Birding opportunities on a Nile cruise - January 2001

Published by Surfbirds Admin (surfbirds AT

Participants: Howard Broughton


A River Nile cruise gives an opportunity to birdwatch on a great river without going through the usual hassle of booking independent travel, accommodation, car and boat hire and walking hundreds of miles around the countryside. You also get to see the fascinating tombs and temples of one of the world's greatest civilisations and if you always carry your binoculars, you will see some great birds.

For those who have a partner who doesn't want wall-to-wall birding holidays and with the night entertainment of a cruise, you can have a wonderful holiday to suit everybody.

The River Nile between Luxor and Aswan is about 160 kms of wetlands with interesting birds to be seen along the entire length. However, one problem is that the Locks at Esna are very slow and can take hours to negotiate if there is a big queue of ships waiting to pass through. Because of this, it is difficult for the cruises to keep to a strict timetable and some of the cruising has to be done at night but, in the main, you can birdwatch in comfort and luxury in a very laid back and relaxing manner. Depending on the particular cruise, there are one or two free afternoons where the independent birder can go off alone and, of course, the visits to the tombs and temples are not compulsory.

There are islands, swamps and lakes along the whole length and thousands of duck and waders winter on the river. Most of these can be identified from the cruise ships; the only problem is that you have to be quick, as you cannot stop for a better look.

The cruise ships are rock steady, there is no apparent sense of motion and you can use a telescope without problem, apart from a very slight vibration. My 20x scope was ideal.

Going south, I concentrated mainly on one side of the river, which meant that I must have missed some birds. Coming back, I positioned a bar stool on the back of the rear sun deck and, with my telescope in front of me, facing forward, was able to watch birds on all parts of the river.

The trip was a late booking with 'Discover Egypt' and cost £440 for full board accommodation with all transport connections and entrance fees included. The cruise ship, The Princess Eman was 4-star with air conditioning and though rather worn, was comfortable and clean with good food and pleasant staff. There was an excellent tour guide with our party who organised everything.

FLIGHT. Monarch Airlines, Gatwick to Luxor (5 hours).

NILE CRUISE 1st to 8th January 2001


Day One - 1st January 2001.

Travel from Gatwick to Luxor. Arrival after dark.

Day Two - 2nd January 2001.

Luxor: a first light watch from the ship revealed a few common species on the river/banks. Morning birds seen from Cruise Ship and motorboat to West Bank were: Hooded Crow, Common Cormorant, Pied Kingfisher, Black Kite, Cattle Egret, Spur-winged Plover, Barn Swallow, Laughing Dove.

Valley of the Kings: this is a very desolate area with lots of tourists and very few birds. Tourists are transported from the car parks to the ticket gate by small road trains. There was a flock of Trumpeter Finch just through the ticket gates. Coming back from the tombs, I walked down from the ticket gates back to the car park. There was a Mourning Wheatear on the hillside to the left and also a Lanner Falcon that flew along the ridge.

Hatshepsut's Temple:There were Rock Martin at the Temple and Brown-necked Raven nearby.

Valley of the Queens. White Wagtail, Trumpeter Finch.

River Cruise, heading south: highlight of the afternoon cruise were the 2 White-tailed Plover seen on a green island on the river just south of Luxor. Birds seen on the banks included a Desert Wheatear, Hoopoe and just 1 Greater Flamingo.Other species seen were: Egyptian Goose, Shoveler, Ruff, Kestrel, Marsh Harrier, Whiskered Tern, Greenshank, Dunlin, Common Teal, Black-winged Stilt, Black-tailed Godwit, Pied Kingfisher, Common Snipe, Squacco Heron, Spur-winged Plover,

Day Three - 3rd January 2001.

Cruise above Esna: after the locks at Esna there was an apparent change in the bird life with vast flocks of Tufted Duck, Coot and Shoveler. I also saw Long-legged Buzzard, Black-shouldered Kite and some number of both Black and White-winged Terns, Purple Swamphen, Pallid Swift and 2 Osprey.

River Nile between Esna Locks and Edfu: Long-legged Buzzard, Tufted Duck, Pochard, Coot, Pallid Swift, Black Tern, White-winged Tern, Wigeon, Osprey, Great-crested Grebe, Shoveler, Black-shouldered Kite, Purple Heron, Redshank, Moorhen, Purple Swamphen, Pied Kingfisher, Barn Swallow, Little Egret, Squacco Heron, Rock Martin, Shoveler, Whiskered Tern, Hoopoe, Black-tailed Godwit, Spur-winged Plover,

Edfu Temple: ran the gauntlet of the tourist shops to see our first Bee-eaters by the café near the ticket office. Also Hoopoe. Back on the River Nile, the highlight was 3 Glossy Ibis in flight and summer plumaged Black Tern. Also seen were, Dunlin, Ruff and Black-winged Stilt.

Day Four - 4th January 2001.

Aswan, River Nile:First light birdwatch from the ship revealed sand bars and islands viewable from the moorings. Large flock of Egyptian Geese with waders on a nearby sand bar and Common Sandpiper, Purple Swamphen and Stilts on an island.

Other species seen were: Little Egret, Squacco Heron, Tufted Duck, Pochard, Spur-winged Plover, Black-tailed Godwit, Marsh Harrier, Black Kite, Ruff,

Aswan High Dam: there were very few birds apparent at the dam though we spent very little time here.

