With Rockjumper Birding Tours
10 – 30 January 2014
Friday 10 January 2014
Waterloo – Pearson International Airport – Washington Dulles
John had agreed to accompany me to the airport, despite the early hour, so I drove over to pick him up at 02:30. There was a little snow on the road but the drive was uneventful and we arrived at the terminal about an hour after leaving Waterloo. I said goodbye to John and he left to return home with the car.
I had to stand in line for a while to get checked in, but the airport appeared to have returned to normal after several days of disruptions due to the appalling weather conditions experienced in the Toronto area. I was at the boarding lounge by 05:00 for scheduled boarding at 05:35. We actually boarded at 05:50 and then had to get de-iced. We took off for Washington Dulles at 06:55.
The aircraft was small, a CRJ200 Canadair Regional Jet, and many people had to check their hand luggage. The seats were leather, and icy cold when we first sat down.
After encountering quite a bit of turbulence we arrived in Washington at 07:48, under grey skies with rain falling.
I knew that Ken Lowder, a fellow birder, was taking the same flight, and it didn't take too long to find him. Birders are pretty easy to spot, and Ken was no exception. A fellow with a scope tripod attached to his back pack, wearing an L.L. Bean passport holder, seemed a likely candidate! I introduced myself and we had a great chat until we boarded the plane for take off at 11:00. The Ethiopian Airways flight was full to capacity, but boarding took place in a smooth, efficient manner.
Just before noon I was served the vegetarian lunch I had requested when making my reservation. It consisted of curried chickpeas, saffron rice, broccoli, a small salad and a fruit salad for dessert. The curried chickpeas were quite tasty and I washed everything down with a Louis Eschenauer Merlot.
Curiously, at 18:00 (Ontario time) I was provided a chicken sandwich on a kind of panini. It is odd that the request for vegetarian food never got beyond the main meal and everything from that point onwards was standard fare. In fact, on the return flight home, I would find that the vegetarian request had not registered at all. Since I choose the vegetarian option for convenience and not as a dietary imperative it didn't make much difference to me, but it seemed odd that there was an acknowledgement of my request for vegetarian options, but it carried through to one dish only.
On a long flight it seems that one goes from one meal to the next, and at 21:00 (Ontario time), or 05:00 Saturday Addis Ababa time, breakfast was delivered. It comprised a cheese omelette, home fried potatoes, grape tomatoes, juice, a small dish of peach slices, two bread rolls, jam, butter and coffee. I ate little of this!
Saturday 11 January 2014
We touched down at 07:27. The grass at the sides of the runways was cut and baled, something I had never seen at any other airport, but it certainly makes sense to not let a resource such as hay go to waste.
I reconnected with Ken as we disembarked and together we lined up to purchase our entry visas. The fee was $20.00, less than I would have paid at the local Ethiopian consulate in Toronto, and we were through immigration control in no time at all. Ken's bag arrived quickly on the carousel, but mine seemed to take forever, and I was beginning to wonder whether the baggage transfer had taken place in Washington. Eventually it arrived, however, and we marched through Immigration with nary a question from the officials.
We quickly spotted a man holding a Rockjumper sign, and we were soon in a vehicle and heading to the Ghion Hotel. We got our introduction to the chaotic traffic of the Ethiopian capital, where vehicles, pedestrians, street vendors, mendicants, goats, donkeys, cattle and camels all seem to vie for the right of way.
|Entrance to Ghion Hotel|
I think that all the other participants on our tour had preceded our arrival, and Ken quickly met people he knew from previous birding trips together. We checked into our rooms and then went back down and onto a veranda overlooking the hotel gardens to do some birding. It was very active and in short order I notched a few lifers – Tacazze Sunbird, Dusky Turtle Dove, Montane White-eye, Abyssinian Slaty Flycatcher, Mountain Thrush, Brown-rumped Seedeater, Streaky Seedeater, Blue-breasted Bee-eater, Rüppell's Robin-Chat, Yellow-billed Kite and Hooded Vulture.
Ken joined others for a city tour, but I was tired and opted for a nap instead. There was no bottled water in the room, and I was shocked when the hotel charged me $2.00 for a small bottle.
The Ghion Hotel is quite old and not especially well maintained. Even the simplest things are not attended to; items as basic as tightening a couple of screws to stabilize a shelf, bolting the wash stand to the floor properly, or touching up a little paint. Power outlets routinely hang from the wall. Slowly, it seems, everything falls into disrepair. I would find this to be true throughout the entire country, in most cases appallingly so.
|Typical "maintenance"at the Ghion Hotel|
We met for dinner at 19:00 and met the two Rockjumper guides, Wayne Jones and Andrew Stainthorpe. They were quite a contrast in both physique and personality. Wayne was tall, slender, clearly athletic as he would demonstrate repeatedly throughout our trip, quite urbane and a splendid conversationalist. Andrew, a fine fellow, had the build of a sumo wrestler, and looked like he might be more at home as a bouncer in a bar!
Fellow birders on the trip were, in addition to Ken: Lisa Thurston, Dixie Coleman, Cecil and Beth Loehnen, Craig Morley, Trevor and Ann Jones, and Carsten Enevoldsen.
Our meal was chicken soup, fried fish with mushrooms and sautéed vegetables, fruit salad for dessert. It was all quite tasty, but the main course was almost cold. I tried a half bottle of Egyptian wine, but it was truly awful. After months of reading about injera and other Ethiopian dishes, and obligate eating with the right hand, I would have preferred something Ethiopian to introduce us to local cuisine. I was disappointed to have soup spoons and western food!
After dinner, we all returned to our rooms to get some sleep so as to be bright, and ready to get right to serious birding the following morning.
All species 11 January – Hooded Vulture, Rock Dove, Dusky Turtle Dove, Speckled Mousebird, Blue-breasted Bee-eater, African Paradise Flycatcher, Red-faced Crombec, Willow Warbler, Sedge Warbler, Montane White-eye, Mountain Thrush, Ruepell's Robin-Chat, Abyssinian Slaty Flycatcher, Tacazze Sunbird, Brown-rumped Seedeater, Streaky Seedeater.
Accommodation: Ghion Hotel Rating: Three stars
Sunday 12 January 2014
Addis Ababa - Lake Chelekcheka – Lake Bishoftu – Koka Dam – Lake Ziway – Lake Awassa
My body had still not adjusted to my travels and I was wide awake at 02:00. I sat up in bed and finished the book I had started on the flights. Obviously, I had no trouble being ready for our scheduled 05:30 departure, and everyone else was on time too.
We met our driver, Demmi, and boarded a quite spacious bus, accompanied by a second vehicle, a 4 x 4 jeep type, which would accompany us throughout the entire trip. In fact it carried, amongst other things, all that was necessary to prepare our meals in the field.
Our first stop was at Lake Chelekcheka. I had read copiously about the profusion of bird life there, and I was not disappointed. The range of species and the number of individuals was simply staggering. I had never seen Common Crane, yet here were countless thousands all taking flight, and filling the morning air with their loud, trumpeting calls as they left to forage elsewhere. In sharp contrast to the huge numbers of Common Cranes, a party of four Black-crowned Cranes provided a stellar view of an eminently gorgeous African species.
Many species of waterfowl were present, mostly species we see farther north at a different time of the year. I got my lifer Wattled Ibis, and it was great to see a couple of African Spoonbills. Three other species of ibis were present – Hadada Ibis, African Sacred Ibis and Glossy Ibis.
|African Sacred Ibis and Spur-winged Lapwings feeding|
There were both Reed Cormorants and the striking White-breasted Cormorant for contrast. Red-knobbed Coots sallied along the water with the characteristic head-jerking motion of coots the world over. African Jacanas daintily picked their way over the lily pads.
|Western Cattle Egret|
Passerines were well-represented also, with a Rufous-tailed Shrike perched for an extended period atop a bush giving all a magnificent view and generous photographic opportunities. Somali Crows and Fan-tailed Ravens veered through the air; there was a pleasing variety of shorebirds and a Pied Kingfisher hovered above the water.
We moved on after a couple of hours to take breakfast at a restaurant called Dreamland on the shore of Lake Bishoftu. It was by now past 10:00 and I, and I believe everyone else, was getting hungry! Since I have breakfast at home between 05:30 and 06:00 it seemed closer to the hour for lunch than breakfast. It would prove to be the case that throughout the entire trip that no semblance of regularity for meal times was ever maintained. I started with a glass of excellent mango juice, followed by a huge serving of tibs, my first encounter with Ethiopian food, and wonderful coffee. Thank goodness my meal aroused the curiosity of a few others, who helped me to get through it – and there was still some left on the plate! It was very tasty, and a dish I would have again before leaving Ethiopia.
There was prolific bird life at Lake Bishoftu and we all enjoyed ourselves looking out from the balcony at Dreamland to the wooded slopes and the lake itself. Here we first saw Montane White-eye at close range, at times in competition for a perch with Abyssinian Wheatear or Mocking Cliff Chat. The lake bore several species of duck including Maccoa Duck, resplendent in bright sunlight. Lesser Flamingos hugged the shore, while Great White Pelicans formed a little flotilla out on the water.
After leaving Dreamland we made several stop including the area around Koka Dam and at the edge of Lake Ziway, and the birding was always fantastic. We were, however, besieged with children. These kids have nothing, their life is one of constant grinding poverty, they are always hungry, and we had no difficulty in recognizing that, but they were aggressive and demanding. They constantly begged for money, jostled, grabbed onto one's clothing and crowded around everyone in dense numbers at times. They were not above outright theft. One opportunist snatched the pen from Carsten's hand and attempted to run away with it, but he was caught by Trevor and the pen was returned. Back on the bus, clutching his pen, Carsten realized that his sunscreen had been lifted from his pouch.
Lunch was provided at a restaurant whose name I forgot to record, but I had an excellent plate of fried fish with a spicy sauce.
A stop at Lake Awassa furnished us with the incredible spectacle of hundreds (quite literally) of Marabou Storks, Great White and Pink-backed Pelicans, Hamerkops, Sacred Ibis, Western Yellow Wagtail and several shore birds all attendant upon local fishermen who were gutting their catch.
We did not arrive at our hotel until 19:30, fourteen hours after setting out in the morning. We went for dinner at 20:00 and postponed our list for the day due to the late hour. I had vegetable soup which was quite tasty, grilled fish (which was in fact battered fish) with battered vegetables also. Someone thinks batter is better I guess; I did not share that opinion. Mediocre would be high praise! Dessert was a fresh pineapple slice, with coffee for anyone not fearing caffeine so late at night.
The room was dowdy, the outlets were hanging from the wall, the mosquito net was repaired with duct tape. I was bitten twice while making my daily notes so I voiced a small note of thanks under my breath for the tape covering the holes in the net.
At 22:00 I showered in lukewarm water with little pressure and turned in for the night.
All species 12 January – White-faced Whistling Duck, Fulvous Whistling Duck, Spur-winged Goose, Comb Duck, Egyptian Goose, African Pygmy Goose, Northern Shoveler, Red-billed Teal, Northern Pintail, Eurasian Teal, Southern Pochard, Maccoa Duck, Little Grebe, Greater Flamingo, Lesser Flamingo, Yellow-billed Stork, Saddle-billed Stork, Marabou Stork, African Sacred Ibis, Hadada Ibis, Wattled Ibis, Glossy Ibis, African Spoonbill, Squacco Heron, Cattle Egret, Grey Heron, Goliath Heron, Great Egret, Intermediate Egret, Black Heron, Little Egret, Hamerkop, Great White Pelican, Pink-backed Pelican, Reed Cormorant, White-breasted Cormorant, African Darter, Hooded Vulture, White-backed Vulture, Rueppell's Vulture, Black-chested Snake Eagle, Long-crested Eagle, Tawny Eagle, Dark Chanting Goshawk, Western Marsh Harrier, Yellow-billed Kite, African Fish Eagle, Augur Buzzard, Grey Kestrel, Lanner Falcon, Black Crake, Common Moorhen, Red-knobbed Coot, Black Crowned Crane, Common Crane, Senegal Thick-knee, Black-winged Stilt, Spur-winged Lapwing, Common Ringed Plover, Little Ringed Plover, Three-banded Plover, African Jacana, Common Snipe, Black-tailed Godwit, Marsh Sandpiper, Common Greenshank, Wood Sandpiper, Common Sandpiper, Little Stint, Temminck's Stint, Ruff, Black-headed Gull, Gull-billed Tern, Whiskered tern, White-winged Tern, Speckled Pigeon, African Mourning Dove, Red-eyed Dove, Laughing Dove, Namaqua Dove, Bruce's Green Pigeon, Black-winged Lovebird, White-browed Coucal, Speckled Mousebird, Lilac-breasted Roller, Grey-headed Kingfisher, Woodland Kingfisher, Malachite Kingfisher, Pied Kingfisher, Little Bee-eater, Blue-breasted Bee-eater, Northern carmine Bee-eater, Eurasian Hoopoe, Silvery-cheeked Hornbill, Abyssinian Ground Hornbill, Banded Barbet, Black-billed Barbet, Eastern Grey-headed Woodpecker, Black-headed Batis, Ethiopian Boubou, White-crowned Shrike, Rufous-tailed Shrike, Northern Fiscal, African Paradise Flycatcher, Cape Crow, Pied Crow, Somali Crow, Fan-tailed Raven, Chestnut-backed Sparrow-Lark, Common Bulbul, Grey-rumped Swallow, Brown-throated Martin, Sand Martin, Barn Swallow, Rock Martin, Red-rumped Swallow, Common Chiffchaff, Lesser Swamp Warbler, Rattling Cisticola, Winding Cisticola, Buff-bellied Warbler, Green-backed Camaroptera, Eurasian Blackcap, Montane White-eye, Common Redstart, Pied Wheatear, Black-eared Wheatear, Mourning Wheatear, Mocking Cliff Chat, Blue Rock Thrush, African Dusky Flycatcher, Collared Sunbird, Scarlet-chested Sunbird, Beautiful Sunbird, Variable Sunbird, White-browed Sparrow-Weaver, Swainson's Sparrow, Baglafecht Weaver, Rueppell's Weaver, Red-billed Quelea, Orange Bishop, Cut-throat Finch, Red-billed Firefinch, Red-cheeked Cordon-bleu, African Quailfinch, Western Yellow Wagtail, White Wagtail, African Pipit, Tawny Pipit, Red-throated Pipit, African Citril, Reichenow's Seedeater, Brown-rumped Seedeater, Streaky Seedeater.
