State of Israel

From the 24th of April until the 8th of May 2017

Despite being a relatively small country, Israel boosts a huge variety of landscapes, habitats and wildlife. Ranging from snow-covered peaks in the north to dry rocky deserts in the south, from vast areas of sand dune to lush mediterranean forests. In little more than 5 hours you can drive from north to south and see the landscape change dramatically. In the north several Mediterranean species occur while in the southwest of the country several typical North African species can be found. In the extreme southeast of the country some typical Arabic or Central Asian species expand their range into the country and then there are the endemics of which Israel also has a few. One of these endemics peaked my interest long ago and made Laura and me set out to explore this highly interesting country. Also the fact that we saw many fantastic reports of friends who visited Israel, Laura and I decided to book our trip here to spend our two weeks of spring holidays.

We had hoped it would already be warm enough for roadcruising and still cool enough to find animals under stones which proved to be at least partially true. Most of the trip we spent with the two of us but the last few days we met up with our new friend Jelmer Groen (NL) who also was in the country the same time we were. Also we had the pleasure to make several new Israeli friends such as Aviad Bar, Daniel Caganovich, Shani Cohen, Guy Haimovitch, Akiva Topper and Assaf Uzan and learn from their experience.

Overview of prospected sites.
Overview of prospected sites.
Laura and I pointing out our main target for our Israel adventure.
Laura and I pointing out our main target for our Israel adventure.

All images © Laura & Bobby Bok (unless stated otherwise)

24th of April 2017

Laura and I flew from Munich to Tel Aviv with Transavia. We had expected some difficulties upon arrival due to the Iranian stamp in our passport (these two countries aren't exactly friends) but the entire journey was incredibly smooth. Within an hour we were out of the airport and we could head to our first herping stop; the dunes around Palmachim and later on, the dunes around Ashdod. There was surprisingly little activity of the supposedly common species but all in all we could find several reptiles such as Rüppell's Snake-eyed Skink (Ablepharus rueppellii), Ocellated Skink (Chalcides ocellatus), Wedge-snouted Skink (Chalcides sepsoides), Bridled Skink (Heremites vittata), a huge Glass Lizard (Pseudopus apodus), Turkish Gecko (Hemidactylus turcicus) and a few Nidua Fringe-fingered Lizards (Acanthodactylus scutellatus). Without a proper restaurant in the vicinity we bought some bread in a tiny supermarket and had a picknick in the dunes while the sun was setting. At night we ventured out in the dunes again and saw many Mediterranean Chameleons (Chamaeleo chamaeleon), Kotschy's Gecko (Mediodactylus kotschyi), Lemon-yellow Tree Frog (Hyla savignyi) and Levant Water Frog (Pelophylax bedriagae). The night we spent in Niko Apartment in Lod.

25th of April 2017

After finding some breakfast in Lod we drove to the Ben Shemen forest where we saw several
Starred Agamas (Laudakia stellio) but little else. On our way south we stopped at Beit Guvrin National Park and here there was more reptile activity, besides several more Starred Agamas we also found Spur-thighed Tortoise (Testudo graeca), Sinai Fan-fingered Gecko (Ptyodactylus guttatus), Turkish Gecko, Rüppell's Snake-eyed Skink, Gunter's Cylindrical Skink (Chalcides guentheri) and Ocellated Skink. Also a White-throated Kingfisher (Halcyon smyrnensis) was seen and in the Bell's Cave we saw a huge roost of Egyptian Fruitbat (Rousettus aegyptiacus). At Beer Sheva we did another stop but found little else than an obscene amount of wind. In the late afternoon we arrived in Ezuz. We had some problems to enter our accommodation at Tobiana Desert Lodging as there was nobody to welcome us. The confused owner didn't know we would be coming despite booking months ago but we were still welcomed into our lovely room. Anyhow, a little later than scheduled we still arrived in the sand dunes and met up with Aviad Bar, the best sand tracker there is. The temperatures dropped to little above 10 degrees Celsius and a strong wind picked up so we weren't too optimistic to see many species. Together we roamed the sand dunes and mostly thanks to Aviad's aid, we started seeing Anderson's Short-fingered Geckoes (Stenodactylus petrii), Wedge-snouted Skink, Crowned Leaf-nosed Snakes (Lytorhynchus diadema), Diadem Snakes (Spalerosophis diadema) and several Sahara Sand Vipers (Cerastes vipera). Despite our efforts no Horned Vipers sadly but we enjoyed a great evening in the magical sand dunes with our new friend, thanks a lot for showing us around Aviad!

