Ethiopia is one of Africa's premier birding and cultural destinations. Our trip is timed during the winter migration when European birds are funneling through Ethiopia to points farther south. The highlands, which dominate the country, are bisected by the Great Rift Valley and fall away to arid desert and bushlands in the north, south, and east, and to moist woodlands in the west. Ethiopia's diverse landscape of mountains, savannas, forests, marshland, and lakes support many bird species as well as an intriguing list of mammal species, such as the endemic Gelada Baboon, Hamadryas Baboon and other primates, Beisa Oryx and other antelopes, and the very endangered Abyssinian Wolf. We will explore Awash National Park, Lake Langano and other lakes in the Great Rift Valley. Unique areas include Lalibela's rock-hewn churches, the forests around Wondo Guenet, the highlands at Debre Libanos, and Bale (pronounced Balé) National Park. Bale's highlights are the forested area at Dinsho where endemics Mountain Nyala and Menelick's Bushbuck are well protected, the Senetti Plateau in the alpine moorlands and Harenna Forest at the far end of the park.
Cost: $5,150 per person, double occupancy, not including airfare. Review cost details.
Leader: Resident guide Solomon Berhe.
Size: 8, not including leaders.
Conditions: This is a non-smoking safari for people who are very interested in all wildlife and spending the maximum time in the field.
Update: This itinerary was updated in March 2011. View the plain text version, great for printing!
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January 10 - 11, Tuesday - Wednesday Flights to Addis Ababa and afternoon birding
Wednesday afternoon, our destination is 30 kilometers west of Addis Ababa to the Menegasha Plain and Gafersa Reservoir. It's a wide open plain where the endemic Wattled Ibis and other resident birds there will give us a great introduction to Ethiopian birding in this bird rich habitat. Among the Wattled Ibises, there will be many other waterbirds, maybe the endemic Blue-winged Goose, certainly the ubiquitous Egyptian Goose, also landbirds, such as the endemic Ethiopian Cisticola, plus raptors and Palearctic migrants. Other possible endemic birds are Abyssinian Longclaw, the exquisite Rouget's Rail (more likely in Bale National Park), Black-headed Siskin, Thick-billed Raven and Black-winged Lovebird.
Lunch and dinner on your own on the January 11.
January 12, Thursday: Debre Libanos
Debre means "mount" and from the town of Debre Libanos, situated on a cliff over 2,000 meter high the view below will make you think of the Grand Canyon. The gorge itself is a little-known wonder of Ethiopia with a dramatic view down the canyon. The river seen in the distance eventually flows into the Blue Nile. Birds love the thermals here and we should immediately see some large vultures and eagles "thermaling", plus small passerines that live along the edge of this precipice. Cinnamon-breasted Bunting, White-billed Starling, Mocking Cliff Chat, White-winged Cliff Chat, and Ruppell's Chat love these rocky habitats. The small restaurant and lodge on the edge of the overlook is a great place to see birds. The owner has been known to attract drifting Lammergeiers by placing bones on the edge of the cliff. This vulture, rare elsewhere, is often seen here. It feeds on bone marrow and easily gets to the marrow by dropping bones from high above the rocks. Scavengers, such as Yellow-billed Kites, also gather here. We will see many species, maybe beauties like Blue-breasted Bee-eaters and special raptors like Verreaux's Eagles whose wings are designed for hunting along cliffs.
A very special endemic of the Ethiopian Highlands, Gelada Baboon is found in the grasslands near the Debre Libanos Monastery. This striking primate forages by grazing on grasses. The Debre Libanos Monastery is situated on the site of one of the earliest Christian centers, a sacred site for the Ethiopian Orthodox Church. There is also a small highland forest where we will have time for a short bird walk. Enjoy Ethiopian traditional meals at the lodge, the Ethio-German Park Hotel, and stay overnight, located right on the escarpment overlook. The lodge was built by a couple who came from Germany. He is originally Ethiopian and lived in Germany for many years before returning with his German wife to establish their lodge, situated in such a wonderful location. The rooms are quite simple, but very comfortable.
