Saturday 26 December 2009

Photos by Ulf Ståhle

A sample of bird photos from mainland Yemen by Ulf Ståhle is available here>>
Three photos by Ulf have been added below.

A male Arabian Golden Sparrow at Al Kadan.
Arabian Accentor at Jabal Sabir.
Arabian Woodpecker at Al Mahwit.

Monday 23 November 2009

Photos by Niklas Holmström

A sample of photos from mainland Yemen and the island of Socotra by Niklas Holmström is available here>>

Wednesday 11 November 2009

Photos by Alf Petersson

Alf Petersson have within the last few days launched a lot of bird photos from our trip on his excellent website Birds and Nature. Below you'll find a nice sample from his website.

Socotra Bunting.
Socotra Sunbird.
Yemen Accentor.
Arabian Woodpecker.
Jouanin's Petrel.
Masked Booby.
Abdim's Stork.
Spotted Thick-knee.
Crab Plover.
All photos above by Alf Petersson, Birds and Nature

Friday 6 November 2009

Reflections and thoughts by Heidi Malmgren

My name is Heidi and I'm travelling with my husband Göran and the other guys on this "expedition" to mainland Yemen and Socotra. I’d like to share a little about how I have experienced things around us, beside the birds.

To be a lonely woman amongst seven men, travelling around in the country of the ancient Queen of Sheba is truly a wonderful and interesting experience. One would imagine that they would treat me like a queen, but, I m sorry to say, they don’t. They treat me like "one of the boys", I even have to listen to their dirty jokes! But I get some privileges, for instance me and Göran got the honeymoon-suite in Al Masirah. Anyway, we are a happy gang and we all enjoy the adventures we have had so far.

Our guide, Yousuf, is a very competent, pleasant and wise man. Everything has gone so smoothly, we just lean back and Yousuf arranges it so that we all get what we want.

Our two wonderful guides Ahmed Saeid Suliman & Yousuf Mohageb Photo: Heidi Malmgren

As you can imagine, having to do with male birdwatchers, there is no time planned for one of my other interests, namely shopping! But Yousuf arranged it so that we could get a little shopping in Taizz and he has promised to take us to the old suq in Sana’a on our last day in Yemen. I really look forward to it!

Yousuf has thought us a lot about Yemen, its traditions and culture (and birds of course). For example, almost all houses have windows with stained glass mosaic in beautiful patterns. This is called Kameria, which is the diminutive form of Kamr that means The Moon. The ordinary windows in the Yemeni houses are placed near the floor because Yemenis often sit on the floor and to get in some extra light in the houses they used to have round windows higher up with Alabaster instead of glass. These windows looked like little moons, that’s why they are called "little moons", Kameria. When the Dutch occupied Yemen in the 18th century they brought the stained glass with them and the Yeminis started to create their beautiful patterns like they still do, nowadays with glass imported from Germany.
Some of the beautiful Kamerias in our hotelroom in Hadibo, Socotra
Photo: Heidi Malmgren

The landscape of Yemen is very beautiful with breathtaking sceneries as you have seen on the pictures of the blog, and much more vegetation than I had imagined. There are green plants everywhere, except for the few desert parts where we have been.

One thing I was a little concerned about before the trip was the question of "The Ladies Room". It is so much easier for a man to find a place to "powder his nose". But one can always find a bush or a shed to hide behind. And when you can’t hide, like on the rock Sabuniah in the middle of the ocean, you just ask the gentlemen to turn around.... So it has never been a problem, just remembers to bring along some tissues.

This trip is not only a birding-trip, it is also a health-trip, we live so very healthy even though we eat a lot. We eat healthy food, for example a lot of yoghurt, fruits, vegetables, fish and hummus. And of course we drink a lot, at least 2 litres water (Maa) a day. We also walk much every day, how much depending on the ground terrain. (When we watch seabirds there is not so much walking, we just stand and look in our telescopes. Of course the photographers, Alf and Ulf, run around like Mountain-goats to get the best possible shot. They move around at least twice as much as us others!). So I think that we all have lost a little weight in this trip.

