Port Said - North Sinai, Egypt and the10th IGM, Crete (21.11. - 30.11.2010).
Risto Juvaste & Maija-Liisa Penttinen
As we all know the preliminary agenda of the 10th IGM was announced by Michalis Dretakis about a year ago after getting strong support for it in Scotland meeting. So in September I made a decision to have a short trip to Nile delta just before it and after the 47th annual Technical University ex-students meeting in Helsinki 20.11. The later was “a must” to me, because I am the only one of ten members, who has participated to all of those. After ordering the flights people tickets all the other foreign gull people started to cancel their participation. Anyway I made the trip to Egypt and Crete with Maija-Liisa as we had planned. Here is a short report of it. I use here only the first name of Egyptian contacts. If someone needs more info from them, please, email to me.
When planning the trip I sent tens of emails to different contacts. After getting a lot of advises, info and new contacts I accepted the offer of Thebes Tours forwarded by Mindy. They offered a 3 day tour Cairo (airport)-Port Said-North Sinai-Cairo, car and driver by US$ 550 without hotels. I got contacts to two English speaking local birders, Watter in Port Said and Bassim in Zaranik protectorate (North Sinai). They were to be our local guides for $100 a day. I suggested to rent a car by $60 per day and to drive myself with the guides, but I was strongly warned by many contacts that it is impossible for foreigners to drive alone there. I was not afraid about the traffic, but either of guides was not possible to come to the whole trip with us. Therefore I accepted the Thebes tour offer. I was also ready to pay the local birders, which had sent to me some preliminary data and info from the target areas. One has to note that real birders are “rarities” there and I really wanted to make contact to them and get quick impression about LBBG situation in Nile Delta. We knew that we were late for LBBG autumn migration, most birds had already passed the Nile Delta on their way to south.
The weather 22.11. – 24.11. was good for tourist, but bad for looking after gulls: mainly sunny, 22 – 25 0C, light wind. So gulls were at sea.
We flied from Helsinki via Athens to Cairo 21.11. and spent the night in Novohotel at airport (nice international hotel, 85€/night by ebooking). At morning (8.00) Abdulla from Thebes tours arranged a surprise to us: a Hiace minibus for 12 passengers was waiting us! It was just the type of car I wanted least, because of windows etc.(pic1 by Watter). I had tried many times to ask which type of car was in the $550 offer, but I did not get any answer. A normal sedan would have saved us a lot and been better in use for us. Look at the rates of that car-company at >http://www.modernlotustravel.com<. The cost of driver in Egypt seems to be very low.
So we drove first to Port Said and met Watter at Ashtoum El Gamil Protected Area (Protectorate/Nature reserve) Headquarter (map1 and pic2 by Watter). This 175 km2 protected area is a NE part of Lake Manzala (710 km2), which is a very important site for migratory birds and fishing. However 80 000 water birds are caught or shot annually on the lake (look at > ). We had a quick look at two nearby sites and saw about 20 LBBGs on sandbanks and water (pic3). Then we drove with Watter to east side of Suez channel (Port Foud) to look the sites there. There are salt water ponds, where gulls get fish when the water evaporates away (pic4). We saw only a few LBBGs there among other gulls. Because of ferries we had no time to visit other places, so we returned to Port Said and took a room in Holiday Hotel (35€ with breakfast).
23.11. in the morning we started to drive to Zaranik Protected Area (Protectorate/Nature reserve), which is a 250 km2 area at the eastern end of Lake Bardawil, North Sinai coast. >http://www.eeaa.gov.eg/protectorates/zaranik/english/main/map-landuse.asp< Watter came with us to Port Foud in order to show the way. Before midday we got to Zaranik (pic5) and met Bassim, who showed us the visitor centre (pic6). I had to pay 3*100Epounds (about 35€) entrance fee. Then we went to look after gulls. The general sight was easy to get from the observation towers (hides), which were about 5m high, made from metal. We saw a few gull flocks, I counted roughly about 100 LBBGs. By walking more near we saw two read ringed LBBGs (red and white), but they moved to shade, before we got more near. Pic7 show some of the gulls there. Far away there was perhaps thousands of smaller gulls. We could not walk to the western edge of sandbank, because we did not have a boat. Bassim told that in the morning there was about 300 LBBGs and he suggested that we should come there early in the morning. So we decided to look after hotel and come early next day. We took the Swiss Inn 5 star international hotel from El Arish, because it was fairly near to Bassim’s home. It cost $170, but also good buffet dinner (for 2) was included. A similar hotel is Coral Beach halfway to Zaranik.
