Monday 26 October 2009

26 October - Socotra at last!

We got up early and had a great breakfast buffet. We tasted everything as no one knows the standard in Socotra. Yousuf met up outside the hotel along with Abdulhadim, of which we said our goodbye too as he will not join us to Socotra. A bit sad as he had been a happy company and a good driver. At Aden airport we checked in 08:20 and the rather small airplane left at 09:00. We made a stop over at Al Mukalla to fuel for the flight to Socotra, on which we arrived at about 11:50. At last! A long wet dream come true for several of us!

To our very surprise we found an Internetcafe just fifty meters from the hotel! But there is no coverage at all for our mobile phones.

The friend of Yousuf, Ahmed Saeed Suleiman, met us at the airport and drove us to the hotel in Hadibo, just a few kilometers away. The hotel is very nice and perfect for birdwatchers as the balconies face the sea. After a delicious seafood lunch Ahmed (The Socotra Governance and Biodiversity Project) took us on a ride to nearby sites in the afternoon. We saw six Cream-coulered Coursers, several Desert Wheatears, Black-crowned Sparrowlark (30), Long-billed Pipits and of course the endemic Socotra Cisticola (6). Then we headed to a nearby tip at the coast for seawatching the last hour before sunset. We saw Persian Shearwaters (300), Jouanin's Petrel (4), Flesh-footed Shearwater (4), Swift Terns and Sooty Gulls.

Other sightings were Socotra Sparrow, lots of Somali Starlings and Egyptian Vultures. In the dusk we heard a few Lichtenstein's Sandgrouses.

Indeed a good start on our weeklong stay on Socotra!

Socotra, here we come! Photo: Niklas Holmstrom.
A beautiful adult Antlion at Socotra airport. Photo: Niklas Holmstrom.
Our room at the hotel and Ulf finds the checklist for Socotra. Photo: Niklas
A nice Cream-coulored Courser. Photo: Ulf Stahle.
Birders searching for the endemic cisticola. Ahmed to the right. Photo: Niklas
Finally, we twitched the Socotra Cisticola! Photo: Ulf Stahle.
A beautiful male Desert Wheatear! Photo: Ulf Stahle.

Sunday 25 October 2009

25 October - Taizz to Aden

Started with an early visit to Jabel Sabir (2860 m), a mountain close to Taizz, where it was so cold that Kjell-Åke even wore gloves and a cap! We stod there waiting and suddenly a bird started to sing. It was the Arabian Accentor, and soon more and more accentors began to sing. We had wonderful observations and close-ups of at least ten individuals. There were also several Yemen Trushes showing off. Then back to the hotel for late breakfast and after that we left the busy town of Taizz and headed southeast for Aden. On our way we made a stop at Wadi Dhabab to search for Arabian and Zebra Waxbill. We found not only them, also a beautiful Masked Shrike and a Dark Chanting Goshawk. After that we decided that we would skip lunch and head directly for the Aden Marshes. And that turned out to be a wise decision, the Aden Marshes is an Eldorado for birdwatchers! From the fantastic birdwatching-tower we had wonderful views of Sacred Ibises, Black-headed Herons, Pacific Golden Plovers, Collared Pratincoles, hundreds of Flamingos and many other species. Add to this hundreds of hundreds of waders, gulls and terns of many species. We stayed at the Marshes until dusk and went to our very luxury hotel for dinner and a good nights sleep.

By the way we also saw four Lichtenstein’s Sandgrouse on our way to Aden.

Tomorrow we will leave for Socotra!

No need for words. Arabian Accentor. Photo: Ulf Ståhle.

One of several Yemen Thrushes (at the same spot as the accentors). Photo: Ulf Ståhle.Zebra Waxbill at Wadi Dhabab. Photo: Ulf Ståhle.Steppe Eagle. Photo: Ulf Ståhle.

24 October - Al Hudeidah to Taizz

After a nice breakfast with (at last) strong coffee we left Al Hudeidah at seven o’clock and drove southwards along the coast. We did several stops before we reached Khowkha. A lovely place with a small hotel facing the sea. It was low tide and shorebirds just tripping in front of the hotel. Adult Crab Plovers and begging juveniles 30 metres away from us. Greater and Lesser Sandplover everywhere. A single Pacific Golden Plover. White-eyed and Sooty Gulls were passing by as well as Saunder’s, Swift and Lesser Crested Terns. A delicious lunch of tasty and spicy fish and rice was served. And then we had coffee and tea in the garden. We spent five hours at this site and then continued to Al Mukha, the famous port from where the excellent Yemeni coffee once upon a time was exported to Europe. Now, the city was more or less in ruins. Sadly. As the wind was hard with sand we headed straight to Taizz instead. On our way we saw lots of raptors such as Egyptian Vulture (25), Booted Eagle (2), Steppe Eagle (11), Buzzard (20) and a single Kestrel. Four Chesnut-bellied Sandgrouses not to be forgotten.

