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Ethiopia Tour – Oct /November 2018 (1 Viewer)

dandsblair

David and Sarah
Alledeghi Wildlife Reserve

Day 7 Today we headed to the nearby Alledeghi Wildlife Reserve.

The main attraction here are Arabian Bustard, Grevy’s Zebra and Gerenuk.
We did not have to wait long for good birds, first up we had a Grasshopper Buzzard, then a group of Pallid Harriers all quartering different areas of grassland, then we added Common and Somali Ostrich before got our first Arabian Bustards, two birds in the distance clearly with white checkered wing coverts and no blank spots on the flanks unlike Kori, we didn’t have to wait long for a closer view and this time there were four birds and two of them had Northern Carmine Bee-eaters sitting on their back and hunting from their bustard perch. I had heard of this behaviour, (I later saw more Bee-eaters on Kori Bustards) but was delighted to be able to photograph it albeit the birds would just never line up perfectly or come close for a really great shot.

We were also on the look-out for Somali Courser but never did find one here despite stopping regularly for Crowned Plover, Spotted Thicknee and Black-winged Lapwing. In the end we saw 12 Arabian Bustards in the birding session – the only place on the trip we saw them.

Other birds we saw; included Singing Bush Lark, Red-billed Buffalo Weaver, Yellow-spotted Petronia, Red-billed Quela, Brubru, Fork-tailed Drongo, Somali Fiscal, Abyssinian Scimitarbill, Lilac-breasted Roller, European Bee-eater, Red-fronted Barbet, Grassland Pipit and Secretary Bird.
We also saw Warthog, Grant’s Gazelle, Black-backed Jackal, Gerenuk, Grivet Monkey, Salt’s Dikdik and Lesser Kudu.

We spent the afternoon and overnight at Doho Lodge and hot springs and did some birding from the lodge we added Yellow-breasted and Black-throated Barbet, Desert Wheatear (only one of the trip), Yellow-bellied Eremolia, Northern White-crowned Shrike, Grey-wren Warbler, White-rumped Babbler, Superb Starling and Grey-backed Fiscal.
We then headed back to enjoy the hot spring pools one of which is big enough to have a decent swim in. While swimming we could see African Palm and Nyanza Swifts overhead and African Jacana in the swamp below.
 

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Lanhua

Well-known member
Thanks David, I expected, to see those birds far in South of Addis Abeba, so around Lake Langano.
Good to know that it's not necessary to drive so far away of Addis Abeba.

Mietek
 

dandsblair

David and Sarah
Looking for Sombre Rock Chat

Looking for Sombre Rock Chat

We got access to wifi in the restaurant so I could download a few calls last night – I only mention it because both Sarah’s and my phone picked up the time from the network clock and we nearly slept in. We were due to leave the lodge – with everything packed and already breakfasted by 06.00 but I heard the first bird song at 05.40 while we were both still in bed but our phones were showing 04.40 and the alarms had not gone off. Very quickly we got ready and packed and we were at breakfast in about 10 minutes and in the car at 06.05 – we did leave our shower gel behind and Sarah grabbed a bra at the last minute but that was the only casualty.

We set off for the lava fields at the nearby Fentelle Volcano which is bordered by a hot springs oasis where luxuriant vegetation flourishes in the midst of a lava desert, this is home to the rare, restricted-range Sombre Rock Chat. On the way we spotted White-backed and Egyptian Vulture, Marabou and Black-chested Snake Eagle and on the railway track which we had cross over was a large crocodile just straddling the tracks, makes a change from the wrong sort of leaf on the line. At the parking spot we did not have to wait long before we spotted a Sombre Rock Chat, but he was quite distant and Abel wanted to find a closer bird that I could photograph but every time we saw a bird close up it was very pale – I said to Abel they are different birds, he was saying they were juveniles, no I said they are not, the 4 pale birds would come closer but the darker Sombre Rock Chats were staying further away. I finally photographed both birds – the pale birds were Blackstarts which I managed a just about usable shot of; while the dark birds - shots were useful only to confirm identification were the target bird.
Abel had never see Blackstarts here but it looks like there is at least one family group of birds which seem to associate with the main target birds and in poor light could cause confusion.
We also saw Rock Hyrax in the lava.

It was then on to Lake Ziway and then finally to Lake Lagano after some lunch in a hotel near the lake, the hotel grounds held Ruppell’s Starling, Paradise Flycatcher, Shining Sunbird, Village Weaver and Red-billed Firefinch. Unfortunately when we went back to the car the rear tyre was flat, so we walked down to the lake while Begashaw went to have the puncture mended. Onto the lake and pools and we had Long-tailed Cormorant, African Darter, Little Egret, Fulvous and White-faced Whistling Ducks, Knob-billed Duck, Egyptian Goose, Hottentot Teal, Eurasian Marsh Harrier, and Grey-headed Gull. On the small ponds alongside the path to the harbour we had Marabou, Pink-backed and Great White Pelicans and waders including Greenshank, Ruff, Ringed, Three-banded, Kentish and Kittlitz’s Plovers we also saw both Malachite and Pygmy Kingfishers and an unexpected Blue Rock Thrush.

