07 June – 17 June 2018
Written by Sean Braine
Ethiopia is a relatively easy country to travel in. Guides and drivers are essential due to the chaotic roads. You cannot drive and bird at the same time, not in Ethiopia, so standard procedure is to hire a designated driver and a guide. Road conditions have improved significantly due to Chinese influence and industry but in the same breath, the going is slow due to the roads being used by not only vehicles and trucks but donkey/horse carts and horseback riders on the main roads which slow things down considerably.
On the bright side, birding is relatively easy and the birds here don’t seem to have much fear of humans and are exceptionally co-operative allowing for good views and photographic opportunities. It holds a total of 860+ bird species of which about 18+ are endemic depending on which taxonomy you use. Difficult families like Greenbuls and Ploceus weavers are minimal so not much head-scratching on ID’s. Most of the altitudinal endemics are easy to come by and are in good numbers. Some of the lowlands, dry habitat specials can be a little more challenging.
Unfortunately due to a high population, at 100 million people, most of the natural habitat has been destroyed for agricultural purposes and the very little natural primary forest is still intact. That being said the bird concentrations are good within the remaining habitat. The local currency is the Birr which works out to about 27.66 Birr to the US$ at the time of writing.
Accommodations are pretty basic outside of the larger towns and in most cases very rustic. Plumbing issues are quite normal. In the larger towns, they have more international standard type accommodations.
Food is quite one dimensional and if you are adventurous enough to eat the local cuisine you won’t be disappointed as everything is freshly prepared and none of our group had any issues as a result. Most of the local meals are accompanied by a local sourdough spongy flatbread called ‘injira’ or rice and pasta.
Thought to be the birthplace of coffee, Ethiopia’s traditional Jabena coffee is second to none. Many little coffee shops are spread all over the roadsides.
Ethiopia not only holds good birds but many endemic, altitudinal mammal species. Photo opportunities are abundant and there is a deep rich culturally diverse background unlike anywhere else in Africa. No visit is complete without a trip up to Lalibela and its monolithic churches.
Around 50 percent of the population is Protestant Christians and the remaining 50 percent Muslim, yet they live together in absolute harmony. I felt safe at all times within my travels and found most people to be friendly and welcoming.
Due to delays I only arrived late evening on the first day and so I was not able to do any birding. After arrival in Addis Ababa I traveled to Debre Zeit staying at the Viewpoint Lodge on Lake Babo Gaya.
During the first morning, we had the first good views of some of the local garden species. A nesting pair of African Paradise Flycatcher (white plumed form) was viewed above my bungalow. Montane White-eye, African Citril (a north-east African endemic), African Thrush, Speckled Mousebird, Beautiful Sunbird, Grey-backed Camaroptera, Rüppell’s Weaver, Black Saw-wing, Brown-throated Martin, Baglefecht’s Weaver, Black-billed Barbet, Northern Puffback, the North-east African endemic Rüppell’s Robin-chat, Scarlet-chested Sunbird, Red-cheeked Cordon-bleu, the near-endemic Black-winged Lovebird, Red-billed Firefinch, African Harrier-hawk and African Dusky Flycatcher were spotted in the confines of the garden before breakfast.
Across the lake, several common species were viewed during breakfast including White-breasted Cormorant, Reed Cormorant, Little Grebe, Pied Kingfisher, African Fish Eagle, Abdim’s Stork, Egyptian Goose, White-faced Whistling Duck, Red-eyed Dove, Pied Crow, Hadeda Ibis and Western Cattle egret.
We met our host, Jan Jakkers, owner of Flamingo Tours and also the owner of the Babogaya Viewpoint Lodge, as well as our guide, Elias Bayou.
After breakfast, we departed southbound toward Shashemane. Whilst leaving town we added the very common and north-east African endemic Swainson’s Sparrow, Hooded Vulture, Blue-breasted Bee-eater, Auger Buzzard, Yellow-billed Kite and Northern Fiscal.
Our first stop was an abattoir dump at Modgo, and despite the terrible stench of rotting meat it was quite phenomenal to see the concentration of vultures and Marabou Storks congregated around this spot. There were thousands of White-backed Vultures, Rüppell’s Vultures (Griffon), Marabou Storks and a single Lappet-faced Vulture. We also added Laughing Dove, Sacred Ibis and Red-billed Oxpecker. Many Brown-throated Martins were enjoying the insect activity around the dump.
