Shalatayn – birding in the south-east corner of the WP

OhrengeierThe main target of the trip was the Lappet-faced Vulture (Torgos tracheliotus). This uncommon resident breeder of the south-east corner of Egypt can be found sporadically from Gebel Elba down to the Somali border. The best place to see the species is at Bir Shalatayn. Here a dozen of these vultures can be seen feeding on the carcasses of slaughtered camels in and near the town. You  might also see the bird near the coastal highway, feeding on road kills.

After having birded the mangroves at Hamata at dawn (with success for Crab Plover (Dromas ardeol) and Greater Sand-Plover (Charadrius leschenaultii) and without luck for the Goliath Heron (Ardea goliath)), we drove south to Bir Shalatayn (or just Shalatein or Shalateen or Shalatin) on the administrative border with Sudan. Bir Shalatayn is the southern-most spot most visitors can reach along the Egyptian Red Sea without getting a military permit. Calling it a town might be a exaggeration. It is said, that this settlement with – indeed – a strong African flavor was a simple outpost for camel traders just 15 years ago. Although the trip from our hotel of about 200 km is rather bland, we expected that the trip to Bir Shalatayn would add a few birds of interest to our trip list and the WP-list as well. The camel market attracts a good number of Lappet-faced Vultures (Torgos tracheliotus) and Egyptian Vultures (Neophron percnopterus), which feed on camel carcasses that get dumped around the town.

After passing 2 military check-points with intensive discussion of our taxi driver and the post over our documents and stamps for the trip, we were driving into the town. We drove around looking either for any vultures or the camel market, but initially were unsuccessful on both counts. We felt it to be most promising to search for the camel market. It wasn’t long before we were hinted by a Bedouin to say that if we wanted to go around the town we needed to be accompanied by a guide. That was he himself. We were initially skeptical and thought this was probably a way of getting money out of us but as we didn’t have a lot of choice and we could do with finding the camel market we agreed. And really he was able to direct us straight to the camel market. After that experience, it seems easy. The best is to take the first left (paved road) as you go through the police checkpoint into the town, then taking one of the dusty roads right into the town after 1 kilometer and head along this road between some houses for 500 meters or so. Upon entering the market, we were greeted by a lot of interested locals, but more interestingly for us was one Lappet-faced Vulture flying in from the dusty sky. The sight of this large scavenger in the middle of town added really to the wild feel of the place. Unfortunately we were not successful to spot the site, where the vulture landed. Thus, we made our way through at least 3 suburbs of what might become really a city. There is a lot of construction on the way and finally – with the advice to look for a place with some water on the surface – we spotted a huge vulture sitting on the barren ground. In total 3 Lappet-faced Vultures, 5 Egyptian Vultures  and at least 8 Brown-necked Ravens (Corvus ruficollis) were gathering on a broken water pipe with some acacia bushes. Brown-necked Ravens acted quite robust to the Egyptian Vultures but the Lappet-faced Vultures were more concerned of the car with a lens coming out of one window. Some excellent shots of Lappet-faced Vultures were the results. Happy with the day, we departed the area and made it back to Gorgonia Beach Resort, Marsa Alam.

There are some prerequisites for this trip. Some people report heavy problems in getting further south but Hamata. Fortunately we did not have such a hard time getting through the road blocks to Bir Shalatein. It would have been impossible for us to pass the military checkpoint south of Wadi Lahami if we hadn’t gotten help from our taxi driver, who arranged for the necessary permits already in Marsa Alam. Otherwise, to clear the affair on the site, it will be difficult. The young, armed guards normally do not understand any English and simply would not let you through. It is said, that a strategy regularly used to get through the checkpoint is, to say that you need to go to Bir Shalatayn to buy petrol, which often works since it was in fact the closest petrol station from the checkpoint. In the meantime, a petrol station is located in Marsa Hemira as well. Marsa Hemira is more or less in the middle between Bir Shalatayn and Berenice.

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