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ULTIMATE ETHIOPIA

The Roof of Africa

Birdquest’s Ultimate Ethiopia birding tour is a feast of birdwatching, wildlife and scenic experiences that is hard to rival in Africa. Our Ultimate Ethiopia tour has the most comprehensive itinerary that targets every available Ethiopian/Eritrean endemic, including such great birds as Wattled Ibis, Blue-winged Goose, Rouget’s Rail, Spot-breasted Lapwing, Yellow-fronted Parrot, Ruspoli’s Turaco, Banded Barbet, Stresemann’s Bush Crow and Thick-billed Raven. The endemics are not the only attraction, however, for this itinerary regularly records up to 100 Birdquest ‘diamond’ (restricted-range or otherwise difficult to see) species. For example, Erckel’s and Chestnut-naped Francolins, African White-winged Dove, White-cheeked Turaco, Masked, Gillett’s and Somali Short-toed Larks, Sombre Rock Chat, White-headed and White-rumped Babblers, Somali Fiscal, Ethiopian Boubou, Swainson’s Sparrow, Juba Weaver, Abyssinian Waxbill, Northern Grosbeak-Canary and Brown-rumped Seedeater are only shared with Somalia, Djibouti or adjacent parts of Sudan or Kenya. Combine this with some magnificent scenery (most especially in the wild Simien mountains), exploration of remote and wild places, some great mammals (including such notable endemics as Gelada Baboon, Ethiopian Wolf, Mountain Nyala and Walia Ibex) and you have an unforgettable journey. Our Ethiopian adventure also offers a cultural feast that is unique in subSaharan Africa, including the wonderful rock churches of Lalibela and the impressive, historic palaces of Gondar.

Sunday 12th November — Wednesday 29th November 2017
(18 days)


Gondar, Simien & Lalibela Extension: Wednesday 29th November — Monday 4th December (6 days)

Leaders: Nik Borrow and Merid Gabremichael

Group Size Limit: 9

Tour Category: Easy walking for the most part and mostly comfortable accommodations

The Wattled Ibis is a common endemic to Ethiopia and Eritrea and can even be found in the middle of Addis Ababa! (Nik Borrow).

The Wattled Ibis is a common endemic to Ethiopia and Eritrea and can even be found in the middle of Addis Ababa! (Nik Borrow).

Ethiopia, the ‘Roof of Africa’, is a rugged and ancient land that is home to around 50 endemic and near-endemic bird species (many shared with Eritrea, and the precise number depending on which taxonomic treatments you prefer and on whether or not one believes that ‘Nechisar Nightjar’, known only from a wing, is valid or not). Ethiopia is one of the most fascinating African countries for birding, with new and exciting discoveries being made every year, and is surely also one of the most enjoyable, what with its wonderful light, diverse habitats, amazing scenery and very rich and often colourful avifauna.

Indeed Ethiopia is an absolutely ‘core’ birding destination for anyone wanting to see the birds of Africa, having two major advantages over many other destinations on the continent. In the first place it has a much greater concentration of regional specialities than almost any other part of Africa (only South Africa offers serious competition in this regard), and in the second place birding here is simply wonderful. Habitats are mostly open and there is no need to stay in the vehicles anywhere on the tour, so one can walk at will and follow any of the more secretive species.

Our Birdquest tour is the most comprehensive bird tour of Ethiopia available. The primary aim of this special tour is to find the complete set of the country’s endemic bird species (not counting that controversial nightjar) and virtually every other speciality of the country, something which involves a bit more time. Accommodations, and even some of the roads, are now much improved in Ethiopia, making for easier travelling conditions than was the case in the past.

Ethiopia is certainly a land of superlatives, unsurpassed in scenic grandeur by any other part of this ancient continent; a place where Lammergeiers soar over majestic gorges and robed horsemen gallop across the high plains. Here the Ethiopian Wolf hunts Giant Root-Rats among the grey cushion plants of the Afro-alpine moorlands, Gelada Baboons scramble up towering cliffs and graceful herds of Mountain Nyala browse along the edge of fragrant juniper forests.

Birds pass unmolested lives in Ethiopia, with the result that the birdlife is not only spectacularly abundant but also remarkably tame. During the northern winter large numbers of Palearctic migrants enrich an already impressive avifauna, with the result that over 840 species of birds have been recorded from the country.

