Birds & History

27th January - 5th February 2001

Mindy Baha el Din
Keith Grant


27th January: Arrival Arrival in Cairo in time for dinner. Weather throughout was cloudless with light breezes, giving us pleasantly sunny days and cool nights - that is until the last two days when the wind got up and it became quite cloudy and cool.

28th January: Abu Simbel, birding & Temple

A very early breakfast allowed us to board the 6am flight to Abu Simbel, checking into our hotel at around 9 o'clock. A morning's gentle birding around the hotel grounds and neighbouring areas beyond the airport gave us a very good introduction to the local birds. While watching a Kittlitz's Plover near the airport there were a number of Desert and White-crowned Wheatears nearby. A Red-throated Pipit gave us very close views, as did Greenshank and a Wood Sandpiper. There were numerous parties of Shoveler and a flock of distant Wigeon contained a lone pair of Gadwall. Numerous Chiffchaffs, various Lesser Whitethroats and a few Sardinian Warblers were also present around the hotel. Clamorous Reed Warblers showed well, as did the first of the Spur-winged Plovers. After lunch at the hotel, we walked the short distance to the two temples, finding good numbers of Senegal Thick-knee loafing on the rocky shore.

29th January: Abu Simbel, birding & boat trip, Temple sound & light

The early morning crew found numerous warblers again around the hotel grounds. After a leisurely breakfast, we collected our picnic lunches and boarded the boat for our trip exploring a very small part of Lake Nasser. The Night Herons were again roosting in their tamarisk opposite the quay and a Pied Kingfisher sat obligingly nearby. Soon after we passed the temples, we disturbed a Goliath Heron from one of the small islets in the bay. Sometime later, we found a Purple Heron perched on one of the drowned tamarisks and this afforded an excellent comparison. We were never sure what we would find around each headland. Flocks of Wigeon and Shoveler abounded with, at one time, a flock of several hundred Tufted Ducks. A flock of several hundred White-winged Black Terns were hawking insects and allowed us to drift amongst them. Several Marsh Harriers were also seen and as we returned past the temples, an Osprey flew over carrying a fish torpedo-fashion.

We took the minibus again to the area beyond the airport and walked and drove along the road, birding the pools and shoreline - Green Sandpiper, Temminck's Stint, Black-winged Stilt and several Little Grebes, amongst others. Finally, we returned to the temples for the very impressive Sound & Light Show. At the end, two or three Egyptian Nightjars were hawking insects in the light beams.

30th January: Flight to Aswan, Philae Temple

The 08.45 flight to Aswan meant we could easily pick up our boat and visit Philae Temple before lunch. We then continued in the boat around other areas of the lake, and birds of interest included several Black-necked Grebes, and overhead, White Storks, Egyptian Vultures and a single Spotted Eagle soared above us. The picnic lunch was eaten on the boat under a ruined mosque. We then returned, checked into the hotel, and after a short rest and swim for some in the hotel pool, we took the felucca sail ride around the first cataract island. Everyone thoroughly enjoyed the tranquillity and skills of the boatman. Birds here included several Purple Swamphen, Striated Heron, numerous Pied Kingfishers and excellent views of a Long-legged Buzzard soaring around us and stooping twice, both unsuccessfully, on a flock of Feral Pigeons. We made a brief stop on the First Cataract Protected Island and found our first Nile Valley Sunbird, unfortunately oh so brief! Return to hotel in time for dinner.

31st January: On to Luxor via Kom Ombo & Edfu Temples.