We were a little later than planned after the earlier puncture but we stopped at Shalla and Abiata Park which was just a short way before the turning to our lodge. We didn’t really have time to go to the soda lakes, so we just birded the forest area, we added Common Redstart, Whitethroat, Blackcap, Red-winged Warbler, Red-faced Crombec and then a Little Rock Thrush in a tree near a load of White-browed Sparrow Weaver nests, after that we added Striped Kingfisher, Jackson’s and Von der Deckers Hornbill and on the ground some Wattled Starlings.

To get to Hara lodge we turn east at the southern end of Lake Langano, and then drive a short distance north on the eastern shores of the Lake. There is quite well preserved natural forest here and although it is getting dark we added the endemic Black-winged Lovebird, they were nesting in a tree hole right by the road, the rest would need to wait until tomorrow.
Overnight from our cabin we heard Hippos and a Verreaux’s Eagle Owl.
 

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dandsblair

David and Sarah
Birding around Lake Lagano / Hara Lodge

Day 9: Today we are birding around the Lodge, and the forest above the grassy areas. We go down to breakfast at first light, there are 3 Hippos in the water and we quickly see Yellow-fronted Parrots in the fig tree out in front of the restaurant, they are joined by Silvery-cheeked Hornbill, Bruce’s Green Pigeon and Ruppell’s Starling.

After breakfast in the grassy area the birds come thick and fast, Bare-faced Go-away Bird, Black-winged Lovebird, Double-toothed and Black-billed Barbets, Little and Red-headed Weavers, Violet-backed Starling and Grey-headed Woodpecker. Into the forest and we quickly add Scaly-throated Honeyguide, Abyssinian Woodpecker and then we hear an Oriole call and after much calling we finally get good enough views of the bird including the wing to finally add Abyssinian Oriole, while we were getting on an Abyssinian Ground Thrush, Begashaw spotted a roosting Verreaux’s Eagle Owl, and Abel then found a couple of Green-backed Twinspots, Sarah got in on the act with a White-browed Coucal. On the way back to the grassland area we added Speckled Mousebird, Blue-spotted Wood Dove, African Pygmy Kingfisher, Red-shouldered Cuckoo-shrike and Black-billed Wood-hoopoe before I found a couple of my favorite birds in Heuglin’s Coursers.

The late morning and early afternoon was at leisure, we added African Cuckoo, great close ups of White-cheeked Turaco, Marico Sunbird, Lesser Honeyguide, Common Redstart, Willow Warbler, Northern Black Flycatcher, Gull-billed Tern, Whiskered Tern and Grey-headed Gull to the list.

Afternoon walk with Abel didn’t add much but we did see Masked Shrike, Blue-breasted Bee-eater, Red-capped Robin-chat and Spectacled Weaver.

 

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dandsblair

David and Sarah
Up to the Bale Mountains

Day 10: A big day and one we have been looking forward to, since booking the trip. We leave the Rift Valley and climb steadily upwards through the southeastern highlands to Goba and Shindo and then onto Bale Mountain Lodge for a three nights stay.

Our journey across the mountain grassland at Gaysay started to deliver some familiar and new birds, first we had Wattled Ibis and Blue-winged Goose on the ponds, then the Black and White race of African Stonechat, flying overhead were Red-chested and Grey-rumped Swallows and then, as we climb higher onto the moorlands of the Bale Mountains, we were trying for Rail and Lapwing but couldn’t see any, the weather was also turning from sunshine to rain.
We did see the endemic Mountain Nyala, some Warthogs strange to see in this habitat, a Bohol Reedbuck and an Erlanger’s Lark and Dwarf Raven. Abel couldn’t understand where the rails and lapwings had gone 3 weeks ago this place was crawling with them he said. As we drove on, I cried “stop” just before a little bridge; Begashaw pulled over and we were able to see our first pair of Rouget’s Rail. A few times I thought we had the lapwing but they were all Black-winged Lapwing.

We stopped near the Park HQ and parked at the closed Shindo Lodge, we met a security guard (Abdula) who is famous for finding roosting nightbirds. We were shown a pair of African Wood Owl, then a brisk walk up the hill on muddy ground left Sarah lagging a bit behind, I kept up with Abdula and he got me onto the little known Abyssinian Owl, one of my top targets - no calls available on Xeno for this owl!! Sarah finally made it up the hill, saw the bird then just sat down on the ground, getting a bit wet and muddy of bum in the process, I think the change of altitude and quick walk had taken its toll and made her feel a little faint, fortunately a 10 minute rest and she was OK.
Abel said this was a good place for Catbird, so I played the call I had, Adbula indicated it wasn’t the right call but a Catbird called back, so with a bit of calling and some whistling we managed to coax a bird in, and we saw Abyssinian Catbird, the bird was calling and the download I had was a chorus of birds with Robin-chat and Thrush also on it, I later downloaded another call and had more success with that near the lodge. We also saw Brown-woodland Warbler, Pin-tailed Whydah and Cinnamon Bracken Warbler.

The climb up to the plateau was interrupted by heavy rain and thunder and resulted in a bus coming the other way getting stuck in the mud, the driver asked for help but when we tried to pull him out going forward it was clear he couldn’t go that way, he then refused the offer of a pull back up the hill; we think because his battery was now flat, we tried to explain he could jump start the bus, but he wasn’t having it; so in the end we managed to go round the bus and left him and his passengers to wait for the next bus or a lorry to help as they couldn’t possibly get round the narrow gap. On the road up we saw loads of Rouget’s Rail, a few Chestnut-naped Francolin and a single Moorland Francolin.[/B]

When we got to the Sanetti plateau the rain stopped but the place was just a series of mini rivers running across the plateau and down the hill, no sign of wolves or rats – Abel reckoned they would be well underground or away from the flooded area. We did though see a Stark’s Hare. Towards the end of the plateau where the river pack of wolf are resident we got out and had a look around, in the real cold conditions (little more than freezing at over 13,000 feet),there were no wolves about but we did see another Hare and finally connected with a small group of Spot-breasted Lapwing and loads of Augur Buzzard a couple on the Giant Lobelia and a single Golden Eagle.

