16 December 2001 - 9 January 2002
by Paola Ricceri & Marco Salvioni – Switzerland
Click here to download a zipped Word Excel Checklist for this Trip
This is a Trip Report of a self-organised birding tour in Ethiopia. We’ve been visiting other countries in southern Africa before (Ethiopia being the northernmost region so far) and some of the birds we’ve met on the way were "old friends" to us. Also familiar was the difficulty in identifying the cisticola family, that’s why there are no such birds in our list. We had no local help identifying the species and so only the "certain species" have been included in the list.
We wanted to visit Ethiopia mainly enjoying birds and wildlife, so we privately planned and organised our trip with the local travel agent Abay Travel & Tourism, in Addis Ababa. We didn’t know Abay people before and knew nobody visiting the country before us, we’ve been given their address, we contacted them via e-mail and finally decided to trust them giving it a try. That was a very good choice! Everything has been perfectly fixed in advance by Abay Travel, so we only had to enjoy our stay!
Some practical information:
During our stay the change was 8 Birr = 1 US$
Our stay in Ethiopia has been fully organised by Abay Travel. US$ 4’880 for 24 days/ 23 nights for 2 people, the price included 10% service charge, 15% governmental charge, airplane tickets Addis-Gondar-Addis with airport tax, Toyota Landcruiser 4 x 4 with insurance coverage, driver's allowance, fuel, car running costs, food, cook, cooking materials, mules, English speaking Guide, full board accommodation at 4 star hotel in Addis, other local tourist standard hotels, camping fees, entrance fees, scout at various sites.
We would like to add that we really had nothing extra to pay during our entire trip and we‘ve always been booked in the best available hotel. Sharing the costs of the car in four people instead of just two, of course, would have made a difference in the total price per person.
We ended up fully enthusiastic and we thank Mrs Genet Belay, our excellent driver Johanes Tsegaye (Jonny) and the guide Gedion Kiros for really doing their best to satisfy us. Highly recommended!
Following is our trip described day by day. The name of birds follows Ber van Perlo’s checklist but we considered the endemics, in bold italic, according to J. Francis & H. Shirihai’s Bird List. Endemic mammals are in bold italic as well.
Total bird species seen: 293
Total mammal species seen: 35
December 16: Europe - Ethiopia
Evening flight from Milan/Malpensa to Rome with Alitalia and then night flight from Rome to Addis Ababa with Ethiopian Airlines.
December 17: Addis Ababa
Arrival in Addis in the morning with Mrs Genet and driver Jonny, from Abay Travel, coming to pick us up at the International airport. First visit to town, interesting National Museum and relaxing afternoon and night at Ghion Hotel, with our first good birds in the beautiful hotel garden, including Abyssinian slaty flycatcher and White-collared pigeon.
December 18: Addis Ababa - Simien Mountains/ Sankaber camp
Early morning flight with Ethiopian Airlines from Addis to Gondar, where the local official Private Guide Seyoum Yigzaw (organised by Abay Travel) came to pick us up. Drive to Debark (ca 90km) at the Simien National Park HQ, where we had lunch, collected our scout, cook, food, mules and tickets for the following 6 day trek. Then drive to Sankaber camp - 3250m, along this drive we had our first Lammergeier sitting on the ground, Wattled ibis, Thick-billed raven and lots of endemic Gelada baboons. We actually stopped a couple of kilometres before the camp, starting to walk with our scout deep inside stunning landscape while the car took our luggage to Sankaber camp. Overnight there in our own tent and sleeping bags (highly recommended to bring your own equipment, it is possible to rent it in Debark but fleece seam to be common in local sleeping bags!). The camp is set in lush green vegetation. Black kite (also Yellow-billed ssp.), Lammergeier and Thick-billed raven were common visitors and we also saw our first Walia ibex, Klipspringer and Menelik’s bushbuck as well as a group of White-billed starlings. Nice and very warm during the day, cool to cold at night.
December 19: Simien Mountains/Sankaber camp - Geech camp
Early morning with +7°C inside the tent, but it warmed up quickly as the sun rose at 6.30am. We left Sankaber at 8.30am, just after the first Lammergeier of the day came to greet us, soaring no more than 3m above our heads! Six hours up-and-down hike, crossing wonderful landscape to Gheech camp – 3550m, the forest leaving room to highland meadow with Giant Lobelias, Tacazze sunbird, Black-headed siskin, Groundscraper thrush and the always present grazing cattle and other domestic animals. Next two nights in Geech camp.
