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A Report from

Ethiopia 4-20 November 2011,

Mark Easterbrook



A.         Helm - The Birds of the Horn of Africa (Redman, Stevenson, Fanshawe)

B.         Where to Watch Birds in Ethiopia (Spottiswoode, Gabremicheal, Francis)

C.        The Collins Field Guide to the Birds of Britain & Europe


The group travelled to Ethiopia with Boletas Birdwatching Centre.  The group comprised:

Leaders:  Josele J Sais and Elias Bayou - the local leader.

Participants:  Roger & Imogen Theobald, Mark & Deb Easterbrook, Graham Elkins, Peter & Deb Luetchford, Steve Penn based in Spain,  Nancy Cooke & Steve Liebhaber  from the US and Alison & Andy Rhodes.

The Group - Courtesy of Deb Leutchford

The birding was fantastic, the experience was fantastic, and the weather was variable airing on the side of unseasonably heavy rains that caused the group some difficulties when transiting bush roads.  The accommodation is interesting. I can safely say that "basic" does not truly capture the spirit of adventure required to undertake a trip to Ethiopia.  Having served for 27 years in the Army, I can honestly say with some conviction that I have lived in more hygienic trenches at times.  The local food – Daro Wot or Tibs is great if you like spicy food and the local bread (injera) will double as a flannel if you're caught short.  Pete enjoyed the Doro Wot so much on day one that he never went near it again – enough said.

It started with a Swainson's Sparrow at the airport and ended with an Ortolan Bunting transiting from Ankober to Addis on the last day.  The group were tested during the rest of the trip with some challenging ID's, some of which inevitably went down to experience.  As with any trip of this nature, not every member of the group sees every species, but a group total of 429 was extremely good.  Some easier species were missed but to compensate, some very sought after species were seen.

Daily Accounts

Day 1 – 4th Nov

A late evening flight from Heathrow to Addis Ababa was comfortable under the watchful eye of Ethiopia Airlines and we arrived in Addis at about 1000 the next day after clearing customs – with some difficulty.  Top Tip: The hand luggage allowance is 7kg if you're over its £10 per Kilo – ensure that your camera equipment, telescope, lenses etc are stored about your person to avoid the absolute nausea that is the re-weighing of your luggage at the gate. 

Day 2 – 5th Nov

With a full day's birding ahead the group soon shrugged off the tiredness and got focussed on the task in hand.  It was a good job the group had their wits about them, as there were many birds seen on day one, that were not subsequently seen elsewhere.  The group saw a few commoner birds around the airport area such as Tocazze Sunbird and Cape Crow and we soon stopped in Addis for people to get some local (Bur) currency.  Whilst this was taking place we all scanned the skies and found Thick-billed Ravens, numerous vultures and the only Nyanza and Little Swifts of the tour.  With White-collared Doves, Swainson's Sparrows and a few Bronze Mannikins knocking about, the tour was off to a good start.

The next stop during the longish drive to Wondo Ganet was a lake south of the capital called Cheklaca.  Here the group started to get to grips with some wildfowl and other more common birds.  A superb male Yellow Wagtail of the Ethiopian race perconfuscus showed well and the only African Snipe of the trip was seen hiding in the reeds before flushing and revealing the necessary id features.  A whole host of wildfowl was present including, Hottentot, Red-billed, White-backed and both Fulvous and White-faced Whistling Ducks.  This was the only place where many of the wildfowl species were noted including a single Southern Pochard and male Maccoa Duck, so all in all a good decision to stop.  Another stop along the roadside provided views of some  commoner wetland species like African Darter, Pied, Woodland and Malachite Kingfishers with a single Squacco Heron and five Ruff milling about the reed bed.

Lunch at Vishflu was interesting and the group realised that the next 16 days could be better for them than the much acclaimed Cambridge Diet.  The restaurant did however overlook a large lake that provided some good birding opportunities, as we added Abyssinian and Mountain White-eyes, Pink-backed Pelican an Eastern Olivaceous Warbler and Marico Sunbird.

Continuing the drive south gave roadside views of Long-crested Eagle and Ruppell's Glossy Starling.  A brief stop was productive with Bearded Woodpecker, Superb Starlings and Red-billed Buffalo Weaver all in one tree.  A group of eagles at the side of the road comprising Tawny and Steppe provided fantastic photographic opportunities and whilst in the area the group picked up Woodchat and Steppe Grey Shrikes, three Temminck's Coursers, a couple of Crowned Lapwings, the first of many White-browed Sparrow Weavers and a single Chestnut-backed Sparrow Lark.

Our final stop of the day was at Lake Coke and this provided the only sighting of a pair of Black-crowned Cranes and African Spoonbill, whilst Isabelline Wheatears, Marabou Storks and Hamerkops started to become a familiar sight.

We arrived at the comfortable hotel in Wondo Ganet in time for an evening meal and a few beers with the group finally hitting the sack after a tiring but rewarding first day.

Day 3 – 6th Nov

Most of the group rose early, or were awaken by the racket of many roosting hornbills and started to scour the hotel grounds for new birds.  The first was very easy with in excess of thirty Silvery-cheeked Hornbills noisily roosting in the large trees in the grounds.  As we searched further before breakfast a Brown-rumped Seedeater amongst the more common Streaky Seedeaters was noted, Black (Brown) Sawings were overhead and a Brown Parisoma was found sunning itself.  After breakfast the group headed out with the local guide and surprisingly, some good birds were found in an area of cultivation below the hotel grounds.  Firstly a small group of White-rumped Babblers revealed themselves, but with no time to spare we were soon inspecting a pair of Black-headed Batis whilst African Citrils and Abyssinian Slaty-Flycatchers were numerous.  The first of several Grey-headed Woodpeckers were seen and an Ethiopian Boubou was spotted by the sharp-eyed guide which everyone managed to get on eventually.

The group continued up into the hills through the village adding Black-winged Lovebirds, African and Mountain Thrushes with a Ruppell's Robin Chat showing well in a tree.   We rose above the village and into more open habitat immediately finding a Pied Wheatear and Common Fiscal.  We were spared a steep climb in the afternoon when a target species performed perfectly above us in the form of a cracking adult African Crowned Eagle, another sub-adult showed in a tree later.  As we proceeded upwards another target species was located with a White-cheeked Turaco showing briefly and proving difficult to re-locate despite its size.  More showed well later in the walk.  A small group of Mottled Swifts flew quickly above us and the first of several Abyssinian Golden Orioles gave themselves up after being located from their calls.

On the opposite side of the valley, birds of prey were now becoming active with vultures in the ascendancy including White-backed, Hooded and White-headed being seen.  All focus was soon averted from these magnificent birds as a Spotted Creeper had found us, as is the norm for these species they seem to appear when unexpected and never reveal themselves when you're actively looking for them.  The group enjoyed this bird immensely as it was a species that many had wanted to see.  A female Steel Blue Whydah wasn't that impressive but the female Abyssinian Woodpecker – the only one of the tour did gain the attention of the group.  A skulking Double-toothed Barbet took a while to get acceptable views of but the subsequent Nubian Woodpeckers gave themselves up easily enough.  A flyby pair of Yellow-fronted Parrots left the group frustrated at not gaining better views as we headed in for lunch and a few much needed beers.

After lunch we made our way once more up to the hillside via the Wondo Ganet hot springs.  Almost immediately we saw another White-cheeked Turaco and an Abyssinian Golden Oriole before stumbling across another target bird with a pair of White-winged Cliff Chats showing and posing well for the camera.  We were alerted to a call from a nearby tree which provided an opportunity to scope another sought after endemic as a Banded Barbet fed in the top of a tree.  Moving slowly up the escarpment, a stream running alongside found us looking upon a pair of nesting Half-collared Kingfishers, a very pleasing find as many of the group had not expected to see this difficult to find Kingfisher.  Amongst a host of what were now becoming common birds a juvenile Blue-headed Coucal sat atop a bush and seven Red-billed Oxpeckers, the only ones of the trip sat in a dead tree.  We continued to a known nest-hole for a pair of Yellow-fronted Parrots and after viewing a Klass' Cuckoo, several Tambourine Doves and our first Wattled Ibises, finally after a patient wait the parrots perched in a nearby tree and gave fantastic scope views – another endemic in the bag, brought the day's proceedings to an end amidst gathering rain clouds.  Little did we realise that these unseasonable rains would stay with us for some time.

Day 4 – 7th Nov

We were able to conduct another quick round within the hotel grounds before departure adding a Lesser Whitethroat, a Yellow-fronted Tinkerbird and a Willow Warbler with all members of the group finally getting to grips with a pair of Brown Parisomas.  We continued to a nearby petrol station which allowed an opportunity to observe the ubiquitous Yellow-billed Kites and get very close views of a pair of Ruppell's Griffon Vultures before proceeding onwards towards Goba and through the foothills to the Bale Mountains National Park.

We stopped in an open valley which proved to be a good choice.  We found Red-breasted Wheatears, a Red-throated Pipit that initially posed some ID issues and the first of many Thekla Larks.  The group closely studied several hirundines but were not convinced that a few were Ethiopian Swallows.  A large flock of at least fifty Wattled Ibises made quite a site and as we continued, Abyssinian Rollers and Steppe Eagles became quite common.

An unplanned stop due to road works, found us utilising our time to walk a nearby hillside, where we found an immature Rock Thrush and several other common species.  After sometime, we stopped on the road near Balenp and were met by a local guide who knew the location of a roosting owl, which incredibly turned out to be a Cape Eagle Owl, which was superb to view in the daylight, the nearby valley provided flight views of the only Abdim's Stork of the tour and for some, a dashing Rufous-breasted Sparrowhawk.  We journeyed on with Moorland Chats becoming the most numerous birds.  A nearby set of ponds produced excellent views of several highland endemics including Blue-winged Goose, Rouget's Rail, Spot-breasted Plovers and Abyssinian Siskins.  We were hastened by the guide to an area about half a mile up the road where he had found another target bird an Abyssinian Longclaw.  We were pleased to find this bird, the only one we encountered as it would have meant searching for it the following day when we could have been looking elsewhere.  On our return to the vehicles the group also stumbled across a pair of Stout Cisticolas before heading off towards the Bale Mountains National Park HQ and another couple of owl roosts.

Moorland Chat - a common bird in the Highlands

One of the vehicles became separated from the rest during this part of the journey as the driver had missed the entrance turning, however, Graham, Mark and Steve did not complain as during the 30km drive a pair of Groundscraper Thrushes and a lovely male Pallid Harrier was seen.  We eventually, returned to the main group who were waiting for us but by this time the "geographically challenged" driver had earned the nickname of Mark Thatcher that would stay with him for the remainder of the tour.

In the park we were led by a guide to three roosting Abyssinian (Long-eared) Owls that sat quietly looking at us as we watched and photographed them.  Onwards to a roosting African Wood Owl and then to a tree which held an Abyssinian Ground Thrush.  After some refreshing tea and coffee made by the drivers, there was no time to lose in search of another couple of endemics.  After some searching we found our quarry, a pair of Abyssinian Catbirds whilst a few White-backed Tits were easier to locate.  An Eastern Bonelli's Warbler was a surprise whist several more Streaky Seedeaters were not.  We drove to the next hotel at Goba and with it the standard of accommodation began its downward spiral although it was clean and the best available.

