Newsletter September 2000 No. 195

Newsletter September 2000 No. 195


Field trips, road trips & ENHG host ahead in 2000/20001

by Brien Holmes

Looking back on last season, there are some images which come to mind immediately. There is an image of Salmeen Thaiban in the Buraimi Camel Souq surrounded by curious people and equally curious camels as he patiently explained the finer points of a camel. The ooo’s and aaah’s as Hanne and Jens Eriksen presented their slides of birds from South America and Antarctica. The impressive collection of photography on display at the Annual General Meeting. The 80-plus members crowded into the Zayed Center for History and Heritage for the Iftar Dinner hosted by the Center.

There are other images and emotions which come to mind for individual members; the exhaustion and satisfaction at climbing Jebel Hafit; the amazement at finding unseen life in the water and on the plants of our wadis; the serenity of a sunset in the dunes; and, of course, the pure enjoyment of friends who enjoy these natural history treasures around us.

Last June, Dr. Walid Yasin and I drove out into the dunes beyond the camel training area of Jabeeb, just off the Al Ain-Dubai highway. We had put off the trip for months but, with summer rapidly approaching, we scheduled a trip. A large pot scatter I had come across was just another scatter of pottery, I thought. But Dr. Rob Carter, who examined a representative sample at one of our meetings, said each sherd was certainly Iron Age, placing it at least 1200 years old. Dr. Walid had surveyed an ancient fallaj system near Jabeeb years ago but had no evidence of a settlement.

He was excited about the site as we drove across the flat expanse, an area about the size of two football fields. Everywhere was pottery, much of it, he believed, the remains of storage pots, most from Ras al Khaimah. This was a previously unrecorded site.

When Rob Western and Bish Brown, and others, organized the ENHG years ago, they understood that individuals, even rank amateurs, can contribute to the record of the natural history of the UAE. In this case, it happened to be an archaeological site, in other instances Stone Age sites, the recording of bird species new to the country, documenting plant life, insect life as well as the plants and mammals around us.

Of course, like most members of the Al Ain chapter of the ENHG, I don’t set out on weekends in search of undocumented sites. But, after all these years with the Group, I find myself looking at the country in a different way, and it can be very satisfying.

The Special Interest Groups of our chapter are intended to help individuals with similar interests get together for weekend outings. We now have seven groups and you will read more about them in upcoming issues of the Newsletter.

Nizwa and beyond

This year we plan to return to Nizwa, Jebel Shams and other attractions, including the Rustaq Bowl we hope. Our annual dhow trip from Dibba will be held in the spring and other trips are in the planning stages. Our climbers will tackle a host of summits, as well as casual mountain walks.

Inter-Emirates Weekend

This year, the Al Ain chapter will host the Inter-Emirates Weekend, inviting our friends from Dubai and Abu Dhabi for a weekend of activities. A theme for the assembly has not been decided.


Another successful year depends on whether the volunteers will come forward. There are a few vacancies on the Committee; if you have a few hours each month to contribute, please join us.

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The Arthropod Special Interest Group — What’s this??

In The Beginning…

Bugs, bugs and more bugs! Though these are ‘real’ ones; nowadays the word ‘bug’ can often mean floods of frustration when it is referring to computers! Thus it is rather a contrast when thinking about the way the Arthropod SIG began its life earlier this year.

ENHG members went on a field trip to an oasis, Khutwah, in Oman. This site is interesting as it includes two very varied habitats. Many different types of fruit are grown there such as citrus and dates, and the undergrowth is thick with grasses and other flowering plants.

The oasis is situated alongside a wadi and is surrounded by rocky mountains These two habitats provided interesting differences in the types of insects found. In both places we observed and collected insects, bringing some back to Al Ain were they were identified and pinned at a later date, and marked the start of the ENHG entomological collection.

The identification and pinning took place during indoor meetings where insects were identified with the help of microscopes and identification guides, and pinned in the same way as natural history museums curate their collections. Our younger members also participated, both in attendance to regular SIG evening meetings and an Open Day at the coordinator’s home, and joining the trips. Insect nets were purchased for use by ENHG members.


The objective of the SIG is two fold.

Firstly, it is a good opportunity to simply enjoy the diverse habitats that occur in the UAE, take strolls through breathtaking scenery, and discover the insects that can be found.

However, it is also an opportunity to contribute records of the fauna of such places. Though past and present entomologists have contributed significantly to the knowledge of some insect orders (e.g. see our website for contributions made by Mike Gillett and others), there is still much to learn and many insect orders that remain under-recorded. Recording of fauna is an important aim of the ENHG so that we can understand the dynamics between animals and their environment. Many species might be threatened and may become extinct if their environment is tampered with. However, if one doesn’t know what animals occur in these habitats and recognises candidates that might be under threat, conservation might come too late for many. Thus, every record counts!

