Central Ethiopia

The festive holidays in India gave us an excellent opportunity to visit Ethiopia as it coincided with the near perfect birding season of the country. We were also very excited to walk the ancient land where apes may have started walking upright, thus paving the way for humans to evolve.
However, as we only had a week’s holiday in hand, we decided to split the trip in two and visited only the central part of Ethiopia during this part of the trip and while our prime focus was birding, we were equally impressed with the spectacular landscapes and the rich heritage & culture of the region.
The coffee ceremony was another memorable experience of this trip with the combination of coffee, popcorns and the fragrance of incense making us tea lovers transform into avid coffee drinkers.
However, we never got used to the sour taste of Injera, a spongy flatbread made of teff that is the staple diet of Ethiopians and eventually, we ended up opting for other dishes wherever an option was available.

Getting Visa was very easy, and we received it within a couple of days after applying online at https://www.evisa.gov.et/
We also felt safe throughout the trip and Ethiopians were generally very helpful, however, children in almost all the locations kept asking money from us and in hindsight, we should have carried some pens/pencils for them.
Itinerary
Our itinerary covered several interesting habitats ranging from the highlands of Sululta, the plateau forest of Debre Libanos and Wondo Genet, the river valleys of Jemma and Ankober and the dry and arid Afar region.
Day 1: 02 Nov 2018 (Delhi – Addis Ababa)
Day 2: 03 Nov 2018 (Addis Ababa – Sululta Plains – Debre Libanos)
Day 3: 04 Nov 2018 (Debre Libanos – Jemma valley – Debre Birhan)
Day 4: 05 Nov 2018 (Debre Birhan – Ankober Escarpment – Melka Ghebdu – Doho via Afar plains)
Day 5: 06 Nov 2018 (Doho – Ali-deghie Wildlife Reserve – Awash National Park)
Day 6: 07 Nov 2018 (Awash National Park)
Day 7: 08 Nov 2018 (Awash – Lake Besaka – Koka Dam – Lake Ziway – Lake Langano)
Day 8: 09 Nov 2018 (Lake Langano – Wondo Genet)
Day 9: 10 Nov 2018 (Wondo Genet – Lake Awasa)
Day 10: 11 Nov 2018 (Lake Awasa – Addis Ababa – Delhi)
Birding Highlights
We managed to see most of the endemics possible in this circuit and by a sheer stroke of luck stumbled upon an Ethiopian Firefinch at Jemma Valley. However, we did not even get a whiff of the Red-billed Pytilia at Jemma and missed the easy Ankober Serin.
Endemics/Near Endemics seen: Wattled Ibis, Blue-winged Goose, Harwood’s Francolin, Erckel’s Francolin, Spot-breasted Lapwing, White-collared Pigeon, Black-winged Lovebird, Yellow-fronted Parrot, White-cheeked Turaco, Blue-breasted Bee-eater, Thick-billed Raven, Banded Barbet, Erlanger’s Lark, Ethiopian Boubou, Somali Fiscal, Ethiopian Oriole, White-rumped Babbler, Abyssinian Slaty Flycatcher, Ruppel’s Black Chat, White-winged Cliff Chat, Sombre Rock Chat, Abyssinian Wheatear, White-billed Starling, Ethiopian Siskin, Yellow-rumped Seedeater, Yellow-throated Seedeater, Brown-rumped Seedeater, Swainson’s Sparrow
Day 1: 02 Nov 2018 (Delhi – Addis Ababa)
We took the early morning Ethiopian Airways flight out of Delhi and while the ageing plane’s pressurization gave Rishi a terrible headache, we still enjoyed the colorful aerial views of the Ethiopian farmlands just before landing at Addis Ababa by late afternoon. We then proceeded to the Nexon Hotel for an overnight stay that had nice rooms and a lively lobby with the Coffee ceremony being a nice welcome for us to Ethiopia.
Day 2: 03 Nov 2018 (Addis Ababa – Sululta Plains – Debre Libanos)
We checked out early morning and drove straight towards Debre Libanos via the Sululta Plains, a highland grassland; and even when most of the grassland is converted to farming, we still spotted several birds along the way like the Groundscraper Thrush, African Pipit, Rook, Buff-breasted Wheatear, Red-throated Pipit, Moorland Chat, Swainson’s Sparrow, Western Yellow Wagtail, White-collared Pigeon, Lesser Kestrel, Wattled Ibis, Augur Buzzard, Pied Wheatear, Common Fiscal, White-winged Cliff-chat, Red-billed Oxpecker, Yellow-billed Kite, African Red-rumped Swallow, Brown-rumped Seedeater, Village Indigobird, Greater Blue-eared Starling, Isabelline Wheatear, Blanford’s Lark (Erlanger’s Lark) and Thekla’s Lark.