January 13, Friday: To Rift Valley lakes at Debre Zeyit
January 14 - 15, Saturday - Sunday: Lake Awassa and Wondo Guenet
Sunday we depart at 5 am from the lodge on Lake Awassa to the town of Shashemene, about 25 km, then head to Wondo Guenet Resort, about 20 kilometers south of Shashemene, which is situated in a forested area with a hot spring pool. We will search for important endemic birds, such as the Yellow Fronted Parrot, Abyssinian Woodpecker, Abyssinian Groundthrush, and Half-collared Kingfisher. Other spectacular birds found on the walk up into the hills here are Ayres Hawk-Eagle, and Crowned Eagle. The mature gardens of the hotels are super birding. At Wondo Guenet we also have access to forest trails and streams along the foothills of the Bale Highlands. The grounds right at Wondo Guenet at dawn are the best place to bird in the area, especially the large ficus that dominates the hotel and attracts Double-toothed Barbets, Black-headed Batis, and other birds that love fig trees. We will spend all day in the Wondo Guenet forest on trails in the hills above that are still forested with mature trees and support Black-and-White Colobus, Bruce's Green Pigeon, Yellow-fronted Parrot, and many other forest species. If anyone prefers to relax in the garden instead of walking, there are plenty of birds attracted to the lodge and both Colobus and Vervet monkeys visit the trees at the lodge. Silvery-cheeked Hornbills roost around the resort as well. The lodge itself has been closed due to a dispute over ownership and we found it was not well maintained when it was open, so it is a good idea to stay these two nights at the Lewi Resort situated on Lake Awassa and return there on Sunday for overnight.
January 16 - 18, Monday - Wednesday: Bale National Park and the Senetti Plateau
We should encounter Rouget's Rails, an endangered endemic in the marshes and some species of francolins, both Chestnut-naped and Moorland, especially when we reach the Senetti Plateau at 4,000 meters. The road levels out on the plateau, up with the Alpine Chats that like to perch on the tops of Giant Lobelias, but stays under 4,300 meters, the highest all-year road in Africa. We will spend all day on Tuesday and Wednesday in the park. The 2,200-square-kilometer national park protects the higher reaches of the Bale Range, including Mt. Tullo Deemtu, which is 4,377 meters high and is the second highest peak in Ethiopia. On the moorlands, we will get excellent views of raptors, waterfowl and a number of alpine species. We will find Moorland Chat, Red-billed Chough, Wattled Crane, Ruddy Shelduck, and possibly Lesser Spotted, Golden, Tawny, Steppe, and Verreaux's eagles. There is excellent forest above Goba where we will find forest endemics Abyssinian Catbirds with their lovely nightingale-like song singing in chorus hopefully and White-backed Black Tit that has a distinctive call, plus other forest species. The plateau will be the best place to view the endemic and extremely rare Abyssinian (Ethiopian) Wolf. The great biodiversity of Bale includes arable and grass plains at Arsi, rocky ravines on the lower mountain slopes and small pools surrounded by wet grassland in the basins of the mountains, hagenia-juniper forest at Dinsho and the Harenna Forest at the far end of the park. The Senetti Plateau in the alpine moorlands is striking with Giant Lobelias and tall heath-like vegetation, Erica, that extends into the Harenna Forest. The main habitats protected by Bale are juniper and hagenia woodland in Afro-montane forest and Afro-alpine moorland. The juniper-hagenia woodland lies at elevations between 2,500 to 3,300 meters. Lichen-covered rocks among the heathers and tall standing lobelias create wonderful photographic opportunities. We should see mole rats, the main prey of the Abyssinian Wolf, but they are very secretive. In fact, this endangered wolf is specialized on catching this very cautious rodent. The best possible experience would be to see a wolf hunting Giant Mole Rats that come out of their burrows to forage with their huge incisors on vegetable matter. They are also called Big-headed Mole Rat and in Kingdon's mammal book, he calls them Root-Rats. This species is endemic to Bale National Park and has mottled golden fur. A number of other rodents are abundant on the Senetti Plateau. The moorlands of Bale are known as having the most extensive high ground area in Africa. Mountain Nyala range even higher in the Bale Province, but this rare, hunted antelope we will probably not encounter once we depart from the Dinsho area of the park, where it is well protected. This park provides the best habitat for the Abyssinian Wolf, also sometimes called the Simien Wolf after its scientific name, Canis simensis, as it also occurs in the Simien Mountains of Ethiopia, but its best population is here in Bale National Park. It is closely related to Gray Wolves and Coyotes. Only about 500 are estimated to still exist. Even here in the national park there are herders bringing in livestock to graze, but overall the wolves on the Senetti Plateau are somewhat habituated to people, which allows us to have a very good chance to see a few of them fairly well. There is an interesting conservation project for this rare canid in Bale National Park. Read a good account of Ethiopian Wolf biology. There are a few Klipspringers to spot as well in the rocky areas of the park, but they are not often seen. We will descend down into the Hagenia area of the Harenna Forest below the plateau, a great place to find Abyssinian Woodpecker.