Day 5 – 8th Nov

Before ascending to the highlands the hotel grounds provided views of a perched African Goshawk of the local race unduliventer, with Dusky Turtle Doves and Common Bulbuls being common.  As we drove into the highlands the weather did not look promising, rain and low cloud was the shape of things to come for the next couple of days, however, despite this we still managed to see the target species.  The drive upwards gave good views of another pair of Groundscraper Thrushes and a chance encounter with five Chestnut-naped Francolins was a real bonus.  We stopped near the summit at some roadside pools and were fortunate enough to connect with a Moorland Francolin, four Ruddy Shelducks and the now common highland endemics.  What followed was nothing short of a miracle.  We were hoping to find a pair of rare Wattled Cranes.  As we slowed, the low cloud cleared and there through the gloom appeared a pair of these remarkable birds.  The gloom cleared for just long enough to allow photographs and scope views of the birds and then as suddenly as it had cleared, the clouds dropped and we could see nothing.  An incredible piece of luck, as we would have driven right by and the following day would have provided no opportunity at all due to the weather.

A later stop at a large rock formation proved fortuitous with Lammergeyers, Lanners, Augur Buzzards, Steppe Eagles and a single Great Spotted Eagle all performing well.  If anyone wants a picture of an Augur Buzzard, please ask as I know some photographers who have at least 8000 to choose from.  As we drove down the other side of the mountain range we overlooked the famous Harenna Forest.  We stopped and inadvertently wandered onto a local's land.  He was extremely unhappy to say the least and started to brandish a large stick.  The guide calmed him down (slipped him a few Bur, I suspect) and Pete finished off the diplomatic incident by giving him some pencils for his children which were well received.  It did however; provide us with views of the Bale Parisoma, an endemic subspecies restricted to the mountain range.

We stopped for lunch in the valley and got out to bird watch for a few hours in an area of woodland leading to a nearby quarry.  The only Black and White Mannikins were seen here with several more Black-winged Lovebirds and a couple of Whitethroats.  Careful study of the Streaky Seedeaters led to the discovery of a Stripe-breasted Seedeater with its subtle plumage differences.  After lunch we explored a different nearby area and after a down-poor the birds were very actively feeding.  There were many Yellow-bellied Waxbills, another Abyssinian Catbird, two more Abyssinian Ground Thrushes; a couple of Ruppell's Robin Chats but the stars of the show were at least four Abyssinian Crimson Wings.  A displaying male Pin-tailed Whydah made quite a spectacle as we left the area to traverse the Bale Mountains once more before retuning to the hotel.  On our return, we saw another three Moorland Francolins along with several Chestnut-naped however, no Wolf which was a disappointment for many.  Deb Luetchford introduced me to Chai Latte, for which I am very grateful; however, her husband Pete did ridicule me relentlessly for the remainder of the tour – in a light-hearted manner.

Day 6 – 9th Nov

By now the various forms of egg for breakfast was becoming a trifle boring not to mention playing havoc with a number of constitutions.  However, it was clear by now that the holiday was not about a culinary experience and my wife and I were very pleased to have brought several bags of beef jerky and pasta cup meals with us.  These were very useful – when you could find a plug socket to boil a kettle.

Once again we set off from Goba over the highlands on route to Negele via a bush track punctuated by birding opportunities.  As we went over the Senatti plateaux we saw another small group of Chestnut-naped Francolins and the usual highland endemics.  As we descended the eastern side of the mountains still "wolfless" we had a remarkable stroke of luck.  There was a lone Ethiopian (Senatti Fox) Wolf hunting not 100m from the road.  The vehicles stopped and the camera shutters exploded into action.  It was a fantastic moment and a highlight for many to see such a rare animal going about its daily business.

As we travelled eastwards we stopped for a comfort break and found a Purple Grenadier, a couple of Tawny-flanked Prinias and a Spotted Palm Thrush.  We moved on and once again after a shower we stopped for a pair of Golden-breasted Starlings accompanied by a Shelley's Starling.  The birding here was fast and furious as the birds were very active after the shower.  Firstly a pair of Von der Decken's Hornbills was seen and then there appeared to be birds everywhere within a 150m area.  The crew decided to take lunch here whilst we bird watched for a very productive couple of hours.  Birds seen here included, Slate-coloured Boubou, Red-fronted Barbet and Tinkerbird, Isabelline Shrike, Grey-headed Batis, Red-headed Weaver, Northern White-crowned Shrike, several Abyssinian Scimirtar-bills and Black-billed Wood Hoopoes, a couple of Nubian Woodpeckers, Lesser Honeyguide, White-browed Scrub Robin and the only African White-eyes of the tour.  Imogen also chipped in with a Black Cuckoo Shrike which was seen by some members of the group.  We scarcely had time to take lunch but eventually the birds subsided and we got underway once more.

We proceeded to the east seeing Red and Yellow Barbets on termite mounds until we reached the bridge over the river at Genale which had been washed away so we forded the river here and stopped on the other side at the Prince Ruspoli's Turacao site.  The group got a few brief perched views and a couple of brief flight views so left fairly disappointed.  Despite that we did add Northern Red-billed Hornbill and another male Purple Grenadier that was a stunning little bird.

We reached Negele and the Green Hotel in the dark and although described as basic, words cannot describe it and only the experience of visiting it could fully encapsulate the accommodation and surroundings.  That said, a Finnish birding group stayed at another "hotel" which was apparently worse – one can only imagine!  The group settled down for a fitful night's sleep.

Day 7 – 10th Nov

Despite the Green Hotel the group rose and were raring to give the Turaco another crack and look for the Lieben (Sidamo) Lark.  We proceeded from Negele to the plains stopping for several birds along the road including Yellow-throated Spurfowl, Abyssinian Black Wheatear, Reichenow's Seedeater, and White-bellied Go-away birds.  Clinching identification of a group of Ethiopian Swallows perched on a wire was a relief.  We stopped a little further on and there sat in tree was the very strange looking Prince Ruspoli's Turaco.  Some quick scope action allowed most of the group to view this fantastic bird as it perched for about a minute before dropping into the undergrowth when attention was turned to a Black-headed Oriole.

