Planning the trip
We started to plan our trip to Egypt about half an year beforehand. First we were just checking information from internet by reading tripreports and checking different sites. Later we took contact to some Egyptian birders and to birders who had been birding there. We got a lot of information about birding and about everything we needed to know pretty easily!
We (me and Hanna) were very happy that our old friend from Catalonia was joining us. Our plans were to have such a trip that we could see as many (GOOD) birdspecies as possible and also as many beautiful places as possible. We decided to stay two weeks on our trip so it was possible to move a lot. Ofcourse we were thinking to save as much money as possible, so we were thinking to use just local transportation: buses, trains and taxis. And we decided to live in cheap hotels.
When we left (19th of April) we hadn’t got any exact plans, only (bird)places where we had to go. I had made some different kind of plans how to move there in Egypt, so we could check how many days we could spent in different places. Finally we choose one plan which didn’t include visiting in Sinai (because Oriol had been there earlier) but our way reached South close to Sudan border to Abu Simbel. When we left we hadn’t got anything else arranged than tickets to Egypt and back to Finland. Both ways we had a 10 hours stop in Hungary Budapest.
Finally we saw 184 species (160 in Egypt and rest in Hungary). The trip was amazing! We hadn’t got BIG problems, no-one even got sick! We also saw all the most important birds and views were something amazing! But I won’t tell too much now, let the story begin.
Landing to Budapest 19.2.
About 11 a.m. (local time) our Malev-plane landed to Budapest airport. Our way to Egypt was at half. But now we had 10 hours to see Budapest before at night we should continue to Cairo.
Even we took a wrong buss from the airport and we hade some problems to find the city right away, we managed to see Budapest pretty well. We had enough time to see some beautiful places and also some nice birds: Cormorants, 2 Peregrines and some other species we wouldn’t see in next two weeks.
4 a.m. (again local time) we landed at Cairo airport. First we had to find visas. After little searching we found a small table where was a man putting little stamps to peoples passports of course against some money. We couldn’t see it anyhow but we guessed that was the place to get visas. We took the visa to whole Egypt (also Sinai) and we were able to seek our luggage. It was awful! People were walking over the luggage; they were pushing each others and acting like crazy. Finally we could find our bags and we were happy we had all expensive equipments (binos, scopes, cameras) with us in plane.
After the chaos we had to find our friend Oriol. There was about 1000 other people trying to find each others. After five text messages we realized Oriol was in different airport! So he took a taxi and after ten minutes (and 40 offered taxis) we found each others. It was so nice to see Oriol after one and half year again.
We told the driver to drive to hotel which we had chosen from our Let’s go -book. Driver tried to talk us around to another hotel, but we kept our head. One reason was he didn’t know the way to hotel and he could have got his own payment from his hotel. Our hotel was unfortunately full but friendly owner told us to go to hotel behind the corner and she helped us to get rid of the driver. Anyway the driver managed to get twice too much money from us (50 E£ = 12,5 €). On our way we had our first sighted animal which was some weasel kind of animal.
After all we carried our luggage to Pension Roma hotel to fourth floor, were we got nice room for four and even the price was the same than in our book (18 €). Soon we were sleeping, we had been travelling already more than day and Oriol had changed plane in Amsterdam!
Tourist day 20th of April
After some hours sleeping we woke up because Pallid Swifts were screaming outside the window. At hotels background there were many Rock Doves and Palm Doves. Soon we were getting the taxi to Giza pyramids. On the way close the Nile River we saw many Pied Kingfishers, Common Bulbuls, Hoopoes and Cattle Egrets. After twenty minutes drive we could see the pyramids! It was really something!!
We were there watching the pyramids but of course we tried to see birds too. Red-tailed Wheatear should be there almost every winter. But we couldn’t find any. But Blue Rock Thrush and savignii-Swallows were nice too. There was nice because there wasn’t many tourists. Also local “businessmen” were pretty easy to handle – they understood the word no. The cost to pyramids was 2,5/1,25 € which was normal price also to other cultural places later.
After some hours we continued our tourist day to Egyptian museum. We decided to walk there from our hotel, which was not that easy. Traffic was something really crazy! They don’t have any lines, no matter if the light is red, only if there is a police standing on the road they stop. And if taxi driver can see you he makes himself heard with horn – and there is a lot of taxis! I went crazy in five minutes! Only way to cross the road was to walk using a local as a shield. One tourist cheater helped us to find the museum, but we just promised to call him if we’ll need him later. Come on, we were not that stupid! But we got a funny card to our collection again.
In Egyptian museum we were wondering some hours the old cultural stuff with Tutankhamon coffins and masks. The place was really worth of visiting! If culture is nothing for birder he can try to find different bird species from hieroglyphs and carvings. There were pretty many birds.
At the afternoon we walked in Zamalek parks close the Cairo tower. We found some Ring-necked Parakeets and also Song Thrush which was little surprise.
At night we met Tom Collins which I had taken contact by e-mail earlier. Unfortunately he had been just two months in Hawaii (at home) and he didn’t had much to tell us, but he knew very good driver for us! The driver was a former English teacher and he had been a driver for Tom for 12 years, so he really knew the birding places! That was very good for us!
Abbassa 21th of February
Second Egypt day we woke up early, 5 o’clock and we met our taxi driver Gamal about 6 o’clock. We took our luggage and started our way to Abbassa. I had red a lot about Abbassa and we were very keen to get there. Abbassa is 70 km North-East from Cairo and its green area with reeds and rice fields.
On the way we saw a flock of 400 Black Kites, tens of Crested Larks… It was easy to notice when the bird places started! Another side of the road there was a water canal and another side a lot of different kind of green plants. There were also some fish pools with a lot of Squacco Herons, Little Egrets and Grey Herons. First White-breasted Kingfishers were flying over the water areas and much more Pied Kingfishers. On the beach of canal there was a lot of Spur-winged Plovers and four Senegal Thick-knees. Graceful Prinias ja Fan-tailed Warblers were “singing” and soon we found first Clamorous Reed Warblers. There were also normal Kingfishers. Passerines were Meadow, Red-breasted and Water Pipits, Spanish Sparrows, Hoopes and Common Bulbuls. We found also some raptors: two Lesser Spotted Eagles, Marsh Harriers, Kestlers and six Black-shouldered Kites! Red Avadavat, Streaked Weaver, Painted Snipe and Kittlitz’s Plover could have been also possible on the area. But we did find the best one – Senegal Coucal, which was amazing! It was eating very big hairy worms and we could photograph it.
But rest of the birds we couldn’t find. Biggest reason was that some locals weren’t very friendly and wanted us away from one very good looking place. In some places rubber boots would have been needed. And maybe we weren’t brave enough – not yet.
We continued towards 10th Ramadan City’s Painted Snipe and Kittlitz’s Plover places, but the places were too close the army area, so we weren’t able to get there safely. And Painted Snipe place was destroyed. What a pity! We had to decide what to do next. We continued to Suez city because we really wanted to see new places and new birds. On the way we saw some African Green Bee-eaters and aucheri- Great Grey Shrike. Also we saw nice Hoopoe Lark and a big flock of Thick-knees flying on a desert.
In Suez there was a lot of House Crows. Now we rented a room for three (totally 30 £E = 7.5 €). It was really only a room with beds, but where did we needed anything more. We weren’t in Egypt just sleeping. Gamal wanted to drive to his home (to Cairo) to sleep (100km), but he promised to be back in early morning.
Before the dawn we had a little walk to gardens and beaches (ticket to gardens was 10 cents). There we found of course House Crows but also Hoopoes, House Sparrows, cyanecula- Bluethroats, Graceful Prinias and one Wryneck. We also saw Gulls flying to sleeping places: alot of Caspian Gulls but also Armenian Gulls.
Next day Islam’s had a big “meet Christmas” like Gamal said. There was a cow hanging in our hotel corridor too and all blood was on the road. Pretty interesting! When we got back to hotel we were extremely tired. Even very very loud prayers couldn’t disturb our sleep.
South from Suez 22th of February
At morning we started our way to Wadi El Hagul but when we reached it, we noticed it was totally dry. There were only some Chiffchaffs and Lesser White-throats. Also we saw some flocks of Brown-necked Raves and a pair of Trumpeter Finches. Soon we found also some Steppe Eagles which were sitting on the top of small hills. Some wadis offered just some Hoopoe Larks and Sardinian Warblers etc. One nice Short-toed Eagle was also migrating just over us. One farming area offered a lot of birds: Desert, Eastern Black-eared and normal Wheatears, Song Thrushes, Redwing, Robin and Dunnock which we thought they are not normal this South. But Sylvia Warblers were difficult ones. Ofcourse we found many Lesser White-throats and Sardinian Warblers, but finally we found one more interesting Warbler. We tried to see it enough well more than half an hour and finally we saw it well enough – Menetries’s Warbler! When hunting this bird we found also one Reed and one Sedge Warbler.
At midday we reached Ain Sukhna migration place. We were ofcourse one or two weeks too early to see raptor migration, but there were also local birds. White-crowned Black Wheatear, Great Black-headed Gulls, White-eyed Gulls and some fossils for Hanna. Soon we continued to get in to one hotel area which was said to be good for gulls etc. Unfortunately the hotel was closed. But we managed to get in to next hotel with guards (which wasn’t that good but pretty nice). We found tens of White-eyed, Armenian, Lesser Black-backed and Caspian Gulls sitting on the balconies and pipes. Three Sandwich and three Crested Terns too! First African Rock Martins were flying over the garden.
Soon we had to decide what to do next. Gamal told there were buses going to Hurghada often and soon we were waiting the bus on a buss stop. And our way to Hurghada begun and we were just in the schedule! Buss cost 24 £E/person (6 €).
About 2-3 p.m. we arrived at Hurghada buss station, and we took the taxi to our hotel Sea Waves. Hotel was pretty awful, but we were too tired to think about that. We didn’t even argue about the price even it was three times more than our book told it should be (first they asked 6 times more!). Remember they are not cheating – you are just stupid if you pay, it is just business!). We were just too tired!
