Category Archives: Egypt

Israel 1st of March to 22nd of April and Egypt 22nd to 26th of April 2004

To Israel!

After 5 weeks in Greece we were again continuing our journey. Our birding trip was continuing in a different kind of volunteering, birding at the International Birdwatching and Research Centre, Eilat (IBRCE).

At the airport of Athens where we had arrived from Alexandropoulos, we had to wait 6 hours for our next flight to Cyprus Larnaca. The airport was really good and we even had the possibility to spend time on the Internet. Check-in was a taster of where we were going: all of our luggage was checked really carefully before our Cyprus Airlines plane left towards Larnaca at 6.45 p.m. Our flight was on schedule, so we landed in Cyprus pretty soon.

The airport of Larnaca was really awful! We also had to wait for our luggage far too long. And when they finally came we were already in a hurry to go to the check-in. This check-in was something horrible! A young girl interviewed us with her teacher for one and half hours! They asked everything about our trip at least 4 times. We had to show our pictures from the computer to prove we had been in so many places. The biggest problem seemed to be that we couldn’t prove that we had enough money to live in Israel for 1.5 months. They probably thought we couldn’t get away from the country.

After the hard interview we really had to hurry to get to the plane. The interview took all of the time that we were in Cyprus!

At 10.45 p.m. our flight to Tel Aviv took off. Air Israel flight took only 50 minutes, so we landed to Tel Aviv 11.35 p.m.

Again we were interviewed, but quite soon we were at the information desk asking when there would be buses to Eilat.

To Eilat

We spent our night at the beautiful airport of Tel Aviv. Hanna managed to sleep some hours before 5 a.m. We then took a taxi to the bus-station.

At the bus-station we managed to get tickets for the first bus to Eilat and we even found the place where the bus was supposed to leave. We had to wait only for an hour.

When the sun started to rise, Janne tried checking all the Swifts because of Little Swifts, but without luck. Then one young man came to talk with us and we soon found out that he was also a birder and he was even going to stay at the IBRCE for almost the same time that we were! This is how we met Paul French! While waiting for our bus we saw Caspian Gulls, Palm Doves and cool looking white-headed subspecies of Jay. While waiting for our bus we saw Caspian Gulls, Palm Doves and cool looking white-headed subspecies of Jay.

Bus left on time and we of course tried to see birds from the windows. Soon Janne and Paul got their first lifers: Tristram’s Grackles, Yellow-vented Bulbuls and Blackstarts were seen. (I must say that the whole city of Tel Aviv was closed only one hour after our bus left, because terrorists had told that there is a bomb in a bus!) During our 6 hours drive we saw Steppe Eagles, Desert Larks, African Rock Martins, etc.

Finally at midday we arrived at Eilat bus-station. There we called Dr Reuven Yosef who is the leader of the IBRCE (International Birdwatching and Research Centre, Eilat), and he soon came to pick us up in his huge car. We were quite easy to find because we were looking up in trees where there were some Indian House Crows. First we drove to the office where we were told all the rules and everything else important, but soon we continued to our accommodation. On the way we saw Sand Partridges at the cemetery. At the apartment we met all the other volunteers: Marco was from Eastern Germany, Matan from Northern Israel and ringer Misha was from Russia. Soon we continued to eat to Jackni’s where we would eat every day.

After the lunch we relaxed for a while, but soon we had to go and do some birding! We (Janne, Hanna and Paul) walked to the North Beach of the Red Sea to see what we could find. And we did find some birds: Slender-billed Gulls, a couple of Great Black-headed Gulls, 12 White-eyed Gulls, Black-winged Stilts, Little Egrets, Arctic Skua and the best observation – an immature Brown Booby.

To the work

The 2nd of March was our first day at the ringing station. We woke up 6 a.m., and at 7 a.m. Reuven picked us up and we drove to the station. On the way we got several Israel-ticks, but in the station area we got much more. Our whole team (which had grown by one member, namely a French girl called Severine) went to do the first trap round. There were 8 Heligoland traps and 7 nets in the area.

During the day we ringed Chiffchaffs, Lesser Whitethroats, Sardinian Warblers, Tawny Pipits, Palm Dove, Yellow-vented Bulbuls and Graceful Prinias.

The girls were making the trap rounds while the boys set up a couple more mist-nets – and it was hot work! 360C were far more than normal, so we had to drink all the time!

After midday it was already so hot that birds weren’t moving at all. So we closed the mist-nets and went “home” via the Jackni’s.

We rested for couple of hours but then we and Paul managed to join Reuven on a guided tour for an English couple. First we drove to the station where we made the evening round. Then we drove to the Northern saltpans (km 20). There we saw lots of ducks, waders and for Greater Flamingos. Also two White Pelicans and Little Gulls, several Avocets, Pochard and plenty of Black-winged Stilts were seen.

From the pools we continued to the sewage ponds to wait for dusk to fall and the Lichtenstein’s Sandgrouse to come and drink. While we were waiting, we heard jackals and wolves calling together for couple of minutes. Great!

It was already dark when the Sandgrouse finally came. We saw only 16 Lichtenstein’s Sandgrouse, but we were lucky and saw them pretty well.

At night we had the possibility to spend more time with our team. It was really great to find out that we had an amazingly good and funny team!

First better bird which we found

Our second workday was easier because we knew the routines. Chiffchaffs and Lesser Whitethroats were the most common species from the traps this time but we managed to catch different races of Stonechat (maurus, rubicola, variagatus), Tawny Pipits, Spanish Sparrows and even Hoopoe and Arabian Green Bee-eater. We also saw male Citrine Wagtail. We had to stop quite early again because it became so hot.

At the afternoon we went with Paul, Matan and Marco to search for Striated Scops Owls in the closest wadis. We found out that we were there only a few days too late, so we couldn’t find any of them. The latest records ever are just in these first days of March. Anyway we found some interesting species like Great Spotted Cuckoo and Blackstart. On the way back Janne managed to see a male Palestinian Sunbird passing us.

After some hours hard walk in extremely hot weather we took a taxi with Paul and Matan and drove down to the Northern beach to check if Southern wind had blown any good species there. Almost immediately we found more White-eyed Gulls than last time, a Kingfisher was flying along the coast and Sandwich Terns were flying over the sea. Soon we found big yellow-billed Tern, which was fishing just offshore; a first summer Crested Tern!

The 16th Crested Tern ever in Israel was flying for one hour along the coast between the fish farm and Eilat. It passed us several times really closely. When the wind died down, the bird flew south out to sea from where it had come. Later, before the sun set, we saw Cory’s Shearwater, Pied Kingfisher and Desert Wheatear.

Life at the ringing station

The rest of the first week in Eilat continued at the ringing station. The weather turned cooler to a pleasant 20’C, and the wind turned to the north.

At the station we caught lots of birds: of course there were lots of Chiffchaffs and Lesser Whitethroats but also Indian Silverbills, a female Dead Sea Sparrow, Cretzschmar’s Buntings, some Greenfinches, a Great Reed Warbler, Collared and Palm Doves and one Feral Pigeon, a rare ringing tick! One nice subspecies was the desert race of Lesser White-throat – “minula”.

Every day there were more and more hirundines in the station area. At the end of the week there were Swallows, House Martins, Red Rumped Swallows, African Rock Martins and Sand Martins. Also, one Crag Martin was seen. Lots of Swifts were constantly circling in the sky: Common Swifts and Pallid Swifts and even one Little Swift passed through! Two White Pelicans, Long-legged Buzzard, Steppe and Booted Eagles, Black Kites, Rose-ringed Parakeets and singing Savi’s Warbler were all observed. Many other animals were also seen: near the traps we had an Egyptian Dab Lizard living in a hole in the gravel, and there was also a little Skink which really enjoyed eating oranges.

Some bigger groups were also visiting at the IBRCE. Luckily Reuven and Matan were their guides. Hebrew was little bit too Hebrew for us!

After the mourning ringing we often made bird-trips to the closest places. The best observations were made again at the Northern Beach, where we also met some unlucky Crested Tern twitchers. Striated Heron, several Western Reef Herons and two migrating Common Cranes were seen. From the parks we found Eastern Black-eared Wheatear, some Tee Pipits and a Redstart.

During the evenings we discussed with the days events with the others. Misha told us a lot about his work with wintering Bluethroats in Eilat. He had found lots of information!

The second week in Eilat

Second week started well but soon the northern wind started to blow too strong and we caught very few birds. In the beginning of the week, eagles were migrating, but not so numerously. Steppe, Booted and Short-toed Eagles were seen every day and the first early Lesser Spotted Eagle was seen too. The best species from the traps were two Squacco Herons, several Water Rails, Quail, Woodchat Shrike, Penduline Tit and Eastern Bonelli’s Warbler.

Marco and Matan were flick netting the hirundines. They caught lots of Swallows and House Martins but also a couple of Sand Martins, Red-rumped Swallows and African Rock Martins.

One nice observation was when a couple of Cream-coloured Coursers flew over the station, followed by migrating Purple Heron, some Night Herons and a couple of Great Black-headed Gulls which were in with a flock of fuscus Lesser Black-backed Gulls on their way to Finland!

Our best trip to the closest bird-places was made on Monday. We walked with Paul to the cemetery. As soon as we arrived, we saw Woodchat Shrike in the car park. Inside the cemetery, we found a Syrian Serin that was initially very mobile and elusive, but then it started to sing on the top of one tree and was eventually very approachable. We also found some Sand Partridges and a female Cyprus Warbler. From the Wadi behind the cemetery we found an Eastern Orphean Warbler, so we all got 3 lifers in 30 minutes! Also eagles, White Storks and Tristram’s Grackles passed us when we were in the Wadi. So we really had a good short trip.

On Wednesday we managed to join Reuven and an American professor to visit the Hai Bar “zoo”. There were many desert animals in the cages, but also in a really big fenced area, which it was possible to drive through by car. Ostriches and many kinds of deer were living there roaming semi-free. In future these species will be re-introduced to Israel. We also saw some birds: Arabian Babbler, Lesser Kestrel, Great Spotted Cuckoo, Palestine Sunbird and Corn Buntings were the best ones.

On km 23 we tried to twitch Thick-billed Larks but they weren’t there anymore. Some Indian Silverbills were found anyway. Also the northern pools were quite boring: more of the same species from last time.

At night we had lunch at Reuven’s home. It was the last evening for Misha. We really had a great time! It would have been a weeks worth of work to check all the interesting bird-books that Reuven had in his library.

Empty traps and an escaper

At the end of the week we caught even less birds. We still saw some Steppe Eagles and also Long-legged Buzzards and Marsh Harriers but Steppe Buzzard was becoming the most numerous.

Traps were almost empty for much of the time, so we spent time repairing them – there were lots of holes in the nets. We had a lot of much needed help – an Israeli family was helping us for couple of days, and the children were amazing! They made everything with or without us.

The most common bird of the week was Lesser Whitethroat, but we also caught some Olivaceous Warblers, Rüppell’s Warblers and a Chiffchaff that had a Hungarian ring. It was also funny to find out that we had already ringed 15 Greenfinches, which was more than in all the previous 19 years of the station.
We had also put some wader-traps to the salt-pools, but we caught only a couple of Little Stints.

We saw also the same White Pelicans, 3 Great Black-headed Gulls, a flock of Garganey and some Gull-billed Terns.

Sunday 14th of March was really busy day because we had several big groups visiting, but anyway we had time to celebrate Hanna’s birthdays. Hanna had to be the waitress so everyone could get a piece of cake, and the Israelis were singing several birthday-songs in Hebrew. At least Hanna had a different kind of birthday!
We had a short trip again to the cemetery and we saw a male Blue Rock Thrush. In Ofira Park we saw an Alexandrine’s Parakeet that was with Rose-ringed Parakeets. When we went to the internet-bar that was in the bus station we saw a Barbary Falcon sitting on the roof of the bus-station.

No need to go to Cyprus anymore

3rd week: Monday and Tuesday were still quite easy. On Monday, the quality of trapped birds was really good: Eastern Orphean Warblers, Rüppell’s Warblers, Quails, Olivaceous Warblers, more Greenfinches, samamisicus Redstart and 3 out of a flock of 4 Desert Finches which we saw! From the wader-traps we got a Redshank. We also saw Citrine Wagtail, Great Black-headed Gulls, Alpine Swifts and Indian Silverbills.

On the afternoon round Janne and Marco managed to see the Jackal that Paul had seen really well one day before.

After we had got to sleep that night, the latest member of our team arrived. Swiss Mike Schaad came to stay for couple of months.

At the station we worked with a deal that we would work 6 days every week, but if we worked more we could collect free-days. So now, when we had been working for almost 3 weeks, we decided to have 3 days birding holiday. On the Tuesday afternoon we started our first bird-tour. We rented a car (Mazda 323), packed and drove first to check all the closest places.

Our main target was to go again to the sewage pools to see Lichtenstein’s Sandgrouse. When we were almost there we remembered we had seen a good looking manure “hill”, so we drove there first. With the Red-throated Pipits, Black-headed Yellow Wagtails (feldegg), Isabelline and Eastern Black-eared Wheatears there was a beautiful Cyprus Wheatear! Also a flock of Short-toed Larks was nearby.

When we finally reached the sewage ponds, we found out that there was a big group that had arrived by bus. They had come to see the sandgrouse. They weren’t birders at all; children were eating candies, phones were ringing and parents weren’t silent at all! We were sure that the sandgrouse wouldn’t come at all. Surprisingly, eight sandgrouse came, even though it wasn’t totally dark. So Janne managed to digiscope them. But then the tourist-group made the worst mistake. They started to move and they all started to talk and leave before the sandgrouse had managed to drink! They should to drink only once a day and obtain their water after a flight of tens of kilometres!

We were happy when we drove back to eat at our apartment. After the lunch we started on our way towards Northern Negev and Nizzana, where we had planned to sleep for a couple of hours before starting to do birding in a totally new kind of landscape.

After a couple of hours drive, we arrived at Nizzana and the big desert areas near to Ezuz. There we tried to find a good place to spend the night. Finally we parked our car beside one small road and got into our sleeping bags in the middle of the desert.

Lifers and new places

The night was just horrible! The temperature went down to couple of degrees, which wasn’t the problem, but the humidity! After the rainy winter the whole desert was very wet, so the humidity made our sleeping bags extremely wet! Janne was really in trouble because he had the thinnest sleeping bag. Somehow we all survived, but Janne slept only for an hour.

