16-Day Ethiopia Birding Tour
Birding in Ethiopia offers a bird list of more than 850 species with an amazing 40 endemic or near-endemic and a further 35 globally threatened species. The unique country is also home to very peculiar mammals and scenic diversity and definitely a must for your birding wishlist.
Private and small group, birding tours can be booked on request for your preferred travel dates
Next Group Tour Departure Dates: 15 November 2021 / 1 November 2022
Full Itinerary – Ethiopia Birding Tour
Tour starts in Addis Ababa, transfer to Debre Zeyit/Bishoftu
Welcome to Ethiopia, land of contrasts! Your fantastic birding safari will start as soon as you touch down at the Addis Ababa Bole International Airport in the country’s capital.
Despite sometimes feeling traffic-choked, Addis (as the locals call it) is a magical place, full of life, colour, excellent museums, handcraft markets, beautiful churches and wonderful restaurants. It is also a safe city and boasts wonderful sunny weather. If you feel a little out of breath upon landing here, don’t be alarmed; you are at an elevation of 2,355 metres (7,726 ft) above sea level, making Addis the 4th highest capital city in the world. It is located crossroads-like right in the middle of the country.
You will be met by your Nature Travel guide or driver at the airport, we will pack our bags in our comfortable, airconditioned vehicle and we will transfer to our comfortable hotel about 90 minutes away to the southeast.
During our drive it might be a good time to learn a bit about beautiful Ethiopia. Most experts consider it the origin of mankind, with “Lucy”, a 3.2 million year old humanoid fossil found here being housed in the country’s National Museum. Currently it is a melting pot of different cultures, ethnic groups and religions, all living in perfect harmony. It is the most populous landlocked country in the world (110 million inhabitants), and yet as soon as you venture out of the cities it feels wonderfully desolate. It is not the uniform thirstland that Western news agencies would have you believe; it is an incredibly scenic country, boasting some of the most dramatically beautiful mountains on the African continent, but also vast Rift valley lakes and of course the legendary Blue Nile river. Further adding to the country’s unique character is the fact that it has its own alphabet and its own calendar; it’s still 2010 in Ethiopia! And don’t forget about Ethiopia’s coffee; some of the best on earth!
The only country on the continent that has never been colonised is, geographically speaking, a vast highland complex of mountains and dissected plateaus divided by the Great Rift Valley, which runs generally southwest to northeast and is surrounded by lowlands, steppes, or semi-desert. Ecologically there are a range of different habitats, from deserts along the eastern border to the tropical forests in the south to extensive Afromontane forests in the northern and southwestern parts. The varied habitats and big altitudinal differences within the country has led to some wonderful evolutionary adaptations and certain species living in relative isolation. Ethiopia has 31 endemic species of mammals, 40 endemic or near-endemic bird species and many other wonderful smaller fauna species.
We will arrive at our accommodation in the resort town of Bishoftu (previously called Debre Zeyit) and check in. We will have some time to acclimatise; we are at 1,920 metres (6,300 ft) above sea level after all! This resort town has been a weekend retreat destination for Addis inhabitants since the imperial era.
Our traditional Ethiopian-style lodge boasts stunning views over a round scenic crater lake. A short walk in the gardens could produce some very cool birds for us, including Speckled Mousebird, near-endemic Black-winged Lovebird, African Dusky Flycatcher, African Paradise Flycatcher, Green-backed Camaroptera, Heuglin’s White-eye, Red-cheeked Cordon-bleu and more.
If we have time we will visit 3 lakes close by; circular Babogaya Lake, shallow Lake Chelekleka and pretty Hora Lake are all on the menu. Marabou Storks and Common Cranes often roost here in incredibly large numbers; an intimidating sight! The lake attracts migratory waterfowl and shorebirds, with Northern Pintail, Northern Shoveler, Garganey, Eurasian and Hottentot Teal, Tufted Duck, Black-tailed Godwit, and Temminck’s Stint being among the more commonly-seen species. We also can expect to find the resident Maccoa Duck floating among the migrants, and will keep a careful eye out for White-backed Duck, which is occasionally found here as well. The lakes also sometimes host huge numbers of flamingos and pelicans; a fabulous sight!
Other birds we are likely to see include Pied Avocet, African Sacred and Glossy Ibis, Hamerkop, Black-winged Stilt, Black-crowned Night and Squacco Heron, Little Grebe, Gull-billed Tern, Spur-winged Lapwing, Great, Little and Intermediate Egret, Green Sandpiper and many more. The surrounding grasslands might hold Northern Red Bishop, Nyanza Swift, Red-rumped Swallow, Swainson’s Sparrow, Red-billed Quelea, Western Yellow Wagtail, Red-billed Firefinch, Eurasian Hoopoe, Baglafecht Weaver, African Citril, Blue-breasted and European Bee-eater, Abyssinian White-eye and many others.
We will get together for dinner at the owner-managed lodge. There is never a dull moment when it comes to Ethiopian food! It characteristically consists of a range of vegetables and often very spicy meat dishes. This is usually in the form of wat, a thick curry-type stew, served atop the famous injera, a large sourdough, pancake-like flatbread which is about 50 centimetres (20 inches) in diameter and made out of fermented teff grass flour. Another popular Ethiopian dish is tibs, a sizzling dish of sautéed meat and vegetables. It is usually served on a hot plate, and fried with some onions and oil. Ethiopians usually eat with their right hands, using pieces of injera to pick up food and sauces instead of using utensils. Use your hands and enjoy!
We will discuss our plans and the target fauna and flora species for the exciting tour ahead, so that everyone gets a chance to enjoy themselves fully and create memories that will last a lifetime. We will then retreat to our rooms for our first night on tour in Africa!
Bishoftu, transfer to Awash National Park
We will enjoy an early breakfast at our lodge. Typically served for breakfast, firfir is a spicy, tangy dish that gives you plenty of energy you need for the day. It is generally made with shredded injera, spiced clarified butter and spicy berbere powder. Unlike most Ethiopian dishes, firfir is usually eaten with a spoon. And of course the best thing to wash it down with is some world class local coffee! The local, espresso-style buna is normally served with 2 spoons of sugar and is rich, sweet and wonderful!
Our birding begins around dawn this morning with another excursion to Lake Hora and the second part of Lake Chelekleka nearby. Blue-breasted Bee-eater, Rüppell’s Weaver, African Citril, Beautiful and Tacazze Sunbird, Black-billed and (near-endemic) Banded Barbet, near-endemic Black-winged Lovebird, near-endemic Blanford’s Lark, near-endemic Wattled Ibis, near-endemic Ethiopian Boubou, near-endemic Rüppell’s Black Chat, near-endemic Brown-rumped Seedeater, African Spotted Creeper and Red-throated Wryneck are all our targets this morning.
Our morning in Bishoftu will pass by all too quickly, but we need to leave by lunchtime in order to make our way to our next destination, Awash National Park. The 170 km (106 mi) trip there would take less than three hours if we drove straight through, but we will stop several times along the way to add roadside birds to our list. Near the park, a lava field (the remains of a volcanic eruption that occurred sometime in the early 19th century) will offer us our best chances for Striolated Bunting, Blackstart, and the rare and little-known Sombre Rock Chat (a near-endemic).
We will check in to our accommodation near the southwest corner of the Awash National Park. We will get together to update our trip lists, to have dinner and some socialising and then we are off to bed for a good night’s sleep.
Awash National Park
We will have an almost full day to bird in this wonderful, low-key park.
We will start with an early breakfast accompanied by some excellent coffee, and then set off. The early start today will help us to make the most of our limited time in Awash National Park.
Awash covers 756 km2 (292 sq mi) of acacia woodland and grassland north of the Awash river. The park was established in 1966 and has two distinct parts; the Illala Saha Plains to the south and the Kudu Valley to the north, separated by the Addis Ababa – Dire Dawa highway that passes through the park. Although it is Ethiopia’s most popular park, don’t expect Africa’s Big Five here! Wildlife include Beisa Oryx, Soemmerring’s Gazelle, Gerenuk, Salt’s Dikdik, Greater and Lesser Kudu, Aardvark, Spotted Hyaena, African Golden Wolf, Black-backed Jackal, Northern Lesser Galago, as well as Olive and Hamadryas Baboon. There are also stunning waterfalls, riverine forests, wetlands, dramatic volcanic landscapes and hot springs.
Over 450 bird species have been documented from within the park’s borders, a total that few (if any) other places in Ethiopia can match. We will start our morning by birding in riverine forests along the beautiful Awash river, and then will head north to spend most of our day exploring the park’s savannas and Acacia woodlands.
Our primary targets today and tomorrow will be the park’s six species of bustard (Kori, Arabian, Buff-crested, White-bellied, Black-bellied, and Hartlaub’s), the gorgeous Northern Carmine Bee-eater, and the near-endemic Gillett’s Lark.
We will, of course, find many other species as well, and the day’s highlights might include Somali Ostrich, Egyptian and Lappet-faced Vulture, Bateleur, Tawny and Greater Spotted Eagle, African Harrier-Hawk, Scissor-tailed Kite, Shikra, Verreaux’s Eagle-Owl, Pearl-spotted Owlet, nocturnal Three-banded Courser, Yellow-necked Spurfowl, beautiful Bruce’s Green Pigeon, Northern Carmine Bee-eater, Abyssinian and Lilac-breasted Roller, Yellow-breasted Barbet, Greater Honeyguide, Somali Fiscal, Chestnut-headed Sparrow-Lark, Rosy-patched Bushshrike, Shining and Nile Valley Sunbird, Yellow-bellied Eremomela, Red-billed Quelea, Ashy Cisticola and many others.
Awash is also one of a handful of locations in central Ethiopia from which birders have reported seeing an as-yet undescribed species of “cliff swallow”, and we will examine any flocks of swallows we find in hope of glimpsing that mysterious bird. We might become famous!