Hurghada 23th of April
Six a.m. we were already walking towards the local beaches, which we thought to be easy to find. But it wasn`t. All the beaches belonged to hotels, or they were military areas. Finally we found a free beach to go. It was in bad condition but we could have some seawatching. Some White-eyed Gulls, Caspian Terns, Oystercatcher, Curlew, Ringed Plovers, Kentish Plover, but nothing else was seen. We continued walking for many kilometres but we couldn’t find any other free beaches. So we decided to ask if we can get in to hotel gardens to find passerines. That finer hotel that easier it was to get in – we weren’t the first birders doing that I think? But not many birds – only better was Eastern Subalpine Warbler and from the beaches we saw first Sooty Gulls and also some Ospreys.
Hurghada is just two 30 km long roads with hundreds of hotels. Most of the hotels were empty or not completely built. It was very messy, lot of rubbish everywhere. Not very nice! But normal tourist is just in beautiful hotel garden and is not getting out anywhere else than to the Red Sea.
We found the best looking birding place on the background of local hospital. There was a wastewater place with some reeds and awful smell. There was a lot of Sylvia Warblers (common ones), Sedge Warblers, Collared Doves with Palm Doves and Rock Doves. Later we walked to local harbour and we found nice captain who offered us a boat to rent. He was such a good guy that we rented his boat for one and half days starting next day. We were planning to see some seabirds on the bird islands north from Hurghada.
When we had walked too much we took the taxi and went to Hurghada rubbish tip, which we had heard to be good place for birding. About tenth driver knew the way there. Rubbish tip was really good place. There was a lake with a lot of ducks and waders. Marsh Sandpipers, Black-winged Stilts, Kentish Plovers, Little Ringed Plovers, Dunlins, Little Stints, Ruff, Lapwing… Coots, Shovelers, Wigeon and Pintail. Gulls were mostly Caspian Gulls but there was also big flock of White-eyed Gulls. There was amazing amount of Pied Wagtails – thousands! Some Steppe Eagles and Brown-necked Ravens were sitting on the top of the rubbish hills. Wheatears were mostly common ones but we found also one Isabelline Wheatear.
Next we continued to one farm that our driver told to be good place for birds. But now it was afternoon so there were no birds from mountains. In early morning it would have been a perfect place. Later we drove the costal road from north back to our hotel. On the way we saw some Slender-billed Gulls.
At late evening we had some seawatching on the closest beach of hotel and we found one Brown Booby!
Second Hurghada morning (24th of April) we walked again the beaches and trying to find a taxi driver which was awake. We wanted to get to El Gouna 30 km north from Hurghada. Finally found one driver and we took him even he couldn’t speak any English. The price was 30 € for whole morning.
On the way we saw a flock of 30 Crowned Sandgrouses. At Sheraton hotel beaches we found Western Reef Heron. From the bushes we found Chiffchaffs, Bluethroats, Sedge Warblers, Sardinian Warblers, Eastern Subalpine Warbler and Savi’s Warbler. It was too windy to find good birds from Golf resort, only some Wheatears. We saw also first Knots, and with savignii- Swallows there was some African Rock Martins and one Red-rumped Swallow.
After all we had still time before our boat trip so we decided to go to rubbish tip which was almost on the way. Our driver didn’t know the way but we knew already so we told him where to go. There was pretty much same birds than day before: three Shelducks also. When we were leaving we saw a flock of flying Bar-tailed Desert Larks.
It was almost 11 a.m. when we went to our taxi in rubbish tip and started our way back to Hurghada. But after 200 meters there was a police motorbikes on the way, and they stopped us. Soon we understood something was badly wrong! Another of those aggressive policemen spoke some English so we understood the rubbish tip was forbidden area to go. But he didn’t tell us anything more. They were just shouting Arabic for our driver who was really scared. Soon policemen let us go and we were very happy. But our driver was just saying problems, problems all the time. Soon he stopped one car and he took a guy who spoke English to tell us that he was really in problems. So we decided to go with a driver to police station where he was told to go. It was only our fault that we had been in rubbish tip. Our driver hadn’t even knew the way there.
At police station Hanna left to taxi with all our cameras and that kind of stuff. (I am now telling everything that happened ten times faster than anything happened because you would get bored!) After one hour policemen took our driver somewhere and we were still sitting on a sofa they told us to wait. After two hours some sort of policeman asked us to his office where was all kind of other people all the time running, but no-one was speaking us a word! Actually we had already noticed that no-one was speaking any English.
Our appointment with our boat captain was very close but we were still waiting something to happen. Finally we noticed that they started to think about our problem. Soon some kind of police chief started to speak to us with those ten English words he knew. Next hour we had to tell for him and all other people who visited that room that we were just birders and our telescopes weren’t cameras! Next he took my birdbook and again we had to tell ten times we were birders…
Two hours later we realized that police thought we were some kind of journalists who were trying to photograph ugly places (like rubbish tip) so there wouldn’t be so many tourists in Egypt. I can only say those policemen were most stupid officers I have ever seen in my life! They also told us that we had been photographing an army area which we hadn’t even seen. And also they told that our taxi driver was in big troubles!
