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Socotra, Yemen Birding Report
12-20 January 2006
By Dave Sargeant
Socotra has long been near the top of the list of places I would most like to visit. A visit had been planned during an earlier trip to Yemen in 1998. However, just prior to our arrival then, the Yemeni military closed access to Socotra due to a dispute with Somalia, the country to which Socotra is geographically closest.
Long isolated from the African mainland, Socotra has developed a unique set of flora and fauna that in some ways gives the island the feel of a "mini-Madagascar". The famous Dragon's Blood Trees Dracaena cannibari, Cucumber Trees Dendrosicyos socotrana and Desert Roses Adenium obesum on rocky, mountainous hillsides provide a scenic backdrop to some of the more interesting and different birding in the Middle East.
With only six to eight endemics, depending on taxonomic view, Socotra is not a particularly arduous birding locality, especially as the number of resident species is also low. Due to limited flight connections with the mainland, most visiting birders will stay for one week -- ample time to explore the island fully, as well as to look for interesting migrants. The general ambiance, scenery and pace of life make for a relaxing trip.
A few years ago Socotra was well off the beaten path of both general tourists and birders. Recently though, led by development projects from the UN, as well as programmes from the Yemen government, changes and development of the infrastructure have lead to a rapid increase in interest of tourism to Socotra. In 2005 a total of 3,000 tourists visited, with this number expected to increase substantially in 2006. Eco-tourism is still only a minor portion of this total. The majority of visitors, a large percentage from Italy, come for the beaches and winter sun, with a few for snorkelling and diving. Socotra catches the strong winds from the Indian Ocean monsoon, which as a result attracts wind surfers during the summer months.
It should be noted that the much maligned security issues with Yemen do not apply well to Socotra -- far removed from the Yemen mainland. Should the generally-perceived insecurity situation in Yemen improve it could provide a significant boost to tourists visiting Socotra.
Due to the current complete lack of any birding trip reports, or readily available information on birding for Socotra, much effort was spent drawing sketch maps and gathering site information in the field, on which to base this report. A GPS was used extensively. As the speedometer and odometer were generally not working in the vehicles we used, driving distances were measured using the GPS. Sketch maps contain driving distances as well as GPS waypoints, the coordinates of which appear in a table at the end.
Throughout the duration of this trip I travelled with my friends Hanne and Jens Eriksen, who had planned a bird photography trip at the same time. Indeed, in addition to the birds, Socotra is very photogenic, with some stunning landscapes and interesting people, many of whom are keen for you to take their photograph.
For further information contact Dave Sargeant: akalat [at] gmail.com
Getting there - Flights and Visas
With few exceptions, visitors to Yemen require a visa. Theoretically some European nationalities can obtain a visa on arrival, and certainly a small kiosk was labelled as such in the arrivals halls. However, I would not recommend this without contacting a local Yemen embassy before travel. Obtaining my visa from the embassy in Muscat was quick and simple, though quite expensive at $60. A 30-day visa was issued, that was valid for travel to Yemen within the next month only.
The international airport at Sana'a has absolutely nothing to recommend it, and can only be described as a shambles. Maintenance appears non-existent, check-in desks have no indication of which flight they are serving, the address system is unintelligible, the flight announcement screens are only in Arabic (and did not even list the current day's flight when I was there!), and the toilets are best avoided unless absolutely necessary. Note Yemenia's reputation for delayed flights. Airport security was lax.
Hadibu, the main town on Socotra, situated on the north coast, is currently connected to the mainland via weekly flights from the capital Sana'a (via Mukalla) on Fridays, or Aden on Mondays. For those with limited time, it might be possible to limit a stay on Socotra to three or four days by flying an open jaw in/out from Sana'a and back via Aden. The full cost of the domestic flight to/from Sana'a is around $300-350. However, by booking through a local agent in Sana'a, the price should be well under $300. It is also rumoured, though I could not confirm it, that those flying to Sana'a on Yemenia, the national carrier of Yemen, can obtain the domestic ticket included within the price of their international flight. Airport departure taxes are included in the prices of tickets, so none was payable at either Sana'a or Hadibu.
It is worth mentioning that when reconfirming both my domestic and international flights, the Yemenia office were not interested in the ticket, but rather the booking slip (the small paper printout usually stapled to the inside of the ticket folder.) I found it hard to think of any logical reason for this.
During my visit the exchange rate was approximately US$1 = 200 Yemen Riyals (YR). I saw neither money changers nor banks at the airports. However, money exchange is easy to find in Sana'a town. As we changed money in Sana'a I did not note any exchanges in Hadibu, though asking around will invariably find someone willing to change dollars. A credit card was not used, and I would not recommend relying on one, other than for purchasing flight tickets.
Health, Safety and Hassles
Much has been published about the on-going security, or rather lack of it, situation in Yemen. Government travel advisories are understandably cautious about recommending travel into, and around Yemen. At the time of writing certain areas of northern Yemen are considered off-limits. Socotra is currently deemed safe to visit, and certainly once on the island it is hard to imagine any security issues. Our driver/guide had no qualms about leaving the vehicle unlocked when venturing into the field.
Foreigners are still a novelty on Socotra, especially to children, who occasionally become irritating due to their persistence in simply following visitors around. Your driver comes in handy on these occasions for controlling this nuisance. Outright begging was not common, though we were asked for sweets, and pens, on occasion.
Hygiene standards vary, with Yemen somewhere near the bottom of the pile -– a health-inspectors nightmare come true. However, we suffered no ill-effects from eating in local restaurants throughout, reducing the risk by avoiding obviously suspect foods such as salads. In view of the limited amount of medical remedies and doctors, travellers would be advised to take standard precautions and bring basic treatments for diarrhoea.
Insects were not bothersome during the day, but mosquitoes were around the hotel and restaurant in the evenings. Socotra is considered a malaria risk zone.
The only realistic option for visiting birders is to rent a 4x4 vehicle with driver. Although these can easily be found simply by asking at any hotel, the preferred option, by far, is to arrange a vehicle and driver in advance through a recognised tour agent in Yemen. This will also ensure that the driver has some understanding of English -– an important consideration when travelling in Yemen. A driver, together with his invariably "well-used" Toyota Landcruiser should cost something in the region of $50/day, maybe less for an extended trip. This cost would include fuel, available seemingly only from the rundown station on the intersection with the airport road, where the attendant starts the generator for each customer.
All travel arrangements were made through Arabian Eco-tours in Sana'a, a relatively new company managed by Yousuf Mohageb. They handled all accommodation bookings and payments, vehicles, drivers, airport collects/drops and domestic flights, all of which worked well logistically. Yousuf himself has a growing interest in birding, and knows all the key environmental and conservation groups and staff in Yemen.
Address: Yousuf Mohageb, Director, Arabian Eco-tours, P.O. Box 5420, Sana'a, Yemen. Telephone: +967 1 821-120. Fax: +967 1 326-134. Mobile: +967 7777-0024. Email: aet [at] y.net.ye
Other travel agents in Yemen can readily be found with an Internet search.
Other Miscellaneous Information
I saw no public telephone on Socotra, although I would have thought one or two must be available in Hadibu. The hotel had a fixed line phone. Mobile phones were fairly common and worked in some areas away from town. For the visitor the best option for making international calls is to purchase pre-paid calling cards that can then be used from a hotel or other public or private facility. Try to purchase the cards in Sana'a as we were warned that cards might not be available on Socotra. A 1,100 YR pre-paid card provided five minutes talk time to European destinations. Not surprisingly, Internet facilities are not yet found on Socotra.
The electrical supply is nominally 220V, 50 Hz. Plugs varied, with both the round two-pin type commonly used throughout Europe, as well as the three pin type found in the UK. Power seemed available only during the hours of darkness.
