Last Updated on 20 August 2016

Trip Report to Ethiopia

25-02-2012 - 10-03-2012

Stresemanns Bush-Crow Desktop

Stresemann's Bushcrow near Yabello. One of Ethiopia's many endemics.


General Information
This is a report on a trip to Ethiopia from 26 February to 10 March 2012. Besides my wife (Brenda Veen) and myself (Michel Veldt) there were four other participants: Hans Westerlaken, Arie van der Linden, Leen van der Linden and Garry Bakker.

The main goal of the trip was to see as many bird species as possible with a focus on the country’s endemics, as well as taking loads of pictures of them whenever possible. As 16 days is rather short to see all key species the average pace of the trip was very high. Nevertheles we managed to see or hear all endemics except Northern Grosbeak-Canary and Salvadori’s Seed-eater. For the latter it was supposedly unsafe to visit the best location around Yabello although another group visiting the area only three days later did see it.

We were guided by a very knowledgeable guide, Merid Gabremichael who is one of only three very experienced birdwatchers in the country. Besides running his own tour company Merid is working as a free lance birdguide for Negussie Toye’s tour company. Merid has over 20 years experience birding around the country and therefore knows all the birds and where to get them. This was particularly obvious on the last day when we tried to extend the triplist to it’s maximum. In the end we saw no less than 508 species in 15 days which was the highest number Merid ever recorded in such short period. Surely there’s potential to reach an even higher number as Merid and the group mainly focused on the key birds.

The tour was booked through Negussie Toye's company and included all overnight stays in all accommodations, meals, transportation, entry fees to the national parks and fees of the guides that accompanied us in some national parks like Bale Mountains, Ali Dege Plains and Bilen Lodge. All drinks were paid by ourselves which was typically around 8 Birr (around €0,30) per drink. As in many other less well-developed country choices of drinks were usually limited to two or three options.

The same basically goes for meals that are on the menu. For breakfast most of the time you will have to settle for eggs or an omelet, sometimes toast can be ordered as well. Regarding your options for diner: for tourists there's usually either pasta or fish on the menu (on many occasions there were no other choices), and sometimes a meat dish can be ordered as well. If you like to take some chances you might want to try injera which is available at any reastaurant at any place. Injera consists of a large sourdough pancake with a spongy texture. The injera is topped with small portions of all possible sorts of vegetables and meat. During the trip some of us suffered from intestinal problems, probably originating from the food, ranging from stomach cramps each morning to the occasional emergency stop to empty ones bowel along the road.

Wachle Lunch

On one ocassion only did we try injera.

Birding in Ethiopia does not go without local children showing an interest in you. Everytime a stop is made they come out from everywhere even  when you think that no settlement is nearby. Depending on if they are used to birders or not they can either be quietly observing, begging or trying to chase away your birds. At times they will yell the names of the birds you are looking for at that spot, not showing any other sign of knowing what they are talking about. Either way you should best ignore them even if they are at their most annoying.

Koka Lake birding - Koka Lake - 2012-02-26 - 05

Birding at Koka dam, ofcourse accompanied by local children.

Among the best birds recorded during this trip were Banded Barbet , Red-billed Pytilia, Harwood’s Francolin, Yellow-throated Seed-eater, Ankober Serin, Spot-breasted Lapwing, Arabian Bustard, Somali Courser, Sombre Rock-Chat, Yellow-fronted Parrot, Half-collared Kingfisher, African Crowned Eagle, Spotted Creeper, Prince Ruspoli's Turaco, Stresemann's Bush-Crow and last but certainly not least Liben Lark.

Also we discovered a new bird for the country: a House Crow, some 35 kilometers north-east of Addis Abeba. This may seem somewhat surprising as Ethiopia does not have a seaport enabling this species to arrive into the country. Nevertheless the sighting was done along the main cargo route coming from neigbouring Djibouti which may explain it's appearance some hundreds of kilometers from the nearest seacoast.

In this report the names of each bird and of all important places we visited are typed in bold. This should make it easier to scan through the report for the information you’re after or skip the parts you are not interested in.

All photographs displayed in this report are produced during this trip. For each photo details are included about what it depicts and where the picture is taken. All photographs produced during this trip can be found at the travel picture gallery. All pictures are copyrighted but we are happy to provide you with a high res copy upon request. All the major bird (and other) observations of this trip can also be found at Observado, a website where one can enter their nature-related sightings. Details include the location, number of birds seen and sometimes details of the particular sighting as well. All other observations recorded during various other trips can be found at Observado as well.

If any questions still remain after reading this report or if would like some help while you're planning a trip to Ethiopia yourself, please do not hesitate to contact us and we'll try to help you as much as possible. For future reference you may want to download this report in PDF format.

 25 Feb - Flight from Amsterdam to Addis Abeba, arrival early evening. Pickup by our two drivers. Overnight stay at Ghion Hotel, Addis Abeba.

 26 Feb - Early moring birding at Ghion Hotel and road trip to Lake Langano while stopping at places like Lake Ziway and Koka Dam. Overnight stay at Wabe Shebelle Lake Langano Resort.

 27 Feb - Early morning birding at Lake Langano, then on the road again to Bale Mountains/Sanetti Plateau. Stay at Goba Wabe Shebelle Hotel.

 28 Feb - All day birding at Sanetti Plateau and Bale Mountains. Stay at Goba Wabe Shebelle Hotel.

 29 Feb - Scenic drive across the Sanetti Plateau to Negelle, en route birding at Harenna Forest. Stay at Siree Konjoo Pension.

 01 Mar - Visit to Liben Plain and Negelle area. Stay at Siree Konjoo Pension.

 02 Mar - Left very early for long drive to Yabello. Birding at Dawa River and some seemingly random places before reaching Soda plain south of Yabello. Stay at Yabello Motel.

 03 Mar - Birding at Soda Plain and Yabello Area

 04 Mar - Drive to Lake Awassa. Afternoon birding at hotel grounds and along lakeshore.

 05 Mar - Early moring birding at Lake Awassa and near the fish market. Relatively short drive to Wondo Genet which was birded in the afternoon. Stay at Wabe Shebelle Hotel, Wondo Genet.

 06 Mar - Morning birding at Wondo Genet, then detour route to Awash National Park. Birding just north-west of Lake Beseka before reaching Awash NP. Night at Awash Falls Lodge.