Did I mention that there are a lot of high mountains in Yemen? Well, there are. Very high. And with very deep canyons. And I am afraid of heights. (Or at least I was before this trip). So how can a person in her right mind go to a country that has so many, so high mountains (jabal)? When Göran asked me if I wanted to come along I had two choices:

1) stay at home

2) go for a trip that is a once in a lifetime experience.

So I decided to come along and take it as it comes, "go with the flow". The first days were an ordeal for me, when I thought that " it can’t get worse" the next road (or track) was even steeper and more rough. But one gets used to it and Yousuf and Abdulhamid, our second driver, are excelent drivers that make you feel safe and secure. And that goes of course also for Ahmed Saeid Suliman, our brilliant co-guide in Socotra. (Ahmed works as Head of the Conservation and Research Unit at the EPA, Environment Protection Authority, on Socotra and is a botanist and ornithologist.)
Narrow road at Al Mahweet. Photo: Niklas Holmström

We have even managed to pass a meeting car on a road not wider than two wheel tracks and with a high mountain wall on one side a a deep canyon on the other side. But that time I closed my eyes......:)

Something very common for Yemen and Socotra is goats. They can move around in any biotop and can climb up of the steepest mountain. You see them everywhere, and they seem to be able to eat anything.

The restaurant at our hotel in Hadibo on Socotra (Socotra meens the suq of sap, the sap market), where we are right now, is also a day care centre......for baby goats! On the evenings Mother Goat comes calling and the small goats, who have spent the day sleeping under the tables (outside of course), run to see Mummy. They even call "ma ma, ma ma"! They are so cute and mostly for keeping up appearances the staff will try to chase them away, but they are feeding them when they think no one is looking. And so is Ulf!
Ulf is feeding the goat Greta! Photo: Heidi Malmgren

The boat trip to the rocky island and then to the secluded and isolated beach of Shoúab was a magic experience. To take a swim at the long sandy beach in that crystal clear, soft, warm water under the hot sun. To take a rest in the fishermen’s shady hut. And at night in the velvet soft arabian night, to sit and drink sweet tea (chai) on a blanket in the sand under the stars and the moon and listen to the fishermen singing soft arabian songs around the campfire. Sigh...
Looking out for Socotra Cormorants, of course in a pink boat.
Photo: Ahmed Saeid Suliman

The people of Yemen are so very nice and friendly. When we have met the locals in distant mountain villages they have offered us of what they have, sometimes bread, sometimes fruits or crops. When we come to a place the locals come and greet us and wish us welcome and offer us of whet they have.
This friendly man climbed up in a high Tamarind-tree to get us some Tamarind-fruits, very tasty! Photo: Göran Cederwall

In Socotra people are very honest. That means that you can leave your car unlocked with cameras and computers in it, and walk away for a couple of hours. When you return everything will be as you left it.

Anyway, this approach to your fellow human is a part of Islam and the people here are really living it, not only talking about it. This is my experience of the Muslims, and it is a picture far from the one you might get when you read the news in the west.

All in all, this has been (and still is) a wonderful trip in a wonderful country and I hope to be back soon!
Heidi. Photo: Göran Cederwall

So, bye bye for this time.

Heidi Malmgren

Wednesday 4 November 2009

2 November - Last night in Sana’a

After a late breakfast we drove to the airport and there we said goodbye to Ahmed. A bit sad as we became friends during our stay. He was fantastic as a guide, sharing his knowledge about Socotras history and nature, a remarkable bird finder and quick to laugh too. We left Socotra about eleven and made stopovers in Mukalla and Aden then finally arrived to Sana’a at 14:30. Yousuf had booked room for us at Arabia Felix Hotel in the old town of Sana’a, where we enjoyed a late, but delicious lunch. Niklas began to update the travel blog with text and photos from the last six days on Socotra.

