March end

The temps are climbing and the snow is quickly disappearing, things are looking up.

At the pits today I saw the first Red-shouldered Hawk of the year and a Turkey Vulture was around Hudson yesterday. In contrast, at Vaudreuil an almost black, dark phase Rough-legged Hawk was hunting and looking superb in the afternoon sunlight. Back home the Redpoll numbers around the feeders are slipping but there was a cracking Hoary Redpoll snacking on the nyger seeds this afternoon. I first noticed its pure white undertail poking out from behind the feeder, then it dropped down, hopped into a tree and then flushed off in panic, probably they saw the Cooper’s Hawk that we have been feeding all winter too!

Below a few shots, enjoy.

That’s a Hoary hiding there.

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Back

Well we have been back a week, spring is clearly trying to muscle winter out of the way although last night’s minus 12 suggests spring needs to work out more. Our return home was not without the final drama of the car not starting at the airport, flat battery, one last thing in a trip which had more problems that I can remember but alls well that ends well, we are not dead. One thing you do notice about being out of Egypt is the peace, no howling racket that is the call to prayers who knows how many times a day, I’d of thought if it was that important to pray you would hardly need reminding in such an aurally invasive way. I say the same about church bells too!

The garden feeders had been destroyed by Racoons I suspect, I put them back up and they were covered in Common Redpolls inside five minutes, another ten and the first Red-winged Blackbirds and Common Grackles arrived to feast, back to normal.

On the tab above you will see that I have posted the Egypt trip report, comments are welcome as always and I am always happy to offer any advice I can for travellers following our footsteps. I wandered through the Egypt photos again and pulled out a few more shots to share, see below.

I nipped out locally yesterday morning but there was not too much happening, the pits were very quiet but a Bald Eagle was nice to watch at St-Clet. The forecast is for the temps to rise, all plus from Tuesday and so the fields around St-Clet will thaw and there will be a tiny window of observation while ducks pass through.  Any local readers might want to review the anotated pits checklist, I’m sure that there are records for the site Idon’t know about and I would be happy to hear about them.

Green Bee-eater, a background noise to all Egyptian birding.

Speaking of background noise, you just know that this is Mr noisy, now called Spur-winged Lapwing.

Another view of the Green Bee-eater.

All action Pied Kingfisher.

Senegal knock-knee by the looks of it.

A better look at a Common Bulbul.

Almost a Red-spotted Bluethroat.

Forever known to us as Abdul the bulbul

Not a great show of a White-crowned Wheatear, blame the noisy Germans who flushed it be being immortalized properley.

Brown-necked Raven with a lovely piece of entrail.

Black Kite waiting, always waiting.

Leighton Moss

While in the UK we dropped in to Leighton Moss in Lancashire, an excellent RSPB reserve with a good network of hides (blinds) made for use by humans. For those not in the know, the RSPB invest in birds and birders, create the reserves and they will come and they do. They have their own full time restaurant and equipment shop with a good range of wares, they also run educational classes for kids and adults, all this set in the rumpled scenic countryside that rapidly becomes The Lake District as you get further north, but what of the birds?

We saw a nice selection of birds in a couple of hours, 50 odd species all told, including a 2cy (two years old) Mediterranean Gull, a species I’ve not seen for a few years and one of my favourite gulls. Below are a few shots. More UK birds to follow when I can.

European (UK) readers might want to skip this post, it has Robins in it!!!

This shot of the Mediterranean Gull was taken through the window of one of the hides, part of which, the part with flaps, was reserved for a school visit, still, no too bad.

Just  a Eurasian Coot.

When I started birding Avocets were confined to Norfolk amnd Suffolk, now there are pairs as far north as Lancashire. Avocets look graceful but if you watch them long enough you will find them arguementative and blessed with a mean kicking technique utilised against anything that annoys them.

The European Robin an excellent bird and very undervalued.

At the risk of upsetting sensitive readers, Tits! First Coal and the Marsh.

A bit more Egypt

My last few images from Egypt. I`ll post some of Sandra`s when done, be ready for rocks!

Laughing Dove – the default Egyptian dove.

Black-eared Kite.

Male Nile Valley Sunbird.

Black-shouldered Kite – seen daily.

Crested Lark – dig that crest.

Hooded Crow – very common.

Yellow Wagtail – one of three variations seen daily.

African Monarch?

Extra Egyptian birds

Birding in Egypt was great fun and I enjoyed seeing how much I had remembered after eight years out of Europe (Ok Egypt is in North Africa I know), it seems quite a lot had stuck. We saw 90 odd species on the trip including just about every Lesser Whitethroat in existance. I had visited Crocodile Island back in 2002 as part of a multi-centre family holiday and the changes are enormous. The centre of the island, so good for birds and birding, has not gone, replaced by the rooms we stayed in. The reedbeds that were around the island on three sides had been much reduced by infil and cutting result8ing in much less habitat than expected. The southern end of the island had been fenced very effectively cutting off more habitat. Such development is to be expected I suppose but they could be more sympathetic or even cater for birders with scrapes and hides at little cost. Inside a year the new stuff will look very established and the damaged vegfetation will re-establish to some extent. The place still makes a great location for a family with a birder, just be cautious about your food, don`t eat the yoghurt!

Great Cormorant, a few were scattered around Luxor and Aswan.

Common Bulbul – its melodic song is heard everywhere.

Fly past Cattle Egret – hundreds roost in the Crocodile Island area of the Nile.

Grey Heron, note the lack of rufous on the thighs you Canadian birders.

Graceful Prinia – common on Crocodile Island.

Common Greenshank – we only saw one.

Black-crowned Night-Heron – at dusk 20 or more would leave the roost by the Crocodile Island reception to snack on frogs.

