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A Report from

Nile Cruise - Egyptian Bird festival  19th - 26th March 2001,

John Miles


This was the first time that such a cruise had been organised since the old Swan Hellenic Bird Watching Tours of the 1980's and 1990's.  The trip was allowed to cover every inch of the Nile from Luxor to Aswan and back again with areas missed on the up river journey covered on the way back down.  A strong northerly wind on the return leg did up set the birding causing the group to look for cover from the wind often away from each other so that relaying bird sightings became much slower.  Part of the group did travel to Abu Simbel.  The list of bird species was very high in comparison even though there were disappointments such as the lack of migrating birds of prey and warblers.  This was probably due to those northern winds.

May I take this opportunity to say that everyone of the group made this a successful trip. It is hoped to repeat the tour in 2002.

John Miles [tour leader]

Day 1 March 19th

Most of the group arrived at night to start this cruise along the River Nile but five managed to arrive by 1pm from Cairo where they had been having a few days before hand.  This meant that the 'early birds' managed to get a few in before the rest with birds in the garden of the Sheraton Hotel and a trip across the river to watch waders.  The gardens produced the first spiralling flock of white storks and a good look at some of the common residents like the Nile valley sunbird, laughing dove, common bulbul, graceful warbler [Prinia], hoopoe, brown necked raven and black kite.

After negotiating for a boat it was across the river onto a large marsh area where several waders were found.  These included ruff, little stint, Temminck's stint, marsh and wood sandpiper, dunlin [only one of the trip], ringed plover, snipe, Jack snipe [only one of the trip] and greenshank.  Other birds included water [only one of the trip], red throated and meadow pipits, flava wagtails including grey and blue headed, white wagtail, crested lark, fan tailed warbler [ cisticola], isabelline wheatear, shoveler, teal, squacco and grey heron and little egret as well as a fly by of cormorants.  Not a bad start.  But what was that bird that flashed through the hotel gardens at night?

Day 2 March 20th

The early risers managed several good birds from the boat with pied kingfisher, purple heron, marsh harrier, spotted sandpiper and green sandpiper.  The first chance that the group had to meet everyone was at the breakfast table and then we were off to Crocodile Island. 

Like most trips birds appear at speed with the first birds of a country for many with the Nile sunbirds, graceful warblers, bulbuls, hoopoes etc then it was onto masked shrikes, a flash of a lanner through the trees where we were standing but better views of olivaceous warbler and fan tailed warblers.  Migrating warblers were already thin on the ground here and this sadly was going to be the case on the whole trip [olive tree warbler found here on 3rd April].

Waders soon took over with spur winged plover, black winged stilt, ruff, spotted redshank, marsh and wood sandpiper, little stint and snipe.  There was a fly by of the first glossy ibis of the trip with 5 south and 7 north.  Distant black and black shouldered kites were being mobbed by a kestrel.  Pipits and wagtails were every where with 3 types of flava including the gorgeous black headed as well as blue and grey.  Pipits ran out with red throated and meadow but no water pipit here.  There was a fly by night heron and drift by whiskered tern.  Wheatears were isabelline and northern while some managed to see the two quail fly off [not me!] and a walk over farm land to try and flush more quail found the group enjoying close views of little green bee-eaters and Spanish sparrows.

The walk back along the creek allowed good views of masked shrike, purple gallinule, kestrel, purple and squacco heron, the first gull billed tern, singing clamourous reed warblers, darting bluethroat and later singing bluethroat but no Senegal thick-knees or rufus bush chat which were here the next week!

It was then time to head back to the boat for lunch and then off to Karnack Temple.  The temple produced African rock martin and brown necked raven but little else but most were satisfied with the splendour of this great historical site including the festival garden where a wide number of birds in art could be seen.  Luxor Temple was limited for bird life but several bats were heard roosting in the temples.  

