Julian Sykes Wildlife Holidays

Egypt - Red Sea Coast

7th - 14th November 2008

Report by Julian Sykes

Friday 7th November :- We were unable to do any birdwatching today due to arriving late afternoon and getting through the red tape of obtaining visas, passport control and hiring the car. We eventually got to the Aladdin Beach Resort given our rooms and enjoyed our evening meal, a couple of drinks and then to bed both tired from the day's travelling and excited about our first full day in Egypt.

Saturday 8th November :- Chris & I met at first light and started exploring the resort grounds quickly finding Bluethroat, Laughing Dove, Sardinian Warblers, Chiffchaffs, White Wagtails and House Sparrows. At the nearby beach we encountered Richard on his morning jog (I was impressed) at the moment we found our first white-morph Western Reef Heron fishing in the water, a close Greater Sandplover and a Slender billed Gull. As we walked back to the rooms a Night Heron flew over, it had been a good start and at Ron's rooms we checked out the moth trap with just a few species being caught. We then all met for breakfast, which is an extensive buffet-style affair and very enjoyable. After this we spent a little longer searching the resort finding many of the same species plus a Squacco Heron, Cattle Egrets, Grey Heron, Kestrel and Hooded Crows. It was now getting quite hot so we decided to venture a little further afield by visiting the Hurghada Sewage Farm on the edge of town. This area of man-made treatment lagoons, natural over-flow, phragmites beds and scattered trees and shrubs, surrounded by the ever-present desert is a haven for resident and passage birds. Checking the lagoons produced 9 Spur winged Plovers, Garganey, Shoveler, Coot, Greenshanks & Redshanks plus a few Swallows and a Crag Martin were hawking insects over the water. Chris then spied a large falcon flying right towards us and it continued low above our heads revealing it to be an adult Lanner. This was then followed by Richard finding a 'ringtail harrier' flying past and away from us and quick yet careful observation made it an adult female Pallid Harrier. A regular species in this area. We continued in the raptor vein as three large birds appeared from over the tamerisks, which were a single Long legged Buzzard and a couple of Common Buzzards making for a great comparison. The morning was completed with another Squacco Heron and distant views of an adult male Desert Wheatear - it had been a very good morning. We returned to the complex for lunch and some relief from the very hot weather before setting off again, this time south to the Safaga Mangroves. En-route we did very well finding our first adult Mourning Wheatear, Northern Wheatear, a couple of Brown necked Ravens and a Hoopoe. Soon we foundthe small patch of Red Mangrove and spent the rest of the day searching the area and getting fantastic views of a Striated Heron. Also here we found a Little Egret, 6 Western Reef Herons, Grey Heron, Spotted & Common Redshanks, Greenshanks, Whimbrel, Curlew, Ringed & Kentish Plovers, a single Pied Kingfisher and Common Kingfishers. Several Ospreys sat around with one fishing just off-shore, a Peregrine Falcon chased a Feral Pigeon, 50+ Pintail sat on the sea and a Caspian Tern flew past heading north. One nice surprise was finding a Common Redstart amongst the bushes giving hope that migrant passage was still on-going. It was now late afternoon (it was dark by 5:30) so we returned to our base just south of Hurghada very satisfied with our first day's birdwatching.

