Trip report Ethiopia: - October 1999
A report by Jan Vermeulen (contact me)
Systematic List of Birds
Systematic List of Mammals
The following report covers the 19 days I spent in October 1999 in Ethiopia with Gerald Broddelez, Vital van Gorp, Chris Steeman and Eric Wille. The main objective of the trip was to see all of the endemic species.
Ethiopia is not the famine-stricken and war-torn country most people imagine. On the contrary, it is, on the whole, stable and friendly, with a fairly good infrastructure and the almost complete absence of dangerous animals makes it possible to bird on foot in most places.
This ancient country perched on the Horn of Africa, cut by the Great Rift Valley, and with extensive highland areas is a superb birding locale. The highland plateaux on either side of the Rift represent the continent’s largest area of Afro-alpine habitat and also contain some of the most spectacular scenery in Africa.
Ethiopia has a high total of more than 850 species. Depending on whom you read there are approximately no less than 30 endemics of which 20 are fairly easy to see and a few more near endemics. This makes Ethiopia (regionally) second only to southern Africa in its levels of endemism. Although part of Ethiopia has been visited by birders for some years, only recently have the more remote regions in the south been explored by a few pioneers, most notably Richard Webb et al and Jon Hornbuckle et al in 1996.
We travelled the length and breadth of Ethiopia on our trip, notching up all the endemics we could expect on this itinerary as well as a whole host of other interesting birds. We recorded 529 species during this time, including all the endemics except Nechisar’s Nightjar and Lineated Pytilia.
The generally accepted endemics are:
Prince Ruspoli’s Turaco
The taxonomic status of Nechisar Nightjar, Ethiopian Sawwing and Brown Sawwing is uncertain.
The following notes are intended to complement Richard Webb’s excellent report, the essential reference.
FLIGHT AND VISA
We travelled to Ethiopia via Brussels, Rome and Jeddah (Saudi Arabia). Our return-ticket (Alitalia) for the air journey cost us US$625.You do need a visa for Ethiopia, currently US$ 60. I applied for one at the consulate in The Hague.
When you're leaving Ethiopia, you have to pay US$20 departure tax.
The official currency of Ethiopia is the birr, the rate of which is fixed against the US dollar every two weeks following a foreign auction. Throughout our visit the birr was 8 birr to US$1.
Tourists are NO longer required to make a declaration of the amount of foreign currency they bring into the country.
Foreign currency can be changed at the airport and at banks in Addis Abeba, but we did not find it possible to do so outside the capital.
The choice of hotels is very limited in most locations and the price is not normally a deciding factor outside the capital.
Simply pick the best hotel in town, usually the Wabe Shebella or Bekele Molla Hotel, and it is still likely to be pretty bad.
FOOD AND DRINK
The national dish for most Ethiopians is injera, a flat, sourdough pancake made from a special grain called teff, which is served with either meat or vegetable sauces, to which we very soon developed a dislike. Fortunately we managed to get spaghetti, fish and potatoes at most places. Cola (Pepsi and Coke), beer and ambo (bottled water) were widely available and cheap.
We did not experience any serious stomach upsets despite regularly eating local food.
HEALTH AND SAFETY
Theft is really not a problem in Ethiopia unless you are careless. Ethiopians are friendly and helpful and the country is fairly safe and the worst that the traveller is likely to encounter is a pickpocket in Addis Abeba.
We felt a little tense on just one occasion at Bogol Manyo in the extreme south-east of the country. At Bogol Manyo we spent the night in our tents at the “meeting house (village hall)” and this was the only time our guide Gebre was nervous, although the local police at Negele had assured us that the area was safe. Gebre apparently did not trust the armed Somalis in the village.
For vaccinations consult your own doctor for up to date advice. Generally you should be immunised or “topped up” against hepatitis A and B, Tetanus, Typhoid and Polio. Malaria is a major risk so all precautions against malaria are a must.
Ethiopia requires all visitors to have an up to date Yellow Fever vaccination certificate.
We did not suffer much from the mosquitoes, only in our hotel rooms were sometimes many mosquitoes, but the main “mosquito season” does not start until late October. Ticks were numerous in long grass, especially at Nechisar NP.
For visitors sensitive to insect bites, it is advisable to bring antihistamine cream or tablets.
There has been a rapid growth in the number of reported cases of aids, so take the necessary precautions in the event of planned or unplanned sexual adventures.
Ethiopia’s misfortunes over the last decades have created large numbers of destitute people, and this is particularly noticeable in Addis Abeba, the population of which has trebled in recent years.
There is no easy answer to the question of whether one gives to beggars or not, but you should be aware however that if you give to one person, a flood of others will come running up.
English is the official language in Ethiopia and is widely spoken in Addis Abeba and in tourist areas, but in the more remote areas nobody speaks English. It is advisable to hire a vehicle with a driver!
Most tourists visit Ethiopia in the period November to January. We had to visit Ethiopia in October, which turned out to be an excellent time of year for a birding trip. The wet season lingers until September and in our case until October, but despite the first 10 rainy days we had a very good trip.
