Photos from a quick trip to Oman

Discussion in 'Field Herping and Reptile Studies' started by moloch05, Feb 23, 2013.

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  1. moloch05

    moloch05 Well-Known Member

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    Greetings everyone,

    Earlier this month, I went on a work trip to Spain for a couple of weeks. On the return journey to Sydney, I decided to break the flight in Dubai, hire a car and set off to Oman for a few days. I spent 4 days in the northern part of the country and visited the rugged mountains near Bahla/Nizwa and then sites near the coastal town of Sur. Oman was an easy place for travel with an excellent road system. The roads will even be better soon since there is a massive amount of construction underway. Finding hotels in the interior was not so easy but with a little net research, I eventually found suitable places to stay.

    February is a winter month in Oman. Temperatures were mild with highs in the upper 20s/low 30s C and overnight lows in the upper teens. It really was a pleasant time for visit when compared to the summer when temperatures can reach an oven-like 50C. At first, I was afraid that nights in the mountains would be too cold for reptiles since I did not see any at all on my first night. However, I found that walking the wadis (dry, rocky stream beds) was effective. The rocks retained heat and I could feel this radiating from walls of the gorges at night.


    Most of the north of Oman was covered by rugged, dry mountains. After entering Oman near Hatta (UAE), I followed the coastal highway southeast until I reached a turnoff to Rustaq. I took this and then travelled along backroads from the Ibri area to Bahla where I spent the next couple of nights.
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    Some areas were basically just rock with very little soil or vegetation.
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    Camels were a frequent sight along the way. I don't know if these were truly wild animals or free-ranging domestics. I had a close encounter with one that ambled out onto the highway. Despite their size, they blend well and were easy to overlook.
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    On my first morning, I stopped and examined this dry drainage. There were a few plants including large, flowering milkweeds.
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    After a short walk, I found my first reptile in Oman, a little Blue-tailed Oman Lizard (Omanosaura cyanura). This little lacertid would nervously flick its tail from side-to-side much like Carlia skinks here in Australia.
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    I did not find any other reptiles here although there was plenty of sign about. I suppose that they were detecting me and hiding before I spotted them. The flowering milkweeds in the gulley attracted many Plain Tigers (Danaus chrysippus). A larvae is visible in the photo below of the milkweed flowers.
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    This House Bunting was singing nicely from the top of an Acacia.
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    I saw a Yellow-spotted Agama (Trapelus flavimaculatus) in this area but it unfortunately vanished while I pulled the car off the road. It was a beauty and looked like a Sceloporus that had been dipped head first into turquoise paint. I never saw the species again.
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    The high mountains of Oman were spectacular. I drove to a lookout in the mountains above Bahla one afternoon and enjoyed the superb views.
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    Desert Lark. Most of the desert birds were various shades of brown or grey. I liked a pair of Scrub Warblers that I saw in the same area. They looked and behaved much like Striated Grasswrens in the outback of Australia.
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    Long-billed Pipit.
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    While walking along a trail here, I found many of these tiny Rock Semaphore Geckos (Pristurus rupestris). These were day active geckos that were only a few cm in length.
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    Egyptian Vultures were numerous up here. One pair appeared to be involved in a courtship flight. They would sail out from a ledge, spiral around each other then land side-by-side back on the ledge. They did this repeatedly. The third shot below was of a juvenile.
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    Later in the day and then again at night, I worked this wadi in the lowlands along the road near Al Hoota Cave (Bahla area). This area was the home of Jayakar’s Oman Lizards (Omanosaura jayakari). I found two of these large lacertids. Also in this photo was a Tamarisk tree growing where it belongs unlike those in the southwestern deserts of the US and in the western deserts of Australia.
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    These rocks were the home of an incredible gecko at night. I saw at least 6 of these Fan-footed Geckos (Ptyodactylus hasselquistii). These were wary and quick geckos that would usually leap from rock to rock and then disappear into a crevice before I could get within photographic range. I love the toes!
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    While exploring the wadi, I found this crevice that was the source of a tiny stream. I visited it at night and found that it was home of what were probably Gallagher’s Leaf-toed Geckos (Asaccus gallagheri). These geckos were great looking animals that were quite elegant in shape.
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    I am not certain about this gecko that also lived in the crevice. It looked and behaved much like a Cyrtodactylus in FNQ.
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    I thought that this would be a perfect place for Oman Saw-scaled Vipers (Echis omanensis). I searched all around the cave and surrounding rocks but did not spot any of these interesting snakes.