An 8am start for the vehicle convoy to Luxor. Kom Ombo and Edfu Temples were visited en route. We had our first close and prolonged views of Nile Valley Sunbird at Kom Ombo, searching the blossoms of a shrub alongside the roadway. The river held a few distant Mallards and further Purple Swamphens, Black-tailed Godwits, Eurasian Teal and Purple Herons were seen. Fan-tailed Warblers were singing in the fields nearby. On the way to Edfu, Black-shouldered Kites became more evident, sitting on wires or hovering alongside the road. At Edfu, a pair were seen talon-grappling overhead and a Great White Egret was seen in the reeds below as we passed over the bridge just outside the town. There were tantalisingly distant views of the river with rafts of unidentified duck on the water. We arrived at the Movenpick Hotel on Crocodile Island, Luxor, in time for a late lunch, then off for a couple of hour's birding around the grounds and neighbouring fields and river before dusk. There were good numbers of Pied Kingfishers, as expected, as well as Squacco Herons, Marsh Sandpiper, Spotted Redshank, Common Snipe and Senegal Thick-knees. Several Bluethroats were found in the reed-edges and excellent views of male Nile Valley Sunbirds and Little Green Bee-eaters in the gardens. We also found Purple Swamphens and Night Herons along the water's edge near the hotel restaurant. After a rest, we visited the Luxor Temple for an hour in the evening, finding both Little and Barn Owls visible in the floodlights, together with a species of large bat hawking insects. Back to the hotel for dinner.

1st February: The West Bank of the Nile and Karnak.

Once across the river, first stop this morning was the Colossi of Memnon where we quickly found Spanish Sparrows amongst the House Sparrows in a hedge. Trumpeter Finches were much in evidence, drinking from a dripping tap next to the path in the Valley of the Queens. We entered the Tomb of Amunherkhepohep, young son of Rameses III, and marvelled at the complex and colourful wall paintings. As we re-emerged, a Blue Rock Thrush showed tantalisingly briefly on the peaks above and a Mourning Wheatear was found around the entrance gates. As we left the car park, two Desert Larks were foraging alongside the road, affording excellent views. Moving on to the Temple of Queen Hatshepsut, another Blue Rock Thrush flew across near the vehicle park. Pallid Swifts were swooping around us, often coming right alongside and allowing us to look down on them below the raised, paved approaches. A few more Trumpeter Finches were found in the Valley of the Kings as we were shown the Tombs of Rameses VI and Mineptah.

We took a ferry across the river for lunch at the restaurant Peace Abuzeid, before a guided tour of the Karnak Temple and a couple of hour's birding around the hotel in the late afternoon. Abdul, the local fisherman/birder in training, found us two White-tailed Plovers, a highly sought-after speciality for the area. Several Jack Snipe were also visible on the ground, and good numbers of Egyptian Wagtails, the local resident race of Yellow Wagtail, were also apparent.

Some of the group went to watch the Karnak Sound & Light Show in the evening, returning for a late dinner.

2nd February: Cairo

We made another early start to catch our flight to Cairo. This did mean that we had time to see part of the vast arrays of exhibits in the Egyptian Museum, culminating in the stunning Jewelry Room of King Tutankhamun. Lunch at a very nice restaurant, then on to the Great Pyramids and the Sphynx. The second pyramid seemed quieter than the rest of the area so we decamped from the bus here and walked right around it, Amr, our guide, answering questions on the way. A rather quick visit to view the Solar Boat which, I thought, was stunning; then on to the Sphinx for an equally rapid tour and photographs. Check in at hotel.

3rd February: The Eastern Delta

An 8am start and we headed northeast to Gabel Asfar. Exploring an agricultural area, we found both Senegal Coucal and three White-breasted Kingfishers amongst the orange groves and fields. The stiff breeze kept the temperatures down and tended to raise the dust somewhat, so birding was relatively quiet. Various Common Snipe were flushed from trackside ditches, and we had brief glimpses of Little Bittern and Jack Snipe. Little Green Bee-eater was also seen. Mindy was very pleased also with a Common Buzzard disturbed from a field, quite an unusual bird for Egypt. We then moved on to the Ismailiya Canal area where we stopped briefly at a fish farm to view some of the drier tanks. Numerous Ruff were feeding avidly, with Common Redshank, Little & Temminck's Stints, Little Ringed Plover, Wood & Marsh Sandpipers also present. A kilometer or so further on, we stopped again to view fields with Kittlitz's Plovers, Crested & Sky Larks present, and best of all, a few Lesser Short-toed Larks - all giving excellent views through the telescopes. A Water Pipit flew over calling. We then returned to Cairo, taking a slight detour to pass by the City of the Dead and the Citadel, before returning to our hotel.

4th February: El Fayoum and Sakkara.

