Julian Sykes Wildlife Holidays

Egypt - Red Sea Coast

18th - 25th January 2008

Report by Julian Sykes

Friday 18th January :- So started the first trip of 2008 and everything went according to plan with Ken Shaw, Keith Morton, Ian Wilson & myself meeting on time at Gatwick Airport. The flight to Hurghada was also on time and everything went swimmingly landing at the Red Sea coast late afternoon. The first bird on the tarmac was unsurprisingly a Feral Pigeon but Ken and Keith soon 'upped the anti' seeing our first proper bird; a White Wagtail in the airport car park. However, the best and our final species of the day were 2 Brown necked Ravens seen from the bus taking us to the Aladdin Beach Resort complex. We arrived in darkness and spent the rest of the night checking out the hotel and grounds geography, plus enjoying their all-inclusive facilities.

Saturday 19th January :- We all got up about 8am and went for a short stroll around the grounds finding one or two wintering species such as Sardinian Warblers, Chiffchaffs, Bluethroat, White Wagtails and Laughing Doves. After a good breakfast we then did a short walk outside the complex to some spare land adjacent finding more Brown necked Ravens plus other interesting species such as a Pied Kingfisher fishing over a small pool, Spanish Sparrows, 2 migrant Swallows, more Bluethroats, Kestrel, Hooded Crows, Cattle Egrets and Western Yellow legged Gulls. We returned to the rooms and enjoyed the weather from our terrace, then after lunch we walked out to the Red Sea coast spending a couple of hours seawatching from the jetty. Although fairly quiet it still produced 2 Crested & 2 Caspian Terns, Osprey, Steppe Buzzard, another Pied Kingfisher and more Yellow legged Gulls. Finally a similar walk to the one in the morning also produced a Lanner Falcon chasing Cattle Egrets, 3 Lesser Whitethroats , Corn Bunting, Lesser Black backed Gull and 2 Western Reef Herons including a dark phase individual.

Sunday 20th January :- After a quick breakfast, Keith and I set off into Hurghada to hire a car, which was a surprisingly easy process after finding a suitable car rental company. By mi-morning we were back at the Aladdin Beach Resort and eventually met up with Ken and Ian, who with smiles on their faces said they had seen a Sooty Gull from the jetty. So with the freedom of the open road we quickly decided to drive south for about 60kms to a small mangrove just south of Safaga, a site where African Collared Dove had been found by other birdwatchers. The journey was quiet, but we did see our first Desert Wheatear at the roadside along with more Brown necked Ravens. Eventually we found the mangrove and a careful search of the area produced 4 Western Reef Herons, Kestrel, another Desert Wheatear, Pied & Common Kingfishers, Slender billed Gull, Redshank, Greenshank, Curlew, Eurasian Collared Dove, Reed & Sardinian Warblers. We decided to leave and drove a short distance north along the coast stopping at a small roadside pull-in where we found our first Greater Sandplover, plus Cormorants, Grey Herons & Grey Plovers. Unfortunately this was quite close to an army post and the young guard wasn't too sure of us and very politely asked us to leave. Heading south we had noticed an inland road so we decided to investígate, which led us up an impressive valley to an old phospherus mining town, which was now deserted. The scenery was spectacular but the birds were scarce, however, we did find a few Mourning Wheatears. Back down the valley we enjoyed a cup of tea with a couple of young Egyptians trying to create quad-bike safari business in this area with emphasis on keeping it's natural beauty. We made our way back to the coast and one more stop paid dividends with an adult winter Great Black headed Gull amongst a small number of Yellow legged & Lesser black backed Gulls. On the beach we found more Greater Sandplovers, Grey Plovers, Curlews and a few Oystercatchers along with several more Slender billed Gulls. We drove back north to Hurghada very satisfied with our afternoon.