Leaving the dump we observed a single Tawny Eagle in a field on the roadside and a Black-backed Jackal crossed the road ahead of us.
The next stop at Koka Lake produced Saddle-billed Stork, Northern Red Bishop, Dark-capped Bulbul, Village Weaver, Bronze-mannekin, White-rumped Swift, Hamerkop, Spur-winged Lapwing, Long-crested Eagle and Lesser-spotted Eagle (a bit of a surprise for the time of year).
A lengthy walk around Lake Koka added a few new birds including the north-east African endemic Black-billed Woodhoopoe, hundreds of Great White Pelicans, the leuconotus race of Red-headed Weaver, Streaky Seedeater, Speckled Pigeon, Rüppell’s Starling, Grey-headed Gull, Chestnut Sparrow, African Mourning Dove, the diminutive Little Weaver and Eastern Grey Woodpecker.
En route to Lake Ziway we found an unusual looking goose on the roadside. The conclusion was an aberrant type of Egyptian Goose or some sort of hybrid with Egyptian goose. Nearby we had several Spur-winged Geese, White-browed Sparrow Weaver, Emerald-spotted Wood Dove and Greater Blue-eared Starling.
Our next stop was at Lake Langano, which was relatively low but a few good birds were added. Mosque Swallows, Diederik and Klaas’s Cuckoo, Red-knobbed Coot, African Jacana, Yellow-billed Stork, Pink-backed Pelican, Glossy Ibis, Black Heron, Little and Intermediate Egret, White-winged Tern, Lesser Swamp Warbler, Banded Martin, Common Moorhen and Malachite Kingfisher all showed well around the lake.
On the lake fringes in the Fig trees, we added Grey-headed Batis, Rattling Cisticola, Pin-tailed Whydah, Reichenow’s Seedeater, Little Bee-eater, Woodland Kingfisher, Tawny-flanked Prinia, Senegal Thicknee and Blue-naped Mousebirds.
We continued towards a picnic lunch spot on the Bulbula River. On arrival, we added the common but strikingly beautiful Superb Starling as well as the near-endemic Abyssinian Wheatear, Little Rock Thrush, Mocking Cliff Chat, Common Bulbul, Northern White-crowned Shrike and Common Waxbills.
After lunch, we proceeded to the Abijata Shalla Lakes National Park for a short walk through the dry acacia scrub. A very productive birding site where we were searching for Verreaux’s Eagle Owl, but due to early rains it had moved its roost and we did not locate it. However, we did find a plethora of other dry country species in the form of Northern Red-billed Hornbill, Striped Kingfisher, Eurasian Hoopoe, Red-billed Quelea, Red-billed Buffalo Weaver, Dark Chanting Goshawk and Wahlberg’s Eagle.
Moving to the park’s main entrance we had a good little run of good species. Birds seen included Helmeted Guineafowl, White-winged Widowbird, the north-east African endemic Red-bellied (Orange-bellied) Parrot, Lilac-breasted Roller, Grey-backed Fiscal, White-headed Buffalo Weaver, Western Barn Owls, Greyish Eagle Owl, Slate-colored Boubou and Von der Decken’s Hornbill.
A single Grant’s Gazelle and a pair of Common Ostriches were also seen.
En route, we had good views of a pair of Abyssinian Ground Hornbills feeding in a roadside field. Also, a brief appearance made by a White-bellied Go-away-bird.
As it was getting a bit late we hit the main road to Shashemane (the birthplace of Rastafarianism) and turned on a small dirt track to the 10000 Flamingos Lodge overlooking Lake Chitu, a shallow crater lake that attracts tens of thousands of Lesser and Greater Flamingos. It was a very beautiful setting indeed. A single Black-bellied Bustard, which apparently is not too common in this area, was seen flying over.
Today we recorded 124 species.
We took a pre-dawn, pre-breakfast walk down to the base of Lake Chitu to view the Flamingos bathing in the hot springs that drain into the lake. We added several new birds on the way down, as well as several already-seen species. The following species were new to the trip list: Cinnamon-breasted Bunting, Lesser Flamingo, Chestnut Weaver, African Pipit, Fan-tailed Raven, Nubian Woodpecker, Black Scimitarbill, Variable Sunbird, Red-fronted Barbet, Hemprich’s Hornbill, Red-collared Widowbird of the laticaudatarace were all seen before breakfast.
