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AMS, Gastroenteritis and birding in Ethiopia (1 Viewer)

dwatsonbirder

Well-known member
I'll try to keep this as clean as possible...

We've just returned from a fantastic 2 weeks in Ethiopia (covering Bale Mountains, Awassa and Central highlands).

The following will give an overview as well as a blow by blow account of each day, though it may take me a number of weeks to finish the whole report.

Overview

Ethiopia is the most accessible part of the Horn of Africa, and has a lot to offer the keen naturalist. The diversity of birds within the country is truly staggering, with over 800 species recorded, including 79 regional endemics, and 19 endemic specifically to Ethiopia. A visit to the country during the boreal winter months will also see a large number of palearctic migrants bolster the numbers of resident birds.
Tourism is increasing within the country, and it is fairly easy to arrange an independent trip where one could expect to see a huge number of species in a relatively short time frame. Our trip was a bit different, focusing on just three areas, with a particular emphasis on spending time with the Ethiopian wolf and Gelada baboons.
A full week was dedicated to the Bale Mountains NP, with 4 nights in Hawassa on the shores of the eponymous lake in the Rift Valley before concluding our time in the Central highlands to the north of Addis Ababa. A total of 3 days were spent in Addis Ababa on account of predominantly using public transport.
Like all of our travels, there are species which we specifically targeted rather than attempting to amass a huge list. That said, a total of 228 species over just 3 sites on a total of 12 days of unguided birding was a respectable tally. The trip did not visit the southern reaches of the country, and therefore no effort was made to see Prince Ruspoli’s turaco, White tailed swallow or even Streseman’s bush crow.

Notes

At the time of the visit, the country was undergoing a period of political stability, with even a local referendum passing without incident during our time in Hawassa. The same could not be said for the weather, which was unseasonably wet, causing several changes to our itinerary and resulting in the scrapping of the Menz Guassa plateau from our schedule. Another factor to be aware of is the altitude across much of the country, with Addis Ababa being over 2000m a.s.l. As a result of altitude sickness, our trekking route within the Bale Mountains had to be altered. Ethiopian people were welcoming and friendly in all circumstances, and even in Addis Ababa there were few issues - pick-pocketing is common, but being aware of your surroundings and several tell-tale signs can reduce the risk. A number of reports had mentioned issues with large groups of children following faranji travellers around to the point of distraction; we only had this experience in Muggar gorge, but found that showing the children the wildlife through binoculars/telescope/camera was well received and may help change attitudes in the future. 4x4 cars can be hired for approx $120 per day, and are a revelation after a few days of using public transport.

Targeted species

The trip was specifically designed to target two mammals - Ethiopian wolf and Gelada baboon - which we have both wanted to see in the wild for a number of years. Additionally, we made efforts to encounter Mountain Nyala, Bale monkey and Giant forest hog.
From an ornithological point of view there were a number of species which were high priority to encounter where possible; Abyssinian owl, Abyssinian ground-thrush, Abyssinian catbird, Bale parisoma, Abyssinian longclaw, Banded barbet, Narina trogon, Spotted creeper and Lammergeier.
 

dwatsonbirder

Well-known member
15th November (arrival in Addis Ababa)

A day flight to Addis Ababa via Frankfurt meant that we did not arrive in Ethiopia until the evening, by which time darkness had fallen. We arrived at our hotel sometime after 8pm, and whilst soaking in the sights, sounds and smells of the city from the balcony added a calling Hadada flying about somewhere in the night.