Accommodation: United Africa Hotel Rating: Two and a half stars.
Monday 13 January 2014
United Africa Hotel – Lake Awassa – Awassa Fish Market – Dodola – Bale Mountain National Park – Goba
We met for a coffee at 06:15 and began to bird in the grounds of the hotel. What a successful venture this was! In no time at all we had located African Spotted Creeper and everyone was able to have very good looks at this bird. This excitement was followed in short order by the sightings of two Eurasian Wrynecks and a single Rufous-necked Wryneck. Quite a trio, I thought. And Andrew, doing reconnaissance for his first solo trip in Ethiopia, was making mental notes as to where he would be able to produce these birds for his group.
Leaving the hotel grounds we crossed the street and everyone took great pleasure in two near endemic Black-billed Wood Hoopoes. Many Marabou Storks circled overhead and there were nests in the trees all around, with birds standing like soldiers at a guard post. Numerous other species of lesser renown rounded out a fine early morning of birding.
|African Mourning Dove|
The road we had crossed was a quite grand boulevard bearing all the marks of the Italian occupation of Ethiopia, then called Abyssinia. It was wide with leafy trees and elegant walls at the side. Needless to say all was decaying and sadly neglected. Magnificence was giving way to decrepitude.
We went to the dining room at the hotel restaurant for breakfast and I had porridge and split an order of French toast with Ken. I must say that porridge was universally good throughout our entire journey and it was rarely that this was not my breakfast selection. Coffee was also generally first class, although exactly how it would be made was a bit of a guessing game, and sometimes there was no milk available for those who did not prefer it black.
Following breakfast we loaded up our luggage and moved a short distance to the shore of Lake Awassa. Marabou Storks, Great White Pelicans, African Sacred Ibis and Hamerkops were everywhere, moving without fear among the throng of humanity, grabbing every morsel they could find. A visit to the Fish Market was an exercise in sensory overload; a seething mass of humanity contained fishermen, peddlars, beggars, naked children swimming out to importune tourists on small craft on the lake, tour guides hawking their trips, and every other manner of enterprising soul. As for birds, there was a very agreeable variety, including both Black-headed and Grey-headed Gulls, Gull-billed Terns, and delicate White-winged Terns picking insects from the surface of the water like so many acrobatic swallows. A cohort of herons was made up of Grey Heron, Squacco Heron, Cattle Egret and Little Egret.
I gave away a couple of Canada flag pins to children who had attached themselves to our group and was immediately surround by about thirty pushing, shoving, yelling kids. It became impossible to hand out the pins in any kind of orderly fashion as hands reached in to grab whatever they could, and finally I just dumped out the box into the scrum so that I could extricate myself from it.
We moved on along typically dusty, rut-filled, boulder-strewn roads, with occasional asphalt, and at one point stopped to examine an eagle perched on a utility pole. After much examination and discussion the consensus was that it was a Tawny Eagle, but the primary excitement at this stop took place on the other side of the road. The carcass of a donkey was being devoured by vultures (Rueppell's, White-backed and Hooded) with a Marabou Stork and several Pied Crows awaiting their place at the table. Strangely, I thought, there was no odour coming from the carcass, and it was being demolished in short order.
A little while later we stopped to search for Abyssinian Longclaw and were successful in having extended views of this bird that looks somewhat like a miniature meadowlark. The children here were especially nasty and Wayne cautioned us that they often threw rocks and dung.
Lunch was taken at a restaurant in Dadola where we had typical Ethiopian food – injera, a lamb and onion stew, pasta, rice, tomato sauce, hot sauce, carrots and rice. This was followed by a macchiato coffee which was quite wonderful.
After lunch we went to a location known for Cape Eagle Owl in the past and Wayne sought the assistance of the local people. They indeed knew where to find the owl and were able to show it to us. This was rugged terrain and as we gingerly picked our way up and down boulder strewn slopes and steep-sided ridges, the locals moved about with speed and confidence. I should mention that Wayne alone was intrepid among us, he bounded, gambolled and jumped over obstacles with the panache and ease of a gazelle. He was right at home in this landscape and demonstrated boundless energy that never seemed to flag.
In contrast to to the aggressive ways of people in the city, the residents here were kind and respectful. It was a great pleasure to be with them and before leaving we gave them a little money and I presented small Canada flags to a whole group of children. It was heartwarming to cast a backward glance as we pulled away at the little sea of maple leaf flags waving to us.
|Children with Canadian flags|
We moved on, driving slowly by necessity, through beautiful, mountainous terrain as we traversed the Bale National Park on the way to our hostelry for the night.
We arrived at Goba Wabishele Hotel at 18:45 and I made a hasty dash to my room. Despite having taken Dukarol as I usually do before leaving, it seemed not to be providing its usual protection. I had a little dose of turista! I took cipro right away, generally a sure fire cure for this common traveller's problem.
We did the list for two days and had dinner at 19:15. There was cream of onion soup, but I think it was sans onion, roasted veal with rice, potato chips and a green veggie of indeterminate identity. The veal was hot, everything else was cold. Dessert was fried bananas, but I passed on it.
As has been the case in every room so far, the lighting is really poor. There is just one central light in the ceiling, with a bulb that I doubt is more than 60 watts, in a circular shade filled with dead flies. Thank goodness for my headlamp.
The shower had hot water intermittently, swinging from scalding to barely tepid, with no method that I could detect to regulate it, so my shower was a kind of hop in and hop out affair! I was in bed by about 21:30.
All species January 13 – Chestnut-naped Francolin, White-faced Whistling Duck, White-backed Duck, Blue-winged Goose, Egyptian Goose, African Pygmy Goose, Yellow-billed Duck, Little Grebe, Marabou Stork, African Sacred Ibis, Hadada Ibis, Wattled Ibis, Glossy Ibis, Squacco Heron, Cattle Egret, Grey Heron, Great Egret, Little Egret, Hamerkop, Great White Pelican, Reed Cormorant, White-breasted Cormorant, Lammergeier, Booted Eagle, Tawny Eagle, Pallid Harrier, Yellow-billed Kite, African Fish Eagle, Augur Buzzard, Grey Kestrel, Lanner falcon, Rouget's Rail, Common Moorhen, Red-knobbed Coot, Spur-winged Lapwing, Black-winged Lapwing, African Jacana, Marsh Sandpiper, Common Greenshank, Green Sandpiper, Wood Sandpiper, Common Sandpiper, Little Stint, Temminck's Stint, Ruff, Black-headed Gull, Grey-headed Gull, Gull-billed Tern, White-winged Tern, Speckled Pigeon, White-collared Pigeon, Dusky Turtle Dove, African Mourning Dove, Bruce's Green Pigeon, Black-winged Lovebird, Cape Eagle Owl, African Wood Owl, Speckled Mousebird, Lilac-breasted Roller, Woodland Kingfisher, Malachite Kingfisher, Pied Kingfisher, Northern Carmine Bee-eater, Black-billed Wood Hoopoe, Silvery-cheeked Hornbill, Black-billed Barbet, Green-backed Honeybird, Eurasian Wryneck, Rufous-necked Wryneck, Nubian Woodpecker, Grey-headed Woodpecker, Tropical Boubou, Grey-backed Fiscal, Northern Fiscal, African Paradise Flycatcher, Cape Crow, Pied Crow, Somali Crow, Thick-billed Raven, Thekla Lark, Common Bulbul, Brown-throated Martin, Barn Swallow, Rattling Cisticola, Winding Cisticola, Buff-bellied Warbler, Green-backed Camaroptera, White-rumped Babbler, Lesser Whitethroat, African Spotted Creeper, Wattled Starling, Greater Blue-eared Starlig, Ruepell's Starling, Red-billed Oxpecker, Groundscraper Thrush, African Thrush, White-browed Robin-Chat, Common Redstart, Whinchat, Red-breasted Wheatear, Pied Wheatear, Moorland Chat, Northern Black Flycatcher, African Dusky Flycatcher, Scarlet-chested Sunbird, Variable Sunbird, White-browed Sparrow-Weaver, Swainson's Sparrow, Baglafecht Weaver, Little Weaver, Spectacled Weaver, Vitelline Masked Weaver, Northern Orange Bishop, Cut-throat Finch, Red-billed Firefinch, Abyssinian Waxbill, Common Waxbill, Village Indigobird, Western Yellow Wagtail, White Wagtail, Abyssinian Longclaw, Long-billed Pipit, Red-throated Pipit, African Citril, Brown-rumped Seedeater, Streaky Seedeater.
Accommodation: Goba Wabishele Hotel Rating: Two and a half stars.
Tuesday 14 January 2014
Goba – Juniper Forest – Sanetti Plateau – Harenna Forest – Goba
I had set my alarm for 05:00 but I was awake before then. We were now in a predominantly muslim area and the call to prayer seemed to have been pervading the air all night.
Breakfast at 06:00 was pretty standard fare and I opted for porridge. My stomach was already starting to feel a little better. The shower this morning delivered no hot water at all, so I took a cold shower; who knew that bathing could be such an adventure!
We left to go birding in a tid or juniper forest, not distinguished by any specific location name as far as I know. Birding was rewarding there and we observed a stunning White-cheeked Turaco, in addition to two Abyssinian Woodpeckers and Cinnamon Bracken Warbler. Just four of us saw an adult Golden Eagle soaring on wings like planks with the sun glistening off its golden nape.
We travelled on the highest road in Africa as we traversed the Bale National Park located on the Sanetti Plateau. This area is characterized by Giant Lobelias, and ubiquitous Moorland Chats stood
guard on rocky outcrops like sentinels surveying the landscape. We saw stunning Ruddy Shelducks, denizens of high mountain ponds, Blue-winged Goose, and numerous small groups of Chestnut-naped Francolins. Augur Buzzard, a very attractive raptor, was common. Rouget's Rails, surely the boldest of all the rails, promenaded around without any attempt to conceal themselves, in totally unrail-like fashion. Two Red-billed Choughs were our only sighting of the trip, and the endemic Ethiopian Siskin was commonplace in small flocks. Perhaps the greatest attraction of all, however, was multiple views of the endemic Simian Wolf, the world's rarest canid. Its principal prey is the abundant Giant Root Rat, a strange creature indeed, with eyes located high on its head.
Lunch was prepared outdoors by Demmi and the other driver whose name eludes me, and a fine affair it was too. They prepared spaghetti with a very tasty fish sauce. The “juice” was in fact a fruity drink made from crystals, but the coffee was excellent.
|Preparing for lunch|
After lunch we descended to the Harenna Forest, the largest protected Afro-alpine forest on the continent. I say protected with tongue in cheek for everywhere we went in areas that were nominally protected we saw incursions of human settlement, and livestock seemed to wander freely. National parks and other reserves were protected in name only as far as we could see. On any grassland there was barely a blade of grass more than 2cm high as it was constantly mown down by sheep, goats and cattle.
Birds observed in the Harenna Forest included African Olive Pigeon, Mountain Thrush, Brown Woodland Warbler and the endemic Abyssinian Woodpecker.
On the long drive back to Goba I had a delightful chat with Ann Jones, which made the time pass more quickly than it otherwise would have done.
We arrived back at our hotel around 18:00 and met at 18:30 to do the list, with dinner at 19:00. I had cream of vegetable soup, burger steak with rice, potato chips and a green vegetable of some ilk, a pancake stuffed with marmalade and coffee. It was all quite good.
Back to the room and the shower was still a game of hot water roulette! Tonight I had only cold!
The room is actually quite crummy. The toilet is flushed by pulling on a knob connected to a cord through the centre of the lid and it keeps coming undone. The hot water tap (with no hot water) drips constantly, and the whole place is grubby throughout.
All species 14 January – Chestnut-naped Francolin, Blue-winged Goose, Ruddy Shelduck, African Black Duck, Wattled Ibis, Lammergeier, Tawny Eagle, Steppe Eagle, Golden Eagle, Yellow-billed Kite, Common Buzzard, Augur Buzzard, Eurasian Kestrel, Lanner Falcon, Rouget's Rail, African Snipe, Green Sandpiper, Common Sandpiper, Speckled Pigeon, African Olive Pigeon, Dusky Turtle Dove, Red-eyed Dove, White-cheeked Turaco, Speckled Mousebird, Abyssinian Woodpecker, Tropical Boubou, Red-billed Chough, Cape Crow, Pied Crow, Somali Crow, Thick-billed Raven, White-backed Tit, Thekla Lark, Dark-capped Bulbul, Brown-throated Martin, Barn Swallow, Brown Woodland Warbler, Common Chiffchaff, Cinnamon Bracken Warbler, Abyssinian Catbird (H), Eurasian Blackcap, Montane White-eye, Greater Blue-eared Glossy Starling, Rueppell's Glossy Starling, Violet-backed Starling, Abyssinian Ground Thrush, Groundscraper Thrush, African Thrush, Mountain Thrush, Rueppell's Robin-Chat, Moorland Chat, Abyssinian Slaty Flycatcher, African Dusky Flycatcher, Tacazze Sunbird, Variable Sunbird, Tree Pipit, Red-throated Pipit, Brown-rumped Seedeater, Streaky Seedeater, Ethiopian Siskin.