26th of April 2017

The day started overcast and rather chilly but we ventured in the dunes nonetheless. During an attempt to reach our first spot we got the car stuck in the sand. Shit! We found some pieces of rubber tube laying around and by digging and putting those pieces under the tyres we managed to get out within an hour, so that was okay! At a second spot we immediately started seeing many lizards such as Egyptian Fringe-fingered Lizard (Acanthodactylus aegyptius), Bosk's Fringe-fingered Lizard (Acanthodactylus boskianus), Arnold's Fringe-fingered Lizard (Acanthodactylus opheodurus), Nidua Fringe-fingered Lizard and Olivier's Sand Lizard (Mesalina olivieri). Also a single Egyptian Sand Agama (Trapelus savignii) and many Wedge-snouted Skinks were seen. To see fresh tracks of Desert Monitor on top of our own tracks made us very anxious but sadly we weren't as lucky with this species like in Dubai last year. In a tiny Kibbutz at the Egyptian border we bought groceries and had lunch. The owner of the supermarket gave the stray dogs of the town milk to drink, which these lactose-intolerant animals clearly found hard to stomach. It provided entertainment but also spoiled the appetite a tad. After a siesta in the lodge we found a Sinai Fan-fingered Gecko in our room. In the late afternoon we searched for Sandfish Skink to no avail. We had dinner in the car and went into the sand dunes again at night. Not for long we walked into a another herper who proved to be our Facebook friend Shani Cohen. So funny to walk in to each other now! Together we defied the elements and searched again for Horned Vipers but found the same species as the night before. Only on the road we found an additional species for our list in the shape of a Lichtenstein's Short-fingered Gecko (Stenodactylus sthenodactylus). Thanks for the fun evening Shani!

View on the sanddunes in the NW Negev desert. Click to enlarge.
View on the sanddunes in the NW Negev desert. Click to enlarge.

27th of April 2017

After breakfast we searched the dunes but only found the same lizards as the day before. On our way to Ein Avdat we stopped along a nice gorge and saw Small-spotted Lizard (Mesalina guttulata), Snake-eyed Lacertid (Ophisops elegans), Bridled Skink, Ocellated Skink and a Beaked Blind Snake (Myriopholis macrorhyncha). In Ein Avdat we had a wonderful hike through the beautiful gorge where wildlife was abound. Above our heads Tristram's Grackles (Onychognathus tristramii) and Griffon Vultures (Gyps fulvus) were soaring while on the cliffs Nubian Ibex (Capra nubiana) were nibbling on the sparse vegetation.  Arabian Babblers (Turdoides squamiceps) and White-spectacled Bulbuls (Pycnonotus xanthopygos) were foraging around our feet and the distant calls of Green Toads (Bufotes viridis) completed the scenery. Also a few Starred Agamas, Arnold's Fringe-fingered Lizard and Small-spotted Lizard were seen. In the afternoon we settled in the Silent Arrow Desert Lodge in Mitzpe Ramon and went roadcruising. It was cold and windy so we didn't see too many reptiles and our first find was a Lichtenstein's Short-fingered Gecko. Later on, a small herd of Onager (Equus hemionus) and a curious Lesser Egyptian Jerboa (Jaculus jaculus) crossed our paths but the true highlight of the evening came later. When we had given up on the roadcruising and were on our way back to the civilized world with 80 km/h (in the hope to still score some food somewhere) I spotted a tiny white stick on the side of the road. Laura pressed the brakes and I ran back to where I saw the snake before, as fast as I could. When I got there I saw a tail almost disappear of the road; a beautiful Arabian Cat Snake (Telescopus dhara) was laying at my feet! Back in Mitzpe Ramon we went for a pizza, together with the local military and the same hitchhikers who gave us the finger for not taking them. They weren't so tough now... Back at the lodge we fell asleep happily in our cozy bungalow tent.

