UAE (24th-30th June 2018)
As I would likely have to pass through the UAE on my way back to the UK from Thailand I decided to make a short trip out of it and spend some time exploring the deserts and mountains of this fascinating country.
In September 2017 UAE resident Glenn Bowley came to Phuket and we spent some days and evenings looking for wildlife, quite successfully too. Anyway, Glenn said he would happily show me around his local spots in the UAE and I am very grateful to him and his friend Gareth for joining Kat and I for a number of successful night searches during our trip. As the daytime temperatures in June were always in excess of 40C we did not do very much searching during the daytime, for this reason we missed a number of common diurnal species. I did make an exception on one or two occasions, but this usually resulted in me returning to the car after a very short while due to the unbearable conditions. The temperatures were at their hottest on the east coast of the UAE, near Fujairah where on some afternoons it was around 48C and the coastal breeze genuinely felt like flames.
We can essentially break this trip up into two parts, the inland desert and the mountains. We spent 3 nights in each area and on one night we did not go out searching and had an early night instead. Many thanks to Glenn, Gareth and Jigson for helping us so much during our stay and to Frank Deschandol and Gertjan Verspui who gave me some tips as well.
Immediately after landing in Dubai, Glenn picked us up and drove us through the chaotic traffic to our hotel in Sharjah. Glenn is such a top lad! There I waited for my hire car to be delivered, hiring a car without a credit card in the UAE is very difficult and months later I still have not received the bond I paid back from this sneaky bugger who hired the car to us. That aside I found the UAE to be a relatively pleasant country to drive around in, apart from the busiest parts of Dubai which I generally avoided and it was always nice to see desert either side of the road instead of buildings.
Looking for reptiles in the desert here was generally straightforward and so much more comfortable compared to searching in rainforests with some nice breezes each night and it was nice to not be completing drowning in my own sweat for a change. Our first evening out was our most successful, we joined Glenn, Garth and Jigson and within a short space of time we found a number of desired, iconic desert species. First up were the omnipresent Middle Eastern short-fingered gecko (Stenodactylus doriae), one of the most common desert reptiles as well as the cute, little Arabian sand gecko (Stenodactylus arabicus). Also several Zarudny’s worm lizards (Diplometopon zarudnyi) were out crawling. It did not take long to track own our first snakes, two (hornless) Arabian horned vipers (Cerastes gasperetti). In total we found 6-7 of these vipers, one of which had enormous horns. However, the most common desert snake was the Sindhi saw-scaled viper (Echis carinatus sochureki), I can’t remember exactly how many we found but I do remember the first night we found four within a tiny area of no more than twenty metres or so. Other desert snakes were less easy to find, Glenn found a single Clifford’s diadem snake (Spalerosophis diadema cliffordii) and a Leaf-nosed snake (Lytorhynchus diadema), which was probably the snake we spend the most amount of time tracking in the dunes. Surprisingly, we could not locate any Arabian sand boas despite it being a common species here. It was not until our final night in the UAE that we were able to find three specimens of the the true jewel of Arabia: the Arabian wonder gecko (Teratoscincus scincus). Easily spotted in a torch light because of their glowing red eyes but if they are too close to their burrows the chances of getting a photo of one is slim. Luckily, two of our three found were sat out in the open and we were able to reach them for photos.
My only diurnal explorations in the desert were to find Egyptian spiny-tailed lizard (Uromastyx aegyptia leptieni), which we saw many times at one locality in particular but it was surprisingly absent elsewhere.
We drove to the east coast of the UAE and based ourselves in Fujairah, a nice coastal town which is slowly becoming developed. Here we experienced the hottest temperatures of all and for this reason why rarely ventured outside during the daytime. We visited some mountain valleys at night to look predominantly for geckos and snakes and overall we were less successful here than in the desert. There is a certain mysterious snake which is known to inhabit this mountain range that we desperately tried to find, but we failed on that one. We did however find two Oman saw-scaled vipers (Echis omanensis) and a Schokari sand racer (Psammophis schokari), a species I saw many times in Morocco. The highlight of the mountains were undoubtedly the geckos, finding numerous species such as Fan-footed gecko (Ptyodactylus orlovi), Iranian rock gecko (Pristurus rupestris), the Hajar rock gecko (Trachydactylus hajarensis), Margarita’s Leaf-toed Gecko (Asaccus margaritae), Eastern sand gecko (Stenodactylus leptocosymbotes), Persian rock gecko (Hemidactylus persicus) and Baluch ground gecko (Bunopus tuberculatus). Another ‘failure’ from this part of the trip was not finding an Arabian cat snake, but this gives me more reasons to make a return visit!
On two occasions I ventured out into the furnace to try and photograph the Sinai rock agama (Pseudotrapelus sinaitus). Contrary to my expectations, these agamas were very hard to find and the ones I did see were extremely nervous. That meant that I was not able to take any satisfactory photographs of this species and I didn’t see one in full ‘blue head mode’. Thanks to Frank for leading me to them in any case!
Overall I really enjoyed exploring the UAE and as it is a frequent stopping off point on my travels I will certainly spend more time there. My top three ‘failures’ from this trip (Pharaoh eagle owl, Persian horned viper and Arabian cat snake) will be big targets next time I head out into the deserts and mountains of the UAE!
Middle Eastern short-fingered gecko (Stenodactylus doriae)
Arabian sand gecko (Stenodactylus arabicus)
Eastern sand gecko (Stenodactylus leptocosymbotes)
Persian rock gecko (Hemidactylus persicus)
Baluch ground gecko (Bunopus tuberculatus)
Hajar rock gecko (Trachydactylus hajarensis)
Margarita’s Leaf-toed Gecko (Asaccus margaritae)
Fan-footed gecko (Ptyodactylus orlovi)
Iranian rock gecko (Pristurus rupestris)
Arabian wonder gecko (Teratoscincus scincus) 3 found
Sinai agama (Pseudotrapelus sinaitus)
Egyptian spiny-tailed lizard (Uromastyx aegyptia leptieni)
Leaf-nosed snake (Lytorhynchus diadema) 1 found
Clifford’s diadem snake (Spalerosophis diadema cliffordii) 1 found
Schokari sand racer (Psammophis schokari) 1 found
Oman saw-scaled viper (Echis omanensis) 2 found
Sindhi saw-scaled viper (Echis carinatus sochureki) I lost count, 10-12?
Arabian horned viper (Cerastes gasperetti) 6-7 specimens