The main advantage of birding in October is that most birds, such as male bishops, are in breeding plumage.
The temperatures in the highlands are moderate, rarely exceeding 30° C even at the hottest times of the year.
A small tape recorder and the bird call sets of certain Ethiopians birds by Steve Smith is quite useful for drawing in birds.
Steve Smith’s tape is available from Steve c/o 42 Lower Buckland Road, Lymington, Hampshire SO41 9DL, England.
A good torch is a must. A telescope is useful at lakes and very useful for viewing canopy species especially from roadsides. Photography is NOT difficult, as birds are easy to approach and light conditions are good.
Clothing can be summer clothes for the daytime and something warm for the evenings, like a sweater or jacket. The temperature drops quite rapidly towards sunset.
TRANSPORT AND ROADS
Road conditions in Ethiopia vary, but are generally bad, make getting around very difficult. The main roads are sealed, but elsewhere are poor‑quality dirt, where a 4‑wheel drive is necessary. Due to the unseasonal rain which had been falling during our first ten days, many roads had turned to mud.
Several ground agents operate from Addis Abeba. We used Experience Ethiopia Travel (ETT) an outfit run by Kassa Tadesse. They provided a 4WD vehicle and booked accommodation for us at all the localities we visited.
The total cost for our trip was US$1597 per person and this price included 4WD Toyota Land cruiser with insurance, accommodation, all meals, entrance fees, scouts in parks and guide service throughout the trip.
Our bird guide Gebre Sellassie and driver Girma Tenan were reliable and helpful and can be thoroughly recommended.
P.O. Box 9354
Tel: (251 1) 152336
Fax: (251 1) 519982
NOMENCLATURE & TAXONOMY
I have decided to follow the English names of James F. Clements (October 1991, Birds of the World, A Check List).
The following list of birds we saw frequently and if you spend any sort of time in the right habitats you will too:
Great Cormorant, Egyptian Goose, Cattle Egret, Hamerkop, Wattled Ibis, Sacred Ibis, Marabou Stork, Black Kite, Hooded Vulture, White-backed Vulture, Dark Chanting-Goshawk, Eastern Chanting-Goshawk, Augur Buzzard, Eurasian Kestrel, Helmeted Guineafowl, Yellow-necked Spurfowl, Buff-crested Bustard, Common Sandpiper, Spur-winged Plover, Speckled Pigeon, Dusky Turtle-Dove, Laughing Dove, African Mourning Dove, Ring-necked Dove, Red‑eyed Dove, Namaqua Dove, Speckled Mousebird, White-bellied Go-away-bird, European Bee-eater, Lilac-breasted Roller, Red‑billed Hornbill, Eastern Yellow-billed Hornbill, African Paradise-Flycatcher, Fork‑tailed Drongo, Cape Crow, Pied Crow, Brown-necked Raven, Fan‑tailed Raven, Common Fiscal, White-rumped Shrike, Greater & Lesser Blue-eared Glossy-Starling, Superb Starling, Pied Wheatear, Isabelline Wheatear, Sand Martin, Rock Martin, Barn Swallow, Common Bulbul, Broad-ringed White-eye, Grey‑backed Camaroptera, Willow Warbler, Swainson’s Sparrow, Red-cheeked Cordonblue, Yellow Wagtail, Red-billed & White-headed Buffalo-Weaver, White‑browed Sparrow‑Weaver, Village Weaver, Red‑billed Quelea.
For a detailed report of species and numbers please refer to the systematic list at the end of this report.
Many thanks to Girma Tenan and Gebre Sellassie of
ETT, our driver (cook) and guide, who worked very long hours and without whom
the trip would not have been so successful and to Gerald Broddelez who did much
of the pre-trip preparations.
- James F. Clements. Birds of the World. A Check List.
- Jonathan Kingdon. The Kingdon Field Guide to African Mammals.
- Jill Last. Endemic Mammals of Ethiopia.
- Ber van Perlo. Collins Illustrated Checklist: Birds of Eastern Africa.
- E.K. Urban, L.H. Brown, K.B. Newman. The Birds of Africa, volume I. Ostriches to Falcons.
- E.K. Urban, C.H. Fry, S. Keith. The Birds of Africa, volume II (Gamebirds to Pigeons), volume III (Parrots to Woodpeckers), volume IV (Broadbills to Chats) and volume V (Thrushes to Puffback Flycatchers).
- Emil K. Urban. Ethiopia’s Endemic Birds.
- Michael Walters. Complete Checklist. Vogels van de Wereld.
- Nigel Wheatley. Where to watch birds in Africa.
- Dale A. Zimmerman, Donald A. Turner, David J. Pearson. Birds of Kenya and Northern Tanzania.
The reference used was Ber van Perlo’s “Illustrated Checklist” which covers all birds in the area and was found to be just about sufficient though some of the illustrations are somewhat basic and it was frequently necessary to refer to the hefty “Birds of Kenya and Northern Tanzania” by Zimmerman et al.