Day 3  March 21st

An early start saw the bus take us over the bridge and away to the Valley of the Kings where we were greeted with several trumpeter finches and a very tame brown necked raven.  Rock martins were everywhere as well as pallid swifts along with passing common swifts.  The wheatears played hard to get here and the following week hooded, mourning and even red tailed were seen here.  A large falcon was seen chasing the swifts here by lucky few and may well have been a lanner.  Up to three tombs were visited by most and there was a great example of ancient bird art in most of them. Queen Hatshepsut Temple held more bird art including lapwing and griffon vulture as well as the first ever inscriptions of moving large trees to Egypt. 

The Colossi of Memnon produced a large flock of white storks and our first Egyptian vulture.  In the crops were Spanish and house sparrows as well as fan tailed warblers.  On the way back to the boat birds included marsh harrier and black shouldered kite.  The cruise started in real with our first flock of duck which were mainly shoveler as well as wigeon and teal.  The next flock contained pintail and some one shouted garganey.  Tufted duck were soon added to the list as well as black tailed godwit, Kentish plover and common sandpiper.  Flocks of whiskered terns, spur winged plover, greenshank and garganey were found in a bay while most of the group tucked into their lunch.  The manager of the boat even offering to have some food sent up for me!

Feeding glossy ibis were seen in the afternoon along with the first great white egret, more waders and even sail by black eared wheatears and masked shrikes.  One marsh produced our only white tailed plover of the trip along with purple gallinule, many ruff and black winged stilts.  A dry well grazed area produced three woodchat shrikes along with masked shrike, 3 species of wheatear and hundreds of flava wagtail species.  Another sand bar held 20+ grey herons along with a sleeping spoonbill.  [I promised more spoonbills!]   There was then fly by lesser black backed gulls, flocks of pied kingfishers, a single blue kingfisher flashed passed the boat and even brown necked ravens.  Soon it was the black shouldered kite show with up to 4 birds flying, hovering, perching and offering good views to everyone.

One of the hardest birds to get in Egypt then came out into the open and started displaying its wings in an amazing gesture.  It was a bittern.  What a bird.  [We were still waiting for little bittern which is common along the Nile.]  Most of the group seemed to get onto it.  Then it was the turn of the barrage and its flying galabaus and table cloths.  Dinner was had passing through the lock gates and sailing through the dark to Edfu.

Day 4 March 22nd

We awoke to a large reed bed out in front of the boat where there were several purple herons, 2 garganey, 2 marsh harriers and hundreds of flava wagtails.  Edfu temple produced the alabaster statute of Horus but no real birds.  The boat moved on mid morning with large numbers of duck to greet us.  Our largest flock of tufted duck so far produced our first ferruginous duck which Norman Hallas spotted from his cabin but no one else saw.  A sparrow hawk was another prize for Norman as we were watching the 300 pigeons it had spooked.  Some of our best sandy bars appeared with an immature great black backed gull [a good bird for Egypt] along with lesser black backed gulls sitting with 12 gull billed terns, large numbers of whiskered terns and a hand full of white winged black terns.  One purple gallinule was seen with 2 chicks.  A bird of prey on one of the bars finally flew and seemed to be an adult lesser spotted eagle but the moving boat had caused all sorts of problems in its id.  The first and only Egyptian geese were seen here behind the eagle.

The next bar produced an adult spotted eagle and osprey and hopes were high for a good run of raptors for the afternoon.

Great white egret was one of the first birds of the afternoon and Richard Camp had a single sociable plover while Ashly Boon managed our only lapwing.  A long legged buzzard was the only raptor identified flying high with up to 3 eagles off to the east.  Another osprey close to the boat was followed by a large concentration of waders including little ringed, Kentish and ringed plovers.  This was to be one of our best days for birds with over 80 species seen from the boat including the 32 fly-by spoonbills, 2 striated herons, several eagles, collared pratincole, Egyptian vulture and even a good rock dove! 

Kom Ombo temple produced pallid and common swifts while a once reed bed now is a grass island with red throated pipits and hoopoes on it instead of the many little bitterns that used to be seen there.

Day 5 March 23rd

Early morning in Aswan produced a reedy island with chiffchaff and reed warblers feeding as well as the first little bittern.  From my early cruising, I feel little bitterns have got used to boats and don't fly out so often now.  50+ whiskered terns were heading north along with 2 little terns while an osprey sat on a rock on the far side of the river.  Across the road from the boat were two grassy areas which held masked shrike, olivaceous warbler, lesser whitethroat and 3 red throated pipits.

