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A Report from

Pharaohs Birds Tour, 9th March-16th March 2011,

John Miles

Tour Participants

John Miles principal Leader
Neil Glenn second leader + seven others

The idea of the holiday was to use a cruise boat on the Nile to cover as many birding locations along the river and at the Ancient Monuments. A bus was used to ferry guests to and from the boat to the Ancient locations while taxis were used when only using a bird location. A local ferry was used at Aswan along with a Felucca, the ancient sailing boat to reach Kitchener’s Island.

Given the recent troubles in Egypt the tour was only given the ‘green light’ 2 weeks before departure. This meant that a number of clients were worried about actually going with sadly one dropping out. In the full 8 days present in Egypt the only sign of the recent troubles was a tank parked on El Corniche in Luxor. The locals often talked about their new freedom but that left the 8 days just to sail away.

Day 1. 9th March

Everyone met up at their Thomas Cook check desks and flights were smooth with no delays. With half an hour between flights, the Gatwick group arrived before us so we met up on the boat which by the time we had escaped the Luxor Airport it was dark. Several birds were seen by the Gatwick group between the airport and the boat with 4 Black winged Kites the highlight along with Cattle and Little Egret.

Day 2. 10th March

The early morning view across the Nile gave many their first Pied Kingfishers and many Little Egrets and Grey Herons were flying along the Nile. Spur winged Plover, Hoopoe and White wagtail were soon added along with Black headed Gull very common while Tom and Janet had 2 Slender billed Gulls from their cabin.

It was soon time to head for Luxor with the mooring now being 8 miles south of town. The short walk to the bus brought us Nile Valley Sunbird, Common Bulbul, Graceful Prina, Lesser Whitethroat and Blackcap.

We were soon stepping out in the largest temple complex in Egypt at Karnack. White Wagtail was there to greet us along with Pallid Swifts, Rock Martins and the local Brown necked Ravens. There was soon a movement of Black Kites making everyone strain their necks to look up through the columns. A local Lanner Falcon and Kestrel put in appearance along with the many Palm Doves and House Sparrows.

Reaching the ‘Sacred lake’ a pair of Pied Kingfishers had a nest site away from the water. A Little Egret looked ‘sacred’ with its plume and 8 Glossy Ibis flew over heading for agricultural land some where close by. Some of the group enjoyed the perfume house stop before the Luxor Temple where we saw how local houses had been bulldozed down to look for the ‘Avenue of the Sphinxes’ which stretched from this temple for 2 miles to Karnack Temple.

More Black Kites drifted over here along with a Grey Heron and a Kestrel. A single Turtle Dove flew over the Sphinxes. This long morning soon was lost when we sat back on the sun deck after lunch to enjoy the first Great White Egret of the trip which turned out to be a miss for many on the tour. Another Glossy ibis flew by and our first Whiskered Tern along with a Lesser Black backed Gull.

Taxis were the transport which took us to Crocodile Island now named Kings Island. This name change was for a reason as the island had been taken up by developers and most of the best birding sites had been destroyed. This had been one of the best sites in Egypt for bird watching with a massive list to prove it, We were left with the short grassland to the right of the bridge and the river channel. Here we found over 10 Hoopoes, 26 Blue headed Wagtails and a single Black headed Wagtail.

Cattle Egrets were trying to nest in a near by tree only for the locals to keep flushing them. Squacco Herons were feeding by the reeds only for them to hide away as soon as they landed. Clamourous Reed Warbler sang along with a Reed Warbler. Spur winged Plover, Striated Heron and Little Egret were all seen. Little Green Bee-eaters made an appearance over the river and a Common Sandpiper was feeding along concrete back by the hotel.

The once flourishing reed bed and wetland in front of the hotel was now not grazed so no purple Swamp hens. Another pair of Little Green Bee-eaters appeared very close this time and soon it was time to walk the new development. Big John shouted for a Pied/Collared Flycatcher which was one of these very black and white male Eastern Stonechats. More wagtails were found along with Crested Larks and a Whiskered Tern but the water level was too high for the large mud bank at the south end of the island.

