Newsletter June 1999 No. 189

Newsletter June 1999 No. 189


Weary weekend wanderers in wet wadi walk

Wet Wadi Walk: Welcome Watery Weekend Wandering Works Wonders to Whittle Workweek Worries

How do you beat the heat in May? 14 members of AANHS chose to walk up Wadi Kafi, a desert canyon near Hatta, intent on swimming in crystal-clear cool pools at the end of a slot canyon.

The trip began as usual at the Al Maya meeting location in downtown Al Ain with an early departure of 7:30 am. As the 4 vehicle caravan emerged from Buraimi, the lead vehicle with trip leader Ibrahim Zakhour onboard proceeded at a gallop while the followers chose to trot. The route to the trailhead wound through back roads through the Oman Mountains, skirting The Swiss Mountain (climbed earlier this year by the Jebelnauts), which from one vantage point from the southeast looks remarkably like the head of dead man lying face up with gaping mouth. After an hour or so of bouncing on steep wash board roads, a car shuttle had been established and the group set off in search of the water-wet wadi.

The starting point for the approximately 6-km walk was along a gravel covered stream terrace littered with rocks looking like they had been extracted from a wood fire. In reality these rocks were coated with desert varnish, a dark manganese-based substance derived from bacterial action. From the edge of one such terrace, the hikers got their first look into Wadi Kafi and one of its many shallow disconnected pools, located 75 feet below, and pondered how one might descend. With Ibrahim in the lead, the group followed a route down to the wadi floor through a narrow tributary incised within Tertiary fanglomerates (well cemented alluvial fans) which formed the sheer vertical walls of Wadi Kafi canyon.

Once in the bottom, the fanglomerate canyon walls gave way to colorful assemblages of metamorphic ophiolites and siltstones (some exhibiting incredibly tight, complex folds), as well as some igneous intrusive rocks. The contact between the overlying fanglomerates and the underlying metamorphic rocks marked an irregular non-conformal erosional surface, indicating a significant time break in the exposed stratigraphic sequence.

In an alcove on the south wall of the canyon, the group discovered some cool shade as well as a handful of bats that flew nervously to new locations on the alcove ceiling when approached. Near the alcove a snake was observed to be swimming in a pool amidst numerous minnow-sized fish and frogs. The incessant buzz of cicadas was in harmony with the penetrating heat, which prompted some in the group to begin wading deliberately in the pools—boots and all. In several of the pools, fish up to 6 inches in length were observed, and thought possibly to be exotics introduced by man. No ichthyologists emerged from the group to confirm this theory, however. A few birds including kestrels were also observed, but the ornithological contingent was notably absent as well to help with the identification of other birds.

At one point in the canyon, a spring emerged as a 50 gallon-per-minute crystal clear stream of water issuing from a fracture along the base of the fanglomerate contact in the canyon’s north wall. As the temperatures climbed, the walkers found themselves at the end of the walkable part of the canyon. It was finally time to swim! On went the swimsuits but most left their shoes or boots on! We entered the a narrow pool through a cave-like entrance leading to turquoise water that ended at a pile of tumbled down rock. The rocks were climbable, and once passed, lead to more pools through a slot canyon at some points only a few feet wide. The swimming finally ended in a room with a pour off that permitted swimming beneath a magical waterfall.

After the swimmers had had their fill of the waterfall, they swam back to the pool entrance, and on their way out hauled trash that had either entered upstream, or was left behind by previous inconsiderate users. Six grocery bags full of various plastic, aluminum, and glass refuse were removed from the rather small, but apparently popular, section of the canyon. Afterward emerging from the pool, lunch was shared in the shade near the pool entrance.

The trip out of the canyon required a short trip downstream to find a ramp leading up out of the canyon and back to the lone shuttle vehicle, which was used to tranport the other drivers up the steep washboard roads. Wilting whilst waiting, those left behind sat along a falaj under the shade of a large tree wondering why it was taking the drivers so long to return. At long last, the drivers returned and it was back to Al Ain.

