Sunday, 2 December 2018

Nanjizal Niceties

Last Sunday morning was my last trip to ring at Nanjizal for 2018. Always a bit gutting to think that the season is over but having caught just 18 new birds it felt right that the nets will be packed away for the winter months.

My ringing schedule in the County seems to work quite well. I am spoilt really as I have the opportunity to regularly ring at Nanjizal which is a fantastic migration route. But I also have my own regular patch, the Goss Moor which is one of the best locations in Cornwall for breeding species. I try to help out at Nanjizal a bit in the Spring and also do some ringing on the Goss Moor for the early returning migrants. I then switch my attention fully to the Goss Moor through the summer months to monitor the breeding species that reside there in June and July and into August. As Autumn kicks off the Goss Moor quietens down allowing me to once again turn my attention to assisting Kester Wilson at Nanjizal were large numbers of common migrants get ringed each season. As of today it is back to thinking about whats about on the Goss Moor and local vicinity's for the winter period! But not before some personal reflection on my encounters at Nanjizal this year! 

To find out more about the numbers and sightings at the is the exceptional place; I urge you to read the regularly updated blog found here: https://nanjizalbirds.wordpress.com/

Ringing in Cornwall during the Spring months is exciting and rewarding. It always throws up a good bird or two and my year started well at Nanjizal with two Wood Warblers in April. They are sadly very scarce in the county nowadays with only a handful of records each year and have not bred since 2000. So to get two on the same morning was most welcome! 


One of two Wood Warblers ringed and processed at Nanjizal in April, 2018.
As more migrants started to arrive my attention turned to the Goss Moor once again. However a trip to the Valley on the 3rd of June did produce a Spotted Flycatcher which likely attempted to breed on site. Another bird that is becoming a much rarer breeder in Cornwall!

A likely breeding bird! 
I did not return much to Nanjizal until the middle of August as the Goss Moor kept me out of mischief. However, amongst the large volume of passage migrants a "goodie" or two was lurking! On the 22nd I had my first taste of a local rarity in the form of a pristine Nightingale! An exceptional year for this species at Nanjizal and also in the county with at least 7 reports that I am aware of! They obviously bred well somewhere. The morning also produced my first Pied Flycatcher of the year which are always delightful to see. 

Nightingale is a very rare bird in Cornwall nowadays 


Pied Flycatcher seemed to be passing through Cornwall in reasonable numbers during 2018. 
The rest of the month seemed a bit of a blur and large numbers of common Warblers and migrants were processed as the weather permitted. Amongst them was a real splash of varied colours and species! 

Kingfishers seemed to be found at the site on a daily basis.

As were Grey Wagtails

This Green Woodpecker was a nice surprise and only the 2nd to be ringed at Nanjizal.

I was really chuffed to ring this Whinchat as it was the first I had ringed in the County! 
My biggest surprise happened on the 29th of August and will stay with me forever! I caught up with a lifer that I had longed and hoped for in Cornwall, especially being a ringer and regular at Nanjizal. After a reasonable morning for Sedge Warblers I was walking near a net that is set up for catching Locustella and Acrocephalus type warblers and contemplating how much longer I should carry on ringing as it had started to quieten down. My attention was drawn to a bird working its way through the low grass clumps and heading straight for the net. I held fire and watched as it flew out of the under growth and straight into the net and pocketed nicely. Naturally, I extracted the bird straight away suspecting another Sedge and was dumbfounded to see a large prominent gold central crown stripe! Finally, I had caught up with an Aquatic Warbler. I would have happily hung up my ringing pliers that day and gone out on a high, safe to say I was ecstatic! 


Aquatic Warbler is one of the rarest breeding Passerines in the Western Palearctic
making this encounter even more rewarding!
Kester recently updated that the annual total of birds ringed at Nanjizal during 2018 ended on 9082! Included were Blackcap 2843, Sedge Warbler 1648, Chiffchaff 946, Willow Warbler 602, Whitethroat 574, Grasshopper Warbler 139, Nightingale 6, Yellow-browed Warbler 16! Rarities were Melodious, Marsh and Aquatic Warbler. Iberian Chiffchaff x 2, Wood Warbler x 2, Red-breasted Flycatcher, Little Bunting x 3, Hoopoe, Wryneck, and a Spotted Crake!

