Team completed by Benjamin Kämpfen, Claudio Koller, David Marques (Team leader), Fabian Ducry , Jonas Landholt, Marco Sacchi & Yvonne Schwarzenbach
Planning Brings Results
The Swiss are known for their precision & this is certainly true of the Swiss group that I joined on a trip to Ethiopia in January this year. David, our capable leader made absolutely sure that we were well prepared, he issued us with Google maps & GPS readings for sites of most of the endemic birds. He’d sorted out calls & songs of the important Ethiopian species & had also emailed us checklists & packing lists & any number of other useful instructions. Planning & organisation is the key to a successful trip & in the event we were amazingly successful, managing to see 14 of the current 15 Ethiopian endemics & most of the Ethiopian/ Abyssinian/ Horn of Africa near endemics that were possible on our route. We had originally planned to try for the Nechisar Nightjar, the only endemic we did not see, however heavy downpours in the preceeding weeks destroyed the access road to the Nechisar Plains where the holotype was found.
We used a company called Ethiopian Quadrants (firstname.lastname@example.org) as our ground agent. They organised all the logistics of the trip, booked the accommodation & supplied us with two very new air-conditioned 4x4s, two drivers & several tents for the camping sections. We did not employ a guide to travel with us, preferring instead to use local guides in the national parks. The two drivers, Kassey & Samson were fairly inexperienced bird tour drivers but after a few late starts & a few initial tensions they were on time although they continued to complain about late nights if it was more than a twelve hour day. Although they probably hadn’t experienced the complications of a birding trip before we would still recommend them & I have to say by the end of the trip they had become relatively flexible & generally gave us good value.
Although Ethiopian Quadrants had initially agreed to the journey to the Nechisar site we were unable to travel there because of impassable roads which was fair enough. We also missed travelling across the Afar Plains even though this had also been agreed to in advance. We had asked for suitably experienced drivers but in the event our drivers were loath to venture into this vast area of confusing tracks for fear of getting lost, so we missed what was probably a most interesting journey across this wild tribal country.
Prince Ruspolis Turaco Nechisar Nightjar
Stressemans Bush Crow
Abyssinian (Ethiopian/Eritrean) Endemics (EE) & Ethiopian/Horn of Africa Endemics (HA)
EE Wattled Ibis
HA Chestnut-naped Francolin
HA Erckells Francolin
White-winged Flufftail – very rare breeding visitor from S. Africa - no access to breeding site
EE Rougets Rail
EE White-collared Pigeon
HA African white-winged Dove
EE Black-winged Lovebird
HA White-cheeked Turaco
EE Banded Barbet
EE Abyssinian Woodpecker
HA Archers Lark (possibly extinct) – area currently unknown
HA Somali Wheatear – Bogol Manyo not visited
HA Abyssinian Black Wheatear
HA Sombre Rock Chat – recently also discovered in Somaliland & Djibouti
EE Ruppells Black Chat
EE White-winged Cliffchat
HA Philippas Crombec – not seen in the south
EE Ethiopian Cisticola
EE Abyssinian Slaty Flycatcher
HA White-rumped Babbler
EE White-backed Black Tit
HA Somali Fiscal
HA Ethiopian Boubou
EE Abyssinian Oriole
EE Thick-billed Raven
HA Somali Starling – not seen around Ankober/Debre Libanos
EE White-billed Starling
HA Swainson’s Sparrow
HA Juba Weaver – dipped at Dawa river
EE Red-billed Pytilia – dipped at Jemma Valley
EE White-throated Seed-eater
HA Yellow-throated Seed-eater – recently also discovered in Somaliland & Djibouti
Day 1 Saturday 29th January - Addis Ababa – Ghion Park
Day 2 Sunday 29th January – Addis Ababa – Debre Zeit Lakes – Lake Koka - Wondo Genet
Day 3 Monday 31st January - Wondo Genet Forest – Dinsho, Bale NP
Day 4 Tuesday 1st February - Dinsho, Gaysay Valley, roadside ponds near Dinsho – Goba
Day 5 Wednesday 2nd February - Goba - Sof Omar – Goba
Day 6 Thursday 3rd February - Goba – Sanetti Plateau – Harenna Forest (Katcha Camp)
Day 7 Friday 4th February – Harenna Forest (Katcha Camp) – Genale – Negele
Day 8 Saturday 5th February - Negele – Liben Plain – Filtu Road – Negele
Day 9 Sunday 6th February - Negele – Filtu – Negele
Day 10 Monday 7th February - Negele – Dawa River – Soda - Mega – Yabello
Day 11 Tuesday 8th February - Yabello – Mega – evening night drive near Yabello
Day 12 Wednesday 9th February - Yabello – open plain near Mega – Yabello
Day 13 Thursday 10th February - Yabello – Konso Road – Yabello – Awassa
Day 14 Friday 11th February - Awassa Lakeside & Fish Market – Lake Langano
Day 15 Saturday 12th February - Lakes Langano, Shalla, Abiata – Ziway Pier – Addis Ababa
Day 16 Sunday 13th February - Addis Ababa - Sululta Plain – Debre Libanos Monastery – Portuguese Bridge- Ethio-German Lodge - Debre Libanos
Day 17 Monday 14th February - Debre Libanos – Jemma Valley – Debre Birhan
Day 18 Tuesday 15th February - Debre Birhan – Melka Gebdhu – Ankober - Addis Ababa – Awash NP
Day 19 Wednesday 16th February - Awash NP – morning walk - evening game drive - Awash
Day 20 Thursday 17th February - Awash Lodge – Bilen Lodge – night walk from Awash Lodge
Day 21 Friday 18th February - Awash - Hot Springs - Lake Beseka Lava Fields – Addis Ababa
Day 22 Saturday 19th February - Addis Ababa– Gibe Gorge – Addis Ababa – London/Zurich
Many of the areas of Ethiopia that we travelled through were over 2300M above sea level which means that the temperatures were mild. The high mountains were over 4300M (up to 4377M) so although it was pleasantly warm during the day, the mornings were cold & the temperature dropped again in the evenings. However we also travelled to the lower lying areas of the Rift Valley and along the border with Somalia & Kenya, where the temperatures increased to around 32 degrees during the middle of the day, but at no time were we really struggling with the heat. There was very little humidity & providing you used sun block & wore a hat out in the open it was perfectly comfortable. We did not have any rain apart from a very light shower on one day which soon dissipated. We experienced some mist at Melka Gebdhu in the early morning.
The other weather related natural occurrence that affected us was the dust. February is the end of the dry season so most of the areas we visited were suffering the effects. It was particularly noticeable on the dirt roads if you were travelling in the second vehicle. By the end of every day, our hair & clothes were stiff with dust which was slightly inconvenient particularly as we didn’t often have adequate washing facilities in the evening. It also affected some of our optical equipment, my tripod for instance became completely clogged with fine dust, refused to turn & was unusable for the second half of the trip.
Health & Food
Some of us took Malarone tablets for the required duration, but in fact mosquitoes were not a problem, just a few here & there. Several of the group suffered stomach problems, especially after a particular dish of injera (a large flat pancake made out of teff, the local grain). We carried suitable medicines & were able to rehydrate the sufferers & all was well after a day or so.