16th November (Addis Ababa)

As we awoke before dawn, I was in place on our balcony awaiting the first run of new birds for the trip by sunrise. A pair of Speckled pigeon were preening on the opposite roof, whilst overhead several Yellow billed kite were already soaring around on the lookout for the first meal of the day. A few passerines were moving around in a small stand of trees and gardens nearby, with Common bulbul, Red eyed dove, Speckled mousebird, Chiffchaff and Scarlet chested sunbird all noted. After some breakfast I returned to balcony for another hour of scanning before we headed into the city, and was rewarded with further additions; Red billed firefinch, Village indigobird, Tawny flanked prinia, Baglafecht weaver, Streaky seedeater, Tacazze sunbird and Dusky turtle dove were all present within the gardens, whilst overhead Hooded and Ruppell’s vultures joined the kites, which in turn were mobbed by Pied crows and Fan tailed ravens. In the afternoon we visited the Mercato (largest market in Africa) and headed to the National Museum in order to visit the excellent anthropology department, holding Lucy amongst the many other fascinating early hominid remains. One last stint on the balcony before dinner produced much the same suite of species, with a few additions; Little and Nyanza swifts, Maribou, Tawny eagle, Steppe buzzard, Rock martin and White collared pigeon.

17th November (Addis Ababa to Bale Mountains NP)

Another early morning from the balcony before we began our journey to the Bale Mountains NP brought a movement of Black and Yellow billed kites, as well as more Hooded vultures. This morning the trees brought an addition in the form of Montane white-eye, whilst three Egyptian geese flew over.
We left Addis for the airport, with a short inland flight to Robe via Hawassa where we noted many thousands of (presumably) Greater and Lesser flamingo on Abijata lake clearly visible from the plane! Upon arrival at Robe airport, we had an hours wait for our guide, so I decided to have a look around the immediate environs of the airport. There were a number of interesting birds here, with the first Pied and Red breasted wheatear of the trip, as well as the simensis race of Groundscraper thrush. The only Grey rumped swallow of the trip joined a small party of the more familiar Red rumped swallow, whilst overhead a high pitched calling drew my attention to the first of many Lanner falcon. Common kestrel, White backed vulture and Cape crow were also noted, as well as the first Greater blue-eared starling.
After a while our guide Abbu appeared with our minibus, and we were soon on our way to our camp at the parks headquarters at Dinsho. The journey took us through several small villages and agricultural areas, before we climbed up to wilder, less populated areas, and finally into the edge of the forest at Dinsho. On the road from the HQ we noted several mammals, including our first Warthog, Mountain nyala and Guereza. Our guide set up our tent and arranged our permits whilst we had some lunch. The presence of Mountain thrush, Brown rumped seedeater and even a pair of fly-over Thick billed raven whilst we ate was pleasant enough, but the prospect of heading into the forest was becoming too much of a temptation… I had to get into those trees! Soon enough we were climbing into the forest behind our tent where we were rewarded with Brown woodland-warbler, Montane white-eye and White backed black tit. Kathi wandered off a few meters down the trail to get some photos of the mammals whilst I scanned the trees, but I could see her waving frantically and pointing the camera into a low bush - although not a serious birder, this is usually a good sign that she has randomly and unknowingly jammed in on something completely outrageous. Once again she had done this, and perhaps my most wanted species of the entire trip had fallen within 30 minutes of arriving at Dinsho, as a stunning Abyssinian ground-thrush was positively glowing from the low branches of a juniper tree. After missing Kivu ground-thrush in Uganda, it was particularly enjoyable to encounter this species. Incredibly the bird sat and preened, apparently totally unphased by our presence - what a start to our time in the Bale mountains!
We continued a little further along our loop of the area, noting Ruppell’s robin chat, African Dusky flycatcher, Common fiscal and two other key species; Abyssinian slaty flycatcher and Abyssinian catbird. The flycatcher showed extremely well and allowed for decent photographs, whilst the catbird became something of a nemesis during the trip, practically putting on a stage-show whenever I ventured out without my camera, and then calling loudly whilst hiding in the densest vegetation when I had the lumix at the ready.
By this time it was late afternoon, and I had met and chatted to one of the rangers who mentioned that he could help with day roosting owls. I had agreed to the very reasonable price (500birr for both of us) and after a short walk we arrived at a belt of pine trees where an Abyssinian Long eared owl regarded us with a supercilious look from a low branch - another fantastic (and apparently difficult) target in the bag. We watched the bird for a good 10 minutes before creeping off to avoid disturbance. The next bird was a bit of a cop out, as our guide led us back towards the location of our tent, and pointed up into a juniper less than 5m from where we had eaten lunch. Above our heads was a smart African wood owl, which also regarded us with curiosity. It had been a long day of travelling, but with some fantastic species already seen well, we opted for an early night prior to our long hike to Sodota the following day.
 

