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...back to our trip reports

 
   E T H I O P I A
 
   
     
  25 April 2009 - 10 May 2009  
 

   

Introduction:

As a group of friends, we had already undertaken several foreign birding trips together in the past, so when the suggestion of a trip to Ethiopia was mooted, it didn't take too long for everyone to buy into the idea and jump at the opportunity to do this trip. The group, consisting of myself, Alvin Cope, Barrie Rose, Dennis Cope, Ian Sinclair, John Graham, Rob Leslie and Vernon Head from South Africa, David Branagh and Dennis Weir from Northern Ireland and Gerry Nicholls from the USA, were soon communicating via email and starting to put plans in place for the trip. Although the trip had been planned months in advance, the time flew by and, before too long, we found ourselves at the airport boarding a plane to Ethiopia...

 

My travelling companions

         
Alvin Cope Barrie Rose David Branagh Dennis Cope Dennis Weir
         
Gerry Nicholls Ian Sinclair John Graham Rob Leslie Vernon Head
         

Overview:

Ethiopia is a landlocked country situated in the north-east of Africa in a region often referred to as the "Horn of Africa". Bounded by Eritrea and Djibouti in the north, it shares its eastern boundary with Somalia, borders Kenya in the south whilst its western neighbour is Sudan. At just over 1,13 million km2, the country is home to over 77 million people with the nation's capital, Addis Ababa, hosting just shy of 3 million of these. At 2 400m above sea level, this is also the highest capital city on the continent. The country has a high central plateau which is split diagonally by the Great Rift Valley with the western highlands getting a summer rainfall whilst the lowlands and the eastern highlands are hot and dry. The highest point in the country is Ras Dejen at 4 533 m above sea level whilst the lowest point is the Denakil Depression at 125m below sea level! Although Ethiopia lies within 15 degrees north of the equator, owing to the moderating influence of high altitude, the central highlands, where most Ethiopian people live, generally enjoys a temperate and pleasant climate. In the highlands above 2,000 metres the temperature rarely exceeds 25° C whilst, in the lower lying areas , which experience sub-tropical and tropical climates, it can get considerably hotter. Amharic is the official language of Ethiopia, although English, Italian, French and Arabic are also widely spoken. Outside of the larger cities and towns, a number of other indigenous languages are also spoken. There are over 80 of these along with some 200 dialects as well. Known officially as the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia, it is unique among African countries in that it has maintained its freedom from colonial rule with the exception of a short-lived Italian occupation from 1936-41.

Birds:

Ethiopia has long featured on most world birders list of places to visit. With a total list of over 860 species recorded, it is the high levels of endemism that are most attractive. With 18 true endemics (Blue-winged Goose, Harwood's Francolin, Spot-breasted Lapwing, Yellow-fronted Parrot, Ruspoli's Turaco, Nechisar Nightjar, Erlanger's, Degodi and Sidamo Larks, White-tailed Swallow, Abyssinian Longclaw, Abyssinian Catbird, Bale Warbler, Stresemann's Bush Crow, Lineated Pytilia, Salvadori's and Yellow-throated Seedeaters and Ankober Serin), that is already a good start, but if one adds the 15 species that are only marginally shared with Eritrea (Wattled Ibis, Rouget's Rail, White-collared Pigeon, Black-winged Lovebird, Banded Barbet, Abyssinian Woodpecker, Ruppell's Black Chat, White-winged Cliff-chat, Abyssinian Slaty Flycatcher, White-backed Black Tit, Ethiopian Oriole, Thick-billed Raven, White-billed Starling, Ethiopian Siskin and Yellow-rumped Seedeater), it certainly makes for an attractive birding destination. There are also a number of species easily seen in the country which are also only found here and in neighbouring Somalia, not the most easily accessible country to visit in terms of birding!

     
Stresemann's Bush Crow Spot-breasted Lapwing
     

Mammals:

With a list of 277 species recorded, it is certainly an interesting country for anyone who has an avid interest in mammals to visit. With 32 true endemics (Walia Ibex, Gelada, Bale Monkey, Mountain Nyala, Starck's Hare and Ethiopian Wolf as well as 2 bats, 9 insectivores and 15 rodents), it is certainly an exciting place to visit. There are also a number of endemic subspecies that could well be split in the future increasing this number dramatically. Generally, mammal watching in the country is fairly easy with most species being fairly approachable.

     
Gelada Ethiopian Wolf
     

Our trip:

Since Ian Sinclair, one of the trip participants, had led many birding tours to Ethiopia in the past, he undertook most of the logistical arrangements for the trip and got in touch with the ground agent he had used previously, Ethop Travel (eht-am@ethionet.et), to put things in place for us. All arrangements went very smoothly and we were provided with 4 Toyota Landcruiser 4x4's for the trip, each with their own driver, as well as a local guide and another assistant. They looked after us very well and it was always good knowing, while you were out in the field birding, that they were back at the vehicles looking after everything and generally had something ready for us to eat and drink when we returned back to the vehicles after birding. Other than having the drivers available to drive us around in a foreign country (which was probably preferable in Ethiopia rather than doing a self-drive thing), the guide and assistant were also always there to help us when we ran into problems with language barriers at shops (or elsewhere) or to advise us on any number of other issues.

Generally, the Ethiopian people are extremely friendly and not once on the trip did we run into any problems with the locals. Accommodation ranged from good through to plain, but clean and comfortable, whilst there were a couple of places, one in particular, that would certainly not make my list of places to go back to....EVER!!! Food was generally good and tasty, even although at times, the conditions for the preparation of the food left a lot to be desired. One cannot drink tap water in Ethiopia, but our drivers had a constant supply of bottled water in the vehicles, which was important especially in the lowland areas where it got incredibly hot.

The local currency, the Ethiopian Birr, was trading at about ETB 1.00 = ZAR 0.70 (South African Rand) at the time of our visit. Most things were fairly inexpensive and, although there were not a lot of options in the way of tourist souveniers on the trip, the bulk of the "spending money" was used on liquid refreshments, both during the heat of the day to cool oneself down and then in the evening, on a different tack, to celebrate all the lifers of the day...

   
Our trusty Landcruisers... ...that took us everywhere.
     

Daily account:

25 April 2009

After arriving late the previous evening in Addis Ababa with Ethiopian Airlines, and spending the night at the Ghion Hotel, the adrenaline was pumping and we were up and out in the hotel gardens even before it was light! Trying to make out the shapes in the half light was frustrating, but as soon as it was light enough, we were quickly adding new birds to our lists. The gardens held a number of species and we soon got to grips with Ruppell's Robin-chat, Abyssinian Thrush, Abyssinian and Montane White-eyes, Tacazze Sunbird, Brown-rumped and Streaky Seedeaters, Abyssinian Slaty Flycatcher, Baglafecht Weaver, Dusky Turtle Dove and Wattled Ibis while overhead there was a constant procession of Black Kites and Hooded Vultures with the occasional flock of Nyanza Swifts moving through as well. All too soon, we were called in to have breakfast, but already, the list was well on its way.

After breakfast, we packed up, booked out of the hotel and headed off to the Sululta Plains where our first roadside stop netted us Botta's Wheatear, Ethiopian Siskin, Groundscraper Thrush, Augur Buzzard and Red-throated Pipit to mention a few. A little way further, we stopped at a small wetland and came up trumps with Blue-winged Goose, Yellow-billed Duck, Spur-winged and Spot-breasted Lapwings, Glossy Ibis and several Western Yellow Wagtails.

Then it was on to Debre Libanos with the intention being to visit a small patch of forest down in the valley next to the famous monastry and church. On arrival, we found that the road down into the valley had been closed to traffic due to roadworks and so it meant that we had to walk the 4km to the forest from the point that we could drive no further. Fortunately, it was all downhill and there was plenty to distract us on the way down as well. As we made our way down walking through several small villages as well (and getting lots of weird looks!), we soon picked up African Citril, Fan-tailed Raven, Red-cheeked Cordonbleu, Red-billed Firefinch, Yellow-bellied Waxbill, Little Rock Thrush, White-billed Starling, Blue-breasted Bee-eater, Ruppell's Black Chat and Banded Barbet whilst other distractions included Variable Sunbird, Red-rumped Swallow, Eurasian Blackcap and Black-winged Lovebird. We also got distant views here of our first mammal for the trip, the endemic and brilliant Geladas. Eventually reaching the bottom of the valley and the church, we then made off into the forest and came up trumps with the likes of Brown Woodland Warbler, White-backed Black Tit, Abyssinian and Grey-headed Woodpeckers, White-cheeked Turaco, Scaly-throated Honeyguide and Ethiopian Oriole.

Once out of the forest, the long walk back up the mountain did not look all that appealing, so we managed to find a local with a vehicle (who had permission to still use the road!!??) and he loaded us all up and drove us back up to the top. Back at the top, I was lucky to have a great close interaction with a large troop of Geladas and also saw the only White-headed Vulture that I recorded on the trip. Then it was off to book into the Ethio Germany Hotel. Situated on a cliff edge, the hotel itself is pretty plain, but the position is awesome! We spent the last part of the day on the edge of the cliff enjoying cold drinks from the bar and taking it all in while Egyptian, Hooded and Ruppell's Vultures and Fan-tailed Ravens soared by at eye level.

     
The road down to Debre Libanos The church at Debre Libanos
   
Barrie, Dennis and Rob on the prowl Alvin is not missing a thing
   
Another lifer spotted... Let the celebrations begin...
   

26 April 2009

With the intention of getting down into the Jemma Valley early in the hope of finding Harwood's Francolin, we packed up and left the hotel by 4am. It was a fairly long drive, but when it eventually started getting light, we made a couple of stops along the way (which in hindsight was a mistake as we missed the francolin, only hearing it, because we got to the site too late) and were soon picking up species like Ruppell's Black Chat, Black-crowned Tchagra, White-winged Cliff-chat, Abyssinian Roller and Abyssinian Wheatear. On arrival at the site, we then took a walk up the river valley and connected with Vinaceous Dove, Black-billed Barbet, African Grey and Crowned Hornbills, Common Bulbul, Cinnamon-breasted Bunting, Northern Crombec and Eastern Chanting Goshawk amongst others. Further investigation also revealed Black-winged Bishop, Singing Cisticola, Eurasian Hoopoe, Bush Petronia and Vitelline Masked Weaver whilst several reptiles were also seen.

Back at the cars, we enjoyed some coffee and breakfast before a Green-backed Eremomela distracted us. Another short walk after breakfast added Pale Rockfinch, Cut-throat Finch, Speckle-fronted Weaver and Namaqua Dove and, as we were leaving, another mammal for the trip, Grivet as well as a new reptile for the trip, Nile Crocodile. Another stop along a dry river bed yielded Hunter's Sunbird and Foxy Cisticola whilst the drive back up out of the valley turned up Common and Fox Kestrels and Superb Starling.

Once up on the Jemma Plateau, the suite of species changed and we were soon picking up Bearded Vulture, Thekla and Erlanger's Larks and Moorland Chat whilst a lunch time stop at a small copse of Eucalyptus trees delivered Yellow-crowned Canary, Abyssinian Thrush, Brown-rumped and Streaky Seedeaters and Baglafecht Weaver. Travelling towards Debre Birhan, the rest of the afternoon added Banded Martin, Steppe Eagle, Lesser Kestrel, Ethiopian Siskin and Ethiopian Cisticola amongst others whilst an untimely puncture had us stopping right at a small colony of African Grass Rats. Upon reaching Debre Birhan, we booked ourselves into the Eva Hotel, a rather pleasant place that had, amongst others, Tacazze Sunbird, Swainson's Sparrow and White-billed Starling in the gardens.

