Whole tour 14–27 September 2016
14–18 September 2015 only
Chestnut-bellied Sandgrouse and Saunders's Tern
This unique tour covers all the very best birding localities in the Nile Valley and on the Red Sea coast, where habitats include deserts, acacia scrub, open water and mangroves. Egypt is a must for anybody who is keen on Western Palearctic birds, and we will search for a number of the region’s most highly sought-after species, including Chestnut-bellied Sandgrouse, Saunders’s Tern, Crab Plover, Goliath Heron and Senegal Coucal.
Day 1 Flight from London to Cairo, where we will check into our hotel for the night.
Day 2 An early start will be required to drive south to the recently-discovered site for Chestnut-bellied Sandgrouse, a species long thought to be extinct within the Western Palearctic. We will spend the day searching the agricultural fields for temporary irrigation pools where the sandgrouse come in to drink. Overnight Menya.
Day 3 Depending on whether we were successful or not yesterday, we can either revisit the Sandgrouse site or start our drive east to Ain Sukhana where we will spend the next two nights, birding en-route of course.
Day 4 Today we will drive north to Suez then across to the Sinai Peninsula where we will visit a newly-discovered colony of Saunders’s Terns. It is quite a long walk out to the site from the road but well worth the effort! We may also see Great Crested Tern here but, if not, after returning to Suez we will head south to Ain Sukhana as they breed on the offshore islands and are far easier to see on some of the beaches around here. We will stay overnight at Ain Sukhana.
Day 5 This morning we will drive south birding en-route. Those participating in only the first part of the tour will taken back to Cairo to connect with the international flight home. The full tour will continue will stop for lunch early in the afternoon and reach Wadi Lahami by late afternoon. If there is still sufficient light, we will search for one of the Western Palaearctic’s most highly sought-after birds, Goliath Heron, in the nearby mangroves. Three nights will be spent in Wadi Lahami.
Day 6 We will look again for Goliath Heron and also explore the garden for migrants before heading north to Hamata to board a boat for a trip out to the Hamata Islands, which form part of Wadi Gimal National Park. The crystal clear turquoise waters abound with marine life and gulls and terns breed in abundance on these islands; we will enjoy spectacular views of breeding colonies of Bridled and White-cheeked Terns with smaller numbers of Lesser Crested Terns; local rarities Brown Booby, Red-billed Tropicbird and Sooty Tern are possibilities. We will also see good numbers of White-eyed Gulls and smaller numbers of Sooty Gulls but the real highlight will be the Sooty Falcons. These highly range-restricted falcons breed on all the islands and we will enjoy close-up and personal views of them as they hunt migrant passerines to feed their young. We will enjoy lunch on the boat and there will be the opportunity, for those who wish, to go snorkelling; hire of snorkelling equipment is included. In the afternoon we will visit Egypt’s most extensive mangrove area at Hamata. Depending on the tide, the exposed mud should attract good numbers of waders, which may include Terek Sandpipers and Greater Sand-plovers, as well as Western Reef-heron and Striated Heron. Ospreys are regularly seen here and migrants we have seen in the past include Common Quail, Corn Crake and Cretzschmar’s Bunting. We cannot leave this site, however, until we have enjoyed the real star of the show, Crab Plover, and this area is one of the best places in the Western Palaearctic to see this enigmatic species. Late in the afternoon we will return to Wadi Lahami to check again for migrants and, of course, for Goliath Heron.
Day 7 The early morning will once more be spent looking for Goliath Heron. After breakfast we will head south to Shalatein near the border with Sudan. Here we will search the acacia scrub for African Collared-dove and Namaqua Dove and hopefully see good numbers of Lappet-faced Vultures by the town’s camel market. The adjacent desert can be productive and we should see Desert Wheatears, Greater Short-toed Larks, Greater Hoopoe-larks and Brown-necked Ravens. The area also holds flocks of Crowned Sandgrouse. When we arrive back at Wadi Lahami in the late afternoon we will have the opportunity to revisit either the local mangroves or those at Hamata before dark.
Day 8 For the last time we will be able to visit the nearby mangroves before heading north to Marsa Alam then west to Aswan, where we will stay overnight. We will, of course, be birding en-route but will still arrive in plenty of time to birdwatch along the banks of the mighty River Nile. Gull-billed, Whiskered and White-winged Terns will be feeding along the river whilst on the exposed mud banks passage waders will congregate. Wild Egyptian Geese can be found here in good numbers and, if there is sufficient time, we may visit the nearby fishponds where Three-banded Plovers have bred at one of their few sites in the Western Palaearctic. We will stay overnight in Aswan.
