Having been posted to Dubai to work for nine months I thought I would take the opportunity to try and bird some of the adjacent countries. I must admit that although Yemen came to mind I thought there was no chance of visiting it due to security concerns. Therefore to my surprise whilst surfing the net one bored day at work I found two recent trip reports from independent groups who had visited Yemen in 2007 and they had seen all the mainland endemics without any problems. Both groups recommended visiting the country. Still a bit sceptical I checked the travel advisory of a number of countries and they all had travel warnings in place. However I did note that these travel warning had been in place for a number of years.
Further research revealed that a number of tour companies were now running trips to the country so if they were visiting it I could see no reason why I shouldn’t. In the end it turned out to be a great trip with no hassle and I was made welcome everywhere I went. To be able to visit the country was great and being able to see the endemic birds made it even better.
As usual my time was limited so it was essential to find a ground agent who understood my requirements. The two previous groups used a company called Arabian EcoTours PO box 5420 Sana’a Yemen. Telephone +967 182 4936 mobile +967 711 883644 or 967 777 77 0024 run by Yousuf Mohageb email@example.com and highly recommended them. I contacted them and found them very responsive to my enquires. The owner Yousuf knows where the best sites for the birds are understands birders odd requirements and he also is quickly getting to know the birds himself. Apart from that he is a genuinely nice person and good company. Like the other groups I recommend him without hesitation. I liked the fact that I had to find my own birds it’s much better than being shown them by a guide.
The timing of the trip was difficult. As I didn’t know how much longer I was going to be in Dubai I wanted to go as soon as possible however I wanted to make sure my visit did not co-inside with the Holy Month of Ramadan which was due to start on the 1st September so my window was somewhat limited. In the end the only time I could go was the last few days of August, which in my opinion is not the best time for birds but it didn’t stop me from seeing all the endemics plus a few migrants.
Arabian Eco tours made all the arrangements from hotel bookings to travel permits. Transport was by a 4-wheel drive Land Cruiser and I was lucky as Yousuf acted as my driver and guide. The all-inclusive price was good value considering I was the sole participant.
All of the endemics occur within a two-hour drive of Sana’a with the exception of Arabian Golden Sparrow, which can only be found on the coastal plain. As my time was limited my original intention had been to limit the amount of driving and concentrate my birding around Sana’a with a brief trip to the coastal plain. During discussions with Yousuf he was concerned that with this strategy I could possibly miss Yemen Accentor as they are difficult in this area and he suggested we go to Taiz where they are much easier to see. Not wanting to miss this key bird I agreed however it did involve a lot of driving. On reflection maybe I should have taken the risk of finding one at Kawkaban and having more birding time than driving time but it would have been a big risk.
Accommodation and Food
All the hotels I stayed in were of reasonable to good standard. They were clean all had hot water and on the coast had air conditioning which was a bonus
During the day Yousuf made picnic meals from fresh produce sourced locally or we would eat at roadside restaurants. In the evening Yousuf arranged meals either in the hotel or the nearby restaurants.
Bottle water and soft drinks were widely available and even the smallest roadside villages appeared to have a fridge.
After the heat of Dubai it was a pleasant 25 degrees with low humidity and big blue skies when I arrived in Sana’a. This was the order of the day for the whole time we were in the mountains although on the drive to Taiz the weather closed in late afternoon and there was some low cloud on the higher passes. A similar pattern occurred at Al Mawhit with distant thunder and lighting but no real rain however it did curtail birding by an hour.
The coastal plain was totally different with the temperature and humidity a lot higher making birding hard going after 9am
As usual thanks to everyone who posted a report on the web site without which I would never of gone
Thanks to Yousuf for organising the trip, driving and providing an insight to the country and its people
Birds of the Middle East – Porter Christensen and Schiermacker-Hansen
Collins Bird Guide – Mullarney, Svensson, Zetterstrom and Grant
Yemen including Socotra Jan 13-25 2007 – John Hornbuckle
Socotra and Sana’a area of Mainland Yemen 12th – 20th October 2007 Nick Moran
Details of the main sites can be found in the referenced trip reports. Any supplementary information has been included in the itinerary.