Nigel Wheatley's "Where to watch birds in Africa" is useful at the planning stage.
- Mindy & Sherif Baha El Din. Birding Ethiopia, a trip report. 23 May - June 1995.
- Jon Hornbuckle. Report on a Birding Trip to Ethiopia. 24 October – 18 November 1996.
- Richard Webb. Ethiopia. 10 December 1995 – 16 January 1996.
- Julian Francis and Hadoram Shirihai. Ethiopia. In search of endemic birds. September/October 1997.
- D.G. Barnes. Ethiopia. 23 January – 14 February 1999.
Richard Webb’s trip report is an excellent and essential guide to all the bird sites, with additional information from the report by Jon Hornbuckle.
BIRDBASE & BIRDAREA
I use this software to keep track of the birds I
have seen and to make lists of any country, labelling endemics and birds previously
seen in that country, outside it, or both. BirdArea can produce checklists of
the birds of any country of Clements’ world birds.
Using Richard Webb’s trip report as a guide we spent the bare minimum of time at most sites in order to visit them all.
Extra time would have been welcome at many places, particularly Lake Awasa, the Sanetti Plateau and Harrena Forest.
October 8 Chaam * Brussels * Rome * Jeddah * Addis Abeba
October 9 Addis Abeba * Gefersa Reservoir * Sululta Plains * Jemmu Escarpment/Valley * Alem Ketema
October 10 Alem Ketema * Jemmu Valley/Escarpment * Sululta Plains * Debre Birhan
October 11 Debre Birhan * Ankober Escarpment * Melka Ghebdu * Ankober * Addis Abeba * Awash
October 12 Awash * Fantale Crater * Awash National Park * Awash
October 13 Awash * Awash National Park * Nazeret * Lake Ziway * Lake Langano (escarpment)
October 14 Lake Langano * Shashemene * Wondo Genet * Awasa
October 15 Awasa fish market * Shashemene * Kofele * Bale Mountains National Park * Goba
October 16 Goba * Robe * Sof Omar * Robe * Goba
October 17 Goba * Sanetti Plateau * Harrena Forest * Genale Valley * Negele
October 18 Negele * Negele Plains * Filtu * Bogol Manyo
October 19 Bogol Manyo * Genale River * Bogol Manyo * Filtu * Negele
October 20 Negele * Wadera * Negele * Arero
October 21 Arero * Yabelo * Konso * Wolto
October 22 Wolto * Turmi * Fejeje * Turmi
October 23 Turmi * Konso * Arba Minch * Nechisar National Park
October 24 Arba Minch * Nechisar National Park * Abijatta Shala National Park * Lake Langano
October 25 Lake Langano * Abijatta Shala National Park * Lake Ziway * Addis Abeba
October 26 Addis Abeba * Ghion * Gibe Gorge * Ghion * Addis Abeba
October 27 Addis Abeba * Jeddah * Rome * Brussels * Chaam
Richard Webb’s trip report is an excellent and essential guide to all the bird sites. So the notes on a few sites are only an update.
The turning in the town of Ziway by the Agip garage leads to the fishing jetty. A good lot of waders, herons etc. can be found here.
Birds seen here:
Little Cormorant, African Darter, Great White Pelican, Pygmy Goose, Black Heron, Little, Intermediate & Great Egret, Squacco Heron, Hamerkop, Glossy Ibis, Osprey, African Fish‑Eagle, Western Marsh‑Harrier, Black Crake, Lesser Moorhen, Jacana, Lesser Jacana, Greenshank, Green, Wood & Common Sanpiper, Little Stint, Black‑winged Stilt, Heuglin’s Gull, Grey‑headed Gull, White‑winged & Whiskered Tern, Malachite, Woodland, Pied & Northern Carmine Bee-eater, Yellow‑fronted Tinkerbird, Sand Martin, Lesser Striped Swallow.
The Abyssinian Owl site. 51km east from Shashemene en route to Goba you reach an open area surrounded by eucalypti in an area of open grassland.
Abyssinian Owl regularly roosts in the eucalypti. The village children took us immediately to the north-east corner as sketched in Richard Webb’s report. However we did not find the bird here and eventually the owl was located in a row eucalypti a few hundred meters north of this spot (see map below).
Sidamo Lark occurs in grassland at the junction of the Filtu-Bogol Manyo/Arero roads c.13 km south-east of Negele.
This has become a sensitive military training area and armed sentries are posted at the road junction.
We made a stroll on the grasslands and were allowed to do this. Some other birders were not allowed to walk in this area in February 1999. I think that we were lucky.
Birds seen here:
Hooded, White-backed, Rueppell’s & Lappet‑faced Vulture, Pallid Harrier, Eurasian Kestrel, Eurasian Hobby, Coqui Francolin, Hartlaub’s Bustard, Temminck’s Courser, Crowned Lapwing, Rufous-tailed Rock‑Thrush, White‑crowned Starling, Isabelline Wheatear, Tiny & Desert Cisticola, Sidamo Lark, Rufous Short-toed Lark, Rufous Sparrow and Plain‑backed Pipit.
