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A Report from

Egypt: Nile Valley - May 2006 ,


Richard & Erica Klim, Somerset, UK


Immediately before Christmas 2005, we took an impromtu break at the excellent 5-star Mövenpick Jolie Ville Luxor Resort on Crocodile Island.  This provided a truly laid-back combination of birding, culture and winter sunshine at a reasonable price (total cost £284 per person from London/Gatwick including 7 nights B&B, with Portland Holidays / Thomsonfly,  Although most of our birding trips involve extensive touring by rental car, this visit opened our eyes to the potential of birding parts of Egypt by public transport and taxi, given the very low costs involved.

By mid-May 2006, we had already blown most of the year’s birding budget on a couple of major spring trips, but were getting restless again.  Aware that some very low-priced late deals were available, we decided to have another week in Upper Egypt.  Late-May is not the most comfortable time for birding (with temperatures often exceeding 40°C) and relatively few species are present, but it does provide an opportunity to connect with some of the Afrotropical specialities which occur in the summer months.

So we booked a late deal from London/Gatwick to Luxor, including 7 nights B&B at the 3-star St. Joseph Hotel (total cost £139 per person, again with Portland Holidays).  Our plan was to head straight up the Nile to Abu Simbel, staying for 3 nights to ensure a good chance of success, and then return to Luxor for a couple of days of lazy local birding.  In practice, we found that 2 nights in Abu Simbel were enough for us, and we had more spare time than we had anticipated.  Fortunately we happened to have a copy of Richard Bonser’s March 2006 Egypt trip report with us – this includes excellent gen for the El ’Abbâsa area, on the Ismâ’ilîya Agricultural Road north-east of Cairo.  After a swift consultation of the rail timetables, we decided that we would easily have time to include a visit, and so quickly decided to take a rather indirect route back to Luxor.

Throughout the trip we visited only previously published birding sites – this report therefore contains nothing new in that respect.  However we have included details of logistics and prices which will hopefully be of some use to other birders considering such trips.

Our next visit will target Goliath Heron and African Collared Dove on the Red Sea coast.


24 May:   London/Gatwick – Luxor
25 May:   Luxor – Aswân
26 May:   Aswân – Abu Simbel
27 May:   Abu Simbel
28 May:   Abu Simbel – Aswân –
29 May:   – Cairo – El ’Abbâsa – Saqqâra – El Gîza –
30 May:   – Luxor
31 May:   Luxor – London/Gatwick


We used rail for long-distance travel in the Nile Valley.  For timetables and fares see The Man in Seat Sixty-One,  Fares are incredibly low by European standards.  Note that for some obscure reason, foreigners can only pay for sleeper tickets in US Dollars or Euros.

Although there is a daily public bus service between Aswân and Abu Simbel, we were warned that it can be rather uncomfortable.  Any hotel in Aswân will arrange pick-up by one of the air-conditioned tourist minibuses which travel in convoy to/from the Abu Simbel temples every day (journey time 3 hours, departing Aswân 04:00, returning from Abu Simbel 10:00).  As these are intended for day-trippers, it is necessary to pay for 2 return journeys in order to stay overnight in Abu Simbel (but the return fare is only LE45=£4.18).

We used taxis for local travel.  It is easy to hire a taxi for as long as necessary to visit a number of birding sites, or to be dropped-off at a site and picked-up later.  Within this report, we have detailed the fares that we actually paid – in many cases this was probably too much, but that is no big deal.  Even in the rare event of not immediately finding a taxi, e.g. in more remote areas, we found it easy to find a lift (but it is of course important to offer payment).

Although more expensive than public transport, taxis remain a realistic option for long-distance travel in the event of difficulties with rail or bus.  Typical one-way taxi fares include: Luxor–Aswân (210km) LE200=£18.58; Luxor–Quseir (230km) LE250=£23.22; Luxor–Safâga (230km) LE200=£18.58; Luxor–Hurghada (290km) LE250=£23.22; Luxor–Cairo (700km) LE450=£41.80.


Richard Bonser: Egypt – Cairo, Luxor and the Red Sea Coast, March 2006


Dave Gosney: Finding Birds in Egypt (


24 May:  London/Gatwick – Luxor

Thomsonfly flight from London/Gatwick (10:45) to Luxor (18:05).

Taxi to St. Joseph Hotel (LE35=£3.25) – much quicker and cheaper than the optional (£15 per person) coach transfer!

After check-in, cold beers across the road at the riverside terrace bar of the Sonesta St. George Hotel, watching Pied Kingfishers streaming into their communal roost under the adjacent pier (probably before the transfer coach had even left the airport!).

25 May:  Luxor – Aswân

Taxi from hotel to Luxor Station (LE10=£0.93).