Overnight at Bale Mountains Lodge, very comfortable and in a wonderful setting inside the park but still over an hour from the plateau.
 

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dandsblair

David and Sarah
In search of Ethiopian Wolf

Days 11 The magnificent Bale Mountains National Park was set up to protect two endemic mammals, the Mountain Nyala, which is found nowhere else, and the Ethiopian Wolf, the Bale Monkey now considered the world’s primate was found later.
The park is also home to fourteen of Ethiopia’s endemic birds and offers superb birding opportunities in the Afro-alpine moorlands and highland forests. Our plan was after a local walk first no point coming up too early as nothing active in the cold - we would drive to Tullu Deemtu the highest point on the Sanetti Plateau at 4377m, by way of the highest all-weather road in Africa, where the spikes of giant lobelias punctuate the moorland like huge exclamation marks.

First around the lodge grounds we saw Tacazze Sunbird, Mountain Thrush, Streaky Seedeater and then decent views of Abyssinian Oriole it was then off to the plateau for other wildlife but on the way we quickly saw Rouget’s Rail, many attractive Spot-breasted Lapwing in the sunlight, Mountain Buzzard, Golden Eagle, Steppe Eagle, Chestnut-naped Francolin and African Snipe. It was noticeable the ground was full of rodents, the first we saw were Bleak’s Grass-rat, then Bare-faced Rat and then across strolled our first Ethiopian Wolf, he was just finishing eating a small rodent and then started jumping on the ground trying unsuccessfully to catch another. We carried on up to some cliffs to try for Cape Eagle Owl, no luck with that but we did see Wolves number 2 and 3.

We then saw a really pale Wolf (said to be the old pack female aged at least 15) with a young male Wolf who was looking after her, she was struggling with a bad hind leg, myself and Sarah and a local guide Brook went over to get a closer look and some photographs. Abel was talking to the Sunbirder guide up the road, we heard the call of Wattled Cranes but didn’t instantly ID what they were. So when they flew over we didn’t see them, the sunbirders group did and Abel blamed himself for not getting us on them, we didn’t see them in next couple of days; a pity but not a lifer so not a complete disaster.

We took lunch on the highest spot – a really cold wind blew but it was dry and sunny. There were rodents everywhere at least 4 different types, the mammal field guide didn’t really help, but we did have better views of Bleak’s Grass-rat, and Giant Mole Rat who I managed to see completely out in the open, not just the usual short view of his head popping out.

After lunch we added 3 Wolf sightings in another area so 8 Wolves seen in all, we also had distant views of Mountain Nyla and when we went back down we added African Olive Pigeon, African Stonechat, Abyssinian Ground Thrush, African Dusky Flycatcher, Yellow-crowned Canary and Ruddy Shelduck who breed here in their only Afrotropical outpost.
 

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dandsblair

David and Sarah
Bale Monkey search

Day 12 Today we were due to visit the valley of Sof Omar, famous for its extensive underground limestone cave system and now an important Islamic shrine. It was a long drive from our lodge; much further than from Goba where most birding parties stay and we heard it is sometimes rather overrun by people, and the caves occasionally flood after heavy rain, so we decided to forego the search for the endemic Salvadori’s Seedeater here, we also didn’t need to go back up to the plateau for Wolves and Rats so instead we would try to get Abyssinian Crimsonwing, better views of some other bird species and hopefully see the Bale Monkey, Menelik’s Bushbuck and potentially the local lions.

Things started pretty well when we got two Abyssinian Crimsonwing along the side of the road and then African Spotted Creeper, we also added African Emerald Cuckoo, Martial Eagle and Black Saw-wing, along with Abyssininan Slaty Flycatcher, Bronze Mannakin and Abyssinian Catbird that responded well to my new call, although I still couldn’t get a great photo as the pair popped out only occasionally.
We tried a few times for African Hill Babbler but only got very poor non tickable views for Sarah.

We then headed to the trail that leads up to the Bale Mountain Lodge hydro plant, Bale Monkeys we had been told follow this trail regularly, we were only about 15 minutes off the road when Sarah spotted a monkey in a distant tree, we got a little closer and there they were two very rare Bale Monkeys. Interestingly we spoke to Steve Rook, we bumped into him a few time during and after the tour, he was leading the Sunbirder tour and he had not seen this primate in his many trips to Ethiopia so a really good sighting and probably a good justification for the change of plan.

We had some time relaxing by the lodge and a walk around the lodge trails in the afternoon. While we relaxed I tried calling the Hill Babbler from our balcony, no success I thought until about 10 minutes later Sarah said “are you calling that Babbler again”, no I wasn’t; so we rushed out just in time to see the African Hill Babbler leaving our balcony. We tried again after lunch and again saw the bird but again he flew off before I could photograph him, still Sarah was happy she hadn’t missed this bird totally.

