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A Report from

Egypt: Dahab, East Sinai, Dec. 2-9, 2008,

Martijn Voorvelt

Species list:

A family holiday break brought us to a house owned by a Dutch couple (see in Dahab, a relatively unspoilt town one hour’s drive north of Sharm-el-Sheikh. In terms of active birding I limited myself to a few bicycle trips around town and half a day at Nabq national park, but interesting birds presented themselves as we cycled along the boulevard or sat on the beach, and during a trip to St. Katherine monastery.


House Habibi is in Assalah, the Bedouin part of town. The area is poor, slum-like, but relaxed. Camels and sheep stare at you when you go shopping and dusty children happily greet you with a well-meant “Hello! Howdyohdy?” A few blocks away, past the bustling market square, the beach provides opportunities for sunbathing, diving and easy access snorkelling. The ‘real’ boulevard, where the action is, so to speak, begins some 500 meters further south, and boasts numerous bars and restaurants, most of them fairly cheap.



...the cheapest restaurant in town...

Arrival, common birds

We flew smoothly from Amsterdam with Transavia, arrived at Sharm-el-Sheikh airport, and were picked up by our driver Suleyman (arranged for us by Essam, the caretaker) who brought us to Dahab. During the wild and chaotic taxi ride through the dark, I saw only one animal in the headlights. But it was a pretty good one: a Rüppell’s Fox (Vulpes rueppellii)!

The first birds were heard and seen the next morning in Dahab. Laughing Doves (Streptopelia senegalensis), feral pigeons (Columba livia), House Sparrows (Passer domesticus) and White Wagtails (Motacilla alba) are ubiquitous. Now and then a House Crow (Corvus splendens) or Cattle Egret (Bubulculus ibis) will fly past. On the beach, even along the busy boulevard, Western Reef Egrets (Egretta gularis) are common. Most are white; I estimate the dark morphs account for about 30 percent. Great Cormorants (Phalacrocorax carbo lugubris) are also regular along the coast.

Cycling down the boulevard one gradually leaves town to find an interesting area with an abundance of quiet beaches called the Laguna. This is where I found my first plovers: Kentish Plovers (Charadrius alexandrinus) and Greater Sand Plovers (Charadrius leschenaultii). A few minutes later I could add Common Ringed Plover (Charadrius hiaticula) and Lesser Sand Plover (Charadrius mongolus) to the list.

As both sand plover species were lifers, I returned home happily, only to find another lifer ogling me from his post less than four metres away: a male Hooded Wheatear (Oenanthe monachus). Immediately recognizable by its posture, with the large head and the long bill, this would turn out to be the most common wheatear all week. The only other species being White-crowned Wheatear, I found none of the Mourning Wheatears that so many trip reports mentioned.

Back home, sitting on the roof terrace, I noticed small birds flying in the distance, recognisable as Pale Crag Martins (Ptyonoprogne obsoleta). These delightful little acrobats would start foraging every afternoon around 4 pm, mostly in the western part of town, close to their nesting sites in the cliffs, but occasionally making a detour to Assalah or the beach.

A Eurasian Hobby (Falco subbuteo) flashing by the boulevard concluded the first day, bird-wise.

The following days, spent in and around Dahab, produced a few more species familiar to a European. A single Hooded Crow (Corvus cornix) flew overhead and at the Laguna a small number of Black-headed Gulls (Larus ridibundus) and a lone Caspian Tern (Hydroprogne caspia) could be recognised in the distance. Among the House Sparrows in the gardens, the rhythmic rattle of Sardinian Warblers (Sylvia melanocephala) could often be heard, and another Hooded Wheatear tuned out to reside right around the corner from our house. In the dusk, a seemingly all-dark falcon taking off reminded me of a Desert Falcon, but it could have been another Hobby, coloured uniformly grey by the lack of sunlight.

St. Katharine


St. Katharine Monastery, an hour west from Dahab, is a place of huge historical and religious interest. Apparently it was built around the original biblical burning bush in the fourth century. A small state in itself, it has survived some fifteen hundred years surrounded by the stark beauty of the mountains. It should be seen to believed. Unfortunately, many large groups of tourists seem to think so too. We were unlucky and arrived simultaneously with bus loads of Russians and Italians, which meant that the monastery quickly turned into a sea of tourists while we waited to get in. The number of tourists may also have contributed to the lack of birds. Although I was very happy with a few White-crowned Wheatears (Oenanthe leucopyga) near the entrance and groups of noisy Tristrams Starlings (Onychognathus tristramii) and some Rock Pigeons (Columba livia) and Eurasian Collared Doves (Streptopelia decaocto) flying about, there was nothing else, and I completely failed to find one of my target species, Sinai Rosefinch, which should have been easy there.

Our faithful driver Suleyman brought us to a small oasis where a simple but wonderful lunch was prepared for us by the residing Bedouins. Here I found my first Blackstart (Cercomela melanura) sitting confidingly on a pump. Unfortunately, a lark heard singing softly and briefly remained unidentified, as did two pale finch-like birds on a wire....



Blackstart territory.