At 16:45, an hour before sunset, we reached Taizz and its huge garbage dump. Immediately we spotted about ten Abdim’s Storks on a roof! An unhealthy smoke from the dump filled the air. Imagine the peoples faces when drove through the smoke into the dump and disappeared. On the other side we found a hill and fresh air. Perfect for our activities. The air was filled with Black Kites and mixed up with White Storks and Steppe Eagles. A Hobby passing by as well as a flock of 100 Glossy Ibis. When we left the dump in the dusk we found about 50 Abdim’s Storks roosting in two big trees.

Tomorrow we’ll get up very early.

Cheers from an exhausted, but happy birders in Yemen.

Göran, Heidi and Kjell-Åke scanning the bay at Khowkha. Photo: Niklas Holmström.
Ulf photographing a not too distant... Photo: Niklas Holmström.
Yes, of course, a lovely Crab Plover! Photo: Ulf Ståhle.
One of at least 16 Terek Sandpipers at Khowkha. Photo: Ulf Ståhle.
Saunder's Tern at Khowkha. Photo: Ulf Ståhle.
A very tasty lunch and good spirits. Photo: Niklas Holmström.
Birding and phtotgraphing at the dump in Taizz. Niklas Holmström.
One of about 50 Abdim's Storks at the dump in Taizz. Photo: Ulf Ståhle.

Friday 23 October 2009

23 October - Red Sea coast

We started early morning at Al Hodeidah fish market to see gulls and terns, but of course, also experience the market itself. Caotic, but interesting to see all these fishes, rays and sharks. After that we visited an area with several sewageponds which held numerous waders, chlidonias and about 1700 Lesser Flamingos and perhaps 60 Greater ones. A few years ago it was the opposite numbers, perhaps it can be due to the extreme dry season in Northeastern Africa. We continued along the coast to Al Hudeidah wetlands and then to Saliff. On the latter site we scanned the strait between mainland and the island Kamaran (second largest after Socotra in Yemen waters). We had lunch along a bay with low tide enjoying Crab Plovers and other waders. In late evening we tried a site for Nubian Nightjar, but found an European Nightjar instead. We ended the day with a dinner, the last one in Al Hudeidah. Tomorrow we are going to Taizz via Al Mukha (Mocha).

Sightings: Ferriginous Duck (2), Dark Chanting Goshawk (1), Crab Plover (41), Lesser and Greater Plover (numerous), Terek Sandpiper (20), White-eyed Gull (30), Sooty Gull (60), terns such as Gull-billed, Caspian, Lesser Crested, Swift, Saunder's (1), Whiskered and White-winged Black Tern, Chestnut-bellied Sandgrouse (12), Palm and Little Swift, Black-crowned Sparrow-lark (30), Hoopoe Lark (1).

This is the last evening with wireless Internet connection, so we will see when we will be able to update the blog next time.


"How much for this shark?" Al Hudeidah fish market. Photo: Niklas Holmström.
A beautiful adult White-eyed Gull. Photo: Ulf Ståhle.A 'most wanted' Crab Plover seen at Al Urj. Photo: Ulf Ståhle.

A relaxing view during our lunch at Al Urj. Photo: Niklas Holmström.Seawatching at Saliff didn't produce any seabirds. Photo: Niklas Holmström.
A happy Striated Heron at Saliff. Photo: Ulf Ståhle.

Last dinner in Al Hudeidah. Yousuf had his kids along too. Photo: Niklas Holmström.

Thursday 22 October 2009

22 October - In search of the Arabian Bustard

Today the main goal was to search for the very rare and 'most wanted' Arabian Bustard at a certain area of the Tihama plain. Yousuf had hired a local weeks ago to find out where the bustards were supposed to be. Unfortunately, this local was very unfair and cancelled the mission early in morning during our breakfast. We anayway went to the place where Yousuf had seen an Arabian Bustard a few weeks ago. With help from locals from several small villages we searched through the area for several hours, but with no luck. Yousuf's effort in this very mission was incredible! However, we had a nice day in the heat of the Tihama plain and lots of kind locals around us!

Exhausted and hungry we had a late lunch. After the tasty lunch of lamb, rise, vegetables, mixed meat and bread there were not many hours left for birding. We headed towards Al Hodeidah and visited two sites before dawn, which produced nice sightings.

Sightings worthy of mention: Dark Chanting Goshawk (3), Gabar Goshawk (2), Spotted Thick-knee (1), Namaqua Dove (25), African Palm Swift (150), Blue-cheeked Bee-eater (a flock of 200!), Abyssian Roller (10), Black-crowned Sparrow-lark (30), Black Scrub Robin (5), Isabelline Wheatear (50), Isabelline Shrike (15) and Arabian Golden Sparrow (80).

Tomorrow we will spend all day along the Red Sea coast and wetland areas.

Time for bed! Cheers

Typical houses at the Tihama plain. Photo: Niklas Holmström.

A lovely Dark Chanting Goshawk. Photo: Ulf Ståhle.

Male Arabian Golden Sparrow. Photo: Ulf Ståhle.

