© All CONTENT & PHOTOGRAPHS G.J. VERSPUI 2014 ©
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Israel, this is my second visit to this country, last time was with Jürgen Gebhart and he showed me around, we saw 48 species that trip and this is half of what Israel has in stock, so when I saw a 178€ ticket to Tel Aviv I acted as fast as possible to arrange a second trip.
After my first trip I already had one Dutch guy that really wanted to go there also, his name was Sjuul Verhaegh.
I contacted him and 1 week later the tickets were booked.
I also contacted Aviad and Guy and they told me that there was also an other herper coming to Israel in this time, his name was Dan Rosenberg, after some mails Dan was joining us for the first 5 days of the trip.
Saterday morning the 17th of may I met with Sjuul at Schiphol, from here we had a flight to Belgrado and from there to Tel Aviv, we were flying with Air Serbia and we liked that company a lot, good service and very nice people! At least one of them!!
When we arrived in Tel Aviv Dan was already waiting for us at the gate, I was hoping for a big welcome-flag, but that didn't happen, after some dissapointing attempts to get money out of a machine we went to the avis desk to collect our car, a Ford mondeo stationwagon which already had some adventures in the past, lots of scratches, but that was ok, this way they didn't see the new scratches I made....
We left the Ben Gurion airport around 1830 and drove straight to the dunes of the north western Negev desert, the first herps of the trip were found on the road, some Lichtenstein's Short-Fingered Gecko's and a Roger's Racer.
At the dunes we walked around for a while when Dan spotted the first snake there, it was a Crowned Leafnose Snake, a species I did not see on my previous trip, so a very good find!
We did not see a lot of Viper tracks, but when I saw the first ones I tracked them and found a nice Desert Horned Viper, after photographing it I looked further for more tracks and I found new viper tracks, this time they were very small, so it could be a Sahara Sand Viper.
This snake seriously had too much energy, I was tracking it for more then 25 minutes when I heard Dan crying of happiness because he walked in on a Sahara Sand Viper.
I decided to follow the tracks first and then have a look at the viper, 10 minutes later I was at this viper because the tracks were from this viper...
Half an hour later I was tracking a little viper again and found it hidden in the sand under a bush, it was an other female Sahara Sand Viper again. We also saw many Anderson's Short-Fingered Gecko's.
Sjuul still did not find anything and he looked a bit sad....but that would change during the trip because he found lots of animals.
Around 01:30 we stopped searching and tried to get some sleep, Dan slept in the car and Sjuul and I slept outside, we enjoyed the mosquitoes that were flying around there in high quantities.....the rest of the trip my nose looked a bit bumpy and red.
Sunday, the 18th of May.
Mosquitoes and the early sun made sure I did not sleep for more then 3 hours, after some breakfast and some water we searched in the dunes for reptiles during the morning, we saw Dorcas Gazelles, tracks of Desert Monitor's and Egyptian Sand Agama's, unfortunatly only their tracks.
We did see 4 Fringe-Fingered Lizard species, but they are so fast that it is hard to make good photos.
When it became too hot we headed back to the car and slowly went into the direction of the Negev junction where we were meeting with Aviad. We had 3 stops before meeting Aviad and found some lizards: Turkish Gecko, Sinai Fan-Fingered Gecko and Starred Agama.
At 14:00 we met with Aviad and checked out some water holes in that area, because of heavy rains 2 weeks ago most of the holes are full of water, so there are no dry places inside the holes where the animals that fell in can survive.
The first water hole I went in had lots of stones inside, I found 2 Roger's Racer's, next to the water holes other species were seen, Sinai Fan-Fingered Gecko's, Small-Spotted Lizards and Beer Sheva Fringe-Fingered Lizards, we also saw a Little Owl (Athena noctua)
At an other Water hole Sjuul saw something moving on the edge of the hole, when Aviad and I looked inside we saw a large Black desert Cobra doing some swimming exercises, so I layed down over the edge, Sjuul holding my legs and with a snake grabbing device.... I could just reach the snake, grabbed it and saved it from drowning.
Close to that area were some sand dunes, we searched there for Sandfish skinks, but only Fringe-Fingered Lizards and some Desert Monitor tracks were seen, when I walked back to the car I saw a Mediterranean Chameleon walking through the sand.
