The Ultimate In Birding Tours

Africa (excluding the North)

ULTIMATE ETHIOPIA

Birding the Roof of Africa

Sunday 10th November – Wednesday 27th November 2019

Leaders: Dani López-Velasco and Merid Gabremichael.

18 Days Group Size Limit 8
Gondar & White-headed Babbler Extension

Wednesday 27th November – Saturday 30th November 2019

4 Days Group Size Limit 8
Sunday 15th November – Wednesday 2nd December 2020

Leaders: Julien Mazenauer and Merid Gabremichael.

18 Days Group Size Limit 8
Gondar & White-headed Babbler Extension

Wednesday 2nd December – Saturday 5th December 2020

4 Days Group Size Limit 8
Sunday 14th November – Wednesday 1st December 2021

Leaders: Merid Gabremichael and a second Birdquest Leader to be announced

18 Days Group Size Limit 8
Gondar & White-headed Babbler Extension

Wednesday 1st December – Saturday 4th December 2021

4 Days Group Size Limit 8

Birdquest’s Ultimate Ethiopia birding tour is a feast of birding, wildlife and scenic experiences that is hard to rival in Africa. Our Ultimate Ethiopia birding tour has the most comprehensive itinerary and 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 remarkable Ultimate Ethiopia birding tour itinerary regularly records up to 100 Birdquest ‘diamond’ (restricted-range or otherwise difficult to see) species. For example, Erckel’s and Chestnut-naped Francolins, White-winged Collared 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, Gedemsa or Mountain Nyala and Swayne’s Hartebeest) and you have an unforgettable journey.

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 and Tanzania offer 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 Ultimate Ethiopia birding 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 Bearded Vultures (or 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 Gedemsas (or Mountain Nyalas) 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.

Our Ultimate Ethiopia birding tour starts at Addis Ababa, the capital city. Close to ‘Addis’, 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 Seedeater and 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, Ethiopian (or 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, 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 Lake Zwai, Lake Langano and possibly Lake 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 and Moorland Francolin.

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

Our Ultimate Ethiopia birding tour then heads 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 White-winged Collared Dove, Somali Short-toed Lark, Dodson’s Bulbul, Boran Cisticola, Somali Crombec, Brown-tailed Rock Chat, Shelley’s, Somali Crow, White-crowned and Bristle-crowned Starlings, Shelley’s Sparrow and Juba Weaver.

Further west, around Yabello and Mega, 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 in the Rift Valley 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 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. We will also have the chance to see famous Lake Tana, the source of the Blue Nile, and something of Gondar’s extraordinary cultural heritage, in particular the remarkable stone palaces of Gondar’s most famous kings and queens.

Birdquest has operated Ethiopia birding tours since 1987.

Merid Gabremichael will accompany the main tour. A local guide will accompany the extension.

What makes the Birdquest Ultimate Ethiopia birding tour special?: There are several factors that really stand out. The Birdquest tour is without a doubt the best itinerary for seeing the Ethiopian specialities, our group size limit is lower than for most Ethiopia birding tours (which makes for a superior experience all round), we use 4×4 vehicles to access extra areas (hardly anyone does that) and we still have two leaders with this size of group (including Ethiopia’s top bird guide!). This unbeatable combination puts our Ultimate Ethiopia birding tour into a different league.

Lalibela Extension Option: It is easy for us to arrange a two or three days pre-tour or post-tour excursion for you to Lalibela in northern Ethiopia with its incredible monolithic, rock-hewn churches, accompanied by a local guide. This will be much less expensive than an ‘official’ group tour extension, and there are no additional birds of note to be seen at Lalibela. Please contact us if you are interested.

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 small coach and 4×4 vehicles. Roads vary from good to bad.

Walking: The walking effort during our Ultimate Ethiopia birding tour 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 during our Ultimate Ethiopia birding tour are very good.


ULTIMATE ETHIOPIA BIRDING TOUR: PRICE INFORMATION

Birdquest Inclusions: Our prices includes surface transportation, accommodations, meals and entrance fees. Our tour prices also include all tipping, including tips for local guides and drivers. Some bird tour operators do not do this, yet for participants these costs are an unavoidable part of the tour. The value of these inclusions on this Birdquest tour amounts to approximately: $250.

Deposit: Main Tour: £490, $640, €560. Gondar & White-headed Babbler Extension: £100, $130, €110.

TO BOOK THIS TOUR: Click here (you will need the tour dates and deposit amount)


2019: £4590, $5820, €5080. Addis Ababa/Addis Ababa.
Gondar & White-headed Babbler Extension: £860, $1100, €960. Gondar/Gondar.
2020: £4620, $5850, €5100. Addis Ababa/Addis Ababa.
Gondar & White-headed Babbler Extension: £900, $1150, €1000. Gondar/Gondar.

