Herping the holy land, day 4 & 5, diving & dinos

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

Herping the holy land, day 4 & 5, diving & dinos

Postby Kristian Munkholm » Tue Jun 07, 2011 9:37 am

This is the fourth and final part of my report detailing my herping experiences in Israel from May 20 through May 24, 2011. The first three parts can be found here http://fieldherping.eu/Forum/viewtopic.php?f=4&t=774, http://fieldherping.eu/Forum/viewtopic.php?f=4&t=778 & http://fieldherping.eu/Forum/viewtopic.php?f=4&t=781.

We awoke in the dunes of the Negev after a nice but all too brief night's sleep and got out of our sleeping bags to greet the diurnal lizards. In the area there are two very similar species of fringe fingered lizards, the Nidua fringe fingered lizard, Acanthodactylus scutellatus, inhabitants of the stabilized dunes at the bottom:

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and the long fringe fingered lizard, A. longipes, slightly lighter in coulour as well as build, inhabitants of the higher, mobile dunes.

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While we were looking at lizards in the early morning sun I took a few photographs of some of the tracks of the night and morning:

Cerastes cerastes:

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Lytorhynchus diadema:

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Acanthodactylus sp.:
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Sphenops sepsoides:

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It is clear from the tracks that the animal moves below (the wavy line) as well as above (the footprints) the ground.

Chamaeleo chamaeleon:

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I was amazed that chameleons could survive out here in the dunes with so little vegetation for them to hide in, but what little there is seems to suffice. We followed this track for several hundred meters before we had to give up as it continued under the fence to a military zone. Seeing how a slow animal like the chameleon would walk across such vast distances in this terrain was likewise quite fascinating.

We also found a skull at first thought to be from a striped hyaena but upon closer inspection (thanks, Tom ;) revealed to be from just a large domestic dog - as well of course as plenty of arthropods such as the spiny beetles, Prionotheca coronata.

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From the dunes we drove on to check a few ancient waterholes nearby. Quite a few animals fall into these holes so they afford a chance for excellent finds as well as rescuing animals. I had my hopes up for a monitor or a black desert cobra but that was not to be. We did find a little though.

As I climbed down the rope ladder into first hole with my flashlight in hand I was greeted by loud pigeons nesting at the bottom. Adults, chicks, eggs, and poop were everywhere in the darkness, herps were not. Instead I found a barn owl, Tyto alba, and a single Geoffroy's horseshoe bat, Rhinolophus clivosus.

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I was just about to give up on finding any reptiles when I noticed the tail of a turkish gecko, Hemidactylus turcicus, sticking out from behind a tiny rock.

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On the ground above the hole we saw two sets of C. cerastes tracks on top of each other, probably the result of a male picking up the scent of a female her and following her to mate with her. We also found a couple of specimens of yet another Acanthodactylus species, the rather sturdily built Bosk's fringe fingered lizard, Acanthodactylus boskianus.

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Back at the cars I noticed another hole and saw something running across the bottom to hide in a pile of old dried out spiny bushes. I went down to investigate and came up with an ocellated skink, Chalcides ocellatus. Finally I managed to get a picture of one. We found another specimen, a patternless juvenile, hiding under the branches of a small bush nearby.

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The next two holes appeared less promising but we did find a couple of Sinai fan-fingered geckoes, Ptyodactylus guttatus, along with a couple of years worth of eggs hanging in a crevice at the top.

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Above these holes I found a new species of lizard, the smallspotted lizard, Mesalina guttulata.

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The last accesible hole for us to check in the area was a concrete hole of more recent date just outside a kibbutz. I made sure not to get my hopes up to high and was very pleased to find a healthy little Roger's racer, Platyceps rogersi, hiding in the leaf litter at the bottom.

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By now it was time for Aviad to head back home and for me to head south towards to Eilat. It was also time, though of course I didn't know it yet, for herping to turn a little slow. The last day and a half of my stay I didn't find all that much. There were a number of reasons I guess. I had a second and third agenda diving and visiting a friend of my wife's in Eilat, I was getting really tired and perhaps even somewhat full on herping experiences (never imagined that could happen) leading me to get sloppy and maybe even a bit lazy, and finally, I think I just ran out of luck :?

