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Yemen-Socotra birding adventure.


Summary and recommendation: 12 days birding to see the most decisive endemics of Yemen and Socotra Island, one of the least known and incredibly beautiful island of the World.


 
Destination country: Yemen. Start and finish in Saana.

Next schedule: TBA

Duration: 12 days.

Photos:
To enjoy some previous tour photos, please click here!

Extension
: to Djibouti and Somaliland is now under way! You also can join to our southern egyptian pelagic trip and to the remote Gebel Elba as well. To read Steve's Gebel Elba report, please click here! To enjoy some pelagic trip' photos please click here and here!

Price: 2190 Euro/person in DBL-room & 90 Euro/person SGL-Supplement. Price includes: airport transfer, domestic flight, accommodations and meals (lunch is typically picnic!), 2 L of drinking water, vehicle hire with fuel and driver guide, park entrance fees and ranger guides. The price exclude: bank transfer loss, international flight, visa, sleeping bags, tips, drinks, personal travel insurance and any other activities of personal request e.g. laundry, toalet fees, phone calls, etc.

Accommodation: Three-star hotels with all rooms en suite.

Numbers: Min. 6, max. 12 people with 2 guides.

Transport: Minivans.

Description: "...Join us to the remote island of Socotra! Despite the fact that zoogeographical is not a part of the Western Palearctic, the Yemen and Socotra Island is included in the OSME region. The city of Sana'a and Socotra Island, has been designated as a part of the World Heritage. Inhabited for more than 2,500 years Sana`a is the capital of what the ancient roman called “Arabia Felix”, being named after the biblical Queen Shaba. At least 13 species of birds are endemic to southwestern Arabia, and further 13 or so, are endemic to Socotra Island. Due to the new taxonomic approaches, almost yearly new taxons are described in Socotra as new full species. Socotra Island held a rich diversity of plants and animals, a third of which is found nowhere else in the world. Most of the animals' lack of fear of humans, as the persecution here is still close to zero. This outstanding expedition, offers relaxation in the middle of the nature, a high percentage of endemic plants and animals, beautiful landscapes and plenty of history..."

Top birds: Egyptian Vulture, Bonelli Eagle, Verreaux Eagle, Lammergeier, Arabian Woodpecker, White-eyed Gull, Sooty Gull, Saunder`s Tern, Crab Plover, Hume`s Tawny Owl, Northen Bald Ibis (?), Black Bush Robin, Arabian Partridge, Philby`s Partridge, Blanford`s Lark, White-spectacled Bulbul, Nubian Nightjar, Yemen Trush, Yemen Warbler, Arabian Waxbill, Arabian Serin, Yemen Linnet, Arabian Golden-winged Grosbeak and the endemic or rare birds of Socotra: Socotra Scops Owl, Jouanin`s Petrel, Socotra Buzzard, Socotra Pipit , Socotra White-eye, Socotra Golden-winged Grosbeak, Socotra Cormorant, Socotra Sparrow, Socotra Starling (Socotra Cisticola, Socotra Sunbird, Socotra Warbler, Socotra Chestnut –winged Starling and the elusive Socotra Bunting.



Itinerary:

Day 1:
Arrival and gathering in the International Airport of Sana’a, the capital of Yemen. Transferred to our hotel, Arabia Felix, located in the heart of the Old City. The 300-year old building reflects the traditional Yemeni architecture and as the whole Old City is designated as a world heritage site. After we occupied our rooms, the one which dares to browse the local bazaar will take a walk along the streets of the Old City leaded by the European and the Yemeni guide. Among the rare spices, beautiful silver wares anytime we can have a chance to find unique items which can no more be find in our fast globalizing world. Early dinner and a photo session of the Old City from the top of our hotel will end of the first day, leaving us to rest for the early departure to Mahweet.

