Simply stated, David Erterius is an exceptional individual: patient, kind, diligent, and hard-working almost to a fault. He was ever-conscious of his clients’ welfare, with remarkable birding skills which he relentlessly employed to ensure that all members of the group regularly saw, identified and enjoyed each species, including mammals and reptiles.
Ethiopia is one of Africa’s most productive and rewarding birdwatching destinations, and our new Ethiopia budget birding tour offers a wide array of species and nearly all of this ancient country’s endemics in a convenient 13-day package. To boot, you’ll be exposed to the kaleidoscope of cultures that grace this ancient land, and all of these factors combine to ensure a fascinating experience of not just the country’s birds, but also its amazing mammals, including Ethiopian Wolf and troops of the incredible Gelada. The spectacular landscapes and scenery, fascinating history, good road infrastructure, diverse cultures and astonishing wildlife make Ethiopia an essential expedition, and for many of our guides this remains one of their top destinations on the African continent!
Ruspoli’s and White-cheeked Turaco, Stresemann’s Bush Crow, Spot-breasted Lapwing, Blue-winged Goose, Rouget’s Rail, Wattled Ibis, Ankober Serin, Black-winged Lovebird, Harwood’s Francolin, White-backed Black Tit, Abyssinian Woodpecker, Donaldson-Smith’s Nightjar, White-tailed Swallow, Sidamo & Somali Short-toed Lark, White-winged Collared Dove, Black-bellied Sunbird, Golden-breasted, Magpie and White-billed Starling, Pygmy Batis, Red-naped Bushshrike, Juba Weaver
Ethiopian Wolf, Gelada, Mountain Nyala, Serval, Gerenuk, Giant Mole-rat
montane forest, Afro-alpine moorland, Acacia savanna, Rift Valley lakes, semi-desert
temperate in highlands, hot and dry in lowlands
moderate pace, mostly undemanding walks
spectacular montane scenery, interesting ancient farming methods
Day 1: Arrival in Addis Ababa
Today is essentially an arrival day. For those who arrive during the day, it is possible to enjoy some very rewarding birding around the grounds of the hotel where we will be staying tonight. Noteworthy species that may be seen this afternoon include White-backed Black Tit, Abyssinian Slaty Flycatcher, Brown-rumped Seedeater, Tacazze Sunbird, White-collared Pigeon and a host of raptors overhead, including perhaps Egyptian and Hooded Vultures.
Day 2: Addis Ababa to Debre Birhan via Gemasa Geden
We will leave Addis Ababa early and head north to Debre Birhan, hopefully avoiding the capital’s frenetic morning traffic. Our target species for the excursion to Gemasa Geden are the localised Ankober Serin, a rare and elusive Ethiopian endemic discovered only in 1976 that survives along a few kilometres of this grand escarpment, and the Gelada or Lion-headed Baboon. This densely-pelted, shaggy baboon is endemic to Ethiopia and the males can often be seen flipping back their lips in a show of dominance. These animals have the closest vocal repertoire to humans of any mammal, pronouncing all the consonants and four vowels! They forage on the grasslands above the escarpment and roost in the inaccessible cliffs at night. Other possible species include Bearded Vulture, Verreaux’s Eagle, Rufous-breasted Sparrowhawk, Peregrine Falcon, the seldom recorded Somali Starling and Long-billed Pipit. In the afternoon we will then retire to our comfortable hotel in Debre Birhan.
Day 3: Debre Birhan to Addis Ababa via the Jemma Valley
An early departure from Debre Birhan this morning on our Ethiopia birding tour is essential in order to be at our chosen site when the endemic Harwood’s Francolin is at its most vocal, thus providing our best opportunity for seeing this elusive species.
The Jemma River is one of the main tributaries of the Blue Nile and it cuts a 700m (2,300ft) deep gorge through the landscape. The habitat in the gorge is dominated by Acacia woodland while the steep sides provide habitat for some excellent endemic birds. We will concentrate our search here for Rüppell’s Vulture, Verreaux’s Eagle, African Hawk-Eagle, Augur Buzzard (dark morph birds are commonly seen here), Lanner and Peregrine Falcons, Erckel’s Francolin, Nyanza Swift, Hemprich’s Hornbill, Red-rumped Swallow, Abyssinian Wheatear, Snowy-crowned Robin-Chat, the endemic and localised Rüppell’s Black Chat, endemic White-winged Cliff Chat and its more familiar cousin, Mocking Cliff Chat, endemic White-billed Starling, elusive Yellow-rumped Seedeater and Cinnamon-breasted Bunting.
