BIRDWATCHING - 12 days : Driving/Wildlife

Addis Ababa -> Debre Libanos -> Addis -> Lagano -> Abiata -> Hawassa -> Wondogenet -> Dinsho -> Sanetti Plateau -> Herenna Forest -> Negele -> Yabello ->Yirgalem -> Addis Ababa

Nearly every region in Ethiopia can boast of hundreds of bird species, making it one of the most desirable countries for bird watching. Indeed, Ethiopia’s diverse range of habitats offers the serious birdwatcher numerous opportunities to experience the exclusive presence of species found nowhere else on Earth. Within hours, one can visit forests, grasslands, arid plateaus, and mountain highlands and be rewarded with the avian diversity that Ethiopia sustains.

Certain destinations, such as the Bale Mountains, Awasa, Awash National Park, Ziway, the Herenna Forest, and Yabello may provide the greatest concentrations of birds, but dedicated birders may select remote and largely unexplored areas to seek out rare or undiscovered species. There is much for everyone to see, and Ethiopia is known for inspiring new converts to this interest.

1 Addis Ababa

Arrive in Addis at the Bole International Airport to be met by tour staff for transport to your hotel. Your first birding experience can be at the beautiful Ghion Hotel gardens, which have several exotic species making their homes there: the blue-winged goose, the wattled ibis, the Abyssinian long claw, and the Abyssinian siskin. Sightseeing in the city of Addis Ababa (e.g., the National Museum, the Ethnological Museum of Ethiopian Studies, and the Holy Trinity Cathedral) is possible, depending on your arrival time.

Overnight in Addis.

2 Addis to Debre Libanos Monastery (61 mls / 98kms)

The next morning we drive to the Debre Libanos Monastery. Built in the 1950s by Haile Selassie, it replaces the original church destroyed by the fascists in 1937 (along with almost 300 monks). The ruin of this former center of the Ethiopian church can be seen by walking along the stream into the gorge. This is also a good place to see the following birds:

  • Banded barbet
  • Blue-winged goose
  • Brown-rumped seedeater
  • White-winged cliff-chat
  • Wattled ibis
  • White-billed starling
  • Verreaux’s eagle
  • White-collared pigeon
  • Little rock thrush
  • Abyssinian slaty flycatcher
  • Spot-breasted plover
  • White-cheecked turaco
  • Erckel’s francolin
  • Ruppell’s robin-chat
  • Red-breasted wheatear


Harwood’s francolin is a rare, endemic species that may be seen only here, in the Jemma Valley, and in other valleys of Blue Nile tributaries. Our round trip will take only 1.5 hours; in the valley itself, the following birds may be encountered:

  • Black-winged red bishop
  • Foxy cisticola
  • Fox kestrel
  • Red-winged bishop
  • Vinaceous dove
  • White-throated seedeater
  • Cinnamon-breasted bunting
  • Walberg’s eagle
  • Speckle-fronted weaver

Overnight in Addis Ababa.

3 Addis to Lagano

Today’s 3.5-hour trip takes us along a string of lakes in the Great Rift Valley with widely varying ecosystems. The first town, Debre Zeit, is surrounded by six crater lakes, which provide habitat for hundreds of bird species, and this is true all the way to Lake Lagano, our overnight destination. Rare or large flocks of birds include:

  • Black-headed batis
  • Black heron
  • African spoonbill
  • Blue-breasted bee-eater
  • African jacana
  • Superb starling
  • African darter
  • Black-winged lovebird
  • Marabou stork
  • Fulvous whistling duck
  • Lesser moorhen
  • White-winged tern
  • African pygmy goose
  • Slender-tailed nightjar
  • Hooded vulture
  • Black goshawk
  • Greyish eagle owl
  • Yellow wagtail
  • Grey-headed gull
  • Great white pelican
  • African yellow warbler
  • Hammerkop
  • Black-headed race
  • Rufous-necked wryneck

 Overnight in Lagano.

4 Lagano to Lake Abiata to Hawassa

The next morning will be spent birding around Lake Lagano to see:

  • Red-fronted barbet
  • Van Der Decken’s hornbill
  • White-winged black tit
  • Red-checked cordon bleu
  • Hemprich’s hornbill
  • Buff-bellied warbler
  • Rattling cisticola
  • Beautiful sunbird
  • Ruppell’s weaver
  • Red-billed firefinch
  • Little rock thrush
  • Bearded woodpecker

After lunch and a short drive, we will arrive at Lake Abiata to see large numbers of water birds. Evaporation has reduced water levels in recent years, but the lake and lakeshore and the nearby acacia woodland still support these birds:

  • Black-crowned crane
  • Great/lesser flamingos
  • Temminck’s stint
  • Common crane
  • Kittlitz’s plover
  • Yellow wagtail
  • Wattled crane
  • Black scimitarbill
  • Black-billed woodhoopoe

Overnight in Hawassa.