Our first trip took us to the High Dam above Aswan where the first white crowned black wheatear was found along with 2 long legged buzzards, 20+ black kites,  marsh harrier, hundreds of white storks, 2 ospreys and an eagle species.  Time meant that we had to leave for our trip to Philae where we checked the tufted duck for an sign of ferruginous ducks.  There were more ospreys and more storks but no boat ride around the lake.  Philae included more white crowned black wheatears, gull billed terns, whiskered terns and a fantastic location.  We then took the bus around to the village where we found 5 Egyptian vultures [2 lappet faced vultures were seen here on 4th April!], many whiskered terns and 2 white winged black terns, several waders and very close views of white stork.

The afternoon found us on a felucca up to the islands in the cataracts.  This proved to be one of the highlights of the trip for many who enjoyed close views of birds like night and striated heron, little bittern, masked and woodchat shrike, black necked grebe and not forgetting the Senegal Thick-knees.  Bee- eaters were very entertaining with all 3 species being found with several flocks of blue-cheeked and 3 European bee-eaters.  Who could forget the return trip with that whorl pool!

Day 6 March 24th

Early morning birding produced both clamorous and reed warbler singing in the reeds while across the road the football field produced woodchat shrike, 2 northern wheatears and hundreds of white wagtails.  The other park had the only Ruppell's warbler while Mac had a bluethroat by the flowerbeds close to the boat.  The group was split today with several taking the trip to Abu Simbel to see the temples there.  Birds reported from there included a party of black storks soaring over the temples as well as 3 white pelicans across Lake Nasser.

The rest of the party travelled to Kitchener's Island where they saw a wide variety of trees from around the world including the beautiful royal palm.  The egret colony there included both little and cattle nesting often at eye view with all stages of nesting.  Other birds were hard to find with willow warbler being the only new warbler while 28 glossy Ibis flew up towards the dam.

The boat started the return leg of the cruise by 2.15pm covering areas missed on the up river journey but strait away we were hitting some very strong northern winds which made birding hard to say the least.  Some of the best birds were the great white egrets with 3 for the day with one standing with grey herons right next to the boat.  There was a fly by red crested pochard seen by Mac.  40 night herons were the most seen on the trip.  Whiskered terns were in much larger numbers with over 200 at one point sitting out on poles close to Kom Ombo.  House martins made it onto the list along with the sand martins but amazingly no red rumped swallows. 

A walk along farm land produced another black eared wheatear which tried to be a much redder Cyprus pied wheatear while a distant hooded crow tried to be a closer blue rock thrush.  But when 3 nightjars started churing around us they must have been frogs!  Well that was until one flew! [seen by Ashly]  Egyptian nightjars were on the list.  

Day 7 March 25th

We awoke again by the reed bed at Edfu sailing by 9.30 into that strong northerly wind leaving behind 3 marsh harriers.  Duck numbers were high with over 1000 shoveler in one area along with pintail, wigeon, teal and garganey.  Our first pochard was found with tufted duck then it was the turn of the buzzards with both long legged and steppe buzzard.  Several black shouldered kites were found along with black tailed godwits but the star of the show was a well marked immature female marsh harrier which travelled over 15-20 kilometres with the boat finally disappearing over the barrage at Esna.

The temple at Esna was visited with one wall of birds from the Greco-Roman period which showed that they could not match the Ancient Egyptians when it came down to drawing/painting birds.  There was then a long wait of up to 6 hours waiting for the boat to get through the lock gates. [some boats have waited 22 hours!!]  Two pairs of marsh harriers kept us amused  while others looked through the tufted duck flock for some thing different.  As the boat finally moved towards the lock gates a drake ferruginous duck was found along with a black necked grebe.  A striated heron flew towards the barrage while a common sandpiper was the last bird seen before the Senegal thick-knees started up.  The boat docked back at the hotel at Luxor around 10pm.

Day 8 26th March

The last birds were seen on the Nile before it was time to leave for the airport.  A black shouldered kite tried to be the last bird of the trip but I think the house sparrows made it into the terminal.  Any way Horus was on the side of the plane which finally got you back to the UK!

Species List

There are 122 species recorded here along with several species only identified to family.

Black necked grebe  podiceps nigricollis  One seen on 23rd March and again on 25th March.

Cormorant  phalacrocorax carbo  Several seen along the trip.

White pelican  pelecanus onocrotalus  The only 3 were seen at Abu Simbel for those lucky few.

Bittern  botaurus stellaris  A single bird seen well on 21st just before Esna.

Little bittern  ixobrychus minutes  Only a hand full of records for what is a common bird on the Nile.  The best view was of the male flying up river from the felucca on 23rd March.

Night heron  nycticorax nycticorax  Mainly singles seen with one roost of 40 on 24th March.

Striated heron  butorides striatus  3 days of this wonderful heron with 3 seen on the felucca ride on 23rd March.

Squacco heron  ardeola ralloides  The commonest heron seen on the cruise.  What a bird!

Cattle egret  bubulcus ibis  Several days of this great bird.

Little egret  egretta garzetta  Birds found in many locations even sitting by the boat.

Great white egret  egretta alba  Always single birds seen with max of 3 birds on 24th March

Grey heron  ardea cinerea  Birds seen migrating north as well as sitting in parties by the river.

Purple heron  ardea purpura  Seen on every day of the trip with birds often close to the boat.

Black stork  ciconia nigra  The only birds seen were at Abu Simbel.

White stork  ciconia ciconia  Birds seen on several days with good views at the back of Philae.

Glossy ibis  Plegadis falcinellus  Birds seen in flight and also feeding on wetlands most days.

Spoonbill  platalea leucorodia  A single bird seen on 21st March and 32 in flight on 22nd March.

Egyptian goose  Alopochen aegyptiacus  Only 3 birds seen on 22nd March.

Wigeon  anas Penelope  Small numbers seen in most duck flocks.

Teal  anas crecca  Common through out the trip.

Mallard  anas platyrhynchos  Only birds seen on 21st March near to Crocodile Island.

Pintail  anas acuta  Small numbers seen through out the trip.

Garganey  anas querquedula  Only small numbers seen with max of 20 birds.  Can be seen in the 100's.

Shoveler  anas clypeata  The commonest duck on the Nile on this trip with one flock over 1000 birds.

Red crested pochard  netta rufina  A single bird seen on 24th March.

Pochard  aythya farina  Only seen on 25th March with tufted duck.

Ferruginous duck  aythya nyroca  A single bird seen on 21st March and another on 25th March.

Tufted duck  aythya fuligula   Small numbers seen along the Nile and on the water between the dams.

Black winged kite  elanus caeruleus  One of the birds of the trip with max of 4 at any one time.

Black kite  milvus migrans  Seen every day with max of 20+ at the high dam and Philae.

Egyptian vulture  neophron percnopterus  Max of 5 seen at Philae with singles over the valley of the Kings and south of Edfu.

Marsh harrier  circus aeruginosus  Seen every day with 4 together at Esna and 3 at Edfu.

Sparrowhawk  accipiter nisus  Up to 3 females seen on the trip.

Steppe buzzard  buteo buteo   Single bird seen along the river.

Long legged buzzard  buteo rufinus  Up to 4 birds seen along the river and on the high dam.

Lesser spotted eagle aquila pomarina  A single adult thought to be this species was seen along the river on 22nd March.

Spotted eagle  aquila clanga  A single adult was seen sitting on a sand bar along the river on 22nd march.

Eagle sp Aquila  Several eagles were seen on 22nd and on 23rd March but were not identified.

Osprey pandion haliaetus  Several seen on the trip with a max of 5 seen on 23rd March.

Kestrel falco tinnunculus  A common bird on the trip.

Lanner  falco biarmicus  A single bird was the only one seen at the Movenpick hotel, Crocodile Island on 20th March.

Quail  cortunix cortunix  Two were seen on the famland on Crocodile Island on 20th March.