We reached Debre Libanos by afternoon and had lunch at the nice “Baarii fi Reestoraantii Kuul” (Cool Bar and Restaurant). However, while having lunch, we came to know that the birder friendly Ethio German Lodge was shut down temporarily. Thankfully, the restaurant’s owner helped us get a room at the Shere View Hotel and even when there was no electricity or water in the room, we still agreed to stay as there was no other option in sight.
After dumping our luggage at the hotel and enjoying some fabulous views of a Bearded Vulture, Fan-tailed Raven and a Rüppell’s Vulture over the Debre Libanos gorge, we drove towards the Monastery.

While on our way, we bumped into a large group of Gelada Baboons sunbathing along the roadside and a bit of birding around the area produced a Rüppell’s Chat, Common Redstart, Lanner Falcon, Little Rock-thrush, Variable Sunbird along with the Ethiopian Black-headed Oriole, African Thrush and White-billed Starling that were observed on a nearby fruiting tree.

We then proceeded to the forest behind the Debre Libanos Monastery and spotted several more interesting birds like the White-cheeked Turaco, Dusky Turtle-dove, Common Bulbul, Hemprich’s Hornbill, Abyssinian White-eye, White-rumped Babbler, Abyssinian Slaty-flycatcher, Bleating Camaroptera, Rüppell’s Robin-chat, Eastern Grey Woodpecker, Streaky Seedeater, Tawny-flanked Prinia, Hooded Vulture, Red-billed Firefinch, Ethiopian Bee-eater, Red-eyed Dove, Speckled Pigeon, Scarlet-chested Sunbird along with some Grivet Monkeys.

We also made a quick visit to the Portuguese bridge but just found a few Large Rock Martins, a Mountain Wagtail and a couple of Egyptian Goose, so returned to the Shere View Hotel for the night and managed a comfortable sleep even when high winds caused the room’s roof to rattle all night long.
Day 3: 04 Nov 2018 (Debre Libanos – Jemma valley – Debre Birhan)
We left Debre Libanos at 5 in the morning and reached a small farming village on the outskirts of the Lemi town where we easily spotted the Erckel’s Francolin over the escarpment edge along with an Abyssinian Wheatear and a Cinnamon-breasted Bunting.

A local farmer then offered to help us search for the Harwood’s Francolin for a small fee and took us to a nearby hill where we managed to get fleeting glimpses of three Harwood’s Francolins along with other birds like the Red-collared Widowbird, Cinereous Bunting, African Harrier-hawk, Black-crowned Tchagra, Black-headed Oriole, Yellow-rumped Seedeater, Ayres’s Hawk-eagle, Croaking Cisticola and a family of Rock Hyrax .

After a quick breakfast of Ambasha bread, we continued our drive down to the Jemma valley spotting several more birds on the way like the Dark Chanting-goshawk, Black-billed Barbet, Black-winged Bishop, Speckle-fronted Weaver, Mocking Cliff-chat, Namaqua Dove, Hemprich’s Hornbill and Common Kestrel.

We then stopped at the Lomi bridge and birded along the river bed where the shallow pools were attracting a lot of birds and while we did not get a whiff of the Red-billed Pytilia, we were lucky to spot an Ethiopian Firefinch bathing in one of the puddles.
Other birds spotted were the African Silverbill, Ruppell’s Weaver, Ethiopian White-eye, White-bellied Canary, African Pygmy-kingfisher, Red-fronted Tinkerbird, African Three-banded Plover, Crimson-rumped Waxbill, Eurasian Blackcap, Black Stork, Mocking Cliff-chat, Grey-headed Kingfisher, Fork-tailed Drongo, African Paradise-flycatcher, Pin-tailed Whydah and a Lesser Whitethroat.

We then returned to Lemi and had lunch at a local eatery before proceeding to Debre Birhan for the night. We made several stops along the way managing to see a few more birds including the Blue-winged Goose, Pectoral-patch Cisticola, Black-winged Lapwing, African Snipe, Yellow-billed Duck and an amazing aerial display of Ethiopian Siskins over the evening sky apart from an Ethiopian Highland Hare.

We eventually reached Debre Birhan by nightfall and checked in at the Ethio Bernos Hotel for the night.
Day 4: 05 Nov 2018 (Debre Birhan – Ankober Escarpment – Melka Ghebdu – Doho via Afar plains)
We left Debre Birhan early morning and got lucky when we stumbled upon a flock of Spot-breasted Lapwing feeding along the roadside within the city limits. However, our excitement was short-lived as we failed to locate the endemic Ankober Serin at the Ankober Escarpment and as we did not have the coordinates for the backup site at Gemasa Gedel, we missed this bird altogether during the trip.
Nevertheless, we continued our drive towards Melka Ghebdu and while the newly constructed highway confused us a bit, we eventually found the way to the stream where we birded the river bed for a couple of hours spotting birds like the Yellow-crowned Canary, Nyanza Swift, Mariqua, Beautiful and Shining Sunbirds, Ruppell’s Weaver, Yellow-bellied Eremomela, Half-collared and African Pygmy-kingfisher, Northern Red Bishop, Bronze Mannikin and an Eastern Plantain-eater. Yellow-throated Seedeater initially gave us the run and it was only on our second attempt at the site after a quick breakfast break that we finally managed to see the bird.

We then drove across the unforgiving Afar plains and saw quite a few more birds along the way like the Red-billed Hornbill, Abyssinian Roller, White-bellied Go-away-bird, Dark Chanting-goshawk, European Roller, Long-tailed Paradise-whydah, Southern Grey Shrike, Purple Roller, Booted Eagle and a few White-backed Vultures.

We reached Doho Lodge by late afternoon and birded the surrounding area that produced several new birds for us including the Red-bellied Parrot, Rüppell’s Starling, White-headed Buffalo-weaver, White-browed Sparrow-weaver, Somali Ostrich, Wattled Starling, Lichtenstein’s Sandgrouse, Helmeted Guineafowl, Nile Valley Sunbird, Grey-headed Batis, Mouse-coloured Penduline-tit, Grey Wren-warbler, Northern Crombec, African Palm-swift, Red-fronted Prinia, Brubru, White-bellied Canary, Red-billed Hornbill, Yellow-breasted Barbet, Crested Francolin, Superb Starling and a Yellow-spotted Bush-sparrow apart from a Salt’s Dik-dik.

Day 5: 06 Nov 2018 (Doho – Ali-deghie Wildlife Reserve – Awash National Park)
We spent the morning birding the Ali-deghie Wildlife Reserve and ended up spotting nineteen Arabian Bustard apart from several more birds like the African Grey Hornbill, Long-tailed Paradise-whydah, Long-legged Buzzard, Northern Carmine Bee-eater, Abdim’s Stork, Somali Fiscal, Black-headed Lapwing, Chestnut-bellied Sandgrouse, Lappet-faced and White-backed Vultures and Lanner Falcon.