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22nd of April: Arrival and car problems

This year we chose Jordan as the destination for our herpetological trip. Our team consisted of Thomas Bader, Richard Kopeczky, Franz Rathbauer and Christoph Riegler. After a pleasant flight we arrived in Amman and picked up our huge Chevy 4WD SUV at the airport. We decided to book the flight and the car through a travel agent to reduce problems if the political situation flips. Austrian offers a 4h direct flight from Vienna to Amman. Cost for the car and the flight were about 600 Euro per person. But back to the car, we had to change it in the city, because the car nearly lost its bumper. So we lost at least two hours and we arrived on our first site shortly before sunset - now with a Mitsubishi Pajero.

 

Jordan route

our Jordan route 

 

On the way to the first hotel we stopped near a small stream were some Hyla savignyi (now felixarabica) called and we observed our first snakes: Natrix tessellata and Eirenis rothi, the most common dwarf snake in Jordan. Other records: Hemidactylus turcicus and Ophisops elegans, Pelophylax bedriagae. Our accommodation was near Jerash (the ancient Gerasa) on a hill in the Olive branch resort. The hotel was simple but ok for a few nights. The local wine is quite good but very expensive so we decided to not to eat and drink in hotels from now on. This was a good decision.

 

Gruppe Jordanien 190141 CR

Franz, Thomas, Christoph and Richard

 

 
23rd of April: Mediterranean forests, the Jordan valley

 

The Mediterranean forests holds a diverse herpetofauna, the only problem is to get good pictures of the reptiles, because of millions of stones and holes where reptilies are able to disappear within a second. The Ajlun protected area mainly consists of Quercus forests, in higher altitudes sometimes Pinus dominates. Again some Eirenis rothi, Ophisops, Laudakia stellio and several Ablepharus rueppelli were found. Many flowers were blooming in a very beautiful landscape.

 

Ptyodactylus puiseuxi CR

 Ptyodactylus guttatus

 

On the way down to the Jordan valley we made a surprising record. Already in a very dry area we found an overrun juvenile Pseudopus apodus at its absolute southern distribution limit. Sympatric we recorded Chalcides ocellatus and Ptyodactylus puiseuxi. Down in the Jordan valley it was extremely hot and we couldn’t find a good spot to search so instead we decided to eat a local (very expensive) Jordan fish. In a garage we tried to repair our defect front light, but the guys couldn’t manage it. Near the hotel Christoph spotted a Platyceps collaris, which disappeared quickly.

 

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24th of April: The highlight day in the North Western part of the country

 

Near our hotel Christoph found a freshly killed young Daboia palestinae on the road. This snake and the above mentioned sheltopusik were the only run over reptiles of the whole trip! Two Testudo graeca and a slain huge Dolichophis jugularis were our first records, before we started up north, passing the huge city of Irbid and finally arrived in a steppe like valley which looked very promising (and it was!). Down on the bottom of the U-formed valley thousands of juvenile Bufo variabilis over flooded the surface – I guess they are a good food source for many reptiles e.g. Natrix tessellata. Our young Dolichophis jugularis looked very much like a D. schmidti, which should occur some 50 miles further east. Christoph found two Eirenis decemlineatus, a striped morph and a reddish uniform morph as well as a Malpolon insignitus. Recorded lizard species were Trachylepis vittata, Ophisops elegans, very strange Chalcides ocellatus with missing dorsal ocella, only the tail was spotted. All three recorded skinks looked like this! Finally Eumeces schneideri with extremely good looking striped females and orange dotted males – very impressive. On the slope Franz found a nicely striped Psammophis schokari and finally a Micrelaps tchernovi, for sure a highlight we wanted to see on this trip. This beautiful little snake was hiding under a stone and was very hard to snap. M. tchernovi was splitted from M. muelleri and was harly ever found. In a break we drove some miles further and recorded some little owls (Athene noctua) and some other birds. We decided to come back during the night, where Franz found a second Micrelaps tchernovi and Thomas spotted a sand boa – Eryx jaculus.

 

Laudakia stellio

Laudakia stellio

 

During our lunch break we visited the ancient Gadara ruins, where we tried to catch a huge black D. jugularis, which escaped, while Franz found a Letheobia simonii in a cave. In the late afternoon we tried to take pictures of Phoenicolacerta laevis, which we recorded on some sites before, but without taking photos and we were successful. In this area the Syrian lizards look completely different to the lizards from the Turkish Hatay and they are doubtless something different! Another new species was found (again) by Franz: Ophiomorus latastii, a legless skink, which was hard to find and to catch. Beside that we recorded seven other species on this site! So we recorded 21 species on just one day – unrivaled and by far the best day of the trip! 

 

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25th of April – The Dead Sea


On the way down south we stopped only once and it was far too hot for searching. Nevertheless we tried it, but only found a dead chameleon and some water frogs and green toads in a stream. As typical tourists we had to swim in the Dead Sea, a very strange feeling which costs 16 Dinar for Non-Jordanians and 1 Dinar for locals! After our adventure in the “sea” we relaxed at the pool during noon. Later we drove further south and stopped once more in a very exciting canyon (canyons are called siq in Arabic), called Wadi Nuweira. Not really of herpetological interest (only tadpoles of Hyla, Bufo and Pelophylax) but a really breathtaking landscape formed of erosion.

 

Wadi Nuweira

Wadi Nuweira

 

During a stop in a good looking site in Wadi Araba we found neither a reptile nor a track, the only record was a camel spider (Galeodes), which surprised us a bit. We drove to Dana and arrived really late in a very cold and windy place. 

 

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26th of April – Petra!

 

Four big adult males in a small single room – it was quite cuddly but because of the conditions of the weather and the accommodation we decided to leave for Petra and not to go for the planned hike in Wadi Dana. Dana lies on the edge of the mountain ridge and has an excellent view into Wadi Dana and Wadi Araba. The crest of the mountain chain is about 1600 m high and about 20 km wide. On this steppe plateau we searched for reptiles and found Ophisops elegans, Testudo graeca, Laudakia stellio, Eumeces schneideri and a new species – Acanthodactylus tristrami, a nice big short headed lizard.

 

Petra Jordan

Petra

 

Petra: World heritage site and one of the new Seven Wonders of the World!  Petra is accessible through a spectacular siq which opens the view to the marvellous Kazne Faraun on its last part. From here the Wadi becomes wide and everywhere sights were knocked out of the red limestone mountains. On this cultural tour we only observed a juvenile Acanthodactylus boskianus and on the way to a rock cut tomb we observed a dying Phoenicolacerta kulzeri, which must have fallen down from the rocks. We tried to make our way back through Wadi Mudilim, but we weren’t sure where to go. On the way a deaf-mute shepherd guided us all the way back, which was very helpful (in terms of getting lost, climbing and showing original Nabataean sights). The upper part of Wadi Mudilim looked very interesting and we decided to come back the next morning.

 

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27th of April – From Petra to Aqaba

  

Tickets for Petra cost 50 dinar (= 56 Euro) per day and 55 dinar for two days, which makes Petra one of the most expensive sights on earth. On the second day Chris, Franz and Richard wanted to shoot photos of the Kazne Faraun in the morning sunlight, while Thomas decided to go herping in the upper Wadi Mudilim. Just during the first glimpse of the sun Thomas spotted several Phoenicolacerta kulzeri near bushes. They all climbed up to higher parts of the rocks as the sun rose and the other guys missed to observe these lizards. In the shade Ptyodactylus guttatus was hiding in crevices of rocks. Thomas also found a Chamaeleo chamaeleon, the only living specimen of the journey. We observed a sparrow attacking purposefully the waving tail of a juvenile Acanthodactylus boskianus and eating it in a narrow bush. We also saw our first Pseudotrapelus sinaitus, even though an inconspicuous grey individual.

 

Eirenis coronella

Eirenis coronella

 

 

Just before the descent to the desert highway we checked out a mountain steppe site at 1650 m with Ophisops, Laudakia and Ptyodactylus. Under a big stone we found a very beautiful Eirenis coronella, our first and only record of this snake, which penetrates into drier areas than its congeners. After the descent from the pass the sandy area started and a completely different landscape appeared. Of course, we had to check immediately a habitat in a sandy Wadi, where we found quite a lot of dead warblers (starved?). It was very hot and only Acanthodactylus opheodurus was active. This lizard species is the dominating lacertid in Southern Jordan, which always waves its mostly orange tail. Later in the afternoon we arrived in our hotel in Aqaba and went for a snorkeling tour in the Red Sea. The coral reefs are highly damaged but still a lot of fish were around. Around our hotel in the evening we caught several Cyrtopodion scabrum, which mainly lived in the waste dumps beside the roads.

 

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28th of April – Wadi Araba

 

Aqaba is a huge fast growing city at the border of Wadi Arab and the Southern mountain chain and of course the Red Sea. South of Aqaba near the Saudi Arabian border, where we stayed, was a very uninteresting and highly destroyed area, where hardly natural habitats remained. We decided to drive into the Wadi Araba, where a contrasting landscape occurs. This area is sparsely populated and ranks among the driest and hottest areas in the Middle East. After several miles the first sand dunes popped up and we made our first stop. It was already very hot and several Acanthodactylus opheodurus were around. Under a plate two Bunopus tuberculatus were hiding and several tracks left hints for a diverse fauna.