Moorhen  gallinula chloropus  A very common bird seen on the river every day on the trip.

Purple gallinule porphyrio porphyrio  We had some amazing views of this bird often close to the boat every day.

Coot  fulica atra  Only seen near Luxor and Esna with max of 50 birds.

Black winged stilt  himantopus himantopus  Several seen at Crocodile Island as well as along the river.

Senegal thick-knees  burhinus senegalensis  Best views were seen at Aswan of 8 birds standing on rocks from the felucca ride.

Collard pratincole  glareola pratincola  Only a single bird seen on 22nd March where normally you see hundreds.

Little ringed plover charadrius dubius  Birds seen along the river on 21st and 22nd  March.

Ringed plover charadrius hiaticula  A common bird along the river with 30+ seen at Luxor on 19th March.

Kentish plover  charadrius alexandrinus  Only seen along the river from the boat on 21st and 22nd March.

Spur winged plover  hoplopterus spinosus  A great first for most people in the group but then we found flocks of 30 -40 birds along the river.

Sociable plover chettusia gregaria  A single bird seen from the boat on 22nd March only seen by Richard Camp.

White tailed plover chettusia leucura  A single bird seen with other waders on 21st March.

Lapwing  vanellus vanellus  A single bird seen by Ashly on 22nd March.

Little stint  calidris minuta  Several birds seen on most days along the river.

Temminck's stint  calidris temminckii  A single bird was seen on 19th March at Luxor.

Dunlin  calidris alpina  A single bird was seen on 19th March at Luxor.

Ruff  philomachus pugnax  One of the commonest waders along the Nile at this time of year.

Jack snipe  Lymnocryptes minimus  A single bird was seen on 19th March at Luxor.

Snipe gallinago gallinago  Several birds were flushed on Crocodile Island on 20th March.

Black tailed godwit  limosa limosa   Several birds were seen along the river.

Spotted redshank  tringa erythropus  Seen on Crocodile Island as well as along the river.

Marsh sandpiper  tringa stagnatlis  Good views were had by all on Crocodile Island and several were seen along the river.

Greenshank  tringa nebularia  A very common bird along the river.

Green sandpiper  tringa ochropus  Single birds seen along the river.

Wood sandpiper  tringa glareola  Large numbers seen along the river and on Crocodile Island.

Common sandpiper  actitis hypoleucos  Single birds seen along the river.

Black headed gull larus ridibundu  The commonest of all the gulls along the river but sadly no slender bills this time!

Lesser black backed gull  larus fuscus  Flocks of up to 45 birds were seen moving north along the river.

Great black backed gull  larus marinus  A single immature bird was seen with LBB's ona sand bar on 22nd March.

Gull billed tern  gelochelidon nilotica  Very good views of this species were seen on Philae lake but birds seen from Luxor to Aswan.

Little tern sterna albifrons  Two birds were seen close by the boat on at Aswan moving north with whiskered terns.

Whiskered tern  chlidonias hybridus  The commonest tern seen along the Nile.

White winged black tern  chlidonias leucopterus  Only a hand full seen with birds on 21st, 22nd and 23rd March.

Rock Dove  columba livia  Singles seen along the cliffs on the river but 8 in the park at Aswan with ferals showing the need to keep away from some large male ferals trying to mate with them.

Feral Dove  Columba sp  Seen every where we went even on the high dam.  A common food of Egypt.

Turtle dove  streptopelia turtur  Several at Crocodile Island purring away.

Laughing Dove  streptopelia senegalensis  Seen on most days on the river and around the towns.

Egyptian nightjar caprimulgus aegyptius  3 heard churring at Kom Ombo with one seen while a bird darted through the gardens at the Sherton Hotel which may have been this species.

Common swift apus apus  Several seen around the Valley of the Kings and at Kom Ombo.

Pallid swift  apus pallidus  Large numbers seen in many sites along the river and over the Valley of the Kings.

Common kingfisher  alcedo attis  A single bird seen darting north on the river on 21st march.

Pied kingfisher  ceryle rudis  Large numbers seen along the rivers.  This was one of the classic birds of the trip.

