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A Report from

Egypt, Nile Cruise Luxor to Aswan 11/11/02 - 18/11/02,

Rhion Pritchard

A Nile cruise between Luxor and Aswan gives some excellent birding opportunities, and is particularly useful if you have a non-birding partner as you can see good birds without needing to disappear for a half or a whole day in search of them. I went on all the excursions provided instead of taking a day off to look for birds. This proved well worthwhile, as the temples and other monuments are not only breathtaking but are often good places for birds anyway. We booked with Cosmos, flying from Manchester, but there are many deals available.

Much of the bird watching was done while cruising along the Nile. Some parts of the river, particularly the stretch just south of Aswan, were done at night, but most of it was seen in daylight, at least one way. There are large numbers of birds along the Nile  at this time of year, though some parts are much better than others. Areas where there were a lot of small islands and sandbanks in midstream were the best, along with areas where the banks were marshy. Setting up the telescope in the bow of the boat provided good views, with very little vibration. Not everything seen could be identified. There is no second chance to identify a bird, and birds seen a little too far away or against the light had to be left unidentified. This was particularly true of small waders, of Ringed Plover size and below, of which most were not identified to species.

I got most of the birds I had been hoping for, including 6 lifers. The lack of eagles was the main disappointment; hours spent watching the ridges did not produce a single eagle species. The time would probably have been better spent searching hotel gardens and crops.

Day 1 (11th Nov.)

Arrived in Luxor after dark and straight onto the boat, so only a few House Sparrows illuminated by the street lighting were seen.

Day 2 (12th Nov)

At dawn there was a deafening chirping as thousands of House Sparrows left their roosts along the Corniche. I counted 400+ emerging from the area immediately opposite the mooring. Several Laughing Doves and a few Hooded Crows were also active here, and two Whiskered Terns on the river.

A morning excursion to the Valley of the Kings produced good numbers of Pallid Swift, 6-7 Trumpeter Finch near the ticket office with Chiffchaff and White Wagtail and a Brown-necked Raven over the ridge. A wheatear species showed very briefly, either Hooded or Mourning. The Valley of the Queens had only a few Pallid Swifts overhead. The next stop was Deir el Bahari (Temple of Hatshepsut) where about 40 Rock Martins were feeding, along with more Pallid Swifts. Fields around the Colossi of Memnon produced one or two Spanish Sparrows among the more numerous House Sparrows.

In the afternoon we sailed upriver to Esna Lock. The small islands and sandbanks in the river proved very productive. Birds seen included Little Egret (100+), Cattle Egret (20), Grey Heron (40+), Purple Heron (2), Squacco Heron (15), Glossy Ibis (2),  Purple Gallinule (6), Black-winged Stilt (40+), Spur-winged Plover (30+). Curlew, Ringed Plover, Kentish Plover, Greenshank, Common Sandpiper, Egyptian Geese (25), Red-crested Pochard (2), Shoveler (c. 20), Ferruginous Duck (1), Mallard (2), Cormorant (40+), Hoopoe.

Day 3 (13th Nov)

We passed through the lock during the night and sailed on to Edfu, so this stretch of the river could not be birded.

In the morning we visited Edfu temple; the only birds seen were large numbers of Swallows, Rock Martins and a Common Kestrel: these were the regular birds at most of the ancient monuments.

In the afternoon we cruised from Edfu to Kom Ombo. The farmland alongside the river produced several Common Kestrel and Black Kite, along with superb views of a single Black-winged Kite. On the river, a flock of 15 Purple Gallinule on one island were a fine sight, and another island held 8 Glossy Ibis. Moorhen were very common, with 60+ seen on this stretch, but Coot were much scarcer. Duck numbers were low, with c. 20 Tufted Duck and smaller numbers of Wigeon and  Shoveler. Black-winged Stilt and Spur-winged Plover were again the commonest waders, but others included Redshank, Greenshank, Dunlin, Kentish Plover and  Ringed Plover. About 30 Gull-billed Terns were seen, with smaller numbers of Whiskered and White-winged Terns; Black-headed Gulls were also quite numerous.

In the evening we visited the floodlit Kom Ombo temple, a splendid sight further enhanced by two Egyptian Nightjars hunting insects in the lights.

Day 4 (14th Nov.)

During the night we sailed up to Aswan, so I was unable to bird this section of the river. At dawn two flocks of 100+ Cormorants flew north along the river, with Black Kite, Long-legged Buzzard and Common Kestrel over the far bank.