Day 2: Drive via Kawkaban to Mahweet, birding on the way, focusing on the specialities of the area. Here we should see Arabian and Philby's Partridges, Dusky Turtle Dove, Little Rock Thrush, Shining and Palestine Sunbird, Abyssinian White-eye, Fan-tailed Raven, Tristram’s Starling, Striolated (Mountain) Bunting, Arabian Waxbill, Arabian Serin, Yemen Linnet, Arabian Golden-winged Grosbeak (which has an endemic relative in Socotra Island) , Little Swift, Desert Lark, White-spectacled Bulbul and Brown-necked Raven.

Day 3:
Birdwatching in Mahweet and surrounding. Here we should find the endemic Arabian Woodpecker. This bird is as precious for a birder as a White Raven for an Indian Medicine Man. In the desertic regions of Arabian peninsula is close to a miracle that a Woodpecker still survive in the region. On the way, we`ll complete our targeted birds, which we eventually fail to find on the previous day, completing it with Arabian Partridge, Yemen Thrush, Yemen Warbler and Yemen Serin, as well as other species of interest including Long-billed Pipit, Mourning Wheatear, and Scrub and Brown Woodland Warblers. If we don`t forget to scan the sky, our chances are increasing with almost 100% to see some raptors, like Barbary Falcon, Lammergeier and Bonelli’s Eagle. Scouting the wadis int he surrounding we`ll look for Arabian Warbler, African Paradise Flycatcher, Southern Grey and Masked Shrikes, Black-crowned Tchagra (or Black-headed Bush Shrike) and Black Scrub Robin. Thanks to the lush vegetation of this wadis, we may ecounter species like Hammerkop, Egyptian Vulture, Tawny, Steppe and Imperial Eagles, Long-legged Buzzard, Red-eyed Dove, Abyssinian Roller, African Grey Hornbill, Blackstart, Bush Petronia, Rüppell’s Weaver and Cinnamon-breasted Bunting. Drive to Manakha.

Day 4: Drive to Taiz sewage farms, the traditional wintering place of the last Northen Bald Ibises (Geronticus eremita). Here a birder feel what an explorer can feel, when he rediscover a long last species. Anyhow, the Bald Ibises from the tiny Syrian population, and who knows-from a remote unknown population of the Middle East, have a chance to be ecountered here. Our main target anyhow it will be the Arabian Accentor, which is quite common int he surroundings. Yemen Warbler and Yemen Thrush can be found here as well. We`ll keep an eye open along the cultivated fields where the very localised Zebra Waxbill can be found.

Day 5:
Via Wadi Aldahab to Lake Aden. At the marshes of the lake Aden we may ecounter Sandpiper, Sooty, White-eyed and Heuglin’s Gulls, Greater Crested, Lesser Crested and Saunders’s Terns, and African Palm Swift. We will also keep a lookout for Brown Boobies passing offshore. Other likely species include Little Grebe, Grey Heron, Little Egret, Eurasian Spoonbill, Greater Flamingo, Eurasian Wigeon, Northern Pintail, Garganey, Northern Shoveler, Common Moorhen, Eurasian Coot, Western Marsh Harrier, Eurasian Oystercatcher, Black-winged Stilt, Pied Avocet, Collared Pratincole, Common Ringed, Little Ringed, Kentish and Grey (or Black-bellied) Plovers, Spur-winged Lapwing, Sanderling, Little and Temminck’s Stints, Dunlin, Ruff, Black-tailed and Bar-tailed Godwits, Eurasian Whimbrel, Eurasian Curlew, Common Redshank, Common Greenshank, Marsh, Green, Wood and Common Sandpipers, Ruddy Turnstone, Slender-billed and Caspian Gulls, and Gull-billed, Caspian, Sandwich, White-winged Tern and Whiskered Terns. Possible species: Western Cattle Egret, White Stork, Short-toed Eagle, Pallid and Montagu’s Harriers, Dark Chanting Goshawk, Eurasian Sparrowhawk, Common Buzzard, Stone-curlew (or Eurasian Thick-knee), Chestnut-bellied Sandgrouse, African Collared and Namaqua Doves, White-browed Coucal, Little Green Bee-eater, Eurasian Hoopoe, Singing Bush Lark, Black-crowned Sparrow-Lark, Greater Hoopoe, Greater Short-toed and Crested Larks, Barn Swallow, Tawny and Tree Pipits, Sykes’s, Grey-headed and White Wagtails, Isabelline and Pied Wheatears, Common Stonechat, Zitting Cisticola (or Fan-tailed Warbler), Graceful Prinia, Olivaceous, Upcher’s and Ménétries’s Warblers, Lesser Whitethroat, Spotted Flycatcher, Arabian Babbler, Nile Valley Sunbird, Isabelline and Red-backed Shrikes, Steppe Grey Shrike (split from Southern Grey), House Crow, the near-endemic Arabian Golden Sparrow and African Silverbill. If we are fortunate, we will encounter Helmeted Guineafowl, Spotted Thick-knee and Nubian Nightjar.