Instead we twitched a birder who turned out to be a former Nottingham Bird Club member along with Neal, Mark Dennis. We were bump into him 2 more times on this trip and 2 days after we had left the area he had found a first for Egypt in a Franklin’s Gull down river from the island.

Day 3. 11th March

An another early rise and we were off to the Valley of the Kings starting at Queen Hatshepsut’s Temple. Here were high cliffs but being so early in the morning no raptors were seen here. Rock Martins were hunting flies and House Sparrows were trying to be ‘desert sparrows’. Blue Rock Thrush was singing high up and later 2 Trumpeter Finches showed well but the prize bird was hiding behind the local shops with a very tame male Mourning Wheatear.

Valley of the Kings held 18 Black Kites moving through the mountain along with Pallid Swifts and Rock Martins while the alabaster shop had 3 Blue Rock thrushes next door. Valley of the Queens had a brief view of another Mourning Wheatear while Trumpeter Finch and Brown necked Ravens put in an appearance. The Colossi of Memnon produced a Western Stonechat and a Spur winged Plover. A Kingfisher made a change from the Pied ones on the way back to the boat.

Afternoon saw our first cruising so it was hands to the binos to find the birds at both sides of the boat. We would be covering from Luxor Bridge to Esna Barrage before dark set in. Small numbers of duck were seen along with many heron species. Swamp hens were seen in numbers now as well as many Whiskered and White winged Black Terns. Waders were more out on mainland areas of agriculture due to the higher water level but we managed Greenshank, Kentish Plover, Common and Green Sandpiper, Ruff, Black winged Stilt and Common Snipe.

Wheatears were much harder with 1 Northern and several possible Isabelline seen on short turf. Large concentrations of Grey Herons were seen on some islands while at least 4 Purple herons were found. Birds of Prey came in the shape of Marsh Harrier, Black kite and Black winged Kite.

Day 4. 12th March Saturday

We were moored overnight at Edfu with a great view of the island here. Edfu temple was visited by the group via horse and trap. Here were Hoopoe and 9 Glossy ibis flew over. I stayed on the boat and watched the island with 3 male Marsh Harriers fighting over the island. There were 3 Glossy ibis feeding here along with 5 adult Purple Herons. At least 10 Swamp hens were feeding along with a small number of waders including Wood and Common Sandpiper, Snipe and Little Stint.

The cruise continued once the group had returned with a section from Edfu to Kom Ombo in daylight and on to Aswan in the dark. Duck numbers increased with many groups in the 100s. The first Garganey,Tufted, Pochard and Ferruginous Duck were along side Wigeon and Shoveler. New waders included Collared Pratincole, Redshank and Spotted Redshank, Marsh Sandpiper and Black tailed Godwit. The first Gull billed Terns and Osprey were found while 9 Cormorants sat on high wires high above the river seemed to be out of place!

Most people entered the temple at Kom Ombo while Tom and myself tried the Agricultural land up stream. We were joined by 2 German bird watchers and our first event saw 30+ Avadavats fly into cover. Crested Larks were along the track as well as Zitting Cisticola. A beautiful Black winged Kite was perched close in view and on our return we had Sub Alpine Warbler and a Nightingale singing. Two Chiffchaff were hunting mosquitoes, one of which was very pale like the eastern form.

Day 5. 13th march Sunday

An early rise saw us set off for the Granite Quarry. I tried the cemetery on the other side of the road but it was dead! Black kite flew over the quarry while a Hooded Crow took centre stage in the cemetery. Then it was off to the high dam where an Osprey performed below the dam while Black Kites flew to the east. Our first Eagle was seen from the coach but was not ided. Then it was a papyrus factory followed by the island of Philae. White crowned Wheatear showed on entering the site and on our return but not as a scope view.