 

Acanthodactylus opheodurus - CR

Acanthodactylus opheodurus

  

During our second stop the military came and asked us in a very friendly way to leave the site, because of the very near border to Israel. Many people asked us about our origin – Nemsa for Austria – and nearly everybody answered: “Welcome to Jordan!” So unfortunately the best areas were inaccessible because on the other side of the road, where the officer allowed us to search, was a very dry hammada without vegetation and records. So we drove a long way north and stopped for an agama, which Chris spotted from the car: Trapelus pallidus. These agamas were active during the hottest daytime, when A. opheodurus was already hiding. In this area we also found occupied Uromastyx holes, but we didn’t dig them out. Also quite fresh tracks of Varanus were observed, but no living specimen. Here also Sphenops – now Chalcides sepsoides – must have huge population densities, because their tracks were everywhere. After our meal with a freshly made Falafel sandwich we drove back and waited for the night, where we checked a site in a valley on the sand/rock border with Bunopus and Stenodactylus doriae. Franz also caught a living Sphenops which he unfortunately lost without making a picture – they are very agile and very hard to handle – like a slick fish. Disappointed we went to bed… 

 

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29th of April – Our first try in the Wadi Rum area

 

Because the Aqaba area was really disappointing, we decided to drive to the Wadi Rum (Ramm), which is not really far away. We bought some really excellent and refreshing fruits in the city and started up, always crossing the toll border (Aqaba is a toll free area) – Nemsa? Welcome to Jordan! In a sandy valley some km ahead of Wadi Ramm we started our tour. Franz was a bit injured from snorkelling – most probably he was hit by a jellyfish or a sea urchin – and the wound was infected, so he rested in the shade.

In the sandy areas huge Acanthodactylus schmidti with blue tail were running around, while the harder substratum was dominated by A. opheodurus. Suddenly it got very windy and it was senseless continuing our search. We decided to drive up the mountain to a steppe habitat, but on this day we weren’t lucky and only found some beautiful Laudakia stellio brachydactyla and Ophisops elegans.

We came back to the Rum area for a night search and after finding some Stenodactylus sthenodactylus, (tiny) Tropiocolotes nattereri and Ptyodactylus guttatus, Christoph was very lucky finding a nice Lytorhynchus diadema. It was still very windy and quite cold, so we didn’t even see tracks of Cerastes.

 

 

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30th of April – Back to Wadi Araba

 

We decided to drive into the Arab valley once more, even though it was very hot. So many species were on our list, especially snakes, monitors and spiny tails and we missed all these species. We drove to a side valley with an impressive landscape and found the typical already known species: Pseudotrapelus, Tropiocolotes and A. opheodurus. Unfortunately Christoph was pierced by a scorpion – Buthacus yotvatensis – while he was photographing it. Lying in the sand, firming up with his elbows, the scorpion quickly ran forward to Chris’ knee and jabbed through his trousers.

 

wadi arab

searching in Wadi Araba

 

With pain and a slightly swollen knee we drove back to our hotel and while Chris and Franz revived at the pool in their beds, Tom and Richard went for a snorkel.  A short trip near the hotel brought some nice Ptyodactylus hasselquisti in a bridge tunnel.  For dinner we went to Aqaba, where we also got a guided tour through the mosque.

 

 

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1st of May – Relocation to the stormy Wadi Ramm

 

Fortunately the symptoms of the scorpion bite subsided overnight  and we drove to Wadi Rum, where we checked in at Bait Ali’s Camp in front of the junction Wadi Rum – Disah, a nice accommodation with a little swimming pool, lots of warblers and some shrikes in the garden. It was really stormy, but nevertheless we decided to enter Wadi Rum. After paying the entrance fee we could hardly see The Seven Columns of Wisdom (Lawrence of Arabia), which are situated shortly after the entrance.

 

Although we always were quite successful in bird watching, herping seemed rather poor with only some A. schmidti and T. nattereri. We spent the hot afternoon beside the pool, inside it was really cold! In the evening we found a promising colubrid snake track in a soft sandy dune, but after digging for an hour the hole splitted into three ducts and we cancelled. We believe, it could have been a Spalerosophis (because Psammophis is not present), but who knows!? Interestingly Acanthodactylus boskianus was also present here, instead of A. schmidti and A. opheodurus

 

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2nd of May – A good day in the eastern desert 

 

After quite a lot of rather disappointing days (in terms of herpetological records) we decided to drive to the east, where quite different species were found and new records were recorded quite recently. Our first stop was still near Disa in a transition zone from sand to a rocky Wadi. Under the first turned plate Thomas found a Scincus scincus, unfortunately the skink didn’t show the lateral red and yellow markings, because it was a subadult specimen. After another A. boskianus we spotted our first Mesalina of the trip. It was a M. guttulata with a blue tail, which we could only catch after a very long and difficult pursuit. A good start of the day!