Philae Island: a visit to the Temple on Philae Island is a must. I had my first Gull-billed Tern of the trip off the boat and saw a White-crowned Wheatear on the temple. The bushes on the far side had Common Bulbul and Olivacious Warbler and there were 2 Graceful Prinia in the garden near the toilets. There was a White Stork on a nearby rock in the lake and unidentified eagles over the hills. Subsequent correspondence with Mindy Baha El Din confirmed that one of these birds showing features of Imperial Eagle was indeed this species.
From the ferry: Gull-billed Tern, Rock Martin, Whiskered Tern, Tufted Duck, Pied Kingfisher, Cormorant,

Philae Temple: Common Bulbul, White-crowned Wheatear, Graceful Prinia, Olivacious Warbler, White Stork, Gull-billed Tern, Black Kite, Rock Martin.

A Felucca ride to Kitcheners Island was disappointing with the hoped for Nile Valley Sunbird being further south for the winter. Species seen were Chiffchaff, Hoopoe, Whiskered Tern, Shoveler, Cattle Egret, Laughing Dove.

Day Five - 5th January 2001.

Aswan moorings: new birds seen this morning were a Sparrowhawk crossing the river and a Bluethroat on the waterside of a nearby island. Other species seen were: Purple Swamphen, Ruff, Spur-winged Plover, Black-tailed Godwit, Black-winged Stilt, Common Sandpiper, Egyptian Goose, Pied Kingfisher, Laughing Dove,

Nubian Village:this morning, we had a boat trip to the Nubian Village, first sailing upstream to drop off our intrepid camel riders at a jetty beyond Kitchener Island and then sailing downstream back to the Nubian Village which was opposite our ship mooring. Between Kitchener Island and the Nubian Village there was a flock of Eurasian Teal. There was also 1 summer plumaged Whiskered Tern and an Osprey on the river.Other species seen were: Gull-billed Tern, Redshank, Laughing Dove, Hoopoe, Barn Swallow, Black Kite, Hooded Crow, Rock Martin.

Aswan: in the afternoon, I walked out of Aswan, downstream until I was clear of the town. There was a broad track alongside the river with access to small bays, which had many waders and duck. Here I had my first Pintail, Marsh and Green Sandpipers, Little Stint and Common Snipe. Other species seen were: Chiffchaff, Common Bulbul, House Sparrow, Black-winged Stilt, Spur-winged Plover, Common Sandpiper.

Day Six - 6th January 2001.

River cruise north, Edfu to Esna: taking up my new position in the centre of the back of the rear sundeck, I searched through the flocks of Coot and Tufted Duck and managed to pick out several Ferruginous Duck and Black-necked Grebe. Other species seen were: Squacco Heron, Marsh Harrier, Little Egret, Barn Swallow, Whiskered Tern, Purple Heron, Pied Kingfisher, Eurasian Teal, Spur-winged Plover, Gull-billed Tern, Shoveler, Wigeon, Pochard, Laughing Dove, Black-shouldered Kite, Black-winged Stilt, Long-legged Buzzard, White Wagtail, House Sparrow.

Day Seven - 7th January 2001.

Luxor: Barn Swallow, Cormorant, White Wagtail, Pied Kingfisher, Hooded Crow, Little Egret, Cattle Egret, Black-headed Gull.

Karnak Temples: a morning visit to these incredible temples. Both Barn and Little Owl are supposed to be in residence here - not surprising considering the number of holes in the ruins. Saw our first Sardinian Warblers of the trip and our 2nd sight of Brown-necked Raven. Other species seen were: Pallid Swift, Rock Martin, Laughing Dove, Pied Kingfisher, Kestrel,

Crocodile Island: escaped for the afternoon and took a taxi (20EP) to Crocodile Island and the gardens of the Movenpick Hotel. I took a path on the right, through the gardens to escape the attentions of a young boy on a bike and immediately had several Red-spotted Bluethroats hopping on the path in front of me and also a "Blue-headed" Yellow Wagtail. The wetland between the island and the east bank held a few waders and I saw the only Wood Sandpiper and Spotted Redshank of the trip. The cultivated field on the other side of the hotel road had 5 Stone Curlew. There were also Little Stint, Green Bee-eater, Marsh Harrier and Black-shouldered Kites in the area and Common Bulbul and Sardinian Warbler in the bushes.

Walking back to the main road, I was approached by a taxi driver who informed me that he had driven a British birdwatcher from Cairo to Aswan and then the Red Sea and that the man was writing a book on Egyptian birds that was now available from the Aboudi Bookshop in Luxor (next to the Winter Palace Hotel). The man was John Miles and the book is called "Pharaoh's Birds". I bought this book from the bookshop for about £8 and it gives an in-depth look at Egyptian birds, sites and the temples. I wish I'd had this book at the start of my holiday.

Other species seen were: Grey-headed Wagtail, Barn Swallow, Pied Kingfisher, Cattle Egret, Hooded Crow, Laughing Dove, Coot, Black-tailed Godwit, Ruff, Spur-winged Plover, Black-winged Stilt, Little Egret, White Wagtail, Black Kite, Cormorant, Chiffchaff, Moorhen, Grey Heron, Common Snipe, Whiskered Tern, Hoopoe, Graceful Prinia

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