Little green bee-eater  merops orientilis  A very tame bird often giving fantastic views of two birds at once.

Blue cheeked bee-eater merops supercilious  A good day on 23rd March for this bird with 20+ seen hunting over the river and islands of Aswan.

European bee-eater  merops apiaster  Only 3 birds seen on 23rd March flying over a sand dune at Aswan.

Hoopoe  upupa epops  A great favorite of the trip with several seen close too.

Crested lark  galerida cristata  Very common on farmland along the river.

Lark sp  A single bird was observed flying along with the boat for a kilometre on 24th March which may have been a short toed lark.

Sand martin riparia riparia  Small numbers seen along the river.

African rock martin  ptyonoprogne fuligula  First birds seen at Karnack and birds found as far as Aswan.

Swallow  hirundo rustica  Both Egyptian race and European race seen on this trip.

House martin  delichon urbica  Several birds seen near to Kom Ombo on 24th march.

Meadow Pipit  anthus pratensis  Single birds seen at Luxor on 19th and Crocodile Island on 20th March.

Red throated pipit  anthus cervinus  Some amazing full summer birds seen at Crocodile Island and birds all the way to Aswan.

Water pipit  anthus spinoletta  A single bird seen on 19th March at Luxor.

Flava wagtails  motacilla flava  At least 3 races seen on this trip with black headed, grey headed and blue headed the common ones.

White wagtail  motacilla alba  The largest concentration of birds were found at Aswan with 200+ on 24th march.

Common bulbul  bulbul pycnonotus   Found in most inhabited  areas.

Bluethroat  luscinia svecica  Single birds seen at Luxor and Aswan.

Redstart  phoenicurus phoenicurus  Single birds seen on 22nd March and on 23rd March.

Isabelline wheatear  oenanthe isabellina  Several birds seen from the boat and at Crocodile Island.

Northern Wheatear oenanthe oenanthe  Several birds seen from the boat, at Aswan and at Crocodile Island.

Black eared wheatear oenanthe hispanica  Several birds seen from the boat and at Kom Ombo.

White crowned black wheatear oenanthe leucopyga  A new bird for most of the group seen at Philae and the High Dam.

Fan tailed warbler  cisticola juncidis  Best views from Crocodile Island of this warbler!

Graceful warbler  prinia gracilis  Seen in most hotel gardens and parks.

Reed warbler acrocephalus scirpaceus  Only found at Aswan in the reeds opposite the boat.

Clamorous reed warbler acrocephalus stentoreus  Good views along the river and on Crocodile Island.

Olivaceous warbler hippolais pallida  Best views at Crocodile Island and Aswan park.

Sardinian Warbler  Sylvia melanothorax  A possible bird seen at Aswan by the boat.

Ruppell's warbler  Sylvia rueppelli  A single bird seen in the park at Aswan on 24th March.

Lesser whitethroat  Sylvia curruca  Common on the trip with many birds feeding on flowers of silk cotton tree.

Chiffchaff phylloscopus collybita  Several birds feeding by the reeds in Aswan.

Willow warbler phylloscopus trochilus  Only single birds seen at Kitchener's Island and by the boat on 24th March.

Nile valley sunbird  Anthreptes metallicus  One of the best birds of the trip with birds everywhere.

Woodchat shrike  lanius senator  Several birds seen along the river with a single bird in the football field at Aswan.

Masked shrike lanius nubicus  Everyone enjoyed great views of this common bird along the Nile.

Hooded crow corvus corone cornix  Birds everywhere along the Nile even landing on the boat.

Brown necked raven  corvus ruficollis  Best views of this bird were at the Valley of the Kings.

House sparrow  passer domesticus  This is the commonest bird in Egypt due to the life style of the majority of people.

Spanish sparrow passer hispaniolensis  Only a hand full of records from Crocodile Island and Valley of the Kings.

Goldfinch  carduelis carduelis  Single birds at Crocodile Island and Aswan.

Trumpeter finch bucanetes githagineus  Great views of up to 12 birds at Valley of the Kings.


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