Newsletter October 1999 No. 191
Newsletter October 1999 No. 191

Newsletter October 1999 No. 191


One new Special Interest Group added to busy schedule
Details of freshwater fish of the wadis of the UAE and Oman
The value of recording the flora and fauna by naturalists
From our archives: Scorpions in the UAE, their habits, habitat & potential danger
Wadi Khutwah walkers find pools, copper smelters and ruins
A cultural experience: Open Doors, Open Minds at Sh. Mohammed Centre in Dubai

One new Special Interest Group added to busy schedule

Insect SIG

As announced at the last general meeting, there appears to be sufficient interest to establish a new Special Interest Group on insects. Brigitte Howarth , who had some of her collection of insects and equipment on display at our last meeting, has volunteered to help get the Group organized.

There will be a sign-up sheet at upcoming meetings and, in due course, field trips organized. It is hoped that the Group, working with Brigitte and recording officer Peter Cunningham, will help members to learn the secrets of collecting, preserving and mounting specimens.

Photography SIG

The Photography SIG will hold its regular meetings on the third Tuesday of each month.

Members of the Photography SIG recently enjoyed an evening of night photography to learn more about the techniques involved in very low light conditions!

Climbing SIG

Howard Trillo’s climbers begin the new season with a hike up the 636m Jebel al Abyal on Friday, 12 November. This mountain “is neither too high nor too difficult for an initiation into the delights of the Omani mountains,” Howard notes.

The date has also been set for the first of the Triple Crescent events for this season: Jebel al Qattar from the north ridge, a different route from that usually taken for Triple Crescent events. (See field trip notice board for more details p.5.)

Food SIG

If you are interested in joining Phil Iddison on a trip to the market in downtown Al Ain, please contact him at a meeting, by phone or email.

Birding SIG

As detailed in the Field Trip notice board (p.5), Simon Aspinall, one of the leading ornithologists of the UAE, will be here Friday, 5 November to lead members on a tour of a few of the many ideal bird viewing locations in and around Al Ain.

Meet at the InterContinental carpark (near the sports field) at 7:30 am for a 7:45 departure.

Simon and Peter Hellyer collate reports of bird sightings for the Twitchers’ Guide which is distributed to members via the email discussion group. If you spot new birds in our area, please report the details to Simon and Peter, or to our recording officer, Peter Cunningham, who has been filing reports for the past several weeks.

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Details of freshwater fish of the wadis of the UAE and Oman

Garra barreimiae
Size: 3 - 6 cm
Coloration: Mottled brown
Status: Common
Distribution: Virtually all wadi pools

Cyprinion microphthalmum
Size: 10 - 12 cm
Coloration: Silvery/white
Status: Less common
Locally abundant
Distribution: Wadi Qahfi (Hatta area) southwards

Aphanius dispar (Arabian Killifish)
Size: 3 - 5 cm
Coloration: Golden brown
Status: Locally common
Distribution: Wadi Hatta northwards

Awaous aeneofuscus (Freshwater Goby)
Size: 12 - 22 cm (26 cm total length)
Coloration: Greenish/brown with blotches
Status: Scarce
Distribution: Wadi Qahfi. Hatta area

Oreochromis niloticus (Nile Tilapia)
Size: 15 - 20 cm (40 cm total length)
Coloration: Blue/white
Red head/fin coloration for breeding males
Status: Exotic - introduced for aquaculture purposes
Distribution: Various wadis

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The value of recording the flora and fauna by naturalists

by Peter Cunningham
Recording Officer

The amateur naturalist plays an important part in the collation and identification of our natural history. This information can then be used to support decision making by scientists who are often limited financially and by time. It is not unlikely that new species and/or subspecies as well as rare, migrant or exotic species can be reported due to diligent recordings.

What to record: This depends on your interests, but anything and everything relating to natural history can be of value.

How to record: Recording forms are available at the ENHG, but most important is the location (GPS if available), species, sex, number, time and activity (where applicable). Sketches, photographs and samples would make identification easier if unknown to the recorder. Road kills are a good, although morbid, source of information and, if fresh, could be placed in a plastic bag and kept in the freezer for later identification.

Recording results: Information will be forwarded to ERWDA, NARC, Twitchers’ Guide, Oman Bird Recorder, Tribulus and ENHG Newsletters.

Included in the following newsletters will be sketches with certain themes to make identification easier in the field.

