by John  Deepman

Ethiopian Birding

Ethiopia has surprisingly large number of endemic and near endemic birds, mammals, plants and wildflowers. Over 850 species of birds exist in Ethiopia either as breeding birds or as passage migrants. This is almost 10% of approximate 9500 species known to exist worldwide, an impressive total, surpassed only by a handful of other countries.

On a recent visit, a party of birders attempted to identify as many species of birds as possible during a fortnight of travels to the various birding hotspots. The advantage of this approach is that it took us to a wide variety of habitats and regions of the country and, in the process, we also swathe spectacular scenery and the representative selection of the plants, flowers and mammals special to each region. During on our tour we were pleased to see about 400 species, including many of the endemic ones.

We began birding in earnest the next day with a trip to Debrelibanos monastery, which lies about two hours north of the city. It is an important monastic center for Ethiopian orthodox church, but the grounds are open to the public and provide a serene environment in which to search for birds.

As we approached the monastery, we saw groups of the endemic gelada baboons frolicking amid the eucalyptus trees, the adult males flashing their stricking red chest patch as if to demonstrate why they are known as the ‘bleeding heart’ baboon.

On the monastery grounds a fig tree provided food and shelter for a panoply of birds, including a noisy horde of about 30 white billed starlings and a pair of Abyssinian Black-headed orioles, two beautiful endemics. On another tree, variable and scarlet-chested sunbirds flitted about gatheringnectar until a crowned hornbillflew in and chased them off.

On another day, a flight from Addis Ababa north to Bahirdar took us to lake Tana, the largest lake in Ethiopia and the source of the blue nile. As we checked into the hotel, an African paradise fly catcher greeted us in the lobby and shortly there after, we detected black billed and double toothed barbets and a giant kingfisher outside the hotel.

An afternoon cruise on the lake provided a different view of the area and by the island in the lake we espied an African finfoot, a shy waterbird that is somewhat of a cross between a duck and a darter.

The famed blue nile falls, or tis isat falls as they are known locally, are only about one hour’s drive from Bahirdar. The path to the falls provided rewarding birding opportunities as it rambled gradually uphill and passed through a village. Local children escorted our group along the way as we watched village women spinning yarn and offering for sale the colorful blankets they had woven.

Passing through fields we discovered the evasive endemic white throated serin darting about in the bushes, and further along African citrils and zebra waxbills playing amid the grassy reeds.

To the south east we headed for the bale mountains in the east Ethiopian highlands. Passing along the sanetti plateau at an altitude of 4000meters, it was apparent that we had entered a unique afro alpine habitat. It was here that we saw such endemic avian species at the spot breasted plover, Abyssinian catbird and Abyssinian long claw.

We also found it relatively easy to spot several of the critically endangered Ethiopian wolves with their red coats resplendent in the sunlight. Ethiopian wolf is the rarest member of the canine family in the world.

Even the most avid birders among us were distracted here by the exceptional montane wild flowers, varying in size from the small, densely branched, white alchemilla growing in bunches near the ground to the giant lobelia rising to over five meters in height.

It was this enchanting environment that we spotted such rarities as moorland and chestnut francolins, wattled ibis and red billed ducks.

Eskinder Hailu - Manager, Highway Tours

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