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MKinHK

Mike Kilburn
Hong Kong
I can see it already is! A country I’ve long wanted visit and to get two owls plus your top target on the first day in the forest is a great start!

The African Wood Owl in particular looks pretty special - wonderful deep-set eyes!

Cheers
Mike
 

Jos Stratford

Beast from the East
A wonderful sounding trip in the making, many years since I had the pleasure of visiting Ethiopia, so going to enjoy this read.
 

dwatsonbirder

Well-known member
Thanks Pete, Mike and Jos, I'm glad you are enjoying it so far.

18th November (Dinsho to Sodota plain)

Following an interesting night of listening to both Abyssinian Long eared and African wood owl’s, in which a trip to the toilet was punctuated by the very close calls of Spotted hyena, the next morning once again saw us wake just before sunrise. There was an excellent range of song as the sun came up, with Ruppell’s robin chat, Mountain thrush, Abyssinian Catbird and Brown woodland warbler joining with the commoner Black headed siskin, Streaky and Brown rumped seedeaters and Tacazze sunbirds. After breakfast a brief wander around the campsite brought us more views of Mountain nyala and Warthog, whilst new mammals included Menelik’s bushbuck and Bohor reedbuck. Returning to our tent to begin prepping for the 25km hike to Sodota, I caught a glimpse of something green, blue and red flash between trees. A few moments later and I was enjoying a handsome pair of White cheeked turaco indulging in an early morning drink from the guttering on Dinsho lodge - yet another species I had really hoped to bump into. Overhead a squeaky call alerted us to a handful of Black winged lovebird flying over, but sadly they didn’t seem comfortable enough to settle. Soon enough we were on our way, and started the long trek up into the mountains. As we passed through the small holdings and sleepy villages in the valley there seemed to be birds everywhere; Tawny flanked prinia, Yellow bishop,
Common and Yellow bellied waxbills, Swainson’s sparrow, Black headed siskin, Groundscraper thrush, Ethiopian and Singing cisticolas
as well as more familiar species such as Thekla lark, Chiffchaff, Willow warbler, Tree pipit and even a Quail. Overhead were a handful of Steppe buzzard as well as the much commoner Augur buzzard, whilst a group of birds wading in a damp field contained Sacred ibis as well as another new endemic - Wattled ibis.
As we began to climb higher, Moorland chat became very obvious and its endearing, inquisitive character really became apparent as it boldly hopped towards us for a few crumbs of bread. Raptors started to become a more frequent fixture as we climbed higher, with the aforementioned buzzards joined by Lanner falcons, Tawny eagles and the occasional Ruppell’s vulture. I also noted a medium sized Accipiter spp. But unfortunately could not ID it due to the brevity of the view. We stopped for lunch by the beautiful Web river waterfall, and encountered our first Blue winged geese of the trip, as well as a very brief Rouget’s rail. Mammalian interest was added by a Rock hyrax screaming from a nearby cave. Overhead were more of the same raptors, as well as a fine Steppe eagle and a brief Ringtail harrier, which was likely a Pallid. I wandered around the edge of the river to look for the rail, but wasn’t successful, however I managed some good views of Mountain wagtail, Cinnamon bracken warbler and three Green sandpiper. Some 18km into the trek we passed through one of the last cultivated areas of land before entering the upper reaches of the river valley, and managed a brief view of an Abyssinian longclaw - yet another target in the bag. The bird was playing hide and seek within some rank grassland, and alas I approached it a bit too closely only for it to explode from under my feet and fly a distance away into another cultivated area - better views and hopefully some photos of this smart bird would follow at some point I assured myself!
As we made our final ascent onto the plateau near to Sodota, all attention turned to the very real possibility of our first encounter with Ethiopian wolf. We had seen its core prey - Grass rat and the bizzare and slightly comic Giant root rat, and with clear skies and no wind optimism was very high. There were some very fine birds on this massive flat expanse, with Red breasted, Isabelline and Pied wheatear hopping all over, but it almost felt like the birds were a distraction from the main event… after some 20km of slowly walking and scanning the area, Abbu picked up some movement approximately 1km away, and told us to move quickly. The walk had been long and fairly challenging for me so far (I had only once before been higher than 1000m asl) and I was struggling to catch my breath as we swiftly but quietly progressed towards our target. As we drew nearer, it became clear that this was no canid - it was a fine Serval! We watched the cat for a few minutes before it climbed up over a low ridge and disappeared from sight. This was a new mammal for me, and apparently a good sighting, but Kathi was a bit underwhelmed as she had seen Serval before, and had hoped for something a bit bigger and more ginger.
We finally reached camp with an hour of light left, and although I was feeling the miles in my legs (10hrs walking with only a few short breaks) we made an effort to have one last look around before sunset. Sadly, we had no success with any more mammals, but Spot breasted lapwing, Slender billed starling, Pectoral patch cisticola and a trio of Chestnut naped francolin were something of a reward for our efforts. We sat down for dinner as the sun began to set down, and we were in for one last treat as a female Pallid harrier began to quarter the small valley where we were to spend the night. It had been a fantastic if challenging day, with some great birds and mammals, and I drifted off into a deep sleep, unaware of the dramatic events which were to unfold over the next 12 hours...
 