It is worthwhile to make a few stops en route from the Negele Plains to Bogol Manyo. We made a few stops in likely looking habitat and the best stops were 35 km west of Filtu and 56 km east of Filtu. At 56 km east of Filtu we did see Salvadori’s Serin, a bird we dipped at Sof Omar (a considerable distance away and until recently the only known site for this species).
Jon Hornbuckle et al did also see Salvadori’s Serin in this area and I am sure that given time we would have seen more Salvadori’s Serins.
Amongst the species seen en route were:
Shikra, Grasshopper Buzzard, Imperial Eagle, Martial Eagle, Buff-crested & White-bellied Bustard, Three-banded Courser, Burchell’s Courser, Donaldson Smith’s Nightjar, Somali Bee-eater, Abyssinian Scimitar-bill, Cardinal Woodpecker, Black‑throated Barbet, Taita Fiscal, Brubru, Pringle’s Puffback, Red-naped Bushshrike, White Helmetshrike, Rufous-tailed Rock-Thrush, Shelley’s Starling, White-crowned Starling, Pale Flycatcher, White-breasted White-Eye, Pale Prinia, Brown‑tailed Apalis, Red-faced Apalis, Grey Wren-Warbler, Yellow-vented Eremomela, Short-billed Crombec, Banded Warbler, Somali Tit, Gillett’s Lark, Yellow-spotted Petronia, Purple Grenadier, Cut-throat, Straw-tailed Whydah, Hunter’s Sunbird, Kenya Yellow-rumped Seedeater, Salvadori’s Serin, Abyssinian Grosbeak-Canary, Somali Bunting
3 hours from Addis Abeba and 10km beyond Welkite. There are bird tracks leading to farms on right hand side of the road, on either side of the river, for Uelle Broad-tailed Whydah and Abyssinian Whydah.
We failed to find both species, but instead found 4 “Ethiopian Cliff-Swallows” in a group of Lesser Striped‑Swallows.
Birds seen here:
Great White Pelican, Hadada Ibis, Hooded & White-backed
Vulture, Brown Snake-Eagle, Bateleur, Levant Sparrowhawk, Common Buzzard, Verreaux’s
Eagle, Four‑banded Sandgrouse, Laughing Dove, Namaqua Dove, Speckled Mousebird,
Striped Kingfisher, Blue‑breasted Bee-eater, Northern Puffback, Three‑streaked
Tchagra, Tropical Boubou, Rufous‑tailed Rock‑Thrush, Wattled Starling,
Spotted & Dusky Flycatcher, Common Nightingale, White‑crowned Robin‑Chat,
Common Redstart, Common Stonechat, Familiar Chat, Lesser Striped Swallow, “Ethiopian
Cliff‑Swallow”, Grey-backed Camaroptera, Olivaceous Warbler, Willow
Warbler, Blackcap, Lesser Whitethroat, White‑rumped Babbler, Swainson’s
Sparrow, Yellow‑spotted Petronia, Bush Petronia, Red‑billed Firefinch,
Red‑cheeked Cordonblue, Village Indigobird, Baglafecht & Village Weaver,
Black‑winged Bishop, White‑winged & Red‑collared Widowbird,
Collared Sunbird, African Citril, White‑throated Serin, Ortolan
Bunting, Cinnamon-breasted Bunting and Reichard’s Seedeater
Friday 8th October
Our trip started with an Alitalia flight from Brussels to Rome and via Jeddah (Saudi Arabia) to Addis Abeba. We landed at Addis Abeba (altitude 2400m) around 23.00 local time (one hour time difference with the Netherlands).
Heavy rain greeted our arrival in Ethiopia. Having changed money we left the confines of the airport building and ETT transferred us to the Holiday hotel, where we met Chris and Gerald, who had already been three days in Ethiopia.
Saturday 9th October
Next morning our first birds seen around the hotel included Peregrine Falcon, White-collared Pigeon, Brown-rumped Seedeater and Abyssinian Siskin.
After visiting the ETT-office we headed to the Gefersa Reservoir on the outskirts of the capital. Here we had our first real taste of the endemics and noted amongst others Blue-winged Goose, Wattled Ibis, Rouget’s Rail and an Abyssinian Longclaw playing hide-and-seek amongst grass tussocks and a lot of other birds including Red-knobbed Coot, Moorland Chat and Yellow-crowned Bishop. Not a bad start and one that set the pace for the rest of the trip.
In the afternoon we left the Addis Abeba area and then out onto the Sululta Plains, a high altitude country with grain fields, hay meadows and many small tarns and marshes.
Amongst the birds we encountered on the plains were Pallid Harrier, Lanner Falcon, Abyssinian Ground-Hornbill, Groundscraper Thrush, Botta’s Wheatear and Yellow Bishop.
We continued north to the Jemmu Escarpment and Fox Kestrel, Erckell’s Francolin, Blue-breasted Barbet, White-billed Starling and Rueppell’s Chat were all seen on the way down into the Rift Valley.
We spent a short time along the river while a puncture was repaired. A wealth of species here quickly expanded our fast growing list, amongst them Osprey, Senegal Thick-knee, Blue-spotted Wood-Dove and Black-billed Barbet.
Four kilometres before we would have been in Alem Katima our Toyota got up to our axles stuck in the mud and we had to walk with our hand luggage to the nearby village. We spent the night in the local ‘hotel’ and had our first taste of injera.
I preferred the local beer St. George.
With the help of more than 50 people from the village our car was ‘lifted’ out of the mud, but it was already late when we were back in the Jemmu Valley. We spent some time birding along the edge of the river finding White-throated Serin, perhaps the least inspiring of the endemics. Other birds we found here were Harwood’s Francolin (only heard), Dideric Cuckoo, Senegal Coucal, Hemprich’s Hornbill, Erlanger’s Lark, White-rumped Babbler, Crimson-rumped Waxbill and several Palearctic visitors including Common Cuckoo, Masked Shrike, White-throated Robin, Olivaceous Warbler and Ortolan Bunting.
At the escarpment we added Verreaux’s Eagle, Stone Partridge, Black-winged Lovebird and at the top the endemic White‑winged Cliff-Chat to our list.
Leaving the escarpment behind we again took a drive across the wide open Sululta Plains. The drive through kilometres of golden wheat and tef fields was interspersed with many raptor sightings including Black-winged Kites and Pallid and Montagu’s Harriers.
We made a few stops on the way to look at some flocks of Black-winged Lapwings and a real surprise, two Caspian Plovers, a bird I had not seen since my 1982 trip to Israel.
In the late afternoon we arrived at Debre Birhan where we checked into Hotel Akalu, a fairly good hotel.
Monday 11th October
It was very cold next morning, when we headed to the stunning escarpment near Ankober to look for the recently discovered Ankober Serin. En route we saw the best bird of the trip, the rare Somali Starling. We had telescope views of a group of 15 birds in the top of a tree.
Rain and a cold wind buffeted us as we searched the steep cliffs for this unassuming species and eventually were rewarded with Questar views (10 metres) of a group of 8 Ankober Serins.
Other birds we encountered here were Rufous-chested Sparrowhawk, Moorland and Erckell’s Francolin, Abyssinian Longclaw, Long-billed Pipit and Streaky Seedeater. The rain drove us back in the cover of our car and we then descended into the valley at Melka Ghebdu. The woodland along the river was very productive with Eastern Grey Plantaineater, Bruce’s Green-Pigeon, Black-billed Woodhoopoe, Mouse-coloured Penduline-Tit and the endemic Yellow-throated Serin.
We got a brief taste of the raptor migration as we obtained marvellous views of several Greater Spotted and Lesser Spotted Eagles and more than 2000 Steppe Buzzards. At midday we combed the riverbed in a hot and tiring effort to find the Half‑collared Kingfisher, a bird I had dipped a few months ago in Malawi. We had excellent views of this kingfisher, a bird I had failed to find on so many occasions during my Africa trips.
We then returned to Debre Birhan as the direct route to Awash was impassable and after lunch we headed to Addis.
We passed the capital in heavy traffic and arrived
at Awash at 21.30, where we checked into the Buffet Aouache Hotel.
Tuesday 12th October
The following day involved an early start as we drove to the Mount Fantale crater rim. On our way to the crater we picked up an armed guard from the NP main entrance.
At the crater we found Bristle-crowned Starling, the rare and little-known Sombre Chat, Boran Cisticola, Yellow-throated Serin and the striking local race of House Bunting.
At mid-morning we were en route to the Filowha hot springs, making various stops along the way to explore the dry bush country. This year heavy rains prior to our visit ensured that the area was unseasonably verdant and leaping with birds.
The more open woodland held Pygmy Falcon, Harlequin Quail, Yellow-breasted Barbet, Rosy-patched Shrike, Shelley’s Starling and Grey Wren‑Warbler to name but a few.
The hot springs area seemed lifeless and did not bring any new birds, but a few kilometres further we explored an area around a pool in a forest and were able to find a few specialities amongst them Abyssinian Scimitarbill, Rufous-necked Wryneck, Black‑throated Barbet, Abyssinian Woodpecker and Pygmy Batis.
Other birds we did see en route to the park HQ were Small Buttonquail, Buff-crested Bustard, Pearl-spotted Owlet, Wahlberg’s Honeyguide, Slate-coloured Boubou, Grey-headed Batis, Black Scrub-Robin, Upcher’s Warbler, Brown Warbler and Shining Sunbird.
In the afternoon we started our search on the plains for the Arabian Bustard. Till dusk we stayed on the plains, but failed to find the “quest” bird. Amongst the birds we did see were Star‑spotted Nightjar and Somali Fiscal.