The morning was really beautiful! The first birds we saw were migrating Hen and Pallid Harriers. We drove a couple of kilometres (mainly to get warm) to a good-looking site, and started to walk around the green desert. Every place was full of flowers and there were big green areas, which made finding the birds really difficult.
A couple of Cream-coloured Coursers flew over us, Desert Larks were singing, some flocks of Short-toed Larks were feeding on the ground and Isabelline Wheatears were everywhere. Soon we heard an unfamiliar voice and we started to search for the caller. We found the bird quite easily and it was a Chukar. Only a couple of minutes later Paul found the first McQueen’s Bustard too! This species was number 500 for Janne’s Western Palearctic list.

We walked around the green desert for couple of hours, but we couldn’t find anything else good. We did saw one more McQueen’s Bustard that was displaying over a small hill but very far. Janne also saw one Spotted Sandgrouse flying.

Soon we continued to the sewage pools at Nizzana to wait and see if any sandgrouse would arrive to drink. On the way we saw some gazelles passing the road jumping. We stayed at the sewage ponds for an hour but we couldn’t see any sandgrouse. A Southern Grey Shrike, a flock of Skylarks and one lonely Crane were seen, as well as a flock of 20 Spur-winged Plovers.

We failed to find any Finsch’s Wheatears on the ancient Nizzana fortress, and were probably too late for them. We did manage to see a singing male Mourning Wheatear. Also a Little Owl was living in the fortress. A couple of pairs of Chukars were also found. Down in the Wadi there were some Palestine Sunbirds and Quails. Some raptor-migration was also passing over, for example Short-toed Eagle and female Pallid Harrier were seen.

We continued stopping for a while on the drive east from Nizzana along the “back” roads, and we did found several interesting species. Several Arabian Babblers, a Scrub Warbler, Desert Warbler, several Sand Partridges, and flocks of 42 migrating Cranes and 10 White Storks.

At Ben Gurions grave, we found quite a few Desert Finches, a couple of Syrian Serins, Blackbird, Palestine Sunbirds and samamisicus Redstart. From the edge overlooking a huge canyon, we saw a couple of Griffon and Egyptian Vultures, female Black Redstart and 3 male Mourning Wheatears.

While driving towards the Dead Sea we saw some more Chukars and Sand Partridges, Southern Grey Shrikes and our first White-crowned Black Wheatear. Neot Hakikkars fishponds produced Alpine Swifts, Purple Heron, Arabian Green Bee-eaters, Kingfisher, a few singing Clamorous Reed Warblers, Little Bittern and several Dead Sea Sparrows.

We finally arrived at the Dead Sea late in the afternoon after we had passed the ugliest factory buildings in the whole World! Our first Fan-tailed Ravens were found quite soon, flying over the main road, but we still tried to get to the Ein Gedi cliffs to search for some new ticks. Unfortunately we found out that Ein Gedi had been closed only about an hour earlier, so we had to do something else.

So we continued 20 kilometres more to the north, and turned up into the mountains. We tried to find Hooded Wheatears. On the way we saw some Griffon Vultures that were soaring high above the mountains. We also saw a Bonelli’s Eagle soaring with them. When we had driven almost up to the top of the mountains, we found a sign that told us we were now at sea level! Funny!

Before sunset birds were pretty active, so we managed to see several White-crowned Wheatears, Sand Partridges and Fan-tailed Ravens. Steppe Buzzards were still migrating even though it was already dark. One of the funniest observations of the whole trip were a small herd of Nubian Ibex which let us stop and look at them pretty close.

After such a busy day, we had to think where we should spend the night. We decided to drive all the way south to Eilat. All of the next days birding places would be closer to Eilat than where we were now. We also all wanted to sleep as well as possible! Janne fell to sleep in the car, so Paul had to learn what it is like to drive on the “right” left side!

Hard trying but…

When others were leaving to the ringing station, we started again to drive towards north. Our goal was to find a good drinking place for sandgrouse that Reuven had told us about. But we never found it. On our way we found our second Cyprus Wheatear at the 59 km post, and also some White-crowned Wheatears.
Soon we continued to the sewage pools at Shizzafon, where we found a male Trumpeter Finch, our first Ortolan Bunting and a beautiful male Rock Thrush. We also saw Grey Wagtail and a flock of Skylarks but we couldn’t find any better wheatears or larks for which we had hoped.

Then we continued to km 77, where the desert was extremely green. The place had clearly been even better, but nevertheless we walked around the green places for couple of hours. We couldn’t find any Bimaculated, Thick-billed or Temminck’s Horned Larks or Pale Rock Sparrows that had all been there earlier. But we did find a Desert Warbler, Lesser Kestrel, a couple of mobile Short-toed Lark flocks, Eastern Black-eared and Isabelline Wheatears, Cretzschmar’s Buntings, many different warblers and so on. There were lots of birds to study and digiscope.

We also paid Kibbutz Lotan and Jonathan (a local bird-guide) a brief visit before we continued to Yotvata. We tried hard to find Arabian Warbler but still we had no luck. We did check lots of acacias, but we found only Arabian Babblers, Palestine Sunbirds and almost all other warblers. A big flock of Tristram’s Grackles were whistling in the picnic park behind the petrol station. Also Nubian Ibex were seen under the acacias on the western side of the main road.

During the afternoon we still had time to visit Amrams Pillars in the Eilat Mountains. We tried for a couple of hours to find Sinai Rosefinches or Hooded Wheatears but with no luck. The place was really beautiful, and some birds which we saw were: a flock of Black Storks, some Brown-necked Ravens, Sand Partridges, Trumpeter Finches, White-crowned Wheatears, Desert Larks and a lonely Egyptian Vulture.

At last light we still had a look to Eilat Pumping Station, which we knew wasn’t a site for Lichtenstein’s Sandgrouse anymore, but someone had seen House Buntings there, and Jonathan had seen an Arabian Warbler there only couple of days previously. We did find a pair of Palestine Sunbirds and Arabian Babblers, but only Janne managed to identify one bunting that flew over us as a Mountain Bunting.

But again it goes better

On the 19th of March during the morning we again went to the ringing station. We still had our car because it had been cheaper to take the car for 3 days (then we got unlimited kilometres) than for 2 days (then there was a restriction on the amount of kilometres).

All 7 volunteers from our apartment and also an American lady, Anita (who had paid for the construction of Lake Anita) were at the station. So there were far too many workers, because traps were still quite empty. So Reuven told us to use our opportunity; we still had a car and some species were still missing.

We started to drive towards Ein Netafim spring. On the way we saw a lonely Black Stork standing on the top of a hill. It was probably waiting for a flock of friends to join. Also White-crowned Wheatears, Arabian Babblers and Tristram’s Grackles were found. While walking one kilometre to the spring, we finally found a female Hooded Wheatear. It was flying around very quickly, so it was impossible to digiscope, but at least we got a lifer. Above the spring there was also a nice surprise waiting for us, because two female types of Sinai Rosefinch were feeding just near the edge. So again everything was going better!

We wondered for some time how small the only natural spring in the area was, before we continued to the Eilat Mountains to watch raptor migration. After one hour we had found out that there was almost no migration, even though 220 Black Storks and about 100 Steppe Buzzards were seen. So we continued to the Pumping Station because of House Bunting, which we couldn’t find.

After spending some time in cemetery, we desided still to visit the Northern saltpools, where we knew were always something to see. Cyprus Wheatear was still present in the sewageplace and on the pools we saw 400 Flamingos, 5 Avocets, 2 Desert Wheatears and Short-toed Eagle which landed to walk to the road.