It wasn't just the nets that produced for me. Due to the location of the valley it also has a consistent stream of flyover migrants and over the course of the year I also encountered Ortolan Bunting, Richards Pipit, Serin, Glossy Ibis, Common Crane, Dotterel and Turtle Dove, that's just the ones that I nailed and many more probables and possibles have been relinquished to the back of my mind! 

I know you shouldn't wish your life away but I am already excited about the prospects of next years visits to Nanjizal and what they might bring.  
  




Wednesday, 14 November 2018

Pied Wheatear and Sincerest Apologises

Let me start with my personal sincerest apologies! When Bob and I started this blog we promised ourselves that we would update it regularly and try our darnedest to keep it as interesting as possible. Sadly, due to commitments beyond our control it has fallen by the wayside. I have started writing many posts and then not been able to return to them and the moment has passed and the entries forgotten!   

In a bid to thwart this trend my plan is to start writing about our surreal year from now and work backwards to a point that I feel we are up to date once again. 

14th of November - Pied Wheatear at Trevose Head 


Pied Wheatear relocated at Trevose Headland

On the 10th of November pictures of a Pied Wheatear were published on a Facebook page. The person posting was well known to me and I strongly suspected that the bird was or had been in a local vicinity! I informed other local birders of my suspicions and the day after a handful of hopefuls went on the hunt around the Trevose Head area located near Padstow, sadly to no avail and it seemed that the opportunity to see such a local rarity was lost. After some more racking of locals brains it transpired that the bird was indeed located at Trevose Golf Course and due to it being on private inaccessible grounds was suppressed! A sad fact, but understandable.

Late yesterday evening I received an anonymous tip off that the bird had relocated to an area that was public and the bird seemed in good health and settled! Unsure what to believe I called Bob and hatched a plan to drag him away from his new found play pet (he has a real living girlfriend now), and to meet me at first light near the location to sort fact from fiction. I was a little early and it was still quite dark at the time but decided to get into position anyway. A short while later I heard some commotion from the road beneath me! It was Bob on his way up getting a barrage of abuse from the ex county recorder who sadly for many reasons unknown to me has become an avid suppressor and regards the National Trust headland his own private birding site! A difficult situation as for many years he was a firm friend and a fantastic teacher that turned both Bob and I into adequate birders. Sadly the suppression and competitive nature was too much and we both independently decided that such selfish acts were no longer for us and distanced ourselves from the foolery! It is nice to be able to see other peoples birds nowadays and occasionally turn something else up to share with others, but that is a story for another time.

Thankfully Bob managed to make a break for it and head on up to the location we had been given. Albeit, was closely followed by the angry suppressor. We quickly hatched a plan! Knowing that I was so far unscathed from the verbal obscenity we agreed that if Bob moved forward and located the bird I could be his buffer and between us we could relocate the bird and whoever was not suffering from the torrents of abuse could then slope off and get news out as far and wide as was possible! 

Bugger me the plan worked! We both got on the bird prior to the Suppressor Chiefs arrival and had good but brief views of the bird. I then tailed back a few meters whilst Bob went ahead and out of site to get the news out. A short while later Bob returned to the relaxing tranquil Cornish headland sounds of personal abuse and swear words and he was just in time as I was getting close to boiling point and today's twitching fraternity would have been greeted with a fantastic rare bird and a corpse!

Our deed was done and we both needed to get going as work was beckoning! It was superb to get so many messages and calls today thanking us for the news and effort and it made me realise what a great local and national birding community we all have the pleasure of being involved with! 

It was nice to see the bird managing to get plenty of quality local produce inside it! 
 I do not miss the old days when I wasn't allowed to tell anybody about anything and I often feel regret about the birds that so many people would have enjoyed if given the chance. At least things are different now! As a side note Trevose Head is now owned by the National Trust and is a amazing birding location with a superb track record that would rival any location in Cornwall. It can produce in all weathers as the sea-watching is phenomenal and so is the chance of just about anything else turning up. Have it on your radars! 

A bird that I will remember for a longtime for various reasons! 