Monday 21st January :- A very early start (fortunately breakfast starts at 6am) saw us heading south in slightly inclement weather , which fairly bizarre. Just beyond Safaga Keith stopped the vehicle suddenly, he had spied two falcons sat at the side of the road, and reversed to get a better view. Large falcons can be difficult, but with good views and careful scrutiny we identified them as our first Lanner Falcons. We comtinued south finding another Lanner Falcon sat next to the road along with the odd Osprey, Desert & Mourning Wheatear, however, just outside Hamarewein, 3 birds flew up and I shouted "sandgrouse". Unfortunately these were away out of sight before we could positively identify them but then we flushed a few more and these were Crowned Sandgrouse,  then (as usually happens) a few kilometres further we found 120 Crowned Sandgrouse showing very well in two large groups right next to the main highway. We continued the long drive south punctuated with stops that produced White Crowned Black Wheatears, two more Lanner Falcons, Bluethroat, Sardinian Warblers, Brown necked Ravens etc. Early afternoon we reached the Hamata Mangroves, now famous for being one of the only Western Paleartic sites for Goliath Heron. We stopped for a walk along it's edge finding plenty of Western Reef Herons, 5 Crested & Caspian Terns, Slender billed Gull, Cattle Egrets, Greenshank, Redshank, Greater Sandplovers, Curlews, Pied & Common Kingfishers. Unfortunately time was becoming an issue so we pressed on towards Shalatein, flushing a few more Crowned Sandgrouse from the side of the now very quiet road, plus finding a Bar tailed Desert Lark and our some African Rock Martins. We arrived at Shalatein in dull conditions and the hunt was on for our main target, Lappet faced Vulture but a stop for petrol first produced a Tawny Pipit, more Rock Martins and a Masked Shrike. Like the Goliath Heron this small town on the Sudanese border and right on the edge of the Western Palearctic is now the only place find these fantastic vultures. We searched for them but to no avail and unfortunately the camel market produced nothing apart from plenty of Brown necked Ravens. Things were getting a little concerning as we were losing the light, then just as we headed back towards the checkpoint I spied a large bird sitting in an Acacia. We stopped quickly, piled out of the car and bingo, there was a Lappet faced Vulture looking very much like one of the characters from Disney's Jungle Book!. We managed to get good scoped views but soon we had to leave for the excellent Ecolodge Diving Centre at Wadi Lahami, where we were spending the night, the return journey produced 2 Egyptian Vultures and another pair of Lanners.

Tuesday 22nd January :- We woke to the sound of heavy rain, the worst apparently for 10 years!!!, but luckily our chalets were positioned to overlook the excellent Wadi Lahami Mangroves, another site for finding the rare Goliath Heron. So 'scoping' the mangroves from the terrace we quickly found Western Reef Herons, Ospreys, Pied Kingfisher, Caspian Terns and a Desert Wheatear close by, but then I spotted a large heron walking from behind the vegetation and there was a Goliath Heron, it was a great start to the day. By now the rain had stopped and we thoroughly enjoyed our breakfast in this fantastic coastal setting, afterwards we walked the length of the mangroves seeing the Goliath Heron again (and better) plus finding more birds such as Striated & Purple Heron, Redshanks, Greenshanks, Greater Sandplovers, Whimbrels, Curlew, Kentish & Grey Plover, Common Sandpiper, Spoonbill, Common Kingfisher and Slender billed Gull. We returned to the chalets, packed up and left this superb area heading back north in very good spirits. Just north of Hamata we stopped at the beach and enjoyed another fantastic time birding the Red Sea Coast. Here we found two very good species with 2 Brown Booby’s and an Asian Desert Warbler, both rare vagrants to Egypt, along with several Sooty Gulls, a couple of White eyed Gulls and another adult winter Great Black headed Gull, 5 Turnstones and more Western Reef Herons and Caspian Terns. Again we continued north and en-route we saw Mourning & White Crowned Black Wheatears, before stopping at Wadi Gimal which looks like a very good area for further investigation during peak migration. In the brief time we were there we saw another Brown Booby, Sooty Gulls, Osprey, Greater Sandplovers, African Rock Martins, Collared Doves and Sardinian Warblers. Now we pushed for Hurghada and only stopped en-route for a pair of Egyptian Vultures sat near the road, but continued to see more Mourning & Desert Wheatears, Ospreys, Brown necked Ravens and Kestrels. We got back to the Aladdin Beach Resort with still some light left so decided to have a look at the sea before going for our evening meal, it was quiet with a Caspian Tern and a few Yellow legged Gulls.

