Israel in 60 hours - or No Sleep till B... en Gurion

Israel, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, Iran, Turkey, Cyprus

Israel in 60 hours - or No Sleep till B... en Gurion

Postby Kristian Munkholm » Mon Jun 02, 2014 7:53 am

Disclaimer: I didn't write a report for this forum as I expected either GertJan or Sjuul would and since there is much overlap I thought it somewhat redundant. Furthermore, I did not want to embarass myself by showing my pictures next to theirs. Since, however, neither has posted yet I figured I might as well post this, written for a different audience, here as well.

Well... 59 really, but sixty is such a nice round number ;-)

Anyway, cookies and banner adds work. I was reading the news online one evening in March when I noticed a banner add and uncharacteristically clicked on it. The add was from an airline company and I guess I was in a masochistic mood, setting myself up to dream of travels I would have neither time nor money for.

Glancing through their offers I noticed deceptively cheap one way airfare for Tel Aviv. Expecting disappointment upon seeing the return prices I looked closer. Shocked I found I could book a direct return flight for 119 Euros. I quickly brought out the calendar and found a weekend when I would be able to take a couple of days off and bought the very last available ticket in the price range.

Fast forward to Friday, May 23rd early in the afternoon in the coastal dunes near Ben Gurion airport where I found my first herp of the trip, a lifer snake at that :)

Psammophis schokari, the Schokari sand racer, is perhaps the most common snake in Israel, distributed throughout the country, yet despite two previous trips finding plenty of herps I had never seen one but here it was under a piece of rusty scrap metal amidst the vines atop a dune - beautiful.

I figured it would probably be hell trying to get the fast, feisty, diurnal snake to calm down and pose in the afternon heat if I picked it up, so I tried for the quick in situ first. Sadly, I didn't quite get the lighting or focus right and as I was fumbling with my camera for the second shot it made a run for it. I made a grab, it slipped through my fingers, gone.

Image
Psammophis schokari

A slight spot on an otherwise wonderful trip, photography issues would prove recurring. Looking at my pictures after I got home I noticed just about all of my daytime shots are overlit – cue ”new camera” and other bad excuses. Furthermore, there are a number of species, I missed getting shots of though I would have liked it and some common ones I either didn't bother to photograph or only took quick sloppy vouchers of. I hope at least some of you will have the patience to read on despite the lack of eye candy (I guess you will if you got this far ;-))

… After this public service announcement we return to our regularly scheduled program...

The dunes also brought me some old tracks of (I think) Daboia palestinae, Palestine viper, and a few Acanthodactylus schreiberi, Schreiber's fringe fingered lizard, a species I had seen before but hadn't photographed. To all intents and purposes I still haven't.

Image
Acanthodactylus schreiberi

Image
Coastal dunes near Tel Aviv, habitat of Psammophis schokari, Acanthodactylus schreiberi, Daboia palaestinae and more

Image
Mantis from dunes above

In the town nearby I found several Laudakia stellio, starred agama, a species I am so used to seeing in numbers everwhere in the northern two thirds of Israel as wel as elsewhere in the eastern Mediterranean region I rarely pay them much attention despite them being really quite charismatic critters.

Image
Laudakia stellio picea

After this short stop I drove on to an area of hills and valleys where the northern expanse of the Judean desert meets the more lush and fertile river valleys of Jordan and tributaries. This transitional zone, a well known herper's dream, would be my base for the next two nights. I joined company with Gert Jan and Schuul, two dutch herpers who had been herping hard for the past five days. We spent the rest of the afternoon hiking the habitat and flipping rocks, Friday and Saturday evening road cruising.