An excursion by Felucca to the botanical garden on Kitchener Island produced good views of  Gull-billed and Whiskered Tern. The island itself held Nile Valley Sunbird (2-3), Common Bulbul (6 by the restaurant), Bluethroat, Olivaceous Warbler and 20+ Black Kite overhead.

In the afternoon we visited Aswan Old Dam, where a White Stork flew over and there was a large flock of ducks too distant to identify. Aswan High Dam produced a Long-legged Buzzard but little else.

The final excursion was to Philae Temple, where there were 6+ White-crowned Wheatears, Green Sandpiper, Black Redstart, Chiffchaff and a considerably larger, yellower warbler which refused to show properly. The star of the show was probably the tamest Hoopoe I have ever seen, quite happy to feed with humans within ten yards of it.

Friday, 15th Nov.

Up at 2:30 for the flight to Abu Simbel, arriving before dawn. A Little Owl called as we waited for the sunrise, and as soon as the rays of the sun reached the façade of the temple 100+ Rock Martins began to feed. Several White-crowned Wheatears showed well, and a flock of 100+ White Storks were an impressive sight as they flew south over Lake Nasser. The bushes around the site turned out to be full of migrants, with Chiffchaff, Willow Warbler, Lesser Whitethroat and Sardinian Warbler among them. Probably there were other species too, but at this point we were called back to the bus!

The late afternoon was spent watching the river as we cruised downstream. A Marsh Harrier was a new bird for the trip, otherwise no great numbers of birds were seen.

Saturday, 16th Nov.

Having moored at Kom Ombo overnight, we now sailed to Edfu. This stretch proved very productive, with large numbers of Little Egret and about 12 Great Egret, 10+ Purple Heron, a juvenile Night Heron (the only one of the trip), 20+ Purple Gallinule, a flock of 14 Glossy Ibis and 6 Black-necked Grebes. Ducks were present in larger numbers, and included several Teal and Garganey, while two Greylag were something of a surprise. Waders included a flock of  40+ Marsh Sandpiper, along with Wood Sandpiper and Black-tailed Godwit, while the banks provided one flock of 30+ Yellow Wagtail feeding with Fan-tailed Warblers. Pick of the bunch however were White-tailed Plover, with excellent views of two birds standing on floating vegetation. Shortly afterwards a Senegal Thick-knee flew past the bow, with another three on a sandbank round the next bend, so I went to breakfast happy with two lifers.

After breakfast the birding continued to be excellent, with one flock of 2,000+ duck, of which more than half were Shoveler, though there were also Pintail, Tufted Duck and a single Ferruginous Duck. A series of sandbars held 220+ Little Egrets, 8 Great Egrets and large numbers of Terns, with Gull-billed the most common. There were more Black-necked Grebes, 20+ Purple Gallinules, another Marsh Harrier and a small boat moving close to the reeds flushed a Striated Heron which flew alongside the boat.

Sunday, 17th Nov.

Morning found us back at our old mooring in Luxor. We made an excursion to the temple of Karnak, which did not appear to contain many birds apart from a resident Common Kestrel. However a glance upwards revealed a flock of 18 White Pelicans flying south over the temple, a sight which aroused the interest of even the non-birders on the trip.

In the afternoon I watched the ridge on the other side of the river in the hope of finding an eagle or two. The only raptors to be seen however were a few Black Kites, so going round the gardens of some of the hotels would probably have been a better bet. After dark a Senegal Thick-knee flew over the boat, calling.

Monday, 18th Nov.

A walk along the Corniche in the morning gave excellent close range views of Pied Kingfisher and Little Egret, along with two Nile Valley Sunbirds feeding in a flowering tree. Then it was back in the bus to make for the airport. We passed what looked like excellent habitat on the way, but no new species were seen.

Bird List

Black-necked Grebe Podiceps nigricollis
Fairly common along the river, with a total of about 14 seen.

Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo
Seen in large numbers, with 200+ flying over Aswan at dawn on 14/11.

White Pelican  Pelecanus onocrotalus
A flock of 18 flew south over Karnak temple on 17th Nov.

Night Heron Nycticorax nycticorax
Only one was seen, an immature bird near Edfu on 16/11.

Striated Heron  Butroides striatus
One was seen downstream of Edfu on 16/11.

Squacco Heron   Ardeola ralloides
Very common and seen every day, although not usually in large flocks.

Cattle Egret  Bubulcus ibis
Seen every day, in flocks of up to 20, usually feeding alongside cows and water buffalo.

Little Egret  Egretta garzetta
One of the most numerous birds along the river, with one flock of 220+ and several others of c.50. The species was almost never out of view when cruising.

Great White Egret  Egretta alba
Present in reasonable numbers, with about 20 birds seen in all.