A 7.30 start enabled us to be birding the lakeside at Qarun by 9am, immediately picking up Pintail, Pochard, Great White Egrets and several Slender-billed Gulls, including a superb adult sitting on the water just offshore. We had a brief view of a Little Bittern before it disappeared into a reed patch just beside us. Various shorebirds included Common & Spotted Redshanks, Common & Jack Snipe, Wood Sandpiper and Little Stint. We had a comfort stop and cup of coffee at a nearby auberge before moving on to a large fish-farm. Here the tanks with emergent vegetation were teeming with birds - large numbers of Egyptian Swallows were hawking insects, and large numbers of Ruff, Dunlin and Little Stint, Ringed Plover and both species of Redshank. Eating our picnic lunches en route, we then returned to Cairo to explore two of the tombs at Sakkara and view the Stepped Pyramid. Our guide, Amr, took us into the Mastaba of Ti, before returning to the Stepped Pyramid itself. 'Eagle-eyes' Chris immediately found the Desert Eagle Owl sitting sunning itself, and as we got closer to view it through Mindy's telescope, he found a second bird further along the pyramid face. Amr finally took us down into the Mastaba of Kagemni, daughter of Teti, before moving into the Pyramid of Teti herself.

5th February: Departure

Yet another early departure (we were getting used to them by now!) and we headed for the airport and home.


Little Grebe / Dabchick: Noted on 4 days, at Abu Simbel & Eastern Delta, max 3 on 29th.

Great Crested Grebe: Noted only on 1 day, 7 at Lake Qarun on 4th.

Black-necked Grebe: Noted only on 1 day, 10 at Philae on 30th.

Great Cormorant: Noted on 6 days, several thousands flying to/from roost at Abu Simbel.

Grey Heron: Noted most days.

Purple Heron: Noted on 3 days with up to 3 on 29th, 30th & 31st.

Goliath Heron: Noted only on 1 day, 1 at Abu Simbel on 29th.

Cattle Egret: Noted most days.

Great [White] Egret: Noted on 2 days with 1 at Edfu on 31st, 7 at Lake Qarun on 4th.

Little Egret: Noted most days.

Squacco Heron: Noted on 6 days, 29th - 1st, 3rd, & 4th.

Striated Heron: Noted only on 1 day, 3 during the felucca trip on 30th.

Black-crowned Night-Heron: Noted on 3 days with 2 at Abu Simbel on 28th, 6 at roost plus others on 29th & 31st.

Little Bittern: Noted on 2 days with 2 briefly on 3rd, 3 on 4th.

White Stork: Noted only on 1 day, 4 at Philae on 30th.

Glossy Ibis: Noted only on 1 day, 5 near Abu Simbel on 29th.

Eurasian Spoonbill: Noted on 2 days with 15 roosting high on island near Philae on 30th, 3 on sandbar at Luxor on 1st.

Egyptian Goose: Noted on 3 days with up to 6 on 28th, 29th & 30th.

Mallard: Noted only on 1 day, 6 at Kom Ombo on 31st.

Eurasian Wigeon: Noted on 2 days with c60 on 28th, also on 29th.

Gadwall: Noted only on 1 day, 2 at Abu Simbel on 28th.

Eurasian Teal: Noted on 4 days with up to 6 on 30th, 31st, 1st & 4th.

Northern Pintail: Noted only on 1 day, 12+ at Lake Qarun on 4th.

Northern Shoveler: Noted on 6 days, 28th -1st & 4th, probably many hundreds.

Common Pochard: Noted only on 1 day, many at Lake Qarun on 4th.

Tufted Duck: Noted on 5 days, 29th - 1st & 4th, many hundreds.

Osprey: Noted on 2 days, singles over Abu Simbel on 29th & Philae on 30th.

Black-shouldered Kite: Noted on 2 days with 15 in Luxor area on 31st, 2 on 1st.

Yellow-billed Kite: Noted most days, including 17 at one time on 28th.

Egyptian Vulture: Noted only on 1 day, 3 at Philae on 30th; seen perched on shore and flying over.

Spotted Eagle: Noted only on 1 day, 1 over Philae on 30th.

[Eurasian] Marsh Harrier: Noted on 5 days, with 3 on 29th, then singles on 31st, 1st, 3rd & 4th.