A male Northern Wheater – a few started to arrive towards the end of our trip.

Eastern Olivaceous Warbler – Common and noisy. Those North American birders who have problems with `confusing fall warblers`are going to be very cvonfused by Old World species in breeding plumage!

Pale Crag Martin, common at ruins.

Pallid Swift – present around Luxor in their hundreds.

Another look at a handsome Pied Kingfisher.

The very smart Spur-winged Plover – present in most fields.

Eurasian Turtle Dove – not overly common.

White Wagtail – a common migrant.

Zitting Cisticola – formerly Fan-tailed Warbler. You soon get used to the “zit zit zit” of this little bird as it bounces overhead on its invisible elastic rope.

More Egyptian birding

As promised here are a few more images from Egypt I`ll post a trip report when done, just check the tabs on the home page.

If you emailed me recently please note that I will get back to you, I have been having problems sending emails.

Hoopoe, a common species on Crocodile Island with 15+ most days.

Squacco Heron (and below) very common along the Nile.

Senegal Thick-Knee, only seen on Nile boat trips about the `Nessma`out of the Crocodile Island boat dock, 100 Egyptian pounds per hour for up to four people, Mahmoud the Captain knows where the birds are.

Better shots of White-spotted Bluethroat.

Two types of Black Kite which some split. The kites around Luxor appeared to be Black-eared Kites on plumage, note the bill colour here. The ones c600km south at Abu Simbal are clearly Yellow-billed Kites, all of the ones I saw there looked Yellow billed as below.

Masked Shrike, common on Crocodile Island and around Aswan.

More to follow, comments always welcome.

No birds just chat

It is time for a little background information for those wondering why we popped up in Egypt recently. Sandra, my wife, turns 50 this March. It is a milestone birthday and one to celebrate. For a few years our vacations have been bird orientated, Sandra is a history nut, especially Roman and Egyptian. We were also due a return to the old country to see family and friends and so we chose the birthday period to visit. The set up was for a few days in my former home location, Nottingham, a week in Egypt and then a few days in Lancashire, birthplace of the old dear, both locations can be Googled for further details.

Everything went very smoothly until 20 minutes before boarding in Montreal when Sandra was extracted from the departure lounge and whisked to Lakeshore General with a possible heart attack. After a night in ER she was declared fit and not dying, the problem lie elsewhere and she could travel. We set off a day later than planned and had no more issues other than loosing a day in Nottingham. The schedule was edited and some friends will be getting a `sorry`email c`est la vie!

The flight to Egypt was quick and efficient and we all got to know each other really well due to the airline`s space allocation policy in relation to seats. We arrived at Luxor in Egypt on time to see a beautiful sunset, were taken our resort on Crocodile Island, now renamed King`s Island to calm nervous tourists, and were carried to our rooms on golf carts and started to settle in. Our room did not have a Nile view which was not birthday quality and so it was back on the golf cart, change the room with nil fuss and back to settle in again.

The week was pretty good. We visited all of the ancient rubble, birded daily and generally had the sort of relaxing vacation we don`t normally take, except, Sandra`s parents who had travelled with us both came down with food poisoning and were unable to take the excursion to Abu Simbal that we had booked on arrival. We were fit though and so did the trip and what fun..

We were up at 04:30 and taken to the train station in Luxor. The first train we saw was a surprise and the travel rep had fits of laughter when we asked was this our train. Our train had first class compartments, we had our own and we had a breakfast served by the porter, it was like a 1930s throwback. We were met in Aswan by an agent and an excellent guide, Maryama, who showed us the high and low dam and did everything to make us happy. After dropping the bags at the hotel and taking a lunch we cruised the Nile, birding as we went. The next day we rose at 03:00 to take the minibus south to Abu Simal, just 35 miles north of the Sudanese border. The trip was done in convoy, everywhere we saw tanks and armed troops guarding the dams and power stations. The removal of Mubarrack was lauded by everyone we met, the Egyptians were once again free.

After three hours plus of stiff driving we arrived at Abu Simbal and entered the grounbds of the reconstructed temple, sat high above Lake Nasser. Sandra went with Maryama to enjoy the reassembled rocks, I birded the temple site hoping to find some of the Abu Simbal specialities, African Pied Wagtail, African Mourning Dove and anything else that happened into the area. To cut the story short, it was blowing a gale, I saw a few birds but not the hoped for specialities, Sandra enjoyed her temple and we met the Lanius Bird Tours party for the second time on the trip, hello again Neil Glenn! Our trip back involved a change of driver. The new chap liked going somewhere between 140-160 kmph while eating Sunflower seeds and talking into his cellphone. I mentioned this to our guide who told him of my displeasure, the speed remained constant, the cell turned off and the Sunflower seeds lived to see another trip!

The trip back was smooth in another first class carriage and inclusive of dinner, which was basically the same as breakfast but with Yoghurt! We arrived back after a long day and flaked out. The next day Sandra`s dad had improved, her mum was still off but improving. The last couple of days were spent seeing more rubble and some more birds. I got no ticks this trip but that was not the point, Sandra had a memorable 50th in more ways than expected. As we boarded the plane home I started to get the tell tale signs of food poisoning, I spent the day after landing asleep fighting off the bug, I don`t think I have spent the whole day in bed since I was two!

So, there you have it. The next post will have birds, if you got this far well done. Egypt is a great country with super friendly people and some fabulous birding. We were perhaps a week to ten days too early for the best birding but we had no choice and I blame her parent`s lack of forward planning for that one! Politically there is still work to do in Egypt but they want you to visit, to see their wonders and enjoy their hospitality, don`t be put off by recent events, Egypt is safe, go if you can.