Single Supplement: 2019: £310, $400, €350.
Gondar & White-headed Babbler Extension: £80, $100, €90.

Single Supplement: 2020: £330, $420, €360.
Gondar & White-headed Babbler Extension: £80, $110, €90.

Please note that the Addis Ababa-Gondar-Addis Ababa flights during the extension are not included. These flights are relatively inexpensive if included with your international tickets, provided you are flying into Addis Ababa with Ethiopian Airlines. We will provide details of exactly which flights you need to book when we send out the tour start and end notification. We can provide internal flight tickets on request for anyone flying into the country with another carrier, should you find this more convenient.

The single supplement will not apply if you indicate on booking that you prefer to share a room and there is a room-mate of the same sex available.

This tour is priced in US Dollars. Amounts shown in other currencies are indicative.

Air Travel To & From The Tour: Our in-house IATA ticket agency will be pleased to arrange your air travel on request, or you may arrange this yourself if you prefer.

ULTIMATE ETHIOPIA BIRDING TOUR: DETAILED ITINERARY

Ultimate Ethiopia Birding Tour: Day 1  Our tour begins this morning at Addis Ababa airport. This famous African city, commonly referred to simply as Addis, is situated on the flanks of the Entoto Mountains at an altitude of 2400m, and Marabou Stork, Yellow-billed Kite, Hooded and White-backed Vultures, Dusky Turtle Dove and Pied Crow are likely to be amongst the birds we see within the city limits.

We shall first drive around the edge of the city and then out onto high plateau country en route to Debre Birhan for a two nights stay. This high altitude country is a traditional mixture of pasture, hay meadows and grain fields. Small ‘tukul’ villages of the thatched-roofed, earthen-walled houses that are so typical of Ethiopia dot the landscape and robed shepherds stride across the uplands while tending their livestock.

Along the way we should have our first chance to see such endemics as Blue-winged Geese and Wattled Ibis feeding in the moister pastures. Other new species during the journey are likely to include Augur Buzzard, Speckled Pigeon and Cape Crow.

This afternoon we will visit the lip of a massive and spectacular escarpment that overlooks a vast section of the upper reaches of the Blue Nile drainage system. The scenery here is truly awesome. The star avian attraction here is the localized endemic Ankober Serin, first described as recently as 1976, which typically inhabits the steep slopes but also often visits flatter areas adjacent to the clifftops while feeding or drinking. The precipitous cliffs are also home to the impressive Gelada Baboon and we should encounter a troop of these handsome primates as they forage along the cliff tops, while Rock Hyraxes sun themselves on the cliff faces.

Other birds we are likely to find this afternoon include the endemic White-collared Pigeon, Erlanger’s Lark and Ethiopian (or Black-headed) Siskins, and the near-endemic Brown-rumped Seedeater, as well as the restricted-range Moorland (or Alpine) Chat and Red-breasted Wheatear, plus Thekla Lark, Fan-tailed Raven and Streaky Seedeater.

Ultimate Ethiopia Birding Tour: Day 2  Today we must be up very early in order to find the exceedingly localized endemic Harwood’s Francolin. The birds call in their restricted habitat zone along the escarpments of the upper Blue Nile drainage at first light and afterwards, so this is the best time of day to locate them.

We are in for a real scenic feast today at the Jemma Valley as we look down from an immense escarpment out over a huge basin complete with lower ridges and large, well-watered valleys. Now this truly is what one imagines the ‘Roof of Africa’ should be like!

Amongst the other specialities that we are likely to encounter on the escarpment are such endemics and near-endemics as Erckel’s Francolin, Rüppell’s Black Chat, White-winged Cliff Chat, Ethiopian Cisticola and White-billed Starling, as well as the striking Fox Kestrel and Abyssinian Wheatear (which becomes a near-endemic if Schalow’s Wheatear is treated as a distinct species).

Down in the lower parts of the valley we will be concentrating on the near-endemic Red-billed (or Lineated) Pytilia, while other good birds include Half-collared Kingfisher, Blue-breasted Bee-eater (here of the form lafresnayii, sometimes split as Ethiopian Bee-eater), the pretty little Foxy Cisticola, Stout Cisticola, the near-endemic Swainson’s Sparrow, the restricted-range Rüppell’s Weaver and the endemic Yellow-rumped (or White-throated) Seedeater.

Additional species of particular interest that we have a first chance to see at the Jemma Valley include Bearded Vulture (or Lammergeier), which may be seen sailing past at close range, the restricted-range Black-billed Wood Hoopoe, the restricted-range Hemprich’s Hornbill, the near-endemic Ethiopian Boubou and the restricted-range Shining Sunbird. We could also come across the striking Verreaux’s Eagle.

There are many other birds to be found in the Jemaa Valley and its surroundings, but all are widespread and we can expect to see them elsewhere during the tour, so it is important to focus today on the specialities that we really need to see here and not be distracted by these less significant species during our first full day in the field.

