Notes on a Birding Trip to Taba Heights, Egypt - 29th February – 12th March 2013

Published by Robert Wemyss (robert.wemyss AT btinternet.com)

Participants: Bob Wemyss, Stornoway, Western Isles, Scotland.

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INTRODUCTION

This report covers a two week holiday in the resort of Taba Heights. This resort is located in the north of the Sinai Peninsula in Egypt along the western shore of the Gulf of Aquaba and just south of Taba. Israel (to the north), Jordan and Saudi Arabia (both located across the Gulf) are all clearly visible from the resort with Eileat being some 25 minutes drive away. Taba Heights (at the time of writing this) comprised 6 large hotels, a residential complex, a small parade of shops, a diving and water sports centre and a golf course which I am told is rated among the top 100 in the world. There were very few private cars around the resort probably due to the tight security in the Sinai at the time of the visit. However, the resort facilities and most of the points of birding interest can be accessed on foot and a free and regular shuttle bus made travel around the resort relatively easy especially in hot weather!

This was essentially a combined family and birding holiday and therefore not solely dedicated to birding, a kind of sun-seeking ‘twitchatan’. The number of species found at Taba Heights was less than the number I have found previously at about the same time of year in Eileat. However, bearing in mind the close proximity of the two locations more dedicated birding activity especially during the migration season might well turn up a larger number of birds and a wider range of species.

The hotels’ gardens and the golf course with its greens and scattered trees and shrubs (almost completely absent from the surrounding countryside) created good habitats for birds. However, access to the golf course when golfing activity was in full swing is not advised or desired by the golf course manager for obvious safety reasons. The absence of any significant fresh water habitat limited the number of wildfowl and waders found on this trip. However, one of the water hazards on the golf course near the 3rd green created a small pond (the pond) and this proved to be a good habitat for attracting migrants. The pond could be accessed from the main road around the resort. My visits were mainly around dusk to avoid the danger of flying golf balls. The hills inland from the resort provided topography that proved to be good for migrating raptors. The coral reef just offshore created a habitat for some fascinating and colourful corals and colourful species of fish and something of interest if there was a lull in birding activity. However, despite the resort appearing to be a good geographical location for seawatching this was a bit disappointing. My overall impression of Taba Heights is that if the objective is to combine a family holiday with some (relaxed) birding then this resort is well worth considering particularly during the migration season.

SPECIES LIST

Little Grebe (Tachybaptus ruficollis)
1 seen daily at the pond from 3.3 with 2 between 10-12.3

Striated Heron (Butorides striatus)
1 along the shore on 10.3

Cattle Egret (Bubulcus ibis)
1-2 seen daily at the pond with 6 on 1.3 and 7 on 2.3. 1 in the hotel grounds 3.3

Squacco Heron (Ardeola ralloides)
1-2 seen daily from 6.3 at the pond

Steppe Eagle (Aquila rapax)
Seen daily over the hills behind the resort in groups of 2-9 with 40 present on 27.2

Kestrel (Falco tinnunculus)
Seen daily around the hotels and golf course

Common Crane (Grus grus)
12 seen flying from south to north along the shoreline on 3.3 providing a magnificent sight and one of the highlights of the holiday

Spur-winged Plover (Vannelus spinonus)
Seen regularly at the pond with 5 on 1-2.3 and 3 on 3.3 and 6.3. Singles also seen in the hotel grounds on several occasions

Green Sandpiper (Tringa ochropus)
1 seen at the pond on 3.3 and 5.3

Common Sandpiper (Tringa hypoleucos)
Singles at the pond on 9.3 and 11.3

Slender-billed Gull (Larus genei)
2 flying north along the coast on 7.3

Mediterranean Gull (Larus melanocephalus)
15 flying north along the coast on 2.3

Herring Gull (Larus argentatus)
2 flying north along the coast on 5.3

Yellow-legged Gull (Larus cachinnans)
7 flying north along the coast on 7.3

Lesser Black-backed Gull (Larus fuscus)
40 flying north along the coast on1.3

White-eyed Gull (Larus leucophthalmus)
1 flying north along the coast on 27.2

Rock Dove (Columba livia)
8 at the pond on 3.3

Collared Dove (Streptopelia decaocto)
Common around the resort

Laughing Dove (Streptolia senegalensis)
Very common around the resort especially in the hotel gardens where it could be very tame!

Common Swift (Apus apus)
Flock of 30 around the hotel on 10.3

Pallid Swift (Apus pallidus)
15 over the hotel pool on 7.3

Hoopoe (Upupa epops)
Singles regularly seen in the hotels’ gardens

Rock Martin (Ptyonoprogne fuligula)
1-3 seen regularly around the hotels

Barn Swallow (Hirundo rustica)
Singles seen regularly around the hotels and a movement along the coast from south to north 27.2

Red-rumped Swallow (Hirundo daurica)
4 over the pond on 1.3

House Martin (Delichon urbica)
3 over the pond on 1.3 and occasional singles around the hotels

Red-throated Pipit (Anthus cervinus)
2 in hotel grounds on 12.3

White Wagtail (Moticalla alba)
Very common around the resort in singles and groups with 55 on the golf course greens on 6.3 and 120 on 9.3

Northern Wheatear (Oenanthe oenanthe)
Several seen on and around the golf course with 3 on 6.3 and 4 on 9.3

Isabelline Wheatear (Oenanthe isabellina)
Several singles around the golf course

Stonechat (Saxicola torquata)
1 F on 1.3 and pair on 2.3 on the edge of the golf course

Whitethroat (Sylvia communis)
1 in hotel grounds on 10.3

Lesser Whitethroat (Sylvia curruca)
Singles seen around the hotel grounds

Eastern Orphean Warbler (Sylvia hortensis)
Several in hotel gardens

Chiffchaff (Phylloscopus collybita)
Common around the resort where there was suitable habitat. 1 calling in hotel gardens on 28.3
White-spectacled (Yellow-vented) Bulbul (Pycononotus xanthopygos)
Very common around the resort, especially in the hotel gardens

Palestine Sunbird (Nectarinia osea)
Several of these lovely cuties in the hotels’ gardens

House Crow (Corvus splendens)
Very common around the hotels and demonstrably bold around the guests

Spanish Sparrow (Passer hispaniolensis)
Fairly common around the resort but less so than the House Sparrow

House Sparrow (Passer domesticus)
A very common and noisy bird around the hotels’ gardens.