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ULTIMATE ETHIOPIA

Sunday 12th November - Monday 4th December 2017

NIK BORROW

Stresemann's Bushcrow, no.#1 endemic bird of Ethiopia! (Nik Borrow).

Stresemann's Bushcrow, no.#1 endemic bird of Ethiopia! (Nik Borrow).

Ethiopia is a classic sub-Saharan destination with a wide range of habitats and an impressive list of species, including more endemics than almost any other comparable region of Africa. For many years in BirdQuest’s history, the challenge of finding all the endemic Ethiopian birds on a ‘regular’ basis has been one of our main aims. One of the problems is that the taxonomy continuously evolves and more endemics and near-endemics are found to confound the challenge! The exact number of actual endemics varies with the vagaries of modern taxonomy. Birds of the Horn of Africa by Nigel Redman et al. recognises 15 and lists Blue-winged Goose, Harwood’s Francolin, Spot-breasted Lapwing, Yellow-fronted Parrot, Ruspoli’s Turaco, Archer’s (Sidamo) Lark, Erlanger’s Lark, White-tailed Swallow, Abyssinian Longclaw, Abyssinian Catbird, Stresemann’s Bushcrow, Yellow-throated Seedeater, Salvadori’s Seedeater, Ethiopian Siskin, and Ankober Serin and of these we saw all of them very well. In addition to these there is also the virtually mythical Nechisar Nightjar (described from the remains of a single decomposing wing in 1990) that still awaits confirmation and may or may not be an endemic species. This tour added the chance to see another endemic to the list in the form of the recently split (from Chestnut-naped) Black-fronted Francolin and our success was total with great views enjoyed as well as sound recordings made and photographs taken. Other additions to our previous itineraries included a visit to the Sarite Plains to see a recently discovered population of Masked Lark as well as a cultural extension to Gondar and Lalibela, which also included the chance to see the impressive Walia Ibex and the little known White-headed Babbler. During our journeys we thoroughly explored the three EBAs (Endemic Bird Areas) identified by BirdLife International; the Central Ethiopian highlands, Northern Ethiopia and the South Ethiopian highlands and our travels took us from high plateau tablelands to low arid plains and thorn bush as well as spectacular montane moorlands and lush forests. Fortunately neither political nor tribal tensions affected us this year and the weather was generally hot, dry and sunny with bright blue skies that supported the countries claim to thirteen months of sunshine!

Our adventure started with a bang north of Debre Birhan on the impressive escarpment overlooking the Danakil Depression that produced Ankober Serin, Rüppell’s Black Chat and a herd of Geladas. In the deep and wide Jemma Valley, which is part of the Blue Nile drainage system of jaw-dropping valleys and gorges we found the endemic Harwood’s Francolin as well as Abyssinian Wheatear, White-winged Cliff Chat, White-billed Starlings and the somewhat dowdy Yellow-rumped (or White-throated) Seedeater. Descending from the heights of Ankober we took in Yellow-throated Seedeaters and Yellow-breasted Barbets on ta journey that took us down into the lands of the Afar, Issa and Kereyou tribesmen that surround Awash National Park. In this desiccated countryside we hunted out Arabian Bustard, Scissor-tailed Kite, Somali Bulbul, Chestnut-headed Sparrow-Lark and Nile Valley and Shining Sunbirds. Lions roared at night and for mammal enthusiasts we saw Wildcat, Beisa Oryx, Soemmering’s Gazelle, Northern Gerenuk and Grevy’s Zebra. The lava flows at the base of the still active Fantalle volcano were home to Sombre Rock Chat, Blackstart and Striolated Bunting which were all seen well before descending into the Rift Valley for a stay in a comfortable lodge on the shores of Lake Langano where there were good numbers of Yellow-fronted Parrots coming to gorge themselves on figs in a huge spreading tree by the restaurant. Banded Barbets were also present here along with Black-winged Lovebird, White-cheeked Turaco and Ethiopian Oriole. Climbing up into the cooler air of the South Ethiopian highlands we stopped at the Bale Mountains Park HQ where approachable Gedemsa (or Mountain Nyala) found sanctuary under the enormous juniper and Hagenia trees that also sheltered White-backed Black Tit and Abyssinian Catbird and both Montane Nightjar and Cape Eagle Owl were found during the day. Our day on the Sanetti Plateau was a memorable one with close up and personal views of the stunning Ethiopian Wolf and its favoured prey, the bizarre Giant Root Rat! The elegant Spot-breasted Lapwing showed extremely well in the crystal clear air and comical Rouget’s Rails ran around amongst the grey cushion plants where Chestnut-naped and Moorland Francolins and Abyssinian Longclaw were found. A long drive took us across the plateau and through the Harenna Forest where secretive Abyssinian Woodpecker and Abyssinian Crimsonwings obliged before the forest gave way to a sweeping panorama of well-vegetated hillsides where the beautiful Ruspoli’s Turacos was seen.