Ein Avdat gorge from above. Click to enlarge.
Ein Avdat gorge from above. Click to enlarge.

28th of April 2017

In the morning we drove to the Hai-Bar Wildlife Reserve where many species of mammal and bird, which are now extinct in most of the Middle East, roam freely. A great experience to catch a glimpse of how rich the ecosystems of southern Israel must have been before humankind arrived. We saw many Arabian Oryx (Oryx leucoryx), Onager, Dorcas Gazelle (Gazella dorcas) and Ostrich (Struthio camelus). On our way south we went underground in some abandoned trenches along the Jordan border and saw many Yellow Fan-fingered Geckoes (Ptyodactylus hasselquistii) and Greater Mouse-tailed Bats (Rhinopoma microphyllum).

After that we decided it was hot enough to try and find our next target and drove to Desert Dragon Land, my new favourite theme park! Without any difficulties we saw many Egyptian Spiny-tailed Lizards (Uromastyx aegyptia) going around their daily business. Fantastic! Also a single Green Bee-eater (Merops orientalis) was seen. Afterwards in the Wadi Shlomo we had equally little difficulties to find the Ornate Spiny-tailed Lizard (Uromastyx ornata) and I soon spotted the first male from the car. A little climbing session and some patience were rewarded with some nice in-situ shots. Later on I spotted another female and Laura another male. We had a break in the Sea Princess Motel and had dinner at McDonalds. At night we would be herping at the Jordan border and our friend GJ told us it helps to bring a super hero mask from the happy-meal. So we got a Batman and Batgirl mask to safely herp at the border! It helped a lot and after seeing several Keeled Rock Geckoes (Cyrtopodion scabrum), Middle Eastern Short-fingered Geckoes (Stenodactylus doriae) I found an Arabian Horned Viper (Cerastes gasperettii) laying half hidden under a bush. Great find to close an amazing day!

29th of April 2017

Another windy and overcast day so we went flipping around Eilat. We found our first Sinai Agama (Pseudotrapelus sinaitus) and a tiny Natterers Pygmy Gecko (Tropiocolotes nattereri). At the Eilat bird reserve we saw some interesting species such as House Crow (Corvus splendens), Spur-winged Lapwing (Vanellus spinosus), Black-winged Stilts (Himantopus himantopus), Green Bee-eater, Greater Flamingo (Phoenicopterus roseus) and Red-necked Phalarope (Phalaropus lobatus). Afterwards we snorkeled at the Coral Beach Reserve where we enjoyed the stunning coral formations and the many colourful fish such as the Red Lionfish (Pterois volitans). After relaxing at the hotel and a pizza at the beach we went to a nice area outside Eilat where Laura found our first Palestine Saw-scaled Viper (Echis coloratus). A beautiful pinkish specimen (which is typical for the animals around Eilat) and a big one as well! Another searchsite gave a few Lichtenstein's Short-fingered Geckoes and tracks of Field's Horned Viper (Pseudocerastes fieldi) though the animal that made the tracks stayed out of sight. Luckily we were still able to see an individual thanks to Aviad!

Cool street art in downtown Eilat. Click to enlarge.
Cool street art in downtown Eilat. Click to enlarge.

30th of April 2017

 A bit of a lazy morning after another late night. After breakfast we herped around Eilat a bit and photographed a beautiful blue male Sinai Agama. We discovered that if you approach these sapphire males they turn pale grey within the blink of an eye. But with patience and caution you can make some great in-situ shots. After that we had a long drive to Arad but we were still able to go herping in the afternoon and near some nice ruines we found Bridled Skink, Ocellated Skink, Starred Agama and our first Sand Boa (Eryx jaculus). Back in the city centre of Arad we tried to find dinner but due to Yom Hazikaron (Remembrance Day) everything was closed. Luckily a friendly civil servant gave us some bread and a tin of tuna so we could continue herping again. Despite the wind and low temperatures we saw an adult Diadem Snake and an Israeli Mole Viper (Atractaspis engaddensis). What an incredibly nervous snake! It reminded me a lot of Micrurus from South America so we handled it with extra care...

