Sunday, April 5, 2020

Local birding - lockdown round up

Obviously this is a very difficult time for all of us in so many ways. With the current government guidelines in place to try and reduce the spread of corona virus, I am now doing all my birding on foot from the flat within sensible walking distance whilst adhering to social distancing measures. I am lucky because Goring Gap and Ferring Rife are a short walk from my front door and a little further is George V Avenue which is a good location to conduct a seawatch.

Birding highlights since lockdown have included:

  • Arctic Tern - 4 flew east off George V Avenue on 5 April 2020
  • Avocet - 1 flew east off George V Avenue on 5 April
  • Blackcap - Singing male in communal gardens off flat balcony on 28 March 2020
  • Black Redstart - female-type at Goring Gap pumping station on 1 April
  • Coal Tit - 1 at the northern end of Sea Lane, Ferring on 31 March 2020
  • Common Buzzard - 1 flew over the flat being harassed by gulls on 26th March 2020
  • Common Snipe - 1 along Ferring Rife on 31 March 2020
  • Firecrest - Max count of 3 along Ilex Way at northern end of Goring Gap
  • Gadwall - 3 flew east off George V Avenue on 5 April 2020
  • Great Black-backed Gull - White colour-ringed bird (P:32A) on warehouse roof opposite flat on 3rd April 2020 (viewed from flat window and currently awaiting details)
  • Little Gull - 22 flew east off George V Avenue on 5 April 2020
  • Peregrine - 1 on high rise building in Durrington on 26 March 2020 (viewed from kitchen window)
  • Sanderling - 6 on the beach at Goring Gap on 31 March 2020
  • Shoveler - 25 flew east off George V Avenue on 5 April 2020
  • Teal - 4 flew east off George V Avenue on 5 April 2020
  • Treecreeper - 1 in eastern plantation at Goring Gap on 3 April 2020
  • Velvet Scoter - 7 flew east off George V Avenue on 5 April
  • Wheatear - Male on beach at George V Avenue on 5 April 2020
  • Wigeon - 1 flew east off George V Avenue on 5 April 2020

My lockdown list now moves to 70 species.

Female-type Black Redstart, Goring Gap, West Sussex (01/04/2020)

Colour-ringed (P:32A) Great Black-backed Gull, Goring-by-Sea, West Sussex (03/04/20)

Thursday, March 12, 2020

Ethiopia - Day 6 (12/03/20) - Bilen Plain, Aledeghi Wildlife Reserve and Awash Falls Lodge

One of the biggest disappointments from our last trip to Ethiopia in November 2019 was not seeing Arabian Bustard so this was a bird we were very keen to catch up with this time. The best area to see it is in the thorny Afar country to the north-east of Awash National Park, an area we didn’t have time to visit in 2019. Unfortunately, the news from Sayed the chief scout (local guide) in the area was not promising with talk of a dispute taking place between the local Afar and Somali insurgences who cross the border to steal livestock, and stories of casualties on both sides. Nevertheless, it was agreed that we would meet up with the scout at 08:00 and assess the situation from there. The sight of armed soldiers on the side of the road as we drove north did little to ease the tension but on arrival at the small village of Andido we were greeted with the welcome news that the scout would accompany us and we could visit the Bilen Plain. I don’t think our guides quite appreciated how important it was to us that we saw Arabian Bustard and we seemed to waste a lot of time looking at common African birds and also trying to get views of two singing Black Scrub Robin in a dense area of scrub which steadfastly refused to give even the briefest of views. With a long camel train passing through the area, it was decided we would try another less disturbed part of the plain, a move that eventually paid dividends with Bridget suddenly shouting out ‘bustard’. We hastily jumped out of the 4WD and saw the bird well enough to confirm it was Arabian rather than Kori before it got up and flew. Fortunately, it only went a short distance and, rather than follow it on foot, we opted to jump back in the vehicle and use it to get closer. This worked a treat with prolonged close range views as it walked through the acacia woodland. Other birds seen on the Bilen Plain included: two Nile Valley SunbirdPygmy Falcon, Chestnut-headed Sparrow-lark, two Spotted Thick-knee, and eight Egyptian Vulture.
Back at Andido, there was more good news in that we could also visit the Aledeghi Plain which even back in 2010 was described in ‘Where to Watch Birds in Ethiopia’ as ‘not necessarily safe’.  Although most of our birding here was restricted to the vehicle, we saw some excellent birds and mammals including two more Arabian Bustard, a pair of displaying Somali Ostrich with Northern Carmine Bee-eaters on their backs, a Secretarybird on a nest at the top of a tree, four ringtail Pallid HarrierChestnut-bellied Sandgrouse, c50 Chestnut-backed Sparrow-larkSlender-tailed Mongoose, three Abyssinian Hare, three Gerenuk, Salt's Dik-Dik, 30 Soemmerring's Gazelle, two Golden-backed Jackel and two Beisa Oryx.  However, the undoubted highlight was a party of three superb African Swallow-tailed Kite which were a delight to watch hawking overhead and one of the birds of the trip. Unfortunately, our stay in this superb area was cut short by a call on the scout’s mobile to say that the dispute was kicking off again and that, being in ‘no man’s land’ and a vulnerable target, we needed to vacate the plain immediately. Luckily the main road wasn’t too far away and we made it back to safety without incident.
Having dropped the scout off back at the village, we headed south to Awash where we had lunch and then to an area of scrub around some buildings on the opposite side of the road to the entrance gate to Awash Falls. There were plenty of birds here including: Yellow-necked Spurfowl, a male Cut-throat Finch, a male Somali Bunting, 20 Long-tailed Paradise Whydah, Red-fronted Barbet, Abyssinian Scimitarbill, five Crested Francolin and a pair of Rosy-patched Bushshrike.
Strangely, however, the access road to the falls and the area around the lodge itself were largely devoid of birds, perhaps due to the very hot weather we were experiencing with the temperature gauge in the vehicle registering 37C.  
Night spent in the Awash Falls Lodge.

