30 March 2014

Birding Mahazat as-Sayd Protected Area – Near Taif

I went birding at Mahazat as-Sayd Protected Area, a 2244 square kilometre Protected Area, managed by the Saudi Wildlife Authority (SWA) and situated in Central Saudi Arabia on the Najd Plateau on 22 March. The Protected Area is entirely fenced and it is not possible to entre without permission. Birding was fairly slow with not many birds seen, but some very good ones included. We saw both the scarce reintroduced species, North African Red-necked Ostrich and Macqueen’s Bustard. We saw several groups of North African Red-necked Ostrich in different parts of the Protected Area including from the watchtower of one of the ranger stations. Most groups had both males and females in them but were very wary of us and never allowed close approach. The rangers even showed us an old nest of the Ostrich with a number of infertile eggs in that are twenty times bigger that a chicken egg. A single Macqueen’s Bustard was seen in flight and on the ground at great distance that was an amazing sight but unfortunately my photos are quite poor. Both of these species were new birds in Saudi Arabia for me and were soon joined by a third new species Lappet-faced Vulture of which we saw ten birds including six together thermalling of a small jebal within the Protected Area.
North African Red-necked Ostrich
North African Red-necked Ostrich
Abandoned North African Red-necked Ostrich Nest
Macqueen's Bustard
Lappet-faced Vulture
Other birds seen included a good number of House Sparrows around the ranger station along with two White-spectacled Bulbuls. An Eastern Black-eared Wheatear, Isabelline Wheatear and Pied Wheatear were all seen in very small numbers along with two Southern Grey Shrikes. Two Chestnut-bellied Sandgrouse were seen flying over in the early morning and three more later in the day only the second time I have seen the species in Saudi Arabia. A few Greater Short-toed Larks and tens of Crested Larks were also scattered over the Protected Area and a single close view of a Short-toed Snake Eagle was also an amazing sight. A single Common Redstart and a Blackstart were located in the vegetation but otherwise birding was slow. Brown-necked Raven was one of the commonest sight in the Protected Area with birds seen in many areas.

Short-toed Snake Eagle