dwatsonbirder

Well-known member
A few photos from Dinsho to Sodota

A couple of images...
 

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dwatsonbirder

Well-known member
19th November (Sodota plain to Dinsho)

I awoke around midnight, and although feeling a bit dizzy and tired, I could hear the unmistakable single low hoot of Greyish eagle owl. I listened to the bird calling for a while, and fell back into an uneasy sleep. A few hours later I awoke with a start, and was struggling to catch my breath, I needed to visit the toilet, but found it a monumental effort just to sit upright, and only made it a few meters from the tent. I felt my mind was racing and I was alternating between very hot and cold. I crawled back into the tent, and drifted in and out of a semi lucid state of consciousness for a few hours, before exhaustion finally caught up with me and I blacked out into a deep sleep just before dawn. Around 45 minutes later I was awake again, but found that I was totally unable to move a muscle despite feeling both very dizzy and overwhelmingly queasy, and had to seek assistance from Kathi for me to move just far enough to poke my head out of the tent to vomit… not a great start. As it became more and more evident that I was struggling with the altitude and was clearly both physically ill and non-compos-mentis, Kathi and our guide made the choice to employ a couple of mules and get me down to a lower altitude as quickly as possible. The first 3-4 hours of the descent were something of a blur, and I could barely muster the strength (or enthusiasm) to lift my bins to my eyes. I began to feel a bit better as we dropped below 3000m asl, but found that I couldn’t focus my eyes properly - at the time I thought my trusty old Nikon’s had become defective, but in reality it was likely a result of low blood pressure. I did note a few birds as we drew closer to Dinsho, with at least 3 Pallid harrier cruising around, a vocal Cinnamon bracken warbler as we stopped for lunch, and a fine Abdim’s stork which pitched down to join a flock of Wattled ibis feeding in a wet field. We arrived back in Dinsho mid-afternoon (by which time I was beginning to feel quite a lot better), however the remainder of the day was spent either napping, laying down in the tent, or sipping cups of tea. My stomach was still playing up for the fourth consecutive day, but despite this, I had an early night and nearly managed to sleep the entire way through.