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Dibba dhow trip enjoyed by 20 ENHG members

Despite being cancelled the previous week, and some ongoing uncertainty whether the Dhow trip was on or not, it did eventuate and was a tremendous success.

Many of us had concerns regarding transporting gear, as this was an overnight trip. There was camping equipment, bedding, provisions, water and snorkelling gear to consider, how much to take and what could be dispensed with considering it was to be stored on board, taken ashore and then back on board the next day. This was a consideration which put some off joining the party.

18 of us mustered around 8am at the Hilton carpark. Special thanks to Ibriham who was also present handing out and going over maps, ensuring all were present and knew where they were bound, before bidding us goodbye. Vehicles were shared, cars unloaded and re-pack, and off we set in a convoy of 5. Two other party members were to join us at Dibba to bring the numbers to 20.

We arrived with plenty of time for our 1pm departure from Dibba. The Dhow was ready and sporting a large awning extending much of the length of the boat, offering extensive sun protection, much to the relief of us all.

Getting on board was simple as the tide was high, so it was just a case of handing it on, walking aboard, and a team stacking it to ensure food and water would be readily available.

The sea was calm, just a light roll, and off we motored, the first call being a spot for snorkelling. This was the same bay that last years trip stopped at, where the coral is in poor condition. However in spite of this, there are still many varieties of tropical fish to be seen. Here there is an increasing population of sea urchin, a lethal looking black spiky critter. One unfortunate team member, ie myself, was foolish enough to have a close encounter with one. Not to be recommended as it was an extremely painful experience. However, after struggling aboard I was administered much comfort, homoeopathic remedies, and managed to illicit much sympathy from the other voyagers. I feel duty bound to mention that several men were also stung, but being more stoic in character and probably sporting tougher feet, gained little attention.

From here we motored for 3 - 4 hours to our camp site. Lunch, snacks, and a time for meeting new people, catching up with friends, renewing acquaintances, and admiring the wonderful stark rocky mountainous foreshore, and bird watching. Time passed quickly. An enormous turtle with a diameter of more than 60 cm was spotted as it came up for air on the starboard side. Tony spent some time with the crew, who were intrigued to learn some rapid flamboyant knot tying. A motor boat drew longside and after some bargaining we purchased the catch of about 20 fish mostly sherri and tuna. A highlight of this time was when two large Dolphins accompanied us for at least half and hour riding and weaving across the prow.

Eventually arrived at our destination , a wide sweeping rocky bay within a large harbour. As the water was very deep we were able to get very close to shore in the Dhow. Luggage was very quickly lowered into the tender, and from there handed to those who formed a human chain to the shoreline. In next to no time people had their tents pitched, wood gathered and a fire under way. We shared the Bay with a Dive group, which appears to have a well established camp, equipped with a generator and water pump.

Our presence caused some curiosity from another group who gathered on the shore near about 6 small motor boats, as we arrived. At night fall, on this moonless night, the small flotilla set off to sea with their suspicious packages bound in grey plastic. We gathered the contraband was US cigarettes bound for Iran which is not that far away at that point.

Over the camp fire Salmen cooked the fish for all which was delicious. Meals were prepared, shared and quiet conversation ensued. Somehow the night was quiet, maybe we were missing Ibriham. We were exhausted from a full day of driving, swimming, snorkelling, and the sea air, so it was an early night for most.

Next morning the ever vigilant bird spotters report seeing 6 Yellow-vented Bulbul near the campsite, plus a small flock of House Bunting near the cemetary. As we were packing up rather large fish could be seen jumping in the water. This was the dolphins rallying a party to accompany us out of the Bay.

We anchored in another bay within the same harbour to snorkel. Here there were many large colourful and healthy looking species of coral There was also a multitude of fish, varieties of angel fish, picasso trigger fish, parrot fish, wrasse, to name a few plus a small turtle. Several oysters were brought ashore, but alas, no pearls.

Many birds were sited on the trip. lots of small flocks of Dunlin were seen about a kilometre off the coast,and 3 Pomerine Shua chasing terns feeding on shoals. Tern identified included Lesser Crested, Gull-billed, White-cheeked,Sandwich, and the Common Tern. A flight of 15 Socotra cormorant were seen, and a Great Cormorant sitting on a rock as we were passing. To complete our list, a pair of breeding Indian Roller, several Reef Heron, a pair plus one Osprey and Shearwater, probably Audubon were identified.

Back on board chugging towards Dibba, and we stopped off at another bay for a last snorkel. Again more healthy coral, a wide variety of fish. Here an enormous lobster was spied, also a moray eel. We arrived back at Dibba hot and tired, but all in agreement that it have been excellent excursion.

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Quest for the tahr in Wadi Jazira with David Insall

by Alan & Pauline

We were very fortunate to have a talk about the Arabian tahr by David Insall, an environmental conservationist and Government consultant from the Sultanate of Oman, on the evening of 17 March to prepare us for our field trip the following day. We learnt that the tahr is indigenous to our corner of Arabia, being confined to the Hajar mountain range from the Musandam to the Muscat area. It can best be described in layman’s terms as a mountain goat with a distinctive brown coat - ranging from chestnut facial markings to beige hind-quarters. At this time of the year, small family parties are likely to have young “kids” in tow and are therefore probably easier to spot.

The greatest threats to the tahr are fierce competition for food and habitat from domesticated goats, and the inevitable problem of poaching. David is coordinating an initiative to identify and protect a number of specially chosen localities throughout Oman where it is hoped the tahr might retain a slender chance of survival against all the environmental pressures stacked against it. This work, together with his experience in fostering a young, orphaned tahr, probably makes David the leading authority on the species. With such an expert to guide us, it was therefore an optimistic group that met for the field trip to Wadi Jazira.

An early start on a Thursday morning meant that our numbers would be limited and, in the event, only eight of us together with David set out in the direction of Khutwah. The new track led a surprisingly long way into the mountains, and Ibrahim suggested that it was not necessarily a good thing to make these remote areas more accessible for picnickers. We soon began to understand his view as we progressed along the wadi floor strewn with tin cans, paper wrappers and the inevitable blue plastic bags. Our quest for the Tahr was therefore temporarily suspended whilst a rapid spring clean was conducted.

As we continued further along the wadi, the evidence of previous human visitors quickly reduced and we started to take note of all the flourishing vegetation, amply watered by the gurgling stream which meandered along between the boulders. Reeds, date palms and oleanders were found in profusion, and clumps of delicate orchids about to flower were pointed out – clinging precariously beneath overhanging rocks in damp and well shaded conditions. David also picked a small specimen from what he took to be an unusual tree, and we wait to hear the results of a detailed analysis by his colleagues.

A few of us took a small detour up and along the banks of the wadi in an attempt to gain a better vantage-point across the plains and valleys between the mountains. Some small scrapes about two meters wide were noted and samples of droppings - which we hoped had been left by tahr - were collected, but our suspicions were later rejected. We also searched unsuccessfully for tahr hairs which, so David informed us, have unmistakable black tips.

Undeterred by this lack of success, we pressed on stopping occasionally to admire the local birdlife. Pale Crag Martins soared along the wadi face on scimitar wings; Purple Sunbirds – males resplendent in new breeding plumage – sang their warbler-like chorus from thick shrubs; and pairs of Yellow-vented and White-cheeked Bulbuls fluttered from one bank to another. Interestingly, Michael Gallagher in his excellent book “The Birds of Oman” records the White-cheeked Bulbul as rare, presumably found only as an escaped captive bird. However, this was written in 1980 and we assume that the species has spread from Al Ain, where it is now common.

The ubiquitous Hume’s Wheatear with conspicuous white rump did not disappoint, dashing from boulder to boulder, and an unexpected treat was a single, dainty Grey Wagtail flitting quietly along the wadi pools. A splendid male Rock Thrush with blue head and rufous breast and belly peered inquisitively at us with his large, bright eye from a safe distance. Characteristically, after his initial observations he flew behind the sky-line, taking post on another boulder some thirty yards distant to check out our intentions.

