Rich Andrews photography
Rich Andrews photography
 
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I've always liked photography, and for years used a number of Canon and Minolta film cameras. I sold the lot in 2003 and bought a Nikon Coolpix 4500, but soon decided that a digital SLR was what I really needed.

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FRIDAY 21st NOVEMBER - MONDAY 8th DECEMBER 2014

ETHIOPIA (Part 1)

When most people think of Ethiopia, they still think of Bob Geldof’s Ethiopia; a country of barren desert and famine. The truth is that most of Ethiopia is a relatively green country, dominated by isolated high-altitude plains and mountains. This geographical isolation means that Ethiopia and neighbouring Eritrea (which separated from Ethiopia in 1993) have 31 endemic bird species which occur nowhere else in the world. We would try to see all of them. In 16 days. By road.

Species endemic to Ethiopia
Blue-winged Goose
Harwood's Francolin
Spot-breasted Plover
Yellow-fronted Parrot
Prince Ruspoli's Turaco
Sidamo Lark
Erlanger's Lark
White-tailed Swallow
Abyssinian Longclaw
Sombre Rock Chat
Abyssinian Catbird
Stresemann's Bushcrow
Yellow-throated Seedeater
Salvadori's Seedeater
Ethiopian Siskin
Ankober Serin

Species endemic to Ethiopia and Eritrea
Wattled Ibis
Rouget's Rail
White-collared Pigeon
Black-winged Lovebird
Banded Barbet
Abyssinian Woodpecker
Rüppell's Black Chat
White-winged Cliff Chat
Ethiopian Cisticola
Abyssinian Slaty Flycatcher
White-backed Black Tit
Abyssinian Oriole
Thick-billed Raven
White-billed Starling
White-throated Seedeater

You could quibble over extralimital records and one or two taxonomic queries, but that's essentially the list according to the most recent field guide (Redman et al, 2009). Technically there are a couple more species that have only ever been recorded in Ethiopia that we weren't planning on seeing: Nechisar Nightjar, a species known only from a single wing found by the roadside in southern Ethiopia in 1992, and an unknown species of cliff swallow, seen in 1988 at Awash National Park and Lake Langano, but so far undescribed.

There are also a number of other near-endemic Ethiopian species which extend their ranges into neighbouring South Sudan, Somalia and Kenya which we would also try to see. We arranged an itinerary with Attila Steiner from Ecotours Wildlife Holidays which would give us a chance to look for all of these birds, plus an opportunity to look for Ethiopian Wolf – the world’s rarest canine. With a potential bird list of over 450 species for the trip, it would be a busy 16 days, staying at 11 locations:

22 Nov - Debre Libanos, Ethio-German Park Hotel
23 Nov - Debre Birhan, Eva Hotel
24 Nov - Debre Birhan, Eva Hotel
25 Nov - Awash NP, Awash Falls Lodge
26 Nov - Lake Langano, Bekele Molla Hotel
27 Nov - Wondo Genet, Wabe Shebele Hotel
28 Nov - Goba, Wabe Shebele Hotel
29 Nov - Goba, Wabe Shebele Hotel
30 Nov - Goba, Wabe Shebele Hotel
1 Dec - Negele, Turaco Hotel
2 Dec - Negele, Turaco Hotel
3 Dec - Yabello, Yabello Mobile Hotel
4 Dec - Yabello, Yabello Mobile Hotel
5 Dec - Awassa, United Africa Hotel
6 Dec - Welkite, Jyoka Hotel
7 Dec - Addis Ababa, KZ Hotel

We asked Attila to arrange as much of our accommodation as close as he could to the sites we would be visiting to minimise travel time. That said, we still covered in the order of 5000km, much of it on dirt tracks, including a couple of pre-dawn to post-dusk travel days. We had two 4x4 vehicles (a Toyota Landcruiser and a Nissan Patrol), and two local drivers which made the travelling much more bearable. Like most of our tours abroad, it was gong to end up like a bizarre cross between Springwatch and a Top Gear Christmas Special.

