From here we could see the big Jebel (according to the map it seems to be called Quannazir) past which the Nile flows over the sixth cataract at Sabaluka. The problem was that we had no idea how to reach Sabaluka and had only done research based on Google Earth. A brand new road with tarmac headed off towards the Jebel and we followed it up into an interesting looking valley. However, we were soon stopped at a barrier by some suspicious looking guards and sent back the other way. It seemed that we were approaching the Jebel from the wrong side, so we returned to the main road and proceded north. It was soon evident where the turn off was, because there were boys standing at the side of the road waving at people to offer their services as guides. We agreed a price of 10SDG with a lad called Wan Ali and headed towards Sabaluka, which it was now evident was approached from the northern end of the jebel. As soon as we reached the rocks at the edge of the jebel we saw a fabulous male Red-tailed Wheatear - a new bird for us both. As we continued on towards the Nile we saw some other good birds including Tawny Pipit and Desert Lark, both new for us in Sudan.
Closer to the Nile we had our first taste of some of the hassles that the guidebooks had warned us about. They are keen to get your business and will work hard to get you to part with your money. One boy aged about 10 stood in front of the car trying to urge us to pull over and use a particular parking bay. He refused to budge and for several minutes stood their with his arms stretched out trying to make us give in. Eventually he moved (after lots of beeping and revving) and we continued on to the land owned by Wan Ali's father. Again there was the haggling for boat costs, car-watching costs, extra guides (several wanted to come with us) etc. Eventually we agreed to pay 20SDG and we then left to go up into the hills. We only stayed for a short walk and looped back along the edge of the Nile. It is a gorge with only a narrow strip of vegetation and we thought it might be a good place for concentrating migrants. There were lots of Lesser Whitethroats around but not many other migrants this early in year. Residents included Blackstarts and Striolated Buntings and Crag Martins, plus species you would expect in Khartoum such as Nile Valley Sunbirds, Siberian Stonechat, Rufous Scrub Robin, and Sudan Golden Sparrows. We were interupted by a couple of large groups of Common Cranes circling overhead. We found a patch of flight feathers on the rocks that appeared to be a raptor kill. It was hard to pin them down to a species, but we think they may well have been from an Egyptian Nightjar. Mark kept a few and may be able to identify them later.
We didn't stay long and headed north towards Meroe, where we were staying at the Italian Camp. Its not cheap, costing the equivalent of about $240 for two in a tent with dinner and breakfast, but it was a very nice place to stay, the food was good and we both felt it was worth the money. On the road up to Meroe we found a family group of Brown-necked Ravens that were still hanging around a nest in a large metal electric pylon. One thing that struck us was the pale yellowish colour of the legs of these birds. This is not shown in the books.
That evening we went out for a couple of hours birding and soon caught up with some Sylvia warblers. As expected, there were a few Lesser Whitethroats but we also found an Eastern Orphean Warbler and a Menetries Warbler (our first ever). We spent a lot of time tracking each one as they flew from bush to bush and disappeared into the foliage. Eventually, by building up notes from brief views and by taking poor quality photos, we were able to identify them both. More obliging was a nice male Ruppell's Warbler. Another good bird here was a fly-over Egyptian Vulture. At night we tried driving around to look for the eye-shine of nightjars, but without success.