Bird books about Ethiopia have been a bit like buses recently - we have waited years for something and suddenly several come along all at once. Following hot on the heels of the superb Field Guide to the Birds of the Horn of Africa (see review in Bull. ABC 16: 243–244), and the equally excellent Birds of Ethiopia and Eritrea: An Atlas of Distribution (reviewed in Bull. ABC 17: 128–129) comes not one but two guides on bird-finding in Ethiopia.
These new books are very similar to one another, which is perhaps to be expected with site guides. Ethiopia has a well-established history of numerous bird tour operators and independent birders visiting, and both books draw heavily on the accumulated knowledge from these sources, as well as on information supplied by the increasing number of local guides. Indeed the Helm book is co-authored by Merid Gabremichael, one of the most knowledgeable such guides in the country.
Both works possess useful introductory chapters describing the country and discussing the practicalities of travelling in Ethiopia, a country both very different and fascinating compared to the normal experience of Western birders. There is information on safety and security, the best times to go, and suggested itineraries. Both books serve the purpose of a site guide admirably, giving accurate directions to the places they cover and descriptions of what to look for at each site. There are clear, easy to read maps in both books, with GPS coordinates for several sites, which really should be a feature of all such site guides these days. These are given within the text in the Lynx book, but the Spottiswoode et al. guide cross-refers to an appendix containing all of the GPS coordinates. The Helm guide also advises that these are available electronically from one of the authors for uploading into your GPS, which is a nice touch. Both books are liberally peppered with superb photos, some of birds that were until recently of almost mythical status, while the Helm guide has a useful photographic guide to the 'top 50 birds' towards the end.
Of the two, the Spottiswoode et al. guide is the more comprehensive, covering 50 different locations, whereas Behrens et al. list just 26, although some of these 26 include sites that are treated separately in the Helm volume. This greater coverage allows the Helm book to include such excellent birding sites as Bahar Dar at the source of the Blue Nile on the southern shores of Lake Tana, and the 'strange' Gambella in the south-west. Hopefully, this greater coverage may tempt visiting birders to explore a few places off the beaten 'endemic track'. The brevity of the Lynx guide does have its shortcomings. Bilen Lodge in the Awash area is described in a few lines as offering birding similar to Awash National Park, which is really not doing the site justice, while in contrast the Helm book devotes significantly more space to this excellent region.
In terms of providing other information useful for planning a trip, I consider the Helm guide to again be the superior of the two. The list of contacts in the Lynx book is woefully brief. Despite being told earlier in the book that 'several large birding tour companies offer trips to Ethiopia (see Contacts)' there are only two listed, both linked to the tour company that the authors work for. The Helm guide provides the names of 21 contacts. Many of these are hotels in key sites backed-up with phone numbers. The list also includes some of the best ground agents—all really useful information when planning a trip. These comments aside, both books will serve anyone visiting Ethiopia well and, with the other books referred to in the opening paragraph, there really is no excuse for not planning a visit to this most interesting corner of Africa. Indeed, hopefully, these two site guides will encourage more people to experience Ethiopia's varied wildlife—with a human population rising almost exponentially, it needs all the help it can get.