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A Report from

South Sinai, Egypt 16th  - 23rd October 2002,

Bob Swann

This report gives details of the birds seen and the sites visited during a week's holiday in south Sinai, Egypt based at the resort of Sharm el Sheikh with my (non-birding) wife. We were on a late deal package holiday with JMC and flew from Gatwick. We stayed at the Tivioli Hotel on a B&B basis. The hotel was excellent with a very friendly staff and was located on the outskirts of Sharm (and 7km south of Naama Bay). They did a cheap, but excellent buffet meal in the evening and provided breakfast boxes for early starts. I decided not to hire a car but to use local taxis. This worked out cheaper overall than car hire and had the advantage of having a local Egyptian with me to explain to puzzled security guards or Tourist Police what I was up to. It meant I had to plan carefully where I wanted to go each day. Some days I kept the taxi with me. Other days, especially when close to the resort, I got dropped off and when I'd finished birding I just walked back to the resort to find another taxi to get me home. The drivers I used were very reliable and keen for the business. I still had to haggle with them to get a decent price!

We arrived on the afternoon of the 16th but by the time we got our visas and through passport the light was fading fast and it was dark by the time we got to the hotel.

17th October.
Got up 6.30pm (it was already bright and sunny) and headed to the sewage works between  Sharm el Sheikh and Namma Bay. It was about 25mins walk from the hotel along a good road. One of the first birds I saw was a nice adult male Red Footed Falcon which flitted from lamp post to lamp post in front of me as I walked along. A nice start. I reached the sewage works to find that reports of their demise had been greatly exaggerated. There were 4 large pools full of water and surrounded by reeds. I think they had been recently cleared out. Lots of hirundines skimmed over them including Rock Martins and a Red-rumped Swallow along with the numerous Barn Swallows. The only duck were 7 Common Teal and 4 Northern Pintail. Waders included 2 Ruff and 5 noisy Spur-winged Plovers. A Glossy Ibis, 3 Little Egret, 2 Grey Heron  and a White Stork fed round the pool side. Two of the egrets and the stork were covered in oil, which appeared to have leaked into one of the pools. A Golden Oriole flew over the pools to land in the nearby plantation, where a European Bee-eater was sallying out after insects. An adult Booted Eagle soared up from the plantation and this was the start of a great burst of raptor activity that involved 2 Common Kestrels, 2 juvenile Eurasian Sparrow Hawks, 3 Common Buzzards, a female Marsh Harrier, 3 juvenile Lesser Spotted Eagles, a juvenile Eastern Imperial Eagle, a juvenile Short-toed Eagle and 3 Levant Sparrow Hawks. The birds were emerging from the plantation and either soaring off south (giving excellent views as they went) or hunting low over the pools and surrounding area. I walked through the plantation but apart from a splendid European Roller and a Spotted Flycatcher I did not see much more. This had been a fairly breathtaking start to my first mornings birding, so I headed back for breakfast.

After breakfast I decided to walk through Sharm-el-Sheikh to the lighthouse. The many hotel gardens and their lawns prove to be very attractive to migrants. These included several Willow Warbler, Common Redstart, Bluethroat, Spotted Flycatcher as well as a Hoopoe, a Whinchat and juvenile Red-backed and Masked Shrikes. On the lawns were Yellow Wagtails and small groups of Red-throated Pipits. Rock Martins were very common feeding around the buildings and I had a few more Red-rumped Swallows. There were also masses of Laughing Doves and amongst them a single Turtle Dove. Along the cliff top sitting on piles of boulders were small groups of Northern Wheatear, over 20 in all. Finally as I reached the lighthouse I had fleeting views of a long winged, dark headed gull flying by. My first Sooty Gull. It was now very hot so I headed back to the hotel.

