Ramon Crater –> :-(

I don’t know if this is interesting to anyone, but I’m starting to think less and less of the Ramon crater in Israel (Makhtesh Ramon) and realizing time might be more wisely spent exploring other areas of the desert, probably around Borot Lotz, Yotvata to Shizaf, etc. Actually, the 1 night drive I did with Haim Berger in Sde Boker we did see plenty of eyeshines, substantially more than you would expect in that area of Israel, but all we positively identified were hares and jackals.
In fact, Mike Richardson is going there tonight or tomorrow night with his friends, so I hope they have something interesting to report (though it’s raining tonight 🙁 )

I was in Mitzpe Ramon again this past weekend, and convinced my mom and sister to “spotlight” (well, flashlight using a LED-Lenser) our way to the star observatory near Mitzpe Ramon and back, where I was told a year ago that hyenas sometimes hang out. We went around 9:30pm-10:30pm (that’s because we drove VERY slow) and saw nothing but a single desert red fox and another fox, most likely red as well. It was almost full moon, warm, and not windy.

The next morning we visited the crater, and from the vulture observatory, we saw what we are almost sure is an onager, REALLY REALLY far away. I would post the video if it were possible, but here’s a screenshot… yeah, it’s about 250X zoom (5X digital on top of 50X optical) in the desert heat very far away.. it was an animal and it did move, and to the best of our knowledge there are no horse ranches there, and it didn’t move or act like any of the other species that exist there. IMG_7052

Being the heat of the day, we saw nothing else, and at night I went back to Be’erot campsite, flashlighting from my window all the way from the main road (about 30-40 minutes each way, plus 20-25 minutes each way from the town of Mitzpe Ramon up on the crater rim) and saw absolutely nothing on the way there, a single hare and another red fox back on the way up the rim of the crater. It was much cooler (I think 12-14°C), almost full moon and not noticeably windy).  I was also told that there was intensive mining there until only 20-30 years ago, and that the rangers got very excited over a caracal caught on a trail camera several months back.. all which leads me to believe this is NOT the best area of the desert to try to find animals. I would really concentrate more on the Borot Lots area not far away, Shizaf area (even though I have not had great success there either, besides hares and gazelles), and perhaps Ein Shahak where the oryx might be found along with other desert dwellers.

The end.


  • vdinets

    MR is pretty good for small mammals, but you have to spotlight on foot and expect to see just one-two animals per night. It is one of very few known locations for Crocidura ramona (look in wadis with shrubs, better with red light), plus there are lesser gerbils, the recently split jerboa Jaculus hirtipes, and spiny mice. But Makhtesh Katan is better for the jerboa in my experience.

    • tomeslice

      Interesting. But don’t you scare off the animals spotlighting by foot in such open terrain?
      I once found a dead spiney mouse inside a bush in the crater, but not much else. I’ve never seen a jerboa there, but would love to.
      Probably the small crater (makhtesh katan) is better all around, if it’s less visited.

      • vdinets

        You probably do scare off some of them, but you are more likely to see the ones that prefer to stay under cover (shrews, for example, seldom cross roads), in shrubby patches, in narrow wadis, etc. Also, your headlamp is closer to your eyes than car headlights, so you can see small animals’ eyeshine better. The only real advantage of spotlighting by car is that you can cover more ground, so it usually works better for large animals, or when the vegetation is too dense. In most places the best thing to do is to try both methods.

      • vdinets

        I haven’t seen jerboas in MR either, but the paper splitting Jaculus mentioned that they do occur there. I’ve seen J. hirtipes in MK, J. jaculus in sand dunes near Ashkelon, and J. orientalis in large sandy wadis near Eilat (also in Gaza Strip, but that habitat has been destroyed when they built the Gaza Airport there).

  • tomeslice

    Cool. Well, maybe I’ve also just been having some bad luck.. I think Mike Richardson had a totally different experience there than me. And it was raining a good portion of the time while he was there!! Maybe it helped, actually 🙂

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