    The tiny stream that emerged from the crack fed this pool that was full of Arabian Toads (Bufo arabicus).
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    toad
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    There were at least three species of fish in this tiny pool. The prettiest was what I think to be Arabian killifish (Aphanius dispar)"
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    Butterflies were more numerous than I expected. Among the species encountered was this Giant Skipper (Coeliades anchises jucunda), one of the largest skippers that I have encountered. Blue Spotted Arabs (Colotis phisadia phisadia) were also common around one of the plants in the wadi.
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    African Pierrots (Tarucus theophrastus) were abundant around a flowering pea.
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    Castles like this one at Bahla were present in nearly all of the villages
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    ... I will add more photos later of the Sur region
     
  2. Shotta

    Shotta Very Well-Known Member

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    wow those are beautiful pics amazing!
    i love the killifish thanks for sharing
     
  3. Bananapeel

    Bananapeel Very Well-Known Member

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    That's incredible mate! Love the shots of the milkweed flower and the fan-footed gecko!

    And all the rest of course. Sounds like it's been a great trip and a nice stop off!
     
  4. Renenet

    Renenet Very Well-Known Member

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    Thanks for the pictures. Brought back some memories of my trip to that part of the world over two years ago, although I didn't get to see quite that many animals.
     
  5. moloch05

    moloch05 Well-Known Member

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    Thanks, all.

    After a couple of days in the mountains, I headed to the coast and stayed in the town of Sur. My original plan was to use this as a base and then head into the Wahiba Sands, a massive set of dunes that are located about 50km south of the city. Unfortunately, I could see the dunes a few kms from the highway but I could not find a road that entered or even more closely approached these. That was a disappointment since a number of the reptiles that I hoped to find were sand specialists. After more exploring, I did find a good area but this was a mix of sand/gravel soils. This site, the Al Saleel Natural Park, was located about 30km south of Sur. Like most roads, there was a fair bit of car traffic at night but it still was productive for geckos.

    Here are shots of the Al Saleel habitat:
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    These Baluch Ground Geckos (Bunopus tuberculatus) were abundant. They became active on the road even before it was totally dark. They were real speedsters and behaved/looked like Binoe's or *****ly Geckos (Heteronotia binoei) in Australia.
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    A little later in the evenings, these Eastern Sand Gecko (Stenodactylus leptocosymbotes) ventured onto the road.
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    ... gravid girl:
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    Eastern Sand Geckos appeared to be variable in pattern.
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    I found a single Banded Ground Gecko (Bunopus spatalurus). It always adopted this upright stance with the tail curled to one side.
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    This tiny Leaf-nosed Snake (Lytorhynchus diadema) was the only snake that I encountered in Oman.
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    I saw Camel Spiders once. This was the largest solfugid that I have ever seen. I thought that it was a small tarantula when I first spotted it. These were formidable creatures and I am sure that they would easily shred the big crickets that I often saw on the road.
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    I was not able to get a photo, but I saw a Gordon's Wildcat (Felis silvestris gordoni) hunting at night in this barren place. It looked like a grey-coloured domestic cat.