During my visit the sunrise and sunset times were approximately 05h50 and 17h20 respectively. Socotra uses the same time zone as mainland Yemen which is GMT+3.
The few hotels on Socotra are all found within Hadibu town. Prices will no doubt be similar as facilities offered are similar -- basic but adequate. We stayed at the Taj Socotra Hotel on the western outskirts of town, which was quiet and clean with a restaurant adjacent. The hotel had its own generator during the day. Facilities included a fridge, satellite TV, ceiling fan, cold water shower and, surprisingly an A/C unit, although the later was not used as the fan sufficed.
For those wanting to explore for more than a day-trip from Hadibu, it will be necessary to camp, which we did one night on the west coast. Additionally we planned to camp near Quryah on the north coast, but heavy rain forced our retreat to Hadibu. Weather permitting, it would also have been interesting to camp on the Dixem plateau.
Due to its remote location, arid habitat and lack of wealth, Socotra understandably offers a rather limited cuisine. Local restaurants serve a plain, simple fare centred on fish, chicken, goat, rice and potatoes. Fresh fish should be available daily and is highly recommended. All meals we ate were piping hot and straight from the oven or pan, including flat Arabic bread that seemed to be served with every meal.
Mostly we ate lunch in the field, buying oranges, bananas, tomatoes, cucumber and processed cheese from town, supplemented with extra bread ordered at breakfast. The few shops in Hadibu stock basic commodities including bottled water, soft drinks, tinned fish, soap, etc. The lack of power during daytime means that fresh food requiring refrigeration is unavailable. Away from Hadibu, supplies were virtually non-existent. To break the monotony, it's a good idea to bring along a few supplies from overseas or Sana'a. We supplemented our diet with muesli, nuts, chocolate, potato chips and other non-essentials.
Vegetables, as with most things on Socotra, are flown or shipped in, and consequently become relatively expensive. In the past, the only commercially grown crop has been dates. However, a development program has now started to help locals start small garden farms, and we certainly encountered a few small lots around Hadibu.
Early breakfasts did not present a problem. People rise early on Socotra, with restaurants serving breakfast from 05h30 onward.
Being a Moslem country, alcoholic beverages are not freely available in Yemen, other than in major hotels in Sana'a. Alcohol can however be brought into the country via duty-free from outside. Non-alcoholic beer was available in the restaurant at our hotel on Socotra.
English is not widely spoken in Yemen, and in rural areas no one will speak any. For this reason, unless you speak Arabic, a local driver with some knowledge of English will be invaluable to easing travels.
The scenery is dominated by mountains and a limestone, highland plateau of the interior. The most impressive peaks are the granite formations of the Haggiers, located on the eastern half of the island, overlooking Hadibu, with their highest peak at 1,630 metres. An impressive escarpment rising over 500 metres backs the arid southern Nowged Plain and runs along most of the southern side of the island. Massive sea cliffs are found along the inaccessible western edge of the island.
A ready assumption might be that weather on Socotra is predominantly hot and dry. Certainly it is hot, but the island is strongly affected by the Indian Ocean monsoon with stiff south-westerly winds during June, July and August. In the past, prior to an air connection with the mainland, these winds and associated heavy seas cut Socotra off for three months a year. The winds abate during September and finish by the beginning of October. The rains fall mainly during November and December, with a yearly average of 160 mm, although this is highly variable from year to year. January to March offers the best weather with cool temperatures and little or no rain. Indeed the first five days of our trip in January were perfect, although the last two days brought unseasonable, heavy rain to the northern coast and central mountains. The months of April and May are hot with daytime temperatures well above 40˚C.
From a birder's perspective, the optimal time to visit would be between January and March. However two important specialities, Jouanin's Petrel and Forbes-Watson's Swift, are not generally locatable at that time. For these species a visit in October or November is advisable, bearing in mind the weather.
Porter, R.F., Christensen, S. and Schiermacker-Hansen, P. (1996). A Field Guide to the Birds of the Middle East. Currently the only guide that comprehensively covers Socotra.
Additionally, a bi-lingual (English and Arabic) simple educational book on the Birds and Plants of Socotra (20 species of each illustrated in colour) has been prepared for the island's conservation education programme. This can also be obtained on Socotra at the Biodiversity Project Centre in Hadibu or from BirdLife International in Cambridge, UK. The price is around £6.00.
Southern Yemen and Socotra. Sandgrouse Volume 17. (1996). Ornithological Society of the Middle East, UK.
Jennings, M. (2001). Phoenix 18. ABBA Survey 28: Socotra, December 2000. National Commission for Wildlife Conservation and Development, Saudi Arabia.
Collar, N.J (editor) (2000). Threatened Birds of the World. BirdLife International & Lynx Ediciones.
Clements, J.F. (2000). Birds of the World: A checklist. Ibis Publishing Co.
Lonely Planet Guide. Yemen. Useful for pre-trip planning, but unused on Socotra as we had information from other sources.
No other birding trip reports for Socotra exist on the World Wide Web. A potentially useful starting point is the OSME website, which includes an article by Richard Porter entitled Visiting Socotra.
No commercial sound recordings are available specifically covering the birds of Socotra, and none were taken, other than recordings of Nubian Nightjar which we failed to find. Most species on Socotra are readily found, including the owl, which is common. We did take sound recording equipment of which we made limited use.
I would most like to thank my travel companions, Hanne and Jens Eriksen, for helping to make the week on Socotra so memorable, and being such great travel companions. Additionally, I would thank Mike Jennings, Richard Porter and Simon Aspinall, who provided information to assist with trip planning. Finally, also to Ahmed Saeed who accompanied us in the field, taking care of logistics and whose company we greatly enjoyed.
If the sole aim would be seeing the Socotra endemic species, it would be necessary to visit only two or three sites. However, with a week, most birders should be able to explore all the better birding sites on the island and in doing so contribute to the understanding of the distribution of Socotra's birds, about which much is still to be discovered. On a one-week trip it is still likely that good coverage will turn up one or two new species for the island's list. Those with limited time should concentrate on Wadi Ayhaft National Park, Deham and Dixem.
The paving of roads on Socotra has accelerated recently. This has made access, especially to the central highlands, much easier. Other roads are being cut and paved, and we passed several road construction camps and witnessed extensive new road cuttings and culvert construction gangs. One of the strangest roads is the dual carriageway ring road around Hadibu, which itself still has dirt streets. Much change will be evident over the coming years.
Hadibu lies on a small plain bounded to the north by sea, and mountains on the remaining sides. The town itself has only a small, heavily-polluted, palm-lined khor (coastal lagoon usually connected to the sea) that attracts a few roosting gulls and terns near the beach. This area is also the last stand of the few remaining House Crows on Socotra, which are thankfully being slowly but surely eradicated.
Wadi Dihazafaq and Qrahan Plain
Wadi Dihazafaq (sometimes referred to as Wadi Denegen), the closest well-vegetated wadi to Hadibu, contains the commoner and more widespread endemics. From the Hadibu bypass take the track (waypoint 010) 500 metres after the large wadi crossing and follow it through palm plantations in a south-easterly direction for around 6.4 km. As you approach, from some distance, you see the wadi entrance before you. Several tracks branch off, but the scale of the wadi makes finding it easy. The track terminates by a house, conveniently beneath a large shady tree, just after the wadi entrance, where you can park and continue on foot (waypoint 020). Socotra Sunbird and Socotra Sparrow are common in this area, and Golden-winged Grosbeak and Socotra Starling are both present, though the later is well-outnumbered by the ubiquitous Somali Starling.
