Aqaba and Petra, April 2014
1- Aqaba Bird Observatory
I have just returned from a short family holiday in Jordan. Mainly non-birding but while we were in Aqaba I did visit Aqaba Bird Observatory. Before I went, I was able to find out very little online about access to the observatory, requirements for permits etc. The few websites and email addresses that I could find proved to be out of date and no longer functioning. So a brief update may be helpful
a) To visit the observatory requires only a ticket, which costs 7 Jordanian dinars for a day. Tickets are obtainable from the tourist information office in Aqaba. In fact I got mine from the reception desk at the Movenpick Hotel and Residences, where we were staying (on the seafront at Aqaba and not to be confused with the Movenpick Hotel down the coast at Tala Bay). It could be that all the main hotels have the tickets but I don't know this.
b) The observatory is closed on Fridays. I was given conflicting information as to whether it is also closed on Saturdays (it could well be, as in Jordan most government offices etc are closed on both Fridays and Saturdays, though private companies work on Saturdays). I think the opening hours on other days are about 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. (closing was definitely 3pm but I am not sure about the opening time).
c) To access the observatory, head out of Aqaba on the airport road. Just short of the airport there is a left turn, sign-posted to Eilat. At this turning there is also a signpost to the Observatory. Follow the Eilat road for a few hundred metres to a military checkpoint (you are not yet at the border checkpoint). I assume that, at this juncture, you need to be ready to explain that you are going to the observatory. I was told to have my observatory ticket and passport ready for inspection but I was being driven by a Jordanian and in the event did not need to produce either. After the checkpoint, continue for perhaps 1km towards the border and the crossing into Israel. The observatory entrance is on the left, about 400m before the border checkpoint.
d) At the observatory, report to the visitor centre , which is the first building you come to after the entrance.
e) The Observatory Manager is Eng. Feras Rahahleh. His contact details, as of late March 2014:
Tel: +962 3 205 88 25
Fax: +962 3 205 88 27
Mobile: +962 7 979 90 450
PO Box 2227
Aqaba - Jordan.
Email: feras.rahahleh 'AT' rscn.org.jo.
Feras speaks excellent English and it would make sense to contact him before visiting, for updates to the above. I had tried to do so but only had an out of date email address for him. Updates might also be available through the RSCN website, which is http://www.rscn.org.jo/.
I believe that the Observatory has a page on Facebook but I have not investigated this.
f) As to birds, I was slightly unlucky, in that I was there on a day between migrant surges, plus which the water levels were very high in all the main tanks, so that birds could only rest on the banks and (apart from ducks) could not feed in the tanks. Best bird was a smart male Namaqua Dove, plus some groups of migrant herons, egrets and ibises. There was a reasonable selection of common waders. Spur-winged Plovers were everywhere. Both Arabian Babbler and Dead Sea Sparrow were around but I did not spend much time looking for them, as I had seen both species previously from Eilat. The potential of the area must be as good as ever. Apart from Feras I met his new assistant, Deaa, who is himself just starting to learn his birds and told me that they see very few visiting birders (I was the only one that day, despite, or perhaps because of, the Eilat festival just across the border).
2. Aqaba area
There are still allotments in the line of palms beside the public beach. I think I had read that there used to be allotments also along the beach west of the town, towards the Israeli border? If so, these have now disappeared under a huge new hotel complex which, as of March 2014, was under construction (and inaccessible). The allotments by the beach held pipits and wagtails (including a smart male "superciliaris") plus a couple of Wrynecks and a few warblers. There is a park a couple of streets in from the allotments (behind the mosque) which on my one brief visit held only common warblers. If staying in Aqaba (but not otherwise) it is worth visiting (for migrants) the ancient site called Ayla, at the western end of the seafront just east of the Movenpick Resort. The site has unrestricted access and there is a well-vegetated stream or drainage ditch along its eastern edge. Here in a couple of pulses of migrants I saw Hoopoe, both Nightingales, Wrynecks, Masked and Woodchat Shrikes and some ten species of common warblers (including Olivaceous, Bonelli's and Orphean, presumed all "Eastern") plus Smyrna Kingfishers and Little Green Bee-eaters.
At Petra, Sinai Rosefinches were much in evidence, and at times very approachable, on the plateau around the Monastery. I also saw them on the walk up to the Monastery from the Museum, and on the walk up to the High Place of Sacrifice from the Theatre. I used the "Petra by Night" tour (otherwise definitely not my scene) to access the Siq after dark but failed to see or hear Hume's Tawny (despite leaving the show well before the end to walk back through the Siq while it was undisturbed). I don't know whether the owls are still calling in late March? I did not use sound recordings. I did not have transport to visit the nearby quieter wadis recommended in some trip reports.
We spent two nights at Wadi Musa, which meant that we could access Petra very early and very late in the day. Strongly recommended, as you can then see the sites without the coach tours (almost deserted at 7 a.m.) and of course the birds are much more active than in the middle of the day.
cjmgrieve 'AT' btinternet.com