Under the Patronage of H.E. Sheikh Nahayan Mubarak Al Nahayan

Al Ain Chapter


The Emirates Natural History Group, Al Ain Chapter, PO Box 18057, Al Ain      November, 2005– Issue #230

no quails, no donkey dung, but panorama and drama ruled the day

article & photos by Dino Savva
After the highly enjoyable hike up Jebel Qattara last month, our intrepid group of explorers was really looking forward to the climb up “Swiss Mountain” this time. The expedition began at the ungodly hour of 6.00am with the group meeting outside the Buraimi Hotel. Everyone managed to beat the sunrise but scout leader Bill Jones didn’t read the script, arriving twenty minutes later in his Pajero with matchsticks propping open his eyelids. A 45-minute drive to Jebel Qawail (does it have anything to do with quails?) lay ahead and Bill led the way as the sun inched its way above the horizon.
The drive included a large section off-road, passing over washboard dirt tracks and loose gravel, with the local camels and goats (no donkeys today Robert!) looking on as we blazed a trail in clouds of dust. We arrived near the foot of the mountain at about 7.15 thanks to Bill’s amazing navigational skills (or was it his GPS?). It was a fantastic sight as an early morning mist veiled the summit, and I could see why it was nicknamed “Swiss Mountain”.
Bill led the group of thirteen (was this an omen?) along the camel and goat tracks to the foot of the mountain, wearing his Sir David Bellamy hat again as described the local vegetation with the sound of cock-a-doodle-doo from a nearby farm ringing in the cool, moist air. We played hopscotch over some large rocks as we began the first 1/3 of the climb with goat droppings (according to Professor Bellamy) paving the way forwards. Our resident Irish scatologist Robert Fay would have had a field day but he was he was busy flexing his right elbow at a bar in Hong Kong (the Force was definitely with him!), so there was no appliance of the science of animal dung on this occasion!

          The ‘Swiss” Mountains in the early morning mist – a great day for a hike.                

It was onwards and upwards except for a duo of stragglers who were still near the bottom and decided to call it a day (or so we thought!). They were still partially anaesthetized by the pina coladas that they’d gulped at the Mercure the night before so they couldn’t spot the scatological deposits that marked the way forwards ;) . Two down, eleven to go. Were the evil spirits about to claim more victims? The sight of two vultures circling overhead spurred the rest of the team to sally forth and it wasn’t long before we reached a steep precipice that had to be overcome to reach the summit.

This broadsheet is published free to families in the Al Ain area. If you are a member planning an activity with a natural history theme please notify us so that others can join you. Everybody is able to contribute to ENHG and Emirates recordings. For more on our activities please visit our website <www.enhg.org> or join our e-mail discussion group at ENHG@Yahoogroups.com. The Group meets at 7.30pm on the 2nd & 4th Tuesday of the month, usually at the Intercontinental Hotel. New Members are welcome.


The ENHG   Al Ain Chapter Newsletter…                        November, 2005– Issue #230

no quails, no donkey dung, but panorama and drama ruled the day cont…

The view from the top
It was the perfect excuse to stop for refreshments (with bladders quivering at the prospect of the next climb, some needed to make a pit stop), savour the view below, inspect the footwear, and prepare the crampons. Brownian motion was the order of the day as everyone sought the path of least resistance in their serpentine way up to the top. The only difficulty was trying to avoid grabbing onto rocks that were splattered with bird droppings (Robert, where were you?) so with no more red cards shown by the gods; the whole team of eleven reached the summit by 10 o’clock. By then, the mist had cleared and a panoramic view of Oman was guaranteed. Wow!
This alone would have been worth the price of admission but for me, it was an excuse to dig the camera out of my rucksack and play paparazzi (no, not Pavarotti!). While some picnicked, others lay spread-eagled soaking up the sun and dreaming about a pint of beer at the H & J (the guilty ones can’t deny it!), and the rest listened to the half-time team talk given by player-coach Bill.
The second half began as the first one ended with everyone slaloming their way down towards the ledge. There was no chimney to sweep so all hearts kept beating but the real drama was yet to come. As we passed the ledge that marked the halfway point, someone spotted our two erstwhile “inebriated” friends above us heading skywards!

 Bill Jones and his motley crew atop the summit
– nothing but blue skies and vast views
They didn’t appear in the team photo so we knew who they were. Since they couldn’t hear anyone calling below, the mobiles were frantically mobilized into action and following several “hello, hello” one-second phone calls, we finally gave them our location and Bill and Howard guided them down. Happily it was we who waited for them and not the vultures! Morals of the story? Don’t go up if you can’t come down, and never venture alone without telling someone where you plan to go. Future climbers please take note!
Altogether, it was a seven-hour round trip with an extra hour added to the return leg while shepherd Bill was gathering the stray sheep to join the rest of the flock. Nevertheless, it was a very enjoyable stroll in the park and if the next one lives up to the same billing as this one, we’re in for a real treat.
Thanks to the ENHG Committee for organizing this climb and a special thanks to Bill Jones for ensuring a safe return for everyone. Stay tuned for the final chapter of the Ibrahim Zakhour Triple Crescent trilogy.