We continued onto the plains to begin the search for the Lieben Lark.  We searched for several hours revealing the presence of Somali Short-toed Larks, many Isabelline Wheatears, several Plain-backed Pipits, Dwarf Ravens and the mouse-like Tiny Cisticola.  Eventually, there it was running around looking like a clock work toy, an adult Liben Lark, allowing photography and very close views.

As we traversed the plains, many White-crowned Starlings were seen along with three Black-winged Plovers, Crowned Lapwings and a pair of Pectoral-patch Cisticolas.  As we travelled further east along the road to the Somali border, A Kori Bustard was seen and at the lunch stop a pair of African Grey Flycatchers.  As we returned to Negele across the plains, four White Storks, at least six Lesser Kestrels, a pair of European Bee-eaters and three Temminck's Coursers broke the journey.

We returned to the woods to look for the Turaco once more without luck, however did see a Rufous Chatterer, White-rumped Babbler, Dark-capped Bulbul and several other common birds.

Day 8 – 11th Nov

The group were very pleased to depart the Green Hotel and head towards Yabelo via a seldom travelled bush track/road towards the Kenyan border.  The journey was not for the feint hearted.  The torrential rain had worsened the road and I don't think anyone was prepared for what we were about to experience.  However, prior to lunch at the Dana river site we stopped in several places.  We initially stopped at a site for the Salvadori's Seedeater, however did not connect and this constituted the first unrecoverable dip of the tour.  As we travelled the road several Eastern Chanting Goshawks were seen and the first Eastern Yellow-billed Hornbill and Collared Sunbirds.  The next stop brought a throng of White-shouldered Widowbirds along with displaying Eastern Paradise Whydahs and a few Cut Throat Finches.  The only Martial Eagle of the trip soared above us.  We journeyed towards the Dana River and lunch where our first two Vulturine Guineafowls were encountered – a very strange looking bird.

At the lunch stop and Juba Weaver site we saw a Pygmy Batis, several Plain Prinias, a small group of Yellow-spotted Petronias, a superb Pygmy Falcon, a Grey Wren Warbler and Somali Golden-breasted Buntings, however no Juba Weavers.  During lunch the rain started and did not stop for the rest of the afternoon.  The journey from Dana to Soda was very interesting, with the road virtually becoming a river in places, vehicles bogged in and our 4x4s up to the exhausts in water.  In any event after a painful and very slow drive that made the journey from Banjul to Tendaba look like a walk in the park we reached Soda and finally the rain stopped falling.

The road from Soda to Mega has rightly earned its name as a must go to site and today despite the weather, we were lucky to encounter some great birds.  A small flock of Black-headed Herons flew over and then we stopped to view a Foxy Lark and then saw two Heuglin's Coursers and at least fifteen Somali Coursers.  On the other side of the road Shelley's Chestnut and Chestnut Sparrows flitted about and a couple of White-tailed Swallows flew up the drainage canals at the side of the road below our feet – a fantastic moment.  A little further on a stop by some termite mounds and the Finnish group alerted us to the presence of a group of Stressman's Bush Crows.  Also at this site a Northern Grey Tit, White-bellied Canary, Banded Parisoma and some got a brief view of a Black-capped Social Weaver.

We now continued north until we reached the Borena Lodge just south of Yabelo.  This accommodation and food was fantastic.  The bungalows were spacious and well appointed with hot water, which were very clean and a credit to the Italian owner, Franco and his staff.  I fell asleep listening to a calling African Scops Owl.

Day 9 – 12th Nov

Birding in the grounds of the lodge was very good in the morning before attending breakfast and produced two Orange-bellied Parrots, a family group of Stressman's Bush Crows, a D'arnaud's Barbet, Bearded and Nubian Woodpeckers and another Northern Grey Tit.  During breakfast a Siffling Cisticola was identified as it sang or "siffled" if you prefer?

Whilst waiting to depart for Yabelo National Park the group saw Red-faced Crombecs, a small group of Lesser-striped Swallows including one Wire-tailed, a group of four Northern Brownbuls and three Crimson-rumped Waxbills by the vehicles.

We travelled to Yabelo National Park and stopped to view a beautiful male Straw-tailed Whydah with several Cut Throats and Grey-capped Social Weavers.  A Cisticola singing atop a tree proved to be a Boran and later along the track we stopped to look at a Rosy-patched Bush Shrike, Spotted Palm Thrush, a couple of D'arnaud's Barbets and found a Jacobin Cuckoo of the race pica.  We eventually got out of the vehicles and went for a walk and found a pair of Black-bellied Bustards, some more Bush Crows, a White-bellied Canary, Brubru and an Abyssinian Scimitar-bill.

After lunch we headed south toward Mega and a dry river bed.  On the way we paused to bird around a village and although there was nothing new we got good views of some more Shelley's Rufous Sparrows and another three Temminck's Coursers.  A large group of vultures stopped the vehicles as we travelled south as they were tucking into a rotting carcass.  Present were a Lappet-faced, Ruppell's and Eurasian Griffons, Hooded and White-backed Vultures – quite a spectacle.

We reached the river bed and once more alighted from the vehicles.  During the walk we encountered a large group of Chestnut Weavers, a Yellow-vented Eremomela, a Crested Francolin and three Vittaline Masked Weavers.  A Cardinal Woodpecker and two Eastern Yellow-billed Hornbills ended the day.  A walk in the dark at the lodge revealed at least three African Scops Owls and a calling Nightjar which was probably Donaldson-Smith's.

Day 10 – 13th Nov

The following day at the lodge prior to the long drive North a Bare-eyed Thrush was found but nothing else was new.  A male Bateleur drew the group's attention as we continued north towards Awash as did a few Tawny Eagles and a Silvery-cheeked Hornbill flying over the road.