5 Hawassa to Wondo Genet

On the short drive to Wondo Genet, and once we reach the famous hot springs area near the government hotel, there are opportunities to see numerous exotic bird species, such as:

  • Double-toothed barbet
  • Grey-backed fiscal
  • Purple swamphen
  • Red-faced cisticola
  • Silvery-cheeked hornbill
  • Lesser swamp warbler
  • Blue-headed coucal
  • Woodland kingfisher
  • Brown-throated wattle-eye
  • Spotted creeper
  • Bronze mannikin
  • Common waxbill
  • Black crake
  • Northern puffback
  • Little weaver
  • African mourning dove
  • Greater painted snipe
  • Green woodhoopoe

We then drive to the Hawassa fish market where the discarded waste attracts large numbers of marabou storks, long-tailed cormorants, sacred ibis, and the thick-billed raven.

Overnight in Wondo Genet.

6 Wondo Genet

We spend the day exploring the nearby forests, which have an abundance of species:

  • Banded barbet
  • Yellow-fronted parrot
  • Western olive sunbird
  • White-rumped babbler
  • Brown sawwing
  • Olive thrush
  • Ayre’s hawk-eagle
  • Sharpe’s starling
  • Yellow-fronted tinkerbird
  • Green-backed honeyguide
  • Slender-billed starling
  • White-cheeked turaco
  • Black-and-white mannikin
  • Collared sunbird
  • Mountain wagtail
  • Dark-headed oriole
  • Scarlet-chested sunbird
  • Little spotted woodpecker

The hotel welcomes families of grivet monkeys and Guerza black-and-white colobus monkeys.

Overnight in Wondo Genet.

7 Wondo Genet to Bale Mountains National Park

Within three hours, we are at Dinsho, the entrance to the Bale Mountain National Park. At the park headquarters, we try to see the Abyssinian catbird, the chestnut-naped francolin, the Ayssinian ground thrush,  the ground-scraper thrush, and the endemic white-backed black tit.

Overnight in Dinsho.

8 Dinsho to Sanetti Plateau to Herenna Forest

In the Bale Mountains, we drive to the desolate Sanetti Plateau, 12,540 feet to 14,000 feet (3,800 m to 4,377 m) above sea level. On a rocky perch in the grasslands we may see:

  • African hill babbler
  • African goshawk
  • Rouget’s rail
  • Moorland chat
  • Wattled ibis
  • Rufous-chested sparrowhawk
  • Wattled crane
  • Spot-breasted lapwing
  • Black stork
  • Cape eagle-owl
  • Thekla lark
  • Lammergeyer vulture
  • Moorland francolin
  • Red-throated pipit
  • Red-breasted wheatear


Later, in the dense Herenna Forest, some 6,600 feet (2000 m) below the Sanetti Plateau, we will look for the following species in this largely unexplored area:

  • Mountain buzzard
  • Abyssinian crimson-wing
  • Tambourine dove
  • Cape canary
  • African emerald cuckoo
  • Rameron pigeon
  • African citril
  •  Lemon dove
  • Narina trogon

Overnight in the Herenna Forest Lodge.

9 Herenna Forest to Negele

Leaving the Herenna Forest to Goba, and then heading south towards Negele (a trip of approximately six hours), we reach the Genale River. This is the home of the rare and famous Prince Ruspoli’s turaco, one of Africa’s most sought-after birds. Although its population has increased with popularity, hiring a local guide is the best way to assure a siting.

Before spending the night in Negele, we explore the Liben Plains, home to several endangered species: the Liban lark, the Somali short-toed lark, the white-crowned starling, Salvadori’s seedeater, the Kori, and the black-bellied bustard.

10 Negele to Yabello Wildlife Sanctuary

Today’s long drive (six hours) takes us south to the Kenyan border and the Yabello Wildlife Sanctuary. Our goal is to see two of Ethiopia’s rarest species: Stresemann’s bush crow and the white-tailed swallow. This savanna area is distinguished by giant, red termite mounds—some as high as sixteen feet—which seem to attract these birds. Other species found here are the white-winged collared dove and the Juba weaver.

Overnight in Yabello.

11 Yabello to Yirga Alem

Heading north to Yirga Alem, we pass through lush, green scenery where some of Ethiopia’s most famous coffee is grown. At the Aregash Lodge, we can observe many of the 100 species that have been recorded in this area.

  • Arrow-marked babbler
  • Golden pipit
  • Olive thrush
  • African cetril
  • Graceful prinia
  • Lappet-faced vulture
  • Bronze manikin finch
  • Green-winged putilia
  • Common waxwing
  • Jameson’s firefinch
  • Mariqua sunbird
  • Baglafech weaver
  • Malachite kingfisher
  • Little swiftOvernight on Yirga Alem.

12 Yirga Alem to Addis Ababa

After lunch at the lodge, we begin the five-hour drive to Addis Ababa. Depending on your departure time, you can spend the say visiting the St. George Gallery or go shopping at the Merkato (the largest open-air market in Africa) and the various souvenir shops on Churchill Road.

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