Field update from our our Arabian desert expedition

The team all arrived safely at the DDCR on Saturday. First stop was the DDCR office for an introductory briefing from Greg about the history of the reserve and its conservation objectives. We then transferred to base camp for lunch and started the team training in the afternoon. This included the GPS devices, which are an essential part of the expedition enabling us to navigate in the desert, find survey points for species counts and record locations of species sightings. The GPS is also an important safety tool enabling the vehicle to be relocated after a desert walk. To practice survey skills and get the data collection started we ventured out close to camp, in quadrat 19, making a circular observation and checking several fox dens for signs of activity. With time left before sunset, Greg and Paul took the expedition drivers: Dirk, Cat, Toby and Andy, for driver training. As well as learning important driving techniques, the sand driving was good fun and everyone managed to get over a challenging dune. Going over the dune ridges is a bit like being on a roller coaster.

On Sunday we split up into three survey teams and went out to set up camera traps and live traps. The live traps are checked first thing every morning and we will check the SD cards of the camera traps for results at the end of the week.

On Monday morning the central team (Andy, Toby and Rick) had an Arabian fox captured in their trap and the south team (Paul, Dirk and Anjum) recorded cat tracks around their trap. Andy, our cameraman along this expedition, was able to get some footage of the fox being recorded and released. Andy also has a drone, which he has been using to get aerial shots of the beautiful desert scenery. Monday night after dinner we took UV lights out to search for scorpions and although they are not very active at this time of year, our efforts were rewarded when we found a small Arabian death stalker scorpion.

On Tuesday we had another trapping success with a feral cat caught in one of the live traps. Although it would be nice to trap a Gordon’s wildcat, capture of a feral cat is important because one of the biggest threat to the Gordon’s wildcat as a species is interbreeding with feral cats, so trapping data on feral cats and the opportunity to remove one from the reserve is useful.

As well as good sightings and data collection for our larger mammal target species including Arabian oryx, sand gazelle and Arabian gazelle, we have seen a lot of other interesting wildlife including pallid harrier, desert whetear, spotted eagle, lappet vulture, McQueens bustard, white spotted sand lizards and Cheeseman’s gerbil. Yesterday evening Paul caught a Baluch rock gecko in the camp fire log pile, which we managed to get some nice photographs of.

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