We were on our way back to Eilat when we found our 3rd Cyprus Wheatear. It was very close to the army post, so we didn’t dare to watch it very well.
At the afternoon we had again a good lunch at Jackni’s, then made the evening round at the ringing station where we ringed a Ruff and couple of Water Rails.

And one more lifer

On Saturday and Sunday we went to the ringing station and it was still pretty quiet. The wind was still from the north. Two interesting captures were a couple of Swifts that Reuven had picked up from the hotels. These birds had flown in through the open windows. Best species from the traps were an amazingly beautiful dark-breasted Barn Owl, a male Masked Shrike, Dunlin, several Little Stints and Wrynecks, a couple of Eastern Orphean Warblers, some Cretzschmar’s Buntings, Graceful Prinias, Quail and a female Desert Finch. So the quality was pretty good but the numbers were small. We also saw a couple of White Pelicans again, Spoonbill and some migrating raptors: Steppe Buzzards and quite a few eagles were flying north.

On Saturday, Janne, Mike and Matan had a long bird-walk. It was quiet in the parks but the North Beach once again held Western Reef Herons, Striated Herons, White-eyed Gulls and so on. Nothing was moving over the sea, so we decided to walk to the date palms, where we hadn’t been yet. This was the place for Namaqua Dove.

On the way we had to walk really near to the Jordanian border, and we were a little bit afraid when the border guards started to call out that somebody had passed the border illegally. It was so nice to carry a huge machinegun looking tripod in the middle of bushes that near to the border!

When we reached the date palms we soon found some Arabian Green Bee-eaters, several Rose-ringed Parakeets and again the Alexandrine’s Parakeet was with them. Pretty soon we found what we were searching for – a pair of Namaqua Doves were feeding on the ground behind some palms. They were just extremely shy and flew inside the bushes when we tried to get a little closer.

When we were walking back still inside the palms, we saw two young men walking with a marijuana-plant. They just planted it in the ground and walked away!
But not everything went smoothly, and several distressing events did occur. Hanna developed several rolls of film, but 3 of them were stolen and all of the others were of pretty bad quality! Someone also stole several mist-nets from the ringing station! And at Jackni’s we couldn’t eat our salads and soup there at lunch time and take just the main course away with us due to a “change of management policy”, so we had to take everything away at lunch time. That was a real pity because the views (waitresses) in the restaurant were great!

Fourth week

Our fourth week in Eilat was really the quietest! The wind was changing between East and North, and at the end of the week it was really strong. Then we did see lots of migrating raptors: some thousands of Steppe Buzzards and of course also some other raptors. The beginning of the week was really boring. At the end of the week we started to get some new birds, not only re-traps. Tree Pipit was the only new ringing species. Also a couple of Short-toed Larks were caught.

On the Friday we saw the first migrating flocks of Bee-eaters and straight away a couple of them were caught in the Heligoland. The wader-traps also started to work a little bit better when we had cleaned and replaced them several times because the wind was moving them. Kentish Plover, Wood Sandpiper, Green Sandpiper and couple of Little Stints were caught.

The best observations of the whole week were: a flock of migrating Bimaculated Larks which only Janne managed to see, a flock of 14 Spoonbills, Little Bittern and a Stone Curlew.

On one evening Tzadok (a worker of Reuven’s) invited all of us to have barbeque at his place. We really had a great time, with lots of good food and drink! Victory of bird-pictionary slipped surprisingly to the smaller and more drunken team.

At the weekend the weather changed for the better, and it became hot (about 350C). Also the wind stopped, so we started to catch more new birds in the mornings. Lesser Whitethroat was still clearly the most common species, and Blackcap had overtaken Chiffchaff as the second commonest. But also many interesting species were caught: Quails, Green Sandpipers, Little Stints, Collared and Palm Doves, Short-toed Larks, Common Swifts, Tree Pipits, Wagtails, Yellow-vented Bulbuls, Great Reed, Reed and Sedge Warblers, Common Whitethroats, Rüppell’s and Eastern Orphean Warblers and Cretzschmar’s and Ortolan Buntings.

Reuven received some phone calls from the hotels and a birding group telling him of some injured birds, so he picked up one very badly oiled Steppe Buzzard and one Black-headed Gull that was also in bad shape. A Quail and a Little Bittern were just ringed and released.

At the weekend the best observations were Rufous Bush Robin, 2 Stone Curlews and a Barbary Falcon that was flying above the central Park where there were lots of different races of Yellow Wagtails and a Masked Shrike. It was also nice to see Egyptian Dab Lizards and many different kind of big insects, including Oleander Hawk-moths that were found in the traps and Monarch-type butterflies.

Nice selection of species

Our fifth week started hot, it was about 350C! During the last few days of March we caught a really nice selection of species from the traps. Blackcap was now the most common species, and Lesser Whitethroat the second. The number 3 was probably as interesting a species as Wryneck! Anyway we didn’t catch any new species. Most interesting birds were extremely small Reed Warblers, which had shorter wing than Blyth’s Reed Warbler! DNA-samples were taken so let’s see if they were African Reed Warblers or something else? It was also nice to get the first White-spotted Bluethroat. Of course Eastern Orphean Warblers, Eastern Bonelli’s Warblers and so on were always nice birds to handle.

On the IBRCE area we got some new year-ticks: Little Tern was flying around over Lake Anita, Red-necked Phalarope was swimming on the salt-pools, Marsh Warbler was hiding inside a bush 10 meters from the station and one lonely Glossy Ibis was migrating high between the clouds. Other nice birds were Purple Heron, Little Bittern and Great Black-headed Gull. Near the station there was also lots of more common birds: the pools had lots of waders like more than 100 Little Stints, tens of Dunlins, Ruffs, Green Sandpipers and Redshanks, some Greenshanks and Marsh Sandpipers, Wood Sandpipers, Kentish, Little Ringed and Ringed Plovers, Black-winged Stilts and the always present Spur-winged Plovers. Lots of raptors were also migrating. With hundreds of Steppe Buzzards we saw more Booted and Short-toed Eagles and again also some Steppe Eagles.

Bird-walks at the afternoon were also really good! First we found a female Semi-collared Flycatcher in Ofira Park. Wrynecks were everywhere and Yellow Wagtails were of all possible races. From the southern salt-pools we found a flock of pipits, and at least two of them were Buff-bellied Pipits and 1 Water Pipit. Together there were 10 birds but it was already getting dark so we just tried to identify one Pipit as well as possible. Meanwhile Paul and Mike found a Thick-billed Lark at the Eilat Hospital and some local Lichtenstein’s Sandgrouse, but unfortunately none of these good birds were twitchable to anyone, and were only seen by their finders.

April starts promisingly

The beginning of April was pretty quiet, but we caught some new species, so it was promising better times. On the first day we saw Turtle Dove and caught a Nightingale, Curlew Sandpiper and Wood Warbler. Also a nice male Montagu’s Harrier was seen flying over the ringing station and Snipe was added to our Israel lists. We also found some better birds in the reserve area: Indian Silverbills, Little Bitterns, Night Herons, Arabian Green Bee-eaters, Desert Finches and Egyptian Vulture were seen at the ringing station. A nice surprise was a Blackcap that had been ringed in Turkey!

On the 1st of April we had a nice walk again. The pumping station held no surprises but some Palestine Sunbirds, Sand Partridges, Tristram’s Grackles, Blackstarts and White-crowned Wheatear were found. Then we took a taxi to the North Beach were we met Mike and Paul. We saw 2 Pomarine Skuas, 7 Arctic Skuas, a Cory’s Shearwater, more than 100 Night Herons that were migrating in two huge flocks, a female Red-breasted Merganser (a local rarity) and of course same of the traditional birds from before.

