REVIEW OF BIRDING ETHIOPIA by The Biggest Twitch (May, 2010)
Published by Lynx Edicions Book
Review by Ruth Miller and Alan Davies
Why would a birder want to visit Ethiopia? We have all seen the television news pictures of a famine-torn land. Surely this is no birding destination? How wrong is this idea. Ethiopia is a vibrant, exciting, bird-rich country with a list of some 850 species and a surprising range of habitats, second only to South Africa in the number of endemic bird species on the continent. Surprising?
As a must-visit destination which we would thoroughly recommend, this new guide will open your eyes to an Ethiopia far removed from the TV pictures. Birding Ethiopia is very different from many sites guides we have used over the years. It is immediately eye-catching and a peek inside shows a lavishly illustrated book. Its 189 pages are packed with information, maps and breath- taking photographs of “must-see” birds. Of course a site guide must deliver a lot more than good looks and we settled down to read the text and see if it matched our recent experience of a month of fast-paced birding in Ethiopia in February 2008, during The Biggest Twitch.
The three authors, Ken Behrens, Keith Barnes and Christian Boix, are all hardened field birders and are never happier than when birding in the fast lane, a perfect team to write this book. All three have travelled throughout Ethiopia and visited every site in the book many times and know the locations, conditions and birds intimately. Not only do they know the sites and birds but they are accomplished bird photographers and their work brings the excellent text to colorful life with amazing bird images.
So, let’s get down to the nitty-gritty. Is this a good site guide worth buying? Does it deliver for the birder planning a trip to Ethiopia?. The book opens with a map showing the locations of all 26 covered. This is followed by a very comprehensive 23-page introduction, which covers everything you need to know about this fascinating and so often misunderstood country. All the usual headings that we have come to expect in a travel guide, visas, driving, language, money, health etc are covered in short and to-the-point paragraphs, no waffle here. Suggested itineraries are outlined depending on how many birding days you have in-country, very helpful. Even the introduction is sprinkled with loads of photos of both birds and scenery, helping to build a picture of Ethiopia, something we would have found very useful before our own visit.
The section on bio-geography is particularly useful outlining the main habitats – a surprising diversity from the cold highlands, through forests and south to the deserts. By the time we had finished just the introduction, it had us planning another visit!. The birding sites are divided into three regions – The Northwest, The Great Rift Valley and The South – reflecting habitats and birding style. Each of these regions has a clear easy-to-read map with sites numbered for quick reference.
An introduction details habitats and special birds to be found here.Each site is then treated in detail with a specific introduction giving information on the species and habitats at this spot. Next follows a list of “Species of interest”, then “Habitat” detailing altitude and vegetation. “Birding” describes in detail how to approach each site to see the maximum number of birds and here it is obvious the authors really know their stuff, with detailed information rather than sweeping generalizations found in many sites guides. In keeping with the rest of the book the style is concise without flowery use of language; this is written very much by birders for birders.
The text is cross-referenced with the site map, a letter on the map shows the key places, and this letter is embedded in the text. More stunning images are found on nearly every page: Spot-breasted Lapwing, Half-collared Kingfisher, Chestnut-headed Sparrow-Lark, Prince Ruspoli’s Turaco and Stresemann’s Bush-Crow, mega birds you just have to see! A short section, “Time”, gives advice on when and how long to spend visiting each site. Then the “Directions”, where details of how to find each site, and once found … just where to bird. Again the authors’ first-hand experience comes through the text.
Scattered amongst the site descriptions are information panels on related subjects. These are separate from the site text so do not distract the reader trying to find a vital piece of info. These panels give added value by discussing such topics as White-tailed Fluftail status, gelada baboons, endemic bird areas and more. Following the site descriptions, which form the bulk of the book, comes a “Specialty Birds of Ethiopia” section, and here are listed all the birds that make this country a must for the travelling birder. What a mouth-watering array of birds can be found in this enchanting country.
The list follows Clements “Checklist of Birds of the World” (2007) and endemic species are highlighted in bold. Each page brings more wonderful birds that any keen birder would love to see; again stunning photos bring the pages to life. Check out the Short-tailed Lark on P146 or the Stresemann’s Bush-Crows on P155.
Finally the book concludes with an index of bird species. Here we have one small niggle: the species are not cross-referenced with the site numbers, rather the page number(s) where the bird is mentioned, not always the key site for the species. However, where the reference refers to a photograph, the page number is in bold which is helpful.
To summarize, this book is a pure joy to use and raises the bar considerably for any future site guides. The three authors are to be congratulated on a simply superb user-friendly work. Even if you think you will never visit Ethiopia, it is well worth getting this book to see how a site guide should be, and we would not be at all surprised if after reading the book you start planning that trip you were never going to take!
Alan Davies and Ruth Miller, The Biggest Twitch.
Birding Ethiopia – A guide to the country’s birding sites.By Ken Behrens, Keith Barnes, Christian BoixPublished by Lynx Edicions – Montseny, 8, 08193 Bellaterra, Barcelona, www.lynxeds.comISBN: 978-84-96553-55-3Language: English Format: Paperback Pages: 256 Published: January 2010RRP: £25.99 approx. $40 or 30 Euros.