1st of May 2017

In the morning we went to the steppes around the ruines where we searched the previous day. We soon found more Ocellated Skinks and this time also our main target for this area; the Beer Sheva Fringe-fingered Lizard (Acanthodactylus beershebensis), an Israeli endemic. Another search site delivered Ocellated Skinks, Rüppell's Snake-eyed Skinks and a Small-spotted Lizard. Further more we saw some Mountain Gazelles (Gazella gazella) and Dromedary Camels (Camelus dromedarius) along the road. In the late morning we drove towards Ein Gedi and the Dead Sea. In the Wadi David we had a nice hike towards the David Waterfall and saw Nubian Ibex, Tristrams Grackle, Fan-tailed Raven (Corvus rhipidurus) and our first Rock Hyrax (Procavia capensis). Some of them had babies and all the ugliness in the world just disappears when gazing upon such cuteness.

At a nice all-you-can-eat restaurant we ate untill it started to hurt (a little bit). Aviad had put us in contact with Daniel Caganovich who runs an extermination programme on the introduced Egyptian Geckoes (Tarentola annularis). He walks through the town of Ein Gedi every evening and catches geckoes in an attempt to control the population. So far 900 of these invasive geckoes have been caught, mainly by him. Incredible! The geckoes arrived here as pets, were later on dumped and are now spreading across the area and outcompete the much smaller native geckoes (Jamison et al. 2017). In the evening we joined him and helped him in his work. Of course we also took some pictures because unwanted or not, it is still a beautiful (and huge!) gecko species. A few native Turkish Geckoes were also seen. Thanks for letting us tag along Daniel!

2nd of May 2017

An early morning as we wanted to hike Wadi Arugot and be there before the crowds start pooring in. Luckily this plan worked and we had this amazing scenery all to ourselves for at least a few hours. What a fantastic site with the steep cliffs towering high above our heads, the crystal clear water trickling through the gorge; forming pools and natural slides wherever you look. Wildlife such as Ibex, Hyrax, Tristrams Grackle, Sand Partridge and the calls of Levant Water Frogs completed the scene. Afterwards we had a dip in the Dead Sea and had some problems to find a nice quiet spot at that sea. But we managed to find a spot we had to ourselves and while swimming you notice how much damage herping does to your body. Every little cut or wound starts to hurt like hell. Moreover, when you come out you feel dirtier than never before. But when you rinse of the salt under the shower you feel reborn! After driving through the West Bank we arrived in Gidona in the evening and found a great place to stay in the Hotel Benharim. Roadcruising with 16 degrees and a lot of wind didn't deliver anything interesting sadly.

The stunning Wadi Arugot, paradise for those fond of swimming. (click to enlarge)
The stunning Wadi Arugot, paradise for those fond of swimming. (click to enlarge)
Sunset at Gilboa.
Sunset at Gilboa.

3rd of May 2017

In the morning we drove to a nice valley a bit west of Gidona where we found several Spur-thighed Tortoises and many skinks such as Ocellated Skinks, Bridled Skinks, Rüppell's Snake-eyed Skinks and much to our delight also seven Schneider's Skink (Eumeces schneideri). This species had eluded us in both Turkey and Iran but now we could finally photograph them (and experience how strong their bite is). The many flies at this spot made us feel like walking through a Unicef commercial but with so many nice skinks around it didn't matter.

Afterwards we met up with Jelmer Groen (also known as Helmut Grün), a fellow Dutch herper who was also in the area and together we flipped in the Gilboa area. We found the three common skink species again and Jelmer flipped a baby Coin-marked Snake (Hemorrhois nummifer) while I saw a fast as lightning Eastern Montpellier Snake (Malpolon insignitus) disappear. After dinner at Burgerim we went out roadcruising again in two teams and didn't have much luck initially. It was again 16 degrees and windy, so probably also not the best conditions for roadcruising. That changed when I went for a smoke and pee break and almost peed on a Palestine Saw-scaled Viper. A hude Predatory Bush Cricket (Saga ephippigera) and a Judean Mountains Blind Mole-rat (Spalax judaei) made the evening worth while.