I personally thought that the local food was pretty dire but the rest of the group disagreed. They enjoyed the slightly fermented Ethiopian staple food – injera, served with a diverse mix of sauces & accompanying dishes. As an alternative, spaghetti was served in most restaurants & was perfectly adequate. Coffee in Ethiopia is excellent & can be found in every little cafe & shack - with or without camel milk, which was added in the Somali region. Excellent beer, Coke, Mirinda & tonic water (!) can be purchased almost anywhere, as can bottled water which we consumed in great quantities – a case every day.
Spottiswoode &/or Behrens are vital references & we used them not only to pinpoint where the birds are but we used their local maps & also their advice on many occasions. The section on the top fifty birds in Spottiswoode is excellent.
Behrens,K, Barnes,K & Boix,C: Birding Ethiopia: A Guide to the Country’s Birding Sites (2010) Lynx Edicions
Redman,N, Stevenson,T & Fanshawe,J: Birds of the Horn of Africa (2009) Christopher Helm Publishers
Spottiswoode, C, Gabremichael, M & Francis, J: Where to Watch Birds in Ethiopia (2010) Christopher Helm Publishing
Bird Reports & Acknowledgments
Our group would like to thank all of those who offered advice & gave us help & information: Nick Hurry, Paul Ingram, Andy Mears, Roger Safford, Claire Spottiswoode & Chris Wilkinson to name but a few. Google maps & GPS readings for sites of most of the endemic birds were initially prepared & kindly shared by Jelmer Poelstra & Lieven de Temmerman & calls & songs of the important Ethiopian species were supplemented by recordings from Sander Bot, Andy Mears & Bram Piot. Many thanks once again to all for your generosity.
We were eight people sharing guides, drivers, two almost new 4X4 air-conditioned vehicles & accommodation & we did not take a guide with us so all these factors helped keep the cost down. Here’s the breakdown for me:
Air ticket: Ethiopian Airlines, an eight and a half hour non-stop flight from LHR £475.99
An eighth part of the Ethiopian Quadrants all in cost 1346.60
Cash taken with me (US$350) - used for day to day food, beer, tips, local guides 217.87
Malarone Tablets 70.00
Total Cost UK £ 2132.46
Day 1 Saturday 29th January
Addis Ababa - Ghion Park
The Ethiopian Airlines flight to Addis Ababa was perfectly fine apart from the fact that I was sitting next to a large Zimbabwean woman with a large baby. In fact I was asked to look after the baby when the woman needed the lou & I woke up about an hour or two later still holding the little lad!! Consequently I arrived at the Addis airport on time but without having had much sleep. I was met by the man from Ethiopian Quadrants holding a card with my name on it. The other participants had flown in previously from Zurich but David & some of the other participants were in the car park on an errand so we all drove to the two star Laliebela Hotel, very conveniently situated about ten minutes away. I checked in & then several of us caught a taxi to Ghion Park adjacent to the Ghion Hotel & met the rest of the group there. The Ghion Hotel was heaving with visitors for the Pan African Convention, so we were relieved we had not chosen to stay there. We were able to buy Ethiopian SIM cards for our phones though.
We spent several hours birding in Ghion Park seeing our first endemics & near endemics there, Abyssinian Slaty Flycatcher, Wattled Ibis, Swainson’s Sparrow. Other highlights were Brown-rumped Seed-eater, Tacazze Sunbird, Mt White-eye, African Citril Finch, Variable Sunbird, Grey-headed Woodpecker & Brown Parisoma. After a late lunch in the park we decided on a bit of local colour & drove to the huge open market in town. We then followed this by an early night as we were all recovering from jetlag, but not before having dinner in the hotel & getting to know each other over a couple of beers. I would be sharing rooms & tents with Yvonne, a charming young woman & we knew immediately we would get along.
Day 2 - Sunday 30th January
The Debre Zeit Lakes - Wondo Genet
After an early start which allowed a traffic free departure from Addis, we headed for the Debre Zeit lakes 50km SE of Addis. Our first stop was Lake Chelekleka arriving there just as the sun came up over the trees. The roadside fields & the lake were heaving with birds & we saw at least 50 species at this site. A flock of Black-winged Lovebirds screamed past & a Rattling Cisticola ‘rattled’ in the field giving excellent views. In the distance on the other side of the lake we could see thousands of Common Cranes - most of Ethiopia’s wintering population & among them in amongst the reeds & vegetation two Black-crowned Cranes. We were told later by German conservationists that they had counted 12,000 Common Cranes there that morning. After an hour or so we drove to the other side of the lake & also had Marabou, Yellow-billed, White & Abdim’s Storks there. We then headed off to Lake Bishoftu, pulled into the Dreamland Restaurant, overlooking the lake & settled on the balcony for lunch. We had Southern Pochard, Red-billed Duck & Red-knobbed Coot below on the lake & Little Rock Thrush, Streaky Seedeater, Banded Barbet & Mocking Cliff Chat on the cliffs below the restaurant.
After lunch we drove on to Lake Koka where we saw Pink-backed Pelican, Hottentot Teal, Black-crowned Crane & Saddle-billed Stork.
We then turned off the main highway & headed east, stopping for our first sighting of Abyssinian Ground Hornbill & then for Crowned Plover, finally arriving at Wondo Genet & the three star Wabe Shabelle Hotel in the evening. This was a pleasant hotel set in amongst old trees & was surrounded by spacious gardens. The architectural design of the main building was quite bizarre in that it had glass structures attached to the outside that reminded me of old fashioned space sputniks! After supper we walked outside with torches & taped out a Pearl-spotted Owlet. Attractive Black & White Colobus Monkeys are common in the garden here.
Day 3 - Monday 31st January
Wondo Genet Forest – Dinsho, Headquarters of the Bale NP
The forest adjacent to the Wabe Shabelle Hotel is excellent mid-altitude montane forest. After ticking off Silvery-cheeked Hornbill & Abyssinian Slaty Flycatcher in the gardens of the hotel first thing, we set out up the dirt road & into the forest, immediately adding new species to the list. Black Saw-wings flew by overhead as we made our way uphill & an African Crowned Eagle was seen flying high over the forest. Our first views of White-cheeked Turaco were very exciting as was Spotted Creeper. Other sightings were Abyssinian Oriole, Red-shouldered Cuckoo-shrike, Tambourine Dove, also Sharpes Starling, African Hill Babbler & our main target bird Yellow-fronted Parrot. Scaly Francolin was seen by two of the group but only heard by most of us & on the way back down we had Mountain Buzzard & our first of many superb Verreauxs Eagles. An excellent morning’s birding in a heavily degraded forest, sadly we could already see many signs of destruction which did not bode well for the future for the wildlife inhabiting the area.
We drove on eastwards & soon the tarmac disappeared & the road changed into a reasonably well graded gravel road. This was the beginning of the wild areas of Ethiopia where cars were rare & most of the local people travelled on donkeys or not at all. In some places workmen were building the new road & so we had to drive off onto very rough tracks behind various villages to get past. Out on the open plains we began to see our first Red-breasted Wheatears, Groundscraper Thrush & then Rougets Rail that were behaving like headless chickens & running boldly across the road. In the late afternoon we stopped at some roadside ponds seeing our first Yellow-billed Duck, Spotted Lapwing & several African Snipe there.