We packed and continued to the southern shore of Lake Shalla and managed better views of White-bellied Go-away-bird. We also added Slender-tailed Nightjar, which, with a bit of effort, managed good perched views.
Having to travel a bit of a distance today we continued back to Shashemane and headed eastward toward the Bale Mountains. We faced huge altitudinal changes, climbing in elevation from 1587m where we started to 3130m where we were heading. As we gained altitude we had great views of the endemic Wattled Ibis, considerably common in the higher altitudes. A number of Alpine Swifts were feeding actively en route.
We reached the town of Dodola, the halfway mark of the day’s journey, where we stopped for lunch. After lunch, we spotted our first of the endemic Thick-billed Raven, an impressive bird in its own right. After lunch, we had roadside views of a Red-breasted Wheatear, which showed very well in a tilled field.
As we started ascending the Bale Mountain we had brief views of a flock of Red-winged Starlings. At an altitude of 3000m there was a sudden change in species and we started seeing many of the altitudinal specials. On the roadside, we had good views of the common Moorland (Alpine) Chat, the endemic Ethiopian Cisticola, Thekla Lark (very common), the endemic Ethiopian Sisken, the quite different simensis race of Groundscraper Thrush, Somali Crow and the common endemic White-collared Pigeon. Continuing higher up, we encountered Dusky Turtle Dove, Yellow Bishop, Rock Martin and Streaky Seedeater.
A stop at a river crossing with steep cliffs had a possible Cape Eagle Owl roost but we failed to locate it even with the help of the local children who were very eager to assist us (for a few Birr of course).
Although we could not find the owl we managed to add Slender-billed Starling, Yellow-crowned Canary, the endemic and common Blue-winged Goose and a pair of Three-banded Plovers.
Continuing toward the park’s entrance at Dinsho we encountered several new mammals: the endemic Mountain Nyalas were numerous and Bohor Reedbucks were quite common at this altitude as well as Warthog, Olive Baboon Ethiopian Rock Hyrax and Common (Grey) Duiker.
A walk around the Bale NP, in the juniper forest, provided a few good sightings: notably the endemic Abyssinian Slaty Flycatcher, Abyssinian Thrush, Abyssinian Ground Thrush, smashing views of Abyssinian Long-eared Owl, White-backed Black Tit, Brown-rumped Seedeater, Abyssinian Catbird, all are endemic, as well as the stunning east African endemic Tacazze Sunbird and a pair of African Wood Owl of the umbrina race. This part of Ethiopia is one big endemic fest!
We left just after sunset reaching the nearby town of Robe where we spent the night in a very rustic motel.
Today called for an early rise at the motel in Robe. Due to it being Ramadan there was a bit of noise coming from the mosques for the majority of the night, which kept me awake for most of the night, but the prospect of many endemics as well the possibility of seeing the rarest canid on the planet made it worth the while. Breakfast at a local ‘coffee shop’ gave us the necessary kick start to begin ascending the Sanetti Plateau toward almost 4200m. We saw Northern Black Flycatcher in the little garden in front of the restaurant.
We started birding the reasonably productive juniper forests at the base of the plateau, which provided us with several previously-seen species including better second views of Abyssinian Catbird.
The new species added to the trip list started with Cinnamon Bracken Warbler, Yellow-bellied Waxbill, Brown Woodland Warbler and amazing views of the elusive endemic Abyssinian Woodpecker, of which we had amazing views of a pair. Passing through the park gate we ascended the highest road in Africa. There were ice patches on the ground and the temperature dropped rapidly. We had several good looks at the endemic and certainly the most un-rail, rail in the world, the Rouget’s Rail, who tends to feed in open fields and clearings allowing for great views.
From here the altitudinal endemics were plentiful and easy to view due to the open Afro Alpine/Montane habitat. The landscape here is dotted with the endemic Giant Lobelia (Lobelia rhynchopetalum), which only occurs in the Afro-alpine habitat at around 4000m.
The Sanetti Plateau has the highest amount of endemics of any terrestrial habitat in the world. Everything here is either endemic to the plateau or endemic to Ethiopia.
