I traveled to South Africa with Birding Africa, a small tour company based in Cape Town, South Africa. The tour was a hard-core birding trip that focused on endemic species (species found only in southern Africa), and the itinerary More »
My Ethiopia trip was with Rockjumper Birding Tours, which is based in South Africa. Our Rockjumper guide (Wayne) was South African, and a fantastic guide. The tour was from 30 November – 18 December 2014. More »
Today I went for a hike in Henry Coe State Park – the first time I’ve been there! The park website wasn’t very helpful in terms of selecting a trail, except I More »
On 15 December I flew to Ushuaia on the island of Tierra del Fuego. The flight was fun – the plane had to travel up the channel and back in order to More »
On 7 December I flew to El Calafate. This flight was also delayed, which I had again accounted for. I found another van shuttle to take me into town, and they dropped More »
I traveled to South Africa with Birding Africa, a small tour company based in Cape Town, South Africa. The tour was a hard-core birding trip that focused on endemic species (species found only in southern Africa), and the itinerary included visits to several of the large game reserves in the east, which I was excited to see. I saw a total of 495 species of birds on the trip, and more than 50 species of mammals.
By popular request, here is a link to just the photos from my trip – I included about 150. All of the photos are posted below in slideshows below to go with this blog post. I also made a map of the places I visited at the bottom of this post.
I will get the elephant out of the room (elephant pun!!) so that I don’t have to discuss it further – our guide, Ethan, while an excellent birder, was a constant cynical jerk and I did not enjoy his company. For my birding colleagues, I do not recommend traveling with Birding Africa. I traveled to Ethiopia with Rockjumper Birding Tours last year, and their guide was outstanding.
Fortunately, I was blessed with the company of the absolute best group of tour participants, ever. There were seven of us in total, with one participant (Charlie) leaving the group after we completed the western part of the tour, and another participant (Rogier) joining us when we arrived in the east. I unfortunately don’t have a group photo of everyone, but two photos of most of us are posted below. David and Jane are a husband and wife from Canada – David has a great sense of humor and arrived for the tour directly after completing a hiking expedition in Peru, and Jane is an extremely sweet person who is great at spotting birds, likes to sit in the back of the van, and is often “inserted for scale” in David’s photos. Charlie (not pictured) is a very shy, sweet man from Oakland. Rogier, from the Netherlands, was an amazing birder with incredible optimism and enthusiasm, and had a fantastic spotting scope that he shared with us. Philip is a veterinarian from the town in the UK where they filmed Hot Fuzz, had just traveled to Botswana with his family, and was just about the most easygoing person ever. Margaret and Clare have been married for more than 30 years, and are from Santa Cruz! Margaret had us laughing so hard we were rolling in the aisle of the van on most days, and Clare took hundreds of amazing photos of birds and shared them with me! I cannot say enough great things about these people.
I flew to South Africa on British Airways, which I was mostly happy with except for the substantial delays flying through Heathrow en route. Because of the delays I missed my domestic flight from Johannesburg to Cape Town and had to rebook and pay a fee, but I managed to get to Cape Town only a few hours later than expected. I rented a car and drove to Makapa Lodge in Capri Village, which is on the peninsula south of the city. I stayed there for two nights in a cute little cottage.
On my first day, I drove to the Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden, which was a ~30 min drive north of my lodge on the peninsula. The garden abuts Table Mountain National Park, and is quite large – with some fun birds and all kinds of cool plants. The most notable plants (to me) were the native proteas, which were blooming and attracting sunbirds and sugarbirds. I stayed at the garden until the afternoon, when I went to the Strandfontein Sewage Works. This is a popular local birding spot, with numerous ducks, waders, flamingos, and other birds.
The next day I drove to the Cape Point Nature Reserve when it opened at 6am. I had the entire park to myself for more than 2 hours. I drove to Cape Point and the Cape of Good Hope and walked around alone, and spent the rest of the day driving around the other roads in the park, again mostly without other people around. It was a very pretty park with some great birds to watch.