We reached the hotel on the edge of Lake Awassa in good time and so in the early evening birded in the grounds of the hotel and along the lake.  This proved to be productive with the only Grey-headed Kingfisher being found along with another Spotted Creeper, a pair of African Pygmy Geese, some Black-necked Grebes and numerous Malachite and Pied Kingfishers.  Some also managed to get onto a pair of Grosbeak Weavers before retiring.

Day 11 – 14th Nov

An early morning start produced nothing new but the place was very "birdy" and so we had breakfast and proceeded to the Awassa Fish Market which was quite an experience.

At the Fish Market, Marabou Storks were everywhere with their grotesque features and scabby heads.  Gull-billed, Black, White-winged Black and Whiskered Terns flew around us whilst numerous Grey-headed Gulls fed amongst the White Pelicans.  Close observation of the reed bed produced views of a female Grosbeak Weaver feeding two juveniles, whilst a dark warbler caused some ID issues.  It was narrowed down to one of three and luckily Graham got some shots of it which provided the retrospective evidence to categorise it as a Little Rush Warbler; Lesser Swamp Warbler was the alternative.

Later in the adjoining woods many birds were seen including a female Diederik Cuckoo, whilst in the waterside vegetation Purple Swamphens, Village Weavers and a Goliath Heron put in an appearance.  By far the star of the show was a very showy and fearless African Pygmy Kingfisher which sat up and begged to be photographed by everyone.  A Banded Barbet showed well allowing those who had not got perfect views previously to put this one to bed.

Lunch and an afternoon departure had us heading north towards Abijito Shala Forest and Reserve and our nearby hotel, stopping briefly to search for a Lesser Jacana which was fruitless, however a Purple Heron revealed itself along with at least fifty Northern Carmine Bee-eaters along the road that were furiously photographed to within an inch of their lives.

We arrived at the reserve and left the vehicles to see an owl that the locals didn't know what it was.  It transpired to be a roosting Barn Owl which was a good addition to the growing trip list and in a nearby tree a Gabar Goshawk posed for the group.  A walk around the reserve rewarded a few members of the group with views of Clapperton's Francolin, with a Eurasian Wryneck showing briefly.  Further on a pair of Buff-bellied Warblers showed well as did a White-shouldered Black Tit.

We departed the reserve for the hotel and the promise of roosting owls and nightjars.  The first owl roost belonged to a Greyish Eagle Owl as did the second being occupied by a pair.  On the ground a little further on a least five Slender-tailed Nightjars and although relatively common it was great to be able to photograph them in the daylight.

Slender-tailed Nightjar

Day 12 – 15th Nov

After breakfast a brief walk around the hotel gave better views of the nightjars and excellent opportunities to photograph a pair of resident Little Rock Thrushes prior to departure.

We headed north once more towards Awash National Park stopping at a wetland (Lake Ziway) area for the drivers to mend a punctured tyre.  In all respects this was an excellent stop which provided an opportunity to add birds to the list that were not seen elsewhere such as Yellow-billed Stork, Marsh Sandpiper, Three-banded Plover, Little Stint, Black-tailed Godwit and African Reed Warbler.  Several races of Yellow Wagtail were also present.

Continuing the journey the next stop was in the Awash valley at Lake Beseka.  As we birded along the fault line cracked valley floor a resplendent Saddle-billed Stork was popular and the only Caspian Tern of the trip was seen, however, this was not the purpose of the stop.  As we made our way along the rocky valley a Blackstart was noted and a number of birds were soon identified as Striolated Buntings.  As we watched a pair of Yellow-bellied Eremomelas in a tree, unbelievably there was the target bird – a Sombre Rock Chat which sat still for about a minute before flying off distantly never to be seen again – a great moment and once again a huge slice of luck just when it was needed.

We arrived at Awash National Park to be greeted by a Black-chested Snake Eagle sat on top of a telegraph pole which was a timely addition to the list.  As we traversed the tracks a number of Somali Fiscals, a Kori Bustard and a few Chestnut-backed Sparrow Larks were seen.

Day 13 – 16th Nov

A morning walk around the lodge, waterfalls and adjacent river produced some good birds that were not seen elsewhere.  The only African Pied Wagtails were observed whilst eating breakfast with a number of commoner species.  As we started the walk, a female Yellow Bishop looked down on us and a pair of Crested Francolin scuttled through the undergrowth.  Two Bruce's Green Pigeons were seen in quick succession and a pair of displaying African Grey Hornbills was difficult to miss.  As we continued an Eastern Grey Plantain Eater became evident and by the river bank the only pair of Senegal Thick-knees were first seen in flight and then at rest.  A bird flying into a tree drew attention and soon a pair of Black-billed Barbets became obvious.  A little further on and the only Blue-Cheeked Bee-eaters were seen and an adult and immature Little Sparrowhawk were initially difficult to locate in a large tree directly above us. Other birds of note included a Sulphur-breasted Bush Shrike, Thrush Nightingale and Ruppell's Weaver whilst Red-billed Queleas became well represented.

After lunch we drove the reserve looking for Bustards.  Billed as "Bustard Central" the Awash area didn't disappoint.  As we followed the tracks around the park, stopping briefly for everyone to get a good eyeful of a Somali Fiscal we had our first prolonged and close views of a pair of Abyssinian Ground Hornbills that looked positively prehistoric.  Next a pair of Black-bellied Bustards was well spotted by the guide and a chance stop to look at a Shrike had Peter spotting four sandgrouse in a field next to the road which turned out to be Chestnut-bellied, much to Josele's delight.  A couple of Singing Bush Larks were predictable but difficult to observe.  A Yellow-throated Spurfowl was seen before passing from the south of the reserve to the north, separated by the main road.  Here we changed reserve wardens as the tribes from either side of the road were in dispute and may have ended in the demise of the guard from the southern part of the reserve had he been found in the north.