 07 Mar - Morning birding at Awash NP, then drive over Ali Dege Plain and to Bilen. Stay at Bilen Lodge.

 08 Mar - Morning birding at Bilen Lodge, then off to Debre Birhan via Addis Abeba. Stay at Eva Hotel just inside Debre Birhan.

 09 Mar - Melka Ghebdu, Ankober, Gemessa Gedel and Debre Birhan. Stay at Eva Hotel.

 10 Mar - Jemma Valley and Sululta Plains. Evening flight Addis Abeba - Amsterdam.


Transportation and getting around

The road system is in Ethiopia is of medium to bad quality. Most major raods are sealed but many more are not. General traffic is very busy, not so much due to the number of cars, which is low (except in bigger cities), but more so by all other traffic.Tuk-tuks, motor cycles, donkey carts, an extreme amount of pedestrians, not to mention an extreme amount of live stock, including sheep, goats, horses and camels can be encountered at any time at any place. Add to this the lack of obedience to almost every traffic rule, if any exist at all. Reportedly the number of serious accidents is high although we never encountered one ourselves. All this combined makes driving in Ethiopia a hazardous undertaking which for tourists is usualy strongly discouraged.

As said before: transportation was included in the reservation. Our group was divided over two Toyota Land Rover 4x4's which are mandatory to reach some of the most remote places. Both drivers, Sisai and Million, were well skilled and nice to get along with. Both are very friendly and very used to the sometimes extremely chaotic traffic. Especially Sisai has been a driver on birding tours for so many years that he can find the best spots even without any help. Sisai operates a tour company as well which focuses on cultural trips, mostly to the north of the country.



Being a sub-Saharan country the general weather in Ethiopia is rather hot and dry, especially at lower altitudes. Moving up into the Bale Mountains temperatures decrease and precipitation (and therefore vegetation) levels increase significantly. Although we encountered one fierce thunderstorm, all other days were sunny and mainly unclouded. Among the driest and warmest places are Awash and the Negelle/Yabello area at which birding is useless during the hottest part of the day. Temperatures encountered during our trip ranged between 10 and 43 degrees Celcius.


When travelling to Ethiopia you need to consider some things concerning your safety. Though the major part of the country is safe to visit, there are some areas in which you need to be more aware. This applies most to the Afar region, ranging from the nort-east all the way south to Awash National Park. Afar are known to be bad tempered, dangerous and armed with al sorts of weapons including Kalashnikov rifles.

Although Afar and other local tribes are in and out of war frequently it's not mandatory to encounter such situaton to get yourself into danger. Especially when you are carrying around a camera you have to be extremely carefull. Afar (and a few other tribes) believe that the soul of living creatures are stolen when you take a picture of them. Therefore many people do not like to be photographed and the same applies for any of their catlle. Although, in some strange way, most of them will agree to be photographed in exchange for money, Afar will certainly not. Instead there's a very real possibility to get shot and killed instead, even if your actions were unintended. Many Afar though are as friendly as any other Ethiopian we encountered and none of them caused any problems.

The following illustrates that the threats mentioned above are very real and need serious and thorough consideration before and during your trip: some 5 weeks before our departure we received news about 5 German tourists that were kidnapped and subsequently murdered while they were travelling to far the north of Ethiopia. During our visit, the debate about who was to blame was still ongoing. It was thought that most likely Eritrean bandits had entered Ethiopia (which frequently happens) and wanted to make some kind of political statement. Always be sure to inquire about local situations anytime (especially in Afar regions and in the Negelle - Yabello area) as a safe situation can turn bad within the blink of an eye.

The national Ethiopian currency is the Birr. In february 2012 one euro was equal to about 25 Birr. We exchanged money at the airport which is the easiest place to do so. Many larger cities hold banks but exchanging money usually is a time consuming process. As we pre-booked a (nearly) all-inclusive package the money we exchanged was well enough to buy us some souvenirs and small purchases. Typically life in Ethiopia is not very expensive for a European tourist. A meal will cost around 2-5 euro's each and drinks are served for around 8 Birr wich is equal to €0,30.


Although Ethiopia is only starting to attract birdwatchers from abroad there's plenty of literature around from al kinds of sources. For our trip we used two books: Birds of the Horn of Africa (Nigel Redman, Terry Stevenson and John Fanshawe ISBN 978-0-7136-6541-3) dealing with Ethiopia, Djibouti, Eritrea, Somalia and Socotra. Contrary to some identification guides dealing with African countries the illistrations in this book are of excelent quality, even depicting many of the Cisticola's acurately and even suitably for identification purposes. For finding the best birdwatching spots in the country we used Where to watch birds in Ethiopia (Claire Spottiswood, Merid Gabremichael and Julian Francis, ISBN 978-1-4081-3075-9). As it turned out our guide was one of the authors of the book that we brought! Because of this we did not use the book to it's maximum but we got most information straight from the horse's mouth.

The where to watch birds book has divided the country into the 50 best places to find the very best birds in the country. These 50 places are discussed in 8 chapters and for each chapter the top ten best birds are given. Besides this the introductory pages give very usefull information on what you need to know before visiting the country. The first chapters deal with the habitats, transportation, food and drink, suggested equipment, safety and security and even gives some itinerary suggestions.

During preparation of the trip we put all 50 spots and the birds to find there in an Excel-spreadsheet which may come in handy during preparation of your own trip.

Other wildlife

Being an African country you would expect many other wildlife to be encountered during a typical trip to Ethiopia. This would be true for more remote areas but less so in the national parks that you will visit during a typical two week trip aimed to see all endemics. Many national parks do not receive the protection they should be resulting in a mess in some places. Awash National park for instance is used by a lot of cattle herders to feed their cattle, leaving the native animals not a lot left to survive. Other areas suffer from heavy deforestation, notably Harenna Forest and the Wondo Genet area, probably both forests will continue to be destroyed and have disappeared within a few years. The only advantage to this, to a birdwatcher's point of view, though is that many species here are much easier to find now than they were 10 years ago.

Soemmerings Gazelle - Aledeghe Plains - 2012-03-07 - 02 copy PBase aaaaaaa

Soemmerring's Gazelle are one of the relatively few mammals that we encountered during our trip. Awash NP.


Generally speaking the accomodations in Ethiopia are of medium quality compared to European standards. Amenities are usually present but do not always work. Even when the accomodation we stayed in was brand-new the construction of the bathroom was less than optimal. On many occasions taking a shower ended up flooding the bathroom and sometimes even the room itself.

