This was a trip organised by myself with Bill Bailey and John Boulcot. We had all been on a trip to Egypt in September 2011 and were keen to return to catch up on a few species we had missed on the original trip. In September 2012 we booked flights with Easyjet from Gatwick to Hurghada. In January 2013 we booked a car with Europcar, via an Easyjet winter sale. We arranged most accommodation in advance. By contacting the hotels direct we usually managed to get much better deals than those shown on their websites. We were very grateful to Chris Bell, who provided a report of his May 2012 trip and to Mark Riley who provided further information following a trip he did in September 2012.
3rd May. Arrived Hurghada at 1615 local time. Got our visas (£10) from the small bank booths on the left hand side of the arrivals hall, prior to going through passport control. Although the voucher from Europcar said we were to collect it at the airport terminal, there was no Europcar booth. Eventually a Europcar employee appeared and drove us in to downtown Hurghada, where after a bit of a delay we got our car. We then had a 424km drive down to Wadi Lahami. The road was good and the journey took just under 5 hours, with only a short stop in El Qusier en route to get some supplies.
4th May. Up at 0500 and headed out to the mangroves where we met Bo Carlsson, with three of his Swedish colleagues. We scanned the mangroves, locating a few Western Reef Herons, Purple Herons, Squacco Herons and a Striated Heron. As the tide dropped we found a few waders including a Ringed Plover, a Greenshank, two Whimbrel and two Curlew. Offshore was a feeding Common Kingfisher, along with a few Caspian Terns and Sooty Gulls. Lots of Laughing Doves and Collared Doves were calling from the mangroves and we also heard an African Collared Dove. Got good views of a singing Eastern Olivaceous Warbler. There were a few migrants about, these included a Masked Shrike, a Golden Oriole, Yellow Wagtail, whilst overhead we had a few European Bee-eaters and a Little Swift heading north. Returned to the camp for breakfast, getting good views of a Wryneck and a hunting ringtail Montagu’s Harrier. After breakfast the tide had dropped enough for us to walk round and into the mangroves, but apart from two pairs of nesting Ospreys and a Marsh Harrier, we located little new.
Drove up to the mangroves north of Hamata, driving down a track towards a ruined hut. We spent the rest of the day scanning over the reefs and mangroves between the hut area and the southern edge of the mangroves. Unfortunately it was a neap tide, so very little of the reef was exposed. Waders seen included Curlew, Common Redshank, Greenshank, Turnstone and Kentish Plover. There were good numbers of Western Reef Heron, a few Purple Heron, a couple of Striated Herons and a Little Egret. Migrants in the mangroves included Spotted Flycatchers, Whinchat, Whitethroat, a Common Redstart and a Tree Pipit, with Barn Swallow and Sand Martins constantly streaming north. There were several pairs of nesting Osprey, a few Marsh Harriers, a Sparrow Hawk which flew out from the mangroves and a nice Sooty Falcon. We waited till after sunset and then headed back to Wadi Lahami for a shower, meal, beer and an early night.
5th May. Another early 0515 start. In the bushes by the chalets a few migrants included a Willow Warbler, a Sedge Warbler and a Lesser Whitethroat. There was little new in the mangroves bar a Grey Heron. Went back for breakfast, packed and then managed to get 25litres of fuel from the camp. Headed back north to Hamata, where we drove in via a track at the south end, by the kite centre. The tide appeared to have dropped a bit more than yesterday with more reef exposed. Just north of the first group of mangroves we found four Crab Plovers with a few Grey Plover and small groups of Turnstone. Continued up to the huts, finding little new, so went further north till the track became impassable for a car. Headed a bit further north on foot, till a gap in the mangroves gave us a view of another reef and to our great delight we found a Goliath Heron. We watched it for about an hour, though it often remained still, maintaining a very erect posture for long periods of time.
Eventually we had to leave as we had a long journey ahead of us. We set off north for Marsa Alam. Birds seen enroute included Brown-necked Ravens and at one spot along the shore a large group of several hundred White-eyed Gulls with some Sooty Gulls. On arrival at Marsa we were told there would be no petrol till tomorrow. We decided that with the fuel we had got at Wadi Lahami we would have enough to get us into the Nile Valley. The drive across the desert towards Edfu was fairly birdless, though we did have an Egyptian Vulture about 15km west of Marsa.
As we entered the Nile Valley bird numbers increased with European Bee-eaters and Swallows of the Egyptian race savignii, along with lots of Cattle Egrets, Crested Larks, Hooded Crows and our first House Sparrows. Fortuitously as we started heading south from Edfu, we found a filling station that had just had a delivery of fuel. We got the tank filled to the very neck, then continued down to Aswan, arriving at 1800 after our 453km drive. The last two hours were very slow as we passed through settlement after settlement, coping with speed bumps and heavy traffic. We checked in to the rather basic, though reasonably priced Orchida St. George just off Nile Street.