In addition to Attila - our main guide who joined the tour from Hungary - we also had a local guide, Measho Legesse, who we were convinced was actually called Marshall until the last day of the trip. Unfortunately, one of our participants had to withdraw from the trip a few days prior to departure, so with four of us remaining (Alex Bevan, Phil Bristow, Mike Powell and myself), it conveniently worked out at four occupants per vehicle. More room then, for cameras, bags, binoculars, water bottles and other travel shit.

As this was a birding trip with a rather tight itinerary, seeing the endemic and near-endemic birds was the priority, so most bird photography would be as and when the opportunity arose; on the hoof, as is usual with these kind of trips. I hardly bothered with butterflies, mammals, landscapes and so on. Which was a shame as there were all of those in abundance.

As it turned out, getting any photographic gear into the country was in itself a potential issue. A few weeks prior to departure we learned that there have been occasions when optical gear had been confiscated from visitors on arrival at Bole airport, only to be returned to the owner on departure from the country. Ostensibly this was to prevent it being sold on the black market or to prevent professional media operating without the necessary permits. I contacted the Ethiopian Embassy in London (the British Embassy in Addis Ababa were useless and wouldn’t even respond to my emails), and they asked me to provide them with a list of my optical gear and serial numbers, which they emailed to Addis Ababa to prevent any problems at the airport. In the event, when leaving immigration at Bole airport we would just walk past the checking desks and x-ray machines without being challenged.

We flew from Heathrow with Ethiopian Airways; out on a 787 and back on a 777.

The Ethiopia blog is in two parts. Below are the first eight days, click the link at the bottom for the second part. You can also see a load more photos from the trip at my Ethiopia Flickr album Enjoy...!

SATURDAY 22nd NOVEMBER 2014

Addis Ababa to Debre Libanos (via Sululta Plains)

So... Addis Ababa. Smells a bit like a pet shop I was in once. Regardless, our early arrival at Bole airport had us on the road and out of Addis by mid-morning, travelling north-west to the western highlands.

Our first stops were at a few locations on the Sululta Plain where we encountered a few of the commoner endemic/near-endemic species - Blue-winged Goose, Ethiopian Siskin (below, top), Abyssinian Longclaw, Abyssinian Slaty Flycatcher, Wattled Ibis (below, bottom) and White-collared Pigeon.





This was our first opportunity to see how tame some of the birds were in Ethiopia. With no persecution, many of the resident species were quite approachable, especially the friendly Moorland Chat, with which we had our first encounter today. These would be a feature of birding in the highlands over the next week or so. What was surprising though was just how tolerant the large raptors were; the Tawny Eagle below was feeding on scraps scavenged from behind the restaurant where we stopped for lunch.



That said, most of the Palearctic migrants, such as the pipits and wheatears were more tricky to approach, as were some of their more exotic brethren, like the endemic Abyssinian Longclaw (below). I could have done with getting a bit closer to that one.



Speaking of Palearctic migrants, we were expecting to see a few nominate migrans Black Kites, which winter amongst the abundant resident African race aegyptiacus (known as Yellow-billed Kite, and a good candidate for a potential new species). Immature Yellow-billed Kite though, like Black Kite, shows a black tip to the bill, fading to yellow as the bird matures, as on the immature Yellow-billed Kite below. So it's not always a straightforward ID to do.



I sent a photo of the most likely Black candidate (or should I say least likely Yellow-billed candidate) to the ever-helpful Dick Forsman, and he agreed that it was just a young Yellow-billed. In fact he said that in more than a dozen trips to Ethiopia he's seen very few Blacks, all of which were in the Rift Valley. So it was safe to say that we never identified a single Black Kite during the whole trip. Which isn't a particularly bad thing when there's so much else to be looking at.

Further stops on the Sululta Plain produced another endemic species - Erlanger’s Lark (below, top), plus Black-crowned Crane, Groundscraper Thrush (bottom), and some more near-endemic species such as Ethiopian Cisticola, Swainson’s Sparrow, Brown-rumped Seedeater, and the first of many Yellow Wagtails, Red-throated Pipits and Pied Wheatears, which would turn out to be the most abundant Palearctic migrants.





