The Ultimate In Birding Tours

Africa (and its islands)

BEST OF ETHIOPIA – Endemics & Ethiopian Wolves on the Roof of Africa

Monday 10th October – Friday 21st October 2022

Leaders: Nik Borrow and Merid Gabremichael

12 Days Group Size Limit 8


Birdquest’s Best of Ethiopia birding tours are a feast of birdwatching, wildlife and scenic experiences that is hard to rival in Africa. Our Best of Ethiopia birding tour takes in the great majority of Ethiopia’s endemic and other specialities, combining them with an unforgettable combination of a large bird list, magnificent scenery and an exploration of some decidedly remote and wild places.

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 a ‘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.

This special tour combines most of Ethiopia’s endemics and near endemics with wonderful scenery and a diversity of habitats. The perfect combination for those who would like a shorter tour to this wonderful country. 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.

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 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.

Next, we will descend into the Great Rift Valley, where 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 and the superb Black Crowned Crane.

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.

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 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 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. Specialities in this region include the endemic Thick-billed Raven and the localized African Spotted Creeper.

Birdquest has operated Ethiopia birding tours since 1987.

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 standard. At Negelle the hotel is fairly simple, but most of the rooms have private bathrooms. Road transport is by 4×4 vehicles. Roads vary from good to bad.

Walking: The walking effort during Best of Ethiopia birding tours is mostly easy, but there are a few longer walks, sometimes at fairly high altitude.

Climate: Predominantly warm or hot, dry and sunny. It can be quite cool in the early morning, especially at higher altitudes, and in the Bale 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 Best of Ethiopia birding tours are good.


  • Birding a country rich in endemics, near-endemics and regional specialities, often amidst spectacular scenery.
  • Tracking down the localised endemic Harwood’s Francolin in the Jemma Valley against a backdrop of sheer cliffs frequented by endemic White-billed Starlings, Rüppell’s Black Chats and White-winged Cliff Chats.
  • Waiting for flocks of endemic Ankober Serins to fly up from the sheer cliffs that overlook the Danakil desert.
  • Walking in the beautiful juniper woodlands in the Bale Mountains in search of the seldom-seen Abyssinian Long-eared Owl, the unusual Abyssinian Catbird, Abyssinian Woodpecker and White-backed Black Tit.
  • Setting eyes on the beautiful (Prince) Ruspoli’s Turaco.
  • Finding the ultra-rare Archer’s Lark on the expansive Liben Plains.
  • Flocks of the strange endemic Stresemann’s Bushcrow amongst the chimneystack termite mounds frequented by the delightful White-tailed Swallow.
  • The extraordinary Thick-billed Raven soaring in the mountains.
  • Some very special and impressive mammals, including the endangered Ethiopian Wolf and its prey the Giant Root Rat, as well as the elegant Gedemsa (or Mountain Nyala) and the splendid Gelada.


  • Day 1: Morning tour start at Addis Ababa. Drive to Debre Birhan.
  • Day 2: Jemma Valley. Overnight at Debre Birhan.
  • Day 3: Descend into Great Rift Valley and continue to Lake Langano via Lake Zwai.
  • Day 4: Lake Langano, plus Lake Abiata if time allows.
  • Day 5: Lake Langano, then drive to Goba via Dinsho.
  • Day 6: Sanetti Plateau. Bale Mountains.
  • Day 7: Sanetti Plateau, then drive to Negelle.
  • Day 8: Negelle region.
  • Day 9: Drive to Yabello via Dawa River.
  • Day 10: Yabello region.
  • Day 11: Yabello region, then drive to Lake Awassa.
  • Day 12: Lake Awassa, then drive to Addis Ababa for evening tour end.

To see a larger map, click on the square-like ‘enlarge’ icon in the upper right of the map box.

To see (or hide) the ‘map legend’, click on the icon with an arrow in the upper left of the map box.

To change to a satellite view, which is great for seeing the physical terrain (and for seeing really fine details by repetitive use of the + button), click on the square ‘map view’ icon in the lower left corner of the ‘map legend’.


Birdquest Inclusions: Our tour prices include surface transportation, accommodations, meals and entrance fees.

We also include all tipping for local guides, drivers and accommodation/restaurant staff.

Deposit: 20% of the total tour price. Our office will let you know what deposit amount is due, in order to confirm your booking, following receipt of your online booking form.

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

2022: £2940, $4150, €3480, AUD5680. Addis Ababa/Addis Ababa.

Single Supplement: 2022: £200, $290, €240, AUD390.

The single supplement will not apply if you are willing 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.


Best of Ethiopia: Day 1  Our tour begins this morning at Addis Ababa.

(Some international flights arrive in the early morning, but if you need a hotel booking and arrival transfer for the previous day we will be pleased to assist.)

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 drive out of the city and 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.

Best of Ethiopia: 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.

Best of Ethiopia: Day 3  Today we will descend into the Great Rift Valley as we head for Lake Langano for a two nights stay.

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, as is the superb Black Crowned Crane.

Other birds we may well find at Lake Zwai (or elsewhere in the Rift Valley) 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, the superb Black Crowned Crane, 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 Lesser Jacana, Allen’s Gallinule or even Lesser Moorhen at Zwai or one of the other wetlands we visit in Ethiopia.

Best of Ethiopia: Day 4  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.

Best of Ethiopia: Day 5  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.

Best of Ethiopia: Day 6  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 the restricted-range and declining Wattled Crane, as well as 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.

Best of Ethiopia: Day 7  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 two 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.

Best of Ethiopia: Day 8  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 and Bristle-crowned Starling.

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.

Best of Ethiopia: Day 9  Today we will travel from Negelle to Yabello for a two 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. A fourth such species, Juba Weaver, is also possible.

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.

Best of Ethiopia: Day 10  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 cowpats 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, 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).

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.

Best of Ethiopia: Day 11  After some early morning birding in the Yabello area we will travel north to Lake Awassa for an overnight stay and a celebratory dinner to mark the upcoming end of the tour.

Best of Ethiopia: Day 12  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.

After returning to our rooms for a chance to wash and change, and following lunch, we return to Addis Ababa. The tour ends at the airport (or your hotel if you are staying overnight) this evening.


by Nik Borrow

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Other shorter Africa birding tours by Birdquest include: