The Ultimate In Birding Tours

Africa

SWIFT ETHIOPIA

Bushcrows, Turacos & Wolves

Tuesday 13th October – Tuesday 20th October 2020

Leaders: Nik Borrow and Merid Gabremichael.

8 Days Group Size Limit 9
Wednesday 13th October – Wednesday 20th October 2021

Leaders: Nik Borrow and Merid Gabremichael.

8 Days Group Size Limit 9

SWIFT ETHIOPIA: OVERVIEW

Birdquest’s Swift Ethiopia birding tours are comparatively short tours that provide the opportunity to see many of Ethiopia’s endemic species and other special birds, including the enigmatic Stresemann’s Bushcrow and Prince Ruspoli’s Turaco, the latter until recently a true bird of mystery and a species with an extraordinary history. There is also an excellent chance to see the endangered Ethiopian Wold amidst the magnificent scenery of the Bale Mountains.

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.

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 robed horsemen gallop across the high plains, Ethiopian Wolves hunt Giant Root-Rats among the grey cushion plants of the Afro-alpine moorlands 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.

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 tours since 1987.

Accommodation & Road Transport: The hotels/lodges are mostly of good standard. At Negelle the hotel is fairly simple, but the rooms have private bathrooms. Road transport is by small coach. Roads vary from good to bad.

Walking: The walking effort during our Swift Ethiopia tour 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 our Swift Ethiopia tour are good.


PRICE INFORMATION

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: £310, $400, €350.

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


2020: £1860, $2450, €2160. Addis Ababa/Addis Ababa.
2021: provisional £1860, $2450, €2160. Addis Ababa/Addis Ababa.

Single Supplement: 2020: £130, $180, €150.
Single Supplement: 2021: £130, $180, €150.

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.

SWIFT ETHIOPIA TOUR: DETAILED ITINERARY

Swift Ethiopia: Day 1  Our tour begins this morning in Addis Ababa, from where we will drive southwards and leaving the Rift Valley 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 shall look out for Red-chested and Grey-rumped Swallows as well as more widespread species such as Egyptian Goose, Yellow-billed and African Black Ducks, African Sacred Ibis, Western Cattle Egret, African Harrier Hawk, Hooded and Rüppell’s Vultures, Western Marsh, Montagu’s and Pallid Harriers, Yellow-billed Kite, Augur Buzzard, Red-knobbed Coot, Black-winged Lapwing, Speckled Pigeon, Laughing, Dusky Turtle and Red-eyed Doves, Speckled Mousebird, Silvery-cheeked Hornbill, Common Kestrel, Ethiopian Boubou, Northern Fiscal, Cape and Pied Crows, Fan-tailed Raven, Thekla’s and Erlanger’s Larks, Dark-capped Bulbul, Barn Swallow, Greater Blue-eared Starling, Groundscraper and Abyssinian Thrushes, Red-breasted, Isabelle and Pied Wheatears, Swainson’s Sparrow, Yellow Bishop, Western Yellow Wagtail, African and Red-throated Pipits and Streaky Seedeater.

As we climb higher, we enter juniper woodland before reaching the moorlands of the Bale Mountains where 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. Species that we are likely to see include our first endemics such as  Blue-winged Goose, Wattled Ibis,  White-collared Pigeon, the extraordinary-looking endemic Thick-billed Raven, White-backed Black Tit, Ethiopian Cisticola, Abyssinian Catbird, Abyssinian Slaty Flycatcher, Abyssinian Longclaw and Ethiopian Siskin.

In the magnificent remnant Juniper and Hagenia forests around the park headquarters 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. Other woodland and forest edge species include Northern Puffback, Common Chiffchaff, Brown Woodland Warbler, Eurasian Blackcap, Heuglin’s White-eye, Abyssinian Ground Thrush, African Dusky Flycatcher, Rüppell’s Robin-Chat, Tacazze Sunbird, Baglafecht Weaver, African Citril and Yellow-crowned Canary. 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.

Swift Ethiopia: Day 2  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, White-cheeked Turaco, Abyssinian Woodpecker and Ethiopian (or Abyssinian) Oriole as well as the restricted-range Moorland Francolin (which becomes an Ethiopian endemic if Elgon Francolin of East Africa is treated as specifically distinct). 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 magnificent Bearded Vulture, Steppe Eagle, Rufous-breasted Sparrowhawk, Common Buzzard, Wattled Crane, African Snipe, African Olive Pigeon, Nyanza Swift, African Stonechat, Cinnamon Bracken Warbler, African Hill Babbler, Slender-billed Starling and Yellow-bellied Waxbill. 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.

Swift Ethiopia: Day 3  We shall return to the Sanetti Plateau for some final birding and wolf-spotting today before descending into the Harenna forest for further exploration where we shall look for African Goshawk, Tambourine Dove, Yellow-fronted Tinkerbird, Grey Cuckooshrike, Olive Sunbird, the localized Sharpe’s Starling, Abyssinian Crimsonwing and Black-and-white Mannikin. 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.

Swift Ethiopia: Day 4  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 Black-billed Wood Hoopoe, Dodson’s Bulbul, Boran Cisticola and Bristle-crowned Starling.

Species of wider distribution include Helmeted Guineafowl, Coqui and Crested Francolins, Yellow-necked Spurfowl, Black-headed Heron, Black-winged Kite, Egyptian Vulture, Kori and White-bellied Bustards, Spur-winged, Crowned and African Wattled Lapwings,  Ring-necked Dove, Emerald-spotted Wood Dove, White-bellied Go-away-bird, White-browed Coucal, Blue-naped Mousebird, Lilac-breasted Roller (here of the blue breasted form lorti), Little Bee-eater, Eurasian Hoopoe,  Northern Red-billed, Von der Decken’s, Eastern Yellow-billed and African Grey Hornbills, Nubian Woodpecker, Red-and-yellow Barbet, Lesser and Grey Kestrels, Grey-headed and Western Black-headed Batises, Grey-headed, Orange-breasted (or Sulphur-breasted) and Rosy-patched Bushshrikes, Black-crowned Tchagra, Slate-coloured Boubou, Brubru, Northern White-crowned Shrike, Isabelle and Red-tailed Shrikes, Taita Fiscal, Black-headed Oriole, Fork-tailed Drone, African Paradise Flycatcher, Acacia Tit, Mouse-coloured Penduline Tit, Northern Brownbul, Ethiopian Swallow, Northern and Red-faced Crombecs, Willow and Eastern Olivaceous Warblers, Yellow-breasted Apalis (the form here is sometimes split as Brown-tailed Apalis), Grey-backed Camaroptera, Yellow-bellied Eremomela, Pale White-eye, Wattled, Golden-breasted, Superb, Bristle-crowned and Violet-backed Starlings, African Thrush, Northern Black Flycatcher, Common Nightingale, Common Redstart, Collared, Marico and Tsavo Sunbirds, Yellow-spotted Petronia, Red-billed and White-headed Buffalo-Weavers, Red-headed Weaver, Red-cheeked Cordon-bleu, Purple Grenadier, Pin-tailed and Straw-tailed Whydahs, Tree Pipit, Reichenow’s Seedeater and the handsome Somali Bunting.

Swift Ethiopia: Day 5  Today we will travel from Negelle to Yabello for a two nights stay. Along the way, we should find four restricted-range specialities, White-winged Collared Dove, Gillett’s Lark, Somali Crombec and Yellow-vented Eremomela, along the banks of the Dawa River. Another 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.

Swift Ethiopia: Day 6  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, Three-streaked Tchagra, 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). At night we stand a good chance of seeing Donaldson Smith’s Nightjar and African Scops Owl.

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 White Stork, White-backed and Lappet-faced Vultures and the increasingly uncommon White-headed Vulture, Black-chested and Brown Snake Eagles, Bateleur, Tawny Eagle, Gabar Goshawk, Eastern Chanting Goshawk, Shikra, Buff-crested Bustard, Three-banded (or Heuglin’s) Courser, Black-faced Sandgrouse, Namaqua Dove, Bare-faced Go-away-bird (the local form is sometimes split as Brown-faced Go-away-bird), Klaas’s Cuckoo, Pearl-spotted Owlet, Alpine Swift, Purple (or Rufous-crowned) Roller, Blue-breasted (sometimes split as Ethiopian) Bee-eater, Abyssinian Scimitarbill, Red-fronted, Black-throated and D’Arnaud’s Barbets, Bearded Woodpecker, Red-bellied (or African Orange-bellied) Parrot, Pygmy Batis, Red-naped Bushshrike, White-crested Helmetshrike, Somali Fiscal, Foxy and Short-tailed Larks, Rock Martin, Rattling, Ashy and Tiny Cisticolas,  Red-fronted Warbler, Grey Wren-Warbler, Rufous Chatterer, Banded Parisoma, Red-winged Starling, Bare-eyed Thrush, White-browed Scrub Robin, African Grey Flycatcher, Spotted Palm Thrush, Variable, Eastern Violet-backed and Hunter’s Sunbirds, Chestnut Sparrow, White-browed Sparrow-Weaver, Grey-capped and Black-capped Social Weavers, Little and Vitelline Masked Weavers, Green-winged Pytilia, Black-cheeked Waxbill and White-bellied Canary. If we are lucky we may find one or more of the following; Somali Ostrich, Secretarybird, Red-winged Lark and Grey-headed Silverbill.

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.

Swift Ethiopia: Day 7  After some early morning birding in the Yabello area we will travel north to Lake Awassa for an overnight stay.

Swift Ethiopia: Day 8  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 endemic Banded Barbet and Black-winged Lovebird alongside the very localized African Spotted Creeper.

Other species we may well come across at Awassa include White-faced Whistling Duck, White-backed Duck, Spur-winged Goose, the pretty African Pygmy Goose, Little Grebe, Marabou Stork, Hadada Ibis, African Spoonbill, Squacco, Grey, Purple and Goliath Herons, Great, Intermediate and Little Egrets, Hamerkop, Great White and Pink-backed Pelicans, Reed and White-breasted Cormorants, African Fish Eagle, Black Crake, African Swamphen, Allen’s Gallinule, Common Moorhen, African Jacana, Black-headed and Grey-headed Gulls, Whiskered and White-winged Terns, Mourning Collared Dove, Bruce’s Green Pigeon, Blue-headed Coucal, Woodland, African Pygmy and Pied Kingfishers, Double-toothed Barbet, Lesser Honeyguide, Eastern Grey Woodpecker, Brown-throated Wattle-eye, Grey-backed Fiscal, Common Bulbul, Brown-throated, Sand and Common House Martins, Lesser Swamp and Sedge Warblers, Buff-bellied Warbler, White-rumped Babbler, Abyssinian White-eye, White-browed Robin-Chat, Beautiful and Scarlet-chested Sunbirds, Spectacled Weaver, Northern Red Bishop, Red-billed Firefinch, Common Waxbill, Bronze Mannikin and Thick-billed (or Grosbeak) Weaver. Sometimes there is a Verreaux’s Eagle-Owl in residence.

From Lake Awassa we return to Addis Ababa, where the tour ends this evening.

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