20th November (Gaysay Grasslands)

I awoke before dawn, and was once again treated to the slightly unnerving howl of Spotted hyena coming from perhaps a closer position than two evenings prior, though by this time I was fairly happy to tackle a pack of hyena’s over another ascent to 4000m! A Verreaux's eagle owl was also calling a bit further into the distance, and as the sun began to rise the usual chorus began to start up. After a couple of pancakes and some tea I was feeling a bit more normal, and even managed to get my eyes to focus enough to look at some birds. Once again Abyssinian catbird led me on a merry dance around the trees with my camera, however some form of compensation came in the form of a pair of fine Yellow fronted parrot which alighted atop the catbird’s juniper tree.
The plan of action today was a leisurely (if slightly lengthy) hike down (excellent!) to the Gaysay valley below Dinsho village in order to see some typical grassland species. The walk was very enjoyable, and a number of now expected species were seen well; Swainson’s sparrow, Wattled ibis, Moorland chat, Fiscal and Greater blue-eared starling all posed for numerous photographic opportunities, and I was really impressed with the number of Palearctic passerine migrants around too; Pied and Isabelline wheatears, Siberian and African stonechats, Yellow wagtails and even a small group of Red throated pipits all showed well, and I allowed myself some time to get to grips with some of the more interesting plumage variations on display. As we made our way towards the Gestro river, a herd of horses had attracted 5 Red billed oxpecker, a species which is by all accounts declining in the area. As we reached the river gorge, small groups of Rock martin were joined by a few Nyanza swift, whilst bobbing around in the rapids were African black duck. We wandered around the grassland for a few hours enjoying the many Mountain nyala, Bohor bushbuck, Warthog and first Olive baboons of the trip, whilst two raptor species did their best to steal the show; The first was an apparition in grey, and a bird I have been hoping to catch up with for years - my first ever male Pallid harrier. The second was no less impressive, as a massive pale juvenile eagle flopped lazily out of some trees, before a screaming adult Martial eagle recalled the bird back towards a massive nest. I must admit I hadn’t expected to see the species in this environment, as it was certainly a far cry from the baking savannah of Uganda where I had previously encountered it.
The grasslands themselves held a few clusters of birds, mostly mixed groups of Cisticolas, African stonechats, Red bishops and Tawny flanked prinias. When scanning through one of these groups I noted an interesting Siberian stonechat, and started to creep forward for a better look. As I did so, I became aware of another bird perched on a dead branch a bit closer, and could scarcely believe my binoculars as a cracking Abyssinian longclaw dialled into focus. The stonechat was quickly forgotten, and I managed to get fairly close, and certainly exceptional views of the longclaw, so much so that I managed to walk away without disturbing it once I’d taken a few shots - perhaps a bit of karma after flushing the bird on the journey to Sodota a couple of days before. We continued our walk and headed back towards Dinsho, adding Yellow bellied waxbill to the days proceedings. As we walked along the road, one of the local guides stopped to give us a lift in his jeep, which was perfectly timed as the first large raindrops hit the windscreen, indicating a change in the weather for the remainder of the day. With the rain falling heavily by the time we reached the campsite, it was time to beat a retreat and enjoy some downtime for a few hours. The following day would see us return to higher altitudes, and indeed reach the second highest point in Africa - the Sanetti plateau. After one unsuccessful attempt on Sodota plain, and a missed opportunity on the return leg due to health issues, would it be third time lucky on the roof of Africa?
 

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MKinHK

Mike Kilburn
Hong Kong
Whoa! I had AMS in Nepal, but nothing like that bad.

I share your enjoyment of seeing “out of context” migrants intermixed with exotic local species.

Keep it coming!

Cheers
Mike
 

opisska

Jan Ebr
Czech Republic
Sorry for being lazy - I know I could read the whole report and get the answer, but maybe someone/the author can spare me if it is is not useful to me? I read in to introduction about independent trip and unguided birding, but then the second day of the diary starts with a name of the guide, so it seems this was guided after all?
 

dwatsonbirder

Well-known member
Jan, a guide is mandatory in order to enter the NP, however, a bird guide is not. With the exception of the assistance of one of the rangers to locate the owls, this trip was independent (like all my trips) as in the birds recorded were as a result of my field craft, knowledge and experience. I think a quick glance through the report should've made this obvious, but I apologise if the writing style is somewhat ambiguous. Hope this helps!
 