The boat to the island showed us many Tufted Duck with the group doing the tour while I scanned the surrounding area from the island. Many flocks of Tufted were found along with Pochard and Shoveler. At least 7 Black necked Grebes were found as well as the nest site of an Egyptian Goose high on a rocky island. [poor goslings when they jump!!]. Gull billed Terns were now common place around the expanse of water while Turtle Doves competed with palm Doves for the song of the island. Just as we were leaving the island a lone Black Stork flew over us and a Masked Shrike was found close to the main jetty.

A lot had been pushed into one morning and we were soon on a felucca heading for Kitchener’s Island. Here we only had 30 minutes so we decided to come back over after lunch. Now we had 2 hours to enjoy the many Bulbuls, Olivacous Warblers, Nile Valley Sunbirds and Lesser Whitethroats. A Little Green Bee-eater was found and it was not long before the Senegal Thicknees were calling. The boat man took us around the rocks where they were standing and 8 were counted along with 2 Night Herons and a melanistic Little Egret. 26 Gull billed Terns were counted on one rock, a Slender billed Gull, Whiskered and White winged Black Terns and an Osprey eating a fish.

Day 6. 14th March Monday

The group was split today as 4 plus Neal headed for Abu Simbel and 5 plus me headed for the farm land on the other side of the river. We were not starting early as breakfast was not till 8am. What a good idea!! Because when we did set out to walk to the ferry crossing there was around 200 White Storks flying over us along with a few Black Storks and a Lanner falcon dashing down for its breakfast.

As we crossed over there was at least 30 Ferruginous Ducks diving close to the small islands and it was great to be back in farm land watching Zitting Cisticola, Graceful Prina, Common Bulbul all at close quarters. The Storks started again along with Black Kites. This time they were coming off the Western Desert. Tom spotted 3 eagles but they were lost behind the palms for any one else to get on. The storks just kept coming and it was thought the number was around 2000 when they finally stopped.

Masked Shrikes were next along with Blue headed and Black headed Wagtails. Several Red throated Pipits were found with cattle Egrets feeding feet and then inches away from us. On the way back to the ferry we had a Striated heron and more Little Green Bee-eaters, How had the group at Abu Simbel got on?

The four people who assembled at reception at 4.00am had that “why do we do this to ourselves?” look on their faces!

Abu Simbel was touted as a must see place. The downside was that it’s a three hour drive across the Sahara desert, starting at 4.00am!!! Most people boarded the coach and settled straight back down to sleep, but as the convoy progressed across the desert, the night sky was amazing. And then there was the sunrise over the desert to marvel at. The journey seemed to pass by very quickly, though the number of birds seen was minimal (just a few Laughing Doves and House Sparrows around the scattered dwellings en route).

We parked up and were led to the temples by our Egyptologist. A cracking White-crowned Black Wheatear perched on a rock by the entrance path and then flew to perch on the temple face itself. A Black Kite or two drifted overhead as our Egyptologist explained the history to this magnificent site. When the valley was flooded by the building of the Aswan Dam, historians had to move Abu Simbel up the hill to save it from ‘drowning’!

After a walk around the two temples hewn into the hillside, our small group assembled by a group of trees. An Eastern Olivaceous Warbler showed well along with plenty of Lesser Whitethroats and the ubiquitous House Sparrows. A closer inspection of the kites above us revealed they were Yellow-billed! A pair of Egyptian Geese were the only birds we could see on Lake Nasser. We strolled back towards the coach only to be halted by movement in a small patch of bushes. There were Eastern Bonelli’s Warblers flitting about in the Tamarisks, showing well at times. Further along, we saw a couple of Turtle Doves and heard a Great Reed Warbler. Birding was curtailed when it was signalled that it was time for the convoy to leave (promptly at 10.00am).