     
Birding above the Jemma Valley View from the edge of the Jemma Escarpment
   
View across the Jemma Valley View across the Jemma Valley
   
Birding in the Jemma Valley... ...while locals continued with their daily chores
   
Habitat on the Jemma Plateau Birding on the Jemma Plateau
   
The Eva Hotel The Eva Hotel
     

27 April 2009

The day started off well with a Hemprich's Hornbill right outside the hotel even before breakfast! It was then off to Debre Sina with the drive enroute producing Botta's Wheatear, Groundscraper Thrush, Augur Buzzard and Moorland Chat. Arriving at the site for Ankober Serin, we were blown away at the sheer beauty of the area. Situated on the edge of an escarpment, we were positioned at the top of sheer cliffs that dropped off an incredibly long way into the valley. Whilst here, we also developed an entourage of locals who followed us around trying to work out exactly what we were doing. The birding in the area was good and turned up Verreaux's Eagle, Peregrine, Red-rumped Swallow, Ethiopian Siskin, Alpine and Mottled Swifts, African Pipit, Cinnamon Bracken Warbler as well as our target bird, Ankober Serin. There were also a number of Ethiopian Rock Hyraxes present in the area.

From here, we made our way to Ankober, picking up Lanner, Tawny Eagle, Hamerkop and Ruppell's Vulture along the way. The route travels through some high altitude grasslands with some stunning scenery and lots of friendly locals. Eventually arriving at our accommodation, Ankober Palace Lodge, we were greeted with a rather steep climb from the road up to the lodge (www.ankoberlodge.com.et). Fortunately, there were a number of porters available to carry our luggage up as most of us were actually quite unfit and were pretty tired just carrying ourselves up to the top! The view from the top was simply spectacular and what made the whole thing even more impressive was that the lodge buildings were previously the palace of King Menelik ll. Ankober, the ancient capital of the Kingdom of Shoa, served for a while as the capital of the Ethiopian empire during the reign of King Menelik II, prior to the move to the current capital, Addis Ababa. Needless to say, with us all being quite tired after the walk up, we didn't venture too far from the lodge for the rest of the afternoon, but the birding right there was still pretty impressive with White-billed Starling, Brown Woodland Warbler, Eurasian Blackcap, Montane White-eye, Black Sparrowhawk, White-cheeked Turaco and Erckel's Francolin all being recorded.

     
The escarpment at Debre Sina The escarpment at Debre Sina
   
Birding on the edge of the escarpment Birding on the edge of the escarpment
   
John making the photography look easy... ...while Vernon makes it look extremely difficult...
   
Scenery en route to Ankober Scenery en route to Ankober
   
Roadside stopping always attracts the attention of the locals... ...who inevitably come in for a closer look.
   
The walk up to Ankober Palace Lodge Our accommodation at Ankober Palace Lodge
   
The view from our accommodation The restaurant at Ankober Palace Lodge
   

28 April 2009

After an early breakfast, we started the descent back down the mountain to the cars to head off. Birds were already quite active and we quickly found Eurasian Blackcap, Brown Woodland Warbler, Little Rock Thrush, Ruppell's Robin-chat, Abyssinian Slaty Flycatcher as well as finally coming to grips with Abyssinian Catbird. Once back at the cars, we began our descent down in to the lowlands to the well know Melka Ghebdu track. Our first roadside stop immediately got us into a new suite of birds and we quickly added Bare-faced Go-away-bird, Eastern Plantain-eater, Ruppell's Weaver and one of our main targets, Yellow-throated Seedeater. Our next stop was at a dry riverbed where we spent quite some time as there just seemed to be birds everywhere! Blue-breasted and Olive Bee-eaters, Blue-spotted Wood Dove, Beautiful and Hunter's Sunbirds, Yellow-breasted and Black-billed Barbets, Boran Cisticola, Crimson-rumped Waxbill, Somali Bulbul, Reichenow's Seedeater and Northern Red-billed Hornbill were all added in quick succession whilst another roadside stop just a short way further yielded Ruppell's Starling, Northern Puffback, Grey Wren-warbler and White-browed Coucal amongst others.

We still had a long way to reach our destination for the evening, Awash, so we started pushing on, but progress was extremely difficult as we were constantly faced with new birds. A quick stop in some tall woodlands revealed Black-billed Woodhoopoe, Red-bellied Parrot and Nubian Woodpecker, whilst the more open areas along the road were scanned thoroughly as we drove along resulting in a number of screeching stops as we picked up new birds along the way. Highlights included Arabian Bustard, White-throated and Northern Carmine Bee-eaters, Abyssinian Roller, White-bellied Go-away-bird, White-headed Buffalo-weaver and Buff-crested Korhaan whilst a handful of Common Warthogs and both Guenther's and Salt's Dikdiks were added to the mammal list.

Perhaps one of the lasting impressions from this day was the quality, or lack thereof, of the roads (actually, more like tracks than roads!) which were rather testing at times as well as the incredible amount of fine dust that just got in everywhere! Although I have been in many dusty places in my life, this certainly took the cake...

Nearer to Awash, we crossed a small stream which was the first water we had seen for quite some time, so decided to stop for a while. Egyptian Vultures, Yellow-billed Storks and Pink-backed Pelican circled overhead whilst careful scanning along the edges of the stream yielded Spur-winged Lapwing, Senegal Thick-knee and Little and Temminck's Stints. Black-crowned Sparrow-lark was also seen here coming in to drink. One final stop before reaching Awash added Blue-naped Mousebird, African Palm Swift and Nile Valley Sunbird as well as some Grivets.

Finally reaching Awash, we booked ourselves into the Bouffet D'Aouache Hotel where we spent the last bit of the day enjoying the various species feeding in the large trees in the garden. Service at the hotel restaurant brought the meaning of "slow" to a whole new level when it took several hours for the food to arrive after it had been ordered!