We will have a picnic lunch at the river and bird the surrounding woodlands for Stone Partridge, Blue-spotted Wood Dove, Klaas’s Cuckoo, Black-billed Barbet, Eastern Olivaceous Warbler, Lesser Whitethroat, Foxy and Singing Cisticolas, African Paradise Flycatcher, Masked, Woodchat and Isabelline Shrikes, Swainson’s Sparrow, Bush Petronia, Speckle-fronted Weaver, Red-collared Widowbird, Black-winged Red and Yellow Bishops, and Crimson-rumped and Abyssinian Waxbills. In the mid-afternoon, we will depart for the drive back to Addis Ababa, where we will again spend the night.
Day 4: Addis Ababa to Awassa
Our Ethiopian birding adventure continues with an early departure from Addis Ababa this morning as we head into the Great Rift Valley. Our first birding stop is at Lake Chelekcheka, an excellent site for migrant ducks and waders. Regular species encountered here include Northern Pintail, Northern Shoveler, Garganey, Eurasian Teal, Tufted Duck, Black-tailed Godwit and Temminck’s Stint. Sorting through the rafts of ducks and other migrants can be very challenging due to the distraction caused by the sheer number of species moving through the scrubby vegetation near the lake edge! Common Crane often roost in staggering numbers on the far side of the water, and we may see them flying off to forage in huge, noisy flocks.
The well-wooded rim of the deep Lake Hora will be our second stop. The woodlands around the lake also teem with birds and again it may prove difficult to keep up with the seemingly endless flow of lifers! Blue-breasted Bee-eater, Black-billed Barbet, Common Redstart, Eurasian Blackcap, Red-throated Wryneck, Dark-capped Yellow Warbler, Rüppell’s Robin-Chat, Western Black-headed Batis, Beautiful Sunbird, Rüppell’s Weaver and a diverse variety of waterbirds, especially deep water diving ducks, can be seen here. Thereafter, the steep-sided Lake Bishoftu offers superb birding. Maccoa and Ferruginous Ducks, Southern Pochard, Singing Cisticola, gorgeous Tacazze Sunbird, Mocking Cliff Chat, Abyssinian Wheatear, Little Rock Thrush and flocks of Black-winged Lovebird are just some of the targets here!
En route to Awassa, we will also visit Koka Dam and Lake Ziway, all classified as Important Bird Areas, supporting vast numbers of resident and migrant waterbirds. Species we will search for here on our Ethiopia birding tour include the spectacular Black Crowned Crane, Pink-backed Pelican, African Darter, Yellow-billed Egret, Goliath Heron, Hamerkop, Yellow-billed and Saddle-billed Storks, Spur-winged and Egyptian Geese, Knob-billed Duck, the elegant African Pygmy Goose, African Fish Eagle, Western Marsh Harrier, African and Lesser Jacanas, Senegal Thick-knee, Sedge Warbler, Spur-winged Lapwing, Gull-billed Tern and Pied and Malachite Kingfishers. Strolling along the lakeshore at Lake Ziway will allow us excellent views of confiding Great White Pelican and the huge Marabou Stork while dazzling Northern Carmine Bee-eater, migratory White and Western Yellow Wagtails (including some of the striking feldeggi race) and the less colourful Ethiopian Cisticola can be seen around the lake edge. This promises to be an action-packed day, after which we will check into our hotel on the shores of Lake Awassa in the late afternoon.
Day 5: Awassa to Goba
Our pre-breakfast birding stroll should yield some special birds around our well-wooded hotel grounds. Amongst our targets we hope to see are Spotted Creeper, Little Weaver, Black-billed Wood Hoopoe, Double-toothed Barbet, Woodland Kingfisher, huge Silvery-cheeked Hornbill, the attractive Red-shouldered Cuckooshrike, Western Black-headed Batis, Brown-throated Wattle-eye, Mourning Collared Dove, Grey-backed Fiscal, Northern Puffback and Bronze Mannikin. Reedbeds in the vicinity support Greater Painted Snipe, Black Crake, African Swamphen, Blue-headed Coucal, Red-faced Cisticola, Lesser Swamp Warbler and Common Waxbill. The hotel grounds also support families of Grivet Monkey, though it is the regal Guereza Colobus that will certainly steal our attention as they leap through the trees, their shaggy pelts and long tails trailing behind.