Anyway, whatever the reason, I still have few finds left to present to you. I drove through the desert passing beautiful views of the spectactular Makhtesh Ramon where a nubian ibex, Capra nubiana, yet another red listed species, stood by the roadside to welcome me. The road however, did not seem a safe place to stop for pictures.

Just north of Eilat I made my next stop at a less than pristine location. I quickly found what I was looking for, a small colony of Egyptian mastigures, Uromastyx aegyptius. These impressive agamas might not quite be dinosaurs, but it felt rather close ;)

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In Eilat I met with my wife's good friend Anat, whom I would be staying with. We went out for an early dinner after which I went back out into the dunes, this time in the Arava valley near the border with Jordan, primarily in search of the third Cerastes species, the Arabian horned viper, C. gasperetti. This would prove somewhat more difficult than I had hoped for. There simply didn't appear to be as much life here as in the dunes of the Negev. Of course there were some beetles and a few rodent tracks here and there, a hare once again raced by and there were plenty of ants and ant lions but overall the level of activity was much lower than the previous night. Perhaps my by now rather extreme tiredness didn't help either.

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In the end I left after just a couple of hours as I was worried I was getting so tired it wasn't safe for me to have to drive back to Eilat. In that time I saw no snake tracks. The only reptiles I managed to find were Middle Eastern short fingered geckoes, Stenodactylus doriae. Of these, however, I saw plenty. Apart from them I found just a few Sphenops tracks and a set of tracks from what appeared to be some larger lizard, probably one of the smaller agamids.

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Next day I found out the dunes had left my camera congested with sand and the zoom had ceased to work, along with a few other odd symptoms. A number of the remaining photos are therefore taken with the backup "trash cam". Though I am not much of a photographer even with the best of equipment, it shows :roll:

At first, this didn't matter. After breakfast I went down to the beach to go diving. This is one of those things I've always wanted to try, somehow just never gotten round to. Now, with the coral reef just outside the door, was certainly the time. I bought a 30 minute introduction dive down to 6 meters with an instructor at a very reasonable price. It ended up lasting a little longer but that was OK :)

The experience was amazing. The reef was full of beautiful structures, vividly coloured fish and other wildlife. We saw large groupers, barracudas, lionfish, pufferfish, clownfish, moray, giant clams, sea urchins, etc. The greatest impression however, was left by the large octopi. I saw 4 of them and was simple awestruck at the speed with which they completely change not just their colour but also the structure of their skin. I further had the luck to see two of them interact. One of them approached the other and they tangled a couple of their arms around each others before the second one retreated. Whether they actually mated I don't know (if so it was awfully quick) but it seemed quite obivous this was at least some form of courtship behaviour.

After lunch I once again turned my attention to dry land. I drove into the mountains to search for the other Israeli Uromastyx species, the ornate mastigure, Uromastyx ornatus. It turned out however, that the gravel road I was headed up really wasn't fit for anything less than a 4x4, certainly not for my little compact rental at least, so I ended up paying more attention to just getting the car back out of there in one piece than to looking at the mountain sides. Perhaps that's why I was unsuccesful. All I saw - apart from some nice scenery - was a bunch more ibex.

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Before meeting with Anat again to say goodbye, get my stuff in order, and thank her for her hospitality I found time for one more short stop. I went back to the U. aegyptius spot looking for the Sinai agamas, Pseudotrapelus sinaitus, that had eluded me the previous day. They did so again and I was left with "just" another bunch of mastigures.

When I came back to the apartment Anat invited me out for another early dinner and I accepted. Dinner was nice but everything ended up taking a bit longer than I had anticipated so I got out of town late and didn't arrive at the road I intended to cruise on the way back to the airport until nearly an hour later than I had planned. En route I passed another mongoose. Obviously I can only fear that my late arrival influenced my results. My primary targets were the Persian horned viper, Pseudocerastes persicus, and the desert tiger snake, Telescopus hoogstraali. While there was plenty of other activity on the road I found no snakes. The only herps were the Stenodactylus sthenodactylus that I had missed in the dunes a couple of nights earlier.

