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  1. 30 likes
    “It is Hard Work” Now that isn’t a comment on our journey through the Congo, but a quote that came up more than once from our wonderful driver/guide Martin, and sadly pretty much sums up the life of the average Congolese. On a much happier note for us, we have just come back from one of the most amazing trips to Africa we have ever been on. First, the trip itinerary. 11/9 - Day flight to Kigali, Rwanda, with KLM from Manchester via Amsterdam. Overnight in the Hotel des Mille Collines. 12/9 - Road journey to the border with DRC at Cyangugu via Nyungwe Forest. 3 nts in Orchids Safari Club hotel in Bukavu. 13/9 - Gorilla trek in Kahuzi-Biega NP. 14/9 - Gorilla trek in Kahuzi-Biega NP. 15/9 - Boat transfer on Lake Kivu to Goma, road journey to Virunga NP. 3 nts Bukima Camp 16/9 - Gorilla trek in Virunga NP. 17/9 - Gorilla trek in Virunga NP. 18/9 - Gorilla trek in Virunga NP. Road transfer to Mikeno Lodge, stay for 2 nts 19/9 - Free day at Mikeno Lodge 20/9 - Road journey back to Goma, cross border and onward to Kigali. Overnight flight back to Manchester with KLM. Steppes Travel based in the UK, arranged this trip for us. They have plenty of experience in arranging travel to the more off the beaten track destinations and as we had used them for several holidays in the past we had every confidence in them. In the DRC they use a trusted and very reliable ground agent and at no point during the holiday did we feel unsafe in any way whatsoever. We particularly wanted to see the Eastern Lowland Gorillas. They can only be found in Eastern DRC and the only habituated groups accessible to tourists are in Kahuzi-Biega NP. It then made sense to combine this with a visit to Virunga NP to see the Mountain Gorillas. We had previously trekked Mountain Gorillas back in 2006 in both Rwanda and Uganda so it would be nice to finally see them in the Congo as well. I will round off this intro with pictures of 2 Silverback gorillas. The first is the Eastern Lowland and the second, the Mountain Gorilla. See the differences? More on that and the different methods of habituation later in the report. Eastern Lowland Gorilla - Bonane, Bonane Group, Kahuzi-Biega NP Mountain Gorilla Silverback - Humba group, Virunga NP
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    We´ll get back to the Geladas - but meanwhile, an interlude with another unexpected Guassa highlight. On the second day we were going to the hill we had seen the Wolves from, trying to locate them again. No luck. But Abiy, untiringly scanning with bincos and also his scope, found something equally interesting: A Serval! Really a testament to Abiy´s abilities as a guide, the local guide had never seen one, and also the Gelada researcher could not believe our luck - she only knew it from camera traps. The Serval was far off - many hundred metres, the other side of the swamp that was separating us from it. I asked Abiy if it would make sense to try to approach. He suggested to me to try it on my own but told me not to expect much - it would probably run very soon. And so I went down, across the swamp, pretty breathless, it was difficult to walk on the bumpy ground. But so exciting - how cool was this, trying to get close to a Serval on foot? And I was lucky again - the Serval trusted in its camouflage and stayed put. As a matter of fact, even though I knew exactly where it was it was difficult for me to remember the spot. There were no distinguishing features here in the landscape, and everytime I looked away (which I had to because I had to watch where I was going) it was difficult to relocate it. It blended in perfectly. The closer I got the more it crouched down, until I could only see its ears. Until it grudgingly came to the conclusion that hiding was not enough in this situation - and off it ran: After a while it stopped, hid again, and our game of cat and mouse started anew: But soon it retreated again, and I let it be - thrilled with my very own Serval hunt on foot!
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    No Ambo that I noticed @Inyathi. Overall, food was good and much of what we chose could be considered western cuisine. One common characteristic that I noted throughout was that the food was a little spicy for me, but I am a wimp when it comes to hot stuff. Littlest Gelada once again Group R, studied by Kaylee the researcher, getting a drink Flowing Geladas Such expressive eyes - they don't look real Yesheesh, our local guide, part of Guassa Community Lodge Me in the cold, early morning Guassa from the hilltop Double bums
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    We wanted to meet the Gelada researcher @Kitsafari and @Sangeeta had encountered but their camp was empty - obviously they were out there on the job. No problem, because at least in this area we saw Giant Lobelia - always beautiful, I love these. Even though Guassa is a huge success story it´s not without problems. People need to get from A to B up here, many villages around, and apparently they have found the road to be no longer sufficent - so they are in the process of expanding. Which will mean more and faster traffic - never a good thing (for the animals). For the moment, the Geladas did not mind at all. And with views like this we soon forgot about this glaring wound in the landscape. And after a while trekking through lonely valleys, totally soaking in the wonderful solitude of Guassa, that perfect silence ... ... we met Kaylee, the young researcher, with "her" Geladas. We accompanied her for quite a while, always on the move following the Geladas which don´t stay put in one place for very long. Kaylee has been here for almost a year now, and is always on her legs studying her troop. An exhausting work with little comfort to be enjoyed in the basic researcher´s camp, but it was obvious she was loving what she was doing. And so she told us about the different character traits she had found in her entrustees, patient Leia, angry Arya, noble Oberyn and Cersei who is nothing but trouble. Yes, she´s naming them all, and she´s "a bit" into SciFi. The valley we were traversing with her until we parted again was wonderfully tranquil - one of my favourite places in Guassa. These were the only locals we met during our treks. To cap the Guassa section off (on my part) a few more Geladas. Admit it - sometimes all of you take shots just for the "Show us your bums" thread. Really no need to venture out far to see the Geladas - they are coming right to you! As mentioned the Geladas generally were very peaceful ... ... but just a couple of times, some of them got into squabbles: But soon everything was forgiven and forgotten and everybody was going for food again. Final Geladas - awesome animals indeed, and Guassa is a fantastic place to see them, I could easily have spent another day with them.
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    Given that I was out of action for most of our stay at Awash I might not be the most objective person to sing this park´s praises. To be honest I have a very good recollection of the toiled bowl in my room which I studied for extended periods in great detail due to my condition and everything else is a bit hazy. Worth pointing out, though, that Awash is a good place to see Lesser Kudu. Like everywhere, they are shy, and I was lucky to get a shot on the way in to our lodge. Lynn and Andreas told me they saw more on their walk. Such a magnificent animal! But it has to be said that Awash is in a very sad state indeed. This is one of the parks where you can´t help but wish you had the power to turn back the clock, see this area as it once might have been, full of animals, huge herds of Gazelles grazing in the open, mingling with Oryx in good numbers, with lions never far stalking for their next prey. Times long gone by. Lynn already mentioned all the problems the park is facing, and it is very clear Ethiopia is not very serious about protecting this park. With the drought getting worse and worse, pastoralists desperate to find grass for their ever increasing number of cattle, and the road intersecting the park being a major connection to the coast it will only be a matter of time that all major game will be gone completely. We saw only two Gazelles as I remember, and one herd of Oryx. A few Warthogs, a Dikdik now and then. Ridiculous low numbers for a park like this. And they will become even lower if nothing changes, that´s quite obvious. The Salt´s Dikdidk is pretty much one of the endemics of the Horn of Africa, only a few in very Northern Kenya and Eastern Sudan. More silvery, and with a shorter nose than the familiar Kirk´s Dikdik of East Africa. The Grivet Monkey found here is also a Horn endemic. I confess I find it very difficult to tell it apart from a Vervet, and the two species also hybridise. It´s apparently a bit more olive than the greyer Vervet, and hands and feet are not as dark. The entrance to the lodge: Actually a very nice place. After the very basic structure of Guassa especially a working shower was very welcome indeed, and the sitting area was very comfortable. Of course we were the only guests. A really lovely view: There are some really huge Crocs waiting down there. Funnily enough, one of my travel guide books about Ethiopia states that they would not attack humans and it would be safe to take a swim here. I can only assume that the person telling that to the author really, really did not like him. Abiy agreed. "Me, eating people? Of course not, please do come in, let´s ... chat a bit. *srlllppp*" Our bungalows: Nothing spectacular, but lots of space, clean with good beds, and airier than they look. On the one hand you can still have nice landscape views like this in Awash: But on the other side there´s that road. And just to give you an impression what kind of road this is: Not a puny gravel road with some cars going through now and then. No, this is a major heavy traffic connection line with a lot of trucks. What is even worse, the government plans to expand it to a multi-lane motorway. When (not if) this happens, Awash will be cut apart, and it will be pretty much impossible for animals to cross then. This could be the final deathknell for the park. For now, the Hamadryas (and also Olive) Baboons have learnt to live with the road - even from the road! Truck drivers stuck in a jam entertain themselves with feeding them. The Hamadryas is another species only found in the Horn - and some parts of the Arabian peninsula. This was once a sacred animal to the ancient Egyptians hence it´s also called "Sacred" Baboon. Stealing from Wiki here: "Hamadryas baboons often appear in ancient Egyptian art, as they were considered sacred to Thoth,[20] a major and powerful deity with many roles that included being the scribe of the gods. Astennu, attendant to Thoth, is represented as a hamadryas in his roles as recorder of the result of the Weighing of the Heart and as one of the four hamadryas baboons guarding the lake of fire in Duat, the ancient Egyptian underworld. A pre-dynastic precursor to Astennu was Babi, or "Bull of the Baboons", a bloodthirsty god said to eat the entrails of the unrighteous dead. Babi was also said to give the righteous dead continued virility, and to use his penis as the mast of a boat to convey them to the Egyptian paradise. Sometimes Thoth himself appears in the form of a hamadryas (often shown carrying the moon on his head), as an alternative to his more common representation as an ibis-headed figure. Hapi, one of the Four Sons of Horus that guarded the organs of the deceased in ancient Egyptian religion, is also represented as hamadryas-headed: Hapi protected the lungs, hence the common sculpting of a stone or clay hamadryas head as the lid of the canopic jar that held the lungs and/or represented the protection of the lungs. Hamadryas baboons were revered because certain behaviors that they perform were seen as worshiping the sun." What will they do once the motorway replaces the current road? So, Awash seems to be on its last legs unfortunately. But as long as you can see lovely stuff like this it´s not over yet - not completely.