Also during the next day we walked to the North Beach, but the wind was again from the north, so we didn’t see a lot. Anyway it was nice to see a flock of 80 Black-winged Stilts trying to find a place to land. Also a beautiful Barbary Falcon (that had a ring) was soaring above the high hotels.

Matan’s father came to pick him up to spend Pessah with his family in the north of Israel. We twitched the familiar Red-breasted Merganser that had moved to the sewage-pools. It was a lifer for Matan. Also at the pools we saw Osprey, 2 Desert Wheatears and Stone Curlew.

At Sunday we ordered 3 meals from Jackni’s because during Pessah all the restaurants would be closed. In the afternoon when Janne was going to the Internet cafe, he found a male Semi-collared Flycatcher in Central Park.

Pessah made our life pretty difficult! All the restaurants were closed and shops hadn’t any bread, milk or bear. Also, an amazing numbers of Israeli tourists came to stay in Eilat! So the ringing station was also full of tourists all the time.

Now it begins to happen!

Our 6th week in Israel started very well. We caught birds very well and the selection of species was really good. The only pity was that we didn’t catch any rarities and the only new species trapped was a Wood Warbler. Other observations included 4 flocks of Glossy Ibises (totalling 100 birds), some Purple Herons, more than 300 Bee-eaters and good raptor migration. We had all the time a feeling that something better was coming soon.

On Monday afternoon it was Janne’s turn to be a guard on the reserve area. We had to keep on eye out that people who were celebrating the Pessah didn’t do anything stupid in the area. Then Janne saw thousands of raptors (mostly Steppe Buzzards) some Collared Pratincoles, Hobby, 2 Lesser Kestrels and several Booted Eagles.

We also celebrated Pessah with the Yosefs. We had traditional food but the drinks weren’t that traditional, I think! Again, we had a really great time! So we were back at our apartment after midnight, ready for our 5 hours sleep before we had to get up to go the station.

Tuesday was the day that we will all remember. Already the morning was promising. When we drove throught the salt-pools we saw 2 Spoonbills. When we were finishing the first trap-round we found 3 beautiful Blue-cheeced Bee-eaters which were with a big flock of European Bee-eaters. These Blue-cheeced Bee-eaters were just sitting on the top of bushes while the others were catching bees, so they were easy to photograph.

We set up some mist-nets next to the beehives to try and catch Bee-eaters. While we were setting up the nets we saw two Pratincoles flying past us. They flew just over us and we managed to see they were different species: Collared and Black-winged Pratincole! Later we saw an amazing 90 Pratincoles, there were even 75 in one flock! But they were all in Jordan, so all we could say was that they were of course mostly Collared Pratincoles.

After all we effort of setting the nests, we only caught two Bee-eaters because the wind was little bit too strong.
But this wasn’t all, not even close! A beautiful Bonelli’s Eagle was seen on migration, a Little Crake was swimming(!) into the reeds of small Lake Anita, 90 migrating Glossy Ibises went over, a Kingfisher and 7 Purple Herons were also seen. Also the species selection from the traps was good.

The biggest surprise was still to come! We were washing our oily Steppe Buzzard Christina, when Paul took a Collared Dove, which he had caught in the last heligoland, from a birdbag. He noticed that bird’s under-parts were absolutely white, and for example, the head shape was really weird. The bird was an AFRICAN COLLARED DOVE!
We had had such a good day, we still had the power to check all the closest places in the afternoon. From the parks we found 2 male Semi-collared Flycatchers, finally our first Willow Warbler, a Wood Warbler, Masked Shrikes and a Rufous Bush Robin.

Hurry and action

In the middle of the week we were still catching lots of birds in the traps. We were quite busy because we started to catch also Bee-eaters pretty well. Henk (Dutch raptor ringer) was working with nets, that were placed around the other beehives. Hanna was working with the original Bee-eater nets. We caught 50 Bee-eaters including altogether 11 Blue-cheeced Bee-eaters! In the 19 year history of IBRCE there had been only 2 of them ringed.

We caught the Bee-eaters also because the kibbutz had ask us to do so. Bee-eaters were eating so many bees, that the kibbutz workers wanted to shoot them. They were obliged to call us first and let us attemp to catch as many birds as possible before they were allowed to think about shooting any. So when we caught them and released them 10 kilometers from the hives they didn’t need to shoot them.

We caught some other interesting birds like a male Little Bittern, a female Desert Finch and our first Ortolan Buntings. A Couple of Steppe Buzzards were also caught with the mice-traps. One Buzzard (Britney) was also brought to us because it was oiled. A Grey Plover was migrating, a surprising Merlin was still hanging around, several Ospreys went through and a Turtle Dove was getting common.

Tzadok prepared food for us all with help of Henk and Severine. So even though the restaurants were closed we had really delicious food, and a lot of it.

Janne and Paul managed to go birding with two birders from Jerusalem. The northern salt-pools were still really empty. Sewage pools had 2 male Namaqua Doves and a female Little Crake. From the fields they found again some Blue-cheeced Bee-eaters and Hobbies. The Northern Beach had all the normal birds and also a Black Tern.

At the weekend there were far too many people on the station! Pessah was coming to an end, so we had amazing numbers of visitors. We also had several Israeli “helpers” who weren’t much a help so it started to be frustrating, because there was nothing for us all to do. It was good that we saw some good birds anyway. On Saturday we caught a Barred Warbler, and Henk had an amazing surprice for us when he came back from the vineyard where he was catching Blackcaps – Rock Thrush! He also caught couple of Crested Larks. One really nice thing was that our Steppe Buzzard, Christina, was already in that good shape (805g) that we could let it go free. It was a miracle that she survived! It was in such bad shape when we got it.

On Sunday on the first trap round we got a male Semi-collared Flycatcher and a Red-backed Shrike. On the second round we got several more Semi-collared Flycatchers with more being caught through the course of the morning! Altogether we caught 11 Semi-collared Flycatchers (equalling the grand total for the IBRCE), 1 Pied Flycatcher and several Rufous Bush Robins.

We all had some extra heartbeats when a hungry Booted Eagle desided to catch a Dunlin that was inside a wader-trap as a meal. Fortunately for the Dunlin, the eagle wasn’t clever enough to unlock the cage and it was eventually flushed off the trap by a rapidly moving Mike. Not before some interesting photographs were taken though!

Another surprice was a late Cyprus Wheatear that was sitting on a roof of one trap, but ofcourse it flew over it and we never saw it again.
When we were walking to the North Beach in the afternoon, we found a Lesser Grey Shrike in the Central Park. The beach was extremely empty. Only the same Black Tern, 8 Little Terns, 2 Arctic Skuas and a Striated Heron were still there.

Good ticks

The new week started quietly. Still, we caught lots of Blackcaps, but not as many as last week. We still caught 7 Semi-collared Flycatchers, a pair of Trumpeter Finches, a Red-backed Shrike, 2 Redstarts and Indian Silverbills, our first Willow Warbler (it was about time!) and a Steppe Buzzard.
We got again one more bird to our bird-hospital, when we found a tired Slender-billed Gull from the salt-pools. A Honey Buzzard was seen as a year-tick, when one was seen flying over the station.

At the afternoon we went to get Egypt visas, because we had only 10 days left in Israel.