Our lodge, the Goba Wabe Shebele will be in the town of Goba that is outside the park and is simple, but there are no high standard hotels in this area. A great place to look for birds is in the gardens of our hotel. In the town of Goba, Dwarf Ravens are resident, but this is as far west as they range.
January 19 - 20, Thursday - Friday: Lake Langano and Bishangari Lodge
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January 21 - 23, Saturday - Monday: Awash National Park
If the road is passable, we'll travel to the Filoha Hot Springs through thick acacia bush where we might see Hamadryas (Sacred) Baboons, Lesser Kudu, Salt's Dik-dik (mainly crepuscular), Helmeted Guineafowl and other species. The last huge lava flows from Fantelle, over 200 years ago, left basalt fields that are prominent. Beside the base of one of these cliffs is the fascinating Filoha Hot Springs. Aside from the hot springs, picturesque pools with Doum Palms all around attract a wide range of water birds and fish-eating Nile Crocodiles. Filoha Hot Springs is also the site of the Hamadryas Baboon Research Project and is featured in the BBC's recent primate series, "Life". Watch an amazing video of two troops of Hamadryas Baboons as they go to war with each other. A number of clans (or harems, as the Hamadryas, like the Gelada and unlike the Olive Baboon, are male dominated) visit the area regularly throughout the day and normally spend their nights on the cliff, where they are protected from predators. Warthogs are omnipresent. Aside from wildlife in and around Filoha are large piles of rocks, probably bunkers, built by Italians during their occupation of Ethiopia, a reminder of the war years that Ethiopia suffered through. The hot springs are also used by the local Afar, located in this picturesque spot surrounded by palms. We will also see Metahara Lake, where we should spot crocodile and certainly some interesting birds. The lake is in a unique setting of black lava rock that also spilled out from the nearby dormant Fantelle Crater about 200 years ago. This barren, hostile basalt is the haunt of the very drab, but endangered and localized Sombre Rock Chat.
The southern park border is the Awash River, the lifeline for the region. The river is 1,200 kilometers long and empties into the desert to the east; it does not make it to the ocean. The waterfall here is high and wide at the head of the impressive Awash Gorge. We'll have excellent views from the overlook beside the waterfall into the gorge, which is also where our lodge for these three nights is located. A lack of investment has kept the park quite undeveloped and we will stay in the new eco-lodge, Awash Falls Lodge. The lodge has twelve comfortable chalets built by an Ethiopian elephant researcher and recently opened. The falls have been described as a "scaled-down version of Victoria Falls". They are certainly one of the natural wonders of Ethiopia and little known to the rest of the world. Rising thermals and updrafts, as at Debre Libanos, bring birds of prey, including Lammergier, along the gorge, suddenly appearing overhead. Above the waterfall a narrow band of dense riverine forest sustains Black-and-White Colobus, Vervet Monkeys, bee-eaters, hoopoes and barbets, all attracted by ficus and tamarindus trees, the dominant trees upstream of the falls.