At a second place Aviad found a juvenile Sandfish Skink and we saw some foxes.
The sun was already gone so we went towards a road some people call "the 4 echis road" not me, for me it is still : "the nothing on the road" road.....this time we had very hard wind and very low temperature, so only some gecko's were seen.
From this place we said goodbye and thank you to Aviad, thanks for your time Aviad!! He went back home and we drove to Arad, here we had a hotel, after checking in Sjuul and I did some more roadcruising, but only a DOR Roger's Racer was seen, on the way back we saw a big longlegged dog-like animal next to the road, when we googled it later, it turned out to be an Arabian Wolf (Canis lupus arabs), so even without snakes on the road we still had a good night!
Monday the 19th of May.
We woke up and had a very nice breakfast at a bar in Arad, today we will drive to Eilat, more then 230 km, but first some stone flipping just north of Arad, here we found Starred Agama's, Occelated Skinks and together with Sjuul I managed to grab 1 Schneider's Skink.
Around 15:00 we arrived in Eilat, first we searched for the large Egyptian Mastigure and found 2 adult enjoying the sun close to their burrow, they posed very good for us, but when we came too close they went into their burrow.
The other Mastigure in that area is the colorful Ornate Mastigure, this species only lives in Israel in the Mountains close to Eilat, we saw some female Sinai Agama's, but the Ornate Mastigure stayed out of sight, when we were almost out of the area where they live I checked the last possible rock it could be on and guess what, there was one, slowly we came closer and closer, making many photographs, first she was just walking around, then some eating and when we came too close she went into her own hole in the rocks.
After these 2 ticks in a row we felt pretty strong and didn't care about anything that would make us weaker again, so we went to macdonalds...me and Dan had a normal meal, but Sjuul only wanted the "Happy Meal"...
The evening was used for looking for the Arabian Horned Viper, it is a common species in the Arava valley, but it is only possible to track in a sandy area, so we went to an area with sand dunes, this area is on the border with Jordan, only a small fence and a minor road where the Israeli military patrols a little bit, Dan was a bit worried so close to the border, but we didn't have any problems at all...
And what is there to worry when Sjuul is wearing his 'happy-meal' spiderman mask...
We saw Turkish Gecko, Baiuch Rock Gecko and Middle Eastern Short-fingered Gecko straight away and within half an hour I counted more then 7 tracks of Arabian Horned Vipers, but these were old tracks, at least one day old.
Meanwhile Dan was having an open telephone line with Shani, a young guy who found the viper 1 day after me and Jurgen searched there in october. Shani was in Eilat with his girlfriend and really had to try hard to meet us in the dunes to look for the viper, but he arrived and found a track, but it was a day old so we looked further, then the next track he found was fresh and we followed it for a long time, but then the wind came, very hard wind, all tracks were gone in a few seconds......
Shani was on his phone the whole time and his boss ordered him to get back, so he only stayed with us for 45 minutes.
It was good to meet you Shani, I hope the boss was not waiting for you too long!
When the wind was still strong Sjuul spotted a snake, it was a Diadem Snake of around 1 meter, from this moment Sjuul started to find more.....when we walked back to the car he walked in on a 35 cm Arabian Horned Viper, there were no tracks visable around it, so we were very lucky. Thanks Sjuul!
I also tracked a Wedge Snouted Skink, we saw their tracks everywhere, but most of the time you don't see where the track stops, but when you do, you will find the skink in the sand!
Tuesday, the 20th of May.
After a good (big) breakfast we went back to the dunes from last night, hopefully to see some daylight loving reptiles, but also to check out the area for the next night, temperature was very high already at 10:00 and there was no wind now, so we put a drain into Dan's body to keep him alive, I am not sure if it worked, he still looked a bit overheated, in the dunes we saw some tracks of the species we saw last night, but not much else was seen.
When we walked back to the car we saw a female Desert Agama and an Occelated Skink.
Close to Eilat we searched a bit for 3 gecko species, first we saw were some Rough-Tailed Gecko's, they were living under the same plate a 2 Sinai Agama's, the male had a bright blue head, so we tried to photograph them, but they were already deep in a hole.
