Schokari Sand Racer

This past weekend we decided to wander along one of our usual routes, and I was treated to an unusual spotting – a sand snake! As we were walking, we passed a large dark boulder where I often spot agama lizards. I was just about to mention this to my friend when I looked down at the rock I was about to step on, suddenly realized that is what not a branch laying across it, and quickly had to swing around to avoid stomping on a snake. Eeek! I’m not completely comfortable with snakes apparently. But he was beautiful! A gorgeous golden-brown color with dark brown patterns. I wish I could share a picture of him, but I guess he was just as scared as me because he slithered away and hid beneath a rock.

We have spotted these sand snakes before, maybe three or four other times, in wadis near Dahab. The first time we saw one, in 2010, it was my husband who almost stepped on the snake. That time though, the snake stayed still long enough for us to take a few photos. And we were able to identify it as a Schokari Sand Racer (Psammophis schokari).

These snakes are long and slender; they can grow to a length of about 1.5 meters. The patterns and colors of Schokari Sand Racers can vary a lot, ranging from a light sandy-gray with pale patterns to strong, dark contrasting colors.

[UPDATE] Since writing this post, I’ve encountered more Sand Racers and, not being as startled, was able to get some new pics.

Schokari Sand Racers live in sandy and rocky deserts and prefer places with good vegetation. They are most common in coastal areas. During times of bird migration, these snakes might be found on nearby trees and bushes. Here they wait to feed on the small songbirds that are flying through.

Schokari Sand Racers are found throughout the Sinai peninsula and are actually one of the most common snakes in Egypt.

Notice the dark stripe that runs from the snout, past the eyes, to the back of the head.

And there’s a reason they’re called Sand Racers – they can reach speeds up to 16 kph when chasing prey! The snakes typically eat lizards, small birds, rodents, and other snakes. After grabbing their prey, they release a venom that immobilizes the animal before swallowing them head first. Despite being venomous, Schokari Sand Racers are generally not a threat to humans as their main defense is their speed. I’m grateful for that. 

Have you come across snakes during any of your wadi wanders? How did you – or  how would you – feel about such an encounter?


Baha El-Din, Sherif. (2006).  A Guide to the Reptiles and Amphibians of Egypt. Cairo: The American University in Cairo Press.

Schokari sand racer (Psammophis schokari) on


Southern Grey Shrike_Lanius meridionalis (1)

Southern Grey Shrike (Lanius meridionalis) near Ras Sudr

Great Grey Shrike

Black patch over beady eye,

Fearsome pirate perched up high,

Marauder at your lookout post,

Smaller birds fear you the most.

You squeak and chatter, call and trill

And imitate with cunning skill.

You wait, your victim to impale,

Just like the Vlad of fairy tale,

Then stab each one on thorny spike,

Cruel and vicious, Great Grey Shrike.

(Poem by Julia Johnson)

Six species of shrikes occur in Egypt, including the Great Grey Shrike, and I’ve spotted three of them in South Sinai. Like all shrikes (Lanius sp.), they feed on insects, lizards, small rodents and even birds. Using their sharp claws, they catch their prey and then impale the corpse on thorns, spikes, barbed wire fencing, or anything sharp that’s around. This has earned them a reputation of being “cruel and vicious”, as well as nicknames such as butcherbirds and jacky hangmen.

Red-backed Shrike_female (1)
Female Red-Backed Shrike (L. collurio) in Ras Mohamed National Park

Impaling their prey helps the shrikes to hold it in place as they tear apart the flesh with their strong bills. It also serves as a way to save the food until a later time, acting like a larder.

Lesser Grey Shrike_Lanius minor (1)
Lesser Grey Shrike (L. minor) in Ras Mohamed National Park

Shrikes can often be spotted sitting on top of signs, bushes, fence posts – anywhere that gives them a good vantage point to look for prey.

Of the six species of shrikes in Egypt, only one – the Southern Grey Shrike – is a breeding bird here. The other five species – Great Grey Shrike (L. excubitor), Lesser Grey Shrike (L. minor), Red-backed Shrike (L. collurio), Woodchat Shrike (L. senator), and Masked Shrike (L. nubicus) – are migrants, passing through Egypt in spring and autumn.

It was late August, the start of the autumn migration season, that I spotted my first shrike. We were in Ras Mohamed National Park and there were dozens of shrikes perched on the bushes right next to the road, which made for easy bird-watching from the car. And I do love to watch birds! But I am not all that skilled at photographing them. (I prefer to have the macro lens on my camera.) When I can, I’ll try to snap a shot to help me identify the bird later for documentation purposes. My point is that, unfortunately, I won’t be sharing too many posts about birds and, even when I do, the photos won’t be my best. Lucky for us, many other photographers do take amazing shots of birds! Check out the links below for more information and images of birds in Egypt:

Birding Egypt FB Group

Birding in Egypt – Ornithological Exploration Project and related FB Group


Johnson, Julia. (2007). A Bird’s Eye View. Dubai: Jerboa Books.

Porter, R. & Cottridge, D. (2001). A Photographic Guide to Birds of Egypt and the Middle East. Cairo: The American University in Cairo Press.