We finally arrived at Dinsho (3180M), the NP headquarters on the northern edge of the Bale National Park late in the afternoon & checked into our fairly basic dormitory room (eight beds), with a toilet down the hall & no bathing facilities. After supper several bottles of whisky were opened in front of a huge fire before we all crept into bed, but not before walking outside & hearing African Wood Owl calling close by.
Day 4 - Tuesday 1st February
Dinsho headquarters, Gaysay Valley, roadside ponds near Dinsho – Goba
We all met outside the headquarters in the early morning & started down the road just as a Common Jackal walked across in front of us. Several of the endemic & endangered Mt Nyala were seen in amongst the trees, also Meneliks Bushbuck. However we were on a mission & we soon had our first target birds, Abyssinian Ground Thrush, White-backed Black Tit & Abyssinian Catbird. We then enlisted the help of the local guide who led us to two sites, first to a pair of African Wood Owls sitting in their day roost & a short distance away, an Abyssinian Owl also well settled on his regular branch. We wandered about catching up with a family party of Chestnut-naped Francolins startling several Bohor Reedbuck as well as a half a dozen Grey Duiker. On leaving the headquarters we stopped at the entrance gate & taped out a Cinnamon Bracken Warbler which gave crippling views, extremely unusual for a Bradypterus warbler.
We then drove west for a few kilometres & onto a rough track on the right hand side of the road which headed towards some low distant hills across an open grassy plain. This area was known as the Gaysay Valley. We parked the vehicles & headed off on foot towards the hills about a kilometre away. En route we had Thekla Lark, Moorland Chat in abundance, Red-breasted Wheatear, Abyssinian Longclaw & another party of Chestnut-naped Francolin. However when we finally reached the trees on the hills it was quiet & although we wandered about for some time we had nothing new & especially no Abyssinian Woodpecker, our target bird.
We walked back to the vehicles, ticking off Yellow Bishop en route & then we settled ourselves on the steps of a deserted building & consumed the picnic lunch brought with us. We then drove even further west back to a place we had passed yesterday where the road was being rebuilt. Several of the locals led us down to the edge of the ravine to an area with a view back across the valley & there sitting in a tree was a huge Cape Eagle Owl. Below, a family party of several dozen Rock Hyrax’s wandered unconcernedly about on the rocks.
We turned the vehicles around & drove back east again & stopped at an area literally running with Rougets Rails. A stream on the right hand side provided us with our first Three-banded Plovers & several pairs of Blue-winged Geese, also Chestnut-naped Francolin. As the sun set, we finally headed towards Goba & pulled into the rather under-whelming two star Wabe Shabele Hotel where we were to stay for the next two nights. As arranged, Werner & Andreas were waiting for us - they were going to be travelling with us for the next few days. After dinner in the huge dining room, we settled into our rooms for a well-earned good night’s sleep.
Day 5 - Wednesday 2nd February
Goba - Sof Omar – Goba
The next morning we were up very early & drove to Sof Omar (the ancient cave famous as a Muslim shrine), arriving as dawn broke. We headed down a path on the other side of the road from the car park & pretty soon had Black-billed Wood Hoopoe, Bristle-crowned Starling, Brown-tailed Rock Chat, a single Narina Trogon & several under-whelming Northern Brownbuls, as bland as their name. Back at the car park we had White-bellied Go-away Bird, Grey-headed & Sulphur-breasted Bush Shrike, Shining Sunbird, overhead an African Hawk Eagle & then finally several singing Salvadoris Seed-eaters the main target bird for the day. Other birds included, Slate-coloured Boubou, White-crowned Helmet Shrike, Pygmy Batis & a flock of noisy Rufous Chatterers. En route back to Goba we had the first of many Kori Bustards as well as a flock of Black-winged Lapwing. We spent what was left of the afternoon resting at the hotel. I managed to flood the bathroom, but luckily Yvonne was a good sport about it.
Day 6 - Thursday 3rd February
Goba – Sanetti Plateau – Harenna Forest – Katcha Camp
Another early morning start with a stop at a roadside forest as dawn broke. Here we had African Olive Pigeon & a Lanner Falcon but nothing else new for the list. We travelled on, gradually gaining height until we found ourselves on the wild open upland plains of the Sanetti Plateau. A stop on the side of the road produced only Chestnut-naped Francolin rather than the Moorland Francolins we were hoping for. However, suddenly Fabian gave a shout from the rocky outcrop above & there in the distance, about a half a kilometre away was a lone Ethiopian Wolf loping across the plain. We watched it with fascination for a while as it made its way to a stand of rocks & then suddenly another wolf could be seen & we realised that it was with its mate. To see two Ethiopian Wolves was amazing, they are so endangered & so very beautiful, shining golden in the sun like foxes but looking so much more like the loping, long-legged wild creatures that they were.
Once the excitement had died down & we had recovered from the sighting, we drove on for a few kilometres across the wild plains & then turned right onto a side track, drove a couple of kilometres & stopped at a small lake where an intrepid French couple had set up camp. We then headed out on foot across some rolling hills, huffing & puffing in the high altitude. We finally reached several larger lakes where we had a good number of Ruddy Shelducks but no Wattled Cranes, our target bird. We trudged back to the vehicles & then drove back down the track on along the main road for a couple of kilometres & up another track which led to Tullo Deemtu, the second highest peak in Ethiopia. At 4377M, it was breathtaking – literally, as it was very windy & also quite chilly even in the bright sunshine so we only stayed long enough to identify a lone Long-legged Buzzard chasing prey over the peak.
As we headed down off the plateau later that afternoon we stopped at an area where our GPS reading matched the site for the sub-species of Brown Parisoma (griseiventris). This might be split in the future so well worth stopping for. We played the tape & within minutes we had two of them calling back & giving reasonable views.
We arrived at Katcha Camp in the late afternoon & while the drivers were setting up the tents we wandered around picking up Red-chested Cuckoo for the list. The camp was nothing special, an open area surrounded by secondary forest but the tents were fine & we erected them by a running stream. One of the tents did not seem to match its outer layer no matter how hard we tried to fit it together so we finally gave up & used it purely for the storage of luggage. In the meantime our driver had cooked a delicious stew over the camp fire & with the help of a few swigs of whisky we managed to get to sleep, woken only once by the howls of several hyenas in the distance.
Day 7 - Friday 4th February
Harenna Forest – Genale – Negele
We had heard Montane Nightjar at dusk the night before so at first light we set off up a small hill close by & managed to almost stand on one bird & put up a second, with reasonable views for all. After taking a short walk along the main track, we packed up, had breakfast & set off for the long journey to Negele. Our first stop was for a Red and Yellow Barbet sitting on the top of a termite mound, just like the photo in Spottiswoode. A later stop produced Blue-naped Mousebird, a Heuglins Courser & also Lesser Kudu. A few kilometres further, David suddenly shouted Prince Ruspoli’s Turaco, the target bird for the day & the main one for the trip; as the car screeched to a halt we all leaped out & ran after him into the scrub. For the next half an hour the pair of turacos led us a merry dance until finally one settled in a tree & gave us all excellent views. Other birds here were Red-faced Crombec, Black-crowned Tchagra & Bruces Green Pigeon. Later in the day we also stopped for a Buff-crested Bustard, the first of many.