Sunday, 10 June 2018

Learning To Ring Birds






My New Year’s resolution for 2018 was to begin the long journey into learning how to ring birds. I had been out with Pete (who already has a ringing permit) on a number of occasions in the last 18 months and the ringing had really captured my imagination. Not only do you get to see birds in a  whole new light but you are able to contribute to many surveys across the country and most interestingly for me is how you are able to learn about migration and discover where birds travel to on migration and how long birds live for. I also hope in the future to be able to travel around the world and volunteer at the many bird observatories in Europe and beyond once I have my permit.




This Wood Warbler at Nanjizal was a stunning bird, in the hand the long primaries are very evident, a feauture worth checking for in the field 



The first step into the world of ringing is to obtain a ‘T Permit ‘(a trainee ringing permit that allows you to handle birds and apply rings whilst being accompanied and mentored by a qualified trainer.) and also, I had to contact somebody who was willing to train me. I felt so grateful and privileged when I contacted Kester Wilson and he was more than happy to be my trainer and I also had the added bonus that Pete is also able to help me train (as he has a helper’s endorsement on his licence). Staying within Cornwall to learn was a real added bonus for my travelling and also ringing within the county is more interesting to me so it was a great start all round!
This Northern Wheatear is an example of the Greenland race 'Leucorhoa' . This amazing bird will have wintered in Africa before travelling via Cornwall to breed in Greenland or perhaps even Northern Canada !Note the brown flecks on the mantle, warn plumage tones and in the hand it had particularly long primaries. 



Annoyingly for me though was the terrible start to the year for weather we had in the South West. It seemed every time I had a day off of work it was blowing a gale and raining (meaning you can’t set nets as it would be too risky for the birds) and even when we got nearer to Spring we had the big freeze! So again, no chances to ring as it was just too cold for the birds to attempt any ringing so I spent my evenings reading through the ringer’s manual (the BTO rulebook for ringing) and learning as much as I could before I started.


Reed Bunting- Plenty of pairs seem to be doing well on the Goss Moor



Finally as April set in the weather started to change and at last I was heading to Nanjizal in the far west of Cornwall. Nanjizal Valley is Kester’s ringing site and through years of careful management he has created a paradise for migrant birds and an awesome ringing site which catches in my opinion nationally important numbers of migrant birds as they arrive from Africa in the Spring or as they depart Britain in the Autumn. Although it is an hours drive away for me (which means leaving my house before 5am to get there for first light!) I feel a special connection with this area of Cornwall as it is where my family originate from, I even drive my car along Bosistow Lane and park it at Bosistow Farm to get to Nanjizal! On my first morning I mainly watched the others and helped take notes of all the details of each bird but I was elated to ring my first two birds! A Bullfinch and a Great Tit.


This Garden Warbler had been ringed by Pete last year in exactly the same hedgerow, in those 12 months it has travelled 8000 miles to winter in sub Saharan Africa and then return to Cornwall to breed, amazing!




I journeyed down to Nanjizal a further four times in the month and I learnt so much each time, I was even lucky enough to ring a Sparrowhawk on one occasion which was awesome! Plus, many migrant warblers including a Sedge Warbler that was at least 4 years old (meaning that it travelled… two and from Africa which I find mind blowing to be honest!). I was also lucky to be present when the ringing team processed two stunning Wood Warblers which are a very scarce migrant in Cornwall these days. I think because you spend so much time being sat or stood still when you are ringing you do also see and hear good birds from time to time and I was lucky enough to see Hoopoe, Marsh Harrier and hear Yellow Wagtails, Tree Pipits and Redpolls as they migrated through the valley.