The 'game' element of birding on these plains was not absent and we did see Common and Black-backed Jackal, Common Warthog, Salt’s Dikdik, Greater Kudu, Beisa Oryx, Soemmerring’s Gazelle and Swayne’s Hartebeest.
Wednesday 13th October
The next morning we were up early and set for an area north of Awash NP and according to Gebre an excellent area for the Arabian Bustard. Most of the birds seen were the same ones as we did see yesterday, but amongst the ‘new’ ones were Grasshopper Buzzard, Northern Carmine Bee-eaters riding on the backs of Kori Bustards, Chestnut-bellied Sandgrouse and Chestnut-headed Sparrow-Lark. However we did NOT find the Arabian Bustard, Murphy’s Law again.
Not having completely achieved our objectives at Awash we set off for our journey south down the Rift Valley.
The line of the Rift Valley in this part of Africa is marked by several lakes and we called in at Lake Ziway at the fishing jetty, encountering African Pygmy Goose, Lesser Moorhen, Lesser Jacana and Heuglin’s Gull before reaching a second lake, Langano, where we spent the night in the Bekela Molla Hotel, which was pre-booked by ETT.
In the late afternoon we made a stroll around the hotel grounds and the trees and scrub behind the hotel near the escarpment provided some good birding with Banded Barbet, Little Rock-Thrush, Mocking Cliff-Chat, Boran Cisticola, Buff-bellied Warbler, Northern Crombec and White-winged Black‑Tit.
Thursday 14th October
Before dawn the following day we set off to drive to Wondo Genet. When we arrived at the Wabe Shabella Hotel, close to the hot springs for which the area is famous, we discovered that a suitcase was gone from the top of our Landcruiser; it turned out to be Chris’ suitcase! Girma returned to Langano to find the suitcase and in the mean time we made a stroll in the hotel gardens.
We saw Yellow-fronted Parrot in the fruiting trees easily, along with Abyssinian Woodpecker, Thick-billed Raven, Dark‑headed Oriole, Abyssinian Slaty-Flycatcher and Greater Spotted Eagle, a magnificent adult, perched at very close range. We then explored a lush forest one kilometre from the hotel and new birds came quickly and amongst many others we saw Lemon Dove, White-cheeked Turaco, Double-toothed Barbet, Red‑shouldered Cuckoo‑Shrike, Black‑headed Batis, Banded Wattle‑eye, Brown Sawwing and Abyssinian Hill‑Babbler.
At the hot springs we again had good looks at Half‑collared Kingfisher and also saw Black‑and‑white Mannikin and Mountain Wagtail.
At midday Girma returned from his search and it turned out that the suitcase was found at a nearby village, empty.
The police with the help of the local chief and Girma had arrested the thieves and we spent the rest of the day at the police station in Shashemene trying to get Chris’ stuff back including his passport and ticket.
We did not succeed and at 8.00 p.m. we drove to Awasa and checked into the Wabe Shabelle Hotel, tired and chagrined.
Friday 15th October
Early next morning found us along Lake Awasa at the so-called Fish Market. The trees along the lake provided some good birding including sights of Woodland Kingfisher, Banded Barbet, Brown-throated Wattle-eye, Stout Cisticola and, perhaps best of all, a pair of Spotted Creepers which gave fantastic views.
Then we headed to the town of Shashemene and it was not before we had made a visit to the mayor of the town that Chris got his suitcase, passport and ticket back. It turned out that he had lost most of his clothes and other stuff.
From the acacia woodlands and reed fringed lakes of the Rift Valley we drove high into the Bale Mountains.
En route a stop at some unlikely looking eucalyptus trees found us staring up at an Abyssinian Owl staring back down at us.
At Dinaho we made a few stops in the mountains and
added Chestnut-naped Francolin to our list. Then came torrential rain and we
had to stop birding. At 19.30 we arrived at another Wabe Shabelle Hotel in Goba.
Saturday 16th October
We set out the following day to drive to Sof Omar in pouring rain. Our first stop was not far from Robe at a small roadside wetland where we located a superb flock of 80 Spot-breasted Lapwings and many other waders.
After a few hours we reached Sof Omar at the scenic Weyb River gorge. The weather had cleared and we spent all day at the gorge. We spent much of the day searching unsuccessfully for Salvadori’s Serin, our target bird, but saw many other interesting birds in the attempt, amongst them African Pygmy Kingfisher, Lesser Honeyguide, Sulphur-breasted Bushshrike, Small Grey Flycatcher, Brown-tailed Chat, Northern Brownbul, Brown-tailed Apalis, Somali Tit and Olive Sunbird.
In the late afternoon we reluctantly (especially Chris) had eventually to head back to Goba, subdued and disappointed.
ETT’s second car was already waiting for us.