Tuesday-morning started with a big surprice. Matan was talking about a bunting and when we checked the birdback he had – it was a Mountain Bunting! We were still celebrating the bunting when one Israeli girl who had been volunteering for a couple of days came to ask where the the butterfly-net was. Soon she came back with a female Little Crake! She had caught it next to the tarck with the net!

To car trip

After the morning we went to get a rental car from Sixt (an Opel Corsa). This time we took the car for one week because first our-selves and Paul would use it for 3 days and go North, and then Mike, Severine and Matan would go to the places in Southern Israel where we had been already.

We started our trip in the afternoon. Something (Paul!) made us stop at the cemetary, even though we had thought to drive much further. We just checked from the car if there would be something in the trees at the parking place. And there was! Beautiful, cosmic mind-fucker, which we hadn’t even dreamed about – a male White-throated Robin! It was jumping in one tree and for a while it was also on the ground.

We called to Mike and Matan, and they almost ran to look at this beauty. The bird was in shadow for most of the time, and the weather was too hot, but Janne managed to get some kind of pictures. While looking at the “Irania” we found a Corn Crake, some Blackstarts and Sand Partridges. Finally, White-throated Robin flew to the cemetary so we were free to continue our way North.

Getting ironic!

Next stop we had was Yotvata again, where we were again in totally wrong time of day. So, as before we couldn’t find Arabian Warbler, just some Arabian Green Bee-eaters and Palestine Sunbirds.

We managed to get to Lotan just about an hour before sunset. Right away we found Spotted Flycatchers from the car park, and in the kibbutz area we saw several Semi-collared Flycatchers, Palestine Sunbirds, Nightingales, a Goldfinch and the best one – an elusive Upcher’s Warbler.

The sun had already set down and it was pretty dark when we walked back to the parking place. Suddenly we noticed a familiar looking bird jumping towards us – a male White-throated Robin again! Amazingly we then saw another bird back iat the car park! The third one wasn’t that colourful, but was our third male Irania of the afternoon!

Before we were leaving the Lotan bird-guide, Jonathan, drove into the parking place. It was nice to talk with a really good birder while a White-throated Robin was jumping around just some meters from us!

Our long drive started. We drove some hours without through the length of Israel without stops, but when we made the first stop somewhere in the middle of fieds, we heard several Black Francolines and a Corn Crake calling!

We were extremely tired when we reached the place where we had desided to drive to for the night, the Hula-valley. We went to sleep in an orchard close to the Hula Nature Park.

Jackals, Barn Owl and Long-eared Owl were calling when we felt asleep. We were really happy how well we had managed!

In Hula-valley

Around 3 a.m Janne thought that Hanna had (again!) hit him with her elbow in her sleep. Janne woke up and turned around and realized that Hanna was sleeping on the other side of him. Then he saw a Jackal running over the road! Propably this Jackal had been checking what was that big smelly and warm thing which was laying down in the middle of the orchard at night?

At the morning we were again totally frozen! Our sleeping bags were again really wet because of the water in the air, so again Janne felt himself as a frozen vegetable.
We started birding by driving around the fields north of the Hula Reserve. We tried to find some pools but we never found them (Shirihai’s book was little bit old). But the fields were really good anyway: Black Francolines were calling and couple of them were seen too. One ditch held several Pied Kingfishers and some White-breasted Kingfishers. The most surprising observation was a couple of Marbled Ducks which that flew over us and landed on an old rusty metal sluoge gate which was one meter above the ditch. They were sitting like Crows!

While driving towards the famous re-flooded area, we found nice colony of Herons and Egrets. The roadside trees were full of Night Herons, Cattle Egrets and Little Egrets. They were making their nests while some of them were already nesting, and they were easy to photograph. The voices were ridiculous!

The re-flooded area was really worthy of its fame. Even though the bird-hides were closed, we saw lots of different kind of birds such as 50 White Pelicans. More than 10 Marbled Ducks, Spotted Crakes, a Baillion’s Crake and singing Clamorous Reed Warblers were seen. The meadows held plenty of Purple Herons, 10 Cranes and some more Black Francolines. On the surrounding agricultural fields we saw Black Kites and Pallid and Hen Harriers. Also several mammals were found: on the water we saw several coypu, and along the road we saw really funny Mongoose that gave excellent views.

Our next stop weas at some fishponds, but they were really poor. So we continued towards Gamla Vulture reserve. On the way we saw some Egyptian Vultures and we got Great Tit as a Israel tick – yahoo! At Gamla we watched the Griffon Vultures soaring around for couple of hours. They are just amazing! We also saw lots of Little Swifts and some Alpine Swifts. Palestine Sunbirds and gorgeous Bonelli’s Eagle were also seen. The eagles were nesting somewhere in the valley.

Lake Kinneret (Sea of Galilee) offered a lifer for Paul when we found some Pygmy Cormorants in a marshy area on the northern shore of the lake. I think Paul thought Janne had became crazy when he was atleast as happy when he found Great Crestes Grebe! (Janne and Hanna had seen hundreds of Pygmys in Greece couple of weeks previous, so they were both just Israel-ticks).

Our destination was the Arbel Mountain where we really tried hard to find Long-billed Pipit on the Mount Arbel, but without luck. We climbed the mountain for couple of hours but we saw just Syrian Woodpeckers and some Blue Rock Thrushes.

Because of the Long-billed Pipit we also walked a lot in Wadi Ammad, but after an hours walk we didn’t believe they existed at all. Again we saw lots of Little Swifts and really cute family of Rock Hyraxes!

While we were driving North again, we saw more soaring Black Storks, couple of Great White Egrets, Pallid Harrier, some Chukars, Linnets and lots of Southern Grey Shrikes.

We had managed to get free accommodation thanks to Reuven. He had contacted a friend of hiswho had been several times to the IBRCE, and who owned a holiday village with many houses. Our house was really great, but we were extremely tired so we went to sleep.

On the top of Israel

We woke up again before the cockerel and soon we were going towards the very top of Israel. Mount Hermon is situated on the border of Syria and Lebanon. We stopped several times while we were driving north along the climbing roads and we saw Chukars, (atricapillus) Jays, Wrens, at least one Dunnock, (semirufus) Black Redstarts, Syrian Serins and couple of Sombre Tits. There was no sign of the hoped for Pale Rock Sparrows.

While driving to the lifts we saw a Jackal standing on the middle of the road, two Rock Sparrows and we heard a Shore Lark. When we reached the top we bought the tickets to the highest area, which included the chair-lift tickets (34 Sheckels). Of course we went directly by lift to the top of Mount Hermon. The lift was something really horrible!

The way to the top was one of the scariest we have ever made. But it had something really good too! We had just started to move and had literally not left the base area, when Paul started to shout: “Asian Crimson-winged Finches!” There were three birds that were flying very actively near a small snowy area (yes, really snow!). Two male and one female Asian Crimson-winged Finches were just what we were searching for. But we only had a minute or so to watch them as the lift was climbing higher and higher.

The end of the lift trip was amazing! The wind was so hard that we were almost preying! It was also minus degrees, so it was really freezing! Even Paul who has seen some windy days in Scotland said:” Its pretty windy”. We walked couple of hundreds meters on the top of the mountain and had only one Israeli soldier disturbing us. The wind had blown away the signs where it was not aloud to go, so we were walking in the army areas. On the top we saw only a Northern Wheatear and female Asian Crimson-winged Finch.