This juvenile WIllow Tit at least proves there are still some pairs breeding successfully in Mid Cornwall. However the species seems to be declining. Hopefully further study can help save it from total collapse



As mid- May approached it is usually the time to pay more attention to breeding birds and as a ringer you can learn a great deal about how successful breeding has been and also, I think it is the most accurate way of surveying an area for breeding birds as more birds end up in a net than you could ever possibly see or hear whilst surveying on foot. So now was the perfect time to join Pete and assist him with his Constant Effort Site on the Goss Moor Nature Reserve near Indian Queens. The Goss Moor is a huge scrubby area of land which happens to be perfect breeding habitat for many summer visitors such as Warblers and Cuckoo’s but also some scarce resident breeding birds such as the nationally threatened Willow Tit.   In the summer months Pete contributes to a National breeding Survey when he rings on his Constant Effort Site; an area of land with nets set up in exactly the same place each time, which is visited 12 times during the breeding season at exactly the same time each year. This builds up an amazingly detailed picture of how the birds are faring each year nationally and helps ornithologists build a picture as to what is happening to the birds and how well they are doing in the whole country, it really is a great idea! So far this year I’ve had some fantastic mornings with Pete and have again learnt so much thanks to him and have again seen some wonderful species but worryingly it seems that this year our birdlife is struggling more than usual. Many migrant birds have not arrived in any numbers and quite a few are in poor condition, possibly due to the very late spring we have had. Also, our resident birds such as Robins, Wrens, Goldcrests and various Tits seemed to have disappeared from large areas of the moor. I suspect that sadly many succumbed to the very harsh weather we had in February and March when the freezing conditions would have made it very difficult to survive. Birds however are very resilient and it will be interesting to see how they will do during the rest of the breeding season and already we are seeing signs of improvement since the warm spell of weather we have had with the first youngsters emerging from their nests in recent days.

This smart male Stonechat survived the cold winter and went on to breed successfully with one chick fledging and surviving into adulthood


The beginning of my training has been a real eye opener for me, learning to be a bird ringer takes a lot of commitment and is a tough skill to master! Rightfully there are a lot of measures put into place before you are allowed a permit of your own but there is no rush for me as every time I go out I learn something new or I become more confident when handling birds and understanding how to identify and age each species in the hand. It’s fair to say that apart from the sleep deprivation (I get up at 4:30am in the summer!) I am enjoying every minute of it!

This Great Spotted Woodpecker was brilliant to see up close, however it drilled a nice hole into my thumb as you can see on the picture!


I’d like to say a big thankyou to Kester Wilson, Pete Roseveare, Mark Grantham, Robbie Philips, Jake and John Ryan for all of their help and company of the last few months.

Thursday, 31 May 2018

Hurghada, Egypt

Birds and Egypt, two words that you don't see together that often! To be honest with you it was not my first choice for a winter break either. January is always a busy month for me as I am normally living in a deserted hotel overseeing the refurbishment and maintenance work of two hotels nestled on a North Cornwall coastal headland. Beautiful spot but a stressful period for me! One way that I mentally prepare myself for this period is to ensure I have a weeks holiday booked into my rota allowing for a break in sunnier climes during February. Only this year I messed up! I had the dates booked off work but had yet to choose a destination. I had certain criteria that needed to be met! Firstly she who must be obeyed wanted a comfortable sunbed, as much heat and sunshine as you can throw at her and my only requirement is that I needed to see some new bird species to assist in swelling my Western Palearctic bird list! I requested this from a distance and ensured that her mood seemed calm and that she did not have anything to hand that could be launched at me should this minor request not fit with her plans! Now I am going to be honest here and let you know that I had my heart set on Fuerteventura as there were a couple of good birds lingering such as Dwarf Bittern and Tristrams Warbler that would have sat very nicely on my list. However, after some research and discussion with friends "she who must be obeyed" decided that it was going to be too windy and cold. A disagreement was starting to form on our final destination, flights from the south west airports were all booked up and it was turning into another stressful disaster that I could just do without! I pulled the plug and suggested that we just wait and book something that made more sense later in the spring. She decided to have one last look at if she couldn't find anything suitable then we would leave it! I was disappointed but the decision made sense. The following morning I recieved a call at work saying that she had found a location that might suit us both, Hurghada in Egypt. I was skeptical and could find very little on the likely bird life to be found in the area, but what I did see whetted my appetite and I thought that if nothing else I would get some much needed sunshine and the break that I was craving!