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    We hoped to get two specific bird species here at Langano, and were successful on both fronts. Ethiopian Bee-Eater (Merops lafresnayii). I love Bee-Eaters (but then, who doesn´t?), and so I am always very happy when I get a new one. This is quite a recent, though apparently somewhat controversial split from the more widespread Blue-Breasted Bee-Eater (Merops variegatus). It´s different in having a richer blue forehead and supercilium, slightly darker belly, much broader dark tailband and significantly larger size. This form is a near-endemic to Ethiopia and Erithrea. While scientists might be arguing about the exact taxonomic status there can be no debate that it´s a beautiful bird. Late afternoon I was becoming a bit worried if we would manage our second top target bird. But I need not have worried - Abiy was confident we would find them, and of course due to his skill and experience he was right. The Yellow-Fronted Parrot, a bird exclusively found in Ethiopia. A gorgeous bird, and we had the pleasure of watching three of them for about half an hour.
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    White-Bellied Go-Away-Bird So what did we do there? Just walk around and watch and have a good and relaxed time. Langano is the most incredibly place for birds I´ve ever been to, in our very short time there I amped up my species count for more than a 100. And not with Larks, Pipits or similiar Little Brown Jobs, Langano does its birds big, splashy and colourful. Greater Blue-Eared Starling Red-Cheeked Cordon Bleu Here´s the red cheek. White-Cheeked Turaco Silvery-Cheeked Hornbill, they are huge. Kittlitz´s Plover Violet-Backed Starling Eastern Grey Woodpecker African Paradise Flycatcher Senegal Thick-Knee Spur-Winged Goose No matter where we went, the lake shore, the forest, the few open areas - birds were everywhere around, and it was often very difficult to decide where to look and what to photograph. Three-Banded Plover
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    Doho Lodge was really, really nice, far more enjoyable than expected. On our way through the dry landscape I remember thinking what kind of idiot would build a lodge here, and worse, what kind of idiot would be stupid enough to spend one or god forbid even more nights here. Well, the kind of idiot who enjoys a lush, tranquil and peaceful oasis would and should come here. Doho was really wonderful, such an idyllic spot, a little breeze coming up from the water, a vibrant green soothing the eyes tormented from all those burnt shades of brownbrownbrown. Happy satisfaction indeed! It´s a well-run place, the manager really works hard to get the best out of his (local) staff, food was quite good (yes, I could eat again - of course no Injera!), and the rooms pleasant, airy and clean. It´s also a really good place for birding: Red-Billed Firefinch White-Headed Buffalo Weaver White-Browed Sparrow-Weaver Laughing Dove My good old friend, the Pied Kingfisher Klaas´ Cuckoo - unfortunately we did not see the male. African Red-Bellied (formerly Orange-Bellied) Parrot African Mourning Dove Superb Starling Most people coming to Doho don´t do it for wildlife - they relax in the Hot Springs. Which are hot indeed - I was not tempted to go in, but Andreas quite enjoyed it. There are Hippos here we were told but we did not see them. You might wonder why the hell we went for a walk in the middle of the night to see Defassa Waterbuck - not exactly a rare animal. Well, in Ethiopia they are very hard to see, and the people in the lodge were very proud that they could be found here. Their enthusiasm for these animals was quite endearing, and it would have been a bit impolite to decline their nightwalk offer saying "Please, buddy, I´ve seen thousands of Waterbuck, definitely not staying up for them, not even for one minute. Now, give me some Aardvark, and then we are talking." So we smiled and said, yes of course, we would love to try for Waterbuck! And the thing is, once you put your heart into stuff like this, "hunting" Waterbuck at night was actually quite exciting, and we really wanted to get them. I am very sure we are one of the very select few who have done something like this. Whenever anybody will ask me to tell them what´s the kind of thing I have done that nobody else has done I can always say to have searched for Waterbuck in Ethiopia at 22:00! Totally worth it!
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    Bilen was no longer available because they stopped operating. That means, unfortunately, that no "proper" lodge is operating closer to Ali Deghe right now (Doho is about 50 km). We saw something called "Animalia Lodge" on the way to the reserve but Abiy dismissed it as an option. So the best way to properly do Ali Deghe would be camping - entirely doable, that´s what Abiy recommended, and no need to do it "high-end" style, I think one or two nights would be sufficient, and well, two days without a shower won´t kill anybody. Although I assume it would have been a pretty "intense" drive to the next lodge for the five of us crammed into our car. The thing is, although we were not too lucky in Ali Deghe, I do think it´s much more interesting than Awash. I really dismiss our morning drive as a viable option to check out the place - we were simply much too late, it was already super-hot and of course everything living will go into hiding then. That was just bad luck, I really needed those extra hours to get back to strength after being (very) sick, otherwise our experience could have been much more rewarding. And we barely had two hours in the afternoon, so we did not even scratch the surface. Additionally, the drougth ravaging all of East Africa was particularly bad here, the place was incredibly barren, Abiy said he has never seen it in such a desolate state. Many animals might have retreated close to the mountain. I also felt really, really sorry for the people living in this hostile place right now, they are facing incredible hardships. Dry, dusty, sandy - I did not find it appropriate to take pictures of their living conditions, but it looked really tough. I really hope for good rains for them this year to ease this hardship. But still, personally, I would be keen to give Ali Deghe a second try and give it the time it deserves. Most reports I´ve read on the place (here and on mammalwatching) had very interesting sightings, especially at night. Stuff like Aardwolf, Aardvark, Leopard, Golden Wolf, Rueppel´s Fox. There are Cheetahs around, as our local guide confirmed, and some people have been lucky enough to see them according to their reports. And yes, @Botswanadreams, it it possible to see Wild Ass here - Abiy has in the past. Grevy Zebra is another special animal here, as are Lesser Kudus and Northern Gerenuk. So it´s an intriguing place full of possibilities. Also, cattle grazing is much less apparent here, and there´s no heavy traffic road nearby. No plans for a motorway either, so the future does not look that bleak. To make it clear, however, I´m quite sure that even on a very good day this will never compare to a classic East African safari park. All animals are very, very wary here, it´s extremely difficult to approach them due to the lack of cover - they are terrified of people, and sadly that will mean they have good reason to. But still, I do believe Ali Deghe is a fascinating place with unique wildlife, and for anybody craving seeing "different" species it should be on an Ethiopia itinerary. Sandgrouses (Chestnut-Bellied in this case) are very resilient, they did not mind the scorching heat. We had our only sighting of Unstriped Ground Squirrels here in Ali Deghe. The Black-Headed Lapwing was high on my list - a new one for me, and I think it looks very cool with its crest. My bird book states they are often "approachable and tame" in arid plains - this one was not. Egyptian Vulture - another first for me, I was excited to see this bird. Many of them were circling above us for some time, probably checking when we would fall down and finally die in the heat. The open plains of Ali Deghe A classic - and familiar - bird of drier areas - the Namaqua Dove. Well, this is my contribution to the "Find the hidden animal" thread (which we should have if we don´t yet). There´s a Northern Gerenuk in here - far away, and even after Abiy had pointed it out it took me minutes to locate