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YEMEN & SOCOTRA

Wednesday 16th January - Wednesday 30th January 2008

János Oláh

After a long gap Birdquest returned again to this amazing country! Our last tour was in 2001, and following the political troubles that have blighted much of the Middle East its superb endemics and restricted range species were out of reach for a while. To add to the thrill of a visit to this seldom explored corner of the Middle-East, we made the tour even more comprehensive by including the magical island of Socotra. The exciting 2008 tour was highly successful with 242 species recorded and most importantly we saw all the of the possible endemics and near endemics of the region! Birding was complemented by Yemen’s striking scenery and culture plus the ever-hospitable Yemenis as our hosts.

This new itinerary was based around Sana’a, Al Mahweet and Hodeidah on the mainland, plus for the first time for Birdquest, we also visited the magnificent endemic-rich Socotra island too. Highlights around Sana’a and the Kawkaban escarpment were highland specialities such as Philby’s and Arabian Partridges, Blanford’s Lark, Arabian and Yemen Serins, Arabian Accentor and Yemen Thrush. The absolutely superb encounter with the enigmatic Hume’s Owl was also a great experience for everyone! The well vegetated wadi at Al Ahjur and the bushy areas around Al Mahweet gave us the rarely seen Olive Pigeon, the handsome Arabian Woodpecker, Yemen Warbler, Bush Petronia, the superb Arabian Golden-winged Grosbeak and some wintering Cinereous Buntings. After descending to the lowlands into the Tihamah we had a whole selection of good birds like Black-headed Heron, Abdim’s Stork, Tawny Eagle, Crab Plover, White-eyed Gull, Nubian Nightjar and Arabian Golden Sparrow. Returning to Sana’a we flew on to Socotra where we managed to see all the present island endemics including Socotra Warbler, Socotra Cisticola, Socotra Starling, Socotra Sunbird, Socotra Sparrow and great views of the rare Socotra Bunting. Several future splits ‘waiting in the wings’ such as Socotra Buzzard, Socotra Scops Owl, Socotra Pipit and Socotra Golden-winged Grosbeak also performed superbly, and we even saw some seabirds such as Persian and Streaked Shearwaters and Jouanin’s Petrel. Our last port of call was the marsh at Aden, where it was good to see several Sacred Ibis, hundreds of Lesser Flamingos and Abdim’s Storks, Great Black-headed Gulls, and many, many shorebirds including the elegant White-tailed Plover.

All in all we had found all the endemic birds of this corner of Arabia, and enjoyed an exciting tour through stunning landscapes and most importantly free from any hassle! Yemen is a great place to visit and we certainly all had some fantastic and unforgettable memories over this fortnight.