Any interesting sightings and/or identification queries can be forwarded to Peter Cunningham (email: (phone 03-675587)

(This is the first in a series of articles by Peter Cunningham. See also page 2. All members of the Al Ain chapter are encouraged to record field observations to add to the historical record of the natural history of the UAE.)

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From our archives: Scorpions in the UAE, their habits, habitat & potential danger

By Mike Southey

The scorpion is in the same class as spiders, mites and ticks, but is easily recognized by two distinct features: the long segmented tail with a terminal sting; and the chelae or pincers at the front.

There are in the order of six families, the most important being Buthudae which has 600 species. This family also includes species of Occitanus (common in Europe), Andrictinus australis (North Africa), and Tityus (near tropics). The family Buthidae is common in the UAE.

Scorpions found in the Emirates vary in length from 2 to 11cms and include both black and yellow varieties. The yellow scorpion often appears to be a green fluorescent color, caused by a substance in the exoskeleton which creates a glowing effect. The black variety varies in color from dark brown through to black. The Buthidae tend not to burrow into the ground but live under stones or rubbish and are easily found, especially in the cooler months when they are sluggish; they have been known to withstand freezing conditions for several weeks. The abdomen is clearly divided into seven segments followed by five tail segments, the final one bearing a venomous sting. The carapace, which is unsegmented, has two median and two to five pairs of lateral eyes. The second abdominal segment has a pair of combs or pectines but the reason for their existence is not understood.

A scorpion will eat any insect as long as its prey is alive, and especially if it puts up a fight. Something as docile as a caterpillar will be ignored, but a cockroach is speedily dealt with, leaving only the legs and wing cases. From such nourishing victims, a desert scorpion obtains all the liquid refreshment it needs. Scorpions do have great water retaining powers; the ones I have kept have kept have gone for weeks without any sustenance, liquid or otherwise.

It is commonly assumed that the black scorpion is the more poisonous, but in the UAE at least, the yellow variety is the one to guard against as its sting is neuro-toxic and medical treatment is more frequently required. The treatment for the sting of the black variety is to keep the patient calm, clean the infected area with surgical spirit (often painful as the sting area tends to be very tender) and take to a doctor reasonably quickly. A general anaesthetic may then be administered just beneath the skin, and the patient given aspirin or an equivalent. Usually this is all the treatment that is required.

(This article originally appeared in Bulletin number 18 in November, 1982.)

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Wadi Khutwah walkers find pools, copper smelters and ruins

by Brien Holmes

I have always maintained that if you have time or opportunity to visit only one wadi, make that visit to Wadi Khutwah. Nestled in the Omani mountains just a few minutes from Al Ain, Wadi Khutwah offers the full range of sites for visitors in a magnificant setting.

About 20 members of the chapter joined me at the InterContinental carpark Friday 22 October. It was nice to see several children in the group.

As Nigel Ingram had noted during his talk on photography recently, the first-time visitor to Khutwah is impressed with the view from the summit, the dark green of the oasis in sharp contrast to the dark Omani mountains.

After parking our vehicles in the old village square, we headed off through the oasis which boasts dates, mangoes, papaya and a variety of citrus trees. We crossed the concrete bridge over the deepest of Khutwah’s two gorges but there was no evidence of any of the bats which reportedly roost there waiting for dusk. The ferns nestled under the rock overhang were decidedly poor, evidence of the harsh conditions they have had to endure in recent months.

Ruth Dunn relaxing in one of the cool pools visitors to Wadi Khutwah found on last Friday’s trip.

On the rock between the two gorges, we noted the old terrace fields and ancient aflaj systems which, many years ago, brought water to the fields. Several of the swimming holes were still filled with gravel, deposited during last year’s rainy season. Insha’allah they will be restored this year.

Individuals had the option of moving up one of the gorges via the floor of the gorge, on the old donkey pathway still clinging to the mountain face, or what I like to call the highway, the relatively new concrete aflaj.

Though there has been little rainfall, there was sufficient water in the wadi for a swim. Thanks to Ruth Dunn for showing all how to enjoy a cool, mountain pool!

About midway between the oasis and the summer houses, we stopped to look at the remains of copper smelters. Large clumps of slag were scattered over the area, along with hundreds of the mud bricks used for the impromptu smelters. The mud bricks include the impression of the hand of the individual who made the brick. The smelters are likely from the copper industry which flourished here, as Dr. Walid Yasin explained recently, after the introduction of Islam about 1200 years ago.

