Wednesday, 29 September 2010
Sharm El Sheikh is by far the best place I've ever been to for seeing fish. Its that good that you dont have to go scuba diving, you see just as much when you snorkel. We were lucky in that there was a coral area at our beach, so we didnt even have to go that far to see stuff. But despite that we still had a day out on a boat trip, where we had three stops to do some fabulous snorkelling. Over 40 different species were seen , including the famous 'Nemo', or Red Sea Anemone Fish to give it its official name! I also got to swim amongst another species of Ray, but this wasnt a Stingray like in Mexico, it was a Ribbontail Ray. Much prettier!
We had booked a boat trip on the penultimate day primarily to go snorkelling, but I was also hoping to catch up on a few Gulls and Terns while we were at it. It didnt get off to a promising start, when we arrived at the harbour and there wasnt a single gull in sight! How on earth could that be?! How can a harbour have no gulls? It was ridiculous. So as we were sailing out I wasnt feeling particularly hopeful, despite a pair of Ospreys flying over the boat. But then after a long 30 minutes I picked up a bird flying quite far out in front of the boat. As we got closer I could see it was a Tern, and then it came to the side of the boat and I had excellent views, it was a WHITE CHEEKED TERN. Excellent! A few minutes later another flew past. I was chuffed to have my first lifer of the day. About 15 minutes later we had a great large mixed flock of Terns engaged in a feeding frenzy. There were more White Cheeked Terns, BRIDLED TERNS and a couple of Lesser Crested Terns. This was more like it. Then at the spot of our first dive, I was delighted to see a large flock of one of my main targets, WHITE EYED GULLS. Thankfully they were relatively common throughout the rest of the day. The other species however, definately wasnt! In fact, I thought I was going to miss out altogether until the journey back home when three SOOTY GULLS sauntered past! So, from a disappointing start I ended up with four lifers! Not a bad little day out.
Sunday, 26 September 2010
St Kathryns Monastery is famous as being the site that Moses seen the burning bush on Mt Sinai. More important than that though, its famous for being the most reliable site in the area for seeing Sinai Rosefinch! So for any birder visiting the Sharm area, this place is a must! After a looooooong two and a half hour bus journey, we pulled up at the car park at the base of the holy place. I had a nice walk around the car park area in the hope that the Rosefinches would just be there and I'd get a very easy tick. Alas, no. But I did see the first of many WHITE CROWNED WHEATEARS, a new bird for me. I then headed for the Monastery itself. After a brief look inside, I decided I was wasting precious time and went back outside and looked for birds! A handfull of Crag Martins were flying around overhead, and the usual Laughing Doves were being their usual conspicuous selves. The Monastery is surrounded by a sizeable garden, so most of my time was spent exploring this. Straight away I picked up another of my main targets, TRISTRAMS STARLING. They were heard before they were seen, but there was a nice flock in the tallest trees in the garden. There were lots of warblers flying around. Willow Warblers and Lesser Whitethroats were by far the commonest species, but there were also two Olivaceous Warblers, and a possible Bonelli's Warbler but I couldnt quite pin it down. The garden also had three Spotted Flycatchers but, annoyingly, still no Rosefinch. For the last hour I decided to explore the mountain tracks surrounding the Monastery. More White Crowned Wheatears were seen and also two MOURNING WHEATEARS (again new birds for me) but I failed to see the main bird. Before I knew it it was time to head back to the bus. I was devastated. I had dipped on the prize bird, and the main reason I had come to this place. I really wasnt expecting this. Not even the sight of yet another new bird in the car park, BAR TAILED LARK, could cheer me up. It wasnt a nice journey back to the hotel.
Monday, 20 September 2010
After a successful evening trip I was back the next morning nice and early to try for the other two species of Sandgrouse. Just like the night before the White Storks were everywhere, in massive numbers. It was a truly astonishing sight. They were joined by a handful of Little Egrets and a couple of Grey Herons, and then a nice flock of Glossy Ibis flew in. The same waders from yesterday were joined by Common Snipes, Wood Sandpipers and Spotted Redshanks. The swallows from yesterday had this morning been replaced by a new bird for me, ROCK MARTINS. No Terns were around this time, but a single Lesser Black Backed Gull was the first gull of my trip. And then I heard a sound from behind me that I instantly recognised, as I'd studied it long and hard before I came away! I swung round to see a small flock of CROWNED SANDGROUSE fly in and settle on one of the far pools. I was delighted. And then a bigger flock came in from a different angle and settled at a different pool. Three more landed on a third different pool. This was ridiculous! They were meant to be extremely hard to catch up with, and yet I was seeing them all over the place. But, as I studied the biggest flock through my scope I got an even better surprise! There was actually three SPOTTED SANDGROUSE in with them. As happy as I was, it actually got very frustrating very quickly. All these birds were EXTREMELY flighty, and were up and down all the time, for seemingly no reason most of the time. But I certainly wasnt complaining, I'd seen all three species relatively easily and at the first attempt. The only raptors seen today were Black Kites, and at one point there were six in the air at the same time. As I had a little longer to explore this morning, I decided to have a walk around the overflow pond to see what was around there. The commonest bird was Yellow Wagtail, about 20 of them were scattered around the area. A pair of Red Backed Shrike were perched on a telegraph pole. 3 or 4 Whinchats were seen, as was a pair of Willow Warblers. In the reed area, Reed Warblers and Sedge Warblers were mainly heard, and occasionally seen flitting about, and then a lovely Great Reed Warbler showed itself and started to sing in full view giving excellent views. Unfortunately my taxi came all too quickly and put an end to an excellent mornings birding.