When we had been in station for five hours they found an officer who was speaking English! All of us (also Hanna) told to go to the head police chef and now we started to solve our problem really. Now they were even hearing what we said! They were taking all our films but we somehow managed to tell them we had been photographing only birds and views. We also told that we weren’t interested of photographing rubbish tip or any military areas because we thought neither Finland nor Spain army weren’t interested about those pictures. Finally the chief let us go but he told us to come back next afternoon to get our passports which he took himself. They also let our driver go, but he would have to come with us next day. Our driver had lost his driving licence and he might get it back next day.
Free at last!
We were happy of course to get out after six hours. But we had lost almost whole day at Red Sea with our rented boat. At harbour we found our captain and an hour before sunset we started our way to the sea. We had to check all our plans because we hadn’t much time because we would have to be in police station at next afternoon. So we decided to stay at night on the Sea near the closest island. Next day we would have time to check all the closest islands but we wouldn’t be able to go to the most interesting bird islands at all. The boat was big, 18 meters, and there were also two boys as a crew with captain Ibrahim. There were five rooms so there was enough space for us three birders!
Soon we reached the closest Abu Mingar island where was three white and one grey Western Reef Herons. On the reefs there were also two Spoonbills, Grey Heron, Curlews and of course White-eyed and Sooty Gulls with Slender-billed, Caspian Gulls, Caspian Terns and Crested Tern. We saw also one Lesser Kestrel and Hen Harrier flying. After sunset Ibrahin told us interesting stories about diving and other life on the Red Sea and finally we got something to eat too! We hadn’t ate anything in whole day! Those two guys cooked filled Egyptian sandwiches and Egyptian tea – very good indeed!
On the Red Sea waves 25th of April
At early morning we were already waiting the sunrise. Birds of Abu Mingar Island were almost the same than at evening. Soon we woke up the crew and we continued to next islands. We found some nesting Ospreys, a lot of White-eyed Gulls but we couldn’t find any terns that we expected. We found just some Caspian Terns, gulls and one Brown Booby which was flying very far. Rocky islands had some Western Reef Herons and some waders, for example one Grey Plover. We saw also one flock of fishes which were almost flying. Unfortunately the weather was pretty cold and windy so we couldn’t see that many underwater sealife. We could only see some dark reefs and pale sand under nice blue water.
At Giftun Saghira island we found a falco flying. Telescopes up and – Barbary Falcon was recognized, even it was pretty difficult from the boat. Soon our captain stopped the boat close to one big reef and the crew started to fish. We had an opportunity to have some diving. Our captain even helped me and Hanna to see some sealife because we are really bad swimmers. Oriol was diving a lot more. We could see hundreds of colourful fishes in many many flocks. It was really amazing!
Soon we continued our way again. We also bought some more fishes from one fishing boat and boys started to cook us a dinner. After the dinner we concentrated to photograph gulls. We threw some pieces of fish for them so they started to fly behind the boat. Mostly there was White-eyed Gulls but also some Sooty Gulls.
F**K not again!!!
Three p.m. our boat trip was at the end. And we had to hurry to get to police station with our taxi driver. We parked our boat to harbour and started to carry our luggage out when it happened again. Police was there waiting for us and they wanted to search our luggage. So they emptied all our bags and they took all our films away and even all fossils and shells that Hanna had found. And again we had to start to wait for some police officer to come. That was too much for me! I told in all languages I can speak for all those police what I was thinking about them. I think Finnish and Swedish didn’t help a lot, but I think they understood that I didn’t like them a lot! Soon they left us to the boat to wait and policemen and our captain went to one building.
After one and half hour we understood this was whole new police. This had nothing to do with our earlier problems with police. This time we were arrested by sea police! And now we were already late from our appointment with other police. After three hours one policeman told us in English that we had been photographing army areas (again). And everything that we had gone through the day before started again.
Finally after four hours we were free to go, I think they finally understood (thanks to our captain) that we had been photographing just gulls. We got even all our stuffs back (even shells and fossils because we told them we had bought them – it’s not aloud to collect them). While waiting we had seen some Great Black-headed Gulls flying over us, but that didn’t make us very happy. We had still a lot of problems. Our taxi driver was still there waiting for us because he had told to get us to police station.
At police station we heard that the chief wasn’t at work anymore so we would have to wait at least four hours before he comes back. Then I lost my mind – I was shouting for policemen who had machineguns – very wise, because they couldn’t understand a word! But it really helped! Soon someone took our passes and even the licence for the driver. I really think they liked my attitude! But now we were happy, we could continue our trip and get as fast as possible far from Hurghada – maybe the most horrible place on Earth!
At bus station it was as difficult as always. There was no signs where the buses where going. People were just running to buses to ask if that was the right one. So we had to act like local people to get to right bus. When the right one came one of us had to run to bus and take seats for us three while other two of us were packing our luggage down. And if you won’t get a seat you have to wait for next one – which means you have to wait for next day! Actually this time the right bus never came! After one hour waiting they just took one bus somewhere and our trip to Luxor started.
To Luxor 26th of February
Tired, but happy that we weren’t in Hurghada anymore, we fell in sleep in the buss. About 4 a.m. we woke up at Luxor where we had again familiar routines. We decided to walk to hotel we had chosen. At Venus hotel we got a room which cost 40 Egyptian pounds (10 Euros). We took the room for two nights.
