During the recent Inter-Emirates Weekend 2018, the ENHG’s Bish Brown Award was given to a husband-wife ‘team,’ Keith and May Yoke Taylor, who flew back from Hungary, where they now live after 17 years in the Emirates. The award was created to grant recognition to people who have contributed in a significant way to the promotion of public awareness of natural history through their efforts with the ENHG’s various groups. Keith and May Yoke were extensively involved in ENHG Abu Dhabi; in the below poem, ‘Beachcombing,’ which Keith has graciously allowed us to post here, he describes the ENHG as being composed of nature-loving people who are a ‘community that has claimed me for life.’

Of the couple’s history within the group, he wrote:

In the course of our excursions in this region, the two of us developed into something of a writer/photographer team, using the medium of the ENHG-Abu Dhabi’s Focus newsletter to record and report our natural history observations, following in the tradition that Bish Brown and his collaborators established over 40 years ago.  I especially treasure the delight that May Yoke’s photographs brought to so many. I call to mind a number of her stunning Focus covers: resident & migrating birds, snakes, lizards, insects and a prize-winning Desert Hyacinth among them. One of her snakes – a coiled-up Crowned Leaf-nosed snake near Sila – was the westernmost recording of that species to date: a useful bit of database information, according to herpetologist & former ENHG-Abu Dhabi Chair Drew Gardner.

Photo credit: May Yoke Taylor

One of the things that brought me the most immense satisfaction from my service to the ENHG-AD Committee was being in a position to consult on issuing grants for conservation and research projects in this region. Among the projects funded were those focused on the conservation of endangered Arabian Leopards in Yemen and an endangered breed of kingfishers in the UAE, on the analysis of key clues to the patterns of human settlement in the archaeological record—and on the permanent storage, in a climate controlled cabinet, under the curatorship of former ENHG-Al Ain Chair Brigitte Howarth, of the Joint Al Ain and Abu Dhabi Emirates Natural History Group Insect Collection, which comprises a four-decade-long continuous natural history record, including valuable insect specimens collected by Bish Brown and others. My wife and I value the personal enrichment on so many levels that our involvement with this Group has brought us, and we both deeply appreciate being granted the Bish Brown Award for 2017.

During the IEW, Keith attended the beachcombing trip that was led by our Chair, Arabella Willing, which he describes below.

Beachcombing with Arabella Willing (white hat) and Keith Taylor (green shirt on right)

On Saturday morning, Feb 24th, ENHG-AD Chair and Park Hyatt Abu Dhabi Hotel and Villas Marine Biologist Arabella Willing led over a dozen of us on an eye-opening natural history stroll on that hotel’s stretch of beach on Saadiyat Island, supplied with laminated Beach Bingo cards displaying a grid of shells, seaweed and other bits and bobs to identify. Our cheerful guide opened windows on the tapestry of life with the various objects brought to our attention as we strolled the beach while the younger children splashed in Gulf waters alongside. One highlight was a round “solitary coral polyp”, no greater in diameter than a small fingernail. The smooth back of this polyp was punctured by a small hole: the residence, we were told, of a trumpet worm, which had used the hollow interior of the polyp for shelter while it fed on and cleared the coral of potentially lethal algae – one of those amazing examples of symbiosis that exploration of the natural world at times reveals. And from strands of intermingled seaweed, Arabella picked out tiny bits of sea grass, a land plant that had migrated back to sea, to form the staple diet of dugongs, who were themselves descendants of land mammals that had migrated back to sea; the mass of thready seaweed was algae that had never left the water, though it hugged the shore. This discussion brought up a discussion of the complicated evolutionary journeys of (sea) turtles and (land) tortoises, whose ancestors had made one more trip into or out of the sea than marine mammals had, apparently. 

Conversations on this IEW beach ramble with fellow beachcombers both long-settled in and recently arrived in the UAE, some quite new to the ENHG, revealed the continuing strength of this Group; one mother spoke of the rare opportunity it has given to her children to have so many direct contacts with the natural world in such a welcoming multicultural community while living essentially isolated urban lives. Some of these children may, in fact, follow in the footsteps of professional environmental scientists who have been nurtured by such nature societies around the world.   

The experience led him to write the poem, ‘Beachcombing.' Thank you, Keith! 

Footnotes for the poem:

** The literal meaning of the name of Saadiyat Island, which is just off Abu Dhabi Island, where marine biologist and ENHG-AD Chair Arabella Willing is now employed by the Park Hyatt Abu Dhabi Hotel and Villas as a turtle conservationist and eco-tour leader.

*** From the ‘O wayfarer…’ passage in Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá'u’llah (Wilmette: Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1983), CXXIX, pp. 279-90.