1–18 November 2015
Extension to 23 November
More than 850 bird species have been recorded in Ethiopia, 31 of them endemic to this country and the recently-separated Eritrea. To find some of the most sought-after endemics, including the fabled Prince Ruspoli’s Turaco, the range-restricted Stresemann’s Bush-crow, the rarely-seen White-winged Collared-dove and Salvadori’s (Juba) Weaver, we will venture to rarely-visited remote corners of this ancient land. A post-tour extension is available.
Day 1 Overnight flight from London to Addis Ababa.
Day 2 Arrival in Addis Ababa and transfer to our hotel. Flocks of Hooded Vultures and Yellow-billed Black Kites will be wheeling over the city while Dusky Turtle-doves, Brown-rumped Seedeaters, dazzling Tacazze Sunbirds, Baglafecht Weavers and Streaky Seedeaters may be seen even from our hotel rooms! We will merely leave our luggage in a storeroom, however, and head north to the Sululta Plains. These high-altitude plateau grasslands provide superb birding, despite intensive cultivation. Resident birds we may find here include the endemics Blue-winged Goose, Wattled Ibis, White-collared Pigeon, Erlanger’s Lark and the aptly-named Thick-billed Raven. We will also see White-backed and Lappet-faced Vultures, Lammergeier, Banded Martin, Cape Crow, Groundscraper Thrush (endemic race simensis), African Black Duck and Red-breasted Wheatear. Suddenly, the seemingly endless plain dramatically drops off into the Blue Nile drainage system. Perched on the edge of the gorge is Debre Libanos Monastery, one of Ethiopia's most sacred Christian sites. We will search here for Rüppell's Griffon, Verreaux's Eagle, African Hawk-eagle, Augur Buzzard (dark-morph birds are commonly seen here), Lanner Falcon, Nyanza Swift, Red-rumped Swallow, Mocking Cliff-chat and two endemics: Rüppell's Chat and White-billed Starling. Another speciality of this area is Lion-headed Baboon. In the afternoon we will return to Addis Ababa, where we will spend the night.
Day 3 After an early start we will descend into the Great Rift Valley and make our first birding stop at Debre Zeit Crater Lake. The woodlands surrounding the lake teem with birds and we will look for flocks of approachable Black-winged Lovebirds, Blue-breasted Bee-eater, Black-billed Barbet, Rufous-necked Wryneck, Rüppell's Robin-chat, Black-headed Batis, Beautiful Sunbird and Rüppell's Weaver. We will also visit Koka Dam and Lakes Gelila and Zeway. Here we will search for Pink-backed and Great White Pelicans, Black Crowned-crane, Intermediate Egret, African Darter, Goliath Heron, Hamerkop, Yellow-billed and Saddle-billed Storks, Spur-winged and Egyptian Geese, Comb Duck, African Pygmy-goose, Red-billed, White-backed and Yellow-billed Ducks, Hottentot Teal, Fulvous Whistling-duck, African Fish-eagle, African and Lesser Jacanas, Senegal Thick-knee, Spur-winged Lapwing, Pied, African Pygmy and Malachite Kingfishers and Winding Cisticola, and also enjoy a picnic lunch. We will spend the night at Awassa.
Day 4 Before breakfast we will explore our wooded hotel grounds. Amongst our targets will be African Mourning Dove, Woodland Kingfisher, Silvery-cheeked Hornbill, Double-toothed Barbet, Red-shouldered Cuckoo-shrike, Spotted Creeper, Brown-throated Wattle-eye, Grey-backed Fiscal, Northern Puffback, Broad-ringed White-eye, African Paradise-flycatcher, Little Weaver and Bronze Mannikin. Reed-beds in the vicinity support Purple Swamphen, Black Crake, Blue-headed Coucal, Lesser Swamp Warbler and Common and Abyssinian Waxbills. After breakfast we will visit Lake Awassa fish market, where the discarded waste attracts large numbers of Marabou Storks and other birds, giving unrivalled photographic opportunities. We should also see Long-tailed Cormorant, Sacred Ibis and Grey-headed Gull. In the nearby park we will look for the endemic Banded Barbet and White-browed (Heuglin’s) Robin-chat, Buff-bellied Warbler, Grey-backed Camaroptera, Rufous Chatterer, Spectacled Weaver and Grey-headed and Nubian Woodpeckers. In the afternoon we will transfer to Wondo Genet for a two-night stay. Close to the hotel are swimming pools filled with water from nearby hot springs.
Day 5 We will spend the day exploring our hotel gardens and nearby forests. Species we may find include several endemics: Yellow-fronted Parrot, Abyssinian Woodpecker, Brown Saw-wing (antinorii race of Black Saw-wing), Dark-headed Oriole, Abyssinian Slaty-flycatcher, and White-winged Cliff-chat. Other birds may include Scaly Francolin, Little Sparrowhawk, Yellow-fronted Tinkerbird, Double-toothed and Red-fronted Barbets, White-cheeked Turaco, Lesser and Green-backed Honeyguides, Mountain Wagtail, Abyssinian Thrush, Abyssinian Ground-thrush, Brown Woodland-warbler, Brown Warbler lugens, White-rumped Babbler, Collared, Scarlet-chested and Variable Sunbirds, Half-collared Kingfisher, Red-billed and African Firefinches and Slender-billed and the rare Sharpe's Starlings. We will also have good chance of seeing soaring Crowned Eagle, White-headed Vulture, Black Goshawk, African Harrier-hawk and Ayres' Hawk-eagle as well as Steppe and Tawny Eagles. The hotel grounds also support families of Grivet Monkeys and Guereza Black-and-white Colobus monkeys.
Day 6 Today we will head for the world-famous Bale Mountains National Park. On the ascent we will start to see flocks of Abyssinian Siskins and Yellow-crowned Canaries feeding on the short grass and many Red-billed Choughs. Just before we reached Dinsho wetlands we will stop for Cape Eagle-owl in a rocky ravine. On the plain nearby there will be groups of Black-winged Lapwings together with many Thekla Larks and Red-throated Pipits. At our picnic spot we will watch out for the endemic Spot-breasted Lapwing and Rouget’s Rail while nearby we will look for another endemic: Abyssinian Longclaw. We should also see Fan-tailed Widowbird, Winding (Ethiopian) Cisticola, African Stonechat and Buffy Pipit in the same area. At the park headquarters, we will search for Chestnut-naped Francolin together with two more endemics: Abyssinian Catbird and White-backed Black-tit. We will also hope to see a variety of mammals including Mountain Nyala, Menelik's Bushbuck and Desert Warthog. The park wardens may know of roosting sites for Abyssinian Owl, African Wood-owl and Abyssinian Nightjar. We will stay in Goba for three nights.
Day 7 A 1600m descent will find us enjoying some dry warmth in the Sof Omar region. The habitat here consists of broad-leaved and Acacia woodlands, which hold many new species for us. Our main target bird will be the extremely range-restricted Salvadori's Serin, the most attractive of Ethiopia's endemic canaries. Other target birds will include D'Arnaud's Barbet, Somali Crow, Northern Brownbul, Somali Tit, the localised Brown-tailed Chat, Yellow-breasted Apalis (a form likely to be split as Brown-tailed Apalis), Rosy-patched Bushshrike, Black-crowned Tchagra, Pearl-spotted Owlet, Greater Honeyguide, Striped, Grey-headed and Half-collared Kingfishers, Marico Sunbird and the impressive Bristle-crowned Starling. Other likely birds include Crested Francolin, Kori Bustard, Bruce’s Green-pigeon, Ring-necked and Namaqua Doves, Emerald-spotted Wood-dove, Orange-bellied Parrot, White-bellied Go-away-bird, Black-billed Woodhoopoe, Von der Decken's and Northern Red-billed Hornbills, Black-throated Barbet, Cardinal Woodpecker, Grey Wren-warbler, Northern Crombec, Rufous Chatterer, Brubru, White Helmetshrike, Superb Starling, White-headed Buffalo-weaver, Speke's Weaver, the local subspecies of Red-headed Weaver, Eastern Paradise-whydah, Straw-tailed Whydah, Village Indigobird, Red-cheeked Cordonbleu, Cut-throat, and Reichenow’s Seedeater. Sof Omar boasts Ethiopia's longest cave system and we will have the option to take time out from our busy birding schedule, hire a guide and wander through some of these impressive tunnels with underground waterways and roosting Horseshoe Bats.
Day 8 During our ascent of the Bale Mountain massif onto the Sanetti Plateau, which lies between 3800m and 4377m above sea level, we will enter a Tid, or Juniper forest zone, where we will search for African Goshawk, Rufous-chested Sparrowhawk, African Hill Babbler, Cinnamon Bracken-warbler, Yellow-bellied Waxbill and the difficult Abyssinian Crimsonwing. Once we reach the unique plateau we will be driving on Africa's highest road, passing close to the summit of Ethiopia's second-highest mountain. The habitat is termed 'Afro-alpine moorland' and is characterised by Jibrra or Giant Lobelias, which tower over the rich tussock grasslands. This site is an Important Bird Area of immense significance, supporting seven globally-threatened bird species and nearly all of Ethiopia's highland biome species. If we are very fortunate we will see a pair of endangered Wattled Cranes striding through the moist grassland. We will also search for Ruddy Shelduck, Black Stork and Moorland Francolin, while Moorland Chat is hard to miss! The grasslands are estimated to support an amazing biomass of 4000kg of rodents per hectare. This obviously attracts raptors, and we should see Golden, Steppe and Tawny Eagles together with Pallid Harriers hunting over this green sea. They share the abundant food source with the plateau's most celebrated resident, Ethiopian (Simien) Wolf, the world's rarest canid. Finally, we will reach the escarpment of this elevated plateau and stare down through the clouds at the vast Harenna Forest below. This is the largest intact forest block in Ethiopia and the largest protected Afro-alpine forest on the continent. It still supports Lions and the only surviving forest-dwelling African Wild Dogs. Here we will search for the uncommon Mountain Buzzard, Rameron Pigeon, African Emerald Cuckoo, Narina Trogon, Brown Warbler (an endemic subspecies to this National Park – Bale Parisoma) and the virtually endemic African Citril. In the afternoon we will return to Goba across the Sanetti Plateau.
Day 9 An early start is required to reach the dry thorn savannah in the remote southern part of Ethiopia. We will head up over the Sanetti Plateau again, giving us an opportunity to look for species we may have missed, then drop down to the amazing Harenna Forest, where we will make opportunistic stops and also take a lunch break. We may see mixed flocks of Bronze and Black-and-white Mannikins hanging on the grass by the road. Later, as we reach Acacia forest, we are likely to see Red-and-yellow Barbet, Abyssinian Ground-hornbill, Grey Kestrel, Wahlberg’s and Martial Eagles, Spotted Morning-thrush, Stout Cisticola and Shelley’s Starling. In the afternoon we will reach a dry wadi on the Genale River, home to Ethiopia's most sought-after endemic, Prince Ruspoli's Turaco. We should enjoy excellent views of this very unusual and beautiful bird. New for us in the area will be Bearded Woodpecker, Grosbeak Weaver and Sulphur-breasted Bush-shrike. In the late afternoon we will arrive in Negele, where we will spend two nights.
Day 10 East of Negele lies the Liben Plains, the only place in the world to find Liben Lark. We will walk across the plains in search of this special bird, which we will hope to watch performing its parachute display flight. We should also find Pectoral-patch Cisticola, Long-billed Pipit, Crowned Lapwing and the range-restricted Somali Short-toed Lark. Ethiopian Swallow is common here as are White-crowned Starling and Shelley’s Rufous Sparrow. The surrounding dry woodland and thorn savannah support Egyptian Vulture, Bateleur, African Harrier-hawk, Eastern Chanting-goshawk, Diederik Cuckoo, Abyssinian Scimitarbill, Eastern Yellow-billed Hornbill, Red-and-yellow Barbet, the rare and enigmatic Gillett's Lark, Dodson's Bulbul, Boran Cisticola, Golden-breasted Starling, African Grey and Pale Flycatchers, Mouse-coloured Penduline-tit, Slate-coloured Boubou, Northern White-crowned Shrike, White-winged Widowbird, Crimson-rumped Waxbill and Somali Bunting. If we are lucky, we may see Salt's and Günther's Dikdiks, while Anubis Baboons may also be encountered.
Day 11 After passing close to the Kenyan border we will finally reach the Yabello region, home to two of Ethiopia's most sought-after endemic birds, both listed as globally-threatened: Stresemann's Bush-crow and White-tailed Swallow. This area of Acacia savannah is characterised by giant red termite mounds, some towering 5m above the plains, and both of these birds seem to be associated with these marvels of natural architecture. We will also have a good chance of seeing flocks of Vulturine Guineafowl feeding by the road, Yellow-necked Spurfowl, Levaillant’s and Pied Cuckoos, Steel-blue Whydah and Vitelline Masked-weaver. The late morning will be spent walking along the Dawa River in search of the extremely localised White-winged Collared-dove, Juba Weaver and Black-bellied Sunbird. We may also see Grant’s and Thomson’s Gazelles and Gerenuk. Two nights will be spent in Yabelo.
Day 12 A walk before breakfast should give us a closer look at Stresemann's Bush-crow and we are also likely to see Bare-faced Go-away-bird, Croaking Cisticola and Rock Hyraxes waiting for the sun on the top of the rocks. We will spend a full day exploring this bird-rich area. In addition to the two special endemics we will look for Ostrich, Gabar Goshawk, Pygmy Falcon, Somali Courser, Mottled Swift, Grey-headed and Pygmy Batis, Blue-naped Mousebird, Pale Prinia, Rufous-crowned and Lilac-breasted Rollers, Golden and Bush Pipits, Pringle's Puffback, Red-naped Bush-shrike, Taita Fiscal, Yellow-bellied Eremomela, Kenya Violet-backed, Hunter’s and Shining Sunbirds, Somali Crombec, Banded Warbler, Purple Grenadier, Three-streaked Tchagra, Wattled Starling, Yellow-spotted Petronia, Chestnut Sparrow, Northern Grosbeak-canary, Grey-headed and Black-capped Social-weavers, Chestnut Weaver, Black-cheeked Waxbill, Green-winged Pytilia and White-bellied Canary. In the evening we will make a local excursion to look for Donaldson-Smith's Nightjar and Three-banded Courser.
Day 13 Following some early-morning birding around the hotel we will head north towards Addis Ababa. After lunch in Awassa we will travel along Awassa Lake shore, where we may see the endemic Fawn-breasted Waxbill and have a reasonable chance of seeing Basra Reed-warbler. In the late afternoon we will arrive at Lake Langano for two-night stay on the shores of the lake with views of the 4000m Arsi Mountains in the background. In the evening we will look for Greyish and Verreaux’s Eagle-owls, African Scops-owl, Northern White-faced Owl and Freckled, Slender-tailed and Sombre Nightjars around our hotel.
Day 14 The three neighbouring lakes in the central Ethiopian Rift Valley are totally different from each other but all are superb birding sites. The morning will be spent around the vast hotel grounds, where we will look for Clapperton’s Francolin, White-winged Black-tit, Hemprich's Hornbill, Little Bee-eater, Little Rock-thrush, Abyssinian (Schalow’s) Wheatear and many other special birds of the area. The afternoon’s destination will be the magnificent Bishangary area, where we will look for Narina Trogon, Lemon and Tambourine Doves, African Emerald Cuckoo, Red-fronted Tinkerbird, Ethiopian Boubou, Black Cuckoo-shrike, Black Scimitarbill, Cape Teal, Southern Pochard, Intermediate Egret, Dark Chanting-goshawk, Imperial and Long-crested Eagles, Black-chested and Banded Snake-eagles, Kittlitz's Plover, African Snipe, Pallas’s Gull, African Pipit, African Thrush, Red-faced Crombec, Rüppell's Long-tailed Starling and Red-billed Oxpecker. Mammals may include Oribi and Spotted Hyena.
Day 15 After further early-morning birding around Lake Langano we will head to Awash National Park. The route will take us through savannah habitat and close to numerous Rift Valley Lakes with great birding. As we skirt around the lava fields at the base of the Fantale Crater, we will look for Sombre Rock-chat, Blackstart and Chestnut-headed Sparrow-lark. In the late afternoon we will arrive at the park entrance where we are likely to see Abyssinian Roller, Ashy Cisticola and Green-winged Pytilia. We will stay in Awash for two nights.
Day 16 Today will be spent in the superb Awash National Park, specifically around the Bilen and Fulhowa Hotsprings, the Awash River and the Kirayawa Gorge, exploring riverine forests, wetlands, thorn woodlands, savannah grasslands, rocky hills, cliffs and escarpments. The park boasts a bird list of 460 species and we will look for Greater Spotted Eagle, Scissor-tailed Kite, Shikra, Arabian, Buff-crested, Hartlaub's and White-bellied Bustards, Three-banded Courser, Helmeted Guineafowl, Small Buttonquail, Eastern Grey Plantain-eater, Chestnut-bellied and Lichtenstein’s Sandgrouse, Black-billed Barbet, White-browed Coucal, African Palm-swift, Plain Nightjar, Northern Carmine and Madagascar Bee-eaters, Wire-tailed Swallow, Red-winged and Flappet Larks, Singing Bushlark, Red-backed Scrub-robin, Eastern Olivaceous Warbler, Southern Grey, Isabelline, Red-backed, White-rumped and Woodchat Shrikes, Somali Fiscal, Nile Valley, Shining and Marico Sunbirds, Grey-headed and Sulphur-breasted Bush-shrikes, Fan-tailed Raven, African Pied Wagtail, Red-billed Quelea and Crimson-rumped Waxbill. Mammals may include Lion, Leopard, Beisa Oryx, Aardvark, Soemmering's Gazelle, Impala, Hamadryas Baboon, Abyssinian Hare, African Wild Cat, Black-backed Jackal, Striped Hyena and Greater and Lesser Kudu.
Day 17Some early morning birding around the lodge will be followed by the return journey to Addis Ababa . We will have another opportunity to look for Sombre Rock-chat in the lava fields of the Fantale Crater before stopping for lunch en-route. Upon reaching Addis Ababa we will have time to shower and change before dinner, following which we will return to the airport for our late evening/early morning flight back to the UK. Those taking the optional extension will spend the night in Addis Ababa.
Day 18Arrival in the UK. Those taking the optional extension will have spent the night in Addis Ababa.
Day 18 We will take an early-morning flight northwest to Bahar Dar on the shores of Lake Tana. This, the highest lake in Africa, is the source of the Blue Nile, but our primary reason for coming here is the endemic Yellow-rumped Serin, which may be found not far from the lake, where the Blue Nile plummets over the Tississat Falls. Other birds here may include Yellow-wattled Lapwing, African Openbill, Bush Petronia and Lesser Blue-eared and Somali Starlings. We may also have time to bird along the banks of the Blue Nile, giving us the opportunity to see multi-coloured flocks of Yellow-shouldered (Yellow-mantled) Widowbirds, Black-winged and Northern Red Bishops and Zebra Waxbills. In the afternoon we will travel by boat along the Lake Tana shore to look for Giant Kingfisher and Yellow-crowned Bishop. We will also have a chance to see Hippopotamus. We will spend the night in Bahar Dar.
Day 19 After an early flight back to Addis Ababa we will journey via the Sululta Plains to Alem Ketema then continue down to Jemma River Valley, where we will look for Erckel's Francolin, Fox Kestrel, Foxy Cisticola, Cinnamon-breasted and Cinereous Buntings, Abyssinian Wheatear, Speckled-fronted Weaver, Yellow-fronted Canary and Familiar Chat. The night will be spent in basic accommodation in Alem Ketema.
Day 20 This morning we will drop down into the Jemma Valley where we will look for the endangered endemic Harwood’s Francolin. The scenery is simply stunning but our eyes will be scouring the rocky partly-cultivated hillsides for this special bird which is easiest to see first thing in the morning. We will then head back towards Debre Birhan, stopping on the way to look for African Quailfinch. After checking into our hotel and taking lunch, we will drive towards Ankober for our highly range-restricted penultimate endemic bird, Ankober Serin, before returning to Debre Birhan for a two-night stay.
Day 21 Today we will drive towards Ankober and then down to Aliyu Amba to a stream crossing known as Melka Ghebdu to look for the last two endemic birds of the tour: Red-billed Pytilia and Yellow-throated Serin. Other birds we may see include Chestnut-crowned Sparrow-weaver, Shining and Hunter’s Sunbirds, Violet-backed Starling, Yellow-breasted Barbet, Half-collared Kingfisher and Yellow-bellied Eremomela. On the way back to Debre Birhan we will stop to look for Abyssinian Nightjar.
Day 22 After breakfast we will return to Addis Ababa, taking lunch en-route, to catch our late-evening flight back to the UK, arriving in the UK on Day 23.
General Information There will be a wide range of temperatures on this tour from below freezing in the mountains to over 40°C in the semi-desert areas. Some rain is possible. There are a number of health requirements and you must contact your GP in this respect. Walks are generally easy, although in the heat it can sometimes be tiring and some walks in the mountains up to nearly 4,000m and along wadis need a little extra effort. Accommodation is in twin-bedded rooms, in comfortable hotels/lodges where available with private facilities in most places but there are several more basic ‘hotels’ with shared facilities. Visas are required.
Group Size Minimum number for tour to go ahead: 8; maximum group size: 14 with 2 leaders.