The Collection

The numbers of arthropods in the collection expanded with specimen brought back from subsequent field trips where different types of trapping were applied to be able to observe a larger diversity of arthropods. There were also some contributions by members who had found creepy crawlies in their houses and gardens and had brought these along to meetings. Such contributions, when accompanied by an indication of location and a date, are of as much value as those made on field trips.

The collection is still in its infancy and is housed at the home of the coordinator at present. Anyone wishing to view it is welcome. Simply contact the coordinator. In time, the collection might find a home where it will be of benefit to a wider audience. Watch this space.

And Finally…

Although there is the scientific slant to this SIG, no prior knowledge is required to join indoor or outdoor meetings, the main objective is to offer members the facility of enjoying the diverse fauna found in the UAE. Everyone is welcome to join the bug-hunting outings or indoor meetings! See you there!

Arthropod coordinator is Brigitte Howarth and can be contacted either by phone (03 7614316) or by e-mail ( or

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Recording our natural history

Ours is a natural history group, established more than two decades ago, to record the natural history of the United Arab Emirates. (For more about the origins of the ENHG, visit the archives at

Our chapter’s Recording Officer is Peter Cunningham. If you come across an interesting bird, plant or animal, please contact Peter at or talk to him at one of the meetings.

Copies of sample recording forms are reprinted in this issue of the Newsletter (pages 6 and 7) and will be available at future meetings. Of course, no “official” reporting sheet is necessary; any information you can pass on is appreciated.

Bird sightings can also be reported to the Twitchers’ Guide, compiled by Simon Aspinall and Peter Hellyer at

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Email group discussion group available for all members

These days, if you want to communicate with a large group, and provide easy access to information, the most economical and immediate resource available is the Internet. The Al Ain chapter of the Emirates Natural History Group is taking advantage of the technology!

With more than 130 family and individual memberships, keeping in touch is difficult. An email discussion group provides immediate distribution of news and a venue for discussion.

It is recognized that not all members have access to email, so the Newsletter remains the official publication of the group.

Members who indicate their email address on the membership application form will receive an invitation to join the email discussion group. Individuals may also join the discussion group, provided through the services of, by visiting the site The message archives are also available there.

The email discussion group is public; that is, the Internet site is open to anyone in the world with access to the Internet.

The intent in setting up the discussion group was to encourage individuals to share their news and discoveries with others. As well, it is hoped that individuals who are planning a weekend activity will invite other members my notifying the subscribers with an email addressed to

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Share your enthusiasm - become a Committee member

The Emirates Natural History Group is a volunteer organization which enjoys the generous contributions of many individuals. The day-to-day operation is overseen by the members of the Committee, the executive group which meets at the beginning of each month (at the Horse and Jockey at the Al Ain Intercontinental Hotel, the first Tuesday of each month at 7:30 pm).

The Committee members are elected at the Annual General Meeting of the chapter. This year, our Annual General Meeting will be held Tuesday, November 28 at the Al Ain Intercontinental Hotel. The group’s annual Photography Competition will also be held that evening.

See the back page of each Newsletter for the up-to-date list of Committee members. Please do not hesitate to contact any Committee member (email, phone, fax) if you have any comments, criticisms, suggestions.

One of the unfortunate aspects of expatriate life is that friends come and go. At the moment, there are a number of vacancies on the executive committee. In particular, we would very much like to have a volunteer come forward for the following positions:

Trip Leader, the individual or individuals who are responsible for the program of regular field trips. The Al Ain chapter has a database of field trip locations and events; we do not have a volunteer to prepare a program of events for our members. There are many individuals ready to assist the Trip Leader; we need a coordinator;

Publicity Officer, the individual or individuals responsible to prepare and circulate the posters used to publicize the meetings held on the second and fourth Tuesdays of each month. The individual(s) should have access to a computer and printer. In addition, the individual(s) could provide liaison with the media, advising newspaper about upcoming meetings and activities of the group;

Environmental Officer, the individual or individuals who monitor the environmental issues of interest to our members. Each year, the group holds a clean-up of one of the wadis or desert areas. The individual(s) would also recommend action to be taken by the Committee.

Ordinary Members, a Committee member without any specific duties but individuals who attend meetings and volunteer to help out when ever and where ever they are needed; Birds Special Interest Group coordinator, the individual or individuals who organize activities for the many members of our chapter who are interested in the remarkable bird populations here in the UAE and northern Oman. Birding is the most popular single activity of our members but we do not have any volunteer to organize weekend birding trips.

All positions will be open for nominations at the AGM in November.