     
Woodlands en route to Awash Open plains en route to Awash
   
Lovely roads and dust... ...and even more dust!
   
Driving through desert landscapes to Awash Locals collecting water at a well
   
Bouffet D'Aouache Hotel Bouffet D'Aouache Hotel
   

29 April 2009

Today was our introduction to Awash National Park. Before we had even reached the gates of the park, we had already been distracted several times and had caught up with the likes of Zitting Cisticola, White-headed and Red-billed Buffalo-weavers, Northern White-crowned Shrike and Gillett's Lark as well as our first mammal for the day, Beisa Oryx. Inside the park, the birding started in earnest and, on the first part of our drive even before reaching our breakfast stop, we connected with Singing Bush and Red-winged Larks, Somali Fiscal, Lesser Grey Shrike, Kori Bustard, Whinchat, Eastern Chanting Goshawk, Ruppell's Vulture, Abyssinian Ground Hornbill, Ethiopian Swallow and Purple Grenadier as well as another new mammal, Soemmerring's Gazelle. After a quick stop for coffee and breakfast, a short walk in the area revealed Slate-coloured Boubou, White-browed Scrub Robin, Red-fronted Warbler and Somali Bunting before heading off to see Awash Falls. Birding around the falls themselves was relatively quiet (although they were fairly spectacular to see), so we then moved along to the camp site area. A small party of Olive Baboons was a welcome distraction (these animals were quite inquisitive with one jumping on to our vehicle and taking a peek at us through the windscreen!) whilst the trees around the camp site held Spectacled Weaver, Nubian Woodpecker, Northern Puffback, Tropical Boubou, White-bellied Go-away-bird and White-rumped Babblers. African Thrushes and Ruppell's Starlings jumped around on the ground and Grivets also added to the mammal numbers.

We then drove over to the Park Lodge (well, more of a collection of old caravans than anything else!) picking up Grey-headed Batis, Yellow-necked Spurfowl, Temminck's Courser and Abyssinian Scimitarbill along the way and then enjoyed a cold drink at the restaurant which overlooked a deep gorge while Shining Sunbirds flitted around in the bushes just below us. By now, it was already hot, so we headed back to the hotel for lunch, lucking upon a small party of White-bellied Korhaans on the way.

Slightly later, we made a return to the park and, in the last few hours of daylight, added several new species for the trip including Hartlaub's Bustard, Secretarybird, Pallid Harrier and Northern Yellow-billed Hornbill as well as several Ethiopian Hares. Waiting at a historical stake out for sandgrouse to come in to drink unfortunately proved fruitless (they had obviously changed their routines) and a subsequent nightdrive in search of nightjars didn't turn up any either, but we were lucky to find Northern White-faced Owl as well as Bat-eared Fox and African Wild Cat. Then, it was finally back to the hotel to undertake another loooonnnnnggggg wait for dinner.

     
The sign says it all About to enter Awash National Park
   
Awash Falls Awash Falls
   
Habitat in Awash National Park Habitat in Awash National Park
   

30 April 2009

Another day in the area, this morning we headed off towards the Fantalle Crater section of the park. Unfortunately, due to recent flooding, the road that we needed to take up the mountain had been washed away and so, we could not get up as high as we would have liked to and therefore lost out on the chance to find Sombre Rock Chat, one of our target birds here! Getting up as high as we could, we birded along the various rocky ridges in the area and were soon adding White-bellied Canary, Blackstart, Speke's Weaver, Northern Red Bishop, Somali Bunting, Yellow-spotted Petronia and Mouse-coloured Penduline Tit whilst I was the only one lucky enough to catch up with Brown-tailed Rock Chat after somehow having been separated from the rest of group accidentally (I managed to miss a couple of other species that the rest saw when this happened as well!!). We spent several hours in the area which held a number of good species and also caught up with Yellow-breasted Barbet, Nile Valley Sunbird, White-throated and Little Bee-eaters, Yellow-bellied Eremomela, Ruppell's Weaver, Pale Flycatcher, Chestnut-headed Sparrowlark and Black-cheeked Waxbill whilst Bush Petronia, Northern White-crowned Shrike and Common Redstart were also around.

We then moved off to some wetland areas where there were good numbers of Greater Flamingo, White-breasted and Reed Cormorants, African Darter, White-winged and Whiskered Terns, Black-headed Gull, several herons and egrets as well as numbers of Palearctic waders including Common Greenshank, Wood and Curlew Sandpipers, Little Stint and Ruff.

Back at the hotel for lunch, we watched as numbers of Village Weavers visited the tree in front of our rooms with the odd Chestnut Weaver thrown in as well whilst me taking my time trying to catch up on my notes before going to the restaurant almost had me dipping out on Bristle-crowned Starling which the others had been enjoying while having a cold one before lunch...Fortunately, they did not move too far off and we were able to relocate them!

The afternoon saw us heading back into the main section of the park where we saw most of the same as we had seen yesterday with the addition of Northern Wheatear and finally Lesser Kudu! A drive at dusk along one of the roads eventually gave us brief views of at least 2 Star-spotted Nightjars whilst a third nightjar, which was almost certainly a different species, did not hang around for long enough for us to clinch the id!

     
Waiting to leave the hotel to go birding... ...but it is important to ensure that everything you might need is packed.
   

1 May 2009

After breakfast, it was time to pack the cars and hit the road again. Leaving Awash, we made our way through a area of rocky ridges right alongside the road and saw a group of Hamadryas Baboons sitting on one of the ridges watching the traffic go by. I shouted at our driver to stop which he attempted to do, but we were almost tail-ended by a large truck right behind us and, unfortunately, could not find a place to pull over safely and therefore, I had to be satisfied (or actually dissatisfied) with a rather brief view of these animals as we never got to see them again on the trip.