Widespread birds we may well encounter for the first time today include Egyptian Goose, Yellow-billed Duck, African Sacred Ibis, Western Cattle and Little Egrets, Grey Heron, Hamerkop, Rüppell’s Vulture, Dark Chanting Goshawk, Common Kestrel, Spur-winged Lapwing, Three-banded Plover, Common Greenshank, Green and Common Sandpipers, Red-eyed, Laughing and Namaqua Doves, Nyanza Swift, Grey-headed and African Pygmy Kingfishers, African Grey Hornbill, Black-billed Barbet, Northern Puffback, Northern Fiscal (which was formerly lumped with Southern Fiscal under the name Common Fiscal), African Paradise Flycatcher, Common Bulbul, Brown-throated and Rock Martins, Wire-tailed and Red-rumped Swallows, Common Chiffchaff, Singing Cisticola, Grey-backed Camaroptera, Abyssinian White-eye, Greater Blue-eared (and possibly Lesser Blue-eared) Starling, Red-winged Starling, Groundscraper Thrush, Abyssinian (or Mountain) Thrush, Common Redstart, Little and Blue Rock Thrushes, Mocking Cliff Chat, Northern, Isabelline and Pied Wheatears, Variable Sunbird, Bush Petronia, Speckle-fronted, Vitelline Masked and Village Weavers, Northern Red, Black-winged Red and Yellow Bishops, Red-collared Widowbird, Cut-throat Finch, Red-billed Firefinch, Red-cheeked Cordon-bleu, Crimson-rumped Waxbill, Village Indigobird, Pin-tailed Whydah, Western Yellow, Grey and Mountain Wagtails, African (or Grassland), Long-billed, Tree and Red-throated Pipits, Yellow-fronted Canary and Ortolan and Cinnamon-breasted Buntings.

Ultimate Ethiopia Birding Tour: Day 3  This morning we will descend the dramatic Ankober escarpment. The Ankober escarpment provides truly spectacular views over the Awash valley and the southern part of the Danakil Depression far below. Here at 3000m (9843ft) the cliffs are broken by vegetated slopes and terraces covered in tree heaths and other Afro-alpine plants. At times clouds swirl up from the valley below to envelop the cliff tops.

We shall break the journey at Melka Ghebdu, a reliable site for the endemic Yellow-throated Seedeater, as well as the endemic Banded Barbet, the restricted-range Yellow-breasted Barbet, Scarlet-chested Sunbird, Chestnut-crowned Sparrow-Weaver and Red-headed Weaver.

Afterwards we will continue to descend from the highlands into the vast Awash River lowlands for an overnight stay in the Bilen area. We will have most of the afternoon in this interesting area, which is inhabited by Afar people who were formerly nomadic herders but now live a more settled existence, although they continue to use the long, rounded thatched dwellings that they used while moving from one area of pasture to another.

The open grasslands and acacia bushlands here are home to the stately, but declining and now much-sought-after Arabian Bustard, while other good birds include such restricted-range specialities as the huge Somali Ostrich, Hartlaub’s Bustard, African Collared Dove (uncommon), Grey-headed Batis, the little-known Gillett’s Lark, Chestnut-headed Sparrow-Lark, Somali Bulbul, Blackstart, Black Scrub Robin, Somali Fiscal and Nile Valley Sunbird. The dry plains also hold some interesting mammals, including Hamadryas (or Sacred) and Olive Baboons, Grivet Monkey, Common Warthog, Salt’s Dik-dik, Soemmering’s Gazelle and Beisa Oryx. With a bit of luck we will also encounter Northern Gerenuk and Northern Lesser Kudu. Interestingly, the Golden Jackals of Africa have recently been split off as a distinct species, African Golden Wolf, on the basis that their genetics place them closer to the wolves and coyotes. There is a good chance of seeing this newly ‘promoted’ wolf in this area.

At dusk we will visit a pool where we have an excellent chance to see flocks of Lichtenstein’s Sandgrouse arriving after dusk to drink.

Ultimate Ethiopia Birding Tour: Day 4  After spending most of the morning in the Bilen area we will drive a little to the south for an overnight stay at Awash Falls Lodge in Awash National Park.

Over 400 species of birds have been recorded in Awash National Park. The terrain is mostly a mosaic of grassland and acacia scrub but the Awash River flows through the area and supports some thin strips of riverine forest in places. Close to our lodge are the impressive Awash Falls and the deep pools just below the falls hold some impressive Nile Crocodiles.

Birds of the park that we will be looking for this afternoon and evening include the restricted-range Star-spotted Nightjar, the beautiful Rosy-patched Bushshrike, the restricted-range Red-winged Lark and the diminutive Mouse-coloured Penduline Tit. If we are in luck we will encounter the lovely Scissor-tailed (or African Swallow-tailed) Kite or a Grasshopper Buzzard.