4th of May 2017

Today we teamed up with Herr Grün again and spent the morning flipping at Gilboa. That resulted in finding Spur-thighed Tortoises, the three common skink species and the frustrating experience of seeing a Reddish Whip Snake (Platyceps collaris) disappear in a pile of rocks. One of my main target snake species! We decided to leave the unrewarding Mount Gilboa area and drive to the Golan Heights. While gaining in altitude we saw the landscape change and turn more green. Spring only just started here. After a drive through scenery of lush pastures, barbed wire, rusting tanks and broken mosques we arrived at a spot within 100m of the Syrian border. Here we found Levant Water Frogs, many basking Arabian Tree Frogs (Hyla felixarabica), Balkan Terrapin (Mauremys rivulata) and Dice Snake (Natrix tessellata). At an abandoned Syrian hospital nearby we walked into the set where a commercial for guns was shot.

At a more forested area close to our hostel we searched a bit before the sun set and easily found Spur-thighed Tortoise, the three common skinks, Levant Green Lizard (Lacerta media), Hatay Lizard (Phoenicolacerta laevis) and several fast as lightning Black Whip Snakes (Dolichophis jugularis). After checking in into the Golan Heights Hostel we went for dinner at a burger place. The waitress saw us as her children because we chose the cheap kids menu, luckily for us this meant we could call her mama. Along the road we saw a Golden Jackal (Canis aureus) scavaging. When it became dark we explored a place we had all been looking forward to. A lot!

The species we were after is a species which fascinated me since childhood. Ever since I read in the Collins guide about a species of Discoglossus living in the Middle East, that went extinct as late as 1955 I was hooked. It was actually the first species of amphibian declared extinct by the IUCN. Then when I read back in 2011 that this species was found again in the wild and in the flesh I was amazed. Seemingly, in the Hula Nature Reserve, a tiny population had been clinging to survival. Even still, to see it in the wild seemed far away... When we started searching we immediately saw many Levant Water Frogs, Lemon-yellow Tree Frogs and Balkan Terrapins. But then I spotted a big frog, well hidden between the reeds with only the head visible, cryptically hidden between algae. The frog we were looking at proved to be a Hula Painted Frog (Latonia nigriventer)! This huge frog was even bigger and more beautiful than we thought it would be. They are very bulky frogs with black bellies dotted with white spots. Their skin is very granular and almost toadlike, the hindfeet strongly webbed and rather short. The entire feel about them is very ancient and in total we found five individuals of this enigmatic species. What a night and this species alone, made the trip to Israel more than worth while! We hope this species continues to be found in more spots than just the ones in, or in direct vicinity of the Hula Nature Reserve. But we are optimistic that there are more locations waiting to be discovered, seeing their habitat requirements aren't that high.

5th of May 2017

After a pancake breakfast in the hostel we headed towards Tel Dan Nature Reserve. Being a rather humid and densely forested place, we had hoped we could still find some nice amphibians here but herping in the dense undergrowth proved to be tricky. While Laura crawled out of a little cave and I was standing behind the fence photographing a Hatay Lizard a ranger spotted us. Instead of giving us a load of crap for going of the trail, he helped us in our search for salamanders! What a cool guy! We flipped immense piles of wood and rocks but despite our efforts we only found some of the more common species such as Levant Water Frog, Dice Snake and Hatay Lizard. Afterwards we went into the Hula Nature Reserve to see the place where the Hula Painted Frog had been rediscovered 6 years ago. Our only herps here were Starred Agama, Balkan Terrapin and Levant Water Frog but we also saw loads of Coypu (Myocastor coypus) and African Sharptooth Catfish (Clarias gariepinus), besides cool birds such as Pied Kingfisher (Ceryle rudis), Black-winged Stilt, Little Bittern (Ixobrychus minutus), Squacco Heron (Ardeola ralloides), Great White Pelican (Pelecanus onocrotalus) and Pygmy Cormorant (Microcarbo pygmeus). At the Lebanese border we had the intention to flip some rocks but actually we were too deprived from energy, so had a little nap and watched the sunset instead. Along the road we saw a nice restaurant and decided to have dinner there. When the friendly ranger who helped us earlier today opened the door for us in an apron, we were baffled. He has a side job as a waiter, so we met our new friend again! In darkness we went back to a place we had been before in daytime, to explore it in darkness. This time we started seeing some other species such as Arabian Tree Frogs, Levant Water Frogs, Green Toad and even a single larvae of Oriental Fire Salamander (Salamandra infraimmaculata). Sadly no adults but that was to be expected so late in the year... Back to the car we heard many Indian Crested Porcupines (Hystrix indica) rustling in the bushes.

