Tuesday, October 17, 2023

Global Big Day in Ethiopia

I returned unexpectedly early from Africa on Sunday morning. Over the next few days/weeks I will share here stories and images from the main portion, a tour into the beautiful landscapes of Kenya I led for Rockjumper Birding Tours. The first post will be about the tour aftermath. A day after the official start of the tour, a war broke in Israel. It wasn't easy to keep my head straight and focused on leading the tour, knowing that back home things are very tough and that my family wasn't safe. I had to shorten my trip and return home to my family. Rockjumper management were so supportive and helpful. Together with the excellent ground agent, Cisticola, they arranged a replacement. The earliest I could leave the group was on Friday when we returned to Nairobi. It was sad saying goodbye to my group - they were all awesome and we had a great time together. I flew from Nairobi to Addis Ababa, hoping for a smooth connection back home to Tel Aviv. I flew with Ethiopian Airlines, one of the few foreign airlines that still flies to Israel, more or less. When I arrived in Addis Ababa I discovered that my onward flight to Tel Aviv had just been cancelled and postponed to the next day. I had 24 hours to kill in Addis. Actually, it was my first time in Addis city, outside of the airport, after many layovers that had allowed me only terminal window birding. 

On Saturday, October 14th, it was Global Big Day, organised by eBird and Global Birding. In recent years I have been very keen on doing proper big days on GBD. This time, outside of Israel, away from Kenya, I had to find something to do in Ethiopia. I consulted with eBird Hotspots, chatted with a few friends, and chose two birding sites not far from the airport. I was up with the birds and started the day with a good look out of a dirty window on the 6th floor of Skylight Hotel where Ethiopian Airlines put me up. First endemics out of the window included Wattled Ibis, Swainson's Sparrow, Brown-rumped Seedeater and White-collared Pigeon. eBird checklist here.

I was not permitted to leave the airport hotel without a visa (certainly not without a shirt), but nobody asked any questions at the door, so I just went for it. I caught a taxi that first took me to a patch of neglected land adjacent to a smelly sewage stream, known on eBird as Bole Airport Grasslands. You can get the impression of the Addis-style urban birding site in the background of this video:

My driver Ibrahim insisted to escort me while birding - he said he was concerned over my safety. Very quickly the interaction between us changed. It was Ibrahim's first ever birding session, in fact the first ever contact with birds. Very quickly he started spotting birds by sight and sound - he was good! He was super keen for the remainder of our morning together and I think he really enjoyed it. Birding the airport patch was quite nice, dodging demonstrations of Africa's back yard, i.e. slums, poor people, animals, rubbish, sewage. I had a few good birds, including three more endemics - Ethiopian Cisticola, Thick-billed Raven and Black-winged Lovebird. Also Roguet's Rail was nice. It disappeared into the thick vegetation before I could get a photo of it. eBird checklist here.

Brown-rumped Seedeater

Swainson's Sparrow

African Citril

Northern Fiscal

Ethiopian Cisticola (thanks Itai and Forrest for correcting my ID)

Isabelline Wheatear - one of several palearctic migrants I had during the morning

Our second birding site was in the gardens of Ghion Hotel in central Addis. It's a well-established hotel, very different from other modern, synthetic hotels in Addis. The hotel grounds include spacious, quiet, beautiful and lush gardens. Again you can get an idea of the gardens and habitat in this photo:

I enjoyed birding and photographing there, as some of the birds were very tame. eBird checklist here.

Abyssinian Thrush

Abyssinian Slaty-Flycatcher

Speckled Mousebird

That concluded my big day effort in Ethiopia. I recorded a modest total of 47 species. I hope that I contributed something to the global effort. It was good fun anyway.

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