In the afternoon we saw a female Menelik’s Bushbuck, Warthogs and on the birding front, Pin-tailed Whydah, Tacazze Sunbird, Streaky Seedeater, Black and White Mannakin, Mountain Thrush, Moorland Chat, a white morph African Paradise Flycatcher, and a rather unexpected Red-throated Pipit were added.
 

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dandsblair

David and Sarah
Drive to Negele and birding the area

Day 13 We descend into what is left of the great Harenna forest and then on through the juniper and broad-leaved forest to Negele for a three nights stay. In the forest we saw Chestnut-naped Francolin, White-cheeked Turaco, Tamborine Dove, Dwarf Raven and Abyssinian Slaty and Dusky Flycatcher plus Menelik’s Bushbuck, Striped Squirrel and Olive Baboon – no lions seen :-( but although there are photos from around here not many people see these rare highland forest lions.

We make many stops, pretty much whenever anyone sees anything different as we get into drier habitat, these are more frequent and for a travel day we see quite a bit, highlights include Bare-faced and White-bellied Go-awaybirds, Purple Roller, Abyssinian Ground Hornbill, Black-billed and Red and Yellow Barbet, Somali Bulbul (split from Common soon?), Shelley’s Starling, Black-headed Oriole, Chestnut Weaver, White-headed Buffalo Weaver, Straw-tailed Whydah, [B]Reichnow’s Seedeater, Fork-tailed Drongo, Hunter’s Sunbird [/B]and Three-streaked Tchagra.

However, about 40KM from Negele we stopped in some prime habitat for the endangered endemic Prince Ruspoli’s Turaco but despite checking areas of large fruiting figs we didn’t come across the bird, just Superb Starling and White-crested Helmet Shrike, before very long Abel said “quickly get in the car”, I didn’t really see anything but Sarah said a mob was running from the town towards us, and Abel mentioned something about thieves and some trouble the previous group had here when they saw the bird a day or so ago.

We really didn’t like Negele, the Maereg Hotel was Ok but the whole town was dark; at night the lights on the streets weren’t switched on.
There was no real choice for food, first hotel we went to had stopped serving food as they said all trade had died out in evenings after trouble 2 years ago, cafés were closed at night so we managed to get Green’s Hotel to do some spaghetti at night and pancakes for breakfast the next day, for some reason they didn’t want to serve us even Inerja food and didn’t have anything for Abel or Begashaw the next day. On the second night there were armed guys with their faces covered wandering the street, not unusual we were told and despite the presence of some police / soldiers nearby it was all little unsettling.


Day 14 - around Negele.

The spaghetti I had yesterday was luke warm and I had an upset stomach in the night and into the next morning, a couple of imodium got me through the first couple of hours birding.

Our first goal was to see the Ruspoli’s Turaco, we went at first light to an area where the Sunbirders group had been successful just yesterday, it was towards the Liben plains just beyond the Customs Point. No sign of the bird but then Abel heard it calling quite distantly; I tried calling it in but despite trying in various places we didn’t get a sighting of the bird. We did though see Eastern Chanting Goshawk, Vulturine Guineafowl, Bare-faced Goawaybird, Common Rock Thrush and White-crowned and Bristle-crowned Starlings – the last bird almost got us into trouble as it was right back at the custom point and they thought we were studying them, all OK with a quick show of the photographs.

I was still feeling a little rough when we headed back for breakfast - I took a recommended local diarrhoea cure - fresh ground coffee mixed with honey – remarkably it worked.

Over breakfast we discussed cutting our stay here to 2 days and heading to Yabello earlier, that would mean heading a little later than ideal to the lark plains today, we would do that but we decided to wait until this afternoon to decide whether to cut our stay at Negele short. We headed out to the liben plains, there is a local lad who most tours use to show them the Sidamo lark area but he wasn’t around today, he was out of his head chewing Chat. However some local kids saw where the group had been taken yesterday so we headed that way, there was no shortage of birds – mainly larks and pipits but they were all Somali Short-toed Larks (a lifer too) or Plain-backed Pipits, or Eurasian Hoopoe by now we had about 6 kids and 4 teenagers pointing out things to us – unfortunately not Sidamo Larks, I think I was the one who spotted two birds that were sitting right down in the grass and obviously different from the near-by Short-toed, we managed to get the people to stay behind us while we got closer, a few photos of parts of the birds with all the diagnostic elements viewed and we were able to confirm the very range restricted Sidamo Lark were the birds sitting down, I never did get a photo of the whole bird and I didn’t want to flush the birds who might have been on or near a nest; Abel said that 2 years ago they were right by the roadside trees, 3 months ago about half the distance away from the road and who knows where they will be in a year or two if more grazing occurs in the area.
Anyway we were grateful to get the larks this late in the morning (almost 9.30 when we finished) as we were told the larks will almost certainly only be active while it is still cool and it was just beginning to heat up.

In the Commiphora bushes and low stands of whistling thorn by the roadside we saw more Shelley’s and White-crowned Starlings and added Shelley’s Rufous Sparrow and Speke’s Weaver.

We then drove down to the bridge which is the border with Ethiopian Somali, the area looked good for birding but Abel was very skittish about crossing the bridge, it seems that this a flash point area between Orimio and Somalian people on farming issues, so we cut back towards the west of Negele seeing, Crowned Lapwing, Kori Bustard, Namaqua Dove, Ruppell’s Vulture, Orange-bellied Parrot, Abyssinian Roller, Von der Deckers Hornbill, Foxy (Abyssinian) Lark, Northern Wheatear, Abyssinian Wheatear and an unexpected but welcome Somali Wheatear, we also added Red-billed Oxpecker, Bush Petronia and White-winged Widowbird in breeding finally before we finally saw Ethiopian Swallow very well other views had been quite distant.

