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ETHIOPIA November 2006

“Leaving Bole International Airport, and pausing briefly at a hotel to re-group, we set off on our tour by following the road south into the great African Rift Valley.  Our first stop was at Hora Lake, its almost perfect circular shape and high walls pointing to its volcanic origins.  Jewelled Malachite Kingfishers darted through the reeds while equally stunning Blue-breasted Bee-eaters sailed through the trees above.  Along the lake edge numerous Hamerkops posed for photos and out on the open water stately Pink-backed Pelicans cruised up and down.  Our Ethiopian birding had begun.

Onward and into the open Ethiopian countryside, flushed green from the recent rains, as we were to discover was so much of the country.  Hooded Vultures and Yellow-billed Kites were constant companions on this and almost every other journey with the occasional Tawny Eagle putting in an appearance.  Our traditional fish lunch at Zwiay gave us more new birds in the hotel grounds with Red-faced Crombec, Eastern Olivaceuous Warbler, Beautiful and Marico Sunbirds, Buff-bellied Warbler, Grey-headed Batis, and African Dusky and African Paradise Flycatchers.  The affect of the much-publicised rains were immediately obvious at Lake Zwiay, which boasted the highest water level I have ever seen with the causeway completely covered.  Despite this we still managed to see Great White Pelicans, Northern Carmine Bee-eaters skimming the water, Squacco Herons picking their way through the water lilies and African Darters and African Fish Eagles.  A single Clapperton’s Francolin along the roadside was a real treat, bettered only by two more right in the open when we reached Langano.

An afternoon and early morning around Lake Langano gave us a lot of birds with Bearded Woodpecker, Freckled Nightjar, Little Rock Thrush, Abyssinian Black Wheatear, Mocking Cliff Chat, Rüppell’s Weaver, Rufous Chatterer, Northern Black Tit, Black-headed Oriole, Masked Shrike and, at the last minute, Red-throated Wryneck to name a few.  The rains had done little to improve the state of Lake Abiata, which becomes more and more of a dust bowl each year with the thousands of flamingos reduced to a distant pink haze.  The Grey and Black-crowned Cranes were a bit nearer and the flock of Pacific Golden Plovers a real surprise, while the small group of Temminck’s Coursers seemed to find the overgrazed shores to their liking.  We had a brief overnight stop at Awassa where we found the hotel grounds and lake edge alive with birds including Blue-headed Coucal, African Pygmy Geese, Hottentot Teals, Black Crakes, African Jacanas, Pygmy and Woodland Kingfishers, Thick-billed Ravens, and Silvery-cheeked Hornbills of note.

At Yabello the Stresseman’s Bush Crows and White-tailed Swallows performed perfectly although the star of the show for some was probably the pair of Red-naped Bushshrikes, which showed so well.  White-bellied Bustards, Vulturine Guineafowl, Donaldson-Smith’s Nightjar, Bare-eyed Thrush, Red and Yellow Barbet, Bare-faced Go Away Bird, Somali Golden-breasted Bunting were just a few of the other highlights of two superb birding days at this southern location.  Returning to Awassa we caught up with Spotted Creeper, a skulking Allen’s Gallinule, and a flush of migrant European Marsh Warblers.

A long drive took us into the Bale Mountains.  Last year as we entered the National Park, a Caracal put in an appearance.  This year it was a Serval Cat, spotted by a participant as we ‘scoped Mountain Nyala and Bushbucks.  The Sanetti Plateau was swathed in mists but these cleared from time to time to allow us sightings of Ethiopian Wolf, Giant Root Rats, Moorland Francolins, flocks of Black-headed Siskins, Thekla Larks, Ruddy Shelducks, and many Spot-breasted Plovers.  Walking downhill we found Verreaux’s Eagle, Abyssinian Catbird, Cinnamon Bracken Warbler, and the local Bale race of Brown Parisoma but we needed to return the following morning for fantastic views of two Abyssinian Woodpeckers and more Abyssinian Catbirds before driving down to Dinsho Park headquarters where we had some more treats in store.  Here a park guard took us to a roost of Montane Nightjars, which we saw well. 

