) and the Greater Vancouver Regional District's 'Park Partnership Initiative' (where he's running the website, publishing the newsletter, and doing media relations).

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Snail Call

A reminder, especially for new members: your unwanted garden snails and slugs are wanted for scientific study and an accounting of the terrestrial snails of the UAE. All specimens will be gratefully accepted by Chairman Gary Feulner, and contributors will be kept informed of progress and pedigrees. Suburban gardens are home to several native Arabian snails, but also a number of introduced species. There have already been a few surprises. Dead shells are preferred; we'll follow up if you've got something unusual. It's easy. Just bag 'em and tag 'em! Please remember to record the location and the habitat, as well as your name, the date, and any remarks.

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