Unfortunately no sign of Prince Ruspoli’s Turaco – the other group found it again later where we had been looking, we heard this later that night, so we decided we would go back to the place we tried yesterday.

First up we went back to Negele and bought bread, cheese, biscuits, peanut butter and fruit for lunches and breakfasts then we headed to spot we tried yesterday, first we went to the village and Abel and Begashaw spoke to some locals (I think Abel had received advice from Mehret – a well known local birding guide who has family in the area on how to proceed), we then headed to the place we tried yesterday. There was no sign of the birds after 5 minutes of calling, so I just started making some sandwiches with Sarah, when with our hands full we saw a bird fly past, Abel called bring your camera. Laying everything down in the back seat of the car, I managed to see and photograph the Prince Ruspoli’s Turaco, but the light was poor against the sun, Abel suggested I play the call again, the first bird didn’t really move but a second bird flew in across the road, slightly better light but not willing to sit stationary like the first bird, I took the chance of working my way around the first bird to get a better shot and got a few OK shots before the two birds by now calling regularly to each other flew off. That was a huge relief as I had visions of us missing this iconic bird.

We didn’t see a lot more before driving back, just African Orange-bellied Parrot, White-crowned Starling, Crested Francolin and Common Kestrel.

Having now seen all the main birding targets; we thought about just leaving early the next morning, it would have the advantage of doing the tricky drive across the Dawa river to Yabello with the bigger group, however we had been given a spot for Juba Weaver and African Black-bellied Sunbird at a nearby power station, also the Borena Lodge we were due to stay for 1 night was fully booked by sunbirders (in the end we stayed two nights at Yabello Motel anyway) and if we went the next day we could get some up to date information on possible stops from the other group.
These factors plus the fact that Begashaw was pretty tired after driving from 6am to 5.30pm today and it’s a long way to Yabello meant we decided to stay another night here. That said with hindsight we would suggest 2 nights in Negele – try to get Ruspoli’s on way in, have full day birding the plains and surrounds and then spend extra night in Yabello.
 

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dandsblair

David and Sarah
Birding near the power station - near Negele.

Day 15 - Birding near the power station.
I think Abel was hoping to get permission to walk inside the power station area, when he approached the security guys, or at least to cross the bridge on the river. We didn’t get permission for that but it was OK to bird alongside the public side of the river near to the power station.
On this side of the river you just walk through some fields and get to the nearest point on the river with a small island. On the way down to the river we added Ashy Cisticola, Yellow-spotted Petronia, Familiar Chat, Common Bulbul (dodsoni) and Ring-necked Dove. Here we could see a couple of colourful male Juba Weavers across the river and lots of females on our side – it looks like the males were nest building on the far side, where there is obviously less disturbance, they never did come across to our side of the river, still that was one of the main targets of the day and as a bonus I called a Levaillant’s Cuckoo as it flew in and perched up.

In the scrubby area near the river where we were watching a large crocodile, we added [B]Banded Parisoma, Grey Flycatcher, White-browed Coucal, Singing Cisticola,[/B] and Black-billed Barbet.

Back at the road side will we were scanning some female Juba and Red-headed Weavers in the hope of a close up male Juba but only found a Red-headed, Abel then spotted the Black-bellied Sunbird and we all got good views even if I couldn’t photograph the belly.

On the way back at a nice stop with lots of termite mounds by the roadside I was photographing the Yellow and Red Barbets feeding while Sarah and Abel were looking at Northern Crombec, Whitethroat and Purple Grenadier in the roadside trees, as I joined Sarah on the near side of the hill a Subalpine Warbler flew into our side of the acacia, I said to Sarah “Subalpine” – look at the pink breast and red eye-ring, the bird probably stayed there for 20 seconds with us both watching it but as this wasn’t a particular target and I didn’t realise the rarity value, I’ve seen loads in southern Europe and even in Africa on Gambia trips - rookie mistake I didn’t photograph it; it flew off into the trees behind with the Whitethroat – Abel told me after we failed to re-find the bird that there was only unconfirmed records in Ethiopia. So with no photo evidence and no real rarities committee to submit a sighting to this will be another unconfirmed record – but it definitely occurs here, either on late passage or possibly over wintering and I’m sure someone will get a conclusive sighting soon.

We stopped at a possible spot for Golden-breasted Bunting which Abel had heard a rumour for – from the distribution maps in the field guide it looks like a mistaken ID but after all the recent unseasonal rains who knows if it is a mis-reported Somalia Bunting or a Golden Breasted; anyway we stopped and looked for the bird without success and only added Shelley’s Starling and Red-backed Shrike at this spot.

On the way back to town we saw White-bellied Bustard and Yellow-billed Kite but never picked up the hoped for Salvatori’s Seedeater.

Lazy afternoon watching the football (both Manchester clubs won) with an early start tomorrow on drive to Yabello it was early back to the room. While we were updating our bird lists I realised that it was possible that I could reach bird #5000 tomorrow if things went well.
 

