The Ultimate In Birding Tours

Africa (and its islands)

SOCOTRA & ABD AL KURI EXPEDITION

Tuesday 15th October – Tuesday 22nd October 2024

Leader: Hannu Jännes

8 Days Group Size Limit 8

SOCOTRA & ABD AL KURI EXPEDITION: OVERVIEW

Birdquest’s Socotra birding expedition explores little-visited Socotra (or Soqotra) Island and the remote and hardly-ever-visited island of Abd al Kuri, which are part of a small archipelago of four islands lying in the Indian Ocean off the Horn of Africa and some 500 km (300 miles) south of the Arabian Peninsula.

Currently occupied by the United Arab Emirates and so a very safe place to visit, Socotra is geographically and faunistically more African than Arabian.

From the aqua-blue lagoon at Detwah to the snow-white dunes at Ras Momi and from the alpine meadows of the Haggier Mountains and the Diksam Plateau to the desolation of some of the coastal plains contrasting with verdant palm groves and creeks, Socotra is a land of surprising contrasts. Being virtually isolated from the rest of the world for a long period, Socotra remains one of the most fascinating places on earth. Known for decades as ‘The Galapagos of the Indian Ocean’ or ‘Little Madagascar’, Socotra is the world’s tenth richest island for endemic plant species. No fewer than 270 species out of the currently recognized flora of over 850 species occur nowhere else in the world. Many of the plant species are strange-looking remnants of ancient floras which long ago disappeared from the African/Arabian mainland.

Over 150 species of birds have been recorded here, but new species are being found every year. For most birders, however, it is the endemic birds that are the prime attraction. The eleven currently recognized endemic species include Socotra Buzzard, Socotra Scops Owl, Socotra Warbler, Socotra Cisticola, Socotra Starling, Socotra Sunbird, Socotra White-eye, Socotra Sparrow, Abd al Kuri Sparrow, Socotra Golden-winged Grosbeak and Socotra Bunting. The local forms of the Long-billed Pipit and Great Grey Shrike may also represent full species.

Other great birds include Socotra Cormorant, Masked Booby, Persian Shearwater, Jouanin’s Petrel, Swinhoe’s Storm Petrel, Lichtenstein’s Sandgrouse, Nubian Nightjar and Somali Starling.

Socotra is so special that in 2008 it was declared a World Heritage Area.

Birdquest has operated Socotra birding tours since 2002.

In years when both are offered, this expedition can be taken together with Oman & Bahrain.

Accommodation & Road Transport: The hotel in Hadibo is of a reasonable standard. On Abd al Kuri there will be two nights of basic camping. Road transport is by 4x4s and roads are variable in quality.

Walking: The walking effort during our Socotra & Abd al Kuri expedition will mostly be easy, but there are a few moderate walks, some over uneven ground.

Climate: Typically hot (or very hot) and sunny. Rain is unlikely, but it is fairly humid.

Bird Photography: Opportunities during our Socotra & Abd al Kuri expedition are likely to be good.

TOUR HIGHLIGHTS

  • Exploring a remote island most of us thought we would never be able to reach.
  • Seeing all 11 Socotra endemics and a series of other great birds.

OUTLINE ITINERARY

  • Day 1: Fly to Socotra. Late morning expedition start at Socotra.
  • Days 2-7: Exploring Socotra island and visiting remote Abd al Kuri island.
  • Day 8: Midday expedition end on Socotra. Flight to Abu Dhabi.

To see a larger map, click on the square-like ‘enlarge’ icon in the upper right of the map box.

To see (or hide) the ‘map legend’, click on the icon with an arrow in the upper left of the map box.

To change to a satellite view, which is great for seeing the physical terrain (and for seeing really fine details by repetitive use of the + button), click on the square ‘map view’ icon in the lower left corner of the ‘map legend’.

PRICE INFORMATION

Birdquest Inclusions: Our tour prices include surface transportation, accommodations, meals and entrance fees.

We also include all tipping for local guides, drivers and accommodation/restaurant staff.

The flights between Abu Dhabi and Socotra are not included in the expedition cost.

Deposit: 20% of the total tour price. Our office will let you know what deposit amount is due, in order to confirm your booking, following receipt of your online booking form.

TO BOOK THIS TOUR: Click here (you will need the tour dates)



2024: provisional £2960, $3490, €3420, AUD4990. Socotra/Socotra.

Single Supplement: 2024: £260, $310, €300, AUD440.

The single supplement will not apply if you indicate on booking that you prefer to share a room and there is a room-mate of the same sex available.

It is possible there will be no single accommodation on Abd al Kuri island but no single supplement is charged at that location.

This tour is priced in US Dollars. Amounts shown in other currencies are indicative.

Air Travel To & From The Tour: Our in-house IATA ticket agency will be pleased to arrange your air travel on request, or you may arrange this yourself if you prefer.

SOCOTRA EXPEDITION: DETAILED ITINERARY

Socotra Expedition: Day 1  Our expedition starts late this morning at Hadibo airport. Hadibo is the capital of Socotra island and we will spend five nights here in total (the other two will be spent on the remote island of Abd al Kuri)

This afternoon we will begin our exploration of Socotra.

Socotra Expedition: Days 2-7  Socotra is a small archipelago of four islands and islets situated in the Indian Ocean off the Horn of Africa, some 500km south of the Arabian Peninsula. The Yemeni government-in-exile in theory administers Socotra on behalf of the Banu Afrar Mahra Sultanate of Qishn and Socotra, but the current reality is that the island is administered by the United Arab Emirates.

Socotra is approximately 125 kilometres long and 45 kilometres wide and has a population of 45,000 with its own district language and culture (although the inhabitants also speak Arabic). Socotra is more closely linked with Africa than with Arabia, making it a unique place with a hybrid flavour. Socotra is one of the most isolated bits of land on earth of continental landmass origin (rather than volcanic origin) and its separation from Africa is believed to have occurred approximately six million years ago. As a result of this long isolation, many animals and plants that live today on the island are endemic species. Socotra is home to more than 850 species of plants, some 270 of which are endemic to the island, and there are certainly many more plant species that have yet to be discovered. Likewise, at least 80% of Socotra’s reptiles and many insects are endemic, while there is a splendid endemic avifauna.

From Hadibo we will explore the wide range of habitats on this remarkable island. The narrow coastal plains with sandy palm-fringed beaches, lagoons and mudflats, the limestone karst plateau permeated with caves and dotted with the iconic Dragon’s Blood Trees (Dracaena cinnabari), and also the Haggier mountains, which rise over 1700 meters. During our stay, we will visit the spectacular Ayfath National Park, the famous Dixsham Plateau and several coastal birding spots.

Socotra hosts a great selection of endemic bird species. The eleven currently-recognized endemics include Socotra Buzzard, Socotra Scops Owl, the strange Socotra Warbler, the drab Socotra Cisticola, the elegant Socotra Starling, Socotra White-eye, the neatly-patterned Socotra Sunbird, the colourful Socotra Sparrow, Abd al-Kuri Sparrow, the smart Socotra Golden-winged Grosbeak and the rare Socotra Bunting. The local forms of the Long-billed Pipit and Great Grey Shrike may also merit treating as full species (Socotra Pipit and Socotra Shrike respectively).

Other exciting resident or breeding species likely to be found during our visit to Socotra include Socotra Cormorant, Red-billed Tropicbird, Masked Booby, Jouanin’s Petrel, Persian Shearwater, Cream-coloured Courser, Sooty Gull, Lichtenstein’s Sandgrouse, Bruce’s Green Pigeon, Nubian Nightjar (which can be hard to find), Forbes-Watson’s Swift and Somali Starling.

More widespread breeding birds we may well encounter while on the island are Brown Booby, Western Osprey, Egyptian Vulture (which, surprisingly, has the highest density here of anywhere in the world), Common Kestrel, Peregrine Falcon, Black-winged Stilt, Kentish Plover, Bridled Tern, Laughing Dove, White-browed Coucal, Black-crowned Sparrow-Lark, Pale Crag Martin, Brown-necked Raven and Cinnamon-breasted Bunting.

Regular migrants and winter visitors include Garganey, Greater Flamingo, Wilson’s Storm Petrel, Glossy Ibis, Squacco, Indian Pond, Grey and Purple Herons, Western Cattle, Little and Western Reef Egrets, Spotted Crake, Grey (or Black-bellied), Pacific Golden, Little  Ringed and Common Ringed Plovers, Lesser and Greater Sand Plovers, Eurasian Curlew, Eurasian Whimbrel, Bar-tailed Godwit, Ruddy Turnstone, Little and Temminck’s Stints, Curlew, Common, Green and Wood Sandpipers, Common Snipe, Common Greenshank, Greater, Crested, Lesser Crested, Sandwich and Common Terns, European Roller, Barn Swallow, Isabelline, Pied and Desert Wheatears, and Western Yellow and White Wagtails.

Rarer seabird possibilities include Swinhoe’s Storm Petrel, Sooty and White-cheeked Terns, and Lesser Noddy. Red-necked Phalaropes are regular offshore at this season.

With migrant birds passing by at this time of year we are sure to turn up some surprises. Less regular landbird migrants include Common Cuckoo, Eurasian Hoopoe, Eurasian Golden Oriole, Barred Warbler, Lesser Whitethroat, Tree Pipit and Ortolan Bunting.

An exciting feature of our Socotra expedition will be a two nights visit to remote Abd al Kuri island, some 6 hours by boat from Socotra proper. This is the home of the endemic Abd al Kuri Sparrow, a species hardly seen by birders, and there is also a great chance to see seabirds as we travel to and from the island. Landbird migrants often make a landfall on this remote isle, so we could well turn up some interesting species. We have even found a Somali Fiscal here, which was only the 2nd record for the Socotra archipelago. Expect very simple camping on the island. Transport will be by two of the local fishing boats. Seas are typically rather calm.

Socotra Expedition: Day 8  After some final birding, we will reluctantly leave this peaceful island today. Our expedition ends around midday.

SOCOTRA & ABD AL KURI TOUR REPORT 2022

by Mark Beaman

View Report

Other key-importance birding tours by Birdquest in the southeast of the 'Western Palearctic' include