We finally arrived at the town of Negele & checked into the minus one star Nile Hotel where we would spend the next three nights. The public restaurant was full of local men watching a game of international soccer on what was presumably the only television in town. The bedrooms were tiny with only one small double bed in each room & an ensuite bathroom with a cold shower but no toilet, this was at the end of the yard & was very basic to say the least. The bedrooms also housed many cockroaches but in fact they weren’t a problem mainly because we didn’t bother them. We didn’t move the bedding, we just climbed into bed & lay on top in our own sleeping sheets with the mosquito net provided tucked in around us & hoped for the best. We did manage to relocate one or two in our baggage to the next hotel several days later though.
Day 8 - Saturday 5th February
Negele – Liben Plain – the Filtu Road – Negele
Today we headed out to the famous Liben Plain the home of what will probably be the first species to become extinct in Africa, the Sidamo or Liben Lark. About ten kilometres east of Negele we turned right onto another dirt road & then two kilometres further on, left onto the open plain. We could see the round huts of the Borana tribal people in the distance & also an area ‘fenced off’ for the birds. The birds themselves were not in this protected area, probably because the brush fence had been trodden down in several places & cattle had been in & eaten the longer grass that was needed for the larks to breed. However we did find three larks in the grassland adjacent to the protected area. A herd of goats were already making their way towards us as we stood watching these enigmatic little birds. White-crowned Starlings were very common in this area as was Pectoral-patch Cisticola & Plain-backed Pipit. We also had four Temmincks Coursers here.
We drove back to the main road & east towards Filtu stopping after a few kilometres & had Yellow-necked Spurfowl, Shelleys Rufous Sparrow, a Kori Bustard displaying, Grey-capped Social Weavers & a Yellow bellied Eromomela. We also saw Vitelline Masked Weaver & a single White-tailed Swallow, the first for the trip. Further on we stopped again & walked into the bush & had White-browed Scrub Robin, Yellow-breasted Apalis, Red-naped Bush Shrike, Hunters Sunbird & Pringles Puffback. Helmeted Guineafowl & Crested Francolin were seen along the road from the car several times.
Day 9 - Sunday 6th February
Negele – Filtu – Negele
We headed out early again along the same dirt road towards Filtu. Initially we had four separate Kori Bustards, from the car. Then we stopped & wandered around in the bush adding Abyssinian Scimitarbill, Red-fronted Warbler, Mariqua Sunbird & Black-fronted Barbet to the ever lengthening list. Another stop produced African Grey Flycatcher, Dodsons Bulbul, Somali Bunting & Yellow throated Petronia. A Martial Eagle soared around overhead. A third stop produced Brubru, Shelleys Starling, Violet-backed Sunbird, a couple of migrant Lesser Whitethroats & an Eastern Olivaceous Warbler. A fourth stop ever closer to the Somalian border produced a Cardinal Woodpecker, Taita Fiscal, Spotted Thick-knee, Tiny Cisticola, a single Gillets Lark & Yellow-spotted Petronia. It was an excellent area & well worth repeating on a second day. We had coffee & coke at the town of Filtu. The town seemed to be a collection of huts held together with plastic, string & plastic sheeting, nevertheless we managed to find some excellent coffee & coke in a very basic cafe before retracing our route back to Negele.
Day 10 - Monday 7th February
Negele – Dawa River – Soda - Mega – Yabello
We said goodbye to Werner & Andreas who were going back to Addis today & set off southwards at dawn. After an hour or so we stopped on the roadside at some interesting looking habitat nearly stepping on a Nubian Nightjar as we ticked off Reichenows Seed-eater & Golden-breasted Starling. Further on we had our only White-winged Doves for the trip singing in the trees along a stream. We drove on stopping this time at the Dawa River. As we travelled further south we were moving to lower altitudes so the temperature was now climbing. We scouted around in the prickly acacia bushes in the heat, finding Somali Crombec, Abyssinian White-eye & Violet-backed Sunbird before surprising several Black-faced Sandgrouse that flew up noisily landing further on in the scrub. We crept through, getting ripped to shreds by the thorns until finally we all had relatively satisfactory views. We also had Somali Fiscal & further along the main road we counted at least 20 Stresemanns Bushcrows en route.
As we headed further south we managed to pick out & then stop for a pair of Somali Coursers & what was possibly a Black-bellied Bustard. We also had views of Gerenuk & Soemmerings Gazelle. Finally we came to an intersection & turned right onto a bitumen road, the first since Wondo Genet & headed towards Yabello. We checked into the rather pleasant looking three star Yabello Hotel on the edge of town. The rooms were the smartest so far for the trip & this was excellent because we were to stay here for three nights. Unfortunately Yvonne & I managed to lock ourselves out of our ensuite bathroom & although we borrowed Bennie’s Swiss Army knife to try to get the door open, in the end we had to call several hotel attendants who finally got the door open. The restaurant was an open air affair as the temperature in this lower altitude was quite warm so we sat out under the awning surrounded by roosting weavers & starlings for every meal here.
Day 11 - Tuesday 8th February
Yabello – Mega – Yabello
We headed southwards in the early morning & after only a few miles stopped at some likely looking habitat on the right hand side of the road where there was some quite thick scrub. Here Bare-eyed Thrush was a very common bird. We also saw Beautiful Sunbird, Northern Black Flycatcher, Orange-bellied Parrot, Red-faced Crombec & D’Arnauds Barbet. Further stops south of Yabello gave good views of Somali Crombec, Pringles Puffback, Black-billed Wood Hoopoe & a Wahlbergs Eagle overhead. We drove past Mega & the extinct volcano, heading towards the Kenyan border (about 100kms away) & after a few kilometres we stopped, parked up & walked out onto an open semi desert red-soil plain, dotted here & there with clumps of thorny bushes. It was slow going in the heat but we did have incredibly close stunning views of Rosy-patched Bush-shrikes.
Finally as the heat increased we headed back towards Yabello seeing Stresemann’s Bush Crows & Red-billed Buffalo Weavers from the car. We stopped at the Soda Volcano & whilst fending off dozens of enthusiastic child vendors proffering tourist trinkets we surveyed the huge crater but didn’t see anything new. En route back we stopped to check out a Buff-crested Bustard, also seeing a flock of Scaly Chatterers there.
After a quick fuel stop, coke & coffee back at the Yabello Hotel in the late afternoon we drove back down the same road & turned left onto a side road just a few kilometres south, parked up at the top of the rise & stood waiting for the sun to set. As the sky darkened we suddenly heard the distinctive call of a nightjar & after checking through David’s tape, identified it as a Donaldson-Smiths Nightjar. We managed to tape in at least two of these attractive little birds before exhaustion & hunger set in. We heard no owls.
Day 12 - Wednesday 9th February
Yabello – detour to an open semi-desert plain before Mega – Yabello
Another early start & this time as we headed south again we came across a large flock of Vulturine Guineafowl looking absolutely stunning in the early morning light, also an Upchers Warbler on migration. We drove on & after about a half an hour we veered off onto a rough track to the left just before the turnoff to Soda & bumped our way out onto an open grassy area, the alleged site for Secretary Bird & several species of lark. We strode across the plain & pretty soon had several Short-tailed Lark, also Foxy Lark & Pectoral-patch Cisticola. Gabar Goshawk & several Grey Kestrels were also scoped perched on trees, absolutely no sign of Secretary Bird though. The track led out onto the road to Soda but we turned right & headed back to Yabello adding Red-winged Starling & Grey-headed Bush Shrike to the list at a stop on the return journey. That evening the nightjar site just outside of Yabello did not produce any new night birds for the list.