We arrived at Debre Libanos a bit late in the afternoon to be looking for Lammergeiers in the Jemmu Gorge, so we pressed on to an area of woodland at the nearby monastery. As usual on the first day on a trip, new birds were picked up in quick succession, notably a good haul of near-endemic species: Abyssinian Oriole, White-rumped Babbler, Ethiopian Boubou, Abyssinian Thrush, White-cheeked Turaco, Rüppell's Black Chat, Black-winged Lovebird and Abyssinian Woodpecker. And a smart African Goshawk too.

SUNDAY 23rd NOVEMBER 2014

Jemmu Valley

A pre-dawn start. It would have been nice to have had more sleep than we did, but the incessant wailing being broadcast by loudspeaker from the monastery at 4:30am precluded that. We had an early drive into the Jemmu Valley to look for Harwood’s Francolin, known only from a few scrubby hillsides in the Ethiopian western highlands. Makes you wonder how these things are ever discovered. And what else remains to be found.

The cold dawn descent into the valley was notable for the abundance of Pied Wheatears - the fields were stiff with them. On arrival at the francolin site, we soon heard one calling and then managed to see it at the bottom of a cliff face with the help of some local kids. This was to be a theme during the trip; local children soon get to know if they have some interesting birds near where they live, and earn themselves a few Birr from tourists by keeping tabs on the birds, protecting them from disturbance and showing them to visiting birding groups. Typically it's with difficult to find birds such as roosting owls and nightjars; we certainly wouldn't have had the views that we did of Cape Eagle Owl, Greyish Eagle Owl and Slender-tailed Nightjar had it not been for us being shown them. This is one of many reasons why it's imperative to have a local guide like Measho to sort these things out for you on a trip like this.

Speaking of the children, it's a feature of Ethiopian birding that wherever you stop by the road to look at a bird, you can expect to be accompanied by local kids. It doesn't even matter if you're miles from anywhere; stop the car, and children can appear. Within minutes! In Ethiopia, with its burgeoning population, you can expect to be accompanied a small group of them on a regular basis!

It is a bit weird sometimes though, you look around and suddenly realise there's this silent child stood behind you following you around. It's not normally a problem, although when you're trying to photograph something, it's often the last thing you want. They only seem to know three words of English ('hello', 'you' and 'money') so that's where Measho came in handy again! Speaking of which, here he is, with his unorthodox, yet highly effective sun hat:



We spent the rest of the day in the hot valley, where we saw our first primates of the trip including a family group of Gelada - a remarkable baboon which only occurs in the Ethiopian highlands. The fine weather also helped us to begin winding up the raptor list, with highlights of Martial Eagle (below, top), Montagu’s Harrier, Fox Kestrel, Verreaux’s Eagle, the three Gyps vultures, and a remarkably approachable Wahlberg’s Eagle (below, bottom). We also found a few more near-endemic species - White-winged Cliff-chat, Blue-breasted Bee-eaters, Abyssinian Black Wheatears, Erckel's Francolin, White-billed Starlings, White-throated (=Yellow-rumped) Seedeater and a few more Rüppell's Black Chats. We also and had our first and only puncture of the trip.





By the way, that Martial Eagle is carrying some half-eaten prey, some kind of bird, which accounts for it looking as though it's been shot. You can see the legs of the prey sticking back where the legs of the eagle would normally be.

We left the site late in the afternoon to begin the two hour drive to Debre Bihran, our base for the next two nights, where we had our first experience of what was presumably an Ethiopian custom - serving you somebody else's main course before your starter, taking it all away, then bringing a different main course and the starter at the same time. We got there in the end.

MONDAY 24th NOVEMBER 2014

Ankober and Melka Ghebdu

Some of the endemic species we would be looking for are both beautiful and rare. Ankober Serin is just rare. Dull as shite, but very very rare. A streaky grey finch only discovered in 1976 that has a tiny world population known only from a few sites around Ankober. Their mountainous habitat makes them difficult to find if weather conditions are poor, and this would be our only chance to see them.

We arrived at a suitable looking spot on the road to Ankober, and immediately had a large slice of luck as the lead vehicle flushed a small group of Ankober Serins from the layby as we parked up. Given that many groups fail to see this species entirely, we were lucky not only to find them instantly, but also to have luxurious views of 20 birds as they fed at close range around a small stream.