 

Now we started the tour through the desert on a very bad and bumpy road. Huge areas are fenced and protected by the military. We saw drilling facilities and thought about oil or gas but indeed they are digging for water there and they cultivate the desert with huge round fields in which they grow chickpeas, the main food source in Jordan (e.g. for Falafel or Hummus). We also saw these huge green circles in Google Earth and wondered, but enormous irrigation machines drive around in a circle and sprinkle out water.

 

Wadi Rum

Panorama Wadi Rum 

 

On our tour we again saw several bird species, but we also once stopped for reptiles, although the daytime was rather bad. The only record was A. boskianus and a quite fresh track of Varanus. The desert became more and more monotonous, the vegetation sparse and the road worse. We didn’t have a good feeling at all but finally we arrived at the main road to Saudi Arabia where we moved down southwards directly to the border, where S. Scholz had recorded Phrynocephalus maculatus. We searched in vain during the hottest period of the day, and afterwards we found a very promising water trench with some interesting birds and nearby sandy dunes. Despite an intensive search we could not find a single reptile here, so we blamed the daytime, but in fact we were quite disappointed and we considered driving back, but then we decided to do one more try about 60 km north. A bit off road where sand, gravel and rocks form an interesting landscape we got lucky – also the daytime was better now and soon we found quite a lot of Phrynocephalus arabicus, lovely agamids, which we already knew from the Oman. They were not really shy but after disturbing them they quickly dug into sand. Richard found a very interesting lizard under a stone, which we first classified as Acanthodactylus tilburyi, but later we had to change the result and we confirmed the occurrence of Acanthodactylus hardyi from D. Modry with a new record. Finally Thomas found two really nice Uromastyx aegyptia on a hill, as they took refuge under a stone. Because of their nice coloration of their back first we weren’t sure, which spiny tailed agama it was, because several species occur in nearby Saudi Arabia and U. aegyptia has not been known so far from this area! Under the same stone a nice and big Tropiocolotes was living!

  

After the happy end of our desert safari we drove back, took our dinner and went back to our first site of the day for a night trip. It was extremely windy and quite cool and so only four Stenodactylus doriae and a track of Lytorhynchus were the last records of this day. 


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3rd of May – From Wadi Rum to the Oasis of Azraq

 

Our last search in the Rum area brought Ptyodactylus guttatus and A. opheodurus. On our drive north we stopped in front of the pass road in a rocky sandy area: A. opheodurus maybe syntop with A. boskianus, a huge Tropiocolotes and a really strange sinus track of a snake with a straight line in it: Who knows what this could be?

 

rätselhafte Schlangenspuren

What can leave a trace like this?

 

The road up to Azraq is one of the boring ones with only hammada without vegetation. Rarely some sandy patches occurred where we stopped twice. It is the habitat of Acanthodactylus grandis, which it shares with Ophisops elegans. A. grandis is a huge and beautiful lizard, which looks a bit like A. tristrami from its proportions. After our check in at the Azraq lodge we wanted to visit Shawmari Wildlife Reserve with its white Oryx, which unfortunately is still closed. We discovered quite a big lake in the middle of the desert, where we stayed for bird watching. The nearby hill, formed by the black lava desert was not very productive. The only record was Bunopus tuberculatus and during the night we found and heard several green toads and some Galeodes ran around.

 

Dinner in Azraq

fresh dinner in Azraq 

 

Azraq lies on the main road from SA to Iraq and on a junction to Amman. Lots of restaurants lie beside the main road and offer “fresh” mutton. So we had a bizarre dinner: Three rams had to watch their fourth colleague being beheaded (kosher butchering) beside them and hang up. When the last piece of the ram has been eaten, it is the next ones turn. It was a strange feeling eating beside the hanging and living sheep, although the meat was fresh…

 

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4th of May – Azraq Wetland Reserve and Jawa

 

In the morning we visited the famous oasis of Azraq – the wetland reserve. Once it was a huge oasis, fed with water by Syrian mountains but because of intensive extraction and illegal pumping, the water nearly disappeared in the Eighties. Now water is pumped from Amman to Azraq in order to leave a last rest of the oasis for migratory birds. An endemic fish – Aphanius sirhani – is losing its last refuge and is now on the verge of extinction. A captive breeding program holds the last individuals. Also Trachylepis vittata, Pelophylax bedriagae and Natrix tessellata could survive up to now in a relict population, we found all of them here. Although the water is very limited now, the bird fauna is really remarkable and it is quite easy to film or photograph the birds from near distances.

