This was the third organised tour to Ethiopia by Birdwatching Breaks and like the two predecessors it was an excellent trip for birds and mammals. We recorded 429 species during the two weeks including Ruspoli’s Turaco, Stressmann’s Bush Crow, White-tailed Swallow and Spot-breasted Lapwing among the endemic birds. We also recorded many range restricted species and experienced some superb avian events including four species of bustards on one evening in Awash National Park. Mammals also featured in the highlights with up to ten Ethiopian Wolves in the Bale Mountains; Highland Nyala, Beisa Oryx and the piece de resistance; a showy Serval Cat in view for around 10 minutes.
The two four-wheel drive vehicles we used were very comfortable and the drivers; Abi and Bran could not do enough for us. I am very grateful for their professional driving and enthusiasm. I am also indebted to Meseret Mekurea for his excellent guiding, his good nature and skill at making the tour run smoothly throughout our visit. This friendly, hospitable country left all of us with many happy memories from a most enjoyable tour.
March 12th: London Heathrow - Damascus - Addis Ababa.
From the UK we flew with BMI to Addis Ababa with a short stop for 45 minutes in Damascus en route. We arrived in the early hours of the 13th March and were met with a representative from Timeless Ethiopia who took us to the Ghion Hotel for a few hours rest before the tour began in earnest.
March 13th: Addis Ababa
Weather: Hot and sunny with a light southerly breeze. 25 Calthough cooler in the stiff breeze at Ankober.
Our first taste of bird life of Ethiopia was in the grounds of the Ghion Hotel, where we picked up a good variety of commoner species including the endemic Abyssinian Flycatcher, Black-winged Lovebird and restricted Montane White-eye. Other birds included the stunning Ruppell’s Robin-chat, Mountain Thrush, Groundscraper Thrush, Dusky Turtle Dove, Speckled Mousebird, Streaky Seed-eater, Brown-rumped Seed-eater, Baglafecht Weaver, Pied Crow, Hooded Vulture and Yellow-billed Kite. More familiar migrants included Common Chiffchaff and Blackcap. Following some strong coffee and a good breakfast we met our guide, Meseret and the two drivers at 09:00 am. We left the chaos of Addis Ababa and headed out across the highlands towards Debra Birhan. En route we collected four more of the commoner endemics White-winged Cliff-chat, Wattled Ibis, Blue-winged Goose and White-collared Pigeon. Augur Buzzards were numerous along the roadside and we also located Tawny Eagle, Lesser Spotted Eagle, Lesser and Eurasian Kestrels and Lanner Falcon. A stop for Ethiopian Longclaw drew a blank, although we did see numerous Yellow Wagtails, Red-throated Pipits and Botta’s Wheatears. We arrived at the Eva Hotel in Debra Birhan at 13:50, dropped our things in the rooms and had lunch. In the afternoon we continued into the highlands climbing to the Ankober escarpment in search of the very restricted Ankober Serin. Luck was with us and after a short walk along the road we spotted three. They showed incredibly well feeding and resting within metres of their admirers. Yellow-crowned Canary, Streaky Seed-eater and Stripe-breasted Serin also kept us on our toes as did a Rufous-breasted Sparrowhawk, Lanner Falcon, Alpine Chat and a showy Ethiopian Cisticola. Not only were the birds of top quality but the views were also superb. The steep side of the escarpment held further treasures, this time of the mammalian variety with a family of Gelada Baboons and two Rock Hyraxes. We got back to the Eva Hotel at 18:45 where we celebrated with a couple of fine Ethiopian beers with our dinner before retiring to our comfortable rooms.
March 14th: Debra Birhan - Jemma Valley and Debra Libanos.
Weather: Cool in the early morning (15 C) although soon becoming hot; very hot in the Jemma Valley 37 C. Sunny throughout the day with light breezes.
An early departure this morning so that we could reach the Jemma Valley before our target species, Harwood’s Francolin disappear into the cooler, shady hideouts. We were up at 06:00 am and off at 06:30 with a pre-packed breakfast. We stopped little so that we could get to our destination before the heat of the day although we still managed to spot a few Black-winged Lapwings, Steppe Eagle, Pallid Swift and Cinnamon-breasted Bunting. Many people were on the road early this morning heading for market in the town of Lemi close to our first scheduled stop. Our main quarry eluded us although birding was still good with views of five Erckel’s Francolins, Little Rock Thrush, Blue-breasted Bee-eater, Mountain Wagtails and Rock Martins among others. We drove back towards Lemi taking a road that wound down into the valley bottom. We made a number of stops before reaching the floor of the valley for Abyssinian Black Wheatear, Ruppell’s Black Chat, Mocking Cliff-chat and White-billed Starling. Both Gelada and Olive Baboons showed well at the roadside as we drove up and down the steep valley sides. By the time we reached the lower level of the Jemma Valley things had really begun to hot up and the temperatures soared to the high 30’s. Bird life was quietening down with the heat but in the shade of a few riverside trees we came across an excellent array of species including Red-billed Oxpecker, Cut-throat Finch, Red-billed Firefinch, Bush Petronia, Grey-backed Camaroptera, Eastern Olivaceous Warbler, Little Bee-eater, Tropical Boubou, and a Banded Martin briefly overhead. Along the river system, Malachite and Pied Kingfishers and the only African Pied Wagtail of the tour.
We left this section of the Jemma Valley and drove back onto the higher Suluta Plain stopping at a wet area to look for a selection of new species. Before reaching the wetter ground we spotted another five Black-winged Lapwings at the side of the road and a Black-headed Heron wandering around a dry field. The wetter areas of the plain held Blue-winged Goose, Yellow-billed Duck, Cattle and Intermediate Egrets, Wattled and Glossy Ibises, Red-rumped Swallows and a host of Yellow Wagtail races. We moved on to the Ethio–German Lodge situated on the edge of the Jemma Valley where we enjoyed great rooms and nice food. Birding was excellent along the escarpment. The remains from dinner the night before was placed below our vantage point over-looking the valley and soon attracted a variety of scavengers including two Steppe Eagles, Ruppell’s Griffon Vulture, African White-backed Vultures and a whole host of Hooded Vultures and Yellow-billed Kites. Other raptors in the area included Peregrine Falcon and Verreaux’s Eagle. A short walk through the thorn scrub towards the Portuguese Bridge was also rewarding with around 200 White-billed Starlings, White-winged Cliff-chat, Ruppell’s Black Chat and displaying Hemprich’s Hornbill. At 16:00 we drove a few kilometres to the Debra Libanos Monastery and adjacent woodland. This last site of the day was very productive and brought us an array of new species. Endemic birds included a gathering of around twenty White-cheeked Turacos, five Banded Barbets, Abyssinian Woodpecker and Ruppell’s Black Chat. We also saw the restricted Brown Woodland Warbler, Red-shouldered Cuckoo-shrike, two Lemon Doves, Paradise Flycatcher, two Hemprich’s Hornbills, Mountain Wagtail, Little Rock Thrush and Ruppell’s Robin-chat providing an excellent end to the day.
March 15th: Debra Libanos – Suluta Plain – Lake Besekas - Awash.
Weather: Breezy at the Jemma Valley. Sunny and hot – very hot at Awash, ca. 37 C.
The devout were certainly quite noisy at Debra Libanos and the loud speakers from the monastery a few kilometres away sprung into action around 3 am and were still going strong when we left at 08:30. An early morning walk in the ground of the Ethio-German Lodge towards the Portuguese Bridge before breakfast gave us good views of another Erckel’s Francolin, Long-billed Pipit, African Citril, Lesser Whitethroat, White-backed Vulture, Pied Wheatear and around 40 White-billed Starlings. Whilst having breakfast outside another covey of Erckel’s Francolins scrubbed about in an open area below us. We left around 08:30 stopping firstly in a dry, and then the wet area, we had visited briefly the day before on the Suluta Plain. Our first stop produced Erlanger’s Larks, African Pipit, Pectoral-patch Cisticola, Black-winged Lapwings, Pallid Swift, Red-rumped Swallow, House Martin and Montagu’s Harrier. The second, wetter site held a different array of birds in Three-banded Plover, Spur-winged Lapwing, Blue-winged Goose, Yellow-billed Duck, Black-headed and Yellow Wagtails, Intermediate and Cattle Egrets, Lanner Falcon and Eurasian Kestrel. From here we drove on towards Awash, passing through Addis Ababa. We stopped for lunch at the popular Dreamland Hotel over-looking a large lake in Debra Zeyit. The hotel garden held Beautiful Sunbird, numerous Chiffchaffs and a very tame Grey-backed Camaroptera. We moved on around 14:30 passing through Nazeret and onwards around the outer rim of a volcanic crater. A stop on the crater rim gave us good views of a Dark Chanting Goshawk and Eurasian Hoopoe. Roadside birds included Rufous-crowned and Abyssinian Rollers. Spectacular ‘Dust Devils’ were common in the intense heat as we dropped into the plains where Awash is situated. Our last stop of the day was at Lake Besekas. This large lake was excellent for bird life. On the edge were a collection of water birds - Marabou and Yellow-billed Storks, Greater Flamingo, Pink-backed Pelican, White-breasted and Long-tailed Cormorants and African Darter. Over the water were flocks of White-winged Terns and the occasional Gull-billed Tern. The water’s edge was alive with wading birds and included Kittlitz's and Ringed Plovers, Little Stint, Marsh Sandpiper, African Snipe, Green and Wood Sandpipers, egrets and Sacred Ibis. African Fish Eagles called from a nearby tree and a sandgrouse flew over as we were leaving. Further amusement was created by a couple of Nile Crocodiles lurking in the shallows. Just as we thought the day was over the last 30 kilometres to Awash provided some super birds. We stopped to view a flock of around hundred Helmeted Guineafowl when six Chestnut-bellied Sandgrouse shot over and the Superb Starlings in the acacias were joined by a fine Ruppell’s Glossy Starling. A group of ten Soemmerring’s Gazelles and an Eastern Yellow-billed Hornbill rounded the day off nicely as we drove into town. The Genet Hotel in Awash was basic but the food was excellent.
March 16th: Awash National Park.