Sunday, 19 September 2010
The Sharm Pools is quite a posh name for what is actually the sewage works! But its a must visit for anyone going to Sharm El Sheikh. My target bird famously uses the pools as a drinking hole just as its getting dark, so I decided to arrive quite early to have a good look round before the sun started to set. As the taxi approached the area, even from a fair distance I could see hundreds of WHITE STORKS both on the ground and in the air. On getting out of the taxi, I realised that hundreds was more like thousands. Everywhere you looked there were Storks, I've never seen anything like it. They werent just around the pools, they were in the surrounding desert and even in the mountains beyond. It was an astonishing sight. I started to look around the pool area and noted an awful lot of waders. As usual the ones that immediately stood out were the Spur Winged Plovers, mainly cos they're so noisy! The other waders seen were Sanderlings, Common Sandpipers, Green Sandpipers, Marsh Sandpipers, Little Ringed Plovers and a nice big flock of Little Stints. House Martins and Barn Swallows were hawking for insects. Three White Winged Terns were joined by a single Whiskered Tern. The only ducks seen were four Garganeys. While scanning the banks for the waders I noticed a large bird on the far side. I checked through my bins and was delighted to see a juvenile EGYPTIAN VULTURE. I slowly crept closer and closer to get better views, but in all honesty I neednt have bothered cos it didnt seem to mind me being there at all. After a while it took to the air and effortlessly soared off. Shortly after this I got an even better raptor display! While watching some Yellow Wagtails I noticed a small bird of prey out of the corner of my eye. It was soaring and gliding and swooping over one of the pools. Then remarkably a second bird joined it, almost playing in mid air! I didnt even need my bins to see what they were, a stunning pair of SOOTY FALCONS! It was an amazing display and one of the highlights of my trip. By this point the sun was starting to go down, so I decided to relocate to the lower overflow ponds and wait for the main target. Its amazing how quickly it gets dark in the desert! Within 20 minutes the sun was all but gone, and I started to think I'd never see anything at this rate. But as I scanned the far bank with my scope there they were in all their glory - LICHTENSTEINS SANDGROUSE. Four of these absolutely gorgeous birds were drinking on the other side of the pond. I never heard them arrive, which is usually the best way of locating them, so I was extremely lucky to spot them. I watched them as it got darker and darker, until I literally couldnt see a thing!
After a terrible near 6 hour flight (no leg room, no tv working, annoyingly loud and drunk passengers etc) we were delighted when we eventually touched down at Sharm El Sheikh airport. We got through the airport surprisingly easily, we were expecting it to be a bit chaotic, but it seemed we were the only incoming flight at that time so things were a bit quiet. Unfortunately it was pitch black when landed so any wildlife would have to wait until the morning. Thankfully it was only a 15 minute bus journey to our hotel, after such a bad flight the last thing we needed was another tedious drive. The hotel was absolutely lovely (albeit in the dark!), and the room itself was excellent. After a trip to the restaurant for supper we had a leisurely stroll around the grounds to see what was what. It was quite a large complex, but buildings were nicely spread out and things werent too cramped. There were four swimming pools, and a big beach area so there were lots of areas for Maria to relax and laze for the week. I noticed that despite the size of the place there were very little trees, shrubs and bushes etc which didnt bode well for attracting any passing migrants. My instincts proved to be spot on! The next morning I got up and had a walk around the complex. The first bird of the trip was a Laughing Dove, closely followed by House Sparrows. Both of these were VERY common and were seen every day in big numbers. A male Kestrel was flying around the main reception area. It turned out that there was a family party of Kestrels that was using the receptions roof as their home, so they were also seen every day. The next bird was a lovely male Red Backed Shrike, and I watched him hunting for insects for about 15 minutes before he flew off somewhere else. I saw him a couple of times during the week, always in the same spot. The only other bird on that first walk was one of my absolute favourite birds, the Hoopoe. Alas, it was the one and only time I seen one for the whole week. And that was it! Just the five species in the hotel grounds. This proved to be the case for the whole of the week, until the very last day. On the friday morning before we came home we decided to have a couple of hours relaxing on the beach. This turned out to be a great idea, and thankfully I had my binoculars with me! First, a pair of Ospreys flew low overhead giving excellent views. Next, 3 Buzzards soared over. I have a feeling they were the subspecies 'Steppe Buzzard', but I dont really have that much experience in telling the difference. They definately had a noticeably rufous rump/tail. Next I got the first of two lifers that morning, a pair of BROWN NECKED RAVENS. I was a bit surprised I hadnt seen them before now, as I was led to believe they were reasonably common birds. But then, the best was definately saved for last! An absolutely glorious adult BARBARY FALCON glided low over the beach area, circled over the complex then headed back past us again. An absolutely terrific sight, and a great way to end the week.
Tuesday, 14 September 2010
I had a cracking little going away present the day before I jetted off to Egypt in the form of only my 3rd ever GREENISH WARBLER. Once again it was over on the Leas, this time along the line of hedges. Two excellent warblers within a few days of each other, and within a few metres of each other, this place is almost becoming a hotspot!