These were followed by White-backed Black Tits, and then, one of the birds of the tour, a roosting Abyssinian Long-eared Owl found as we searched for Abyssinian Ground Thrush.  Another owl soon followed in the form of a massive Cape Eagle Owl sitting on a nest.  We reached Wondo Genet with time for little more than a sundowner drink on the roof of the restaurant and had to wait until the following morning to explore the grounds around the hotel where Double-toothed Barbets, a perched Yellow-fronted Parrot, flocks of Slender-billed Starlings, and Abyssinian Black-headed Oriole made the early start worthwhile.

The nearby forest was simply alive with masses of different stunning butterflies and equally colourful was the Narina’s Trogon that perched for us.  Scaly-throated Honeyguide, Eastern Honeybird, Red-shouldered Cuckoo Shrike, Abyssinian Ground Thrush, Hemprich’s Hornbill, lots more Abyssinian Forest Orioles, and White-cheeked Turacos were other distractions.  Our drive to Nazaret was broken by a couple of stops, first for roosting Slender-tailed Nightjars and a pair of superb Heuglin’s Coursers.  We also found our first Greyish Eagle Owl here.  This was followed by a brief stop at Lake Abiata for the Wattled Cranes that had so far eluded us.

Heading north into the baked landscape of the Awash lava flows; we found an obliging pair of Sombre Chats, Bristle-crowned Starlings, Blackstarts, House Buntings and a massive dark Rock Python before reaching Bilen Lodge.  Here almost all the usual birds appeared on cue with Abyssinian Rollers, Black-throated and Yellow-breasted Barbets, Chestnut-headed Sparrowlarks, Nile Valley and Shining Sunbirds, and Ethiopian Swallows all close to the compound.  A group of Lichtenstein’s Sandgrouse were also found near to the huts.  Out in the bush we found many Gerenuk’s and Buff-crested Bustards, although the usually reliable Arabian Bustards were strangely absent.

Awash Park was productive with Hartlaub’s and Kori Bustards (the later with Northern Carmine Bee-eaters hitching a ride), Somali Fiscal, Southern Grey and Woodchat Shrikes, Gillet’s and Singing Bush Larks, Madagascar Bee-eaters, displaying Eastern Paradise Whydah and a full plumaged Straw-tailed Whydah, Red-fronted Warbler building a nest, and two owls – African Scops at dinner and a Pearl-spotted after breakfast.  Mammals were also in evidence with Beisa Oryx and Soemmerring’s Gazelle’s of note.  Our brief trip north to Lake Tana gave us the chance to sample some of Ethiopia’s ancient culture with a visit to one of the churches on the Zege Peninsular.  There was slightly more water than usual flowing over the Blue Nile Falls, where White-throated Seedeaters and Bush Petronia shared the same tree and a Bat Hawk buzzed our coach on the way home.  A rare endemic Lineated Pytilia was seen along the Nile and Giant Kingfishers and Copper Sunbirds were just two of the many birds seen along the lakeshore. 

Our final day dawned with five more endemics to get.  Blanford’s Lark came first, along with smart Ortolan Buntings, Red-throated Pipits, close-perched White-collared Pigeons and Zitting Cisticolas.  Reaching the massive gorge at Debre Libanos we soon found Rüppell’s Black Chats bouncing around the rocks at the old Portuguese bridge and had some good looks at the rather odd cisticola to be found there that may yet turn out to be a new species.  Moving into the town, the area around the church turned out to be very crowded and we left as soon as we had found two more of our missing endemics – White-billed Starlings and Banded Barbet.  Returning to the bridge for lunch, Erckel’s Francolin put in an unusually obliging appearance, and with one endemic left to find, we set off for Addis.  We had not travelled far before a likely looking spot revealed two adult and one juvenile White-winged Cliff Chats, bringing to a close the search for all the endemics we could see on this itinerary.

And then it was over.  All that remained was to relax in the comfortable surroundings of the finest Italian restaurant in Africa, sample their superb food and wine, and reflect on the rich tapestry of birds, mammals, people, places, and scenery which had been laid before us over the previous few weeks.” 


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