Wednesday 15 January 2014
Local Wetland – Sof Omar – Goba
I was awake at 04:00 but had slept well until then. Ironically, given the generally poor to abysmal conditions of the accommodations in Ethiopia, the beds were for the most part comfortable, and it was rare that a good night's sleep was not forthcoming.
Still no hot water in the shower!
Breakfast was at 06:00 and I split an order of tibs with Cecil. It was quite excellent and we both enjoyed our Ethiopian fare.
Wayne informed us that our plans would have to be modified. Demmi had received notification that the road to Sof Omar had been washed out and was impassable. From what I could gather Demmi had express instructions from his office not to attempt the journey.
We birded at a local wetland, which was very productive, netting us a variety of waterfowl and our first White Storks of the trip. Wayne knew that Garganey had eluded me many times at other venues and he showed obvious delight in getting some in the scope for me to see. Unfortunately, they were all females, and I have yet to see the distinctive plumage of the male. A gorgeous Pallid Harrier put on a great display for us and there were several groups of the endemic Spot-breasted Lapwing.
Wayne decided that we should travel as far as the impediment in the road and then reassess our plans at that point. We journeyed through an area of agricultural development with extensive grain crops. It was called the Sinana Agricultural Development and apparently is funded by Saudi Arabian money, with the grain being principally exported to that country.
When we arrived at the section of the road deemed impassable, Wayne sussed out the situation, and it was Lisa who suggested that if we all gathered rocks and filled the hole in the road, Demmi would be able to get across. This is what we all did, and lo and behold, we safely made it to the other side. Onwards to Sof Omar! The only issue it seemed to me was that Wayne had informed us that under normal circumstances we would have made an early 04:30 start due to the distances to be covered that day. Here we were, mid morning already and only just embarking on the route. After a very uncomfortable, bumpy, dusty, obstacle-filled journey, we arrived at our destination at 12:30.
Demmi said he could not make it down the hill with the bus so we all walked down, birding all the while, to a building where lunch had been set up. It was a structure provided for a BBC crew who had been there to film the caves of Sof Omar, and it had been turned over to the residents of the area when they departed. Sadly it has fallen into disrepair, with broken windows and an overall atmosphere of decay. Lunch was a bean/corn salad made from canned goods accompanied by canned sardines. It was okay, but nowhere near as good as the pasta of the previous day. We birded again after lunch, spending a little time near a very pleasant watercourse. But, there was no time to make the planned visit to one of the caves, an event I think we had all looked forward to given the eminence accorded them. Speaking for myself only, I had researched them quite a bit during the months leading up to the trip, and it was quite a disappointment to have the opportunity to experience them whisked away from us.
We boarded the bus again at 16:30 to begin the long journey back to Goba, negotiating around camels all the while, along a very hot, extremely dusty road that was in terrible condition. Whenever the bus jerked and heaved over a particularly rocky area we were bounced around in our seats and clouds of dust entered the vehicle through every crack or cranny. We, and everything we carried with us, were coated in it. On a bit of a smooth stretch we would open the windows to get a little air into the vehicle, only to close them again as soon as someone spotted a vehicle approaching us. The cry of “major dust” became familiar to us all.
|Camels on the road|
After a couple of hours (or more, I can't remember) we arrived back at the area where we had filled the depression in the road with rocks in the morning. For some reason Demmi elected not to drive over that area and promptly buried the bus up to its axles. We all disembarked to lighten the weight of the bus and he was able to back out of the hole. In the meantime a whole convoy of other vehicles, including numerous huge trucks, had started to line up behind Demmi. It was dark and the sheer number of lights illuminated the entire area. What to do? Well, since we all by now had experience as an Ethiopian road construction crew, we once again all set to and gathered rocks to toss into the depression and finally Demmi made it through. We all got back on the bus and set off for Goba, arriving at the hotel just before 21:00. We went to dinner fifteen minutes later. I had oatmeal soup (it was the same porridge we had in the morning), fried chicken with rice and the little potato chips we had been served before. It was not bad, but certainly not terrific.
This had not been a great day. We spent a little over nine hours driving to get in barely three and a half hours of birding – and no visit to the world renowned caves of Sof Omar.
But, I had great news to end the day. There was glorious hot water in the shower and I lingered under it to try to wash off all the dust. Despite soaping vigorously, and for a long time too, the towel was still brown from dust when I dried myself. I think the dust has become a permanent resident in my pores!
I turned in at 22:27, glad to close the chapter on the day's activities.
All species 15 January – Crested Francolin, Egyptian Goose, Yellow-billed Duck, Northern Shoveler, red-billed Teal, Garganey, Little Grebe, White Stork, African Sacred Ibis, Wattled Ibis, Cattle Egret, Grey Heron, Black-headed Heron, Purple Heron, Great Egret, Black-winged Kite, Hooded Vulture, White-backed Vulture, African Hawk-Eagle, African Goshawk, Black Sparrowhawk, Western Marsh Harrier, Pallid harrier, Montagu's Harrier, Yellow-billed Kite, Augur Buzzard, Eurasian Kestrel, Common Moorhen, Red-knobbed Coot, Black-winged Lapwing, Spot-breasted Lapwing, Green Sandpiper, Wood Sandpiper, Common Sandpiper, Ruff, Speckled Pigeon, White-collared Pigeon, Dusky Turtle Dove, Red-eyed Dove, Ring-necked Dove, Emerald-spotted Wood Dove, Namaqua Dove, Blue-breasted Bee-eater, Northern Red-billed Hornbill, Silvery-cheeked Hornbill, Red-fronted Tinkerbird, Lesser Honeyguide, Grey-headed Batis, White-crested Helmetshrike, Red-naped Bushshrike, Tropical Boubou, Brubru (H), Common Fiscal, Fork-tailed Drongo, African Paradise Flycatcher, Cape Crow, Somali Crow, Fan-tailed Raven, Somali Tit, Thekla Lark, Common Bulbul, Dodson's Bulbul, Dark-capped Bulbul, Northern Brownbul, Grey-rumped Swallow, Brown-throated Martin, Barn Swallow, Rock Martin, Northern Crombec, Common Chiffchaff, Sedge Warbler, Winding Cisticola, Green-backed Camaroptera, Grey Wren-Warbler, Greater Blue-eared Glossy Starling, Superb Starling, Bristle-crowned Starling, Groundscraper Thrush, African Stonechat, Red-breasted Wheatear, Pied Wheatear, Brown-tailed Chat, Abyssinian Slaty Flycatcher, African Dusky Flycatcher, Tacazze Sunbird, Variable Sunbird, Red-collared Widowbird, Red-billed Firefinch, Village Indigobird, Western Yellow Wagtail, Mountain Wagtail, White Wagtail, Red-throated Pipit, African Citril, Brown-rumped Seedeater, Streaky Seedeater, Yellow-crowned Canary, Ethiopian Siskin.
Thursday 16 January 2014
Goba – Juniper Forest – Sanetti Plateau – Harenna Forest – Negele
I was awake at 05:00 and we had breakfast at 05:50. I had my usual porridge and split an order of French toast with Ken. We were back on the road by 06:00 en route to Negele via the same route across Bale Mountain National Park we had travelled yesterday.
By the time we hit the plateau we had wonderful light and made stops for Moorland Francolin, Ethopian Cisticola, Rouget's Rail, Moorland Chat and Ethiopian Siskin, amongst others. The scenery was magnificent and the light afforded us superb views of the wildlife. Ethiopian wolves made several appearances and we espied Giant Root Rats at the entrance to their burrows. We saw one wolf digging furiously at a hole, but as far as we could tell it left without capturing its prey. Another was seen with a bird in its mouth; it disappeared behind a low promontory, and promptly re-appeared empty-mouthed. It must have swallowed its prey whole, or buried it for retrieval later.
At the Juniper Forest we made a concerted effort to locate Abyssinian Catbird and finally everyone had a great look at this endemic species. It bears a certain similarity to the Grey Catbird of North America, but it is in an unrelated genus.
Although we stopped to bird at a couple of spots we were essentially relentlessly pushing on towards Negele. Lunch was taken at 14:00 – tuna sandwiches on a very fine crusty bread, and a fruit drink made from powdered crystals. When it was time to go Demmi had trouble starting the vehicle and continued to have problems unless he was facing downslope. At one point Andrew, in an impressive show of strength, single-handedly pushed the bus to get it started.
It was very hot, the roads were in awful condition and the dust choking, but we journeyed onwards. We did make a stop in a wooded area to search for Ruspoli's Turaco, and with the help of local children were successful. We gave the children a little money and Canada flag pins in return for their efforts.
After a very long drive we finally arrived at our hotel at 20:00. This hotel (Konjo Hotel) did not have a restaurant so we left almost immediately to go into town to the Nile Hotel for dinner. Great local food there; most of us ate Ethiopian that night.
These brutally long days, with most of the time spent imprisoned on the bus with relatively few hours of birding, are starting to take their toll on everyone. There was considerable bickering at dinner, and some people expressed dissatisfaction with Wayne's style of leadership. It seemed to me that there was nothing fundamental involved, and for the most part I was very pleased with Wayne, but frustration was starting to bubble over and there were few happy campers that night.
We returned to our hotel and at the end of a day of abysmal roads the room pretty much matched it. Toilet paper consisted of a few little squares folded up; and one thin, almost threadbare towel. Almost no water came out of the faucet, a trickle of cold came out of the shower and the toilet had to be flushed with a jug of water. Overall the room looked like it needed a good scrub.
I charged my camera battery in the outlet which was, as usual, falling off the wall, and I was in bed by 23:00.
All species 16 January – Moorland Francolin, Crested Francolin, Chestnut-naped Francolin, Blue-winged Goose, Ruddy Shelduck, Wattled Ibis, African Harrier-Hawk, Hooded Vulture, White-backed Vulture, Steppe Eagle, Eastern Chanting Goshawk, Yellow-billed Kite, Augur Buzzard, Common Kestrel, Lanner Falcon, Rouget's Rail, African Wattled Lapwing, Green Sandpiper, Speckled Pigeon, White-collared Pigeon, Dusky Turtle, Red-eyed Dove, Ring-necked Dove, Laughing Dove, Emerald-spotted Wood Dove, Bruce's Green Pigeon, Ruspoli's Turaco, White-bellied Go-away-bird, Klaas's Cuckoo, Speckled Mousebird, Lilac-breasted Roller, Northern Carmine Bee-eater, Black-billed Wood Hoopoe, Northern Red-billed Hornbill, Silvery-cheeked Hornbill, Red-fronted Tinkerbird, Yellow-fronted Tinkerbird, Double-toothed Barbet, Red-and-yellow Barbet, Cardinal Woodpecker, Grey-headed Batis, White-crested Helmetshrike, Grey-headed Bushshrike, Black-crowned Tchagra, Ethiopian Boubou, Isabelline Shrike, Northern Fiscal, Dark-headed Oriole (H), Fork-tailed Drongo, African Paradise Flycatcher, Thekla Lark, Dark-capped Bulbul, Black Saw-wing, Northern Crombec, Red-faced Crombec, Common Chiffchaff, Singing Cisticola (H), Rattling Cisticola, Winding Cisticola, Yellow-breasted Apalis, Green-backed Camaroptera, Abyssinian Catbird, Abyssinian White-eye, Montane White-eye, Greater Blue-eared Glossy Starling, Golden-breasted Starling, Superb Starling, Shelley's Starling, Slender-billed Starling, Groundscraper Thrush, African Thrush, Mountain Thrush, Rueppell's Robin-Chat, White-browed Robin-Chat, Pied Wheatear, Moorland Chat, Northern Black Flycatcher, African Dusky Flycatcher, Collared Sunbird, Tacazze Sunbird, Marico Sunbird, Swainson's Sparrow, Baglafecht Weaver, Red-headed Weaver, Red-billed Firefinch, Yellow-bellied Waxbill, Western Yellow Wagtail, Abyssinian Longclaw, Tree Pipit, Red-throated Pipit, Reichenow's Seedeater, Streaky Seedeater, Ethiopian Siskin.
Accommodations: Konjo Hotel Rating: Two stars
Friday 17 January 2014
Negele – Liben Plain – Road to Bogol Mayo
I woke up at 03:35 and the bathroom floor was still wet from my cold shower last night and it really stank in there. Suddenly the reason dawned on me. There are no traps in the toilets so there is no barrier to odours. I had noticed that the toilet brush in all the rooms so far was strategically placed over the drain and now I understand why; it is a useless attempt to mask the smell. The non-functioning hot water tank is located above the back of the toilet and it drips constantly. When you sit on the toilet seat you get a little shower.
I went back to bed but had a hard time getting back to sleep. If truth be told, I was missing Miriam more than I had ever thought I would. I never thought I would say this, but this may be my last hard core birding trip. I'd rather do something more leisurely, with a reasonable standard of comfort, and have her along with me.
We left at 05:45 and had breakfast in the field at 08:00. The guys provided porridge, toast, honey, peanut butter, scrambled eggs and coffee. It was all excellent but I just had porridge with a little honey to sweeten it, and coffee.
After breakfast we moved on, driving towards the Somali border through dry woodland and thorn savanna. We saw our first Somali Ostriches and Yellow-necked Spurfowl on this section of the journey, and experienced a good range of raptors including Bateleur, a species that would prove to be relatively elusive overall, and a stunning Pallid Harrier.
Lunch was served at around 14:00 again prepared by Demmi and his helper. We birded while they set up and cooked and the result was excellent. We were treated to fusilli pasta with a tomato sauce, sautéed vegetables and fresh orange wedges. It was especially pleasing to have some fresh fruit. There was the usual fruit drink made from powder, and coffee.