Day 13 - Thursday 10th February
Yabello – a detour along the Konso Road – Yabello – Awassa
We had hoped for breakfast before we left but this was not to be, so we set off west along the road to Konso & stopped at some hopeful looking habitat just a few kilometres out of town. Buses & truck roared past but we managed to find our way down to a deep pool where local people were collecting drinking water for the day & here we found many birds also making use of the precious water - African Thrush, Little Rock Thrush, a Grey-headed Batis, Long-billed Pipit, Mariqua Sunbird, Reichenows Seed-eater & Striolated Bunting. A Great Sparrowhawk flew past close by giving excellent quick views.
We drove back to Yabello & sat down to wait for breakfast, waving off weavers & starlings that were squabbling over a left over plate of injera on the next table. Once we had finished breakfast, we packed up & headed north.
The road was now fully made but the journey through the rift valley towards Awassa was busy with traffic & people & it was quite stressful driving, especially as we were not used to such busy roads. We made several stops adding Grey-headed Silverbill, Lesser Masked Weaver & Bearded Woodpecker to the list. We also stopped for lunch in a nondescript town & consumed plates of spaghetti & coke on the balcony of an equally nondescript restaurant. Then on we travelled & stopping again we had White-winged Black Tit & Pied Wheatear of the pale-throated form ss.vittata.
We finally arrived in the town of Awassa & drove to a rather scruffy two star hotel (whose name escapes me) set right on the lake but surrounded by a very ‘birdy’ garden. Perfect. In fact the rooms were very smart & had luxurious soft white sheets & very good bathrooms. A quick walk down through the gardens to a locked gate leading to the lake gave us a Black Crake & a Great Reed Warbler in a small area of water. The guard opened up the gate & we walked out onto the lake edge, where a huge area of water edged by reeds & crawling with birds was revealed. However it was now almost dark so further investigation would have to wait until the morning.
Most of the group chose to go into town for supper that evening but Marco & I (the oldest two), stayed & dined in the hotel restaurant. The fresh local fish was washed down by cold beer whilst listening to Aster Aweke on the sound system. The others must have found some good entertainment in the town because they arrived back in the wee hours of the morning.
Day 14 - Friday 11th February
Awassa Lakeside - the Fish Market – Lake Langano
Those who managed to get up early walked out through the gate & spent several hours wandering along the edge of Lake Awassa ticking off a large number of species – African Reed Warbler, Red-faced Cisticola, Goliath Heron, Lesser Jacana, Common Waxbill, Red-billed Firefinch, Blue-headed Coucal & various gulls, terns & waders. We also had at least two pairs of Red-throated Wryneck in the hotel gardens.
We packed up & left heading for the infamous Fish Market on the lakeside nearby. It was a truly horrible place. Each day the local fishermen gut the fish on the beach & this attracts thousands of scavenging birds. Marabou Storks, their ghastly pouches full of offal strutted around amongst the spectators whilst gulls & terns flew by overhead every so often diving for scraps. The area smelled foul & we were all very pleased to tick off a few more species for the list & then hurriedly leave.
We headed north along the rift valley stopping at a pier still on Lake Awassa before driving on, then at a bridge over a river where we added Black Heron (using its wings to cover the water & attract fish) & also Little Stint to the list. We stopped for lunch en route at a hotel owned by Kassey’s brother. Here, we ordered large mango & avocado smoothies with our injera or spaghetti, absolutely delicious although all that liquid fruit played havoc with our stomachs later that day.
Finally after many weary hours of driving, we arrived at the two star Wabe Shabelle Hotel on Lake Langano & were shown to our little cabins arranged not far from the lakeside. Fabian had come down with a bad stomach problem & so we sent him to bed with various medicines. The rest of us walked down to the restaurant & spent a very pleasant evening, firstly with a few beers on the veranda overlooking the lake & then inside the noisy circular restaurant. A Pallid Harrier flew by as did some Whiskered Terns, several Pallass Gulls & a Heuglins Gull. The night birding began with roosting Greyish Eagle Owls & a Slender-tailed Nightjar shown to us by a local guide. As we headed back from the restaurant in the dark we almost stepped on another Slender-tailed Nightjar roosting in the dirt amongst the trees.
Day 15 - Saturday 12th February
Lake Langano – Lake Shalla – Lake Abiata – Ziway Pier – Addis Ababa
We were up early, including Fabian who had recovered somewhat & walked around the grounds picking up Red-fronted Barbet, Red-faced Crombec, an African Hawk Eagle perched in a tree, several Thrush Nightingales & a Beautiful Sunbird. We found a day roost of at least ten Slender-tailed Nightjars under a tree by the entrance, also Tawny-flanked Prinia, a Cardinal Woodpecker & Mocking Cliff Chat added more species to our list. Next we had Striped Kingfisher, Rattling & Zitting Cisticolas, Spotted Flycatcher & a Dark Chanting Goshawk overhead, it was an excellent morning.
We packed up & headed off towards Lake Shalla seeing Black-billed Barbet, Abyssinian Black Wheatear & Red-billed Oxpeckers en route. We arrived at the lake & immediately saw at least five Cape Teals, a small flock of Lesser Flamingoes, Avocet, Kittlitzs Plover & Black-necked Grebe. We walked up onto a small hill & managed to see a single Lesser Honeyguide & Black-cheeked Waxbill. En route to Lake Abiata we finally had a good view of a definite Black-bellied Bustard. This second lake was vast & teemed with both Lesser & Greater Flamingos & thousands of presumably overwintering Shoveler in the distance. We got out of the vehicles & strode down towards the lake edge in the bright sunshine. The scenery was glorious, a big sky above a vast wide open area of sand, with the lake shimmering in the distance edged pink with flamingos.
We drove on back to the main route towards Addis Ababa stopping at the Ziway Pier adding Senegal Thick-knee, Carmine Bee-eater & Montague’s Harrier to the list. We finally arrived back at the Lalibiela Hotel in Addis Ababa, where we met Gaby, David’s girlfriend who was waiting for us, she was going to travel with us for the next week & take Claudio’s place as he was leaving us to return to Zurich. Dinner in the hotel & an early night ensued.
Day 16 - Sunday 13th February
Addis Ababa – Sululta Plain – Ethio-German Lodge – Debre Libanos Monastery – Portuguese Bridge
We set off at dawn, driving easily through a quiet Addis & out onto the road north & were soon at the area known as the Sululta Plains seeing our first White-collared Doves en route. Much of the area has now been developed with large buildings & fenced off yards but finally one area on the left-hand side looked promising so we parked & headed out onto the grassy fields, dotted here & there with muddy depressions. Abyssinian Longclaw & Groundscraper Thrush were very common as were Pied Wheatear. An Eastern Imperial Eagle overhead was confirmed later that evening by scanning Fabian’s photos. Finally we had our target bird, an excellent view of Erlangers Lark. African Black Duck, the only pair for the trip were also seen by one of the group.