Eurasian Sparrowhawk: Noted only on 1 day, 1 on 30th.

Common Buzzard: Noted only on 1 day, 1 on 3rd.

Long-legged Buzzard: Noted on 2 days with 2 on 30th, 3 on 31st; excellent views.

Common / Eurasian Kestrel: Noted most days.

Purple Swamphen / Gallinule: Noted on 4 days with 2 on 30th, 7+ on 31st, singles on 1st & 2nd.

Common Moorhen: Noted most days.

Common Coot: Noted on 4 days, 30th, 31st 3rd & 4th.

Black-winged Stilt: Noted each day.

Senegal Thick-knee: Noted on 5 days, max 35 at Abu Simbel on 28th.

Spur-winged Plover: Noted most days.

White-tailed Plover: Noted only on 1 day, 2 near Movenpick Hotel on 1st.

Northern Lapwing: Noted on 2 days in Cairo area, 6+ on 3rd, 1 on 4th.

Grey Plover: Noted only on 1 day, 1 at Lake Qarun on 4th.

Ringed Plover: Noted on 2 days, 4 at Abu Simbel on 29th, several Lake Qarun on 4th.

Little (Ringed) Plover: Noted on 4 days, up to 3 on 28th, 29th, 1st, 3rd.

Kittlitz's Plover: Noted on 3 days with 1 on 28th, another on 29th, 5 on 3rd.

Black-tailed Godwit: Noted on 2 days with 30+ on 30th, 10+ on 31st.

Spotted Redshank: Noted on 4 days, 30th, 31st, 1st, 4th.

Common Redshank: Noted on 2 days with 6+ on 3rd & 4th.

Marsh Sandpiper: Noted on 4 days, singles on 31st, 1st, 3rd, & 4th.

Common Greenshank: Noted on 3 days, singles on 28th, 29th, & 31st.

Green Sandpiper: Noted on 5 days, usually singles, 29th - 31st, 3rd & 4th.

Wood Sandpiper: Noted on 4 days, singles on 28th, 1st, 3rd & 4th.

Common Sandpiper: Noted on 6 days.

Common Snipe: Noted on 4 days.

Jack Snipe: Noted on 3 days with 3 on 1st, 1 on 3rd, 2 on 4th.

Little Stint: Noted most days.

Temminck's Stint: Noted on 2 days with 1 on 29th, 1 on 3rd; good views.

Dunlin: Noted only on 4th.

Ruff: Noted on 5 days with 2 on 28th, 7 on 31st, 4 on 1st, good numbers on 3rd & 4th.

Yellow-legged Gull: Noted only at Abu Simbel on 28th.

Great Black-headed/Pallas's Gull: Noted only at Lake Qarun, 2 on 4th.

Black-headed Gull: Noted most days.

Slender-billed Gull: Noted only at Lake Qarun on 4th.

Whiskered Tern: Noted on 4 days, several adults on 29th, also on 30th, 31st & 4th.

White-winged [Black] Tern: Noted on 4 days with several hundreds hawking insects over Lake Nasser on 29th, also on 30th, 31st & 1st.

Gull-billed Tern: Noted on 4 days, 28th - 31st.

Rock Dove / Feral Pigeon: Noted each day.

[European] Turtle Dove: Noted only at Abu Simbel with 2 on 29th.

[Eurasian] Collared Dove: Noted only on 1 day, 4 on 3rd.

Laughing Dove: Noted each day.

Senegal Coucal: One on 3rd, seen well eventually!

Barn Owl: Noted on 2 days with 1 at Luxor Temple on 31st, 1 at Karnak on 1st.

Pharaoh / Desert Eagle-owl: Two at the Stepped Pyramid on 4th.

Little Owl: Two at Luxor Temple on 31st.

Egyptian Nightjar: Three around the Abu Simbel lightshow on 29th.

Pallid Swift: Noted on 5 days, including excellent views at the Temple of Queen Hatshepsut.

White-breasted Kingfisher: Three seen well on 3rd.

Pied Kingfisher: Noted most days.

Little Green Bee-eater: Noted on 5 days with 3 on 30th, 6 on 31st, 12+ on 1st, 2 on 3rd, 1 in hotel garden on 4th.

