Newsletter October 1998 No. 183

Newsletter October 1998 No. 183


Committee Notes

Sitting in Alan Jordan’s living room during our October Committee meeting, I was impressed how fortunate our Emirates Natural History Group is.

A few weeks ago, we received a copy of the newsletter from the Bahrain Natural History Group. Things are not going quite so well for natural history enthusiasts in that island nation.

In his notes to members, the Chairman reported that “the membership of the Society . . . has fallen drastically in the last few years,mostly due to our expat members leaving Bahrain. Several of these were not just members but they served on the Committee and played a very active part in the activities of the Scoeity.

“I don’t want to spread doom and gloom,” he continued, “but quite frankly I feel the viability of the Society is in doubt unless we have a successful recruitment drive to increase the membership.”

Here in Al Ain we have a full slate on the committee and a membership that grows with each meeting. (There’s a profile of who we are on page 2.) Our traditional program of twice-weekly speakers and interesting, educational field trips has been expanded to include activities for like-minded members, the latter initiative the legacy of Bob Catto. We now have four special interest groups operating and hope individuals will come forward to coordinate other informal groups.

At our last committee meeting we also welcomed Dianne Barber-Riley as our new Environmental Officer. The group has, in the past, discussed a number of projects and activities to promote ecological and environmental awareness. Dianne steps in to lead our group to implement some of these projects. Welcome, and thanks, Dianne.

Thanks also to Bill Jones and Debbie Handley who organised the October camping trip. Our next camping trip is to Masafi in November.

Debbie has also volunteered to coordinate our December trip to the Muscat district of Oman. Interested? Please sign up at meetings. Agenda? Birds, archaeology and interesting sites not listed in the guides!

We are also working to improve the presentation of our library resources. Moving the books and videos from the storage facilities at the InterContinental to our meeting room is a difficult and time-consuming chore. We hope to have a remedy for this problem soon.

We sympathize with our friends in Bahrain. At the same time, we appreciate how lucky we are to have such a wealth of willing, informed and generous volunteers!

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Special Interest Group (Birds) Report

by Patricia Simpson

We began our season of activities with a scan of the local hotspots on Friday morning, 9th October. Although bird numbers were small, perhaps because of the unseasonable heat, we made some very nice sightings.

Jebel Hafit gave us Brown-necked Ravens, Indian Silverbills, Sand Partridge, Desert Lark, Blue Rock Thrush and the reliable Hume's Wheatear. From the top parking area we enjoyed a long view of an Egyptian Vulture being harassed by/harassing Ravens.

Ain Al Fayda gave us Little Green Bee-eater, Isabelline and Great Grey Shrike, Pale Crag Martin, Crested Lark and a Purple Sunbird just coming out of eclipse and into long and good voice. The water yielded White-cheeked tern and Little Grebe.

By the time we reached the Camel Race Track the morning was late and we took only a quick turn through the fields seeing Indian Roller, Short Toed Lark, Isabelline Wheatear and Swallow.

The endangered species were the watchers: more than 24 members were contacted and expressed an interest in the activity but only 7 of these came along. We are planning trips both locally and farther afield and once again extend a welcome.

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Special Interest Group (Food) Report

by Phil Iddison

The food Special Interest Group has started its activities with tours on two Fridays around the central Al Ain suq. Tours were kept to small numbers so that the group leader could answer questions and point out items of particular interest.

With different perspectives, members were able to point out new views on the market so there was a two way exchange of knowledge.

More visits will be organised. ENHG members interested in joining the group for a future visit to the market should sign the ‘sign-up’ sheet at general meetings.

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Other Special Interest Group News

by Patricia Simpson

The Al Ain Chapter of the Emirates Natural History Group now has four Special Interest Groups! In addition to groups for food, birds and Jebel Hafit archaeology, we now have a group for those interested in hiking in the mountains!

Howard Trillo has agreed to be the SIG leader and will report activities at general meetings and via the newsletter. If you are interested in joining the group, watch for the sign-up sheet at meetings.

Ibrahim Zakhour, our tireless field trip leader, returns at the end of the month from a deserved vacation and will lead the SIG on Jebel Hafit archaeology once the weather cools. Watch for announcements in the newsletter and at our general meetings.

Any member who would like to volunteer to lead any other special interest group should contact a member of the committee. General members of the ENHG have expressed interest in mammals, ecology, plants, marine life, reptiles, geology and insects. Coordinators require only a few hours and a keen interest!

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Al Ain ENHG? Who are we?

Who are we, the group we call the Al Ain chapter of the ENHG?

You could take a look around the room at one of our general meetings and you’d see at a glance that we represent a number of nationalities and professions. We come in all sizes, have an appropriate balance of genders, and cover all the generations.

At the end of October of any given season, we still haven’t reached our maximum size but there were ample numbers to review our collective interests.