The ENHG   Al Ain Chapter Newsletter…                        November, 2005– Issue #230

A Typical Friday Outing – a camel souq, a race track, a quarry, a smelter and a majelis

Friday, November 18th a dozen members of the ENHG Al Ain Chapter met at the coffeepot R/A (AKA the “della” R/A or the Al Foah R/A) at 8:00 am for a quick trip to the local camel market (souq). The souq here in Al Ain is one of the largest (if not the largest – though size doesn’t really matter when dealing with camel souqs) operating souq in the Emirates. It is not nearly as smelly as one might imagine, in fact there is hardly any odor in the air except for that of fresh hay. The first impression was that the locals had decorated their camels for Christmas as they were all trussed up in silver and red tinsel. This however, was a slight misunderstanding, as they were really trussed up

A newborn camel – perhaps a few weeks old now – being weaned
photo by W. Moore

Note the bag denying this baby milk, while in the background weaning has not yet begun
                                                                                                                                           photo by S. Craig
to prevent baby from nursing. A very ingenious method indeed. Lots of very cute babies (What does one call a baby camel?) were there, and a great variety of types, sizes and colors of adults. The big black Saudi work camels stood alongside slender cream colored racing camel from Yemen, Ethiopia, or Sudan. Just a few thousand Dirhams and you can take one home with you. Photographs were taken of the camels, but beware the camel who wants to pose with you – he’s liable to get too close for your comfort. All too soon it was time to move on.
Our next stop was just off the highway at the Jabeeb turn-off where we were joined by at least twenty ENHGers from Abu Dhabi. They were keen to visit a site being examined closely by one of their own, Drew Gardner, as a probable site where local copper and tin were worked or smelted into bronze and then worked. We look forward to his report. But first we all stopped beside a camel exercise track and explored the local flora and fauna. A large hillock of desert squash Citrullus colocynthis (not to be eaten!) sat mimicking a dozen tennis balls left carelessly in the desert. Camels strolled by, walked by and raced by. The day was uniquely overcast and cool.
We moved on to a local quarry where evidence of ancient aflaj (singular falaj) or wells had been exposed.

                                    Desert squash? – or tennis balls?              photo by S. Beck


The ENHG   Al Ain Chapter Newsletter…                        November, 2005– Issue #230

A camel souq, a race track, a quarry, a smelter and a majelis cont...

We were also able to get a good look at what the desert looks like beneath all that sand. A couple of fox holes were pointed out and only warnings about tics and fleas kept people from approaching too close.
Drew’s turn came next, and as we milled about looking for any artifact we might find (this area is under imminent threat of development and the museum has given permission for removal of anything found, provided we properly record it and show them what we find), and as Brien demonstrated the technique for determining if there is copper present in a piece of rock or slag, (see September 2005 & October 2005) people began to notice that rain clouds were rapidly approaching us. It suddenly dawned on several people at once that these were not rain clouds, but dust clouds and we had better get into our cars for shelter. It was indeed a fine sandstorm – it was very interesting to be surrounded by the sand while it took place. We usually find ourselves in the city where vegetation and asphalt alter the experience somewhat. So we sat and watched for a half-hour as people braved the winds and took photographs and relaxed. The sand whipping off the tops of dunes and the rivulets of sand snaking along the desert floor were fascinating.

It suddenly dawned on several people at once that this was a sandstorm                                           all photos on p. 4 by S. Beck

Definitely getting closer!

Get in your cars!
The convoy

         In the thick of it! !


The ENHG   Al Ain Chapter Newsletter…                        November, 2005– Issue #230

A camel souq, a race track, a quarry, a smelter and a majelis cont...

We Al Ainers (Ainoui to sports fans) were all safely home by 3:00 pm, and hopefully our friends from Abu Dhabi also made their way home safely before too late in the evening. Thanks to all who organized and shared their knowledge on this trip. Here are a few more pictures taken on this trip.

                          Camels being exercised near Jabeeb       photo by S. Beck

Sodom’s Apple, Calotropis procera         photo by S. Beck

                                          The quarry stop                photo by S. Craig

                                      Overcast and cool                       photo by S. Beck

         Sifting sand, looking for artifacts at the majelis site
photo by S. Beck

                               Patterns in the sands                    photo by S. Beck


The ENHG   Al Ain Chapter Newsletter…                         November, 2005– Issue #230

National Clean-up Day( 12-12) is here again.

Article by Dr. B. Howarth
For the last few years, EEG (Emirates Environmental Group) have organized a national clean-up day. Since the beginning we have supported EEG and have helped coordinate the event for Al Ain, as we are this year. Officially, 5 schools/colleges from Al Ain are involved with a total of approximately 270 participants. Nationwide, 10,500 participants have registered and will be turning up in designated areas all over the UAE on 12/12 to raise environmental awareness and help clean up an area. Sadly, news didn't get to all schools and colleges in Al Ain but hopefully this is something that can be worked on in the future. On Monday, 12th December, participants will be meeting at the Al Masoudi district in Al Ain and spending 2-3 hours cleaning up the area. Is anyone interested in joining the group? A few more helpers to assure the morning goes smoothly would be appreciated - water and juices will be needing handing out from the cooling truck to children, rubbish bags will need handing out just to name some of the tasks. If you have a group of students you wish to bring along, this would also be possible, please get in touch with me. Habiba Al Marashi, chairperson of EEG, called us the 'rock' in Al Ain today. She is very grateful for our involvement and any support you can give this event will be appreciated - I have some posters that could be put up in your organization. Please don't hesitate to contact me regarding the event.
Dr. Howarth can be contacted through the ENHG website: www.enhg.org

This year the 12-12 activities will focus on a site beside the paved road. From the fort R/A (wedding cake R/A to some – on Shakboot road) drive out past Prisuniq, through the underpass at the Al Jimi road and on out towards the camel racetrack in the desert. About three R/As out there will be signs to the actual site (4x4 not needed). The event will begin around 9:00 am. Hope to see you there.






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