I returned the rental car in downtown Cape Town, which was something of a driving adventure, and took a taxi to my accommodation for the night, which was outside the main city. I met the other tour participants and the guide at breakfast the following morning.
Western Cape and Northern Cape
We spent the first couple of days birding around the Western Cape, based out of Cape Town. On the first day, we traveled to Roo-eis in the Hottentots-Holland Mountains, where we saw Cape rockjumpers. Rockjumpers are in the family Chaetopidae, and there are only two species in the world. Both are endemic to southern Africa. We also saw several species of sunbirds, Chacma baboons, and cape rock thrush. We drove to a Betty’s Baai where we visited a breeding colony of African penguins, which have precipitously declining populations and are in danger of going extinct. The penguins have a ridiculous call that sounds like a donkey, which is why they’re also called jackass penguins. We also saw three species of cormorant there. For lunch we stopped at the Harold Porter Botanical Garden, and in the afternoon we visited the Strandfontein Sewage Works again, and had much better luck birding than I’d had two days ago. Our guide also knew where to find certain species, such as a day-roosting Cape eagle owl.
On our second day we went on a pelagic trip. I used a scopolamine patch, which I hadn’t used for several years, and it gave me horrible acid reflux. The boat trip was extremely rough, the boat itself was very small, and most of us weren’t very comfortable. Myself and a few others clung to the back of the cabin for most of the trip. The highlight of the trip was several breaching humpback whales, which put on a fantastic show for us. We also saw two species of seabirds that I hadn’t seen before: Cape gannet and Cape petrel. There were albatross other petrels, too. We made our way out to a pair of trawlers and watched them for awhile (the birds are attracted to fishing boats), but we had to turn around soon after because the ocean was so rough. On the way back I nearly threw up, but managed not to. No one was very happy at the end of the day, and we joked quite a bit later about how terrible the trip was. After the boat ride, we visited Zandvlei Estuary Nature Reserve.
We spent a day birding agricultural fields around Cape Town, and West Coast National Park. We saw blue cranes, which are the national bird of South Africa, as well as ostriches, some waders and shorebirds, black harriers, and several species of terns.
We drove to Malagas, where we crossed a river on a cable bridge operated by hand. Birding around the area, we saw karoo korhaan and Denham’s bustard, which were our first bustards of the trip. I spotted the korhaan sitting in brown grass and impressed everyone in the van! The next day we visited the nearby De Hoop Reserve, where after much effort we saw southern tchagra and knysna woodpecker. Knysna woodpeckers are really pretty!!
One of our favorite accommodations of the trip was Honeywood Farm. It was a honey farm with a eucalyptus grove, which actually wasn’t that great for birding except at night – we saw one of my favorite birds on the trip, African wood owl, after dark. Our hostess, Miranda, was a boisterous and enthusiastic woman who cooked us dinner but hadn’t received the notification of our various dietary restrictions… she made up for it by mocking my ridiculous list of food allergies and causing us all to laugh so hard we were in tears. She and her husband sold honey and marmalades, and cooked us a fantastic dinner and breakfast. The old house we stayed in was fascinating, except for the dark brown water coming out of the tap. Most of us weren’t brave enough to shower.
Honeywood Farm was close to Grootvadersbach Nature Reserve, which we visited twice. There we saw blue-mantled crested flycatchers, knysna warbler, Narina trogon, and forest canary.
From Honeywood we drove a very long way northwest to Ceres, which was the start of our time in the desert. The desert is called the karoo, and we drove through a small corner of the called the little karoo, or Tanqua Karoo. In the afternoon we made a trip up a mountain pass to see protea canary.
We spent the next several days driving through the desert. It was extremely scenic, with low-growing desert scub, barbed wire fences, and dirt roads. A few members of the group got a bit burnt out by the scenery and many brown birds, and I recall a memorable sketch of a barbed wire fence next to a few shrubs “x1,000,000,000,000 = the Karoo”. There may have been a few more zero’s. We did see a LOT of little brown birds. There are many endemic larks of southern Africa, and they are quite difficult to find and tell apart. We also saw pipits, Namaqua prinia, wheatears, Layard’s tit-babbler, several species of chat, canaries, antelope, and more karoo korhaans. We spent the night way up north in Calvinia. Margaret ordered a mystery sandwich at lunch that was almost entirely composed of bread, french fries, and ketchup.
