Monday 14 April 2014

Mahazat in the afternoon

On Friday afternoon, Brian James and I continued our roaming around the Mahazat as -Sayd Nature Reserve. We were looking in particular for ostrich.

The re-introduced sub species here is Struthio camelus camelus sometimes called red-necked ostrich.

Dr M. Zafar ul Islam who was our host told us it is extremely close genetically to the ostrich which used to frequent Mahazat as -Sayd as proven from the DNA inside ancient eggs.

I had expected to see the birds readily. I suppose this is because of my experience in East Africa where there are often habituated birds close to settlements. 

To the credit of the management, the birds in Mahazat as -Sayd are not habituated at all.

Lappet-face vulture

During our roaming in the early afternoon, we came across two more lappet faced vulture nests. In one of them an occupant stood up giving reasonable pictures.

desert whitethroat

A single desert whitethroat became the third warbler seen in the reserve. I suspect there are a lot more in winter. 

red backed shrike

A third shrike was also seen. This one was a red backed shrike

After 3 hours of looking in the afternoon, we still hadn't found any ostrich and had returned to camp. 

We recounted this to Zafar who kindly agree to show us himself where they are often found. However this area was 27 kilometres away "as the crow flies".  

Incidentally one member of the crow family was present in the reserve. We observed brown necked raven on a few occasions but mostly in the more barren areas.


Finally we arrived at the spot where Zafar sees them most frequently at this time of year. We were lucky and Zafar was able to point a few birds out to us in the distance. They never came close.

pregnant gazelle

On the way back we detoured to go to one of the few high points on the plain. We were interested to see if there were any owls there which was always going to be long shot. There weren't.

booted eagle

The highlight on the way back was a grounded booted eagle.

European bee-eater

Brian and I returned the next morning for a couple of hours but didn't really add much to our observations. The only addition to Friday's list was a smart male marsh harrier

We did get to photograph one of the European bee-eater which we had been seeing passing through.  

female type pied wheatear

Other good photo opportunities was a female pied wheatear which allowed quite close contact and a second European roller of the trip.

European roller

Birding on Saturday morning was very difficult because there had been a sandstorm over-night continuing only a little less intensely during the morning.

white spectacled bulbul

We had to leave early because of Brian's travel arrangements. The white spectacled bulbul was seen at Taif airport while I killed time before my flight back to Riyadh.  

I returned to Riyadh very satisfied. Thanks and gratitude are due to Dr M. Zafar ul Islam and his team who were excellent hosts and to Brian who did all the driving.

34 species seen on the Mahazat reserve

Lappet faced vulture
Asian grey shrike (aucheri)
Marsh harrier
Brown necked raven
Pallid harrier
White spectacled bulbul
Montagu’s harrier
Black crowned sparrow lark
Booted eagle
Hoopoe lark
Macqueen’s bustard (Asian houbara)
Bar tailed lark
Chestnut bellied sandgrouse
Barn swallow
Scrub warbler
Feral pigeon
Willow warbler
Eurasian collared dove
Lesser whitethroat
Laughing dove
Desert whitethroat
Namaqua dove
White throated robin
Common swift
Northern wheatear
European roller
Pied wheatear
European bee-eater
Spotted flycatcher
Woodchat shrike
House sparrow
Red backed shrike
Yellow wagtail

In the near-by town of Khurmah where stayed on Friday night, we saw 6 species when passing through:

Black bush robin, Siberian stonechat, Kestrel, barn swallow, house sparrow and yellow wagtail.  The first three species were additional to the Mahazat list.

Following this trip, there are now 325 species on my Saudi list.


  1. Hi Rob,

    Hope you're well. Just got back from Varna, where I was sorting out the house.

    Am still following your blog with interest. So what was your lifer? Not Ostrich, surely!


  2. Andrew,

    Good to hear from you.

    Lappet faced vulture and Macqueen's bustard are lifers and adds to my Saudi list. The next 12 will be very difficult. Most of them are pelagics, from the south west or both. Rob