After breakfast, we may then visit the remarkable Lake Awassa fish market. This large lake is particularly rich in fish and the fishermen gut their catch and discard the waste around the market. This, in turn, attracts large numbers of grotesque Marabou Stork and other birds. Photographic opportunities are unrivalled. During our Ethiopia birding tour, we should also see Great White Pelican, White-breasted and Reed Cormorants, Hamerkop, African Sacred Ibis, Black-headed, Grey-hooded and Lesser Black-backed Gulls and sometimes the massively-equipped Thick-billed Raven squabbling over the fish remains.
Leaving Awassa, we wind our way upwards towards the world famous Bale Mountains National Park. Rugged hillsides en route may hold a few surprises for us, and some dedicated searching may produce the mackinderi race of Cape Eagle-Owl, while wetter areas hold Rouget’s Rail, Groundscraper Thrush (of the distinctive, endemic race simensis), Blue-winged Goose and smart Spot-breasted Lapwing. At the park headquarters in Dinsho, we will search the trails for the colourful Chestnut-naped Francolin, secretive Abyssinian Ground Thrush, vocal Abyssinian Catbird and endemic White-backed Black Tit. With a healthy dose of luck, we may find roosting African Wood Owl and the sought-after Abyssinian Owl in the dark recesses of a Juniper thicket. We also hope to see a variety of mammals, including Mountain Nyala (now entirely restricted to the Bale Mountain massif), Menelik’s Bushbuck and Warthog, unusual at this high altitude.
Day 6: Goba and excursion into the Bale Mountain National Park
This will be a day of great contrasts and amazing scenery and birding. We will depart early and ascend the Bale Mountain massif onto the Sanetti Plateau, which lies between 3,800m and 4,377m (12,540 and 14,444ft) above sea level. As we ascend we enter a Tid or Juniper forest zone and here we will search for African Goshawk, Rufous-breasted Sparrowhawk, White-cheeked Turaco, the localised Abyssinian Woodpecker, Cinnamon Bracken Warbler, African Hill Babbler, Montane White-eye and Yellow-bellied Waxbill.
Upon reaching this unique plateau we will be driving on Africa’s highest road, passing close to the summit of Ethiopia’s second highest mountain. This habitat is termed “Afro-alpine moorland” and is characterised by Jibrra, or Giant Lobelias, which tower like monolithic giants over the rich tussock grasslands and extensive cushions of yellow Everlasting flowers. This site is an Important Bird Area of immense significance, supporting seven globally threatened species and nearly all of Ethiopia’s Highland biome species. The plateau holds the only Afrotropical breeding populations of Ruddy Shelduck, Golden Eagle and Red-billed Chough. We will also search for Black Stork, Wattled Ibis, Chestnut-naped and Moorland Francolins, Rouget’s Rail (particularly common and confiding here), endemic Blue-winged Goose, Spot-breasted Lapwing, Wattled Crane, Thekla Lark, migratory flocks of Red-throated Pipit, Abyssinian Longclaw, Red-breasted Wheatear, dumpy Moorland Chat and vast flocks of endemic Ethiopian Siskins.
These grasslands are estimated to support an incredible biomass of 4,000kg (8,800lb) of rodents per hectare. This obviously attracts an array of raptors and we should see Steppe and Golden Eagles, Augur Buzzard and elegant Pallid Harrier courting over this green sea. They share this abundant food source with the plateau’s most celebrated resident, the Ethiopian or Simien Wolf, crowned with the unenviable title of “the world’s rarest canid.” Watching these vibrantly coloured animals, most closely related to the European Timber Wolf, exhibiting their hunting prowess whilst pouncing on Giant Mole-rats (another endemic to the Sanetti Plateau) is surely among Africa’s greatest wildlife experiences. We should enjoy excellent photographic opportunities in this unique montane habitat.