We drove relatively short distances and stopped periodically to bird. Significant species sighted were Somali Short-toed Lark, Sidamo Lark and Plain-backed Pipit, all located on the Liben Plain.
We arrived back at the Konjo Hotel just past 18:00 and got ready to go to the Nile Hotel for dinner at 18:45. I had an excellent traditional Ethiopian fasting meal, with injera and dollops of various sauces and other items. It was very enjoyable indeed.
While we were eating Demmi took the vehicle to a mechanic to get the starter problem fixed. It was amazing that he could get service so late at night and within a relatively short period of time he was back at the restaurant, the problem solved.
Today was characterized by incredible red dust everywhere. It coated us, our binoculars, cameras – everything. My boots were a bright red and the dust worked its way inside my clothes. I cleaned my optics twice on the bus and again at the hotel, I took a cold shower and the water turned red. I am sure that we blocked the drains that night as we all deposited the day's dust into them! The roads today were clogged with hundreds upon hundreds of camels, goats, cattle, donkeys and people. With all the animals grazing everywhere it's a wonder that there is any vegetation left.
I turned in at 21:30 and slept well.
All species 17 January – Somali Ostrich, Yellow-necked Spurfowl, Eqyptian Goose, Little Grebe, African Sacred Ibis, Cattle Egret, Black-winged Kite, Egyptian Vulture, Hooded Vulture, Short-toed Eagle, Black-chested Snake Eagle, Tawny Eagle, African Hawk-Eagle, Eastern Chanting Goshawk, Pallid Harrier, Yellow-billed Kite, Augur Buzzard, Common Kestrel, Grey Kestrel, Spur-winged Lapwing, Black-winged Lapwing, Wattled Lapwing, Green Sandpiper, Speckled Pigeon, Ring-necked Dove, Laughing Dove, Lilac-breasted Roller, Eurasian Hoopoe, Northern Red-billed Hornbill, Black-throated Barbet, Rufous-tailed Shrike, African Black-headed Oriole, Fork-tailed Drongo, African Paradise Flycatcher, Somali Crow, Fan-tailed Raven, Sidamo Lark, Somali Short-toed Lark, Dodson's Bulbul, Barn Swallow, Ethiopian Swallow, Common House Martin, Lesser Striped Swallow, Somali Crombec, Common Chiffchaff, Boran Cisticola, Pectoral-patch Cisticola, Pale Prinia, Yellow-breasted Apalis, Grey Wren-Warbler, Yellow-bellied Eremomela, Greater Blue-eared Glossy Starling, Superb Starling, White-crowned Starling, White-browed Scrub Robin, Whinchat, Isabelline Wheatear, Northern Wheatear, Pied Wheatear, African Grey Flycatcher, Violet-backed Sunbird, Hunter's Sunbird, Variable Sunbird, Grey-capped Social Weaver, Shelley's Sparrow, Swainson's Sparrow, Red-billed Buffalo Weaver, White-headed Buffalo Weaver, Speke's Weaver, Western Yellow Wagtail, White Wagtail, Plain-backed Pipit, Somali Bunting.
Saturday 18 January 2014
Negele – Mega Area – Yabello
It was an early start this morning and my alarm was set for 03:30. We were all on the bus and ready to go at 04:00, to start out on the long journey to Yabello.
Breakfast was served in the field at 09:30 and we had the same fare as yesterday. I was quite happy with my porridge. Just before breakfast we spotted our first Vulturine Guineafowl of the trip, a handsome bird indeed, and we had repeated great looks at Yellow-necked Spurfowl. We were now travelling through acacia savanna dotted with red termite mounds, some of which were quite immense, heading towards the border with Kenya. We made a few brief stops to do a little birding but for the most part we just pushed on.
At times it was quite difficult with ten birders plus two guides for everyone to get on a bird. There always seemed to be a lot of peripheral chatter going on and I think that Wayne had difficulty at times corralling everyone's attention.
Once when we stopped for a short period I gave a Canada flag pin to a very striking young lady, but a man came over and from what we could gather indicated that it was pointless to give her just one. He was pointing to his ears and clearly indicating that she needed two. I gave her a second one and she inserted them into her ear lobes and seemed very happy with her new jewelry!
We stopped for lunch at 15:00 and had the same bean salad and sardines as the other day – not my favourite lunch but it certainly served the purpose.
As we travelled we saw the diminutive Pygmy Falcon and had our first sighting of the huge
Kori Bustard. At one stop Andrew mimicked a Pearl-spotted Owlet and quickly lured one in, mobbed by a large contingent of passerines. Three new species of hornbill were added for the trip – African Grey, Eastern Yellow-billed and Von der Decken's, as well as our second sighting of the huge and impressive African Ground Hornbill. Perhaps the most significant sighting of all was of Stresemann's Bush Crow, an endemic species found only in this region of Ethiopia. It looks very little like a corvid and very much like a starling; I don't think its affinities are conclusively established yet.
|Eastern Yellow-billed Hornbill|
En route to Yabello we passed through a village where a huge celebration was taking place. It seemed as though the entire population was dancing in the street, and Demmi quite calmly eased his vehicle through the throng. We were advised that it was a Christian celebration to commemorate something or other Jesus did in the Jordan River.
We arrived in Yabello at 19:00 which meant that we had spent fourteen and a half hours on the road with only a few brief stops for birding and meals. Having got the keys to the rooms, everyone had trouble with the locks to the room doors. None of the tumblers seemed to line up and some of the locks were on the verge of falling off the doors. Lisa had to dismantle and fix her lock to get into the room and Ken could not get his to work at all and he was locked out of his room. The hotel finally called a locksmith.
We went for dinner almost right away but many items on the menu were unavailable and service was incredibly slow. I waited over an hour for a bowl of soup and almost another hour for my main dish of beef goulash with cold rice and veggies.
I did a little laundry and arranged to have a pair of pants laundered at the hotel.
Dust is getting into everything and both my carry on and my suitcase are discoloured by it. Ken is talking about trying to find a hose, emptying his suitcase and wetting it down to try to clean it up a little. I must say that Demmi and the other driver do a conscientious job of covering our luggage with tarps on top of the bus and lashing everything down securely, but this continual fine dust gets into everything.
I was in bed by 23:00, snuggled under the blankets beneath the mosquito net with its random patchwork of tape-sealed holes!
All species 18 January – Vulturine Guineafowl, Yellow-necked Spurfowl, Marabou Stork, Hadada Ibis, Hamerkop, Black-winged Kite, Egyptian Vulture, Hooded Vulture, Black-chested Snake Eagle, Bateleur, Tawny Eagles, African Hawk-Eagle, Eastern Chanting Goshawk, Pallid Harrier, Yellow-billed Kite, Pygmy Falcon, Common Kestrel, Grey Kestrel, Kori Bustard, Crowned Lapwing, Speckled Pigeon, White-collared Pigeon, White-winged Collared Dove, Ring-necked Dove, Emerald-spotted Wood Dove, White-bellied Go-away-bird, White-browed Coucal, Klaas's Cuckoo (H), Pearl-spotted Owlet, Rufous-crowned Roller, Lilac-breasted Roller, Pied Kingfisher, Eurasian Hoopoe, Black-billed Wood Hoopoe, African grey Hornbill, Northern Red-billed Hornbill, Eastern Yellow-billed Hornbill, Von der Decken's Hornbill, Abyssinian Ground Hornbill, Black-throated Barbet, Red-and-Yellow Barbet, Cardinal Woodpecker, Pygmy Batis, Rosy-patched Bushshrike, Pringle's Puffback, Slate-coloured Boubou, Brubru, White-crowed Shrike, Somali Fiscal, Fork-tailed Drongo, Stresmann's Bush Crow, Somali Tit, Dodson's Bulbul, Northern Brownbul, Wire-tailed Swallow, Pale Prinia, Yellow-breasted Apalis, Green-backed Camaroptera, Grey Wren-Warbler, Rufous Chatterer, Abyssinian White-eye, Greater Blue-eared Glossy Starling, Golden-breasted Starling, Superb Starling, Shelley's Starling, White-crowned Starling, Magpie Starling, African Thrush, White-browed Scrub Robin, Isabelline Wheatear, Northern Wheatear, Pied Wheatear, Northern Black Flycatcher, African Grey Flycatcher, Violet-backed Sunbird, Hunter's Sunbird, Marico Sunbird, White-browed Sparrow-Weaver, Grey-headed Social Weaver, Black-capped Social Weaver, Yellow-spotted Petronia, White-headed Buffalo Weaver, Vitelline Masked Weaver, Chestnut Weaver, Purple Grenadier, Black-rumped Waxbill, African Pied Wagtail, Plain-backed Pipit, Somali Bunting.
Accommodation: Yabello Motel Rating: Three stars.
Sunday 19 January 2014
I had set the alarm for 05:15 but I was awake at 04:45 after a decent night's sleep. We left to go birding at 06:00 and it was not long before we were seeing Crested Francolins and Yellow-necked Spurfowl alongside the bus.
|Greater Blue-eared Glossy Starling|
We returned to the hotel for breakfast at 08:30. It was standard fare and I had a piece of toast with marmalade and a bowl of porridge.
As we were travelling this morning I was given to pondering the sheer numbers of young people in this country. I have no idea what the exact percentage is, but it is very significant. Sometimes it seems as though everyone is under twenty. The population of Ethiopia is already almost ninety millions, and its birth rate is high. How a burgeoning population can be fed in this parched land is beyond my comprehension, and the impact on the wildlife will be devastating. I think this will be exacerbated by the philosophy that more cattle and other livestock conveys status and prestige to its owner.
After breakfast we all boarded the bus again and set off to do some birding locally.
We were back at the Yabello Motel for lunch at around 14:00 and I had a vegetable plate which was not bad, but a little bland for my liking. It was very hot now (Craig's thermometer was registering in excess of forty degrees) and Wayne suggested we all rest up until 16:00 when we would venture forth again. I took advantage of the lull to do some laundry and set the wet clothes outside to dry. In the intense dry heat it didn't take long! Two Thick-billed Ravens, with their outrageous bills, entertained me royally with their antics as I draped my wet shirt over the back of a chair.
I had a bit of a sore throat and thought I might be coming down with something, but it passed so I assumed it was just the effect of the dust.
We left again at 16:00 and saw many raptors, including the delightful, diminutive Pygmy Falcon, so improbably tiny, yet elegant and appealing. Our first Buff-crested Bustard of the trip put in an appearance. One of the highlights for me was to see the enigmatic and beautiful d'Arnaud's Barbet performing its clock-winding tail display. Dinner was prepared in the bush. Demmi's version of Ethiopian tibs was the best we had anywhere on the trip, and he added a wonderful dish of sautéed cabbage. It was simply superb and I continued to be impressed with the food these guys produced on basic equipment under less than ideal conditions.
A night drive on the way back produced two beautiful Genets, but no owls or nightjars.
When we returned to the hotel we all went to claim our laundry and it was mass confusion. They had everyone's clothes mixed up! My pants were nowhere to be seen. Little wonder, they had given them to Cecil! He brought them to me, but Andrew and others still were attempting to get their clothes when I left to return to my room.
A club across the street from the hotel played music at a decibel level that was simply astonishing. I am sure that the entire town could hear it. It was still blaring when I turned out the lights at 23:00. No hot water for a shower – damn!
All species 19 January – Crested Francolin, Yellow-necked Spurfowl, Egyptian Goose, Hamerkop, Hooded Vulture, Martial Eagle, Long-crested Eagle, Steppe Eagle, Eastern Chanting Goshawk, Shikra, Yellow-billed Kite, Augur Buzzard, Pygmy Falcon, Buff-crested Bustard, Speckled Pigeon, Red-eyed Dove, Ring-necked Dove, Black-billed Wood Dove, White-bellied Go-away bird, Pearl-spotted Owlet, Rufous-crowned Roller, Lilac-breasted Roller, Little Bee-eater, Eurasian Hoopoe, Black-billed Wood Hoopoe, Abyssinian Ground Hornbill, Red-fronted Barbet, d'Arnaud's Barbet, Wahlberg's Honeyguide, Scaly-throated Honeyguide, Nubian Woodpecker, Cardinal Woodpecker, Sulphur-breasted Bushshrike, Rosy-patched Bushshrike, Slate-coloured Boubou, Black Cuckooshrike, White-crowned Shrike, Fork-tailed Drongo, Stresemann's Bush Crow, Fan-tailed Raven, Thick-billed Raven, Foxy Lark, Dodson's Bulbul, Barn Swallow, Ethiopian Swallow, Wire-tailed Swallow, Red-faced Crombec, Buff-bellied Warbler, Yellow-breasted Apalis, Green-backed Camaroptera, Yellow-bellied Eremomela, Rufous Chatterer, Banded Parisoma, Abyssinian White-eye, Greater Blue-eared Glossy Starling, Rueppell's Starling, Golden-breasted Starling, Superb Starling, Shelley's Starling, White-crowned Starling, Red-winged Starling, Pied Wheatear, Common Rock Thrush, Northern Black Flycatcher, African Grey Flycatcher, Violet-backed Sunbird, Hunter's Sunbird, Marico Sunbird, White-browed Sparrow-Weaver, Grey-headed Social Weaver, Swainson's Sparrow, Yellow-spotted Petronia, Red-billed Buffalo Weaver, White-headed Buffalo Weaver, Vitelline Masked Weaver, Red-cheeked Cordon-bleu, Purple Grenadier, Western Yellow Wagtail, Plain-backed Pipit, Reichenow's Seedeater, White-bellied Canary, Somali Bunting.