We spent only a couple of hours here and walked no more than a kilometre up the wadi. However, it would be possible to continue for several kilometres, and potentially Socotra Warbler should occur. The wadi, as well as the surrounding open areas, holds Nubian Nightjar, though we tried on several occasions and failed. Between the palms of Wadi Sirhin and Wadi Dihazafaq the track passes mainly through Croton Croton socotranus scrub. However, to the east, toward Wadi Shoq, is a large open area, known as Qrahan Plain, which regularly holds Cream-coloured Courser.
Wadi Shoq, lying to the east of the Qrahan plain, has a number of date palm plantations which are a good locality for Socotra Scops-Owl. The wadi starts directly from the road (waypoint 031), a few kilometres from Hadibu, immediately before the road snakes left around the mountain. Only the first 500 metres or so of the wadi has palms; thereafter it opens into rocky open areas containing few birds. As in most of the palm groves around Hadibu, the scops-owl can be heard readily in the evening, as it usually commences calling before dusk. Some of the taller palms held wintering Black-crowned Night-Heron, a relatively scarce species on Socotra.
Affectionately known as "Hadibu Marsh", and sometimes Khor Erhina, this small khor just east of town, is within walking distance and makes an attractive stop for a an hour or so. Although small, a good variety of species has been recorded and, on both visits we made, interesting species were found. In winter a few ducks are often present, and the shallow edges have waders, egrets, and herons in addition to passerines such as wagtails. It is recommended to circumnavigate the khor, although this will involve weaving in and out of palm plantations at the northern end, to check for migrants or roosting birds in the palms. We recorded Yellow Bittern, Indian Pond-Heron and Black-crowned Night-Heron. On the slopes above the palms a few garden plots contain vegetable patches which should attract migrants at the appropriate time.
Khors west of Hadibu
Two small sandy khors west of Hadibu are passed en route to the airport, the first just before the village of Qadab and the second a couple of kilometres after. Both are without vegetation, so only waders, seabirds, and waterbirds might be expected. We did however record Socotra's first Slender-billed Gull here.
The saline flats and low scrub just behind the village of Deham is, as far as I am aware, the only site close to Hadibu where Socotra Cisticola can be readily found. The area must be under threat from marauding goats and camels. Certainly we saw no similar habitat along the coast between Hadibu and Deham. The Socotra Cisticola is readily found here, as it displays from low bush tops. The small adjacent khor and beach hold the usual collection of gulls, terns and a few waders. Access is directly from the main coastal road, 7.8 km west of the airport turn.
Wadi Ayhaft National Park
This excellent and verdant wadi lies about an hour's drive from Hadibu. From Hadibu, take the main coastal highway toward the airport, and then the track 8.2 kilometres from the start of the ring road. This track crosses a small wadi and skirts a village before a major fork after 1.9 km (waypoint 048) where you should turn left. After a further 1.1 kilometres a park sign is seen on the right. This rough track, which gets progressively worse as you ascend, runs along the wadi, crossing the wadi floor regularly, to the end of the road at around a further six kilometres. Higher sections will almost certainly be inaccessible after heavy rains. The habitat contains good numbers of large trees, and this is easily the best locality we visited for finding Golden-winged Grosbeak, and well as Socotra Sunbird in good numbers. Socotra Bunting is sometimes recorded from higher sections of the track. The road terminates at a small settlement, around which Socotra Warbler can be found, although it does occur in small numbers anywhere along the access road. Socotra Starling is also present in the area, but not common. A few pairs of Socotra Buzzard are regularly seen and heard. Some of us found the very impressive purple tarantula Monocentropus balfouri here.
Dixem, Wadi Zerig and the Central highway
The limestone hills and central highlands, particularly on the Dixem plateau, are the stronghold of the rare and localised Socotra Bunting, which is, without doubt, the most difficult of the endemics to locate. The paving of the cross-island route has made access to Dixem relatively straightforward, so weather-permitting it should be possible to find the bunting on a day trip from Hadibu. However, with its rugged landscape, Dragon's Blood Trees and cooler climate, this makes an excellent camping trip for those with time and inclination. Additionally, this is the stronghold of the Socotra Starling, which is relatively common here.
From Hadibu, take the coast road toward Qalansiyah, passing the airport. From the airport turn-off, continue 12.5 km and turn left (waypoint 094) - well signposted to Dixem. After a further three kilometres, the road starts to ascend the escarpment, with excellent views across the northern plains. The Croton scrub here forms a rather monotonous habitat, but holds both Golden-winged Grosbeak and Socotra Warbler. We stopped at random, 6.3 km from the turnoff and had a party of at least five cisticolas. At 23.4 km from the turn off (waypoint 090), a rough track leads off left to Dixem, terminating after 2.2 kilometres from where it is necessary to continue on foot.
I would strongly recommend using a GPS from this point, as the footpath, which leads to a few goat-herders huts, rapidly disappears. The whole area, comprised of limestone hills and grassy valleys, is rather confusing, so directions cannot be reliably given; hence the use of GPS coordinates. From the parking area, looking to the northeast, across the valley, you see a prominent, domed, limestone hillside, transacted by a few valleys which are the areas to search for the bunting. They feed on the grassy hillsides both in the valleys and on the tops. During our visit we walked around the southern edge initially, as this was where the buntings had been seen the previous week. This proved unsuccessful and we spent further time around the far side before eventually finding several individuals (waypoints BUNT and VIEW). We noted that the birds were not as obvious as illustrated in the field guide, and Cinnamon-breasted Rock-Bunting is common in the area.
Returning to the road and turning south toward the south coast will, after 5.3 km, bring you to Wadi Zerig. This was the only wadi we encountered with a good cover of rushes, and a walk eastward along it produced Bluethroat, Common Quail and Common Snipe – a site well worth checking for those with time.
Qalansiyah and Ditwah Protected Area
As these two adjacent sites are located on the extreme western side of Socotra, an overnight camp is recommended. However, once the paved road from Hadibu to Qalansiyah is complete, the journey would be less than two hours. When travelling from Hadibu, the turning off the main coast road to Qalansiyah is 16.3 km after the Dixem turn off. Currently this windy mountain road is paved for 9.4 km, with the remaining 20 kilometres rough and dusty. On approach to Qalansiyah village the road crosses the small wadi that feeds Khor Qalansiyah, and after a further 1.3 km forks, just before the large new, flashy governor's office. Turning right at the fork takes you past the office and after 1.5 km to the shore of the coastal lagoon of Ditwah Protected Area. With permission, it is possible to camp on the beach, where some palm shelters and toilets have been provided by the local Environmental Protection Agency. Basic food can be purchased in Qalansiyah or brought from Hadibu. The tidal flats at Ditwah are very scenic and the beach unspoilt and beautiful. Waders are present in good numbers on the lagoon.
In stark contrast to the beauty of Ditwah is the polluted Khor Qalansiyah situated behind the beach to the south of the village. Despite several clean-up exercises by the Environment Protection Agency the khor is still treated as a dustbin by the local inhabitants, and must rate as the worst eyesore on Socotra – maybe equalling the khor in central Hadibu. Despite the mess, the khor attracts numerous gulls, terns, waders and a few passerines. We recorded Collared Pratincole as well as Socotra's first Great Black-headed Gull. A walk around the khor will take no more than an hour. Offshore the good fishing attracts hundreds of Socotra Cormorants and Brown Boobies. Qalansiyah was the only place on Socotra where the young kids were objectionable, and they appear to have developed a reputation for it. Small fishing boats for offshore trips and journeys to Shoep can be arranged by talking to the fishermen on the beach here.
