Birding trip report Ethiopia 24 Feb – 11 March 2011
John van der Woude -
report (below) - photos of birding sites - bird photos - street life  -  species list

This was again a group tour organized by, with Laurens Steijn as tour leader. We followed the often-used itinerary East and South of Addis Abbeba, including mountainous areas and plateaus as well as sites down in the Rift Valley. Practically all sites are described in Where to watch birds in Ethiopia by Spottiswoode et al. (2010). See the map and the daily log below for the specific sites we visited.

Although we had birded in Kenya and several other parts of Africa, Nollie and I managed to get a hundred lifers on this trip. Ethiopia has many specialties for the birder, thanks to its elevated location and to the isolation of several Rift Valley branches between those mountainous areas. The trip total was 452 species, and we also saw over thirty mammal species, of which Ethiopian Wolf is the most impressive of course. Redman et al. (2009) Birds of the Horn of Africa was our field guide. We had brought our telescope and we regularly used it.

During the first half of the trip we had a comfortable mid-size bus (window seats for all ten participants), the second half we were driven in four excellent 4WD cars because the roads were not so good there (mainly in the Southeast of our round trip). The weather was good all the time, although the landscape was a bit dry compared to what friends had seen in November. We only had rain one evening and one late afternoon, and the birds were noticeably more active that next morning. Nevertheless, we hardly missed any specialties possible on this standard 2-week itinerary, thanks to the constant efforts of tour leader Laurens, Ethiopian guide Negussie and the participants to find as many specialties as possible. The local guide of Wondo Genet (McKennon) produced our last three lifers of the trip, and the attentive drivers found our only Ruspoli's Turaco's.

On average, accommodation and food were a bit disappointing. We mostly had the best accommodation available, and our rooms often looked not too bad but appeared to be poorly maintained, especially the bathroom (maybe we were just unlucky). The accommodation in Negele (an essential place for Sidamo Lark) is notoriously basic, but something better seems under construction now.  Meals often consisted of pasta with sauce, but whenever possible we opted for the ‘fasting’ injerra, a tef pancake with an assortment of lentils, vegetables, sauces, etc. Beer and bottled water were widely available.

Only back home I learned what the population size of Ethiopia is. I had expected it to be something like 30 million or so, but it is a staggering 88 (now possibly 90) million. We hardly saw any other employment than agriculture, shopkeeping and some trade. So I wonder what all those youngsters and children that we saw along the roads, are going to do when they are grown-up. Nevertheless, I enjoyed the sights of the rural life along the roads, and I took many pictures from the bus/car (see the street life photo section).

Map of central/South Ethiopia, with our main birding sites.

A = Addis Abbeba
1 = stops towards Debre Birhan
2 = Ankober Escarpment
3 = Awash NP
4 = lake Ziway
5 = Bale Mountains NP
6 = stops towards Negele
7 = Negele area
8 = Yabello area
9 = lake Awassa
10 = Wondo Genet

Species list
(excel; provided by tour leader; daily checked with the group)

or choose this somewhat simpler species list

Daily log:

Day 1 - 24 Feb   Amsterdam – Addis Abbeba
Got visa and changed euros at airport after arrival. Ghion hotel Addis.

Day 2 – 25 Feb  Addis Abbeba – Debre Birhan
Birded a bit in hotel garden before breakfast, then onto Debre Birhan with some stops, e.g. near an abattoir. After check-in at Eva hotel of Debre Birhan went to Ankober Escarpment for Ankober Serin.

