Our trip started at 6:30 am. It was misty but fully light as we left Abu Dhabi town and headed for Mafraq. Turning left at Mafraq roundabout, we drove some 13 km up the Dubai road and then branched right opposite the new Abu Dhabi Airport. The high cloud was beginning to thicken as wee made towards Suweihan along a recently completed empty highway.
The first stop was about 57 km along the Suweihan road. This was the first time for me to be actually leaving the car at the roadside and venturing into the desert - admittedly only for a short distance. Small sand dunes dotted with Panicum grass and various saltbushes stretched away to a gravel plain where vegetation was thicker. Ten minutes brought us to manmade pools of water, one almost dry. These pools lie on the route of the original unsurfaced track to Suweihan. We hoped to see some signs of bird life but found instead the tracks of fox, camel and hare. Several species of lizard including Toadhead were spotted, it still being cool enough at this hour for them to sun themselves. The Toadhead lizard, seen previously at the August NHG meeting on a slide, was a great thrill for me as it allowed me to approach close and see its beautiful colors and markings. A bee (being identified) and one bird, probably a Brown-necked Raven, was sighted in the distant sand dunes.
The next stops were at plantations on the approach to Suweihan village. The windbreaks surrounding these cultivated areas were well-established Casurina spp. (see Bulletin 8, pp 19-22) and certainly essential against the ever present wind. Once inside it was hard to realize the desert was still outside the gate! An abundance of cool, clear water, pumped continuously into concrete cisterns from depths that varied between 50 and 80 meters, attracted large blue dragonflies, hovering and flitting over the water that bubbled through the irrigation channels. Around the edges of the tanks and under the water we found large numbers of gastropods and dragonfly larvae. Several hoopoes, warblers, sand martins, palm doves and a great gray strike were seen and, most rewarding of all, a Golden Oriole. Goats were penned in under the shade of date palms and several cows and calves, chewing placidly, sheltered by a palm-leaved roof. We found several white eggs, which we took to be hens, although there was no sign of the parent birds. There were the beginnings of three separate termite nests just outside the entrance to one of the plantations.
A most enjoyable day and for me an achievement of the aims of the ENHG - to foster an interest in Natural History and to encourage one to go out and find for oneself what this part of the UAE can offer. It can be very rewarding.