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opisska

Jan Ebr
Czech Republic
Jan, a guide is mandatory in order to enter the NP, however, a bird guide is not. With the exception of the assistance of one of the rangers to locate the owls, this trip was independent (like all my trips) as in the birds recorded were as a result of my field craft, knowledge and experience. I think a quick glance through the report should've made this obvious, but I apologise if the writing style is somewhat ambiguous. Hope this helps!

Oh thanks for the reply!

The information that a guide is mandatory in the park is what I was looking for - it means I can skip reading further. Please don't take it as disrespect to your hard work in making this nice report - it's simply not relevant for me, because I am browsing various reports looking for places I could enjoy next, which for me means places where I don't have to have a stranger on my tail, and I don't have the mental capacity to read reports from places that aren't useful to me. Best luck in your trips!
 

dwatsonbirder

Well-known member
No worries Jan! It may be worth checking out Uganda, as there are a few parks there where you can explore (not on foot sadly) without a guide. Also Costa Rica/Panama can largely be done without the intervention of any guide if you wish, though there will be quite a few other people in the forests... cheers.
 

Andy Adcock

Well-known member
England
19th sounded like fun! :)

A nice read but seems to me that the trek, should probably been done over a couple of days, did something prevent that?

AMS is a killer and your physical condition is no guarantee that it won't strike. Above 3000m, it's better to move up incrementally or even bird high and sleep low as some do. When we did Nepal and went over Thorong La at 5400m ( I was but a lad of 50 at the time), we took a week to get that high and often descended for the night.

I hope to do Ethiopia in the near future and will certainly look to do this particular section over a more extended time.
 
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temmie

Well-known member
excuse my 'optimal travel' brain-mode, but wouldn't it have been a better idea to splash just a bit of cash for a rental car + driver, and do the (very joyful) ride to Dinsho in 2-3 days instead of flying from Addis?

There is excellent birding in the rift, and while I feel you will write about that in a few days, going South and back North enables you to bird the same places (Awassa, Ziway, lake Chelekleka, lake Langano) at different times of day. It could have softened the altitude sickness (not guaranteed but still...). Or maybe it was decided that parts of the road weren’t safe with the unrest?
 
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Scridifer

Registered User
Supporter
Bulgaria
A very well-written report Daniel and a gripping read! I look forward to further installments avidly!

Chris
 

dwatsonbirder

Well-known member
A nice read but seems to me that the trek, should probably been done over a couple of days, did something prevent that?

I hope to do Ethiopia in the near future and will certainly look to do this particular section over a more extended time.

Thanks Andy. We naively thought that a few days in Addis, followed by a day in Dinsho would be sufficient to acclimatise - I haven't really been anywhere as mountainous and at a similar altitude to Ethiopia before (I think Oukaïmeden at 2600 was my previous highest) and as a result hadn't appreciated the differences that even a few hundred meters can make. It's certainly a lesson for the future, but I'm now very concerned that my lifelong ambition to visit Nepal will likely never happen.

excuse my 'optimal travel' brain-mode, but wouldn't it have been a better idea to splash just a bit of cash for a rental car + driver, and do the (very joyful) ride to Dinsho in 2-3 days instead of flying from Addis?

Hi Lieven, that probably would have been a good idea, but we already paid approx $1500 for just the trip to the Bale mountains, and then still had over a week visiting other places. As the wolves were a main target, we wanted to get to Bale asap, and then if we missed them, have enough time to visit Guassa for a second attempt. As it transpired, the unseasonably heavy rain damaged the Guassa road to the point it was impassable, so with hindsight Bale was our only chance for the wolves. We also decided that a few days of R&R in the Rift valley would be much needed after our trekking - we certainly got that bit right!

19th sounded like fun! :)

It was certainly interesting... not sure it was so fun that I'd want a repeat any time soon though!