Shoep is a largish khor with a fair amount of mangrove still remaining. The long sandy beach is beautiful and, due to access difficulties, rarely visited. The rocky edges of the khor mean few waders are present, and we were surprised to find no ducks and very few water birds on our visit – Indian Pond-Heron being a notable record. The mangroves are a good locality for Socotra Warbler. Socotra Cisticola occurs in low densities on the surrounding low vegetation, which is very arid and unlike that at Deham where this species is more readily found.
Shoep is only accessible by sea from Qalansiyah, a journey of 21 kilometres and best attempted in the morning, when the sea is calm. Any wind makes seas on this exposed western side very rough. The journey from Qalansiyah takes about an hour, but try to hire a boat with larger motor if possible (40 HP should be possible). The trip passes stunning, towering cliffs which hold a number of breeding seabirds including Jouanin's Petrel. Brown Boobies are very common as are Socotra Cormorant. Well offshore, nearer Shoep it's possible to make out some isolated rocky islets where Masked Booby breeds, and a few might be seen en route.
Khors East of Hadibu
East of Hadibu, three small khors are passed en route to Khor Quryah National Reserve. Their small size and steep sides makes them generally unattractive to birds, but surprisingly Khor Dilish held Socotra's first Sacred Ibis. The first khor, Khor Shoq is passed just after Wadi Shoq, 2.9 km east of Khor Sirhin. The next Khor is Khor Dilish, a further 9.4 km, with finally Khor Dibni 2.5 km beyond Dilish.
Khor Quryah National Reserve
The largest khor on Socotra, Khor Quryah, sometimes attracts good numbers of ducks and waders. The road from Hadibu is currently being paved, and once completed will cut the travel time considerably. A rough track branches off the main Hadibu to South Coast road (waypoint 167) about six kilometres before Quryah, and continues to the village where it eventually crosses the khor on a low causeway (waypoint 165). Scanning the two arms of water to the south may reveal ducks if present. Walking through the palm plantations leads to the eastern side of the khor where extensive flats are exposed at low tide.
Khor Ghuba lies a couple of kilometres from the highway, around six kilometres west of the Dixem turn-off. From the Dixem junction (waypoint 94) continue west for 6.1 km (passing some rusting soviet tanks en route) and take the track north. After less than a kilometre you will see the small khor on the right, and the beach is reached after 1.8 km. It is possible to drive between the sea and khor and loop back to the main road.
The Nowged Plain and the South Coast
The towering escarpment across the southern edge of Socotra creates the arid Nowged Plain. With little vegetation and no standing fresh water, birds are not plentiful. Wadis that cross the plain definitely have Nubian Nightjar, but they appear as rare here as anywhere. We investigated some palms, tamarisk scrub and salt pans east of Abetar village. Take plenty of fresh water when travelling in this area.
Wed 11 Jan: Evening flight from Muscat to Dubai.
Thur 12 Jan: Early morning connecting flight from Dubai to Sana'a. Morning visit to Wadi Haml. Afternoon visit to old city, supermarket, and other errands.
Fri 13 Jan: Very early flight to Hadibu, Socotra, via Mukalla. Morning in Wadi Dihazafaq. Later afternoon at Deham. Overnight at Taj Socotra Hotel.
Sat 14 Jan: Morning in Wadi Ayhaft National Park. Afternoon in Wadi Shoq. Overnight at Taj Socotra Hotel.
Sun 15: Jan All day on Dixem plateau. Overnight at Taj Socotra Hotel.
Mon 16: Jan Morning at Khor Sirhin. Drive to Qalansiyah. Lunch at Ditwah Protected Area. Afternoon around Khor Qalansiyah. Overnight camping on beach at Ditwah Protected Area. Tues 17: Jan Morning boat trip to Shoep. Afternoon drive to Hadibu. Overnight at Taj Socotra Hotel.
Wed 18: Jan Morning at Khor Sirhin and seawatch. Afternoon at Khor Quryah National Reserve. Camping abandoned due to rain. Drive back to Hadibu. Overnight at Taj Socotra Hotel.
Thur 19: Jan Heavy overnight rain. Day spent driving to/from south coast via Dixem and Wadi Zerig. Overnight at Taj Socotra Hotel.
Fri 20: Jan Depart Hadibu to Sana'a, Dubai and Muscat.
Wed 11th January
The Oman Air flight left Muscat on time at 20h40 to arrive in Dubai one hour later.
Thursday 12th January
Connected with Yemenia Airways early morning, 01h40 flight to Sana'a, which surprisingly left on time. The one hour time change between Dubai and Yemen meant that I arrived by 03h30 to a very quiet airport. Being Eid, the Islamic holiday associated with the Haj pilgrimage, it seemed airport staff would have been happier at home given the expressions on their faces. Not only was immigration slow, but they seemed to develop an immediate suspicion of a lone traveller entering Yemen at the dead of night. Having stamped me into the country the police immediately confiscated my passport and started asking questions about my reason for being in Yemen and who was meeting me. Fortunately the driver from Arabian Eco-Tours was outside the customs hall, and I was allowed to retrieve him to support my story. Welcome to Yemen! Not a great start, and it didn't exactly put me in a good mood at three in the morning. With baggage loaded into the vehicle, the driver was next subjected to some hassle from the airport police for "allegedly parking in the wrong place"; evidently looking for a small payoff that he didn't receive.
We drove across a deserted Sana'a. The place was like a ghost town with only the occasional armed police at strategic junctions, glaring at us as we sped by. I saw not a single person on the streets. Admittedly it was early, but in a capital city one would have expected someone to be out. Decidedly eerie. The driver dropped me at a friend's where I rested the few remaining hours till daybreak, and then met up with Hanne and Jens who had already been on mainland Yemen the past week.
By 07h00 we were working our way across the city again toward Wadi Haml, one of the closest birding areas to the city itself. The cliffs here are usually home to Lammergeier, our target bird, but the best thing we could find in the early morning were two immature Verreaux's Eagles. We continued on foot up the wadi, spending the morning scanning the ridges for Lammergeier; eventually seeing one distant bird. Other species of interest included Arabian Waxbill, Arabian Serin, Yemen Linnet, and wintering Sparrowhawk and Black Redstart. With the heat of the day we returned to Sana'a for lunch, after which we ran some errands in preparation for Socotra, visiting a supermarket, purchasing telephone cards and reconfirming flights.
Friday 13th January
Up for breakfast at the ridiculously early hour of 02h00! Left the house and again crossed the deserted streets of Sana'a to arrive at the airport by 03h00 for an early check-in for the 05h00 Socotra flight. We'd been warned to arrive a full two hours before the flight, as late check-ins sometime result in baggage left behind due to the large amount of cargo routinely carried by the Socotra flight. In the event, the departure and flight went smoothly, and we arrived in Hadibu ten minutes ahead of schedule at 07h35, where we were met by Ahmed, our guide and driver. We also ran into Ian Sinclair and friends, who had spent a week on the island, successfully locating the endemics within the first couple of days.
Our first port of call was the Taj Socotra Hotel, primarily to offload baggage. Here we discovered the knock-on effect of the weekly flight - that all hotel rooms are vacated and turned round simultaneously, with all and sundry trying to check-in simultaneously; in our case together with a large group of Italians. Following a quick breakfast, which by this time felt more like the middle of the day, we drove the few hundred metres into the dusty centre of the one horse town of Hadibu, to stock up on a few basics for lunch in the field.
From here we headed the few kilometres to Wadi Dihazafaq, where in the heat of the day we encountered the common endemic Socotra Sparrow and Socotra Sunbird, as well a Peregrine and a number of Somali Starling. The habitat was more verdant than expected with some sizeable trees in the wadi. The dusty plain of Hadibu surrounded by a ring of verdant mountain slopes is somewhat reminiscent of the Salalah region of Oman. Having spent a couple of hours here we drove slowly back toward the coast, scanning the open areas for Cream-coloured Courser, several adults of which we found together with a pair of chicks. We then drove west, past the airport to the low beach scrub near Deham, the closest area to Hadibu where Socotra Cisticola is still common, in a very restricted and unprotected patch of salt scrub. Gulls on the beach proved to comprise only two species – Siberian Gull and Sooty Gull. At dark we returned to our hotel to celebrate over the first of our many fish dinners with non-alcoholic beer that were to come that week.