Weather: Another hot, sunny day with temperatures soaring to 35 C. Cloud spilling over from distant volcanoes and a moderate breeze helped alleviate the afternoon temperatures
We took an early breakfast at 07:00 before heading into the dry acacia scrub on the edge of Awash National Park at 07:30. Our first stop was for a gentle stroll through the acacia scrub followed by an exploration of a more open area of grassland and then a short sojourn into the park itself before retiring during the heat of the day back to our hotel. We picked up an excellent variety of species during the morning with Abdim’s and Marabou Storks; Egyptian, White-backed and Hooded Vultures; a female Bateleur, two Pallid Harriers, two Montagu’s Harriers, Dark Chanting Goshawk, Eurasian Kestrel and a pale-phase Booted Eagle. Other raptors included a Brown Snake Eagle at its nest near the park entrance; a fine male Pygmy Falcon on our morning walk and a solitary Eastern Imperial Eagle perched on top of an acacia not far from the roadside. We also did well for game birds with Helmeted Guineafowl and three species quail; Common, Harlequin and Small Button Quail, found during our search in the grasslands for larks. Larks included the secretive Gillett’s Lark, numerous Chestnut-backed Sparrow-larks and a Red-winged Bush-lark singing from the top of an acacia. Other birds from our first stop included White-browed Scrub Robin, Rufous-crowned and Abyssinian Rollers, Nubian and Cardinal Woodpeckers, Mouse-coloured Penduline Tit, Ashy Cisticola, Northern Crombec, Grey Wren Warbler, Grey-headed Batis, Nile Valley Sunbird, Green-winged Pytilia and Black-crowned Tchagra. Other shrikes we saw during our morning excursions included Northern White-crowned Bush-shrike; Somali, Taita and Common Fiscal as well as Isabelline Shrike. As the temperatures rose to the mid-30’s we had a quick exploration inside the park and managed Crowned Lapwings on the road, Striped Kingfishers, Cut-throat Finch and various weavers. Mammals also featured with Soemmerring’s Gazelles, Beisa Oryx, Abyssinian Hare and Hamadrayas Baboons. We took lunch at the hotel and enjoyed a siesta until 15:00. We re-entered the park taking the track down to the campground and river. En route we spotted Lappet-faced Vulture and Slate-coloured Boubou. Once at the campground Meseret managed to show us how aggressive African Bees can be by getting stung at the same time as locating a Woodland Kingfisher by the river. Orange-bellied Parrots alerted us, by their raucous calling to two Little Sparrowhawks; one of which gave excellent views in the shade of the canopy of a large tree. Black-billed Barbets performed well on a dead tree and four Senegal Thick-knees showed at the river side along with a couple of crocodiles. We visited the nearby falls more for the view than birding although we did see Mountain Wagtails. Our last hour and half of daylight was probably one of the most memorable of the trip. We drove around the Kudu Loop Track and almost straight away started to pick up animals including Salt’s dik-dik and Abyssinian Hare. New species of birds also appeared with the first delight arriving in the form of a Buff-crested Bustard. Next was a pair of White-bellied Bustards, again showing well as they stood motionless, apparently hoping to blend into the background. Dik-diks were numerous in the open scrub and Beisa Oryx began to appear. An Eastern Chanting Goshawk showed on the crown of an acacia as did a Black-winged Kite. The action was coming thick and fast and as we stopped to look at a flock of Red-billed Quelia we spotted a party of Abyssinian Scimitarbills. Soon after an open area of grassland provided us with one of the undoubted highlights of the trip; a party of three Northern Grounds Hornbills strutted across the plain whilst numerous Pallid and Montagu’s Harriers vied for our attention, when a distant head spotted moving through the longer grass materialised into a Kori Bustard with a passenger. The passenger turned out to be a Northern Carmine Bee-eater that was hawking insects from the bustard’s back during its stately progression in the setting sun. It wasn’t over yet as a flock of Helmeted Guineafowl came close to the track, and scrubbed around in the dust for food. A fine male Cyprus Pied Wheatear perched in the open revealing its rich orange under-parts. First class views of Oryx were upstaged by a superb bustard, initially thought to Black-bellied but later revealed to be the much rarer Hartlaub's Bustard. This super male stalked across the track and paraded along side both vehicles allowing us all to soak up this excellent bird. Despite the sun having set we still managed to add a White-bellied Go-away-bird to the day’s list and what turned out be a female Hartlaub’s Bustard (later identified from the photos). As we drove back to town a group of Beisa Oryx fed by the roadside; a truly superb day with a fitting climax.
March 17th: Awash – Nazaret – Lake Langano.
Weather: Hot and sunny throughout the day. Temperatures hovered around 35 C. Cloud and wind increased at Lake Langano in the late afternoon as a distant thunderstorm dropped a few spots of rain on us and eased the heat.
