More from my ‘back catalogue’ – this time a self-organised trip to Sharm El Sheikh over the autumn half-term 2011, with ‘birding buddies’ Bob and Sue. We’d been to Sharm previously so knew the sites and the preferred hotel location, which for us is as far north (and away from Sharm centre!) as you can get. We stayed at the Albatros Moderna on an all inclusive basis – good value and as much flexibility as you need for this ‘resort-centred’ destination. There are three main birding sites around Sharm itself; the ‘new’ sewage works just off the by-pass – on the right, a few kilometres south of the junction with the Dahab road and the two national parks, Ras Mohammed – at the dividing point of the Gulf’s of Suez and Aqaba, and Nabq, at the extreme north of the resort – literally where the road runs out. All three sites can be done by taxi. The final ‘must do’ site is St. Catherine’s monastery, which is over 200k from Sharm, and requires a coach trip (some with the option of an over night stay) or car hire – the later not being as easy as you might think. Sharm is the only major holiday airport in my experience which has no car hire companies on site. A couple of companies work out of the resort itself and deliver cars to the airport, if you are lucky that is – we’ve experienced difficulties on each occasion we’ve done it. If you do manage to hire a car, the driving is manic in the resort itself but very quiet elsewhere, you have to be prepared for numerous police and military check-points and there are often fuel shortages! But the flexibility of your own transport means that you can visit the main sites on a frequent basis and explore other potential locations, if the mood takes you, and the birding definitely makes up for the hassle!
Anyway a few selected shots of the sort of stuff you can easily catch up with on a week’s package holiday.
Laughing Dove, regular in the hotel gardens. As are these Indian Silverbills…
There were a few Bluethroats, of both races and numerous Chiffchaff. In the grounds of an adjacent hotel, closed for refurbishment we found …
Spur-winged Plover (or should I say Lapwing!)
This was one of the first birds we saw on arrival at the sewage works…Blue-cheeked Bee-eater!
Other good stuff included..
Crane amongst these White Stork…
Crowned Sandgrouse – one of a regular flock which came in to drink at about 09.00. We also saw Lichtenstein’s, but they are much more difficult. You have to be lucky enough to be standing in the right spot just after it gets dark!
…and this nice 1st year White-crowned Wheatear, without it’s white crown – can be confusing!
To close, this brief ‘taster’ of the delights of the sewage works – a hunting Barbary Falcon at dusk.
Sunset over the sewage works – aahhh!
On a couple of trips down to the Ras Mohammed national park we caught up with a few local specialities..
This superb Mourning Wheatear – note the buff under-tail, which separates it from the western Maghreb Wheatear.
and Red-breasted Flycatcher. Found at the oasis on the road to the point, along with Great Grey Shrike, Eastern Bonelli’s Warbler, Redstart and other late migrants. However our visit was brought to an abrupt end by seven armed ‘tourist’ police who took exception to us being there and moved us on!
In the Botanic gardens, a pair of tiny Namaqua Doves
..and this Stonechat, possibly North Caspian, hemprichii
As the Nabq National Park was on the doorstep of our hotel, we visited frequently. Birds of interest in the ‘park’ included…
…this Sand Plover, which on balance, we concluded was Greater because of it’s overall size, bill structure and leg/joint colour – but I’d be very pleased to hear from anyone who thinks differently!
Western Reef Heron, dark morph,…. and this very welcome Western Palearctic tick…
..a rather poor picture of a juvenile Striated Heron – which are only found in the remnant mangroves along the South Sinai coast of the Red Sea.
A short walk from the hotel there is a new golf course, still under construction, but viewable in several places from the road. There was always plenty of interest, with feeding flocks of wagtails and pipits – three species, including Water, Richards and Red-throated, Stonechat, and waders.
This Ruff was obviously feeding on the ‘greens’ in the day and roosting up the coast at night.
The monastery at St. Catherine’s, at the base of Mount Sinai, is a great days birding and cultural excursion. The monastery gardens often hold interesting migrants, whilst the local residents are equally appealing – Tristram’s Starling
Desert Lark… and the ‘purple’ prize….
Sinai Rosefinch – seen around the car park and the camel feeding areas at the rear of the monastery.
Meanwhile back in the stony desert areas close to the airport there is plenty of local interest.
…and flocks of thirsty Sandgrouse, coming to drink at any available watering hole. These are Spotted Sandgrouse.
Sharm El Sheikh is definitely not as birding ‘hard core’ as Eilat, but it is accessible, reasonably priced and there is plenty to do within easy reach of the main resort. A car improves your prospects significantly but is by no means essential and if you are looking for a winter break or beach holiday with some birding interest thrown in then Sharm is a serious contender. We’ll certainly be back!