Sat 14th January
Compared with yesterday, a late breakfast at 06h00! After watching the local goats hoover-up left leftovers on unattended tables, we departed to Wadi Ayhaft National Park. Another impressively green wadi with towering mountains and a rough road that gets rougher and rougher the higher one goes. Socotra Sunbird was common in the lower sections, and after a few photography stops en route, we arrived at the small village at the end of the road, around which both Golden-winged Grosbeak and Socotra Warbler were found in relative abundance. We also found Socotra Buzzard here.
Returned to Hadibu in time for a late lunch, after which we drove to Wadi Shoq to hunt in the date palms for Socotra Scops-Owl. Initially this proved quite difficult, and other than disturbing a couple of Black-crowned Night-Heron, we saw little. However, around 16h20, a full hour before dark a couple of scops-owls called briefly enabling us to concentrate our search, with Ahmed locating one perched high in a palm. We remained until dark, by which time several scops-owls were calling all over – definitely not an uncommon species. During our return to town we tried a couple of spots for Nubian Nightjar without success.
Sun 15th January
An early departure for a full day on the Dixem plateau. Our target today would be the hardest of the Socotra endemics – the Socotra Bunting. The weather, as it had been to date, was glorious. The newly paved road leading onto the central highlands plateau makes the journey from Hadibu quick and straightforward, though as usual we stopped en route for photography, including the very photogenic Dragon's Blood trees Dracaena cinnabari. A walk on the plateau also provided us with sightings of our first Socotra Starlings. The shorter tail and duller appearance provide an easy separation from the more common Somali Starling.
From the end of the drivable track it was a two kilometre walk across the scenic boulder strew hills to the main area we would concentrate our search, where last week's group had seen the bird. As none was found in the same area, we continued our search farther along the valley, and after about three hours located a couple of Socotra Buntings. Flushed with success we spent several hours in the area finding in total around six individuals, as well as walking up to the viewpoint overlooking the northern coast. A late afternoon return to Hadibu and another look for Nubian Nightjar, which again resulted in nothing, followed by another Taj special fish dinner.
Mon 16th January
As we had been concentrating on seeing and photographing the endemic species, to date we had largely ignored the interesting looking Khor Sirhin just east of town. To rectify this we spent the first couple of hours after dawn making a circuit of the lagoon, and an inspection of its surrounding date plantations. This proved very rewarding, with us recording several species either rare or vagrant in Socotra such as Intermediate Egret, Citrine Wagtail and Yellow Bittern. A brief look at the sea also added Persian Shearwater to the list.
Following a stock-up on fruits and vegetables, we drove westward to Qalansiyah on the western end of the island, arriving at Ditwah Protected Area, a beautiful tidal saltwater lagoon for lunch. Once the temperature had cooled off, we headed to the nearby Qalansiyah lagoon. The rubbish and filth strewn around the lagoon is in stark contrast to the rest of Socotra. Here we saw Egyptian Vultures wading along the water's edge picking through household waste together with flocks of gulls surrounded by discarded plastic buckets and old tyres. Apparently the lagoon has been cleaned and cleared by the environmental agency in the past, but the villagers simply reverted back to using it as a dumping area. Despite the rubbish, the lagoon held a number of interesting species we didn't see elsewhere on Socotra, including Collared Pratincole, Striated Heron and Garganey. Offshore were large numbers of Socotra Cormorant, Sooty Gull and Brown Booby.
Returning to Ditwah, we camped under the stars in one of the beach shelters. During the night we were regularly woken by the persistent goats wandering around the shelter looking for scraps of food. Throwing a few rocks usually got rid of them for five minutes before their next round.
Tuesday 17th January
Ahmed had arranged a local fisherman to take us along the coast to a small area of mangrove at Shoep. As yesterday, on our arrival at the lagoon the annoying and pestering young boys of Qalansiyah greeted us. We set out in calm seas hugging the massive, impressive sea cliffs, along which we recorded Socotra Cormorant, Brown Booby and Peregrine. We had a single Masked Booby pass by. The beach at Shoep comprises an impressive long sandy bay; completely deserted, other than for the small village at one end. We took breakfast in the shade of some mangroves on the beach edge, from which several Socotra Warblers were calling. A walk along the edge of this large lagoon proved disappointing for birds, with very few waders present, although one Indian Pond-Heron was seen, as well as Socotra Cisticola singing from adjacent scrub. The bare surrounding areas were checked for Lichtenstein's Sandgrouse without success. During our return amble along the beach we could see the view was somewhat spoilt by the arrival of a small group of tourists from Hadibu.
On departure we were able to approach a small pod of Indian Bottle-nosed Dolphins, and which proved to be a difficult photo opportunity. We'd gone to Shoep in the early morning in anticipation of any afternoon winds making the sea choppy, and once rounding the protection of the western point of the island our thoughts came true. A reasonable swell and choppy conditions made for an interesting ride of the last leg home. It was good to arrive back on firm ground. Once again the obnoxious Qalansiyah kids were out in force, but we soon departed and headed to the camp of road workers paving the Qalansiyah – Hadibu road. According to Ahmed the camp bakes great bread. However, today they hadn't, so for some inexplicable reason, we simply took our lunch sitting on the ground in the camp surrounded by diesel drums and piles of rubbish. The only apparent advantage of the overflowing rubbish bins was the photo opportunity for Egyptian Vulture, Somali Starling and Socotra Sparrow, which were completely fearless.
The return to Hadibu was via Khor Ghuba, where we found the only Lesser Sand-Plover, of the trip amongst a large group of Kentish Plovers. On the last leg home I stopped to photograph the well-rusted Soviet tanks overlooking the beach before the airport. A welcome clean-up at the hotel followed by another fish dinner and pseudo-beers at the Taj restaurant.
Wednesday 18th January
An early start at Khor Sirhin for me, which I thought warranted further exploration, while Hanne and Jens returned to Wadi Ayhaft for photography. In contrast to all our previous morning starts, the day was dull and overcast, with low cloud cover. A walk around the khor, as well further exploration into the surrounding palms and vegetable patches failed to produce any further surprises save for a single Indian Pond-Heron. I then walked the coastline right the way along the town's shore, stopping to seawatch from the western edge, which provided large numbers of the usual suspect – Socotra Cormorant. Gave up by 12:00 and joined up with Hanne and Jens who had had a disappointing photo session due to low cloud in the mountains.
At 14h00 we set off for the large khor of Quryah National Reserve, stopping at the polluted wadi in Hadibu town where the last few House Crows still elude capture. Much of the road to Quryah is still unpaved, so despite being only 25 km from Hadibu, the drive takes over an hour. A few Pintail were present at one end of this very large khor, but despite the extensive sandy and muddy areas, few waders were present. We had intended to camp in the park and explore further the following morning, but the continuing drizzle and looming clouds pushed us into deciding to return to Hadibu. During our return, at dusk, we tried a regular spot for Nubian Nightjar but had no luck. Shortly after the rains began, turning the road slowly into a mud-bath, reinforcing our decision to return to Hadibu.
