Recording bird diversity in South Sinai

Opwall volunteers in Egypt

Operation Wallacea volunteers getting ready for a survey

Extensive bird surveys have been carried out in South Sinai to map biodiversity across the St Katherine Protectorate. More than 80 species have so far been recorded in the Protectorate which is one of the most Important Bird Areas (IBA) of Egypt.

The Sinai Peninsula is one of the two most biologically diverse areas in Egypt. The peninsula divides into three parts: the northern sand dunes; a central, north-draining limestone plateau; and a set of high igneous mountains in the south. The fauna and flora of South Sinai are concentrated into highly heterogeneous patches, principally in the dry valleys known as wadis where rainfall run-off and snow melt from the mountains is channelled in ephemeral rivers and streams.

Protection

In 1996 the area was given protection as the St Katherine Protectorate. All hunting was banned, although many of the larger charismatic fauna of the region such as the Sinai leopard (Panthera pardus nimr) had already been hunted to extinction, and others such as the Nubian Ibex (Capra nubiana) were already rare.

Two species are new to Egypt: Rock Nuthatch and Rock Sparrow

Few biological records had been collected from the Protectorate on a systematic basis and there was little detailed information on where species occur and if there are differences in the faunas between wadi systems and altitudes.

Collecting data

To improve knowledge, and to assist the rangers of the St Katherine Protectorate with their monitoring programme, Operation Wallacea (UK) and the Nature & Science Foundation (Egypt) conducted bird surveys via distance sampling for the period from 2005 to 2010. The main aim is to map biodiversity across the Protectorate using a mapping grid of approximately 100 km² (10 km x 10 km) covering the whole Protectorate.

White crowned Black Wheatear

White crowned Black Wheatear, a 1st-year bird before it has gained its white crown. Photo by Tim Hurst, 2005

In 2005, 52 bird species were recorded. Two species are new to Egypt: Rock Nuthatch (Sitta neumeyer) and Rock Sparrow (Petronia petronia). There were several other notable species: migrants such as the Arabian Warbler (Sylvia leucomelaena) and Upcher’s warbler (Hippolais languida); and residents such as Verreaux’s Eagle (Aquila verreauxi), Hume’s Tawny Owl (Strix butleri) and Striated Scops Owl (Otus brucei).

In 2007, 33 species were recorded; Rock Dove Columba livia, Laughing Dove Streptopelia senegalensis and Sinai Rosefinch Carpodacus synoicus had the highest abundance and density in the repeated St Katherine surveys.

A number of bird species that formerly appeared to be common in St Katherine Protectorate were detected only rarely or were not detected at all in recent surveys.

Hooded wheatear in Egypt

Hooded wheatear, photo by Salma Zalat

Mourning Wheatear Oenanthe lugens and a number of Hooded Wheatear Oenanathe monacha were observed in a variety of surveys, but had probably been missed in 2006. A pair of Bonelli’s Eagles Hieraaetus fasciatus was observed in Wadi Arbaein for the second year running. Early migrant warblers were noted on stopover in mid-July, such as Olive-tree Warbler Hippolais olivetorum and Orphean Warbler Sylvia hortensis.

Increasing threats

Resident bird populations are threatened with increasing pressure from settlements, expanding tourism, illegal hunting and demands placed on scarce water resources.

St Katherine Protectorate is an important area for both resident and migratory birds, and requires ongoing protection, management and further research.

Written by

  • , Department of Biology, Taibah University, El-Ula Branch, Saudi Arabia and Suez Canal University, Egypt
  • , School of Biology, Nottingham University
  • , Wildlife Consultant, The Environmental Dimension Partnership, Shrewsbury
  • , University of Plymouth
  • , Nature and Science Foundation, Egypt
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