Electricity is readily available but can fail anytime, therefore you may consider to take along a solar powered charging device for anything that really needs to be charged daily. In places where electricity supply is depending on a generator electricty is usually only available from 6 am to around 9 pm. Despite this nearly all accomodations were very acceptable to stay in.

All accomodations visited during this trip are discussed  below.

Ghion Hotel, Addis Abeba

Located in the heart of the capital the Ghion Hotel is still in a rather quiet spot. According to Ethiopian standards this hotel is probably excellent. It has all the things you would like to find in a hotel including electricity and running water (warm and cold). To European standards it's rather aged and rundown, but clean nevertheless.

The surrounds of the hotel are covered with trees and shrubs making it a rather good birding spot, you can already start finding yourself some endemics right at the hotel doorstep. Wattled Ibis roost at the rooftops and Abyssinian Slaty Flycatchercan be found at the more open areas.

Best birds seen around the Ghion Hotel: Abyssinian Thrush, Tacazze Sunbird and Reichenow's See-eater. The latter was probably underrecorded during the trip.

Wabe Shebelle Lake Langano, Lake Langano

This accomodation was one of the worst we encountered during our trip. Although the location right on the beach of the lake as well as the birding opportunities are great. The beds are old and unfomfortable (but equipped with a bed net), doorlocks are not working and both cabins that we were offered did not have running water in either the toilet or the sink. This meant washing up in the morning with only half a bottle of water which we managed to do just fine. As said before some of the best birding was done right at this place.

Lake Langano accomodation - Lake Langano - 2012-02-27 - 01 copy PBase aaaaaaa

Cabins at lake Langano resort.

Best birds seen around the Wabe Shebelle Lake Langano Resort: Clapperton's Francolin, Red-bellied Parrot, Greyish Eagle-Owl, Slender-tailed Nightjar, Black-billed Barbet, Red-throated Wryneck, Buff-bellied Warbler, Abyssinian White-eye, Little Rock-Thrush, Northern Black Flycatcher and Bronze Mannakin.

Wabe Shebelle Hotel, Goba

Another medium quality hotel with rather small rooms. Beds were not too comfortable and electricity not available from most sockets in the room. The restaurant serves an "extraordinary" amount of dishes at the restaurant, or at least they offered more choices than any other restaurant we visited. The bathroom was a mess, just as in any other accomodation.


Siree Konjoo Pension, Negelle

 Formerly the town of Negelle was known for the exceptionally bad Green Hotel which used to be the only suitable accomodation in town. Since late 2011 the Siree Konjoo Pension has opened it's doors and as it's new there's not a lot to wish for anymore. Although a real finishing touch to the building is still lacking the rooms are good and the beds are clean. The only setback however is that the pension does not offer any facilities like restaurants or a bar so for your daily neseccities you have to go somewhere else. We had lunch and dinner at the Nile hotel which made something special of the hot sauce they served with the spagetti.


The brandnew Siree Konjoo Hotel, the best choice if you stay in the town of Negelle (photo: Garry Bakker)

Yabello Motel, Yabello

This hotel is located just inside the town itself and offers good shelter for any tourist. The bathroom is as "good" as any accomodation in the country but other than that there's little to complain about. The restaurant offers an extensive list of items on the menu and a nice and shaded place is created for having lunch and dinner while Speke's Weavers build their nests right above your head.

Yabello Motel - Yabello - 2012-03-04 - 02 copy PBase aaaaaaa


United Africa Hotel, Lake Awassa

The United Africa Hotel offers very spacious chalets, well equiped with good quality furniture, a double king size bed and even a fridge! Situated amongst tall trees, dense shrubs with Lake Awassa right next to the property no doubt makes this an excellent spot for birdwatchers. Acces to the unpaved (and usually busy) path along the lake side is through a guarded fence which is opened by the friendly hotel staff upon your approach. You could and should spend lots of time here.

As always in such a variety of habitats the amount of species to see here is large. We saw nearly all targets right around the hotel grounds, besides the enourmous amounts of waterbirds and swallows they  included White-backed Duck, African Pygmy-Goose, Abdim's Stork, African Openbill, Black Crake, African Snipe, Heuglin's Gull, Blue-headed Coucal, African Scops-Owl, Giant Kingfisher, Yellow-fronted Tinkerbird, Eastern Grey-headed Woodpecker, Daurian Shrike, Grey-backed Fiscal, Red-faced Cisticola, Spotted Creeper, Savi's Warbler, Lesser Swamp-Warbler, Great Reed Warbler, African Reed Warbler, White-browed Robin-Chat, Variable Sunbird, Litle Weaver and Pin-tailed Whydah.Hard to miss are the Guereza Colobus that wander around the hotel grounds.

Spotted Creeper -  Lake Awassa - 2012-03-04 - 03 copy PBase aaaaaaa

Spotted Creepers are'nt hard to find in the gardens of the United Africa Hotel at Lake Awassa.

Wabe Shebelle Hotel, Wondo Genet.

Maybe the best place to stay when a visit to the Wondo Genet National Park is included in your itinerary. Although the hotel is rather outdated and has cockroaches all around the cabins it's alright to stay at. The garden is small but can be rewarding birdwise. It, for instance, has African Goshawk breeding just outside the hotel gate which is a real good bird. With luck you should be able to find Green Twinspot at the occasional drinking spot too. The best places for birding are outside the property though, therefore we did not spend too much time birding here.

Wabe Shebelle Hotel - Wondo Genet - 2012-03-06 - 03 copy PBase aaaaaaa

Wondo Genet cabins.

Awash Falls Lodge, Awash National Park

The only accomodation we visited that reminded us of the many fine lodges in southern Africa. Entering the compound there's a stylish building, known as the restaurant. This is locaed nearly on top of a gorge overlooking the Awash river. Guest houses comprise several basic-built cabins  equipped with shower and toilet. Electricity is available 24 hours a day thanks to the nearby Awash falls. While the Awash National park is one of the drier places in Ethiopia water is readily available from the Awash river running through the park. Despite the basic cabins the accomodation is quite comfortable and the food is excellent!

Awash Falls - Awash - 2012-03-07 - 01 copy

View over the Awash Falls, seen from the viewing point near the restaurant.