After they left for the airport Sunday morning I did a little more exploring of the area on my own. In the area I saw Echis coloratus, Palestine saw scaled viper, always beautiful, deadly, fast and ferocious, D. palaestinae, equally beautiful and deadly but – to my limited experience at least – somewhat more docile (can't say with regards to speed), the gorgeous Telescopus fallax, European cat snake, another wonderful lifer for me, Eryx jaculus, Caucasian sand boa, perhaps the most deliciously tactile snake in the world, or at least in the Western Palearctic (oops, birder term :oops: ), Eirenis rothi, Roth's dwarf racer, cool enough, can't think of anything smart to say, Chamaeleo chamaeleon, Mediterranean chameleon, (seriously, who doesn't love chameleons), Ptyodactylus guttatus, Sinai fan fingered gecko, yibbidy yabbada (no disregard), Hemidactylus turcicus, Mediterranean house gecko, see my 2012 Israel post http://www.fieldherpforum.com/forum/viewtopic.php?f=2&t=13828 if you want comments, Ablepharus kitaibelii, snake eyed skink, lbj, (oops, more birder lingo, and it's getting hard to get away with ”no disregard” now :oops: :oops: ), Trachylepis vittatus, bridled mabuya, whatever, Chalcides ocellatus, eyed cylindrical skink, yeah well..., more Laudakia stellio (really, must I), Mauremys rivulata, I guess I brought it upon myself, Hyla savignyi, lemon yellow treefrog, yet another lifer, Rhynchocalamus melanocephalus, Palestine kukri snake, dor, and Pelophylax bedriagae, Levant water frog, forget it!

After that (and I really hope I didn't forget any, cause for the life of me I can't think of any more stupid comments) it must be time for a few pictures.

Image
Ptyodactylus guttatus, crappy pic of tailless specimen

Image
Chalcides ocellatus, juvenile

Image
Palpares sp.

Image
Buthotus judaicus

Image
Saga pedo

Image
Hyla savignyi

Image
Echis coloratus

Image
Huge Echis coloratus

Image
Telescopus fallax syriacus

Image
Telescopus fallax syriacus

Image
Daboia palaestinae

Image
Daboia palaestinae

Image
Echis coloratus

Image
Eryx jaculus

Image
Eryx jaculus

Image
Echis coloratus

Image
Mauremys rivulata

Image
Nebo hierichonticus

Anyone still paying attention must now be asking themselves how the f... you see a chameleon without getting a picture. Well, you're driving, on your way from one spot to the next, not really herping, when suddenly you see it crossing the road in front of you. Of course there's an idiot driver right behind you on the narrow road so you can't slam on the brakes immediately (and yes, of course he's an idiot, otherwise he wouldn't be right behind you under those circumstances, doh) but have to continue to a point where you can let him pass and slowly pull to the side of the road. You then run back the road and the master of disguise is gone.

Thankfully, you now see a serpentine movement in ridiculous miniature on the road. This is how you find your juvenile E. rothi. Wretched thing won't stop squirming like a freshly decaptiated eel on a frying pan though, so the best picture you get is your crappy in situ voucher. Stopping for the chameleon also gives you the bonus chance to ID the dor kukri snake you passed 50 m earlier.

Image
Eirenis rothi, juvenile

Backtracking, as some of you might have noticed I left out the better part of Saturday, this was spent on Mount Hermon. Along with just two or three peaks in Lebanon, Mount Hermon has a unique flora and fauna with a wealth of endemic species. These are relicts from cooler Middle Eastern periods in the past, that now survive only at high altitude. In terms of reptiles, several species have their only Israeli populations on the mountain and two, the Mount Hermon viper, Montivipera bornmuelleri, and the Mount Hermon bowfoot gecko, Mediodactylus amictophole, have their only populations in the world on the upper slopes of this and the aforementioned two or three Lebanese mountains.

Montivipera was our main target for the day with Mediodactylus almost as high on my two companions' wish list (I had already seen it). On the mountain we met our friends, the guidebook authors Guy and Aviad and one of their friends whose name I have shamefully forgotten.

I made a concerted effort to make myself unpopular with my Dutch companions as I – running up the mountain ahead of the rest - first found their target gecko, photographed it and caught it only to drop it and see it disappear between the rocks before they made it up to me, then, after hours of searching found a viper, again only to allow it to slip away as they were running towards me (I left the hook in the car and my glove was in the backpack). I redeemed myself by finding a second viper for them, though, and they since found their own gecko (and, later still, vipers).

