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A Report from

Nile Cruise 8th - 15th December 2004,

John Miles

This was a normal Nile cruise on a Thomas Cook boat called 'the African Queen' with the historic trips to sites often used to add to the bird list. Extra trips were to Crocodile Island [2] and west bank of the Nile at Aswan. Benefits of this time of the year were temperature [24c - 28c] through the day and the depth of the Nile which is low at this time of the year effecting many of the wintering species.

There were 4 people on the trip including Mike Henry, Dorothy Iverson and myself for the birds and Sheila Irving for the sites and sun. I have lost count on the number of times that I have been to Egypt but it was the first trip for Dorothy and Sheila and second for Mike who was the artist for my book 'Pharaohs Birds'.

The total for the trip was 108 species with several interesting winter records for the country.

Day 1
Flight from Manchester via Birmingham to Luxor arriving at 3.30pm allowing several birds from the coach on the way to the boat moored at Esna. First bird in the country was palm dove and house sparrow followed by a Senegal Thick-knees on a building site in the airport. Pied kingfisher was closely followed by little and cattle egret and several squacco herons. The first bird of prey was black shouldered kite. Egyptian swallows were over a canal and several views of the Nile came before we crossed the bridge at Esna where there were black headed gulls and more egrets.

The boat was mored at Esna due to work on the loch gates here preventing boats from sailing up from Luxor. The boat was full board with all meals provided and many tours except Abu Simbel and even Esna Temple. An early night was had by all after our drive down from Carlisle to Manchester in the early hours.

Day 2
After breakfast it was a bus ride to Valley of the Kings which took around hr. On the drive kestrel, spur winged plover, turtle dove and a distant great grey shrike were added. Brown necked raven was the first bird seen at the Valley but at the gates I was not allowed to take my scope into the tomb area so decided to bird back down to the bus park. Mike had pallid swift and African rock martin around the cliffs while 2 trumpeter finches were briefly seen. I found more ravens, heard a trumpeter finch and saw several white wagtails. Two hundred metres down hill from the bus station was a singing male blue rock thrush which was very obliging.

Queen Hatshepsut's temple had more brown necked ravens but the real gem was a male mourning wheatear right by the coach. This bird was very tame and later moved to the rubbish tip behind the shops. Valley of the Queens had another trumpeter finch, 2 brown necked ravens and 2 black kites. The Collosi of Memnum held a distant male stonechat, spur winged plover, crested lark but time did not allow us to find the Spanish sparrows that were here in 2001. Back on the coach a group of waders in a field were thought to be golden plover seen only by Dorothy.

When we returned to the boat it left us with some time to look at Esna. With so many boats moored we did not have a view of the river so I did a quick run through 3 boats to view the river and managed our first ferruginous duck and black necked grebe with a group of tufted duck and pochard plus a purple gallinule in the reeds. This gave us the momentum to go and look along the shore ourselves. We soon found open ground in some farm land with several good birds on shore like hoopoe, graceful warbler, chiffchaff, lesser whitethroat and palm doves.

We scanned the river finding another flock of duck which held at least 2 black necked grebes and 1 ferruginous duck. Pied kingfisher was joined by a kingfisher and a common sandpiper. White wagtails were common along the shore as well as little egret and squacco heron. More rafts of tufted duck and pochard were found on the river but with no extras in them. Black head gulls were the only gulls found in this area. A very large Nile monitor lizard was seen swimming close to reeds.

Day 3
The coach was off to Luxor and Karnack Temples. The girls went there while we covered Crocodile Island and the Movernpick Hotel. Walking over the bridge gave us close views of several waders including Temminck's stint, black winged stilt, wood and common sandpiper. A single Senegal thick-knees was on the shore, 3 little green bee-eaters in a bush close by and then it was the turn of the flavas with a splendid black headed along with blue and grey headed. A water pipit was with them and then a wryneck popped its head up from a shrub.

These close birds were too much for Mike and the sketch book came out while I moved on. Several cormorants were fishing in the river with a group of 16 drying on the far shore. Turning the corner I found water under trees and a very tame red spot bluethroat. Next was singing olivaceous warbler and then a tree full of birds in front of the hotel. Pied kingfishers, squacco heron, at least 10 turtle doves, palm dove, chiffchaff, bulbul and Nile valley sun birds. Underneath all this was 3 purple gallinules, little egret, squacco heron and moorhens. A seat was well positioned to enjoy all this!