In early morning 24.11. we went to Zaranik, but unfortunately there was many fisherman walking on the sandbank and the gulls were far away. However, there were no boats nearby to get over the narrow inlet to the bank. So we had a cup of tea with coast guards and after 3 hours we gave up and decided to go back to Cairo. The drive took 3.5 hours and we had good time to visit a big shopping centre before going to airport for dinner and letting the car and the driver (Mossed?) free. He was a good man, but did not speak many words English.
It was a pity that because of IGM we had no more time. In one or two days we could have checked also Alexandria Port and perhaps Suez areas, which have different type of gull sites. In Suez there is a good waste water plant, where a lot of gulls seem to stay. Michalis Dretakis has visited Alexandria Port in February and seen good flocks at open places in port. Next time (probably at spring migration peak, end of March) we shall visit these and also Damietta, which is delta area between Alexandria and Port Said. For transport we will rent a car directly and take a driver only for difficult areas. Anyway, you have to have some Egyptian speaking with you otherwise you may have difficulties in police controls. Next time I hope to meet Watter again. He was very helpful. He had prepared to our visit by maps and photos. He sent some pics also from this trip. He had started to study more ecology. We wish all the best to his studies. He has very nice pics in his web-site >http://web.mac.com/tonybadwy/Kunst-art/Watter_Al_Bahry.html<. Next visit to Zaranik must be prepared better, we must have a small boat for our use. Perhaps Bassim can arrange these and permits to whole area. This time he did not do much for guide fee, however he asked money for two days. We were with him only under 10 hours, but I paid him 100€ ($135) hoping to get help in future and LBBG numbers from 2011 spring migration, which he promised to collect.
Many thanks for Mindy, she wrote tens of emails to help me, when I was planning the trip. for a lot of help. I left LBBG T-skirts to driver to deliver via Abdulla to Mindy. I also gave to him some tip (I paid 400€ instead of $550) for all organizing the car offer. Thanks to Susanna and Mary, who gave me valuable info.
The10th IGM, Crete
Thought actually the IGM was cancelled because of too few participants, I think that we had the 10th IGM with Michalis Dretakis. On Friday and Monday morning we went around port and beaches to look the gulls there. Because of nice weather the gulls were out at the sea. I took some pics in the port, one if those is probably Armenian (pic8). And on the Friday evening we (Michalis, Maija-Liisa and I) had the meeting. I showed a Powerpoint from the satellite project with Radofzell/Martin Wikelski. We showed also pics from our trip to Egypt. Michalis showed gulls of Crete. After the meeting we had a nice dinner in a local small restaurant. Thanks for Michalis! On Saturday and Sunday I and Maija-Liisa made a round trip by car to eastern Crete. Because of nice weather the gulls were out at the sea. The best gull place was a water reservoir, where was one ad LBBG and about 600 michaellis? (pic9)
Organizing the 11th IGM (or 10Bth) I think that next spring is too early. The most important are good variety of talks. Michalis had arranged a very nice meeting place in Natural History Museum of Crete and the hotels had low season prices (30-50% discount!), but many were cancelling because of high flight prices or because of uncertain programme/talks…. and at last all the others…what a pity! Many thanks for Michalis, however.
After having a 3 weeks journey it was nice to come to home again. Here was snow, cold, lakes iced and all the gulls away, very relaxing. Look the view from my window (pic10). Note that you can find the gulls on the pc screen. Just before leaving to CEFE-population analysis workshop I got LBBG and HG data from FRC. I put it into Excel, about 500 million cells! Read ringing has gained a lot of data, 90 000 reads/recoveries LBBGs and 135 000 Herring Gulls,altogether 265 000 reads/recoveries since 1913. It is enough to start to analyze!
I and Maija-Liisa wish Good Christmas and Happy New Year to all our friends!
PS Sorry, my web-pages are under construction. All the previous pages were taken away a month ago from my university server, because I retired one and a half year ago. Most of read ringing pages are open in www.juvaste.fi, but links may not work. Note also that I shall close also my old email email@example.com. Do not use it any more.