So on the evening of the 18th of February we were driving towards Gatwick airport were we slept for a few hours before our flight the next morning. The flight was around 5 hours with little drama and we arrived at our hotel before we knew it and started to settle in. We moved rooms after the original that we had been given just wasn't in great shape and also had two single beds rather than the double requested. In fairness too the hotel it was very little trouble and once in our new room we were very happy! The accommodation was satisfactory and once all of the minor issues had been ironed out we were very happy there. For more information on the resort please see here: www.jasminepalaceresort.com





So, regarding the birds. To simplify things I have broken it down to two sections. Firstly what I found at the resort itself and then I had two days with a booked guide and travelled further afield.

The resort gardens were a work of art and very carefully managed and landscaped. They were fantastic for bird life and everyday they were abundant with a variety of species that any birders from the UK or Europe would be delighted to see. The other beautiful scenario was that the resort gardens led to a private beach overlooking the Red Sea.



The gardens homed countless Red-throated Pipits and throughout the day there well over 50 birds present offering spectacular views and the opportunity to study the species at close hand. I enjoyed this as I had only previously had one encounter with a single bird in Cornwall that flew over calling a couple of years ago. The pipits were joined by lots of White Wagtail and towards the end of my stay a stonking Black-headed Wagtail was present for a couple of days.



Having so many Pipits around allowed for detailed study of the species in a variety of plumage types.

I was delighted to observe this Black-headed Wagtail feeding quite relaxed on one of the lawns.
The lawns and lush foliage also attracted a lot of Bluethroats. Where you would expect to see a Robin at home a Bluethroat would take its place in Hurghada. Studying these also led to me finding small numbers of Moustached Warblers that were taking advantage of the feeding opportunity that the foliage offered. Warblers were abundant and every bush and plant seemed to have a Chiffchaff feeding from it. Small numbers of Willow Warbler could also be observed but nowhere near as common as the former species. I was also amazed at the quantity of Lesser Whitethroat, almost as common as Chiffchaff and seemed to be just about everywhere that you looked. They would also frequently have a slanging match with the resident Sardinian Warblers which led to some rather conspicuous verbal assaults reminiscent of a war scene with lots of tacking and rattling from each species.


Bluethroat was a common sight.

Moustached Warblers could be observed with some patience. 



Sardinian Warbler.

Lesser Whitethroat was abundant and would often cause upset when near a Sardinian Warbler. 

Chiffchaff was a very common species
My first lifer came on the first morning, a lovely Laughing Dove was observed drinking from a puddle on the pathway and several more were noted around the resort. I loved seeing them as they are not only a joy to look at but have wonderful personalities and are a pleasure to watch. 


Laughing Dove were present throughout my stay.
Hirundines were also observed, albeit not masses of any particular species but variety was good. Sand and House Martin were seen several times, Barn and Red-rumped Swallow appeared resident in the area. Spanish Sparrow could be observed in the large flock of House Sparrows that frequented the beach end of the resort. Numbers of Spanish Sparrow seemed to swell in the later part of my weeks stay suggesting that migrants were starting their return journey north. Hooded Crow were also present 24 hours a day and could be approachable whilst feeding on the lawns. 


Hooded Crow could be approachable when feeding on the lawns.
The real star of the show located in the gardens and observed a number of times was the Nile Valley Sunbird! What a beautiful creature and a species that I thought I would not see on this trip due to them being restricted to the Nile Valley. I must admit when I first set eyes on it I was in total awe. Such a pleasure to behold and a real birding highlight for me.   



Nile Valley Sunbird is a true avian master piece!
As mentioned earlier the gardens led to a beach on the edge of the Red Sea. A beautiful spot and very well managed sun beds were an idyllic February setting especially as temperatures touched 30 degrees. I was amazed and delighted to encounter my third lifer of the trip, a pale phase Reef Heron was fishing in the shallows of the beach. I genuinely expected to have to work a little harder for this species and was relieved to see it so early in the holiday.


Pale phase Reef Heron was frequently found fishing around the beach of the Resort.

The Beach and Pier
A pier jutted some distance into the Red Sea and either side revealed very shallow banks that became exposed at times but not routinely as you would find around the British coast. These exposed areas were excellent for waders and held superb numbers of Ringed and Kentish Plovers. Other regular species that were present included Green Sandpiper, Curlew, Redshank and Greenshank. All were observed on each visit.


Kentish and Ringed Plover were both abundant around the beach at the resort.