A distinct advantage of Awash (and indeed all national parks we visit in Ethiopia) compared to many other African parks is that one is allowed to go birding on foot owing to the virtual absence of dangerous mammals.

More widespread birds we may well encounter during our visit to the Awash region (including the Bilen area) include Helmeted Guineafowl, Crested Francolin, Harlequin Quail (usually uncommon), Black-headed Heron, Secretarybird (uncommon), Egyptian and Lappet-faced Vultures, Tawny Eagle, Pallid and Montagu’s Harriers, African Fish Eagle, Pygmy and Lanner Falcons, Harlequin Quail (uncommon), Buff-crested and White-bellied Bustards, Spotted Thick-knee (uncommon), Black-headed Lapwing, Chestnut-bellied Sandgrouse, Mourning Collared Dove, Emerald-spotted Wood Dove, White-bellied Go-away-bird, Slender-tailed and possibly Plain Nightjars, Blue-naped Mousebird, the superb Abyssinian Roller, Striped Kingfisher, the wonderful Northern Carmine Bee-eater (which sometimes uses the backs of bustards or even ostriches as a convenient lookout!), Little Bee-eater, Eurasian Hoopoe, Abyssinian Scimitarbill, Northern Red-billed and Eastern Yellow-billed Hornbills, Black-throated Barbet, Nubian and Cardinal Woodpeckers, Black-crowned Tchagra, Brubru, Northern White-crowned, Isabelline, Steppe Grey, Woodchat and Masked Shrikes, Fork-tailed (or Common) Drongo, Singing Bush Lark, Chestnut-backed Sparrow-Lark, Barn Swallow, Ashy and Desert Cisticolas, Common and Lesser Whitethroats, Rüppell’s, Superb and Wattled Starlings, White-browed Scrub Robin, African Grey and Spotted Flycatchers, Common Nightingale, White-browed Sparrow-Weaver, Yellow-spotted Petronia, Red-billed and White-headed Buffalo Weavers, Red-billed Quelea, Green-winged Pytilia, African Silverbill, Long-tailed (or Eastern) Paradise and Straw-tailed Whydahs, and Tawny Pipit.

We may also encounter the intra-African migratory Abdim’s Stork either in this area or elsewhere during our travels. Mammals are few here, but we may well see Yellow-spotted Hyrax.

Ultimate Ethiopia Birding Tour: Day 5  After some early morning birding in Awash National Park we will drive through the Rift Valley to Lake Langano for a two nights stay. Before leaving Awash behind we will visit an area of lava desert which holds the rare, near-endemic Sombre Rock Chat and Striolated Bunting.

We will stop along the way for some birding at Lake Zwai. At this superb spot, African Fish Eagles soar overhead or utter their distinctive yodelling calls from prominent perches. Pied Kingfishers hover over the water surface and tiny Malachite Kingfishers cling to the papyrus stems, while emergent vegetation provides suitable habitat for Black Crakes and handsome African Jacanas balance on the floating lily pads. Where the local fishermen bring their catch ashore we can watch remarkably tame Marabou Storks and Hamerkops. Flocks of Great White Pelicans are frequently present.

Other birds we may well find at Lake Zwai include Fulvous and White-faced Whistling Ducks, Spur-winged Goose, Knob-billed Duck, Red-billed and Hottentot Teals, Yellow-billed Stork, Squacco and Purple Herons, Great and Intermediate Egrets, Glossy Ibis, Pink-backed Pelican, Reed (or Long-tailed) Cormorant, African Darter, Western Marsh Harrier, Black-winged Stilt, Black-tailed Godwit, Marsh and Wood Sandpipers, Little Stint, Ruff, Collared Pratincole, Grey-headed, Black-headed and Lesser Black-backed Gulls, Whiskered and White-winged Terns, and Sand Martin (or Bank Swallow). There is a good chance of seeing Black Heron here, and we may see one shade the water with its wings held in characteristic umbrella fashion, while from time to time we turn up a Lesser Jacana, an Allen’s Gallinule or even a Lesser Moorhen at Zwai or one of the other wetlands we visit in Ethiopia.

Ultimate Ethiopia Birding Tour: Day 6  At Lake Langano we shall explore the attractive acacia woodland, open areas and thickets, and some beautiful groundwater forest that features many large fig trees. The lake itself holds fewer waterbirds than most other major Rift Valley lakes.

There is a rich suite of specialities in this area, including such endemics and near-endemics as the gorgeous White-cheeked Turaco, the raucous Yellow-fronted Parrot, the pretty little Black-winged Lovebird and White-rumped Babbler. Other special birds include the restricted-range Clapperton’s Francolin, the sought-after Red-throated Wryneck and the uncommon and localized White-winged Black Tit.