Sunday 9th November :- After an early breakfast we returned to the Hurhada Sewage Farm hoping to get there before it was disturbed by the Egyptian workers. This actually produced a few more species than the previous day - at the pools we found a Bee-eater hawking insects, Squacco Heron, several Eurasian Teal, Spur winged Plovers, Grey Plover, Ringed Plover, Dunlin, Redshanks and Greenshanks, a pipit dropped in that was our only Tawny Pipit of the trip. We then investigated the reedbed area and discovered lots of Red throated Pipits some of which still had their red throats, much to the delight of everyone. This area also produced a female Marsh Harrier, Common Snipe found by Ron, Yellow & White Wagtails, Bluethroats, Spanish Sparrows, and great views of a gorgeous male Desert Wheatear. Other interesting wildlife found around this area included a Spiny footed Lizard, Plain Tiger and an intesting type of Clouded Yellow. It was now late morning and starting to get quite warm again so we left the site and headed 20Km north to the luxury coastal resort of El Gouna. This resort was built by one of Egypt's wealthiest land-owners and is dominated by an 18 hole golf course, surrounded by villas and apartments with mature well maintained gardens, an extensive beach and coral reef - an oasis for wildlife. Our first short walk was along the manicured fairways of the golf course which produced a couple more Bee-eaters, several Curlews, Cattle Egrets and a few Northern Wheatears. In the adjacent bushes there was a Lesser Whitethroat, Sardinian Warblers, Chiffchaffs, Stonechats and Bluethroats. It was now time for lunch so we negotiated the network of roads to the beach and found a very nice restaurant with a balcony that overlooked the Red Sea. This was birding at it's best as we sipped on a cool beer we also 'scoped' the water, and amongst the mass of snorkellers, kite-surfers and sail-boarders we got good views of a Crested Tern moving north, a fishing Caspian Tern and an Osprey. Then some excitement as I found our first adult White eyed Gull sat on a concrete block just off-shore and managed to get decent views, but we hoped for better. After lunch we continued along the beach to view a small sandy spit that always held gulls and terns. We were not to be disappointed - although we did have one unfortunate incident, as I quickly found a Lesser Crested Tern sat with the small flock of Crested Terns but only Chris managed to see it before it departed out to sea. However the views of Crested Terns and White eyed Gulls were fabulous and we spent some time grilling these Red Sea specialities. An Osprey flew over causing a little panic and continued to fish out to sea, which isn't difficult in these rich waters. We now wandered back towards the car and stopped at another small beach lagoon were we found some very close Caspian Terns, a few Slender billed Gulls, Kentish & Ringed Plovers. Over the reef we saw a group of smaller terns flying back and forth, which we were confident were White cheeked Terns, the last remnants of a local breeding species. It was now time to return to the resort and as we passed the rubbish dump we saw 20+ Brown necked Ravens at the side of the road.

Monday 10th November :- Today was going to be our travelling day as we were heading south for 400km to the Red Sea Diving Centre at Wadi Lahami. So a pre-breakfast visit to see Ron's moth trap produced the usual Rush Veneer, Arches Dart, Silver Y, an unidentified noctude & pyralid. After breakfast we made a quick visit to the complex's gardens were we found a Lesser Whitethroat, Stonechat, plus the usual Bluethroats, Sardinian Warblers, Chiffchaffs, Laughing Doves and Cattle Egrets. We soon set off south along the Red Sea coastline making good time and our first stop was north of Al Quesir for a flock of 20+ sandgrouse, which unfortunately flew right out of sight. A little further I saw two more and made a quick stop allowing us to identify them as Crowned Sandgrouse, and then another two flew past showing much better. In the distance we then saw a couple of large falcons at the side of the road and moved forward getting point blank views of an adult Lanner Falcon before it flew off with it's partner. Simply brilliant. We continued on our journey passing through miles of featureless desert occasionally seeing Brown necked Ravens and Ospreys. Our next stop was at a small cove where we discovered several Western Reef Herons, Little Egret, 10+ Caspian Terns, Dunlin, Kentish & Ringed Plovers , plus good views of a Greater Sandplover as it ran along the beach. Nearby on a patch of watered grass with lots of White Wagtails we then found a winter plumage Water Pipit. Our journey continued and beyond Marsa Alam we again stopped at the Wadi Gimal nature reserve but things were a little quiet but we did find a couple of Striated Herons, 1st winter Night Heron, Lanner Falcon, 2 Common Sandpiper, Common Kingfisher, Spanish Sparrows, Mourning & Desert Wheatears. We were now nearing Hamata and at the side of the road a bird flew up, so we stopped and found our only Bar tailed Lark of the week. At Hamata we again stopped and scanned the coastline where we found the hoped-for group of birds, which included 30+ Sooty Gulls and smaller numbers of White eyed Gulls. We stayed a while getting some photographs of the gulls and also finding a Pintail, 5 Turnstone, Greenshank, Curlew, Osprey, Caspian Terns and a Desert Wheatear. Soon after leaving we arrived at the fantastic Red Sea Diving Centre run by Ross and the lovely Virginie, who showed us our tents and where we could get ourselves a well-needed cool drink. It was now late afternoon so we sat on the verandah overlooking the Red Sea enjoying the setting sun in this fabulous location. We did get some unfortunate news that we would not be able to travel to Bir Shalaten unles we had either an Egyptian driver or a guide. Luckily Virginie was able to organise this and we arrange to meet Achmed at 7am the next morning.

