Photos with this report (click to enlarge)
In December 2012, I and fellow Durham birder, Colin Wilson, decided to escape the dire English winter and head to the sunnier climes of Egypt. We already had a good idea of what to find around the Sharm-el-Sheikh area by reading various on-line reports, and the fact that you could do all your birding by taxi makes this an ideal hassle-free break.
We stayed at the Sonesta Club Hotel, a short walk from Naama Bay. We soon found the hotel grounds held good numbers of Bluethroats and Laughing Doves, a regular Barn Owl, along with literally thousands of White Wagtails. The hotel soon got us in touch with a taxi driver called Mido, he didn’t speak a great deal of English but soon understood we were birders and was all too willing to pull over when a good bird was spotted. He also knew all the locations we intended to visit, which made life a lot easier for us all. Our week soon fell into a routine of breakfast at 06:30 (sun rose at 06:00) and taxi at 07:00. This was a good idea as by early afternoon the temperature often reached almost 30 degrees.
Our first destination was Movenpick golf course which was around a ten minute drive. We hired a buggy for 100 Egyptian pounds and spent the morning visiting the many pools around the course. Spur-winged Plovers were the most abundant species with 20+ present, accompanied by Great White Egret, Black-winged Stilt, Spanish Sparrows, Rock Martins, Flamingos, House Crows and a Short-toed Eagle - a decent start to the week! Next up we decided to visit the STW just outside Sharm, according to reports this seemed to be the top site in the area. A late afternoon visit produced 30+ Water Pipits, three Squacco Herons, eight Cranes and a Long-legged Buzzard. Despite abundant Water Pipits, these were surprisingly the only pipits seen throughout our stay. We remained until dusk hoping for sandgrouse but no luck, the din of nearby quad-bike squadrons didn’t help us and morning visits later in the week proved to be more productive.
For our second day we headed to Ras Mohammed, a protected peninsula about a thirty minute drive away. A cool breeze had developed which made things more bearable towards midday. An entertaining morning produced four Slender-billed Gulls, three Caspian Terns, a Striated Heron, Pied Kingfisher, Ospreys along with six Kentish Plovers and a couple of Greater Sand Plovers. Frustratingly the only wheatear seen flew over our taxi exactly at the armed check-point at the exit so we were unable to confirm its identity, luckily another was spotted a short distance away which proved to be a female Hooded Wheatear - a long awaited lifer for my companion.
The following day we visited another protected area, Nabq. Several Western Reef Egrets and Sooty Gulls were present along the coast here, along with Kingfishers, Great Grey Shrike, Pallid Harrier and a Desert Warbler - which took an age to give itself up. This area seemed to be a hot-spot for Mourning Wheatears with four noted, often perched on the Bedouin's huts along the access track, a Desert Wheatear was also present.
One of the highlights of our week came on the fourth day with a visit to St Katherine’s Monastery. This was a Sunday and the monastery itself is closed, but this was a blessing in disguise because upon our arrival we found we had the place to ourselves - apart from a couple of local Bedouins. The quiet morning was ideal with Desert Larks and White-crowned Wheatears on the main path just beyond the car park. Around 20 Tristams Starlings were present near the gardens, and five Sinai Rosefinches were soon spotted just beyond the monastery which included three stunners. The trip by taxi cost 800 Egyptian pounds, which was well worth it, in fact it was only slightly more than the organised coach trips, and the journey was an hour shorter.
The remainder of our birding was spent at the local sewage works. Christmas Eve morning saw around 100 Spotted Sandgrouse shooting over the ponds, some occasionally landing briefly giving us top class views. The 100+ White Storks were joined by two Black Storks on boxing day morning, with a Golden Eagle, a sub-adult Steppe Eagle along with four Brown-necked Ravens also in the area. A visit to the old sewage works south of Sharm was disappointing with this once productive site nothing but a dry wasteland with the majority of the trees and reeds destroyed, although a pair of Booted Eagles livened up our short stay.
All in all, an excellent location for a simple winter birding break.
Around 76 species seen:
Western Reef Egret
Great White Egret
Greater Sand Plover
White Crowned Wheatear
Great Grey Shrike