On reaching a small fork in the wadi, we scrambled up to the plain above and examined the remains of an ancient settlement. Ibrahim estimated this to date from around 3rd Century BC, although some of the original building materials had been recently re-arranged to form a rough hide – perhaps from which to shoot passing gazelle or tahr. Our small party spent some time scanning surrounding hills and plains in vain for signs of the elusive tahr until, reluctantly, it was time to retrace our steps.

After a brief pause for lunch in the shade of the wadi cliff, we slowly made our way back towards the small oasis which marked our start point. En route we encountered some Omanis who were using nets to catch the small fish that swarm along the wadi pools, and David and Ibrahim took the opportunity to quiz them about the tahr. It seemed they were able to confirm its existence in the locality and even reluctantly admitted that hunting regularly took place. So, here was the evidence that we sought – the tahr can certainly be found in the mountains around Al Ain, but the help of experienced trackers would probably be needed for close observation.

As we left the fishermen to their task, a brilliantly feathered competitor darted past whistling its distinctive call: a Kingfisher. The well stocked pools in the Hajar mountain wadis offer an irresistible menu for these winter visitors. Our final steps led us through the oasis with flourishing bananas, oranges and magnificent mangos as well as the more obvious date palms, many of which rose some fifty feet – or so it seemed.

And so ended a magical day – no tahr sightings, but its presence confirmed by local people – and our wadi walk through this unique environment was reason enough to be here.

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Database, old newsletters from e-mail discussions


As most of you know by now, I have been building a database of field trip information to be used by members. I have gone through old newsletters (from current back to No. 101, September 1990) and extracted the trip descriptions.

I have also made a note (Page number, Volume number, Date) of every article about each of the sites visited.

As I progressed, it seemed prudent to add more fields -- isn't it always the way! -- so that the present set includes:

  • event name
  • type of trip (overnight camping, birding, day trip, wadi walk etc.)
  • number of spaces
  • cost per person
  • whether 4WDs are necessary, preferred or not necessary
  • whether staff is required
  • the GPS location
  • a lengthy event description (for most trips)
  • what to bring
  • where to meet
  • reference materials (a map, Off-road in the Emirates I, Off-road in the Emirates II, Off-road in Oman, Green Guide to the Emirates, Simon Aspinall's Breeding Birds of the United Arab Emirates, Shell birdwatching guide)
  • list of newsletter articles where members described the field trip
  • contact numbers for individuals you should check with before taking the trip

There are some gaps and some field trips without descriptions. During the summer, I intend to go through the articles and extract details as I can find them.

The weakest aspect to date is the mapping. As we all know, the popular places is often an adventure in itself for we weekend explorers. We have all seen maps with references to overturned truck, small palm grove, and some instruction to 'turn left at the mosque, the one with the small cold store.'

As more members obtain and use GPS devices, some of that confusion will be eliminated. But the surest solution is a set of up to date maps. We are working on it!

The plan is for copies of the field trips to be available at meetings so that individuals can take their own field trips or volunteer to lead trips for our members.

Keeping all the activity coordinated will be a bit of a challenge, but I am confident we will develop a system over time.

If you would like a copy of the database file -- as it is today -- please let me know. I will email a copy asap.

If you have any comments or suggestions, please pass them on as well.




I've been going through past issues of the newsletter to collect information on field trips. In the process, I have come across a number of interesting articles, items I did not expect to find!

In October, 1990, for example, there was a very interesting article on the old incense routes. Scorpions were the subject of a terrific article in February, 1991. And there was an exhaustive discussion of snakes by the late Bish Brown in November and December of 1991.

And a host of others, too numerous to mention . . .

I plan to reprint some of these articles in upcoming issues of the newsletter, and make copies available for members to collect at meetings. If you have a topic you are interested in, let me know and I'll see what I can find!

We are still discussing how to present these archive materials to members. All the advice to date is to go slowly so you do not have to repeat any of the work.

Ideally, the three chapters will coordinate their resources and develop a comprehensive catalogue of materials. I am sure there is a wealth of information here.

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