Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Garden Birding and Roosting Owls

It made a pleasant change to just walk out of our rooms and bird the gardens for a few hours this morning. And what a cracking session we were treated to as we saw so many new trip birds, beginning with a Red-faced Cisticola, African Thrush, Spectacled and Little Weavers,  and at least 3 Black Crakes that all showed nicely. Walking out the gate to view the lake 3 African Pygmy Geese (and what stunners they are!) and our first Grey-headed Gulls were present.

African Pygmy Goose

Following the path bordering the lake many more new birds appeared such as a Nubian Woodpecker, Blue-headed Coucal, Marsh and Sedge Warblers, Scarlet-chested Sunbird, White-rumped Babbler, Common Waxbill and after much scrutiny a Lesser Swamp Warbler.

The above two photos are Lesser Swamp Warbler......

And we had really close views of plenty of other species such as White-winged and Whiskered Terns, Black-winged Lovebird, a flock of really confiding African Citrils, Eastern Olivaceous Warbler, Common Whitethroat, Sand Martin and more.

Returning to the gardens we had a mad spell with birds everywhere as first of all a group of Black-billed Wood-Hoopoes were seen, followed by Red-fronted Tinkerbird, Northern Puffback, Black-headed Batis, Brown-throated Wattle-eye and Buff-bellied Warbler. Then it was time to search for Spotted Creeper, but it was hard as we kept getting distracted by more birds including Grey-headed Kingfisher, both Eurasian and Red-throated Wrynecks, Ethiopian Boubou, Northern Black Flycatcher, Cut-throat Finch, nest-building Bronze Mannikins and Grosbeak Weaver. Eventually we found a pair of Spotted Creepers as well to round off a really great pre-breakfast session.

Reluctantly leaving here, we drove just five minutes down the road to Hawassa Fishmarket but didn’t stay long as the hoped for Goliath Heron wasn’t around. There were still plenty of birds and we particularly liked the close views of African Fish Eagle calling evocatively from the top of an acacia. A Spur-winged Goose, Hadada Ibis, plus many Hamerkops and Squacco Herons were also nice.

So from here we began the drive up towards the Bale Mountains, but didn’t get far before pulling over at the side of the road to take a look at some Northern Carmine Bee-eaters and a Lilac-breasted Roller perched on telegraph wires. It’s always difficult in Ethiopia to get from A to B as there are just so many birds but with much effort on our parts we sifted out the common birds and only stopped for such goodies as Lappet-faced and White-headed Vultures, and a flock of 31 Black-winged Lapwings.

White-headed Vulture

Of course we stopped to pay our respects at the usual stake-out for Cape Eagle Owl, which this year required a scramble down into the little valley to look back up at the bird at its day roost below a small conifer on the cliff.

Cape Eagle Owl

As the road wound ever upwards (we travelled from around 1900m at Hawassa up to 3000m) into the Bale Mountains the scenery changed from rolling arable fields to moorland and it was here that our first endemic Rouget’s Rail was seen. We eventually arrived at the park HQ at Dinsho and immediately set out with one of the rangers to see a pair of absolutely fantastic Abyssinian Owls

Abyssinian Owls in the Bale Mountains

Perched high up in a conifer, one of them was clearly visible close to the trunk, whilst the other had its back turned. But what a bird and having missed them last year, I was particularly pleased to nail them this time. We also came across a flock of the endemic highland speciality - White-backed Black Tits as well, which showed quite well and a fine Abyssinian Ground Thrush.

Settled into the hotel a short while later for a 3 night stay. More Spaghetti Bolognese.....

Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Rift Valley Lakes...

After a leisurely 6am breakfast we headed out of Addis Ababa and down into the Great African Rift Valley and the first of a series of bird-filled lakes. At the Cheleklaka Wetlands there were simply birds everywhere, and in big numbers. 

Scanning through all these birds was really fun....