Soon we were on the way back down. Luckily we saw that the Finches were still chasing each other near the snow. So we walked to see them better and Janne even managed to digiscope these pink birds even though they were really active and fast. A couple of times, another male stopped and sang shortly.

While driving back down we heard a Cuckoo calling, but we had to hurry, again.

Next we tried to find Bimaculated Larks, and tried to find an area in the Golan outlined in Hadoram’s site guide, but we found just lots of Crested Larks. Luckily we later found one newly ploughed field where there were several Calandra Larks, but no Bimaculated.

Our schedule was tight so we had to continue. We had to pass through the West bank before it was getting dark. (We had been told to do so.) But anyway we decided to make one more try for Long-billed Pipit. So we drove to Mount Gilbao, where we stopped in several good looking places without any pipits. The last stop in last good pit of habitat was worthwhile! First we saw a Sparrowhawk flying over us and then we heard a pipit-like warning call. Soon we saw a pipit flying and also singing before it landed on a big rock about 60 meters away. And there it finally was – a Long-billed Pipit!

We drove through the Palestinian areas before it came dark. Only better Palestine ticks we got were Jackdaw and Barbary Falcon. We are propably not the top Palestine listers!

We tried to camp for the night in Yotvata, so we could have woken up to the sing of Arabian Warbler A Humvee full of soldier-girls didn’t let us to do that. So we desided to drive again to Eilat, where we arrived at 10 p.m. (Then we heard that others had ringed female White-throated Robin, Night Heron, Marsh Sandpiper and Corn Crake). Soon we were already sleeping.

Really good birds

We woke up 5.30 a.m., and before the ringing team had woken up we were driving towards Yotvata again. Sun was rising when we reached the acasia areas where we knew the Arabian Warbler had its territory.

We didn’t know the exact place where the warbler had been so we started to search all the bushes.

After 5 minutes searching we found (again) male White-throated Robin. Also Garden Warbler and Barred Warbler were found, but we checked all the bushes without finding the Arabian Warbler.

We were just going to move to check the acasias little bit further on, when we heard an unfamiliar singing from the bush Janne had just checked. The song was little bit like a Blackbird, but clearly a warbler’s song. And soon we found the singer and it was an Arabian Warbler! It was a bit of a skulkier in the middle to top reaches of the acasias, but eventually gave good views.

We continued towards the place in Yotvata where there had been a Cinereous Bunting. Janne had got the information about the bird from internet, so we hadn’t got very good instructions to the place. We managed to find the circular fields pretty easily and we started to drive towards the sewage-place. We had driven only some hundred meters alongside when we saw a plover walking on the road in front of us. We stopped the car carefully and, YES, it was a male Caspian Plover! Caspian Plover was pretty much like a Dotterel, in as much as it was very easy to photograph. So we photographed it really closely from the car. Even Paul managed a couple of shots with 90mm lens! On the fields we also saw a Whinchat, 2 Lesser Spotted Eagles, a female Pallid Harrier and a male Montagu’s Harrier.

We did eventually find the sewage-place but there was nothing else than amazing flocks of Spanish Sparrows! Acasias were totally full of them!

We continued to the traditional Black Bush Robin-place but we walked two hot hours without any other rarities than our sixth White-throat Robin. They were starting to becom common! We also saw some Araban Babblers, Golden Oriol and a Semi-collared Flycatcher. There were plenty of Rufous Bush Robins that were singing on the top of trees or on a display flight. They were really beautiful, but we would have liked to find a black one.

At Lotan we checked to see if there were lots of Flycatchers, as had been earlier, but we saw only our old friend White-throated Robin and a Stone Curlew.
Still we wanted to check the bird-places in Eilat. So we drove to km 20 salt-pools. On the way we had a bit of amazing luck when we found a pair of Lictenstein’s Sandgrouse resting under a palm. Now Janne managed to digiscope these fabulous birds in daylight. The haze was just horrible, but we were of course happy to see these birds. Also the pools finally had some better birds: with Black-winged Stilts, Greenshanks and other common waders there were 2 Black-tailed Godwits, 2 Turnstones, 3 Greater Sand Plovers, Terek Sandpiper and Curlew Sandpiper.

After we had driven through the Eilat fields we still went to the sea at the North Beach for a couple of hours. Whiskered Tern, 10 Pomarine Skuas and a Sooty Shearwater were really nice to see.

Before the sun was setting down we were too tired to continue anymore. So we slept until the next morning and we didn’t notice at all when Mike, Matan and Severine left on their three day journey towards central Israel.

Back to the routins

On the 17th of April there were only the three of us and Reuven at the station. Marco and Henk were on the vineyards with the mist-nets. Every hour someone picked up their birds, which were almost all Blackcaps.

The first trap-round showed what the day would be like. The traps were totally full of Blackcaps! The best box had more than 50 of them. This meant that Paul and Hanna were ringing all the time and Janne was making the trap-rounds alone, and it wasn’t easy at all! When you think it was taking approximately one minute to ring one bird, the time was soon flying by!

When also Marco and Henk got lots of Blackcaps we ringed in total 500 birds of which 450 of them were Blackcaps. The best bird we caught was a young Arabian Babbler but also 3 Barred Warblers, 2 Nightingales and some Rufous Bush Robins were ringed.

At night we heard that in that time we had been in Israel already second Hamas-leader was killed. This caused some scary moments for our friends who where sleeping in the desert at Nizzana. They were sleeping near the Palestinian jail and also near the border of Egypt inside an old abandoned house. At night when the prisoners heard about the killing they started to shout and riot, hitting the prison walls. Of course our friends hadn’t heard anything about the reasons behind the disturbance. So at least Mike who hadn’t felt asleep yet was thinking were the prisoners had escaping or were the Egyptians attacking!

At next morning we had again lots of Blackcaps. In total we ringed 400 birds. In the stations backyard, we saw a possible Upcher’s Warbler, but nothing else interesting happened. We were busy and it was hot!

Again one nice surprice

19th April – the birds were mostly gone. Until midday we had almost nothing to do. When Lynette (who has been at the station many times and is 75 years old British birder birder, and a lady!) arrived everything changed. The last round we made was extremely good! The first bird of the whole round was in mist-net and really badly tangled! Janne started to release the bird from the net and thought first that the bird was again just one of the weird pale White-throats (whatever subspecies?). When Janne turned the bird so he could see it better, he realized it wasn’t a Whitethroat at all – it was a female Ménétries’s Warbler!

Ménétries’s Warbler was really badly stuck so while taking it off Janne had time to think how to show the bird to the others. He desided to keep the bird as a secret and show it after the round.

Janne felt the round went on for ages when he had the secret in a bird-bag. But finally we were all back at the station, and Janne gave the bird-back to Paul insisting that he did this one first. Paul also looked first that the bird was a Whitethroat, but the plain sandy tertials, dark tail and all other details quickly made him realize the bird was a female Ménétrie’s Warbler.

In the afternoon we walked through the parks to the North Beach. In Central Park we briefly saw a female Collared Flycatcher that propably continued its migration staightaway. At Ofira we found our first Thrush Nightingale, and from the beach 3 Pomarine and Arctic Skuas, 60 Little Terns, Whiskered Tern and Sooty and Cory’s Shearwater.

At night Mike, Matan and Severine came back from their trip. They had had good trip with Macqueen’s Bustards etc, and even Pin-tailed Sandgrouse at Nizzana. They had also found that Sandgrouse place which we hadn’t found and had seen several flocks of Spotted Sandgrouses.

