Marsa Shin’ab, Sudan

21 21 N, 37 00 E

Paul’s sister Joanne would love it here. And we wish she were here to help us figure out what we are seeing.

There aren’t many shore birds, but there are some scattered along a little marshy, sandy part of the cove in which we’ve anchored, all within forty yards of each other, and about 200 yards from the boat. One looks like an egret, with an all white body, straight legs and straight neck. It walks slowly in the shallow water, then, suddenly, takes a dozen frenetic steps, stops, freezes, head cocked like a loaded pistol, and stares fixedly into the water. An instant later it stabs into the shallows, pauses, and walks away slowly to repeat the process.

There is another white wading bird, which looked liked the first, at first, but upon closer examination has a more question-mark shaped head, and black legs where the egret was yellowish sand colored. Heron? We take a picture, and zoom in. It’s got a big long custard-colored spoon bill! That’s no heron!

And another bird that is of this same shape, except perhaps a little plumper, with no spoon bill, and is dark black, with a hint of blue or purple. A blue heron perhaps?

Two more birds fly by. Are they the herons we just saw ashore? The first one is jet black, with a long pointy beak, it’s legs trailing behind, and its neck folded up tight in flying formation. We turn the binoculars to a bird just behind it. It’s the exact same bid, except this one is all white. Is the one in front a juvenile? The one in back has its mouth agape, and is screeching at the one in front, apparently driving him away. The black bird does go away, and his white twin returns to wading at the spit.

And then some runners, along the mud flats, in back of the spit. Smaller, maybe 18 inches off the ground, but with long, white stilted legs. They are bright white, but with feet and a beak that look like they have been dipped in flat black paint, and then a black splotch/stripe on their back, and a black line around their sides, running horizontally. When they fly, they are white-winged with a black trim at the back of their wings. Cool looking bird with a lot going on for a wader. They scamper about, much like the piping plovers we see on MA’s North Shore. Further away, in the drier part of the marsh, are some really, really small runners, about the size of sparrows. They scurry too and fro in groups, herd-like, going hither and dither in a wave, like a school of fish. They are too far away to be able to make out their coloring, but appear grayish. Or maybe brown.

Another small bird flies about the cove, getting it’s food a different way. It is also white, with black wing tips, but lighter and faster and more narrowly built, like a tern or petral. It flutters up about the small wavelets, and then tucks up like a dive bomber, slicing into the water. It surfaces, gets back into the air with a squawk, climbs to about 40 feet, and does it again.

Back on shore, there are also some black crows — what are they doing here? And then down the end of the this little spit sit what look like ducks, black and white, although from the distance of the boat we can’t tell which parts are white and which black. They could be the sea birds that we see flying around skimming and diving for fish off shore. They are the right color. They aren’t doing much now, just acting bored.

There, another weirdo. In profile, no lie, it looks like a chicken, with an upturned tail. It has an off-white body, but with grayish wings – making it look a bit like a pair of two-toned shoes. And it finishes its look off with a black wig that trails off the back of it’s head, with a chicken-yellow beak protruding out the front. Its head looks more like a wood pecker than a shore bird.

And then, WHOA! What is that?! From back a little ways inland, something takes off that is gigantic. Huge. Prehistoricish. As he passes over the other birds on beach, many of them scatter. If the waders were the size of fighter jets and helicopters, here comes the B-1 bomber. It has enormous wings, the leading half dirty white and the back half and tips black. Are they squarish or pointy? Both! With five or so feathers spread off at the end of its wings, they are tucked in to make the wing pointy or spread out, like fingers, to make it square, changing back and forth as it flies. Its feet are not tucked in when flying, but instead trail lonnnggg behind it, burnt red and webbish. Its front end is all business, with a long pointy beak and a narrow grayish colored head followed by a dirty white colored neck. The attitude of its slightly upward-pointing head and downward pointing beak could have been the genesis of the Concorde’s design. It comes all the way over by the boat, calling once as it goes by. Don’t know what he is, and no ornithologists we (you already knew that?!), but we’d be willing to bet that his design hasn’t changed much for many millennia.

We are in Marsa Shin’ab. It is dry and desert like, with sandy hills nearby, and larger mountains further away. In between, maybe eight miles or so off, there is a coast road. We can’t see it, by every five minutes or so we see a truck moving along, wavy and mirage-like in the heat. Maybe coming from Egypt? Delivering aid to Darfur? Supplies to Khartoum?

Although our view stretches for many miles, we can count on one hand the number of green things we see. There is one very big tree very nearby, however. It sits on a little island that pushes its way out into this bay, more reeds and mud than actual earth. That tree must have figured out a way to live on salt water because there is no way that it can be getting pure fresh water where it grows. But whatever it does drink, it’s done a good job, because in a bleak area otherwise devoid of plant life, it has spread an umbrella of green against a washed-out landscape.

It’s very hot still, but comfortable at night and in the shade.

We have just pulled in and dropped anchor, after winding four miles up this “marsa” to get to the little bay in which we now sit. There is no one around. No buildings, fishing boats, dive boats or anything else. We did see a handful of fisherman at the entrance of the marsa, four miles away, but nothing since. The fishermen seemed to be doing well, by the way, as we saw one white-robed fellow pull in a fish as big as his arm as we passed. We would like to say that they are “nomadic” fishermen, as that description has been applied to some of those who fish around here. But they were driving a shiny SUV and pickup truck. Maybe they’ve increased their range? (Hah! Looked back at our guide book — it says that the nomadic fishermen drive trucks! For real? It takes a bit of the romance out of our conception of African nomads, and the definition seems a bit over inclusive.)

We’ll go for a snorkel now (Sima saw two rays in the shallows when she was spotting from aloft on the way in) (come help us Joanne!), maybe go for a hike, take a look at the weather, and maybe watch a movie later.

The Red Sea has been nice to us so far.

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