We left the hotel about 18:00 for a walk, exploring the old town and shopping in the famous suq (= market). Yousuf guided us through the old town and its narrow roads and alleies. At 18:20 there was a power failure, so it were sparse with light sources. However, the walk got even more magical then in the gleam of the full moon!

The suq were just wonderful. It was like travelling back in time. We spent our last riyals and dollars on art, silver rings, kamaria, scarf and books and myrrh. What a pity that we didn’t had more time to explore the whole suq! We went to a nice restaurant, to which Yousuf had invited David Stanton for dinner at 20:00. David is a well-known birder and has lived in Yemen for 18 years. He is the general secretary of the Yemen Ornithological Society and the coordinator of the Yemeni Leopard Recovery Program. The dinner were delicious and happy with lot of laughter. Yousuf had gifts for each of us: cassettes with good music from Yemen!

We left the hotel at 23:00 and at the airport it was time to say farewell to Yousuf. He has arranged with everything in a very professional way throughout the tour as well as being a good and knowledgeable friend. The trip has been beyond all expectations and will be a memory for life. Thanks Yousuf! We miss you already!

More stories, links and photos will be added within the next few days.

We hope you have enjoyed our travel diary.

Sana'a at dusk.
Entrance to the Suq and the pulse of the city.
Well-attended shop with dates for all tastes.
A very nice art gallery where we bought a lot.

A lovely antiquarian.
The last dinner in Yemen with David Stanton as guest. From left: Heidi, Göran, David, Kjell-Åke, Alf, Ulf and Yousuf. Photos: Niklas

Monday 2 November 2009

1 November – Wilson and Lichtenstein

After the breakfast we spent some time in Hadibo and bought ceramic handicraft painted in red colour from the Dragon Blood Tree. Then we did a stop at the Serhin lagoons a few kilometres east of Hadibo. There we saw Pacific Golden Plover and Green Sandpiper, which was new to our Socotra trip list. Otherwise the species and numbers were as yesterday visit.

On our way eastwards to Di Hamri, a protected coral reef area, we recorded Socotra Cisticola, Socotra Sunbird, Cinnamon-breasted Bunting, Desert and Isabelline Wheatear. We arrived to Di Hamri at 10:00 and it was already very hot. A few headed to a tip for seawatching while others enjoyed snorkelling or just relaxing in the shade. The seawatch were joyful with species such as Flesh-footed (3) and Persian Shearwater (21), Jouanin’s Petrel (20), Masked and Brown Booby, Bridled Tern (1), Brown Noddy (106) and finally two long awaited Wilson’s Storm-petrels. The snorkelling were just wonderful with all those colourful fishes and corals! In additional we saw three schools of Bottlenose dolphins and one of them mixed up with Spinner Dolphins.

In late afternoon we headed to a lagoon close to Hadibo to see Lichtenstein’s Sandgrouses coming in to drink water. We arrived just in time at sunset. We placed our selves close to where we knew the birds to come. The dark fell quickly and the glare of the full moon made the scenario complete. Soon we heard the calls from the arriving sandgrouses. We waited and waited and then we put the strong torch on. Wow, there were about hundred of sandgrouses on the opposite wall to the lagoon. What an end of the day!

We had a last dinner on Socotra as we leave the island tomorrow. Melancholy indeed.

The tip at Di Hamri, which is good for seawatching. Photo: Niklas
Lunch time in cooling shade at the Diving Centre. Fish of course. From left: Heidi, Göran, Ahmed and Yousuf. Photo:Niklas
Seawatching at Di Hamri. Searching for Wilson's Storm-petrels. Photo: Niklas
View at Qaria Lagoon in late afternoon. Photo: Niklas
Moon glare at Suq while waiting for the sandgrouses to come. Photo: Niklas
Lichtenstein's Sandgrouses coming in to drink water. Photo: Ulf Ståhle.