The drive back produced no further birds of note. We did see a fantastic mirage over the desert, which seemed to go on for miles. We arrived back at the boat in time to swap notes with the rest of the group who had stayed behind. It was then time for lunch. We then began our return cruise up The Nile.

The boat finally started cruising late in the afternoon. Strong northern winds made the birding hard work with plenty of duck, waders and herons added. A Sparrow hawk was the only new bird. One highlight was the Glossy Ibis going to roost as we came into Kom Ombo. An estimated 300 were found flying in small and large flocks. Both Night heron and Thicknees flew over the boat as dusk approached.

Day 7. 15th March Tuesday

Edfu was where we set off for our all day cruising. Before we left 4 Great White Egrets flew north while 6 Purple Herons were counted on the island at Edfu. The wind was still a big problem and birding, I am sure suffered due to it. This turned out to be the Garganey day with several sightings including a flock of 38. Deep water before the Esna Barrage brought in many Tufted, pochard, Coot and a single Black necked Grebe.

Bird Watching stopped at the barrage when locals started throwing goods onto the boat and many items were bought even though some missed the intended seller only to fall into the lock gates and drift away.

Before reaching our mooring a small group of White Storks were picked up. The cruise came to an end at around 3.30pm.

Day 8. 16th March Wednesday

An early morning watch for especially gulls given the rarity was only a few miles away produced 4 Common Swifts, 4 Purple Herons and hundreds of Black heads!

A morning in Luxor was to be taken at the famous Winter Palace Hotel built in 1886 on the banks of the Nile with its tropical garden. The garden was pulling in the birds thanks due to the Silk Cotton Trees being in blume. Their red flowers attracted the insects which were being fed on by the birds. Here we found 3 species of dove with Collared being added to the Turtle and Palm Doves. Yellow billed Kites sat in a tree for us to enjoy especially those who had not travelled to Abu Simbel. A male Rock Thrush was a real treat for most people and the continuous male sunbirds flashing by seemed to draw the holiday to a close.

Back at the boat, rooms were cleared, bills were paid and the last look across the Nile took place. A small group of birds flying in formation back towards the mountains were thought to be either cranes or storks. With scopes packed and even binos for some, it was time to leave the boat and head for the airport with one last look at egrets, Black winged Kites and House Sparrows!

A big thank you to all especially Neal for making this a great trip.