Thursday 28th August
Caught the 7am flight from Dubai to Sana’a, which arrived on time and was issued very quickly with a visa on arrival for US$60. Immigration was a bit slower and baggage reclaim even slower.
Yousuf met me in the baggage hall just in case I had trouble getting my telescope through customs as in the past there have been a few problems. This time no problem and we left the airport in Yousuf’s Land Cruiser towards Hammam Garif about an hour and half from the airport.
After dropping down into the large Wadi we parked the car adjacent to an area of acacia scrub and the first birds I saw were 8 Arabian Waxbills. A great start. I spent the next hour birding the main track running adjacent to a stream which originates from some hot springs further up the Wadi. I made a number of forages into the surrounding acacia scrub and fields where I found a fruiting tree, which as usual was very productive holding African Hornbill and Bruce’s Green Pigeon.
The small pools of water and trees next to the track held a number of birds including Black Bush Robin, Grey-headed Kingfisher and White-throated Bee eater. I was enjoying my birding but we had a long drive to complete so reluctantly I returned to the car and headed out of the Wadi and commenced the long drive to Taiz. The drive took us through the mountains and although the road was good it was relatively slow. We made a couple of roadside stops but as the day progressed the weather got worse and we encountered low mist and light rain over the higher passes. As it began to get dark we could see the lights of Taiz in the distance at the base of Jebel Saber our target for tomorrow. We eventually arrived at the hotel about 8pm and after my long day I retired for a good night sleep
Friday 29th August
Woke at 5am and had breakfast on the roof of the hotel overlooking the old city of Taiz set at the base of Jebel Saber. As it started to get light we left the hotel and commenced the drive towards the top of the mountain passing through areas of terraced fields.
City of Taiz
However after about twenty minutes the car developed a puncture and during the process of changing the wheel we discovered the spare was also flat. Yousuf suggested I continue on foot whilst he sorted out the repairs. This I did and the first birds I saw were a small group of Yemen Linnets flying over and landing in a nearby field.
As I continued up along the road I heard a Blackbird type alarm call and very soon I had located the source a stunning Yemen Thrush perched in a bush eating berries.
Pleased with this I carried on and a few Km’s from the top I saw a movement in a field close to the road. I waited for a couple of minutes and to my delight three Yemen Accentor’s came into view foraging amongst the crops. Whist watching them a Little Rock Thrush flew into a nearby tree then in a tree just in front of me a Yemen Warbler appeared. Three of the target endemics in less than five minutes. Whilst watching them Yousuf arrived in a borrowed car whilst his was being repaired.
We drove to the Army post at 2800m where the road leading to the summit is blocked, parked and walked to the right along a road currently being constructed. It was not long before Yousuf put me onto another Yemen Thrush and I also saw another Yemen Accentor.
Having seen all the target birds we decided to return to Taiz picking up Yousuf’s car on route and head for Zi Sofal an area with large tracts of cacti a favourite food of Golden Winged Grosbeak. Of all the target birds Yousuf believed this was the most difficult to see so he suggested it was worth checking any previous site where he had seen them before. The drive took us back along the Sana’a road and after an hour we turned off and birded some cacti covered rolling hills. I explored the hills but no Grosbeaks and as it was getting hotter I descended into a valley with some large acacia trees. The first bird I saw was stunning male White-throated Robin a bird I was not expecting then suddenly I heard the call of a Woodpecker and immediately a male Arabian Woodpecker flew into a near by tree and started to feed. It was soon joined by its mate and I watched them feeding for over thirty minutes. It was an unexpected bonus to see this endemic as in the past people have struggled at other sites.
I continued my search for the Grosbeak but nothing and by now time was against us as we had a long drive to Al- Hodeidah. Reluctantly we left the area dove back through Taiz and commenced the descent through the mountains to the coastal plain making a few roadside stops on route.