Tuesday 11th November :- An early morning walk along the edge of the mangroves, which are literally on the doorstep of the tented accommodation. We were looking for two of our major targets - Goliath Heron & African Collared Dove but without success. However we did find Western Reef Herons, 4 Ospreys, Greater Sandplovers, Whimbrels, Curlews, Redshanks, Greenshanks, Common Sandpiper, Caspian Terns, Collared & Laughing Doves, Kingfisher, Bluethroat, Common Redstart, Desert Wheatear and a Hooded Crow. We really enjoyed our al-fresco breakfast and Ron produced a couple of new moth species with a Crambus and an unidentified Noctude. At 7am our Egyptian companion turned up and soon after we were heading further south to the Sudanese border about 100km away. Our first checkpoint was very close but produced some good birds and having Achmed allowed to us to take advantage of these as he cleared everything with the soldiers. Around the buildings we enjoyed good views of a cracking Isabelline Wheatear, a few Desert Larks, Mourning & Desert Wheatears. We continued south travelling through the extensive Nubian Desert over the Tropic of Cancer and on to the Egyptian outpost of Bir Shalaten. This is real Egypt and a far cry from the sun-worshipping luxury of El Gouna or Hurghada - and not to be missed. We were directed towards the camel market and from the side of the road I saw several large birds sat around the remains on the edge of the market. These were checked and found to be either Egyptian Vultures or Brown necked Ravens but not the hoped-for target. As we stood there checking all the birds I saw a much larger raptor in the distance and called "Lappet faced Vulture" (Richard had also just found it), and soon enough we were all watching the Western Palearctic's largest raptor. It was fantastic but the views were a little distant and we hoped for better. Enthused we searched the skies and very quickly found two more flying right towards us, showing extremely well overhead. During our time around the market we logged at least 10 Lappet faced Vultures with one being mobbed by a Barbary Falcon, but never on the ground. We spent a couple of hours around the camel market taking lots of photographs and seeing 50+ Cattle Egrets, Egyptian Vultures, Brown necked Ravens, Pale Crag Martins, Swallows, Desert Wheatears and a few Common Swifts heading south. Achmed then took us for a refreshing drink of mint tea and while we were there we got great views of the whole township. We found 3 Black crowned Night Herons sat in some close acacia trees and a couple of Sand Martins flew around with the Pale Rock Martins. It was now time to leave, so we headed back to the Red Sea Diving Centre getting back just in time for a leisurely lunch sat on the verandah. During lunch 3 Sooty Gulls and 7 Cormorants flew north with Caspian Terns and an Osprey fishing off-shore. That evening we had arranged a 4 x 4 trip up one of the inland wadi's so with a little time to spare we searched the mangroves. A Striated Heron showed very well allowing for photographs along with a couple of (dark morph) Western Reef Herons. Richard found a male Northern Wheatear followed by an interesting Stonechat, which we were very confident was a Siberian Stonechat (Saxicola variegata) due to it's pale colouration, strong facial pattern and wholly unstreaked peachy rump. About an hour before sunset we met Salah in his 4 x 4 vehicle and he took us along the dry riverbed, which was a great experience although fairly quiet for birds. As we exited the steep sided valley the sunset was incredible, then as we returned we stopped and listened for owls. We used a little persuasion and a Pharoah Eagle Owl appeared at the top of the ridge against the darkening sky. We returned to the dive centre very satisfied with our excellent day.