An hour later we were pulling into the three star Ethio-German Lodge grounds where we would be staying this evening. The lodge was set on the edge of the escarpment with magnificent views over the Jemma Valley below, it was an absolutely stunning spot. The hotel had spacious bedrooms & very good food, was clean & efficiently run by a German woman married to an Ethiopian man. A pair of Verreauxs Eagles sailed by & a Black Kite dive bombed Yvonne over lunch wanting her injera. However we were on a mission so we climbed back into the vehicles & drove over to the Debre Libanos Monastery close by. We parked & set off across a stream bed & up into the forest adjacent to the monastery. This path seemed to have been used as a latrine by many of the visiting worshippers so we had to watch our step, however this attracted loads of insects & pretty soon we had some excellent birds – Ruppells Black Chat, Banded Barbet, Lemon Dove, Buff-bellied Warbler, White-rumped Babbler (ss.limbata), Streak-breasted Seed-eater, White-backed Black Tit & finally our target bird, a beautiful female Abyssinian Woodpecker. We made our way back to the monastery where an old man offered to show us inside - nothing special - but an interesting tour nevertheless.
We drove back to the Ethio-German Lodge to find a large troop of Gelada Baboons feeding in the grassy area by our rooms & we gradually followed them down to the river bed watching their antics & marvelling at the huge mouths & teeth of the threatening alpha males. We walked over the ancient Portuguese Bridge where we had a beautiful Blue-cheeked Bee-eater & several endemic White-winged Cliff Chats. Further on, looking down we had White-billed Starlings flying around down on the rock below together with several Slender-billed Starlings. The final birds for the evening was scoped by Fabian from the rocky cliff as we sat in the evening light - a pair of Erckells Francolins far below us & only just discernable through the scope.
Day 17 - Monday 14th February
Debre Libanos – Jemma Valley – Debre Birhan
We set off in the early morning well before dawn so we could get to a particular GPS point on the escarpment for dawn. Once there we walked out onto some unused arable land by the cliff & we all scanned the rocks. Almost immediately we heard a Harwoods Francolin calling from the cliffs, but from some distance so there was a tense few minutes until we located the bird. It didn’t stay long, nevertheless we all managed to get views through a scope before it flew down into the scrub & disappeared. We made our way back through the fields picking up other species – Black-crowned Tchagra, Long-billed Pipit, Blue Rock Thrush, Cinnamon-breasted & Ortolan Bunting & Mocking & White-winged Cliff Chats.
We drove on stopping again when we spotted the Birding Africa group parked at the side of the road. We had spoken to their leader Callan Cohen at the Ethio-German Lodge the day before & we had exchanged information with him, a charming young man. Callan & his group were watching White-throated Seedeater just below in the bushes & this species was one of our target birds for the day. We had good views of this rather underwhelming ‘little brown job’ but also picked up Ethiopian Cisticola, a pair of Erckels Francolins, Hemprichs Hornbill & our first recognizable male Red-collared Widowbird. A Cinereous Bunting of the yellow-bellied subspecies semenowi was the third bunting species for the day & a very unexpected find as it is a vagrant to Ethiopia. We drove off passing on our thanks & pretty shortly after we spotted a Fox Kestrel flying past in the distance. It landed & we all had good views just as the Birding Africa reached us so we passed on this information to them. A few kilometres further on we stopped again at a dry river bed & although the others wandered about close to the car in the heat, David & I walked along the bed & managed to find a Bush Petronia, Wire-tailed Swallow & several Speckle-fronted Weavers.
We stopped finally at a bridge over the river where Callan & his group were already parked up. As we stepped out of the car Callan, with just a hint of excitement in his voice told us that there was an Egyptian Plover on the edge of the river. We all scuttled about frantically getting it in the scope & taking it in 30 second turns we all had incredible crippling views of this enigmatic bird. In fact it stayed for at least a half an hour & so Jonas & Fabian spent most of the lunch stop forgoing the dry bread rolls & boiled eggs & managed to get some excellent photos from just a few metres away. It was the bird of the trip for me as I had been chasing if for years – in the Sudan & the Gambia - so & I settled down happily on a rock & savoured my very under-whelming lunch watching the bird in the distance. We also had Crimson-rumped Waxbill & Village Indigobird here.
We then drove on to Debre Birhan, & checked into the two star Eva Hotel in the town. This was quite a pleasant place owned by the winner of the women’s London Marathon several years ago. It was only mid afternoon so we settled into our rooms, doing a bit of washing but mainly resting as we were tired from the heat (& 17 days of hard birding). The food was good here, served in the busy circular restaurant with several large TVs overhead. Claudio was leaving us today but a problem had arisen with the arrangements he had with Ethiopian Quadrants. Luckily we managed to organise a lift back to Addis with the Birding Africa group - we would miss his smiling face.
Day 18 - Tuesday 15th February
Debre Birhan – Melka Gebdhu – Ankober - Addis Ababa – Awash National Park
We set off in the dark driving slowly up the mountain road through the mist heading for Melka Gebdhu & stopped by the side of a small stream. Immediately a Yellow-breasted Barbet appeared giving excellent views. This was also the site for another of our target birds, a Half-collared Kingfisher & so we set off upstream & managed to see several just a little way down. We also had African Hobby here. However we were here for another species so we drove to the next river crossing, stopped at the appropriate GPS reading & on leaving the car, just like magic, a pair of Yellow-throated Seedeaters popped up out of the nearby bushes. We were shell-shocked to say the least, it was almost like cheating.
We still had another target bird to find so we drove back the way we had come & stopping near the highest point past the town of Ankober we surveyed several areas seeing a flock of Yellow Bishops mixed with Red-billed Firefinches. By now we were somewhat behind schedule so we hurriedly started climbing up the hill panting from the altitude & finally at the top, amongst some unusual scrubby bushes David & Fabian saw our target bird, an Ankober Serin. David waved frantically to Yvonne & I & we both started scrambling up towards them & the focused scope, our breath ragged as we approached, but too late the bird flew & was not seen again despite a frantic search. This was the only endemic bird I dipped for the trip, but what can I say - you can’t win them all.
The reason that we had been in a rush became obvious as we hit the main road & realised that we had a huge distance to drive to the Awash NP, because we had to travel via Addis Ababa, all in one day!! Kassey, our lead driver had refused to take the much more interesting & very much shorter route across the Afar Plains to Awash. This was a tricky journey with confusing dust roads & Kassey was not prepared to hire the services of an Afar guide to guide the way. We spent the day trundling along the very busy road back to & out the other side of Addis trying to ignore the dreadful traffic, the rather precarious passing moves by a tired Kassey & the noise & pollution. We dozed intermittently in the vehicles & passed the long journey listening to the beautiful voice of Aster Aweke on the sound system. Finally, after many exhausting & stressful hours we arrived at the Awash Falls Lodge, inside the national park, just as the sun was setting.
The lodge, only recently built, was a very pleasant place, consisting of a dozen or so traditional round grass-roofed huts in a lovely setting right by the falls. We could even see Crocodiles lazing on the rocks below & as night fell we also spotted a rare White-backed Night Heron at the edge of the river. We moved into one of the larger huts, divided into three sections, each with its own mini bathroom. The rooms were pleasantly rustic & although we had a rodent scurrying around in the night it was a very comfortable three night’s stay. The restaurant was also interesting, more ‘touristy’ than we had experienced previously & there were several non-birding groups also staying at the lodge. A beautiful tall Afar tribal woman sat over a tiny coal fire preparing the local Ethiopian coffee & performed a traditional ceremony. The food was good & we sat well into the night by a roaring open fire drinking beer & writing up our checklists.