After seeing a few Blue-winged Geese, even some with goslings, we finally spotted one of the targets in the form of Ruddy Shelduck. This bird is limited to high altitude lakes and is the only breeding population in Africa. Shortly after encountering our first flock of the highly localized endemic Spot-breasted Lapwing, we observed a pair of Bearded Vultures catching a thermal in the distance.
Our guide took us on a walk to an area he normally finds the Ethiopian Wolf. Several Ethiopian Hares were flushed en-route. Giant Root Rat (Mole Rat) and Blick’s Grass Rat are very common, all of which are endemic and prey to the rarest canid in the world. The wolf only numbers around 350+ individuals. They live at altitudes between 3000-4500m and are highly specialized in their diet.
We reached a large lake which had a pair of Red-billed Chough of the baileyi race limited to the Simien and Bale mountains in Ethiopia. A pair of Yellow-billed Duck was also present on the lake. A few raptors were seen in the thermals including Tawny Eagle, Lanner Falcon and Rüppell’s Vulture.
We continued crossing the hillside on foot and below we found our first Ethiopian Wolf sunbathing alongside a lake. Whilst viewing him an Ethiopian Hare startled and we watched an unsuccessful chase over the hillside.
On our return to the vehicle, we had a Malachite Sunbird male feeding on the last remnants of a flowering Red Hot Poker (Kniphofia sp.).
Through the morning we had three more wolf sightings eventually seeing six in total, one of which came strolling past as we were having our picnic lunch, not bad for the rarest canid on the planet.
On our descent, we encountered a pair of Chestnut-naped Francolin who showed well before flushing into the heath.
Another quick walk around the ranger station produced better looks at previously-seen species including the endemic Menelick’s Bushbuck.
We stopped in the heath a little further down in search of the endemic Abyssinian Longclaw, which with some effort and teamwork we managed to locate and managed super views. A few Red-rumped Swallows were also observed on the power lines. We managed good views of the albofusciatus sub-species of African Stonechat which lacks any rufous and only shows black and white markings.
As it was getting a little late we had to continue to Wondo Genet with no stops. We arrived there after dark and checked into the Wondo Genet Resort Hotel, located close to the Wondo Genet Hot Springs, Wondo Genet meaning ‘Green Haven’.
The morning was set out to do some birding in the nearby relic patch of primary forest on the edge of Wondo Genet. Our local guide met us at the resort and we heard and glimpsed an African Goshawk in the pre-dawn light. Silvery-cheeked Hornbills were calling their dawn chorus. A short drive to the forest later and we managed good views of a Black Sparrowhawk, Northern Fiscal and African Paradise Flycatcher. The first birds seen as we entered the forest came in the form of White-rumped Babbler of the omoensis race, a north-east African endemic. The endemic Ethiopian Oriole, of the meneliki sub-species, was exceptionally common in the forest habitat. A few more endmics followed with good views of a pair of Yellow-fronted Parrot and White-cheeked Turaco.t
We also added Lemon Dove, the elusive African Hill Babbler, Scaly Francolin, Brown-backed Honeyguide and Red-chested Cuckoo. Guereza’s (Black & White) Colobus and Gambian Sun Squirrel were also abundant in the forest.
After breakfast we did a walk up towards the hot springs. Another pair of Wood Owl were located roosting in someone’s garden. We walked along a dirt track and picked up Black and White Mannekin, better views of Abyssinian Slaty Flycatcher, Green-backed Honeyguide, better views of Eastern Grey Woodpecker and around the hot springs we found Red-headed Weaver, Lesser Honeyguide (third species of honeyguide today), Mountain Wagtail, African Citril, Lesser-striped Swallow, Auger Buzzard, Abyssinian Thrush, Black-winged Lovebird, Bronze Mannekin, Little Swift and Scarlet-chested Sunbird.
Grivet Monkeys (split from Vervet Monkey) were viewed in the hotel gardens.
With a short drive to Hawassa we had great views of African Hawk Eagle perched in a eucalyptus tree and several Grey-backed Fiscal on the roadside power lines.
