Edit: Much better photos by J. Geburzi from today, added to the gallery below.
While working in Egypt with german colleagues, we (M. Boetzel, J. Geburzi, M. Trobitz, C. Weinrich, M. Werner, T. Zegula and me) made an exciting find in Minya Governorate, Egypt.
When searching for Crowned Sandgrouse (Pterocles coronatus) on March 18, which has previously been seen in the area by M. Trobitz, we had a flyby-observation of four small, dark-bellied sandgrouse with elongated tail, which we couldn’t readily identify. When consulting literature back at home, it became clear that all features seen (long tail, sandy-brown wing with black primaries and secondaries, white trailing edge, no obvious contrast between dark underwing and dark belly, short, guttural calls ‘kwritt-kwritt-kwritt’) clearly pointed towards Chestnut-bellied Sandgrouse (Pterocles exustus), a species thought to be extinct in Egypt and rarely recorded within the western palearctic. A quick research revealed that these birds should belong to the egyptian subspecies Pterocles exustus floweri (Nicoll 1921), which is listed as “extinct” by some sources 1 2. In the 20th century, the subspecies appeared to be “fairly numerous in Upper Egypt and the Faiyum” 3, the species was last recorded in Egypt in 1979 (I. Moldovan in litt.).
We unsuccessfully tried to relocate the birds the same evening and in the following days. Due to work, we only had time to search in late afternoon/evening. It took some days until we could go back to the spot in early afternoon, the time of day when we first saw the birds in question.
On March 21, we finally found ca. 25 Chestnut-bellied Sandgrouse near the spot where we first saw the flying four. We got perfect views of some birds flying over our heads, sometimes as close as 30 m. If you haven’t experienced it yet: It’s a terrible feeling to find a major rarity, not being able to take proper photos. My whole photography equipment is still confiscated at Cairo airport, which is why I had to work with my Canon S90 compact camera. Have you ever tried to photograph elusive sandgrouse in flight, with a focal length of 105 mm, a terribly slow autofocus and a shutter lag of 0.5 s? I had to – it’s a nightmare. Under this circumstances, I’m quite happy with the few record shots, showing most of the important features. Additional field marks noted in the individuals seen at closer range (males?) were a fine, black band on the breast, white trailing-edge to black primaries, dark brown underwings, not contrasting to dark brown belly but contrasting to buffy-yellowish undertail, breast and head.
The birds, mostly flying in small groups of up to seven individuals (max. ca. 25 in one flock), frequented cultivated and abandoned sandy fields in a varied, cultivated landscape with stony hills, sandy plains, water holes, areas with sand dunes, fields and gardens.