December 20: Simien Mountains/Geech camp
The day started with +4°C inside the tent and frost outside, turning to nice and warm pretty soon especially when a Simien Wolf came trotting across the camp! Hiking day round Geech camp, stunning landscape with breathtaking vertical escarpments, we reached as up as Imet Gogo - 3926m, stunning viewpoint with different vultures, Lanner falcon and many butterflies.
Mammals round Geech camp: Gelada baboon, Walia ibex, Simien wolf, Unstriped grass rat (Arvicanthis abyssinicus)
December 21: Simien Mountains/Geech camp – Chennek camp
After breakfast we started our longest hiking day, heading straight down the valley first, through Giant Heath forest with White-backed black tit. We crossed the little river and started the way up the other side through golden cereal fields with harriers and raptors looking for Arvicanthis abyssinicus up the plateau. Many stops along the way and we reached again 4000m before heading down to Chennek camp. Round 3800m, just above Chennek camp, we saw a group of birds looking very much like Ankober serins… very tame ones. We had a great view of them and all the details met with our field guide but the distribution map! Later, at the camp, a local guide confirmed us that this species has in fact been recently discovered in the Siemien Mountains too, exactly round this camp. Chennek camp is located at an altitude of around 3600m, but laying on a more sheltered place it has somehow more vegetation than Geech camp. Lovely couple of Simien Wolves singing a serenade tonight, together with Jackals.
December 22: Simien Mountains/Chennek camp
Hike up to the second highest mountain in Ethiopia, Bwahit – 4430m. On the way up, almost at the top, we had our second group of Ankober serins and when we reached the top an Egiptian vulture flew past us. There is a nice view of Ras Dashen from up there, the tallest Ethiopian mountain – 4543m. We searched for Rock Irax but failed to find one. An unidentified "pipit", looking quite like Richard’s, near the mountain top.
Mammals round Chennek camp: Walia ibex, Klipspringer, Simien wolf, Arvicanthis abyssinicus
December 23: Simien Mountains/Chennek camp – Gondar
Following the dirt road crossing the Simien Mountains we headed down (actually quite up first!) towards Sankaber. The hike took us 5 full hours across different landscapes, giving us the opportunity to add a couple of new species, like the only Blue rock thrush of the trip, Pallid harrier and Persian wheatear .
Birds seen in Simien N. Pk.: 52 species
The dusty drive from Sankaber to Gondar added Hamadryas Baboon to our mammals list. By the time we arrived in Gondar it was already too dark to do any birding. Night and very welcomed (cold) shower at Goha Hotel in Gondar.
December 24: Gondar – Addis
A worthy visit to the beautiful Debre Berhan Selassie Church in Gondar before we flew back to Addis Ababa. Night at Ghion Hotel and relaxed afternoon birding in the hotel compound.
December 25: Addis – Arba Minch
This is the beginning of a two week tour throughout southern Ethiopia, a Toyota Landcruiser 4x4 for the two of us, Jonny the driver and Gedion our guide from Abay Travel. The long drive to Arba Minch (500 km) took most of our Christmas day and not many birds seen on the way. Bekele Molla Hotel in Arba Minch is located on a beautiful uphill position even though rooms are quite run down, temperature definitely warmer than up the mountains and fortunately very few mosquito. A good number of foreign tourists, but only few birds round the hotel.
December 26: Arba Minch/Nechisar National park
Full day spent in Nechisar N.Pk. The park is quite close to Arba Minch but the gate opens quite late in the morning so, by the time we were in the sun was already too hot and no much movement going on along the way, only three Abyssinian ground hornbills, many Kori bustards and the endemic Swayne’s hartebeest far in the distance. Something that looked very much like a Secretary bird was too far to be certainly identified. At the hot spring we met a group of local people, Burchell’s zebras drinking close by and what, according to habitat description, could be an African black-headed oriole. We decided to head back halfway and spend the hottest part of the day in the shade of nice tall trees along a dry river bed. This was actually an excellent idea because we saw plenty of good birds in there, Yellowbill and Double-toothed barbet among them, together with Colobus Monkeys. At mid afternoon we started to drive again towards the gate as the animals begun to woke up. Lots of Crocodiles in Lake Chamo, Goliath heron, Yellow-billed stork, Malakite kingfisher and many Guenther’s dik-dik.