Finally, we will reach the escarpment of this elevated plateau and stare down through the clouds at the vast Harenna Forest below which, time permitting, we will visit. This remarkable forest is the largest intact forest block in Ethiopia and the largest protected Afro-alpine forest on the continent. It still supports populations of Lion and the only surviving forest-dwelling African Wild Dogs. Although unlikely that we will see either of these species, the descent through this breathtakingly beautiful, moss-draped forest is inspirational. Here we will search for the uncommon Mountain Buzzard, African Olive Pigeon, Lemon and Tambourine Doves, African Emerald Cuckoo, Abyssinian Woodpecker, Narina Trogon, Brown Parisoma (represented by a subspecies endemic to this National Park), Abyssinian Crimsonwing, African Citril and Yellow-crowned Canary. In the afternoon we will return via the Sanetti Plateau to our hotel in Goba.
Day 7: Goba to Negele via the Bale Mountain National Park
Today on our Ethiopia birding tour, we depart early and once again ascend the Bale Mountain massif onto the Sanetti Plateau. After crossing this fascinating area we drop into Harenna Forest. As we lose altitude we will exit the forest zone and enter progressively drier thorn savanna in this remote, southern section of Ethiopia. Finally, we reach a dry wadi on the Genale River, home to Ethiopia’s most sought-after endemic, Ruspoli’s Turaco. The bird is named after an Italian Prince, its hapless discoverer, who was killed by an elephant soon after collecting the type specimen in the 1890s. It took another 50 years before explorers saw the Turaco again, and only in the 1970s was anything revealed about this bird. We will search fruiting fig trees along the wadi and, with the help of local farmers, we should enjoy excellent views of this very unusual and beautiful turaco. We will arrive in Negele in the early evening and check into our basic hotel.
Day 8: Negele and the road to Bogol Manyo
This morning on our Ethiopia birding tour, we drive east to bird the increasingly dry woodland and thorn savanna towards the Somali border. This area supports the scarce Golden Pipit, elusive Red-naped Bushshrike, Pringle’s Puffback, Three-streaked Tchagra, Foxy Lark, Somali Crombec, Taita Fiscal, Red-fronted Barbet, garish Golden-breasted Starling, attractive flocks of Shelley’s and White-crowned Starlings, Somali Crow, African Silverbill, Somali Bunting and Northern Grosbeak-Canary. Large troops of Olive Baboon may also be encountered here and we should see Guenther’s Dik-dik and possibly Gerenuk.
East of Negele lies a unique open grassland, the Liben Plains, to which the little known Sidamo Lark is restricted. This species belongs to the unusual genus Heteromirafra, which also includes South Africa’s Rudd’s Lark, and is considered one of the most endangered birds on Earth. We will walk through these plains in search of this special bird, which we hope to watch performing its parachute display flight. We should also find small parties of hovering Lesser Kestrel, giant Kori Bustard (the world’s heaviest flying bird), Black-winged Lapwing, the range restricted Somali Short-toed Lark, Plain-backed Pipit and Pectoral-patch Cisticola. If we’re very lucky, we may see coveys of Coqui Francolin or flush a migratory Corn Crake.
Day 9: Negele to Yabello
Today’s drive along another long and seldom-travelled road takes us near to the Kenya border and finally to the Yabello region, home to two of Ethiopia’s most sought-after endemic birds, both listed as globally threatened: the enigmatic Stresemann’s Bush Crow and glistening White-tailed Swallow. This area of Acacia savanna is characterised by giant red termite mounds (some towering 5m above the plains!) and both these birds seem to be associated in some way with these marvels of natural architecture. The social Bush Crow (or Zavattariornis) was only discovered in 1938 and its affinities have yet to be established. Although it appears starling-like, it is presumed to be most closely related to choughs. Several birding stops will break the journey, the most notable being a stop at the Dawa River in search of Juba Weaver, White-winged Collared Dove and Black-bellied Sunbird. Other noteworthy birds we may encounter en route to Yabello include Somali Courser, Magpie Starling, Black-capped Social Weaver, Steel-blue Whydah and its host, Black-cheeked Waxbill
Day 10: Yabello area
We have this entire day of our Ethiopia birding tour to bird the Yabello area and get better acquainted with Stresemann’s Bush Crow and White-tailed Swallow. Other birds we will be looking for are Gabar Goshawk, the shrike-sized Pygmy Falcon, Yellow-necked Spurfowl, glamorous flocks of Vulturine Guineafowl, Black-faced Sandgrouse, Mottled Swift, Tree Pipit, the localised Bare-eyed Thrush, ventriloquial Spotted Palm Thrush, African Grey Flycatcher, Pale Prinia, Yellow-bellied Eremomela, Banded Parisoma, Hunter’s and Shining Sunbirds, Superb and Wattled Starlings, Chestnut Sparrow, Yellow-spotted Petronia, Grey-capped Social Weaver, Chestnut Weaver, Green-winged Pytilia, White-bellied Canary and White-winged Widowbird. A night drive in this exciting area could produce Donaldson-Smith’s and Slender-tailed Nightjars, Greyish Eagle-Owl, Northern White-faced Owl and Three-banded Courser. Nocturnal mammal sightings may include Striped and Spotted Hyenas, Serval, African Wild Cat and Ethiopian Genet.