Other species we may well find in the Langano area include Southern Pochard, Saddle-billed Stork, African Harrier-Hawk, Gabar Goshawk, Ring-necked, Tambourine and Lemon Doves, Blue-spotted Wood Dove, Speckled Mousebird, the lovely Narina Trogon, Black Scimitarbill, the huge and somewhat grotesque Abyssinian Ground Hornbill, Silvery-cheeked and Von der Decken’s Hornbills, Red-fronted and Yellow-fronted Tinkerbirds, Bearded Woodpecker, Scaly-throated Honeyguide, Green-backed Honeybird (uncommon), Western Black-headed Batis (formerly lumped in Eastern Black-headed and called Black-headed Batis), Slate-coloured Boubou, Grey-backed Fiscal, Red-shouldered Cuckooshrike, Black Saw-wing (the form here is sometimes split as Brown Saw-wing), Common House Martin, the smart Rüppell’s Robin Chat, Red-capped Robin Chat (uncommon), Common (or Rufous-tailed) Rock Thrush, Northern Crombec, Willow Warbler, Rattling Cisticola, Tawny-flanked Prinia, Yellow-bellied Eremomela, Buff-bellied Warbler, Eurasian Blackcap, Northern Black Flycatcher, Red-billed Oxpecker, Marico and Beautiful Sunbirds, Baglafecht, Little and Lesser Masked Weavers, Black-cheeked Waxbill, Black-and-white Mannikin and African Citril. We also have a good chance of finding a roosting Greyish Eagle-Owl. Scaly Francolin, Western Banded Snake Eagle and Green Twinspot also occur here, but can be tricky to see.

Mammals are likely to include Olive Baboon and the splendid Guereza (or Eastern Black-and-white Colobus) with its shaggy mane and long shaggy tail.

Providing time permits, we shall also pay a short visit to Lake Abiata, a shallow soda lake surrounded by sparse acacia scrub. Abiata is notable for its thousands of Lesser and Greater Flamingos. Amongst the shorebirds and other waterbirds present at the lake, we can expect to see Pied Avocet, Kittlitz’s Plover and Gull-billed Tern.

Ultimate Ethiopia Birding Tour: Day 7  After some early morning birding at Lake Langano we shall soon leave the Rift Valley and climb steadily upwards through the southeastern highlands to Goba for a two nights stay. Our journey will take us across the montane grassland, where we will stop to look for Red-chested and Grey-rumped Swallows, and then, as we climb higher, we enter juniper woodland before reaching the moorlands of the Bale Mountains. We will also stop at regular sites for African Black Duck and Red-knobbed Coot.

We shall break our journey at the Bale Mountains National Park headquarters at Dinsho, where we will see our first Bale birds and mammals. The magnificent Bale Mountains National Park was set up to protect two endemic mammals, the Gedemsa (or Mountain Nyala), which is found nowhere else, and the Ethiopian Wolf. 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.

Here we shall be searching in particular for roosting nightbirds, thanks to the skills of our remarkable local guide, and these are likely to include the impressive Cape Eagle-Owl (the local form and others are sometimes split as Mackinder’s Eagle-Owl), the poorly-known Abyssinian Owl and Montane Nightjar, and quite possibly also African Wood Owl and Verreaux’s Eagle-Owl.

We can also be sure of seeing the beautiful Gedemsa or Mountain Nyala, the last of the African big game species to be discovered, and the attractive endemic Ethiopian Highlands (or Menelik’s) Bushbuck. All the mammals here are very approachable and the Common Warthogs are positively fearless.

Ultimate Ethiopia Birding Tour: Day 8  Today we shall drive close to the summit of the Bale’s highest peak, Tullu Deemtu (4377m), as we cross the Sanetti Plateau, by way of the highest all-weather road in Africa, where the spikes of giant lobelias punctuate the moorland like huge exclamation marks. Elsewhere the rolling grasslands are interspersed with patches of juniper, tree-heath and Hagenia woodland, whilst at the foot of a dramatic escarpment lies the still extensive Harenna Forest.

A high priority will be sighting the red coat of an Ethiopian Wolf against the grey moorlands. (Interestingly the latter, which used to be called Simien Fox, was thought to be either a fox or a jackal, but genetics have shown it is actually more closely related to the wolves and coyotes.) We should get good views of this signature species, in spite of the fact the population has declined in recent times owing to infection from canine distemper brought in by domestic dogs. As in so much of Ethiopia, human encroachment in the Bale is an ever-increasing threat to the area’s wonderful wildlife.

We should also be able to watch the strange, buck-toothed endemic Giant Root-Rat feeding at the entrance to its burrows, while numerous Blick’s Grass Rats and other rodents scamper across the moorlands. Other likely mammals include Bush Duiker, Ethiopian Klipspringer and the endemic Ethiopian Highlands (or Starck’s) Hare.