Thursday 19th January
By daybreak the unseasonable, heavy overnight rain had diminished to drizzle. Given the look of the weather and the state of any off-road tracks, our only realistic option would be a day on the south coast, so we retraced our route along the coast to ascend the paved road toward Dixem. In places the road up to Dixem resembled a wadi bottom with rocks and debris washed down in last nights downpours. A few kilometres up hill we stopped in the Croton scrub where we had excellent views of Socotra Warbler and Golden-winged Grosbeak; the dissipating cloud cover, warming things up, had given the bedraggled residents time to forage and sing. We had a further, long stop, to explore the rushy Wadi Zerig past Dixem which held wintering Bluethroats and from which we flushed a pair of Quail. Further views of Socotra Starling were also obtained.
Once over the central plateau, the road was still unpaved and very dusty as this side lies in the rain shadow – the south coast being exceptionally arid. Flowering Desert Roses were a prominent feature along the route. Once over the escarpment we followed the main coastal road turning off toward the beach to explore a few empty pools and palm plantations, which were largely birdless. We took a midday lunch in one of the small villages where we shared our meal with the villagers' own mix of goat soup and entrails. On leaving we were shown the nest of Lichtenstein's Sandgrouse containing three eggs.
The return drive to Hadibu took around three hours with several stops to photograph the looming clouds, mountains and Dragon's Blood Trees. Further heavy rain was encountered on approach to Hadibu. We had a final celebratory dinner in the Taj Restaurant and totted up the trip list to record a very respectable 89 species.
Friday 20th January
Although this was Friday the 20th, it rapidly turned to Friday the 13th. We wondered if the further heavy overnight rain would have any impact on our return flight. We arrived at the airport at 06h45, two hours before departure to find the airport closed. This seemed to wake the guard who opened up and we duly formed the queue for check-in. Although not totally unexpected, the incoming flight was two hours delayed, which caused me much consternation as my connecting international flight would now be leaving within 30 minutes of my arrival in Sana'a. We were further delayed at Mukalla, meaning the landing at Sana'a left me only 10 minutes to run to the international terminal.
Grabbing bags and running hard I burst into the international departures area to find it deserted - no check-in queues functioning and no other passengers. On locating a Yemenia staff I was informed that the flight would be "delayed by three hours". Good news for getting to Dubai but bad news for my connection onward from there. And, it went downhill from here. When the check-in queues eventually opened, I discovered my flight reservation had been cancelled, despite reconfirming it! I was then requested to rebook the reservation at the Yemenia office outside, which I duly did. For reasons unknown, on checking in again the agent determined the booking was not valid and I had to return, with Yemenia staff, back to the booking office, where an argument in Arabic ensued about the validity of my booking between the two Yemenia staff! Eventually I was booked, and with a further 30 minute delay arrived in Dubai where after another run to the transfer desk I was informed that my Muscat reservation was also cancelled and how did I manage to book my luggage through to Muscat? Thank you Yemenia! Fortunately the connecting flight was also delayed and I was able to remake the reservation and arrived back in Muscat 18 hours after leaving Socotra – a distance of only 1,700 km as the crow flies.
Taxonomy, scientific and vernacular English names generally follow Clements (2000, with updates). The list below includes all species recorded from Socotra as of April 2006 (with thanks to Richard Porter.)
Little Grebe Tachybaptus ruficollis
Jouanin's Petrel Bulweria fallax
Wedge-tailed Shearwater Puffinus pacificus
Flesh-footed Shearwater Puffinus carneipes
Persian [Audubon's] Shearwater Puffinus (lherminieri) persicus
Breeder. Trip: At least 10 feeding offshore Hadibu on 16-Jan.
Wilson's Storm-Petrel Oceanites oceanicus
Red-billed Tropicbird Phaethon aethereus
Masked Booby Sula dactylatra
Breeder. Trip: A single seen from the boat between Qalansiyah and Shoep on 17-Jan.
Brown Booby Sula leucogaster
Breeder. Trip: Singles offshore of Hadibu on 14-Jan and 16-Jan and at least 20 on 18-Jan. Common offshore of Qalansiyah and Shoep with 200+ on 17-Jan.
Long-tailed Cormorant Phalacrocorax africanus
Great Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo
Vagrant. Trip: Two offshore Hadibu on 14-Jan, and another on 18-Jan. A single at Qalansiyah on 16-Jan. This species is probably overlooked given the huge numbers of Socotra Cormorant.
Socotra Cormorant Phalacrocorax nigrogularis
Breeder. Trip: Abundant offshore at most localities. Most common offshore of Qalansiyah with 1,200+ on 17-Jan.
African Darter Anhinga rufa
Great White Pelican Pelecanus onocrotalus
Greater White-fronted Goose Anser albifrons
Cotton Pygmy-Goose Nettapus coromandelianus
Eurasian Wigeon Anas penelope
Gadwall Anas strepera
Common Teal Anas crecca
Trip: Two at Khor Qalansiyah on 16-Jan.
Mallard Anas platyrhynchos
Vagrant. Trip: Four at Khor Sirhin on 13-Jan, 14-Jan and 18-Jan.
Northern Pintail Anas acuta
Trip: Nine at Khor Quryah on 18-Jan.
Garganey Anas querquedula
Trip: A total of 3 at Khor Qalansiyah on 16-Jan.
Northern Shoveler Anas clypeata
Trip: Two at Khor Quryah on 18-Jan.
Common Pochard Aythya farina
Ferruginous Duck Aythya nyroca
Tufted Duck Aythya fuligula
Greater Flamingo Phoenicopterus ruber
Trip: Ten at Ditwah on 16-Jan and at least 55 at Khor Quryah on 18-Jan.
Little Egret Egretta garzetta
Trip: Widespread in small numbers with singles at Khor Sirhin on 13-Jan 14-Jan and 18-Jan and 4 there on 16-Jan. A single at Khor Qalansiyah on 17-Jan and another at Khor Quryah on 18-Jan.
Western Reef-Egret Egretta gularis
Trip: Recorded daily along all coasts with max. 10 at Ditwah on 16-Jan.
Intermediate Egret Mesophoyx intermedia
Vagrant. Trip: A single at Khor Sirhin on 13-Jan, 14- Jan and 16-Jan, increasing to two birds on 18-Jan. Photographed.
Grey Heron Ardea cinerea
Trip: Recorded daily along all coasts with max. 8 along the cliffs between Qalansiyah and Shoep on 17-Jan.
Black-headed Heron Ardea melanocephala
Purple Heron Ardea purpurea
Trip: A single at Khor Qalansiyah on 16-Jan.
Great Egret Casmerodius albus
Trip: A single at Khor Sirhin on 13-Jan, 14-Jan, 16-Jan and 18-Jan. Another at Khor Qalansiyah on 18-Jan.
Cattle Egret Bubulcus ibis
Trip: Small numbers around Hadibu with max. 22 on 18-Jan. A single at Khor Quryah on 18-Jan.
Squacco Heron Ardeola ralloides
Trip: Two at Khor Sirhin on 16-Jan and one there on 18-Jan.
Indian Pond-Heron Ardeola grayii
Vagrant. Trip: A single in the mangroves at Shoep on 17-Jan and another in the palms around Khor Sirhin on 18-Jan.
Madagascar Pond-Heron Ardeola idea
Striated Heron Butorides striatus
Trip: A single at Khor Qalansiyah on 16-Jan.
Black-crowned Night-Heron Nycticorax nycticorax
Trip: One flushed from palms in Wadi Shoq on 14-Jan. Two at Khor Sirhin on 16-Jan and 3 there on 18-Jan.
Yellow Bittern Ixobrychus sinensis
Vagrant. Trip: One seen well in the palms at Khor Sirhin on 16-Jan and 18-Jan. Photographed.
Glossy Ibis Plegadis falcinellus
Sacred Ibis Threskiornis aethiopicus
Vagrant. Trip: An immature on Khor Dilish on 18-Jan. This bird, the first for Socotra, had been present at this site some weeks.