Leaving the hotel complex onto the farm land were more little green bee-eaters and the calls of red throated pipits were soon heard crossing back to the river. This was the lowest I had ever seen the river with wide areas of mud leaving no water on the farmland. Irrigation pumps were full at work and few waders were found along the river until nearing the end of the island. Spanish sparrows were in bushes along the river and more wagtails along the shore.

A single male ruff was soon joined by little stint, ringed plover and snipe. There were 3 Swedish bird watchers at the point with their Egyptian guide who lives on the island. Here were stacks of birds including 10+ white tailed plovers, 140+ glossy ibis, marsh sandpiper, Kentish and little ringed plover, spotted redshank, redshank, greenshank, wood sands and flocks of 100s of ruff and little stints. The light was not brilliant here but still the birds were great. Duck included wigeon, teal, mallard and shoveler.

A clump of reeds held clamorous and reed warbler while a kingfisher flew up the creek dividing the island with the shore. The Swedes had paid to see the painted snipe and this was flushed from a small reedy pool only for the bird to fly away behind a big reed bed. The reeds increased in this area and it was not long before red avadavat were heard. I then went back to meet the coach on the main road coming from Luxor and met up with Mike. He had added Bonelli's warbler to the list after sketching several species and Dorothy had a male little bittern in the 'sacred lake' at Karnack. Mike had even spotted a green water snake in a canal close to where I was waiting for the coach. Back to Esna and then waiting for the boat to start cruising. We did manage 2 hours of day light on our way to Edfu.

Duck were the main event with large numbers of pochard, tufted duck and shoveler. One flock contained at least 2000+ tufted duck, 500 pochard and 120 black necked grebes as they paddled out of the way of the boat. Mike spotted 2 ferruginous duck. Waders included another 8+ white tailed plover and 500+ black winged stilts. Marsh harriers and black shouldered kites competed as the most common bird of prey while whiskered were more common than white winged black terns.

Day 4
The late start from yesterday meant that we had a clear view onto the island off Edfu and Mike was happy to add marsh harrier onto his cabin list! But what was that bird flying into a palm on the other side of the river? We both thought stork species and later in the trip were proved right.

The island was amazing with at least 8 white tailed plovers and stacks of other waders and herons. Often we could see up to 4 purple herons from the boat. Squacco heron was added from the cabin and even glossy ibis when the rest went off to see Edfu Temple. Marsh, green, wood and common sandpipers were all seen on the island. The first black tailed godwits were found and lots more stilts and stints.

A single slender billed gull flew by with many black headed gulls and marsh terns and then it was the 'tern' of gull billed with full breeding plumage showing even coming close to the boat. Up to 4 marsh harriers were using the island and a dog on the island showed that there were rats present on the island which the harriers seemed to be hunting.

The cruise was back on again and the number of islands, waders and duck increased. |Glossy ibis were counted in the double figures and one count of gallinule left no change in 80 birds in one inlet. Shoveler rose to the 1000s and there were small numbers of wigeon but only single pintail. The sun shone on a group of 26 ferruginous duck flying passed the boat. Birds were coming in thick and fast with a possible bittern in one corner of a reed bed and then a striated heron on the other side of the river.

Spoonbills were sleeping on one island while another 8+ white tailed plovers were logged. Spotted redshank, greenshank, another 600 black winged stilts and curlew were seen from the boat as well as little green bee-eaters and black shouldered kites. Hundreds of whiskered terns were hunting insects in several bays along with a few white winged black terns. The first great white egrets were found along with Egyptian geese. Evening brought the calling Senegal Thick-knees along the bank and it was soon time to dock at Kom Ombo where we had had Egyptian nightjar before in the lights of the temple but sadly not this time.

Day 5
Daylight found us moored at Aswan with a clear view of the river and an island just in front of us. Here were up to 55 glossy ibis and many waders including black tailed godwit, spotted redshank, ringed plover, ruff, marsh and wood sandpipers and black winged stilts. Three species of tern were flying around and many black headed gulls were feeding by the boats.

The organised trip was first the obelisk quarry [ 6 Egyptian geese flew by] and then Philae which has been one of the best sites to see many species in recent years. As it was early in the morning many of the raptors were still trying to wait for the thermals and 26 black kites were counted on the rocks. Spoonbills were a big surprise high on a rock with 44 birds asleep. Dorothy spotted a blue rock thrush and slowly our first osprey appeared. There were no sign of the Egyptian vultures or wintering eagles here and may be it would have been better later in the day.