31 October – Birding the lagoons

Ulf and Niklas scanned the sea from the hotel roof an hour before breakfast. They recorded Flesh-footed (1) and Persian Shearwater, Jouanin’s Petrel (5), Sooty Gulls and terns. In Hadibo we found a Black Kite, which is vagrant to the island.

A stop at the Serhin lagoon produced lots of shorebirds and a White-winged Black Tern, but nothing exceptional. We drove eastwards to the Qaria Lagoon, which is a protected area and an important breeding site for Kentish Plover. Here we saw a Marsh Harrier, another vagrant. The numbers of shorebirds were not as high as in Serhin, but we recorded Lesser and Greater Sand Plover and five species of herons.

We spent an hour at Socotra Folk Museum. Ahmed told us about Socotras history and showed us a vast numbers of photos from the sixties. Much seem to has changed since then.

At noon we reached Hala with its spring water and beautiful landscape. The area was mountainous with sand dunes while the little spring water and its streams were green and lushy, like a micro oasis. Here we found two juvenile Indian Pond Herons, Common Snipe, Yellow Wagtail and a vagrant Tree Pipit. Imagine these birds remarkable long journey and finally ending up in a little spring water pond in Socotra!

On our way back to Hadibo we made a stop for seawatching and there we soon spotted a huge whale not far from shore. The blows were big, but only a few metres high, and the dorsal fin were triangular, which pointed to Humpback Whale. It travelled slowly westwards along the coastline and suddenly we discovered a calf alongside the mother. They disappeared now and then. And without notice the mother whale breached. What a sight! Impossible to describe by words! Later on the calf breached too! Everyone was soooo happy.

After these marvellous sightings we went back to our hotel for another fish dinner.

Ulf seawatching from the hotel roof. Photo: Niklas
A vagrant Black Kite in Hadibo. Photo: Ulf Ståhle.
Alf and a huge Desert Rose. Photo: Niklas
A sand dune shaped by the monsun in the eastern part. Photo: Niklas
Birders at the spring water at Hala and dunes in background. Photo: Niklas
Juvenile Indian Pond Heron at Hala. Photo: Ulf Ståhle.
Part of the Socotra Folk Museum 40 km east of Hadibo. Photo: Niklas
Some of us bought Dragon Blood Tree crystals. Photo: Niklas
Birders at the big Qaria Lagoon. Photo: Niklas

29 to 30 October – A pelagic bonanza!

We got up at 04:30 and had a quick breakfast. Our 4WD’s were packed with food, camping equipments and life jackets. Yes, we were going to undertake a two-day pelagic trip! We drove to Qalancia, which is located 65 kilometres west of Hadibo. We arrived and two boats were ready to be boarded by eight happy birders. The expectations were high. Yousuf, Ahmed and the skippers arranged with all equipments and soon we were offshore enjoying a calm sea. The sea was full of small crabs, which attracted numerous seabirds. Soon we found ourselves in the centre of a huge flock of Socotra Cormorants while three Red-billed Tropicbirds circled over us high up in the sky. We headed towards southwest and the rocky islet Sabuniah, which is located 35 kilometres from Qalancia. Brown Noddy, Persian Shearwater and Sooty Gulls were numerous. Singles of Jouanin’s Petrel, Brown and Masked Booby were seen now and then. It was a hectic time for the photographers onboard!
Ulf, Skipper, Ahmed and Alf. Photo: Niklas
One of thousands of Persian Shearwaters. Photo: Ulf Ståhle.
An elegant Jouanin's Petrel. Photo: Ulf Ståhle.