However, the pièce de résistance came in the form of over 50 Greater Sandplover, a new species for me. What was fantastic was the ability to get very close views for quite long periods of time. It was great fun learning about this species and was impressed with its ability to move some distance on foot so quickly. 




I really enjoyed watching this species and learning about its structure and characteristics. 
At the end of the Pier was a cluster of old metal frame works that jutted out of the sea. They made cracking roosting spots for passing gulls and terns, most of which happened to be new species for me! The first bird that I encountered here was the infamous White-eyed Gull. A real Red Sea speciality and quite the looker! This is unlike any other gull I had seen before and I was taken aback just how special it is. After a few minutes taking in this species I encountered another breath taking looker, Crested Tern. Wow just Wow, what a bird! I will hold my hands up now and let you know that Tern's are not my strong point and is a family group that I need to hone my knowledge of moving forward. However, I knew straightaway that this was a new species for me! During the later part of my visit the regular Crested Terns were joined by three smaller birds that to all intents and purposes were very similar but structurally were much smaller. Once I got home and studied the species I now believe that these were Lesser Crested Tern. (see pictures below). Caspian Tern was also seen daily around the beach but always just flying through and never settling like the Crested Terns. 


Worth every penny to get to Hurghada to see this species! 

Crested Terns were present everyday at the beach Pier



A suspected Lesser Crested Tern present on one day only with two other individuals. 
In the middle of the week there was a particularly strong wind blowing onshore during an early morning visit. This blew in a near adult Sooty Gull that flew to another Pier located some distance from me which was a shame as I would have liked a photo for my records. Whilst chatting with the local guide that I hired later in the week he informed me that they are not that common around Hurghada early in the year, so don't expect to see one it is not guaranteed! The same morning whilst sitting on the end of the Pier hoping more interesting observations might occur my peripheral vision picked up movement to my left. I turned to see a small Heron species flying from the adjacent Pier to the one I was on. A binocular view later confirmed what I had been hoping for, Striated Heron. What a little beauty it was too. Most of the birds observed in the area are of the chocolate brown form and are truly sublime. I was delighted and still smile when I remember that encounter.


A wonderful encounter with this glorious Striated Heron! 
The Pier and beach were also productive for other species and it was great to witness two Osprey squabbling overhead. They were in the area on most days and seemed to utilise the Piers to there advantage. A Kingfisher was seen on one occasion fishing, but only the one observation made me wonder if this was perhaps a bird on passage? Two Common Cranes passing overhead that were picked up by my better half were a joy to behold but did leave me questioning my bird finding abilities as I really should have been more aware of their presence long before I was pipped to the post!

I have purposefully left one species till last for two reasons. Firstly, it was perhaps the species that I revered the most that was located by the sea. Secondly, it was the hardest to give itself up! The species in question is the Brown Booby. I had two sightings of this species that frustrated me no end. Both times involved me walking to the beach and scanning out to the end of the Pier that was a couple of hundred meters long and seeing my prize happily roosting on the metal framework. Both times I darted up to the end as fast as my fat arse could travel, only to witness it sailing off into the distance and not returning for the rest of the day! It was hard work drinking cocktails on a sun lounger and eagerly anticipating the arrival of your subject ready for its photo shoot, I can tell you! I spent five days convincing myself that it didn't matter, I had seen the species and a photo would be nice but it wasn't essential. On one of my final days I was at peace with the situation and would happily travel home without the photos I wanted. Then low and behold late one afternoon in it sails and starts roosting again. I grabbed my bridge camera and made my way to the end of the Pier like a chubby Usain Bolt. Finally it was just me and him with no noisey tourists distracting it or pushing it off into the sunset! What a beauty, a real prehistoric beast. I was delighted to see it so close and personal and was really up there as one of the birds of the trip for me.




What a beast! So happy to see this fellow up close and personal. 

Towards the end of the week I had prearranged to meet with a local guide called Mohamed Habib. Before I tell you about our two days together I would just like to add that he is an amazingly talented ornithologist that has made some very important discoveries, putting Egypt well and truly on the map for any avid Western Palearctic lister. He was not only excellent in the field but splendid company. I cannot recommend him highly enough. If you would be interested in his services please drop me an e-mail and I will happily pass your details on.