 

The ruins of Jawa – our next target - were detected just recently. They are the oldest known retaining walls – built some 3.500 years ago. This northern area of Jordan belongs to the Jebel Ad-Duruz mountains of Syria which is formed by the black lava desert. Some Jordan species like Hemorrhois ravergieri or Dolichophis schmidti occur only in this area. On our way we stopped in a black lava wadi bed and found another Mesalina guttulata, A. boskianus and several Pseudotrapelus as well as Bufo variabilis and Tropiocolotes nattereri (during the night). Laudakia stellio is the most common reptile here, which is very often very dark – subspecies picea. Near Jawa we spotted a lizard from our car and finally we got it – it was a reddish Mesalina brevirostris, a very unusual agile lizard species.

 

Pseudotrapelus sinaitus

Pseudotrapelus sinaitus

 

After a long search we found Jawa, where a renovated water basin seems to be the only sign of this archeological excavation. Only after watching the surroundings quite a long time you can imagine, where and how people lived here 3500 years ago. A very blue Pseudotrapelus, M. guttulata, Hemidactylus turcicus and some L. stellio were the only records in Jawa, which was a bit disappointing. We decided to drive back through the desert on a slope, which was the wrong decision. 20 km on a black lava slope, a map with no tracks and at every junction we made our decision where to go just using our GPS. Finally we made it before sunset.

 

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5th of May – Back to the airport – back to Austria!

 

On our way to the airport we visited the most famous desert castle: Quasr Amra. In front of the suburbs of Amman we decided to make our last stops. We found again A. grandis and on a hill a breeding colony of Ptyodactylus puiseuxi with many eggs under stones, Laudakia stellio, Hemidactylus turcicus and a dead Psammophis schokari. In the afternoon we directly flew back to Austria.

 

Quasr Amra CR

Quasr Amra

 

Although we found 50 species, which is more than on any journey before, we were a bit disappointed, because we neither found a viper, nor a Telescopus, nor a Platyceps and we missed many other species.  But still it was a successful and safe trip and we can really recommend Jordan as a safe and reasonable country with very kind people.

 
In total we could observe the following species on our trip

 

Bufo variabilis
Hyla felixarabica
 (no photo, only heard)
Pelophylax bedriagae
Cyrtopodion scabrum
Bunopus tuberculatus
Hemidactylus turcicus
Ptyodactylus guttatus
Ptyodactylus hasselquistii
Ptyodactylus puiseuxi
Stenodactylus doriae
Stenodactylus sthenodactylus
Tropiocolotes nattereri
Laudakia stellio
Phrynocephalus arabicus
Pseudotrapelus sinaitus
Trapelus pallidus
Uromastyx aegyptia
Chamaeleo chamaeleon
Pseudopus apodus
 (d.o.r.)
Acanthodactylus boskianus
Acanthodactylus hardyi

Acanthodactylus grandis
Acanthodactylus opheodurus
Acanthodactylus schmidti

Acanthodactylus tristrami
Phoenicolacerta kulzeri
Phoenicolacerta laevis
Mesalina brevirostris
Mesalina guttulata
Ophisops elegans
Ablepharus rueppellii
Chalcides ocellatus
Eumeces schneideri
Trachylepis vittata
Ophiomorus latastii
Scincus scincus
Sphenops sepsoides
 (no photo)
Letheobia simonii
Eryx jaculus
Dolichophis jugularis
Eirenis coronella
Eirenis decemlineata
Eirenis rothi
Lytorhynchus diadema
Malpolon insignitus
Natrix tessellata
Psammophis schokari

Platyceps collaris (no photo)
Micrelaps tchernovi
Daboia palaestinae 
(d.o.r.)
Testudo graeca

 
 
Birds

Birds we've seen

Kommentare  

 
Xavier
+1 #2 Xavier 2016-03-09 12:54
Amazing! Love the sandfish and the anuran species!
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Paul Lambourne
+1 #1 Paul Lambourne 2013-03-05 10:16
Thomas,

A great web site, and a fantastic, detailed Jordan report.. sadly the only one I can read.. but I enjoyed the pictures in the others:O)

It makes me want to go back to Israel...

Kind regards

Paul
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