SEEN - SE European Bird Migration Network
Recent surveys of breeding and migratory birds in the St Katherine Protectorate IBA, south Sinai, Egypt, 2005 - 2009
Matthew L J White,
RSPB, Operation Wallacea, Nature and Science Foundation,

Located where the Asian and African continents meet the Sinai Peninsula is a distinctive biological region with characteristic flora and fauna. A large part of south Sinai was given protected status through the St Katherine Protectorate (4350 km2) in 1996 designated by the Egyptian Environmental Affairs Agency (EEAA). Birdlife International has also given the Protectorate Important Bird Area (IBA) status and the area is a World Heritage Site. The St Katherine Protectorate is a mountainous region including Egypt’s highest peaks such as Gebel Katarina (2,641m), interconnected by a complex network of deeply cut wadis including Wadi Feiran, Wadi Hibran, Wadi Isla and Wadi Zaghra. The resident bird communities include 76% of Saharo-sindian biome-restricted species including; Sooty Falcon Falco concolor, Mourning Wheatear Oenanthe lugens and Hooded Wheatear Oenanthe monacha. Historically there has been no systematic monitoring of birds in south Sinai and little published material exists for conservation management planning and the interest of the wider scientific community. Operation Wallacea ( in partnership with BioMAP Egypt ( and the Nature and Science Foundation from 2005 have developed an atlasing methodology to record the relative abundance and distribution of birds and other taxa for the production of an Egyptian bird atlas.

Over the late summer/early autumn seasons 2005 to 2009 we report 57 species of birds; 32 breeding and over 25 non-breeding passage migrants in and around the St Katherine Protectorate IBA, south Sinai, Egypt. We conducted bird surveys between late June and late August each year using semi-random stratified distance line-transects in 10 x 10 km2 grid squares over a range of elevations and habitats such as; wadis, oases, mountains and desert plains. Average line transect distance was c2.5km length. Focusing on migrant species recorded Eastern Orphean Warbler Sylvia crassirostris (23.8%) had the highest total abundance over the five year period, followed closely by Eastern Olivaceous warbler Iduna pallida (19.3%), European Bee-eater Merops apiaster (15.5%), Olive-tree Warbler Hippolais olivetorum (6.8%) and Lesser Whitethroat Sylvia curruca (6.4%). Only three species of small passerine warblers were recorded in all five years; Eastern Orphean Warbler Sylvia crassirostris, Eastern Olivaceous Warbler Iduna pallida and Olive-tree Warbler Hippolais olivetorum, accounting for nearly half of all migrant species (49.9%). 11 species of passerine warbler were recorded on stop-over over a large spatial distribution of sites. Notably 12 of the 26 total migrant species were observed foraging and roosting in and around the Bedouin and Monastery gardens of St Katherine town. With respect to casual observations over the recent decade we have noted at least another 35 species of migrant birds including several Common Redstart Phoenicurus phoenicurus, also the rarer Semi-collared Flycatcher Ficedula semitorquata and Icterine Warbler Hippolais icterina. Interestingly over the five year period passerine passage migrants such as the Eastern Orphean Warbler Sylvia crassirostris were recorded frequently a few weeks earlier on passage in comparison to previous published data in Goodman et al (1989) The Birds of Egypt.

Desertification, development, tourism, overgrazing and trapping appear to be the most significant threats facing the birds and wildlife in the St Katherine Protectorate. Moreover the tourism industry in the form of coastal resorts such as Sharm El Sheikh is one of the fastest growing in the world and increasing numbers of people are visiting historical sites in St Katherine and travelling out into the desert. For example there is an average of 700 tourists per day visiting St Katherine Monastery. St Katherine Protectorate is a very important conservation area for over 32 species of breeding birds and appears to be a vital stop-over point for at least 60 species of passerine and non-passerine passage migrants. The Protectorate requires positive ongoing conservation management, protection and future investment in research examining the stop-over ecology, especially the habitat associations of passerine and non-passerine migrants in wadi systems and oases.
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