Al Ain, UAE. Sep 2013

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moloch
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Al Ain, UAE. Sep 2013

Post by moloch »

I have just returned from a 2-week trip to the UAE and Oman. My friend, Ted Cordery from Arizona, joined me on the trip. We met in Dubai, hired a car at the airport and then set off for Al Ain. I visited Al Ain in June and I wanted to show Ted the red dunes and the numerous reptiles that live on these. Once we arrived in Al Ain, we immediately headed up to the top of Jebel Hafeet to the Mercure Hotel where we stayed for the next couple of nights. The views of the surrounding desert were excellent from the hotel which is situated near the top of the mountain. The hotel grounds were lush and acted like a magnet to both local birds and northern migrants. We had lots of fun looking at these.

The UAE and Oman are easy countries to visit with high quality accommodation, food and road infrastructure. The people are friendly and helpful. The economies of both seem to be booming and there is construction underway everywhere. I find the regional towns like Al Ain or Salalah to be the most interesting. They are modern but the Arab architecture of the buildings and houses is so different to what we see in Australia or the USA. I would highly recommend a trip to these countries should the opportunity arise. I think that Oman is changing rapidly and now would be a good time to see it before it is frequented by lots of foreign tourists.

A new field guide to Oman will be available soon. That book will be a great help since there are many species of reptiles in the two Acountries and some of these look so similar. Also, it is hard to work out distributions at the moment.
Mercure Hotel, Jebel Hafeet:
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View of Al Ain while descending Jebel Hafeet (Ted's photo):
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Habitat, dunes. This is the area where we found most of the geckos at night and Arabian Toad-headed Agamas by day.
The Mercure Hotel was on top of the mountain in the background:
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... oasis where we birded and then looked for herps at night:
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Arabian Sand Gecko (Stenodactylus arabicus). These little geckos were one of my favourites on the trip. They were small, numerous and usually found on the open slopes of dunes. They could run quickly and looked like minnows in a creek as they raced away. We found as many as 30 of these after walking the dunes for a couple of hours.
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These geckos have incredible feet. The front feet are webbed and edged with a fringe for better traction on the loose sand:
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Dune Sand Gecko (Stenodactylus doriae). We saw many of these as well but they were not as common as the Arabian Sand Geckos.
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There were lots of tracks on these dunes near the edge of the city (Ted's photo). Most were tracks of sandfish but there were also tracks by fringe-toed lizards, geckos and what appeared to be an Arabian Horned Viper (Cerastes gasperettii)
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This is what we thought to be the tracks to an Arabian Horned Viper (Cerastes gasperettii). We walked this same due during the previous night but did not see the snake. It must have emerged in the early am hours. The location was near a camel farm. A local guy told me on a previous trip that the vipers were more common around farms due to the presence of feed grain and therefore more rodents.
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White-spotted Fringe-toed Lizard (Acanthodactylus schmidti). As the name indicates, these have fringe on their toes for better traction on the loose dunes. We found several of these large lizards that appeared to be a cross between a whiptail and an Uma.
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... tracks:
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... burrow:
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Arabian Toad-headed Agama (Phrynocephalus arabicus). It was hot and the lizards tried to remain above the surface of the sand. They would perch on low branches or rocks and only ran onto the sand when disturbed:
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Notice the long claws and fringe on the foot of this lizard:
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Ted's shot of one of the Agamas:
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Eastern sandfish (Scincus mitranus)were common lizards on the dunes. They were always wary lizards and hard to approach. These skinks move continuously up and the down the dunes and will immediately dive into the sand making a big "splash" when they were alarmed. Sandfish usually could not be approached with 5m before diving into the sand.
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... they dive into the sand when disturbed but usually keep their head exposed. The head of the sandfish can be seen on the left in this photo:
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... they watch like this until closely approached:
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Ted's photos of an active juvenile. It basked for awhile but then seemed to be continuously on the move over dune flats:
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Solpugid. I only saw this large creature when it lunged at an Arabian Dune Gecko that I had just been photographing. The gecko got away but perhaps it was only feeble attempt by the solpugid to capture the gecko. The solpugid had already caught some sort of animal and was busy chewing on this while I took the photos.
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Ted took this shot of my hand near to the solpugid so that the size of the beast could be realized. Oman seems to be a good place for these large arachnids and this was the third species that I have encountered.
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Spider:
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Large Tenebrionids like this were occasionally seen on the dunes. Prionotheca coronate (thanks, krismunk)
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Interesting sign. If you need supplies for your camels, well this is the place to go!
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Martti Niskanen
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Re: Al Ain, UAE. Sep 2013

Post by Martti Niskanen »

Mighty nice again.

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Ribbit
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Re: Al Ain, UAE. Sep 2013

Post by Ribbit »

Your series of photos really gives me a feel for what the dunes are like. A beautiful spot, beautifully portrayed.

John

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krismunk
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Re: Al Ain, UAE. Sep 2013

Post by krismunk »

Nice as usual - looking forward to an Oman report :)

Are the dunes in the middle of town - the strip that can be seen above the mosque in the second picture?

I'm fairly certain your beetle is Prionotheca coronata.