Sunday 17th October
A 5.30 start for a drive across the spectacular Sanetti Plateau, 4000m above sea level. At this island in the sky we watched two endemic Simien Wolves, the world’s most critically endangered canine and Abyssinian Longclaw, Blue‑winged Goose, Ruddy Shelduck, Wattled Ibis, Chestnut-naped Francolin, Rouget’s Rail, Spot-breasted Lapwing and Moorland Chat, but no Africa’s only Golden Eagles.
We spent a very short time at the with spanish moss dripping Harrena Forest where we added two endemics, Abyssinian Catbird and White-backed Black‑Tit, to our bird list.
The rest of the day was largely a travelling day as we set out to drive to Negele in south-eastern Ethiopia. The dirt road was at some places very bad, but the drive proved less of an ordeal than we thought it would be.
We made a stop at the Genale Valley to find Ruspoli’s Turaco, but despite help from the local people we had a fruitless search along the wadi to the west and east of the road. We saw many other good birds, including Bruce’s Green‑Pigeon, Levaillant’s Cuckoo, Red-and-yellow Barbet, Greater Honeyguide and Rufous Chatterer.
We arrived at Negele at 19.00 p.m. and checked into Hotel Green no. 2.
Monday 18th October
At first light we were at the Negele plains at the Sidamo Lark site. The army was also present and we feared that we were not allowed to bird in this sensitive military training area, but when we made a stroll on the plains nobody tried to stop us.
Overhead, we watched soaring Rueppell’s, Hooded, White-backed & Lappet‑faced Vultures, while obliging Rufous Short-toed Larks and White-crowned Starlings were found in the dry grass. However we had to drive with our cars on the plains before we had good views of our target bird, the Sidamo Lark.
We left the plains for the long drive (270 km) to Bogol Manyo. Driving to Bogol Manyo and birding on the way, we had a number of memorable sights, amongst them Burchell’s Courser, Pringle’s Puffback, Red-naped Bushshrike, Yellow-vented Eremomela, Somali Crombec, Gillett’s Lark and Abyssinian Grosbeak-Canary.
East of the small town of Filtu we had one of the biggest surprises of the trip when we encountered a group of Salvadori’s Serins, a bird we had dipped at Sof Omar.
In the late afternoon we arrived at Bogol Manyo and ticked off White-winged Collared-Dove, while Gebre and Girma negotiated with the local people. We obtained permission to sleep in the “village hall” under the protection of two armed guards. Most of us preferred to sleep in a tent outside the hall. Girma turned out to be a very good cook.
Tuesday 19th October
Dawn found us a few kilometres east of Bogol Manyo searching for Degodi Lark. The larks succumbed easily and the same area also produced Great Spotted Cuckoo, Red-faced Apalis, Banded Warbler, Somali Bunting and Ethiopian Sawwing, another poorly-known species.
Continuing 15 km further east we headed to the Genale River and here we quickly found Spotted Morning-Thrush, Short-billed Crombec, Scaly Chatterer and Salvadori’s Weaver.
We returned to Bogol Manyo and then began the long drive back to Negele. We made a few stops en route, but did not see any ‘new’ birds and arrived before dark at Negele. We again spent the night at the Hotel Green.
Wednesday 20th October
The next day we set off for Wadera, the best Prince Ruspoli’s Turaco site. In about 15 minutes we found a pair of the Prince Ruspoli’s Turaco in a fruiting tree with lots of Silvery-cheeked Hornbills. Other interesting birds we encountered here were Yellow-fronted Parrot, Scaly-throated Honeyguide, Sulphur-breasted Bushshrike and Brown Woodland-Warbler.
At 10 o’clock we were back in Negele and after one of our cars had been repaired we left this small town and set off for Arero.
The road was diabolical and although the distance was only some 180 kms, it was 6.30 p.m. before we arrived.
Some birding stops en route turned up Pied Cuckoo, Three-streaked Tchagra, Black-capped Social-Weaver and Purple-banded Sunbird.
Best of all was the Questar/Swarovski-filling view of the enigmatic White-tailed Swallow near Arero, perched obligingly and even fly‑catching to show off its white tail.
We spent the night at Arero, where the hotel was
very basic, with no water.
Thursday 21st October
We set out the following day to drive to Yabelo. En route we watched White-tailed Swallows and groups of equally enigmatic Stresemann’s Bush-Crows, probably the most remarkable bird in the whole of Africa. It is restricted to a tiny area around Yabelo, and ornithologists have been unable to determine what it is related to or why it is only found in this one area.
Many other dry country birds were seen amongst them Bare-faced Go-away-bird, d’Arnaud’s Barbet, Shelley’s Starling, White‑crowned Starling, Large Grey Flycatcher, Grey Wren-Warbler, Black-cheeked Waxbill and Golden Pipit.
Via Yabelo we headed to Konso, where we had a very late lunch. We spent the night camping in a very small village 70 kms west of Konso near a police station.
Friday 22nd October
Next morning found us driving across the plains to Turmi to the bare-breasted Hamer girls. We spent a short time in Turmi and then set off for Fejeje near Lake Turkana to search for the rare Heuglin’s Bustard. Once again we failed in finding our target bird, despite a very thorough search in the dry bush country near Lake Turkana.