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Apart from the geckoes there were lots of arthropods and rodents on the road - huge spiders and solfugids, crickets, beetles, an impressive scorpion, Androctonus crassicauda (translates as "fattailed mankiller"), mice, gerbils and another of the species that had eluded us Sunday, the jerboa, Jaculus jaculus. Seeing its erratic and remarkable two legged jumping motion seemed a fitting end to the field part of my trip.

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From here on all that was left was the two hour drive to the airport, 2½ hours worth of security checks, and the plane ride back to Copenhagen via Riga before I arrived back home the following afternoon completely exhausted but with a happy grin that just couldn't be wiped off my face ;)

My species list ended up as follows:

Anurans:
Hyla felixarabica
Bufo viridis


Turtles:
Testudo graeca
Trionyx triunguis


Lizards:
Laudakia stellio
Uromastyx aegyptius
Pseudopus apodus
Cyrtopodion amictopholis
Hemidactylus turcicus
Ptyodactylus guttatus
Ptyodactylus puiseuxi
Stenodactylus doriae
Stenodactylus petrii
Stenodactylus sthenodactylus
Acanthodactylus boskianus
Acanthodactylus longipes
Acanthodactylus schreiberi
Acanthodactylus scutellatus
Mesalina guttulata
Ophisops elegans
Phoenicolacerta kulzeri
Ablepharus rueppellii
Chalcides ocellatus
Eumeces schneideri
Sphenops sepsoides
Trachylepis vittata


Snakes:
Eryx jaculus
Eirenis rothi
Lytorhynchus diadema
Malpolon insignitus
Natrix tessellata
Platyceps collaris
Platyceps rogersi
Rhynchocalamus melanocephalus
Cerastes cerastes
Cerastes vipera
Daboia palaestinae
Echis coloratus
Atractaspis engaddensis


- Add to that list Trapelus savignii, identified by Aviad when I only saw indeterminate movement, suspected Phoenicolacerta laevis and tracks of Varanus griseus, Scincus scincus and Chamaeleo chamaeleon.


Other animal groups for which I have complete lists are:

Scorpions:
Androctonus crassicauda
Buthacus sp.
Buthotus judaicus
Leiurus quinquestriatus
Nebo hierichonticus


Mammals:
Jaculus jaculus
Microtus nivalis hermoni
Gerbillus andersoni
Gerbillus gerbillus
Gerbillus henleyi
Gerbillus pyramidum
Meriones tristrami
Mus musculus
Myocastor coypus (introduced)
Lepus capensis
Rhinolophus clivosus
Felis chaus
Herpestes ichneumon
Canis aureus
Vulpes vulpes
Martes foina
Capra nubiana
Sus scrofa
Homo sapiens ;)


- plus a skull from Hyaena hyaena and droppings from Gazella dorcas.

Factor in all the other arthropods, birds, fish, mollusks, flowers, etc. and you end up with a result not too shabby for just 5 days :D
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Re: Herping the holy land, day 4 & 5, diving & dinos

Postby Paul Lambourne » Tue Jun 07, 2011 10:27 am

Kristian,

A fabulous set of trip reports, I have really enjoyed reading the daily instalments.. thanks very much for posting. :D Great tick list for five days, as the saying goes "the more I flip the luckier I get"

Cheers

Paul
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Re: Herping the holy land, day 4 & 5, diving & dinos

Postby Gabriel Martínez » Tue Jun 07, 2011 11:40 am

Hi Kristian and congratulations for all your trip,

Your first night was indeed awesome with so many species and so many snakes (Echis and Daboia are great. Atractaspis is amazing and it must be difficult to get a photo of this snake so venomous and nervous, Eryx, Rhinochalamus...). And the rest of the trip was good too, Hermon with snow in final may is bad, but I think vipers should be active anyway (if adult Malpolon is active... but maybe the vipers mating time would already have finished)... You found a huge Uromastyx aegyptius. This animals seem plastic toys, but they move!!! :lol: It´s like Trionyx, how is possible this animal become so huge!!! Israel is indeed the mediterranean herp paradise (small country, many species, high densities= herp heaven)... I will return there for sure!!!!!!!! (maybe next year, maybe in 2 years, but I will return!).