Oh, and you might want to fix the scientific name for the eastern sandfish, seems you have a copy paste error ;-)

SnakeDude
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Re: Al Ain, UAE. Sep 2013

Post by SnakeDude »

Dude how cool is that sandfish??? awesome.

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justinm
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Re: Al Ain, UAE. Sep 2013

Post by justinm »

I love your posts. I'm wondering why the Oasis is so devoid of greenery? What kind of vegetables are they eating in this region? Do they have farms of any sort?

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moloch
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Re: Al Ain, UAE. Sep 2013

Post by moloch »

Thanks very much, guys, for the feedback. The UAE and Oman are interesting places for a visit.

krismunk, I corrected the name of the sandfish due to my cut and paste error. There were dunes across a portion of the town. This was on the periphery, though. The bulk of Al Ain was further to the east.

Justin, you are correct that there weren't many plants around the oasis. I am not certain why. Sometimes, the water has a high content of sulphur and maybe this inhibits shrubs and trees.

I saw a few rotary farms in the UAE and Oman. In general, I think that they import most of their foods. The big supermarkets there are called "Hypermarkets". The variety of food is simply incredible and much more diverse that what I see in Australia. As an example, there were probably 10 varieties of bananas on offer. Chilies were equally diverse. They had all of the standard northern fruits such as various types of apples, pears, oranges, mandarins. They also offered the southeast Asian fruits like durian, mangosteen, longans, dragon fruits, ... Dates were incredible in variety and so cheap. The bakery had standard sorts of white/brown bread but also pitta breads and all sorts of tasty Arabic sweets. The UAE especially and Oman to a lesser extent are affluent countries so they can afford pretty much anything that people want. Cars like 4x4 Lexus or new Landcruisers are the norm.

Regards,
David

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moloch
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Re: Al Ain, UAE. Sep 2013

Post by moloch »

I will add photos of the "Empty Quarter" before starting a new post of the areas near Salalah, Oman. The empty quarter is a vast place that extends from the region south of Nizwa all the way down to the escarpment above Nizwa.
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Not many people live out here although there were a few villages, especially in the far north and then the far south.
... village in the central area
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... village in the north
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These are typical views of what we saw as we crossed the empty quarter. Most of the time, there were no plants in sight.
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... "forested" area:
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Some areas had a few dunes, especially in the far north:
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Camel in the Empty Quarter:
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One of the most surprising sites was this agama that was initially on the road. I don't know what species it is although it does resember a female Yellow-spotted Dragon (Trapelus flavimaculata). The temperature was 40C at the time and the asphalt where the agama basked must have been close to 50C. The agama appeared white at first but it darkened with stress when we chased it off the road. It ran for maybe 50 m and then crouched like this:
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The surface of the soil was hot to touch so the agama slowly elevated its body:
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Ted and I could not understand how this lizard could survive in such a hostile environment environment. We could not see any plants at all and wondered what it would eat. With so little primary production, we thought that there must have been few insects in the area.
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We continued on and spent the night at Qatbit, a tiny walled village in the southern portion of the empty quarter. The grounds of the hotel had many thorny trees and plams. These attracted large numbers of northern migrants. We spent a couple of hours the next day walking here and seeing birds like Upcher's Warbler, Whitethroat, Blackcaps, Willow Warblers, Spotted Flycatcher, European Nightjar, European Roller, Little Green Bee-eaters and others.
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Yellow-bellied House Geckos (Hemidactylus flaviviridis) were common on the walls of the Qatbit Hotel.
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Eastern Sand Gecko (Stenodactylus leptocosymbotes). We found a few of these while on a nightwalk from the Qatbit Hotel. It looked like this area must flood seasonally. There seemed to be little for the geckos to eat and they thin and in poor condition:
... defensive posture when distured on the road:
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Later, we drove inland along a gravel road to an oasis that we read about in a bird finding guide. It looked like this for most of the drive:
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... eventually, we reached a patch of green in the wilderness:
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The number of migrants was amazing. We saw a number of species of waders including this Ruff:
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Our big hope was for mixed-species flocks of sandgrouse as found by others. Unfortunately, we only found this single small group of Spotted Sandgrouse. I don't know why Crowned and Chestnut-bellied failed to show.
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Frankincense grew in a wadi just inland from the top of the escarpment above Salalah at the south end of the empty quarter. I tried crushing the leaves and smelling the bark but I could not detect the incense smell at al. These trees are in the same family (Burseracease) as Elephant Trees or Gumbo Limbo in Mexico.
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Fan-footed Geckos (Ptyodactylus sp.) lived on the rocks of the wadi photographed above. They look quite different here to the Fan-footed Geckos (Ptyodactylus hasselquistii) that live in the Hajar Mountains of the north. They were smaller and nearly white unlike the hefty, dark-coloured geckos in the north.
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Cole Grover
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Re: Al Ain, UAE. Sep 2013

Post by Cole Grover »

Phenomenal post, David. We see so little of the Middle East here, that this series of posts you've put together are a real treat. I friggin' love the geckos, and those Agamids aren't too bad, either...

-Cole

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