Monday 20 January 2014
Yabello – Bure Hora – Dila – Bishangari
Up at 05:00 – dare I hope for hot water? Well, hope was about all there was! No hot water. Bags outside at 05:50 for a 06:00 departure.
Today, as we scrupulously maintained a seat rotation, it was my turn in the back seat, so I was hoping that my back did not get jarred too much. The luggage seemed to get packed a little differently every time, and I was surrounded by carry-on bags and Trevor's scope.
When the bus went over a nasty bump, aside from getting bounced skywards in the seat, clouds of dust would surge up, both entering from outside and billowing up from the abundance of it already coating the inside of the vehicle. I think I had a lining of dust from my trachea to my gut! There was a spare seat on the side of the bus with double seats and I moved forward to share it thereby avoiding most of of the spinal rearrangement that occurred at the back.
We got out of the bus and enjoyed a very pleasant forty-five minutes of birding while Demmi prepared coffee and opened packs of cookies to keep us going until breakfast. The premier bird of this stop was Red-bellied Parrot, and we also got a great look at a White-cheeked Turaco.
|Immature Black-headed Oriole|
At 09:30 we stopped for breakfast at Bure Hora and I had a fine porridge that tasted like rice pudding. The coffee was really strong, however, and I diluted it with lots of milk.
As we had journeyed this morning we saw lots of road-building going on, all done by the Chinese, and no doubt financed by Chinese money. We also saw joint ventures with Ethiopian companies but were led to believe that they were joint in name only. Wayne told of numerous other Chinese ventures on the African continent. It appears that the Chinese are slowly buying up Africa!
We travelled onwards, stopping to bird every now and then.
Lunch was taken at 14:00 at a restaurant in Dila. I had roast lamb, rice, and the little potato chips which seemed to be served everywhere. This meal was very tasty and even the rice was hot. As we stood outside after lunch, we were approached by all manner of beggars. It became somewhat disquieting, at least it did for me (I cannot speak for the others), to stand there wearing binoculars around my neck that most Ethiopians would require eight years of income to buy. The disconnect between my life in Canada and that of the citizens of the third world never seemed more stark. One poor woman seemed especially distressed and looked very hungry, so I gave her a hundred birrs (about $5.00). It would make a difference to her day and would barely buy me a coffee and a muffin back home.
As we drove out of Dila Wayne stopped to buy a branch of little bananas and they were delicious indeed. Everyone was very happy to have a little fresh fruit which had been almost totally absent on this trip.
We arrived at Bishangari Lodge at 19:40 - another day of almost fourteen hours on the road, with stops for only forty-five minutes of birding in the morning and breakfast and lunch breaks. The amount of time spent driving was really getting ridiculous.
At least the lodge had very decent accommodation. The rooms were spacious and lovely and relatively well maintained. My room had two double beds and a single bed, with intact mosquito nets unsullied by duct tape repairs.
Dinner was served in an outdoor shelter and the atmosphere was very pleasant. I had zucchini soup, fried fish, rice and veggies, with a banana split for dessert. Everything was well prepared, nicely presented and very tasty. This was the only location we stayed at that had a selection of decent South African wine, so I bought a bottle of Merlot, which I shared with Ann and Andrew. Up to this point this was hands down the most agreeable meal of the entire trip.
I was back at my room by 21:30, showered in hot water, and turned in for the night. Too bad we were not staying there for more than one night.
All species 20 January – Crested Francolin, Spur-winged Goose, African Sacred Ibis, Wattled Ibis, African Harrier-Hawk, Hooded Vulture, Eastern Chanting Goshawk, Black Goshawk, Yellow-billed Kite, Rock Dove, Speckled Pigeon, African Mourning Dove, Red-eyed Dove, Red-bellied Parrot, White-cheeked Turaco, Bare-faced Go-away bird, White-bellied Go-away bird, Northern Carmine Bee-eater, d'Arnaud's Barbet, Wahlberg's Honeyguide, Scaly-throated Honeyguide, Nubian Woodpecker, Grey-headed Batis, Pringle's Puffback, Northern Fiscal, Black-headed Oriole, Fork-tailed Drongo, Pied Crow, Fan-tailed Raven Thick-billed Raven, Mouse-coloured Penduline Tit, Dodson's Bulbul, Barn Swallow, Red-faced Crombec, African Bush Warbler, Winding Cisticola, Green-backed Camaroptera, Brown Parisoma, Greater Blue-eared Glossy Starling, Golden-breasted Starling, Superb Starling, Shelley's Starling, African Stonechat, Northern Wheatear, Pied Wheatear, African Grey Flycatcher, African Dusky Flycatcher, Tacazze Sunbird, White-browed Sparrow-Weaver, White-headed Buffalo Weaver, Baglafecht Weaver, Red-headed Weaver, Red-cheeked Cordon-bleu, Yellow-bellied Waxbill, Western Yellow Wagtail, Tree Pipit, Streaky Seedeater.
Accommodation: Bishangari Lodge Rating: Three and three quarter stars.
Tuesday 21 January 2014
Bishangari – Lake Langano (Wabeshebelle)
I had a good night's sleep, but the water in the shower is cold this morning. The light in the bathroom, a single small fluorescent tube, flickers constantly and gives very poor light. Overall, the room at this location is vastly superior to anything we have so far experienced, but this is another example of how a minimum amount of maintenance could take care of such minor issues.
Wayne had arranged coffee at 05:30 before going birding. We all met and left with a local guide, Hakim, who had but one functional eye, but proved to be very competent nonetheless. We traversed a good deal of terrain and at times the birding was quite exceptional. Good looks at a Blue-spotted Wood Dove would turn out to be our only sighting anywhere. The same was true of an African Pygmy Kingfisher, and a Brown-throated Wattle-eye.
There was never a moment when we didn't have a pleasing variety of species in view. As we walked through the forest children going to school used the paths and herdsmen drove their cattle in among the trees where they promptly began to devour everything in sight. I swear that every centimetre of vegetation in this country will be chewed to a nub.
At one point Wayne spotted a twinspot, but most of us failed to see it. We all tried to crowd into a small clearing to get focused on the bird; but it became abundantly clear that ten participants and two guides, or three as was the case this morning, was simply unworkable. What most of us saw was the backs of the people in front of us.
Wayne had promised we would return for breakfast at 08:30; in was in fact 10:00 when we sat down to eat. As usual I had porridge. Ken had an order of doughnuts, which turned out to be three. I split it with him and then gave half a doughnut to Andrew. They were really quite good. There was real mango juice and good coffee.
After breakfast we went birding again. A visit to the lake yielded Common Ringed and Kittlitz's Plovers. In the same area we spotted our first Curlew Sandpipers of the trip. Camels bathed and wallowed in the shallows, donkeys cavorted, cattle meandered and people busied themselves with all manner of activities. It was an Ethiopian diorama in real time.
Lunch was taken at 14:30, and I had vegetable soup and Mexican chicken and rice. It was all very agreeable. Just as we sat down, Wayne located a few Scaly Francolins. Most people got up from the table to go and see the birds, but I was hot, dusty, weary and happy to be drinking my juice, so I eschewed the opportunity and missed a lifer! Miriam could hardy believe it when I told her!
As I was returning to my room to put out my luggage for the onward journey I saw two Broad-billed Rollers perched on a snag. I returned to let Wayne know and the birds stayed at their perch for quite a while and I believe that everyone got to see them. As it turned out it would be our only sighting of the trip so it was a fortuitous event.
We left Bishangari to head for Wabeshebelle at 15:30 and birded a little along the way.
Arriving a little later than I think Wayne had anticipated, we went immediately to locate a Greyish Eagle-Owl in a spot where it was known to roost. It was right there where it should be! The same was true of a Slender-tailed Nightjar, cryptically camouflaged on a carpet of leaves, the only nightjar we would see in all of Ethiopia.
Looking at the buildings along the shore of Lake Langano, Cecil made the apropos observation that when built by the Italians the place that now looked as though it could totally collapse at any minute, had no doubt been a fine, upscale resort for people of wealth and privilege. All around one could see fine detail in the brickwork, paths and other features of the structures. Remnants of past glory, sadly, were now decrepit, crumbling, ill cared for shadows of their former selves. Garbage hugged the walls, blown there by the wind and tossed by people who care not at all for cleanliness, decency and any semblance of order. It was a sad spectacle.
We were housed in little cabins which were dirty, unkempt and barely functional. There was no seat on the toilet and no lid on the toilet tank. The water was straight from the lake, laden with sediment, and deep brown in colour. The whole place stunk, and I mean stunk – a malodorous scent of nauseating quality. I tried to wash my hands, and silt-laden water even dirtier than my hands came through the faucet. I tried as best as I could to apply some soap, and when I finished the sink was filled with brown silt. In addition the room was very hot, so the offensive odours were magnified and the assault on my nostrils was enough to make me gag. Camping in tents would have been preferable to these unseemly hovels.
Dinner was served in a restaurant located in the main building. There were two options for soup – tomato and vegetable. The vegetable soup was in fact identical to the tomato soup except for a few pieces of potato added in. I chose goat tibs for my main course. I thought that local fare would be quickly served, but in fact everyone else had completely finished their meal before mine even arrived at the table. It was quite good, but certainly not exceptional.
I turned in for the night thankful that we would only spent one night here.
All species 21 January – Crested Francolin, Egyptian Goose, Hottentot Teal, Lesser Flamingo, Marabou Stork, Wattled Ibis, Hadada Ibis, Squacco Heron, Grey Heron, Goliath Heron, Great Egret, Little Egret, Great White Pelican, Pink-backed Pelican, Reed Cormorant, White-breasted Cormorant, African Harrier-Hawk, White-backed Vulture, Tawny Eagle, African Goshawk, Yellow-billed Kite, African Fish Eagle, Common Kestrel, Red-knobbed Coot, Black-winged Stilt, Spur-winged Lapwing, Crowned Lapwing, Common Ringed Plover, Little Ringed Plover, Kittlitz's Plover, Kentish Plover, Common Snipe, Black-tailed Godwit, Marsh Sandpiper, Common Sandpiper, Little Stint, Temminck's Stint, Curlew Sandpiper, Ruff, Grey-headed Gull, Gull-billed Tern, White-winged Tern, Speckled Pigeon, Lemon Dove, Red-eyed Dove, Laughing Dove, Blue-spotted Wood Dove, Tambourine Dove, Namaqua Dove, Bruce's Green Pigeon, Black-winged Lovebird, Yellow-fronted Parrot, White-cheeked Turaco, Bare-faced Go-away-bird, White-bellied Go-away-bird, Greyish Eagle-Owl, Slender-tailed Nightjar, Speckled Mousebird, Narina Trogon, Broad-billed Roller, Woodland Kingfisher, African Pygmy Kingfisher, Pied Kingfisher, Blue-breasted Bee-eater, Eurasian Hoopoe, Black-billed Wood Hoopoe, Black Scimitarbill, Hemprich's Hornbill, Northern Red-billed Hornbill, Silvery-cheeked Hornbill, Banded Barbet, Double-toothed Barbet, Nubian Woodpecker, Black-headed Batis, Brown-throated Wattle-eye, Northern Puffback, Tropical Boubou, Black Cuckooshrike, Red-shouldered Cuckooshrike, Grey-backed Fiscal, Masked Shrike, Dark-headed oriole, Fork-tailed Drongo, African Paradise Flycatcher, White-winged Black Tit, Common Bulbul, Black Saw-wing, Brown-throated MartinBarn Swallow, Red-faced Crombec, Rattling Cisticola, Green-backed Camaroptera, Rufous Chatterer, White-rumped Babbler, Eurasian Blackcap, Lesser Whitethroat, Wattled Starling, Greater Blue-eared Glossy Starling, Rueppell's Starling, Mountain Thrush, Rueppell's Robin-Chat, Red-capped Robin-Chat, Common Redstart, Little Rock Thrush, Northern Black Flycatcher, Collared Sunbird, Beautiful Sunbird, White-browed Sparrow-Weaver, Swainson's Sparrow, Bush Petronia, Spectacled Weaver, Village Weaver, red-headed Weaver, Red-billed Quelea, Red-cheeked Cordon-bleu, Bronze Mannikin, Western Yellow Wagtail, White Wagtail, African Citril.
Accommodation: Wabeshebelle Rating: Half a star.
Wednesday 22 January 2014
Lake Langano – Lake Abijatta – Lake Shalla – Nazaret
I had a poor night's sleep, awaking several times. The room stunk and everywhere was filthy. I will not be sorry to leave.
Breakfast was at 06:00. What was called juice clearly was not, but I drank it anyway. I had half a slice of toast with marmalade, porridge and coffee. Mercifully, we were on the road by 07:00.
Today's activity centred primarily around a visit to two adjacent lakes, Lake Abijatta and Lake Shalla. Abijatta is a shallow, brackish depression, while Shalla is steep-sided and deep. Consequently the bird life differs markedly from one lake to the other.
We were joined on this excursion by a delightful, young lady from the Ethiopian Wildlife Conservation Organization. I have no idea why we needed her to accompany us, but it is perhaps a make-work project. She seemed to co-opt me somewhat, but any thought that I might have had about my magnetic charm, was soon dissipated when she said, “I will walk with you, grandfather.” But, in truth, she was very good company and I enjoyed the time spent with her.
At Lake Abijatta we saw an African Fish Eagle feeding on a flamingo, and found the remains of a couple of earlier meals. I suspect that fish eagles have developed a skill in taking down flamingos, and perhaps have even progressed to a preference for this prey over their normal diet of fish. Both Greater and Lesser Flamingos were present, in good numbers too. The sight of flamingos “marching” through the shallows, in that precise kind of formation they have, always seems very special to me. We saw huge numbers of Abdim's Storks, mainly in flight, but there were substantial numbers probing in the shallows also. It was entertaining to watch a Black Heron fishing in the manner so characteristic, and comical, of this species. Shorebirds were well represented as were gulls and terns.