The following day we drove a shorter distance from Calvinia to Brandvlei, and focused on finding several additional species of larks (yay…). It wasn’t a very productive day, and we spent several hours in the afternoon parked at a watering hole hoping the birds we wanted to see would come to drink (no luck). After dark we went for a night drive and spotlighted for aardvarks, but didn’t have any luck finding one. The next morning we tracked down a difficult lark, which we didn’t see well but got to see calling and displaying, and visited Akkerendam Nature Reserve, where we saw Verreaux’s eagles (they were miles in the distance, but they’re so big we could see field marks on them regardless) and pale-winged starlings. We spent the night in Clanwilliam.
Finally out of the desert, we birded an estuary and salt pans where we saw several new heron species and chestnut-banded plovers, which were super cute. We also chased down another lark species, and the group finally saw cape longclaw (I’d seen it earlier on my own), which looks like a meadowlark with a red-orange breast. We flew from Cape Town to Durban late in the evening and drove to our hotel, where we checked in late and went straight to bed. It was a really nice hotel, and I think we were there for less than nine hours in total.
Kwazulu Natal, Lesotho, Mpumalanga, Kruger Park, and Limpopo
We left really early in the morning. I had the good fortune to be out in the garden a little bit early, and there were tons of fantastic birds!! I saw two species of barbet, several sunbirds, and had great looks of purple-crested turaco (WTF? in town??). I was sad when we left. We headed up to Hella Hella pass and Highover Nature Reserve, where we saw a pair of blue swallows – a threatened species that may go extinct due to habitat loss. There were only two pairs of them left in the area. In the afternoon we drove to Underberg, where we stayed at a really nice B&B – I shared an entire house with Jane and David. We birded around town in the afternoon, where we saw our first long-tailed widowbirds! We ate dinner at a fantastic restaurant with a charming waitress that everyone loved.
Today was the best day of the trip! We were picked up in the morning by two local guides (Stuart and Aldo), and I spent the entire day in a 4×4 with Margaret, Clare, and Aldo. The rest of the group was in a second car. They drove us up into the Drakensburg mountains, to Sani Pass in the country of Lesotho (pronounced Lesuthu). Lesotho is a tiny mountainous country that is entirely contained within South Africa. We saw all of the fantastic birds we were out to see without hardly trying (the guides were fantastic!) – Drakensburg prinia, Gurney’s sugarbird, long-billed pipit, buff-streaked chat, fan-tailed grass-warbler, Barrett’s warbler, sentinel rock thrush, Drakensburg siskin, Drakensburg rockjumper, and bearded vulture (lammergeier!). Drakensburg rockjumper was my favorite bird of the trip – they came out and displayed for us, and were tons of fun to watch, and the top of the mountains where they lived was absolutely gorgeous.
We visited the ‘highest pub in Africa’ (which is disputed), which was packed with tourists, and a Lesotho craft shop. After most of the group tried a local beer, we headed back down the road. It was a long drive back, but our guide wanted to track down some wattled cranes back near Underberg before the end of the day. We found them!
We birded the Xumeni Forest near Underberg the next morning searching for parrots, but without any luck (not to worry – we saw them later). We did get to see knysna turacos, African goshawk, and white-starred robin after a picnic breakfast. We spent most of the day on the road, driving to Eshowe (Es-s-how-wee – like ‘how’ with an ‘s’ in front), which brought us back down in elevation and into some hot weather. We birded the dry Dlinza Forest in the late afternoon, which had a fun canopy walk. We stayed overnight in a fun hotel with ridiculous bathrooms that had glass doors overlooking the garden (and opening into thin air about 15 feet above the garden). There were hornbills in the garden and woolly-necked storks on the light posts in the morning. We visited the Dlinza Forest again the following morning with better luck (it was cooler) – we found the spotted ground thrush we’d been searching for the day before. We then sat on the canopy stand for an hour or so until we saw a pair of Eastern bronze-naped pigeons fly by, which heralded our departure for breakfast.
We drove from Eshowe to St. Lucia, stopping en route at Enseleni Nature Reserve where we didn’t see much of interest. At St. Lucia we birded a short forest trail (Gwalagwala) where we saw Livingstone’s turaco (yay more turacos!!) and then went to the nearby estuary for a short visit before dinner. Dinner and the accommodation that night were our least favorite of the trip (one member of the group got sick from the food).
November 21st was our first day in a big game park – iSimangaliso Wetland Park. These parks have big mammals, which is really cool, but it means that you absolutely absolutely can NOT open any vehicle doors or leave your vehicle at any time, except in very specific areas (booooo….). We arrived at 5:30 a.m. and saw so many species of birds and mammals that we were having a hard time getting anywhere. We saw our first white (square-lipped) rhinos, a leopard (spotted by Clare), Woodward’s batis, brown scrub-robin, and an African cuckoohawk trying to take out a chamelion. We also noticed several dead hippos – the area was in a severe drought. We left the park later in the morning and headed to Mkhuze Game Reserve, which is actually part of the same reserve as iSimangaliso.
Mkhuze (Ma-ku-zi) was also in a severe drought, but we had a lot of fun there anyway. We stayed at Mantuma Camp, and I shared a house with Clare and Margaret. There were broad-billed rollers flying around camp catching insects, which was really freaking cool. We saw our first giraffes (we all liked the giraffes a lot), and during an afternoon break I found an eastern nicator behind our house, which was apparently an awesome find. The birding in the park was a bit slow because of the drought, but we spent some time at a hide at a water hole and saw some cool critters, including pink-throated twinspot.
Our house had the biggest kitchen and eating area, so everyone came over for dinner. We had cheese, crackers, and fabulous soup made by Margaret.
We spent an entire day in Mkhuze park, visiting various water holes and driving back roads looking for birds. It wasn’t a great day of birding because of the drought, and the weather was too windy in the morning. We did see lots of new birds and we had a good time. Later in the afternoon we were “chased” back to camp by an extremely large African bull elephant, who wanted use of the road. The chase speed was at a walk, but the elephant was very large and intimidating. He followed us (as we drove in reverse away from him) for more than a kilometer back to camp. It turned out he was heading for the camp’s bird bath, which had water in it. We encountered him again later wandering around camp eating the trees.
That night most of us went for a night drive with one of the camp’s guides, Amos. We got to ride in an open-sided truck, which was freaking awesome and a welcome change from our extremely cramped van. We saw African scops owls (squeeee!), firey-necked nightjars, some lapwings, and lots of sleeping antelopes. It was a really fun drive because we were the only ones in the truck, and the guide would stop and look for owls whenever we asked.
On our last morning at Mkhuze, we stopped at a water hole expecting to be disappointed again by a lack of water… but it actually had water! There were so many birds, it was ridiculous. We had a lot of fun for more than an hour, until we had to head onwards.
We drove from Mkhuze to Wakkerstroom, a very cute Dutch-influenced town far to the northwest and higher in the mountains. In the evening we visited a nearby wetland where we saw a ton of birds including African rail and little bittern. The next day we birded the Wakkerstroom area with a local guide named Lucky. He had the breeding territories of several of the difficult bird species GPS’d, and took us straight to them. We saw bald ibis, African quailfinch, buffy pipit, yellow-breasted pipit, meercat (OMG meercats!!!), blue korhaan, Eastern clapper lark, Botha’s lark, and Rudd’s lark without difficulty.
In the early morning on the next day we stopped at the wetland again, where based on a tip from another birder we found Baillon’s crake. We then drove to Kruger National Park, where we arrived around lunch time. Unfortunately the service at the Wakkerstroom accommodation had been quite poor and they had packed us a horrible lunch, and some of us were now quite hungry from lack of eating. But the birds were really awesome! We stopped at one of the camps and saw African green pigeons, turacos, yellow-fronted tinkerbird, and crested barbet.
We stayed at Skukuza Camp our first night in Kruger. There was a rainstorm and the power went out, but I was very glad for the A/C when it came back on. There was also a gift shop there, and a good restaurant with food we could eat! I ordered a huge steak for dinner to make up for the past couple of days.
We went on a night drive with one of the Kruger guides, which was in a very large and fully packed open-sided vehicle. There was an ongoing thunderstorm for most of the drive. Unfortunately our guide wasn’t very good, and also got us back to camp an hour late (11 pm). We spotlighted out of the side of the truck and saw hyenas, a bush baby, some antelope, and a Verreaux’s eagle owl!
The next morning we drove from Skukuza Camp to Sahara Camp. We saw brown-headed parrots, a perched martial eagle, saddle-billed stork, ground hornbill, red-crested korhaan, and lions (yay, lions!). I found a chinspot batis on a nest. We saw some elephants that grazed peacefully by the side of the road (instead of chasing us down the road, like the previous elephant!). All of us were quite exhausted.
That evening there was a huge storm. All of the buildings in the area had lightening rods on them, and we found out why. We were in the middle of a lightening storm, and lightening was striking the ground all around the camp and forking through the air right above our heads. The brush caught fire within a mile of camp, and there was a HUGE fire on the horizon along with the lightening. It was really fucking scary!
We had a good morning of birding on our last Kruger day, but we didn’t see many new birds. There was also some lingering bad weather, but fortunately the brush fires were out or nearly out (we drove by them, though). We did finally see a kori bustard, which rounded out our bustards for the trip. We saw a lot of raptors perched early in the day, but most were Wahlberg’s eagles. In the afternoon we drove a very long way, leaving the park and heading up into the mountains (and back into another, albeit smaller, lightening storm) to Bramasole.
Bramasole was my favorite accommodation of the trip. We were exhausted and hungry and had been staying in “comfortable” accommodations for awhile, and this place was fantastic. It was a house with lots of character, fun architecture and furniture, each room had a theme, and it was luxuriously (by my standards) comfortable. They cooked us delicious food that everyone could eat, and there was even wi-fi once the lightning stopped.
Early the next morning we birded the forest at Magoebaskloof near Bramasole, where we finally saw cape parrots (yay!). We got to go back to Bramasole for breakfast, which was fantastic, and then we drove to Polokwane. En route we stopped at some eucalyptus trees to see bat hawks, which were very cool and cooperative. We ate lunch in Polokwane, and then went to Polokwane Game Reserve in the afternoon. This reserve was nice because even though there’s big game, they let you get out of the van! …At your own risk. But we could get out of the van!! We saw red-headed finch, crimson-breasted shrike, violet-eared waxbill, marico flycatcher, pearl-spotted owlet, and black-faced waxbill. The next morning we went back to the reserve with a local guide, and sought out a couple of specialties including desert cisticola, tinkling cisticola, and short-clawed lark.
On our last day, we drove from Polokwane to Johannesburg, where we parted ways at the airport.
My Ethiopia trip was with Rockjumper Birding Tours, which is based in South Africa. Our Rockjumper guide (Wayne) was South African, and a fantastic guide. The tour was from 30 November – 18 December 2014. The trip consisted almost entirely of birdwatching (We got up, watched birds, ate breakfast, watched more birds, had lunch, watched even more birds, had dinner, and went to bed. Repeat next day.) so I’ll endeavor to make this journal entry not too boring for all of you non-birders.
So on the first day, we got up and watched birds…
Ethiopia is not the most picturesque country, so I don’t have lots of photos of scenic African landscapes. It’s mostly agricultural, with fields of wheat and a grass called teff (which Ronnie eats!) that they use to make a sour bread for dipping in spicy sauces. The roads vary in quality and are constantly populated by shepherds and herds of cows, goats, donkeys, and occasionally sheep. Our group consisted of eight people, our Rockjumper guide, and our driver. The others in our group were two Americans, two Canadians, two South Africans, and one German South African resident. Our Ethiopian driver, Deme, was with a locally based tour company called Dinknesh Ethiopia Tour, as was another driver in a backup 4WD vehicle who followed us the whole way. We traveled in a 17-seater bus for most of the trip. Having the 4WD backup vehicle was brilliant, and super handy when we had a flat or for skipping ahead to a restaurant to order meals ahead.
The Ethiopians we saw were not poor or starving – mostly, they were farmers. The country is not industrialized, so they obtain water by driving their donkeys down to the river, loading them with water, and driving them back home. They also move their hay and goods to sell on donkeys, or on carts pulled by horses or donkeys. All Ethiopian children think white people are made of money, and mobbed us every time we got out of the bus. Even in the middle of nowhere, they would appear and ask for money. They often shouted at us as we drove by. It got a bit ridiculous at times.
Our first few days in Ethiopia were spent at the Ghion hotel in the capital, Addis Ababa, and driving a very long way from Addis to Lake Awassa, with birdwatching stops at Lake Chelekcheka, Lake Hora, Lake Bishoftu, Koka Dam, Lake Ziway (lots of Important Bird Areas). We did a lot of driving on our trip, and covered several thousand kilometers by the end.
En route to Lake Awassa we saw about 150 species of birds, including lots of ducks, waders, and cranes. We stayed overnight at a nice hotel, and birded the Lake Awassa area the next day. We then drove a very long way to the Bale Mountain National Park, stopping along the way to see some cool birds. We saw our first owl, the Cape Eagle Owl, roosting on a hillside. The people at the local village know where the owls roost during the day and make money by taking birdwatchers to see them. At the National Park, we saw roosting Abyssinian owls.
The next day we went to the Sanetti Plateau, which was really pretty but covered in fog. The plateau was more than 4,000 meters in elevation. We saw several endangered Ethiopian Wolves and a few specialized birds. We tried to go down to a forest on the far side of the plateau, but the bus got stuck because the road was in really bad repair. We hauled a bunch of rocks to toss under the tires, and the backup 4WD vehicle managed to tow the bus out. Instead of the forest, we went to a small wetland in the afternoon.
We then went to a place called Sof Omar, which was in a valley along a river. We saw some great birds, and got to explore some cool caves (the Sof Omar Caves) and see roosting bats!
For our next adventure, we drove a very, very, very long way to Negele. On the way we stopped to look for a special bird called Prince Ruspoli’s Turaco. By “stopped” I mean we got a flat tire in the general vicinity of the birding site and got out to search for the bird while the drivers fixed the tire. By “search for” I mean chasing the bird through the forest at a run for 30 minutes because turacos do not stop moving. The boys at the local village again made some money by finding the birds and leading us to them.
We were warned that our hotel at Negele was very basic, and although I didn’t personally have any major issues with it while we were staying there some others in my group did. The first morning no one had water, and later that night two of our group staying upstairs still had no water. The water came on while we were at dinner and flooded their room. The hotel staff went into the room to shut the water off but didn’t bother to clean up the standing water or move the luggage off the floor. And then the water leaked through the electrical fixture of the room below and flooded the bed and luggage of the 83-year-old man, also in our group, staying there. The next morning we had no power. Camping in a monsoon, anyone?
From Negele, we took the road to Bogol Mayo and back. We looked for some grassland birds, and saw kori bustards and other neat things. We stayed in Yabello the next two nights, where we saw some endemic birds. We went owling at night and ran through the bush for about 30 minutes chasing down an African scops owl, which was very cute.
Along the constant theme of driving a really really long way, we then drove all day to Bishangari and Lake Lagano. The final road to the lodge was absolutely terrible. We didn’t arrive until after dark, and were exhausted. But Bishangari ended up being a really awesome – we saw tons of birds and got to stay in comfortable rooms for two nights. We took a day trip to Lake Abijatta to see flamingos and some other waterbirds. From there, we drove to the city of Nazreth where we stayed in a big fancy hotel for one night. I got an unusually nice room, and they had really good food at the restaurant.