Birds seen on the trip

Egyptian Goose Alopochen aegyptiaca – Only 7 individuals seen with female entering nest hole in high rock at Philae.
Eurasian Wigeon Anas Penelope – Well over 1000 birds seen on the trip.
Common Teal Anas crecca – Only 5 seen on the whole trip. How often do you see more Graganey than Teal!
Mallard Anas platyrhynchos – 3 pairs seen.
Northern Pintail Anas acuta – Only 17 birds seen in total. Used to be the commonest duck on the Nile.
Garganey Anas querquedula – A total of 48 birds recorded with 38 in one flock.
Northern Shoveler Anas clypeata – Well over 1000 birds recorded.
Common Pochard Aythya farina – 24 birds recorded with 12 by Philae.
Ferruginous Duck Aythya nyroca – Over 30 seen at Aswan with an other 2 down river.
Tufted Duck Aythya fuligula – Around 600 birds recorded.
Black-necked Grebe Podiceps nigricollis – 7 seen from Philae and 1 near Esna
Great Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo – Common along the river with 9 sitting high on pylons in wind!!
Black-crowned Night Heron Nycticorax nycticorax – 2 off Kitcheners Island and 1 flying over the boat by Kom Ombo
Squacco Heron Ardeola ralloides – Very common on the trip
Cattle Egret Bubulcus ibis – Nest building at Kings Island
Striated Heron Butorides striata – Seen from Luxor to Aswan
Little Egret Egretta garzetta – Very common with 2 melanistic birds seen at Aswan.
Great Egret Egretta alba – Very few seen with max of 4 flying north at Edfu
Purple Heron Ardea purpurea – Many very good sightings with Edfu standing out.
Grey Heron Ardea cinerea – All along the river with large groups up to 46 birds counted.
Black Stork Ciconia nigra – Single bird flying at Philae.
White Stork Ciconia ciconia – An estimated 2000 seen migrating north at Aswan and 9 south of Luxor.
Glossy Ibis Plegadis falcinellus – seen most days with 300+ going to roost around Kom Ombo.
Osprey Pandion haliaetus – A total of 6 birds seen with 5 in one day around Aswan.
Black-shouldered Kite Elanus caeruleus – Nearly 20 recorded with a single sitting in a tree at Kom Ombo.
Black Kite Milvus migrans – A small passage was seen all week with birds at Karnack, Valley of the Kings and High Dam. Yellow billed Kite was recorded at Abu Simbel and Luxor.
Western Marsh Harrier Circus aeruginosus – Small numbers seen all week with a male holding territory on Edfu Island.
Eurasian Sparrowhawk Accipiter nisus – Single bird on 14th March
Common Kestrel Falco tinnunculus – Seen most days around the temples and while cruising.
Lanner Falcon Falco biarmicus –2 birds seen on 10th and 1 on 14th March
Purple Swamphen Porphyrio porphyrio – Good numbers seen from the cruise and Edfu Island.
Common Moorhen Gallinula chloropus – Seen every day.
Eurasian Coot Fulica atra – Small numbers most days with max of 40+ on 13th March.
Black-winged Stilt Himantopus himantopus – Many found along the cruise.
Senegal Thick-knee Burhinus senegalensis – 8 At Aswan were the highlight with a single flying over the boat on 14th March.
Collared Pratincole Glareola pratincola – Single bird found on 12th March.
Little Ringed Plover Charadrius dubius – Single bird found again on 12th March.
Kentish Plover Charadrius alexandrinus – Single on Kings Island and several along the river.
Spur-winged Lapwing Vanellus spinosus – Found everywhere we went!
Little Stint Calidris minuta – As many as 40 along the river with singles on Edfu Island.
Curlew Sandpiper Calidris ferruginea – A white rumped bird was seen briefly in one flock of waders,
Dunlin Calidris alpine – Only singles seen along the river.
Ruff Philomachus pugnax – Often found in large groups with one 80+.
Common Snipe Gallinago gallinago – Often seen when flushed by harriers like on Edfu Island.
Black-tailed Godwit Limosa limosa – 2 seen in large wader flock.
Spotted Redshank Tringa erythropus – Seen and heard.
Common Redshank Tringa tetanus – Single bird seen on 12th March.
Marsh Sandpiper Tringa stagnatilis – At least 2 seen with other waders.
Common Greenshank Tringa nebularia – Seen and heard.
Green Sandpiper Tringa ochropus – At least 2 seen from the boat.
Wood Sandpiper Tringa glareola – Several seen with one on Edfu Island.
Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos – Seen on most days.
Common Black-headed Gull Larus ridibundus – Large numbers everywhere.
Slender-billed Gull Larus genei – Only 9 birds seen in total.