Eurasian Hoopoe: Noted each day.

Desert Lark: Two at the Valley of Queens on 1st.

Crested Lark: Noted most days.

[Eurasian] Sky Lark: At least four on 3rd.

Lesser Short-toed Lark: At least six on 3rd.

[European] Sand Martin: Noted on 5 days with small parties heading north during the afternoons, 29th - 1st & 4th.

Pale Crag / Rock Martin: Noted on 5 days.

Barn Swallow: Birds of the nominate race (with pale underparts) noted on 3 days with 2 on 1st, 1 on 3rd, a few on 4th.

Egyptian Swallow: Noted on 6 days, often very good numbers of this resident Egyptian race with its richly coloured underparts.

Yellow Wagtail: Variable numbers of the small Egyptian Wagtail Motacilla flava pygmaea seen on 6 days. A female Black-headed Wagtail M f feldegg also seen near the Movenpick Hotel.

White Wagtail: Noted each day.

Red-throated Pipit: Noted on 4 days with nice views of 1 on 28th, 6+ on 29th, also on 31st & 1st.

Water Pipit: One flying over on 3rd was the only record.

Common / Black-eyed Bulbul: Noted on 6 days.

Southern Grey Shrike: Three on 4th were the only birds.

Blue Rock Thrush: Noted on 2 days with 2 on 29th, 2 on 1st.

[Common] Blackbird: Noted on 2 days with 3 on 3rd, 1 on 4th.

Bluethroat: Noted on 6 days.

[Common] Stonechat: Noted on 2 days with 2 on 31st, 2 on 3rd.

White-crowned [Black] Wheatear: Noted on 4 days.

Mourning Wheatear: Noted on 2 days with 1 in Valley of Queens on 1st, 1 at Solar Boat on 2nd.

Desert Wheatear: Noted on 2 days with 6+ on 28th, a male on 29th.

Isabelline Wheatear: Noted only on 1 day, 1 briefly on 28th.

Zitting Cisticola / Fan-tailed Wbr: Noted on 2 days, 31st & 1st.

Graceful Prinia / Warbler: Noted most days.

Sedge Warbler: Noted on 3 days, 28th, 29th & 31st.

[Eurasian] Reed Warbler: Noted on 3 days, 28th, 29th & 31st.

Clamorous Reed Warbler: Noted only on 1 day, good views at Abu Simbel on 28th.

Olivaceous Warbler: One near the hotel at Abu Simbel on 29th.

Lesser Whitethroat: Noted on 3 days, numerous on 28th, 29th & 1st.

Sardinian Warbler: Noted on 2 days with several in garden on 28th & 29th.

Common / Eurasian Chiffchaff: Noted each day, very numerous.

Nile Valley Sunbird: Noted on 4 days with 1 on 30th, several on 31st, 1 on 1st, a moulting male m on 4th.

Hooded Crow: Noted on 6 days.

Brown-necked Raven: Noted on 5 days.

European Goldfinch: Two on 1st was the only record.

Trumpeter Finch: Noted only at the Valleys of Queens and Kings, 15 on 1st.

House Sparrow: Noted each day.

Spanish Sparrow: Noted only at the Colossi of Memnon on 1st.

BUTTERFLIES & other insects:

Plain Tiger: Two on 3rd.

Painted Lady: Noted only on 30th.

Small White: Noted only on 28th.

African Grass Blue: Noted only on 1 day, 2 on 29th.

Scorpion sp: One dead on road on 30th.

Preying Mantis: Noted only on 1 day, 1 at Sphinx on 3rd.


Bean Skink: Noted on 4 days.


Bat species: Variously seen around the temples at night.

Rat species: Noted on 2 days, on 28th & 31st.

Egyptian Mongoose: Two seen on 3rd.

From the travelling point of view, this was a very energetic trip. Even so, I hope that you all thoroughly enjoyed it. It's just impossible to pick an overall highlight because there are just so many super sites and birds. I think we have all come home with our own memories!

Thank you to Mindy and, of course, to the excellent travel arrangements by Eastmar Travel and their guides and drivers. I do hope to meet you all again in the not-too-distant future.

Keith Grant, February 2001.

© The Travelling Naturalist 2001