Grey Heron  Ardea cinerea
Quite common, with flocks of up to 20 birds.

Purple Heron  Ardea purpurea
Less common than Grey Heron, but about 18 birds seen in all, always as singles.

White Stork Ciconia ciconia
One at Aswan Old Dam on 14/11, and a flock of 100+ at Abu Simbel on 15/11.

Glossy Ibis  Plegadis falcinellus
Fairly common, with the largest flock 14 on an island near Edfu.

Greylag  Goose  Anser anser
Two near Edfu on 16/11 were something of a surprise.

Egyptian Goose  Alopochen aegyptiacus
Fairly common, with a flock of c.25 on an island between Luxor and Esna lock on 12/11

Mallard  Anas platyrhynchos
Two near Luxor on 12/11 were the only ones seen

Pintail  Anas acuta
Small numbers among the duck flocks, max. c. 20

Shoveler  Anas clypeata
One flock of 2,000+ duck between Edfu and Esna on 16/11 probably contained c. 1,200 of this species, making it by far the most common duck seen.

Wigeon  Anas penelope
Small numbers were found among the duck flocks, max. c. 10.

Teal  Anas crecca
Only seen in small numbers.

Garganey  Anas querquedula
Small numbers among the duck flocks, max. c. 20

Red-crested Pochard  Netta rufina
Two females downstream of Esna lock on 12/11.

Pochard  Aythya ferina
Only a few individuals in groups of 1-3 among the duck flocks.

Ferruginous Duck  Aythya nyroca
One between Luxor and Esna on 12/11 and one between Kom Ombo and  Edfu on 16/11.

Tufted Duck Aythya fuligula
Present in moderate numbers among the duck flocks, max. c. 100 between Kom Ombo and Edfu.

Black-winged Kite Elanus caeruleus
One seen well over farmland between Edfu and Kom Ombo on 13/11.

Black Kite  Milvus migrans
Seen every day, with the max. nos. 20 feeding with Hooded Crows on carrion floating downriver near Kom Ombo and 20+ over Kitchener Island on 14/11.

Marsh Harrier  Circus aeruginosus
Three birds seen in all, all females/immatures.

Sparrowhawk  Accipiter nisus
One flew across the river between Kom Ombo and Edfu 16/11.

Long-legged Buzzard  Buteo rufinus
One at Aswan and one at Aswan Old Dam on 14/11.

Common Kestrel  Falco tinnunculus
The second most common raptor after Black Kite, with several birds seen most days. Most of the ancient monuments appeared to have a resident Kestrel.

Moorhen  Gallinula chloropus
Very common all along the river, with several flocks of 50+ seen.

Purple Gallinule  Porphyrio porphyrio
Quite common all along the river, with the largerst flock containing 15 birds. They provided superb views and were one of the birds of the trip.

Coot  Fulica atra
Much less common than Moorhen, seen most days but usually in groups of fewer than 10 birds.

Black-winged Stilt  Himantopus himantopus
One of the commonest waders, with large numbers seen all the way from Luxor to Aswan in flocks of up to 40+.

Senegal Thick-knee Burhinus senegalensis
Four between Kom Ombo and Edfu on 16/11; one flew over the boat, calling, at Luxor 17/11.

Ringed Plover  Charadrius hiaticula
Probably the commonest of the small waders along the river, with many flocks of 20 - 30 birds.

Kentish Plover Charadrius alexandrinus
Common along the river in flocks of up to 20.

Spur-winged Lapwing  Vanellus spinosus
Common all the way from Luxor to Aswan, though seen in small groups rather than large flocks.

White-tailed Lapwing  Vanellus leucurus
Good views of two birds on floating vegetation between Kpm Ombo and Edfu on 16/11.

Little Stint  Calidris minuta
Only one bird was identified for certain, but many more were probably present.

Dunlin  Calidris alpina
Again only one bird was identified for certain. Birding from a moving boat meant many of the small waders were not identified.

Ruff  Philomachus pugnax
Fairly common along the river, though usually in ones and twos.

Common Snipe  Gallinago gallinago 
A total of four birds seen.

Black-tailed Godwit  Limosa limosa
Fairly common along the river in small groups of up to 8.

Spotted Redshank  Tringa erythropus
Fairly common in small numbers.

Redshank  Tringa totanus
Again fairly common along the river in small numbers.

Marsh Sandpiper  Tringa stagnatilis
Only one or two seen on the way upriver, so a flock of 40+ between Kom Ombo and Edfu on the way back was unexpected.

Greenshank  Tringa nebularia
Seen all the way along the river, although usually only in groups of 1-3.