A stop off at a roadside wetland revealed a number of African Fish Eagles (with many juveniles) as well as good numbers of waterbirds including Great White and Pink-backed Pelicans, African Spoonbill, Hamerkop and several Spotted Redshanks. We had quite a distance to travel today, so we pushed on eventually reaching our lunch stop in the town of Ziway. While lunch was being prepared, we spent time in the restaurant gardens coming to grips with the likes of Northern Black Flycatcher, Buff-bellied Warbler and Bruce's Green Pigeon while Grey-headed Batis and Common Whitethroat were also welcome distractions. As soon as lunch was finished, we headed off to Lake Zeway where we got to appreciate how tame Ethiopia's birds really are. Hundreds of birds were all around with species like Marabou Storks and Hamerkops in particular walking right up to us! Other good birds here (in amongst the hundreds of local onlookers all around us trying to figure out what we were doing) included Black Heron, Black Crake, Hottentot Teal, African Pygmy Goose, Sedge and Lesser Swamp Warblers, Temminck's Stint and Squacco Heron. Needless to say, there were also plenty of photographic opportunities here...

Eventually, we had to drag ourselves away from this feast and cover the remaining distance to Wondo Genet where we would be spending the night. Eventually arriving there, we booked into the Wondo Genet Wabi Shebele Hotel (http://realethiopia.com/directory/accommodation/hotel/wondo-genet-wabi-shebele-hotel/detail.html) which had one of the most oddly designed restaurants I have seen in some time. Although the hotel had a 2 star rating, one of the requirements to get those two starts was clearly not the necessity to actually have toilet seats, as this was one rather important feature missing from our room!

Bags were literally thrown into the rooms so that we could try and take advantage of the last few rays of light (even although it was raining lightly as well). Grivets were numerous whilst the absolutely stunning Guereza Colubus was another new mammal. Wattled Ibis, White-cheeked Turaco and Silvery-cheeked Hornbill were amongst the last species we saw before it got too dark and it was time to call it a day.

     
Birding at Lake Zeway... ...attracted lots of attention from the locals.
   
They came with all sorts of offerings... ...and also loved posing for the camera.
   
Birds and people everywhere... ...also became a bit of a traffic hazzard.
   
John enjoying photographing the birds with a wide angle lens... ...while Alvin battles to even see them!
   
Wabi Shebele Hotel Wabi Shebele Hotel
   
Restaurant at the Wabi Shebele Hotel Restaurant at the Wabi Shebele Hotel
   

2 May 2009

Up early this morning, we met up with a local guide with the intention of taking a walk up the mountains behind the hotel into the forest there. Even before we had started the walk proper, we had picked up Thick-billed Raven, African Goshawk and Narina Trogon calling. The walk turned up a number of species already seen on the trip like Abyssinian and Grey-headed Woodpeckers, Ethiopian Oriole, Brown Warbler (Parisoma), Black Saw-wing (this complex is a taxonomical mess as the birds occurring in Ethiopia have in the past been treated as 2 separate species - Brown and Blue Saw-wing - but are now all lumped back with Black), Black-winged Lovebird and Silvery-cheeked Hornbill but we also managed to add a number of new species to the trip list including Tambourine and Lemon Doves, Slender-billed Starling, Red-shouldered Cuckooshrike, Brown-throated Wattle-eye, African Hill Babbler, Mountain Buzzard and our target species for this area, the endemic Yellow-fronted Parrot. Scaly Francolin was also heard calling and the only new mammal on the walk was Gambian Sun Squirrel.

Back at the hotel, we had breakfast and then packed the vehicles and headed off towards Goba. The long drive produced a number of species already encountered on the trip initially like Ruppell's and Hooded Vultures, Tawny Eagle, Cape Crow, Ethiopian Siskin, Dusky Turtle Dove as well as new trip birds like White-backed Vulture and Somali Crow. As we began to gain altitude and head up into the Bale Mountains, the habitat changed dramatically  and we were soon screeching to a halt for things like Red-billed Chough, Chestnut-naped Francolin and Rouget's Rail, the latter being a bird that I have long wanted to see ever since I heard about this bizarrely tame rallid that walks around in the open in the Ethiopian highlands! Eventually reaching Dinsha, the main entrance to the Bale Mountains National Park, we spent some time around the main office buildings while all the formalities were being taken care of and landed Abyssinian Ground Thrush as well as good views of both Mountain Nyala and Menelik's Bushbuck. The final short drive to Goba didn't add too much more and, on arrival, we booked ourselves into the Goba Wabi Shebele Hotel. Late afternoon birding in the gardens of the hotel yielded Abyssinian Slaty Flycatcher, Ethiopian Cisticola, Tacazze Sunbird and Yellow-bellied Waxbill as well as our first Dark-capped Bulbuls of the trip whilst a Common Duiker feeding in the gardens was also a welcome sight.

     
Traditional houses en route Locals collecting water
   
Heading up towards the Bale Mountains... ...while the locals looked on.
   
Everyday life in Goba Everyday life in Goba
   
Shopping in Goba Goba Wabi Shebelle Hotel
   

3 May 2009

After breakfast at the hotel, we made our way up on to the Sanetti Plateau where we would be spending most of the day. Situated mostly at 4 000 m above sea level and more, the habitat is distinctly alpine and many of the species are quite different to what we had been seeing up until now. The route up had us finding species like Augur Buzzard, Moorland Chat and Rouget's Rail and pretty soon after getting on to the plateau proper, we encountered the first of at least a dozen Ethiopian Wolves seen on the day. The habitat consists mostly of low scrub and more open grassland areas as well as several wetlands and we spent a number of hours working through these. There was also a bit of a wind blowing which lowered the temperature somewhat and, at the highest point we reached today at 4 380 m asl where there was a small radio station, there was actually ice blowing off the antenna mast! Needless to say that the altitude also slowed down the level of exercise for the day...