After two joyful hours we approached Sabuniah, which is the home of 2000 pairs of Masked Booby and 3000 pairs of Socotra Cormorant! Brown and Masked Boobies checked us up and suddenly a swarm of Masked took off from the islet. What a sight! We landed on the islet for an hour. At least two pairs of Red-billed Tropicbirds were present in the air and were seen displaying several times. Some of us climbed to the top to get close-ups on Masked Booby, adults and their chicks. The whole scenario was dreamlike!
The rocky islet Sabuniah. Photo: Niklas
Masked Booby surrounded by two Brown Boobies. Photo: Ulf Ståhle.
Searching for a place to land on Subuniah. Photo: Niklas.
Red-billed Tropicbird. Photo: Ulf Ståhle.
Masked Booby. Photo: Ulf Ståhle.
Juvenile Socotra Cormorants. Photo: Niklas

We left Sabuniah and headed slowly towards a remote beach on western Socotra. Jouanin’s Petrels and Persian Shearwaters crossed our way now and then. We landed on the beach, which is located close to the breeding site of the Jouanin’s Petrel. It was very hot and all of us took a swim. We found shade in a fishermen’s (so called) hut. Imagine that we felt the shade cooling, when it in fact was 31 degree in the shade. We enjoyed a delicious lunch of fishes caught by one of the skippers.
The breeding site for Jouanin's Petrel. Photo: Niklas
Having fun further up from the beach. Photo: Ulf Ståhle.

One hour of seawatching from the beach in the afternoon was very productive. It was impossible to count all seabirds, but during 10 minutes we counted every bird that passed by: 105 Persian Shearwaters and 316 Brown Noddies! All of them close to the shore!

We put the tents up on the beach and awaited the dusk and then climbed upwards to the cave where the Jouanin’s Petrels breed. Unfortunately, the hillside was to steep and the path too narrow for most of us, but Yousuf, Ahmed and Ulf continued up to the entrance of the cave. They heard a few calls and saw several birds entering the cave. The rest of us sat on the beach in the moonlight in company with the fishermen. It was magical!
Everyone slept well and dreamed happy dreams. Photo: Niklas

We woke up just in time to enjoy the sunrise at this lovely and remote beach. Some of us took a refreshing swim while a seabird addict started to seawatch. What a sight when about 3000 Socotra Cormorants arrived to the bay and gathered in a dense foraging flock. Persian Shearwaters passed close to the shore in a seemingly endless stream, along with noddies, boobies, gulls and terns. A big surprise was an adult Indian Pond Heron, which was the first on our trip.
View on our way to Qalancia. Photo: Niklas

After a nice breakfast on the beach we entered the boats and took off for Qalancia. We travelled slowly along the coastline. We spotted four Red-billed Tropicbirds circling overhead while heavy numbers of Persian Shearwater and Brown Noddy where seen around the boat! Add to this good numbers of Brown and Masked Booby, Sooty Gull, Lesser Crested and Swift Tern as well as a single Bridled Tern. We also saw Bottlenose Dolphins and a small group of Indo Pacific Humpback Dolphins. What a magnificent boat tour, which lasted for more than two hours.
Part of a huge flock of Brown Noddies. Photo: Niklas
Brown Noddy. Photo: Ulf Ståhle.
Heidi and Kjell-Åke enjoy the sight of a Persian Shearwater. Photo: Niklas

Back in Qalancia we saw two vagrant Collared Pratincoles. On the road back to Hadibo we stopped for two lovely chameleons, which slowly crossed the road in their characteristic walk. We made a quick stop at our hotel and then continued to Suq, which is a palm tree area that hold several pairs of Socotra Scops Owl. We heard one in broad daylight and Ahmed found one perched in a palm tree just two metres away from us! We made a short stop for seawatching and then returned to Suq in the dusk. We heard about ten owls and twenty Lichtenstein’s Sandgrouses flew overhead.

These two unforgettable days will be a memory for life!

A golden beach at Qalancia. Photo: Niklas

One of the nice chameleons crossing the road. Photo: Niklas

Socotra Scops Owl. So small and beautiful. Photo: Ulf Ståhle.