At present, we number 99, not counting our out-of-town members and our honorary and life-time members. That number will probably increase by 50 per cent or more before next summer. (Actual membership is much higher than 99, of course, since most memberships are for couples and families.)

Tawam continues to be the employer most frequently noted on application forms (36). With expansion still under way at the Hospital, these numbers are likely to increase. The Higher Colleges are next with 20 memberships from the two campuses in Al Ain. There are 12 memberships at URGU (all disciplines) and 10 from the Faculty of Medicine. The other hospitals are represented, Jimi with two and Oasis with one.

We have five memberships from those at Choueifat and two from the Al Ain English Speaking School. Balfours has a single representative so far this year, with 10 individuals leaving the section blank.

As one might expect, we have a wide range of interests. On the membership application forms, some individuals checked several boxes, many checked none.

Birders remain at the top of the list (45) closely followed by archaeology (43). Geology was next at 38, just ahead of marine (36). Ecology ranked sixth with 32, one vote ahead of mammals. At the bottom of the list were plants (29), reptiles (25) and insects (21).

An interesting change in the group’s profile is the increase in the number of individuals with email accounts. There are now 55 individuals with email accounts, close to the number citing fax numbers.

And it will come as no surprise to anyone that everyone on the list has a phone, and most can list several phone numbers.

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Excerpt from A-Z of the Arabian Camel

Domesticated thousands of years ago by frankincense traders, who trained the gangly cud-chewer to make the long and arduous journey from southern Arabia to the northern regions of the Middle East, the camel went on to become the desert dweller's primary source of transport, shade, milk, meat, wool and hides.

Behaviour: Unpredictable at best. Camels have the reputation of being bad-tempered and obstinate creatures who spit and kick. In reality, they tend to be good-tempered, patient and intelligent. The moaning and bawling sound they make when they're loaded up and have to rise to their feet is like the grunting and heavy breathing of a weight-lifter in action, not a sign of displeasure at having to do some work.

Hair: All camels moult in spring and have grown a new coat by autumn. Camel hair is sought after world-wide for high-quality coats, garments and artists' brushes, as well as being used to make traditional Bedouin rugs and tents. A camel can shed as much as 2.25 kilos/5lbs of hair at each moult.

History: Scientists believe that ancestors of the modern camel lived in North America at least 40 million years ago, wandering across the Alaskan 'land bridge' to Asia and eventually Africa. In Asia, two groups separated to become the two chief types of camel known today: the dromedary and the two-humped, shorter-legged Bactrian camel.

Legs: A camel's long, thin legs have powerful muscles which allow the animal to carry heavy loads over long distances. A camel can carry as much as 450kg/990lbs, but a usual and more comfortable cargo weight is 150kgs/330lbs. It is usual for a camel to work as a beast of burden for only six to eight months of the year; the remainder of the time it needs to rest and recuperate.

Milk: Camel's milk is much more nutritious than that from a cow. It is lower in fat and lactose, and higher in potassium, iron and Vitamin C. It is normally drunk fresh, and the warm frothy liquid, heavy and sweet, is usually an acquired taste for the Western palate.

Nose: A camel's nasal passages are protected by large muscular nostrils that can be opened and closed at will. When a camel twitches its nose, it is cooling the incoming air and condensing moisture from its outgoing breath.

Water: Camels need very little water if their regular diet contains good, moisture-rich pasture. Although camels can withstand severe dehydration, a large animal can drink as much as 100 litres/21 gallons in ten minutes. Such an amount would kill another mammal, but the camel's unique metabolism enables the animal to store the water in its bloodstream.

Site content by SPRC. Reprinted without permission.

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Web Sites for ENHG types

Do you a web site to share with other ENHG members? If so, please contact the Newsletter editor at to be included in this list.

Many, many links to all sorts of sites including almost all of the world’s Arab countries. Set aside an evening just to check out the first-level links.

Sure, it may take a while to type in the site but worth it. (This is the English-language version; the information is also available in French.) Tour the petroglyphs at Fujairah with explanations of each. A unique site.

Click on the ‘Arts and Culture’ option and you’ll find everything from the Ajman Museum to The World Arabian Horse Organisation here. The Ajman site may not equal Sharjah’s but worth a visit.

The day I visited the site, the server was dreadfully slow at uaeforever but it has the most exhaustive list of UAE related sites to date. Looking for a comprehensive summary of the life and times of The President, there’s The site is complete with photos and video clips.

Have a question about Islam you haven’t seen answered in a Friday edition of the Gulf News, then visit this site. Well organised with many good links.

Some interesting links to pages with information about activities in the UAE.

Previously listed sites:

Scientific Explanations and Explorations:
Hubble Space Telescope:
Sky Telescope Magazine:

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