Best species (* = lifer for Nollie and me):
Blue-winged Goose * - easy though not numerous.
Wattled Ibis * - commonly seen from the road.
White-backed Vulture 
Rueppell's Griffon 
Augur Buzzard 
Verreaux's Eagle  - great shows of two at Ankober escarpment cliff.
White-collared Pigeon * - numerous at some locations.
Dusky Turtle-Dove * - at stop towards Debre Birhan.
Black-winged Lovebird *  - hotel garden Addis.
Nyanza Swift * - on our way to Ankober Escarpment.
Mottled Swift * - on our way to Ankober Escarpment.
Thick-billed Raven * - mainly at the abattoir.
Rock Martin  Ptyonoprogne fuligula obsoleta – the dark subspecies.
Ethiopian Cisticola * - at stop towards Debre Birhan.
Brown Parisoma/Warbler * (the Bale mts. subspecies) - hotel garden Addis.
Abyssinian Slaty-Flycatcher *  in hotel  garden pre-breakfast, one of the first endemics of the trip.
Rueppell's Robin-Chat *
Abyssinian Black Wheatear * -  along road to Ankober escarpment.
Pied Wheatear 
Red-breasted Wheatear  - several along road to Ankober escarpment.
Moorland Chat 
White-winged Cliff-Chat * - along road to Debre Birhan.
Groundscraper Thrush 
Mountain Thrush * - hotel garden Addis.
Broad-ringed (Montane) White-eye * split from Kikuyu White-eye of Mt. Kenya.
Red-throated Pipit 
Ortolan Bunting 
Cinnamon-breasted Bunting 
Ankober Serin * - c. 10 at Ankober Escarpment.
Abyssinian Siskin *  - several groups along the road (esp. next day).
African Citril * - along road to Debre Birhan.
Brown-rumped Seedeater * - to Debre Birhan.
Swainsons Sparrow * - common

Day 3 – 26 Feb  Debre Birhan
More plateau, escarpment, and also down to Rift valley East of Ankober.

Best new species for the trip:
Rufous-breasted Sparrowhawk  - on return from Rift Valley to Debre Birhan.
Martial Eagle 
Emerald-spotted Wood-Dove 
Red-bellied Parrot 
White-bellied Go-away-bird 
Half-collared Kingfisher  - along small river down in Rift valley branch.
African Pygmy-Kingfisher 
Blue-breasted Bee-eater 
Hemprich's Hornbill  -  at descent into Rift Valley.
Greater Honeyguide 
Ethiopian Boubou * - in bush of Rift Valley.
Sulphur-breasted Bushshrike 
Turkestan Shrike 
Dwarf Raven * - 2 at plateau after Debre Birhan.
Erlanger's Lark * - 1 clearly at plateau after Debre Birhan.
Stout Cisticola 
Red-faced Crombec  -  down in Rift Valley.
Rueppell's Black Chat * -   at descent into Rift Valley.
White-rumped Babbler *  -  at descent into Rift Valley.
Red-winged Starling 
White-billed Starling * - male seen.
Scarlet-chested Sunbird 
Mountain Wagtail 
Long-billed Pipit 
White-throated Serin/Seedeater * - at descent into Rift Valley.
Little Weaver 
Rueppell's Weaver 
Yellow-bellied Waxbill  -  at descent into Rift Valley.

Day 4 – 27 Feb  Debre Birhan – Awash NP
Mostly travelling, lunch at restaurant in Nazret with very birdy shaded garden. First stops in acacia savanna. Lava field produced hoped-for Sombre Rock Chat. Inside Awash NP, got Arabian Bustard very quickly. Night in Awash Falls lodge.

Best new species:
Abdim's Stork 
Black-breasted Snake-Eagle 
Long-legged Buzzard 
Steppe Eagle 
Booted Eagle 
Pygmy Falcon 
Arabian Bustard * - Awash NP
Northern White-faced Owl * - briefly seen by N (not J) along the road, at dusk.
Alpine Swift 
Blue-naped Mousebird 
Black-billed Barbet * - in wooded garden  of Nazret restaurant at lunch.
Grey-headed Woodpecker
Southern Grey Shrike  Lanius meridionalis pallidirostris
Grey-backed Fiscal 
Somali Fiscal * - in Awash NP along dirt road.
Woodchat Shrike 
Northern White-crowned Shrike 
Mosque Swallow 
Red-fronted Warbler 
African Grey Flycatcher 
Siberian Stonechat
Sombre Rock Chat * - in lava field on our way to Awash NP.
Blackstart  - in lava field on our way to Awash NP.
Little Rock-Thrush  -  on pole along road when leaving Debre Birhan. 
Wattled Starling 
Violet-backed Starling 
Nile Valley Sunbird * - at stop towards Awash NP.
Beautiful Sunbird 
White-bellied Canary 
Chestnut Weaver * - in Nazret restaurant garden (imm. male).
Orange Bishop 
Green-winged Pytilia  Pytilia melba sudanensis

