Archive for December 2011

12th November to 8th December – Ethiopia   1 comment

From 12th November to 8th December I had a wonderful trip to Ethiopia. Although I had I had visited in 1988, the itinerary in those days didn’t include the south of the country and we missed many of the endemics. After many years I returned, doing a comprehensive three-week tour with Birdquest followed by a private extension to see some of the cultural sites in the north of the country.

The Ethiopian highlands are home to 31 endemics (some are shared with Eritrea) and there are a lot of near-endemics shared only with difficult of access neighbours like Somali and Sudan. With the exception of the Nechisar Nightjar, known only from a single wing rescued from a roadkill, we saw all of the former and most of the latter.

The country has changed greatly since 1988, then it was Communist, now a democracy and the population has more than doubled. It remains a fantastic birding destination and probably the most culturally diverse and fascinating destination in Africa.

From Addis Ababa we headed north to the deep gorge at Debre Libanos, home to several endemics, Lammergeiers and Gelada Baboons.  Another valley gave me my first lifer, Harwood’s Francolin as well as Erkel’s Francolin which I had only previously seen as an introduced bird in Hawaii! A long drove took us to the escarpment that overlooks the huge Rift Valley, where we scored with endemic Ankober Serin amongst fantastic scenery. Dropping down the escarpment, we found the endemic Yellow-throated Seedeater along with many more widespread birds, but although we were close to Awash National Park, the road is unsuitable for vehicles and we had to return to the escarpment, drive to Addis and back down the Rift Valley to reach the park, although we did score with the very localised Sombre Rock Chat on route, a bird that does exactly what it says on the tin!

The arid scrub of Awash has been invaded by hordes of Afar tribesmen with their cattle and camels, but remains a good site for big game and a great place for birding. In 1988 we stayed in some very old and decrepit caravans, to my amazement they were still there, with shelters erected over them to keep the rain out, fortunately we were staying elsewhere. Big predators are very rare in Ethiopia so it was quite a shock when one of our group opened his cabin door to find a Lion outside!

We headed south visiting a number of Rift Valley lakes before heading up into the Bale Mountains, home to Rouget’s Rail and the endemic Mountain Nyala and Ethiopian Wolf.  A side trip to the lowlands added another endemic, Salvadori’s Seedeater before we headed southwards again into what was virgin territory for me. One of the first specialities we saw was Price Ruspoli’s,  a bird which went missing as soon as it was discovered, as Prince Ruspoli was killed by an elephant before he announced his discovery, and it remained lost for a century.

We had a lot of rain in the south which meant the land was green and lush. In torrential rain we searched to Liben Plain for Africa’s rarest bird, the Sidamo (or Liben) Lark and found two of the remaining 100 or so birds. Other restricted endemics such as Streseman’s Bush Crow and White-tailed Swallow soon followed and I picked up over the half of the life birds on the trip in two days.  Soon we left the far south with its basic accommodation for the better lodges of the Rift Valley.

The tour ended in a valley to the west of Addis where in a final exciting morning I picked up five lifers, mainly finches. In the end we recorded some 540 species and I added 40 birds to my life list. Not bad for a second visit!

The trip was not over for me as I spent a further six days exploring the ancient stellae, tombs, churches and monasteries of Axsum and Lalibella, absolutely wonderful. The tour group had been one of the best I had every travelled with; good birders, great fun and enjoyable company, so being on my own and dealing with all hassles associated with travel in Africa was a bit of a shock, but the antiquities were well worth it. The antiquity that we all want to see is the one you never will; the Ark of the Covenant, which all Ethiopians believe resides in a chapel in Axsum, can only been seen by the attending priest, who remains from his election to the coveted role until his death, within the chapel.

A wonderful trip; a full write up will follow as will some photos, but with over 2000 to edit it may take some time!


The Rift Valley escarpment at Ankober



Posted December 11, 2011 by gryllosblog in Uncategorized

Friday 9th December – Bouremouth   Leave a comment

Straight back from Africa and straight into the Christmas season! Most years the Microbiology Lab have  a Christmas dinner dance at a Bournemouth hotel, but this year they opted for a pub meal at the ‘Slug and Lettuce’ in Richmond Road. Although I have left the lab, Margaret and I were still invited. The meal was fine, but the room was very noisy and it was hard to hear even the person next to you, not ideal for catching up with former friends and colleagues.


Margaret and I at the Christmas Party



Polly in a party mood.



Rosey was away from the lab for several months before my retirement, so it was particularly nice to catch up with her again.



Gio makes a point



Natasha and Lisa, thanks go to Lisa for organising the event.



Sam and Simon are getting married next year.

Posted December 10, 2011 by gryllosblog in Uncategorized

Friday 9th December – Longham Lakes   Leave a comment

After nearly a month in Ethiopia I returned home, after numerous flight delays, late last night. I will post a resume of the trip soon and upload some photos as I get round to editing them.

Today I visited Longham Lakes in search of a Blue-winged Teal that has been present for the last week. Normally associating with a pair of Shoveler it was not visible during the two hours I spent there or had been seen by any of the other birders I met. The hybrid duck showing Ferruginous Duck characteristics was also absent.

All was not lost, a female or immature Goosander showed well, as did a Water Rail and it was great to be out on such a lovely day after being cooped up at airports and in planes all of yesterday.


Female or immature Goosander



This pair of Shovelers was 'unassociated' with the Blue-winged Teal today. Note the Water Rail in the background..

Posted December 9, 2011 by gryllosblog in Uncategorized