it. This is a different, apparently a bit larger subspecies (sclateri) from the more familiar animal (walleri) found in Samburu for example. Open plains like this are perfect habitat for Secretary Birds - they are not easy to see in Ethiopia. I had missed Arabian Bustard in Awash so it was good to find it - another target for me. Even though Soemmering´s Gazelle ran like the wind whenever they saw us they are definitely doing much better here than in Awash - we saw several small herds. Also known as the Abyssinian Mohr, this animal is yet another Horn endemic. It´s listed as vulnerable - only a few patchily distributed populations left. Their herds used to number hundreds of animals - now there are rarely more than 15. Hunting may have played a significant part in their decline but overgrazing and habitat degradation by domestic stock is probably the main cause. Around 6,000 to 7,000 left according to the IUCN. Seeing Ethiopia´s endemics just like them was a major reason for me to travel to remote places like Ali Deghe, so I was happy to see them here in (relatively) good numbers. The most "classic" African savannah scenery we had on this trip was definitely here in Ali Deghe. Somali Ostrich - another Northern specialty. A more blue-grey neck and legs, no white ring at the base of the neck. And a distant Golden Jackal Wolf - it got its "promotion" only in 2015 when it was discovered this is not the same animal as the Eurasian Golden Jackal. But it´s still close enough to the Jackal to produce hybrid offspring.The genetic divergence is more than 6,7 %. Does not sound much but it´s more than between Wolf and Coyote for example. And just to avoid confusion - yes, there still is a Golden Jackal, just not in Africa. The animal found in India´s park for example, and also advancing more and more to the West in Europe, is Jackal. Because the split happened so recently the population status of the Golden Wolf is unclear. This one is the subspecies "Egyptian Wolf" I assume. Sometimes this animal has been called "Cryptic Wolf" here on Safaritalk - the way I understand it, that´s not the official name, this term is just adressing the fact that a second wolf was always here in Africa, hiding in plain sight "disguised" as a Jackal - hence the term "Cryptic". Oh, and well, going to Ali Deghe was totally worth it for me because it gave us our very best photo opportunity for Abyssinian Roller - a delightfully common bird in Ethiopia:
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    Our first morning in Awash was an early game drive. When Michael and Andreas were not at the meeting point, I immediately told Abiy, “Something’s wrong.” I am always on time or a little early, but they are always way early. What was wrong was that Michael was very sick. The injera the previous night obviously did not agree with him. In fact, when I first laid eyes on him that morning I instinctively blurted out, “You look awful.” And later apologized. I think he felt even worse than he looked. Hoping the worst was behind him, he decided to give the drive a try, taking a spot by the door. From the vehicle on morning drive in Awash Ali Deghe Mountains, viewed from Awash, early morning game drive About 15 minutes in, it was time for a stop. Now! A quick roadside deposit and Michael felt much improved. I’ve experienced that post-disgorgement wave of relief myself, only to be fooled a few minutes later. And it was just a few minutes later when, after another quick stop, it became obvious there would be no morning game drive for Michael that day. But what did impress me as we returned and neared the lodge, was that Michael gazed skyward, and though hampered by his weakened state, he feebly called out, “Monkey.” It was a Grivit, a first of the trip and a new species for the three of us. Now that’s dedication in the face of adversity. Nice spot! From the vehicle on morning drive in Awash. Well done, Michael! Anyone who does a good deal of traveling to remote locations, knows they will take their turn at some point, puking in the jungle lodge. We can only hope that the down time is short lived and not too uncomfortable. On our previous trip together, it was I who nearly vomited in a temple in Kaziranga, which I initially mistook for a restroom. Redirected, I completed the task behind an outhouse. Fortunately, both of us recovered in under 24 hours from our respective ailments. During Michael’s downtime, Andreas and I explored the falls area around the lodge with Abiy and Bege, then did a bird walk. Crocs near the lodge, where we walked with our guide, well out of their way. The remained undisturbed. Grivit Monkey and Abyssinian roller, seen bird walk from the Lodge Falls from Awash Lodge
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    Candid of Andreas His light colored hat served him well. The geladas have come to associate white hats with the researchers who obviously do them no harm, and we were told that a white hat can gain you proximity. Geladas also recognize skin color and associate that with behavior. The local farmers surrounding Guassa, who chase the crop-stealing geladas from their fields, have dark skin. Most of the tourists who come to view the geladas have lighter skin. The geladas retreat from people with dark skin, meaning Abiye, Bega, and our local guide would stay back at least 50 meters when we had reached the geladas so as not to scare them away. What really caught the attention of the geladas and sent them packing was a local guy leading a couple of donkeys through the meadow. Interestingly, when the geladas approached our lodge midday, they were unconcerned with any of us milling about, regardless of hats or skin color. Such intelligent creatures knew where they were unwanted and where they could forage in peace. Here is a different perspective of the serval encounter. The rest of us remained on a hill while Michael descended in pursuit of the serval. It was Abiy's specific goal to find a cat this trip and we did so on Day 2. The serval is in the green grass behind the white vegetation. Michael in the foreground. Serval viewed/photographed from the hill.
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    Speaking of "running around" I recall Michael zipping over a steep embankment at high speed in pursuit of wattled ibis early in the trip. His success resulted in a very visible wattle. I had to wait until Lake Langano for the wattle shot, which required less zipping. Some gnarly vegetation almost obscured the wattle in the left shot. Wattle in motion in the right shot. Lake Langano. Abiy and Michael standing still and finding the birds in Lake Langano. @xelas's description of “big, splashy and colourful” is the perfect description for the Lake Langano birds. Northern carmine bee eater--maybe not big, but are splashy and colorful The non-splashy and colorful birds are so intimidated they fly right out of the photo, like this Spur-winged plover. Seen on bird walk At Bishangari, where we drove for a bird walk our last morning. @AndMicvoted for the Blue-breasted bee eater as his fav of Lake Langano. Seen on bird walk @michael-ibk and I voted for the Double toothed barbet as the fav of Lake Langano, if I am correct. Seen on bird walk. Abiy's favorite, Ethiopian boubou. His fav because he likes its song. Seen on bird walk. Thanks @michael-ibk for the ID help. Even though the Yellow-fronted parrot was not voted as our #1, didn’t mean we did not want to see it. This endemic is a prize of the area and we were hoping for the prize. Abiy said that morning is the best time to see them, and we were looking. But no parrots that morning. That afternoon about 4:55 pm we found the Yellow-fronted parrots! Just in time for perfect light. Yellow-fronted parrot, an endemic highlight of Lake Langano on afternoon walk. Pelicans on Lake Langano - Can you find the cormorant? This was water from a faucet very near Hara Lodge. The birds loved it. We spent a lot of time here in the nice morning light. Maybe we should have been Yellow-fronted parrot hunting that morning instead. Greater blue-eared starlings Cordon Bleus Golden Jackal Lake Langano on our bird (and jackal) walk Long ago I had read about tree climbing goats in various parts of the world. I always wanted to see that. Here it was at Lake Langano. The Yellow-fronted parrot may have competition as a prize of Lake Langano. Tree climbing goat in Lake Langano. Seen on bird (and goat) walk.