New birds here were Red-billed Teal, Common Crane, Marabou Stork, Glossy Ibis, Squacco Heron, 100’s of White Storks amongst the Marabou Storks, 100’s of Greater and Lesser Flamingo’s, Knob-billed Duck, Garganey, Hottentot Teal, Western Marsh & Pallid Harriers, flocks of Red-knobbed Coots, African Jacana, African Snipe, and numerous Red-throated Pipits

There was a pair of Black Crowned Cranes present.

A pair of Black Crowned Cranes strode majestically through the tall grass here right in front of us as well.  the star bird here was an African Quailfinch that flew in and landed nearby, before flying off into the distance. A little further down the road we came across a flock of Village Weavers, and scanning from this viewpoint resulted in a nice view of this corner of the lake where White-faced and Fulvous Whistling-Ducks were close by, an African Spoonbill was stood beside 3 Yellow-billed Storks, a dainty Marsh Sandpiper picked its way along the water’s edge and Ruppell’s Vulture & Steppe Eagle flew overhead.

African Spoonbill, Yellow-billed & Marabou Storks, Fulvous & White-faced Whistling-Ducks, 

Moving on, we headed to Koka Dam where a pair of awesome Saddle-billed Storks were stood out in the marsh, and we also picked up Intermediate Egret, Spur-winged Goose, Woodland and Malachite Kingfishers, flyby Northern Carmine Bee-eaters, Ruppell’s Glossy Starling and Kit had a Kittlitz’s Plover.

Saddle-billed Storks

A rather forgettable lunch was taken at Ziway, but the birds in the garden kept us in good spirits with a pair of close perched Black-winged Lovebirds, White-browed Sparrow-Weavers, Abyssinian White-eye, Eastern Olivaceous Warbler, Vitelline Masked Weaver, Beautiful Sunbird and a group of Speckled Mousebirds

Black-winged Lovebird

Just around the corner was Lake Ziway where hundreds of African White Pelicans and Marabou Storks congregate to gorge on the fishy leftovers from the latest catch. A Three-banded Plover was a nice addition to our burgeoning list, as was a Black Heron doing his "night time, daytime thing", whilst Little Stints, Long-tailed Cormorant, African Darter and Ruppell’s Weaver appeared, Whiskered and White-winged Terns were also seen, and a few European Bee-eaters flew over. I don’t know where you can get so close to these birds and literally the Hamerkops and Marabou's were too close to photograph.

Marabous Stork at Lake Ziway

Driving between sites today resulted in Abyssinian Ground Hornbill, Rufous-crowned and Lilac-breasted Rollers, Crowned Lapwing, Red-billed Quelea and Superb Starlings became commoner the further south we travelled.

Record shot of Half-collared Kingfisher - got my camera settings totally wrong for this bird!

Leaving here we then headed up into the hills following a tip-off and twitched a stake-out for Half-collared Kingfisher. Granted this was a bit of a gamble, but it was a lifer for everyone in the group and fortunately things panned out nicely as we had a bird fly downstream and land maybe 30m away from us on a large boulder. Wow! We also saw White-cheeked Turaco, Black Saw-wing, Bruce’s Green Pigeon, many Silvery-cheeked Hornbills, and a brief Abyssinian (Ethiopian) Oriole.

Thursday, 4 December 2014

Jemma Valley

We left at 4am for a full day in the Jemma Valley, which produced a superb number of great species that began with an awesome Harwood’s Francolin calling about 30m metres away on the slope below the road. As we watched this a Long-billed Pipit appeared behind us, plenty of Cinnamon-breasted Buntings appeared and then a short while later we picked up an Erckel’s Francolin calling from on top of a boulder below us. 