We also saw plenty of Wattled Ibis today, in fact we had our biggest day total of the trip (at least 60) - they seemed pretty easy to find all over the highlands, as did White-collared Pigeon. Hard to believe such ubiquitous species are found nowhere else.

This morning was also notable for a couple of fabulous encounters with Lammergeiers. Once near the Ankober Serin place, and again along the road closer to Ankober. At the latter site, we had stopped the car to look at our first Thick-billed Ravens when two Lammergeiers appeared above us carrying bones, which they dropped on to rocks below.





The diet of these massive, metre-long vultures famously consists almost entirely of bone marrow; they either drop the bones from a height to smash them to expose the marrow, or they just eat the bare bones if they're not too big to swallow whole. Their gastric juices have a pH of 0.7, not far short of hydrochloric acid, which enables them to dissolve the bone.

What magnificent creatures. We could have watched them all morning, but there was an itinerary to keep to. Dullard's Seedeater and Abysmal Cisticola won't find themselves, you know. Although we did find a few minutes to look at a pair of albofasciatus African Stonechats. The male was a beauty...



The rest of the day was spent travelling down through Ankober to Melka Ghebdu, where we spent the afternoon birding along a river valley. The weather was in complete contrast to this morning - hot and sunny. Our walk along the river produced four species of kingfisher - Giant, Malachite, African Pygmy and Half-collared, the last of which was a new bird for me and one I had been hoping to photograph, so I was pleased to be able to get this:



Our luck in finding Ankober Serin this morning was replicated this afternoon with Yellow-throated Seedeater, another Ethiopian endemic with a tiny distribution. A male appeared right next to the cars as we stopped to look at a Blue-breasted Bee-eater. Speaking of which, the latter was another new species I was keen to photograph, another near-endemic (depending on which taxonomy you follow), and quite stunning...



Overnight back at Debre Bihran again.

TUESDAY 25th NOVEMBER 2014

Debre Birhan to Awash NP

Another dawn breakfast, (see the theme emerging here?) as today would be one of the longest and hottest travel days of the trip. Leaving Debre Birhan, after a few kilometres we joined a gravel track, and we stayed on either gravel roads or desert tracks for most of the day. We travelled back along yesterdays route, then continued down the Ankober escarpment into the Great Rift Valley. Most of our birding was from the road or the car today, so I was pleased to spot this Dark Chanting Goshawk by the roadside and manage a few frames from the car window:





Today we were in Afar country. The Afar appeared quite a distinctive people compared to the others we met on the trip. Everyone else had donkeys and sticks. The Afar had motorbikes and Kalashnikovs. And daft haircuts.

As we entered the dry savannah of the Rift, this part of the journey took us along the southern tip of the Danakil Desert – one of the lowest and hottest places on earth. Here, the road deteriorated to nothing more than sand dunes and swirling dust devils, and the journey became a disorienting scrape through thick acacia scrub. We scraped past an Arabian Bustard as well. At one point we even had to pick up a bloke from a local tribe to guide us through the bush after the traditional route was blocked by construction work.



It wasn’t until late afternoon that we emerged onto a tarmac road, where we stopped on the Ali Dege Plains to look for Somali Ostrich. We found 51 of them, along with a herd of c.200 Soemmering’s Gazelle and our first Beisa Oryx. A quick dusk stop at nearby Bilen Lodge gave us a our first Warthogs and a few pairs of Salt’s Dik Dik (above), as well as Plain and Slender-tailed Nightjars. And a splendid sunset…



The picture above was taken using the 500mm; it's a three-frame HDR at +/- 2 stops. It wasn’t until I looked at the files on my return that I noticed the dusty backlit camel train on the left. If only I’d taken the shots a few minutes earlier they would have been in the centre of the frame beneath the sun.

Ethiopia is full of stunning scenery, but aside from popping away out of a moving car window, and at a few scenic birding stops, I took very few proper landscape pics as the travelling and birding took up most of my time. Probably just as well, as my landscape photography tends to be a bit shit. Also, it was a bit of a faff to keep swapping a short lens with the 500mm; in fact I tried to minimise the number of lens changes due to the dust. That said, I did take a few snaps with my Galaxy S3 as I ambled about, a few of which are scattered throughout this blog.