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    Next we were introduced to Lambert, the chief guide. Lambert featured in a BBC documentary made a couple years ago called The Gorilla Family and Me with wildlife cameraman Gordon Buchanan. They followed the Chimanuka family and Gordon was also asked to help with the habituation of the Mpungwe family. Lambert told us he had been tracking the gorillas of KBNP for 30 years and that today he wanted us to see Chimanuka’s group. Lambert’s English was excellent, he had a cracking sense of humour and we were to be very impressed with his skills as a guide. The Chimanuka group originally had 37 members but subsequent interactions with other groups led by Mpungwe and Bonane (Chimanuka’s son) has meant this has now been reduced to 22. The Chimanuka and Mpungwe groups had been followed for quite some time by ICCN rangers and researchers and because of the interaction with Bonane (pronounced Bon-an-nay) a new group formed, ready habituated, as Bonane and the 4 females who joined him came from already habituated groups. Bonane is now a group of 6 members as one of the females has just given birth. Mpungwe is a group of 20 with one Blackback along with the females and youngsters. We waited with Lambert until he received word that the trackers had found the trail of the Chimanuka group and then we were driven with himself and the rangers about 10 minutes up the forest road until we reached the start of the trail into the bamboo forest. The forest was very dense but the temperature was perfect for trekking, probably around 18 degrees or so. We were following a trail for around 3 hours when it became clear during several radio cons between Lambert and the trackers that the trail they had thought was Chimanuka’s actually belonged to Mpungwe. However, we were unable to visit this group as it was already being observed by researchers. We could tell Lambert was a touch unhappy as he explained that at this time of year when the groups are moving on the ground a lot more it can happen that trails are crossed and become confused. We all took a break and waited for Lambert to ‘make a plan’. Picture of one of the rangers taken while we were waiting. We were just discussing with the German couple the possibility of not finding any gorillas today when Lambert stood up and announced that ‘we would just have to go and see Bonane instead’. We were relieved as we didn’t mind which group we saw but it turned out that Lambert was disappointed because the Germans had seen that group yesterday and he was most upset they would see the same group twice. They assured him they were fine about it. So off we went and within about 20 minutes we spotted our first gorilla. Now normal practice with gorilla trekking in DRC is for everybody to wear masks. Unfortunately we had been told at the HQ they had just run out, so today’s trek would have to be an exception to this rule. We were watching one of the females and then Lambert spotted Bonane so he pulled us into a good position for watching him. Here goes picture overload on our first Eastern Lowland (Grauer's) Gorillas. (A thank you to @Jochen at this point for his tutorial a couple of months ago, I manually overrode the camera ISO settings to 800 & 1000 for these pictures,not something I would have thought to do before reading it) Female Going back to the differences between Eastern Lowland and Mountain gorillas. Eastern Lowland gorillas are larger, have a longer head with a slimmer nose and mouth, slightly longer arms and shorter finer hair on their bodies. Mountain gorillas have longer more dense hair. Silverback Bonane Lambert took our camera to do a spot of filming. Then Lambert got very excited and told us to watch the female coming into view. This was Siri, the mother of the new born. The baby is around 7-10 days old and as yet they have been unable to determine the sex. More of Bonane A different female - note the damaged right eye Below a couple of Lamberts efforts with the filming. This one shows the female walking in with the baby, although too far away to actually see it on film After our hour was up we made our way back through the forest and onto the initial trail that took us back to the forest road where the vehicle was waiting to take us back to the Park HQ. Finding our way back to the trail. We got back to HQ at around 4pm and after a quick and interesting chat to one of the reseachers working in the Park on behalf of the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund, Martin took us back to the Orchids Hotel.
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    The road from the border crossing leads straight into Bukavu. Bukavu is the capital city of South Kivu province. It sits along the southern coastline of Lake Kivu with it’s five peninsulas jutting out into the lake. The buildings of the city are built up from the lakeside and into the surrounding hills. It was obviously once a very beautiful place with it’s many art deco buildings and even now still has bags of character and colour. However, the road infrastructure has disintegrated and is now virtually non-existent with everywhere in a bad state of disrepair. Traffic is very busy and driving here is definitely not for the faint-hearted – imagine Delhi at rush hour but without any roads or pavements. Horns are blaring constantly and the motorbike is king. In order to make any headway Martin just drove into gaps that weren’t there and then you would find that a motorbike had followed in next to you. I have no idea how we didn’t become one big pile up of vehicles. It was quite an experience – and actually great fun (for us at least)! After a while we trundled down a little side street, through some metal gates and into the oasis of calm and greenery that is the Orchids Safari Club. We were in room 1 which was at one end of a line of ground floor rooms with terraces that look directly out onto the lake. There is just a small strip of grass between the end of the tiled terrace and the steep slope down to the lake and great views across to part of the city and the next peninsula. Here are some pictures showing the hotel room and gardens. Whoops, just noticed me in the mirror. The lake at the end of our terrace. The lovely hotel gardens. View of a lake jetty and Bukavu.
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    It was a morning of cats as we left to go to a waterhole where two lionesses were sighted. the surprise though was these two felines were from the northern pride, and were trespassing in the southern pride's territory. these two females were massive - really mascular and bulked up. in fact, one of the females has an infamous reputation as a really grumpy cat and often snarled when the vehicles went too close for her liking. Today though, she was preoccupied. she vanished beyond a ridge while her sister laid down and waited. then she reappeared, as if she was searching for something. she walked very close to our vehicle but ignored us (phew). The two males were not that far away, and no one had seen the southern pride yet, but the fear was that these two females could kill young cubs of the southern pride. happily that didn't happen. slurp... what's for breakfast?
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    taking a leisurely loop, we went in search of the lions in the eastern section. Tswalu is a fenced reserve and in the middle, split by a public road, the western section (where the lodges are) and the eastern section is further divided by fences. The fences on the eastern section is to fence in the largest predators - the lions - so that the valuable antelopes particularly sables which are bred in Tswalu are protected. Ben locked the gate behind us when we entered the eastern side, behind another vehicle with a gentleman guest. the rangers were scouring the ground as pugmarks of male lions were all over the section. to cover all ground, the other vehicle headed to the right while we headed to the centre. luck stayed on our side as Ben and Kosie found the lion tracks back on our route. we followed the tracks for quite a distance, when suddenly Kosie pulled over. the male cats were right in front of us. yay! both pride males - gorgeous specimens in their prime and well toned and healthy with their luscious black manes. not that they allowed us to admire in their full glories as both males gave us the African salutes and 5 minutes later, they were flattened in the long grasses. At least we saw them standing and walking! the other guests who came to see them reported they were still flat till the evening. i saw them in my last trip but they were resolutely horizontal at that time. at one point, one of them got up and started sniffing the air, staring into the distance and hearing something we couldn't hear or see. but then flat he went again.
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    The Harenna Forest - a huge part of the park in its South, along with the adjacent State- and community-managed forest outside the park, it constitutes an area of over 4,000km2. It is also the largest cloud forest in the country. The lodge is in this area, and from here we first tried to find the Bale Monkey. There are some clearings with good visibility ... ... but overall the forest is very, very dense, and it´s not easy to make progress here. Even harder to spot anything - it´s far too easy for all animals to hide very effectively, and since they will hear you coming long before you are even close it´s a rare occurrence to find any of the forest´s shier inhabitants (like Giant Forest Hog or Bushpig, not to speak of predators like Lion or Leopard - but I would not have been too hot on finding some of these on foot anyway.) Impenetrable as the forest may seem, it´s still used heavily from the locals - we saw a lot of these bee baskets for example. Which is harmless usage of the resources - the amount of wood collected in the forest is definitely not. Birding is very difficult here, the only worthwhile sightings were in clearings, and mostly up in the sky. Ayre´s Hawk Eagle Sharpe´s Starling Northern Fiscal And the omnipresent Augur Buzzard. We also saw Crowned Eagle on two occassions - and I suspect their presence was a big reason why the monkeys decided to go into hiding, they are the Eagle´s preferred prey after all. A very peaceful, soothing setting in the forest, and even though we did not see all that much I greatly enjoyed this. Unfortunately also a place under huge pressure - a lot of illegal burning going on, which is slowly but surely eating away from this irreplacable habitat.
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    The Eagle flew in, scooped up the fish and was immediately mobbed by a gull sensing some easy food But it held on to the fish and took it to the cliff-side nest (bad photo in poor light, but if you look hard you can just make out the other Eagle on the nest)
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    But back to the main stars - sorry, can´t resist posting some more birds. Black-Headed Batis African Citril Chestnut Weaver - one of the many new species for me. The Banded Barbet was an imporant find - it is another endemic to the Horn, we saw two of them. Grey-Headed Bush Shrike We had a nice extended sighting of this (European) Hoopoe, one of my favourite birds, and could also clearly hear how it got its name: Northern Carmine Bee-Eater - always a special bird to see. Red-Headed Weaver - they look like they fell in a red paint pot. Red-Fronted Tinkerbird - I have seen this little beauty before but never as close. Wire-Tailed Swallow sleeping in the dining room. Goliath Heron, pretty relaxed about our presence - normally they are much shier in my experience. It was very enjoyable watching these Pelicans hunt - obviously the Cormorant hoped to steal a bit from them. Green Sandpiper Yellow-Billed Stork Spur-Winged Lapwing As mentioned before the lodge is very close to the village, which of course means a lot of livestock - and people - are around. After a while Abiy had his hands full "protecting" our bird findings. The kids were quite shy at first, only one or two started following us, curious about what we were doing here. Well, it did not take long for them to become a bit bolder, and they multiplied - and all of them wanted to be models. Eventually we drew quite a crowd and finally gave up, as nice as the kids were, having 20 of them jumping around us was not really beneficial for birding. We felt a bit like rock stars - the first time so many other people found us so inherently fascinating.