After two hours sleeping we left to famous Valley of Deaths. We had arranged at hotel a motorboat (1€) which took us to the other side of Nile river. And there was already taxi driver waiting for us! Driver cost 8.5 Euros for four hours. Now when we were again close the Nile there was much more birds again than in Hurghada.
In rocky Valley wasn’t many birds. But the views were gorgeous. It wasn’t aloud to get tripods to historic places. At least it would have been expensive. They thought if you have a tripod you are professional photographer. And now there was a falcon couple flying over the Valley but we couldn’t recognize them with only binos. We saw also beautiful Blue Rock Thrush, many Pallid Swifts and Trumpeter Finches which were calling very funny trumpet voices! It was funny because normal tourists didn’t notice those Finches at all even they were calling loudly under one meter from people. In Valley of Queens we found more Trumpeter Finches and two Desert Larks. Some of the Finches were extremely red; they had been bathing in reddish sand over the hills to make themselves more attractive!
When we were driving back we found two Long-legged Buzzards soaring, one was grey and another pale morph. Because we still had some time with our driver left we jumped out and had a little walk in green fields. And there were a lot of birds: African Green Bee-eaters, Turtle Doves, Nubian Shrikes, Black-shouldered Kite and Lesser Kestrel. From one canal I found the first Green-backed Heron too.
After little relaxing at hotel we continued to Karnak Temple. And they were absolutely fabulous. At afternoon we still were able to have a little walk to the Nile and to gardens. Soon we found what we were searching for Nile-valley Sun Birds. They were in first tree we checked. There was very nice male too.
Crocodile Island 27th of April
Second Luxor morning we started again very early. We took a taxi to the Crocodile Island. Most of the island belongs to hotel Mövenpick, but our driver and some areas guards helped us to get to the island without any fees and any other happenings. Rest of the island is wet and green farming land. First in the morning we tried to find a local birdguide Abdul Yossef, which we thought to know where to find Painted Snipe, White-tailed Plover and Red Avadavat. We found Abdul pretty soon and he came to lead our trip. He rowed us by boat to some places where you can’t go either. There was very very much birds everywhere! Pied Kingfishers about a hundred, some hundreds Cattle Egrets and savignii- Swallows, Pallid Swifts and different races of Yellow Wagtails (also endemic ones), Common Bulbuls, Red-throated Pipits, Moorhens and waders for example 20 Senegal Thick-knees. Only new species for our trip were Swift, African Swamphen, Purple Heron, Whiskered Tern and Red Avadavat, which was very common. But anyway our guide was a BIG disappointment!! He didn’t know the birds and we found all birds before him and he couldn’t find any birds for us which we wouldn’t have found by ourselves. And he was really expensive! We never paid for him that much than he asked but anyway he got more than real pro-birdguide gets in same time in Finland. Crocodile Island is enough small to walk around and moving there is free everywhere else than in hotel yard. Birdplaces are also easy to find and recognize. And there is a lot of birds! So you really don’t need a guide there!
So we continued birding when we got rid of our “guide”. Our goal was to find Painted Snipe. It was the most interesting bird for us in whole trip! I had promised to myself that I won’t leave the country before I can see Painted Snipe. And Oriol was told that our trip will be bad if we can’t find it. So we walked a lot in wet places! But we found only Snipes and one Little Bittern. And of course a lot of African Green Bee-eaters, Nile-valley Sunbirds, Graceful Prinias, Fan-tailed Warblers, Bluethroats, Nubian Shrikes, two Goldfinches and more than 200 Red Avadavats, but no Painted Snipe or White-tailed Plover! At late evening we got back to our hotel very tired and little disappointed.
At night we ate a good lunch (Hanna ate double chicken and I and Oriol took first kebab and then pizzas as a dessert. And at night we took the bus to Assuan.
Assuan 28th of April
Before the sunrise we booked in to El Salaam hotel. Right away we were asking a felucca for us for early morning. Amazingly they could arrange that for us. And after two slept hours we were at Nile in big felucca boat. Because we were first boat moving we could find a lot of birds. Night Herons and Glossy Ibis. We saw also a dark falcon but we couldn’t see that well enough, so it was Red-footed, Eleonora’s or Sooty Falcon. Waders had also Black-tailed Godwits and terns included Gull-billed, Black, Whiskered, White-winged and Common Terns. Also Spur-winged Plovers, African Swamphens, Black-winged Stints, Cormorants and of course Egrets. But most surprisingly we saw a Black Stork soaring over the palm forest.
After two hours felucca boating we arrived at Kitcheners Island which is a beautiful garden island. Hundreds of Cattle Egrets were shouting us welcome with their strange Donald Duck voices. From the bushes we found many passerines mostly Lesser Whitethroats and Chiffchaffs. We could just imagine what birds there really were! We were in a little hurry but we found also Nile-valley Sunbirds, Common Bulbuls, some Olivaceous Warblers were also singing beautifully on the trees. The song was something between Booted and Reed Warblers.