Close to Addis Ababa, ringed by the peaks of the western highlands, we shall drive through the rolling grasslands of the high plateau where shimmering silver tarns are thronged with birds. Even on the doorstep of the capital we will find endemic and restricted-range birds, including Wattled Ibis, Blue-winged Goose, White-collared Pigeon, Erlanger’s Lark, Abyssinian Wheatear, Ethiopian Cisticola, Brown-rumped Seed-eater ands Ethiopian Siskin.

Around Debre Birhan and in the Jemma Valley the landscape will be completely different as we gaze across a vast panorama of arid gorges and rugged mountain ranges that stretch endlessly away towards the horizon. Here we will search for such endemics and near-endemics as Harwood’s and Erckel’s Francolins, White-cheeked Turaco, Black-winged Lovebird, Banded Barbet, Rüppell’s Black Chat, White-winged Cliff Chat, Ethiopian Boubou, Abyssinian Oriole, White-billed Starling, Red-billed (or Lineated) Pytilia, Ankober Serin and Yellow-rumped Seedeater.

Below the spectacular, cloud-wreathed Ankober escarpment, overlooking the forbidding Danakil Depression, we shall track down the extremely localized endemic Yellow-throated Seedeater.

Next we will descend into the Great Rift Valley to savour the rich birdlife of the Bilen region and Awash National Park, which includes such (mostly restricted-range) specialities as Somali Ostrich, Arabian Bustard, Yellow-breasted Barbet, Gillett’s Lark, Somali Bulbul, Sombre Rock Chat, Boran Cisticola, Grey-headed Batis, Somali Fiscal, and Shining and Nile Valley Sunbirds, and the game that wanders through the dry thornbush.

Continuing through the Rift Valley, we shall visit Lakes Zwai, Langano and Abiata. Each of Ethiopia’s chain of Rift Valley lakes is different in character, but several are teeming with waterbirds. This is also a good area for the raucous endemic Yellow-fronted Parrot, which favours huge fruiting figs, as well as the near-endemic White-rumped Babbler.

From the Rift Valley we will climb up into the southeastern highlands to the Bale Mountains National Park, where the remaining juniper forests and rocky valleys harbour Cape Eagle-Owl and Abyssinian Owl.

Later, on Africa’s highest road, we will marvel at the stark beauty of these wild uplands with their spectacular Afro-alpine vegetation and unique collection of endemic birds, including Rouget’s Rail, Spot-breasted Lapwing, Abyssinian Woodpecker, Abyssinian Catbird, Abyssinian Slaty Flycatcher, White-backed Black Tit and Abyssinian Longclaw. Other great birds here include the restricted-range Chestnut-naped Francolin, Moorland Francolin and the restricted-range Dwarf Raven.

Some star endemic mammals are also likely to be encountered in the Bale, including Ethiopian Wolf, Mountain Nyala, Menelik’s Bushbuck and Ethiopian Klipspringer, not to mention the strange Giant Root-Rat.

We then head southwards through the wild and extensive Harenna Forest deep into the acacia bushland in the Boran region of Sidamo. Here in this remote part of Ethiopia, around the town of Negelle, we will look for two of Africa’s least-known species, the near-endemic Archer’s Lark (the population here was formerly split as Sidamo or Liben Lark) and in particular the enigmatic Ruspoli’s Turaco, a rare relict endemic species that was first collected by Prince Ruspoli between 1891-93, although he was unfortunately killed by an elephant shortly afterwards and the exact site of the type specimen remains unknown! Although rediscovered in the 1940s, it hasn’t been until recently that sightings have become more regular. We shall also be wanting to see the endemic Salvadori’s Seedeater and a suite of restricted-range species including African White-winged Dove, Somali Short-toed Lark, Dodson’s Bulbul, Boran Cisticola, Somali Crombec, Brown-tailed Rock Chat, Shelley’s, White-crowned and Bristle-crowned Starlings, Shelley’s Sparrow and Juba Weaver.

Further west, around Yabello, our principal targets will be the strange endemic Stresemann’s Bushcrow and the attractive endemic White-tailed Swallow that nests in the towering termite nests that dot the landscape in this part of Ethiopia, the extremely restricted-range Black-fronted Francolin, plus the restricted-range Somali Courser, Masked Lark and Northern Grosbeak-Canary. Other good birds in this special area include Scaly Chatterer, Pringle’s Puffback and the smart Red-naped Bushshrike.