Mohamed picked me up from the resort and gently drove us for the day (I use the word gently as Egypt is not renowned for calm or pleasant taxi rides)! We headed on our way through some arid land as you would expect to see in Egypt once moving away from the water rich coast. It wasn't long before I seen my first lifer in his company. The Brown-necked Raven, a true desert specialist that I hoped I would encounter.


The distinctive species is fairly common sight when driving around the main roads near Hurghada.
We soon arrived at our destination and within a few miles of the intended location I knew where we were heading as, what appeared to be a green lush oasis was looming ahead. On arriving Mohamed burst my bubble! It wasn't a picturesque Oasis but the local sewage works. But boy after a few moments in the location I knew it was the next best thing. A Squacco Heron was observed as we entered the tall vegetation and soon took flight as we neared in the vehicle. Mohamed let the local warden know of our intentions and we were soon on our way to the hot spot. I must admit that I was getting a bit agitated as we drove past some cracking habitat and pools that surely held a goody or two. I was soon put to ease as we rounded the first corner and I could see why Mohamed was so keen to make progress. I don't think that I can put into words what I witnessed! The shallow pools of the sewage works were thick in thousands of Gulls!



Just a really special location for any Gull lover! 
We started scanning and discussing the species that we were seeing. The vast majority were Caspian Gulls with some really classic looking Steppe Gulls amongst them. Baltic Gulls were also common and I loved seeing these in the field and getting a feel for the structure and plumage characteristics to hopefully utilise back home in Cornwall! Mohamed picked out a Yellow-legged Gull amongst the vast flock and then got me on to a classic adult Armenian Gull. Another lifer for me! I was beaming but the best was still to come. Mohamed parked up so that I could scan the birds a little better and as I was working through the flock I stumbled across a giant! A Pallas's Gull in all its glory. I like Gull's a lot, but I loved this one. A truly magnificent beast that even the most repulsed anti gull lover would struggle not to be impressed by! What a bird and what a memorable lifer. I was ecstatic. 


Adult Armenian Gull


Steppe Gull
    


The giant Pallas's Gull. What a bird! 
Once we had our fill of the Gulls we headed back to the other pools for a scan. As you would expect Coot and Moorhen inhabited them. I was amazed to see quite a substantial number of Teal and Shoveler not something I would have associated with Egypt prior to my visit. Another lifer soon revealed itself a pair of Spur-winged Plover could be seen in the distance squealing at our presence.


A rather vocal Spur-winged Plover.

One of the pools located at the Sewage Works
As we were driving back out of the sewage works I picked up an unfamiliar call and in the distance could see a flock of around twenty Sandgrouse flying towards one of the central pools. Mohamed had soon sorted them out and identified them as Spotted Sandgrouse. Yet another lifer and a pleasure to witness!



Spotted Sandgrouse heading in for a morning drink.
We had a drive around the nearby farmland and picked up a Steppe Buzzard circling up on a thermal. A few common species were present but nothing notably different baring a Stonechat that was new for my trip. We decided to head to the next location. On driving out of the works I picked up on two raptors. The first revealed itself to be a Long-legged Buzzard which I was delighted to see as the only other encounter I have had of the Species was in Southern Spain and the origins and authenticity of the species in this area is questionable! The second raptor was much bigger but much further away. We tried in vain to get closer and sort it out but to no avail! Sadly it had slipped the net and would have to be left unidentified.

Stonechat
We headed to a nearby man made Mangrove and on the way stopped off at a golf course. There were lots of species here many of which I had already caught up with in the similar habitat found out the resort where I was staying. However, a House Crow could be seen in the distance. This was a species that I thought I had fly over the resort by was pleased to get one on the ground so that I could confirm my suspicions.


Distant views of the distinctive House Crow.
The man made mangrove was an interesting location and we soon added Black-winged Stilt to our day list and another magnificent Pallas's Gull. It was a great location that has an interesting history and will turn up some truly magical species if regularly watched.


Black-winged Stilt


A second Pallas's Gull

We headed back and Mohamed asked what I would like to do. I felt that I had unfinished business with the large raptor that we had witness earlier in the day. I asked if we could go back that way and see what we turn up. It was a decision that neither of us would regret!