We continued in the north stumbling across four (a male and three females) Lichtenstein's Sandgrouse, unbelievably as we photographed them a male Buff-crested Bustard appeared on the road a 100m behind them – a great moment.  On our return the guide once again spotted a group of three bustards which were clearly White-bellied before they seemed to disappear into the bush.  An Abyssinian Black Wheatear was nice to see as we hadn't seen many as was a White-browed Coucal.  A different Black-chested Snake Eagle sat on its usual perch and a beautiful Rosy-patched Bush Shrike sat motionless on a bush for all to enjoy. A Dark Chanting Goshawk, Gabar Goshawk and a Peregrine flying to roost as I had a beer at the bar finished off an excellent day.  Nancy & Steve who had decided to enjoy some photography around the lodge managed to photograph the only African Silverbill of the tour, coming in for a drink at the lodge's water tower.

Male & Female Lichtenstein's Sandgrouse

Day 14 – 17th Nov

A morning drive to another part of the Awash/Afar region, to a known Arabian Bustard area ended in fantastic views of this difficult to find species as it slowly worked its way through the bush and away from us.  Simultaneously in a tree opposite the vehicles were a pair of Yellow-breasted Barbets that some of the group missed as they concentrated on the bustard.  A little more searching of the area had us observing a pair of Red-fronted Warblers.  We moved further on and as the crew prepared lunch we walked across a plain through scrub and bush until we reached an expansive reed bed.  On route we found a pair of Desert Cisticolas, several Northern Carmine Bee-eaters, however sadly not the Nile Valley Sunbird that was hoped for.  At the reed bed a Red-throated Pipit appeared amongst a sea of Yellow Wagtails whilst a Marsh and Montague's Harrier passed over us.  The most common bird here was at least twenty Wood Sandpipers amongst commoner wetland species with a single Ruff and Common Snipe.  Whilst returning to the vehicles for lunch we were alerted by a scolding Sylvia warbler, with its tail wagging it some became obvious that it was a Menetrie's Warbler.  On our return we stopped at a café for a drink which held a roosting Greyish Eagle Owl.

Greyish Eagle Owl at a day roost

After lunch we returned to the lodge and went on an afternoon walk around the area.  Although fairly unproductive it did produce good views of several more Lichtenstein's Sandgrouse – always nice to see in the daylight, Pin-tailed and Straw-tailed Whydahs, a Village Indigobird and a Somali Golden-breasted Bunting.

Day 15 – 18th Nov

Today was torture!  A very long drive along seldom used bush tracks with few birding opportunities due to the distance to be travelled.  We began the journey from Awash to Ankober and were quickly seeing common birds once more with a group of three Abyssinian Ground Hornbills breaking it up.  We did however see another three Arabian Bustards along the track and another Buff-crested Bustard.  Five Blue-naped Mousebirds were seen and a good number of Egyptian Vultures.  One brief stop brought some attention from a group of Afar tribe's people but the group was more interested in another Heuglin's Courser, a small group of Black-headed Plovers and six Wattled Starlings.  Lunch was illuminating as Mark was chased through the bush by an agitated tribesman with a large knife, as he thought he had been photographed.  The guides subdued him and thankfully he eventually became (happy with life).  As we travelled towards Ankober a Black Scimitar-bill flew across the road.  We arrived at the Yellow-throated Seedeater site and the group gained flight views of five birds and a brief view of a perched bird.  Andy was lucky enough to get good views of two perched birds before they alighted.  Frustratingly brief views of a very range restricted bird.  We continued to the Ankober Palace Lodge for the night and although the climb was lengthy the reward of the sunset and sunrise the following morning was worth it.

Day 16 – 19th Nov

A brief bit of birding prior to breakfast was rewarded with another two Little Rock Thrushes and photo opportunities for some other commoner birds.  We departed after breakfast on the way back to Addis Ababa via Debre Birhan and an important site.  We stopped along the road and saw a perched Peregrine Falcon, six Ruppell's Vultures, a Lammergeyer, Augur Buzzards, a Yellow-fronted Canary and in some undergrowth a Cinnamon Bracken Warbler and many Abyssinian Siskins.  At least five Groundscraper Thrushes were seen along the road and then suddenly we stopped for two brownish birds that flew across the road.  We quickly scanned the hillside, passing the Streaky Seedeater were a pair of Ankober Serins.  Although it is not the most striking bird it was a real pleasure to see.  It reminded me of going to see the Yemen Serins at Tawi Atayr sink hole in Oman many years ago.

We stopped for lunch in Debre Birhan and dropped off Roger & Imogen who were staying on for another two weeks, to do the cultural tour – good on them and very brave to do a month in one hit.  I guess they were rewarded with a couple more endemics that we were unable to go north for due to the return flight timings.

We stopped once more prior to reaching Addis as a group of six Black-winged Plovers had been seen in a field.  They proved very confiding and allowed for a close approach for photography.  In a nearby pool by the road, a pair of Yellow Bishops flitted about and we added another new bird for the trip in the form of a stunning male Ortolan Bunting.  Also here were Chiffchaffs, Willow Warblers and the last new bird of the trip, working its way through the undergrowth was an Ethiopian Cisticola.

Black-winged Plover

Day 17 – 20th Nov

An early morning return flight to Heathrow ensured that we arrived in a rather colder UK than we were expecting, however, cold air and unhelpful staff left us in no doubt that we were home.  I must say however, that my battery was flat at Purple Parking but they solved it immediately without additional charge and we were on our way – the service I have always received here has been second to none and I highly recommend them for your parking requirements at Heathrow.  Additionally, ensure you take a Graham who kindly offered to give me a push if I needed it.

Consolidated Species List

Endemic Species & Sub Species / Range Restricted

Blue-winged Goose

Moorland Francolin

Chestnut-naped Francolin

Wattled Ibis

Eastern Chanting Goshawk

Arabian Bustard

Rouget's Rail

Spot-breasted Lapwing

Somali Courser

Wattled Crane


White-collared Pigeon

Black-winged Lovebird

Yellow-fronted Parrot

White-cheeked Turaco

Prince Ruspoli's Turaco

Abyssinian Owl

Slender-tailed Nightjar

Nyanza Swift

Half-collared Kingfisher

Ethiopian Blue-breasted Bee-eater

Black-billed Wood Hoopoe

Abyssinian Scimitar-bill

Eastern Yellow-billed Hornbill

Von der Decken's Hornbill

Silvery-cheeked Hornbill

D'arnaud's Barbet

Red & Yellow Barbet

Yellow-breasted Barbet

Banded Barbet

Foxy Lark

Somali Short-toed Lark

Abyssinian Woodpecker

Abyssinian Black Wheatear

Red-breasted Wheatear

Grey-headed Batis

Black-headed Batis

Pygmy Batis

Ethiopian Boubou

Somali Fiscal

Abyssinian Oriole

Stressman's Bushcrow

Dwarf Raven

Thick-billed Raven

Lieben Lark

White-tailed Swallow

Black (Brown) Sawing

White-backed Tit

Northern Brownbul

Boran Cisticola

Ethiopian Cisticola

Stout Cisticola

Pectoral Patch Cisticola

Abyssinian Catbird

Abyssinian Slaty-Flatcatcher

Brown Parisoma

Banded Parisoma

Bale Parisoma

Ruppell's Robin Chat

Sombre Rock Chat

White-winged Cliff Chat

Abyssinian Ground Thrush

Mountain Thrush

African Bare-eyed Thrush

Mountain White-eye

Golden-breasted Starling

Tacazze Sunbird

Abyssinian Longclaw

Ankober Serin

Abyssinian Siskin

Yellow-throated Seedeater

Shelley's Rufous Sparrow

Red-rumped Waxbill

White-rumped Babbler

Moorland Chat

Marico Sunbird


Not seen Routinely (Habitat Dependent)

Fulvous Whistling Duck

White-faced Whistling Duck

White-backed Duck

Comb Duck

Ruddy Shelduck

Spur-winged Goose

African Pygmy-goose

Red-billed Teal

Hottentot Teal

Northern Shoveller

Southern Pochard

Maccoa Duck

Yellow-throated Spurfowl

Common Quail

Black-necked Grebe

Black Stork

Abdim's Stork

White Stork

Saddle-billed Stork

Yellow-billed Stork

African Darter

Black-headed Heron

Purple Heron

Striated Heron

Little Bittern

Glossy Ibis

Eurasian Spoonbill

African Spoonbill


Black-shouldered Kite

Black Kite


Egyptian Vulture

Lappet-faced Vulture

White-headed Vulture

Black-chested Snake Eagle

Brown Snake Eagle


Pallid Harrier

Montagu's Harrier

African Harrier-Hawk

Gabar Goshawk

African Goshawk

Little Sparrowhawk

Rufous-breasted Sparrowhawk

Common Buzzard

Lesser Spotted Eagle

Greater Spotted Eagle

Wahlberg's Eagle

Booted Eagle

Martial Eagle

Long-crested Eagle

African Crowned Eagle

Pygmy Falcon

Lesser Kestrel

Grey Kestrel

Eurasian Hobby

African Hobby



White-bellied Bustard

Buff-crested Bustard

Black-bellied Bustard

Purple Swamphen

Little Crake

Black-crowned Crane

Senegal Thick-knee

Black-headed Lapwing

Black-winged Lapwing

Three-banded Plover

African Snipe

Common Snipe

Black-tailed Godwit

Marsh Sandpiper

Common Greenshank

Little Stint


Temminck's Courser

Heuglin's Courser

Caspian Tern

Chestnut-bellied Sandgrouse

Lichtenstein's Sandgrouse

African Mourning Dove

Blue-spotted Wood Dove

Tambourine Dove

Bruce's Green Pigeon

Eastern Plantain-eater

Jackobin Cuckoo (pica)

