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Northern Ethiopian endemic birds plus Awash region, 15th August 2012 – 19th August 2012,
A brief return trip to get the northern endemic species plus a trip to Awash
Following on from my first trip to Ethiopia (see my earlier report), I wanted to return to pick up the remaining 9 species of endemic bird plus see breeding plumage bishops, weavers and whydahs. I only had four full days birding, but as it turned out this was adequate to meet my targets.
I saw 7 out of the 9 target endemics and got a trip list of 206, see the attached, illustrated bird list.
As mentioned before, the two key books are: Birds of the Horn of Africa by Nigel Redman, Terry Stevenson and John Fanshawe and the site guide Where to Watch Birds in Ethiopia by Claire Spottiswoode, Merid Gabremichael and Julian Francis.
My arrangements were again with Negussie Toyo of Nurgi Bird Tours, but this time Negussie was to be my guide.
Day 1, Wednesday 15th August 2012
Arrival at Addis from Doha via Dubai with Ethiopian Airways. The flight from Dubai was on board a very tired-looking B767, a real throw-back to the 1980’s. As we approached Addis we dropped through heavy cloud to see a landscape covered in green with rivulets of water, pools and mini waterfalls everywhere, what a contrast to the dry season of my previous visit.
Also unlike my previous visit, the arrival terminal was heaving with passengers freshly arrived from the US and elsewhere, it took nearly an hour to queue to get my visa-on-arrival (USD20). On exiting the office I still had to get through the immigration desk, fortunately I did not have to wait another hour (as most passengers did that morning) as I was into a shorter, dedicated line. On retrieving my bag I had a few minutes hassle with customs explaining my scope and camera equipment before being met by Negussie and taken to the vehicle.
Last time we had a Diesel Toyota Landcruiser, this time it was a Diesel Nissan Patrol driven by Misfin. By coincidence this was the same engine and bodyshape as my own vehicle in Qatar. It differed in having the army-style bench seats in the back, much less electrical switchgear and the old manual devices on the front wheels to engage 4-wheel drive. The 4.2L diesel engine, whilst an excellent unit for low speed 4-wheel travel is somewhat under-powered for such a heavy vehicle and overtaking trucks at moderate speed is a fraught and potentially fatal activity. However, when fitted with proper, knobbly off-road tyres the Patrol is just about unbeatable. The short wheelbase Patrol and the Landcruiser LX pickup (plus, possibly, the Ford Raptor) are probably at the very top of the civilian off-road capability league.
We started off north-east to the Ankober region, our first stop was for a white-headed vulture. We then stopped at various sites for yellow-crowned and yellow bishop. August is just about the best month to catch these species in their breeding (can’t say nesting for the Whydahs as they are mostly brood-parasites) plumage.
The first major stop was for Ankober serin. The site is steep but walkable grassy slopes above the road at about the highest point before dropping to Ankober village. The serin were surprisingly easy here and I got some nice shots. We then drove down hill to the not-to-be-missed site of Melka Ghebdu. Spottiswoode has all the details. The weather had warmed up and we had a great walk along the road until it fords a stream flowing from the right to join the main current on your left. Just before the ford we had a brief view of a target endemic: yellow-throated seed-eater, at the ford we had yellow-breasted barbet and just beyond we had a lucky encounter with red-billed pytilia.
We then drove back the way we came arriving at our hotel in Dibre Birhan after dark. The hotel was fine, but the food, as with most places in Ethiopia, left a little to be desired.
Day 2, Thursday 16th August 2012
We left the hotel in Debre Birhan at 05:00 and drove through the darkness to the Jemma Valley, we arrived at the edge of the plateau at 06:45. On the way we had an owl hunting which could only have been Abyssinian Owl. My only view of White-billed starling was at dawn, just before we dropped into the valley. The first part of the morning was dedicated to Harwood’s francolin. Their preferred area of small fields and walls is best scoped from above from the road. Ruppell’s Black Chat and Abyssinian (Black) Wheatear are easy here. We had reasonable scope views of Erckel’s Francolin but Harwood’s eluded us until we moved a little further downhill and had one calling at the quite late time of 09:00. We located the singing bird and had brief scope views before it flew into crop.
We spent the next few hours driving down to the river at the valley bottom. Best birds of the lower slopes and the valley bottom were: fox kestrel, black-billed barbet, foxy cisticola, chestnut-crowned sparrow-weaver, speckle-fronted weaver, black-winged red bishop and red-collared widowbird. The big miss was white-throated seedeater.
We turned round at 11:30 having gone less than a km past the bridge, and headed back up the hill to take the tarmac road back to Addis and thence onto Awash. We got through Addis after 3pm and arrived at the Genet Hotel in Awash at 7:30pm
I would suggest doing the Jemma valley on day 1 then doing Ankober-Melka Ghebdu- Awash on day 2. Spottiswoode has the Melka Ghebdu-Awash as a good birding route and it would certainly be preferable to the long, boring drive via Addis.
Day 3, Friday 17th August 2012
Awoke at the Genet hotel, Awash, away at 06:00. Our first stop was at the park office to pick up our scout. For “scout” read armed guard. Their job is to provide security, not to scout for anything. It certainly gave a feeling of security to have this guy with us all morning. We then drove north-east on the main road until just past Andido, this is the key site for Arabian bustard. Unfortunately just as we were to get out and start scanning the plain it started to rain very heavily. Rather than sit out the rain we drove to the site for African Collared Dove (The ACD site mentioned in the bird list). This site is an area of taller trees close to a marshy area, it is reached via about 8km of rough track. As we drove along the ground became literally a lake from the rain and we had to cross several fast flowing streams, it was certainly a test for the 4x4 capabilities of the Patrol. Fortunately the tyres were exceedingly knobbly so we had no problem in the mud. As we arrived at the site the rain just about stopped and we had a good couple of hours watching Senegal thick-knee, pygmy kingfisher, white-throated bee-eater, chestnut-headed sparrow-lark as well as getting the key target of ACD.