We started driving down the road towards the area that we suspected it was located in the morning. It wasn't long before I picked a similar looking species on the wing again. Mohamed headed in its direction and told me not to take my eyes off it. As we got closer I started picking up a few more large raptors! Wow this was looking promising. Soon we were at the entrance to the main rubbish dump located a few kilometers outside of Hurghada. Mohamed started negotiating with the manager and before I knew it I was inside a Rubbish Dump in Egypt! It sure was worth it though as it was raptor central and I was soon watching several Black Kites and more importantly several Steppe Eagles! What a place and well worth following up on my hunch! After a few photos and some viewing time we were conscious of not out staying our welcome and we headed home.



What a magnificent sight, multiple Steppe Eagles! 

Mohamed Habib (on the right) negotiating right of passage to the Rubbish Dump!

Day two saw us heading in the opposite direction to some more established Mangrove swamps. After about 45 minutes of driving we reached our first location. We did a little more off road driving which allowed me to study some of the local Wheatears. Northern was very common and could be seen in most suitable locations with little effort. Amongst these I soon picked up another lifer, Issabeline Wheatear. A lovely little species that I had longed to study and I was not disappointed. Black-eared and Dessert Wheatear where also viewed during the course of the day which I was pleased with.



Wheatears were abundant including Black-eared and Issabeline. 
The Mangroves were amazing and we were soon in the thick of it and watching the elusive Eastern Olivaceous Warblers that frequented the area. Mohamed informed me that these birds were studied recently and could potentially be a different species as they were smaller and vocalised differently to nominate Olivaceous Warblers. We had a brief view of a Pied Kingfisher that alighted in front of the car. Sadly I could only manage a photo through the windscreen but it was a magical sight nonetheless and indeed a lifer.


Sadly the only photo I could manage of this wonderful bird.
We moved on to another spot where I was soon looking at a dark phase Reef Heron, a real handsome individual and I was pleased that I had seen both forms. Hirundines were frequenting the Mangrove that was obviously abundant with insect life, it seemed that all of the common species that I had observed back at the resort were present. I then picked out two Martins that I thought were going to be Sand Martins. As they changed angle I could see that the belly and flanks appeared dirty which set off alarm bells. I studied the birds and after several more close passes confirmed that they were not Sand Martin's. I got Mohamed on the birds and although he did not see them as well as I had he suspected that they were Brown throated Martins. When I returned home I did some research and am happy that this is what they were. Another unexpected lifer!



Dark phase Reef Heron
As we were leaving the Mangroves some passerines were feeding in the distance and I could pick out some White Wagtails and quite a few Short-toed Larks. Mohamed took a phone call and I was content studying the larks. After a minute or two another lark joined the group it was nondescript, sandy in colour and had a hefty bill. It was certainly not a species that I had encountered before! I referred to the field guide and was happy to confirm that it was a Desert Lark. Not really in its normal habitat but larks were obviously on the move as the Short toed Larks were in large flocks and not normally found in the area in such numbers.


Short-toed Larks were on the move.

 
Mohammed suggested that if it was ok with me that we head back to the rubbish dump and take a closer look at the eagles. I was more than happy with this. On arrival we made our way in and it was alive with them! Mohamed alarmed that I needed to get on an Eagle that had just flown as it was a Greater Spotted! Boom, I was on it and watched it sail away. We started to drive around and I was amazed at just how many were present at least 40 Steppe Eagle! They offered fantastic views and it was an incredible sight that will remain with me until my dying day. My final lifer for the trip was pointed out by Mohamed sitting above us with a Steppe Eagle. It was the Lesser Spotted Eagle this time. I must admit that I did not get my head around the finer points of Eagle identification and it is something that I hope I have the opportunity to learn in the future.

Greater Spotted Eagle


          


Steppe Eagles are captivating and this birding highlight will stay with me forever!
I ended my weeks stay on just under eighty species and had over twenty Western Palearctic lifers! The holiday was affordable and the hospitality and quality in the area was better than expected. I will venture back to Egypt really soon as Mohamed is able to provide a specially designed tour to see some of the hard to get species that every Western Palearctic lister dreams of. I cannot wait for it!