Cinnamon-breasted Bunting

We also enjoyed views of a pair of Abyssinian Wheatears here but got much better views further down the road. As the cool of the morning gave way to soaring temperatures we drove down into the valley we saw Dark Chanting Goshawk, Booted Eagle, Verreaux’s Eagle, Eastern Grey Woodpecker, Blue-breasted Bee-eater, Red-throated Wryneck, Red-collared Widowbird, African Citril, and best of all a couple of Yellow-rumped Seedeaters

Abyssinian Wheatear

Further down we really enjoyed some fine breeding-plumaged Black-winged Red Bishops, Little Bee-eater, African Silverbill, Bush Petronia, and also saw Namaqua Dove, our only Vinaceous Dove of the trip, Speckle-fronted Weaver, and both Isabelline and Woodchat Shrikes.

Black-winged Red Bishop

We eventually reached the river where Great Cormorant, Hamerkop, Wire-tailed Swallow, several Pied Kingfishers, African Pied Wagtail and some Woolly-necked Storks were seen.  Walking upriver we found a huge Nile Crocodile, Malachite and Giant Kingfishers, Green Sandpiper and a pair of Senegal Thick-knees. In the trees along the riverbank there was a fine Black-billed Barbet, along with a mixed flock of Red-cheeked Cordon-bleus, Red-billed Firefinches and Crimson-rumped Waxbills. A pair of Mocking Cliff-chats and a Grey-backed Cameroptera was also seen. Returning to the shade of a large tree for lunch, a Western Osprey flew over, a male Common Redstart and an African Pygmy Kingfisher were seen in the canopy above us.

Erlanger's Lark - another endemic

Driving towards Addis Ababa across the Sululta Plain and we still had a few species to find, which duly complied and the endemic Erlanger’s Lark, the widespread Thekla Lark and several Red-breasted Wheatears were all found easily. A male Pallid Harrier was nice, as was a flyover Lammergeier, a group of Black-winged Lapwings and an Ortolan Bunting to end the day off nicely. We eventually reached our hotel around 6.30pm and enjoyed a fine evening meal, cold beers and long night’s sleep.

Sunday, 30 November 2014

Ethiopia - Addis Ababa to Debre Libanos

Following a direct, overnight flight from London to Addis Ababa we arrived about half an hour early. So after clearing immigration and getting our baggage we met our local guide, Girum, and loaded our luggage into our 3 Toyota Landcruisers. Whilst I  returned to the terminal to wait for Mike who was flying in from California the rest of the group notched up quite a few goodies around the airport including Dusky Turtle Dove, Thick-billed Raven, Grey-backed Fiscal, Greater Blue-eared Glossy Starling, African Citril, Tacazze Sunbird and Swainson's Sparrow amongst others. 

White-browed Robin-Chat

Once Mike had arrived we drove to the Ghion Hotel for breakfast and coffee (oh yes!!) and then a quick look in the gardens proved worthwhile as we saw a pair of White-browed Robin-Chats, Abyssinian Slaty and African Dusky Flycatchers, Speckled Mousebirds, Montane White-eye, and both Brown-rumped and Streaky Seedeaters. Leaving here we met up with Tony who had arrived earlier from Ireland and then set off through the chaotic traffic and up onto the Sululta Plain. 

The endemic Wattled Ibis

Our first stop was excellent as we had our first endemic Wattled Ibis, Blue-winged Goose, White-collared Pigeon, and Ethiopian Siskin. Some pools were full of water and held several Yellow-billed Ducks and at least 2 Hottentot Teals, Black Stork, African Sacred Ibis and Black-headed Heron, whilst waders present included a confiding Temminck's Stint, several Ruff, Black-winged Stilt, Wood and Green Sandpipers and a large flock of Spur-winged Lapwings. Best of all were several views of African Snipe, which seemed to outnumber the Common Snipes that were also present here. 

Yellow-billed Ducks

Walking across the field and around the edge of the pools yielded Egyptian Goose, many Blue-headed Wagtails and Red-throated Pipits, Brown-throated Martin, flocks of Red-rumped Swallows, Moorland Chat and a few Pied Wheatears. Many Yellow-billed Kites were present, along with quite a few Tawny Eagles, whilst overhead there was a Lanner, Hooded and Ruppell's Vultures, at least two classic Lammergeiers, and a perched Augur Buzzard was also very nice. 