For our next epic drive, we went to Awash National Park. We stayed in little huts the first night, and at Awash Falls Lodge the next two nights. I liked the huts better because there was lukewarm water in the showers (versus COLD). In the park we got to drive out onto the plains, and we saw Arabian bustards and Somali ostriches (among other things). During a night drive we saw a star-spotted nightjar and bat-eared foxes. We spent the next day looking very hard for two species of bustards and sandgrouse, which were extremely difficult. We found both, with the bustard turning up about 5 minutes before sunset.
Next we drove a very long way via Addis Ababa (a headache to drive through) to Weliso. We went out the next day to the Ghibe Gorge in the morning, and saw a few new birds but had bad luck overall. In the afternoon we drove back through Addis and switched to 4WD vehicles, and then drove to Debre Berhan, where we arrived late in the evening.
During our first day here, we went to Gemasa Geden where we looked for a localized bird called the Ankober serin, which are supposed to be difficult to see but landed in front of us as soon as we got out of the car. We then spent some time walking around (it was pretty there) taking photos and looking at very cool, fluffy baboons called geladas. We spent the afternoon in a valley along the Melka Gebdu Track, where again our target bird landed in front of us as soon as we got out of the car.
For our final day, we went to the Jemma Valley. We left early so that we could arrive there by sunrise, where we met some locals who were going to help us find two species of francolins. One species we were able to see by scoping an agricultural field from up on a ridge. The other we (and our village guides) chased up and down a steep, rocky hillside for about half an hour before finally getting brief looks through binoculars. I had a lot of fun, but I think some of the older folks on the tour were a bit overwhelmed.
We spent the afternoon along the river, where we saw some final birds before heading back to Addis Ababa. For our farewell dinner we went to a restaurant with traditional Ethiopian food, music, and dancing.
Today I went for a hike in Henry Coe State Park – the first time I’ve been there! The park website wasn’t very helpful in terms of selecting a trail, except I was able to download the brochure with a trail map for the entire park (no topo, though). I decided to go to the southwest entrance, called Hunting Hollow. There weren’t any campsites near the entrance, and there were lots of trail loops that I could choose from if I wanted to extend or shorten the hike. I arrived at about 7:30am, and the parking fee was $6. The parking lot is staffed by a park officer in a truck during peak hours on weekends. There weren’t many cars in the lot when I arrived, but there were lots when I got back – many were trucks with horse trailers.
The Plan was to attempt to reach Kelly Lake, but I quickly realized that this was not going to happen. As I said, I didn’t look at a topo map before I went, and the trail was insanely steep! I hadn’t been hiking for months, and the trail quickly kicked my ass. I also realized that I’ve worn through my good hiking socks at work, and needed to procure new ones before attempting additional hills. Here’s an elevation plot of the trail:
Yeah… steep! A pretty hike though, with lots of oak woodlands and grasslands. There weren’t many wildflowers, but we haven’t had much rain this year. The hike was about 7.2 miles, with an elevation gain of 2,130 feet. I hiked from the parking area up the Steer Ridge Trail, along Steer Ridge Road (a two-track/trail), and back down Lyman Willson Ridge Trail.
Bird species seen/heard: Bullock’s oriole, house wren, spotted towhee, acorn woodpecker, California towhee, red-tailed hawk, white-breasted nuthatch, oak titmouse, dark-eyed junco, western scrub-jay, violet-green swallow, mourning dove, Audubon’s warbler, Anna’s hummingbird, wrentit, white-tailed kite, California quail, American crow, American kestrel, western bluebird, hairy woodpecker, Steller’s jay, western meadowlark, lesser goldfinch, rock pigeon, common raven, pine siskin, lark sparrow, ruby-crowned kinglet, Townsend’s warbler, warbling vireo, brown-headed cowbird.
The sycamore riparian woodland along the road at the bottom of the trail was great for birds!