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.

28 October – TV celebrities

Seawatching before breakfast produced hundreds of Persian Shearwaters and a single Flesh-footed Shearwater foraging at moderate distance. We enjoyed a long breakfast and several cups of coffee or tea. The plan of today was to visit a valley between Hadibo and the peak of Hagher not far away. Just when we were about to leave a jeep stopped outside the hotel and three well-dressed men jumped out. They were from Nile Television and wanted to do an interview with us for a reportage about Socotra, which will be broadcast on Friday and then we has been on television three times during the trip! They interviewed Göran and Ahmed about Socotras’s vulnerable nature and conservation projects and of course what six birders from Sweden were doing on the island. Göran was perfect for the mission!

The valley Al-Ayhawt were green and lushy. Ahmed showed us different Frankincense trees and myrrh. Deep in the valley we made a longer stop were the tourist police Salim Abdellah and his family live. Some of us bought Frankincense from him while two vagrant Wood Warblers were found. Bruce’s Green Pigeons were seen here and there as well as Socotro Golden-winged Grosbeaks. A few (Socotra) Buzzards were seen and we recorded its call. At noon we had a nice picnic lunch. Then we drove to Qadub for seawatching. We found a nice place at the shore a few metres above sea level. There were Persian Sherawaters in a never ending stream and Sooty Gulls passing by. Soon we discovered a couple of Brown Noddy. What a lovely bird! We scanned the sea for 1 ½ hours and noted Persian Shearwater (c. 1000), Flesh-footed Shearwater (1), Jouanin’s Petrel (2), Brown Noddy (71!), Masked Booby (8 adults), Sooty Gull (c. 300) and Red-necked Phalarope (c. 500).


Göran is interviewed by Nile Television. Photo: Niklas
The rocky road to Al-Ayhawt valley. Photo. Niklas
The Al-Ayhawt valley. Photo: Niklas
A couple of the beautiful Bruce's Green Pigeon. Photo: Ulf Ståhle.
A singing Socotra Golden-winged Grosbeak. Photo: Ulf Ståhle.
A huge crab from outer space at Qadub. Photo: Ulf Ståhle.
Seawatching at Qadub. Photo: Niklas

27 October – A day of endemics

Ulf and Niklas woke up early and did seawatch from the hotel terrace before breakfast. The sea was calm and several hundreds of Persian Shearwaters passed by or foraging offshore.

After a nice breakfast outside the hotel we drove slowly westwards along the coast. The whole coastline was flat with golden beaches and small fishing boats just offshore. Then we drove inland towards the mountains with stops now and then. As we reached higher altitudes the numbers of Dragon Blood Trees increased. We stopped at a place with several trees of different ages. The youngest was over hundred years old and the oldest over several centries. Ahmed told us very interesting things about the Dragon Blood Tree, for example, it’s in fact a herb (like the Banana Tree), its medicinal effects and that a few snail species live only on this tree.

We continued through a dramatic and breathtaking landscape. At 10:30 we reached an area named Diksam, which had been impossible without 4WD and good drivers. The first endemic of the day was a single Socotra Starling followed by Socotra Sparrows. A Socotra Sunbird appeared and the photographers disappeared chasing the bird. A (Socotra) Buzzard took off from a cliff and a minute later Ahmed spotted two Socotra Buntings. Everyone (even Göran), rushed to the buntings and soon all of us had seen these beautiful birds. We enjoyed the birds for nearly half an hour. Ahmed took us to another place not far away and soon discovered a Socotra Warbler and within a minute we saw two more as well as several Socotra Buntings and sunbirds. Everyone was happy, but there was more to come. Several Socotra Golden-winged Grosbeaks appeared, a Peregrine chasing a Roller, Forbes-Watson’s Swifts over our heads and Abyssinian (White-breasted) White-eyes here and there. Then all of us were in need of food and a siesta. Ahmed and Yousuf served a nice picnic buffet, which also attracted a gang of Egyptian Vultures. In late afternoon we drove back to Hadibo and made a stop for seawatching, which produced about thousand Persian Shearwaters.

Endemics and numbers: Socotra Starling (10), Socotra Sunbird (12), Socotra Warbler (15), Socotra Sparrow (numerous), Socotra Golden-winged Grosbeak (3) and Socotra Bunting (25).

That’s all for today.

The Yemen party in shade of a Dragon Blood Tree. Photo: Ahmed Saeed.
Socotra Bunting. Photo: Ulf Ståhle.
Male Socotra Sparrow. Photo: Ulf Ståhle.
Socotra Sunbird: Photo: Ulf Ståhle.
Socotra Warbler. Photo: Ulf Ståhle.
Socotra Golden-winged Grosbeak. Photo: Ulf Ståhle.
'Socotra' Buzzard. Photo: Ulf Ståhle.
Forbes-Watson's Swift. Photo: Ulf Ståhle.
Socotra Starling. Photo: Ulf Ståhle.
Female Somali Starling. Photo: Ulf Ståhle.
From left: Alf, curious Egyptian Vultures and Göran. Photo: Niklas
Hello there! Photo: Ulf Ståhle.