6th May. A bit of a lie in this morning and then we walked up to Fryal Gardens and paid our EG£5 entrance fee. The park was very busy as it was the Coptic Easter Day. Despite this we found some Common Bulbuls, a few Hoopoes, plenty of Eastern Olivaceous Warblers and a migrant Wood Warbler. After breakfast we went downstream to scan Kitchener’s Island. The river level was very high and in the flooded reeds we saw three Purple Swamphens and a few Moorhens, whilst on the river there was an Egyptian Goose, a couple of White-winged Black Terns and a Pied Kingfisher.
Returned to Fryal Garden where we met up with Haitham Ibrahim. Haitham and his colleague Hosni have arranged access for visiting birders to the Tut Amon fish farm. On arrival we split up and I went down to the shore of Lake Nasser with Hosni, where fairly quickly we found a super adult Three-banded Plover feeding along the shore. Unfortunately before John and Bill arrived it flew off. Much to everyone’s relief Hosni refound it on one of the offshore islets and we all got excellent views. Out on the lake were lots of Egyptian Geese, several Feruginous Duck, a Mallard, a group of six Spoonbill and some Whiskered Terns. Along the shore were pairs of Spur-winged Plovers and a Senegal Thick-knee. We then had a look round some of the fishponds. These contained lots of Purple Heron, Squacco Heron and Little Egret, all of which breed at this site, whilst an immature Black Stork drifted north. Around the edge of the pools had excellent views of a male Nile Valley Sunbird in stunning plumage and several Graceful Prinias, whilst Clamorous Reed Warblers sang from the reeds. Haitham is happy to be contacted by visiting birders and his contact details are: firstname.lastname@example.org phone number +2012 2616 4277.
In the afternoon had a bit of a siesta and then a walk round the tourist market area. We tried to register at the Tourist Information Office by the railway station for the Abu Simbel convoy, but it was closed. We walked back along the Nile getting good views of another Nile Valley Sunbird. Had a very nice meal at the Salah Ed-Du Restaurant watching the sunset over the Nile and getting close views of a Pied Kingfisher.
7th May. A very early 0245 phonecall got us up and we were soon on our way to the meeting place, by the unfinished obelisk, for the convoy to Abu Simbel. There appeared to be no problems that we had not registered in advance and the police just took our details. There was a lot of jockeying for position as the convoy departed at 0400. As we sped south the convoy spread out. The 287km journey took just over three hours. About 20km north of Abu Simbel a Lanner flew across the road low in front of us, whilst as we entered Abu Simbel we had a Barbary Falcon. On arrival in the town we went straight to the filling station and topped up with fuel. We also met up with the Swedes and swapped information over breakfast.
Drove back north out of Abu Simbel taking the tarmac road that goes off to the right at the edge of town. Followed this road across the desert till we came to a sharp left bend, overlooking a bay. Here we had 6 distant Yellow-billed Storks on the water edge. We continued along the tarmac road and then the sandy track that it merged with. After c15 km from the main road we stopped overlooking another bay (22°29’347N; 31°31’473E). We were looking into the sun, but could see there were lots of birds in the bay, including three Spotted Sandgrouse which dropped in to drink, but quickly flew off. We left the car on the track and walked down through the tamarisks, which held a high density of Eastern Olivaceous Warblers, with Graceful Prinias and some European Bee-eaters. As we got closer and got the sun behind us we began to get good views of the birds. Pride of place went to a loafing group of 12 Pink-backed Pelicans. We had another ten Yellow-billed Storks, along with the usual Grey Heron, Little Egrets and Squacco Herons. Groups of waders fed in the muddier bays – mainly Little Stints, but with Ruff, Wood Sandpiper, Ringed Plovers, a few Curlew Sandpiper, Spur-winged Plovers, Black-winged Stilt, Greenshank and Common Sandpipers. There was also a large flock of Egyptian Geese. Also along the shore edge were a pair of Little Tern, a Gull-billed Tern, whilst White-winged Black Terns fed over the bay. The short grass held lots of Crested Larks, White Crowned Black Wheatears and some Brown-necked Ravens. This was a very nice birding site. We returned to the car and retraced our steps, finding two more Pink-backed Pelicans in the adjacent bay to the south, then a nice trackside Hoopoe Lark.
Returned to Abu Simbel and drove down to the pier. Here we had some lunch and got good views of an African Pied Wagtail, singing on one of the boats. We then went to check in to Hotel Nefertari. Being the only guests we were upgraded to the best rooms! John and myself then went to visit the very impressive temples, which we had virtually to ourselves there being only another four visitors. Lots of Rock Martins were flying round the impressive entrance façade.