Bilen Lodge, Bilen

Just like the Awash Falls Lodge the Bilen Lodge is somewhat basic. The cabins are built of mostly reed in typical Afar-style. Further amenities are rather basic too although there is running water (but cold most of the time). Electricity is available from 06:00 am to 10 pm, that is, if they don't have trouble starting up the generator in the morning. The Bilen Lodge Lodge is set atop a hill overlooking the Bilen hot springs which are covered in vast reed beds. The lodge is set in dry, open thornbush country which can be especially good for migrating birds but also attracts an array of local birds. As the lodge is close to both Ali Dege Plains and Awash National Park a stay to Bilen can easily be combined.

Bilen Lodge

Afar-style cabins at Bilen Lodge (Photo: Garry Bakker)

Eva Hotel, Debre Birhan.

Operated by two world famous runners, one of them who has even been a Duth citizen, this hotel offers quite spacious rooms including good facilities with a large restaurant which offers lots of choice on the menu. As we experienced "many choices" does not necessarily mean "a lot to choose from" as two or three of our first choices were unavailable. As often we ended up with spagetti with an excellent sauce. The town of Debre Birhan serves as an excellent starting point for trips to Gemassa Gedel, Melkha Gebdu, Sululta Plains and Jemma Valley so make sure to plan some time here!

Sites visited

Below all important sites we visited are described and discussed. For all sites usually only the species are mentioned that we only saw at 6 sites/occasions or less. This does not necessarily mean that those birds are among the most rare or sought-after. It just gives an impression of how commonly that species is encountered. If a species is a target bird we tried to give it extra attention as that particular bird may only, or most reliably, be found at that particular site. All recorded sightings can be found in the trip list and

Ghion Hotel, Addis Abeba

Although the Ghion Hotel is located just east of the centre of the capital it has some good birding areas on the compound. Best is the garden area outside the front door where Wattled Ibis, Dusky Turtle-Dove, Abyssinian Slaty Flycatcher, Abyssinian Thrush, Brown-rumped Seed-eater, Reichenow's Seed-eater, Tacazze Sunbird and African Citril can be found easily. Many Yellow-billed Kites roost around the hotel and can be seen flying overhead. Brown Parisoma can be found here as well.

 African Citril - Addis Abeba - 2012-02-26 - 01 copy PBase aaaaaaa

African Citril is common, even in urban areas.

Koka Dam

When driving from Addis Abeba to Lake Langano Koka Dam is the first large body of water that is encountered. There's a possibility to stop along the main road to scan the lake side and mudflats for interesting waterfowl but be carefull regarding other traffic, especially trucks. In a short while Northern Shoveler, Pintail, Garganey, Yellow-billed Stork, Glossy Ibis, African Spoonbill, Goliath Heron, Kittlitz's Plover, Three-banded Plover, Marsh Sandpiper, Ruff, Collared Pratincole, Grey-headed Kingfsher, Daurian Shrike and Grey-rumped Swallow where found here. Another good appearance was put in by 6 Black-crowned Cranes.

African Quailfinch - Addis Abeba - 2012-02-26 - 06 copy PBase

African Quail-Finch found along the roadside just outside Addis Abeba.

Lake Ziway

This swamp was visited en route to Lake Langano and is surely worth an investigation. Entering the area from Ziway town you'd best park your car just after the fence and continue on foot. The start of the track is dry and dusty and to our surprise we found a Rufous-tailed Rock-Thrush here, aacompanied by Tawny Pipit and Tawny-flanked Prinia.

At the end of the track, reaching the lakeside, there's a collection of boats where local fisherman bring in the catch of the day. This place is teeming with birds looking for easy prey. Marabou Storks and Hamerkop put in the numbers, as well as White-winged Terns. Black-winged Stilt and a variety of sandpipers and stints (including Temminck's Stint)  Looking to the north from where the boats are you should be able to find African Pygmy Goose.

In between these two places the track leads you along a not too big marshy area where many birds can be found and where you could spend some time en route to the end of the track. Birdlife in this part is varied and abundant with many good birds to be found here among wich are White-faced- and Fulvous Whistling-Duck, Comb Duck, Red-billed Teal, Black-necked Grebe, African Darter, Black Crake, Lesser Jacana, Common Snipe, Swallow-tailed Bee-eater, Red-fronted Tinkerbird, Greater Honeyguide, Sedge Warbler and Syke's Wagtail.

Hamerkop - Lake Ziway - 2012-02-27 - 05 copy PBase

Hamerkop are very common at Lake Ziway

Lake Langano

Being both a lake and (part of) the name of many accomodations around it the name Lake Langano can be confusing. Although we only birded the Wabe Shebelle resort and the lakeshore at the resort itself this birding can be qualified as very productive. The resort has some scattered bushes and also some more open areas which attract their own array of species. As we walked around the more "forested" area of the lodge we found many good quality species such as Red-bellied Parrot, Greyish Eagle-Owl (near the water tank, taking the track north from the reception), Slender-tailed Nightjar and Red-throated Wryneck, (both around the open area to the right taking the main track north from the reception), Black-billed Barbet, Brurbu, Buff-bellied Warbler, Eastern Olivaceous Warbler, Abyssinian White-eye, Little Rock-Thrush, Northern Black Flycathcer and Bronze Manakin. The grassy area north and east from the cabins sometimes has sometimes coursers around but can be good for Clapperton's Francolin as well, as we experienced. Around the lake some waterbirds can be found but the area is by far not as productive as the shore of Lake Ziway. Red-knobbed Coot, Grey-headed Gull, Lesser Black-backed Gull and Heuglin's Gull were seen at Lake Langano only though.

Clappertons Francolin - Lake Langano - 2012-02-26 - 01 copy PBase 

One of the better species at Lake Langano: Clapperton's Francolin.


Bale Mountains Head Quarters

Coming from the west the Bale Mountains National Parks head quarters are some 35 km before reaching Goba south of the main road. Keep your eyes open at any wet area west east of the HQ as Blue-winged Goose, Rouget's Rail and Spot-breasted Plover and even Ethiopian Wolf can all be found here. At the head quarters you should be accompanied by a guide, which is more or less required to see Abyssinian Owl as the guides track these birds down on beforehand if they know you are coming. It took us a 30 minutes walk to the roosting site of one of these birds which showed extremely well.