We packed the vehicles this morning and headed for Lake Langano with a few stops en route. We left the Genet Hotel at 07:45 stopping before Lake Besekas to get some excellent views of four Abdim’s Storks that had gathered by the road to feed on a mongoose casualty. We also spotted a Lappet-faced Vulture on top of an acacia and a large flock of Helmeted Guineafowl. At Lake Besekas we saw a variety of water birds and wildfowl where the road ran along a causeway cutting across the edge of this large lake. Around twenty Great White Pelicans loafed on the bank along with a couple of Pink-backed Pelicans. Herons included Great and Little Egrets, Squacco Herons and a Purple Heron. Marabou Storks paraded around whilst a variety of waders fed in the muddier areas. Wader species seen here included Kittlitz's Plover, Temmink’s Stint, Curlew Sandpiper, Marsh Sandpiper, Black-tailed Godwits and Greenshank. The area was alive with birds but we were on a mission to search out the range restricted Sombre Rock Chat. We drove around 15 kilometres along a track and searched the base of a small escarpment but to no avail. All was not lost though as we did see a good variety of birds en route with the first vehicle managing to get brief views of Chestnut-headed Sparrow-larks. A couple of Ethiopian Swallows perched along with Barn Swallows whilst further towards our destination a Southern Grey Shrike showed on a small acacia. We also had Northern Ground Hornbills with attendant Northern Carmine Bee-eaters following in their footsteps; Pygmy Falcon, Rufous-tailed Rock Thrush, Abyssinian Scimitarbills, Red-fronted Barbets, Bearded Woodpecker, Grey-headed Batis and Crested Francolin. Leaving this very arid area we set off for Nazaret and Mojo where we stopped for lunch. The grounds of the hotel supported a few large trees that held Bruce’s Green Pigeons, Scarlet-chested Sunbirds and African Citrils. After a nice lunch we were off to Langano, recording another two ground hornbills en route. We had another short stop at a wetland area not far from Ziway adjacent to the Koka Dam. This was very productive with Goliath Heron, Squacco Heron, African Spoonbill, Yellow-billed Stork, Sacred Ibis, African Jacana, Hottentot Teal, Garganey, Black-tailed Godwit, Great White Pelican and African Fish Eagle. We finally arrive at Langano and booked into our rooms in the mid-afternoon. The lake itself held around eighty White-winged Terns plus a few Whiskered Terns and a couple of unidentified gulls. Around the hotel was saw a single male Eurasian Redstart, Village Indigobird, Red-cheeked Cordonbleau, Mocking Cliff-chat, Northern Black Flycatcher, Violet-backed Starling, Orange-bellied Parrot, Black-winged Loverbird, Ruppell’s Robin-chat, Ruppell’s Starling and Rufous Chatterer.
March 18th: Lake Langano – Dinsho - Goba.
Weather: Hot in the lowlands, Ca 35c but cooler in the highlands 20c. Sunny throughout the day.
At Lake Langano we had a pre-breakfast walk around the grounds of the hotel which produced African Pygmy Kingfisher, Striped Kingfisher, Von der Decken’s Hornbills, Rufous Chatterer, African Fish Eagle, Red-fronted and Black-billed Barbets, Red-fronted Tinkerbird, Tropical and Slate-coloured Boubous, Northern Black Flycatcher, Bare-faced Go-away-bird and Blue-spotted Wood Dove. We left the hotel at around 09:00 and headed for the Bale Mountains. After half an hour we turned onto an un-surfaced track that would take us the remaining distance to Goba. The route took us through arable areas that were good for birds of prey with new species in Long-legged and Steppe Buzzards, Saker Falcon, Montagu’s Harrier and Augur Buzzard. A flock of around fifteen Lesser Kestrels perched on telephone wires. As we got closer to Dinsho we made a stop at an old, now well vegetated quarry that held Cinnamon Bracken Warbler and a very impressive, roosting Cape Eagle Owl. Moving on we made another stop a short while later at a wet area. As soon as we stepped out of the vehicles all the children within a radius of two miles came running and although they were a bit too pushy they did flush Spot-breasted Lapwings that came and landed close to our observation point. As it turned out there were quite a few in the area with another ten behind us and around thirty on the grasslands behind the marsh we were watching. Other birds at the pool included Blue-winged Goose, Wattled Ibis, Yellow-billed Duck and Crested Coot. Ethiopian Cisticolas perched on nearby shrubs, a flock of Yellow Bishops flew in and a Steppe Eagle made an appearance. On the edge of the marsh we were fortunate to discover the endemic Ethiopian Longclaw. This stunning pipit-like bird showed well in the grass just yards in front of us although its furtive nature ensured it could disappear as quickly as it had appeared. Happy, we moved on and soon found the road dotted with Rouget’s Rails. At least twenty paraded across and up and down the rough surface showing incredibly well to all the admirers inside the vehicles. We only drove a short distance before we had stopped again to have a look at Bohor Reedbucks and the endemic Highland Nyala grazing on the hillside. A couple of Warthogs were also evident when Chris mentioned she thought she had seen a cat. All our attention was soon focussed on the area as it was indeed a Serval Cat. This superb animal stalked along the edge of the heather in full view at 16:00 for around 10 minutes allowing us all to soak up this rarely seen resident. We got into Dinsho moments before 17:00 and picked up the permit to enter the park the next day. We eventually arrived in Goba, our base for the next two nights at around 19:00, tired but elated after another excellent day.
March 19th: Goba – Bale Mountains.
Weather: Partly cloudy and cool, 15c in the Bale Mountains with a stiff breeze. The cloud cleared to produce a mostly sunny day. Warmer lower down around Goba 25 C.