African Spoonbill Platalea alba
White Stork Ciconia ciconia
Vagrant. Trip: A single by the roadside near Hadibu Airport on 13-Jan.
Osprey Pandion haliaetus
Breeder. Trip: Two at Ditwah on 17-Jan.
Black Kite Milvus migrans
Egyptian Vulture Neophron percnopterus
Breeder. Trip: One of the most common birds on Socotra, and frequently tame, allowing approach to within a few metres. Recorded from all areas except the dry south, with max. 30+ around Hadibu on 15-Jan.
Western Marsh-Harrier Circus aeruginosus
Pallid Harrier Circus macrourus
Common Buzzard Buteo buteo
Steppe [Common] Buzzard Buteo buteo vulpinus
Socotra Buzzard Buteo (buteo) socotrae
Breeder. Taxonomic status of this taxon unresolved. Trip: Up to six birds present in Wadi Ayhaft on 14-Jan, a single en route on 15-Jan, and two near Hadibu on 18-Jan.
Eurasian Kestrel Falco tinnunculus
Breeder. Trip: Recorded in small numbers daily, with max. 3 on 17-Jan.
Amur (Eastern Red-footed) Falcon Falco amurensis
Peregrine Falcon Falco peregrinus
Breeder. Trip: Singles at Wadi Dihazafaq on 13-Jan, Ditwah on 16-Jan, on sea cliffs near Shoep on 17-Jan and Khor Quryah on 18-Jan.
Common Quail Coturnix coturnix
Trip: Two flushed from Wadi Zerig on 19-Jan.
Water Rail Rallus aquaticus
Little Crake Porzana parva
Spotted Crake Porzana porzana
Common Moorhen Gallinula chloropus
Trip: One a Khor Sirhin on 16-Jan, and 3 there on 18-Jan.
Eurasian (Common) Coot Fulica atra
Common (Eurasian) Crane Grus grus
Houbara Bustard Chlamydotis undulate
Pheasant-tailed Jacana Hydrophasianus chirurgus
Pintail Snipe Gallinago stenura
Common Snipe Gallinago gallinago
Trip: Singles at Khor Sirhin on 13-Jan and 14-Jan, 3 there on 16-Jan, and 2 on 18-Jan. One flushed from Wadi Zerig on 19-Jan.
Jack Snipe Lymnocryptes minimus
Black-tailed Godwit Limosa limosa
Bar-tailed Godwit Limosa lapponica
Whimbrel Numenius phaeopus
Trip: Small numbers daily in coastal areas with max. 10 on 16-Jan.
Eurasian Curlew Numenius arquata
Trip: Small numbers daily in coastal areas with max. 15 on 16-Jan.
Spotted Redshank Tringa erythropus
Common Redshank Tringa totanus
Trip: Small numbers daily in coastal areas with max. 5 on 16-Jan.
Marsh Sandpiper Tringa stagnatilis
Vagrant. Trip: Singles at Khor Sirhin on 14-Jan, 16-Jan and 18-Jan.
Common Greenshank Tringa nebularia
Trip: Seen almost daily with 40+ at Ditwah on 16-Jan.
Green Sandpiper Tringa ochropus
Trip: Three at Khor Sirhin on 14-Jan and a single there on 16-Jan. One at Khor Qalansiyah on 16-Jan.
Wood Sandpiper Tringa glareola
Trip: Two at Khor Sirhin on 14-Jan and 16-Jan. A single at Khor Qalansiyah on 16-Jan.
Terek Sandpiper Tringa cinerea
Common Sandpiper Tringa hypoleucos
Trip: Seen daily with max. 4 at Khor Sirhin on 16-Jan.
Ruddy Turnstone Arenaria interpres
Trip: Nine at Khor Sirhin on 16-Jan, increasing to 13 on 18-Jan.
Red Knot Calidris canutus
Sanderling Calidris alba
Trip: A single on the beach near Khor Sirhin on 13-Jan.
Little Stint Calidris minuta
Trip: Seen almost daily with 25+ at Khor Sirhin on 14-Jan.
Temminck's Stint Calidris temminckii
Trip: Small numbers at Khor Sirhin with max. 7 on 16-Jan. Two at Khor Quryah on 18-Jan.
Dunlin Calidris alpine
Trip: A single at Khor Ghuba on 17-Jan.
Curlew Sandpiper Calidris ferruginea
Broad-billed Sandpiper Limicola falcinellus
Ruff Philomachus pugnax
Vagrant. Trip: Singles at Khor Sirhin on 14-Jan and 16-Jan. Another at Khor Qalansiyah on 16-Jan.
Red-necked (Northern) Phalarope Phalaropus lobatus
Crab Plover Dromas ardeola
Eurasian Oystercatcher Haematopus ostralegus
Vagrant. Trip: Two at Ditwah on 16-Jan.
Black-winged Stilt Himantopus himantopus
Trip: Recorded almost daily with max. 110+ at Qalansiyah on 16-Jan.
Cream-coloured Courser Cursorius cursor
Breeder. Trip: Adults with up to three young on the plains near Hadibu on 13-Jan.
Collared (Red-winged) Pratincole Glareola pratincola
Vagrant. Trip: A single at Khor Qalansiyah on 16-Jan.
Pacific [Lesser] Golden Plover Pluvialis (dominica) fulva
Grey (Black-bellied) Plover Pluvialis squatarola
Trip: Three at Deham on 13-Jan. Four at Khor Sirhin on 16-Jan on one there on 18-Jan. A total of 40+ at Ditwah on 16-Jan and a single at Khor Ghuba on 17-Jan.
Common Ringed Plover Charadrius hiaticula
Trip: Small numbers at Khor Sirhin, Khor Qalansiyah, Ditwah and Khor Quryah with max. 20 at Khor Sirhin on 16-Jan.
Little Ringed Plover Charadrius dubius
Trip: Two at Khor Sirhin on 16-Jan, and 3 there on 18-Jan. Five at Khor Qalansiyah on 16-Jan, and a single on the south coast on 19-Jan.
Kentish Plover Charadrius (alexandrinus) alexandrinus
Breeder. Trip: At least 20 at Deham on 13-Jan. Seven at Khor Sirhin on 16-Jan and 10 there on 18-Jan. A total of 120 at Khor Ghuba on 17-Jan, and 20 at Khor Quryah on 18-Jan.
Lesser Sand-Plover Charadrius mongolus
Trip: A single at Khor Ghuba on 17-Jan.
Greater Sand-Plover Charadrius leschenaultii
Caspian Plover Charadrius asiaticus
Northern Lapwing Vanellus vanellus
White-eyed Gull Larus leucopthalmus
Sooty Gull Larus hemprichii
Breeder. Trip: Common in coastal areas with max. 2,000+ at Qalansiyah on 16-17 Jan-06.
Caspian Gull Larus (cachinnans) cachinnans
Trip: Surprisingly uncommon. Two at Sirhin on 16-Jan and 2 Qalansiyah on 17-Jan.
Baraba [Yellow-legged] Gull Larus (cachinnans) barabensis
Siberian Gull Larus heuglini
Trip: Common in coastal areas with max. 1,000+ along the coast at Hadibu on 18-Jan.
Baltic Gull Larus (fuscus) fuscus
Great Black-headed Gull Larus ichthyaetus
Vagrant. Trip: An immature at Khor Qalansiyah on 16-Jan, was the first record for Socotra.
Common Black-headed Gull Larus ridibundus
Trip: Small numbers in coastal areas with max. 12 at Khor Qalansiyah on 16-Jan.
Slender-billed Gull Larus genei
Vagrant. Trip: A single, with Black-headed Gulls, at Khor Qadab on 15-Jan, was the first record for Socotra.