Wednesday 12th November :- Today we were returning to Hurghada but first we wanted to thoroughly explore the Wadi Lahami mangrove and it was low tide. A quick search of the area revealed the usual Striated Herons, Western Reef Herons, Squacco & Grey Herons, 50+ Pintails sat off-shore, Ospreys, Common Coot, Ringed & Kentish Plovers, Greater Sandplover, Curlew, Greenshanks, Redshanks, Caspian Terns, Red throated Pipit, Bluethroat, Common Redstart, 3 Siberian Stonechats, Northern Wheatear, Sardinian Warbler and Hooded Crow. We started to carefully check the Collared Doves and one stood out as smaller, more contrasting and wholly white undertail, it then flew and also showed it's pure white underbelly - African Collared Dove. (one of our main targets). Trying to get a better view I had wandered out into the water and on to one of the sand bars just off-shore and as I made my way back I saw a large heron standing in the water. I quickly put up my telescope and even against the sun I could see the profile of a Goliath Heron - brilliant. I shouted to the others and they waded out to where I was, Richard down to his underpants (where was my camera!!!). We all got very good views of the rare Western Palearctic waterbird as it fished in the shallow waters. We decided to move position to try and get the sun behind us and as we did so we incredibly disturbed a Purple Heron from the mangroves. We refound the Goliath Heron and got a better view but it was still a little distant but we were satisfied and went for breakfast at the centre. During breakfast a second Purple Heron flew along the shoreline and a Cormorant flew south. I left the others and went to get my camera and noticed the Goliath Heron was right out on the reef decided to wade out through the Hermit Crabs and Brittle Starfish to get some photographs. Whilst I was photographing the heron Richard had found and photographed a Lesser Sandplover amongst the other sandplovers, a very good bird indeed for this area. However it was now time to leave and start the long journey back to Hurhada stopping first at Hamata Bay for the 50+ Sooty Gulls loafing on the edge of the sea. Also here we had great views of 2 adult Lanner Falcons and a little further we found 3 Spoonbills just south of Wadi Gimal plus Striated Herons, Greater Sandplover, Curlew, Ringed & Kentish Plovers. We continued towards Marsa Alam and just after this main town we stopped for lunch outside one of the many resorts that frequent the Red Sea coastline. Not just was the break welcome but around the buildings we found our only White crowned Black Wheatear of the trip much to everyone's enjoyment. Again we set off north eating up the miles and eventually reaching the next substantial town of Al Quesir, where we stopped for a look at the harbour. Several White eyed Gulls were loafing around the boats and just off the pier a concrete platform held a Crested Tern, Caspian Tern, Redshanks, Dunlin and a Sanderling. Out to sea we found a flock of duck, which turned out to be Wigeon plus a few more Crested Terns headed north. Yet another good stop. This was our final stop before reaching the Aladdin Beach Resort and soon enough we were back there amongst thr throng of tourists - so different from where we had come that morning..

Thursday 13th November :- This was our final full day in Egypt so after breakfast we headed (yet again) out to the Hurghada Sewage Farm to see if anything new had arrived while we had been in the deep south. We checked the lagoons first finding Squacco Herrons, Wigeon, Eurasian Teals, Northern Shovelers, Pintails, Common Coots, 6 Spur winged Plovers, Common Redshanks, Greenshanks, Little Stint with several Pale Rock Martins hawking insects over the water. We made our way to the reedbed and Chris found a White Stork as flew up out of the reeds, this was then followed by a female Marsh Harrier. Around the reeds we found the usual flocks of Red throated Pipits, White Wagtails, Spanish & House Sparrows plus a few Swallows and a couple of Sand Martins passed overhead. At the smaller pools we found a 1st winter Red backed Shrike, plus a European Bee-eater, a pair of Common Stonechats and a Desert Wheatear. It was now time to leave so we returned to the car and headed north to El Gouna where a couple of stops around the complex produced a couple of Curlew, Common Sandpiper, Squacco Heron, Cattle Egrets, Kingfisher, Bluethroat, Chiffchaffs and Sardinian Warbler. We returned to the same beach as we had planned to take a snorkelling trip out to the reef but first we checked out a small lagoon finding a flock of 20+ Slender billed Gulls with a few White eyed Gulls, Crested & Caspian Terns sat amongst them. Als here we saw a couple of Western Reef Herons, Kentish Plover, Greenshanks, Redshanks and off-shore a few White cheeked Terns flew back and forth. It was now time for lunch and as before we had it looking out to sea keeping an eye on the passing seabirds, which were mainly the same species. However 'yours truly' did create one moment of excitement as I spied a large dark bird shearing over the water and called "Booby". Seconds later I realised I was the boob as I re-identified it as a Cormorant much to my embarrassment. Richard, Chris & Ron thought it was highly amusing After lunch we joined the others at the boat and after collecting our snorkelling equipment we headed out to sea stopping about 500m off-shore. Chris, Ron and myself opted for the swim while Richard watched for birds. The snorkellers had a great time seeing lots of beautiful and interesting fish amongst some wonderfully colourful coral beds. Although none of us were experts we did manage to identify a few species such as - Clown Fish, Masked Butterfly, Trumpet Fish, Napoleon and Pipe Fish. I returned to the boat a little before the others and found Richard had not seen too much apart from a few close White cheeked Terns and while I was there a few more flew past us, enabling closer inspection. We returned to the jetty and once we had returned the equipment we walked along the beach to the small sandy spit where again we got great views of 20+ White eyed Gulls, Crested & Caspian Terns, Ringed & Kentish Plovers. An Osprey few in and pitched into the sea right in front of us, starting to bathe for several minutes - the photographers amongst us made full advantage of this. It was now time to leave but first we had a quick look at the rubbish tip found a few kilometers from El Gouna but it very quiet apart from masses of White Wagtails and a few Brown necked Ravens. We returned to the complex and enjoyed our final evening with a visit to Abu's Bar, which caused much hilarity as Abu sang some karaoke (comic geneous!!!).

Friday 14th November :- As we were leaving Egypt late afternoon we had all the morning to spend doing a little birdwatching so quick walk around the resort produced the usual Cattle Egrets, Laughing Doves, White Wagtails, Bluethroats, Common Stonechats, Sardinian Warbler, Chiffchaffs, House Sparrows and Hooded Crows. At the sewage farm we also enjoyed much the same species with Squacco Heron, White Stork, Wigeon, Pintail, Teal, Shoveler, female Marsh Harrier, Common Coot, Spur winged Plovers, Redshanks, Greenshanks, Little Stint, Common Snipe, Collared Doves, Swallows, Pale Crag Martins, Red throated Pipits and a European Bee-eater. Unfortunately Richard & I saw a small group of sandgrouse flying in the distance but not seen well enough to confidently speciate them. While we were there three more birdwatchers turned up one of which actually lives in Hurghada, which was useful as he continued to show Ron & Chris one of the deadly insects around this area - Death Stalker Scorpion!!. He also told us a couple of areas to try for certain species but these didn't prove too fruitful apart from our only second Skylark of the week. We set off back to the resort and Steve had suggested a site where we should find Pharoah Eagle Owl, which was on the way. So we stopped at the site and made our way out to the low crags seeing on the way a pair of Desert Wheatears. At the crags we found a several Brown necked Ravens sat in the shallow holes but unfortunately extensive searching didn't produce the hoped-for eagle, which was a bit of a disappointment. However we did have one final comic moment this time provided by Richard, we had found a likely looking hole we white excretia stains at the entrance. Below this hole were a few bleached out pellet-like things that he thought came from an owl - but on closer inspection he realised it had actually come from an animal!!!!. This rounded off an excellent and fun week in this extremely interesting corner of the Western Palearctic and many thanks to Chris, Ron & Richard for their enormous contribution.



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