The imposing Awash River Gorge borders the grasslands of the Illala Sala Plain, where we will hope to see some very interesting mammals. Awash National Park is known for mammals (75 species or more), as well as being excellent for many birds (about 460 species). Among the mammals are Beisa Oryx, Soemmering's Gazelle (a localized species very similar to Grant's Gazelle), Gerenuk, Olive Baboon, Salt's Dik-dik, and Lesser Kudu. If we are very lucky, we may find Striped Hyena, Spotted Hyena, and Wild Cat, although rarely seen in the daytime. Lion and Leopard are also rarely seen. Black-backed and Golden jackals, the diurnal Black-tipped Mongoose and the nocturnal White-tailed mongoose also might be encountered, plus Abyssinian Hares on the savannahs and Rock Hyrax on the cliff, the prey of the Verreaux's Eagle. Waterbirds are abundant on Lake Beseka and the riparian woodlands make this one of Ethiopia's premier birding destinations. The climate here is quite hot and dry, but perfect for bustards, Egyptian Vulture, other enchanting non-passerines, including nightjars, hornbills, Northern Carmine Bee-eater that we will hope to see glistening in the early morning sun, Woodland Kingfishers, and many passerines. Of the 40 plus species of reptiles in the park, the most likely to encounter are Leopard Tortoise, Nile Crocodile, Nile Monitor, and skinks.
January 24, Tuesday: Return to Addis Ababa
January 25 - 26, Wednesday - Thursday: The rock hewn churches of Lalibela
Up until now, all our destinations have been where the best wildlife is found, mainly birds and mammals. At Lalibela, there are some birds, but not many. Here the priorities are more cultural. Lalibela is a Unesco World Heritage Site. The first group of rock-hewn churches, built between 1180-1220 AD are still active places of worship. They are sometimes called the "Eighth Wonder of the World". King Lalibela is credited with the construction of the twelve churches and chapels. The view is splendid and these 12th century monolithic churches hewn out of solid rock in the center of Lalibela include the following main sites.
Northern group consists of:
Eastern group consists of:
Some of the churches are over ten meters high and are connected by subterranean tunnels. Each church is of a unique character, divided by many courtyards and trenches. There are hermit cells carved into many of the cliff walls and some contain fine ornamental carvings. The whole complex is very much a living church and is well attended and is a place of pilgrimage. An entrance ticket allows us to visit the churches in any order and return the next day to take advantage of photographing in different light. We are required to take off our shoes to explore inside the churches and a headlamp is good to be able to admire all the decoration, especially if there is a power failure. A flashlight or headlamp is also useful for passing along the tunnels connecting several of the churches. The churches are famous for their architecture and one can only wonder how long the churches took to carve. Each church has its own solid gold or silver cross, which the priest might hold aloft during our visit. The oldest cross is 800 years old and is in the Bet Medhane Alem Church, also the largest of all the churches. Four of the churches are true monoliths. The rest are excavated churches with different degrees of separation from the surrounding rock. Most of the churches stand north of the River Jordan that runs through Lalibela. Two churches are connected and entered by tunnels.
Solomon will introduce us to several new cultural experiences while we are in Lalibela. We'll visit a Tej house, which is a separate bar beside the place where the tej (honey wine of varying potency) is made, as it has been made for centuries. Solomon will also take us to a cultural evening, which is arranged in a special room (not by the Tej house) and has dancing and music in traditional tribal costumes illustrating different tribal characters.
January 27 - 28, Friday - Saturday: Addis Ababa and flights homeward
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Costs, Payments and Cancellations: Upon receiving your deposit, we will send trip materials and travel insurance information. Until the final payment date, payments are refundable except for a cancellation fee of $150 per person. This fee may go toward another tour if reserved within six months of the departure date of the cancelled trip.