Hawassa is situated on the Lake Awasa and provides pretty good habitat. The grounds of the hotel were also good for several birds like Spotted Creeper (which we didn’t see), Silvery-cheeked Hornbill, Double-toothed Barbet, Buff-bellied Warbler, Beautiful Sunbird, Rüppell’s Starling and Woodland Kingfisher. We took a walk on the fringes of the lake dominated by dry acacia scrub and stands of old eucalyptus plantations. On the lake we saw Pied Kingfisher, Grey-headed Gull, Glossy and Sacred Ibis, Great White Pelican, African Fish Eagle, Red-knobbed Coot, White-breasted Cormorant, Village weaver, Black Crake, Purple heron, Malachite Kingfisher, Lesser Swamp Warbler (breeding with chicks in nest), Wire-tailed Swallow, African Jacana, Spur-winged Lapwing, Common Greenshank, Marsh Sandpiper, Squacco Heron, White-winged Tern, Little Grebe, Hamerkop, yellow-billed Kite, Pied Crow, African Pygmy Goose, Reed Cormorant, Common Moorhen and Marabou Stork. The acacia scrub and thickets on the water’s edge provided good views of Blue Headed Coucal, Spectacled Weaver, Rattling Cisticola, Northern Black Flycatcher, Cut-throat Finch, Red-billed Firefinch, White-browed Sparrow weaver, White-browed Robin Chat, African Paradise Flycatcher and African Mourning Dove
A pre-dawn walk around the lodge grounds produced much better views of White-rumped Babbler and Pink-backed Pelican as well as a couple of new additions for the trip list: Thick-billed (Grosbeak) Weaver and African Swamphen.
After breakfast a walk in some Ficus forests on the lakeside produced some brilliant birding adding the endemic Banded Barbet, Ethiopian Boubou, the north-east African endemic Rufous Chatterer, Brown Throated Wattle-eye and Broad-billed Roller.
We started making our way back to Addis Ababa stopping and birding en-route. The first lengthy stop was at a resort along Lake Langano. We had more good views of Abyssinian Ground Hornbill in adjacent fields, as well as Black-billed Woodhoopoe, Pygmy Falcon and White-winged Black Tit. In the resort garden, we added Red-faced and Northern Crombec as well as more views of Greyish Eagle Owl and Slender-tailed Nightjar.
A stop on another area of Lake Ziway produced two new birds in the form of Lesser Jacana, of which we saw two individuals as well as African Spoonbill. African Darter, Pygmy Goose, immature Saddle-billed and Abdim’s Storks, Mosque Swallows, Red-billed Oxpecker, Black Heron, Spur-winged Goose and Banded Martin rounded up the day list.
A bird I was hoping to see after missing it in Uganda was the Black-crowned Crane. As we were driving past the wetlands on the edge of Lake Koka I managed to spot a pair in the distance. We made our way on foot to the lake edge and had magnificent views of a wonderful bird. Also present were a pair of Goliath Heron, Black-winged Stilt and Yellow-billed Stork. One of our group members had to catch a flight so we didn’t have any more stops until we arrived back at Viewpoint Lodge.
The morning was spent doing a little birding in the garden and bettering a few photographs of the common garden birds. All the species seen the first morning were present and managed to add African Silverbill to the list. After breakfast, we took a walk around the nearby crater lake, Lake Hora. Many previously seen species were observed as well as adding Red-throated Wryneck of the aequatorialis sub-species and the north-east African endemic Nyanza Swift. More views of the endemic Banded Barbet and Black-winged Lovebird were enjoyed before concluding the days birding.
I transferred to the Ambassador Hotel in Addis Ababa and would then take a three-day extension to Debre Libanos via the Sululta plain the next day, to try for some of the localized endemic birds and Geladas.
After breakfast, I was met by my guide Negussie Toye (Nurgi) and his driver. We left the city behind (which took some time) and continued to a nearby forest by the name Suba Sebena. This forest is run by the forestry commission and is a mix of man-made and natural forests. Birding here allowed more good looks at some of the endemics such as Black-winged Lovebird, White-backed Black Tit, Yellow-fronted Parrot, Abyssinian Ground Thrush, Abyssinian Thrush, White-cheeked Turaco, Abyssinian Slaty Flycatcher, Brown-rumped Seedeater and Ethiopian Oriole. The skulking Brown Woodland Warbler allowed more good views as well. The only new bird for the trip added here was Greater Honeyguide. Red-rumped Swallows, Montane White-eye and breeding male Pin-tailed Whydahs showed well at the entrance gate. From here we gained a little altitude and managed to have the first and only views of the endemic White-winged Cliff Chat near a roadside stream. Several more of the endemic Rouget’s Rail and Wattled Ibis were spotted in fields along the roadside.