For some reason which escapes me, we were unable to drive to Lake Shalla, so we missed the opportunity of any substantial birding there.
We said goodbye to our friend from the wildlife organization and headed to the same restaurant where we lunched on the first day of our trip. I had exactly the same meal – fish with spicy sauce and rice, and a macchiato coffee. It was all quite delicious.
From there we pretty much pressed onwards to Nazaret, where we stayed at the Maya Hotel, arriving at 17:00. It is an imposing structure, but like everywhere else it is falling apart. I am sure that the room I had was originally quite grand; now the paint is peeling off the walls and it has a distinctly run-down look overall. In any event, it was glorious when compared with the cabin from purgatory last night!
At the restaurant earlier today, and now at the hotel WIFI is available. It is incredible to see the transformation in some members of the group when the prospect of WIFI looms. All conversation seems to centre on whether or not they will be able to get connected. They twitch a little, chatter nervously, their faces flush, their fingers flex in preparation for the task ahead. I will not use names in order to protect the guilty, but it was astonishing to see rational, friendly, courteous, well-mannered, well-educated people, abandon all sense of sociability, and become enslaved to their I-pads, tablets and whatever other devices they had. They would sit at the table, never attempt a moment of conversation, ignore everyone around them and fiddle away with their devices. It was as clear an addiction as any substance abuse. One fellow, whom I thought a particularly fine chap, never let his thingamajig leave his hands even for a moment at meal times, and simply ignored everyone and everything around him. It was dismaying to see this transformation.
Thank God some of us did not suffer from WIFI fever and actually talked to each other over dinner!
Dinner was taken at 19:00 and I had a quite good vegetable soup, followed by fish goulash. It was quite tasty but it was impossible to know what kind of fish it was since it was all coated with a layer of crispy batter and served on a bed of rice. I took advantage of the fact that cappuccino was available and it was made well. The Italian influence lingers on.
I had a glorious hot shower, hot I say, not lukewarm! The water pressure was pretty low, but it was a great shower nevertheless. I was in bed by 22:00.
All species 22 January - Helmeted Guineafowl, Egyptian Goose, Cape Teal, Northern Shoveler, Northern Pintail, Greater Flamingo, Lesser Flamingo, Yellow-billed Stork, Marabou Stork, African Sacred Ibis, Glossy Ibis, Cattle Egret, Grey Heron, Black-headed Heron, Great Egret, Black Heron, Little Egret, Great White Pelican, White-breasted Cormorant, African Harrier-Hawk, Hooded Vulture, White-backed Vulture, Rueppell's Vulture, Long-crested Eagle, Tawny Eagle, Western Marsh Harrier, Pallid Harrier, Yellow-billed Kite, African Fish Eagle, Common Kestrel, Red-knobbed Coot, Black-winged Stilt, Pied Avocet, Spur-winged Lapwing, Crowned Lapwing, Common Ringed Plover, Little Ringed Plover, Kittlitz's Plover, Kentish Plover, Common Snipe, Black-tailed Godwit, Marsh Sandpiper, Common Sandpiper, Little Stint, Curlew Sandpiper, Ruff, Black-headed Gull, Grey-headed Gull, Lesser Black-backed Gull, Gull-billed Tern, White-winged Tern, Speckled Pigeon, Laughing Dove, Namaqua Dove, Black-winged Lovebird, Speckled Mousebird, Striped Kingfisher, Pied Kingfisher, Eurasian Hoopoe, Black-billed Wood Hoopoe, Black Scimitarbill, Northern Red-billed Hornbill, Red-fronted Barbet, Nubian Woodpecker, Bearded Woodpecker, Black-crowned Tchagra, Brubru (H), White-rumped Shrike, Grey-backed Fiscal, Fork-tailed Drongo, Cape Crow, Pied Crow, Common Bulbul, Brown-throated Martin, Sand Martin, Barn Swallow, Rattling Cisticola, Rufous Chatterer, Ruepplell's Starling, Superb Starling, Northern Wheatear, Pied Wheatear, Abyssinian Wheatear, Little Rock Thrush, Beautiful Sunbird, White-browed Sparrow-Weaver, Swainson's Sparrow, Red-billed Buffalo Weaver, White-headed Buffalo Weaver, Little Weaver, Red-cheeked Cordon-bleu, Crimson-rumped Waxbill, Western Yellow Wagtail.
Thursday 23 January 2014
Adama – Lake Beseka – Awash Falls Lodge – Bilen Lodge
I awoke at ten minutes before five, and got dressed. I went for breakfast at 05:25 having been advised that a buffet would be available from 05:00 onwards. Nothing was ready; the restaurant was in semi darkness. I returned to my room, not even having the luxury of being able to inquire what time breakfast might be ready. At 06:00 I tried again; still nothing! At 06:15 some kind of service began, but breakfast was quite awful. Food was available in metal containers with lights underneath. However all of the contents were stone cold..not just warm, stone cold. Obviously the food had been taken out of a refrigerator without any attempt to heat it before placing in the serving dishes. I tried a kind of mixed vegetable dish, but cold potatoes are really not very good, and there were incredibly hot peppers as part of the mix. There was no porridge, and the drink was a powdered crystal mix again. Coffee wasn't bad though. When Wayne had mentioned a buffet breakfast I had looked forward to it – silly me!
Back home to a bowl of cereal is looking better by the day!
The WIFI crews were already engrossed in their chosen pursuit.
We had noticed while driving to the hotel yesterday that we seemed to be in a fruit-growing area based on the number of sidewalk vendors selling melons and other fruits, so I had assumed that there would be a selection of fresh fruit at breakfast. How wrong I was.
We left at 07:00 travelling down the paved road that connects to Djibouti which serves as a port of entry and departure for Ethiopia, landlocked since the independence of Eritrea. What was really interesting was that the road coming from Djibouti had deep grooves made by the trucks with their heavy loads. Going in the other direction the road was pristinely flat, revealing that Ethiopia is exporting very little since the trucks are returning to port empty.
After a couple of hours we stopped at an area characterized by extensive lava beds where we searched for Sombre Rock Chat – successfully. At nearby Lake Beseka, a lake that is constantly enlarging due to its position between the two innermost folds of a graben (a downfaulted area), we located a Western Reef Heron, a species spotted on less than fifty percent of Rockjumper Ethiopian tours.
|Western Reef Heron|
One of the interesting facets of this area is that the road and the railway line have had to be repeatedly built up in order to stay above the rising level of the lake. A wide range of herons, shorebirds and waterfowl was present, and White-backed and Rueppell's Vultures fed on carrion at the shore.
We left this area at 11:05 to drive to Awash Falls Lodge, where we had been advised that we would be spending two nights. As it turned out that was not correct and we were staying at Bilen Lodge for one night before moving over to Awash Falls. Since we were already there we had lunch at Awash Falls National Park.
I had a very agreeable celery and leek soup, followed by stir-fried chicken and noodles. It was not bad but I have no idea why they have to coat the chicken in batter. Dessert was fruit salad in tamarind sauce which I enjoyed very much, followed by delicious coffee.
After lunch we left to drive to Bilen. The roads were, I think, the dustiest ever and that is really saying something in Ethiopia. Everybody and everything, was simply coated in dust. I carefully cleaned my camera and binoculars last night, but they were already worse than before. I am truly sick of dust.
I know that Rockjumper's outline of the trip does not go into specific detail, (in fact it is quite euphemistic) but I think that some honest mention should be made of the truly appalling conditions so that people can make up their minds about the trip based on all the facts. It would have been instructive to know when deciding on a destination that most days would involve long drives, over bone-jarring, dirt roads, with dust so bad at times you could hardly see; dust that came through every crevice on the bus and coated every surface. In the vehicle one was faced with the constant choice of opening the window to get some air and a bit of a breeze, or closing it and sweltering. The drives are simply abominable.
We arrived at Bilen Lodge around 18:30 and met for dinner at 19:15. Power is only available at Bilen until 20:00. Dinner was a fixed menu affair and it was first class. We had a green salad, zucchini soup, steak, potatoes and mixed vegetables, papaya with fresh limes to squeeze on it, and coffee. Hot dishes were served hot, by a pleasant and efficient staff.
Furthermore, the cabins were rustic, but quite attractive, and as Lisa said, this was our first lodging in Ethiopia where everything worked.
I was in bed by 21:45.
All species 23 January – Helmeted Guineafowl, Crested Francolin, Yellow-necked Spurfowl, Lesser Flamingo, Yellow-billed Stork, Abdim's Stork, White Stork, Saddle-billed Stork, Marabou Stork, Striated Heron, Squacco Heron, Cattle Egret, Grey Heron, Purple Heron, Great Egret, Little Egret, Western Reef Heron, Reed Cormorant, White-breasted Cormorant, African Darter, Black-winged Kite, Egyptian Vulture, Hooded Vulture, White-backed Vulture, Rueppell's Vulture, Martial Eagle, Long-crested Eagle, Tawny Eagle, Dark Chanting Goshawk, Eastern Chanting Goshawk, Western Marsh Harrier, Pallid Harrier, Montagu's Harrier, Yellow-billed Kite, African Fish Eagle, Buff-crested Bustard, Senegal Thick-knee, Black-winged Stilt, Spur-winged Lapwing, Common Greenshank, Green Sandpiper, Wood Sandpiper, Common Sandpiper, Temmick's Stint, Ruff, Gull-billed Tern, Rock Dove, Speckled Pigeon,. African Mourning Dove, Red-eyed Dove, Laughing Dove, Namaqua Dove, Pearl-spotted Owlet, African Palm Swift, Nyanza Swift, Blue-naped Mousebird, Abyssinian Roller, Malachite Kingfisher, Pied Kingfisher, Northern Carmine Bee-eater, Eurasian Hoopoe, Northern red-billed Hornbill, Black-billed Barbet, Yellow-breasted Barbet, White-rumped Shrike, Isabelline Shrike, Woodchat Shrike, Pied Crow, Fan-tailed Raven, Chestnut-headed Sparrow-Lark, Brown-throated Martin, Sand Martin, Barn Swallow, Red-rumped Swallow, Red-faced Crombec, Yellow-bellied Eremomela, Wattled Starling, Greater Blue-eared Glossy Starling, Rueppell's Starling, Superb Starling, Rufous-tailed Scrub Robin, Isabelline Wheatear, Pied Wheatear, Blackstart, Sombre Rock Chat, White-browed Sparrow-Weaver, Swainson's Sparrow, White-headed Buffalo Weaver, Rueppell's Weaver, Red-headed Weaver, Red-billed Quelea, Northern Red Bishop, Red-cheeked Cordon-bleu, Western Yellow Wagtail, Tawny Pipit, Striolated Bunting.
Accommodation: Bilen Lodge Rating: Three and three quarter stars.
Friday 24 January 2014
Bilen Lodge – Alleghedi Plain – Awash Falls Lodge
I was awake at 05:30 following a good night's sleep. Breakfast at 06:30 consisted of an odd, but not unpleasant juice that tasted like a combination of prune juice and iced tea, toast and jam, coffee.
We birded around the lodge for a while obtaining very good looks at Nile Valley Sunbird. It seemed pretty elusive at first but before the day was out we would have had it in view several times. As is the case with all sunbirds, it is a stunning species. White-headed Buffalo Weavers were common on the grounds of the lodge and were very photogenic. It is indeed a lovely bird.
The local people here were very tall and slim, reminding one vaguely of Masai and they all carried a long knife in a scabbard, evidently part of their local custom. Some were selling necklaces but I don't think anyone bought one.
When we reached Alleghedi Plain we had the great good fortune to see Harlequin Quail. Because of their retiring nature, and their ability to lose themselves quickly, sightings of quail always seem quite special to me. As might be expected on an extensive grassland raptors were plentiful. The stars of the show, I thought, were our only Long-legged Buzzard and our only Scissor-tailed Kite of the trip, not species always encountered on these Rockjumper odysseys.
At a wetland the numbers of Carmine Bee-eaters was simply staggering.
Lunch was taken in Sabat at a restaurant whose singular memory is that they had virtually nothing
anyone ordered. I had the fasting meal but it was nothing like the original one that I had enjoyed so much. It featured a platter covered with injera and a bland chickpea sauce – and that was it. I should mention the ubiquitous drink, Ambo, we had been having all over Ethiopia. It was a sparkling water, or could be obtained in various flavours. I think that most people's choice was lemon/lime and it was very pleasant. Today it was pineapple flavoured.
We arrived at Awash Falls Lodge around 15:15. The cabins here are not as nice as those at Bilen and they are in configurations of four, connected by the thinnest of walls. There is absolutely no auditory privacy – you can hear every cough, grunt, fart and hiccup from your neighbours.
It was very hot and Wayne had suggested we meet to do some birding at 16:00 when the heat of the day began to moderate.
We went for a drive and birded along the route. We had stunning success with bustards, netting three species – Arabian, White-bellied and Buff-crested. Abyssinian Roller was fairly common and just about took my breath away. It truly is a spectacular creature, and was clearly my bird of the trip – if, in fact, there is such a thing. The drive continued into darkness, but we saw very little other than a Greyish Eagle-Owl.
Dinner was at 19:45 and it was enjoyed in a very agreeable way. We were seated at low tables around a central fire pit, with a traditional coffee ceremony taking place, the fragrance of the incense filling the night air. I had a gin and tonic before dinner and it tasted great! Dinner consisted of an excellent minestrone soup, a decidedly mediocre Cantonese fried rice, and a very good fruit salad. We enjoyed coffee from the ceremony and it was served with popcorn as tradition dictates. It was quite delicious.
