In the June/July 2010 issue of Africa – Birds & Birding, Peter Ryan picked south–central Ethiopia as his favourite African birding destination. In the foreword to the book under review, Ian Sinclair makes a similar assertion. A surprising choice, perhaps, to those who mistakenly think of Ethiopia as a lifeless wasteland, but not to anyone who has visited this most topograph-ically and ecologically varied of countries.
Indeed, boasting a checklist of 850 species, Africa’s second-highest tally of endemics and near-endemics, and an exceptional degree of avian habitu-ation, Ethiopia has all the makings of an ornithological Mecca.
In the past, for those of us with less expertise than Ryan and Sinclair, birding Ethiopia has tended to be a fizzy cocktail of exhilaration laced with a generous dash of frustration. Sure, my first sightings of Abyssinian Catbird, Rouget’s Rail and Stresemann’s Bush Crow are etched deep in my memory. But so too are the countless occasions when the lack of a dedicated field guide or any other supportive literature has rendered me unable to identify a less distinctive bird.
In this respect, the near-simultaneous publication of a dedicated Field Guide to the Horn of Africa and a first Atlas to the Birds of Ethiopia & Eritrea (reviewed in the October/November 2009 issue) made 2009 a landmark year for Ethiopian ornithology. And now, following close on the heels of these two estim-able tomes, comes the complement-ary and equally commendable Birding Ethiopia, a portable paperback guide to the country’s main birding sites.
Birding Ethiopia comprises three main sections. The lengthy preface provides a general introduction to birding and travel conditions in Ethiopia, and includes a welcome section highlighting potential taxonomic splits. Even more useful is the book’s final chapter, which supplements a national checklist with a summary of the country’s ‘speciality birds’ – providing succinct details of the best sites for 150-odd endemics, near-endemics and other tempting species.
In between, Birding Ethiopia charts a journey to 26 specific birding sites, complete with maps and/or directions, practical field notes, and key birds of interest. The Bale Mountains, Rift Valley lakes and other prime localities for those chasing a healthy tally of lifers are covered in accurate detail. Sensibly, there’s also good birding advice for a few sites – the rock-hewn churches of Lalibela and ancient capital of Axum, for instance – that are of less ornithological interest but feature on most non-specialist Ethiopian itineraries.
Birding Ethiopia is an exceptionally useful book – brimming with enthusiasm, accurate advice and alluring colour photographs, it’s an unsurpassable tool for planning an Ethiopian birding itinerary and seeking specific target species. True, were you forced to choose only one bird book to carry to Ethiopia, it’s probably not quite as non-negotiable as the aforementioned field guide, but otherwise no sane birder would want to visit Ethiopia without it.
A guide to the country’s birding sites
Ken Behrens, Keith Barnes & Christian Boix
Softcover, 189 pages; R400.