At day we took a taxi to Assuan dam which was about 20 minutes drive from the city. The dam was of course big but didn’t offer much more. Another side of the dam was Nile River and another side started Nasser lake. Of course it was not aloud to use telescope there so it was impossible to see all ducks swimming under the dam. But we could recognize Tufted Duck as a trip tick. Another tick was Crag Martin. The dam was highly guarded, because if the dam would brake most of Egyptians might die or lose their homes.
The dam didn’t take much time so we decided to stop our taxi near the old dam too. There was nice view and even a balcony where to watch it. We were wondering why driver promised us just a minute and no telescopes. After two minutes we found a flock of Egyptian Geese and then it happened again. Policeman came to shout for us. He told us to sit to one bench and wait. But thanks to our driver he spoke some Arabic for police and we were free to go. It was close again!
Late evening we climbed to our hotels roof to watch some birds and Assuans nightlife. There was a nice Nile view and a lot of Yellow Wagtails, Sand Martins and Swallows were migrating. When the sun set Oriol started to watch by telescope to the other side of the river to one hill which had lights. And surprisingly he found there a bird! Soon we were all watching the lights. I found the bird flying up and down on the lights with risen wings. Even the bird was pretty far I could say that was Egyptian Nightjar. We could see the birds shortly but later we could find just some foxes.
At night we ordered a trip to Abu Simbel which is the most southern place were we could go. Our hotel ordered us places to a minibus. The buses are driving there together and police is leading the convoy. Another way to get Abu Simbel is flyway. But normally you can stay in Abu Simbel just for couple of hours which of course wasn’t enough for us. We had a lot African species to found: African Wagtail, Kittlitz`s Plover, African Pelican… So we arranged that we can stay a night there and in next convoy there is a minibus with three empty places for us. Of course we had to pay double price (30 €). Another problem was to find a hotel. There are just two very expensive hotels in Abu Simbel. But we weren’t able to pay 100 € for one night per person. We had heard rumours that there could be one more hotel for local people and we decided to try, but even Assuan tourist centre couldn’t tell us anything about other hotels.
In convoy 1st of March
Four a clock at morning our bus stopped to southern end of Assuan and there were more than 50 buses more. Next three hours we drove in a convoy 140 km/h with other buses in the middle of the desert. It was good it was still dark outside; we could still sleep in car. There was just one police car driving in front of the convoy. And the convoy was at least 10 km long. We were thinking that this kind of convoy was much easier for terrorists to attack than just normal traffic.
Soon the sun rose and we tried to see some desert birds from the car, but it was driving little too fast. 70 km before Abu Simbel we saw a flock of Pelicans sitting in the middle of the desert but the car was just driving it was not aloud to stop the car. But maybe one kilometre later one man in our car asked the driver to stop, he said he MUST go to pee. The driver wouldn’t have liked to stop but the man forced him to. We tried to see if we could see the Pelicans still but they were too far. But there was White-crowned Black Wheatear jumping near the road. The man jumped out the car ant went to pee, but surprisingly he started to walk to desert. The driver shouted him to come back, but the man was just continuing to desert. Driver shouted him again but this guy just showed his middle finger and soon he disappeared to desert. Amazing! He had just camera and some book with him. We would have liked to go after him to place where the Pelicans were but, but we had to continue our way to Abu Simbel. Next day we heard that the man was still missing! Quite a mystery! Maybe he was an extreme ornithologist or then he was going to join to terrorist school to desert?
We got out of the cars in Abu Simbel temples parking place. We didn’t of course go to temple but we went to Nefertari hotel (another expensive hotel, which didn’t look nothing special out) and its backyard where opens nice view to Lake Nasser. Before we got there we heard some Olivaceous Warblers and Turtle Doves singing. We also found out that there was a massive Cormarant migration going on. It was almost one big flock which just continued and continued. When we reached the beach the migration was getting slower, but we counted more than 4000 Cormorants anyway.
We knew what to search for. And after some minutes Oriol found pair of African Wagtails walking on a small rocky island. Male started to sing soon. We saw also White-crowned Black Wheatears, some White Pelicans and Egyptian Geese. Later we saw a huge Sand Martin and Shoveler migration.
Next we went to Nefertari hotel to “ask prices” read: to ask how you can actually move in Abu Simbel area. We had heard rumours that it’s not possibly to move anywhere. They even told us about cheaper motel. And we met a police who was something really different than our earlier policemen! When we told him about the places where we would like to go, he ordered us a taxi and told to driver where we wanted to go! And he also contacted other polices by phone that we were going to bird in those areas!
We drove to find some African specialists to the beach of Lake Nasser behind the airport. First our driver wanted to show us a good birding place, a harbour. It looked good but no rarities this time, just four White Pelicans. Later we found many Wheatears, 20 Desert and White-crowned Black Wheatears, many Common ones and some Eastern Black-eared Wheatears. At bay we found many Egyptian Geese, and on the lake there was amazing amount of Chlidonias Terns, about 10000! All three species. But we weren’t that interested about them anymore because we found first Kittlitz’s Plovers. It was very nice bird and totally we found seven of them. There was also other waders like Little Stints and some Temminck’s Stints.