Even the white crowned black wheatears left it until we were back by the harbour with one bird standing out on a wire while the other was a silhouette next to a grey heron. Sure enough 2 then appeared as the coach set off for the high dam while 2 more were hiding from the sun actually by the coach at the high dam with another across the road facing Lake Nasser. A Sardinian warbler was heard and seen in the trees by the dam and yet another marsh harrier floated in front of the dam flushing a party of shoveler.

Returning to the old dam we saw rafts of diving duck, marsh terns, gull billed terns and cormorants while a lanner falcon flew along the dam looking for pigeons. A papyrus shop was next but the wait for the felucca ride to Kitchener's island was well worth the wait. Many waders and herons made the outward trip but on the island Mike found a male orphean warbler and a Nile valley sunbird. Back towards the shore an osprey flew around the felucca giving everyone great views having been pushed from its perch by a grey heron. Ninety Egyptian geese then decided to take off in front of us adding to the spectacle. This was a small number compared to the evening show with a red sunset. Around 600 flew around for several minutes with the desert behind them.

Day 6
With the rest of the boat heading off to Abu Simbel by coach Mike and myself decided to give the West Bank a go. First it was a ferry across the river and a slog across the Western Desert looking for some good birds. After some pure rock doves and 100s of feral we were left with very little other than a few black kites. We viewed the monastery of St Simeon and a Turkish fort out in the distance but on the way back the green fertile farmland gave us Sardinian warbler, bluethroat, grey wagtail and bulbuls.

This made us return in the afternoon with Dorothy and started off with black headed wagtail, Temminch's stint, red throated pipit and fan tailed warbler. The combination of the agricultural land and the wide river edge was great value with lots of waders and then hoopoes, spur winged plovers, bluethroats and graceful warblers. A single stonechat of the race maura was found along the edge, another Sardinian warbler and a juvenile/first winter great spotted cuckoo flew passed us.

Common snipe and jack snipe were flushed and a flock of avadavats were feeding on the ground offering close views. The noise of a birthday party along the shore put us off from going further and as we turned as a Senegal thick-knees flew in front of us and landed like a bittern freezing as if we could not see it. More red throated pipits, bluethroats, summer plumaged whiskered terns and purple gallinule were seen before returning to the boat.

Day 7
We awoke back at Kom Ombo allowing us 2 hours along the farmland where we found Spanish sparrows, both red spot and white spot bluethroats, another stonechat of the race maura . and many palm doves, crested larks and red throated pipits on the famland. A deep gully with reeds was full of warblers mainly chiffchaff and lesser whitethroats but a clamorous reed warbler decided to come out in the open.

Back to cruising for our final full day and a flock of around 300 cormorants were flying in and crashing in the water causing mayhem with large numbers of black headed gulls and terns trying to rescue the pieces left over of the fish. Three lapwing were feeding with spur winged plovers while dunlin and curlew sandpiper were seen also. Not expecting any movement in the sky at this time of the year the appearance of a black stork over the boat had us looking further a field. This bird was found again later and a large falcon and buzzard was not identified in the distance of the Eastern Desert. The same flock of ferruginous duck and spoonbills were seen and then it was into black and black shouldered kites, a wintering sparrowhawk and then a perched/then flying long legged buzzard.

A flock of pigeons exploded and in came both a female and male lanner falcon which circled for several minutes behind the boat. There were several kestrels and another sparrowhawk while an osprey was nearly missed perched on the mud with hooded crows around it. Another stop at Edfu allowed another look at the island which had a very yellow headed male marsh harrier displaying and trying to pull in 3 of the females floating around the island. With a begging youngster here as well thoughts were asked if breeding had occurred here before! A male stonechat was found while Mike was sketching a purple heron.

Our final part of the cruise saw us find another white tailed plover on mud beyond Edfu and it was back to flocks of duck and some amazing numbers of waders. One flock of 300+ spotted redshank feeding in deeper water like phalaropes. Over 200 glossy ibis were found on one island and then the dark started to come in. Gulls and terns were heading for roost and we were heading for Esna and the end of the cruise!

Day 8
We left the boat and took a taxi to Crocodile Island so that Dorothy could see this amazing place. We did not add to the list but close views of 2 little bitterns, bee-eaters, gallinule, turtle doves, Senegal thick-knees and the ever present hoopoes prepared us for the plane home leaving at 4.30pm.

I have not added a bird list as most birds are mentioned in the text only to add some numbers like :- 1000s of little egrets, squacco herons, shoveler, tufted duck, marsh terns, black winged stilts and ruff, 100s of glossy ibis, spotted redshank, black tailed godwits, black necked grebes, stints, gallinule, purple and grey herons, gull billed tern, wigeon and teal. And we had the same bed all the way!!


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