Although there were not huge numbers of species up here, we saw some fine birds. Birds already seen previously in the trip that we found again included Ethiopian Siskin, Thekla Lark, Red-throated Pipit, Spot-breasted Lapwing, Red-billed Chough, Blue-winged Goose, Chestnut-naped Francoling and Wattled Ibis, whilst new trip birds included Wattled Crane, Moorland Francolin, Ruddy Shelduck and brief views of a distant Abyssinian Longclaw. We also descended a little way into the mist-filled valley on the other end of the plateau to look for Bale Warbler (Parisoma) which we were eventually successful in finding. The plateau was not only good for birds, but also held some great mammals including Klipspringer, Starck's Hare, Giant Mole-rat (what a bizarre creature!) and Blick's Grass and Black-clawed Brush-furred Rats.

Later in the afternoon, on our way back to Goba, we stopped off in some small patches of indigenous forest and then walked along the road birding for a while (well, it was actually a little longer than we expected to since our drivers had said we should walk down to the river and meet them there, but omitted to tell us that the river was literally miles away!!). Although we did not add any new species here, we did see Yellow-bellied Waxbill, Black-winged Lovebird, White-cheeked Turaco, Variable and Tacazze Sunbirds , White-collared and African Olive Pigeons, Black Sparrowhawk and Cinnamon Bracken Warbler whilst both Verreaux's Eagle and Mountain Buzzard were seen soaring overhead. Then it was back to the hotel to catch up on some notes...

     
Birding on the Sanetti Plateau Habitat on the Sanetti Plateau
   
Habitat on the Sanetti Plateau Habitat on the Sanetti Plateau
   
Habitat on the Sanetti Plateau Habitat on the Sanetti Plateau
   
Birding at 4 380 m above sea level The misty valley which held the Bale Warbler (Parisoma)
   

4 May 2009

With the vehicles packed early, we drove back up on to the plateau and made our way across it, not really stopping along the way, apart from a few times when reasonable photographic opportunities presented themselves (and hence not picking up anything new) and then descended on the other side with our destination in mind, Ngele. A stop off in a small village a little way down for the drivers to get breakfast saw us attract a large entourage of locals again as we caught up with a small group of Somali Starlings. After leaving here, we passed through the extensive Harenna Forest which looked extremely promising for birding (and, in hindsight, we should probably have spent a little more time there), but only made one or two short stops picking up calling Red-chested and African Emerald Cuckoos, Abyssinian Catbird, Silvery-cheeked Hornbill, Mountain Wagtail and Cinnamon Bracken Warbler as well as a handful of primates including Olive Baboon, Guereza Colobus and, finally, our target animal, Bale Monkey.

As we continued towards Ngele, the habitat changed into more typical savanna and, eventually, we could not help but to make a few roadside stops in order to see what was around. Very quickly, we were seeing the likes of African Grey, Northern Red-billed and Von der Decken's Hornbills, Orange-breasted Bushshrike, Striped Kingfisher, Lesser Blue-eared Starling, Red-bellied Parrot, Red-and-yellow Barbet and Shelley's and the brilliant Golden-breasted Starlings. A stop off at a dry river bed had us investigating a large fruiting Fig tree which delivered another big target, the mega Ruspoli's Turaco, whilst further stops closer to Ngele added Red-collared Widowbird, White-crested Helmetshrike, Superb Starling, Black-billed Woodhoopoe, Yellow-spotted Petronia, Black-headed Oriole, Brubru, Slate-coloured Boubou and Acacia Tit. Both Striped and Unstriped Ground Squirrels were also seen along the route.

Arriving at Ngele, we then set about booking ourselves into the Green Hotel, apparently the only accommodation in the area. Well, what a shite hole!!! My room was dirty and an exposed light bulb hanging from a wire from the ceiling was the only light source. My "en-suite" consisted of a room which was effectively a shower - no basin or toilet at all! And although the shower had a shower arm and rose sticking out of the wall, the taps had long since been removed, so there was no physical way of actually turning the shower on. Toilet facilities consisted of 2 long drops (effectively just a big hole in the ground) with timber covers which clearly had not been cleaned for several years! The stench was unbearable and you shared it with hundreds of flies during the day replaced by hundreds of mosquitos at night. Some of the group got lucky and were booked into the "luxury rooms" which had full en-suites (with showers, basins and flushing toilets) except the flushing cisterns hadn't worked in ages and the previous patrons had obviously not worried about that too much and had used the toilets anyway! Needless to say, these en-suites had an interesting stench all of their own... Vernon somehow managed to get the only room that had a flushing toilet that worked and I am sure he ended up regretting that as he had to open up his room to an endless procession of the rest of us coming to use the facilities!! And some of the guys (fortunately not me!) who had a bit of a disagreement with the food we were fed, ended up visiting extremely regularly right through the night with Vernon landing up with virtually no sleep at all! Rob got the worst deal of all getting a room with no en-suite at all and also no window panes, just the open window frames. This was certainly not conducive to a good nights sleep with all the mosquitos around. So, if anyone ever lands us having to visit Ngele and overnight there (and you probably will have to if you are birding as there are certain endemics to chase in the immediate area), prepare yourself mentally for this place!

     
Stopping in the village attracted lots of locals... ...which Gerry took the opportunity to entertain them.
   
Our parade of Landcruisers in the village Dennis was also popular with the locals
   
Locals were always inquisitive... ...and ready to pose for the camera.
   
Scenery en route to Ngele Scenery en route to Ngele
   
The sign says it all... The Green Hotel
   
My room at the Green Hotel My "en-suite" at the Green Hotel
   

5 May 2009

None of us could wait to get out of the hotel, so we were up early, packed the vehicles, and then headed off to some open grassy plains a little way out of town. The target bird here was Sidamo Lark which we happened to flush off a nest by accident without knowing it was there, but the area also produced Somali Short-toed Lark, Pectoral-patch Cisticola, White-crowned Starling, Plain-backed Pipit, Eurasian Hobby and the local race of Lilac-breasted Roller, a rather different looking animal to the one we are used to further south.

