Working for birds in Africa


Mon, 01/14/2013 - 22:14 -- abc_admin

Star-spotted Nightjar Caprimulgus stellatus, Ethiopia

Image Credit: 
Claire Spottiswoode

In recent years, Ethiopia has rightly become one of Africa`s leading birding destinations. Its avifauna represents an interesting mixture of east and west African, Palearctic and some strikingly unusual endemic components. In addition to more than 800 species of birds, of which a staggering 29 are endemic to Ethiopia and its neighbour Eritrea, Ethiopia has a number of peculiar mammals, and a scenic diversity and cultural uniqueness that are hard to equal.

The highlands, which dominate the country, are bisected by the Rift Valley, and fall away to arid desert and bushlands in the north, south and east, and to moister Guinea woodland in the west. Much of the highlands are under subsistence agriculture, but there still exist considerable tracts of Afro-alpine shrubland and pockets of Afromontane forest. For birders, the most popular access to really high altitude is the Bale Mountains National Park in the southern part of the eastern south-eastern highlands. Here the highest all-weather road in Africa crosses the Sanetti plateau (4377m), allowing easy access to alpine moorlands, grasslands and lakes. Highland endemics such as Spot-breasted Lapwing Vanellus melanocephalus and Rouget`s Rail Rougetius rougetii occur alongside spectacular giant lobelias and Ethiopian wolves. The highlands also offer a number of species not found elsewhere in sub-Saharan Africa, such as Ruddy Shelduck Tadorna ferruginea, Golden Eagle Aquila chrysaetos and Red-billed Chough Pyrrhocorax pyrrrhocorax. Other more widespread highland endemics include Blue-winged Goose Cyanochen cyanoptera, Ethiopian Siskin Serinus nigriceps, Wattled Ibis Bostrychia carunculata, and Abyssinian Longclaw Macronyx flavicollis.

Ethiopian forest endemics, accessible at such forest patches as those at Wondo Genet (central highlands) and Debre Libanos (northern highlands) include Yellow-fronted Parrot Poicephalus flavifrons, Black-winged Lovebird Agapornis taranta, Abyssinian Slaty-Flycatcher Melaenornis chocolatinus, Abyssinian Black-headed Oriole Oriolus monachaand Banded Barbet Lybius undatus and, in Juniper-Hagenia forest at higher altitude, such as at Dinsho or near Robe in the Bale mountains, White-backed Black Tit Parus leuconotus, Abyssinian Catbird Parophasma galinieri, White-cheeked Turaco Tauaci leucotis and Abyssinian Woodpecker Dendropicos abyssinicus. Other forest species particularly worthy of mention are Ayres's Hawk Eagle Hieraaetus ayresii, Abyssinian Ground-Thrush  Zoothera piaggiae and African Hill Babbler Pseudoalcippe abyssinica.

There are also a number of other highland localities that deserve individual mention. North of Addis Ababa, the Jemmu River valley holds a population of highly localized and endemic Harwood's Francolin Francolinus harwoodi, best searched for along the river itself. The rocky valley rim hosts a number of species that could be searched for in any rocky highland area, such as White-billed Starling Onychognathus albirostris, Ruppell's Black Chat Myrmecocichla melaena, Nyanza Swift Apus niansae and White-winged Cliff Chat Thamnolaea semirufa. One of Ethiopia's three highly localized endemic serins, Ankober Serin Carduelis ankoberensis, is also a highland species, occurring along the spectacular Ankober escarpment north of Awash.

The Rift Valley, punctuated by several large lakes, offers few endemics but very diverse and enjoyable woodland birding. Some of the several excellent birding sites here are Lake Langano, Awash National Park and Nechisar National Park, offering amongst many others such great birds as African Swallow-tailed Kite Chelictinia riocourii, Abyssinian Ground Hornbill Bucorvus abyssinicus, Arabian Bustard Ardeotis arabs, Somali Fiscal Lanius somalicus, and Gillett's Lark Mirafra gilletti, Red-winged Bush Larks M. hypermetra and Singing Bush Larks M. cantillans.

In the south of the country, high diversity and endemicity combine to offer absolutely superb birding. Sought-after specials include the endemic Prince Ruspoli`s Turaco Tauraco ruspolii, White-tailed Swallow Hirundo megaensis, Stresemann's Bush Crow Zavattariornis stresemanni and Sidamo Heteromirafra sidamoensis and Degodi Larks Mirafra degodiensi, as well as a number of dryland species shared with far northern Kenya and Somalia, such as Red-naped Bush-Shrike Laniarius ruficeps, African White-winged Dove Streptopelia reichenowi, Somali Long-billed Crombec Sylvietta isabellina, Juba Weaver Ploceus dichrocephalus, Yellow-vented Eremomela Eremomela flavicrissalis and Vulturine Guineafowl Acryllium vulturinum.

In the far west of the country, along the Sudanese border, low-lying plains are cloaked with moister woodland supporting an avifauna quite unlike that of the rest of the country. It seems somewhat West African in character, and specials include Egyptian Plover Pluvianus aegyptius, Gambaga Flycatcher Muscicapa gambagae, Black Scimitarbill Rhinopomastus aterrimus, Levant Sparrowhawk Accipiter brevipes (perhaps a rare summer migrant), Pygmy Sunbird Hedydipna platura, Black-rumped Waxbill Estrilda troglodytes, Black-faced Lagonosticta larvata and Bar-breasted Firefinches L. rufopicta, Yellow-bellied Hyliota Hyliota flavigaster, Little Green Merops orientalis and Red-throated Bee-eater M. bulocki, Chestnut-crowned Sparrow-Weaver Plocepasser superciliosus, Brown-rumped Bunting Emberiza affinis and Green-backed Eremomela Eremomela canescens.

Ideally one needs to rent a four-wheel-drive to do a visit to Ethiopia justice, although it is possible to fly to many areas, including the historically fascinating north. The best months to visit are October-December, and over 500 species can be recorded on a thorough three-week trip.

The purpose of this document is to provide a summary of Ethiopia and its birds for birders interested in the country and potentially planning a visit. The information has been put together by Claire Spottiswoode & Michael Mills and it is intended to add new information as it becomes available. As such, readers are welcome to submit contributions by e-mail to [email protected]

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