At the end of the gorge, we saw the weir across the mountain stream which was flowing at an impressive rate given the lack of rainfall! Our group marked time while several of the workers bathed and did their laundry in the large pools. We did eventually take full advantage of the cool, fresh water in the pool beside the ‘Sheikh’s house’ and the more idyllic pool a few meters up one of the valleys feeding Wadi Khutwah.

Several of our group headed home while others found the shade of the oasis ideal for a quiet picnic under the cover of date palms and mango trees.

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A cultural experience: Open Doors, Open Minds at Sh. Mohammed Centre in Dubai

by Dennis Sollosy

The Sheik Mohammed Center for Cultural Understanding in Dubai, with the motto of open doors, open minds provides a wonderful opportunity to learn more about Islam and the Arab culture. The purpose of the center is to introduce Islam and to share some Islamic values with people of other cultures and religions. The people involved with the center invite participants to a lunch in an Arab home which is a great experience unto itself.

To take advantage of the program offered by the Sheik Mohammed Center one should really book ahead. It’s possible to participate in the mosque tour on short notice, but to be invited for the luncheon one must book well in advance. There is no cost for the day’s program. It runs most Thursdays but is offered several times each week during the Dubai Shopping Festival. The following is a description of the experience a group of people from Al Ain enjoyed in May, 1999.

The first thing on the agenda was a tour of the lovely Jumiera Beach Grand Mosque. All the participants gathered at 11:00 AM on a Thursday morning in front of the mosque. Our host for the day greeted us and described what the program was all about. He was not an immam (priest), just one of the faithful. He advised us that we were allowed, almost encouraged, to take photographs at any time or any place throughout the day. The program started with a demonstration of how Muslims wash before they pray. We were lead to the washing room on the side of the mosque and watched while our host went through the complete washing ritual. He started with his hands, then his face, then inside the nose, ears and hair and finally his feet.

From the washroom we went inside the mosque which was nicely decorated, but for all intents and purposes was just one large dome. He explained that the decorations we were seeing inside the mosque had no religious significance, they just made it a more pleasant place in which to pray. He then went through a full demonstration of prayers complete with facing toward Mecca and kneeling and bowing with forehead to the floor.

After the demonstration he asked us to sit down on the carpeted floor, no pews in this holy place, and said he’d answer any and all questions we might have. He encouraged us to ask anything we wanted and indicated there should be no mysteries at the end of the session. He had a good sense of humor and was very open about his religion and the local practices. He handled questions on religious beliefs, women in Islam and local customs. At one point someone asked him if marriages were still arranged by parents. He said, “No not any more, we have e-mail now”. He answered questions for about and hour then closed that part of the program by telling us where to meet him, about an hour later, so he could take us to his house for lunch.

The house alone is probably worth a page or two of description, but let’s just say it was big with beautiful interior décor. It was a three story building with a large atrium open to the roof. A conservative estimate would put the main floor near 5000 square feet, the second floor about the same and the third floor only half that size. Our host and his wife welcomed us to their home and served us fruit drinks then gave us a tour of the entire house. There were about 30 who had been invited to lunch and each of the rooms we visited easily handled our number.

After that it was lunch Arabian style which means traditional Middle East food served in large trays on the floor. Those who could manage it sat lotus style on the floor, but chairs were offered to those of us who couldn’t. It was a wonderful luncheon and throughout it our host chatted away and answered more of our questions. He really was a very nice man and an excellent host.

It was 4:00 PM by the time we left and everyone was thrilled with the day. Most people felt they came away with a different perspective on Islam. It was such a refreshing change from all the secrecy that seems to surround Islam and Islamic practices.

We are extremely grateful to the Sheik Mohammed Center and to our host for a wonderful cultural experience.

(Dennis Sollosy is the Chapter’s former Publicity Officer. He and his wife Nancy — our former Membership Secretary — returned to Canada last July.)

(If you would like more information, you can contact the Centre at: phone 04-447755; fax 04-497787; email:; snailmail: P.O. Box 21210, Dubai, United Arab Emirates.)

(Currently, there are two tours of the mosque scheduled for each week: Thursdays at 10 am and Sundays at 9 pm. Please contact the Center in advance to confirm space and time.)

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