Good news for the morning was that we didn’t need to start early today as bird activity was slow to get going in the cooler air. Despite this everyone was out for an early morning exploration of the hotel grounds which held Abyssinian Flycatcher, Brown Woodland Warbler, Dark-capped Bulbul, Tacazze Sunbird, Tree Pipit and Blackcap. At 08:00 we began our ascent onto the Sanetti Plateau stopping to check the open woodland for some of the specialities. Our luck was in and we soon had a number of Abyssinian Catbirds, Cinnamon Bracken Warbler, Brown Woodland Warbler, Mountain Thrush, Tawny-flanked Prinias and excellent views Abyssinian Ground Thrushes. White-cheeked Turaco was also seen in this area. The cloud was breaking up so we headed up onto the plateau to search for the endemic, and very rare Ethiopian Wolf. Rouget’s Rail scuttled across the road and a small pool held Ruddy Shelduck, Yellow-billed Duck and Spot-breasted Lapwings. In all we saw somewhere around 20 – 30 Spot-breasted Lapwings on this high ground, some showing superbly next to our vehicles. From the pool Meseret took us across the road and soon had a distant wolf to show us. This animal loafed around and generally took it easy before trotting off to a bush where it appeared to fall asleep. Soon afterwards we stopped again, this time to get much better views of a family of four wolves. These beautiful creatures showed very well and we actually eventually left them to their ways. Before we moved on a couple of Red-billed Choughs dropped into a grassy area to search for grubs. We continued to see wolves from the road and got superb views of one feeding on one of the abundant rodents that scuttled everywhere. In all we spotted at least ten wolves on the plateau and also got great views of the extraordinary Mole Rat going in and out of its burrow. We drove to a high point at 4,377m where the desert-like ground was dotted with Giant Lobelias and tiny alpine shrubs. A Lammergeier came in close to have a look at us before sailing away over the vast landscape. Although species diversity was low we did see some great birds including Mountain and Augur Buzzards, Saker Falcon and Slender-billed Starlings. The air was very thin at this altitude and as one or two people were slightly uncomfortable we descended to lower ground. A search in the degraded forest for Bale Parisoma drew a blank so we continued down to a more wooded area. Here we spotted the endemic White-backed Tit carrying nesting material, Yellow-bellied Waxbills, Abyssinian Flycatcher, Pale Flycatcher, Alpine and Mottled Swifts. Another Lammergeier soared high above us before we returned to the hotel to give the drivers time to prepare for the onward journey to Negele.
March 20th: Goba - Negele.
Weather: Temperature around 15 C on the high ground but 35 – 40 Clower down towards Negele.
We had around 250 kilometres to cover today so we set off at 07:30 after an early breakfast. We headed up to the Sanetti Plateau again, stopping en route to search for White-backed Tit. No sign of the tit although African Harrier-hawk, Steppe Buzzard, Olive Pigeons, White-cheeked Turaco, Steppe Eagle and Abyssinian Catbird kept us entertained. Over the plateau we saw few birds, before our descent on the other side. We began to pass through mossy woodland and secluded villages, one of which hosted Ruppell’s Griffon, African White-backed and Hooded Vultures and Yellow-billed Kites feasting on a dead animal at the roadside. We stopped in the woodland to search for White-backed Tit without any luck although we did see African Emerald Cuckoo, Cinnamon Bracken Warbler and Long-crested Eagle. As we sped down though the forest we Olive Baboons and Vervet Monkeys as well as a couple of Silvery-cheeked Hornbills were seen. We pressed on out of the forest and into a more parched landscape. This held plenty of birds with Golden-breasted Starling, White-crested Helmet-shrike, Von der Decken’s Hornbill and Vulturine Guineafowl. The landscape was dramatically different to that of the highlands or indeed where we had already been on the tour so far with extensive dry acacia scrub dotted with towering, red termite mounds creating very distinctive scenery. We stopped amidst these dry lands for our lunch in the shade of an acacia. Four Black-billed Woodhoopoes fed in the tree opposite us and a Red and Yellow Barbet was seen along the road on a termite mound. We stopped a couple more times before reaching Negele, the most productive of which was an open wooded area along a dry stream. The temperature here was intense yet despite this there was plenty of bird activity. First we headed up stream finding Red and Yellow Barbets, Dark-headed Oriole, Shelley’s and Golden-breasted Starlings, Lesser Honeyguide, Chestnut Weaver and Crested Francolin. On the other side of the road we saw numerous White-bellied Go-away-birds, Shikra and a single Magpie Starling. We continued on to the Green Hotel in Negele which was pretty basic without running water and experiencing a power cut at the time. Not perhaps the most auspicious of greetings but the food was good and a Grey-headed Bush-shrike was calling in the garden, an added bonus. The night was rather noisy at first with human activity later to be replaced by canine activities.
March 21st: Negele – Liben Plain.
Weather: Hot and sunny with daytime temperatures 30 – 35 C. A slight breeze on the Liben Plain and some high cloud helped keep temperatures down a bit.
