Wildlife Holiday News

Ethiopian Endemics

Alan Dale Hands travelled on our 'Ethiopia's Endemic Birds' holiday and submitted this entry to our writing competition.

Tawny Eagle 

Tawny Eagle, Ethiopia

Lunch on our first day in Ethiopia at the Safari Lodge in the small town of Nazareth proved to be an exciting experience. The setting of a long red clothed table on a concrete platform beneath a canopy created by tall trees and green lawns made for a really exotic atmosphere.

All seated, and lunch orders taken, Abiy, who rarely sat, called: ‘Owl!’ while peering into the tree canopy, and standing only a few metres away. An ear-piercing scraping sound of chair legs, and the table became deserted in seconds; this rush proved hardly necessary as a Greyish Eagle Owl (Bubo cinerascens) had no intention of moving, providing excellent views.

Re-seated and lunch duly served, chaos returned as an unfamiliar woodpecker began showing well nearby. A female Eastern Grey Woodpecker (Dendropicos spodocephalus) entertained for several minutes.

Eventually, we enjoyed lunch and journeyed on to Awash National Park, birding along the way. Darkness had descended by the time we reached the park - an ideal time for nightjars on the track and, as hoped for, a single Slender-tailed Nightjar (Caprimulgus clarus) gave brief views; however, this great day turned up yet another good bird when a Northern White-faced Owl (Ptilopsis leucotis) allowed all to see before flying.

Another memorable moment came the next evening after dark when, still in Awash NP, a Heuglin’s Courser (Rhinoptilus cinctus) performed a spectacular dance as it chased insects drawn to spotlights and the lamps of the bus. Appearing unafraid of our presence, this beautiful bird provided views enabling us to soak up details of a complicated courser plumage.

Calling at several lakes as we drove south through the Rift Valley our bird list grew rapidly then, turning east at Shashemene towards the Bale Mountains and Goba, temperatures plummeted as altitudes of 9,000 to 14,000 feet were reached. However, animals, particularly the unusual Ethiopian Mole Rat (Tachyoryetes macrocephalus) and Ethiopian Wolf (Canis simersis) commanded our attention. Of the birds in this area, the endemic Spot-breasted Lapwing (Vanellus melanocephalus) offered good viewing, while a Golden Eagle (Aquila chrysaetos) also performed well.

A carcass near the road seen during the return journey to the north attracted five vulture species and an eagle. Being so close to the feeding frenzy proved exciting, and made more so as a single Lappet-faced Vulture (Torgos tracheliotus) circled overhead before joining the squabbles.

Every day of this tour had its highlights, and the scenic beauty of Lenos Gorge where a single Lammergeier (Gypaetus barbatus) accompanied by a group of Fan-tailed Raven (Corvus rhipidurus) entertained, these coupled with close views of Greater Spotted Eagle (Aquila clanga) and Tawny Eagle (Aquila rapax) on the Sululta Plains made for a wonderful final day.

Travelling through villages and towns where cattle and goats wandered all over, couple with local transport of donkey and horse-drawn carts required skillful driving. Asrad proved up to the task, earning applause on more than one occasion, our faith in a safe driver justified. An unbelievable skill achieved by Asrad on a drive in darkness when a stubborn Plain Nightjar (Caprimulgus inornatus) refused to move off the track. We simply drove around the bird.

Ethiopia, a country with a reputation for endemic species, certainly offered a variety of mammal and bird species; for the writer, however, the sight of a wooden-framed single bladed plough pulled by two Oxen on the slopes of the Bale Mountains raised one query: are we in the 21st century?

Although not a connoisseur, I enjoyed the smooth Rift Valley wines.

Read more about our 'Ethiopia's Endemic Birds' holiday.