Nice mural displaying most of Israel's native amphibians at the visitors centre of Tel Dan.
Nice mural displaying most of Israel's native amphibians at the visitors centre of Tel Dan.

6th of May 2017

After another pancake breakfast in hippietown we drove to Mount Hermon and while driving up, we saw the scenery turn lusher and greener with every passing meter. Eventually we drove up in the clouds and when we arrived at the parking lot, we had a stunning cloud covered view on the surrounding lands. Here we spontaneously met up with Jelmer, Guy, Akiva, Assaf, David and three other new Israeli herping friends. With a group of 10 we slowly made our way up the mountain from the lower parking lot to the upper parking lot. Along the way we immediately started seeing so much lizard activity! Everywhere Snake-eyed Lacertids, Levant Green Lizards, Hatay Lizards, Bridled Skinks, Ocellated Skinks, Rüppell's Snake-eyed Skinks and Starred Agamas. On rocky outcrops we saw several Israeli Fan-fingered Geckoes (Ptyodactylus muysexy) basking, such stunning animals! I also flipped a few Hermon Bowfoot Geckoes (Mediodactylus amictophole) which is an endemic for Mount Hermon. A few snakes showed up such as Roth's Dwarf Snake (Eirenis rothi) and Palestine Kukri Snake (Rhynchocalamus melanocephalus).

At the skilift we decided to follow our friend Sjuul's advice and took the skilift up, which was so relaxing! On top of the mountain we ran into the military who closed the valley which is the best place for vipers. It is an open border with Syria so sadly we could only search along the path, which wasn't any good for snakes. We did find a few more Hermon Bowfoot Geckoes and Lebanon Lizards (Phoenicolacerta kulzeri) though. Most of our group decided to take the skilift down before it would stop running. Jelmer, Laura and I were determined to find the endemic viper to these mountains though, so we decided to walk to the skilift in a straight line and went through the valley. A good decision and literally after the last few meters before going to the military checkpoint Jelmer found a subadult male Lebanon Viper (Montivipera bornmuelleri) which made us very, very happy! The military wasn't too pleased with us initially, but after seeing our ecstatic faces they found it hard to be angry at us. We missed the last run of the skilift so we had to hike down to the lower parking lot. When we arrived there it was deserted, but there still was one other person on the mountain. Luckily he could give us a ride down in his ATV. Great! We even saw a big family of Wild Boar (Sus scrofa) crossing the road. Flipping around the parking lot gave us a few more Levant Green Lizards and a huge Black Whip Snake, which was as big as I am!

We had dinner In Majdal e-Shams and could finally take off our hiking boots. When the waitress came in with air refreshener, we took it as a sign but still left them off. After leaving the smellstaurant we drove on to Haifa. Just outside the city on Mount Carmel we searched at a nice pond and were deafened by the many calling Lemon-yellow Tree Frogs. Larvae of Oriental Fire Salamander and Southern Banded Newt (Ommatotriton vittatus) were plentiful in the water and a few Turkish Geckoes were seen as well. In Kefar Vitkin we slept in the pretentious Avda Hotel.

7th of May 2017

We had a plentiful breakfast with many delicacies in the mall adjacent to the hotel. At the Nahal Alexander we met Jelmer again and admired the huge African Softshell Turtles (Trionyx triunguis) which seemed to be plentiful here. Also Balkan Terrapins were present. At the mouth of the Nahal Alexander we saw several Schreiber's Fringe-fingered Lizards (Acanthodactylus schreiberi) and tracks of Wedge-snouted Skink and Palestine Viper (Daboia palestinae). Later we met Aviad and thanks to him we could see a big and beautiful individual, what an impressive snake!

