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A Report from

Sharm el Sheikh, Egypt, 31st March - 7th April 2005,

Bob Swann

This report gives details of the birds seen and the sites visited during a week's holiday in Sharm el Sheik, on the Sinai Peninsular in Egpyt. We had visited this area in October 2002 and found it very good for birds during the autumn migration, so I was keen to revisit it in spring to see what it was like then. We flew from Manchester, on a package tour with Thomas Cook. We stayed at the Sharminn Aramein. I chose this hotel as it was within walking distance of the sewage works that were so good for birds in October 2002. The hotel is situated at the northern edge of Sharm. It is on City Council Street, which runs parallel to Peace Street (the main road from Namma Bay to Sharm el Sheik). You turn off Peace Street, just as you enter Sharm, left down Tower Street (which goes to the sewage works) and then first right is City Council Street. We arrived in Egypt on 31st March, but were held up in the airport, due to the chaotic state of the baggage handling procedures so it was dark by the time we reached the hotel. We used taxis to get around. This was cheaper than car hire and because we always tended to use the same driver it had the advantage that he knew what we were doing and could explain it to others, which helped with access to sites.

1st April. Up early at 6.00am and headed down with much eager anticipation to see what I'd find at the sewage works. To my horror I found that they were totally dry and birdless. Hiding my disappointment I headed to the plantation just beyond the ex-sewage works, flushing 3 Squacco Herons out of the bushes. The plantation held a few migrants: 2 Eastern Bonelli's Warblers 'chipping' away, a Common Redstart, a Common Nightingale, 7 Lesser Whitethroats and 5 Tree Pipit. I also disturbed a European Sparrow Hawk and a Marsh Harrier floated by. At lot of the large trees in the plantation had died and fallen. The 'field' area at the northern end was very dry and abandoned, with few birds apart from Collared Doves and Laughing Doves. I headed back to the road (Tower Street) and crossed it. Beyond a fence was a zoo. In an adjacent irrigated fodder field were 6 Cattle Egret, a few Yellow Wagtails and 3 Rock Martins overhead. Headed back, slightly disappointed, for breakfast.

After breakfast took a walk round Sharm heading for the cliffs at the southern end. In gardens on the cliff tops south of the lighthouse I had excellent close views a pair of House Crow, nest building, but there were no migrants bar a Hoopoe. Then an Alpine Swift flew over followed later by my first Barn Swallow. As I walked back north along the shore from the lighthouse I had a nice flock of 21 White-eyed Gulls. They were chasing after flying fish, which were being pushed to the surface by larger fish. They were adept at catching them in mid air or just as they hit the water surface. In hotel gardens I had very close views of another 6 Cattle Egrets feeding on the lawns.

2nd April. An early start. I had arranged to be picked up by taxi at 5.30am, to be taken to the 'reservoirs' just west of Naama Bay. Again this area was much quieter than it had been in autumn. There were quite a few waders: 16 Common Greenshank, 4 Common Redshank, 8 Ringed Plover, 3 Wood Sandpiper, 3 Green Sandpiper, 4 Common Sandpiper and 15-20 pairs of noisy, but very smart Spur-winged Plovers. Ducks were very scarce, just 3 Common Teal. There was also an immature Slender-billed Gull. Passerines too were in low numbers. Apart from the ubiquitous House Sparrows there were just a few White Wagtails and a Tree Pipit. A small party of 6 Common Swift moved through, followed by 4 Barn Swallow, 1 Sand Martin and a House Martin. At 7.06am I heard the first sandgrouse, a party of 12 Spotted Sandgrouse, which flew in, landed, but did not stay. At 8.00am, I noted a flock of 26 sitting and feeding out in the desert below the bottom pools. They eventually flew into drink and were joined by another six, but they were very wary and did not stay long. A few Rock Doves were also flighting in to drink. I then headed down to the bottom pools, but some Bedouin had arrived with their dogs and camels. They were grazing the camels in the reedier pools. This caused quite a bit of disturbance, flushing out 2 Little Egret and 5 Squacco Herons, but little else. The Bedouin were quite friendly and spoke to me as I watched a flock of 6 Red-throated Pipits and 20+ Yellow Wagtails feeding around the camels in one of the reedy channels. The wagtails were mainly blue-headed (flava), black-headed (feldegg) with a couple of grey headed (thunbergi) and a possible yellow-headed (lutea). I then walked down through the desert to Namma Bay, the only birds seen en-route being 4 Tawny Pipit and a Northern Wheatear.