Among the avian endemics and near-endemics we shall be concentrating on here are the perky Rouget’s Rail, the attractive Spot-breasted Lapwing, Chestnut-naped Francolin, Abyssinian Woodpecker, Ethiopian (or Abyssinian) Oriole, Abyssinian Catbird, Abyssinian Slaty Flycatcher, White-backed Black Tit and Abyssinian Longclaw, as well as the restricted-range Moorland Francolin (which becomes an Ethiopian endemic if Elgon Francolin of East Africa is treated as specifically distinct) and Abyssinian Ground Thrush. We should also come across the Bale form of the Brown Parisoma, which is occasionally split as Bale Parisoma.

Other birds we shall be looking for include Steppe Eagle, Rufous-breasted Sparrowhawk, Common Buzzard, African Snipe, African Olive Pigeon, Dark-capped Bulbul, African Stonechat, African Dusky Flycatcher, Cinnamon Bracken and Brown Woodland Warblers, African Hill Babbler, Montane White-eye, Slender-billed Starling, the localized Sharpe’s Starling, Tacazze Sunbird, Abyssinian Crimsonwing, Yellow-bellied Waxbill and Yellow-crowned Canary. Two mainly Palearctic species, Ruddy Shelduck and Red-billed Chough, breed here, with Ethiopia representing their only Afrotropical outpost. Less common raptors include the magnificent African Crowned Eagle, Long-crested Eagle, Golden Eagle (rare here at its only sub-Saharan outpost), Black (or Great) Sparrowhawk and Mountain Buzzard.

Ultimate Ethiopia Birding Tour: Day 9  We shall return to the Sanetti Plateau for some final birding and wolf-spotting today before descending into the Harenna forest for further exploration. Afterwards we continue southwards through the farmlands and areas of juniper and broad-leaved forest of the remote mountains of Sidamo until we reach the remote town of Negelle for a three nights stay.

Around the Genale River we enter prime habitat for the endangered endemic Ruspoli’s (or Prince Ruspoli’s) Turaco. By carefully checking the large fruiting figs we should come across this stunning  and charismatic creature (which we can also see around Negelle itself). The turaco has a fascinating history as its discoverer, the Italian Prince Eugenio Ruspoli, was killed in 1893 by an elephant that he had shot at and wounded. He died before he could describe the turaco’s location (the type specimen was discovered in his baggage) and the species was not rediscovered until the 1940s.

Tour Days 10-11  From our base at Negelle we shall explore a vast open area of grassland surrounded by acacia and Commiphora bush and low stands of whistling thorn. The more common grassland species are Plain-backed Pipit and the restricted-range Somali Short-toed Lark, but our main target, the rare and skulking, near-endemic Archer’s Lark will take more searching for. The population of the latter in this area was formerly treated as specifically distinct under the names Liben or Sidamo Lark. We shall make good use of the early morning as the Archer’s Larks (which one of our leaders heard the local reserve guard referring to as ‘The Very Running’!) will almost certainly be most active while it is still cool. (We may see one or more in display flight, but more likely we will have to walk some way before we track one down as it scurries along looking for its breakfast.) We should also find Black-winged and Crowned Lapwings, the restricted-range Somali Crow (or Dwarf Raven) and Pectoral-patch Cisticola, and we have a reasonable chance of coming across Temminck’s Courser and possibly even Caspian Plover.

The surrounding bushland is favoured by three restricted-range species – Shelley’s and White-crowned Starlings, and Shelley’s Sparrow, as well as Speke’s Weaver.

Other important birds we shall be seeking out in the Negelle region include the endemic Salvadori’s Seedeater as well as such restricted-range specialities as Dodson’s Bulbul, Boran Cisticola, Brown-tailed Rock Chat, Bristle-crowned Starling and Juba Weaver. With luck we will also encounter Black-bellied Sunbird.

Species of wider distribution include Grey Kestrel, Yellow-necked Spurfowl, Kori Bustard, White-browed Coucal, Lilac-breasted Roller, Red-and-yellow Barbet, Orange-breasted (or Sulphur-breasted) and Grey-headed Bushshrikes, Black-headed Oriole, Northern Brownbul, Eastern Olivaceous Warbler, Red-faced Crombec, Yellow-breasted Apalis (the form here is sometimes split as Brown-tailed Apalis), African Thrush, Violet-backed Starling, Purple Grenadier, Reichenow’s Seedeater and the handsome Somali Bunting.

Ultimate Ethiopia Birding Tour: Day 12  Today we will travel from Negelle to Yabello for a four nights stay. Along the way, we should find three restricted-range specialities, White-winged Collared Dove, Somali Crombec and Yellow-vented Eremomela, along the banks of the Dawa river.

We will also have the opportunity to make stops in the acacia and Commiphora bushland and more open grassy areas typical of this dry southern region of the country. This will give us our first chances for the many restricted-range specialities that occur in the broader region around Yabello.