Whiskered Tern Chlidonias hybrida
Vagrant. Trip: One at Khor Qalansiyah on 16-Jan.
White-winged Tern Chlidonias leucopterus
Gull-billed Tern Sterna nilotica
Caspian Tern Sterna caspia
Trip: Two at Ditwah on 16-Jan.
Great Crested (Swift) Tern Sterna bergii
Trip: Common in coastal areas with max. 100+ at between Qalansiyah and Shoep on 17-Jan.
Lesser Crested Tern Sterna bengalensis
Trip: Common in coastal areas with max. 200+ at Qalansiyah on 16-Jan.
Sandwich Tern Sterna sandvicensis
Trip: Common in coastal areas with max. 100+ offshore Hadibu on 18-Jan.
Roseate Tern Sterna dougallii
Common Tern Sterna Hirundo
Trip: Singles at Sirhin on 16-Jan, Qalansiyah on 16-Jan, and Hadibu on 19-Jan.
White-cheeked Tern Sterna repressa
Bridled Tern Sterna anaethetus
Sooty Tern Sterna fuscata
Saunders' Tern Sterna saundersi
Brown (Common) Noddy Anous stolidus
Arctic Jaeger (Parasitic Skua) Stercorarius parasiticus
Lichtenstein's Sandgrouse Pterocles lichtensteinii
Breeder. Trip: Heard around Hadibu on 14-Jan and 15-Jan and Ditwah on 17-Jan. Six en route to Khor Quryah on 18-Jan. A pair with nest and three eggs on the south coast on 19-Jan.
Rock Dove (Feral Pigeon) Columba livia
Introduced feral breeder. Trip: Singles around Hadibu and Qalansiyah on 16-Jan and 17-Jan
Laughing Dove Streptopelia senegalensis
Breeder. Trip: Widespread and common with max. 50+ Wadi Ayhaft on 14-Jan.
Namaqua Dove Oena capensis
Bruce's Green Pigeon Treron waalia
Breeder. Trip: Heard in wadis on the northern coast, with max. 20+ Wadi Ayhaft on 14-Jan.
Pied (Jacobin) Cuckoo Oxylophus jacobinus
Common Cuckoo Cuculus canorus
Asian Koel Eudynamys scolopacea
White-browed Coucal Centropus superciliosus
Socotra [African] Scops-Owl Otus (senegalensis) sp.
Breeder. The taxonomic status of this taxon remains unresolved. Trip: At least three heard and another seen well in Wadi Shoq on 14-Jan. Heard in Wadi Sirhin on 15-Jan and 18-Jan.
Eurasian Nightjar Caprimulgus europaeus
Nubian Nightjar Caprimulgus nubicus
Forbes-Watson's Swift Apus berliozi
Breeder. Arrives April, leaves early December.
Little Swift Apus affinis
Blue-cheeked Bee-eater Merops persicus
European Roller Coracias garrulus
Abyssinian Roller Coracias abyssinica
Indian Roller Coracias benghalensis
Eurasian Hoopoe Upupa epops
House Crow Corvus splendens
Ship-assisted introduction. Breeder. Trip: Three in Hadibu on 18-Jan.
Brown-necked Raven Corvus ruficollis
Breeder. Trip: Widespread, with max. 12+ en route to Dixem on 15-Jan.
Eurasian Golden Oriole Oriolus oriolus
Turkestan (Isabelline) Shrike Lanius isabellinus phoenicuroides
Southern Grey Shrike Lanius meridionalis
Breeder. Trip: Widespread. Recorded in small numbers daily with max. 6 on 15-Jan.
Blue Rock-Thrush Monticola solitarius
Trip: A female at Dixem on 15-Jan, and another en route on 19-Jan.
Somali Starling Onychognathus blythii
Breeder. Trip: Widespread and common with max. 50+ at Wadi Ayhaft on 14-Jan
Socotra Starling Onychognathus frater
Breeder. Species endemic to Socotra. Trip: Ten at Dixem on 15-Jan and 4 there again en route on 19-Jan. Two on the south coast on 19-Jan.
Common Starling Sturnus vulgaris
Spotted Flycatcher Muscicapa striata
Bluethroat Luscinia svecica
Trip: Three at Wadi Zerig on 19-Jan.
Black Redstart Phoenicurus ochruros
Pied Wheatear Oenanthe pleschanka
Desert Wheatear Oenanthe deserti
Trip: Small numbers daily.
Isabelline Wheatear Oenanthe isabellina
Trip: Four near Hadibu on 14-Jan, two en route to Dixem on 15-Jan, and a single en route on 16-Jan.
Sand Martin (Bank Swallow) Riparia riparia
Trip: One at Khor Sirhin on 16-Jan.
Rock Martin Hirundo fuligula
Barn Swallow Hirundo rustica
House Martin Delichon urbica
White-breasted (Abyssinian) White-eye Zosterops abyssinicus
Breeder. Trip: Fairly common in northern wadis with max. 20+ Wadi Ayhaft on 14-Jan.
Socotra Warbler Incana incana
Breeder. Species endemic to Socotra. Trip: Five at Wadi Ayhaft on 14-Jan. Three en route to Qalansiyah on 16-Jan. Eight en route near Dixem on 19-Jan.
Socotra Cisticola Cisticola haesitatus
Breeder. Species endemic to Socotra. Trip: At least 20 birds at Deham on 13-Jan. Two heard at Shoep on 17-Jan.
Eurasian Chiffchaff Phylloscopus collybita
Siberian Chiffchaff Phylloscopus collybita tristis
Wood Warbler Phylloscopus sibilatrix
Greater (Common) Whitethroat Sylvia communis
Lesser Whitethroat Sylvia curruca
Trip: Singles in Wadi Dihazafaq on 12-Jan and Wadi Zerig on 19-Jan.
Ménétries' Warbler Sylvia mystacea
Black-crowned Sparrow-Lark Eremopterix nigriceps
Breeder. Trip: Widespread and common with max. 50 on 15-Jan.
Greater Short-toed Lark Calandrella brachydactyla
Socotra Sparrow Passer insularis
Breeder. Species endemic to Socotra. Trip: Widespread and common.
White Wagtail Motacilla alba
Trip: Small numbers at coastal khors with max. 6 at Khor Qalansiyah on 16-Jan.
Citrine Wagtail Motacilla citreola
Vagrant. Trip: One at Khor Sirhin on 16-Jan, increasing to 2 on 18-Jan. One at Khor Qalansiyah on 16-Jan.
Yellow Wagtail Motacilla flava
Trip: One at Khor Sirhin on 12-Jan, 5 there on 16-Jan and 4 on 18-Jan. One at Khor Qalansiyah on 16-Jan.
Grey Wagtail Motacilla cinerea
Tawny Pipit Anthus campestris
Long-billed Pipit Anthus similis
Breeder. Trip: Widespread and fairly common with max. 20 around Hadibu on 13-Jan.
Tree Pipit Anthus trivialis
Red-throated Pipit Anthus cervinus
Socotra Sunbird Nectarinia balfouri
Breeder. Species endemic to Socotra. Trip: Common in northern wadis with max. 30+ at Wadi Ayhaft on 14-Jan.
Golden-winged Grosbeak Rhynchostruthus socotranus
Breeder. Trip: Six at Wadi Ayhaft on 15-Jan and 1 en route below Dixem on 19-Jan.
African (Cinnamon-breasted) Rock-Bunting Emberiza tahapisi
Breeder. Trip: Widespread with max. 10+ at Wadi Ayhaft on 13-Jan.
Socotra Bunting Emberiza socotrana
Breeder. Species endemic to Socotra. Trip: Up to 6 at Dixem on 15-Jan.