In the late afternoon I decided to head back down to the sewage farm area. On the way had a nice male Ortolan Bunting. In the scrub and plantation there were a few migrants including 4 Chiffchaff and another Common Redstart, whilst in the 'field' area at the northern end were a Northern Wheatear, a female Black-eared Wheatear, a Whinchat and a Turtle Dove.

 3rd April. We had booked a taxi to take us to the Nabq Protected area. We left after breakfast and arrived to find no security guard at the entrance. The taxi driver wasn't keen to go through without permission, so we decided we would just have to walk. Although it was hot and sunny a strong north easterly breeze kept us cool. We also began to see birds. A pair of Cream-coloured Courser flew over giving nice views. We disturbed small parties of Tawny Pipits and as well as a few Northern Wheatears, we had nice views of an Isabelline Wheatear perched on a bush, fanning its tail to display the broad black band. Another bush held an Eastern Bonelli's Warbler. We reached the next checkpoint by a mosque, which we were enticed into for a visit. By the shore here we had a Caspian Tern, 2 White-eyed Gulls and a nice Sooty Gull, whilst beyond in the desert were 4 Brown-necked Ravens. We had to show our passports before we could continue beyond the checkpoint. As we approached the mangrove area we cut down onto the shore. The tide was out so we walked out across the old coral platform. Immediately we found 5 Western Reef Egrets, including a very confiding black morph one. There were also little parties of waders in all about 15 Grey Plover, 10 Turnstone, 3 Curlew, 2 Oystercatchers, 2 Common Redshank, 2 Common Greenshank, 1 Dunlin, 5 Ringed Plover, 6 Kentish Plover and a single Greater Sandplover. A Common Kestrel flew out over the area, disturbing the waders and making a lunge at a Common Kingfisher. On the sea a small group of Lesser Black-backed Gulls flew by and 2 Slender-billed Gulls. We walked up towards the mangroves, where a loud harsh call alerted us to a nice view of a Striated Heron. Then on the shore below the Bedouin village we had close views of 3 White-eyed Gulls and 2 Sooty Gulls. We then started the long walk back, but luckily a Bedouin in a pickup stopped and offered us a lift, which we readily accepted.  Quite a good mornings birding.

In the late afternoon I walked down into old Sharm and then walked back up Peace Road. This road is bounded by a broad avenue of trees, under which is a collection of irrigated plant nurseries. The first bird I encountered was a Savi's Warbler, walking between the plant pots, with its tail cocked. I also located a Hoopoe, a Wryneck, a Chiffchaff and a Lesser Whitethroat. I then turned down into Tower Street. The wide road margin contains a variety of irrigated bushes and plants. Here I found 3 Squacco Herons, 15 Tree Pipits, 2 Tawny Pipits, 3 Northern Wheatear, a Whinchat and 2 Eastern Bonelli's Warblers. Amongst the many House Sparrows were a few Spannish Sparrows. At the bottom end of the street by the zoo a female Sparrow Hawk disturbed about 25 Yellow Wagtails from the fodder field, whilst 2 Barn and 3 Red-rumped Swallows hawked overhead. In the scrub between the road and the old sewage works I flushed a Common Quail and 2 Hoopoes.

4th April. At 7.30am we left in our taxi for the Ras Mohammed National Park at the southern tip of the Sinai peninsular. The entrance fee was $5 per person (we paid in Egyptian pounds and got rooked!). We stopped to look for birds in the roadside plants just beyond the entrance. We did not see a lot, bar a few Northern Wheatear, 4 Black-eared Wheatears (all females), 6 Tawny Pipits and a Chiffchaff. Our next stop was down on the shore just beyond the huge rock obelisks. The tide was out so we had to wander out a bit to see what was there - again not a lot! A few Curlew, 2 Grey Plover, 4 Kentish Plover and sitting on an exposed rock two Osprey. We then continued, turning off on a track towards the 'main' beach and en-route stopped by the saline lake. Here we had a nice approachable Collared Pratincole plus 12 Little Stint, 6 Kentish Plover and a Common Greenshank. In the scrub were two Sedge Warblers. We then noticed flocks of buzzards using the thermals to spiral up above us. 80, 40, 60, 100 and so on. Must have been over 1000 in all and they were all Steppe Buzzards, surprisingly no other raptors were with them. We headed down to the beach and to the observation point. A very strong wind was now blowing and the buzzards were struggling in low against it, giving good views as they came over us. There were some very rufous ones. The wind was so strong, we decided to move on. We headed to the mangrove channel and walked round the point. Still very windy and still not a lot of birds - 3 Slender-billed Gulls, 2 Oystercatcher, a Common Sandpiper and 3 very approachable Whimbrel. We decided to head back to Sharm. The tide was now in and we had close views of 2 White-eyed Gulls. It had been quite a good day, but far fewer birds than in autumn, and the area appeared much drier with much less scrub, than I remembered.

In the late afternoon I took a short walk to the bushes at the top of Tower Street. Birds much as the previous day plus a female Black-eared Wheatear, a Common Quail, a pair of Crested Larks and a Common Kestrel plucking a Laughing Dove, quite a good meal for it.

5th April. Another early breakfast and a taxi to Golf Movenpick, the golf course north of Naama Bay, with numerous pools, as well as bushes and irrigated greens and fairways. I got access no bother and started walking round the edge of the course checking out the pools. Quite a lot of waders: 1 pair Spur-winged Plover, 1pair Little Ringed Plover, 10 Ringed Plover, 5 Black-winged Stilts, 11 Wood Sandpipers, 2 Green Sandpiper, 2 Common Greenshank, 4 Common Redshank, 1 nice Marsh Sandpiper in summer plumage and 3 Ruff. Also on the pools were 2 Slender-billed Gulls and 3 Black-headed Gulls. I also flushed a Purple Heron, whereas 4 Grey Heron were roosting on the balconies of nearby buildings. On the fairways were lots of pipits, mainly Tree Pipits (250+), but also 30+ Tawny Pipit and 6 Red-throated pipits. There were also lots of White Wagtails, 20+ Yellow Wagtails, 30 Northern Wheatear and my first male Black-eared Wheatear of the trip. In one area I had a compact flock of about 30 Greater Short-toed Larks and nearby another 16. A few pairs of breeding Crested Larks were busily gathering food. Also in the middle of one of the fairways was a nice Collared Pratincole. Around the bushes I had at least 5 Hoopoes, 4 European Bee-eaters, a Whinchat and a Sedge Warbler. Small groups of Barn Swallows were moving through with 6 Sand Martin and a House Martin. An Osprey flew in and landed on a building next to a pool, whilst an Eastern Imperial Eagle flew over, being mobbed by one of the local Common Kestrels. As the course got busier the birds got more dispersed so I decided it was time to head back to Sharm.

