Tuesday 10 June 2014

Outer Farasan islands boat trip

On Saturday morning, Bernard Bracken and I took a four hour boat trip out of the small harbour next to our hotel. Indeed it was organised through the hotel and cost 250 riyals per hour (125 riyals per person per hour). However in my view it was worth every penny.

The boatman not only spoke English well and piloted the boat well but knew where to take us for many of our requested birds. These included close ups (but not too close to force evacuation) for example of brown noddy which we had only glimpsed through the ferry window the day before.  

brown noddy

The first place of interest the boatman took us was a platform some way off an island. Here we had good views of greater crested tern which Bernard photographed well.

greater crested tern (swift tern) by Bernard Bracken

The first island which the boatman took us close to had mini cliffs two or three metres tall. On ledges all along the north facing mini-cliffs were brown booby.

brown booby

We soon realised there were a couple of sooty falcon menacing the area.

sooty falcon

One perched for a moment but the swell on the boat made photography almost impossible. However I finally got a distant shot when we landed on a very small beach.

After this, we asked to go to a low-lying island with potential for terns, knowing, by the way, that surveys show that breeding doesn't start quite yet but that extreme care was needed.

However as we headed to a likely island where we could see terns on the beach, the boatman deviated toward a very small rocky outcrop of an island. As we got closer we realised the outcrop was covered in birds. 

white eyed gull courtesy of Bernard Bracken

Most were brown noddy. There were over 45. However there were also a few white eyed gull and brown booby

plenty of brown noddy

We were conscious of the need not to force them off and asked that the boat be pulled away. 

We had similar issues, trying to minimise disturbance, when we finally headed to the large low-lying sandy island. 

white cheeked tern

We landed on a beach with little activity except 3 or 4 white cheeked tern preening.

bridled tern landing

On another beach further round the island there was much more activity and we decided not to approach it. From a distance we could see many of the birds were bridled tern. However, one came in from the sea and obliged by posing on a bush inland.

Bridled tern was not only a lifer but also proved to last addition to my Saudi list on the trip.

bridled tern

We headed back to the boat after about 10 minutes. We started the homeward journey. However we had plenty of time to visit one last island.

greater flamingo and crab plover

We stopped off at an island with a sand bar in front of a shallow lagoon. This beautiful setting had four crab plover hard at work seeking out food.

At the back of the lagoon were two shy over-summering whimbrel.

greater flamingo in flight

A single young greater flamingo was also present. On the mounds near-by were yet more osprey.


Before making the stretch of the journey which would take us back to the main island, Farasan Kabir, we sailed further round the island with the lagoon.

We came across a pod of dolphins. 

common tern (left)

On some rocks near-by we saw another type of tern: common tern.  It was then time to sail directly to Farasan Kabir.

Black crowned night heron

We hit Farasan Kabir about two kilometres west of the harbour and so had a chance to look out for birds as we moved along the shoreline. It was here that we added one final species to the trip list as two black crowned night heron were seen resting on some rocks. 

List of 33 species seen on the Farasan islands.

L = lifer. S = addition to Saudi list

Brown booby
Sooty gull
Greater flamingo
Baltic gull
Black crowned night heron
Lesser crested tern
Striated heron
Swift tern
Goliath heron  L,S
Bridled tern  L,S
Western reef heron
White-cheeked tern
Pink backed pelican
Common tern
Brown noddy   S
Egyptian vulture
Laughing dove
Sooty falcon  L,S
African collared dove
Crab plover
House crow
Grey plover
White spectacled bulbul
Kentish plover
Black crowned sparrow lark
Hoopoe lark
Common redshank
Crested lark
Ruddy turnstone
Mangrove reed warbler
White eyed gull

In addition, three species were seen at Jizan ferry terminal which weren't seen on the Farasans. These were feral pigeon, house sparrow and African palm swift.

Some notes on the logistics of the trip


The ferry has a very large capacity for passengers and I imagine rarely gets full. However car space looks more limited.

Jizan to Farasan ferry: Ferry terminal gate opens at 5.30 am. Boarding starts at 6.30 am. Ferry officially departs at 7.00 am and arrives at 8.00 am

Farasan to Jizan ferry: Ferry terminal gate officially opens at 3 pm but was open when we arrived at 2.45pm. Boarding starts at 4.00 pm. Ferry departs at 4.30 pm and arrives in Jizan at 5.30 pm.

Tickets are free and can be bought at an office next to the ferry terminal gate in Jizan from 6.00 am onward. I didn't see where the booking office was on the Farasan side.

However we bought our passenger only tickets on-line via https://www.mot.gov.sa/ar/Pages/home.aspx  Be warned the site is in Arabic. Furthermore, to buy a ticket you need to register and the only people who can register are Saudis. Once you have a Saudi willing to register for you, he can reserve and print your tickets but only if you give him your passport number (an iqama number is not sufficient).

I understand that car tickets can also be bought this way but need more advance booking as spaces are limited. 

Travel around Farasan Kabir

There are no taxis on Farasan however many locals use their cars as private taxis. It is quite easy to see a local at the ferry terminal who will give you a ride to your hotel. Our hotel had a list of several drivers they could approach to give us lifts to wherever we wanted during our stay. Prices are reasonable. If the journey is short a hotel staff member will take you to your venue free.

Farasan Coral Hotel

We each paid 450 riyals per night for double rooms with single occupancy but it was worth it. The staff were friendly and efficient. The restaurant was better than average. Indeed most Saudi hotels don't have a restaurant! It is also the only hotel on Farasan that you can book on-line through booking.com

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