07:00: train from Luxor to Aswân (210km, 3.5 hours, LE30=£2.79 per person 1st class).

Taxi from Aswân Station to hotel (LE5=£0.46).

Checked-in to Hathor Hotel, on the Corniche el-Nil (LE55=£5.11 per double B&B with Nile view).

Standard taxi tour (LE60=£5.57) to High Dam (admission LE8=£0.74 per person), and El-Shallâl (boat to/from Agilkia Island LE10=£0.93 per person, admission to Philae Temple LE35=£3.25 per person).

Back in Aswân, hired motor launch for 3 hours (LE50=£4.64) for 2-hour birding visit to Botanical (aka Kitchener’s) Island (admission LE10=£0.93 per person).

Dinner and night birding on the Corniche el-Nil.

26 May:  Aswân – Abu Simbel

03:30: pick-up from hotel by minibus for 04:00 convoy from Aswân to Abu Simbel temples (290km, 3 hours, LE45=£4.18 per person).

Dropped-off at Abu Simbil Tourist Village (LE90=£8.36 per double – overpriced, as per all hotels in Abu Simbel).

Recce of bays near Abu Simbel town (see Gosney) revealed no birds of particular interest.

Hired taxi for a several-hour exploration of Lake Nasser shoreline north of Abu Simbel (LE50=£4.64) – but in the event quickly located the large bay behind the airport and birded there until early-afternoon.  Hired fishing boat (LE50=£4.64) to get closer views of Pink-backed Pelicans, Yellow-billed Storks, Kittlitz’s Plovers and African Pied Wagtails on islets/mudbanks at mouth of bay.

Afternoon: birding gardens and hotel grounds in Abu Simbel.

Late afternoon visit to Abu Simbel temples (admission LE65=£6.04 per person).  We were the only visitors (in contrast to the swarms of tourists that crowd the site for 2 hours early every morning and promptly disappear back to Aswân) – a real treat!

Dusk/evening: unsuccessful search for Egyptian Nightjar around Abu Simbel.

27 May:  Abu Simbel

Taxi from hotel to large bay behind airport (LE20=£1.85) for early morning birding.

Hitched lift back to Abu Simbel (LE20=£1.85).

Afternoon: again birding gardens/hotels in Abu Simbel.

20:00: sound-and-light show at Abu Simbel temples (LE60=£5.57 per person) – but sadly, no nightjars performing.

Late evening: further unsuccessful search for nightjars.

28 May:  Abu Simbel – Aswân –

08:30: pick-up from hotel by minibus for 10:00 convoy departure from Abu Simbel temples, with drop-off at Aswân Station (290km, 3 hours, LE45=£4.18 per person).

Afternoon: relaxing in Aswân on Corniche el-Nil (left luggage at station, LE5=£0.46).

17:00: overnight train from Aswân to Cairo (910km, 13 hours).  We had intended to get 1st class seats (LE75=£6.97 per person), but in a rash moment of extravagance booked a 1st class 2-berth sleeper compartment ($53=£28 per person, including dinner & breakfast), to ensure a comfortable night and a well-needed wash.

29 May:  – Cairo – El ’Abbâsa – Saqqâra – El Gîza –

On arrival in Cairo (Ramses Station), hired a taxi for the day (LE400=£37.16, probably far too much, but we wanted to ensure a happy and cooperative driver), rejecting vehicles with non-functioning odometers (i.e. most!).

Headed northeast to El ’Abbâsa (80km).

Birded Bonser’s El ’Abbâsa Painted Snipe Sites 1, 2, & 3, then Site 1 again.

Headed southwest to Saqqâra (110km), to the south of Cairo.

Visited Saqqâra (admission LE35=£3.25 per person + LE2=£0.19 parking) for Desert Eagle Owl roost on Step Pyramid.  [Beware: although theoretically open 08:00–17:00, Tourist Police ordered visitors to leave the site shortly after 16:00.]

Headed back north to the Pyramids of Gîza (20km) for a photo-stop at the southeast entrance (the site had just closed to visitors).

Dropped-off at El Gîza Station (10km).

Evening: relaxing in El Gîza.

22:00: overnight train from El Gîza to Luxor (690km, 9.5 hours, LE65=£6.04 per person 1st class).

30 May:  – Luxor

Taxi from Luxor Station to St. Joseph Hotel (LE10=£0.93), for a few hours sleep.

Taxi from hotel to Crocodile Island (LE15=£1.39).  [Free courtesy shuttle buses (10 per day) and boats (3 per day) also operate between Luxor town and the Mövenpick.]

Birded Crocodile Island until dusk.  The island was very different compared to our December visit.  Most of the village fields, and the islets and mudflats at the southern end, are completely submerged in summer.  Species diversity is, of course, much lower, given the absence of wintering birds.