Green Sandpiper  Tringa ochropus
One at Philae Temple 14/11.

Wood Sandpiper  Tringa glareola
One near Luxor on 16/11.

Common Sandpiper  Actitis hypoleucos
One near Esna 12/11.

Black-headed Gull  Larus ridibundus
Common all along the river, in flocks of up to 40. The only species of gull seen.

Gull-billed Tern  Sterna nilotica
Lived up to its scientific name by being the commonest tern species along the Nile. The largest flock was 100+ near Edfu on 16/11.

Whiskered Tern  Chlidonias hybridus
Also very common all along the river, though not in such large flocks as Gull-billed, max. c. 40.

White-winged Tern  Chlidonias leucopterus
Fairly common, particularly around Kom Ombo, but only in small groups.

Black Tern  Chlidonias niger
Two near Edfu on 16/11.

Feral Pigeon/ Rock Dove  Columa livia
Feral Pigeons were very common and seen in large numbers. Some birds showed characteristics of Rock Dove but are unlikely to have been the real thing in view of the large number of Feral Pigeons.

Laughing Dove  Streptopelia senegalensis
Very common in the towns.

Little Owl  Athene noctua
One heard just before dawn at Abu Simbel on 15/11.

Egyptian Nightjar  Caprimulgus aegyptius
Two birds hunting insects at Kom Ombo temple 13/11.

Pallid Swift  Apus pallidus
Fairly common, e.g. c.20 at the Valley of the Kings, with smaller numbers seen at several sites.

Pied Kingfisher  Ceryle rudis
Vary common all the way from Luxor to Aswan, with up to 8 in view at the same time. One very tame bird used the boat as a fishing platform at Luxor.

Hoopoe  Upupa epops
Fairly common in the fields and at several ancient monuments. Hoopoes in Egypt appear to be tamer than elsewhere and gave superb close-range views.

Little Green Bee-eater  Merpos orientalis
One flew past the boat while waiting at Esna lock - rather surprisingly the only bee-eater of the trip.

Crested Lark  Galerida cristata
One or two birds seen in the fields.

Rock Martin  Ptyonoprogne fuligula
Present at most of the temples visited, including c. 40 at Deir el Bahari and c. 100 at Abu Simbel.

Barn Swallow  Hirundo rustica
The Egyptian race savigni was very numerous, with flocks of 100+ seen and at least a few birds in views almost constantly. Two individuals of the nominate race were seen near the Valley of the Kings.

Meadow Pipit  Anthus pratensis
Several seen in the fields.

Yellow Wagtail  Motacilla flava
Fairly common along the river banks, notably a flock of 30+ between Kom Ombo and Edfu. Unfortunately views were not good enough to be certain of the races involved.

White Wagtail  Motacilla alba
Common all along the river bank in ones and twos.

Common Bulbul  Pycnonotus barbatus
6+ by the café on  Kitchener Island, Aswan on 14/11.

Bluethroat  Luscinia svecica
One at Kitchener Island, Aswan on 14/11.

Black Redstart  Phoenicurus ochruros
A female at Philae Temple on 14/11.

White-crowned Wheatear  Oenanthe leucopyga
Fairly common, with 6+ at Philae temple on 14/11 and 4 at Abu Simbel on 15/11.

Fan-tailed Warbler  Cisticola juncidis
A flock of 20+ with Yellow Wagtails between Kom Ombo and Edfu.

Olivaceous Warbler  Hippolais pallida
One at Kitchener Island, Aswan on 14/11.

Sardinian Warbler Sylvia melanocephala
One in bushes at Abu Simbel 15/11.

Lesser Whitethroat  Sylvia curruca
Several in bushes at Abu Simbel 15/11

Chiffchaff  Phylloscopus collybita
Quite common, found even at the Valley of the Kings. c. 15 in bushes at Abu Simbel.

Willow Warbler Phylloscopus trochilus
Several birds seen, including 3-4 at Abu Simbel

Nile Valley Sunbird  Anthreptes metallicus
2-3 at Kitchener Island on 14/11, two along the Corniche at Luxor on 18/11.

Hooded Crow  Corvus corone cornix
Very common everywhere

Brown-necked Raven  Corvus ruficollis
One at the Valley of the Kings on 12/11

House Sparrow  Passer domesticus
Present in very large numbers, with thousands roosting along the Corniche at Luxor.

Spanish Sparrow  Passer hispaniolensis
2-3 birds in fields near the Colossi of Memnon.

Trumpeter Finch  Bucanetes githagineus
8-10 birds seen at the Valley of the Kings on 12/11.


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