Around the headquarters itself many birds can be found as well, be sure to check the (extremely) small rubbish dump too. Before starting the walk we found Abyssinian Ground-Thrush, White-backed Black Tit, African Wood-Owl (around the small toilet building), Rufous-breasted Sparrowhawk, Northern Pufback, Brown Woodland-Warbler and Yellow-bellied Waxbill. The hike to the Abyssinian Owl site additionally produced Abyssinian Catbird, many White-backed Black Tit, African Dusky Flycatcher,  Brown Parisoma and Eastern Black-headed Batis. The mammal division was respresented by the Mountain Reedbuck and Mountain Nyala that we encountered during the walk.

Abyssinian Owl - Bale Mountains - 2012-02-27 - 02 copy PBase

Abyssinian Owl at Bale Mountains Head Quarters

The Bale Mountains
Coming from Goba, the road leading up to the Sanetti plateau leads along good forest which certainly requires a stop or two before entering the plateau. Although probably much of the forest is cleared, there are certainly some places which are very good, especially the more open area that faces a large forested cliff about half way from Goba to the plateau. The species seen here: Great Sparrowhawk, Mountain Buzzard, Verreaux's Eagle, Abyssinian Woodpecker, Cinnamon Bracken Warbler, Taccaze Sunbird, Ethiopian Siskin, Streaky Seed-eater, and African Thrush.

The stream just outside Goba held African Black Duck.

Leaving the Sanetti plateau towards Harenna Forest another good patch of forest is found which holds many of the same species as the Harenna Forest itself. Just as you start the descent from the plateau look out for Bale Parisoma which is either a subspecies of Brown Parisoma of a full endemic species depending on which taxonomy is followed.

Sanetti Plateau

The Sanetti plateau holds a lot of excellent birds but is probably most well-known for the occurence of Ethiopian Wolf; the rarest canine in the world of which currently around 250 still survive. The road leading acroos the Sanetti plateau serves as the main route towards Harenna forest and beyond and many animals might get killed by traffic.

Ethiopian Wolf - Sanetti Plateau - 2012-02-28 - 03 copy PBase

The bird of the trip is always a mammal: Ethiopian Wolf

At the campsite situated around the highest spot of the plateau (at around 4100 meter above sea level) a research centre is located which explains the research done on these great mammals. Many of the wolves have colourfull eartags but they are small and unobtrusive so they can be difficult to spot. We found about 6 or 7 different animals, most of them not too far west of the entrance to the campsite along the main road. Also some Giant Molerat were found but they are usually shy as they are the wolve's main source of food.As we experienced it requires some patience for one to re-appear from it's burrow when disturbed.

Needless to say birdwatching at the Sanetti Plateau is great too. Pale-Billed Starling is usually easy to see and the same goes for Spot-breasted Plover wherever there is water. If you visit the area after January many of the plover retreat to the last remaining waterfilled lakes and may require a long walk to reach. In this case a better bet would be to try the Sululta plains north of Addis Abeba.

Birds that we did see at the Sanetti Plateau include Yellow-billed Duck, Wattled Ibis, Rouget’s Rail (both common), Blue-winged Goose, Ruddy Shelduck, Chestnut-naped Francolin, Moorland Francolin, Moorland Chat (extremely common), Thekla Lark, Abyssinian Longclaw, Ethiopian Siskin and Ethiopian Cisticola.

Rougets Rail - Sanetti Plateau - 2012-02-28 - 02 copy PBase

Rouget's Rail is very common at Sanetti Plateau.

Harenna Forest

Just as most other Ethiopian forests Harenna is suffering from heavy deforestation over the last few decades. In some way this is beneficial as many species have become easier to spot due to the lack of cover just as in other places we visited. We visited Harenna forest on our way from Goba to Negelle and therefore had little time to explore it. Despite the lack of time we found some great birds! The location we stopped at is indicated exactly in this sighting of a Spotted Creeper.

Best birds found at the harenna forest: African Black Duck, Rufous-breasted Sparrowhawk, African Olive Pigeon, Tambourine Dove, Bruce's Green Pigeon, White-cheeked Turaco, African Emerald Cuckoo, Red-chested Cuckoo, Nyanza Swift, Silvery-cheeked Hornbill, Yellow-fronted Tinkerbird, Green-backed Honeyguide, Scaly-throated Honeyguide, Abyssinian Woodpecker, Grey Cuckoo-Shrike, Abyssinian Oriole, Black Saw-wing, Cinnamon Bracken Warbler, Eastern Olivaceous Warbler, Brown Woodland Warbler, African Hill Babbler, Spotted Creeper, Slender-billed Starling, Sharpe's Starling, Tacazze Sunbird, Variable Sunbird, Yellow-bellied Waxbill and Streaky Seed-eater.

Tacazze Sunbird - Addis Abeba - 2012-02-26 - 01 copy PBase

Tacazze Sunbird is only found at 1800-4000 m altitude.

Negelle - Liben Plain

No doubt the most important area to visit in any birdwatching tour because of the Liben or Sidamo Lark. Although some conservation efforts are made to save this species from extinction numbers are still declining and are now believed to range somewhere between 90 and 260 individuals. The biggest threats to the population are overgrazing by livestock, restricting (natural) seasonal fires and human settlement expansion. Additionally the male/female ratio seems to be heavily obscured, probably by predation of females on the nest, leaving it very uncertain how many of the males keeping a territory are really paired.

Sidamo Lark - Negelle - 2012-03-01 - 01 copy PBase

Ethiopias most endangered bird: Sidamo Lark

Despite this all, to our knowledge still all groups manage to see this species although it may take many hours to find them. We were lucky to be searching only 45 minutes and leven luckier that one of the birds was a juvenlie proofing that succecfull breeding still takes place.

Other birds seen at the Liben plain and the waterhole east of the Liben Lark site: Northern Shoveler, Little Grebe, Abdim's Stork, Little Kestrel, Montagu's Harrier, Kori Bustard, Mosque Swallow, Pectoral Patch Cisticola, White-crowned Starling, Somali Short-toed Lark and Plain-backed Pipit.