A very well-written report Daniel and a gripping read! I look forward to further installments avidly!
Chris

Cheers Chris! Without further adieu...
 

dwatsonbirder

Well-known member
21st November Dinsho - Sanetti - Harenna

Another early start and another early morning wander around the forest surrounding Dinsho. Abyssinian catbird finally gave itself up and I managed a good 10 second view of the entire bird, red undertail coverts, white supercilium and all. Typically the instant I reached for the camera it flew into the deepest patch of juniper possible. Abyssinian ground-thrush was also present near the toilet block this morning, but was also being somewhat more typically elusive. The usual mixture of species were evident, whilst the Yellow fronted parrots once again put in an appearance, as did a pair of White cheeked turaco. We also managed to add a fine Rufous breasted sparrowhawk to proceedings, as one swooped through the campsite before alighting in a tree.
With the arrival of our driver and minibus (we had been promised a 4x4 but this failed to transpire) we set off for Rira in the Harenna forest. Our route would take us over the Sanetti plateau, where we once again had the opportunity to encounter the wolves.
Unfortunately as we began our assent toward the plateau, heavy rain kicked in and was to become an important factor on the days events.
As we drove through an area of forest I noted an accipiter spp dash in front of our vehicle, and after stopping and reversing we were treated to excellent views of the endemic unduliventer race of African goshawk, which was proudly showing the large white spots on its tail. A further stop to admire a group of Wattled ibis revealed several Yellow crowned canary, as well as a few Blue winged geese. As we climbed ever upward, groups of Ethiopian siskin became very numerous, and a lot of the pools held Spot breasted lapwing at their fringes. The rain had become a light drizzle by this time, and we were feeling slightly more optimistic about our chances to encounter a certain canid.
At this point we had climbed to some 4000m, and I had developed a combination of headache and light-headedness, but I was determined to push through, knowing that the van was nearby and would be able to whisk us back to lower levels in a worst case scenario. We left the car for a brief wander around a lake, and into some low grassland literally covered in rodents. The lake held Ruddy shelduck and Yellow billed duck, whilst a group of Red billed chough were feeding in some of the short grass. Given the huge numbers of rodents, it was no surprise to find that raptors were abundant on the plateau; Tawny, Steppe and Golden eagle all gave fine views, whilst Lanner, Augur buzzard and Pallid harrier were also very common. Our walk lasted all of 900m, by which time I was completely knackered and breathing heavily - clearly the effects of the altitude were beginning to show once again. We headed back to the bus where I was able to at least rest, and try to cope with the other effects.
As we drove slowly southwards, carefully scanning every suitable area, a cloud of doubt began to settle over Kathi and I - it seemed that the very species which was our top target for the trip was to be the one to elude us. As rain once again set it, we had a brief view of Moorland francolin, though it now seemed that the plateau had nothing more to offer us today, and we began our descent to Rira.
A couple of stops along the way failed to yield Bale parisoma, and with the gloomy weather adding to the overall mood, Plain martin, Montane white-eye, Tacazze sunbird, Cinnamon bracken warbler and Chestnut naped francolin did nothing to lift our spirits. In addition to the lack of wolves, Kathi had started to feel nauseous, and by the time we reached Rira was feeling particularly ill - indeed she came down with a 12hr bug which left her bed-bound for the rest of the day and the whole evening. Given that there was little I could do to assist other than the provision of various pills, I opted to drive down into the Harenna forest to see if I could encounter any new species.
In short, due to the rain, I couldn’t really. A few stops revealed Yellow bellied and Common waxbill, whilst somewhere off in the distance the repetitive call of African emerald cuckoo could be heard. A bit of trawling for African hill babbler gained a very brief response, but the bird resolutely stuck to some dense riparian vegetation. Further trawling for Narina trogon and Abyssinian woodpecker drew a complete blank, and so I decided to cut my losses and return to Rira.
In the evening we had discussions about our plans, and made the decision that the next day we would try again in the forest before heading back over the plateau and onto a hotel in Goba with running hot water - 5 days without a shower had taken their toll. Given that the rain looked to make another appearance the following day we thought it was a risky plan, but we simply could not face dipping on the wolves.
 
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