One Blue-cheeked Bee-eater out of a flock of 200! Photo: Ulf Ståhle.

An exhausted and hungry party. Photo: Niklas Holmström.

Wednesday 21 October 2009

21 October - Heading to the Red Sea

Today we started birding before breakfast in the woodland in Al Mahweet that was so good yesterday (where we then had Arabian Woodpecker and Yemen Warbler). Now the sun hadn´t reached the area and we didn´t see many birds except Red-eyed Doves and Brown Woodland Warblers, which were singing everywhere. When we left though a Yemen Warbler started singing.

Before we left Al Mahweet the Yemeni Television had arranged an interview with the group where we among other questions answered about our view of Yemen, it´s nature, people and how secure we felt travelling around in the country. They were especially interested in how Heidi experienced the Yemen as a woman. Yousuf acted as an interpreter from and to Arabic.

We spent the whole day thereafter driving through Wadi Sari about 60 km on gravel roads, and made several stops for birding. Among other birds we saw about 30 Griffon Vultures having a party on a dead donkey, one White-browed Coucal, Grey Hornbill, Arabian Babblers, Upcher´s Warbler and a Southern Grey Shrike of the race buryi.

Later on Tihama on our way to Al Hodeidah we stopped at Bajil´s rubbish dump where we in a terrible smell searched for Abdim´s Storks without success. We found a lot of White Storks, several Steppe Eagles, two Tawny Eagles, one Greater spotted Eagle and one Egyptian Vulture. On our way we also had some Palm Swifts and Abyssinian Rollers.

Got to the hotel and made an early night after a good fish-dinner.
Tomorrow we´ll try for Arabian Bustard.

Good Night from us all.

The Yemen Party. From left: Yousuf, Kjell-Åke, Niklas, Göran, Heidi, Ulf and Alf. Photo: Abdulhamid Abdulkhalliq.
Kjell-Åke is interviewed by the Yemeni Television and Yousuf acts interpreter. Photo: Niklas Holmstrom.

Griffon Vulture Party. Photo: Ulf Stahle.

A curious but hiding White-browed Coucal. Photo: Ulf Stahle.

20 October - Al Mahweet

Today we had a very joyful day with easy birding at Al Mahweet and nearby locations. We started at Al Rayadi to enjoy a colony of Griffon Vultures. We had amazing close-up of the vultures. We had several target species on our list, but we failed on Golden-winged Grosbeak. However, the day was very productive concerning birds and the landscape in the area is just amazing, dramatic and beautiful. In the evening we were invited along with Yousuf to a great celebration by the Governrate of Al Mahweet. This celibaration was by the occasion of Yemeni National days of September, October and November .We had a seat on the second row, just behind the governar and his party. The Yemeni Television was there and we were interviewed by two different newspapers. For an hour we listened to traditional and national Yemeni music, which was performed live on stage. Just lovely and a momento for life!

Sightings from today, worthy of mention: Dusky Turtle Dove (20), Red-eyed Dove (3), Bruce's Green Pigeon (1), African Grey Hornbill (3), Arabian Woodpecker (3), Little Rock Thrush (4), Blue Rock Thrush (1), Yemen Thrush (1), Brown Woodland Warbler (10), Arabian Warbler (1), Yemen Warbler (2).

That's all for today folks. Cheers.

Brown Woodland Warbler. Photo: Ulf Stahle.
Yemen Warbler. Photo: Ulf Stahle.

Arabian Warbler. Photo: Ulf Stahle.

African Grey Hornbill. Photo: Ulf Stahle.

Miscellaneous photos by Niklas

Sana'a. View from the entrance of our hotel Arabia Felix.Al Saleh Mosque, which was finished a year ago. We had the opportunity to visit the very huge mosque along a guide just for us.
Heidi had to be dressed up for visit inside. Here in company with two Yemeni police officers. Guess who is Heidi.Part of the incredible huge and beatiful mosque!
The lovely village Kawkaban, which is located at about 3000 metres altitude.Happy birders that just had twitched Arabian and Philby's Partridge. Göran let a nice Yemeni have a look in the scope, while Ulf photographing eagles and Yousuf and Kjell-Åke having a chat.
We waiting for the lunch to be served at a traditional restaurant in Shibam. From left: Ulf, Kjell-Åke, Yousuf (director of Arabian Eco-tours), Heidi, Göran, Åke and Abdulhamid (driver).

Göran (back), Kjell-Åke and Alf waiting for the Arabian Warbler to show up (which it later did!).Happy and curious children at Sarat Mahal. They rarely see foreigners as the village is located far off road.

Monday 19 October 2009

18 October - A soft start on our bird trip

Most of the day we spent at the wadi Hamman Caref near Sanaa. Nothing rare or special, but nice sightings of regular and beautiful birds such as Hamerkop, Upcher's Warbler, Shining and Palestine Sunbirds.
Hamerkop at Hamman Caref. Photo: Ulf Stahle.Friendly Yemeni people wish us good luck! Photo: Ulf Stahle.