Klaas' Cuckoo

Dideric Cuckoo

Blue-headed Coucal

Senegal Coucal

White-browed Coucal

Barn Owl

Cape Eagle Owl

Greyish Eagle Owl

African Wood Owl

Mottled Swift

Common Swift

Little Swift

African Palm Swift

Blue-naped Mousebird

African Pygmy Kingfisher

Grey-headed Kingfisher

Striped Kingfisher

Blue-cheeked Bee-eater

European Bee-eater

Northern Carmine Bee-eater

European Roller

Lilac-breasted Roller

Rufous-crowned Roller

African Hoopoe

Black Scimitar-bill

African Grey Hornbill

Abyssinian Ground Hornbill

Red-fronted Tinkerbird

Red-fronted Barbet

Black-billed Barbet

Double-toothed Barbet

Lesser Honeyguide

Eurasian Wryneck

Cardinal Woodpecker

Bearded Woodpecker

Grey-headed Woodpecker

Common Wattle-eye


Slate-coloured Boubou

Rosy-patched Bush Shrike

Sulphur-breasted Bushshrike

Red-backed Shrike

Isabelline Shrike

Steppe Grey Shrike

Southern Grey Shrike

Masked Shrike

Plain Martin

Ethiopian Swallow

Wire-tailed Swallow

Lesser-striped Swallow

House Martin

White-winged Black Tit

Singing Bush Lark

Northern Grey Tit

Spotted Creeper

Dark-capped Bulbul

Sedge Warbler

African Reed Warbler

Little Rush Warbler

Cinnamon Bracken Warbler

Yellow-breasted Apalis

Red-fronted Warbler

Grey Wren-warbler

Tiny Cisticola

Desert Cisticola

Buff-bellied Wabler

Yellow-bellied Eremomela

Yellow-vented Eremomela

Plain Prinia


Northern Crombec

Red-faced Crombec

Northern Black Flycatcher

African Dusky Flycatcher

Thrush Nightingale

Spotted Palm Thrush

Common Redstart

African (Ethiopian) Stonechat


Rock Thrush

Little Rock Thrush

Rufous Chatterer

Wattled Starling

White-crowned Starling

Slender-billed Starling

Red-billed Oxpecker

Collared Sunbird

African Pied Wagtail

Grey Wagtail

Grassland Pipit

Tree Pipit

Red-throated Pipit

Ortolan Bunting

Somali Golden-breasted Bunting

Yellow-crowned Canary

Yellow-fronted Canary

White-bellied Canary

Striped-breasted Seedeater

Striolated Bunting

Chestnut Sparrow

Yellow-spotted Petronia

Bush Petronia

Red-billed Buffalo Weaver

Little Weaver

Lesser-masked Weaver

Spectacled Weaver

Ruppell's Weaver

Vitelline-masked Weaver

Village Weaver

Chestnut Weaver

Red-headed Weaver

Northern Red Bishop

Yellow Bishop

White-winged Widowbird

Fan-tailed Widowbird

Grosbeak Weaver

Yellow-bellied Waxbill

Abyssinian Crimsonwing

Crimson-rumped Waxbill

Common Waxbill

Red-rumped Waxbill

African Silverbill

Purple Grenadier

Cut-throat Finch

Black & White Mannikin

Steel-blue Whydah

Straw-tailed Whydah

Yellow-fronted Tinkerbird

Eastern Bonelli's Warbler

African Yellow White-eye

Black-headed Oriole

Golden Eagle

Black Cuckoo Shrike

Mosque Swallow

Heuglin's Gull

Clapperton's Francolin

Mouse-coloured Penduline Tit

Vulturine Guineafowl

Yellow-necked Francolin

Wattled Lapwing

Little Ringed Plover 

African Yellow White-eye

Shelley's Starling

White Wagtail

Eastern Bonelli's Warbler


Can be seen easily (Habitat Dependent)

Egyptian Goose

Yellow-billed Duck

Helmeted Guineafowl

Crested Francolin

Greater Flamingo

Marabou Stork

Great Cormorant

Long-tailed Cormorant

Great White Pelican

Pink-backed Pelican


Grey Heron

Goliath Heron

Great Egret

Intermediate Egret

Little Egret

Cattle Egret

Squacco Heron

Sacred Ibis

Hadada Ibis

Yellow-billed Kite

African Fish Eagle

Hooded Vulture

White-backed Vulture

Ruppell's Vulture

Griffon Vulture

Western Marsh Harrier

Dark Chanting Goshawk

Augur Buzzard

Tawny Eagle

Steppe Eagle

Eurasian Kestrel

Kori Bustard

Black Crake

Common Moorhen

Red-knobbed Coot

Spur-winged Plover

Crowned Lapwing

Black-winged Stilt

African Jacana

Green Sandpiper

Wood Sandpiper

Common Sandpiper

Grey-headed Gull

Gull-billed Tern

Black Tern

White-winged Black Tern

Whiskered Tern

Speckled Pigeon

Dusky Turtle Dove

Red-eyed Dove

Ring-necked Dove

Laughing Dove

Emerald-spotted Wood Dove

Namaqua Dove

Red-bellied Parrot

White-bellied Go-away-bird

Speckled Mousebird

Malachite Kingfisher

Woodland Kingfisher

Pied Kingfisher

Little Bee-eater

Abyssinian Roller

Eurasian Hoopoe

Northern Red-billed Hornbill

Nubian Woodpecker

Northern Puffback

Grey-backed Fiscal

Common Fiscal

Woodchat Shrike

Northern White-crowned Shrike

Fork-tailed Drongo

African Paradise Flycatcher

Cape Crow

Pied Crow

Fan-tailed Raven

Chestnut-backed Sparrow Lark

Thekla Lark

Sand Martin

Rock Martin

Barn Swallow

Red-rumped Swallow

Common Bulbul

Willow Warbler

Common Chiffchaff

Eastern Olivaceous Warbler

Green-backed Camaroptera

Siffling Cisticola

Tawny-flanked Prinia


Lesser Whitethroat

African Grey Flycatcher

White-browed Scrub Robin

Northern Wheatear

Pied Wheatear

Isabelline Wheatear

Groundscraper Thrush

African Thrush

Abyssinian White-eye

Greater Blue-eared Glossy Starling

Ruppell's Glossy Starling

Superb Starling

Scarlet-chested Sunbird

Beautiful Sunbird

Variable Sunbird

Yellow Wagtail

Mountain Wagtail

Plain-backed Pipit

African Citril

Reichenow's Seedeater

Brown-rumped Seedeater

Streaky Seedeater

Swainson's Sparrow

White-headed Buffalo Weaver

White-browed Sparrow Weaver

Baglafecht Weaver

Red-billed Quelea

Yellow-bellied Waxbill

Crimson-rumped Waxbill

Red-cheeked Cordonbleu

Red-billed Firefinch

Bronze Mannikin

Pin-tailed Whydah

Eastern-Paradise Whydah

Village Indigobird

Little Grebe


Ethiopia was a real experience and not only for the birding opportunities.  I would like to thank everyone who took part in the tour for providing excellent and amusing company, a wealth of birding knowledge and above all the good humour and endurance required to make this sort of trip a success.  If you're looking for creature comforts, fine dining and luxury, Ethiopia is probably not the place for you.  However, great birding is ubiquitous and although mammals are not numerous the chance to see the rare Simeon Wolf should provide any avid fan of wildlife and remote places with enough motivation to go.  Ensure you have a local guide who will solve many of the in country vagaries for you and will also know additional sites for sought after endemics.

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