Overnight at Awash Falls Lodge.

WEDNESDAY 26th NOVEMBER 2014

Awash National Park and Lake Basaka

A pre-breakfast drive around Awash NP to look for bustards and larks in noticeably cooler, cloudier conditions. In fact today was our cloudiest and dampest day of the trip. As well as Hartlaub’s Bustard, Red-winged Lark, Singing Bushlark and Somali Fiscals, we had great looks at some more Beisa Oryx, complete with Red-billed Oxpeckers.

After breakfast, we took a moment to look around the accommodation – our first chance to see it in daylight. It reminded me a bit of when we stayed at Martin’s Bungalow at Sinharaja in Sri Lanka, except this time I didn't get my watch eaten by jungle animals whilst I slept. I did get an electric shock from the light switch though. Here you can see Phil standing guard to prevent the ingress of baboons…





We spent another few hours birding around Awash NP, where we caught up with Gillet's Lark, another near-endemic. Highlights from a photographic point of view were an Isabelline Wheatear (below, top) and a pair of White-bellied Bustards.

We found the bustards just by the side of the road as we drove past; luckily I was privileged to have one of the UK’s top bird flushers on my trip who enabled me to capture their likenesses unfettered by scrub. To be fair, he’s very skilled in his craft and we were able to control his movements using verbal commands. It was a bit like one man and his dog. Only with a recalcitrant portly Welshman instead of a trusty border collie. And a pair of White-bellied Bustards instead of a flock of sheep. Commendably, he even managed to resist his innate urges to cause the bustards to take flight…





The morning also had a momentary rush of excitement as we met a group of birders in the park who said that they’d just seen some cliff swallows around the waterfalls. There have been a few sightings of a ‘new’ species of cliff swallow around Awash and the upper Rift Valley since they were first discovered in 1988. These sightings have been so infrequent and so inconclusive that the species remains undescribed to science. We looked immediately but only found Lesser Striped Swallows and Barn Swallows.

In the afternoon we stopped near the Fantalle volcano and saw another species with a tiny world distribution and a very particular habitat requirement. Sombre Rock Chat, known only from a few volcanic lava flows in the northern Rift Valley. As its name suggests, it’s not the most exciting bird to look at.

The rest of the afternoon was spent travelling south into the Rift to our hotel at Lake Langano.

THURSDAY 27th NOVEMBER 2014

Lake Langano and Lake Abiyada

Another dawn start for a pre-breakfast wander around the hotel grounds on the shore of Lake Langano. Little Rock Thrush was our target here, which we saw almost instantly, and as the sun rose, the early morning light was great for photographing some of the more accommodating birds. Red-throated Wryneck was a bird I particularly wanted to see after missing one in Kenya, and here it was, calling incessantly in full view:



The cyanostictus race of Little Bee-eater, found in the Rift Valley and eastwards, has a lot of blue on the supercilium and breast; there was sometimes a little confusion with the slightly larger Blue-breasted Bee-eater, but if you look at them properly (and not from the window of a speeding Landcruiser) then there should be no such problems. Conveniently, Little Bee-eaters seem to be quite tame and like low perches...



We also picked up a few more new species such as Rufous Chatterer, Boring Cisticola and Reichenow's Seedeater. On arrival at breakfast we found a pair of Hemprich’s Hornbills sat on the patio chairs, presumably looking for peeled fruit laid out for the buffet breakfasts, which gave some great photo opportunities (below, top). There was a smart male Ehrenberg’s (samamisicus) Redstart hanging around the lake shore, too (below, middle).

After a quick breakfast I tried for some pics of the Little Rock Thrush whilst the others were still scoffing, but got waylaid by a flock of Black-winged Lovebirds feeding on the ground. It had been difficult to get views of these so far, as we only saw them in flight or in the tree canopy, so it was a bonus to watch them in the open at such close range. This is a female (below, bottom)...