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    Bring some altitude pills and Peptos and you'll be all set! A fine time for a bird walk at Doho Lodge is 6:30-7:30 am. Bruce's green pigeon, Doho Lodge on morning bird walk Orange bellied parrot, Doho Lodge on morning bird walk No walking needed to find this week-old ostrich chick, that had been found abandoned in the park. Doho’s farewell sighting to us was an Abyssinian Roller kill! Abyssinian Roller with a kill, seen from vehicle leaving Doho Lodge Rufous crowned roller, along highway, we were out of car Truck drivers throw out millet to feed the baboons. Entertainment during traffic jams. Hamadryas (left) and Olive (right) baboons are at home beside or on the road. Roll up that window, quick. This guy is aggressive. The baby learns at an early age to hang out on the road. Olive baboon Driving back past Awash we had a trip highlight along the highway. Bege pulled over, stopped the vehicle and let us out to watch a pair of Abyssinian Ground Hornbill! Abiy had said he could practically guarantee this bird during our trip, and we did see them again with one other chance for a photo op. Abyssinian Ground Hornbill, spotted along the highway near Awash, photographed on foot, after exiting the vehicle. I kind of like the metal structure in the background because a lot of our bird watching was typical of this environment--along the highway where wildlife mingled with infrastructure or at least survived nearby. Village Weavers at the Bethlehem Restaurant, where we had lunch outdoors, near the city of Ziway There was a conference center in Ziway, near where we stopped for lunch, that had tree hyraxes. We conferenced with the hyrax. Abijatta-Shalla National Park is south of the city of Ziway and a nice stop on the way to Lake Langano. The park contains Abijatta Lake and Shalla Lake. It used to be 887 square km, with half the park comprised of water. Grazing has decimated most of the park and now a small fenced area remains where we saw Soemmerring’s gazelle, reedbuck, Somali ostrich, owls, and some other interesting birds. Oh, and we also saw a rusted out car. We walked around the park with a local ranger for 90 minutes. Von Decken's Hornbill and Bearded Woodpecker, seen walking in Abijatta-Shalla National Park Fork-tailed drongo and Greyish eagle owl seen walking in Abijatta-Shalla National Park. The owl had a big chick in a box that served as its nest. The gentlemen may have gotten some nice photos of a few other species seen in Awash and Ali Deghe, like gerenuk, Somali ostrich, lesser kudu. Plus lots more birds. And they may have some shots that do the lodges (Awash and Doho) justice.
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    Well, most of them were pretty far away, hundreds of metres. But we had three sightings very close to the road (maybe 10-20 m or something like that?), and we were often out walking and approached them that way, which worked quite well - maybe within 50 m or similar (difficult to estimate) though it was not so easy taking photos out of breath as we were - the altitude of more than 4,000 m is quite taxing. I remember this was the very first Wolf we saw on our way in, far off the road, and only when looking at my pictures did I realize there had been a second one. This was our first "good" sighting on our full day - it had just crossed the road. I ran after it afterwards but (obviously) could not keep up with it - but I did see it devour some rodent. This one was also on foot. There were three Wolves in total close by (but never actually interacting), they used the Cows to find prey. Both having lunch. This one was kind of our farewell present when we left the park - spotted by Eagle-eyed Abiy of course. Quite close to the road. He was busy which is probably why he did not run. Most other Wolves were pretty or very far away, sometimes only visible with binocs or scope. But our closest sighting was a pair of them, one having dinner, the other apparently standing guard. This was at the end of our "full Wolf" day. It was really fascinating hearing them like this: And that concludes the Bale part of the report. Did we like it there? Hell yeah!
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    Two happy Bale visitors. So how did we spend our time in the park? As Lynn already pointed out, it´s far more than just the Wolves, and there are a lot of different habitats. We only devoted one full day to the Wolves. That might sound surprising but we were happy with our sightings for that day, and also saw Wolves when we were driving (from BML) to Dinsho, and also on the way out. Additionally the Bale Monkeys were giving us a real hard time, and stubborn as we were, we invested basically two full days in the Harenna Forest to finally get them. (Also for Menelik´s Bushbuck.) I´m sure we would have done a full second day on the plateau if we had found the monkeys earlier - and generally they are much easier. Augur Buzzard taking off. We did not really spend much time in the Gaysay grasslands, we just passed through on our way in and out. This was partly owed to the fact that we already had seen Serval in Guassa, otherwise I´m sure we would have made different decisions - Gaysay is a good place for them, and there´s also a (remote) chance for Caracal. Spot-Breasted Lapwing - another of Ethiopia´s many endemic birds. The grasslands are only a tiny fraction of the park. I guess because it´s such a small area the Mountain Nyalas here, who love this habitat, have decided there´s just no way to avoid people, so have become extremely habituated and it´s possible to get very close to them here. (Even more so in the area around Dinsho). Anywhere you stop in Ethiopia kids will appear out of nowhere. Groundscraper Thrush. There´s also an incredible amount of Warthogs and Baboons in the grasslands - all well-fed animals. The Baboons are quite used to getting goodies from truck drivers, so they approach cars very closely, and are kind of demanding. Especially with the big males it´s not a bad idea to close windows when they come too close - they can be feisty. Blue-Cheeked Bee-Eater There are no "safari tracks" or anything like that here, game viewing can just be done from the main road.
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    Everything shown in the posts so far was found in a radius of certainly not more than 1,000 m from the lodge, so it´s really in incredibly rich area, and I´m sure that it would be the perfect place to convert everybody into a birder! Birding groups tend to stay here for three nights, and it´s easy to see why. Even if not keen on feathered friends I do recommend Haro Lodge for everybody going to Bale, it´s such a wonderful atmosphere here, a little slice of paradise, and as mentioned before it´s perfect for a stop to break up the long drive South. On our way out we quickly had a look at the Bishangari area. Seeing the burnt premises was of course not too enjoyable (and I did not find it in my heart to take pictures of this long-standing and well-reputed wildlife lover centre). There are plans to rebuild apparently, though I cannot quite see how this would be a good idea without solving the tensions with the local community. We had a very nice sigthing of Abyssinian Ground Hornbill close by. Bishangari is famous for its ancient huge trees, home to all kinds of birds and other wildlife, shared quite harmoniously with livestock. At least the Warthogs and cattle seem to get along quite well. Baboons were also quite common around Haro and Bishangari, but - as I do quite often I confess - they were pretty much ignored, so no photos. Two more birds to cap off the Langano part: Sulphur-Breasted (aka Orange-Breasted) Bush-Shrike Grey-Backed Fiscal Next up: Back to Mammals - we are moving on to Bale Mountains NP - which means Wolves!
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    Your comment is perfect timing, because the Waterbuck Walk from Doho Lodge in Ali Deghe is up next! Other than the illness incident, Awash Lodge was lovely with outstanding views of the falls from many little alcove areas in the lounge/restaurant where your party could have privacy while dining or relaxing. And we can’t really blame the illness all on Awash because it happened again later in the trip to poor Michael after some more injera. In fact, all of us (even Abiy and Begahaw) were queasy or similar at some point in the trip. Pepto-bismal tablets came in handy! Ali Deghe Reserve is Ethiopia’s most prolific savanna-like terrain, in the classic, traditional safari sense. Our time in Ali Deghe was not optimal for a couple of reasons. First, our original lodge for viewing Ali Deghe, Bilen, was changed. While Doho was beautiful, I think it was not as conveniently located as Bilen. Bilen was not available, I believe due to a change in ownership, but I don’t recall exactly. Second, we were originally going to leave Awash Lodge to drive to Ali Deghi super early (like 5 am) to arrive by about 7:15 am. But then we thought it would be best to check on Michael’s health in the morning and see how breakfast settled in his stomach before taking off. So, we departed Awash Lodge at 6:45 am for Ali Deghe. Only 2 minutes later, we stopped for a Black chested snake eagle posing nicely in the early rays. Then a couple of minutes after that, we enthusiastically executed our “stop the vehicle, get out and view on foot” routine for an Abyssinian Hare. Black-chested snake eagle in Awash, morning departure from lodge. Not sure if we were in or out of the vehicle. Abyssinian Hare, with its black tail evident. Seen on Awash morning departure game drive where we exited the vehicle after sighting the hare. Driving along the highway to Ali Deghe, we viewed some Hamadryas baboons, which are endemic to the Horn of Africa. I would have preferred to see the Hamadryas in a more natural setting than along the highway. The International Union for Conservation for Nature lists the Hamadryas baboon as “least concern,” which is positive. Hamadryas baboons, roadside between Awash and Ali Deghe, viewed from the car. We reached Ali Deghe about 9:00 am when much of the wildlife had ceased its activity in the heat. After about an hour of driving around without much luck, we decided to halt the drive and head to Doho Lodge. Skittish Soemmering's Gazelle through midday day heat haze in Ali Deghe. To reach Doho Lodge, we drove through a dry, sparsely vegetated area with lots of heavy equipment digging and reshaping the dusty landscape—new roads or something. Very barren and unattractive. What kind of place is this Doho Lodge we wondered? But we arrived at a lush oasis of “untouched palm forest, typha grass, hot spring lake, and wetlands." (from brochure) The brochure was entirely accurate. Lunch was combined with some great bird watching without ever leaving our chairs. Pied kingfisher and Ruppell's long-tailed starling (I believe) while eating lunch at Doho Lodge Then, instead of relaxing at the lodge in the afternoon, perhaps taking a dip in the hot springs*, we headed out again at 3:30 pm, arriving at Ali Deghe at 4:40 pm. The afternoon proved more productive than later morning. We did not get back to Doho Lodge until about 7:15 pm. * I believe only @AndMic made it into the hot springs, the next morning. That’s a long day and a lot of driving. We appreciated that Guide Abiy and Driver Bege were so flexible and willing to do more driving than the itinerary stated to meet our needs. Just one more reason these guys are Top Notch! But the day did not end at 7:15 pm. Oh no, we had the Waterbuck Walk around the lodge. Defassa Waterbuck to be exact. Michael was back to fighting form by then, so we hunted waterbuck (which are quite rare in Ethiopia) on foot for about half an hour from 10:00 pm – 10:30 pm. Beisa Oryx in Ali Deghe, late afternoon. Viewed after exiting the vehicle. Beisa Oryx and Soemmerring's Gazelle in Ali Deghe, late afternoon. Viewed after exiting the vehicle. Soemmerring's Gazelle in Ali Deghe, late afternoon. Viewed after exiting the vehicle. Soemmerring's Gazelle in Ali Deghe, late afternoon. Viewed after exiting the vehicle. Proof we did the Waterbuck Walk Our original itinerary also had a coffee or tea (I forget which) ceremony scheduled for after dinner at Doho Lodge. The 3 of us unanimously agreed to nix the ceremony to accommodate our revised schedule. But it’s nice this cultural activity was planned for us. With a lodge closer to Ali Deghe and an earlier start, the coffee/tea ceremony would have fit in. ***This day of the trip, March 16, should probably be re-worked from what we did, if our itinerary is being used as a model.***
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    after dinner, we followed Wendy to track her charges. she names her charges, which are tagged, by numbers as all scientists do, but one of the favourites and more accomodating is Charlie, whom I had met last year. This time, Charlie had roamed far from his usual den but still no less unfriendly. By the time we saw him, the sun had set and it was pitch dark. the photos were taken by my OH. the magical little dragon was on the go for juicy ants and zig-zagging around, at one time fooling wendy he was heading in the direction of his favourite den.