We then drove straight back to the bustard plains, on our arrival from the road we saw a flock of Somali Ostrich. On getting out of the car the ostrich spooked taking the Grevy’s zebra and Beisa oryx with them. Fortunately there remained a lone Arabian bustard on the plain. We set off across the plain towards the bustard, the ground was actually volcanic rubble with a thin covering of soil. After scoping the bustard we had excellent views of nile valley sunbird in the scrub by the road. It did seem odd that the ostrich got spooked as soon as I got out as the road is busy with freight traffic to and from Djibouti.
We then dopped off our scout and returned to the Genet hotel for a quick lunch. We then drove to the site for sombre rock chat. This site is very easy to reach; park at the western end of the causeway across Lake Beseka, just west of Metahara. Walk south through the lava field for a few hundred metres until you encounter a chat. Our first chat was brown-tailed but a little later we had excellent scope views of a singing sombre rock chat, it took some time before the dark undertail coverts with pale fringing could be clinched.
We then set off for the Awash NP proper. We spent the afternoon driving slowly in a long loop around the reserve. A really superb place, all very green and verdant with most birds singing and active even in mid-afternoon, after time at Awash NP I am determined to avoid future African birding in the dry season. Best birds were buff-crested bustard, four-banded sandgrouse, Gillett’s lark, chestnut-backed sparrow-lark and Somali fiscal.
We stayed at the Awash falls lodge. My room was a hut right close to the roaring waterfall, the food was very good (for Ethiopia), the only downside was the large number of mosquitoes.
Day 4, Saturday 18th August 2012
Up at dawn for a walk, however it started raining so we returned to the lodge for breakfast. Packed up and away. We spent all morning in the park with the best birds being breeding-plumaged widowbirds and whydahs. We left the park at 1:20pm and drove to Debre Zeit where we spent time scanning Lake Cheleleka for Maccoa duck. No sign of the duck but lots of distant birds such as black crowned crane, african spoonbill, knob-billed duck and white-backed duck.
We then drove to the centre of Addis where the birding tour ended at the excellent Hotel Ghion, I had a few minutes in the grounds at dusk.
Day 5, Sunday 19th August 2012
Up at dawn for a nice walk in the grounds of the Ghion hotel and the adjacent Ghion park. Lots of birds included dusky turtle dove, Ruppell’s robin chat, abyssinian slaty flycatcher, tacazze sunbird, thick-billed raven and brown rumped seedeater. At 7:15 I was found by Misfin in the grounds, he had been forced to park a mile away as the roads around the centre were closed for the first day of Eid. I then walked with Misfin, pulling my luggage, through huge numbers of people gathering to celebrate Eid. Got to the car and was then a short drive to the airport for my flight on to Tanzania, but that as they say, is another story.
Having now been twice to Ethiopia here is my suggested route to maximize key endemics:
Firstly, go in the wet season, mid July to early October.
Day 1 (assumes first full day as you need to be at the Harwood’s site for early morning) All day at the Jemma Valley, overnight in Debre Birhan
Day 2 Ankober – Melka Ghebdu – Awash
Day 3 All day at Awash
Day 4 Awash to Wondo Genet
Day 5 All day at Wondo Genet
Day 6 Wondo Genet – Dinsho – Goba
Day 7 All day on Sannetti plateau and surrounds
Day 8 Goba to Negele via Harenna forest.
Day 9 All day around Negele for Liben Lark, Salvadori’s and Ruspoli’s turaco
Day 10 All day at Dawa river, return to Negele.
Day 11 Negele to Yabello
Day 12 Yabello to Awassa
Day 13 Awassa to Addis, stay at the Ghion.
This assumes departure on day 14 and arrival on day 0.
With respect to the Ethiopian Endemics, here is my quick summary guide.
39 Nechisar Nightjar (Roger’s wing), completely forget.
38-36 Species in unsafe areas: Little brown bustard, Somali wheatear, Phillipa’s crombec
35 Possible, but less than 20% on the above route: Somali starling
34-31 The three tricky seedeaters : Salvadori’s, yellow-throated and white-throated plus Harwood’s francolin.
30-13 Probable but may take time plus a little luck : Chestnut-naped francolin, spot-breasted plover, yellow-fronted parrot, prince ruspoli’s turaco, banded barbet, Abyssinian woodpecker, Liben lark, Erlanger’s lark, white-tailed swallow, Abyssinian longclaw, sombre rock chat, white-winged cliff chat, Ethiopian cisticola, Abyssinian catbird, white-backed tit, Abyssinian oriole, white-billed starling, Ankober serin
12-0 Dead cert if localities visited: Wattled Ibis, BW Goose, Rouget’s rail, white-collared pigeon, black-winged lovebird, Abyssinian wheatear, ruppells black chat, Abyssinian slaty flycatcher, thick-billed raven, bush crow, brown-rumped seedeater, black-headed siskin
So, overall a fortnight’s intensive trip should be targeting 35 species but expect 30-34. I ended up with 32 having missed white-throated and salvadori’s seedeater and Somali starling.
Hope this proves useful, good luck with your trip.
This report may be used freely to help travelers and birdwatchers. If you quote widely from my report you should give due credit:
Grunwell, M.J. Ethiopian northern endemics and Awash region August 2012
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Al Khor, State of Qatar.