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Egypt Ornithology

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Bird Watching in Egypt

Egypt occupies an area of one million square kilometers at the northeastern corner of the African continent. It enjoys a strategic geographical position as a bridge between continents with long coasts on both the Mediterranean and the Red Sea, and the topography of its land varies from high rugged mountain ranges to absolutely flat sand sheets and immense depressions. Of the 430 bird species occurring in Egypt about 150 are resident breeding birds; the rest are either migratory or winter visitors. The resident birds of Egypt belong mainly to two zoogeographical regions the Palaearctic and the Ethiopian. Most of the resident breeding birds are confined to the lush green area of the Nile Valley and Delta and to some of the western desert oases. These consist mainly of song birds and water birds.


The white stork

On an average the white stork (Ciconia ciconia) is from 80 to 100 centimeters taIl and weighs 3-4 kilos. This bird prefers to nest in elevated places such the tops of dead trees and house roofs. The female lays 3-5 eggs that hatch after about a month; the young leave their nest when they are two months old.

Habitats

A wide variety of habitats are found in Egypt. The diversity is great and sometimes striking, as in the great contrast of the Nile Valley and Delta with the surrounding deserts. Egypt as a whole lies in the heart of one of the most arid areas of the world, but the special geography and topography of the land have allowed a unique combination of habitats to evolve. The combination of both the geographical position and the great diversity of habitats in Egypt makes it of particular importance to many types of bird life.

The mountains of Sinai and the eastern desert hold many resident birds, mostly birds of semi-desert with a few typical mountain birds. Many of the breeding birds of prey are also found there. The Red Sea with its rich ecosystem offers suitable habitat for fifteen breeding species of water birds and seabirds. Birds adapted to desert life inhabit wide areas of the Egyptian desert. Birds like the Hoopoe Lark and the Bar-tailed Desert Lark are found throughout most of the Egyptian desert and are specially adapted to live under the harshest desert conditions.

Migration

The unique geographical position of Egypt, acting as a bridge between the continents of Europe, Asia, and Africa is the reason why so many migrating birds are concentrated in this area. Millions of migrating birds pass through Egypt on their flight from Scandinavia, Eastern Europe, the Balkans, Siberia, and Central Asia to eastern, and southern Africa each autumn, and on their way back again each spring. Soaring birds like the larger raptors, storks and pelicans, have clearly-defined migratory routes using hot air updrafts (thermals) suitable for soaring Thermals do not develop over water, and "short sea-crossings are preferred. The Red sea and the Mediterranean act as barriers for soaring birds, so huge numbers are concentrated in the Sinai, where the only link between Eurasia and Africa occurs. In winter Egypt hosts a multitude of birds, and it is particularly important to wintering water birds, as the northern Delta lakes act as a major refuge for many species of ducks and waders wintering in the Mediterranean.

Conservation

With rapid development, special measures must be taken to protect the environment, not least birds. Many species have disappeared I from Egypt and more are threatened. The number of breeding birds of prey has greatly diminished because of excessive use of rodenticides and insecticides. Hunting is reducing the number of ducks and other larger birds. Uncontrolled trapping of quail diminishes the population of this species and the illegal capture of falcons further endangers species which are already dramatically declining. Habitats, especially wetlands, are being destroyed by drainage projects. To limit the damage, modem laws for the protection of birds are being instituted and more efficient enforcement of these laws implemented. To protect especially vulnerable areas, national parks and wildlife preserves are being created and protection is beginning to be enforced. Such important areas as Zaranik at Lake Bardawil, Ras Muhammed, and Gebel Elba were among the first such protected areas, but new ones are added every year. Most important though is a public awareness of the dangers to our environment and, through that, to us.

Birdwatching

To look at birds and to study their ways offers great pleasure. Anyone can do it, and birds occur virtually everywhere. The birds in a certain area vary from month to month, and even short excursions to neighboring areas may offer the opportunity to see different species. The only equipment needed for bird watching is keen eyes and ears. Binoculars are very helpful and the more experienced birdwatcher will want a guide which includes all the birds of Egypt. Birdwatching is a hobby, which can be enjoyed by people of all ages, and it is rewarding for all, from the rank beginner to the expert.

Where to Watch Birds

Although birds can be seen almost anywhere, and the agricultural lands as well as the deserts offer many opportunities, some locations are better than others. Some of the better ones are listed below and their location in Egypt indicated on the map.

Note that Lake Burullus, Lake Manzala, and Lake Bardawil are not readily accessible and permits may be required. Gebel Elba is a border area and permits are required.

Lake BuruIlus

Less disturbed by land reclamation than other lakes in the Delta, this lake and its surrounding marshes are an important wintering area for Wigeons, Shovellers, Pochards, Coots, and Whiskered Terns, which may be counted in the thousands. It is relaNvely inaccessible, but may therefore be more rewarding than other Delta lakes.