Birds seen in Arba Minch and Nechisar N. Pk.: 71 species
December 27: Arba Minch – Awassa
The drive to Awassa took 5-6 hours, many Northern carmine bee-eaters along the way as well as other interesting birds, like Silvery-cheeked hornbill. We stayed at Wabe Shebelle Hotel No. 1 in Awassa, very good birding in the green hotel compound, lots of Marabu storks at nests up the tallest trees and the endemic Barred barbet. We paid a visit to the close by city park, plenty of good birds where local fishermen gather, Black egret and African pygmy goose among them. Then to Wabe Shebelle Hotel No. 2, where we saw Spur-winged goose, Black egret and watched thousands of swallows (mainly Europeans) gathering in a rain-promising sunset sky.
After dinner we had the opportunity to watch local dancers in a private
Ethiopian party, nice indeed, few mosquito.
December 28: Awassa – Bale Mountains/Dinsho
Alarm clock given by Hadada ibis and Woodland kingfisher this morning, early birding round the reach hotel compound and close by Lake Awassa shore, adding Northern wryneck to the trip list.
Birds seen in Awassa: 82 species.
After breakfast we drove some 6 hours to Dinsho/Bale Mountains, the scenery totally changing when the road begins to go up. We crossed a wonderful old forest with Variable sunbird, then up again in open moorland and after a short drive downhill we stopped near a little lake on the left hand side of the road, at the beginning of Gaysay Valley plateau. Blue-winged goose, Spot-breasted lapwing, Abyssinian longclaw, Wattled ibis, Black-headed siskin all round that place. 1-2 km towards Dinsho a group of Mountain Nyalas and Warthogs let us approach by foot as close as 20m! When the road crosses a wetland area watch out for Rouget’s rail, plenty of them! Dinsho Lodge is a wonderfully located little and basic mountain hut-like place, we spent the next three nights in there doing one-day treks in the surrounding area. You are required to bring your own food but women from Dinsho village can cook for you, if asked. Chilly at night, 3200m.
The forest surrounding Dinsho is so magic that it doesn’t even seem real. Plenty of friendly Mountain Nyalas, Menelik’s Bushbucks, Warthogs all over the place together with some good birds, like singing Abyssinian catbird, Wattled ibis, Brown warbler and Abyssinian ground-thrush.
An unidentified owl called at dusk. We’ve been the only two guests at Dinsho Lodge tonight, very peaceful!
December 29: Bale Mountains/Gaysay Valley
Early morning birding round the lodge, some birds singing but quite difficult to spot. Short drive back the road we came yesterday to the nearby Gaysay Valley and then, following a local scout, we took a long hike in the area, exploring the plateau and the little mountains (hills) at both sides of the road. Again Mountain Nyala, Warthog and the new Bohor Reedbuck. The forest uphill offered Black-winged lovebird, White-backed black tit and Chestnut-naped francolin but no Ruspoli’s Turaco, unfortunately. Picnic at the "Blue-winged geese’ lake". Dinsho Lodge got busy tonight.
December 30: Bale Mountains/Web Valley
Drive to Fincha Habirra waterfall, 14 km of pretty rough road, crossing a little section of farmland near the Lodge and then some beautiful and uncontaminated land. First Hoopoe of the trip along the way, Rock Irax and Red-necked buzzard at the gorge before arriving at the waterfall. From the waterfall we started a long 6 hour trek along the magnificent plateau (3500-4000m), one of the best scenery of our Ethiopian trip! 8 different Simien Wolves met along the way, plenty of Arvicanthis abyssinicus and funny-looking Giant Molerat (Tachyoryctes macrocephalus), together with a good number of Steppe eagles hunting for them. We’ve met no other human being during the whole day, having such a place entirely for ourselves was something special indeed! Ruddy shellduck breeds in the highland lakes and the little rivers host an incredible number of unexpected waterbirds: herons, geese (Blue-winged goose among them), ducks and waders.
December 31: Bale Mountains/Dinsho – Goba - Sanetti Plateau
We left early in the morning towards Goba – 2700m, took our room at Wabe Shebelle Hotel and then drove up to Sanetti Plateau, crossing a lush green forest. A long way up well above the tree line, stopping after the first antenna to enjoy a Simien Wolf and again, at a couple of little lakes, to take another hike to the right hand side of the road. There was a chilly wind blowing at 4000m! We walked slightly down and down for a couple of hours, across a moorland landscape dotted with white and yellow cushions of flowers, colourful lichen-covered rocks and sparse Giant Lobelias. Good waterbirds in the many lakes, lots of Northern shovelers, Blue-winged goose and Ruddy shellduck. All of a sudden an Eden-like little valley opened in front of us, Giant Heath little forest and a large blue lake, called Gerbe Guracha, down at the bottom with Tufted duck, Red-knobbed coot and Rock martins. After a little break enjoying the beauty of this place we started our way back… and this was another story, hiking uphill at such altitude being quite breath-killing! Before leaving this Eden we spotted two little groups (4-6 birds) of what again looked very much like Ankober serin! Unlike in the Simiens, the birds were quite shy in here and we couldn’t go close enough to be 100% sure. Once we reached the car and filled our energy-supply back, eating whatever the lunch-box could offer and with a Thekla lark visiting us, we drove across the endless Sanetti Plateau all the way up to Tullu Deemtu – 4377m, the tallest mountain in the Bale area. A dirt road takes you straight up to the top where there is a radio antenna and a poor guy guarding the cold and windy place…(don’t forget to bring him something to eat if planning a visit). A beautiful and quick Stark’s Hare up there, together with Rock Irax. We saw a good number of Simien Wolves during the day, one had a Giant Molerat in his mouth and another one hunting for Arvicanthis abyssinicus at no more than 3m from our car! We missed the Serval but on the way back to Goba Marco spotted two Wattled cranes! Many Chestnut-naped francolins lover down, near the forest, and a little headache before dinner. Full moon.
Birds seen in the Bale Mountains: 67 species
January 1: Goba – Wendo Genet
Another 5 hour drive to Wendo Genet, 14 km from Shashemene, with Rüppell’s and European griffons on the way, feeding on a dead donkey at the side of the road and leaving no room to local hungry dogs. Wendo Genet was incredibly green and lush, lots of Grivet (Vervet?) Monkeys ready to steal whatever left unattended, Colobus Monkeys and surprisingly very few birds, including a couple of sunbirds in difficult no-breeding plumage. Excellent place to buy fresh tropical fruits, the hot swimming pool being not as tempting as the natural hot (very hot) shower, by the way. Not very special dinner at the hotel restaurant.
January 2: Wendo Genet – Langano
Early morning 3 ½ hour walk in the incredibly lush tropical forest up the nearby hills. Keep walking to your left when leaving the hotel, along the main dirt road in front of the hotel entrance, until you reach the pine tree planted forest and keep walking uphill till the planted forest ends. Turn left and follow a little path going slightly down and across a little river. Plenty of good birds all over the place! A good number of Yellow-fronted parrots, White-cheeked turaco among them. We kept following the path uphill until we reached some local houses, some people do leave in this place cutting the big trees to make charcoal… they have no other choice, of course, but it felt like the beautiful and reach tropical forest will disappear before too long! On the way back, just above the wooden houses, we heard a unknown bird calling and stopped to check what it was. In a couple of seconds a large and totally unexpected Crowned eagle flew away from a very close by tree! Wow! As well described in Ber van Perlo’s Birds of Eastern Africa check list, the call was a very high, excited puwêepuwêepuwêe!
Birds seen in Wendo Genet: 38 species.
After breakfast in Wendo Genet we headed towards Langano, driving no more than one hour the lush green vegetation disappeared and a very dry savannah-like landscape begun. Bekele Molla Hotel in Langano had a superb compound, literally packed with pretty tame birds. The lake is suitable for swimming (apparently the only Bilharzia-free in the Rift Valley) but the orange-coloured water didn’t look attractive enough to us. We walked along the shore at the left hand side but no much birds around. The best birding place being the hotel compound and the peaceful section towards the main gate (near the old gas station). We birded here today and the next afternoon as well and found lots of species, Tree Irax and a single Egiptian Mangoose too.