Day 6: Early wake up call, and after as many coffees until we are conscious, we are leaving to the airport to catch a domestic flight to the island of Socotra. Leaving the mainland, we will fly flying high above the amazing Indian Ocean. After landing at the airport in Hadibu (capital of Socotra), we check-in Taj Aljazeerah Hotel where finally well have a late breakfast and again as much coffee as we need it. Following breakfast well drive with our Toyota Landcruisers to finally explore the island! The place is famous for the tame Egyptian Vultures in their thousands, like the ones of Bir Shalatien in SE Egypt. All along the coastline we`ll constantly explore places, gorges, small wadis and gulfs. Sea birds, rare desert dwelling plants, jewelry looking spiders and endemic insects will be our targets, photo documenting all what we consider that worth our attention. And that is definitely a lot! Our next stop will be Eriosh, an interesting archeological site, with an ancient harbor and inscriptions. From Eriosh, we continue our trip to the science-fiction like Ayhaft Valley. The monsoon showers permit lush vegetation in this protected valley. There is a beautiful seasonal river here and a natural reservoir where if is allowed, we can have a refreshing swim. The ones which are interested in the fresh water species may find here a paradise of endemic creatures, from fishes to arthropods and plants. As most of the Socotran feathered endemism can be found here, we will spend here as much as we can, heaving even the lunch served here as a picnic. Late afternoon we will return to our hotel for a refreshing drink and dinner: Taj Aljazeera Hotel.

Day 7:
Homhil is about a 90 minutes drive from Hadibu. We will leave our cars at the lower plain. Lunch will be served by our hosts as a picnic, in the shelter of the Protected Area. The protectorate offers a plenty of splendid landscapes and wildlife, which is more than enough to keep us in motion for the rest of the day. The much sought ancient incense source, the Frankincense tree is at home in this amazing protectorate. Some of the endemic birds will be find here: Somali Starling, Egyptian Vulture, Socotra Sparrow and the local endemic Buzzard. We will spend the night in our sleeping bags under the sparkling sky, or under the shelter of the protectorate. Accommodation: our own tents.

Day 8: Breakfast will be served in our shelter as soon as the early awakens will return from their early morning birding. If we feel so, we can explore a 10 km long cave full of amazing stalactites and stalagmites as beautiful as the ones in the Hungarian Aggtelek Cave or the huge cave of the Winds in Eastern Romania. However the Hoq Cave, as the Socotran cave is called, has his own particular beauty which does not have to be missed, even if it is a long hiking trip to the entrance of the cave. A well deserved lunch will be served after the visit to the cave. Returning to our cars, we continue to Erher. Erher has one of the most beautiful beaches on the island. Its sand dunes are covered by low shrubs and are hide a high number or creatures, from insects to mammals. A creek which leads to the mountain to the sea is a favorite bathing site for Egyptian Vultures. The next stop will be a Marine Reserve where none of a serious diver or snorkeler cannot miss the opportunity to have a bath in this part of the Indian Ocean with an amazing high diversity of sea creatures. This marine reserve ”Di Hamri” will be the overnight place of the group. Diner will be served on the beach, which any millionaire would envy it!

