Sunday, March 08, 2015

On the margins - 48 hours in Addis Ababa

No photos this time. I'm just back from 48 hours in Addis Ababa - my first, but not my last, visit to sub-Saharan Africa this year and my first, but not my last, visit to Ethiopia itself.

Ethiopia is well-known as a birding paradise, with a spectacular diversity of species overall and high levels of endemicity. But this was very much a work trip and I knew I'd have little if any time for proper birding.

Though I'd not previously visited Addis, I have flown via the airport before and know that the city hosts large numbers of raptors - in numbers that can be disconcerting as they drift perilously close to landing aircraft. But on this occasion I arrived in the middle of the night and had to wait until the following morning to see what the city could offer.

The initial answer was - not very much. Even if a country, and even a city, are good for birding, there are a few minimum requirements to ensure that a hotel is. It needs, at the least, to have a fairly unencumbered view of the sky. And ideally it should have a garden. My hotel (the Radisson, for future reference) had neither; a concrete yard, surrounded by a high wall and backing onto a building site on one side, and a largish road on the other. Not a great start. But despite these shortcomings I'd soon managed to get my eye in and had two LIFERS to my name before lunch; a Brown-rumped Seedeater (Serinus tristriatus) in the tiny yard and several White-collared Pigeons (Columba albitorques) flying around. I knew the White-collared Pigeons, an Ethiopian highland endemic, were common in the city, but I was nonetheless surprised by just how easy they were to see. In addition to these two lifers I'd also managed to secure a new subspecies of Common Bulbul (Pycnonotus barbatus schoanus) and my first Milvus migrans parasitus subspecies of Black Kite this year.

Despite these early gains, that feeling of abundance that I've mentioned in an earlier post, was notably absent in the morning. It wasn't until we headed to the African Union Headquarters that it returned. Being "on duty" I wasn't able to identify most of the species that flitted before me, over me, or past me, but there were a few old favourites from Nairobi days that I managed to identify immediately: Speckled Mousebird (Colius striatus), Rock Martin (Hirundo fuligula), Pied Crow (Corvus albus) and Greater Blue-eared Glossy Starling (Lamprotornis chalybaeus). That's more like it.

The following day was more promising. A walk to the UN HQ brought me a Hadada Ibis (Bostrychia hagadash), a pair of Augur Buzzards (Buteo augur), one of many Dusky Turtle Doves (Streptopelia lugens), a strangely solitary Little Bee-eater (Merops pusillus), two African Dusky Flycatchers (Muscicapa adusta) and a few of many Streaky Seedeaters (Serinus striolatus) seen during the day. Lunch at the Institut Francais added Olive Thrush ("Mountain Thrush", ssp. Turdus olivaceus abyssinicus) and Common Waxbill (Estrilda astrild), and then, the piece de resistance; I managed to grab 10 minutes alone with my binoculars between two meetings at the Sheraton hotel and dashed round the garden, adding Speckled Pigeon (Columba guinea), Singing Cisticola (Cisticola cantans), Variable Sunbird (Nectarinia venusta), Tacazze Sunbird (Nectarinia tacazze) and Baglafecht Weaver (Ploceus baglafecht).

In addition to these I also bagged myself two LIFERS; an adult Abyssinian Slaty Flycatcher (Dioptrornis chocolatinus) and several Swainson's Sparrows (Passer swainsonii) - the local variant of the Grey-Headed Sparrow complex. And, finally, a lovely palearctic migrant - the only one for this short visit - a beema Yellow Wagtail (Motacilla flava beema).

The day went late, but these were the last of the birds. I loved Addis and will certainly be back. Since I can't afford to stay at the Sheraton I'll do what all birders do and stay at the Ghion instead, though only for a night before heading into the mountains. On this occasion 48 hours produced 25 species, of which 24 were year ticks and 4 were lifers. Not bad for a place where I had genuinely 10 minutes for active birding and where everything else was picked up in glances during work conversations. That's Africa for you.

1 comment:

  1. I was in Addis Ababa for about 30 minutes because of a flight connection. It was the first time I set foot in Africa. As I ran not to miss the flight I believe I saw a Swainson's Sparrow inside the airport terminal. It would be my first African lifer! Did you see these birds at the airport?