Twitching the Sandgrouses

Luckily fo us, we still had our car for one more day, so the three of us started to drive to the Sandgrouse place that we had missed already ones.

Still we had problems to find the right place even though we had Mike’s instructions. Finally we found a couple of small pools and started to wait for something to happen. We had sat down for less than 5 minutes when we heard strange “koit-to” calls from the sky. Easily we found a flock of 15 Spotted Sandgrouses that landed on the stony desert a couple of hundred meters from us. We looked at these birds for some minutes and suddenly we heard totally different calls. Two Crowned Sandgrouses flew over us and one of them landed only 50 meters from us. So both target-species were found even though we had been there less than 15 minutes!
Janne managed to get a little bit closer to the Crowned Sandgrouse so he got pictures. On the pools were a couple of Temminck’s Stints too.

We were already packing the car and leaving back to Eilat when we heard loud voices, machine gun fire and saw sand-clouds coming towards us. Soon we saw that a couple of tanks were driving just towards us! We didn’t want to wait for them, so we just drove away as quickly as possible! We were in the middle of tank firing range, which is propably not the most sensible place to be, but Crowned Sandgrouse is a good Israel tick, so it was worth it!

On the way back we stopped a couple of times and saw a pair of Scrub Warblers opposite Shizzafon. The male was even singing.

Everyone was busy at the station when we went there. We finally caught the first Thrush Nightingale. There was again 4 Blue-cheeced Bee-eaters near the bee-hives. Anyway we didn’t have a lot to do when we were all at the station. We had been used to working so much harder the couple of days.

At the afternoon we went to do the afternoon rounds with Matan. Surprisingly we caught lots of birds! So Hanna and Matan were really busy with ringing. When we also caught a difficult female Flycatcher which wasn’t easy for us to identify as a Collared Flycatcher, we had still birds in the bags when it was totally dark.
At night we went to Underground-bar because we were soon leaving. We had only one whole day in Israel!

To Egypt

Our last day in Israel was extremely quiet! There was sand in the air, so birds were in the bushes. Henk, who was again at the vineyard, called us that there were 3 Levant Sparrowhawks coming towards us. We managed to see these birds but they were pretty far. Lifers anyway!

We stopped the ringing earlier than ever, so we had plenty of time to clean our room and pack everything. At the afternoon we made the evening-round, but it was also boring.

At night we went to Gill (Reuven’s office-worker) where we had the last evening with all our friends.

On the 22nd of April at 6.30 a.m. Reuven and Tzadok came to collect all volunteers to the ringing station but Eldad drove us to Taba border crossing place.
We passed the border surprisingly quickly! So soon we had Yellow-vented Bulbul and Blackstart as Egypt ticks!

We walked one kilometre to Taba bus-station and luckily we had to wait only 10 minutes for the next bus to Suez. So already at 7.30 a.m., we were on our way to Suez.

We drove through Sinai, but mostly we were up on the highland where views were quite boring. So we didn’t see birds either, we could sleep some hours.
We arrived at Suez at midday. We took a microbus (aluguer) to Ain Sukhna, where we were planned to do some raptor watching over next two days.

We asked our driver to drive little bit longer than normal to the Portrait hotel, which our old friend Tom Collins had said to be good. We easily got a good (even too good) room (280$/night) with a balcony from where we had nice view to the Red Sea.

We spent about an hour looking with telescopes to the sea and surprisingly, the first bird we saw was a Lesser Crested Tern. Later we saw more Lesser Crested Terns and also Crested Terns but other birds were just Common Terns and White-eyed Gulls.

Finally time for raptors

Our first morning in Egypt started with hotel breakfast. By 7.30 a.m., we were already walking towards Ain Sukhna raptor watching point. We were about halfway when a familiar blue Peugeot stopped and our old friend Gamal picked us up. Gamal had passed us with Tom and other raptor-watchers and he came to give us a ride.
Tom was already setting up the watching point and he really had everything with him. It was nice to see Tom after some years. When we were in Egypt before, he helped us to find Painted Snipe and get Gamal as a driver and so on.

Soon we could start watching the sky, and the days first Steppe Buzzard flocks started to migrate. Also Black Kites, Lesser Spotted Eagles, Booted Eagles and Short-toed Eagles were soon coming. Janne managed to see a local rarity, Goshawk, which was also flying North with others.

For the whole day we watched raptors migrating high near the top of mountains. We didn’t see very big numbers but a total of 22 raptor-species were seen! Egyptian and Griffon Vultures, Bonelli’s Eagles and fulvescens Great Spotted Eagle, Honey Buzzard and Pallid Harrier were Egypt-ticks for us. Also Bee-eaters were migrating in their thousands and also some Blue-cheeked Bee-eaters. White and Black Storks, Citrine Wagtail and Sooty Shearwater were also country ticks.
In the afternoon about 4.00 p.m., we stopped thought there was still some migration. Probably Tom arranged us a ride back to the hotel with some local man. At the hotel we just relaxed and had a really good lunch.

Raptors, Cairo and home

Another Ain Sukhna day was almost similar to the first one. In the morning Mary (lady from the raptor-watching team) came to pick us up to the watching point. This time we saw more raptors. Best observations were huge flocks of White Storks, more than a thousand in one flock, Imperial Eagle, Great Spotted Eagle, some Levant Sparrowhawks, female Pallid Harrier and Alpine Swift.

We finished a little bit earlier and started our way to Cairo with Gamal. In our car there were also a Canadian couple who come to watch raptors for a day, so we didn’t have to pay the whole bill ourselves (Gamals prices were doubled!).

On the way we saw just couple of birds, but two male Hooded Wheatears were really nice.

At Cairo we tried to get accommodation in the hotels where we had been couple of years ago (Pension Roma and Berlin), but they were full. So Gamal drove us to Zamalek where we finally got a room in the hotrl May Flour. The room was really good and cheap (65$/night) and we took it for those 2 nights we had left.

In the evening we took a taxi and drove to the Khan Al Khalili bazaar, where we went shopping for a couple of hours. By 11 p.m., we had found most of the souvenirs and we drove back to the hotel.

On our last day of the whole 4,5 months trip, we mostly took it easy. In the mourning we had a short walk around the island of Zamalek. In the Parks we saw some Rose-ringed Parakeets and also here we saw one Alexandrine’s Parakeet. On the Nile we saw Night Herons, Little and Cattle Egrets and one Little Bittern.

Janne relaxed the rest of the day but Hanna still wanted to go to the bazaar to make some shopping. At the afternoon we had a nostalgic lunch in a boat-restaturant where we had been with Oriol some years before. It was nice to celebrate the end of our fabulous trip while Night Herons and Pied Kingfishers were flying on the Nile just under our eyes.

At midnight a taxi that we had arranged came to drive us to Cairo airport, where we had our Czech Airlines flight to Prague about 3 a.m. On the way to the airport we saw one Senegal Thick-knee by the road.

At Prague we landed about at 7 a.m., and our Finnair flight to Helsinki left at 11.40 a.m. We landed in Helsinki-Vantaa at 2.50 p.m (Finnish time) and our amazing trip had come to the end!

THANKS FOR PAUL FRENCH FOR HELPING TO MAKE THIS TRIPREPORT IN BETTER ENGLISH!

J.A.

Egypt 19th of February to 6th of March 2002

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.

To Cairo

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.

Problems!

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?

Abu Simbel

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.

Woodpeckers

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. 🙂

J.A. & H.A.