After a quick look at a Greyish Eagle Owl, the rest of the morning and early afternoon was spent in the vicinity of Lake Langano, where we visited Bisangano Lodge and caught up with Yellow-fronted Parrot (another Ethiopian endemic), Narina Trogon, Clapperton's Francolin and Northern Carmine Bee-eater. Bisangano was also notable as being where we had our highest number of loitering children of the trip - 45. At our lunch stop, which was noteworthy as our first look at a few terns and gulls, we were shown three roosting Slender-tailed Nightjars (below).



We spent the rest of the afternoon on the shore of Lake Abiyada, where there were thousands of waterbirds, notably flamingos, small waders, Avocets and Common Cranes. This is where the header picture at the top of this page was taken. Onward then, for a night arrival at Wondo Genet.

FRIDAY 28th NOVEMBER 2014

Wondo Genet and the drive to Bale Mountains

Wondo Genet is a traditional stop on the Ethiopian birding trail. How much longer it remains so is open to question, as the forest that once grew here has all but disappeared, along with most of the good birds that lived there. We still managed to see a few birds on a pre-breakfast stroll around the hillside, notably our first pair of Banded Barbets (another Ethiopian/Eritrean endemic), an African Pygmy Kingfisher, Black-and-white Mannikins, Bronze Mannikins (below) and some Black Saw-wings. We also came within a whisker of seeing a brief Abyssinian Ground-thrush, but this was to be a species which ultimately eluded us.



Back at the Wabe Shebele hotel for a spot of breakfast, we were able to enjoy in daylight the utterly bizarre dining area which looked like the set of a 1970s science fiction film. A really bad 1970s science fiction film...



Before the long drive to Goba, we visited the forested grounds of nearby agricultural college to look for a roosting Verreaux's Eagle Owl. We couldn't locate it, but instead we were shown a Crowned Eagle perched high in the canopy next to its nest. What an impressive, immensely-taloned, monkey-murdering beast of bird the Crowned Eagle is.

And so to the fabled Bale Mountains National Park. It's quite something that 26% of all Ethiopia's endemic species can be found within the Bale Mountains, but some of these are only found within the Bale Mountains, including 23 species of flowering plant, five mammals, four amphibians and two chameleons. Quite extraordinary.

I took a few pics as we climbed up to the south-eastern highlands; much of the country is open rolling farmland, with a few mud houses scattered around. These are fairly typical highland scenes grabbed from the car window; there are always plenty of cattle, goats and donkeys roaming around or being herded along the roads...





One thing we noticed during the trip is the number of eucalyptus trees that seem to be planted virtually everywhere we went. You can see them in the picture above behind the acacias in the foreground. They’re fast-growing, and their straight trunks and branches are used for building houses, fences, scaffolding, donkey carts and just about anything else that can be made out of wood. But being non-native they’re not much use for Ethiopian wildlife, which is especially a problem when native trees and woodlands are removed to plant them.

We stopped en route at a site for Cape Eagle Owl. As soon as the cars pulled up we were joined by about a dozen women and children who took us down into a roadside gorge and sure enough, there it was, sat on a rock. Gazing down at us all, completely unfazed by the commotion going on beneath. What an impressive bird, especially in comparison to the Greyish Eagle Owl we saw yesterday (which looked like someone had thrown a sack in a bush).



As we drove further, we began picking up a few new species; Rouget’s Rail, Abdim’s Stork, Bohor Reedbuck, and the ubiquitous Moorland Chats began to reappear. We stopped at the Bale Mountains National Park HQ at Dinsho, where we hoped to see a couple more roosting owls: Abyssinian Owl, a recent split from Long-eared Owl, which we saw, and African Wood Owl, which we didn’t see. We did see our first Abyssinian Catbirds though, as well as our first Mountain Nyalas, a distinctive large antelope endemic to the Bale Mountains.

Overnight at the Wabe Shebele hotel, Goba, where for the next three nights we would have the luxury of intermittent wi-fi.