It was a long drive however we did stop for an hour at a site where Yousuf had seen Arabian Golden Sparrow previously but despite an extensive search of the dry fields nothing was found. We eventually arrived at our hotel Al-Hodeidah in the early evening and after freshening up had a seafood dinner at a nearby restaurant
Saturday 30th August
Left the hotel at 5.30 and drove for hour to the town of Al Kadana where we turned off the main road and headed towards Al Dhahi. After a few km’s we stopped at small cattle farm on the right. It was now just starting to get light and I explored the fields adjacent to the cattle farm and although there were many bright yellow birds they all turned out to be Ruppel’s Weavers. Yousuf suggested we try the fields on the other side of the road and after walking for about 500m past a large area of acacia we came to a small farm. In the surrounding fields I could see a large group of what appeared to be more Ruppels Weavers however on closer inspection I found at least 30 Arabian Waxbills with them. I then spent the next hour exploring the surrounding area but no more Sparrows were located and on returning to the original site only Weavers could be found. It was a god job we were there at first light. By now it was midmorning and getting very hot so we decided to continue our journey and head back up to the mountains.
South Arabian Wheatear
As we drove along the road to Al Dhahi we came across a Dark Chanting Goshawk on wires adjacent to the road followed quickly by the a total of four Abyssinian Rollers. At Al Dhahi we purchased some supplies and then took the Sana’a road for about 20km through the foothills of the mountains until we came to Wadi Surdud. We turned off into the Wadi and followed it for about three hours making a couple of stops on route and eventually we reached a sealed road that lead to Al Mawhit.
The road wound steeply up and very soon we found our first family party of South Arabian Wheatears at the roadside.
We arrived at Al Mahwit early afternoon checked into our hotel, I was given a suit which was bigger than my flat in Hong Kong, had a refreshing cup of tea and then headed to an area of scattered ancient acacia tress about ten minutes drive from the hotel. As soon as we entered the trees a Brown Woodland Warbler was found almost in the first tree and this was quickly followed by a Yemen Warbler. I spent the next two hours exploring the trees eventually getting good views of Arabian Serin, at least four Yemen Thrush a male Arabian Woodpecker and on the hillside in the distance a party of four Arabian Partridge. I got very confused over a Flycatcher as I was expecting to see Gambaga however no matter how hard I tried to make it into one to me it was just a Spotted. By now it had started to cloud over and although only 5pm the light had started to fade and there was the odd bolt of lightening and crack of thunder in the distance so I returned to the car and decide to call it a day. Had a meal at the hotel and then slept in my vast room
Sunday 31st August
At first light we headed to the same area of acacia trees as yesterday and saw basically the same selection birds as the previous day. Returned to the hotel for a quick breakfast before starting the two-hour drive to Al Ahjur. We eventually turned off the main road onto a rough dirt track leading down to the village however before we reached the village we stopped at a very indistinct man made stream running down the hill to the left of the track. As I got out of the car I saw two Bulbuls drinking and a bit further up the stream two Golden Winged Grosbeaks were also drinking. I couldn’t believe my luck. They hung around for a couple of minutes before flying off into the valley
road to Al Ahjur
We headed down the road further into the village of Al Ahjur where we were met by a group of children who insisted on joining me as I birded the wooded valley leading down from the village. This appears to be the norm here.
There was no further sign of the Grosbeaks however another male White throated Robin was found and after finding at least one Spotted Flycatcher I eventually found adult Gambaga Flycatcher feeding a young bird. An Arabian Woodpecker was heard calling but I couldn’t see it. I returned to the car and we headed back to the main road stopping briefly at the small stream again but this time it was bird less.
A short fifteen-minute drive took us to Shiban where we turned off just before the town and headed up to the town of Kawkaban, where we explored the scattered fields on the plateau adjacent to the town. It was quite windy and hence the birds were keeping low but it didn’t take long to find Red-breasted Wheatear, Blanford's Lark and Yemen Serin.