General Negelle area

The general Negelle area can be described as arid habitat and many good arid species can be found here. We only birded here early morning and late afternoon as the remaining hours it's too hot for birdwatching. We mainly visited two areas west (1 and 2) and east of town (between Negelle and the Liben Lark site). Only two visitis were made to these areas but the list of observed species is quite impressive: Black-chested Snake-Eagle, Booted Eagle, Buff-crested Bustard, African Wattled Lapwing, Red-bellied Parrot, Lilac-breasted Roller, Black-billed Wood-Hoopoe, Red-fronted Barbet, Red-and-yellow Barbet, White-crested Helmet-Shrike, Slate-colored Boubou, Eastern Back-headed Oriole, Dwarf Raven, Somali Tit, Wire-tailed Swallow, Ethiopian Swallow, House Martin, Foxy Lark, Yellow-breasted Apalis, Doson's Bulbul, Red-faced Crombec, Rufous Chatterer, Wattled Starling, Golden-breasted Starling, Slender-billed Starling, Magpie Starling, Bare-eyed Thrush, White-browed Scrub-Robin, African Stonechat, Shelley's Rufous Sparrow, Yellow-spotted Petronia, Red-billed Buffalo-Weaver, Yellow-bellied Waxbill, Streaky Seed-eater and Somali Bunting.

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Search for Red-and-yellow Barbet on top of termite mounds.

Dawa River

A small site but surely requires a stop if driving from Negelle to Yabello. Located just off the main road it only takes one turnoff and short drive to get to. The river itself gets crowded by gold diggers each morning so an early visit may be best. From the location indicated above we walked along the river to the west as well as we birded back to and south along the main road for a while. Key species here is Juba Weaver which is common and easy to find. Other key species here were Red-naped Bush-Shrike of which we found a few and Yellow-vented Eremomela which was the only one of the trip.

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The main target at Dawa River: Juba Weaver

The area furthermore produced Pygymy Falcon, Eastern Chanting Goshawk, Shikra, Buff-crested Bustard, Emarald-spotted Wood-Dove, Red-bellied Parrot, Black-throated Barbet, D'Arnaud's Barbet, Pygmy Batis, Brubru, Somali Tit, Gillet's Lark, Pale Prinia, Yellow-breasted Apalis, Red-fronted Apalis, Grey Wren-Warbler, Dodson's Bulbul, Northern Brownbul, Golden-breasted Starling, Collared Sunbird, Eastern Violet-backed Sunbird, Black-bellied Sunbird, Lesser Masked Weaver, Chestnut Weaver, Red-headed Weaver and Purple Grenadier.

Orange-bellied Parrot - Yabello - 2012-03-03 - 01 copy PBase

Orange-bellied Parrot occurs in arid habitat.

Some strategic stops along the road, some 50 kms north of Yabello produced another good variety of arid species, some of which were also seen around Yabello itself: Vulturine Guineafowl, Yellow-neacked Francolin, Gymnogene, White-bellied Bustard, Black-winged Lapwing, African Wattled Lapwing, Black-faced Sandgrouse, Blue-naped Mousebird, Abyssinian Scimitarbill, Red-and-yellow Barbet, Nubian Woodpecker, Cardinal Woodpecker, Rosy-patched Bush-Shrike, Pringle's Puffback, Red-backed Shrike, Taita Fiscal, Somali Fiscal, Ethiopian Swallow, Eurasian Reed Warbler, Barred Warbler, Abyssinian White-eye, Bristle-crowned Starling, Magpie Starling, Spotted Palm Thrush, Hunter's Sunbird, Black-capped Social Weaver, Straw-tailed Whydah and Plain-backed Pipit.

Other than the birds many mammals were encountered too: Klipspringer, Spotted Hyena, Scrub Hare, Gunther's Dikdik, Naked Mole-Rat, Golden Jackal and Lesser Kudu.

Only just before taking the turn off the main road to Dawa River we found a White-winged Collared-Dove along the road.

Soda plain

Although the Soda Plain is arid as the rest of the southern part of Ethiopia the habitat is quite different with many scattered bushes and Acacia. This makes up for a rather different aray of birds to see. We visited the area twice, once during the drive from Negelle and once the morning after. Both visits produced roughly the same species including some sought-after ones like Somali Courser, White-tailed Swallow, Stresemann's Bush-Crow, Banded Parisoma and Short-tailed Lark. among other good birds for the trip were Egyptian Vulture, Martial Eagle, Kori Bustard, Buff-crested Bustard, Eastern Yellow-billed Hornbill, Hemprich's Hornbill, Grey-Wren Warbler, Red-winged Starling, White-crowned Starling and Somali Bunting.

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White-tailed Swallow is on the increase around Yabello and therefore more easy to find nowadays.

Yabello Area

Besides the Soda plain another area south of Yabello was visited. The location seemed randomly chosen and not very different from the other thornbush steppe but I'm probably very wrong here. At this location we did some roadside birding as some tracks lead parallel to the main road. The main target here was Scaly Chatterer which we managed to miss everywhere else. They proved to be very difficult to find and when the group finally found one or two it took some of us (well: me) a long time to finally see it. While looking for the chatterer many birds turned up including Lappet-faced Vulture, Bateleur, Little Sparrowhawk, Long-crested Eagle, White-rumped Swift, Blue-naped Mousebird, Abyssinian Scimitarbill, Black-throated Barbet, Pygmy Batis, White-crested Helmet-Shrike, Grey-headed Bush-Shrike, Orange-breasted Bush-Shrike, Rosy-patched Bush-Shrike, Pringle's Puffback, Slate-colored Boubou, Red-naped Bush-Shrike, Foxy Lark, Boran Cisticola, Tiny Cisticola, Pale Prinia, Green-backed Camaroptera, Red-fronted Apalis, Barred Warbler, Common Whitethroat, Rufous Bush-Robin, Spotted Palm Thrush, Eastern Violet-backed Sunbird, Marico Sunbird, Variable Sunbird, Grey-capped Social Weaver, Black-capped Social Weaver, Shelley's Rufous Sparrow, Vitelline Masked Weaver, Speke's Weaver, Red-headed Weaver, Long-billed Pipit, Yellow-fronted Canary, Northern Grosbeak Canary (although only seen by our guide), White-bellied Canary and Somali Bunting.

In the evening we tried for Donaldson-Smith's Nightjar but we failed to find one on the ground although we did hear them sing.

Rosy-patched Bush-Shrike - Yabello - 2012-03-03 - 04 copy PBase

Rosy-patched Bush-Shrike near Yabello.