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    A brunch had been organised for all the guests at a venue that was built by the previous owners for dining events. Lodged against the cliff of a hillside, it offered spectacular views of the beautiful semi-arid landscapes. in between, we took long meanders. As I had pre-warned my OH, sometimes you could drive and see an antelope or two, and sometimes you don't see much. but we did see some animals here and there, and one of the more interesting sightings was a group of elands. In Tswalu, elands do not stop for you. perish the thought of taking a shot of them posing nicely for you. But a creche of young adults with a handful of adult minders was curious about us. They ran towards us, stopped at a distance, studied us, and decided we weren't worth a longer look. we also stopped at a waterhole for a coffee prior to the brunch. the mammals stopped coming in when they saw us, but the birds were thirsty.
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    Our search for the elusive Bale Monkey continued. A bit higher up is a thin bamboo belt, their favourite habitat. The town (or village) of Rira is also up here, so a lot of this area is no longer "wild" by any means. The locals have fenced off big parts of the park here for their needs. Abyssinian Catbird - another endemic. Here we finally had a decent sighting of a male Menelik´s Bushbuck. This montane race is generally thought of as only a subspecies though exact Bushbuck taxonomy is highly complex and controversial - would be a good one for @Safaridude. Over fourty races have been identified in Africa varying in coloration, size and habitat type. Menelik´s is a pretty distinct phenotype, no estimates about their population exist (at least I haven´t found any), and their general shy nature does certainly not help establishing their numbers. They are extremely beautiful animals, with a coat longer than that of other bushbucks, perhaps because of living in the lower temperatures of high altitudes. I also thought the males are slightly larger than other Bushbucks I´ve seen so far. It did not like to stay for further "studies". Our time in Harenna and Rira was also when our weather luck was fading a bit, we had some rain, though nothing too bad. This Cinnammon´s Bracken Warbler did not mind - their song is beautiful. African Emerald Cuckoo had been high on my list for quite some time, so I was very happy when Abiy located one. When you see them in the birdbook you´d think they must be incredibly easy to find with those colours. It´s the opposite, they blend in amazingly well between the green and yellow leaves, it´s really effective camouflage. One of the many Colobus monkeys we did not want to see - sorry for having become Colobus snobs after Langano. African Mountain Wagtail And another endemic - the Abyssinian Woodpecker The falls are quite lovely - nothing spectacular but a beautiful little place. It was late afternoon on our very last full day in Bale when we finally, finally found our Monkeys. At first they were shy and ran, but after a while they grew accustomed to us and continued feeding in the bamboo. We spent almost an hour with them, this was one of my favourite experiences of the trip. There´s something magical about animals starting to accept you, losing their fear and then going on with their lives. Again, it´s really worth pointing out that our experience was very atypical. Abiy was almost desparing, because he had said the Monkeys were no problem at all, and he had expected to find them very early on. And most people do, you can have amazing sightings of them just by the road. So we just were a bit unlucky with them - but OTOH our ultimate success was so much more rewarding because of the efforts we had made.
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    The next morning we set out to get our pangolin! I have to hand it to Jonas our tracker and Moses our guide. They found the fresh tracks of a pangolin in the soft Kalahari sand and we got out of the land rover and began following its rambling, circling patterns into the bush.....an agitated wildebeest letting out a periodic snort of disapproval with our presence. For an hour we followed the tracks---mind you, I was looking at the ground but to the untrained eye it looked like a car wreck of antelope tracks of all shapes and sizes...how they are able to read the bush so well like a road map is one of those impressive and amazing things about Africans... we found the hole it had dug to nap during the heat of the day covered in fresh dirt....we would return that night to check on him/her... I may be getting my days confused but we set out to find White Rhino on the lion side and found three trotting about in thick bush but I was unable to get a clear picture of them...they rarely see vehicles I was told and often ran from the land rover...on our way back to camp we came across a long black snake in the road. Moses identified it as a mole snake. it scooted off into the bush and Jonas jumped down from his spotter's chair to investigate. They thought it moved rather slowly and as Jonas walked back to the vehicle another snake (a cape cobra) wriggled into the bush in the opposite direction. This gave everyone a start as Jonas likely jumped down very close to the cobra. They figured that the cobra had bitten the mole snake and had planned to eat it as they prey on other snakes...yikes! We also came across a napping owl which had taken liberties with a sociable weavers' nest...
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    The next morning we set out to find black rhino, in particular, a relaxed mother and calf rather than a couple grumpier ones recently encountered...along the way we crested a dune ridge and watched an enormous herd of eland (150?) on the run. It's an impressive scene for sure. In the meantime, there was a health emergency with one of the trackers in another vehicle so we took on two extra passengers as the guide attended to the emergency. The rhinos were fantastic---the Black Rhino in particular is my favorite. The mother gave us a mock charge just so we'd keep our distance and we had a nice view as they browsed the scrub and then laid down for a nap. Not before the baby implored its mom to get up
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    Tswalu has so many activities you can do, almost too many to list: horseback riding, there's a spa, wine tastings, heli rides, boma dinners, you name it but I was pretty focused on the wildlife and eschewed most of those activities. We did book the sleep out deck to spend a night star gazing...my impression was that this time of year, clear skies were all but guaranteed but that's not exactly how it turned out. But I'm getting ahead of myself...first came the afternoon drive and I believe we were on the trail of the cheetahs but we came across the pack of wild dogs and were waylaid. The pups were playing and the adults resting when some drama began to unfold. A herd of buffalo began to move in to drink at the bore hole, one or two of the dogs held their ground if not downright taunted them. This attracted a group of buffalo to pursue the dogs...there was a stare down, a chase, the dogs then turned the tables and took off after the stampeding buffaloes...it was all quite comical since the dogs really posed no danger to the herd. There was the possibility the buffaloes might harm the pups, however...
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    we had to time the visit to the meerkats to coincide with the sunlight falling on their dens. it was a bit of a cloudy day so we didn't have the beautiful golden light to bring out their golden hues and fuzzy hair. It was still no less entertaining to enjoy the tiny cousins of the weasels including time spent walking with them part way as they foraged and hunted. for a spree of meerkats waking up, housecleaning, grooming, bonding, sunning, taking shut-eyes, moving out, checking out potential "prey", sheltering and foraging.....