A short drive took us to a different area of fields where Plain-backed Pipit, Isabelline Wheatear, Ethiopian Cisticola, a few Red-billed Oxpeckers were hitching a ride on some horses, and eventually decent views of the endemic Abyssinian Longclaw through the scope, whilst an African Fish-Eagle flew low over our heads. 

View from the lodge at Debre Libanos at dusk

From here we drove to our lodge situated right at the edge of a stunningly deep escarpment. We took a late lunch outside, watching quite a few Palearctic wintering birds such as Blackcap, Lesser Whitethroat, Common Chiffchaff and Willow Warbler, and even a soaring male Pallid Harrier. More typical African birds were also present, such as Black-crowned Tchagra, Variable Sunbird, Fan-tailed Raven, a flyby Verreaux's Eagle, and even the endemic White-winged Cliff-Chat.

Stour Cisticola

After lunch we drove down to the monastery and found Red-fronted Tinkerbird, the endemic Banded Barbet, African Paradise Flycatcher, Little Rock Thrush, a brief Black-winged Lovebird, Baglafecht Weaver and Mountain Thrush. During the drive back to the lodge we saw a troop of Gelada Baboons, along with a few Hemprich's Hornbills, a confiding Stout Cisticola and a Common Fiscal

Mocking Cliff-Chat

Then a quick walk down to the Portuguese Bridge before the light went proved to be a good move as there was a small group of endemic White-billed Starlings, as well as Mocking Cliff-Chat and a few Nyanza Swifts flew over as well. 

What a day and after the checklist a quick count revealed we had seen 94 species today.

Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Up into the Mountains Again.....

Left the motel at early o’clock and drove up into the mountains, arriving at dawn after a little ‘discussion’ with the local constabulary. Needless to say it was freezing and there was some ice on the mountain track as we drove up to over 8,000 feet. At the first stop we heard a Northern Pygmy Owl in the distance, which was quite exciting. However, at the next stop a little higher up (around 8,000 feet) we heard and then managed to spot a calling Northern Pygmy Owl perched high up in a pine tree, and then followed it as it flew to a huge dead tree where we scoped it. I was particularly pleased to get this recent split from the Pygmy Owl of Europe. Numerous juncos came in to mob the owl and it was amazing to see so many birds suddenly appear out of nowhere as the forest initially seemed devoid of birds. 

Northern Pygmy Owl

So we walked up the track in search of Pygmy Nuthatch and came across another Northern Pygmy Owl – wow! This one was much closer and drawing the attention of several Mountain Chickadees and we were treated to terrific views. Our luck was truly in as just after seeing this I heard a Pygmy Nuthatch in the distance and then there they were, four of the little beauties flew right up next to us. Always a treat to see and a decent trip tick indeed! 

Mountain Chickadee

Pygmy Nuthatch

Walking back to the car we had a female Williamson’s Sapsucker and then drove lower down where numerous Western Bluebirds and Townsend’s Solitaires were enjoying the morning sunshine.

From here we decided to forego the delights of the Bosque Grasslands and drove back up to Sandia Crest in the hope of some more rosy-finch action. Arriving at a decidedly chilly parking lot, we welcomed the heated restaurant from where we could view the feeders. 

Grey-headed Junco

Steller's Jay

Just a few Grey-headed Juncos and Steller’s Jays were coming in and we were thinking of leaving after a two hour wait when 3 Black Rosy-Finches appeared. After another hour of waiting and again thinking of leaving a single Brown-capped Rosy-Finch flew in! We were so pleased to get our second rosy-finch species and I think coming here a few weeks later would definitely result in all 3 species.

Black Rosy-Finch

Brown-capped Rosy-Finch

Brown-capped Rosy-Finch

All that was left was to drive to the airport motel and a final great evening meal before flying back to the UK the next day.