An early breakfast (06:30) was provided for us at the Green Hotel before heading off in search of the turaco. We drove north on the road to Awassa for 45 km until we reached a dry river bed. A couple of locals working in the fields joined in the pursuit of the turaco and like many an eagle-eyed African soon spotted the quarry. In the end we saw around five Ruspoli’s Turacos bounding through the trees and trying their best to stick to the denser vegetation to avoid detection. We all got splendid views and also enjoyed a variety of other birds including European and Blue-breasted Bee-eaters, Ayres’ Hawk-eagle and Red and Yellow Barbet. We drove back to Negele continuing on to the Liben Plain. The area was parched and the habitat heavily grazed so there seemed little chance of seeing any larks as the habitat was just too open and degraded. Despite this we did catch up with a number of birds including a few Temmink’s Coursers (two of which had a small chick), five summer plumaged Caspian Plovers, Crowned Lapwings, Plain-backed and African Pipits, a juvenile Saker and a male Montagu’s Harrier. We also watched the last moments of an Isabelline Wheatear as two Eurasian Kestrels teemed up in an attempt to catch the migrant although once they had it in the air a Sooty Falcon seemingly appearing from nowhere, darted in grasping the wheatear before departing at full speed with the prey in its talons. We retired back to the Green Hotel at 12:00, going back into the field at 15:00. We tried a couple more areas on the road to the Liben Plains for larks but to no avail. Instead we got stunning views of a Kori Bustard close to the main road. At one point this huge bird set off on a trot, chasing after a white butterfly which would have become a snack if only the bustard had caught it. Taking another road we stopped to scan for larks but again the area was bleak and yet despite the lack of vegetation a head sticking out of a green bush turned out to be a second Kori Bustard. Exploring an area of Whistling Acacias gave us views of Yellow-bellied Eremomela, White-crowned Starlings, Isabelline Shrike, Grey-capped Social Weaver, Reichard’s Seedeater, Boran and Stout Cisticolas, Little Sparrowhawk and Dodson’s Bulbul. A small pool attracted Wattled and Spur-winged Lapwings whilst a larger area of water on the outskirts of Negele held ten Comb Duck. During the night the streets of Negele were as noisy as ever with man’s best friend in response to the nightly invasion by Spotted Hyenas that could occasionally be heard whooping.
March 22nd: Negele - Yabello.
Weather: Hot (35c), dry and sunny.
Breakfast was taken at 07:00 to allow us plenty of time to cover the long drive to Yabello. The majority of the road is un-paved with just the last sector being tarred. Before leaving the Green Hotel the Grey-headed Bush-shrike showed incredibly well to the group as it was chased around the trees by Red-eyed Doves, just above our heads. Our first stop on the long journey was after 80 kilometres at a river gorge which sometimes holds White-winged Dove. There were plenty of doves here but not the rare, range restricted white-winged variety. Birds here included Black Kite, Eastern Violet-backed Sunbird, Emerald Spotted Dove, White-crested Helmet-shrike, Black-billed Woodhoopoe and Hamerkop. Continuing towards Yabello the road although un-paved was quite good and we covered a lot of ground quickly. It was also productive for birds with Golden-breasted and Shelly’s Starlings being quite common. At one point the road was covered with a party of Vulturine Guineafowl that ran back and forth displaying and giving us ample time to enjoy their stunning plumage. We also had sightings of Guenther’s dik-diks in the extensive scrub. At 12:00 we stopped for lunch under a large acacia that supported a colony of Black-capped Social Weavers. The heat was tremendous and yet there was plenty of bird activity and we soon notched up Foxy Lark, Tiny Cisticola, Bare-eyed Thrush, Brubru, White-browed Scrub Robin, Grey Wren Warbler, Grey-capped Social Weaver, Black-throated and D’Arnaud’s Barbets, Acacia Tit, Yellow-breasted Apalis, Bateleur and Pygmy Falcon. By this time we were roughly thirty kilometres from the asphalt so the journey took on a more leisurely pace. Wildlife seemed to be popping up all over with both Thompson’s Gazelle and Gerenuks vying for attention. The day got even better when a sudden stop revealed four White-tailed Swallows hawking close to the road before resting up in an acacia. This very restricted species has puzzled scientists for years as to why it is so limited along with the Streseman’s Bush Crow which we also found a short distance further on. The two rare endemic species that the area is renowned for within 10 minutes of each other took off the pressure somewhat and allowed us to enjoy a range of other species. In the same area we located a male White-bellied Bustard trying its best to hide in the shade of a bush; Bateleur, Shelley’s and Golden-breasted Starlings. Shortly after reaching the tarred road that leads south to Kenya or north to Yabello, we spotted bush-crows at the road side and Northern Grounds Hornbills. Our final stop of the day saw us in the scrub approximately 35 – 40 km outside of Yabello. The area held Black-cheeked Waxbill, Vitteline Weaver, White-crowned Starling, Great Spotted Cuckoo and Small Button-quails. We finally arrived at the Yabello Motel at 16:30.
March 23rd: Yabello.
Weather: Sunny and hot (35 C) during the day. The wind picked up in the late afternoon and a distant thunderstorm was visible from the hotel after dark.