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    So, the Sanetti Plateau. Lynn already described this wonderful place and the number of our Wolves sightings in great detail, so I won´t be very verbose here. A completely otherworldly realm - I have never been to someting similar. Not beautiful in a classic sense, probably not as majestic as the rugged mountains of the Simiens but totally unique and enthralling - I loved it up there. I really was surprised how difficult the Giant Mole Rat was. Somehow I had expected to see lots of them, but actually we only had two in a place Abiy knew, and had to be quite patient for it to stick its head out. I was trying lying down close to its burrow to get some closer shots but to no avail, it stayed put. This endemic is assessed as endangered because its extent of occurrence is approximately 5,140 km², all individuals are in fewer than five locations, and there is continuing decline in the extent and quality of its habitat by overgrazing by domestic livestock - we saw plenty of cows even up here. They are declining fast apparently, in 1996 they were still classified "Least Concern". They are still common in Bale, though - apparently 2,000 to 4,000 animals per km². Other Rodents were far more visible - probably Blick´s Grass Rats, but there are several rat and mouse species in the park, and IDing them is way over my head. This one was very interested in our picnic basket. I was tempted to reward it with some snippets but stayed strong. The main road crossing the plateau. It´s not exactly heavy traffic, but a few trucks are going through by hour certainly. With the number of rodents I had expected to see lots and lots of raptors here, but not really. Quite a lot of Augur Buzzards, one distant Lanner Falcon, and a few Beardeds. Unfortunately no Golden Eagles, a small population is here in Bale. This one is probably a Tawny although I´m not 100 % sure. Starck´s Hare is abundant but you would never know from the car. We never ever spotted one from the road, but once you get out and start walking (which is ok everywhere in Ethiopia) a lot of "rocks" suddenly start running. We also saw Hyrax but pretty far away. A record shot of some very distant Mountain Nyala. A few of them are living up here on the Plateau but unlike the ones in Dinsho they are extremely wary and shy and stay far from the road. But now - Wolf Time!
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    If there´s one thing I would change about the itinerary it´s Dinsho. We only had a few hours there, and it was quite a long drive from the Lodge to get there. It would have made a lot more sense to stay at Dinsho Lodge on the first night, and from what we saw from it, it would have been absolutely acceptable for one night - definitely better than Guassa, the place had electricity and running water, and was reasonably clean. I do not think that the itinerary would have been much improved by also spending the last night there - actually the drive from Bale Mountain Lodge to Lake Awasa is quite ok. Mountain Nyala are tame as cattle around Dinsho. I did not quite understand why, the area is not fenced off from the rest of the park, and generally Nyala are supposed to be very shy animals. Again, I can only assume they have learned there´s just no point to running with the number of people around. Maybe one can also take it as a good sign, an indicator that there´s not much poaching going on, otherwise they surely would have to be more afraid. Majestic animals, and they are huge - the males are larger than Greater Kudus. Like "regular" Nyalas this is a pronouncedly sexually dimorphic species - the males can be nearly twice as heavy. They are classified as endangered, with not more than 3,000 or 4,000 mature animals left in the wild. As montane specialists, they have been eliminated from most of their former range. Bale is now their major stronghold, at least half the population is found here. Smaller relict populations apparently occur in Chercher (Amhar) Mountains (Asba Tafari, Arba Guggu, Din Din), Arsi Mountains (Chilalo, Galama, Mt Kaka, Munessa), and West Bale (Somkaro-Korduro ridge). Cattle encroachment must be a huge problem, they are outnumbered by far by livestock in the grasslands. To my surprise it´s still legal to hunt them. "Trophy hunting blocks in Arsi have been hunted out and hunting concessions have moved to Bale (legal hunting is restricted to adult males); with continued pressure by the industry for additional hunting blocks and larger quotas. Effects of current trophy-hunting programs are not well understood and current trophy hunting quotas may be unsustainable in the long-term (Sillero-Zubiri 2013). On the other hand, sustainable trophy hunting has very high potential for generating the revenue needed to fund effective conservation of this species." (From the IUCN website.) Mounain Nyala are not kept in zoos, so their survival as a species is highly dependent on how effectively BMNP will be managed in the future. We really enjoyed walking around in Dinsho, it somehow has an golden autumn feel to it, and being in such close proximity to majestic animals like the Nyalas is a wonderful experience. Abyssinian Slaty Flycatcher - another Horn endemic. Chocolate lovers should like this bird - its Latin name is melaernornis chocolatinus. Reedbucks are also very common around Dinsho. Menelik´s Bushbucks less so - I think we only saw this female. Warthogs were also around in good numbers, and we glimpsed another Golden Wolf here. I feel a bit guilty about our "Owl guy" climbing the tree, it´s not something we would have asked, but it did give me an OIF.
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    Thank you, @jeremie, that report is encouraging! A bit more about Accomodations in and around Bale Mountains NP were always a problem, the hotels in the neighbouring cities and villages had an infamous reputation, and I´ve yet to see anybody report how much they enjoyed Dinsho Lodge. And any of these options are pretty far from the Sanetti Plateau where all the Wolf action happens, so certainly not ideal. Bale Mountain Lodge was the perfect solution to these problems. It´s only been in operations since 2013. Obviously they are trying to be a bit more high-end than many other lodges in Ethiopia but their prices are not unreasonable, especially considering the logistics running a place like that in such a remote area. (See here about the rates: http://wetu.com/iBrochure/en/Information/29665/Bale_Mountain_Lodge/Rates) I loved this Elephant-with-rider-shaped rock, one of the main views from the lodge. It´s a beautiful place, the rooms are very spacious and beautiful (Lynn already showed photos), and food was good to very good (not excellent). Power is a bit of a problem, we often couldn´t switch on the lights in the bathroom for example, but not a big deal. They are partly dependent on hydrodynamic power and obviously the lack of rain has created problems. Service-wise staff are friendly and helpful, but they still have some way to go to reach the level of established safari camps. But all bagatelles - I liked the place a lot, especially the wonderful scenery around, and it´s definitely the best option (by far) for anybody wanting to see the Wolves on the Plateau. The clearing in front of the lodge can be interesting, some guests had been lucky enough to see even lions there. For us, it was only Warthogs and Baboons - and the inevitable dogs which are (as pointed out by Lynn) a huge problem for the park. About the lions: They are definitely around, two weeks prior to our stay they had killed a horse less than a km from the lodge. And I´m very sure I heard one very early in the morning when I was walking around on the road. And yes, I returned to the lodge a bit faster after that than originally intended. :-) Generally, though, this time of the year (March) is not very suitable to find Harenna Forest´s larger mammals. An incredible number of locals is busy in the woods, and most animals retreat far back into the most remote areas. The best time to look for stuff like Lion, Leopard or Giant Forest Hog is apparently after the rainy season, October being ideal I was told, Nov/Dec still reasonable. Wild Dogs haven´t been seen in the park for more than four years now. We did two night drives in Harenna Forest which really were a waste of our time - we found nothing, not even a Bushbuck crossing the road. I enjoyed walking around the lodge grounds, some nice birdies to be found. Well, I did to get a better view of this Long-Crested Eagle but afterwards I told the manager they should really have a look at the platform, it was not in a very stable state, and I did not dare stepping on some of the planks. The lobby Dining room African Dusky Flycatcher - a very common highlands bird. This Yellow-Billed Kite was often sitting on the lodge´s roof. BML has eight forest cottages with a nice view into the forest. Around here I had my best view of a White-Cheeked Turaco. Also saw some Hyrax on the stone path. A staff member also showed me a Chameleon at night. Nice as the forest cottages are, it´s really quite a walk from there to the main building, which is why we preferred to stay in the rooms right next to the main building. There´s also the "Jackal House" available for guests, with three separate bedrooms.
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    Tooth check on the female A little drama that required revealing the pink gums. A wee bit 'o gums on the left as part of the infant exchange Noticeable teeth even in peacetime @Michael-ibk's previous photos show dental closeups where the males have the definite incisor advantage.