Day 5 – 28 Feb  Awash NP
Pre-breakfast walk near lodge. More acacia savanna, and a more grassy plain with 4 bustard species. Lunch at old Kereyou lodge with its fabulous view across the broad gorge. Nollie got her 4500th lifer here (Horus Swift). Impressive sight of Slender-tailed Nightjars above the river at dusk.

Best new species:
Pallid Harrier 
Ovambo Sparrowhawk 
White-bellied Bustard 
Buff-crested Bustard 
Spotted Thick-knee 
Chestnut-bellied Sandgrouse  - grassy plain in Awash NP.
Slender-tailed Nightjar 
Horus Swift * - at lunch, across gorge.
Woodland Kingfisher 
Black-billed Woodhoopoe * -  during walk outside lodge Awash NP.
Abyssinian Scimitar-bill  - grassy plain in Awash NP.
Nubian Woodpecker 
White Helmetshrike 
Slate-coloured Boubou 
Rosy-patched Bushshrike 
Gillett's Lark * -  on old air field Awash NP.
Grey Wren-Warbler 
Ashy Cisticola * - grassy plain in Awash NP.
Buff-bellied Warbler 
White-browed Scrub-Robin  Cercotrichas leucophrys leucoptera
Rufous Chatterer 
Rueppell's Glossy-Starling 
Somali Bunting * - on old air field Awash NP.

Day 6 – 1 March  Awash NP – Lake Langano
Some more birding in Awash NP (Hartlaub’s Bustard). Lunch at Nazret again. Some more stops, and at end of afternoon a very productive visit to Lake Ziway. Night at Lake Langano resort.

Best new species:
African Pygmy-Goose * - Lake Ziway.
Hottentot Teal 
Montagu's Harrier 
Long-crested Eagle 
Hartlaub's Bustard * - Awash NP morning.
Lesser Jacana * - Lake Ziway.
Marsh Sandpiper 
Pectoral Sandpiper  (only the 2nd for Ethiopia, see photo section)
Collared Pratincole  - at river stop.
Striped Kingfisher 
Northern Carmine Bee-eater * - stop somewhere along the road, in hamlet.
Abyssinian Ground-Hornbill 
Yellow-breasted Barbet * - Awash NP morning.
Black-headed Batis * - wooded garden Nazret restaurant  lunch.
Black-headed Wagtail
Reichenows Seedeater  - at river stop.
Black-cheeked Waxbill * - Awash NP morning.

Day 7 – 2 March  Lake Langano – Goba
First some birding in acacia woodland around the resort, then on to the Bale mountains. One of the stops produced my 4500th lifer (White-headed Vulture). At Dinsho HQ of Bale Mts NP a visit to 2 owl species and some more birding in the woods. Wabe Shebelle hotel in Goba. After dinnner Nollie and I were treated for our 4500s with a specially decorated cake! (Dutch Birding has a Club4500 for worldbirders, 4500 being ten times the once max number of species for Holland.)

Best new species:
Clapperton's Francolin * - at lodge grounds Lake Langano.
White-headed Vulture * - on our way to Bale mts NP.
Rouget's Rail * - along road near Bale mts NP.
Cape Eagle-Owl  - on our way to Bale mts NP.
African Wood-Owl   -  near Dinsho HQ of Bale mts NP.
Abyssinian Owl *  - near Dinsho HQ of Bale mts NP.
Abyssinian (Montane) Nightjar * - near Dinsho HQ of Bale mts NP.
Von der Decken's Hornbill  - at lodge grounds Lake Langano.
Silvery-cheeked Hornbill 
Bearded Woodpecker  - at lodge grounds Lake Langano.
Red-billed Chough 
White-winged Black-Tit * - good views in Bale mts NP forest zone.
White-backed Black-Tit * - in woodland of Lake Langano resort, in front of our room.
Brown Woodland-Warbler 
Eastern Olivaceous Warbler 
Cinnamon Bracken-Warbler 
Abyssinian Catbird * - near Dinsho HQ of Bale mts NP.
Northern Black-Flycatcher 
Mocking Cliff-Chat 
Abyssinian Ground-Thrush * - near Dinsho HQ of Bale mts NP, at small dump.
Abyssinian Longclaw * - along road near Bale mts NP.
Yellow-crowned Canary * - in woodland of Lake Langano resort (?).