Image
Mediodactylus amictophole

Image
Creepy, huge centipede

Image
Moth, sexually dimorph, females wingless

Mount Hermon vipers come in two colours, turd brown, and stunning purple / blue / gray (depending on who you ask plus – perhaps – the individual specimen). Apparently, both forms are about equally common. Unfortunately all the ones we found were of the turd variety – except of course the one Sjuul allowed to get away :(

Image
Montivipera bornmuelleri

Image
Sadly typical sight in the field in Israel, particularly on Mount Hermon :(

Image
Montivipera bornmuelleri

Image
Tin housing main target

Image
Bird's nest under tin?!

Image
Phoenicolacerta kulzeri

Image
Montivipera bornmuelleri

Image
Montivipera bornmuelleri

Image
Montivipera bornmuelleri

Image
Huge grasshopper, sexually dimorph, males very different, 1/3 size

Image
Habitat of Montivipera bornmuelleri, Mediodactylus amictophole, Phoenicolacerta kulzeri and more

Having found our targets, along with more Trachylepis vittata, Phoenicolacerta kulzeri, no clue of an English common name, another species with a very restricted mountainous Middle Eastern distribution, and, as we were waiting for our Israeli friends at the parking lot, Ophisops elegans, the snake eyed lacertid, so named – like the skink - for its lack of eyelids, more P. kulzeri, and Testudo graeca, Mediterranean spur thighed tortoise (tortoises are always just so lazily nice :) ) we hiked back down to our cars, finding a near record sized (app. 60 cm) Asia Minor dwarf racer, Eirenis modestus, basking next to the road.

Image
Hummingbird hawk moth, Macroglossum stellatarum

Image
Eirenis modestus, giant

Image
Testudo graeca

We then drove further down the mountains, hiked the meadows and boulder strewn slopes and I found my second target of the day, the stunning Levant green lizard, Lacerta media israelica. I only got pictures of a juvenile of these fast and wary lizards as I didn't want to risk causing its tail to fall off by making a bad grab for it when I chased an adult in to a pile of rocks. The colouration of the adults is very different – google it ;-)

Image
Lacerta media israelica, juvenile

Besides L. media, I found more L. stellio, more T. vittatus, more O. elegans, and a surpirse lifer, the essentially legless Chalcides guentheri, Guenther's cylindrical skink. Skinks in general are the bane of my photographic existence so of course it got away :oops:

Image
Habitat of Lacerta media israelica, Ophisops elegans, Trachylepis vittatus, Chalcides guentheri, Laudakia stellio and more

Image
Ophisops elegans

Image
Again... (see above)

Image
Huge Trachylepis vittatus

Back down from the mountain we had a nice, typical Israeli dinner – the only proper meal of the trip - at a restaurant in a nearby Druze town before the evening road cruising session and thanked our hosts for their help and good company.

Sunday late in the morning I drove south to the Negev. Apart from a short stop to refuel the car where I found behind the gas station Acanthodactylus aegyptius, the Egyptian fringe fingered lizard, delicate sand runners, my first stop was far down what had been described to me as a dirt road. It was hard to even discern any form of track through the loess flatlands and hills, over the sand plains and across the dry wadis where gorges had been cut through the landscape by a flood a few few weeks earlier. Certainly this was more fit for a 4x4 than my Aygo yet somehow both the car and I made it back. I even got away with returning it to the rental agency free of surplus charges the rubber thingamajig at the front beneath the chassis hanging tattered to the ground the only immediately visible sign of what the car had endured. The Avis guy asked me if I had driven into the fields in it, I told him no, but I had driven onto a dirt road, he accepted and didn't bill me for damages.

Image
Acanthodactylus aegyptius, fouraging

Part of the aim of my foray into nothingness risking the car was three ancient waterholes that work as death traps for the local wildlife. I found nothing in them probably because my Dutch friends had been there a few days before, rescuing my #1 on my Israeli most wanted list, Walterinnesia aegyptia, the black desert cobra, Walter among friends.