Taxi from Crocodile Island to Luxor Temple (LE15=£1.39).

Dinner / night birding (bats only!).

31 May:  Luxor – London/Gatwick

Taxi from hotel to Crocodile Island (LE15=£1.39). 

Morning: birding Crocodile Island.

Taxi from Crocodile Island to Luxor Temple (LE15=£1.39).

Ferry to/from West Bank (LE2=£0.19 per person return), for late lunch.

Taxi from Luxor Temple to airport (LE35=£3.25).

Thomsonfly flight from Luxor (19:05) to London/Gatwick (22:35).


This section summarises our sightings of the more sought-after taxa.

Egyptian Goose,  Alopochen aegyptiaca
1 near Agilkia Island (Aswân).  Common at Abu Simbel.

Pink-backed Pelican,  Pelecanus rufescens
Max.10 at Abu Simbel (on islets at mouth of large bay behind airport).  1 on Lake Nasser offshore from Abu Simbel temples.

Striated Heron,  Butorides striata brevipes
4 around lagoon immediately south of approach road to Crocodile Island (we also had regular sightings at this spot during December) .  1 from West Bank ferry, Luxor, flying down-river.

Yellow-billed Stork,  Mycteria ibis
Max.20 at Abu Simbel (on islets at mouth of large bay behind airport).

Yellow-billed Kite,  Milvus (migrans) aegyptius
1-2 often over Luxor town.  Common at Abu Simbel.

African Purple Gallinule,  Porphyrio (porphyrio) madagascariensis
Common at Crocodile Island, but much less conspicuous than in winter (when water levels are low).

Painted Snipe,  Rostratula benghalensis benghalensis
2 heard calling in the early morning from dense plots of rice seedlings at Bonser’s El ’Abbâsa Painted Snipe Site 1, but sightings proved impossible.  During a return visit to the same area in the afternoon, a gang of children rushed over to greet us, splashing barefoot through the rice paddies.  As they approached, they flushed a male and a female Painted Snipe which landed close by, showing very well in a sparsely planted paddy.  This was a very special moment for us, having somehow managed to dip on Painted Snipe in China, Japan and on our first visit to Egypt.  For once we welcomed the hassle!

We failed to find Painted Snipe at Bonser’s El ’Abbâsa Sites 2 and 3 – the main channels had high water levels with little exposed marginal vegetation, while in contrast the smaller ditches were mostly choked with dense growth.

Next day in Luxor, upon arrival on Crocodile Island in the afternoon, we immediately chanced upon resident bird guide, Abdo Youssef, showing Painted Snipe to a British birder staying at the Mövenpick.  (Abdo had tried without success to find Painted Snipe for us during our December visit.)  2 males and 2 females showed well in a waterlogged aubergine plot in the hotel’s vegetable fields.  We had further views at the same spot in the evening, and again the next morning.

Senegal Thick-knee,  Burhinus senegalensis
Common (and vocal) throughout.

Kittlitz's Plover,  Charadrius pecuarius
5 at Abu Simbel (including 4 on nearest islet at mouth of large bay behind airport).

[African Skimmer,  Rynchops flavirostris]
Not found at Abu Simbel – the major dip of the trip.  Perhaps we should have taken a more extensive fishing boat trip on Lake Nasser, exploring further to the north.

[African Collared Dove,  Streptopelia roseogrisea]
Another (but lesser) disappointment.  Not found despite much searching of gardens and hotel grounds around Abu Simbel.  Reportedly seen at Abu Simbel by Swedish birders on 1st May.  [Will target on Red Sea coast.]

Senegal Coucal,  Centropus senegalensis aegyptius
A very confiding individual was encountered feeding on a farm track at Bonser’s El ’Abbâsa Painted Snipe Site 2.  Even when we proceeded along the track it just hopped a few metres into an unplanted field alongside and continued to forage in the open. Another was heard at Bonser’s Site 3.

Desert Eagle Owl,  Bubo (bubo) ascalaphus
An adult showed superbly at the obvious daytime roost cavity on the eastern face of the Step Pyramid of Zoser, North Saqqâra.

Egyptian Nightjar,  Caprimulgus aegyptius aegyptius
Several sightings (but probably the same bird) around 21:00 over gardens along the Corniche el-Nil, Aswân. Not seen (or heard) at Abu Simbel despite searching on 2 evenings.

Egyptian Green Bee-eater,  Merops orientalis cleopatra
Common on Crocodile Island, and on Kitchener’s Island (Aswân).

Egyptian Swallow,  Hirundo (rustica) rustica - form savignii
Common throughout.