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To Make a Reservation: Please contact us to assure space availability and to let us answer your questions. Then, print our reservation form, fill out one form per person, and post it to us in the mail with your deposit. Or fill out our handy online information request and we will send you more information.
Cheesemans' Ecology Safaris
Leader: Solomon Berhe has been a professional guide in Ethiopia for 15 years, leading tours for many birding and natural history companies. He has a detailed knowledge of bird identification, vocalizations and behavior and his skill in tracking down the more elusive species is exceptional. Solomon obtained a degree in plant ecology at Addis Ababa University. He has a wonderful personality, is very caring and is actively involved in conservation in Ethiopia. His assistant, Mabratu, who will be our driver, is an excellent addition to the safari and a great driver.
Flights: Please let us know if you would like help arranging your international flights and we will put you in contact with our excellent ticket agent.
Arrive in Addis Ababa (ADD) by the morning of January 11, if possible. You may need to depart by January 9 from home. Upon arrival, we will make arrangements for transfer to the hotel.
Depart from Addis Ababa (ADD) on the evening of January 27 or the morning of January 28. We will help you make reservations for extra hotel nights if needed.
Internal Flights - Solomon Berhe will book the round-trip tickets between Addis Ababa and Lalibela on Ethiopian Airlines. The cost will be approximately $220 if you use Ethiopian Airlines for your international flight and give us your ticket number and $380 if you do not (quoted March 2011 and subject to change).
Travel Insurance: Emergency Medical Insurance is optional, but encouraged, for this tour. Read about travel insurance and our recommendations and requirements.
Lodging: We are going to Ethiopia for the extraordinary wildlife and culture, not for the lodging, so expect to stay at lodging with the best habitat for birds and culture. Some lodges are simple and rustic, but clean and comfortable throughout. All the lodges where we will stay have private baths. The food is simple and delicious, especially the Ethiopian cuisine, so don't hesitate to dine on injera and Ethiopian dishes.
Weather and Conditions: Weather will be pleasant, although hot and dry at Awash National Park in the middle of the day, but very cool in the early morning and at Bale National Park cold, especially in the late afternoon and during the night at the high elevations. The highest lodging is at Goba near Bale P and is at about 3000 m or around 9000 feet. When we walk on the Sanetti Plateau at 4000 m (up to 12,500 feet), we will walk very slowly. Rain is not likely at this season, except maybe at Bale NP. Mosquitoes will not be a problem and there is very little malaria risk. We will be out birding at dawn when the bird and mammal action is at its best. We will do easy walks frequently, plus view wildlife from the comfort of our vehicle (a Costa bus). At Lalibela we will also have a Costa bus. Throughout the trip sometimes we will have picnic lunches and return in the mid-afternoon to our lodge for a break before going out for the good late afternoon light and action. At dinner Solomon will talk about the species encountered that day and go over what to expect the next day.
More Information: Mosquitoes will not be a problem and there is very little malaria risk. We will be birding at dawn when the bird and mammal action is at its best. We will do easy walks frequently, plus view wildlife from the comfort of our Costa bus. At Lalibela we will have mules and muleteers for carrying our camera gear or to ride on between churches. Throughout the trip we may have picnic lunches. We also may return in the mid-afternoon to our lodge for a break before going back out for the good late afternoon light and action. At dinner Solomon will talk about the species encountered that day and go over what to expect the next day.
Cheesemans' Ecology Safaris is registered as California Seller of Travel #2063050-40. Registration as a seller of travel does not constitute approval by the State of California. Cheesemans' Ecology Safaris is a participant in the Travel Consumer Restitution Corporation (TCRC). In event of a client canceling where a refund is applicable in accordance with the schedule above, or in the event that CES needs to cancel the trip, all payments for transportation or travel service not provided to the client shall be promptly refunded, unless the client instructs us otherwise in writing. All client payments are deposited into a trust account in accordance with California law. If for any reason a valid refund is not forthcoming, the client may request reimbursement from the TCRC within six months of the scheduled end of the tour. Please feel free to ask us for more information.
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