I did, however, find my other target, the endemic Acanthodactylus beershebensis, Be'er Sheva fringe fingered lizard. Critically endangered, this endemic lizard with a fragmented distribution in the northern Negev and southern Judean desert is very different from the other Israeli Acanthodactylus species. Much bulkier than these it is a strange and interesting sight.

Image
Acanthodactylus beershebensis

Image
Acanthodactylus beershebensis

Image
Dromedaries

Image
Seemingly ancient, man made cave in Negev

Alongside beershebensis I chanced upon another lifer, Trapelus pallidus, the desert agama. Ridiculously alert, fast and flighty, trying to get a picture of the little cutie was a pain.

Image
Trapelus pallidus

Image
Northern Negev, habitat of Acanthodactylus beershebensis, Trapelus pallidus and others

I had been warned by one of my Israeli friends not to leave my car unattended as the bedouins would strip it of my belongings. Whether his mistrust in the nomads was in place I can't say but I heeded his warning and soon found reason to respect their, well, stealth I guess. In the open, barren and relatively flat landscape, I had my back turned what seemed like just a few seconds and when I turned around there stood, appearing from nowhere, two bedouins with a large mixed herd of goats and sheep, eerie.

Image
Mixed herd of sheep & goats in the arid Negev

Back at the main road I made a stop at yet a couple of waterholes where I found P. guttatus and another T. pallidus. Apparently emaciated, this agama was much more cooperative and I thanked it by rescuing it.

Image
Trapelus pallidus

In one of the holes stood and old, rusty oil drum and as I entered the hole a hoopoe startled me by flying out of it. From the sounds emanating from within I gathered the bird was nesting there.

Above ground, I found yet another L. stellio. As opposed to the other specimens seen on the trip of the subspecies picea this was the larger, more brightly coloured L. s. Brachydactyla.

Image
Laudakia stellio brachydactyla

I drove onwards to the final herping stop of my trip, the dunes of the nortwestern Negev. Arriving late in the afternoon I searched first for diurnal herps, finding more A. aegyptius as well as Acanthodactylus scutellatus, Nidua fringe fingered lizards. Very similar to A. aegyptius, but larger, they inhabit the stabilized sands near the bottom of the dunes, where aegyptius thrive in the shifting sands at the top.

Image
Acanthodactylus scutellatus

Image
Acanthodactylus scutellatus

Apart from the lizards, the sands were covered in a criss cross of mammal, bird, invert and herp tracks. Sadly, though following them I was able to locate neither Varanus griseus, desert monitor, very high on my wish list, nor Sphenops sepsoides, wedge snouted skink.

Image
Tracks, Varanus griseus

Image
Tracks, Sphenops sepsoides

Image
Tracks, Acanthodactylus cf. aegyptius

Image
Northwestern Negev dunes, habitat of Cerastes cerastes, Cerastes vipera, Lytorhynchus diadema, Spalerosophis diadema, Varanus griseus, Chamaeleo chamaeleon, Trapelus savignii, Sphenops sepsoides, Scincus scincus, Stenodactylus petrii, Acanthodactylus aegyptius, Acanthodactylus scutellatus and more

Image
Northwestern Negev dunes

Image
Northwestern Negev dunes

Image
As stated above, not only on Hermon. Whereas on Hermon I would guess most are Israeli, I suspect this was fired from the Gaza strip or Sinai peninsula.

Image
Locust

As it darkened I grabbed a bite to eat, pulled out the flashlight and continued tracking. I soon found an endearing little Cerastes vipera, Sahara sand viper, followed by three of the always impessive Cerastes cerastes, desert horned viper, kings of the sands, the final one just a tad under 59 hours after my initial Psammophis.

Image
Cerastes vipera with ant

Image
Cerastes vipera

Image
Gerbillus sp.

Image
Cerastes cerastes with full belly, just outside hole. I'm guessing it ate a rodent or lizard in the burrow minutes before.

Image
Cerastes cerastes

Image
Cerastes cerastes

Image
Gerbillus sp.