Nurgi took us to a roadside dam which he said in summer has thousands of migrants but being out of season there wasn’t much of interest besides a single Black-headed gull, which was new for the trip list.
We had to return to the outskirts of Addis Ababa for lunch and to await a new vehicle as the current one had radiator problems. After lunch we continued northward.
A single African Hobby was seen flying by en route to Sululta. Once in the plains we had many Thekla Larks, Ethiopian Siskens and Moorland Chats on the roadside. A single Red-breasted Wheatear provided better views than the last one and shortly afterward we connected with the endemic target, Erlanger’s Lark (formerly thought to be a sub-species of Red-capped Lark). Happy with the find we continued climbing in elevation toward Debre Libanos. A short stop on the edge of town allowed a brief time with a troop of Geladas who were on their way to roost on the adjacent cliff faces. An amazing monkey which is completely graminivorous (grass-eating) but the males have canines which rival a large male lion for protection and important for social communication. Some Hemprich’s Hornbills were also seen before heading to the hotel in Debre Libanos.
That evening we enjoyed a mentionable dinner of local cuisine at a restaurant in town (the best I had in Ethiopia).
We had a 5am start in order to get to the town of Lemi where we would look for the localized and altitudinal endemic Harwood’s Francolin. Following the edge of the escarpment, we located a small flock of Erckel’s Spurfowl, a relatively common near-endemic which we encountered a few of. The same location gave us brilliant views of the endemic Rüppell’s Black Chat . A Peregrine Falcon also made an appearance on the cliff edge. White-collared Pigeon were also very common in this area.
We passed through Lemi and made our way down the winding pass to a point where we started searching for Harwood’s Francolin. Along here we added Black-crowned Tchagra, Long-billed Pipit, the white-headed leucopygia race of White-rumped Babbler, Croaking Cisticola and the endemic Yellow-rumped Seedeater.
Good views of many previously seen species were also enjoyed. We arrived at a point where some local lads assisted in locating the Harwood’s Francolin. I enjoyed exceptional views, but being real skulkers photographic proof was tough to come by, and I only managed a record image.
We continued down the pass and had a quick stop to have a packed breakfast. Here we had amazing views of the endemic White-billed Starling and we also managed to add Speckle-fronted Weaver, Common Kestrel and Namaqua Dove before moving on.
Dropping from 2616m to around 1200m there was a large habitat change and we went into the dry Jemma Valley. We encountered Dark Chanting Goshawk, Little Bee-eater, Red-billed Quelea, Bush Petronia, Laughing Dove, African Grey Hornbill, Yellow-billed Stork, Hamerkop, Grey Heron, Spur-winged Lapwing and Tawny Eagle. We reached the Jamma River where we added a few new species in the form of Mottled Swift, Eastern Plantain-eater, Grey-headed Kingfisher, Bruce’s Green Pigeon, African Pygmy Kingfisher, Booted Eagle and Copper Sunbird.
We continued a little further to a drainage line that had some water flow, with the main aim of locating the endemic Red-billed Pytilia, which Nurgi said was sometimes elusive and hard to find. We spent an hour searching and in the meantime had good views of Foxy Cisticola and also seeing other already-seen species like Northern Puffback, Mountain Wagtail, Scarlet-chested Sunbird, Black-billed Barbet, African Paradise Flycatcher, Diederick Cuckoo, White-rumped Swift and Abyssinian Boubou.
Nurgi spotted some Crimson-rumped Waxbills and excitedly mentioned that we should stick around as the Pytilias enjoy mixing with the Waxbills. About ten minutes later we enjoyed our first views of a pair of endemic Red-billed Pytilia.
From here we moved back up the escarpment and back into altitude toward the town of Debre Birhan (Brihan depending on which map you look). En route we saw Ethiopian Sisken, Swainson Sparrow, Lappet-faced Vulture, Common Bulbul, Auger Buzzard (both forms), Cape Crow, Hooded Vulture, Speckled Pigeon, Streaky Seedeater, Lanner Flacon, Blue-winged Goose, Little Grebe, Great Egret, Groundscraper Thrush, Sacred Ibis, Ethiopian Cisticola and Egyptian Goose.