After lunch I arranged for a taxi to take me to the sewage pools NW of Naama Bay. The taxi drivers were unsure of the exact location. As you go through Namma Bay from Sharm, just before the Marriot hotel is a road that heads out north into the desert. You go a few km along this road, then there is a junction where you go straight across and then the pools are on your right. As I arrived hundreds of hirundines, mainly Barn Swallows but with lots of Rock Martins, a few House Martins and Sand Martin, spiralled up into the air as two Barbary Falcons swept in and out trying to grab them. Three Black Kite and a Common Buzzard soared above the pools, whilst a juvenile Lesser Spotted Eagle sat on the pool side giving excellent close views. A flock of 60+ duck rose from one pool, mostly Common Teal, but also 2 Garganey, 2 Northern Pintail and a Tufted Duck. Other pools held 3 Black-necked Grebes and 2 Common Coot. Small groups of waders included a few Common Redshank, Common Greenshank, Ruff, Dunlin, Little Stint, Wood Sandpiper, Common Sandpiper, Ringed Plover and several smart Spur-winged Plovers. Down below the main pools are some overflow pools amongst piles of sand. On the sand sat 60 White Storks, 2 Eurasian Spoonbills, an immature Greater Flamingo and a Little Egret. As I walked down to these pools I flushed a nice male Hooded Wheatear, whilst in a small clump of reeds were 3 Willow Warbler, 2 Reed Warbler and another Bluethroat. I walked back down through the fairly barren desert to Naama Bay, but did not see much apart from 2 juvenile Red-backed Shrikes. Got a taxi back to the hotel.

18th October.
Having sussed out the pools yesterday I decided to go back early in the morning to look for sandgrouse. My taxi picked me up at 6.00am from the hotel. As I arrived at the pools I could see lots of raptors sitting on rocks and on the pool sides. Over 40 Black Kite, 5 Lesser Spotted Eagle, 1 Imperial Eagle, 2 Steppe Eagle and 3 Egyptian Vulture. Nearly all were juveniles. As the temperature rose they got up one by one and began to soar south or start hunting. At 7.15 I heard the first group of sandgrouse. 55 Spotted Sandgrouse flew low over the top pools and then off back into the desert. At 7.40 the first Crowned Sandgrouse dropped in giving me excellent views as they walked about hesitantly along the embankment between the pools. From then till 8.40 more groups of both species dropped into drink. A maximum of 151 Spotted and 38 Crowned. During this activity a honking call alerted me to 3 Common Cranes which were flying low over the pools, they circled but did not land. At 9.00 White Storks started spiralling down to the lower pools, 145 in all plus an immature White Pelican. Small birds included White Wagtails, Yellow Wagtails, a Tawny Pipit and a Greater Short-toed Lark, plus a female Hooded Wheatear. Once again I walked back down through the desert to Naama Bay, spotting a Common Whitethroat and a Northern Wheatear en-route. Just outside Naama Bay I got close views of about 10 Brown-necked Ravens, could even see the bronze sheen on their head.

In the late afternoon I walked back out to the sewage works near the hotel. There were still a lot of raptors about including the male Red-footed Falcon, which gave excellent close views. The reeds round the pools contained Chiffchaffs, Reed Warblers, Bluethroats (including at least one Red-spotted) and lots of Spannish Sparrows. I also flushed a Common Snipe and a Purple Heron. A walk through the plantation revealed Lesser Whitethroat, Common Redstart and Red-backed Shrike. In an open area beyond was a single Northern Lapwing. As dusk fell 6 Cattle Egret came into roost in the reeds.

19th October.
We had decided to head north to the Nabq protected area so we had hired a taxi to pick us up at 8.00am. At the reserve entrance we had to show our passports. As we drove along the Red Sea coast the tide was dropping exposing a platform of dead coral. Many waders were feeding on it. These included Turnstone, Dunlin, Common Redshank, Common Greenshank, Grey Plover, Curlew, Kentish Plover and up to 15 Greater Sandplover.  Also with them were several Western Reef Heron (including two black morph individuals), a Straited Heron, 3 Grey Heron and a Great White Egret. Common Kingfishers hovered over the pools trying to catch wee fish, whilst at least 6 Caspian Terns flew and hovered over the sea further out. Gulls included a Slender-billed and an adult Sooty Gull. We headed north from the mangrove bay (just south of the Bedouin village) into the desert to look for the visitor centre but could not find it. We did see two Osprey and a Greater Short-toed Lark. Apparently the centre is 10km north along some very bumpy, sandy tracks. It was a good mornings birding and we headed back to the hotel.