Day 11: Yabello to Shashemene
After breakfast, we will depart Yabello and make our way back north towards Addis Ababa on what is, essentially, a travel day. In the late afternoon, we will reach our comfortable hotel in Shashemene.
Day 12: Shashemene to Addis Ababa and depart
Following an early breakfast this morning on our Ethiopia birding tour, we will try and spend time today exploring the shores of Lake Abijatta and its surrounding woodlands. Little Rock Thrush, Buff-bellied Warbler, Red-faced Crombec, Beautiful Sunbird, Rüppell’s Starling, Red-billed Oxpecker, Red-billed Firefinch, Bare-faced Go-away-bird, Black-winged Lovebird, Abyssinian Wheatear, White-winged Black Tit, Black-billed Wood Hoopoe, African Pygmy Kingfisher, Bearded Woodpecker and Masked Shrike occur in dry Acacia woodland.
Along the shoreline we hope to find flocks of Greater and Lesser Flamingo, Northern Shoveler, Southern Pochard, Cape Teal, Dark Chanting Goshawk, Eastern Imperial and Long-crested Eagles, Grey Kestrel, Little Ringed, Common Ringed and Kittlitz’s Plovers, many species of Palaearctic waders, Pallas’s and Lesser Black-backed Gulls, amongst several other species of gulls and terns, Little Bee-eater, family groups of the wonderful Abyssinian Ground Hornbill, Sand Martin, African Pipit and Isabelline and Pied Wheatears. Mammals we may see here include Grant’s Gazelle, Oribi and Spotted Hyena. We should reach the capital in the late afternoon, depending on traffic, and we’ll then have a final dinner before wrapping up the tour.
What our clients say about tours to Ethiopia
- CH & BH, Ethiopia 2017
Wayne and Markus are both fantastic guides and the trip was spectacular!! I would definitely travel with Rockjumper again in the future and look forward to the possibility of doing so!DB, Ethiopia I 2013
Glen Valentine is an asset to any birding group with his excellent knowledge of birds and his friendly outgoing personality. He is helpful to both experienced and inexperienced birders alike. I would not hesitate to join another birding tour where he was leader or co-leader as I know from experience that it would be a thoroughly enjoyable and informative tour.RD, Ehtiopia
I wanted to say what a fantastic trip we had! The tour was well organised, we didn’t have to change accommodation every day, the vehicles and drivers were excellent (after one of them was replaced) and we saw a great variety of habitats. Markus and Rich were absolutely wonderful, and very patient with everyone in the group. We were a diverse group in terms of age/energy levels, experience travelling in developing countries, and birding skills and knowledge. Yet Markus and Rich worked hard to get everyone on to as many birds and mammals as possible, and catered for everyone’s needs extremely well. They are both extremely professional, yet also a lot of fun and we had some truly hilarious moments, especially on our night drives. How do you choose between looking at an Aardwolf and an Aardvark when they are both in view at the same time? And who could forget Markus’s dying calf imitation to lure in Spotted Hyenas? I must say the impressive mammal list was quite unexpected. Ethiopia is truly an amazing destination – and certainly rivals birding in Southern Africa.
I look forward to travelling with Rockjumper in the future and have been singing your praises to birders here in Canberra.Ethiopia Endemics – Lashko