I was back in my room by 21:20. I had noticed earlier that the shower had only one faucet, so it seemed to be a safe bet that there would be no hot water. Bingo! I was right!
All species 24 January – Somali Ostrich, Crested Francolin, Yellow-necked Spurfowl, Harlequin Quail, Egyptian Goose, Lesser Flamingo, Wooly-necked Stork, White Stork, Marabou Stork, African Sacred Ibis, Cattle Egret, Grey Heron, Purple Heron, Hamerkop, Black-winged Kite, Scissor-tailed Kite, African Harrier-Hawk, Hooded Vulture, White-backed Vulture, Rueppell's Vulture, Short-toed Snake Eagle, Tawny Eagle, Steppe Eagle, Gabar Goshawk, Dark Chanting Goshawk, Eastern Chanting Goshawk, Western Marsh Harrier, Pallid Harrier, Montagu's Harrier, Yellow-billed Kite, Long-legged Buzzard, Lesser Kestrel, Common Kestrel, Arabian Bustard, White-bellied Bustard, Buff-crested Bustard, Spur-winged Lapwing, Chestnut-bellied Sandgrouse, Rock Dove, Speckled Pigeon, African Mourning Dove, Red-eyed Dove, Ring-necked Dove, Laughing Dove, Namaqua Dove, White-bellied Go-away-bird, Greyish Eagle-Owl, Blue-naped Mousebird, Abyssinian Roller, Little Bee-eater, Northern Carmine Bee-eater, Eurasian Hoopoe, African Grey Hornbill, Northern Red-billed Hornbill, Abyssinian Ground Hornbill, Black-billed Barbet, Yellow-breasted Barbet, Cardinal Woodpecker, Rosy-patched Bushshrike, Black-crowned Tchagra, White-rumped Shrike, Isabelline Shrike, Steppe Grey Shrike, Somali Fiscal, Woodchat Shrike, Fork-tailed Drongo, Fan-tailed Raven, Mouse-coloured Penduline Tit, Singing Bush Lark, Red-winged Lark, Gillett's Lark, Chestnut-backed Sparrow-Lark, Common Bulbul, Somali Bulbul, Brown-throated Martin, Sand Martin, Barn Swallow, Ethiopian Swallow, Red-rumped Swallow, Ashy Cisticola, Red-fronted Warbler, Yellow-bellied Eremomela, Lesser Whitethroat, Wattled Starling, Greater Blue-eared Glossy Starling, Rueppell's Starling, Superb Starling, White-browed Scrub Robin,
Isabelline Wheatear, Northern Wheatear, Pied Wheatear, Nile Valley Sunbird, Shining Sunbird, White-browed Sparrow-Weaver, Swainson's Sparrow, White-headed Buffalo Weaver, Rueppell's Weaver, Northern Red Bishop, Green-winged Pytilla, Red-billed Firefinch, Red-cheeked Cordon-bleu, Crimson-rumped Waxbill, African Silverbill, Village Indigobird, Long-tailed Paradise Whydah, Western Yellow Wagtail, Tawny Pipit, Somali Bunting.
Accommodation: Awash Falls Lodge Rating: Three stars.
Saturday 25 January 2014
Awash Falls Lodge – Awash Falls National Park
I was awake early at 04:35. I tried to get back to sleep but couldn't, so I got up. The plan was to meet Wayne at 06:25 for a two-hour walk before breakfast, and very pleasant it was too. We got a chance to see the falls from which the national park takes its name. In terms of birds the clear highlight was at least one, possibly two, Eastern Plantain-eater, which showed itself briefly, flew away, eluded us for a while, but finally perched in full view so that everyone had a clear and untrammelled view. We also had a very pleasing look at African Pied Wagtail.
|Eastern Grey Plantain-eater|
Wayne had arranged for breakfast at 08:30 but we were a little late. I had toast, marmalade and porridge – all very good. There was real orange juice too, not powdered crap mixed with water, real juice. It was a little tart, but welcome nonetheless, and the coffee, as usual, was excellent.
After breakfast we clambered into the bus for a drive around the grasslands, accompanied by a guard with a rifle. Given the stature of the guard and the condition and age of the rifle, I think that any danger would have been better handled by fleeing! We birded at several stops along the route. Once again we netted three species of bustard, and outstanding numbers.
Andrew elected to stay behind since he was dealing with a recurring back problem; in fact he was absent the whole day. It worked okay but it's clearly unreasonable to burden one guide with ten clients and to expect any kind of cohesion, and an equal chance to get on a bird. Wayne managed well under trying circumstances, I thought.
We arrived back at the lodge for lunch around 13:00, but Wayne had advised the staff that we would be eating at 12:30, so everything was ready and waiting for us. They gave me my beef stroganoff (cold) before my soup, which, when it came was hot and delicious. I had the same fruit salad as yesterday, Ambo flavoured water and coffee. The stroganoff was quite dismal, the rest of the meal was excellent.
The heat was intense by now and we had until 16:00 to relax before going back out. I took the opportunity to do some laundry and it dried quickly in the hot sun, draped over a bush, and over the chair from my room. At one point a monkey tried to come in and join me, but I quickly shooed it away. I can only imagine the damage a monkey could do in no time at all!
The baboons at this lodge have become so accustomed to humans they have lost all their natural caution. There is a fellow in the dining room, armed with a big stick, whose sole job appears to be to chase away the baboons that come in trying to grab a snack.
On our afternoon drive we added Hartlaub's Bustard, with sightings of no less than eight individuals. This brought our day's total to twenty-one birds of four species of bustard, quite exceptional by any reckoning. It was a new high for Wayne. In addition we had gob smacking looks at Abyssinian Roller again, truly a bird to evoke delight of the purest kind, and several little parties of Helmeted Guineafowl.
The drive continued in darkness and we had the magnificent sighting of a Caracal with a kitten. It was simply wonderful and we were able to have a quite protracted look as the kitten seemed reluctant to leave and the adult had to come back for it. Once again we dipped entirely on nightjars and owls.
Dinner was taken around a fire as it was last night, but it was enlivened by a troupe of dancers performing traditional dances, and I found it very entertaining. I had a gin and tonic again, followed by vegetable soup, spaghetti carbonera, fruit cup and coffee from the coffee ceremony. Everything was very good.
I was back in my room by 21:10, had a cold shower, and turned in for the night.
All species 25 January – Helmeted Guineafowl, Crested Francolin, Egyptian Goose, Marabou Stork, Striated Heron, Grey Heron, Black-winged Kite, African Harrier-Hawk, Egyptian Vulture, Hooded Vulture, White-backed Vulture, Tawny Eagle, Dark Chanting Goshawk, Pallid Harrier, Yellow-billed Kite, Pygmy Falcon, Common Kestrel, Kori Bustard, White-bellied Bustard, Buff-crested Bustard, Hartlaub's Bustard, Senegal Thick-knee, Spur-winged Lapwing, Common Sandpiper, Temminck's Stint, Speckled Pigeon, African Mourning Dove, Ring-necked Dove, Laughing Dove, Namaqua Dove, White-bellied Go-away-bird, Eastern Plantain-eater, Blue-naped Mousebird, Abyssinian Roller, Woodland Kingfisher, Little Bee-eater, Eurasian Hoopoe, Abyssinian Scimitarbill, African Grey Hornbill, Northern Red-billed Hornbill,Abyssinian Ground Hornbill, Red-fronted Tinkerbird, Black-billed Barbet, Cardinal Woodpecker, Grey-headed Batis, Sulphur-breasted Bushshrike, Rosy-patched Bushshrike, Black-crowned Tchagra, Northern Puffback, White-crowned Shrike, Isabelline Shrike, Steppe Grey Shrike, Somali Fiscal, Woodchat Shrike, Fork-tailed Drongo, Pied Crow, Fan-tailed Raven, Mouse-coloured Penduline Tit, Singing Bush Lark, Red-winged Lark, Chestnut-backed Sparrow-Lark, Common Bulbul, Somali Bulbul, Brown-throated Martin, Barn Swallow, Red-rumped Swallow, Eastern Olivaceous Warbler, Green-backed Camaroptera, Yellow-bellied Eremomela, Rufous Chatterer, Rueppell's Starling, Superb Starling, Isabelline Wheatear, Black-eared Wheatear, Shining Sunbird,White-browed Sparrow-Weaver, Swainson's Sparrow, Red-billed Buffalo Weaver, White-headed Buffalo Weaver, Rueppell's Weaver, Red-billed Quelea, Red-billed Firefinch, Red-cheeked Cordon-bleu, Crimson-rumped Waxbill, African Silverbill, Western Yellow Wagtail, White Wagtail, African Pied Wagtail.
Sunday 26 January 2014
Awash National Park – Dreamland (Debre Zeit) – Lali Sala – Weliso (also known as Ghion)
I had set my alarm for 05:30 but I was out of bed by 05:05. Another day to move on. Bags outside by 06:10 and breakfast at 06:15 – juice, toast, marmalade, porridge, coffee.
We left at 07:00, but had to turn back because Andrew had forgotten his binoculars.
After a short distance Ken spotted a male Lichtenstein's Sandgrouse. What a truly beautiful bird! Everyone saw it from the bus, took some photographs, and then we alighted ever so gingerly, and managed to view the bird again without flushing it. Kudos to Ken for his sharp eyes. Shortly afterwards Andrew spotted a male and a female of the same species and we had good looks again.
This was essentially a travel day and we motored onwards. We stopped at Dreamland for lunch, but I forget to record what I ate. As was the case when we had stopped here before we were able to do a little birding from the balcony overlooking the lake. A flotilla of Little Grebes decorated the lake like gems, the sun glinting off them and the dark surface of the water. A pair of Scarlet-chested Sunbirds were building a nest.
Our target in the area known as Lali Sala was the endemic Erlanger's Lark. Our first foray failed to turn it up, but on the second try we were successful.
We arrived at Negash Lodge at 16:25. If we figure that we spent about forty-five minutes for lunch and another fifteen in the Erlanger's Lark quest, this was another day with nine hours on the bus.
The lodge is quite pleasant and set in lovely grounds, but in my room, as has been true everywhere else in Ethiopia, the walls are scuffed, chipped and dirty. I haven't tried the shower yet – that will be the ultimate test.
The WIFI addicts were on their devices almost as soon as their feet hit the ground.
We all had time to relax before dinner at 19:00 and I showered and changed. The shower was warm, certainly not hot, but a great improvement over most places, however.
Since we had not done the list last night, we had to catch up, and it was plain to see that Wayne was getting frustrated by the attention that people were paying to their WIFI activity and to the perpetual chatter going on. Finally he asked people to shut up, pay attention, and focus on the task at hand. I was glad he did so. I had found that doing the list was more chaotic each night, with more peripheral chatter going on, than I could ever remember from other tours.
Dinner was hot pepper soup – very good; terryaki chicken with rice and vegetables – mediocre and fairly tasteless; fresh fruit salad – excellent. I think that in most restaurants rice and mixed vegetables seemed to be a standard accompaniment to every dish, so it was prepared ahead of time and was always cold.
I was in bed by 20:00.
All species 26 January - Helmeted Guineafowl, Crested Francolin, Egyptian Goose, Little Grebe, Greater Flamingo, Lesser Flamingo, White Stork, Marabou Stork, African Sacred Ibis, Cattle Egret, Grey Heron, Pink-backed Pelican, Reed Cormorant, White-breasted Cormorant, Black-winged Kite, Egyptian Vulture, Hooded Vulture, White-backed Vulture, Rueppell's Vulture, Tawny Eagle, Dark Chanting Goshawk, Pallid Harrier, Yellow-billed Kite, African Fish Eagle, Common Kestrel, Lanner Falcon, Buff-crested Bustard, Gull-billed Tern, Lichtenstein's Sandgrouse, Speckled Pigeon, Lemon Dove, Dusky Turtle Dove, African Mourning Dove, Laughing Dove, Namaqua Dove, White-bellied Go-away-bird, Speckled Mousebird, Abyssinian Roller, Banded Barbet, White-crowned Shrike, Rufous-tailed Shrike, Woodchat Shrike, Cape Crow, Pied Crow, Fantail Raven, Erlanger's Lark, Common Bulbul, Barn Swallow, Rock Martin, Tawny-flanked Prinia, Green-backed Camaroptera, Montane White-eye, Rueppell's Starling, Superb Starling, Red-billed Oxpecker, Mountain Thrush, Red-breasted Wheatear, Isabelline Wheatear, Scarlet-chested Sunbird, White-browed Sparrow-Weaver, Swainson's Sparrow, White-headed Buffalo Weaver, Rueppell's Weaver, Red-billed Quelea, Red-billed Firefinch, Western Yellow Wagtail.
Accommodation: Negash Lodge Rating: Three and three quarter stars.
Monday 27 January 2014
Weliso – Ghibe Gorge – Addis Ababa – Debre Birham
I was up at 04:30 after a very good night's sleep.
We all met at the bus at 05:25 to leave for a drive of about an hour to Ghibe Gorge where we would do some birding before breakfast al fresco.
We disembarked on what appeared to be a farm where Wire-tailed Swallows perched very agreeably on a wire next to Barn Swallows for ease of comparison. We set off on a long walk, birding all the while, until we arrived at a river where pods of hippopotami were sighted. Their backs bore the results of fighting, and bloody gashes could be seen. An opportunistic Common Sandpiper wasted no time in feeding on insects that had been attracted to the open sores. Two Senegal Thick-knees on the opposite bank of the river gave us great views, and a Three-banded Plover had young. A Pied Kingfisher hovering and then diving into the water offered great entertainment. It was Andrew who discovered a Moustached Grass Warbler for all to see.
|Common Sandpiper feeding on Hippopotamus|
We saw several Lesser Blue-eared Glossy Starlings, distinctly different in colouration from their Greater cousins, and on several occasions we had the two together to really make the comparison.