In late afternoon I walked back to the sewage works at Sharm. There was a nice adult Hobby in the plantation and I flushed a party of 30 Crowned Sandgrouse feeding near some low bushes. The adult Booted Eagle and up to 5 Common Buzzard were still present. As dusk approached two juvenile Black Storks came into roost (joining the oiled White Stork!). They were followed later by the 6 Cattle Egret, an immature Night Heron, a Great White Egret and a Common Starling.

20th October.
The taxi picked me up at 7.30am and we headed south to Ras Mohammed National Park, the southern tip of Sinai. As we drove down the peninsular the tide was just dropping on the western shore. A scattering of waders included Curlew, Whimbrel, Dunlin, Sanderling, Ringed Plover, and about 10 Greater Sandplover. There were also a few Black-headed Gulls, 2 Slender-billed Gulls, 2 Little Egrets and an adult Greater Flamingo. We drove down to the mangrove channel, but there was little here as the channel was still full of water. Raptors, however, were beginning to soar up with at least 30 Black Kite, 2 Common Buzzard and 6 Short-toed Eagles. To the east I spotted two dark falcons sitting on a railing by a fixed telescope on top of a small promontory. We headed round towards this promontory. By the roadside we saw at least 4 Desert Wheatears. We drove down towards a beach at the head of a wee bay. I scrambled up over the rocks towards the headland. Small numbers of migrants flitted about amongst the bare rocks including a Red-breasted Flycatcher, 4 Common Redstarts and a White-spotted Bluethroat. As I climbed up the steps onto the promontory I got very close views of an Osprey sitting on the cliff. On reaching the top of the promontory I got superb views of a Sooty Falcon sitting on the hand rail. I slowly edged towards it getting to within 20m. What an excellent bird! A nearby Hoopoe pluck, gave evidence of its preference for eating migrants. Eventually I returned back to the bay, where I had nice views of a Mourning Wheatear, flitting amongst the low scrub. We headed back through the National Park stopping of at the saline lake. It was fairly birdless, one Little Stint, with a Tawny Pipit and Whinchat in the low scrub. My taxi, having broken its fan belt, was now experiencing problems. We had to push it each time to get it started! So we thought it best to head back to Sharm.

In the late afternoon I headed back out to the Sharm sewage Works. There were now 2 juvenile Night Herons, but only one of the Black Storks. A Eurasian Spoonbill and a White Stork were new. I walked through the plantation, which was fairly birdless. In the bushes at the far end, beyond the 'field' there were 2 Olivaceous Warblers, a Lesser Whitethroat and a Blackcap. Sitting on some mounds of stones beyond the bushes were an adult female and juvenile Namaqua Dove, both very approachable.

21st  October.
A very early start as the taxi was ordered for 5am. We headed north then west for over 2 hours till we reached St. Katherines. Our aim was to climb Mt.Sinai early in the morning when it was still cool. We started our ascent at 8.00am. Most people climb the mountain at night so they can watch the sunrise, so as we started going up we were met by hundreds of people, donkeys and camels coming down. This made birding quite difficult. We did see 2 Tristam's Grackles in the monastery garden and a pair of Scrub Warbler in a small enclosure near the path. Soon however the crowds thinned out and we started to see birds as we made our way up the zig-zag path. Lots of White-crowned Wheatears and Desert Larks, which were very approachable. We also saw our first Sinai Rosefinches, though they were mostly females or juveniles. Flocks of Rock Doves were feeding amongst the camel droppings on the path. The temperature was rising as we progressed but we now had the path to ourselves. For the final ascent the path is replaced by a series of steps. By a small building at the foot of the steps we got excellent views of a group of 8 Sinai Rosefinch, including 3 stonking males. There was also another pair of Scrub Warblers scurrying away amongst little plants by the steps. We climbed the steps to the top. The crowds had gone so the birds had moved in to mop up the crumbs. Probably another 20 or so Sinai Rosefinches, feeding all round us, along with White Crowned Wheatears and 2 Brown-necked Ravens. It had taken us two and a half hours, it was exhausting but worth it. After recovering we slowly made our way back down. Near the top of the path we had nice views of 5 Tristam's Grackles coming to drink. It took us about an hour and a half to get back down. The monastery was closed but we had a look round the gardens, where Chiffchaff and Common Redstart flitted amongst the bushes. It was now getting very hot and there were lots of people milling about. We decided to head back towards Sharm stopping off at various sites in the desert along the road. Most areas were pretty birdless with just a few Northern Wheatears, Chiffchaff and Lesser Whitethroats being seen. It had been a good, but long tiring day. I thoroughly recommend birders to go up the mountain first thing in the morning, rather than at night as once you are away from the crowds the views you get of the birds are superb.