Day 9 After an early breakfast, we will either visit the fishponds again to look for Three-banded Plover or join the convoy for the three-hour journey to Abu Simbel where we will arrive in time for lunch. In the afternoon we will explore the shores of Lake Nasser. While looking through the many waterbirds here we may find some African species which are at the northern extremity of their ranges: these could include African Skimmer, Pink-backed Pelican, Yellow-billed Stork or African Pied Wagtail. Several species of raptor use the Nile as a migration route and we might see European Honey-buzzard, Common (Steppe) Buzzard or Montagu’s Harrier. We will also visit an area where, in 2011, we saw a Mourning Collared-dove. In the evening we will visit a site on the edge of town where Egyptian Nightjars can be found. There will be a two-night stay in Abu Simbel.
Day 10 This morning we will take a boat trip out on to Lake Nasser to further our search for African Skimmers, Pink-backed Pelicans and Yellow-billed Storks. There are no guarantees, of course, as these species are highly erratic in their occurrences but we will enjoy views of other speciality birds including Senegal Thick-knee, Kittlitz’s Plover and African Pied Wagtail as well as many passage migrants whilst searching. We will return to the hotel for lunch and during the early afternoon heat will have an opportunity to view the spectacular Temple of Ramses II. Late in the afternoon we will continue our search for any species we may not have encountered around the shores of this vast lake. Three-banded Plovers have also been recorded breeding here and we will, of course, look for them if we did not see them at the fish farm.
Day 11 After early morning birding we will leave Abu Simbel and head north to Luxor. En route we should see Black-shouldered Kite, Rock Martin and Green Bee-eater. Arriving in Aswan, we may visit the fish farm again for Three-banded Plover and bird along the banks of the River Nile. We will have lunch in Aswan before continuing north to a camel market where, in the past, we have seen Namaqua Doves. Late in the afternoon we will arrive in Luxor, where we will check into our hotel for the night. In the evening, there will be the opportunity to visit Karnak Temple.
Day 12 This morning we will visit the famous Crocodile Island. The island is a mixture of arable land and marsh where birds abound. Nile Valley Sunbirds feed in the lush gardens while Senegal Thick-knees, Masked Shrikes, Bluethroats and Clamorous Reed-warblers also occur. This is one of the most reliable sites for the introduced Red Avadavat and the reedy channels also give us the opportunity to see Greater Painted-snipe. Purple Swamphen of the race madagascariensis can be found here and, while looking through the many Squacco and Purple Herons and Black-crowned Night-herons, we may well find Striated Heron. After lunch at the hotel, there will be the option to either visit the Valley of the Kings or bird the gardens again before we drive to Luxor airport to catch our flight back to Cairo, where we will stay for the next three nights.
Day 13 We will head north from Cairo to Abassa, an area of pools and arable land within an hour of the city. Here we will hope to find several species that are extremely rare elsewhere in the Western Palaearctic including Greater Painted-snipe, Senegal Thick-knee and, if we are lucky, Senegal Coucal. Pied and White-throated Kingfishers will be occupying every suitable perch and we should note the Egyptian races of Black Kite, Yellow Wagtail and Green Bee-eater. There will be a plentiful supporting cast including several species of heron, Spur-winged Plover, Common Bulbul and Clamorous Reed-warbler. We will also search for Streaked Weaver, an introduced species that thrives in this area. We cannot leave the Cairo area without visiting one of the seven wonders of the ancient world, so some of the afternoon will be spent exploring the Pyramids at Giza and we will also visit the Sphinx. On our way back through the city to our hotel, we will look for both Alexandrine and Ring-necked Parakeets in the parks.
Day 14 We may have time to revisit Abassa before heading to the airport for our flight home.
General Information Although this is primarily a birdwatching tour, we will visit some of the famous historical sites. Egypt can be very hot at this time of year, so we will spend a lot of time birding in the early mornings and evenings and enjoy the shade offered by the historical sites in the heat of the day, when bird activity is relatively low. There are some health requirements, so please consult your doctor. Only a general degree of fitness is required, although the heat can be tiring at times. Security is not a general problem but on occasions we may travel in official convoys between sites. Visas are required.
Group size Minimum number for tour to go ahead: 6; maximum group size: 14 with 2 leaders.