Sunday 13 April 2014

Mahazat in the morning

Brian James and I were privileged to visit Mahazat Nature Reserve last weekend. This was arranged by Dr M. Zafar ul Islam and we are very grateful for his good offices and indeed for his company during part of our bird watching.  

Mahazat is a fenced off reserve in central Saudi Arabia run by the Saudi Wildlife Commission and covering over 2250 square kilometres. There is strictly no possibility of hunting or of any grazing by camels and goats. It is currently closed off to all but scientific visitors.

It is the main location for the re-introduced ostrich and Asian houbara within Saudi Arabia. The former is now a completely self-sustaining population while the latter is captively bred with fledged birds re-introduced in stages.

Lappet faced vulture in flight

The reserve is also home to 20 to 30 breeding pairs of lappet faced vulture. The numbers vary slightly from year to year.

hidden lappet faced vulture on nest

Before we set out, Brian and I thought we were most likely to see ostrich first followed by lappet faced vulture then we felt we would be lucky to see any Asian houbara at all.

Asian houbara

Quite remarkably we came across two Asian houbara first, barely three kilometres from camp.

We were being guided by Waleed a park ranger to a lappet faced vulture nest when this happened. We never got as good views of Asian houbara again all weekend. 

When we arrived near the vulture nest, the female wouldn't oblige us with a view. All we saw was her back as she remained cramped down. However other vultures were seen in the sky overhead.

house sparrow

After seeing lappet faced vulture we returned Waleed to camp and we then travelled throughout the park unescorted for much of the day. 

The camp was the only place in the reserve we saw house sparrow and white spectacled bulbul.

pied wheatear

There was a pied wheatear near-by too. However this species was encountered throughout the reserve in low density. Two northern wheatear were also seen during the morning.

hoopoe lark

Three types of lark were observed but they were surprisingly sparse and highly localised. These were hoopoe lark, black crowned sparrow lark and bar-tailed lark.  

black crowned sparrow lark

In conversation with Zafar, we learnt that Dunn's lark are only seen in winter and a very small number of thick billed lark make it down too.  I forgot to ask about the two short toed larks.

bar tailed lark

Needless to say, the larks were difficult to spot.

Arabian oryx

Easier to see were Arabian oryx which breeds very healthily on the reserve.

Dhub or spiny-tailed lizard

We saw three types of lizard including spiny-tailed lizard.

As well as larks there were warblers too. In the morning we saw passage willow warbler and plenty of resident scrub warbler.

European roller

There were occasional fly pasts of European bee-eater and a European roller was spotted on top of one of the few tall trees.

Both Montagu's harrier and Pallid harrier were observed at regular intervals.   

Just after we had commented to each other that some of the terrain looked good for sandgrouse, two chestnut-bellied sandgrouse roared over head. We later learned that the rangers had found a nest with three eggs in the days before.

distant shot of a spotted flycatcher

A single spotted flycatcher was seen from distance.

distant shot of Asian grey shrike (Aucheri)

Another bird seen from distance was Asian desert shrike (aucheri). However unlike the spotted flycatcher, the bird was numerous. It was so numerous it may even have been the most frequent bird seen on the trip.

Two woodchat shrike were observed during the morning as well.

feldegg yellow wagtail at a petrol station

One other species before noon was yellow wagtail. However it had been much more common on the forecourts of petrol stations on our way over from Taif where we had spent Thursday night!

In the afternoon, we added several more species to our trip list. I'll blog about them and include the full list in the next blog. I'll also report on how we got on searching for ostrich which was unseen all morning.

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