Day 8 – 3 March  Bale mountains
First woodlands at base of Bale mts again, then up to the Sanetti plateau (over 4000 m altitude). Good views of Ethiopian Wolf. Plateau too dry for Spot-breasted Lapwing/Plover, so down again to Dinsho where we got 74 of them at a pond. Same hotel.

Best new species:
Moorland Francolin * - a few on Sanetti plateau.
Chestnut-naped Francolin * - several small groups on Sanetti plateau.
Lappet-faced Vulture 
African Goshawk  Accipiter tachiro unduliventer * - in forest zone of Bale mts NP.
Lanner Falcon 
Spot-breasted Plover * - 74 at marshy pool near Dinsho, below Bale mountains.
White-cheeked Turaco * - in forest zone of Bale mts NP.

Day 9 – 4 March  Goba – Negelle
Changed from our bus to four 4WD cars for the rest of the trip. Across Sanetti plateau again, into the forests on the other side. Some stops in the excellent forest, but would have loved to stay there longer. Field  lunch in acacia savanna, then on to a Prince Ruspoli’s Turaco site, a woody hamlet so it seems. Got them thanks to the drivers! Very basic Nile hotel in Negelle.

Best new species:
Little Sparrowhawk 
Mountain Buzzard * - in forest zone on SE side of Bale mts NP.
Imperial Eagle 
Lesser Kestrel 
Grey Kestrel 
Blue-spotted Wood-Dove 
Bruce's Green-Pigeon * - along the road to Negele.
Prince Ruspoli's Turaco * - a small group at open woodland hamlet along road to Negele.
Grey-headed Kingfisher 
Abyssinian Woodpecker * - Bale mts NP forest East side.
Grey-headed Batis * - at a few stops along road to Negele (forest and savanna)
Pygmy Batis 
Grey-headed Bushshrike 
Abyssinian/Dark-headed/Ethiopian Oriole * - Bale mts NP forest East side.
African Black-headed Oriole 
Black Sawwing  Psalidoprocne pristoptera prostoptera
Northern Brownbul 
Rufous-tailed Rock-Thrush 
Abyssinian (White-breasted) White-eye 
Golden-breasted Starling 
Shelley's Starling * - in savanna near Negele.
Slender-billed Starling * - small group in flight, but well seen.
Hunter's Sunbird 
Red-headed Weaver 

Day 10 – 5 March  Negelle
First to the short-grass plain at c. 10 kom from Negele, and got the critically endagered Sidamo (Liben) Lark before field breakfast made by the drivers. Then to some acacia savanna for Salvadori’s Seedeater which we got indeed thanks to the Pearl-spotted Owlet tape (and got the owl itself too). More acacia savanna birding, got Don-Smith nightjar at dusk. Same hotel.

Best new species:
Black-winged Lapwing 
Temminck's Stint 
Temminck's Courser 
Pearl-spotted Owlet 
Donaldson-Smith's Nightjar * - hunting at dusk over savanna dirt road.
Foxy Lark
Sidamo (Liben) Lark * - after a search on the open grassy plain near Negele.
Somali Short-toed Lark * - same area as Sidamo L.
Ethiopian Swallow * - on a wire between Barn Swallows.
Somali/Acacia/NGreat Tit 
Tiny Cisticola * - 'savanna valley' near Negele.
Pale Flycatcher 
Spotted Morning-Thrush 
African Bare-eyed Thrush 
White-crowned Starling * - several on the ground and in bushes, also the following day.
Plain-backed Pipit 
Salvadori's Seedeater * - 'savanna valley' near Negele.
Shelley's Rufous Sparrow * - right along a track we walked.