We searched a bit more for Reddish Whip Snake in the dunes of Ashdod but then it was time to drive south. Guy told us where to find some interesting waterholes to check out. In the first we saw an Eastern Montpellier Snake which quickly crawled in a crack in the wall of the waterhole. Sadly we couldn't retrieve it but underneath a small rock in that same waterhole I found a False Smooth Snake (Macroprotodon cucullatus). A pair of Palestine Sunbirds (Cinnyris osea) were fluttering above our heads while photographing, and Turkish Geckoes and Ocellated Skinks were seen as well.

After an hour we already reached the dunes at the Egyptian border again, we wanted to try again for horned vipers as we failed to find them at the beginning of the trip. Together with Jelmer and Shani we roamed the sanddunes at night and immediately found the more common species such as Anderson's Short-fingered Geckoes, Wedge-snouted Skinks, Crowned Leaf-nosed Snakes, Diadem Snakes and several Sahara Sand Vipers. The conditions were much better than at the beginning of the trip so we kept our spirits high. There was practically no wind and the temperatures were enjoyable so it should be possible to find one. Then I got a question from Shani who asked how much I like him on a scale from one to ten. There was a snake at his feet that would make my answer go off the charts, a Desert Horned Viper (Cerastes cerastes)! I brought some Bamba and cold beverages to celebrate our final snake in Israel. Later on, someone forgot his rugsack out in the desert with his passport still in. So we went back in the dunes to try and retrace our footsteps in an attempt to find it. Luckily Laura was persistent and found it back and made Jelmer very happy. After saying goodbye to our new friend Jelmer we were on our way north again. First to Beer Sheva to drop of our other new friend Shani, then to Tel Aviv were we happily fell asleep at the Overstay Hostel at 03:30 after an amazing last day in this wonderful country.

8th of May 2017

A crappy breakfast in the hostel and we were on our way to the airport. Everything went surprisingly smooth again and within no time we were waiting for the boarding procedure to start. 


Herping in the Holy Land. We surely weren't the first people to go herping in this beautiful country so we had certain expectations. And while some places we visited didn't deliver as much as we had hoped, other locations gave us such big highlights we can't complain. Our timing in the year was fine but we did notice that flipping was not so rewarding in the lowland areas, as it already got too hot early in the morning. For roadcruising we had the feeling it was a little early in the year. Many nights we had a cold wind coming in, and we didn't see too many snakes on the road. In two weeks time we saw a single Black Whip Snake DOR. That might be a good thing, and maybe it can be blamed by the many scavenging animals such as foxes or jackals but all in all, we had the feeling there wasn't that much snake activity going on. But in general Israel is a very relaxed country to travel. The infrastructure is perfect, there are many motorways running throughout the country so this isn't the kind of trip where you spend hours in the car (apart from roadcruising). The landscape is incredibly diverse and nature is well protected. The downside of this is that you can't go everywhere you want. Most national parks require a hefty entrance fee and entering at night is forbidden. Furthermore, it isn't a cheap destination and grocery shopping, fuel, hotels etc. are at least as expensive as in western European countries, if not more expensive. Some people have safety issues about Israel due to its vicinty to some conflict areas, but the borders are well protected and the military in general is very friendly. We felt completely safe everywhere we went. All in all, to have this kind of biodiversity so close to home is just perfect. For sure we will be back here!

Especially for Jelmer who has an unhealthy obsession for talking animals wearing funny hats or masks.
Especially for Jelmer who has an unhealthy obsession for talking animals wearing funny hats or masks.

For some more pictures of our trip in higher quality, please check out Laura's Flickr album!