Day 19 - Wednesday 16th February
Awash NP – morning walk – southern section - main highway - late afternoon/evening game drive with guard
We rose early & walked out through the gate just as dawn was breaking, it was going to be a hot day down here in the lower altitudes. Within a hundred metres of the gate we had a pair of Crested Francolins strolling across the grass, then Emerald-spotted Wood Dove, Black-billed Barbet, a glimpse of a Nightingale singing beautifully, our first Olive Sunbird & a gorgeous male Nile Valley Sunbird the first for the trip. Gilletts Lark & a Greater Honeyguide finished off the morning. We strolled back to the lodge looking in on a captive African Lion asleep in its cage at the guard’s headquarters. Although we suspected that this was the ONLY lion in the national park we still had to arrange for an obligatory guard to accompany us for the game drive that afternoon. At least the guard was trying to earn his keep & was happy to have a job but he was no help, he had no idea of the species in the park & in fact hardly spoke any English.
We returned to the lodge then off in the vehicles, picking up the guard carrying an AK47 & packed him & his gun into the back seat. We then spent several hours driving around in the southern section of the national park seeing the first of four Buff-crested Bustards each time stopping to verify the sighting just in case it was a more interesting bustard & then walking into the spiky acacia bush land. A small flock of African Silverbill, several more Gilletts Larks & about eight Green-winged Pytilia were added to the list as well as Abyssinian Scimitarbill, & our first Woodchat Shrike for the trip. We then passed a single male Straw-tailed Whydah perched high on a bush. Ashy Cisticola added to our growing tally of that family & Eastern Paradise Whydah added another waxbill species - we were starting to clean up! We also had an Isabelline Shrike of the phoenicuroides race, Red-billed Quelea, White-browed Scrub Robin & a Singing Bushlark. Beisa Oryx & Greater Kudu were spotted en route.
We then drove out through the national park gate & north along the main road stopping at some likely looking grassy habitat. Our target birds were Hartlaubs Bustard & Red-winged Lark – we managed a quick glimpse of the lark but no Hartlaubs Bustards were seen - better luck tomorrow. Back in the park as the sun set, we stopped to watch a family party of Abyssinians Ground Hornbills fly up into a tree to roost for the night, such an odd sight. We drove on with eyes on the road, & suddenly we had first one & then another Star-spotted Nightjar. We spotlighted them & had excellent views. A Northern White-faced Owl & Greyish Eagle Owl were also searched out by spotlight. We drove on & then suddenly we caught the eyes of two smallish animals on the road. We leaped out of the vehicles & ran after them as they fled across the plains – they turned out to be astonishing little Bat-eared Foxes. As we retraced out steps slowly back to the car our head torches picked out literally thousands of tiny green eyes in the grass & bushes surrounding us. Marco, our insect expert was able to solve the mystery - they were the eyes of spiders – heaven help anyone who was afraid of arachnids! We drove back to the Awash Lodge & fell into our beds.
Day 20 - Thursday 17th February
Awash Lodge – Bilen Lodge in the northern section of the park – night walk from Lodge
Today we were driving into the northern section of the park so we set off through the southern section out of the park & turned right onto the main road. We hadn’t driven far before someone spotted a pair of Arabian Bustards quite close to the road & we watched these majestic creatures for several minutes until they glided slowly out of sight. It was an excellent sighting & we were very pleased to add this species to our list. Further on we had a huge flock of migrating Lesser Kestrels hunting low over the bushes picking up huge locusts, an intriguing sighting.
We drove back to the turning leading to the Bilen Lodge. Hamadryas Baboons were sitting in the trees alongside the road as we turned in. We drove on through the bush stopping at the lodge where we sat & had a very pleasant cup of local coffee inside in the cool. On the return journey we stopped at an area of wetland & as we stood there a flock of about 50 Chestnut-bellied Sandgrouse flew by overhead. We also had Chestnut-backed Sparrow Lark & a Greater Short-toed Lark here as well. Further on, a sighting of another Arabian Bustard & a Chestnut-headed Sparrow Lark brought our trip total to 500. We were well pleased with the day.
After supper at the lodge we organised another guide & went out on a night walk, along the river. We had nothing of real note apart from an African Scops Owl & a Slender-tailed Nightjar but we did startle a Common Genet that was then trying to hide from our lights in a tree & got excellent close views of this animal by spotlight.
Day 21 - Friday 18th February
Awash – Hot Springs, N. Awash – Lake Beseka Lava Fields – Addis Ababa
Today we had one last site to reach in the Awash NP so we checked out of the lodge & set off for the Hot Springs which was at the northern end of the park. We would have to pass several Afar settlements & we had been advised not to take photos of their cattle or their women as they could be quite aggressive. Since they carried AK47’s we decided to take this advice seriously. In the event, all the Afar tribal people we passed seemed to be gentle souls, proud & tall with amazing attractive faces. We even saw one young man cleaning his AK47 in the Hot Springs, though whether this was sensible remains to be seen when he next fires it, hopefully we won’t be around!
We drove north & the scenery gradually changed slightly so we were expectant of different bird species. Suddenly someone shouted sandgrouse & we screeched to a halt just as a lovely pair of Leichensteins Sandgrouse moved off slowly into the scrub, but not before we had excellent views of both birds. We drove on finally reaching the springs. The day was hot so we all sat on logs under the shelter & drank coke bought from the local lad there, then wandered over to the springs. It was a pleasant spot. A pair of Martial Eagles soared past overhead & crocodiles slept lazily in the pools of water disguised as logs. We drove on around to another section of the river but added nothing new for the list although we did see a Gabar Goshawk. It was very hot & we were all tired probably because it was now the second last day of the trip. We struggled back to the vehicles & drove slowly out of the park & turned south heading towards the lava fields.
The lava fields were adjacent to Lake Beseka & this was where our target bird the near endemic Sombre Rock Chat was reputed to live. It was a bizarre place, a huge area of black lava rocks piled up on top of each other. These had probably spewed out as molten lava in a massive explosion sometime in the past from the extinct volcano in the distance. It was almost impossible to climb across these loose rocks as each one was razor sharp. Amazingly, in places there were small bushes pushing up from some lower section where soil & water must have collected. We made our way along the road adjacent to the lava field searching for any sign of life & indeed we suddenly spotted a Striolated Bunting which had chosen to live in this hellish habitat. We walked further on & when David shouted, several of us braved the sharp rocks & climbed a few metres onto the lava finally getting a good view of a single Sombre Rock Chat. This was not to be confused with the much commoner Blackstarts seen in the same vicinity!
We made our way back to the vehicle & settled down for the long & arduous drive back to Addis, interrupted only by Fabian who was suddenly taken ill & had to hurriedly leap out of the vehicle onto the side of the busy main road to be sick. We arrived back at the Lalibela Hotel in Addis in the late afternoon & dashed out for an excellent pizza at a nearby Italian restaurant. Thank goodness for the Italians, if they hadn’t have invaded Ethiopia during the war we would have all had to have lived on Ethiopian injera, a fate worse than hunger (my opinion only).