Turning back north, we will visit Lake Awassa, a superb freshwater lake that holds numerous waterbirds, and another wetland area. Specialities in this region include the magnificent Wattled Crane, the superb Black Crowned Crane, the endemic Thick-billed Raven and the localized African Spotted Creeper, as well as the endemic Swayne’s Hartebeest.

Our final venue will be Gibe Valley National Park near Welkite, situated to the southwest of Addis Ababa, where we will search for our ultimate speciality, the near-endemic Abyssinian Waxbill, as well as Bar-breasted and Black-faced Firefinches.

During the optional extension we will initially fly far to the north of Addis, to the ancient city of Gondar, sometimes referred to as ‘The Camelot of Africa’. Our ornithological purpose in coming here is to see the restricted-range White-headed Babbler, a species seen on no other bird tour! We will also have the chance to see something of Gondar’s extraordinary cultural heritage, in particular the remarkable stone palaces of Gondar’s most famous kings and queens.

Nearby are the famous Simien Mountains. The Simien are, simply put, totally awesome (they have the most impressive mountain scenery in all Ethiopia) and they are home to the endangered endemic Walia Ibex. You can also see (and walk or sit among if you like) huge troops of Gelada Baboons that are unconcerned by humans, a wildlife experience that is right up there with visiting the Gorillas of Uganda or Rwanda. Here we will have more chances for many Ethiopian endemics and surely some wonderfully close encounters with Bearded Vultures and Thick-billed Ravens.

The finale of our northern extension will be a visit to equally famous Lalibela, a UNESCO World Heritage Site owing to its extraordinary assemblage of rock churches. Even here there will be some added ornithological interest, with the localized White-fronted Black Chat a real possibility.

Birdquest has operated tours to Ethiopia since 1987.

What makes the Birdquest tour special? There are three factors that really stand out. In the first place the Birdquest tour is without a doubt the best available itinerary for seeing Ethiopian specialities; put simply, no other tour matches ours. Secondly our group size limit is significantly lower than for many Ethiopia tours. Also very important is the choice of transport used. Basically the choice in Ethiopia is down to using a bus with around 20 seats or using 4x4 vehicles such as Toyota Landcruisers. The great majority of bird tours to Ethiopia use a bus. We use 4x4s. So why use vehicles that cost so much more per person? The answer lies in Ethiopia’s roads, which for long stretches are in poor condition. With a bus, travel is slower and birding time reduced, and there is always the risk of having to make a huge detour, but with 4x4s you travel faster and more reliably, with more time for birding. Even more important for keen birders, you simply cannot reach all the available Ethiopian endemics and other specialities using a bus, or you have a much reduced chance of seeing them. Examples include Black-fronted Francolin, Masked Lark, Brown-tailed Rock Chat, White-headed Babbler and Yellow-throated Seedeater (indeed our tour is the only one to feature Black-fronted Francolin, Masked Lark and White-headed Babbler). So, the choice is yours.

Accommodation & Road Transport: The hotels/lodges are mostly of good or medium standard. At Negelle the hotel is fairly simple, but most of the rooms have private bathrooms. Road transport is by 4x4 vehicles (Toyota Landcruisers or similar). Roads vary from good to bad.

Walking: The walking effort is mostly easy, occasionally moderate.

Climate: Predominantly warm or hot, dry and sunny. It can be quite cool in the early morning, especially at higher altitudes, and in the mountains it may be distinctly cold. It may be overcast at times but rain is infrequent at this season (except in the Bale Mountains where it can rain at any time of year).

Bird/Mammal Photography: Opportunities are very good.

Important Information for Pound Payers: Kindly note that the Pound prices shown here are based on post-EU-referendum exchange rate reality, unlike the website prices of most UK bird tour operators which are still based on outdated and hugely higher pre-referendum exchange rates. Consequently you can rest assured that we will not have to adjust these prices upwards at invoicing, unless the Pound falls significantly further, and if there is any recovery by the Pound you will receive the full benefit of the cost-saving by way of a price reduction at invoicing.

Tour Price: £4290, €5060, $5620 Addis Ababa/Addis Ababa. Gondar, Simien & Lalibela Extension: £1490, €1760, $1950.