We still hoped to find African Pelican and Red-billed Stork so we continued further to El Baterik bay. The place seemed perfect but there was just some Spoonbills and four more Kittlitz’s Plovers. The views were beautiful: yellow sand everywhere and almost black pyramid like hills. Our driver didn’t let us go any further so we started our way back to village and to find our hotel.
We found our hotel soon and we got two rooms for two easily. The hotel keeper spoke just Arabic so it was impossible to hassle the price down, but it was still six times cheaper than Nefertari (anyway it was six times more expensive than our normal hotels before). Normally the hotel was just for locals and mainly for soldiers. Now we could go to see the Abu Simbel temples and they were wonderful. And now there were no other tourists at all! We could photograph the temples so that there were no people in pictures at all. I really think Abu Simbel temples were the most beautiful place we had seen in our trip! So we spent some time just wondering the temple inside and outside.
At afternoon we realized our hotel was in very good place to have some migration watching. There was a big hill on its garden. From the hill there was good view to the lake. Shovelers, Cormorants and Sand Martins were still migrating a lot. We saw also Barbary Falcon, Squacko Herons, Little Egrets and Grey Herons, Yellow-billed Kites were soaring up the sky and also African Rock Martins and White-crowned Black Wheatears were seen. At night Wheatears started to sing. Four Night Herons, some Pallid Swifts, some Egyptian Geese and Black-winged Stilts were also found. Very nice, we could really relax.
Kalabush=Jail 2nd of March
Early morning we weren’t sure what to do, so we walked to closest island to have some lakewatching. There was good view very far so we decided to spend the morning there. We were wondering why there was no-one in beautiful houses. But we couldn’t see anything (signs or something) why we couldn’t go to the beach. We were trying to see if African Skimmers were back to breeding places. We saw some Brown Herons, Night Herons, Egyptian Geese, White Pelicans, but no lifers. After two hours we suddenly heard amazing loud shouting behind our backs. A local old man (guardian or something) was shouting Arabic for us and he was really angry! Only word we understood was kalabush – jail. So we thought we were in area where we shouldn’t be. Our bus was leaving after one hour so we decided to get back to our hotel – not to jail. The man was all the time walking after us and shouting Arabic. It was so frustrating because we really didn’t understand anything why he was shouting. Luckily he soon left him behind and we could concentrate on birding again. While walking we saw a nice family of Egyptian Geese with nine kids, two pairs of African Wagtails, Spoonbills and some Glossy Ibises. But soon the man came again to shout behind us and we had to continue walking.
At hotel we packed our luggage and soon we walked to temples to find our bus. Later we heard the island where we had been was a holiday island fo Egyptian ministry, and it was not aloud to get there. Well I think they should make that clear somehow. Maybe one sign would help a lot!
We were driving back to Assuan in good time for birds. But the driving was really something crazy again. But we saw a flock of 80 Spotted Sand Grouses! So the rest of driving we could get some sleep.
At Assuan we relaxed some hours and later we went to search how to get to Cairo. At railway station we had to wait 1.5 hours before they started to sell tickets. When it opened I had to fight against all local people to stay in line. It was awful. Everyone tried to go before me; even I was first in line. And finally when I reached the seller he told second class tickets were sold out, like first class too. Sleeping car was 10 times more expensive (more than 100 €). I almost lost my hope but then he told there were still Nefertiti tickets. OK! “Give me three.” Price was just 13€ for students, so we were able to get to Cairo 1000km North. And we would be there in early morning. Next train and bus would have been in next day!
Our car was very good! Better than 1st class in Finland. There was a servicer too which promised to do everything he could that there wouldn’t be more people in our room. There were six seats in our room, so we could easily sleep well. At night one of us visited toilet and noticed the servicer had kept his promise: there was eight big men in next room and we were still by ourselves!
Lake Qarun 3rd of March
We met our driver and friend Gamal at railway station. (We had phoned him day before.) We found him, or he found us, easily and our journey to Lake Qarun 100km from Cairo begun. In Fayyom area, where Lake Qarun lays, they are protecting tourist so that soldiers are following you where ever you go. So there was a car full of men with machineguns following us.
First stops on the shore of big lake showed us there were pretty many birds. The lake is famous because of wintering birds. Black-headed and Slender-billed Gulls were hundreds. Waders including Little Stints, Dunlins, and other Sandpipers. Some Grey Plovers were standing on the reefs. New birds for the trip were Pochard and Great Crested Grebe which were on the lake with hundreds of Coots. Kestler was common, but also some Black-winged Kites, Marsh and Hen Harriers were found too. Graceful Prinias and Fan-tailed Warblers were singing loudly and several Glamorous Reed Warblers were heard too. Great Grey Shrikes, African Green Bee-eaters and Palm Doves were sitting on the wires. But there were also some Turtle and Collared Doves.
Our goal was to find Painted Snipe from wet field and fish pool areas. We walked all good looking places but we found just 20 Snipes and some Jack Snipes. Ruffs, Redshanks and other waders were found too. Also Kingfishers, Little Bitterns, 10 Senegal Thick-knees and many passerines: Pipits, Warblers… We found also dead Short-eared owl.