Sewage ponds

Google Earth is so useful. Back home it had revealed that an extensive area of sewage ponds was to be found in the southwestern part of Dahab. Late afternoon on December the 6th I cycled there and found a range of familiar wintering birds: hundreds of White Wagtails (this was obviously their roost), a Great Cormorant, a Blue Heron (Ardea cinerea), several numbers of Eurasian Coot (Fulica atra), Common Greenshank (Tringa nebularia), Green Sandpiper (Tringa ochropus), Eurasian Wigeon (Anas penelope), Common Teal (Anas crecca), Northern Shoveler (Anas clypeata), Common Ringed Plover, and a single Squacco Heron (Ardeola ralloides). A more African taste was provided by five Spur-winged Lapwings  (Vanellus spinosus). It was teeming with birds and I’m certain that return visits would have produced some more typical Egyptian specialties, but unfortunately time was lacking.



Nabq is a “protected” coast area which appears to be a cross between a desert and a huge beach, with some patches of what is reportedly the world’s northernmost mangrove forests. I say “protected” because I was told by the angry-looking wardens not to make any photographs, while other tourists are welcomed to destroy the terrain using quads and motorcycles.

Having turned off the highway and crawling along the bumpy track with 15 km/h, Suleyman asked me: Garghana or mangrove? I should have said the former, but not knowing what Garghana was (a close-by Bedouin village with easy access to the area from the south) I said “mangrove”. For Suleyman – who did not know the area well - this meant a place north of the very northernmost little mangrove bush, another hour’s drive away. Never mind, the otherwise uneventful drive produced a new species, as a single Bar-tailed Lark (Ammomanes cinctura) flew past the car and landed on the flat ground to forage calmly for a few minutes.

I spent all morning until 2 pm making my way by foot towards the south (until the next mangrove bush, which is quite a lot larger) and back along the coast, then a little more inland. The area was not very rich in birds, but it provided some great plovers-in-winter-pumage-ID-training. Most were Lesser Sand Plovers and Grey Plovers (Pluvialis squatarola), but there were also many European Golden Plovers (Pluvialis apricaria), Kentish Plovers, Greater Sand Plovers and Common Ringed Plovers. A group of six Sooty Gulls (Larus hemprichii) was accompanied by a Caspian Gull (Larus cachinnans). Three Eurasian Spoonbills (Platalea alba) stood resting in the Gulf of Aqaba, as were two separate Caspian Terns and two Ospreys (Pandion haliaetus) on a rock. On an island close to the coast, a group of black kites sp. (Milvus migrans/aegyptius) sat while one was hunting; due to the light I could not make out which species. There was one Marsh Sandpiper (Tringa stagnatilis), one Black-tailed Godwit (Limosa limosa) and one Eurasian Curlew (Numenius arquata). Two Spotted Redshank (Tringa erythropus) stood resting among the plovers. Other waders preferred to be in groups: Common Redshank (Tringa totanus), Common Greenshank, Turnstone (Arenaria interpres) and Dunlin (Calidris alpina). Two Western Reef Egrets and a Great Egret (Ardea alba) were foraging. Sardinian Warblers and a possible Rueppell’s Warbler were heard scolding in the mangroves, while a very red male Common Stonechat (Saxicola rubicola) briefly sang near a Bedouin hut. I met two Common Kingfishers (Alcedo atthis). The only oasis, which had some palm trees, was home to a group of Eurasian Collared Doves and some House Sparrows. I heard a pipit but could not identify which, although it sounded rather like a Water Pipit (Anthus spinoletta).

Dahab again

Speaking of pipits. As I went outside into the garden the next morning I was surprised to hear the sharp calls of at least one Red-throated Pipit (Anthus cervinus) flying off from a place nearby. In a nearby garden I found a skulking Chiffchaff (Phylloscopus collybita). Another late-afternoon bicycle trip towards the edges of town led me to a mountain path, where many Pale Crag Martins and a Kestrel (Falco tinnunculus) were foraging. It was also – like so many places – a rubbish dump. One heap of rubbish had attracted two birds: a Blackstart and a Desert Lark (Ammomanes deserti), the latter easily recognizable (compared to yesterday’s Bar-tailed Lark) by its pipit-like posture, long bill and off-white eye ring. A small tree was home to another Sardinian Warbler and two Eurasian Collared Doves. A Hooded Wheatear sang, while White-crowned Wheatears were also present. On the way back home an extensive non-development-area (many parts of town look like people had once started building houses but then abandoned the project) was home to several singing Crested Larks (Alauda cristata).

On the final day of our stay, we found another White-crowned Wheatear north of town, while the northern part of the beach produced three more Western Reef Egrets (two white, one dark) and a juvenile Black-crowned Night-heron (Nycticorax nycticorax). A fourth cy Yellow-legged-like gull flew past at close range: its wingtips had very extensive black and almost no whit, its head was white with a small, dark eye-mask (the eye itself was most probably dark as well, as it did not show contrast with the dark feathers), the stump bill had a broad black ring near the tip. I think its safe to identify it as an Armenian Gull (Larus armenicus), but I’m open for other suggestions.

