Birding in Egypt

Egypt is situated at the juncture of Africa and Asia. Due to its unique location, it is considered part of North Africa, the Middle East and the Mediterranean Basin and shares much in the way of history, culture and nature with all of these three geographic realms. Considered a developing nation, Egypt is one of the most advanced and politically stable countries on the African continent. With a population of over 65 million, Egypt is the largest country in the Arab world.

The majority are Moslem, but around 15% are Coptic [Christians]. Most of the population is confined to the Nile Valley and Delta, with the deserts having some of the lowest population densities in the world. Cairo is Egypt's capital and one of the world's largest cities with some 17 million inhabitants. A land of contrasts; traditional cultures are juxtaposed with modern communities and technology.

Egypt is best known for its antiquities. The country possesses a wealth of prehistoric, Pharonic, Greek, Roman, Christian and Islamic sites. One can encounter antiquities almost anywhere, but the most visited sites are those in Cairo and Upper Egypt. The Pharonic sites are truly extraordinary and have marvelled travellers since ancient times. However, the country is also blessed with a wide range of habitats each with its own unique plant and animal life. Egypt's natural heritage is as rich as her cultural heritage.

Egypt is blessed with a wide range of habitats each with its own unique plant and animal life. There are substantial marine and coastal resources (Mediterranean, Red Sea); vast desert wilderness (Western Desert, Eastern Desert, the Sinai); expansive wetlands (Nile River, lakes) and fertile agricultural lands. As for birds, over 470 species have been recorded. Two-thirds of these are migrants, only one third are resident and found in Egypt year round.

Resident birds of interest are Shaharo-Sindian species, African species not found elsewhere in the Western Palaearctic and Red Sea birds. As the only land bridge between Europe and Asia, Egypt is situated on major migration routes, particularly for soaring birds. Egyptian wetlands are internationally important wintering grounds for water birds. Some African species, such as Sooty Falcon come north to breed in Egypt during the summer months. Birding in Egypt is good throughout the year; in a two week period between 160 to over 200 species can be expected. Target species and weather tend to be the main considerations in deciding when to come.

The spring and autumn migration are the best times to see the greatest numbers and diversity of birds and the weather tends to be warm. Summer is very hot, but is a good season to see residents and Red Sea and Abu Simbel specialties. During winter the Nile and associated wetlands teem with wintering water birds and the weather is warm to cold depending upon where you are in the country. The average trip to Egypt is 10 days to two weeks; most people combine birding with history.

Fortunately, the major antiquities tend to be good locations for birding. The standard organised itinerary includes Cairo (Pyramids and Sphinx, Egyptian Museum) and African residents (Painted Snipe, Senegal Coucal); Hurghada (sun and beach) and Red Sea birds (White-eyed Gull, White-cheeked Tern); Luxor (Karnak Temple, the tombs of Kings and Queens) and Upper Egypt resident (Nile Valley Sunbird): Aswan (Temple of Philae) and herons (Green-backed Heron); Abu Simbel (Ramsis Temple) and African summer visitors (Yellow-billed Stork, Pink-backed Pelican); and the Sinai (St Katherine Monastery, spectacular coral reefs) and specialties found nowhere in the country (Sinai Rosefinch, Palestine Sunbird).

Egypt has a fledgling nature tourism industry. The largest sector is Red Sea diving, followed by desert safari tours and trekking in the high altitude mountains of South Sinai. In Egypt there is little by way of eco-lodges, camping grounds or other eco-tourism facilities. There are 21 Protected Areas scattered around the country, many of which are good locations to see birds. Egypt offers visitors much more to see and do, such as photography, shopping and relaxing on the beach. There is something for everyone so it is an ideal place for a family vacation or for couples where one individual is a non-birder. With an advanced tourism infrastructure and some of the most affordable prices in the Mediterranean, Egypt is a popular tourist destination. Hotels of all standards and prices can be found.

A wide variety of food is served from oriental specialties to international cuisine, including fast food chains like McDonald's. (As a fairly liberal Moslem country, beer and wine is widely sold). There are all kinds of transportation between major cities (bus, train, plane and ferry). Although car hire is available, driving in Egypt is very challenging so chauffeured driven vehicles and other transport is recommended. One of the nicest ways to see Upper Egypt is by Nile Cruise.

What makes Egypt special are the people. Egyptians are among the world's friendliest people, always wanting to help and chat with foreigners. While Arabic is the national language, in tourist areas a wide variety of languages are spoken. Most know some English, which is commonly used on signs. Egypt is an extremely safe country to travel; there is very little crime.

Security has been tight since the terrorist problems in the 90s. Visitors to Egypt do not have to worry about malaria, yellow-fever and other tropical diseases. The most common maladies are stomach ailments (Pharaoh's revenge). Foreigners are advised to take the necessary precautions regarding what and where they eat and drink. Heat also has been known to take a toll on visitors so one should drink lots of water, wear a hat and apply plenty of sunscreen. Egypt has few local birders or companies geared to birding tourism.

At present there are a few reliable local bird tour operator organizing tours for independent travelers and companies. A number of UK based birding tour companies offer trips to Egypt. While travelling on your own in Egypt is easy and safe, tours tend to be a much more convenient way to travel.

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