We will exit the park in the late afternoon and overnight at our chosen accommodation in the small town of Awash. We will stay here for two nights. The restaurant here is excellent – try the roasted chicken! We will update our lists and get a good night’s rest.
Aledeghi Wildlife Reserve
We start with breakfast and coffee in the restaurant this morning.
We then drive to the Aledeghi Wildlife Reserve, in the southern part of the Afar Region at the norteastern mouth of the Abyssinian Rift Valley, northeast of Awash. We will explore this wonderful reserve for the rest of day. This remote, little-visited, wild reserve covers 1,800 km2 (695 sq mi) of grasslands, wooded rises and mountains and is a favourite “secret” spot of ours.
The plains and Acacia woodlands here offer us our best chance of finding the Arabian Bustard, and are also home to the endangered Grevy’s Zebra, the largest of Africa’s three zebra species.
We will also search for Secretarybird, Martial and Short-toed Snake Eagle, Dark Chanting Goshawk, Common and Lesser Kestrel, Black-headed Lapwing, Chestnut-bellied, Yellow-throated and Lichtenstein’s Sandgrouse, Crested Francolin, Namaqua Dove, Red-throated and Little Bee-eater, Blue-naped Mousebird, White-headed Buffalo Weaver, Rüppell’s and Superb Starling, Northern Wheatear, Tawny Pipit, Menetries’s Warbler, Red-winged Lark, Chestnut-backed Sparrow-Lark, Scaly and Rufous Chatterer, Vitelline Masked Weaver, Northern Crombec, African Silverbill and many others.
Being contiguous with Awash National Park, we will again have the opportunity to see many of the bird and mammal species that we looked for yesterday. As an added, although rare, bonus, Aledeghi has a few Lion prides, and with lots of luck we could see these iconic African cats. There are also fairly regular reports of Cheetah and Leopard sightings. It is far more likely that we will see the zebras though, along with Beisa Oryx, Soemmerring’s Gazelle, Gerenuk, Desert Warthog and Hamadryas Baboon.
The cultural interaction with the local Afar people is amongst the best in Ethiopia, with some very nice little villages that can easily be visited if there is time and interest. The Afar are mainly livestock holders, and in addition, are reputed for their martial prowess. Men traditionally sport the jile, a famous curved knife.
We will return to our hotel in Awash in the late afternoon, relax and complete our growing lists tonight, then sit down for dinner. Then we are off to bed for a good night’s rest; tomorrow a different part of our adventure starts.
Drive through the Rift Valley to Abijatta-Shalla National Park
We will have an early breakfast and check out of our accommodation in Awash.
We are heading southwest today, slowly making our way to the Abijatta-Shalla National Park where we will overnight after this travelling day. Keep your cameras ready, the scenery is fantastic!
Our first long birding stop will be at Lake Ziway, one of the fish-rich freshwater lakes of the Rift Valley. The lake is fed primarily by two rivers, the Meki from the west and the Katar from the east. Lake Ziway is 31 kilometers (19 miles) long and 20 km (12 miles) wide, with a surface area of 440 km2 (273 sq mi). It has a maximum depth of 9 metres (30 feet) and is at an elevation of 1,636 meters (5,368 ft) above sea level. The associated town of Ziway has developed into a hub for the production of flowers, vegetables and wine. In fact, the largest rose farm in the world is located right outside the town!
Lake Ziway is known for a monastery on one of its islands (set to have housed the Ark of the Covenant around the ninth century), a large population of Hippopotamus, and for birds! Vulnerable Black Crowned Crane, Saddle-billed Stork and Lesser Jacana are our main targets here, but we will also look for African Fish Eagle, Greater and Lesser Flamingo, Pink-backed Pelican, African Spoonbill, Knob-billed Duck, Southern Pochard, Red-billed Teal, African Pygmy Goose, Black Crake, Little Ringed and Common Ringed Plover, Kittlitz’s, Caspian and Whiskered Tern, Lesser Black-backed Gull, Silvery-cheeked Hornbill, Pied Kingfisher, abyssinicus subspecies of Village Weaver, Yellow-crowned Bishop, Red-throated Pipit, Brown-throated Martin and many others.
We will arrive at the Abijatta-Shalla National Park in the afternoon. It is a 887 km2 (342 sq mi) park that contains the Rift Valley lakes of Abijatta and Shalla, separated by a stretch of hilly land that boasts Mount Fike. Just to the east of the park is another beautiful body of water, Lake Langano. Our first birding excursion here will be to explore the thin forest near the headquarters of the park. Here we could see roosting Western Barn Owl, White-bellied Go-away-bird, Black-billed, near-endemic Banded and Double-toothed Barbet, Eastern Grey Woodpecker and more.
Later we will explore the two lakes in the park. The incredibly blue Lake Shalla is the deepest lake in the Rift, and has a steep shoreline (it is a crater lake), so it is largely devoid of waterbirds and waders, though some species breed on the lake’s several islands. Abijatta is very different, being shallow and brackish. Species we could tick at these two lakes include Greater and Lesser Flamingo (potentially thousands!), Northern Shoveler, Southern Pochard, Cape Teal, terns, plovers, sandpipers, gulls, Collared Pratincole, Abdim’s Stork, Senegal Thick-knee, Western Yellow Wagtail and many others.