We then started heading off in the direction of Yabello with initial roadside birding along the way adding Dodson's Bulbul, Rufous Chatterer, Acacia Tit, White-winged Widow (with a chestnut shoulder patch, not a yellow one) and Vitelline Masked Weaver to mention a few. A stop at a well known stake-out along a river for White-winged Collared Dove eventually yielded the target bird, but we also nabbed Purple Grenadier, Ethiopian Swallow, Black-throated Barbet, Eastern Violet-backed Sunbird and Somali Bunting here. Another drive to our next stake-out turned into quite a long affair as we kept stopping to pick up new birds. Species en route included Steel-blue Whydah, Vulturine Guineafowl, Jacobin Cuckoo, Yellow-breasted Apalis, Abyssinian Ground Hornbill, D'Arnaud's Barbet, Black-capped Social Weaver and Grasshopper Buzzard.

Our next stake-out was for the endemic Salvadori's Seedeater which we nailed within a couple of minutes of getting out of the car! Things were going well and this site also revealed Northern Black Flycatcher, Eastern Chanting Goshawk and Straw-tailed Whydah amongst others. As we drove on a little further, our vehicles (the last 2) started to lag behind a little trying to catch up on all the birds which was fortuitous in a way as John suddenly shouted "COURSER!!". We screeched to a halt to be faced with a cracking Somali Courser. Getting out of the vehicles and walking into the fields, we then noticed that there were also several Temminck's Coursers present as well. Sometimes, one deserves a little bit of luck...

As we pushed on and got closer to Yabello, we continued to pick up good birds and enjoyed the likes of Magpie Starling, Grey-capped Social Weaver, Red-faced Crombec, Foxy Lark, Rosy-patched Bushshrike and eventually, the highly sought after Stresemann's Bush Crow. What a bizarre bird and surely one of the better looking corvids in the world!

Finally arriving in Yabello, we booked ourselves into the Yabello Motel, a major improvement on the previous nights accommodation and enjoyed the antics of White-bellied Go-away-birds and Speke's Weavers in the gardens before it got dark.

     
Attracting locals again outside Ngele Habitat for Sidamo Lark
   
Friendly locals en route to Yabello Friendly locals en route to Yabello
   
Yabello Motel Yabello Motel
   

6 May 2009

Out early this morning, we headed off to a stake out for the endemic White-tailed Swallow. A little way out of town, one of the vehicles picked up a puncture, so we all ventured off into the woodland next to the road while the drivers changed the tyres. The quick walk produced Vitelline Masked Weaver, White-headed Buffalo-weaver, Grey Wren-warbler and Spotted Palm Thrush amongst others. Another quick roadside stop a little further on in some slightly more degraded woodland added Shelley's and Wattled Starlings, Lesser Striped Swallow, Northern Grosbeak Canary and Somali Crombec. Arriving at the swallow site, we picked several of them up almost immediately, but were equally distracted by the Shelley's Rufous Sparrows and Short-tailed Larks in the area.

After successfully getting our main target bird for the day, we then headed back to the degraded woodlands to spend some more time there. The area delivered White-browed Scrub Robin, Pale Flycatcher, Slate-coloured Boubou, Dodson's Bulbul, Pale and Tawny-flanked Prinias, Banded Warbler (Parisoma), Reichenow's Seedeater, Pringle's Puffback, the tough Red-naped Bushshrike and the endemic Lineated Pytilia. We also flushed an Abyssinian Hare here (a recent split from Cape Hare). We then moved off into some taller woodland and very quickly added the likes of Stresemann's Bush Crow, African Grey Flycatcher, Red-backed Shrike, Pygmy Batis, Chestnut Sparrow, Archer's Francolin and Three-streaked Tchagra. There were also several Unstriped Ground Squirrels in the area. It was then back to the hotel for lunch where we had Parrot-billed Sparrow in the gardens whilst a Bateleur soared overhead.

The afternoon saw us heading out to some tall woodland again to spend some time birding in the area. Red-bellied Parrot, Abyssinian White-eye, Rufous Chatterer and Crimson-rumped Waxbill were all seen again whilst the likes of Bare-eyed Thrush, Scaly Chatterer, Grey-headed Bushshrike, Little and Ovambo Sparrowhawks, Crested Francolin, Green-winged Pytilia and Little Weaver were all new for the trip. A nightdrive along one of the quieter dirt roads only revealed Pearl-spotted Owlet birdwise, but did deliver Aardvark, Common (Small-spotted) Genet and Senegal Galago.

     
All the offerings at our accommodation Getting ready to head out birding
   
Habitat near Yabello Habitat near Yabello
   

7 May 2009

Up early, we packed the vehicles and left Yabello, stopping a little way out of town to bird in some woodlands again. As we got out of the car, the tree right next to the road had both Bearded and Nubian Woodpeckers in it which was a good start to the birding. The next couple of hours was spent in the woodland here where we turned up Black Cuckoo, White-browed Coucal, Eurasian Hoopoe, Yellow-spotted Petronia, White-crowned, Shelley's and Superb Starlings, Banded Warbler (Parisoma), D'Arnaud's and Red-fronted Barbets, Spotted Flycatcher, Buff-bellied Warbler, European Bee-eater, Foxy Lark, Lesser Honeyguide, Willow Warbler, African Collared Dove and Black-billed Wood Dove amongst others.