Price includes all transportation (excluding internal flights during the extension), all accommodations, all meals, bottled water, some drinks, all excursions, all entrance fees, all tips for local drivers/guides and for accommodations/restaurants, leader services.

Please note that the internal flights in Ethiopia during the extension are not included in the price. These are much more economically included with your international tickets, provided you are flying with Ethiopian Airlines. We can provide the internal flight tickets on request for anyone flying into the country with another carrier.

Base prices for this tour are determined in US Dollars, the currency in which we pay for most tour services. The exchange rates applied at the time of costing were: £1 = $1.310 and €1 = $1.110. For those not paying us in US Dollars, prices may be adjusted (either downwards or upwards) at the time of invoicing should there be a change in the exchange rate. See booking information.

Single Room Supplement: £391, €461, $512. Extension: £190, €224, $249.

Deposit: £550, €660, $720. Extension: £150, €180, $200.

Air Travel To & From The Tour: Our in-house IATA ticket agency can arrange your air travel in connection with the tour from a departure point anywhere in the world, or you may arrange your own air travel if you prefer. We can tailor-make your itinerary to your personal requirements, so if you would like to travel in advance of the tour (and spend a night in an hotel so you will feel fresh when the tour starts), or return later than the end of the tour, or make a side trip to some other destination, or travel business class rather than economy, we will be happy to assist. Please contact us about your air travel requirements.

Stands of kniphofia cover swathes of the magnificent Bale Mountains (Nik Borrow)

Stands of kniphofia cover swathes of the magnificent Bale Mountains (Nik Borrow)

The endangered endemic Ethiopian Wolf is the world’s rarest canid with perhaps no more than 400 animals left. A sighting is always a highlight of the trip! (Nik Borrow)

The endangered endemic Ethiopian Wolf is the world’s rarest canid with perhaps no more than 400 animals left. A sighting is always a highlight of the trip! (Nik Borrow)

Of all Ethiopia's many endemic birds, the smart Spot-breasted Lapwing must rank highly  (Nik Borrow)

Of all Ethiopia's many endemic birds, the smart Spot-breasted Lapwing must rank highly (Nik Borrow)

Stresemann’s Bushcrow is a strange endemic of ‘uncertain affinities’ that has been recently reclassified as a starling (János Oláh)

Stresemann’s Bushcrow is a strange endemic of ‘uncertain affinities’ that has been recently reclassified as a starling (János Oláh)

The rare Wattled Crane has a northern outpost in Ethiopia, far from its main range in Southern Africa  (Nik Borrow)

The rare Wattled Crane has a northern outpost in Ethiopia, far from its main range in Southern Africa (Nik Borrow)

Down in the arid plains, Somali Coursers inhabit the stony desert  (János Oláh)

Down in the arid plains, Somali Coursers inhabit the stony desert (János Oláh)

The attractive endemic Abyssinian Longclaw can be found throughout the highlands (Nik Borrow)

The attractive endemic Abyssinian Longclaw can be found throughout the highlands (Nik Borrow)

Black Crowned Cranes can usually be found in small numbers in the Rift Valley (Nik Borrow)

Black Crowned Cranes can usually be found in small numbers in the Rift Valley (Nik Borrow)

The endemic Harwood’s Francolin although threatened still seems to be reasonably common within its restricted range (Nik Borrow)

The endemic Harwood’s Francolin although threatened still seems to be reasonably common within its restricted range (Nik Borrow)

The Red-naped Bushshrike is a stunning and often showy inhabitant of the dense thorn bush in the south of the country (Nik Borrow)

The Red-naped Bushshrike is a stunning and often showy inhabitant of the dense thorn bush in the south of the country (Nik Borrow)

Many of the flights and flight-inclusive holidays on this website are financially protected by the ATOL scheme. But ATOL protection does not apply to all holiday and travel services listed on this website. Please ask us to confirm what protection may apply to your booking. If you do not receive an ATOL Certificate then the booking will not be ATOL protected. If you do receive an ATOL Certificate but all the parts of your trip are not listed on it, those parts will not be ATOL protected. Please see our booking conditions for information, or for more for more information about financial protection and the ATOL Certificate go to: www.atol.org.uk/ATOL Certificate

Birdquest Ltd is Registered in England, Company No. 01568270. The address of our registered office is Two Jays, Kemple End, Stonyhurst, Clitheroe, Lancashire BB7 9QY

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