In late afternoon we checked out the pool below the petrol station, the highlight being another Senegal Thick-knee. Then drove round to Airport Bay, which was fairly quiet with 2 distant Yellow-billed Storks and along the shore some Black Kites and a Booted Eagle. Migrants included our first House Martins, a female Black-eared Wheatear and a Woodchat Shrike. We waited till dusk, but no sign of nightjars where we had then in September 2011.
8th May. Up 0600 and went for pre breakfast look round the gardens near the mosque. Found lots of Laughing Doves and Turtle Doves calling from the palms and larger trees. In the bushes Eastern Olivaceous Warblers, some feeding fledged young, Graceful Prinias and Spotted Flycatchers. Also found a Golden Oriole and a nice displaying Rufous Bush Robin.
After breakfast packed and at 0945 arrived in the temple car park where we found the convoy. We just joined the queue and did not report in to anyone. At 1000 sharp the convoy headed off for the three hour journey back north. Just south of Aswan we broke off from the convoy to refuel at a roadside filling station. Had a brief stop in Aswan to get some supplies and then started the journey up the Nile Valley. Stopped for lunch by the roadside in an agricultural area, getting good views of more Nile Valley Sunbirds. Took over two hours to get up to Edfu, where we turned east along the Marsa Alam Road, having only seen a single Black Kite enroute. At the eastern edge of the agricultural land had a single, then pair of Black-winged Kites. Took two hours to cross the desert and we arrived at Le Mirage Moon Resort Hotel in Marsa at 1925 after our 645km journey.
9th May. A long lie in till 0815 catching up with sleep. Had a substantial breakfast and then checked out ‘green’ areas in front of the hotel where we found five Tree Pipits, a Red-throated Pipit, a Whitethroat and a Northern Wheatear. We then began our journey north. Had a brief stop to check the lawns by Oriental Bay Resort, where we had more Tree Pipits, a Lesser Whitethroat and a Masked Shrike. Further north a short walk through a vegetated wadi turned up a Steppe Buzzard and a hunting Montagu’s Harrier. At Marsa Alam airport (60km north of Marsa) we managed to top up with fuel again, ensuring we would have no further problems. A lunch stop beyond El Qusier, outside the Movenpick Hotel, revealed a Thrush Nightingale with Willow Warbler, Whitethroat and Spotted Flycachers in the bushes and a Common Kestrel.
Drove on north to Hurghada and stopped at the Palm Beach Resort on the north side of town. Got a good deal (all inclusive) so booked in. Nice buffet meal, with free wine and beer.
10th May. Up 0700 for a good buffet breakfast before heading out to try and find the Hughada sewage works. Took us a wee while but basically it is on the west side of the middle ring road north of the airport. On arrival had large groups of Barn Swallow, House Martin, Sand Martin and European Bee-eaters feeding over the pools and fields. A few raptors were rising from the wood, which included two Eastern Imperial Eagles and two Levant Sparrow Hawks. Three Marsh Harriers and Common Kestrel were hunting nearby. The two reedy pools held a few Moorhen, Squacco Herons and lots of Cattle Egrets. Walked a bit further west and crossed over the wall into the ‘new’ sewage works and started checking out the pools. As we entered, four Great White Pelicans flew low out from the pools, along with huge flocks of White-eyed Gulls. In one pool we had two Black-headed Gulls and five Slender-billed Gulls. Small groups of waders were mainly composed of Little Stints and Ruff, with Ringed Plover, Greenshank, Spur-winged Plovers, Common Sandpipers as well as a Black-winged Stilt and four Collared Pratincoles. There were also a few White Wagtails and in one of the muddier pools 40+ Yellow Wagtails (mostly flava), which were disturbed from time to time by a hunting Montagu’s Harrier This pool, in the north east corner, also held six Glossy Ibis, two Grey Heron, a Spoonbill and 12 Whiskered Tern.
A large passage of raptors was also taking place overhead. This consisted mainly of Honey Buzzards, many of which dropped low landing round the pools. Probably 1000+ birds passed over in about an hour. With them were a few Steppe Buzzards, Booted Eagles and two White Storks. It was an impressive finale to our trip.
We returned to the hotel, packed and vacated our rooms. Then had lunch, before heading for the airport. Managed to find a filling station to top the fuel up. Arranged to meet the Europcar folk at the terminal to return the car, having done 2277km. They then ripped us off by charging us $30 to get the car cleaned! Not sure how you can drive round southern Egypt and keep a car spotlessly clean. There was a delay of an hour and a half before we got our return Easyjet flight to Gatwick.
It had been an excellent trip and we certainly had luck on our side, both bird wise and fuel wise. In all we saw 110 species, including the three critical ones we had gone for. We did miss a few Egyptian specialities, but as we had seen these on our September 2011 trip we were not too concerned.