Other birds we did see were African Hawk-Eagle, Vulturine Guineafowl, Spotted Thick-knee, Chestnut-bellied & Black-faced Sandgrouse, Black-throated Barbet, African Bare-eyed Thrush, Magpie Starling, Pale Prinia, Pink-breasted Lark and Spectacled Weaver. In the late afternoon we headed back to the Hamer girls in Turmi, where Eric was very active with his video camera.
In this remote part of Ethiopia we camped again, this time beside a river a few kilometres south of Turmi.
A largely travelling day as we drove northwards to Arba Minch. En route Turmi – Konso – Arba Minch we made a few stops and amongst the many birds we noted were Grasshopper Buzzard, Booted Eagle, Alpine Swift, Familiar Chat, Northern Masked-Weaver and Violet-backed Sunbird.
In the early afternoon we arrived at the Bekele Molla Hotel in Arba Minch. After camping in the wilds it made a pleasant change to stay in a comfortable hotel near Nechisar National Park.
Late afternoon saw us in nearby Nechisar NP where we added Goliath Heron, Broad-billed Roller, Green Woodhoopoe, Rattling Cisticola and White-tailed Lark to our list. Mammal sightings included Klipspringer, Greater Kudu, Soemmerring’s Gazelle, Swayne’s Hartebeest, Burchell’s Zebra and Black-backed Jackal.
We waited at the plains for dusk. The following four hours were very good with large numbers of nightjars being flushed of the track and at least a dozen nightjars were caught by Eric and Gerald with their bare hands.
Even in the hand it was difficult to identify the birds, but most of them were Slender-tailed Nightjars.
Amongst the nightjars we identified were Donaldson Smith’s Nightjar, Plain Nightjar and Star-spotted Nightjar.
In addition Verreaux’s Eagle‑Owl and Marsh Owl were seen on the track.
Although a fairly good hotel, the long bug‑infested night in my hotel room ranks as one of my worst experiences ever.
Sunday 24th October
Due to problems with our car, we had the luxury of a late breakfast and it was already mid-morning as we entered the riverine forest near the entrance in Nechisar NP. Too late of course and we did not see many birds, amongst them White-cheeked Turaco and Red-capped Robin-Chat.
Hereafter we left Nechisar NP and set off northwards again into the Rift Valley. In the late afternoon we arrived at Abijatta Shala National Park. The lake held a fine selection of waterfowl. Greater and Lesser Flamingos were particularly numerous, while the muddy margins held a number of migrants waders including Black-tailed Godwit, Marsh Sandpiper, Little Stint, Ruff and Curlew Sandpiper. Other interesting birds encountered at this water‑birds paradise were Grey Kestrel, Imperial Eagle, Black-crowned Crane and Caspian Tern.
It was already dark when we arrived at the Bekele Molla Hotel at Lake Langano.
Monday 25th October
Our pre‑breakfast birding around the hotel grounds produced Banded Barbet, Mouse-coloured Penduline‑Tit and Cut-throat and we had good views of a Black-faced Firefinch. Leaving Lake Langano we effectively ‘crossed the road’ to visit the shoreline of Lake Abijatta once again alive with thousands of Greater and Lesser Flamingos and many ducks amongst them Comb Duck, Cape Teal, Northern Pintail, Hottentot Teal, Garganey, Northern Shoveler, and Southern Pochard.
Hereafter we headed to Lake Ziway, seeing the same species as 2 weeks ago. En route to the capital we made a stop at Lake Cheleckleka. Amongst the new birds were Common Crane and our only Rueppell’s Weaver of the trip.
We spent our last night in Ethiopia at Hotel Holiday
Tuesday 26th October
Our last destination in Ethiopia was a baking hot Gibe Gorge, three hours south-west of Addis. We stayed till 13.30 at the gorge and highlights we encountered were Levant Sparrowhawk, Verreaux’s Eagle, Four-banded Sandgrouse, White-crowned Robin‑Chat, Familiar Chat and 4 “Ethiopian Cliff-Swallows” in a group of Lesser Striped-Swallows , White‑throated Serin and Reichard’s Seedeater.
The long drive back to Addis was an unavoidable anticlimax but the final addition to our bird list was a pair of Wattled Cranes seen in the fields along the road, only a short distance from Addis Abeba.
Monday 27th October
At 0.30 a.m. we left Addis Ababa and at 12.00 p.m. we were back in Brussels.
The final total for the three weeks trip was 529 species of birds. I finished the trip with 83 lifers. In addition to all these birds 33 species of mammal were seen on the trip.
My ten best birds of the trip? Spot-breasted Lapwing, Prince Ruspoli’s Turaco, Abyssinian Owl, Half-collared Kingfisher, Banded Barbet, Stresemann’s Bush-Crow, Red-naped Bushshrike, Somali Starling, White-tailed Swallow and Ankober Serin, lifers all of course.
Chaam, 28 December 1999,
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