SATURDAY 29th NOVEMBER 2014

Sanetti Plateau

What day is it? Is it the weekend already? It all goes a bit weird doesn't it, when you've been away and you lose track of what day it is. At least we had no trouble knowing what country it was, with a Thick-billed Raven calling from the hotel roof at 7:15 in the morning. Up again before sunrise, and it's 2°C. You can see the breath on the raven as it honks away. Wish I'd gone out of my way to photograph more of these; in the end this was the only one I managed.



Today we would be driving to the Sanetti Plateau, ascending to a height of 4100 metres in search of, amongst other things, Ethiopian Wolf. Another endemic species, with a total population of less than 450 individuals, Ethiopian Wolf is both the rarest canid in the world, and the rarest carnivore in Africa. In fact we learned that the population this year has been reduced even further by disease. There are only six wolf populations, confined to the highlands either side of the Rift Valley, and the one in the Bale Mountains is the largest. So on the face of it we would have a good chance of seeing one, notwithstanding our woeful record when it comes to seeing rare mammals on our birding trips. So we had our fingers crossed.



But before that we had the small matter of dipping on Abyssinian Ground Thrush to get out of the way, although as we made our way up to the plateau, we picked up the Bale race of Brown Parisoma, more Rouget's Rails, plenty of Moorland Chats (above), Cinnamon Bracken Warbler and the first of many Chestnut-naped Francolins.

As we ascended, the vegetation gradually became shorter, and as we passed the transmitter station and reached the edge of the plateau, it was like entering into a completely different world; the whole landscape was a swathe of afro-alpine moorland, studded with pools and dotted with Giant Lobelias. A truly unique sight.

We parked the cars and wandered out in a search of Moorland Francolin; inevitably we split up and went off in six different directions but no matter, we all failed to see Moorland Francolin, but did manage to see our first Spot-breasted Plovers; a small noisy flock that seemed to be quite restless in the presence of a Tawny Eagle. Too restless for any photos, sadly. Then two Wattled Cranes, a few Yellow-billed Ducks and Blue-winged Geese. I also flushed a Starck's Hare (an Ethipoian endemic) and a snipe, which at 4100 metres we decided can only be an African Snipe... surely? There were also a few widespread species which seemed out of place in such specialised habitat; a Greenshank, a Green Sandpiper and some Red-throated Pipits.



Giant Lobelias (Lobelia rhynchopetalum), unsurprisingly, are also endemic to Ethiopia, found only in the Bale and Simien Mountains.





As we made our way across the plateau, we see three species at the most southerly limit of their world ranges: Golden Eagle, Red-billed Chough and Ruddy Shelduck. The Bale Mountains is the only place in sub-saharan Africa where these species breed. No wolves yet. But we do see their favourite prey, the Big-headed Mole Rat, and a few Blick's Grass Rats. Both are only found in the Bale Mountains.

We drove across the plateau and dropped down over the other side, and had lunch at the Bale Mountain Lodge, where we discover that we're the only people who failed to see a wolf this morning. After a quick boot around the lodge grounds we started the long journey back to Goba.

On the way back we made several stops on the plateau to scan for wolves at likely locations, and I also managed to photograph some Blue-winged Geese and Spot-breasted Plovers very badly. It wasn't until we were close to the location of our morning stop when a lone wolf was spotted in the distance. Sadly it was to be telescope views only as it lolloped across the moorland, but it was good enough. Ethiopian Wolf. Just imagine going home without seeing one of those.

We tried again to find Moorland Francolin, to no avail, but further down the escarpment we did find one good bird - African Black Swift. Supposedly 'hypothetical' in Ethiopia, we watched a flock of about ten birds chasing and calling overhead; we were even able to find the calls on mp3 whilst they were overhead and confirm them beyond doubt. Strangely, the field guide gives one unsubstantiated Ethiopian record of three birds a few miles away near Goba in December 2006. Just goes to show that there are so many things left to be discovered in underwatched countries; are there even any undescribed bird species still to be found in Ethiopia?

Back at the hotel, now in darkness, two Montane Nightjars were calling from the tops of trees in the car park.

Half way through then. Bird total: 373 species, including 25 of the 31 Ethiopian/Eritrean endemic species with no misses! Mammal total (not that we were making much of an effort): 21.

Click the link below to go to part 2:

Ethiopia part 2     top of page



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