Both lakes are surrounded primarily by Acacia woodland, where we might find Western Banded Snake Eagle, Greyish Eagle-Owl, near-endemic Black-billed Woodhoopoe, Abyssinian Ground, Hemprich’s and Von der Decken’s Hornbill, Clapperton’s Spurfowl, Red-throated Wryneck, Bearded and Cardinal Woodpecker, Brubru, Black-crowned Tchagra, African Pygmy Kingfisher, Black-winged Lovebird, Buff-bellied Warbler, Red-faced Crombec, Western Black-headed Batis, African and Little Rock Thrush, Red-billed Oxpecker, near-endemic White-rumped Babbler, White-winged Black Tit, Mocking Cliff Chat, Beautiful and Marico Sunbird, White-headed Buffalo Weaver and many other species.
Unfortunately most of the animals that historically occurred in the park are not here anymore, but we could still see Grant’s Gazelle, Oribi and even Spotted Hyaena.
After our exciting day we will check into our beautifully-located accommodation in the park and freshen up. Then it’s time for dinner and updating our lists before falling asleep after another great day’s birding and sightseeing.
Abijatta-Shalla to Bale Mountains National Park
We start our day with breakfast and some excellent coffee again. If we wish to do so, we can go birding early this morning in the area around the lodge.
After breakfast, we will begin the roughly 5 hour drive southeast to the famous Bale Mountains National Park. Before long, we will climb back into the highlands, where we will find endemic Blue-winged Goose, near-endemic Wattled Ibis, near-endemic Rouget’s Rail and endemic Spot-breasted Lapwing in wet places along the roadside. Careful searching in forests along the way might also yield us a roosting Cape Eagle-Owl.
The road will begin to wind along steep mountainsides as we enter the park. The 2,220 km2 (860 sq mi) park was established in 1970 and has one of the highest incidences of animal endemicity of any terrestrial habitat in the world. The park contains the Bale mountains and the Sanetti plateau in the southeastern Ethiopian highlands. The park is divided into five distinct and unique habitats: the northern grasslands, northern woodlands, Afro-alpine meadows (Sanetti Pleateau), Erica moorlands, and the Harenna forest. The mammal-rich park holds a quarter of Ethiopia’s endemic species including one primate (Bale Mountains Vervet), one bovid (Mountain Nyala), one hare, eight rodent species, the entire global population of the endangered Big-headed Mole Rat as well as over half of the global population of the iconic Ethiopian Wolf, the rarest canid in the world. There are also several rare and endemic amphibians, along with more than 1,300 flowering plant species. The forests of the Bale mountains are also important for genetic stocks of wild forest Coffee Coffea arabica and for medicinal plants in Ethiopia. Luckily for us, Bale (as the locals call it) is also an avian paradise and has been rated by the African Bird Club as the number four birding site in Africa!
Before long, we will arrive at the park headquarters in Dinsho. We will spend our afternoon birding along the trails here. Our primary targets here are near-endemic Chestnut-naped Francolin and, with some luck, roosting African Wood and near-endemic Abyssinian Owl.
We will also keep our eyes out for near-endemics such as Abyssinian Slaty Flycatcher, Ethiopian Boubou, Brown-rumped Seedeater, White-backed Black Tit and Thick-billed Raven, and endemics like Ethiopian Siskin and Abyssinian Catbird. Other birds we could see include Hooded and White-backed Vulture, Augur Buzzard, Abyssinian Ground and Groundscraper Thrush, African Olive Pigeon, Rüppell’s Robin-Chat, Streaky Seedeater, African Stonechat, near-endemic Ethiopian Cisticola, Brown Woodland Warbler, Yellow-bellied Waxbill and many others. Also look out for the griseiventris subspecies of Brown Parisoma, considered by some authorities to be a full species, “Bale Parisoma”.
In terms of mammals, Dinsho is also one of the best places to find the rare and endangered Mountain Nyala (which is found only in a handful of high-elevation areas of Ethiopia east of the Great Rift Valley), the meneliki subspecies of Bushbuck (an endemic, dark-coloured, long-haired subspecies of the widespread bushbuck) and Desert Warthog (endemic to the Horn of Africa).
We will retire to our hotel just outside the park in the late afternoon. The hotel is surrounded by spacious gardens and has a very good restaurant. It is our home for the next two nights.
We will get together for dinner and then head to our rooms for a good night’s sleep; tomorrow we spend the entire day in the park!
Sanetti Plateau (Bale Mountains National Park)
Once again our day will start with an early breakfast and coffee at the hotel.