Lake Manzala

Although large parts of this lake, its marshes, and fishfarms are being reclaimed as agricultural land, it is well worth a visit by birdwatchers. It is an important wintering area for Shelducks, Shovellers, and Coots, as well as many shorebirds- Avocets in particular.

Lake Bardawil

On the north coast of Sinai, this lake is situated on a very important migration route, especially for waterbirds. A visit during the fall migration season can be extremely interesting. Herons and ducks, especially Garganeys, pass through by the thousand, as do such shorebirds as Sanderlings, Little Stints, Dunlins, and Avocets. The nearby Mediterranean shore is famous as a netting area for Quail. Flamingos regularly occur on both Lake Bardawil and Lake Malaha.

Wadi al Natrun

Famous for its monasteries, {his wadi OR 1he Cairo-Alexandria desert road has several lakes and marshes often rich in bird life.

Cairo

The Giza zoo is an exceltent place to watch birds, not only inside the cages, but also outside in the garden itself. During the migratory seasons many different kinds of songbird may be encountered here. Among the breeding birds are Nile Valley Sunbirds and Cattle Egrets. On many of the roofs of the city Senegal Thick-knees may be found breeding. Sewage treatment plants are generally good bird-watching spots. Gebel As far treatment plant near the international airport is no exception. It is a particularly good spot to see waders and the relatively rare Painted Snipe, White-breasted Kingfisher, and Egyptian Night jar.

Suez

This town and its environs offer great opportunities for birdwatching. It is situated on one of the most important concentration points for migrating birds of prey, which may be seen passing overhead in their thousands in spring and fall. The mudflats are frequented by migrating shorebirds of many varieties, and in the Suez bay various species of gulls and terns are often numerous. Red Sea specialties such as White-eyed Gull and Lesser Crested Tern may be seen there occasionally.

The Fayoum

This large oasis with Lake Qarun has long been known as a hunting area, and is excellent for bird watching. It is rich in landbirds, and the lake is important as a wintering area of grebes, ducks, coots, and shorebirds.

Ras Muhammed

Better known for their coral reefs, this peninsula and the nearby shores of the Gulf of Aqaba are also ornithologically important. Osprey and Sooty Falcons nest here. White Storks pass in thousands in the fall, and herons and shorebirds are abundant. The nearby Isle of Tiran is an important breeding place for Osprey, gulls, and terns, but it is not accessible at the present.

Red Sea Coast

The Red Sea coast, with its islands, offers good opportunities for birdwatchers. Many of the islands are inhabited by seabirds indigenous to the area (such as White-eyed Gull and White-cheeked Tern), and many birds may be seen from the mainland coast.

Luxor

Besides being a major tourist attraction, Luxor offers an opportunity to see birds typical of the Nile Valley. Crocodile Island is a good locality to see Purple Gallinule, Senegal Thick-knee, and Nile Valley Sunbird, as well as the occasional Painted Snipe.

Aswan

This is the best place to see herons in Egypt. A felucca ride on the Nile should provide a Green Heron or two in addition to other breeding and migrating waterbirds such as the Egyptian Goose. Among the Black Kite often seen circling above the western bank of the Nile one might find a Lappet-faced Vulture or an Egyptian Vulture.

Abu Simbel

Because of its southern location, many African species are often seen at Abu Simbel. These include Pink-backed Pelican, Yellow-billed Stork, African Skimmer, Pink-headed Dove, and African Pied Wagtail.

Gebel Elba

Situated at the extreme southeastern corner of Egypt, this region gives a taste of subsaharan African bird life. Ostriches, Verreaux's Eagles, Pink-headed Doves, and Rosy patched Shrikes may be seen. Unfortunately, the area is difficult to reach and permits are required.

Stork and Migratory Birds

Every year, the skies in Sinai are filled with tens of thousands of storks coming from Europe to stop on their way to South Africa. This is because Sinai lies along one of the major bird migration routes. The birds spend the winter in South Africa and then in early spring begin the long journey back to Europe along the same route. Among the bird species are storks and the species from the north Mediterranean area and southwestern Asia that come to Egypt to spend the winter in the Nile Valley or in the lagoons of northern Sinai. The latter category include the golden eagle (Aquila chrysaetas), imperial eagle (Aquila heliaca), step eagle Aquila nipalensis, and lesser spotted eagle Aquila pomarina; plovers such as Charadrius alexandrinus and Hoplopterus spinosus; the Sanderling sandpiper (Calidris alba), which is 'found most of all in the Lake Bardawi region near EI-Arish; and the innumerable quails (Coturnix coturnix).

Last Updated on Sunday 16th January 2011

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