Just outside the hotel we stopped to view a mixed flock of sparrows. Among the throng of birds were Parrot-billed Sparrows, Chestnut Weavers and a Cut-throat Finch. Nearby we also found Foxy Lark, Black-billed Woodhoopoe and a few Lesser Striped Swallows. Moving on we headed back down the main road for a few kilometres before arranging a drop off so we could walk through the scrub and rejoin the vehicles further down the road. Once in the acacia scrub we located Somali Bunting, Nubian Woodpecker, Grey Wren Warbler, White-browed Scrub Robin, D’Arnaud’s Barbet and Steppe Eagle. We rejoined the vehicles and drove slowly along the road. From the vehicles we had excellent views of a Buff-crested Bustard running parallel with us. Further south still we ran into a party of birds wheeling low over the road that turned out to be White-rumped Swifts. For our next jaunt we explored a very dry, arid area that was sparsely vegetated with low scrub. Birds were few although pride of place must go to the Three-striped Tchagra that did its best to avoid detection by remaining completely motionless in the centre of a bush. We also got excellent views of another Buff-crested Bustard and five European Bee-eaters flew over. We turned round to head back north but were soon out of the vehicles again as four Shelley’s Sparrows flew up from the roadside into the scrub. Following them in we got excellent views and also located two Streseman’s Bush Crows and White-crowned and Golden-breasted Starlings. After a few kilometres we stopped again, this time to explore an area of more mature trees. Initially all appeared quiet but with a bit of encouragement from a bout of pishing a good range of species showed up. Amongst the ‘curious’ birds we located were Purple Grenadiers, Zebra Finch, Acacia Tits, Northern Crombec, Rufous-tailed Rock Thrush, Crested Francolins, Red-headed Weaver, Yellow-breasted Apalis, Grey Wren Warbler, D’Arnaud’s Barbet and White-browed Scrub Robin. Satisfied with our morning we turned for the confines of the hotel although the rear vehicle was distracted by a mixed party of Streseman’s Bush Crows and numerous Superb Starlings. We took a few photos and started moving forward when our third Buff-crested Bustard of the day strolled across just a few feet in front of us. As we pulled into Yabello, Northern Ground Hornbills were spotted stalking the arable land. We had a leisurely lunch at the Yabello Motel between 12:30 – 15:00. The hotel gardens attracted a host of sparrows and weavers including a number of Speke’s Weavers and Straw-tailed Wydahs, including three fine males in breeding plumage. At 15:00 we headed back into the scrub to the south-east of town although the habitat had become degraded we still spotted a fledged Gabar Goshawk, a Pygmy Falcon and a Buff-crested Bustard. We returned to Yabello and into the hills lying to the west. This area of more mature scrub and trees lying along a small river proved to be very productive for - Sulphur-breasted Bush-shrike, Ethiopian Saw-wings, Lesser Striped and Wire-tailed Swallows, Rock Martin, Violet-backed Starling, Abdim’s Stork, White-rumped Babbler, Ethiopian Oriole, Bare-faced Go-away-bird and Emerald Spotted Wood Dove. The good species tally today also included no fewer than four Bateleurs and a few mammals including dik-dik, Dwarf Mongoose and Patas Monkey.
March 24th: Yabello - Awassa.
Weather: Hot and sunny although there had been overnight rain and we experienced some heavy downpours on the road to Awassa.
Breakfast was taken just after 07:00 at the Yabello Motel. By 07:50 we were on the road to Awassa with a couple of scheduled stops en route. 20 kilometres out of town we pulled up to have a walk in the acacia scrub. A Spotted Palm Thrush was feeding at the roadside for a minute or two before disappearing into dense cover. The walk produced Brown Snake Eagle, Pygmy Falcon, Shikra, Golden-breasted Starling, Streseman’s Bush Crows, Croaking Cisticola, 2 Somali Buntings, White-browed Scrub Robin, Brubru and Striped Kingfisher. Further on we paused again to see what was lurking in some taller scrub and trees. We had excellent views of another Spotted Palm Thrush, Bateleur, Brown-backed Woodpecker, Collared and Beautiful Sunbirds, African Paradise Flycatcher and Black Sawwings. From here we continued north calling in at a busy café for a drink break. We had no more scheduled stops before Awassa but White-headed Vulture caused us to pause at the roadside and Grey-headed bush-shrike, Rouget’s Rail and Silvery-cheeked Hornbill were spotted from the vehicles. We reached Awassa around 15:50. The tall trees around the hotel were full of nesting Marabou Storks and two Thick-billed Ravens greeted us on arrival. The hotel was close to the shore of Lake Awassa and the grounds were full of bird activity. We spotted Little Bittern, African Black Crake, Hadeda and Sacred Ibis, Double-toothed Barbet, Spectacled Weaver, Dark-capped Yellow Warbler, Grey-headed Woodpecker, African Citril, Bronze Mannakin, African Hobby, Woodland Kingfisher, Grey-headed Batis, Black-winged Loverbird and migrant warblers including Great Reed Warbler, Eurasian Reed Warbler and Upcher’s and Eastern Olivaceous Warblers. The grounds of the hotel also provided a home to Guereza Colobus and Vervet Monkeys. The hotel was an excellent place to end the day.
March 25th: Awassa – Wondo Genet.
Weather: Hot and sunny throughout the day with temperatures reaching around 35 C.