There are so many special birds to be found in the Yabello region, and quite a few of them require time to find. In consequence we devote more time to this area than other bird tours, enabling the Birdquest group to explore key habitats that bus-based groups cannot reach or have insufficient time to visit.

Ultimate Ethiopia Birding Tour: Days 13-15  This interesting part of Ethiopia has an avifauna broadly similar to that of northern Kenya, but in addition is home to three endemic species that are found only here in Sidamo province.

The discovery of the extraordinary Stresemann’s Bushcrow, described in 1938, represents one of the most remarkable ornithological events in Africa and we shall be eagerly looking out for our first party of these strange birds that recall starlings as much as corvids. Nowadays they generally favour areas where cattle roam (although once it must have been wild ungulates) and it is fascinating to follow the birds as they wander along turning over dried cow pats with their long bills in their search for juicy invertebrates.

The second star endemic attraction of the area is the enchanting White-tailed Swallow, which was first described in 1942 from the small town of Mega by Con Benson, then a British Army officer posted there during the successful campaign to throw out the invading Italians from Ethiopia. The species favours more open bushland with tall termite hills, which are favoured nest sites along with culverts and even local houses.

Lastly, the extremely localized and endangered endemic Black-fronted Francolin (a recent split from Chestnut-naped) is also restricted to this part of Ethiopia, where it clings to a precarious existence owing to clearance for subsistence agriculture. We have an excellent site for it and so should be able to see this little-known species.

In addition, a suite of restricted-range specialities in this superb area includes the striking Vulturine Guineafowl, the handsome Somali Courser, the smart Red-naped Bushshrike, Pringle’s Puffback, the poorly-known the Masked Lark (which is only found in southern Ethiopia and northern Kenya, and even then only sometimes seen on speciality Kenyan birding tours such as our own), Pale Prinia, the furtive Scaly Chatterer and Northern Grosbeak-Canary. With luck we will come across the uncommon Magpie Starling (a nomadic species we could also encounter in the Negelle region).If local conditions allow, we will also visit an area where Donaldson-Smith’s Sparrow-Weavers can be found.

As well as these prize birds, there are many other birds of particular interest in the Yabello area and we shall be looking out for the increasingly uncommon White-headed Vulture, Eastern Chanting Goshawk, Three-banded (or Heuglin’s) Courser, Black-faced Sandgrouse, Red-bellied (or African Orange-bellied) Parrot, Donaldson Smith’s Nightjar, Red-fronted and D’Arnaud’s Barbets, Pygmy Batis, Three-streaked Tchagra, Taita Fiscal, Ethiopian Swallow, Short-tailed and Foxy Larks, Tiny Cisticola, Banded Parisoma, Red-fronted Warbler, Grey Wren-Warbler, African Bare-eyed Thrush, the gorgeous Golden-breasted Starling, Rufous Chatterer, Spotted Palm Thrush, Acacia (or Northern Grey) Tit, Eastern Violet-backed and Hunter’s Sunbirds, Grey-capped and Black-capped Social Weavers, and White-bellied Canary. We will also have another opportunity to find the rather uncommon Red-winged Lark.

Widespread species that we may well encounter include Black-winged (or Black-shouldered) Kite, Brown Snake Eagle, Bateleur, Shikra, Bare-faced Go-away-bird (the local form is sometimes split as Brown-faced Go-away-bird), African Scops Owl, Pearl-spotted Owlet, Purple (or Rufous-crowned) Roller and White-crested Helmetshrike.

Mammals are rather sparse, but we should see Plains (or Common) Zebra, the endearing Guenther’s Dik-dik, Bright’s Gazelle and the handsome, long-necked Southern Gerenuk.

Ultimate Ethiopia Birding Tour: Day 16  After some early morning birding in the Yabello area we will travel north to Lake Awassa for an overnight stay.

Ultimate Ethiopia Birding Tour: Day 17  Lake Awassa is a freshwater lake, quite different from the alkaline lakes to the north, surrounded by patches of remnant forest. The star attractions here are the very localized African Spotted Creeper and the extraordinary-looking endemic Thick-billed Raven (which is widespread but more regularly seen here than at most other localities on our itinerary).

Other species we may well come across at Awassa include the pretty African Pygmy Goose, White-backed Duck, African Spoonbill, Hadada Ibis, Goliath Heron, Little Grebe, White-breasted Cormorant, Common Moorhen, African Swamphen, Bruce’s Green Pigeon, Blue-headed Coucal, Woodland Kingfisher, Double-toothed Barbet, Eastern Grey Woodpecker, White-browed Robin Chat, Lesser Swamp Warbler, Brown-throated Wattle-eye and Thick-billed (or Grosbeak) Weaver.