If you are interested in any of these positions or just want to know more about any one position, please contact any committee member or join the Committee at its next meeting, Tuesday, October 3 at the Horse and Jockey at 7:30 pm

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Internet archives online

For many years, the Abu Dhabi chapter of the Emirates Natural History Group published a Bulletin three times each year, each Bulletin containing news of archaeological explorations, bird, mammal and marine sightings, and other news of interest to naturalists. However, few copies of the Bulletins are available today; the Al Ain chapter is in possession of only a single set of the booklets.

Last year, the Al Ain chapter of the ENHG began a project to reproduce these Bulletins and make them available to all members via the Internet.

While the retyping of the articles and scanning of the illustrations was underway, a suitable web site was found. The site needed to be sufficiently large to handle all the material as well as be relatively easy to work with. After several months of experimenting with different sites, the services available at were considered the most appropriate and work began to organize the site and upload the material.

At present, approximately one-third of the Bulletin articles are available at

In addition to old Bulletin articles, the site offers copies of presentations by Food SIG coordinator Phil Iddison, entomologist Michael Gillet and others.

If you are interested in typing, proofreading, scanning or helping to maintain the site, please contact a committee member.

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Book Reviews: Something old, something new available at bookshops

by Phil Iddison

My summer reading included two books on Gulf archaeology. Together they form a good introduction to the local archaeology of the UAE.

Author: D.T. Potts
Publisher: Trident Press – ISBN 1-900724-31-6

A well-written and very well-illustrated introduction to modern archaeology focussed on the excavations directed by Daniel Potts at Tell Abraq which lies between Umm al Quwain and Falaj al Mualla. The excavations started in 1989 and have yielded information on pottery, food, weapons, seals, ivory, jewellery, textiles and imports from neighbouring regions.

A vivid picture of life in the emirates from 4,000 to 2,000 years ago is created. Technical terms are well explained and judicious use of the excavator’s plans and sections makes the book very informative.

Available at McGrudy 80 Dh.

Author: Geoffrey Bibby
Publisher: Stacey International – ISBN 0-905743-90-3

A re-issue of the classic account of early archaeology in the Gulf. It romps through countries and millennia with ease, from Kuwait to the famous Umm al Nar and Hilli tombs in the UAE. It concentrates on Bahrain however, as this is where the Danish archaeologists started their work.

The book is poorly illustrated, some of the photographs are more like holiday snapshots. Plans and sections would have helped the written descriptions immeasurably and could have been incorporated into this new edition. Much of the work is yet to be formally published and one is left with the impression that the sheer enjoyment of the finds and excavation work have rather swamped the presentation of the technical material. There are good descriptions of conditions in the Gulf in the 50’s and 60’s and some insights into local culture, overall making an easy read.

Available at Carrefour 163 Dh.

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The Cliff Racer, swimming and rock climbing wadi snake

(The following article first appeared in The Bulletin of the Abu Dhabi chapter of the Emirates Natural History Group in March, 1988. The author, Bish Brown, was one of the founders of the ENHG.)

by J.N.B.Brown
Coluber rhodorhachis (Jan), the Cliff Racer

A long, thin, non-poisonous snake that is very variable in color and pattern, probably to match habitat. A lightish gray or fawn background with dark brown transverse stripes across the back. On the sides are more blotches of the same color as the stripes, but not joined to them. The underside is white. The eye pupils are round and black. There is a small white line in front of and behind the eye.


In Arabia it is mainly confined to the mountain regions of the west and south, plus the UAE and Oman, though it ranges from northeast Africa to Pakistan. It is frequently found in wadis, particularly where water is present and swims well, sliding with ease into and out of crevices and under pebbles. It can climb fairly steep rock faces.


This snake lives on a diet of small mammals, lizards and fish. It is essentially a diurnal creature and in warm conditions moves, as its English name suggests, extremely fast when frightened. In cooler weather this snake is not too difficult to catch and rarely attempts to bite.

C. rhodorhachis has been captured in Wadi Fay near Hatta and at Khatwah/ Mahdah in Oman (just beyond Buraimi). It has been photographed by ENHG members in a wadi near Hatta (P. Denmead) and in Wadi Jeema, Hata (R. Western, late March 1987). It has also been recorded in a wadi near Ghayl in Ras al Khaimah, and in Wadi Uyaynah near Dibba. There is a specimen in the Group’s collection. Typical measurements are 61 cms. long by 1cm. across at the broadest.

Ref: Personal communication – Dr. E.N. Arnold, Dept. of Zoology, British Museum (Natural History), Cromwell Rd., London SW7 5BD.

(Editor’s Note: This article, and others by Bish Brown, are published in the archive of Bulletin articles at There are other articles regarding snakes commonly found in the UAE under the category of Reptiles.)

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