Lake Awassa (lakeshore)

Coming from the droughts of Ethiopia's southern part Lake Awassa is something completely different. Lake Awassa itself is quite large with reed fringed edges. Starting to walk along the lakeside you may get overwhelmed by both the number of birds as well as the number of people here. The former may not pose a problem but the latter might. Many people try to get your attention or are very curious to what you're doing with your camera and bins. Sometimes birds are chased away by someone both intentionally and unintentionally. As said the number of birds can be very high which makes up for excellent birding. Water birds including ducks, herons, terns and waders make up the numbers and even songbirds are abundant. Best species included Abdim's Stork, White-backed Duck, African Pygmy Goose, African Openbill, Giant Kingfisher, Daurian Shrike, Red-faced Cisticola, Savi's Warbler, Lesser Swamp-Warbler, African Reed Warbler, White-rumped Babbler, and African Firefinch.

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Typical behaviour of White-backed Duck: emerging right under a lilly pad.

United Africa Hotel grounds

The hotel property has some birds to look for too. Spotted Creeper may be best found here as they are common and easy to find fouraging around the area. The wet corner near the entrance held Blue-headed Coucal, Red-faced Cisticola, Re-throated Wryneck, Black-and-white Manakin, Yellow-fronted Tinkerbird, Eastern Grey-headed Woodpecker, African Thrush, White-browed Robin-Chat, Common Redstart, Variable Sunbird, Village Weaver, Spectacled Weaver, Little Weaver, Northern Red Bishop and Bronze Manakin. Another very good possibility is finding Guereza Colobus, an impressive black and white monkey which hangs around in groups of ten or more animals. At night an African Scopw Owl was calling and eventually showed itself well but briefly.

Awassa compilation

Two specialties of Awassa: Eastern Grey-headed Woodpecker and Guereza Colobus.

Awassa fish market

For finding Banded Barbet we turned to a location very close the tha Awassa fish market. Also located directly on the lakeshore this area is half open forest and therefore also suitable for shrikes. In 1,5 hours of birding we found Emerald-spotted Wood-Dove, Blue-headed Coucal, Yellow-fronted Tinkerbird, Double-toothed Barbet, Eastern Black-headed Batis, Grey-backed Fiscal, Masked Shrike, Yellow-breasted Apalis, Dodson's Bulbul, Ruppel's Robin-Chat, Marico Sunbird, Beautiful Sunbird, Little Weaver, Pin-tailed Whydah and finally Banded Barbet when we already had given up on it. In the end we found it nesting in the tree right next to where the car was parked....

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Banded barbet emerging from it's nest at Lake Awassa.

Forestry College, Wondo Genet

The Forestry College was only accessed with the help of a local guide named Nuru which was contacted by our guide Merid. The positive things Merid had told us about Nuru were all true: he found us some great birds at the Forestry College site. Later he accompanied us on our walks through the Wondo Genet park and did his tricks there too.

This site has a quite extensive area of primary forest and therefore many hours can be spent without getting bored. From the entrance gate we drove straight ahead uphill, stopping after a few kilometres and continued on foot up to the concrete dam right in the middle of the forest.Our visit was maximized to two hours but they were very rewarding ones. Blue-spotted Wood-Dove, White-cheeked Turaco, Silvery-cheeked Hornbill, Narina Trogon, Lesser Honeyguide, Scaly-throated Honeyguide, Northern Pufback, Abyssinian Oriole, Green-backed Camaroptera and Sharpe's Starling were all found at this wonderfull site. Best of all though was the African Crowned Eagle that Nuru found at the dam after having walked around here for some 30 minutes. Yellow-fronted Parrot is also a good possbility here.

Wondo Genet

Years ago Wondo Genet was nothing less than a good-sized forest covered with big trees. Nowadays what remains is only a shadow. Walking through Wondo Genet you can only imagine what it once looked like as most big trees are gone and only shrub and small concregations of trees still exist. Although this makes it easier to find the good birds it's really sad to know that soon nothing will remain.

Western Banded Snake-Eagle - Wondo Genet - 2012-03-06 - 01 copy

Probably the best place to find Western Banded Snake-Eagle is Wondo Genet.

When coming from the Wabe Shebelle Wondo Genet Hotel just outside the gate (right-hand side) Nuru showed us a pair of African Goshawk, nesting in this patch of forest. A good start to another good birding exercise. Continuing straight ahead and uphill along the warm water pools the landscape changed from forested to more open making birding easier. We visited this site in the afternoon and the next morning in which we got to see most Wondo Genet specialties and other great ones including Scaly Francolin, Western Banded Snake-Eagle, Verreaux's Eagle, Long-crested Eagle, Ayre's Hawk-Eagle, Yellow-fronted Parrot, Lemon Dove, Klaas's Cuckoo, Mottled Swift, Nyanza Swift, African Pygmy Kingfisher, Half-collared Kingfisher, Banded Barbet, Double-toothed Barbet, Greater Honeyguide, Brown-throated Wattle-eye, Grey-backed Fiscal, Common Nightingale, Northern Black Flycatcher, Eastern Olive Sunbird, Scarlet-chested Sunbird, Yellow-spotted Petronia, Thick-billed Weaver, Northern Red Bishop and Red-collared Widowbird.

Half-collared Kingfosher - Wondo Genet - 2012-03-05 - 01 copy PBase

Half-collared Kingfisher can be reliably found at Wondo Genet.

Lake Beseka

Lake Beseka is probably the most reliable place in Ethiopia to see Sombre Rock-Chat. Birding this area can be awkward as it's an area with lava stones which have al sorts of sharp edges. As the Rock-Chat favours this habitat you may have to climb around this lava field for quite a while. In this specific habitat not much other species occur.

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Sombre Rock-Chat at lake Beseka. Notice the marked undertail coverts which is a key feature to identifying this species.

When visiting Lake Beseka be sure to spend some time north of main road 4 too as it another good place for birding. Best birds to look for here are Blackstart, Nile Valley Sunbird, Striolated Bunting and Cinnamon-breasted Bunting, Chestnut-headed Sparrowlark was found along the railroad that runs parallel to the main road.

Although we did not scan the lakeside thoroughly we did notice Yellow-billed Stork, Pink-backed Pelican, Reed Cormorant, Gull-billed Tern and White-winged Tern there.

Awash National Park

Being at the southern end of the Afar region, Awash National Park could be one of those places where safety is an issue. It all depends on wether or not Afar are present in large numbers. As outlined in the "Safety" section above they are a potential risk to anyone doing something they don't like, i.e. photographing them or their cattle and as said before they are bad-tempered and agressive. In times Afar are not present a night-drive for watching mammals is very good in Awash, as we read in other reports. During our visit however it was unsafe to go out at night and so we didn't.