An early start this morning will help us to make the most of our limited time in Bale Mountains National Park. We will spend most of the day today birding the Sanetti Plateau, which in addition of offering excellent birding is the best place to find the beautiful, rare, and endemic Ethiopian Wolf. On our way there, we will pass through forests dominated by juniper and Hagenia, which offer us an excellent opportunity to find African Goshawk, Rufous-breasted Sparrowhawk, near-endemic White-cheeked Turaco, near-endemic Abyssinian Woodpecker, endemic White-backed Black Tit, endemic Abyssinian Catbird, Abyssinian Ground Thrush, African Hill Babbler, Cinnamon Bracken Warbler, Heuglin’s White-eye and a variety of other species.
The Sanetti Plateau, which lies between 3,800m and 4,377m (12,540 and 14,444ft) above sea level, is covered by Afro-alpine moorland, a moist habitat characterized by low shrubs and grasses and by Ethiopia’s strange-looking endemic species of Giant Lobelia. This habitat supports very large rodent populations (including that of the Big-headed Mole Rat, found only here), which support the aforementioned Ethiopian Wolf and also attract a myriad of raptors.
We will be driving on Africa’s highest road while we search for new species and marvel at the stunning scenery around us in this Important Bird Area. This is also the best place to see three endemics: Blue-winged Goose, Rouget’s Rail (which is especially confiding here) and Spot-breasted Lapwing. Although we likely will have seen those species already, we can expect to get our best look at them here.
Other specialties we will search for here include near-endemic Chestnut-naped Francolin, endemic Moorland Francolin, endemic Abyssinian Longclaw, near-endemic White-collared Pigeon, Wattled Crane, near-endemic Wattled Ibis, African Snipe, Thekla’s Lark, Red-breasted Wheatear, leucoptera subspecies of White-browed Scrub Robin and Moorland Chat. Interestingly, the plateau supports breeding populations of three species not usually associated with tropical Africa: Ruddy Shelduck, Red-billed Chough and Golden Eagle.
We will have an excellent dinner back at the hotel restaurant and update our lists after a fantastic day in magical Bale. Then we are off to bed for a good night’s rest.
Bale to Negele
We will start our day with an early breakfast and then we are off, heading south.
We depart the Bale Mountains for southern Ethiopia’s dry savannas, where we will spend the next four full days. Before we leave the highlands behind, we will devote some time to birding in the Harenna Forest. It is the largest intact forest block in Ethiopia and Africa’s largest protected Afro-alpine forest. Targets during our time here include Ayres’s Hawk-Eagle, Crowned Eagle, African Olive Pigeon, Lemon and Tambourine Dove, African Emerald Cuckoo, Abyssinian Woodpecker, Ethiopian Oriole, Narina Trogon, Red-fronted and Yellow-fronted Tinkerbird, Lesser Honeyguide, Brown Parisoma, Abyssinian Crimsonwing, African Citril, Black Saw-wing, Black-and-white Mannikin and Yellow-crowned Canary.
The forest also theoretically holds a Lion and African Wild Dog population, but these are very rarely seen. We might get lucky and see the huge Forest Hog though!
As we follow the road south, we will lose altitude, and the moist forest will give way to a dry thorn savanna. From the vehicle we could pick up a few extra birds, including Red-and-yellow Barbet, Northern White-crowned Shrike, Golden-breasted, Shelley’s and Superb Starling, Black Scimitarbill, Northern Red-billed and Eastern Yellow-billed Hornbill and of course the ubiquitous Helmeted Guineafowl.
We will make several birding stops along the way, most notably at the spot where the road crosses the Genale River, where we will search the fruiting fig trees along its banks for the legendary, much sought-after, endemic and vulnerable Ruspoli’s Turaco. Prince Ruspoli was an Italian aristocrat, naturalist and explorer, who in the early 1890s he went on an expedition to Ethiopia to collect new bird species. Sadly halfway through his visit he was killed by an elephant. His collecting bag contained a specimen of colourful, long-tailed bird about the size of a pheasant – clearly a new species of turaco. However, he had omitted to label the bird with the location where it had been shot. The turaco remained a mystery for another half century. Then, in the 1940s, it was rediscovered near the town of Negele, in the far south of the country, and was named in honour of its original discoverer.
We then continue to the town of Negele, famous for not much apart from its excellent Sunday markets and the superb birding in the area. We will get together for dinner in our basic but comfortable hotel, our home for the next two evenings.
We have been together for more than a week now, so it might be a good time to start chatting about trips we might have planned for the coming months and years; there are so many amazing places and birds to see! We will then head to bed for a good night’s rest.
Birding around Negele, including Liben Plain
This morning we will start with an early breakfast and then go out to target specific birds of the Negele area.
Our primary goal and top target for today will be to find the critically endangered and taxonomically interesting Archer’s Lark, also called the Sidamo Lark or Liben Lark (depending on which nomenclature system you follow), which survives only in a small patch of marginal habitat on the Liben Plain, just to the east of Negele. This species belongs to the unusual genus Heteromirafra, which also includes South Africa’s Rudd’s Lark. Archer’s Lark is most easily found in the early through mid-morning, when males can be heard and seen singing loudly while hovering above the plain; we will make a very early start in order to give ourselves the best possible chance of watching their display. Sadly it could soon be the first bird on mainland Africa to become extinct since modern records began; less than 250 birds remain in existence!