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dandsblair

David and Sarah
Negele to Yabello

Day 16 Early start off at 04.15 in the dark to travel from Negele to Yabello, hope is to have some stops in safe areas. Hopefully drive will be event free – the other group got down without incident yesterday and hope is to find African White-winged Dove and a couple of other birds along the banks of the Dawa River on the way.

On our first stop, once it was just about light and we were miles from anywhere, we saw Eastern Chanting Goshawk, Shikra, Vulturine Guineafowl, Bare-faced Go-away-bird, Black-throated and Red-and-yellow Barbets, Pale Prinia, Yellow-vented Eremomela and Western Banded Snake Eagle.

Next stop was much better when Abel had Begashaw back up the car and there were two stunning Golden-breasted Starlings on the horizon, we also added Blue-headed Coucal, White-browed Scrub Robin, Red-fronted Warbler, Slate-coloured Boubou, Hemprich’s Hornbill and a Scaly Chatterer.
Mammals were rather sparse, but we saw loads of Günther’s Dikdik and Olive Baboon.

Our last stop before the Dawa River added, Somali Crombec, Northern White-crowned Shrike, Wattled Starling and Grey-capped Social Weaver.

Things were interesting as we approached the small town near the Dawa River, Begashaw had earlier put some black material on his rear window (some signal / symbol we thought) and we could tell the guys were tense. In this one-street little town we stopped at an informal checkpoint manned by armed locals – Abel wished them well asked how they were and if there was anything they needed, they said they were fine but could use some help for the children, some money changed hands and we were given a receipt.
We then stopped 100m further on at the edge of the village while Abel went to buys some water – a ruse I think, we were able to see and photograph the African White-winged Dove while he did so, just before the drive across the bridge to the army checkpoint. When we crossed the bridge it was clear the soldiers were relaxed and chatty – it was agreed we could get out of the car and go down to the river for up to 15 minutes, just time to add Brown-tailed Apalis (split from Yellow-breasted), Pygmy Batis, Taita Fiscal, and Chestnut Sparrow and Somali Bunting and take a comfort stop in the bushes.

When we got back in the car we had to stop a short while later at the next unofficial checkpoint, same ritual of giving a donation but much more relaxed as there were a few soldiers also sitting chatting and relaxing alongside the locals.

We didn’t really stop again until Yabello as we wanted to get there for lunch and to make some arrangements for the afternoon. Although we passed quite a few somali refugee areas everything was now much more relaxed and the black cloth was removed from the rear window. I don’t really know how dangerous the area was; on-line the last incident was ages ago but Abel said the police and army always say that things are Ok but flare-ups are pretty regular and can be triggered by the most trivial thing. We bumped into a Dutch/Danish birding group – who arrived at Yabello just after dark, they had decided to go the long way round (12 hour drive) as they didn’t want to take on the Dawa River area so they missed quite a few nice birds but they thought that was safest.

Abel had managed to get a local scout who had helped scientists monitor local birds to guide us today and tomorrow, however he was on leave from work and was high on chat when they picked him up, so he wasn’t much good for guiding today but at least he would tick the box in us having a local guide.

This afternoon was all about finding the Bushcrow and it would be a significant bird if I didn’t see anything new before it. We drove the 15K to the local nature reserve. The guide directed us to an area where the birds had been a couple of days or so before but all we saw here was D’ Arnaud’s Barbet, Red-fronted Tinker-bird, Superb Starling and Long-billed Pipit. Our guide between chewing more chat and selling Ruby and other gems on his phone (seriously this guy was a local player), he stopped long enough to call a colleague and we then drove to a village in the reserve with a cattle pen area. When we stopped we found three Streseman’s Bushcrow in a tree. The discovery of the extraordinary Stresemann’s Bush-crow, described only in 1938, represents one of the most remarkable ornithological events in Africa the last century – for me it was bird number 5000 and a very special one too.

Ideally we wanted a good photograph so I asked if they responded to playback – unsure was the response. So I put the speaker on a tree and one bird flew immediately over to investigate, Abel then moved the speaker onto a feed tray; here the three birds we had seen and 9 others came close to investigate it was weird seeing them jumping on and off the trough looking nothing like corvids. We now had a crowd enjoying the fun but having enjoyed the birds I said it was time to stop teasing them and I stopped the calling, but the birds stayed around just acting like Babblers or Starlings on the ground until we left.

The only birds added on the way back were Tiny Cisticola and Chestnut-weaver, with Bristle-crowned Starling in the motel car park. Our scout did try to get us on White-tailed Swallow – it probably was one but I wasn’t for counting the bird on the views we had. Abel persuaded Oroko, the name of our park scout to stay local overnight so he would be fit to go out early with us tomorrow to hopefully find a Francolin that he had helped guide the scientists who split it work on.
 

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birdmeister

Well-known member
United States
Big congratulations on your milestone, David! What a stunning bird to get it with, too.