A three night’s stay in Negelle was our centre for exploring the surrounding area. We had no trouble tracking down the extremely rare and endangered Archer’s Lark, Salvadori’s Seedeater eventually showed well and Juba Weavers with some males in breeding plumage put in an appearance. Driving through wild thorn-bush countryside Vulturine Guineafowl and Guenther’s Dik-diks scattered from the roadside and although our time at the Dawa River was curtailed the subtly plumaged White-winged Collared Dove was there to greet us. In the Yabello area we had plenty of time to hunt out White-tailed Swallow and the very special Stresemann’s Bushcrow certainly did not disappoint. Pringle’s Puffback, Red-naped Bushshrike and Northern Grosbeak-Canary allowed amazing views and at night Donaldson Smith’s Nightjar was seen. We also managed to get excellent views of a BirdQuest lifer – the recently split Black-fronted Francolin and a visit to the remote Sarite Plains produced the desirable Masked Lark. Heading back north to Awassa, African Spotted Creeper was seen easily and at a specially created reserve the rare Swayne’s Hartebeeste was also not a problem. On the journey to Gibe Gorge a vast wetland allowed us to see a small flock of Wattled Cranes and in the gorge itself we encountered a flock of Abyssinian Waxbill. The main tour ended in Addis Ababa but most of the group continued to Gondar where we visited the Royal Enclosure and swimming pool before heading into the Simien Mountains National Park where we were treated to an intimate encounter with the habituated Geladas and won superb views of the amazing Walia Ibex. An excursion towards the Sudanian border gave us our second BirdQuest lifer of the tour in the form of the rather attractive White-headed Babbler before moving onto Lalibela for more culture and a tour of the incredible monolithic rock hewn churches. Our final bird of the trip was a dapper pair of White-fronted Black Chats on the way to the airport, which was a wonderful way to end a tour full of iconic species and awesome scenery. Of the other ‘diamond’ (?) species encountered on the tour we saw Somali Ostrich, Erckel’s Francolin, Wattled Ibis, Somali Courser, White-collared Pigeon, African Collared Dove, the lafresnayii form of Blue-breasted Bee-eater (often now considered a species in its own right), Black-billed Wood Hoopoe, Hemprich’s Hornbill, Eastern Grey Woodpecker, Fox Kestrel, Grey-headed Batis, Rosy-patched Bushshrike, Three-streaked Tchagra, Ethiopian Boubou, Taita and Somali Fiscals, Somali Crow, Thick-billed Raven, Foxy, Red-winged, Short-tailed and Somali Short-toed Larks, Dodson’s Bulbul, ‘Brown’ Black Saw-wing, Somali Crombec, Brown Woodland Warbler, Boran, Ethiopian and Foxy Cisticolas, Pale Prinia, Yellow-vented and Green-backed Eremomelas, Scaly Chatterer, White-rumped Babbler, Menetries’s Warbler, Abyssinian and Montane White-eyes, Golden-breasted, Shelley’s, White-crowned, Bristle-crowned and Sharpe’s Starlings, Abyssinian Ground and Bare-eyed Thrushes, Black Scrub Robin, Abyssinian Slaty Flycatcher, Little Rock Thrush, Red-breasted Wheatear, Brown-tailed Rock Chat, Black-bellied Sunbird, Shelley’s and Swainson’s Sparrows, Rüppell’s Weaver, Red-billed Pytilia, Grey-headed Silverbill, Steel-blue Whydah, African Citril and Brown-rumped Seedeater.

White-headed Babbler. This one was a Birdquest lifer in 2017 and is a new addition to our ever-improving Ultimate Ethiopia itinerary (Nik Borrow).

White-headed Babbler. This one was a Birdquest lifer in 2017 and is a new addition to our ever-improving Ultimate Ethiopia itinerary (Nik Borrow).