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus – Single at Luxor with 40 at Aswan and 17 near Kom Ombo.
Gull-billed Tern Sterna nilotica – 26 on rocks at Aswan with 12 around Philae out of 66 seen in total.
Whiskered Tern Chlidonias hybrida – Many still in winter plumage.
White-winged Tern Chlidonias leucopterus – Only 1 in full summer with many more in winter plumage.
Eurasian Collared Dove Streptopelia decaocto – Male displaying in the Winter Palace gardens.
European Turtle Dove Streptopelia turtur – Singles until Aswan but several in Winter palace gardens.
Laughing Dove Streptopelia senegalensis – Common everywhere
Barn Owl Tyto alba – Single seen by Mark Dennis on Kings Island but not by us.
Pallid Swift Apus pallidus – Many passing north on most days.
Common Swift Apus apus – Only 10 birds seen in total.
Common Kingfisher Alcedo atthis – Single bird seen as we returned from the Valley of the Kings in a canal.
Pied Kingfisher Ceryle rudis – Always there for everyone!
Little Green Bee-eater Merops orientalis Great views on Kings Island and Aswan.
Hoopoe Upupa epops many passage birds with 1 displaying in Edfu Temple
Crested Lark Galerida cristata – Good value in agricultural land.
Red-rumped Swallow Cercropis daurica – Only 2 fly bys seen.
Rock Martin Ptyonoprogne fuligula – This bird enjoys the temples!
Barn Swallow Hirundo rustica – Majority being of the Egyptian race with a flock seen heading north at Aswan.
Common House Martin Delichon urbicum – Only 12 seen all trip
White Wagtail Motacilla alba – Common.
Yellow Wagtail Motacilla flava – Good views were had at Kings Island of mainly the Blue headed form along with the odd Black headed also at Aswan.
Grey Wagtail Motacilla cinerea – Single bird heard flying to roost with White Wagtails at Aswan.
Red-throated Pipit Anthus cervinus – Several along the river with 15 flying in front of the boat near Kom Ombo.
Common Bulbul Pycnonotus barbatus – Several seen well in gardens along the way.
Common Nightingale Luscinia megarhynchos – One singing at Kom Ombo
Bluethroat Luscinia svecica – How we missed this bird I do not know!
Common Stonechat Saxicola torquatus – single at Colossi of Memnon + Eastern form on Kings Island.
White-crowned Black Wheatear Oenanthe leucopyga – 2 adults + Juvenile at Philae jetty and birds at Abu Simbel.
Northern Wheatear Oenanthe oenanthe – 1 along the river.
Mourning Wheatear Oenanthe lugens – 2 males seen around Valley of the Kings
Isabelline Wheatear Oenanthe isabellina – Several seen from the boat.
Rufous-tailed Rock Thrush Monticola saxatilis – Male in Winter palace gardens.
Blue Rock Thrush Monticola solitarius – Several around Valley of the Kings.
Eurasian Reed Warbler Acrocephalus scirpaceus – 1 singing on Kings island
Great Reed Warbler Acrocephalus arundinaceus – 1 heard by Neal
Clamorous Reed Warbler Acrocephalus stentoreus – Several heard singing along the river.
Eastern Olivaceous Warbler Hippolais pallida – Starting to move in at Aswan
Common Chiffchaff Phylloscopus collybita – Found in many locations feeding in Silk Cotton Trees.
Eastern Bonelli's Warbler Phylloscopus orientalis – 3 found at Abu Simbel
Blackcap Sylvia atricapilla – At least 2 birds seen feeding with Lesser Whitethroats.
Lesser Whitethroat Sylvia curruca – The commonest warbler found on the trip.
Subalpine Warbler Sylvia cantillans – Found alarming and seen in flight at Kom Ombo. 1 seen at Abu Simbel but not by the group.
Zitting Cisticola Cisticola juncidis – Common on farmland.
Graceful Prinia Prinia gracilis – Common in gardens and scrub
Pygmy/ Nile Valley Sunbird Hedydipna platura – Males were one of the most impressive birds of the trip.
Masked Shrike Lanius nubicus – 4 seen in total all from the land.
Hooded Crow Corvus corone – Nice to see next to the raven for size difference.
Brown-necked Raven Corvus ruficollis – Posing well at Karnack temple and entering a nest site.
House Sparrow Passer domesticus – Everywhere including on the boat. Female even found food in the insect zapper!!
Red Avadavat Amandava amandava – Best flock at Kom Ombo with 30 birds.
Trumpeter Finch Bucanetes githagineus – Only found around the Valley of the Kings.
Eagle sp – 4 un named eagles were seen on the trip but sadly not long enough to id them.


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