Ethiopia

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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.

A farmer plowing at Lake Chelekcheka
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A farmer plowing at Lake Chelekcheka
Newborn baby goat
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Newborn baby goat
 
Maribu Stork
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Maribu Stork
Great white pelicans, marabou storks, hamerkop, African sacred ibis
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Great white pelicans, marabou storks, hamerkop, African sacred ibis
 
African sacred ibis and black-headed gulls
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African sacred ibis and black-headed gulls
African sacred ibis and little egret
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African sacred ibis and little egret
Hamerkop
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Hamerkop
 
Rüppell's vultures and white-backed vultures
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Rüppell's vultures and white-backed vultures
 

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.

Lake Awassa
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Lake Awassa
Pied kingfisher
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Pied kingfisher
Guereza Colobus
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Guereza Colobus
 
Guereza Colobus
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Guereza Colobus
Mini dangling tail = baby colobus
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Mini dangling tail = baby colobus
Guereza Colobus
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Guereza Colobus
 
Grivet Monkeys
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Grivet Monkeys
Horse and cows at the "Longclaw stop" en route to Goba
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Horse and cows at the "Longclaw stop" en route to Goba
Cape eagle-owl
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Cape eagle-owl
 

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.

Sign for Bale Mountains National Park
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Sign for Bale Mountains National Park
Stop en route to Sanetti Plateau
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Stop en route to Sanetti Plateau
 
Sanetti Plataeu
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Sanetti Plataeu
Sanetti Plataeu
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Sanetti Plataeu
Sanetti Plataeu
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Sanetti Plataeu
 
Sanetti Plataeu
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Sanetti Plataeu
Augur buzzard
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Augur buzzard
Augur buzzard
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Augur buzzard
 
Augur buzzard
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Augur buzzard
Augur buzzard
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Augur buzzard
Ethiopian wolf (IUCN Endangered)
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Ethiopian wolf (IUCN Endangered)
 
Ethiopian wolf
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Ethiopian wolf
Ethiopian wolf
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Ethiopian wolf
Ethiopian wolf
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Ethiopian wolf
 
Sanetti Plateau
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Sanetti Plateau
Sanetti Plateau
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Sanetti Plateau
 

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!

Wheat fields
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Wheat fields
Rock hyrax
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Rock hyrax
Sof Omar
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Sof Omar
 
Northern red-billed hornbill
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Northern red-billed hornbill
Rocket frog
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Rocket frog
 
Sof Omar caves - where the river exits the caves
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Sof Omar caves - where the river exits the caves
Leopard track
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Leopard track
 
Sand frog
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Sand frog
River at Sof Omar
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River at Sof Omar
River at Sof Omar
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River at Sof Omar
 
Sof Omar caves
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Sof Omar caves
Horseshoe bat
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Horseshoe bat
Robin at Sof Omar Caves
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Robin at Sof Omar Caves
 
Camels are bred and exported for racing
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Camels are bred and exported for racing
 

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.

View from the far side of the Sanetti Plateau
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View from the far side of the Sanetti Plateau
Termite mound, en route to Negele
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Termite mound, en route to Negele
Village, en route to Negele
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Village, en route to Negele
 
 
Eastern chanting goshawk
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Eastern chanting goshawk
Tawny eagle
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Tawny eagle
Tawny eagle and Rüppell's vulture
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Tawny eagle and Rüppell's vulture
 
Drying coffee in front of an Ethiopian house
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Drying coffee in front of an Ethiopian house
Ethiopian car wash
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Ethiopian car wash
Our guide, Wayne
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Our guide, Wayne
 
Donkey cart
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Donkey cart
 

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.

Ficus tree at Bishangari
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Ficus tree at Bishangari
Red-billed oxpecker on a donkey at Bishangari
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Red-billed oxpecker on a donkey at Bishangari
African fish eagle
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African fish eagle
 
Yellow-fronted parrot
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Yellow-fronted parrot
Ficus tree at Bishangari
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Ficus tree at Bishangari
White-cheeked turaco
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White-cheeked turaco
 
How our luggage got from the bus to our rooms
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How our luggage got from the bus to our rooms
Hot springs at Lake Shalla
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Hot springs at Lake Shalla
Slender-tailed nightjar
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Slender-tailed nightjar
 
Greyish eagle-owl
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Greyish eagle-owl
"Bottle for Beverage Use Only"
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"Bottle for Beverage Use Only"
Northern white-faced owl
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Northern white-faced owl
 
Northern white-faced owl
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Northern white-faced owl
 

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.

My hotel room at Awash
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My hotel room at Awash
Leopard tortoise
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Leopard tortoise
Arabian bustard
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Arabian bustard
 
Awash National Park
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Awash National Park
Termite mound at Awash NP
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Termite mound at Awash NP
Lion track
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Lion track
 
Awash NP
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Awash NP
Beisa Oryx
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Beisa Oryx
Awash Falls
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Awash Falls
 
Olive baboon
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Olive baboon
Bruce's green pigeon
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Bruce's green pigeon
 

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.

Monkey at Weliso
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Monkey at Weliso
Ghibe Gorge
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Ghibe Gorge
Gemasa Geden
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Gemasa Geden
 
Robin at Gemasa Geden
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Robin at Gemasa Geden
Melka Gebdu Track
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Melka Gebdu Track
 
Road to Jemma Valley
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Road to Jemma Valley
Jemma Valley
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Jemma Valley
Jemma Valley
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Jemma Valley
 
Jemma Valley
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Jemma Valley
Dancers at our farewell dinner
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Dancers at our farewell dinner
 

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