January 3: Langano/Lake Abijatta-Shalla National Park
Having breakfast at the table outside the hotel restaurant we managed to add some new species, like two Gymnogenes (African harrier-hawks) flying past and a male Common redstart. We spent the entire day visiting Abijatta-Shalla N.Pk., starting from Lake Abijatta (definitely the best birding place between the two lakes). We took a walk along the muddy/salty lake shore, crossing a muddy river by horse (a kind local man offered this easier option to us). It was difficult to focus on a single bird, being the place completely packed of species. Yellow wagtails on their thousands, waders, ducks, egrets, herons, flamingos, storks,… sharing the place with grazing donkeys. After that we drove some 18 km towards Lake Shalla, crossing the very dry section of the park. Thousands of European swallows, some Red-rumped among them, Chestnut-bellied sandgrouse, Abyssinian ground-hornbill, rollers, wheatears, Abyssinian Hare and few Common Duikers on the way. At Lake Shalla we didn’t see much, the pelicans being pretty far in the distance, but the boiling hot spring, where local people cook eggs and mais, was something special and had Common and Little ringed plovers together. A little walk round the dry woods up the viewpoint (you see both lakes from up there) brought a roosting Spotted eagle-owl and when leaving this place we saw a Long-billed pipit walking near the road.
Birds seen in Langano/Abijatta-Shalla N. Pk.: 110 species.
January 4: Langano – Awash National Park
The overcast grey sky cleared up and covered again many times today. A stop at Lake Ziway (where fishermen gather, not far from the road) brought our only little group of Hippos of the trip plus some very good birds. Soon after that another birding break at Koka Dam, full of Yellow wagtails (dark-headed ssp. as well) and Ruffs.
Getting close to Awash the landscape changed drastically again, ancient volcanic hills and dark lava covered with vegetation. This is Afar area (by the way never photograph Afar people or their Camels, they seriously believe you’re stealing their animal’s soul in case the flash goes on!). The new road under construction crossing Besaka Lake brought a couple of Crocs, African darter and some egrets and herons. Abyssinian roller getting common along the way.
At lunch break (good and spicy food) in picturesque Metehara (important stop-over for big lorries on the way to/from Djibuti and Addis) we saw a good number of Wattled starlings in no-breeding plumage, feeding out of restaurant’s leftover, plus a good number of vultures and Black kites.
Awash national Park was incredibly dry and partially burned out (it happened a couple of months ago), Abyssinian and Rufous-crowned rollers where quite common there and we saw our first Beisa Orix. We spent next two nights in Keruyou Lodge (falling-in-pieces caravan-park but very well positioned, overlooking the gorge of Awash River) and drove and birded the surrounding area until dark, adding Red-fronted barbet, Pygmy batis, Lesser striped swallow and a single House martin to the list. This was supposed to be the hottest place of our trip, but the mainly overcast sky kept the temperature to normal level!
January 5: Awash National Park
Leaving early in the morning we drove all the long way towards the Hot Spring. Has been raining a bit recently in that area, so some thorny bushes had bright green leaves on. On the way we saw a pair of African orange-bellied parrots, some bustards and at the oasis-like hot spring with palm trees the African palm swift and Southern masked weaver. We then drove all the way up to Fantale volcano, following the worst ever road of the entire trip. By the time we arrived up the crater rim it was very hot and we saw no birds at all around, unfortunately we didn’t pay enough attention for Sombre rock-chat and Yellow-throated serin. On the way back we stopped again in Metehara for something to eat and drove straight to Awash River, near the Park HQ and the waterfall. There is a little worthwhile wildlife museum in there. We checked the river for African finfoot but failed to find it, actually very few birds around plus a couple of Crocodiles. By the time we reached Keruyou Lodge it was dark, not a single Nightjar spotted along the way. There were no insects flying and no Owls singing at night!
Mammals of Awash N.Pk.: Anubis Baboon, Colobus Monkey, Black-backed Jackal, Bat-eared Fox, Egiptian Mangoose, Warthog, Beisa Orix, Sommering’s Gazelle, Lesser Kudu, Salt’s Dik-dik.