After some hours field walking our guardians lost their nerves. I think their work stopped at 4 p.m. so always when we were walking too far they put the alarms on! So we had to stop our searching. Five Great White Egrets and Great Black-headed Gull weren’t enough to make us happy. When driving to Panorama hotel, where we were going to see Tom Collins again, we saw some very good looking new wet areas. But we decided to come back there next day.
We were too early so Tom wasn’t yet in his room. And the hotel was far too expensive for us, so we decided to drive back to Cairo to Pension Roma hotel. Gamal would have driven to his home anyway. After little driving we found Tom with his driver driving towards us and we promised to meet him next morning at his hotel.
Painted Snipe – Finally! 4th od March
Five a.m. we were again on a way to Lake Qarun. Now we were that early that guardian weren’t waiting for any tourists yet, so we avoided them. We found Tom at Panorama hotel and he told us something about Whinchat and Little Owl, but we were interested of finding Painted Snipe. So we went with our guide Tom to places where he had seen Painted Snipes sometimes, and surprise the places were just the same we had been walking day before. The birder knows the birding place! Again Snipes, Jack Snipes… Then we remembered those places we missed the day before, and went to check those wet areas. We spread and started to walk and then it happened, a male Painted Snipe jumped to fly in front of Tom and landed soon to next plants. We couldn’t find the bird when it was walking, but soon it flew again, now little further. Our dreams came finally true. Even the bird was male (the uglier one) we were extremely happy! Text messages were sent to Catalonia and to Finland directly! We had found Painted Snipe from the last possibly place, because we hadn’t more places to go to find it. And it was our last birding day on the trip! Soon Tom had to leave at work and we had to continue our way to Wadi El Rayan which is a lake in the middle of Sahara.
Last afternoon birding
Wadi El Rayan was fabulous! Amazing soft sand was everywhere and in the middle of this silence there was a beautiful lake with hundreds of Great Crested Grebes, and Pochards and Tufted Ducks. We found a big reedbed with very many Chiffchaffs and other passerines. Oriols ringing wills woke up. It would have been perfect place for nets. But after all we were now more interested about fossils! There were millions of nummulites on the sand. Further up the dunes we found a lot of bones and sharks teeth. We walked noses on the sand more than hour but then we had to start our way back to Cairo.
At Cairo we went to Sakkara pyramids to see this pyramid but also to see Pharaoh’s Eagle Owl which was living on the pyramids rocks. But we couldn’t find it. So we continued passing thousands of breeding Cattle Egrets to Wadi Digla valley, which was another place to find this small Eagle Owls subspecies.
We reached Wadi Digla at afternoon but we had only two hours to sunset. And we knew we had to walk more than three kilometers (one way) to find Owls. Wadi was pretty tight (50-70m), but walls were high. It had been raining some days ago because needlebushes had beautiful flowers. When evening begun to get cooler we could find many birds: White-crowned Black Wheatears were singing, Desert Wheatears, Black Redstarts and Trumpeter Finches. Swifts were screaming up the sky and first Scrub Warblers were found hiding in the bushes. Hanna who was walking after by collecting stones and fossils saw also one Quail.
We had been walking at least four kilometres without any Pharaoh’s Eagle Owls and it started to get dark. So we decided to turn back because we couldn’t know how far the Place Tom had told us would have been. But soon we heard a call of Eagle Owl. Even it was not similar than our Eagle Owls voice it was easy to recognize. And to hear the bird is just the same than to see the bird for us Finnish birders. Hanna heard possibly an Egyptian Nightjar too, but too far.
To the way back home
At 1 a.m. we had to say goodbye to Oriol, because his flight to Barcelona was leaving. After two days Oriol had to begun his spring ringing season. We had still one day in Cairo, but we weren’t birding anymore. Our last day was shopping day! We were shopping in Islamic Cairo’s biggest bazaars by buying souvenirs. And everything we bought we could hassle 80% price off! We were pretty good after being two weeks in the country! Next evening Gamal drove us to airport and we had to say goodbye for him, but we were pretty sure we will meet some day again.
After two hours dreams we were again in Budapest. We had again plenty of time to wonder in Hungarian capital. Now we thought to find some birds. So we somehow managed to get to Foqaskeroku hills to Buda, which seemed to be good place to find Woodpeckers. Already from train we saw a lot of marks of woodpeckers so we jumped out the train soon. After 200 meters walking we found what we were searching for: couple of Middle Spotted Woodpeckers. And in same backyard were also a Green Woodpecker and several Nuthatches. In one hour walking we found totally 8 Middle Spotted, 3 Green and 1 Great Spotted and Lesser Spotted Woodpecker. We found also other birds and new trip ticks: Collared Doves, Chaffinches, Jays, 6 Nuthatches, 2 Hawfinches, Bramblings, Long-tailed Tits, Goldfinches, Tree Sparrows, Siskins, Bullfinches and Woodpigeons. We were tired but extremely happy when we went to have some shopping to Budapest city. At night we had our flight back to snowy and icy and birdless Finland.
And believe or not after one day I was already playing rinkball (pretty much like icehockey) in tournament. It was pretty difficult to skate on ice after being in Sahara three days earlier. 🙂