    I returned again in the day and searched for lizards. Burrows and tracks were numerous but I only saw a single species. I think that this is a Desert Racerunner Desert Race-runner (Mesalina adramitana). I suspect that it buries itself in the sand due to those upturned nostrils.

    habitat:
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    Desert Race-runner:
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    I found what I think to be Blandfords Fringe-toed Lizard (Acanthodactylus blandorii) in the following habitat closer to the coast:
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    Blandfords Fringe-toed Lizard
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    This gorgeous little pierid was seen in the same area. The first shot below shows the habitat where I found the butterfly, probably a Colotis danae.
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    Indian Cupid (Chilades parrhasius) and habitat:
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    Desert Wheatear was one of four species of wheatears that I encountered in Oman. These are interesting desert birds and a group that I was hoping to find.
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    Most of the desert birds were quite drab in colouration. An exception to this was the Indian Roller that was fairly common here. They looked the best in flight when their blue and purple wing patches could be seen.
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    Omani houses were generally big and ornate.
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    Sur was considered a beach resort but the beaches were not particularly nice. There was sand along the shoreline but then this gave way to an urchin covered rock shelf that was great for birds. I think that their better beaches were further south on the islands of Masirah or near the town of Salalah.

    I saw three lifer gulls here including Slender-billed, Great Black-headed and Sooty.

    Great Black-headed Gull, a species that breeds in central Asia:
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    Sooty Gull, a range-restricted species found around the Arabian Peninsula:
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  6. PythonLegs

    PythonLegs Very Well-Known Member

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    Oh, man!

    Sorry.
     
  7. SteveNT

    SteveNT Very Well-Known Member

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    Great stuff, what lens do you use?
     
  8. borntobnude

    borntobnude Guest

    David once again you have shown us some amazing animals and places with a story to match . You lift the herping bar every time !
    thanks
     
  9. Bushman

    Bushman Very Well-Known Member

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    What a wonderful account of your trip.
    Your photography is excellent (as always) and your narrative is the perfect accompaniment. 8)
    You have a great ability to find wildlife wherever you go, even in desolate ares like this. Thanks for sharing it with us.
     
  10. moloch05

    moloch05 Well-Known Member

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    Thanks very much, everyone.

    Here are a few final shots of Saudi Arabia from the air. On the flight over, we departed Dubai for Lisbon in the late morning and then followed the sun for the remainder of the flight. It was fantastic and turned out to be a practical lesson in geography. Our flight path crossed over central Saudi Arabia and eventually reached the spectacular waters of the Red Sea. Later, I saw the Suez Canal to the north and then it was across Egypt and over the Nile delta. It really was wonderful to see these places on a clear day.

    Farming, Saudi style.
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    Notice the little village on the leeward side of the hills, centre right. The hills provide protection from the dunes that eventually converge on the left of the photo. I could see roads and farms in the sheltered area that sat in a sea of sand. It must be hard to keep the road access open to this place.
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    Much of central Saudi Arabia was covered in a sea of drifting dunes. There must have been some interesting sand specialists down there.
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    I was surprised to see mountains with snow. These must have been high to be cold enough to retain snow.
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    Here are more of those treeless almost plantless mountain ranges similar to the ones that I saw in Oman:
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    Eventually, we crossed the Red Sea to the northwest of Saudi. Wow, what a beautiful place that looked pristine. I rarely could see any sign of civilizaton. The reef was big and the water appeared clear. It would be great fun to snorkel or dive on these reefs.
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    This huge reef flat was near the mouth of the Gulf of Aqaba:
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    I looked on google maps and easily found this odd, fish-shaped island known as Sanafir.
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    Hopefully, I will have more photos from Oman later this year. I hope to stop again in July and finally, in October.


    Regards,
    David
     
  11. thals

    thals Guest

    Amazing shots all round, those aerial shots are phenomenal!
     
  12. Darlyn

    Darlyn Very Well-Known Member

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    Fabulous!
     
  13. moloch05

    moloch05 Well-Known Member

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    Thanks, thals and Darlyn.

    Wow, I found the most incredible set of photos from Oman last night. These photos were taken by Todd Pierson. Looks like he spent several weeks exploring this part of the world and he found all sorts of the desert species. My favourite is the "Sand Fish", probably the best of all of the sand swimming skinks. If you are interested in these animals, have a look at this link:

    Arabia 2011 - a set on Flickr

    Regards,
    David
     
  14. jordanmulder

    jordanmulder Well-Known Member

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    Good stuff David, the Asaccus gallagheri looks awesome!
     
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