PD. Yes Jurgen, I also enjoyed with Aviad/Guy dunes course. If I had visited Israel some years ago, I would have found many Cerastes vipera in Morocco!!!!!!!!!!!! But Aviad´s tactic doesn´t work in Morocco with Cerastes cerastes (maybe in Mhamid, Erfoud). Mario Schweigger must know like me it´s dificult to follow sand dunes tracks in Ouarzazate or Agdz :roll:
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Re: Herping the holy land, day 4 & 5, diving & dinos

Postby Jürgen Gebhart » Tue Jun 07, 2011 2:12 pm

Great report Kristian!!!
I`m very jelous, because you found more Daboia`s than wer found!!!

@Gabri, next year???????
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Re: Herping the holy land, day 4 & 5, diving & dinos

Postby Gabriel Martínez » Tue Jun 07, 2011 3:45 pm

Maybe :roll: Israel is always a good plan...
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Re: Herping the holy land, day 4 & 5, diving & dinos

Postby Tom Hoogesteger » Tue Jun 07, 2011 6:55 pm

Very nice report, Kristian!
I'm pretty sure that skull is from a domestic dog, Canis familiaris.
The snout is way too narrow and the teeth too small to be Hyaena hyaena. Also the hyena skull has a different shape. The skull belongs definitely to a Canis species, and because of the very distinct forehead, C. lupus and C. aureus are outruled. So the only remaining possibility is C. familiaris.
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Re: Herping the holy land, day 4 & 5, diving & dinos

Postby Kristian Munkholm » Tue Jun 07, 2011 9:16 pm

Again, thanks to all of you for the comments :)


Paul:
Yep, luck always plays a part but preparation & effort go a long way ;)


Gabri:
First night was indeed spectacular, Atractaspis was a dream find, & certainly not one to be taken for granted. I was very pleased with the rest of my trip as well. Uromastyx & Trionyx were among the highlights. With regards to Hermon, Aviad was also quite surprised I didn't find any vipers. According to him & Guy it's more likely to have been too early than too late. For a northerner like me used to finding berus in much colder conditions in March this of course seems absurd, but hey, what do I know ;) The Malpolon, for reference, was found much further down the slope in quite different conditions.

Oh, and I'll be back as well. I still have approximately 55 new species to find ;)


Jürgen:
Not to step in it, but Daboia wasn't even that high on my list, so I was quite satisfied after the first :lol:

I'm sure you'll find plenty next time - and lots of other cool stuff I'll envy you :)


Tom:
It was Aviad who ID'ed the skull as a - juvenile - Hyaena. I really wouldn't know. What I do know is that I have found the skull of a domestic dog before and this seemed much heavier, more dense and powerful. Of course I realize there must be significant difference between different breeds but I really wouldn't expect (again, this is the opinion of an ignorant layman ;) ) this to be the same species. With regards to the teeth, the canines at least were broken, I'm not sure about the others.

I hope Aviad chimes in with an opinion ;)
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Re: Herping the holy land, day 4 & 5, diving & dinos

Postby Kristian Munkholm » Wed Jun 08, 2011 9:38 am

Tom:
I have received confirmation of your ID of the skull as a domestic dog. Thanks for setting it straight & hope you're not offended by my double checking ;)
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Re: Herping the holy land, day 4 & 5, diving & dinos

Postby Aviad Bar » Wed Jun 08, 2011 3:25 pm

my mistake
sorry
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Re: Herping the holy land, day 4 & 5, diving & dinos

Postby Mario Schweiger » Thu Jun 09, 2011 2:19 pm

Really a very nice and good set of tripreport!

Your Acanthodactylus sp. is a Acanthodactylus boskianus for sure - only species within the genus, where dorsal scales get larger from the front to the back.

Mario
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Please visit also my personal Herp-site vipersgarden.at
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