In the late afternoon I went back to the plant nurseries in Peace Street, then down through the bushes in Tower Street to the plantation by the old sewage works. There had obviously been a wee influx of migrants. In all I saw a Wryneck, 7 Hoopoe, 1 Turtle Dove, 2 Common Whitethroat, 6 Lesser Whitethroat, 1 Sub-alpine Warbler, 1 Blackcap, 6 Wood Warblers, 1 Chiffchaff, 2 Willow Warbler, 3 Eastern Bonelli's Warblers, 6 Northern Wheatear, 2 Whinchat, 3 Common Nightingale and at least 45 Tree Pipits. Two Common Buzzards were also trying to roost in the plantation.

6th April. A lie in and a late breakfast. Took a walk down to old Sharm to look at the port area and to try a bit of sea watching from the headland. In the gardens along the shore I had another Wryneck, 2 Black-eared Wheatears and 2 Lesser Whitethroats. Down by the port were 25+ White-eyed Gulls, 10 Black-headed Gulls and 2 Lesser Black-backed Gulls, but little else. Two Osprey sat on an old lighthouse above the harbour. My sea watch revealed nothing, bar a Brown-necked Raven flying along the cliff top. It got very hot so I decided to head back to the hotel.

Once again in late afternoon I headed out to the top half of Tower Street and once again the bushy area was quite productive. I flushed 2 Common Quail, 2 Hoopoe and 4 Squacco Herons, whilst around the bushes I located a nice Woodchat Shrike and 2 male Ortolan Buntings. There were fewer warblers than yesterday, but there was a nice male Black-eared Wheatear. I then checked out the plantation beyond the old sewage works. Eight Black-crowned Night Herons had come into roost. In the open area at the north end was a female Collared Flycatcher. As at Tower Street there were fewer warblers, with only 1 Wood Warbler being located.

7th April. My final day. I decided to get up early and head back to Golf Movenpick to see what was on the course before there was too much disturbance. My taxi dropped me off and I walked out onto the course where I was quickly spotted by an over zealous official who demanded to know why I was there and what I was doing. He was not very happy and insisted I go back to the club house with him. Here there was no one with real authority to allow me access (the course manager did not come on duty till after 9.00am) so I had to leave the course. I started to wander round the unoccupied housing area adjacent to the course. By entering gardens I could get alongside the course to view the greens and pools. I also had a group of 5 noisy Spur-winged Plovers using the deserted streets. Some of the garden fences had collapsed so I could nip in and out of the course to get a closer look at some of the pools. The birds were much as two days ago, though there were more Green Sandpipers (at least 12), Marsh Sandpipers (3), Ringed Plovers (25) and 1 Common Snipe. There were also at least 4 Collared Pratincoles. The large pool in front of the club house held 6 Grey Herons and an immature Great Cormorant. On the fairways there were still lots of pipits, but more Red-throated (at least 40) and 60+ Yellow Wagtails. From small bushes near the pools I disturbed a Common Quail, a Wryneck, a female Bluethroat and a male Ortolan Bunting. Raptors included another Osprey and an immature male Marsh Harrier. My taxi driver picked me up at 10.00am and explained President Mubarak was playing golf today, hence the extra security!

I got the taxi driver to drop me off by the sewage works so I could do a final check of the plantation. Migrants included a Turtle Dove, 6 Lesser Whitethroat, a Blackcap and 2 male Black-eared Wheatears. I then went up to the bushes at the top end of Tower Street, not as many birds as yesterday, but as well as the Woodchat Shrike there was now a male Masked Shrike, a nice bird to end my weeks birding. So it was back to the hotel to pack and sunbathe, whilst we waited for the airport bus.

In all I saw 94 different species, though no lifers. Birding in spring was not as good as I had hoped as the birds were in much lower numbers than in the autumn. Most of the raptors that were coming in at Ras Mohammed must follow the mountain chain to the west of the resort, as we saw very few at Sharm. Maybe other migrants do likewise. The demise of the sewage works was also a big disappointment as it had been a magnet for migrants in the past. The resort is expanding very rapidly especially towards Nabq, where there are a few new developments with large pools that in the future might attract birds.

Bob Swann

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