January 6: Awash National Park – Sodere
Easy morning enjoying breakfast at the hotel’s open terrace, with Fan-tailed ravens gently begging for food perched 20 cm from our shoulders… and overlooking the Awash River with Goliath heron, Egiptian goose, lots of Anubis Baboons and Colobus Monkeys.
Driving towards the gate we added Arabian and Hartlaub’s bustards (at the end six species of bustards seen only in Awash N.Pk.!), a very close by Black-breasted snake-eagle (African race of Short-toed snake-eagle) and Sommering’s gazelle.
Birds seen in Awash N. Pk.: 87 species.
Many people along the road to Sodere, selling different things (even wild Helmeted guineafowls for food!) or begging. Sodere was incredibly large and busy, plenty of local tourists ready to celebrate Ethiopian Christmas (tomorrow). The hotel (almost a village) compound had a good number of birds even though being at the end of the trip it was difficult to add new species. A nice walk along Awash River (upstream) followed and guided by local kids, brought the quite large Eastern grey plantain-eater (later we saw this bird again from our room’s window) and African pygmy kingfisher. Grivet (Vervet?) Monkeys are pretty naughty here, always ready to enter your room and steal whatever unattended, especially fresh fruits, while Anubis Baboons can easily open an unlocked door! African scops owl singing the whole night. No mosquitos.
January 7: Sodere – Addis Ababa
Easy morning birding round the hotel compound and then drive back to Addis Ababa, stopping along the road at a little patch of dry forest where we had Abyssinian Hare, Dark-chanting goshawk, Long-billed pipit and Tawny eagle. We stopped again at Debrezeit for our last waterbirds, Lake Hora is small with not many access ways to the shore. We paid a little ticked to bird in the local Private Club area, plenty of African citrils feeding on fruiting Fig Trees, but no Bruce’s green pigeon. To check some ducks on the opposite side of the lake we drove to a sort of little city park, the birds turning out to be Little grebe, Northern shoveler, Tufted and Yellow-billed ducks. After a little while we spotted 5-6 Bruce’s green pigeons just above our heads, feeding together with African citrils on fruiting Fig Trees. At the same moment a bunch of local men started to quickly gather around us in a very trouble-promising way… eyes focused on our bags and pockets. We left the place pretty soon, feeling that another couple of minutes would have been enough for them to attack us! Bruce’s green pigeon is a very colourful bird, but this place is definitely NOT RECOMMENDED unless you’re travelling in a large group of big men!! This was the one and only time we felt somehow in danger during our entire Ethiopian trip!
January 8: Addis Ababa
Ghion Hotel in Addis offers many birds in his park-like compound or just flying above it. Gefersa Reservoir, just north-west of town, is a worthy place to pay a visit. A couple of hours are enough and the water reservoir has five endemic birds to offer: Blue-winged goose, Wattled ibis, White-collared pigeon, Rouget’s rail and Black-headed serin, all in the same place.
For our last night Abay organised a good-by dinner at the Crown Hotel where traditional dance goes on, although we were a bit sceptical about that we found it very special and interesting, definitely worthy.
Birds seen round Ghion Hotel: 28 species.
January 9: Ethiopia – Europe
Touching goodbye section with Genet and Jonny, we’ve been like good friends these last two weeks. Morning flight from Addis Ababa to Rome with Ethiopian Airlines and then from Rome to Milan/Malpensa with Alitalia.
The impact with the so called "civilised world" being quite tough, as
well as with the cold European winter!
. Bradt Guide to Ethiopia – Philip Briggs, 1995 – Bradt Publications, UK
(good information about prices, hotels, itinerary)
. Spectrum Guide to Ethiopia – Camerapix Publishers International, Kenya, 1996
(good information and very useful section about wildlife)
. Ethiopia - In search of endemic birds – J. Francis and H. Shirihai, 1999
. A Survey on the Flora and Fauna of the Simien Mountains Nationl Park, Ethiopia –
B. Nievergelt, T. Good, R. Güttinger - Group of Wildlife and Conservation Biology, Institute of Zoology, University of Zurich, Switzerland, 1998
Other Trip Reports available in the web (www.camacdonald.com/birding & www.birdtours.co.uk) also really helped us planning our trip, thanks a lot to all the people investing their time in writing them.
Travel Agent in Ethiopia:
tel: 61.43.87– fax: 61.23.13 – e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Mrs Genet Belay, M/Manager