Wednesday 23rd January :- A quieter day today around Hurghada and to the north of the city. After a leisurely breakfast we set off and took the coast road stopping first at a likely looking headland where we saw Greater Sandplover, Grey Heron and Cormorants. We continued north but unfortunately couldn’t find the minor road we had hoped for, so we decided to head south again, this time finding the golf course at El Gouna. We spent some time walking the paths and tracks of the golf course and it's complex seeing much of the same species as before plus Common Stonechats, Black headed Gull, Lesser Whitethroat, Western Reef Heron and Brown necked Ravens. Once again we headed south and just outside Hurghada we chanced upon a small area of reed, irrigation ponds, and agricultural fields where we enjoyed several new species including Teal, Shoveler, Skylarks, Sedge Warblers, Little Ringed Plovers plus Spoonbill, Bluethroats, Cattle Egrets, White Wagtails and Collared Doves. Back at the complex we had a short sea watch which only added Osprey and Yellow legged Gull to the days total.

Thursday 24th January :- This morning Keith and I got up early and headed out to the reedbed area visited the previous afternoon, as the potential looked fantastic and certainly didn't disappoint. We walked the area for two hours and found some very good birds including an adult Namaqua Dove, a very good bird for this area. We also found 7 Sanderling, Common Snipe, Common Pochard, 5 Teal, 5 Shoveler, 20+ Coot, 3 Moorhen, Collared Dove, Desert Wheatears, Greenfinches, Bluethroats, Chiffchaff, Sardinian & Reed Warblers. Very satisfied we returned to the resort and had a quick look at the sea finding the usual Caspian Tern, Osprey and Yellow legged Gulls. We returned to the room and chilled there for a while before meeting up with Ken and Ian who had also been birdwatching the local area. As we sat on the terrace we again logged the ubiqitious Kestrel, Cattle Egrets, Sardinian Warblers, Chiffchaffs and Laughing Doves at close quarters. After lunch a walk around the grounds and the waste ground across the road produced a few more new birds including a cracking first year male Nile Valley Sunbird, Siberian Stonechat, and 2 Red throated Pipits plus a Lesser Whitethroat, Common Stonechats, White Wagtails and Brown necked Ravens. Finally we again headed out to the reedbeds to try and re-locate the Namaqua Dove but unfortunately failed, however we did add a Barbary Falcon en-route to the site, a female Marsh Harrier, Ringed Plover, Sedge Warbler and more Red throated Pipits. Finally, as we returned to the room a Western Reef Heron flew over the path.

Friday 25th January :- Our final morning and we decided to have a quick visit to the reedbeds before returning the vehicle back to the hire company. A walk to the entrance of the hotel resort produced the now usual Lesser Whitethroats, Sardinian Warbler, Stonechats, Laughing Doves and Bluethroats. We got to the reedbeds and straight away found a newly arrived Tawny Pipit in the agricultural fields. At the ponds we flushed 4 Spur Winged Plovers, as well as seeing a Ringed Plover, Common Teal, Coot and Moorhen. We then spied some distant sandgrouse fly in so we made our way in the car to where they were and got some incredibly good views of 14 Crowned Sandgrouse at the roadside. While we were there an Isabelline Wheatear landed near the car another early passage migrant on the move. We returned the hire car without any problems and returned to the complex. A final beer at the beach before checking out of the hotel, with a Quail being seen as it flew past us at the swimming pool!!!. This almost sums up the feeling of this area, with almost anything being possible anytime.


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