We headed down from the Plateau to the town of Shibram where we had lunch in a traditional restaurant. Fortified we headed back towards Kawkaban turning off to the right and exploring the roadside scrub at the base of the cliffs an area where the Yemen Thrush and Accentor had been seen before. It was a bit disappointing however two Jacobin Cuckoo’s were a nice addition to the list.
On our way down from the plateau I had noticed a steep wadi with a few acacia trees. It was close to the graveyard where in the early morning Philby’s Partridge could be found. I decided it was worth exploring and headed up upon foot. Apart from a few Dusky Turtle Doves there were very few birds in the Acacia trees but I decided to continue towards the head of the wadi. About halfway along I flushed a small party of Arabian Partridge. If these were here maybe there would be some Philby’s so I carried on and just as I reached the head of the wadi a party of Philby’s Partridge came out of a small field. So this is where the Partridges hang out during the day.
With the last mainland endemic ticked we decided to alter the plans and instead of spending the night in Shibram and looking for Partridges for the first hour of the following day we decided to head back to Sana’a hence giving me time to see the old city before my flight. It took about an hour to get to Sana’a where I was checked into a hotel in the old city. The city had a frantic rush about it as everybody was doing their last minute shopping before the start of Ramadan I had a meal at the hotel before having a restless night due to the constant noise from the local Mosques announcing the start of the Holy Month
Monday 1st September
Woke early and spent a couple of hours exploring the old city truly a magnificent place.
At 8am Yousuf picked me up from the hotel and took me to the airport where I checked in my flight left on time. I arrived backing Dubai early afternoon and went straight to work
Cattle Egret Bubulcus ibis
A total of twenty in the fields around Al-Kadan and the coastal plain on route to Al-Mahwit 30 August
Hamerkop Scopus umbretta
Two Wadi Surdud 30 August
Abdim's Stork Ciconia abdimii
A total of fifteen in the coastal plain area on route from Taiz to Al-Hodeidah 29th August and four in the coastal plain area between Al-Kadan and Al Mawhit 30th August
White Stork Ciconia ciconia
One flying by the side of the road on route from Sana’a to Taiz 28th August
Black Kite Milvus migrans
Large numbers seen daily with up to 300 in one large flock on route to Taiz 28th August. Commoner in the mountains
Egyptian Vulture Neophron percnopterus
Three in the mountains on route to Al-Hodeidah 29th August.
Eurasian Griffon Vulture Gyps fulvus
Two near the peak of Jebel Saber and two in the mountains on route to Al-Hodeidah 30th August. One Al Mahwit 30th August
Dark Chanting-Goshawk Melierax metabates
One perched on the wires between Al-Kadana and Al Dhahi 30th August
Golden EagleAquila chrysaetos
One in the mountains on route to Al-Hodeidah 30th August.
Eurasian Kestrel Falco tinnunculus
One on route to Taiz 28th August. One Al-Mahwit 30th August
Philby's Partridge Alectoris philbyi
Six at the head of the Wadi on the Shibam- Kawkaban road 31st August
Arabian Partridge Alectoris melanocephala
Four on a distant hill All-Mahwit 30th August. Six at the head of the Wadi on the Shibam- Kawkaban road 31st August
Green SandpiperTringa ochropus
One Kawkaban plateau 31st August