Right before we left, an Osprey came hovering low above the busy boulevard. A fitting goodbye.




Photos by M. Voorvelt and M. Tuninga. Request permission before use.

Species list

Great Cormorant (Phalacrocorax carbo lugubris),

Black-crowned Night-heron (Nycticorax nycticorax),
9-12: 1 juv. coast north of Dahab

Cattle Egret (Bubulculus ibis),

Squacco Heron (Ardeola ralloides),
6-12: one at Dahab sewage ponds

Western Reef Egret (Egretta gularis),

Great Egret (Ardea alba),
7-12: one at Nabq

Blue Heron (Ardea cinerea),
6-12: one, Dahab sewage ponds

Eurasian Spoonbill (Platalea alba),
7-12: 3 at Nabq

Northern Shoveler (Anas clypeata),
6-12: several at Dahab sewage ponds

Eurasian Wigeon (Anas penelope),
6-12: several at Dahab sewage ponds

Common Teal (Anas crecca),
6-12: several at Dahab sewage ponds

Osprey (Pandion haliaetus) ,
7-12: two at Nabq; 9-12: one in Dahab (boulevard)

Black / Yellow-billed Kite (Milvus migrans/aegyptius) ,
7-12: five at Nabq

Kestrel (Falco tinnunculus),
8-12: one west of Dahab

Eurasian Hobby (Falco subbuteo),
3-12: one in Dahab (boulevard)

Eurasian Coot (Fulica atra) ,
6-12: several at Dahab sewage ponds

Common Ringed Plover (Charadrius hiaticula),
small numbers at Nabq and Dahab Laguna

Kentish Plover (Charadrius alexandrinus),
common at Nabq and Dahab Laguna

Lesser Sand Plover (Charadrius mongolus),
common at Nabq, one at Dahab Laguna

Greater Sand Plover (Charadrius leschenaultii),
eight at Dahab Laguna, several at Nabq

Grey Plover (Pluvialis squatarola),
7-12: common at Nabq

European Golden Plover (Pluvialis apricaria),
7-12: common at Nabq

Spur-winged Lapwing ,
(Vanellus spinosus),
6-12: ca. 5 at Dahab sewage ponds

Turnstone (Arenaria interpres),
7-12: common at Nabq

Dunlin (Calidris alpina),
7-12: common at Nabq

Green Sandpiper (Tringa ochropus),
6-12: several at Dahab sewage ponds

Common Redshank (Tringa totanus),
6-12: heard at Dahab sewage ponds. 7-12: ca. 10 at Nabq.

Spotted Redshank (Tringa erythropus),
7-12: two at Nabq

Common Greenshank (Tringa nebularia),
6-12: several at Dahab sewage ponds; 7-12: several at Nabq

Marsh Sandpiper (Tringa stagnatilis),
7-12: one (possibly two) at Nabq

Black-tailed Godwit (Limosa limosa),
7-12: one at Nabq

Eurasian Curlew (Numenius arquata),
7-12: one (possibly two) at Nabq

Black-headed Gull (Larus ridibundus) ,
4-12: six at Dahab Laguna

Caspian Gull (Larus cachinnans),
7-12: one 2cy at Nabq

Armenian Gull (Larus armenicus),
9-12: one 4cy flying past Dahab beach

Sooty Gull (Larus hemprichii),
7-12: six, plus one or two flying, Nabq

Caspian Tern (Hydroprogne caspia),
4-12: one at Dahab Laguna; 7-12: two at Nabq

Feral pigeon/Rock Pigeon (Columba livia),
common. 5-12: few Rock Doves, St Katherine

Eurasian Collared Dove (Streptopelia decaocto),

Laughing Dove (Streptopelia senegalensis),

Common Kingfisher (Alcedo atthis),
7-12: two at Nabq

Crested Lark (Alauda cristata),
8-12: several, Dahab

Desert Lark (Ammomanes deserti),
8-12: one, west of Dahab

Bar-tailed Lark (Ammomanes cinctura),
7-12: one at Nabq

Pale Crag Martin (Ptyonoprogne obsoleta),

Red-throated Pipit (Anthus cervinus),
8-12: one (or two) heard, Dahab

White Wagtails (Motacilla alba),

Blackstart (Cercomela melanura),
5-12: one at Sinai oasis; 8-12: one west of Dahab

Hooded Wheatear (Oenanthe monachus),
. common (only males seen!)

White-crowned Wheatears (Oenanthe leucopyga) ,
not uncommon

Common Stonechat (Saxicola rubicola),
7-12: one male at Nabq

Sardinian Warblers (Sylvia melanocephala),
not uncommon

Chiffchaff (Phylloscopus collybita),
8-12: one, Dahab

Hooded Crow (Corvus cornix),
4-12: one, Dahab

House Crow (Corvus splendens),

Tristrams Starlings (Onychognathus tristramii),
common at St. Katharine

House Sparrow (Passer domesticus),

Chaffinch (Fringilla coelebs),
5-12: one seen at police post Dahab; 8-12 one heard, Dahab.


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