22nd  October
I decided to have another morning trip to the pools NW of Naama Bay. I arrived about 7am just as the sandgrouse were coming into drink. 158 Spotted Sandgrouse came in, including one flock of about 100, and 45 Crowned Sandgrouse. Many were drinking in the lower pools. White Storks started arriving about 8.15 and eventually about 230 came down to the lower pools, along with the immature White Pelican. The birdlife round the pool was similar to three days ago. Additions included 4 Northern Shoveler and a Eurasian Wigeon with the duck and 2 Kentish Plovers with the waders. There were still lots of raptors around, mainly Black Kite, but also 2 Imperial Eagles, 2 Steppe Eagles and 2 Lesser Spotted Eagles, all juveniles. I waked back down to Naama Bay, but apart from 2 Northern Wheatear saw very little.

In late afternoon I took my usual stroll to the Sharm sewage works. There were a few more Red-throated Pipits with at least 14 between the hotel and the sewage pools. At the pools 'new' birds included an adult Greater Flamingo that flew in while I was there and a juvenile Greater Spotted Eagle. At the bushes at the far end of the plantation there were now 5 Namaqua Doves (2male, 2 female and the juvenile) along with the Northern Lapwing which was at its usual spot. I waited by the pools until just after dusk and was rewarded with brief views of 8 Lichtenstein's Sandgrouse that came in to drink. I also met 2 other birders, the first and only ones I encountered in the entire trip.

23rd  October
My final day. I got a taxi at 7.15pm to take me to the Mövenpick Golf Hotel, where after discussion with the security guard I was allowed access to the golf course to look at the birds. The fairways and greens are surrounded by a series of small pools. A few of these pools, mainly the weedier ones, contained birds including 7 Black-necked Grebes, 6 Northern Shoveler, 12 Northern Pintail and 16 Common Teal. There were a few waders including 3 Common Redshank, 2 Little Stint, 2 Grey Plover, 3 Ringed Plover and a Kentish Plover on the pool edges. Feeding amongst the shrubs were Common Redstart and 3 European Bee-eaters. The short grass of the fairways attracted 80+ Red-throated Pipits, 5 Tawny Pipits, 20 Greater Short-toed Larks, 2 Crested Larks, a nice Bimaculated Lark as well as large numbers of House Sparrows. At one stage a Sooty Falcon came through scattering the pipits and sparrows, whilst later a Barbary Falcon had a go at the feral pigeon flock.  As the golfers began to arrive I decide to retreat. We headed to the north of the airport looking for the water treatment works, but failed to find them. I did find another Desert Wheatear though. I got the taxi driver to take me back to the Sharm sewage works for a final look. Amongst the numerous White Wagtails feeding round the pools a different call revealed the presence of a juvenile Citrine Wagtail. I also flushed another Common Snipe and 2 Little Stints. There were a few more birds than usual in the plantation including a Tree Pipit, 3 Spotted Flycatcher, 3 Common Redstart, another European Bee-eater and the European Roller. As I walked back to the hotel I came across 4 Crested Larks (where had they come from?). It was then a case of packing, vacating the room and waiting by the pool for the coach to take us to the airport.

It had been a great holiday. Dora enjoyed the pool and the few trips she went on. I thought the birding was superb. I saw 118 different species of which nine were lifers. I saw virtually everything I expected to see. I got remarkably close views of many of these birds and hopefully have a lot of good photos. Sharm-el-Sheikh is now a very accessible resort by charter plane from destinations throughout Europe and offers a very wide range of accommodation. It is also on a major migration highway and has an interesting range of resident desert species. It therefore surprised me that it attracted virtually no other birders at this time of year. I would certainly recommend it as a birding site to anyone and fully intend to visit it again.

Bob Swann

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