Wood SandpiperTringa glareola
One on route between Al-Kadana and Al Dhahi 30th August
Rock Pigeon Columba livia
Small numbers seen daily
Dusky Turtle-DoveStreptopelia lugens
Two Jebel Saber 29th August, three Al-Mahwit 30th August with five the same location 31st August. Three Kawkaban Plateau and eight in the Wadi on the Shibam- Kawkaban road 31st August
African Collared-Dove Streptopelia roseogrisea
Only seen on the coastal plain where quite numerous with up to fifty seen daily
. Laughing DoveStreptopelia senegalensis
Seen daily in small numbers. More common on the coastal plain
Namaqua DoveOena capensis
One at the cattle farm near Al-Kadan 30th August
Bruce's Green-Pigeon Treron waalia
Twelve in a fruiting tree Hamam Garif 28th August. Two Kawkaban cliffs 31st August
Jacobin CuckooClamator jacobinus
Two Kawkaban cliffs 31st August
Spotted Eagle-OwlBubo cinerascens
A well-grown young bird in Al-Mahwit acacia’s 31st August
African Palm-Swift Cypsiurus parvus
Ten over fields at cattle farm near Al-Kadan 30th August
Little Swift Apus affinis
Two Hammam Garif 28th August. Ten over Sana’a old town 1st September
Grey-headed Kingfisher Halcyon leucocephala
One Hammam Garif 28th August. One Wadi Sourdud 30th August
White-throated Bee-eater Merops albicollis
One Hammam Garif 28th August. Two on route to Al- Hodeidah 29th August. Twenty at the cattle farm near Al- Kadan 30th August. One Al Mahwit 30th August
European Bee-eaterMerops apiaster
Twenty on wires near Al Mahwit 30th August. One Al-Mahwit 31st August
Green Bee-eater Merops orientalis
Two at roadside stop on route to Al Hodeidah 29th August. One Al Ahjur 31st August
Abyssinian Roller Coracias abyssinica
Four on wires between Al Kadan and Al Dhahi 30th August
Hoopoe Upupa epops
Up to two seen daily at all altitudes
African Grey HornbillTockus nasutus
One in fruiting tree Hammam Gerif 28th August
Arabian WoodpeckerDendrocopos dorae
Two in acacia trees near Zi Sofal 29th August. One Al-Mahwit 30th August with the same bird 31st August. One heard Al-Ahjur 31st August
Black-crowned Sparrow-Lark Eremopterix nigriceps
Three in the coastal plain on route to Al Hodeidah 29th August. Up to eight in the fields around the cattle farm at Al-Kadan 30th August
Blanford's LarkCalandrella blanfordi
A total of six Kawkaban Plateau 31st August
Crested Lark Galerida cristata
Two Hammam Garif and two on route to Taiz 28th August. Ten kawkaban Plateau 31st August
Rock MartinPtyonoprogne fuligula
Small numbers seen daily
Barn Swallow Hirundo rustica
Two Al-Mahwit 30th August and two Al-Ahjur 31st August
Red-rumped Swallow Cecropis daurica
One Zi Sofal 29th August. One Wadi Surdud 30th August. Ten Kawkaban Plateau 31st August
Grey Wagtail Motacilla cinerea
One Al-Ahjur 31st August
Long-billed Pipit Anthus similis
One Jebel Saber 29th August, one Kawkaban Plateau and three in Wadi between Shibam and Kawkaban 31st August
Tree Pipit Anthus trivialis
One Al - Mahwit 30th August
White-spectacled Bulbul Pycnonotus xanthopygos
Common and widespread in all habitat’s
Yemen AccentorPrunella fagani
Four Jebel Saber seen feeding in the terraced fields above 2400m
Black Scrub-Robin Cercotrichas podobe
One Hammam Garif 28th August. Eight in fields around cattle farm near Al Kadan 30th August
White-throated RobinIrania gutturalis
One male in acacia trees Zi Sofal and one immature in bushes at roadside stop between Taiz and A-Hodeidah 29th August. One male Al-Ahjur 31st August.