When we drove towards the place where the Yellow Fan-Fingered Gecko's were living we saw an other Egyptian Mastigure and again some good posing for the camera's.
The Yellow Fan-fingered Gecko's were found inside a shed, we also searched for the tiny Sand Gecko's, but we didn't find any.
After a big hotdog we drove to a valley to look for Ornate Mastigure's again, it was not easy to scan al those rocks, but then I saw a sort of strange shape on top of a rock, I took a photo and checked after some heavy cropping what it was and it was a bright colored male, we tried to get closer to the animal and had to do some climbing for it, I managed to get some photos which are ok, but it could have been better...
The Ornate Mastigure went back into his hole in the rocks when we came too close, but came out of it when we went back again, so I climbed to a place higher then the lizard and waited there for half an hour, the lizard came out of his hole but stayed close to it....
We only saw 1 Ornate Mastigure, but we also saw some female Sinai Agama's there.
After this great experience we jumped into the Red sea to cool down and to do some swimming, 4 km of breaststroke made Sjuul and myself a bit hungry, so we grabbed some cheap food in the center of Eilat.
In the evening we went back to the dunes, there was not a lot of wind and there was not much activity either, after 2 hours we only tracked one Arabian Horned Viper, but the hard surface in between the sandy parts were the reason we lost the tracks.
I still wanted to search, but my 2 girlfriends wanted to do some roadcruising
(sleeping in the car for some...) We found a road, but where it became better the road was blocked, damn........or not, I was ok with that because now we could get back to the dunes and do one last search......
Dan stayed at the car, the border with Jordan was very close again and it was to much excitement for him to walk there again, so I woke up Sjuul and he went with me.
This hot night the activity was a lot later then the night before, now we found several viper tracks and we tracked some of them, but everytime the same story, the distances they move around are big, one was more then 750 meters and sooner or later they go over harder surface where they leave no tracks, but just after an other lost track I walked up a small dune and there it was, a 65 cm Arabian Horned Viper, very excited we photographed the viper and went back to Dan who was snoring in the car.
Wednesday, the 21st of May.
Driving to Mizpe Ramon today, we took the road that was handrailing the border with Egypt and were estauned by the big fence there, building a fence like that must provide lots and lots of jobs..
South of the Ramon Crater we had a stop close to a little valley, we looked around for half an hour and I saw a Sinai Fan-Fingered Gecko and a pair of Sinai Agama's chasing each other and the male was faster so she gave him the full love package with spectators closeby...Sjuul and I were lucky to see this and after he was done with his mating session, they stayed close to us, so we could make some great photographes.
When photographing the Sinai Agama's I also saw a Arnold's Fringe-Fingered Lizard, this adult was smaller then the Bosk's Fringe-Fingered Lizards we saw, but you can hardly ever be sure...
Next stop was a dry river bed inside the Ramon Crater, here we saw some not so big adult Arnold's/Bosk's Fringe-Fingered Lizards again and some Sinai Fan-Fingered Gecko's under the bridge.
When we were almost at Mizpe Ramon we saw the best roadsign for describing Israeli roads & Israeli women..
In Mizpe Ramon we checked into the Youth Hostel, really a good place to stay.
Hungry, so we went to Hadasaar, a toko with only natural products, after all the healthy food we checked out some places just north of Mizpe Ramon and found a Green Toad and some Small-Spotted Lizards, on the road we saw a freshly killed Schokari Sand Racer and Sjuul spotted a snake head hanging out of a wall of our hostel, it was a Sahara Racer.
For diner we went back again to Hadasaar.
As soon as the sun was gone we went on the road to find some snakes, gecko's were on the road and my good friend Jurgen would say then:"The Food Is Out" (german accent)
After some driving we saw the first snake on the road, it was a big adult Desert Tiger Snake, a species I really hoped to find this trip.
Half an hour later I saw a tiny snake on the side of the road, it was an other blackheaded species: Palestine Kukri Snake, an other new species for me, the next hour after that we saw nothing, so we went back to our hostel and went to bed.
Thursday, the 22nd of May.
Today Dan will take the bus to Jerusalem, but first breakfast together and deviding the costs this far, Dan gave me loads of money and left us.......Thanks Dan, you were great company!