In addition to the lark, we can expect to see Kori and White-bellied Bustard, White and Abdim’s Stork, Amur Falcon, Lesser Kestrel, Black-winged Lapwing, Temminck’s and Somali Courser, White-crowned Starling, Somali Short-toed Lark, Plain-backed Pipit, Reichenow’s Seedeater, Pectoral-patch Cisticola and Cut-throat Finch on the Liben Plains.
After the Liben Plain, we will explore the rest of the area further east of Negele. We will do our best to find the endemic Salvadori’s Seedeater, rare Golden Pipit and elusive Red-naped Bushshrike. We are also hoping to find Lizard Buzzard, Red-and-yellow and Red-fronted Barbet, Taita Fiscal, Somali Crombec, Three-streaked Tchagra, Foxy Lark, Tree Pipit, Golden-breasted and Shelley’s Starling, Somali Crow (also known as Dwarf Raven), Red-headed Weaver, Somali Bunting, Purple Grenadier, Yellow-spotted Bush Sparrow, Somali Tit, Ethiopian Swallow and many other species.
We will return to our hotel in Negele in the early evening, freshen up and have dinner while we update our lists. We will then enjoy a good night’s rest after hopefully having ticked what is considered to be one of the world’s 100 most threatened birds.
Negele to Yabelo
Today we again start with an early breakfast before we pack up and check out.
We will leave Negele on the road that heads south from the Liben Plain very early this morning in order to reach a spot where the road crosses the Dawa River shortly after dawn. This spot is an excellent place to find the neat-threatened White-winged Collared Dove, Von Der Decken’s Hornbill, Purple Roller, Juba and Black-capped Social Weaver, Straw-tailed Whydah, Mouse-coloured Penduline Tit, Pygmy Batis, Steel-blue Whydah, Black-cheeked Waxbill and Black-bellied Sunbird. We will relax and enjoy some good birding here.
After our early stop at the Dawa River, we will continue driving west toward Yabelo, where we will spend the night. On the way, we are likely to find Somali Courser, Vulturine Guineafowl, Red-and-yellow and Black-throated Barbet, Magpie Starling, Dodson’s Bulbul, Acacia Tit and other species characteristic of the dry savannahs that cover the region.
During the last portion of our drive, we will get our first views of the region’s two superstar birds: the charismatic, endemic and endangered Stresemann’s Bushcrow and the endemic and vulnerable White-tailed Swallow. Both species are curiously range-restricted, occurring only in the savannahs around the towns of Yabelo and Mega, characteristically dotted with giant red termite mounds. However, they both are quite common within that limited range, and we can expect to have many opportunities to watch them during the next couple of days. The Stresemann’s Bushcrow is another taxonomically interesting species; only discovered in 1938 and initially taxonomically moved from family to family, the species name was assigned in commemoration of the influential German ornithologist, Erwin Stresemann. It is also less commonly known as the Abyssinian Pie. As its name suggests, the species is assumed to be a member of the crow family Corvidae, but this has been widely debated in ornithological circles since the species’ first description. Currently it sits in its own unique genus with genetic analysis revealing its evolutionary history to be more related to that of the Asian Ground Jays.
After our long but exciting day we will arrive in the town of Yabelo and check into our basic accommodation. This is where we will stay for two nights. We will get together for dinner and update our growing trip lists, boasting about lifers and congratulating each other on some great photographs.
We will take a night drive on one of our nights in the Yabelo area in search of Donaldson Smith’s, Sombre, Star-spotted and Slender-tailed Nightjar, Greyish Eagle-Owl, Northern White-faced Owl and other nocturnal creatures.
Mega and Yabelo
We will start our day with a very early quick cup of coffee to get us going.
Then we drive down to the history-rich town of Mega, 100 km (60 miles) south of Yabelo, on a new asphalt road that goes all the way into Kenya. On the way we will look to add some new species to our trip lists, including Crowned Lapwing, D’arnaud’s Barbet, Greater Blue-eared Starling, Bare-eyed Thrush, Pringle’s Puffback, Slate-coloured Boubou, Red-billed Buffalo Weaver, Short-tailed Lark, Boran Cisticola, White-bellied Canary and many others.
We will then use the expertise of a local guide and try to find the endemic, endangered and very range-restricted Black-fronted Spurfowl in the hills surrounding this village. Recent studies have confirmed it to be the most endangered galliform bird of Africa. Other targets in this beautiful area, with its isolated mountains and lava plains, include Heuglin’s Bustard, Somali Bee-eater, Masked and Pink-breasted Lark, Donaldson Smith’s Sparrow-Weaver, Somali Sparrow and with a lot of luck even Quail-plover! In terms of mammals we could see Grevy’s Zebra and Gerenuk in the area.