Breakfast was not served until 10:00. It was the standard offering we have had every morning when served by Demmi and his crew and it was always good.
We continued to bird for a while and then returned to Negash Lodge for lunch. I had selected spinach/feta cheese ravioli, but my stomach was upset again and I ate little. Ken had ordered a tuna salad sandwich, but there were so many uncooked items on it (e.g. lettuce, tomato) that he decided not to eat it and I gave him some of my ravioli. Dukarol seems not to have provided its normal protection, for this is the second time on this trip that I have had traveller's diarrhea. I started on a second round of cipro.
After lunch we loaded up and headed for Addis Ababa. There we transferred to 4 x 4 vehicles for the remainder of the trip. I rode with Trevor and Ann, with Demmi as our driver and Wayne as grand commander of the vehicle. My stomach cramps, which had subsided somewhat, became fairly severe about half way from Addis to Debre Birham, our destination that day.
When we arrived at 19:30 I grabbed the key to my room from Wayne and made a dash for the bathroom. Just in time took on a whole new meaning! I went to get my suitcase and carry-on but Demmi kindly brought them to my room. I let Wayne know that I would pass on dinner that night.
I just relaxed as best I could in yet another classically crummy room and finally went to bed at about 21:30.
All species 27 January - Helmeted Guineafowl, Egyptian Goose, Abdim's Stork, White Stork, Marabou Stork, African Sacred Ibis, Great Egret, Hamerkop, African Darter, Long-crested Eagle, Booted Eagle, Shikra, Western Marsh Harrier, Yellow-billed Kite, African Fish Eagle, Senegal Thick-kneee, Spur-winged Lapwing, Wattled Lapwing, Three-banded Plover, Common Sandpiper, Speckled Pigeon, Red-eyed Dove, Vinaceous Dove, Namaqua Dove, Klaas's Cuckoo, Abyssinian Roller, Grey-headed Kingfisher, Woodland Kingfisher, Malachite Kingfisher, Pied Kingfisher, Little Bee-eater, Northern red-billed Hornbill, Black-billed Barbet, Northern Puffback, Pied Crow, Fan-tailed Raven, Erlanger's Lark, Common Bulbul, Barn Swallow, Wire-tailed Swallow, Moustached Grass Warbler, Common Chiffchaff, Greater Blue-eared Glossy Starling, Lesser
Blue-eared Glossy Starling, Northern Wheatear, Mocking Cliff Chat, Little Rtock Thrush, Bush Petronia, Village Weaver. Red-billed Quelea, Black-winged Bishop, Red-cheeked Cordon-bleu, Abyssinian Waxbill, Crimson-rumped Waxbill, Village Indigobird, African Pied Wagtail, Long-billed Pipit, Yellow-rumped Serin, Yellow-fronted Canary.
Accommodation: Eva Hotel Rating: Two and a half stars.
Tuesday 28 January 2014
Debre Birham – Gemassa Geden – Ankover Escarpment – Melka Gebdu - Debre Birham
I awoke around 04:30 but stayed in bed until about 05:30. My stomach still felt a little rocky.
Breakfast was taken at the hotel restaurant and I just had a little porridge. That shouldn't tax my system too greatly.
We headed out to Gemassa Geden to see the long-awaited Gelada or Lion-headed Baboon. As soon as the vehicle pulled off the road we saw several of these magnificent, unique creatures, that live out their lives on the crags and peaks of the Ethiopian Plateau. Craig, Ann and I ascended to the top of one of them and had a breath-taking view of the Rift Valley below.
Unfortunately Ann was quite sick and I went to get Trevor to be with her. Trevor revealed that he was not feeling a hundred percent either. Carsten had been sick for a couple of days, and at one point was prone on the back seat of the vehicle in which he was travelling. Cecil revealed that he had issues with diarrhea the previous day, and I know that Craig was having some stomach rumblings, so it appears that something hit several of us.
While we were on the mountain the rest of the group managed to locate the endemic Ankober Serin, but despite searching again, it failed to reappear. I did, however, get to see the other endemic of the area, Yellow-rumped Seedeater. While walking along a mountain stream we located our first Grey Wagtail of the trip, and I believe that Andrew and I saw the only Black Stork of the trip. Later, overlooking a valley from a high vantage point we had the incredible experience of being above a Verreaux's Eagle and seeing its distinctive wing pattern from above. I would imagine this is a view shared by few birders and I was elated. It was certainly one of the highlights of the entire trip for me.
Lunch, prepared by the crew, was spaghetti with tomato sauce, and a dish comprising beets, potatoes, carrots and tomatoes. It was all very tasty, but I ate just a little. My stomach was starting to feel much better and I thought it better not to overtax it.
It was a long journey back to Debre Birham so we left shortly after lunch. We went for dinner at 19:00 and I had rice and vegetables to keep it light. It was not especially tasty but was probably quite nutritious and certainly didn't feel heavy on my stomach. When doing the list, Wayne just covered the “highlights.” I would have much preferred that we do the whole thing, and I filled in the gaps as best my memory permitted, but it's likely that I missed a species or two.
I took a shower and got into bed about 21:30 to get ready to depart at 04:30 in the morning.
All species 28 January – Egyptian Goose, Black Stork, Wattled Ibis, Lammergeier, Verreaux's Eagle, Yellow-billed Kite, Augur Buzzard, Common Kestrel, Common Sandpiper, Speckled Pigeon, African Olive Pigeon, Dusky Turtle Dove, Namaqua Dove, Northern Red-billed Hornbill, Yellow-breasted Barbet, Northern Fiscal, Cape Crow, Pied Crow, Fantail Raven, Thekla Lark, Common Chiffchaff, Winding Cisticola, Greater Blue-eared Glossy Starling, Slender-billed Starling, Groundscraper Thrush, Northern Wheatear, Pied Wheatear, Abyssinian Wheatear, Moorland Chat, Blue Rock Thrush, Marico Sunbird, Bush Petronia, Spectacled Weaver, Rueppell's Weaver, Red-billed Quelea, Red-cheeked Cordon-bleu, Bronze Mannikin, Grey Wagtail, White Wagtail, Red-throated Pipit, Yellow-throated Seedeater, Brown-rumped Seedeater, Streaky Seedeater, Ethiopian Siskin.
Wednesday 29 January 2014
Debre Birham – Jemma Valley – Addis Ababa
We were on the road dark and early, by 04:30 to be precise.
Demmi and his crew set up breakfast for us at a truly delightful spot, perhaps the most picturesque of the trip. In the meantime we had seen two new species of Francolin – Harwood's and Erckel's, and the endemic Rueppell's Chat. Our presence seemed to attract a cohort of locals who clearly were familiar with the birds we were seeking.
After breakfast we moved along, birding here and there. At one stop four Fox Kestrels were feeding on locusts and we saw five Abyssinian Ground Hornbills in the same spot. We arrived at a river where the birding was very productive indeed. Perhaps most rewarding for me was close up looks at Wire-tailed Swallow. Ann's judicious spotting resulted in the only Western Osprey of our entire trip. And speaking of Ann, it was good to see her restored to her normal self, bright, attentive and an ace at locating birds. Lisa was responsible for finding a Half-collared Kingfisher, a species that had eluded us for the entire trip, and I believe was a lifer for everyone.
We had lunch alongside the river. The setting was enchanting but it was hot. Craig's thermometer registered 44 degrees. Lunch consisted of the bean salad we had had previously and a kind of tuna salad. It was all quite good and we enjoyed the location very much.
After lunch we settled in for the long drive to Addis. For the most part we travelled on paved roads and made good time until we arrived on the outskirts of the city. We then slowed to a crawl. The traffic in Addis Ababa has to be experienced to be believed. It is impossible for anyone not familiar with its chaos to understand how the traffic moves at all.
We arrived at the Ghion Hotel at 18:30 and after being frisked by security we were shown to our rooms, which were in a different section of the hotel than when we had arrived in Ethiopia, and were considerably better. In fact I had a suite. We met in a kind of lounge at 19:15 to do the list (once again only highlights) and left for our farewell dinner at a restaurant in Addis.
The food was buffet style and was as good as we had throughout our entire trip, maybe better. There was also a show of Ethiopian dancers, far more sophisticated and energetic than those we had seen at Awash Lodge, and the show was quite fantastic. I enjoyed it immensely.
I was back at my room by 20:30 and rearranged my suitcase for the journey home. I was in bed by 23:00. It would be a short night's sleep, but I could sleep on the plane, and back at home for that matter. Everyone except Carsten and me were going on the extension to Libella, but I was more than happy to be heading to Ontario.
All species 29 January – Harwood's Francolin, Erckel's Francolin, Egyptian Goose, Black Stork, Woolly-necked Stork, Cattle Egret, Grey Heron, Great Egret, Hamerkop, White-breasted Cormorant, Western Osprey, Egyptian Vulture, Rueppell's Vulture, Yellow-billed Kite, African Fish Eagle, Augur Buzzard, Common Kestrel, Fox Kestrel, Spur-winged Lapwing, Black-winged Lapwing, Common Greenshank, Green Sandpiper, Common Sandpiper, Speckled Pigeon, Laughing Dove, Namaqua Dove, Speckled Mousebird, Malachite Kingfisher, Half-collared Kingfisher, Pied Kingfisher, Hemprich's Hornbill, Abyssinian Ground Hornbill, Black-crowned Tchagra, Northern Fiscal, Cape Crow, Pied Crow, Fantail Raven, Brown-throated Martin, Wire-tailed Swallow, Eurasian Crag Martin, Rock Martin, Common House Martin, Northern Crombec, Eastern Olivaceous Warbler, Singing Cisticola, Greater Blue-eared Glossy Starling, Siberian Stonechat, Northern Wheatear, Abyssinian Wheatear, Rueppell's Chat, Mocking Cliff Chat, Blue Rock Thrush, Variable Sunbird, Chestnut-crowned Sparrow-Weaver, Bush Petronia, Yellow-spotted Petronia, Speckle-fronted Weaver, Baglafecht Weaver, Red-coillared Widowbird, Red-billed Firefinch, Red-cheeked Cordon-bleu, Village Indigobird, Western Yellow Wagtail, Grey Wagtail, White Wagtail, African Pied wagtail, Long-billed Pipit, African Citril, Brown-rumped Seedeater, Streaky Seedeater, Cinnamon-breasted Bunting.
Accommodation: Ghion Hotel Rating: Three and three quarter stars.
Thursday 30 January 2014
Addis Ababa – London – Toronto – Waterloo
I was awake at 04:10. I lay in bed for a while and then got up. I had everything ready to leave and went down early with my bags.
We were at the airport shortly after 06:00 and everything proceeded very smoothly. My bag was checked all the way through to Toronto and I got boarding passes for both legs of the journey. I certainly didn't need to be at the airport three hours before departure.
|Coffee Ceremony at the airport|
We boarded on time and the plane was half empty. Everything went through with seamless efficiency. For a country so chaotic the airport is an island of efficiency.
Shortly after take off I was served a little snack pack of some kind of mini cracker and juice.
Lunch, which was served later, was steamed salmon with curried lentils and mixed veggies, a tasty pasta salad, crackers and cheese; dessert was a kind of custard. I had a small bottle of Chardonnay and coffee. All in all it was not bad.
About an hour before landing at Heathrow we were given a muffin and coffee.
We arrived at 14:25 and disembarked quickly. It was a long walk to my gate at Heathrow, but there were no problems. I bought a cappuccino for the exhorbitant price of $5.00 and settled in for the long wait.
We boarded our Air Canada flight at at 17:30; again the flight was far from full. We were in the air by 18:11. Dinner consisted of chicken, mashed potatoes, mixed vegetables, a small shredded salad which reminded me of Kimchi, and a soft cookie. I had a French Sauvignon Blanc and a coffee. About an hour before landing I was served a wrap of Mediterranean vegetables and feta cheese. It was basically tasteless.
I forget what time we landed but we were pretty much on time and I was thrilled to see Miriam and John waiting for me in the arrivals area.
It was good to be home!
This was a hard, gruelling trip over terrible roads, with many long days spent on the bus. The ratio of travel time to birding time was dismal. There were terrific birds to see and if one could separate the birding from the general misery it would be tremendous. Accommodations were at best passable and at times downright awful. The food was for the most part substandard; at times quite good. Rarely was anything exceptional. Ironically, the meals prepared on camp stoves by the crew were among the tastiest. Would I do it again? Not even if you offered it for free.
Rockjumper Birding Tours
This was my second trip with Rockjumper. I think that, in general, it is a fine company. I do believe, however, that they need to have a little more disclosure up front about the kinds of conditions one will encounter. Euphemisms, such as “some long drives” don't even come close to describing the truly miserable, bone-jarring, dust laden days ones had to endure, and it should be pointed out before participants sign up that more time will be spent in the bus than birding. It is my opinion that ten clients are simply too much on one trip. With two guides it makes twelve people and it is quite unworkable.
Wayne Jones was as fine a young man as one could possibly meet. His birding skills were terrific and his personality and constant good humour made it a great pleasure to be around him. I have nothing but the highest praise and the highest regard for Wayne. Given the opportunity, I would not hesitate to travel with him again. I might be a little more selective about my destination, however!
Andrew Stainthorpe seemed to be a fine fellow but I never felt that I really got to know him. He was a great spotter at times but for the most part he seemed vaguely disconnected from the trip. I never felt he was really involved with us, and his constant nagging back problems certainly did nothing to help his situation.
Contact David M. Gascoigne, 519 725-0866, email: firstname.lastname@example.org. A spreadsheet of all species seen can be sent on request.
Contact David M. Gascoigne, 519 725-0866, email: email@example.com. A spreadsheet of all species seen can be sent on request.