Egyptian Wagtail,  Motacilla (flava) cinereocapilla - form pygmaea
Common in waterlogged fields on Crocodile Island.

African Pied Wagtail,  Motacilla aguimp vidua
3 at Abu Simbel (at mouth of large bay behind airport).

Egyptian Bulbul,  Pycnonotus (barbatus) arsinoe
Common from Aswân northwards.

Egyptian Olivaceous Warbler,  Hippolais (pallida) pallida - form pallida
[Taxonomy: pallida (Eastern Olivaceous Warbler) split into elaeica (Eastern); and pallida (Saharan), including subspecies pallida (Egyptian) and reiseri (Saharan)] Common throughout the Nile Valley.

Nile Valley Sunbird,  Anthreptes metallicus
Common at Luxor (especially on Crocodile Island), and on Kitchener’s Island (Aswân).

Streaked Weaver,  Ploceus manyar flaviceps
Heard from within a reed-choked fishpond at Bonser’s El ’Abbâsa Painted Snipe Site 3.  Playing the song produced a female-type in flight and then excellent views of a male which perched at close range.

Red Avadavat,  Amandava amandava amandava
Common in reeds/fields on Crocodile Island, but less obvious (smaller flocks) than in winter.


Egyptian Goose,  Alopochen aegyptiaca
Pink-backed Pelican,  Pelecanus rufescens
Little Bittern,  Ixobrychus minutus
Black-crowned Night Heron,  Nycticorax nycticorax
Striated Heron,  Butorides striata
Squacco Heron,  Ardeola ralloides
Common Cattle Egret,  Bubulcus (ibis) ibis
Little Egret,  Egretta garzetta
Grey Heron,  Ardea (cinerea) cinerea
Eurasian Spoonbill,  Platalea leucorodia
Yellow-billed Stork,  Mycteria ibis
White Stork,  Ciconia ciconia
Greater Flamingo,  Phoenicopterus roseus
Black-shouldered Kite,  Elanus (caeruleus) caeruleus
Yellow-billed Kite,  Milvus (migrans) aegyptius
Egyptian Vulture,  Neophron percnopterus
Western Marsh Harrier,  Circus aeruginosus
Osprey,  Pandion haliaetus
Common Kestrel,  Falco (tinnunculus) tinnunculus
Common Moorhen,  Gallinula (chloropus) chloropus
African Purple Gallinule,  Porphyrio (porphyrio) madagascariensis
Painted Snipe,  Rostratula benghalensis
Senegal Thick-knee,  Burhinus senegalensis
Kittlitz's Plover,  Charadrius pecuarius
Spur-winged Plover,  Vanellus spinosus
Little Tern,  Sternula albifrons
Gull-billed Tern,  Gelochelidon nilotica
Whiskered Tern,  Chlidonias hybrida
Feral Pigeon,  Columba livia
European Turtle Dove,  Streptopelia turtur
Laughing Dove,  Streptopelia senegalensis
Ring-necked Parakeet,  Psittacula krameri
Senegal Coucal,  Centropus senegalensis
Desert Eagle Owl,  Bubo (bubo) ascalaphus
Little Owl,  Athene (noctua) noctua
Egyptian Nightjar,  Caprimulgus aegyptius
Pallid Swift,  Apus pallidus
White-breasted Kingfisher,  Halcyon smyrnensis
Pied Kingfisher,  Ceryle rudis
Little Green Bee-eater,  Merops orientalis
Blue-cheeked Bee-eater,  Merops persicus
European Bee-eater,  Merops apiaster
Hoopoe,  Upupa (epops) epops
Crested Lark,  Galerida cristata
Rock Martin,  Ptyonoprogne (fuligula) obsoleta
Eurasian Swallow,  Hirundo (rustica) rustica
Ashy-headed Wagtail,  Motacilla (flava) cinereocapilla
African Pied Wagtail,  Motacilla aguimp
Egyptian Bulbul,  Pycnonotus (barbatus) arsinoe
Western Rufous Bush Robin,  Cercotrichas (galactotes) galactotes
White-crowned Black Wheatear,  Oenanthe leucopyga
Fan-tailed Warbler,  Cisticola juncidis
Graceful Prinia,  Prinia gracilis
Clamorous Reed Warbler,  Acrocephalus (stentoreus) stentoreus
Saharan Olivaceous Warbler,  Hippolais (pallida) pallida
Nile Valley Sunbird,  Anthreptes metallicus
Masked Shrike,  Lanius nubicus
Hooded Crow,  Corvus (cornix) cornix
Brown-necked Raven,  Corvus (ruficollis) ruficollis
House Sparrow,  Passer (domesticus) domesticus
Streaked Weaver,  Ploceus manyar
Red Avadavat,  Amandava amandava


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