Arabian Bustard, Bilen Plain, Ethiopia

Secretarybird, Aledeghi Wildlife Reserve, Ethiopia

Chestnut-bellied Sandgrouse, Aledeghi Wildlife Reserve, Ethiopia

Somali Bunting, Awash National Park, Ethiopia

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

Ethiopia - Day 5 (11/03/20) - Ankober, Melka Ghebdu and Doho Lodge

From Debre Birhan, which took the gravel road that climbs slowly uphill through alpine moorlands to Ankober at an elevation of 2465 metres. The road is currently been upgraded to provide a link between Debre Birhan and Awash resulting in slow progress through the sections where roadworks were taking place. Ankober is the location where Ankober Serin was first observed by ornithologists in 1979 but, despite stopping three times in suitable areas of habitat, we again drew a blank. However, we did see: White-winged Cliff-chat, five Thekla Lark, ten Streaky Seedeater, two Brown-rumped Seedeater, three Abyssinian Black Wheatear, seven Moorland Chat and a Stout Cisticola
Beyond Ankober, the road falls away steeply over the Ankober escarpment into a hot lowland acacia-wooded valley and Melka Ghebdu, a well-known site for the endemic (and predictably drab) Yellow-throated Seedeater. We stopped a couple of times and had brief views of one at the first stop and more prolonged views of two in the crown of an acacia by a dripping pipe at the second. Other birds seen in the acacia woodland along the rocky streambed at the site included: African Pygmy KingfisherBlack-billed Barbet, two Eastern Plantain-eatersGrey-headed Kingfisher, two HoopoesLittle Bee-eater, two Northern CrombecsPurple Roller and Red-fronted Tinkerbird.
Soon afterwards, the metalled road turned to dirt and entered the arid Afar country where we encountered more birds including two Abyssinian RollerBateleur, two BlackstartDark Chanting Goshawk and Red-billed Hornbill. The sight of many Afar tribesmen armed with AK47s was a little unnerving but of a rather more immediate concern was a deranged man in the middle of the road armed with a large rock which he was threatening to put through our windscreen! Fortunately, Abel was able to placate him with a handful of Ethiopian Birr and we were soon on our way again, stopping for a packed lunch in a dried up streambed where were saw Bearded Woodpecker and Yellow-breasted Barbet. Nearby, the wires running alongside the railway parallel to our gravel road held a party of six very smart White-throated Bee-eater and good numbers of Northern Carmine Bee-eater, surely the most stunning of all the bee-eaters. Eventually we hit the main Addis to Djibouti highway before turning off about 20km northwest of Awash to Doho Lodge. Once we had settled in at the lodge, we were asked if we wanted to see an owl which turned out to be a roosting Northern White-faced Owl and also a roosting Slender-tailed Nightjar.
A dip in the hot springs accompanied by a Giant Kingfisher and three Hippo on the adjacent lake left us just enough time to leave the camp and see several parties of Chestnut-breasted Sandgrouse (total 19) flying over on their way to a drinking pool, a pair of Senegal Thick-knee and three Slender-tailed Nightjar