Day 22 - Saturday 19th February
Addis – Gibe Gorge – Addis – London/Zurich
It was only three of us that set off in the early morning for the three hour drive to Gibe Gorge on our last day in Ethiopia - David, Marco & I. Fabian was still recovering from a bad stomach problem & the rest of the group had decided to go shopping & have a rest day. The route out of the city passed by an amazing building project, dozens of half built buildings in a development of what was going to be an enormous housing estate, apparently built to house the poor people of Addis. We were extremely impressed.
We had not had breakfast so we stopped in one of the villages spotting a Village Indigobird on the wire. Kassey managed to bring back huge pieces of yellow & green coloured cake, (the colours of the Ethiopian flag) that was quite tasty & hit the spot. Once we reached the escarpment we stopped where the road headed down into the gorge & wandered around in the undergrowth. Here we had a male Klaass Cuckoo, Red-billed Firefinch, Mosque Swallow, Pale Flycatcher & Cutthroat Finch & also Yellow-fronted Canary & Foxy Cisticola both new for the list. We also managed to finally identify several close Vinaceous Doves by site & calls.
Once at the river at the bottom of the gorge we parked up & set off on foot along the river. It was hot but we started picking up a few species. However, after an hour there was still no sign of the Red-billed Pytilia, our target bird & we only added Bar-breasted & Black-faced Firefinch to the list. David & Marco continued on at a pace too fast for me in the heat, picking up the last bird for the trip, Abyssinian Waxbill. They also had views of the only Hippopotami that were seen in Ethiopia by us. I headed back through the fields & sat with Kassey & the local women in a roadside hut drinking coffee & watched the women vying with each other selling their wheat & peanut mix to the passing buses. At last the men returned & so did we, all the way back to Addis to be reunited with the rest of the group at the hotel. We all had supper in the excellent Italian restaurant again. Then we packed up, drove to the airport & flew back home, me to London & the rest of the group to Zurich.
What a fabulous trip it had been. The group got on really well & despite extensive age differences we all had such a good time. It was a happy group & not once did we have any disagreements. I should perhaps mention here that I never felt like the odd one out being the only non Swiss in the group. The rest of the group always tried to make sure that most of the important conversations were conducted in English & in a sense it was quite restful for me to just chill out when conversation changed into Swiss-German & became frivolous after a few beers. David was an excellent leader & if at times he must have been frustrated trying to get us all moving together, he never complained & was in my view the perfect leader. Each morning he would announce the target birds which set us all on the right track often with the help of Google maps & GPS readings. David’s recording equipment was often vital for playing the songs of many species & together with his thorough research, & sometimes Fabian’s or Jonas’s photo shots to identify overflying raptors, all these factors came together giving us almost all of the birds we needed to see.
It was a highly successful trip & after checking carefully through our checklists we settled on a total of 518 species seen by the group & this included all endemics with the exception of Nechisar Nightjar & most of the near endemics apart from Red-billed Pytilia & several that live too close to the rather dangerous Somalian border. A truly wonderful three weeks & one of the best field trips I have been on.
Capital letters = an endemic – (there are 15) or an Abyssinian (Ethiopian/Eritrean – there are 31) or Horn of Africa (there are 48) endemic
In brackets = not seen by me
Total 518 species
Ostrich (captive collection)
Somali Ostrich (captive collection)
Great White Pelican
White-faced Whistling Duck
African Pygmy Goose
(African Black Duck )
Black Kite & Yellow-billed Kite
African Fish Eagle
Black-chested Snake Eagle
Western Marsh Harrier
Dark Chanting Goshawk
Eastern Chanting Goshawk
(African Cuckoo Hawk)
African Harrier Hawk
Lesser Spotted Eagle
Eastern Imperial Eagle
African Hawk Eagle
Ayres Hawk Eagle
(Scaly Francolin – heard only)
(Clappertons Francolin – heard only)
(Common Quail – glimpse only)
(Eurasian Thick Knee)
Senegal Thick Knee
Spotted Thick Knee
Little Ringed Plover
Common Ringed Plover
African Wattled Lapwing
SPOT- BREASTED LAPWING
Common Black-headed Gull
Lesser Black-backed Gull
Great black-headed Gull (Pallass)
Bruces Green Pigeon
African Olive Pigeon
Blue-spotted Wood Dove
Emerald-spotted Wood Dove
African Mourning Dove
AFRICAN WHITE-WINGED DOVE
European Turtle Dove
Dusky Turtle Dove
African Orange-bellied Parrot
PRINCE RUSPOLIS TURACO
(Bare-faced Go-away Bird)
White-bellied Go-away Bird
(Eastern Plantain-eater – glimpse only)
Great Spotted Cuckoo
African Wood Owl
African Scops Owl
Northern White-faced Owl
Cape Eagle Owl
Greyish Eagle Owl
Montane (Abyssinian) Nightjar
Donaldson- Smiths Nightjar
African Palm Swift
African Pygmy Kingfisher
Northern Carmine Bee-eater
Eastern Yellow-billed Hornbill
Von der Deckens Hornbill
African Grey Hornbill
Abyssinian Ground Hornbill
Red and Yellow Barbet
Singing Bush Lark
SIDAMO (LIBEN) LARK
Greater Short-toed Lark
Chestnut-backed Sparrow Lark
(Chestnut-headed Sparrow Lark – glimpse only)
Common House Martin
Lesser Striped Swallow
African Pied Wagtail
Grassland (African) Pipit
Red-shouldered Cuckoo Shrike
(Grey Cuckoo Shrike)
Ruppells Robin Chat
White-browed Robin Chat
Spotted Palm Thrush
White-browed Scrub Robin
Brown-tailed Rock Chat
SOMBRE ROCK CHAT
RUPPELLS BLACK CHAT
Mocking Cliff Chat
WHITE-WINGED CLIFF CHAT
Little Rock Thrush
Rufous-tailed Rock Thrush
Blue Rock Thrush
Abyssinian Ground Thrush
Cinnamon Bracken Warbler
Great Reed Warbler
(Eurasian Reed Warbler – heard only)
African Reed Warbler
Eastern Olivaceous Warbler
Grey Wren Warbler
Brown Woodland Warbler
Brown Parisoma – both sub species seen (lugens & griseiventris)
ABYSSINIAN SLATY FLYCATCHER
Northern Black Flycatcher
African Grey Flycatcher
African Dusky Flycatcher
African Paradise Flycatcher
African Hill Babbler
Northern Grey Tit
WHITE-BACKED BLACK TIT
White-winged Black Tit
Mouse-coloured Penduline Tit
(Western Olive Sunbird)
Eastern Violet-backed Sunbird
Nile Valley Sunbird
Southern Grey Shrike
Red-naped Bush Shrike
Rosy-patched Bush Shrike
Grey-headed Bush Shrike
Sulphur-breasted Bush Shrike
Northern White-crowned Shrike
White Helmet Shrike
STRESEMANNS BUSH CROW
Dwarf Raven (Somali Crow)
Great Blue-eared Starling
(Lesser Blue-eared Starling)
Shelleys Rufous Sparrow
White-browed Sparrow Weaver
Grey-headed Social Weaver
Black-capped Social Weaver
Red-billed Buffalo Weaver
White-headed Buffalo Weaver
Lesser Masked Weaver
Vitelline Masked Weaver
Black and White Mannikin
Eastern Paradise Whydah
Northern Grosbeak Canary
Striolated (House) Bunting