Saturday, 21 April 2012

Egypt 2012 - The Nile Valley

First up, a warning. If you are reading this as preparation for a trip to Egypt soon, think very hard about your trip. We had a very difficult time of it due to a massive fuel crisis all over the country. Our first experience of it, on the first night, was an hour and a half wait at the pumps, we didn't realise at the time, but we had got off pretty lightly. After that, we drove past multiple closed stations due to lack of fuel, had to wait 5 hours plus for fuel to arrive at one station, and queued for many, many hours at other stations. We had to organise an expensive trip in a locals vehicle to get to Shalatein and back as no-one could guarantee petrol in the three stations between Lahami and Shalatein (there wasn't any in the end, but some did arrive whilst we were there). If you are still going, make sure you keep a very close eye on the news to find out what is happening with the fuel crisis, and talk to the locals to find out where has petrol, and when its arriving, although they quite often didn't seem to know either.
Above photo's from Tut Amon Fishponds and the Nile. The 1st April saw me heading out from Gatwick to Hurghada with Josh Jones and Rich Bonser on a birding trip to Egypt. Expectations were high for lots of high quality birding, although we had been warned by Rich that it wouldn't necessarily be as relaxing and pleasant as our Spanish jaunt this time last year. Our plan for the week was to get the Nile Valley section of our trip done first, hopefully cleaning up some of the trickier speciality species, before having a few days to relax and look for migrants on the Red Sea. We knew it was going to be less than luxurious, with a long drive, a high density of people and lots of pollution. I wasn't quite prepared for how bad it was.

It got off to a bad start; a long drive down from Hurghada to Aswan was greatly extended by queues for petrol, police checkpoints, unplanned police escorts, and mountainous speed bumps every kilometre or so on on the road (for several hundred kilometres). We had planned to get there for around midnight and find a room; we finally rocked up at 4:30 and spent a few fitful hours napping in the car. Our days birding began with a brief walk around Aswan, picking up commoner species like gull-billed tern, eastern ollie, masked shrike, purple gallinule, Nile valley sunbird, lesser whitethroats littering every bush, and our only white-winged black tern of the trip.

Proper birding commenced with a guided tour (you can only get in with a guide) of Tut Amon fishponds. This was a pretty good site, with a series of saltpan-type lagoons holding a nice variety and quantity of birds, but it took a bit of searching before we found the target, three-banded plover, apparently at a breeding site on the edge of Lake Nasser with a couple of Senegal thick-knees. By that stage, we had already notched up the likes of clamorous reed warblers, graceful prinia, spur-winged plovers, night, squacco, purple and grey herons, more sunbirds and masked shrikes, temminck's stint, wood sand, LRP, bluethroat and many others. The guide was decent, but disappeared pretty quickly after finding us the plovers. If you wan't to go, you'll need Hosni, his e-mail is goodhosni@yahoo.com.

 The rest of the afternoon was written off queuing for petrol, but we did have the advantage of getting plenty of time to meet up with Aswan fixer extraordinnaire Yasser. He was fixing us up with the boat trip the next day in Abu Simbel, and suggested we also went on one down the Nile that evening from Aswan. At $10 each, we jumped at the chance to fit in a bit more birding. In the end, it was a great idea, one of the more relaxing experiences of the trip, lots of birds, good views and a chance to get out of the smog, noise and heat of Aswan. The next day we were up early (no sleep for the wicked, or WP tick-obsessed), to make the organised convoy down to Abu Simbel for African Mourning Dove, and a 4 hour trip on Lake Nasser. In the end, the convoy was pretty pointless, as we had to do 50mph to make sure we could get there and back on one tank of fuel with no hope of petrol at Abu Simbel due to the crisis, and the convoy soon left us far behind.

Once it got light, migrant Ospreys were a bizarre sight adorning many of the pylons in the middle of the desert, with no water for miles. On arrival, we headed for the gardens where the Mourning doves had been found. We heard them singing as soon as we stepped out of the car, and a bit of a search found one singing from the top of a tall tree, and occasionally display flighting. After half an hour of good views, we left to get on a boat round Lake Nasser. The boat trip was great, with lots of fantastic birds, although we were clearly to early for two of the semi-hoped for birds, African skimmer and pink-backed pelican. Highlights included 3 yellow-billed storks, Kittlitz's plover, several pairs of African pied wagtails which came and landed on our boat, 19 black-winged pratincoles, 100's of waders like marsh sands, little stints and wood sands, 3 ospreys, 2 Senegal thick-knee, 250 odd great white pelican, and 50ish each of greater flamingo and spoonbill. All in all very pleasant, and we were pretty happy when we returned to shore to begin the tedious drive back.

On returning to Aswan, panic began to set in as neither petrol station had any fuel, but they did have the longest queues I have ever seen waiting for non-existent benzine. We rang Yasser, who happily got a call as fuel arrived at one of the stations, and somehow got us to the front of the queue! Incredible. We had Yasser's number for the boat trip, but he seemed exceptionally happy to help with any problems we had in Aswan, and organised the Nile boat trip for us; if you need something in Aswan or Abu Simbel he is probably the man to ask yasser.waris@yahoo.com. We went to bed with a full tank, and looking forward to leaving the Nile Valley the next morning.

Photo's from Abu Simbel and Lake Nasser:

6 comments:

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