The only new addition was African Black Duck, which we had in a river along the way.
We went past Debre Brihan to a high mountain pass, which was supposed to be the most accessible site for Ankober Serin. We arrived in a pretty harsh, cold wind with thick fog rolling in. The weather gods were no playing ball today. Never the less we attempted but it was pretty fruitless with bad weather. We would try again the next day.
We reached Debre Birhan late afternoon and checked in to the Hotel, which was a surprisingly pleasant place.
We had another early start with packed breakfast and headed to Ankober where we were going to look for the Serin of the same name. This highly localized altitudinal endemic was first discovered in the vicinity of Ankober village and was described in 1979, only known from two areas in Ethiopia. Its restricted range and habitat destruction threaten its survival. Moorland Chats were incredibly common in altitude.
En route we saw the usual common species and more of the common endemics like Ethiopian Sisken, Blue-winged Goose, Brown-rumped Seedeater, White-collared Pigeon, Wattled Ibis, Abyssinian Thrush, Ethiopian Cisticola and Abyssinian Wheatear. A nice addition to the list were a few Plain-backed Pipits.
As we got higher to Serin habitat an ice-cold wind made things tough, but we persisted. A notable bird was a Peregrine Falcon hunting off the cliff edge below us, just before Ankober. We had no luck with the Serin and proceeded through the village and dropped into the Melkajebdhu valley falling from just over 3000m into a drier acacia habitat at around 1300m. Again we had a significant habitat and species change. Starting from the top of the pass we had the endemic White-billed Starling and north-east African endemic Nyanza Swift. Also seen were Little Rock Thrush, Thick-billed and Fan-tailed Raven and Red-rumped Swallow. Toward the bottom, dry habitat species started making an appearance like Red-cheeked Cordon bleu, Common Bulbul, Speckled Mousebird, Rüppell’s Weaver, Greater Blue-eared Starling, Laughing Dove, Black-crowned Tchagra, Red-eyed Dove Eastern Plantain-eater, Namaqua Dove, Emerald-spotted Wood Dove, Grey-headed Kingfisher and Bush Petronia.
Our main target in the dry valley was another Crithagra species, a highly localized endemic, Yellow-throated Seedeater. This species is confined to the dry habitat and further confined to the Awash region in Ethiopia.
We stopped at a riverbed late morning, when most passerines like to drink, and sat watching Blue-naped Mousebird, Crimson-rumped Waxbill, Chestnut Weaver and Red-billed Firefinch coming down to drink. And then there were Yellow Throated Seedeaters, feeding 10m away. After getting these wonderful views and a few photos we continued on foot up the riverbed adding Yellow-breasted Barbet, Brown Snake Eagle and Black-throated Canary (apparently not too common). We also gad good views of some more Bruce’s Green Pigeon, Purple Roller, Beautiful Sunbird, African Pygmy Kingfisher and Ethiopian Boubou.
We continued down the valley on a large new Chinese built tar road and found a pair of Abyssinian Rollers, which is a bird I was very keen on seeing. We also managed much better views of Bearded Vultures being chased by Fan-tailed Ravens; Northern Red-billed Hornbill, White-bellied Go-away-bird and Eurasian Hoopoe.
From here we backtracked to Ankober, climbing from the valley back to 3000+ meters accompanied by a huge temperature change. The wind had died slightly, so we continued our search for the Serin but it was not to be. Every trip has its bogey and this was mine. On the bright side, we encountered two lots of Geladas, which provided good photo opportunity. Also, an Ethiopian Hare flushed in front of us whilst walking.
Only one new species was added en-route back to Addis Ababa, which was Black-winged Lapwing.
We arrived in a bit of rain and I checked into the Ambassador Hotel.
I managed to see 277 Species in 9 days of birding. Of which 87 were lifers. Ethiopia is an endemic heaven and there were not just birds, but also a lot of other fauna and flora to keep one busy. As a photographic destination, it is absolutely amazing and holds a lot of good opportunities as well as a deep-rooted culture that is very diverse and unique from the Omo Valley to the Simien Mountains.
I will be putting a trip together soon, as there is a lot to still explore and see.
I traveled on an invitational recce to look at the possibility of running trips there and so it was not the best season to be there but my mind was still blown at what we managed to see in such a short space of time.
For Photo Gallery refer to (click here)