Glad everyone stayed safe during the trip as well.
 

dandsblair

David and Sarah
Yabello

Day 17: We have to leave at 04.30 and be all packed, as we are going to a different accommodation later, and we need to be at the spot before sunrise. This interesting part of Ethiopia has an avifauna broadly similar to that of northern Kenya but at least 3 endemic birds that don’t stray across the border, as we drive around 100KM south to a new small National Park near Mega we are almost at the Kenyan border. We get out as it starts to lighten.
We split up and then the scout calls us so we think we have found the bird, but alas, no luck, it is a Crested Francolin, so we walk a bit further whilst Oroko joins Begashaw back at the car. We see only Speckled Pigeon, Common Bulbul and Grey-wren Warbler. We then see the guys waving and hurry back, there are two francolins on the rocks above them, one of them is a Crested but Oroko is adamant the other is Black-fronted Francolin, I’m not sure, as I think I misheard Abel or he told me it was split from the wrong Francolin (I thought Archer’s / Orange River), so I photographed the bird, zoomed in and said look this bird has pinkish bill, pale front with only a little black spotting at throat, at this point Oroko ripped open his jacket to show his t-shirt with the bird he had helped describe photographed on it, the first time I’ve ever had a positive bird ID from a clothing item! Of course once I knew it was split from Chestnut-naped it made sense.

We then got a call that a friend of Oroko’s was on a Somali Courser, so, back in the car to head back to Yabello area, however things took a turn for the worse when just short of our turning, we came across a minibus full of locals that had just had an accident resulting in them overturning on the road. Things looked quite bad: the bus was packed and was completely crushed with the windscreen and windows all broken and blood everywhere. As visiting Ferengi with no local knowledge or language, we didn’t know how to help but fortunately a lorry and another van were soon on the scene, but in the meantime our team were able to help the driver and a few others out of the vehicle and onto the roadside – fortunately we heard later there were no fatalities or serious injuries and everyone was able to be treated at the broken bones unit in the local clinic at Yabello.

It was hard to get our heads back engaged in birding after that trauma, however, we stopped for the Courser in the plains area; but the only ground birds were Crowned Plover and Black-winged Lapwings, we also saw Black-capped Social Weaver and Taita Fiscal.

A discussion about some larks and pipits got us back in the game, there was Tawny and Long-billed Pipit and both races of Foxy Lark and a Gillett’s Lark. The local guy then came through with the courser, I was encouraged to get close to photograph the bird but as I got over a dip it turned out there were 6 Somali Coursers another key target ticked off; the other star attraction of the area is the enchanting White-tailed Swallow and as we got back to the car, four of these great little birds were flying over the car, they did eventually perch but I never did get a photo with the White-tail fully visible. We then were lucky to see a Somali Sparrow although he wasn’t in full breeding plumage he was still a nice bird that Abel found. Only other birds were a trip first of Yellow-throated Spurfowl, White-headed Vulture and a dozen Streseman’s Bushcrows by today no longer as special as yesterday.

It was now time to have breakfast and as we shared our sandwiches I think everyone was now feeling better particularly as Begashaw just heard the driver only had broken ribs, a broken arm and concussion.

We had one last big target for the morning we headed to an area of acacia scrub by the road for a difficult to see Bush-shrike. We heard the bird almost immediately but it took us almost 45 minutes of trying before we got a decent view, I didn’t have this call downloaded so Abel after over half an hour of whistling and clucking was completely dry of mouth, still we did get a completely open view of Red-naped Bush-shrike – the bird is much more clearly marked and much more colourful than the field guide plate but I didn’t even try to photograph it as I struggled to get Sarah on it when it eventually came out.
While we were trying we also saw Ethiopian and Slate-coloured Boubou, Purple Roller, Brubru, Acacia Tit and Pygmy Batis. In was now nearly lunch time so we headed to Borena Lodge where we were staying tonight, it has much better birding than the motel but when we arrived there was no security at the entrance, no reception staff and no restaurant team, it looked like everyone had gone when the sunbirder group left this morning. Abel wasn’t keen on leaving us here alone as they were still staying at the motel, so we went back to Yabello Motel and Ethiopian Quadrants managed to change our booking – we were in the same room so we could have saved 15 minutes packing and loading the car this morning (we heard afterward that the Nightjars weren’t seen at Borena Lodge on the last two nights anyway).
On the way out Sarah and Begashaw saw a Crimson-rumped Waxbill. Abel and I missed it as we were looking at a Black-shouldered Kite on the other side.

After lunch we were due to just have the afternoon at leisure but Abel knocked on our door, he had Begashaw standing guard on a Grey-headed Bush-shrike, fortunately he was still keeping an eye on it as it fed on Locusts in the grounds, we saw and photographed the bird before having a coffee ceremony in the grounds.
 

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dandsblair

David and Sarah
The final bit

Day 18 After some final birding in the motel area, Bristle-crowned and Superb Starling, Swainson’s Sparrow, Laughing Dove and White-headed Buffalo Weaver.

We then travelled north to Lake Hawassa for an overnight at United Africa hotel, on the drive we stopped at a village called Kafe where coffee is rumoured to have first been taken as a drink, we of course tried some and very good it was too. On the drive we did see a few birds; Wattled Ibis, Woolly-necked Stork, Pale-chanting Goshawk, Hooded Vulture, Fan-tailed Raven, Abyssinian Ground Hornbill, and African Citril. We arrived well before dark so had time for a little birding along the path and on the lakeside and added Goliath Heron, African Paradise Flycatcher, Malachite Kingfisher, African Jacana, Black Crake, Sacred Ibis, Hammerkop. Nubian Woodpecker, Banded Barbet, Willow Warbler, Olive Sunbird, Grey-headed Gull and African Darter.