We then started with the long drive north to Awassa, only stopping off for a lunch break and reached the town mid afternoon where we booked ourselves into the Awassa Wabi Shebelle Hotel No.1 (http://realethiopia.com/directory/accommodation/hotel/wabi-shebelle-hotel-no.1/detail.html) situated on the banks of Lake Awassa (not sure what the "No. 1" refers to...). A clean and comfortable place, the hotel grounds were extensive and had lots of large trees in them. The rest of the afternoon was spent walking around in the gardens and along the banks of Lake Awassa. The gardens themselves produced Woodland Kingfisher, Beautiful Sunbird, Grey-headed Woodpecker, Banded, Black-billed and Double-toothed Barbets, Hadeda Ibis, Tambourine Dove, Little and Spectacled Weavers, Red-faced Cisticola and Western Black-headed Batis whilst a walk along the lake edge revealed African Citril, Black-winged Lovebird, White-backed Duck, African Pygmy Goose, Northern Red Bishop, Ruppell's Starling, Spur-winged Lapwing as well as Pied and Malachite Kingfishers. The gardens also held healthy populations of both Grivet and Guereza Colobus whilst, after dinner, a number of Gambian Epauletted Fruit Bats were seen in and around the trees near the restaurant.

     
Local shop en route to Awassa Local market en route to Awassa
   
While we enjoyed a welcome lunch break... ...locals continued with their everyday chores.
   
Awassa Wabi Shebelle Hotel No.1 Awassa Wabi Shebelle Hotel No.1
   

8 May 2009

Waking up early, we spent the early part of the morning birding around the gardens of the hotel. Common Bulbul, Speckled Mousebird, Tropical Boubou, Grey-backed Camaroptera and African Mourning Dove were amongst the species seen. It was then off the local fish market on the shore of Lake Awassa which was a sight to see. Hundreds of people milling around with an equal number of birds in amongst them within touching distance. Great White and Pink-backed Pelicans, Marabou Stork, Grey-headed, Black-headed and Lesser Black-backed Gulls, White-winged and Gull-billed Terns and Black Kites (both migrans and parasitus) were all present whilst more careful scanning added Squacco Heron, African Jacana, African Pygmy Goose, Garganey, Allen's Gallinule and Western Yellow Wagtail. We then headed off to a slightly quieter spot along the lake and picked up Banded Martin and Mosque Swallow overhead, Grey-backed Fiscal in the fringing woodlands and a large group of Common Hippopotamus wallowing in the shallows.

Moving up into the hills above town, we found Red-cheeked Cordonbleu, Little Bee-eater, Red-winged Starling, Tawny Eagle, White-backed Vulture, Mocking Cliff-chat and an odd wheatear, superficially similar to Abyssinian Wheatear, but with a distinct full cream cap, which caused a lot of debate and remained unresolved at the end of it all. Back at the hotel for lunch, we then spent the hot hours of the day birding in the gardens again enjoying the tame African Fish Eagles, Hooded Vultures and Thick-billed Ravens there whilst a young Ayre's Hawk Eagle overhead was new for the trip and a Blue-headed Coucal was an added bonus. The late afternoon saw us back in some woodland where we picked up the local race of Red-throated Wryneck, Red-shouldered Cuckooshrike, Hunter's Sunbird, White-rumped Babbler and Ruppell's Robin-chat as well as a single Gambian Sun Squirrel before heading back to the hotel for dinner..

     
Awassa Fish Market Awassa Fish Market
   
Awassa Fish Market Enjoying the birds at Awassa Fish Market
   

9 May 2009

Today was our last day of birding, so we packed the vehicles and left the hotel quite early. We drove for a little while until reaching Abijata-Shalla Lakes National Park. Entering the park, there was a pen right near the entrance which held Somali Ostrich, our only sniff of this species on the entire trip and clearly not tickable!! (We did however find Common Ostrich in the park which was equally frustrating...). We only spent just over an hour in the park but still managed to see Blue-naped Mousebird, Long-crested Eagle, White-winged Black Tit, Foxy Lark, Von der Decken's Hornbill, Abyssinian Ground Hornbill, Black Scimitarbill and Greyish Eagle Owls with a chick at a day time roost. There were also several Common Warthogs as well as a small party of Grant's Gazelles here.

It was then time to hit the road again and we drove for quite some time before reaching the town of Debre Ziet and visiting a lake there which delivered Saddle-billed Stork, Black-tailed Godwit, Pallid Harrier, Northern Pintail, Northern Shoveler and our target for the area, Black Crowned Crane. Our final stint of driving got us back to Addis Ababa where we booked back into the Ghion Hotel (www.ghionhotel.com.et) which was the same hotel that we spent our first night in Ethiopia in. After freshening up at little, we then set off for Gefersa Reservoir just outside of town to spend the last hours of the day there. Groundscraper Thrush, Mountain Wagtail, Augur Buzzard and Abyssinian Longclaw were amongst the birds seen there and we also came across a small family party of African Grass Rats. Then it was finally back to the hotel to start packing up in preparation for tomorrow.

     
The sign says it all... View across Abijata-Shalla Lakes National Park
   
View across Abijata-Shalla Lakes National Park View across Abijata-Shalla Lakes National Park
   
The Ghion Hotel The Ghion Hotel
   

10 May 2009

After an early breakfast, we were collected at the hotel and transferred through to the airport in order to catch our flight back to South Africa. We were a little delayed in leaving Addis Ababa and arrived back in Johannesburg in South Africa with virtually no time to catch our connecting flight to Cape Town. For once, luck was on my side and I was fortunate, along with Barrie Rose, to be able to catch the flight literally at the last minute, but unfortunately, the rest of the group missed it and had to wait for a later flight. We landed in Cape Town just before 18h00, so after a long day of travelling, it was good to finally get home!

     

Conclusion:

Although the timing of this trip had us in Ethiopia just a little too late for the large numbers of Palearctic migrants, we still managed to see quite a few and caught with a large percentage of the endemics as well. In some ways, I was not as well prepared for the trip as I could have been in terms of having information on stake-outs and knowing what to expect where, but it was still an incredible trip and I was personally able to rack up a list of 448 birds, 37 mammals, 11 reptiles (plus several others that were not able to be identified) and 2 frogs along the way.

I have included below a number of other photos just giving some further impressions of Ethiopia and it's people, but if you would prefer to see the full list of species recorded on the trip as well as links to a number of photograghs of these species, please click on this link.

Link to list of species recorded on the trip and photos of the various species