Ethiopia is where Africa touches the sky. Nowhere in this magnificent country is far from the great mountains which frame the north of the Rift Valley. On account of their isolation and climate, these mountains are home to many endemic species of mammal and bird.
Our Ethiopian Endemic Wildlife tour goes in search of these wonderful animals, plus the rarely seen endemics of the country’s dry south. Last month I was lucky to lead the first departure of our relaunched tour and revisit a country which has enchanted and fascinated me since I first explored it some years ago.
Every tour to Ethiopia must begin in Addis Ababa, but happily the lakes and grassland surrounding the capital are home to many endemics and near endemics, including Abyssinian longclaw, thick-billed raven, wattled ibis and the lovely blue-winged goose. Nearby at Debre Libanos we saw black-winged lovebirds, white-cheeked turacos, banded barbets and the handsome gelada, Ethiopia’s endemic grass-eating baboon. Heading south through the Rift Valley, we stopped at Lake Langano where, in the ever wonderful Bishangari forest, narina trogon, scaly-throated honeyguide, double-toothed barbet, guereza colobus and silvery-cheeked hornbill lined up to be seen.
In the far south we had four main endemic targets. Near Yabelo we were charmed by Ethiopian bushcrows, which gazed at us with eyes extravagantly rimmed in royal blue. As we watched, our first (of several) white-tailed swallows bounded by on glossy wings.
Nearby we found rare Grevy’s zebras (globally restricted to Kenya and Ethiopia) which were helpfully accompanied by two plains zebras for ease of comparison. Our route to the zebras had been dotted with delicate Gunther’s dikdiks, peeking shyly at us from roadside scrub.
To the east, around Negele, we explored the grassy plain outside the village of Liben and found its critically endangered lark, accompanied by plain-backed pipits, crowned lapwings, pallid harriers and pectoral-patch cisticolas.
In forest nearby we met no fewer than four Prince Ruspoli’s turacos. This wonderful endemic, with a candy floss crest which fades to white at its tip, is found only in these hills of southern Ethiopia and is named after an Italian nobleman who lost his life to an enraged elephant.
Despite all of these endemics and rarities, probably the highlight of the trip for most participants was our three-night stay in Bale Mountain Lodge which lies cloaked in the Harenna Forest in Bale National Park. This superb lodge has breathtaking views and is ideally placed for visiting the park’s three biological zones: the Harenna forest in the south, home of Abyssinian crimsonwing, slender-billed starling and the lovely Bale Mountain monkey; the lofty Sanetti Plateau which teems with Blick’s grass rats and giant mole-rats, which in turn are the prey of the exquisite Ethiopian wolf; and the juniper forests and grassland of Dinsho and Gaysay, where spot-breasted lapwings, Abyssinian owls, mountain nyala, Abyssinian catbirds and Menelik’s bushbuck may all be found. We saw them all, and far, far more during our stay in this magical place.
From here, via the Rift Valley and its flocks of wattled, superb, Ruppell’s and greater blue-eared starlings, we headed north to Awash National Park and its surroundings.
Here northern carmine bee-eaters hawked from the backs of Arabian bustards, chestnut-bellied and Lichtenstein’s sandgrouse shuffled through the dust, Soemmering’s gazelles flicked their white tails and gerenuk peered at us with all the haughty disdain afforded by their graceful necks.
In short, this little known country is both beautiful and deserving of far greater recognition as a destination for watching wildlife. It is Africa, magnificent and wild, and at the same time unique, and it is inhabited by gracious, kindly people, flashing their handsome white smiles at us and inviting us to sit with them and sip delicious (but nerve-jangling) Ethiopian coffee.
If you don’t know Ethiopia and its wondrous wildlife, you should. I was there only a couple of weeks ago, watching turacos, boubous, scimitarbills and crombecs, but already I am itching to be back.