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Chestnut-bellied Sandgrouse at Awash National Park.

Birding in Awash National Park was limited to only one morning. From Awash Falls Lodge we went north-east following the main dirt-road that runs parallel (but not close to) to the Awash River. The turn-off to Awash Restcamp was birded halfway to search for bustards and coursers. No coursers were seen though. Awash National Park is probably what most people think Ethiopa looks like: dusty and dry but nevertheless with a good variety of birds. Key species for Awash were Hartlaub's Bustard, White-browed Coucal, Eurasian Wryneck, Steppe Grey Shrike, Somali Fiscal, Mouse-colored Penduline-Tit, Singing Bush-Lark, Gillet's Lark, Chestnut-heaed Sparrowlark, Rattling Cisticola, Ashy Cisticola, and Fan-tailed Widowbird.

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Gillet's Lark can be found in arid places. Awash National Park.

Awash was also the only place we saw a variety of mammals although nubers were very low: Grant's Gazelle, Beisa Oryx, Gelada and Lesser Kudu.

Ofcourse many other species were seen at Awash National Park including Crested Francolin, Pygmy Falcon, Steppe Eagle, Long-crested Eagle, Chestnut-bellied Sandgrouse, Abyssinian Scimitarbill, Eastern Yellow-billed Hornbill, Abyssinian Ground-Hornbill, Yellow-breasted Barbet, Nubian Woodpecker, Slate-colored Boubou, Dwarf Raven, Chestnut-backed Sparrow-Lark, Abbysinian White-eye, White-browed Scrub-Robin, Mocking Cliff-Chat, Little Rock-Thrush, Tacazze Sunbird, Red--billed Buffalo-Weaver, Red-billed Quelea, Crimson-rumped Waxbill and Tawny Pipit.

Ali Dege Plain

Located very close to the Bilen Lodge Ali Dege plains can easily be combined with an overnight stay at this accomodation. As with other places around Bilen Lodge and Awash National Park many dry area species can be found at the plains. Most important ones are Somali Ostrich, Arabian Bustard, coursers, and sandgrouse.

Arabian Bustard - Bilen - 2012-03-10 - 03 copy PBase aaaaaaa

Although it can be difficult to find we had no trouble locating it: Arabian Bustard.

Only on the courser front things were quiet (well, we didn't see any courser here strange enough) but the other species mentioned were well represented despite our mid-day visit. It took us only a few minutes to find the first Arabian Bustard while entering the plains from main road 18. 6 More would follow soon, many of them giving excellent views despite the heat haze. Somali Ostrich was here too although they were very far off, even barely recognizable. Sandgrouse were present in large numbers, flying on and off, but we could only identify Chestnut-bellieds.

Pygmy Falcon, Hadada Ibis, Bateleur (only seen here and around Yabello), Montagu's Harrier, African Palm-Swift and African Pipit were among the other scarcer observations of the trip.


Set in one of the driest places in Ethiopia but overlooking an area of hotsprings Bilen holds two extreme habitats which make up for a good amount of birds found here. This is one of the places in Ethiopia were Lion occurs and wandering around the are without an armed guard would probably be unwise to do. Bilen offers Afar (remember, the ones that can shoot you over nothing) guides to accompany one who wants to explore the area. From time to time lion approach the Bilen Lodge and on one instance a lion was even sleeping nearly on the doorstep of one of the cabins. It must be said that this did not happen during our stay. . .

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Lichtenstein's Sandgrouse: one of the many photogenic birds at Bilen Lodge.

Overlooking the hotsprings a good variety of waterbirds can be found including Glossy Ibis, Yellow-billed Stork, Saddle-billed Stork, Purple Heron, Western Great Egret, Intermediate Egret, Hamerkop, and Pied Avocet, Collared Pratincole. In the direct vicinity of the lodge, away from the springs many great desert species are found, one that was high on our list was Black Scrub-Robin which has its wintering grounds here. We found it during a morning walk around the lodge.

Other great birds found during the morning walk included Gabar Goshawk, Arabian Bustard, Senegal Thick-knee, Chestnut-bellied Sandgrouse, Lichtenstein's Sandgrouse (easily found at the lodge grounds as well), European Turtle-Dove, Slender-tailed Nightjar, Yellow-breasted Barbet, Grey-headed Batis, Rosy-patched Bush-Shrike, Black-crowned Tchagra, Woodchat Shrike, Banded Martin, Ethiopian Swallow, Somali Bulbul, Chestnut-backed Sparrowlark, Grey Wren-Warbler, Lesser White-throat, Shining Sunbird, Nile-Valley Sunbird and Somali Bunting.

Many birds can be found around the sprinklers located all around the lodge. Waiting some time at one of them produced excellent photo-opportunities of a variety of species.


Some of the photographic opportunities from Bilen Lodge. Clockwise, starting upper left: Yellow-breasted Barbet, Somali Bulbul, Nile Valley Sunbird and Nubian Woodpecker.

Ankober/ Gemessa Gedel

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Searching the steep cliffs around Ankober for Ankober Serin.

Ankober is well-known for the endemic serin that is named after the place it was discovered in 1975. Although very non-descript and unobtrusive this species can easily be found some 30 kms east from Debre Birhan. At this particular spot the road runs very close to one of the cliffs the birds call home and therefore is the easiest place to try and find them.

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Non-descript and unobtrusive: Ankober Serin at Gemessa Gedel.

While searching for (or enjoying) the Ankober Serin it may be wise to keep an eye out for Blue Rock-Thrush, Verreax's Eagle, Lammergeier, Lanner Falcon and African Thrush.

Gelada Baboons roam the areas and should not be missed either at this spot or driving to or from it.

Beware that if you stop at this site you will probably be overrun by locals who try to sell their selfmade hats and other stuff. It might take you some persuading before they give up on you and go and find another victim.

"Sululta Plains"

Returning back to Addis Abeba from Debre Birhan we had only one species left to try for: Spot-breasted Lapwing. During the dry season this species retreats to the last remaining bodies of water. At the beginning of March it can be hard to find and in fact, Spot-breasted Lapwing was the only endemic that gave us real trouble finding. While searching for the lapwing we even found new additions to the list (Erlanger's Lark (seen before but somehow not recorded), Ortolan Bunting and Spotted Redshank to name a few).