Image
Cerastes cerastes

Image
Cerastes cerastes

Image
Tracks of Cerastes cerastes in soft sand down the side of the dune

Most of the tracks I followed, I missed finding the snake, though, either because it disappeared into a hole, onto sand too compressed to leave marks for a long stretch or just because I simply couldn't find it. I guess maybe that had something to do with me being so tired I couldn't even remember my own name. It only bugs me a little that I didn't find either of the two Lytorhynchus diadema, crowned leafnose snakes, at the ends of their tracks.

Eventually I succumbed to fatigue and called it a night. Still on a herper's high back at the car I decided to drive back towards the airport rather than sleep two hours before driving in the middle of the night to beat the rush hour traffic and arrive early.

I camped at the beach and got up after just a couple of hours to find a jackal prowling outside my tent, went for a swim in the Mediterranean and found the time for a few parting shots of the Israeli national bird, Upupa epos, the hoopoe.

Image
Beach at Palmahim

Image
Upupa epos

I ended my trip with 31 live herp species, among them 8 lifers, with 18 snakes of 10 species (3 lifers), not bad for 2½ days.

Hyla savignyi *
Pelophylax bedriagae

Mauremys rivulata
Testudo graeca

Lacerta media *
Acanthodactylus beershebensis *
Acanthodactylus aegyptius
Acanthodactylus scutellatus
Acanthodactylus schreiberi
Ophisops elegans
Phoenicolacerta kulzeri
Chalcides guentheri *
Chalcides ocellatus
Trachylepis vittata
Ablepharus kitaibelii
Trapelus pallidus *
Laudakia stellio
Hemidactylus turcicus
Ptyodactylus guttatus
Mediodactylus amictophole
Chamaeleo chamaeleon

Montivipera bornmuelleri *
Telescopus fallax *
Psammophis schokari *
Echis coloratus
Cerastes cerastes
Cerastes vipera
Daboia palaestinae
Eirenis modestus
Eirenis rothi
Eryx jaculus

Rhynchocalamus melanocephalus **

Lytorhynchus diadema***
Varanus griseus***
Sphenops sepsoides***


* lifer
** dor only
*** tracks only

I missed a few species I expected to see (Ptyodactylus puiseuxi, Stenodactylus petrii, perhaps L. diadema and S. sepsoides), some that I dreamt of (Varanus, Walterinnesia, Scincus scincus, Micrelaps muelleri, Micrelaps tchernovi) and several others that I just might have stumbled upon but that's OK, I'm happy with what I saw.

Of course it isn't all about the list, and if you add to that all the mammals (a dozen species, including mountain gazelles, rock hyrax, jackals, red foxes, wild boar, cape hares, lesser Egyptian jerboas, and various species of gerbils and bats pending ID, cool birds (various raptors, storks , herons, hoopoes, bee eaters, sunbirds (inside the airport!), a couple of lifer kingfishers, etc.) impressive and charismatic inverts in the form of scorpions, solpugids, large centipedes, beetles, bugs, mantids, katydids, locusts, butterflies, antlions and more, beautiful flowers, awe inspiring landscapes, good company, etc. (oops, I guess that was really just one more list :oops: ) that's a very nice way to spend an impromptu weekend :D
Kristian Munkholm
 
Posts: 450
Joined: Tue May 26, 2009 2:04 pm
Hometown: Copenhagen
country: Denmark

Re: Israel in 60 hours - or No Sleep till B... en Gurion

Postby Mario Schweiger » Mon Jun 02, 2014 8:18 am

Nice written trip report :lol:
and good pictures.
Like the bornmuelleri and Daboia shots.

Mario
Mario (Admin)

Please visit also my personal Herp-site vipersgarden.at
User avatar
Mario Schweiger
Site Admin
 
Posts: 2192
Joined: Wed May 06, 2009 7:57 pm
Location: Obertrum, Salzburg, Austria
Hometown: Obertrum
country: Austria

Re: Israel in 60 hours - or No Sleep till B... en Gurion

Postby Jürgen Gebhart » Mon Jun 02, 2014 12:11 pm

Big congrats!!!

What a nice Daboia Baby!!! Love it!!!