Southern Banded Newt (Ommatotriton vittatus) larvae only

Oriental Fire Salamander (Salamandra infraimmaculata) larvae only

Green Toad (Bufotes viridis)

Arabian Tree Frog (Hyla felixarabica)

Lemon-yellow Tree Frog (Hyla savignyi)

Hula Painted Frog (Latonia nigriventer)

Levant Water Frog (Pelophylax bedriagae)

Spur-thighed Tortoise (Testudo graeca)

Balkan Terrapin (Mauremys rivulata)

African Softshell Turtle (Trionyx triunguis)

Keeled Rock Gecko (Cyrtopodion scabrum)

Turkish Gecko (Hemidactylus turcicus)

Hermon Bowfoot Gecko (Mediodactylus amictophole)

Kotschy's Gecko (Mediodactylus kotschyi)

Sinai Fan-fingered Gecko (Ptyodactylus guttatus)

Yellow Fan-fingered Gecko (Ptyodactylus hasselquistii)

Israeli Fan-fingered Gecko (Ptyodactylus puiseuxi)

Middle Eastern Short-fingered Gecko (Stenodactylus doriae)

Anderson's Short-fingered Gecko (Stenodactylus petrii)

Lichtenstein's Short-fingered Gecko (Stenodactylus sthenodactylus)

Egyptian Gecko (Tarentola annularis)

Natterers Pygmy Gecko (Tropiocolotes nattereri)

Starred Agama (Laudakia stellio ssp. picea & brachydactyla)

Sinai Agama (Pseudotrapelus sinaitus)

Egyptian Sand Agama (Trapelus savignii)

Egyptian Spiny-tailed Lizard (Uromastyx aegyptia)

Ornate Spiny-tailed Lizard (Uromastyx ornata)

Mediterranean Chameleon (Chamaeleo chamaeleon ssp. recticrista)

Egyptian Fringe-fingered Lizard (Acanthodactylus aegyptius)

Beer Sheva Fringe-fingered Lizard (Acanthodactylus beershebensis)

Bosk's Fringe-fingered Lizard (Acanthodactylus boskianus)

Arnold's Fringe-fingered Lizard (Acanthodactylus opheodurus)

Schreiber's Fringe-fingered Lizard (Acanthodactylus schreiberi)

Nidua Fringe-fingered Lizard (Acanthodactylus scutellatus)

Levant Green Lizard (Lacerta media)

Small-spotted Lizard (Mesalina guttulata)

Olivier's Sand Lizard (Mesalina olivieri)

Snake-eyed Lacertid (Ophisops elegans)

Lebanon Lizard (Phoenicolacerta kulzeri)

Hatay Lizard (Phoenicolacerta laevis)

Rüppell's Snake-eyed Skink (Ablepharus rueppellii)

Gunter's Cylindrical Skink (Chalcides guentheri)

Ocellated Skink (Chalcides ocellatus)

Wedge-snouted Skink (Chalcides sepsoides)

Schneider's Skink (Eumeces schneideri)

Bridled Skink (Heremites vittata)

Glass Lizard (Pseudopus apodus)

Beaked Blind Snake (Myriopholis macrorhyncha)

Sand Boa (Eryx jaculus)

Israeli Mole Viper (Atractaspis engaddensis)

Black Whip Snake (Dolichophis jugularis)

Roth's Dwarf Snake (Eirenis rothi)

Coin-marked Snake (Hemorrhois nummifer)

Crowned Leaf-nosed Snake (Lytorhynchus diadema)

False Smooth Snake (Macroprotodon cucullatus)

Eastern Montpellier Snake (Malpolon insignitus)

Dice Snake (Natrix tessellata)

Reddish Whip Snake (Platyceps collaris)

Palestine Kukri Snake (Rhynchocalamus melanocephalus)

Diadem Snake (Spalerosophis diadema)

Arabian Cat Snake (Telescopus dhara)

Desert Horned Viper (Cerastes cerastes)

Arabian Horned Viper (Cerastes gasperettii ssp. mendelssohni)

Sahara Sand Viper (Cerastes vipera)

Palestine Viper (Daboia palestinae)

Palestine Saw-scaled Viper (Echis coloratus)

Lebanon Viper (Montivipera bornmuelleri)

Field's Horned Viper (Pseudocerastes fieldi)


Many thanks to Aviad Bar, Wouter Beukema, Daniel Caganovich, Shani Cohen, Martin Edelman, Guy Haimovitch, Arlo Hinckley, Jürgen Gebhart, Jelmer Groen, Gabriel Martinez, Kristian Munkholm, Akiva Topper, Alex Slavenko, Gert Jan Verspui.