A pre-breakfast walk 06:30 – 08:15 saw us exploring along the shores of Lake Awassa. Human activity soon increases but the early morning assured that we got some excellent views of the birds present. African Pygmy Goose picked up in the emergent grass whilst African Jacanas trotted at the surface. A smaller jacana amongst the reeds turned out to be a Lesser Jacana – a rare species in this part of Ethiopia. Birds were coming thick and fast with Lesser Black-backed Gull and Grey-headed Gulls over the lake whilst a good variety of herons included Purple, Grey and Squacco. Malachite Kingfishers were common and Lesser Pied Kingfishers added to the mass of birds. Eurasian Reed, Sedge and Little Rush Warblers showed well at the lake side whilst a Thrush Nightingale was watched at close range hopping out of the thick vegetation to feed on the open path. We had stunning views of Black-winged Lovebird and Banded Barbet by the path plus Common Waxbill and numerous African Citrils. Masses of Brown-throated Martins rested and hawked over the reeds in the early morning. A marshy area adjacent to the main lake held lots of Black Crakes as well as a small flock of White-faced Whistling Duck and another Little Bittern. Other birds included Village Weaver, African Fish Eagle, Thick-billed Ravens and Northern Carmine Bee-eaters. We polished off our breakfast back at the hotel and headed off to the fish quay. The day was heating up quickly and the quay was very busy as locals mended their nets and emptied their catch on the shore. There were masses of people but birds thronged the area obviously unconcerned by all the human activity and some, such as the Marabou’s obviously benefited from it. Hordes of storks stood around waiting for discarded fish scraps whilst the water’s edge supported an array of herons with Goliath Heron, Black Egret and numerous egrets. Ducks also featured with White-faced Whistling Ducks, Red-billed Teal, Garganey and White-backed Ducks. Hadeda, Sacred and Wattled Ibis were all spotted along with two showy Allen’s Gallinules clambering about in the reeds. Numerous waders included the usual variety, plus a single Spotted Redshank and Three-banded Plover. Over the lake a large flock of White-winged Terns swirled around picking fish from the shallows whilst a flock of gulls out on the lake held three species: Black-headed, Grey-headed and Lesser Black-backed. Thick-billed Ravens added to the busy scene whilst in the taller trees we observed Eastern Olivaceous Warbler, Lesser Whitethroat and hordes of migrant Willow Warblers, Woodland Kingfisher and Tropical Boubou. The whole area was alive with bird activity. Dragging ourselves away from the lake we headed out of town observing Abyssinian Roller, Northern Carmine Bee-eaters and Black-chested Snake Eagles which all appeared to be taking advantage of insects fleeing the controlled fire in the nearby field. We arrived at Wondo Genet at 12:30 and had a leisurely lunch at the hotel. In the hotel grounds - Thick-billed Ravens, Tawny Eagles, Northern Puffback, Dusky Flycatcher and Mountain Wagtails. At 15:00 Meseret returned with a local guide, Makonen and we headed off to search for endemics. The heat was intense and the habitat lower down was very degraded although we still spotted Tambourine Dove and three species of Kingfisher; Malachite, African Pygmy and Half-collared. Makonen located a Narina Trogon in a small patch of scrub much to our surprise which showed well for all. At this point some of the group continued into the woodland further up the hillside. As we climbed the habitat improved and the variety of birds changed. A huge nest on the far side of the valley contained a single Crowned Eagle chick, ready to fledge. Colobus monkeys were scattered all around apparently unconcerned despite being one of the main prey items of Crowned Eagle. New birds began to appear with two Spotted Creepers showing well followed by good numbers of endemic Yellow-fronted Parrots. A party of Grey Cuckoo-shrikes dropped in followed by good views of African Hill Babblers. As we began our descent we spotted a female African Emerald Cuckoo and Brown Woodland Warblers. The upper reaches of the woodland are apparently now protected and although the habitat lower down is degraded it still supported plenty of birds including White-cheeked Turacos, Brown and Black Saw-wings, Grosbeak Weavers, Bruce’s Green Pigeon Slender-billed Starling, White-winged Cliff-chat and Ruppell’s Robin-chat.
March 26th: Wondo Genet – Lake Ziway – Lake Chelelaka – Addis Ababa.
Weather: Hot and sunny although quite breezy in the afternoon when at Lake Chelelaka.
We took an early pre-breakfast walk at Wondo Genet and had great views of an adult Black Sparrowhawk low down in the under storey on the edge of the hotel grounds. After the short walk we discovered what the bird had been planning when we found it in the proceeds of dispatching a local chicken. The morning walk also produced White-cheeked Turaco, Silvery-cheeked Hornbills and Thick-billed Ravens. We left Wondo Genet at 08:15 for the drive to Addis Ababa. En route we called in at three lakes, the first of which was Lake Ziway. The site was very busy with people taking their livestock to drink in the height of the dry season yet despite all the human activity we spotted a good variety of birds. The marshy ground held African Snipe, Ringed Plover, Three-banded Plover, Black-tailed Godwit, Temminck’s Stint, Little Stint, Marsh Sandpiper and Black Egret. Both White-winged and Whiskered Terns perched on fence posts close by and Fulvous Whistling Ducks were spotted with the much commoner White-faced Whistling Duck. A Goliath Heron lurked in the reeds and our first Grey-backed Fiscal was spotted on a hedge close by. We stopped for lunch in Mojo with Bruce’s Green Pigeon in the grounds before moving on to Lake Hora. A brief stop here added Ferruginous Duck to the list whilst more familiar species included Pink-backed Pelican, Crested Coot, White-winged and Gull-billed Terns. Lake side reeds held both Eurasian Reed and Sedge Warblers. Activity here was fairly slow so we didn’t linger and moved to Lake Chelelaka. This last site was excellent and we added a whole host of species from here. The shallow lake supported good numbers of wildfowl including Northern Shoveler, Red-billed and Hottentot Teals, Garganey, Southern Pochard, Ferruginous Duck and Northern Pintail. Spur-winged Goose fed on the margins as did numerous Marabou and Yellow-billed Storks, African and European Spoonbills, and Black-crowned Cranes. A White Stork flew over close by as did a female Marsh Harrier both adding new species to our trip list. Red-throated Pipits were common on the muddy edges as were the usual variety of migrant waders. Finally the graceful Greater Flamingos added a splash of colour to this excellent final site. We reached Addis Ababa at 16:30 to be met by armed police lining the streets although I don’t think they were for our benefit. We said our goodbyes and thanks to the two drivers and our bird guide before our transfer to the nearby airport for our flight home at 05:35.
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