I miss Israel such much!!! :cry:
User avatar
Jürgen Gebhart
 
Posts: 1423
Joined: Fri Jun 26, 2009 8:17 am
Hometown: Wiedergeltingen Bavaria
country: Germany

Re: Israel in 60 hours - or No Sleep till B... en Gurion

Postby Jeroen Speybroeck » Mon Jun 02, 2014 12:42 pm

Great stuff, thanks! That Telescopus looks stunning.
Jeroen Speybroeck
Site Admin
 
Posts: 3156
Joined: Wed Nov 18, 2009 10:18 am
Hometown: Merelbeke
country: Belgium

Re: Israel in 60 hours - or No Sleep till B... en Gurion

Postby Paul Lambourne » Mon Jun 02, 2014 1:18 pm

Great report..great to see the echis, daboia and my most wanted Israeli snake bournmuelleri, which I sadly missed when I was there.. I look forward to the other reports,

Cheers Paul
User avatar
Paul Lambourne
 
Posts: 590
Joined: Thu Jan 13, 2011 8:47 pm
Hometown: London
country: England

Re: Israel in 60 hours - or No Sleep till B... en Gurion

Postby Kristian Munkholm » Mon Jun 02, 2014 2:03 pm

Thanks for all the kind words :)

Jürgen Gebhart wrote:What a nice Daboia Baby!!! Love it!!!


I was happy to spot it for Sjuul and GJ. I needed the credit missing Mediodactylus and Montivipera left and right :lol:

Jeroen Speybroeck wrote:That Telescopus looks stunning.


I was quite fond of it as well :)

Paul Lambourne wrote:...my most wanted Israeli snake bournmuelleri, which I sadly missed when I was there.


I guess it was number two on my list (after Walter). I tried for it both my previous visits as well. First time I was told if I gained access to the right habitat I would find it. I did but I didn't. Second time I didn't gain access. Third time's a charm :)
Kristian Munkholm
 
Posts: 450
Joined: Tue May 26, 2009 2:04 pm
Hometown: Copenhagen
country: Denmark

Re: Israel in 60 hours - or No Sleep till B... en Gurion

Postby Andre Schmid » Mon Jun 02, 2014 3:19 pm

Very nice and impressive Vipers, thanks for sharing !
User avatar
Andre Schmid
 
Posts: 651
Joined: Thu Jul 30, 2009 3:38 pm
Hometown: Rottweil
country: Germany

Re: Israel in 60 hours - or No Sleep till B... en Gurion

Postby Manfred Gessner » Mon Jun 02, 2014 7:06 pm

Montivipera bornmuelleri, my favorite in Israel.
Great pictures. Thank's for sharing.
User avatar
Manfred Gessner
 
Posts: 27
Joined: Sun Apr 06, 2014 10:13 am
Hometown: Germany
country: Cologne

Re: Israel in 60 hours - or No Sleep till B... en Gurion

Postby Thomas Bader » Mon Jun 02, 2014 8:41 pm

Wow - Maybe surprising, but for me the young Lacerta media is an absolute highlight. I guess they are quite rare...?
Thomas Bader
 
Posts: 216
Joined: Wed May 20, 2009 7:32 am
Location: Vienna
Hometown: Vienna
country: Austria

Re: Israel in 60 hours - or No Sleep till B... en Gurion

Postby Kristian Munkholm » Mon Jun 02, 2014 9:11 pm

Thomas Bader wrote:Wow - Maybe surprising, but for me the young Lacerta media is an absolute highlight. I guess they are quite rare...?


It was high on my wish list as well - and beautiful. I saw 4 or 5 juveniles and two adults - a little disappointed to not get better shots but they were extremely shy and as stated, I did not want to risk decaudating one attempting to capture it.

The adults are beautiful as well - more different from European green lizards irl than I had expected based on photos.

On Hermon they are locally common but as I've understood elsewhere it is declining and by now quite rare.
Kristian Munkholm
 
Posts: 450
Joined: Tue May 26, 2009 2:04 pm
Hometown: Copenhagen
country: Denmark

Next

Return to Near and Middle East

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 3 guests