Common Redstart Phoenicurus phoenicurus
One Zi Sofal 29th August. Two Al-Mahwit 30th and 31st August. One Al-Adjur 31st August
African Stonechat Saxicola torquata felix
Four Al-Mahwit 30th August. Two Kawkaban Plateau and two Al-Ahjur 31st August
Five Hammam Garif 28th August. Two Zi Sofal 29th August. One Wadi Surdud 30th August. Two Al Ahjur 31st August
South Arabian WheatearOenanthe lugentoides
Only seen in mountains around Al-Mahwit and Shibam where up to ten were seen daily including a number of family parties
Isabelline Wheatear Oenanthe isabellina
Two in fields around the cattle farm near Al Kadan 30th August
Red-breasted Wheatear Oenanthe bottae
Four Kawkaban Plateau 31st August
Little Rock-Thrush Monticola rufocinereus
One Jebel Saber and one Zi-Sofal 29th August. Two Al-Mahwit 30th and 31st August. Four Al-Ahjur 31st August
Yemen ThrushTurdus menachensis
Four Jebel Saber and two Zi Sofal 29th August. Four Al-Mahwit 30th August with two at the same location 31st August
Zitting CisticolaCisticola juncidis
Two cattle farm near Al-Kadana 30th August
Graceful Prinia Prinia gracilis
Small number seen daily at all altitudes
Eastern Olivaceous Warbler Hippolais pallida
Three in fields around cattle farm near Al-Kadan 30th August
Brown Woodland-WarblerPhylloscopus umbrovirens
Four Al-Mahwit 30th August with two at the same location the following day. Two in Wadi on Shibam to Kawkaban road and two Kawkaban Cliffs 31st August
Yemen WarblerSylvia buryi
One Jebel Saber 29th August. Two Al-Mahwit 30th August and four at the same location 31st August
Spotted Flycatcher Musciapa striata
One Al-Mahwit 30th and 31st August. One Al-Ahjur 31st August.
Gambaga FlycatcherMusciapa gambagae
One adult feeding fled young Al-Ahjur 31st August
Arabian Babbler Turdoides squamiceps
Three Hammam Garif 28th August. Five in fields around cattle farm near Al-Kadan and two Wadi Surdud 30th August
Palestine SunbirdCinnyris oseus
One Jebel Saber 29th August. One Al-Mahwit 30th August. Three Kawkaban Cliffs 31st August
Shining SunbirdCinnyris habessinicus
One Hammam Garif 28th August. One Zi Sofal 29th August
White-breasted White-eyeZosterops abyssinicus
A maximum of fifteen seen daily at all altitudes
Rufous-tailed Shrike Lanius isabellinus
One in fields around cattle farm near Al-Kadan 30th August
Southern Grey Shrike Lanius meridionalis
One on route to Al -Hodeidah 29th August. Two in fields around cattle farm near Al Kadan and one on route to Al-Mahwit 30th August.
House CrowCorvus splendens
Common in the coastal plain around Al-Hodeidah
Brown-necked RavenCorvus ruficollis
Three on in mountains on route to Al-Hodeidah 29th August. Two Kawaban Plateau 31st August
Fan-tailed RavenCorvus rhipidurus
Up to fifty seen daily
Tristram's Grackle Onychognathus tristramii
One Jebel Saber 29th August. Two Al-Mahwit 30th August with one at the same location 31st August. Three Kawbaban Cliffs 31st August
Amethyst Starling Cinnyricinclus leucogaster
Two Zi Sofal 29th August. Two Wadi Surdud 30th August
Ruppell's WeaverPloceus galbula
Large numbers seen daily
Arabian Waxbill Estrilda rufibarba
Eight Hammam Garif 28th August. Three Zi-Sofal 29th August. Two Al Ahjur 31st August
African Silverbill Euodice cantans
One Zi-Sofal 29th August. Eight in fields around cattle farm near Al-Kadan 30th August
Cinnamon-breasted Bunting Emberiza tahapisi
Up to eight seen daily.
Golden-winged GrosbeakRhynchostruthus socotranus
Two drinking at small man made stream before the village of Sarhat Mahal in Al-Ahjur 31st August
Yemen LinnetCarduelis yemenensis
Ten Jebel Saber 29th August. Four Al-Mahwit 30th August Four Kawkaban Cliffs 31st August
Arabian SerinSerinus rothschildi
Two Hammam Garif 28th August. One Zi-Sofal 29th August. One Al Mahwit 30th August and one Al-Ahjur 31st August
Yemen SerinSerinus menachensis
Only seen in the Kawkaban area where a total of twenty were seen
House Sparrow Passer domesticus
Arabian Golden-SparrowPasser euchlorus
Thirty feeding in fields with Ruppell’s Weavers in fields around cattle farm near Al Kadan 30th August