Day 9: Breakfast will be as early as we agree on the previous night, before we face the rugged mountainous interior of the Island, Dixem Plateau. Some of the most spectacular limestone landscape features the interior of the island. A walk along the edge of an imense gorge we have a chance to admire and photograph the stands of Dragon's Blood Trees and the extensive limestone pavement. From the Dragon Blood tree (Dracaena cinnabari) is extracted a resin, called ’dragon blood’ which has been used for dyeing since ancient times. Bedouin herdsmen are moving from one site to another with their herds. We will choose the best place for lunch here in the middle of the Socotran wilderness, in he heart of the Dragon Blood tree forest. Afternoon will be spent in Daharo Canyon. Here the Bruce's Green Pigeons and Laughing Doves are in their element for the afternoon siesta.Again the ones which have their swimming dress can swim in the wadi's deep pool and then continue to explore the remote places of the island. Socotra has been baptized as 'Island of Mists’ due to the clouds which regularly shroud from time to time the huge Haggier peaks.We can decide here to take a longer walk or to return by car to the already familiar Taj Aljazeera hotel. After such a hard day, dinner will appear better than anytime!

Day 10: After an early breakfast, we will go bird watching to the coastal lagoons of Hadibu. Gulls, terns and who know, even the nowadays extensively searched Slender-billed Curlew can be find here, as we know that Yemen is one of it`s wintering grounds. Cley Bird Club in North Norfolk, UK, offer a total of $1,000 for any photograph of a live Slender-billed Curlew taken in the Middle East! Birdlife International is making efforts to relocate this extremely rare bird, trough the Preventing Extinction Programe. As soon as we got the picture, we`ll drive to the city of Qalansyia to celebrate! It takes about 2 hours to reach our destination. On the way of course we`ll have a stop to take some pictures. Lunch in Qalanesia. The Detwah Lagoon, near the city is truly stunning. From the nearby hills, a magnificent view opens on the turquoise blue water of the lagoon and the fine white sand of the shore. In the shallow water of the huge lagoon, local people used to catch rays by spear. We will walk in the shore looking for the rays and bath in the warm water of the lagoon. From here we take boats and continue our exploration further west. Here is the place where every amateur naturalist can find whatever he dreamed about. Dolphins, endemic sea birds, inc. Jounanin's Petrel, overwhelming fish diversity, mangrove stands with its colorful mangrove dwelling crabs.This will be our last night spent in the middle of the nature, in our tents, so we should use this opportunity to for a last gathering around a honest camp fire where we serve the dinner in the warm and friendly atmosphere of the Bedouin dinners.

Day 11: After a comfortable breakfast, we slowly begin to drive back to Hadibou. It doesn’t mean that we are driving like a bullet to the crowded city, rather driving and photographing places which we like. No not be called at return home „bird freaks”, we shall have a dip in history. A XVI-th century Portuguese fort well worth a visit. The King Manuel I of Portugal was the first known European to invade Socotra in order to have a base at the entrance of the Red Sea. On the way we also stop for Socotra Cisticola. Lunch will be served at Taj Aljazeera Hotel. As the afternoon wears off and the temperature begins to drop, a pleasant visit will be made to the Socotra Botanical Garden and Nursery. For a conservationist is like fresh breeze to see that here environmental concerned individuals are working to revive the biodiversity of the island. Seeds of the endemic plants from the mountains and grow them in the nursery in order to replenish the natural population. In the evening we will have a delicious farewell dinner and for those who choose the Egyptian Pelagic Bird tour extension we`ll discuss the further details. After dinner we do a short driveout to enjoy the pool of Lichtenstein's Sandgrouses, sometimes up to 2000 birds can turn around, depend on rainfall.

Day 12: Flying back to Saana, departure day. Further programs aroun Saana is available.
   



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