Before we leave the Awassa region behind we will visit another wetland area that usually holds the splendid Wattled Crane, as well as the lovely Black Crowned Crane and wintering Common Cranes, and also an area of grassland that is the last stronghold of the handsome endemic Swayne’s Hartebeest. Afterwards we will head for Welkite for an overnight stay.

Ultimate Ethiopia Birding Tour: Day 18  Today we will visit the Gibe Valley National Park (also known as ‘Gibe Gorge’, although it is more of a broad, deep valley than a gorge as such). This is the most reliable site during the tour for the near-endemic Abyssinian Waxbill and also offers another chance for the endemic Red-billed (or Lineated) Pytilia. We also have a fairly good chance for both Bar-breasted and Black-faced Firefinches, and even slim chances of finding the superb Egyptian Plover and the localized Reichard’s Seedeater. Other birds here may well include Senegal Thick-knee, Vinaceous Dove, Eastern Plantain-eater, Giant Kingfisher, Lesser Striped Swallow, Familiar Chat, African Pied Wagtail and Bronze Mannikin. The main tour ends after dinner this evening at Addis Ababa.

GONDAR & WHITE-HEADED BABBLER EXTENSION

Ultimate Ethiopia Birding Tour (Gondar): Day 1  We will spend the night at Addis Ababa.

Ultimate Ethiopia Birding Tour (Gondar): Day 2  Early this morning we will take a flight northwards to the ancient city of Gondar, seat of one of the most important dynasties in Ethiopia’s long and rich history, for a two nights stay. As we approach Gondar airport we will fly in over the huge expanse of Lake Tana, which is widely considered the source of the Blue Nile (although naturally the head of the longest of the minor rivers that flow into the lake is the technical source).

The airport is not far from the lake, so we will first head to the shoreline to look for birds. We may well turn up a few species not seen on the main tour.

After lunch in Gondar, where we will stay at a good hotel perched on a hill with a spectacular view across the city, we will visit the famous royal enclosure, sometimes known as ‘The Camelot of Africa’, which seems a rather strange choice of analogy given the blood-thirsty and decidedly ‘uncollegiate’ history of the Solomonic dynasty! Nonetheless, the complex is quite extraordinary and most unexpected for anyone who imagines that sub-Saharan Africa produced no great civilizations. Ethiopia, with its nearly 2000 years of Christianity and long period of Judaism prior to that, is the great exception to this generalization.

The Solomonic dynasty of Ethiopia dates back to the meeting of the Queen of Sheba with King Solomon in Jerusalem in the 10th century BC, and the subsequent birth of their son, Menelik I, but it was only much later, and after a long interruption to the dynastic rule, that the city of Gondar was founded by the Emperor Fasilides in about 1635 AD. It remained the capital of Ethiopia until 1855. Its role as a bastion against Muslim invaders continued until 1887, when ‘dervish’ invaders from Sudan sacked the city and burned most of its churches.

We will explore the impressive Castle of Fasilides and several palaces of his successors, all of which are built solidly in stone and look very impressive, recalling the fortified palaces of Europe and the Near East, but with an African flavour.

Ultimate Ethiopia Birding Tour (Gondar): Day 3  We will set out early today in order to start our exploration of a lower lying area before the day heats up. The habitat here is a mixture of ‘farmbush’ and natural woodland, and our main target is the restricted-range White-headed Babbler, a species that occurs only in parts of eastern Sudan and parts of western Ethiopia and Eritrea. This little-known speciality has been seen by very few birders.

As well as the White-headed Babbler, we should see a number of species of wider distribution, some of which, in Ethiopia, are restricted to the western regions. These include Woolly-necked Stork, Grasshopper Buzzard, Vinaceous Dove, Black-billed Wood Dove, Klaas’s Cuckoo, Green Bee-eater, Green Wood Hoopoe, Meyer’s Parrot, Rose-ringed Parakeet, the striking Black-headed Gonolek, the localized White-winged Black Tit, Green-backed Eremomela, Yellow White-eye, Lesser Blue-eared Starling, Northern Grey-headed Sparrow and Black-rumped Waxbill. We also have a chance of finding the crepuscular Bronze-winged (or Violet-tipped) Courser.

Ultimate Ethiopia Birding Tour (Gondar): Day 4  Our tour ends this morning with a flight to Addis Ababa.

ULTIMATE ETHIOPIA TOUR REPORT 2018

by Nik Borrow

View Report

ULTIMATE ETHIOPIA TOUR REPORT 2017

by Nik Borrow

View Report

ULTIMATE ETHIOPIA TOUR REPORT 2015

by János Oláh

View Report

Other key-importance Eastern Africa birding tours by Birdquest include:

Somali

Africa (excluding the North)

ULTIMATE KENYA

Usambara

Africa (excluding the North)

ULTIMATE TANZANIA: THE EASTERN ARC

Shoebill

Africa (excluding the North)

ULTIMATE UGANDA