Sjuul and I stepped in the car and drove north,after 10 minutes I saw a sandy flat area with some vegetation, I hoped to find Oliver's Sand Lizard there and we did!!! Bosk's Fringe-Fingered Lizards and the Snake-Eyed Lacertids were also seen there, so this was a good start of the day!
Close to the Negev junction we took a dirt road and shortly after that I saw a female Beer Sheva Fringe-Fingered Lizard on the road, a bit further we saw a pair of Desert Agama's, the fat dull colored female was still filled with eggs, the athletic male was much more contrasting in colors.
In some sand dunes we saw Aegyptian Fringe-Fingered Lizards and inside a cave were Sinai Fan-Fingered Gecko's, above the cave entrance was a Little Owl and in front of it there were Small-Spotted Lizards running around, we also had a look at the water holes there, no snakes this time, but some more Beer Sheva Fringe-Fingered Lizards and an Occelated Skink.
In the late afternoon we went to the north western Negev Sand Dunes to look for some missing species on our list.
We were there around 16:00 and the sun was already lower, but still pretty strong, we searched and saw many Desert Monitor tracks, but no Monitor.....I searched also for tracks of Sandfish Skinks, I found 4 fresh tracks, but no skink was found, we did see many Fringe-Fingered Lizards.
Sjuul was lucky, he found some Viper tracks around a hole and looked inside and saw the head of a Desert Horned Viper and there were at least 3 of them inside, we got 2 males out and a big female went in too deep....The behavior of the Desert Horned Vipers was very different now then during the night, now they were fast and agressive, but thats our fault for disturbing them I guess...
OOOHH Damn, I almost forget to tell you all about my friend Sjuul who could not do any big toillet things untill now, and here in the dunes it suddenly happened for more then half an hour, he thought he was out of my sight.......personally I think this problem and the timing of solving this little had something to do with Dan who left today, they already acted a bit nervous around each other.......
When we drove back into the direction of Mizpe Ramon we could feel that we had been out in the sun a bit too much today, my head was made of concrete even though I had enough t drink the whole day (you can check that by looking at the color of your pee...)
For some food we went to the Macdonalds and after Sjuul finished his happy-meal we went back in the car to do some roadcruising again, the circumstances seemed better then last night (less wind, higher temperature, road still warmer), but no snakes were seen. Even my new co-driver, named Batman did not see any snakes...
Back at the hostel we saw a Green Toad and went to bed.
Friday, the 23rd of May.
Mizpe Ramon to Gilboa, after a good sleep (the first night with more then 5 hours (7)of sleep) we went into northern direction and after some hours we arrived in Gid-ona where we had a nice big hotelroom with a great view into the valley, Gidona was build against the lower parts of the Gilboa mountains, these mountains are the most northern limit of some very cool snake species like the Palestine Saw-scaled Viper and Israeli Mole Viper.
And you can also find the mediterranean species like the Palestine Viper, Sand Boa and European Cat Snake, so this should be the place to be!
When Sjuul and I arrived we first checked out the bridge over a water channel, we saw Levant Water Frogs and some Western Caspian Terrapins, after this we drove up the Gilboa ountains and searched in a area with some stones and vegetation, Sjuul saw a long skink escaping and a bit later he found it again, it was a Gunter's Cylindrical Skink, an other new species for me!
A bit higher on the mountain we looked around at a more shady place, Snake-Eyed Lacertids and Snake-Eyed Skinks were found there. Almost on top of the mountain we searched at a place with a lot of stones, here we saw Bridled Mabuya's, Gunter Cylindrical Skinks, Roth's Dwarf Racer and a dead Muller's Two-Headed Snake.
Meanwhile Kristian Munkholm also arrived in Israel for a 59 hour visit, we had a link up with him on top of the Gilboa mountains and then we showed him the hotel and we went for some food, this seemed more difficult then we hoped for so we bought a hamburger at a gas station.
Time for some roadcruising now, we had a big route of about 20 minutes of driving, so we did that route a number of times, the first time we heared Savigny's Tree Frogs calling so we had a quick look, on a higher part we were very excited that a European Cat Snake was waiting for us on the road, not much later we found a Sand Boa, then Kristian spotted a juvenile Palestine Viper and 3 Palestine Saw Scaled Vipers were found, so it was a good night, after some dancing and waking up Sjuul who was already sleeping, we all went to bed.