In the afternoon, we bird in the arid savannahs around Yabelo. We will certainly enjoy watching the social Stresemann’s Bushcrow and pretty White-tailed Swallow. We will also find Bateleur, Eastern Chanting Goshawk, Somali and Three-banded Courser, Black-faced Sandgrouse, Red-bellied Parrot, Red-fronted and D’Arnaud’s Barbet, Red-naped Bushshrike, Pringle’s Puffback, Foxy Lark, Pale Prinia, Scaly Chatterer, Bare-eyed and Spotted Palm Thrush, Eastern Violet-backed and Hunter’s Sunbird, Golden-breasted and Magpie Starling, Yellow-spotted Bush Sparrow, Chestnut Weaver, Purple Grenadier, Black-capped Social and Grey-capped Social Weaver, White-bellied Canary and many more species characteristic of the dry savannahs that cover the region.
We will return to our hotel in Yabelo, get together to update our lists and then have some well-earned dinner in the restaurant while we chat about our amazing sightings of the day. Then we will retire to our rooms for a good night’s rest.
Yabelo, transfer to Lake Awassa
We will start with an early breakfast in the restaurant and then we head off northwards.
We will spend at least 5 hours of the day driving north toward Lake Awassa on a partly gravel road. We will break up the drive with some birding stops and also to stretch our legs and enjoy bathroom breaks.
One of the stops we will make is at Meda marsh, where some exciting species have turned up in the past. We will look for Red-necked Buzzard, Mountain Wagtail and others.
We will skirt past Lake Awassa on the last part of the drive north. It is another Rift Valley lake just south of Lakes Abijatta, Shalla and Langano that we visited earlier in our tour. Lake Awassa is 16 km (10 mi) long and 9 km (5.6 mi) wide, with a surface area of 129 km2 (80 sq mi). It has a maximum depth of 10 metres (33 feet) and is located at an elevation of 1,708 metres (5,603 feet) above sea level.
We will arrive at our hotel late in the afternoon, the former Résidence of the Emperor Hailé Sélassié, in the town of Wondo Genet. It is a resort town known for its hot springs and the primary forests that surround it. The hotel facilities include 54 ha area of land as well as swimming pools and access to the hot springs. The views from the restaurant are truly stunning.
We will freshen up after our travelling day, enjoy dinner and retire to our rooms early to get some good rest.
Morning birding at Wondo Genet, transfer to Debre Zeyit/Bishoftu
This morning we will have an early breakfast and then check out.
We will begin the day by birding in the primary forest of Wondo Genet with our local birding guide. Much of this beautiful patch of forest has been cut down but there are still some very productive patches for us to explore.
On the menu are a host of fantastic birds, including Scaly Spurfowl, Lemon and Tambourine Dove, the endemic Yellow-fronted Parrot, the near-endemic White-cheeked Turaco, stunning Narina Trogon, Silvery-cheeked Hornbill, Emerald-spotted Wood Dove, Double-toothed Barbet, Scaly-throated Honeyguide, the near-endemic Abyssinian Woodpecker, Red-shouldered and Grey Cuckooshrike, Slender-billed and Sharpe’s Starling, Abyssinian Ground Thrush, Half-collared Kingfisher, Yellow-fronted Tinkerbird, Eurasian Blackcap, Northern Puffback, melanota subspecies of Thick-billed Weaver, Brown-throated Wattle-eye, chubbi subspecies of Green Twinspot, Bronze Mannikin and many others. We will also look out for Guereza, a really beautiful monkey boasting a white beard and flowing white tail, as well as Grivet, another Old World monkey.
We will begin to make our way north toward by mid-morning. We will make some stops for birding and sightseeing along the way. We are passing by several stunning lakes on our way north, so keep the cameras close by! We are also bound to find some papaya and pineapple sellers next to the road, so if you fancy some fresh fruit we can make a deal with one of them!
We will once again overnight at the lodge in the resort town of Bishoftu/Debre Zeyit where we stayed the first night of the tour; a lifetime and many lifers ago!
We will get together for drinks on the lodge’s deck and enjoy the views before having dinner. Then we are off to bed and a good night’s rest.
Sululta Plain and Debre Libanos
We will start our day with an early breakfast and then head off north.
We start by driving to the Sululta Plain, situated just north of Addis Ababa. It is a wide, shallow valley with an elevation of 2,500 metres (8,200 feet) above sea level, almost completely surrounded by mountains with numerous small rivers which drain into the Muger river. The plain is swampy with some quite large areas of open water in the rainy season, but it reverts to grazing land during the dry months. Interestingly, the Kenenisa Camp, a high-altitude athletics training camp built by famous Olympian and multiple world record holder Kenenisa Bekele, is located in Sululta.