Yellow-throated Seedeater (endemic), Melka Ghebdu, Ethiopia

Yellow-breasted Barbet, near Doho Lodge, Ethiopia

Slender-tailed Nightjar, Doho Lodge, Ethiopia

Tuesday, March 10, 2020

Ethiopia - Day 4 (10/03/20) - Ankober Escarpment and Debre Birhan

Our target bird today was Ankober Serin, a rather non-descript finch restricted to a handful of locations in northern Ethiopia. Unfortunately, one of the best sites for it and the one we tried today (Gemessa Gedel) is often fog bound and so it proved today with visibility down to about 10 metres as we pulled over on the edge of escarpment. Floundering around in the fog proved pointless with nothing more than a couple of Moorland Chats for our efforts. A change of tactics was needed so we decided to see if we could locate the source of the twittering we could hear on the opposite of the road. Despite sounding fairly close, we had to descend a long way down a steep slope before locating a large flock of Black-headed Siskins and Yellow Bishops. Even though we were lower down, the fog was still rolling in and out hampering viewing but eventually it cleared sufficiently, allowing us to confirm that the small brown finches we kept seeing with the bishops were Streaky Seedeaters rather than the target bird. By now Dad was suffering from stomach cramps and was feeling pretty rough, making the climb back up to the Landcruiser something of an ordeal.  With the escarpment still cloaked in fog, we gave it up as a bad job and continued along the road to just beyond a tunnel where a very large troop of Gelada Baboons was sat on the wall along the side of the road waiting for handouts from passing cars.
We returned to the hotel where Dad spent the afternoon in bed feeling sorry for himself. Abel suggested that Mum and I go out with him late afternoon to an area of grassland not far from the edge of town where the following birds were noted: five Red-breasted Wheatear, two Common Fiscal, two Pied Wheatear, three Moorland Chat, 23 Yellow Bishops, 100+ Black-headed Siskin, two Abyssinian Longclaw, five Wattled Ibis, 24 Red-throated Pipit, two Isabelline Wheatear, two Erlanger's Lark and a female Ortolan Bunting

Gelada Baboon, Ankober Escarpment, Ethiopia

Abyssinian Longclaw, Grassland behind Debre Birhan, Ethiopia

Red-breasted Wheatear, Grassland behind Debre Birhan, Ethiopia

Monday, March 9, 2020

Ethiopia - Day 3 (09/03/20) - Fiche to Debre Berhan via Addis Ababa

For some reason best known to Abel, it was decided that we would retrace our steps to Addis Ababa, where we would have lunch at the Ghion Hotel, and then continue to Debre Berhan, our base for the next two nights. A ringtail Pallid Harrier seen soon after leaving Fiche was followed by a couple of roadside stops on the Sululta Plain, including one where we’d stopped on Saturday morning. These were reasonably successful, the first producing two each of Lanner Falcon and Tawny Eagle plus Blue-winged Goose,White-winged Cliff ChatYellow Bishop and our only African Black Duck and White Wagtail of the trip, while the second was notable for closer and more prolonged views of at least three Abyssinian Longclaws plus African StonechatAugur BuzzardBlue-winged GooseCattle EgretCommon and Green SandpipersGrey Wagtail, Malachite KingfisherMoorland ChatNorthern Wheatear, two Ortolan Buntings, eight Red-throated PipitsThekla Lark and Yellow Bishop
A few birds in the trees from the terrace at the Ghion Hotel included Abyssinian Slaty FlycatcherMontane White-EyeSwainson’s SparrowTacazze Sunbird and Willow Warbler while a brief stop a few kilometres before Debre Berhan was notable for four White-winged Cliff Chats and a Black-headed Siskin
In Debre Berhan we stayed in the Getva Hotel, a welcome improvement on the C-Lale.  
Abyssinian Longclaw (endemic), Sululta Plain, Ethiopia
Blue-winged Goose (endemic), Sululta Plain, Ethiopia

Sunday, March 8, 2020

Ethiopia - Day 2 (08/03/2020) - Jemma Valley

A very early 03:15 start for the arduous journey from Fiche to the lip of the Jemma Valley, much of it on dirt roads. This is the place to see the endemic Harwood’s Francolin although a dawn start is essential to stand a good chance of seeing this elusive species. Fortunately, the local people have woken up to the potential of making money from birders by being on hand to guide people to the most likely areas and help locate the target species. This worked a treat with first a party of six Harwood’s Francolins scurrying up a rocky hillside as the sun came up and then three Erckel’s Francolins below us. Other birds seen in this area included: two Abyssinian Black Wheatear, 28 White-billed Starling, 10 Black-winged Lovebird, three White-winged Cliff-chat and singles of Ruppell's Black Chat, Eurasian Wryneck, Black-crowned Tchagra, Tawny-flanked Prinia, Long-billed Pipit and Ortolan Bunting
We then descended into the valley itself stopping by some tall cliffs on the left-hand side of the road where we saw a small troop of Gelada Baboons and had good views of a smart Fox Kestrel and a little further down in an arable field were three Abyssinian Ground Hornbill. Rather than stop at the Jemma River, we carried on a few kilometres to the Lomi River where a narrow trail on the left-hand side of the road gave good views of the thicket-lined watercourse. The star birds here were undoubtedly a party of six Red-billed Pytilias(one of the more difficult Ethiopian endemics to see) and the rather underwhelming Yellow-rumped Seedeater(another endemic) plus two Barka Indigobird, two African Silverbill, three Black-billed Barbet, six Common Waxbill and a Three-banded Plover. 
Back at the Jemma River we enlisted the help of some local kids who said they’d seen Egyptian Plover along the river recently. To be honest, I wasn’t at all surprised when we drew a blank though a good selection of birds here included: a male Barka Indigobird, ten Senegal Thick-knee, three Wooly-necked Stork, three Spur-winged Plover, four African Spoonbill, three Little Bee-eater and singles of Peregrine Falcon, Western Opsrey, Giant Kingfisher and Squacco Heron
With a longish drive ahead of us back to Fiche, we made fewer stops than on the way out, the best of which were a few kilometres before the town of Muke Turi where a short grassy field beside the road held both Thekla and the endemic Erlanger’s LarkRed-breasted Wheatear and several Red-throated Pipits and a bit further on where a marshy area produced: 11 Blue-winged Goose, seven Spot-breasted Lapwing, 29 Western Cattle Egret, three Yellow-billed Duck, ten Wattled Ibis and 25 Yellow Bishop
A second night in the uninspiring C-Lale Resort Hotel in Fiche.