Saterday, the 24th of May.
Hermon mountain was where we were going this day, around 06:40 we were already in the car and left towards this very cool place, 1 hour and 50 minutes later we arrived at the skicenter on Mount Hermon.
During the ride Kristian was looking a bit nervous and he was moving in his seat all the time....
Whats up Kristian??
I think I lost my car keys..........I told him not to worry because he already was in a driving car, but strangly he kept worrying and called the hotel manager around 200 times, but he did not pick up the phone, I think Kristian was thinking about his car keys the whole day....maybe thats why he let the first Lebanon Viper escape so easily...hahaha
Around 08:30 we arrived and I started to search around the skicenter, here I saw some Hermon Lizards, Spur-thighed Tortoise and a Bridled Mabuya, 20 minutes later Avaid, Guy and Gal arrived and we started to climb up the mountain, Kristian still having some adrenaline runnings through his veins, he was up very fast, I walked behind him and was busy with giving tissues to Sjuul all the time, the tears were everywhere, it was so hard for him and then after 10 minutes of climbing he saw that the ski elevator started to bring people up the mountain, mentally he snapped, so I promised him an icecream if he would continue to climb up ;)
Mount Hermon is such a beautiful place, I think I could spend a whole week here.
This mountain still had 2 unseen species that only can be found there in Israel: the Hermon Bowfoot Gecko and the Lebanon Viper, soon I found some small Hermon Bowfoot Gecko's, but they were hard to photograph and so small that catching them was not easy, then Sjuul caught a bigger one and I made some photos.
Next was the Lebanon Viper, Kristian saw the first one, but was not prepared, gloves were still in his backpack, grrrrrrrr
But some time later he found the second one and he was very happy with that and he was not the only one, after some photography I searched further and found my own first Lebanon Viper, it was a juvenile and I made 2 In Situ shots before it started to move, it moved not towards a hiding place but just moved around slowly, so I made some more photo's.
Mean while Sjuul also found one juvenile and he checked out the place where Kristian lost the first one and he found that one again.
When we climbed back out the the valley Sjuul spotted an other Lebanon Viper, an adult with a grey color this time, or as Sjuul likes to say, it was blue or purple......
But he let this viper escape, so that is how Sjuul lost his right to the promised icecream...
Besides the gecko and the viper we also saw lots of Bridled Mabuya's and Hermon Lizards.
When we took a scenic detour walk back to the car an other snake was found, it was a Dwarf Racer!
A little lower we searched for some other species, Balkan Emerald Lizard, Israeli Fan-Fingered Gecko were he target species and we saw them both, but only the gecko was photographed by me, other species seen by me there were Spur-thighed Tortoise and 2 Roth's Dwarf Racers.
It was already a bit late so we wanted to leave, but where is Kristian......after some text messages we found him again and went to a nice restaurant in Mas'ada.
From Mas'ada Kristian Sjuul and I went back to the Gilboa mountains and Aviad, Guy and Gal drove back to Tel Aviv, thanks friends for joining us that day, it was a great and very succesfull day!
Just before darkness we were back at the Gilboa Mountains, so the roadcruising could start again, but not a lot surprises on the road, only 1 very big (90cm) Palestine Saw-scaled Viper and a snoring dutch guy on the backseat of the car...
Sunday, the 25th of May.
We woke up early and said goodbye to Kristian, he was in a good mood again because he found his car key in the ignition of his rental car. His plans were going south to the Negev desert and our plans were to go home.
At the Ben Gurion Airport you must keep in mind that it might take a little while before you are through all the security checks and other unnecessary time wasting nonsens, even the toillet cleaners checked my passport, but during this 3 hour period in our lives we were again treated with the famous Israeli "Dangerous Curves" all around us.
We love Israel! (and Air Serbia)
My second time in Israel, now together with Sjuul and Dan, who went there for the first time, when planning the trip my main goal was to see new species, but I also wanted Sjuul & Dan to see as much as possible, with a total of 55 species seen we are very pleased, for me there were 17 new species.
Again Aviad and Guy were so kind to meet us and spend time with us looking for reptiles, so thanks a lot my friends, I really enjoyed the help and company!