The wetlands here should yield an enjoyable mix of species, including the endemic Blue-winged Goose, near-endemic Wattled Ibis, endemic Spot-breasted Lapwing, near-endemic White-collared Pigeon, near-endemic Blanford’s Lark, endemic Abyssinian Longclaw, near-endemic Ethiopian Cisticola and endemic Ethiopian Siskin. A good variety of raptors are also usually present, and we could be rewarded with Rüppell’s, White-backed and Hooded Vulture, Tawny and Steppe Eagle, Augur Buzzard, Lanner Falcon, Eurasian Kestrel, Black Kite and many others. Other birds we could add to our trip lists include xanthomelas subspecies of Yellow Bishop, peasei subspecies of Common Waxbill, simensis subspecies of Groundscraper Thrush, Dusky Turtle Dove, ruppelli subspecies of Yellow-billed Duck, traversii subspecies of Fan-tailed Widowbird, uropygialis subspecies of Zitting Cisticola and many others.
We then venture further north to the town of Debre Libanos and its surroundings. Here we can search for the endemic Gelada Baboon, admire the view into the steep-sided gorges to the north of the town, and visit the Debre Libanos monastery (one of Ethiopia’s most important monasteries).
Birding around Debre Libanos might again yield us a look at the endemic and vulnerable Ankober Serin, though it’s not a sure thing. This is also one of the best places to look for the impressive Bearded and Rüppell’s Vulture, as well as the near-endemic White-collared Pigeon and Abyssinian Slaty Flycatcher. We are also likely to find Rüppell’s Black Chat, Speckled Mousebird, White-winged Cliff Chat, Tacazze Sunbird, Swainson’s Sparrow, Ethiopian Boubou, White-billed Starling, Ortolan Bunting and Singing Cisticola.
After our fantastic birding day we make our way a little northwest to the town of Fiche, famous for its beautiful churches and for being the home of some notable Ethiopian painters over the years. It is located at 2,738 metres (8,983 ft) above sea level.
We will have dinner in our basic hotel and update our trip lists. Then we are off to bed for a good night’s sleep; tomorrow another exciting day awaits!
Jemma Valley, transfer to Debre Berhan
We will start our final full day on the wonderful tour very early, with a quick cup of coffee and a snack.
Our target this morning will be the near-threatened Harwood’s Spurfowl, an endemic restricted to highland gorges cut by tributaries of the Blue Nile river. The best place to look for it is here, in the Jemma Valley. The birds are most easily found early in the morning, when they are at their most vocal. For that reason, we will make an early start this morning in order to arrive in the Jemma Valley shortly after dawn.
We will spend our entire morning birding in the Jemma Valley with its Acacia woodland, and in addition to Harwood’s Spurfowl we will seek out the endemic Red-billed Pytilia, near-endemic Erckel’s Spurfowl, near-endemic Rüppell’s Black Chat, near-endemic White-winged Cliff Chat, near-endemic White-billed Starling, near-endemic Swainson’s Sparrow and near-endemic Yellow-rumped Seedeater.
We can also expect to see many other more common and widespread species, the highlights among which might include Rüppell’s Vulture, Verreaux’s Eagle, African Hawk-Eagle, Augur Buzzard, Lanner and Peregrine Falcon, Nyanza Swift, Hemprich’s Hornbill, Namaqua and Blue-spotted Wood Dove, Klaas’s Cuckoo, Half-collared Kingfisher, Abyssinian Wheatear, Foxy Cisticola, Ethiopian Boubou, Cinnamon-breasted Bunting, Scarlet-chested Sunbird, Speckle-fronted Weaver, Black-winged Red Bishop, Yellow Bishop, Village Indigobird, Pin-tailed Whydah and Red-cheeked Cordon-bleu.
We will make our way to the city of Debre Berhan in the late afternoon and check into our hotel. The city (population 200,000) has an elevation of 2,840 metres (9,320 ft), which makes it the highest settlement of this size in Africa. It was an early capital of Ethiopia and afterwards, with Ankober and Angolalla, was one of the capitals of the kingdom of Shewa. These days Debre Berhan is a famed centre of rug making.
We will have some time to freshen up and then get together for our Nature Travel Birding farewell dinner, chatting about the fantastic Ethiopia trip we’ve had. Then we are off to our rooms for a final night’s sleep in this amazing country.
Debre Berhan, transfer to Addis Ababa and Departure
We will start our day with some more top coffee and breakfast. The tour isn’t quite over yet; we still have some birds to see this morning!
The vulnerable and endemic Ankober Serin is most reliably seen at a place called Gemessa Gedel, between Ankober and Debre Sina, and we will look for it there early this morning. Other interesting birds we will search for along the Debre Sina escarpment include Bearded Vulture, Verreaux’s Eagle, Wattled Ibis, White-collared Pigeon, Banded Barbet, Groundscraper Thrush, Moorland Chat, Shining Sunbird, Ethiopian Siskin and Brown-rumped Seedeater. We can also expect to encounter the Gelada Baboon in the highlands of Gemessa Gedel.
After lunch in Debre Berhan, we start our drive back to Addis Ababa. It will take us about 3 hours along Ethiopian Highway 2, and will give us some time to exchange e-mail addresses and chat about our personal highlights of the tour, surely having made friends for life.
And so an amazing Ethiopian birding tour, unfortunately, comes to an end. What a great time we had! After our arrival in the capital, we will transfer you to the airport for your onward or homeward international flight.
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