Harwood's Francolin (endemic), Jemma Valley, Ethiopia

Erckel's Francolin, Jemma Valley, Ethiopia

Abyssinian Ground Hornbill, Jemma Valley, Ethiopia

Red-billed Pytilia (endemic), Jemma Valley, Ethiopia

Saturday, March 7, 2020

Ethiopia - Day 1 (07/03/2020) - Addis Ababa, Sululta Plain and Debre Libanos

This blog recounts a very successful 15 day trip to Ethiopia with Bridget and Paul James (mum and dad). My special thanks to Abel Belay Molla (our guide) and Nebu (our driver) who guided and drove us around and looked after us impeccably. 
Our overnight Ethiopian Airlines flight from Heathrow arrived early morning at Bole International Airport 45 minutes ahead of schedule. Despite the coronavirus outbreak, only passengers from the Far East were being screened on arrival, allowing us to pass through immigration with minimal delay. Abel was there to meet us in the car park outside together with Nebu our driver and a 4WD Toyota Landcruiser which would no doubt come in useful over the next couple of weeks. Our first stop was the Tatu Hotel, reputedly the oldest hotel in Addis, where coffee in the garden was accompanied by our first birds of the trip: Baglefecht WeaverBrown-rumped SeedeaterDusky Turtle DoveHooded VultureMountain Thrush,Wattled Ibis and Yellow-billed Kite.
From Addis we wound out way out of the city heading northwards on to the Sululta Plain, a high altitude (2500m) grassy plain surrounded by mountains. A roadside stop was made after about an hour by a stream to look for Abyssinian Longclaw. Being a Saturday, a ‘welcoming party’ of kids was there to meet and follow us wherever we went, pleading for ‘money’. Despite their attention, we did see 3 Longclaws though the views we had were brief and a bit unsatisfactory. Also noted here were: Thick-billed Raven, five Green and two Common Sandpipers, five Red-billed Oxpecker, African Pipit, three Ethiopian Cisticola, Pied and Malachite Kingfisher, two Red-throated Pipit, African Stonechat, Augur Buzzard, two Lanner Falcon and a flyover Black Stork
The monastery at Debre Libanos is a well-known religious site but we were here for the birds rather than cultural reasons. With thunder rumbling in the distance and a few drops of rain, we took a rocky path that led uphill through the forest to the base of a dried-up waterfall. Birds in this area included a noisy party of 8 White-cheeked Turacos, an equally noisy party of White-rumped BabblersHemprich’s Hornbill, three Blue-breasted Bee-eater, Abyssinian Slaty Flycatcher, Common Bulbul, African Harrier-hawk, two Mountain Wagtail, Fan-tailed Raven, Beautiful Sunbird, White-backed Blacktit as well as our first two mammals of the trip in the form of a Rock Hyrax and a Vervet Monkey
Our final stop was at the Portuguese Bridge where two new endemics – three Ruppell’s Black Chat and 15 White-billed Starling– were quickly located plus parties of Nyanza Swifts, a Red-rumped Swallow was noted overhead, a pair of Tacazze Sunbird, Mocking Cliff Chat and a Tawny-flanked Prinia which skulked around in the bushes. 
The views of the Jemma Valley from the grounds of the now closed Ethio-German Park Hotel were spectacular and made even better when a superb Lammergeier passed right overhead.
We stayed overnight in the rather basic C-Lale Resort Hotel in Fiche where Arsenal v West Ham was showing on the screen in the restaurant.

Red-throated Pipit, Sululta Plain, Ethiopia

Ruppell's Black Chat (endemic), Portuguese Bridge, Ethiopia

Lammergeier, Portugese Bridge, Ethiopia