The stay in Israel was great again, such a good place to travel around!
Dan & Kristian, it was nice to meet you both, Dan thanks for not falling asleep in the car like Sjuul did all the time and for the great company, we might visit HongKong one day! (again)
Kristian, take care of your car keys and your hands when photographing Echis, hahaha.
Sjuul thank you too, feel free to join me on any future herp adventure!
Also thanks to Jurgen Gebhart.
1. Green Toad - Pseudepidalea variabilis
2. Levant Water Frog - Pelophylax bedriagae
3. Savigny's Tree Frog - Hyla Savignyi
4. Balkan Terrapin - Mauremys rivulata
5. Spur-thighed Tortoise - Testudo graeca ibera
6. Mediterranean Chameleon - Chamaeleo chamaeleon musae
7. Yellow Fan-Fingered Gecko - Ptyodactylus hasselquistii
8. Israeli Fan-Fingered Gecko - Ptyodactylus puiseuxi
9. Sinai Fan-Fingered Gecko - Ptyodactylus guttatus
10. Turkish Gecko - Hemidactylus turcicus
11. Hermon Bowfoot Gecko - Crytopodion Amictopholis
12. Baiuch Rock Gecko - Bunopus tuberculatus
13. Rough Tailed Gecko - Cyrtopodion scabrum
14. Lichtenstein's Short-Fingered Gecko - Stenodactylus sthenodactylus
15. Anderson's Short-Fingered Gecko - Stenodactylus petrii
16. Middle Eastern Short-Fingered Gecko - Stenodactylus doriae
17. Desert Agama - Trapelus pallidus
18. Sinai Agama - Pseudotrapelus sinaitus
19. Starred Agama - Laudakia stellio
20. Emerald Lizard - Lacerta media israelica
21. Aegyptian Mastigure - Uromastyx aegyptia
22. Ornate Mastigure - Uromastyx ornata
23. Hermon Lizard - Phoenicolacerta kulzeri
24. Bosk's Fringe-Fingered Lizard - Acanthodactylus boskianus
25. Egyptian Fringe-Fingered Lizard - Acanthodactylus aegyptius
26. Nidua Fringe-Fingered Lizard - Acanthodactylus scutellatus
27. Arnold's Fringe-Fingered Lizard - Acanthodactylus opheodurus
28. Beer Sheva Fringe-Fingered Lizard - Acanthodactylus beershebensis
29. Small Spotted Lizard - Mesalina guttulata
30. Oliver's Sand Lizard - Mesalina olivieri schmidtii
31. Snake-eyed Lacertid - Ophisops elegans
32. Snake-eyed Skink - Ablepharus rueppelii
33. Sandfish Skink - Scincus scincus
34. Schneider's Skink - Eumeces schneideri schneideri
35. Bridled Mabuya - Trachylepis vittata
36. Ocellated Skink - Chalcides ocellatus
37. Wedge-Snouted Skink - Chalcides sepsoides
38. Gunter's Cylindrical Skink - Chalcides guentheri
39. Sand Boa - Eryx jaculus
40. Dwarf Snake - Eirenis modestus
41. Roth's Dwarf Snake - Eirenis rothi
42. Roger's Racer - Platyceps rogersi
43. Sahara Racer - Platyceps tesselate
--. Schokari Sand Racer - Psammophis schokari (DOR)
--. Muller's Two Headed Snake - Micrelaps muelleri (Dead)
44. Diadem Snake - Spalerosophis diadema cliffordii
45. Crowned Leafnose Snake - Lytorhynchus diadema
46. Palestine Kukri Snake - Rhynchocalamus melanocephalus
47. European Cat Snake - Telescopus fallax syriacus
48. Desert Tiger Snake - Telescopus hoogstraali
49. Black Desert Cobra - Walterinnesia aegyptia
50. Lebanon Viper - Montivipera bornmuelleri
51. Palestine Viper - Daboia palaestinae
52. Palestine Saw-scaled Viper - Echis coloratus
53. Sahara Sand Viper - Cerastes vipera
54. Desert Horned Viper - Cerastes cerastes
55. Arabian Horned Viper - Cerastes gasperettii mendelssohni