egtrip31

Egypt - Sharm el Sheikh, Na'ama Bay and St. Katherine's Monastery

17th - 24th July 2005 - by Richard Bonser

During July 2005, I spent a week based at the Sonesta Club Resort at Na'ama Bay, Egypt with my girlfriend. Realising that this is potentially not the best month to visit the area, I nevertheless targeted a few species that I knew would be available at this time of year and that I had not seen previously within the Western Palearctic - Western Reef Egret, Sooty Falcon, Sooty Gull, White-eyed Gull, White-cheeked Tern, Lichtenstein's Sandgrouse, Spotted Sandgrouse, Rock Martin, Eastern Mourning Wheatear and Sinai Rosefinch. We spent all of our time in the Na'ama Bay and Sharm el Sheikh area bar one day where we visited St. Katherine's Monastery and Dahab. It must be stressed that at no point did I do any hardcore birding and all of the holiday was conducted at an extremely relaxed pace, with birding often being with my girlfriend in tow. Please feel free to e-mail me if you would like any further information.

General information

There are frequent charter flights from most European countries to Sharm el Sheikh Airport and transfers to accommodation seem to be pretty much included in any 'package deal' - our flight and accommodation (including breakfasts) cost £340 per person and was booked through Sky Travel Shop in conjunction with our tour operator Libra Holidays. Accommodation was excellent with our hotel extremely clean and the hotel staff very friendly. Daytime temperatures were, at times, on the unpleasant side of hot during the middle of the day and this meant curtailing any birding to either the early mornings or the last couple of hours of light.

We did not hire a car during our stay and used taxis throughout to get around the Na'ama Bay and Sharm el Sheikh areas - in general the prices charged were very reasonable although it is necessary to set a price with the driver before you embark on your journey (else they'll try to swindle you). For our day trip to St. Katherine's Monastery, we used a driver and a guide that we booked through Libra Holidays at our hotel (£40 per person), and this proved to be decent value. The boat trip to Tiran Island was booked through one of the many tour companies that operate along the harbour front at Na'ama Bay (costing £20 per person).

Unfortunately, as perceptive readers may have noticed, our holiday coincided with the bombing of the Ghazala Gardens Hotel and Sharm el Sheikh market and, despite my best efforts, I was unable to set foot out of our hotel the day after the incidents. Additionally, my girlfriend was quite ill for a couple of days of the holiday (and I seemed to be less than 100% upon arriving back in the UK), this being put down to a combination of food and heat.

Literature and websites

Information on birding in the Sharm el Sheikh area is pretty scant. However, by searching the usual trip report websites such as Surfbirds, Birdtours and OSME I was able to find some decent background as to what I should expect within the Sharm el Sheikh area. I used a selection of reports including those by Graeme Wallace, a couple by Bob Swann (one in April 2005 and one in October 2002), Tommy Pedersen, Mick Wilson and John Kneeshaw. Additionally, I purchased Dave Gosney's 'Finding Birds in Egypt' and, although pretty out of date with for example the sewage works he mentions now being nothing more than an area of dry tamarisk bushes, it did give me a little more background for Sharm el Sheikh and provides a decently annotated map of the St. Katherine's Monastery area.

Site Information

The sewage farm mentioned in Gosney (page 4, site 3) was completely dried up on my visit and offered no bird activity whatsoever - it is now merely an area of dry tamarisks that, on migration, are sure to pull in the odd bird or two.

Importantly, though, there is a new water treatment works that is not mentioned in Gosney (but is mentioned in some of the trip reports referred to earlier), this being located north-west of Na'ama Bay. If you're heading from Sharm el Sheikh turn left (west) on the north side of Na'ama Bay at the Marriott (if you reach the Sonesta Hotel you've gone too far) and head along this track towards the desert. You'll come to a crossroads with the main Sharm-Dahab road and go straight over here and the treatment works are on the right after c.1km. In a couple of visits I saw 7+ Lichtenstein's Sandgrouse (that came in at dusk onto the settlement lagoon closest to the road), 60+ Spotted Sandgrouse (this species seemed to be present from late afternoon until early evening on both visits, before dispersing into the desert) and a superb adult Sooty Falcon hunting over the adjacent desert. Other birds noted on the settlement lagoons and a small reedy marsh below the water treatment complex included a pale morph Western Reef Egret, 3 Squacco Herons as well as waders including Spur-winged Plover, Marsh Sandpiper and Temminck's Stint.

St. Katherine's Monastery (Gosney, page 2) is a well known site for Sinai Rosefinch and, although July is not a time when large numbers are present, an early morning visit (we ensured that we would arrive before the hordes of tourists) produced a female c.200 yards south of the car park along the track to the monastery. The walled garden (or orchard) was pretty quiet although a couple of Scrub Warblers (of the race inquieta) on the adjacent rocks, Rock Martins overhead and the odd White-crowned Black Wheatear and Desert Lark provided interest.

Daily sightings 18th July 2005 Sonesta Club and Beach Hotel

Barn Owl (1) hunting over the complex just after midnight

Laughing Dove (many)

Common Kestrel (female) over

Water Treatment Works NW of Na'ama Bay

Spotted Sandgrouse (20+) mid evening before flying off east

Sooty Falcon (1) hunting over the desert

Western Reef Egret (1) pale morph

Squacco Heron (3)

Green Sandpiper (3)

Common Sandpiper (1)

Marsh Sandpiper (4)

Little Ringed Plover (2)

Spur-winged Plover (c.20)

19th July 2005 Sharm el Sheikh Harbour

Sooty Gull (1) first-year

White-eyed Gull (10+)

Laughing Dove (many)

Na'ama Bay

Kestrel (female) over

Ras-um-Sid lighthouse

Sooty Falcon (1) flying over cliffs between lighthouse and town

Eastern Olivaceous Warbler (1)

White-eyed Gull (10+) over

20th July 2005 Boat trip from Na'ama Bay to Tiran Island

White-cheeked Tern (2)

Lesser Crested Tern (c.50)

White-eyed Gull (30+)

21st July 2005 St.Katherine's Monastery

Sinai Rosefinch (female) near track c.200yds south of the car park

Scrub Warbler (2) on rocks just before the orchard near the monastery

Rock Martin (10+)

Desert Lark (2)

White-crowned Black Wheatear (5+)

Desert between St. Katherine's and Dahab

Eastern Mourning Wheatear (1) male

Desert Lark (2)

White-crowned Black Wheatear (3)

Rock Martin (5)

Dahab town

White-cheeked Tern (1) feeding offshore

Laughing Dove (many)

22nd July 2005 Sonesta Club Hotel

Red-rumped Swallow (1) over the swimming pool mid afternoon

House Martin (1)

Water Treatment Works NW of Na'ama Bay

Lichtenstein's Sandgrouse (7+) at dusk

Spotted Sandgrouse (60+) early evening before flying north

Western Reef Egret (1) pale morph

Squacco Heron (2)

Black-winged Stilt (1)

Temminck's Stint (1)

Marsh Sandpiper (4)

Green Sandpiper (2)

Spur-winged Plover (15+)

Spanish Sparrow (3)

Sand Martin (2)

Swallow (c.20)

24th July 2005 Headland NE of Sonesta Club Hotel, Na'ama Bay

House Crow (4)