Where to Watch Birds in Ethiopia and Birding Ethiopia: a Guide to the Country's Birding Sites


Ethiopia has some of the best ornithological delights to be found in Africa, combining as it does a large number of endemics (some of which are very easy to see), East African species and numerous Palearctic migrants and winter visitors. These include such species as Spot-breasted Plover, Arabian Bustard, Rouget’s Rail, Liben Lark, White-tailed Swallow, Abyssinian Longclaw, Ethiopian Bush-crow, Abyssinian Catbird, Salvadori’s Seedeater and, possibly best of all, Prince Ruspoli’s Turaco.


Until recently there were few field guides to the country, but that changed with the publication of Nigel Redman et al’s Birds of the Horn of Africa (Birdwatch 205: 53). Now we have the first site guides on where to find the special birds. Both are very good and there is very little to choose between them.



Each book contains essential information for planning any trip, including when to go, how to get there, tour operators and car hire (hiring a self-drive is virtually impossible, so it is very important to get an English-speaking driver, and to know whether a two- or four-wheel drive is required). Also included are suggested itineraries and short sections on accommodation (basic in many areas), food (likewise), roads, language (impenetrable to anyone not of Ethiopian descent) and health and safety (parts of the borders with Eritrea and Somalia are still subject to political unrest and are occasionally off limits). 



The introductions deal with the taxonomy and various habitats before moving onto the sites and the species. Both guides are packed with photos of the birds, landscape and scenery for which Ethiopia is justly famous. In the Helm guide the taxonomy is mercifully consistent with the African Bird Club checklist and most other African field guides. It almost so in the Lynx guide, but there are some fairly small differences; this book does have a short section on recent decisions on proposed and accepted splits.  



The information on sites is very good and up-to-date. While the site maps are lacking in detail, both guides provide GPS co-ordinates, so assuming you have a GPS, there is no mistaking when you are in the right location. The Helm guide lists the top 50 sites and the Lynx 26 of the same sites, though the former divides some, such as the Rift Valley lakes and Bale Mountains, into more than one site. On balance, however, the Helm book covers more ground, especially east of Awash National Park and in the south-west.



Both guides devote an average of four to five pages per site, with details of which species are most likely to be seen. They are illustrated with lavish photos of many endemics and local specialities, including non-avian delights such as Ethiopian Wolf. The Helm guide has a final section on ‘Top 50 Birds’, while the Lynx book includes a similar section covering the sites for 166 ‘speciality’ or key species, covering all the endemics.  



Neither guide contains any serious errors or omissions, though, as in all such guides, the usual caveat applies: it is not always possible or likely that all the species listed, mouth-watering though they are, will be seen in a single visit. A very minor quibble is the unnecessary adoption of new or invented English names such as Dwarf Raven and Scissor-tailed Kite when the originals – Somali Crow Corvus edithae and Swallow-tailed Kite Chelictinia riocourii respectively – are perfectly fine.


In summary, both guides are more than able to meet the needs of anyone planning a birding trip to Ethiopia. If pushed to decide which is the better, I’d have to say the Helm guide by a very short margin, for the slightly larger area of coverage and extra photos.


Tech spec

Where to Watch Birds in Ethiopia by Claire Spottiswoode, Merid Gabremichael and Julian Francis (Christopher Helm, London, 2010).

192 pages, 150 colour photographs, maps and an annotated checklist.

ISBN 9781408130759. Pbk, £19.99.

Available from Birdwatch Bookshop

Birding Ethiopia: a Guide to the Country’s Birding Sites by Ken Behrens, Keith Barnes and Christian Boix
   (Lynx Edicions, Barcelona, 2010).

256 pages, several colour illustrations and maps.

ISBN 9788496553552. Pbk, €25 (about £21.77).

First published in Birdwatch 221:45 (November 2010)