Day 11 – 6 March  Negelle – Yabello
A long but beautiful travel day with some good stops in acacia woodland, e.g. for Stresemann’s Bush-crow. Last part on asphalt again, stayed in Yabello motel.

Best new species:
Vulturine Guineafowl 
Yellow-necked Francolin 
African Hawk-Eagle 
White-winged Collared-Dove * - on the ground below some trees across Dawa river.
D'Arnaud's Barbet 
Black-throated Barbet 
Pringle's Puffback * - in bushland along road to Yabello.
Black Cuckoo-shrike 
Stresemann's Bush-Crow * - striking views along road.
White-tailed Swallow * - flying around us on open savanna.
Dodson's Bulbul *
Somali Crombec * - at short savanna walk after lunch
Bristle-crowned Starling 
Magpie Starling * - at Dawa river.
Grey-capped Social-Weaver * - in small tree right along the dirt road we walked in open savanna.
Black-capped Social-Weaver 
Juba Weaver * - at riverine woodland (across river).

Day 12 – 7 March  Yabello
Due to rain showers at past night there was much bird activity in the beautiful acacia woodlands near Yabello. In afternoon, long walk for Somali Courser, but not found. Same hotel.

Best new species:
Gabar Goshawk 
Three-banded Courser 
Three-streaked Tchagra 
Red-naped Bush-shrike * -  at special stop for this species, just somewhere in the woodland.
Short-tailed Lark * - as reward after the long walk for the courser.
Banded Parisoma/Warbler * - one of the first birds, near Yabello.
Scaly Chatterer * - afternoon stop in acacia woodland.
Northern Grosbeak-Canary * - at the Red-naped Bush-shrike stop.

Day 13 – 8 March  Yabello – Lake Awassa
Some more acacia woodland birding, then up to rather densely populated plateau (2000 m) . At afternoon birding near Pina hotel at Lake Awassa.

Best new species:
Bare-faced Go-away-bird * -  in sloping open woodland, before road climbed up to plateau.
Double-toothed Barbet 
Rufous-necked Wryneck 
Lesser Swamp-Warbler 
White-browed Robin-Chat 

Day 14 – 9 March  Lake Awassa – Wondo Genet
To the fish market area, mainly  for the productive wetland border (Allen’s Gallinule, rail) and the old open woodland (Banded Barbet). On to Wondo Genet, where we had a productive walk uphill in very degraded forest (only a few trees remain), with a light rain in the last hour of the walk. Night at Wabe Shebelle Wondo Genet.

Best new species:
Scaly Francolin 
African Rail * - at marshy shore of Awassa lake.
Allen’s Gallinule * - at marshy shore of Awassa lake.
Greater Painted Snipe 
Lemon Dove 
Tambourine Dove 
Yellow-fronted Parrot * - Wondo Genet walk uphill.
Banded Barbet * - near fish market, old open woodland.
Lesser Honeyguide 
Eurasian Wryneck 
Grey Cuckoo-shrike 
Red-shouldered Cuckoo-shrike * - Wondo Genet walk uphill.
Spotted Creeper * - Wondo Genet walk uphill.
African Hill Babbler 
Sharpe's Starling * - Wondo Genet walk uphill.
Abyssinian (Fawn-breasted) Waxbill  Estrilda (paludicola) ochrogaster * - at reeds near fish market.

Day 15 – 10 March Wondo Genet – Addis Abbeba
More birding uphill from the hotel, then on to Addis with some stops. E.g. again at Ziway. Hora crater lake had 1000 Little Grebes! Rooms for a shower & packing etc. in hotel near airport, then on to airport for flight back home, arriving next day in Amsterdam.

Best new species:
Banded Snake-Eagle 
Klaas's Cuckoo 
Yellowbill -  rare in Ethiopia
Scaly-throated Honeyguide