It’s been awhile since I’ve featured a bird on the blog, so today let’s meet the Blackstart (Oenanthe melanura), called bal’alaby the Jebeliya Bedouin.
Blackstarts are common resident birds in South Sinai and are relatively unafraid of humans so there’s a good chance you’ll come across one in your wanders and maybe even get a chance to spend some time in their company. You might be serenaded by their song:
These birds have bluish-grey to grey-brown plumage with darker colored wings. They are named (Oenanthe melanura) for their black tails, which they tend to have fanned out. In classical Greek, mela means black and oura, tail. Their bodies can be up to 14 cm long.
Blackstarts live in rocky wadis, deserts, and mountain slopes, where they can often be seen hopping around on the ground, feeding on insects.
Blackstarts are monogamous and pairs remain together in their breeding territory throughout the year. The female builds the nest, a shallow cup made of grass and leaves, in rock crevices and lines it with hair and fine plant material. She will lay 3 – 4 eggs, which are blue with reddish brown speckles. The eggs, if they aren’t preyed upon by a Golden Spiny Mouse, hatch after about 13 days. Both parents feed the chicks, which fledge, or grow flight feathers and are ready to learn to fly, after 14 days.
Although the national bird of Jordan, this finch is named after Egypt’s Sinai and lives in our dry, rocky desert areas. The male Sinai Rosefinch (Carpodacus synoicus) is easily identified by its crimson-pink plumage. Females and juveniles are a greyish brown color.
Sinai Rosefinches eat seeds and are often seen in groups. I spotted this group on top of Jebel Musa.
These finches grow to about 14 – 16 cm and breed in a small area of Sinai, southern Israel, and southern Jordan.
Six species of shrikes occur in Egypt, including the Great Grey Shrike, and I’ve spotted three of them in South Sinai. Like all shrikes (Lanius sp.), they feed on insects, lizards, small rodents and even birds. Using their sharp claws, they catch their prey and then impale the corpse on thorns, spikes, barbed wire fencing, or anything sharp that’s around. This has earned them a reputation of being “cruel and vicious”, as well as nicknames such as butcherbirds and jacky hangmen.
Impaling their prey helps the shrikes to hold it in place as they tear apart the flesh with their strong bills. It also serves as a way to save the food until a later time, acting like a larder.
Shrikes can often be spotted sitting on top of signs, bushes, fence posts – anywhere that gives them a good vantage point to look for prey.
Of the six species of shrikes in Egypt, only one – the Southern Grey Shrike – is a breeding bird here. The other five species – Great Grey Shrike (L. excubitor), Lesser Grey Shrike (L. minor), Red-backed Shrike (L. collurio), Woodchat Shrike (L. senator), and Masked Shrike (L. nubicus) – are migrants, passing through Egypt in spring and autumn.
It was late August, the start of the autumn migration season, that I spotted my first shrike. We were in Ras Mohamed National Park and there were dozens of shrikes perched on the bushes right next to the road, which made for easy bird-watching from the car. And I do love to watch birds! But I am not all that skilled at photographing them. (I prefer to have the macro lens on my camera.) When I can, I’ll try to snap a shot to help me identify the bird later for documentation purposes. My point is that, unfortunately, I won’t be sharing too many posts about birds and, even when I do, the photos won’t be my best. Lucky for us, many other photographers do take amazing shots of birds! Check out the links below for more information and images of birds in Egypt: