Ethiopia is a very special destination, quite unlike any other country in Africa, or indeed the world. It is one of the earliest homes of mankind, now inhabited by an intriguingly mixed blend of people from diverse cultural and historical origins; it has a wonderfully varied landscape embracing both hot deserts and high rugged mountains; and, above all, it boasts an astonishingly rich flora and fauna which include many species of plants, birds and mammals unique to the country. This tour will take us on a quest for the country’s most sought-after endemic species, from the near mythical Prince Ruspoli’s Turaco and enigmatic Stresemann’s Bush Crow to the elegant Ethiopian Wolf and endearing Gelada Baboon.
Arriving in the capital, Addis Ababa, we will first journey north through the Solulta Plains and on to Debre Libanos, where we will stay for two nights in a simple hotel overlooking a spectacular gorge. Here, vultures and Lammergeiers soar effortlessly above vertiginous cliffs, watched by grazing cliff-top troops of endemic Gelada Baboons. Among the endemic bird species to look for here are Rüppell’s Black Chat, White-winged Cliff Chat, Banded Barbet and White-billed Starling, whilst an early morning visit to the nearby Jemma Valley should yield Harwood’s Francolin.
From Debre Libanos we will retrace our steps south, before turning east to Awash National Park where we stay for three nights in a rustic lodge overlooking the Awash Falls. With its rolling grasslands and acacia scrub, Awash resembles a classic east African game reserve and contains a good variety of mammals. Beisa Oryx, both Greater and Lesser Kudu, Soemmering’s Gazelle and Salt’s Dik-dik graze the acaciadotted grasslands, whilst night-drives have, in recent years, yielded sightings of Leopard, Caracal, African Wild Cat, Spotted and Striped Hyenas, Bat-eared Fox and even Aardwolf. With over 450 species of birds recorded to date, the park is widely regarded as one of Ethiopia’s premier birdwatching sites and, on a mix of walks and drives, we can hope to see a diverse range of bustards, hornbills, parrots, shrikes, weavers and raptors.
Leaving Awash, we follow the Great Rift Valley southwards, pausing to enjoy the birdlife on and around several acaciafringed lakes before arriving at the luxuriant shores of Lake Awassa where an abundance of waterbirds awaits. Amongst the lilies and great reedbeds that encompass the lake we should find Black and Goliath Herons, Marabou Storks, Hamerkops, Hadada Ibis, a variety of egrets, both Pied and Malachite Kingfishers and dainty African Pygmy Geese. A patchwork landscape unfolds before us as we leave the Rift Valley and begin the gradual ascent to the Bale Mountains, a journey that will take us past a traditional Cape Eagle Owl roost site and through the vast expanse of the Gaysay Grasslands, an excellent area for Serval. The wild montane expanses of the Bale Mountains National Park will be explored during our 2-night stay at Goba and there is much to delight naturalists in this strange world of stunted forests, Giant Lobelias and moorland which lies at an altitude of 4,000 metres. Here, 15 of Ethiopia’s and Eritrea’s 30+ endemic birds may be found, amongst them one of Ethiopia’s finest songsters, the Abyssinian Catbird, and White-backed Tit, plus the elegant Wattled Crane. Mammals are also plentiful, and include Bohor Reedbuck, Mountain Nyala, Menelik’s Bushbuck, Ethiopian Wolf and Giant Mole-rats — the last four all endemic to Ethiopia.
From Goba we head south over the Senetti Plateau and through the Harenna Forest, gradually losing altitude and entering an increasingly dry acacia-filled landscape. Our destination is the town of Negelle, where we shall spend two nights exploring the surrounding area for two of Ethiopia’s most prized endemic birds, the stunning Prince Ruspoli’s Turaco and the slightly more modest, but very rare, Sidamo Lark. Then, heading west, we turn our attention to the region of Yabello, a landscape covered with lush vegetation and dry riverbeds, characterised by a large number of tall, chimney-like termite mounds. During a 2-night stay here we will search for a prize selection of endemics found only in this region, with particular focus on two rather different but equally special birds, the White-tailed Swallow and Stresemann’s Bush Crow. A host of other dry-country species, some of which are at the northern limit of their ranges, can also be found, including Rufous and Scaly Chatterers, Red-naped Bush-shrike, Foxy Lark, Sombre Nightjar and Northern White-faced Owl.
Finally we must head back north, where we conclude our tour with a 2-night stay at a comfortable lodge on the shores of Lake Langano, its tranquil surroundings and ancient fig-forests the home of the endemic Yellow-fronted Parrot and the beautiful Narina Trogan. With a good chance of finding the elusive Aardvark by night, this lovely lodge makes a fitting finale to our holiday (unless, that is, we can tempt you extend your holiday with a visit to the rockhewn churches of Lalibela and the spectacular Simien Mountains in search of the endemic Walia Ibex).