There were also some Colubus monkeys. Just before dark there was really heavy thunderstorm so over to dinner under umbrellas and no thought of looking for night birds in the heavy rain.
We had spoken to Abel and Begashaw about our last couple of days – plan was to drive to Welliso and then do birding in the Gibe valley before returning to Addis, Abel didn’t know the area well and Begashaw wasn’t very sure of the best stops so they were questioning if we should do it or change plans, Abel was phoning Mehret for advice, after dinner we had a chat with Abiy (our originally planned guide) he was there with a Naturetrek general wildlife tour and hadn’t had a great time on his last couple of trips, most guests violently ill on the last tour and this group seemed pretty grumpy, anyway he said it was definitely worth going to the Gibe Valley as it was best place for Egyptian Plover and Abyssinian Waxbill and the fields offered some possibilities of sandgrouse and other birds. Abel had come to same conclusion after chat to Mehret and had a local contact.

Day 19: Lake Hawassa is a freshwater lake, quite different from the alkaline lakes to the north, surrounded by small patches of remnant forest, we had a short walks in the forest before and after breakfast adding White-browed Robin Chat, African Thrush, Double-toothed Barbet, Red-billed Firefinch and Woodland Kingfisher. We then visited the fish market which is famous as a place to get really close to a variety of species that are very used to human company, disappointingly there were no Thick-billed Ravens today, just lots of Marabou, Pink-backed Pelican, Hammerkop and Black-winged Stilts getting the fish scraps. On the water and on the posts were Black and Whiskered Tern, Osprey, Greenshank and Pied Kingfisher. We then entered the local park that adjoins the lake adding Speckled Mousebird, Silvery-cheeked Hornbill, Squacco Heron, Beautiful Sunbird and then the bird of the morning African Cuckoo Hawk.

Although it had been cloudy all morning the rain stayed away and it wasn’t until we headed over a mountain pass to Welliso that we were hit first by really thick fog and then torrential rain – this is the dry season? Only bird we saw of note on the drive was a very wet Long-crested Eagle sitting on a post.

It all meant that we only arrived at Negash Lodge just minutes before dark, so almost a complete waste of time although in a short easement in the rain from our room balcony which was quite distant from the main building (room Afar 4 which was local in design); I heard and then spotted a Greyish Eagle Owl. However it was real shame we would see almost nothing of the extensive grounds in the lodge as we would be off early to get to Gibe Gorge tomorrow.

Day 20 Early morning alarm, the rain was off but by the time we got down to the main building – due to meet Abel and Begashaw at 4.45 it started to rain. No sign of the guys or any lodge staff, so I went back and got the large case, still no sign of anyone, so under an umbrella I walked to the main entrance – I then heard the security guy who had been asleep opening the gate. Eventually we got off just after 5am, after about an hour a few kilometers before the newly gazette park we picked up a guide and headed down to the Gibe Gorge to hopefully see some good birds. The track down to the river was extremely wet, Begashaw was almost stuck in the mud so we walked the last bit and immediately when we reached the river I could see we had a problem; the river was really full and the exposed areas of rocks where Egyptian Plover breed were mostly submerged – the guide pointed to an area where they had been only 2 days before but all we saw were Senegal thick-knee, Spur-winged Plover and African Wattled Lapwing with a few Hippo nearby, we tried a few other places but with the same result, so the crocodile bird remains a bogey bird for us, missed twice in Gambia, once in Ghana and now here due to mix of timing and water levels. Worse news was to follow this was the third day of unseasonal rain in the area and the farmers in trying to get their crops in had turned the tracks into muddy quagmires so even if the Sandgrouse were still around we wouldn’t be seeing them.
The rain and mist then descended and we climbed despondently back to the road, we called in Snowy-crowned Robin Chat for poor views only a Mocking Chat came close and although we saw a small flock of Waxbills they didn’t come close – the views were so poor that I couldn’t tell for sure if they were Zebra/Orange-bellied (as I thought they were) or Abyssinian as suggested by the guide. A really poor end to the birding itinerary.

So although Welliso/Gibe Valley was recommended to us with hindsight we would have been better doing another day on the Lake or getting back closer to Addis for some mountain birding.

We had a room back at the Ghion Hotel and Sarah and I had a last walk around the grounds adding a few birds like Tacazze Sunbird, African Dusky Flycacther, Mountane Thrush, Red-winged Starling and Wattled Ibis.


In the evening we had a really good BBQ meal at the Roadrunner Bar where we met up with Tony Hickey the owner of Quadrant and also had time to share a drink with Steve Rook and exchange notes – unsurprisingly they saw more birds but not the Bale Parisoma which along with Salvatori’s Seedeater were the only target endemics we had missed. They also as we knew saw the Egyptian Plover, however we got a few they didn’t.
Our early morning flight from Addis and then our afternoon connection from Istanbul to Manchester both went to plan.
 

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dandsblair

David and Sarah
Summary

Summary

Whilst it is hard not to think of the problems Ethiopia faced in the past. We found the country to be surprisingly fertile and remarkably scenic with friendly people almost everywhere we travelled. We found most of the endemic birds we were looking for during our trip and the other wildlife was also pretty special with both the rarest canine and primate in the world fairly easy to see in the Bale Mountains.

We were very well looked after by Abel and Begashaw and the Ethiopian Quadrants teams logistics worked pretty well.

We agreed our top 5 birds were Prince Ruspoli’s Turaco, Rouget’s Rail, Streseman’s Bushcrow, Abyssinian Owl and Rosy-patch Bush Shrike.
 

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dandsblair

David and Sarah
Complete report

PDF attached for anyone who wants a slightly easier read
 

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