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    Moses and Jonas would stop at nothing to try and spot wildlife, sometimes scaling up small hills or mountains to scan the bush with binocs. I'm already losing track of the days but I believe the next morning we went back to the meerkat colony which was hard to get enough of...the first visit we saw them at the close of the day. Gathering at the den, cuddling and grooming each other. This time we saw them after emerging from the den, hungry and spreading out in all directions churring and frantically digging for grubs and scorpions. I've lost a little track of my days but the bottom line is that we booked five nights and we were facing our last afternoon/evening game drive and still no aardvark. I had kidded with the staff that if they could find an active aardvark hole or den, they could set up a cot and I'd wait it out but the last night drive, temps chilly, we had added another cape fox and a flap necked chameleon to our list of sightings but we were striking out on aardvark. I was determined, but I wasn't sure if my travel mate was as committed lol. Long drives in the night in the cold seemed not very appealing at this point. So off we set on the last afternoon drive about 4:30P, Aardvarks are frequently seen at Tswalu in the winter months cheating the last rays of sunlight as the night time temps plunge, Otherwise, an aardvark is nocturnal and extremely difficult to lay eyes on...in fact, some safari guides have spent decades in the bush, seen evidence of aardvark activity all around but never actually spotted one...so this was the last chance and we needed to be prepared to go deep into the night if necessary and I was but it was with elation that I can report we had been searching for about 20 minutes before Moses and Jonas spotted that great domed back scurrying around in broad daylight! They are particularly skittish, so we killed the engine and used our downwind position and various bush cover to sneak ever closer to this amazing animal. We spent about 45 minutes to an hour watching it dig for food, sniff the air, at some point it became aware of our presence but hadn't made visual contact. We were tolerated for a good while until we weren't and in a quick hurry scuttled off . We cracked open our sundowners and laughed and joked with Jonas and Moses....we didn't need to see another thing. Total satisfaction!
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    We returned to the pangolin hole at dusk prepared to wait. We cut the engine and stayed quiet. Jonas exited the land rover and quietly approached the hole when he heard scratching---the pangolin was emerging!!! Now a pangolin can do a lot of things...it can come out just after dark, or it can decide it's perfectly comfortable in there and sleep through the night...so we waited until the pangolin was good and out of his hole before we risked turning on a light. Moses and Jonas did not see that it had been tagged previously and so alerted the pangolin research team so soon we were joined by an expert complete with a weight scale and various measuring devices. It turns out the pangolin had been marked before but had not been seen in two years. Such an amazing creature and what a privilege to see in the wild! I was feeling quite lucky!
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    As night fell, clouds gathered. Heat lightning lit up the horizons and thunder rolled. I thought we were in the desert! The sleep out deck is pretty cool sitting atop a dune ridge looking out over the plains below. Needless to say the food is incredible and there's a nice fire in the pit. My determination to sleep out under the stars (or clouds as fate would have it) would not be deterred by a little lightning and thunder...but then the drops began to fall and we moved the beds under the thatch...three times we did this! So the starry night turned into a lightning show with a lot of fake outs with regard to rain---they call them dry storms. I would say it was a bit buggier than I thought it would be but perhaps that was because of the unusual weather...We had no sooner settled in and were about to dig into dinner than our walkie talkie began to ring---or was it a phone? At any rate, a leopard had been spotted near the stables and Moses and Jonas called to see if we wanted to see it---of course we did!!! We raced like banshees to get there---I guessed that a leopard was one of the species most difficult to see at Tswalu. When we arrived, we found the leopard napping in a camel thorn tree head sort of hidden, paws hanging down.
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    They sort of choose an animal to try to look for on each outing: twice we visited the habituated meerkat colony during our stay and I could spend hours watching them. They are tireless and entertaining, trilling and digging for scorpions. Taking turns as the sentinel always on watch duty for predators
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    more meerkat mania! well, the truth is that we took dozens of photos and it'd be such a waste not to enjoy the good ones (dumped loads of bad ones too!).
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    Last year I saw numerous hartmann's zebras down from the mountains but this time, we saw only one herd, and only a handful of plains zebras. a plains zebra waiting for us to leave the waterhole
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    White-tailed Eagle This is the UK’s largest bird of prey. It was made extinct in the UK in the early 20th century by illegal killing and possibly overfishing. It has now been reintroduced in Scotland. It is believed there are about 35-40 breeding pairs – so still a very small poulation. The RSPB run a couple of hides called “Eagle Watch” to give a chance to see the birds on the nest. We went to one of these but the weather was very wet and it was very difficult to see anything. On the same day we had booked a boat trip with Mull Charters in the afternoon. http://www.mullcharters.com/ The boat takes a maximum of 12 passengers, and has plenty of room for that number. The weather still didn’t look great, but we thought we would make the best of it. This is a trip where the crew throw a fish out to the water, attracting the eagle. The company works with the RSPB to carry out the trips responsibly. When reading about it I had mixed feelings, but the trip was recommended to us by @towlersonsafari and I am glad we followed their advice as we really enjoyed it. Some people will not like that a fish is thrown out for the eagle but we thought the trip was well run with consideration for the eagles and other wildlife seen. When the boat set out, it had to change route because the sea was rough in some areas. We had light rain but it did not stop the enjoyment. Black Guillemot Gulls following the boat Gannet White-tailed Eagle on Cliff At this point, one of the crew threw a fish into the water, but there was no response from the Eagle. A little later, they threw another fish, and the Eagle took off and started heading towards the boat. (I think that once an Eagle takes a fish that they do not then give any more to that bird, but move on to another site. I think this is so that it remains as supplementary feeding rather than the birds becoming dependent on them) Being harrased by a Hooded Crow
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    @Kitsafari, fortunately no nausea, just could not eat. Some altitude pills would be a good idea. I have used them in the past. A few more Guassa and pre-Guassa comments before moving on to Awash... ~Addis Ababa – We stayed at Jupiter International Hotel. Very comfortable and they even had a spa, plus this attractive chandelier. About 15 minutes away from Jupiter, we birded around Ghion Gardens for a couple of hours, where ABIY GOT MARRIED about a decade earlier. A very picturesque location and loads of interesting birds! There is a Ghion Hotel next to the gardens, but currently it was under renovation and not up to EQ’s standards. "I am a red-eyed dove. I am a red-eyed dove." Always hear them, found one in Ghion Garden, Addis Ababa ~For anyone who gets car sick, a Bonine or a portion of, is a good idea for the drove to and from Guassa. Simple, but I'd go back to this peaceful place with a well managed habitat. Overview from above - we did lots of climbing in Guassa, and not just to photograph the compound ~ Geladas like to forage near the lodge. They are quiet so it is unlikely you'd hear them in your room or the main lodge. It's all happening at the lodge Even midday I wore 3 layers on top and 2 prs of trousers Mother and baby visit our lodge The Ethiopian endemic White-collared Pigeons also came to us and sat on the roof. ~Geladas can be found even many kilometers outside of Guassa. Not at Guassa--this gelada was found along the road at a scenic lookout point Full moon over Guassa - it illuminated the path to the loo in the night, no torch needed.
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    Senkelle Swayne’s Hartebeest Sanctuary After exiting the vehicle at Senkelle Swayne’s Hartebeest Sanctuary, a Village Weaver and Red-billed Buffalo Weaver greeted us, just 2 of the 194 bird species in the park. Village Weaver & Red-billed Buffalo Weaver, Senkelle Sanctuary Initially we walked in the sanctuary to view some of the 950 endemic Swayne’s Hartebeest in the sanctuary, plus 65 calves this year. The rangers there felt the park could hold 2000 hartebeest. Hyena and leopard are the predators. There are only two places to see these Ethiopian endemics, Senkelle and Maze National Park in Southern Nations, Nationalities, and People's Region of Ethiopia – SNNPR. Senkelle is by far the more convenient. One of our first sightings was not hartebeest, but oribi. Park info states there are 36 species of mammals in the sanctuary. Oribi at Sankelle Sanctuary A curious hartebeest - Senkelle Sanctuary Sankelle Sanctuary To see more of the sanctuary, we got back into our vehicle and drove a ways, accompanied by a ranger. With the vehicle fully packed, there was no room for the ranger inside, so he hung on outside. We again got out of the vehicle to view the hartebeest on foot. Ranger hanging on to the back of our vehicle to accompany us to the hartebeest. Northern Carmine Bee-eater joined the Swayne’s Hartebeest at Senkelle Sanctuary We saw a nice range of hartebeest activity during our visit, a quite a few of those 65 calves. The Senkelle Sanctuary’s hours are 7:00 am to 6:00 pm. Our original itinerary would have had us there later in the afternoon for nicer light, but we chose to linger longer with the wolves. No offense, hartebeest. I am certain there will be, among last comments and final pics, some closing credits. Until then, 2 bird collages--not quite credits, but they're colorful. Reading left to right: White-backed Vulture, Firefinch, Village Weaver, Hadada Ibis, Red-billed Buffalo Weaver, Spot-breasted Lapwing/Plover, another Firefinch, Double-toothed Barbet, another Village Weaver, another Spot-breasted Lapwing/Plover, Dark Chanting Goshawk, Red-headed Weaver Reading left to right, Row 1: Hammerkop, Great Egret, Marabou Stork Row 2: Eastern Grey Woodpecker, Black Crake, Hadada Ibis, Red-knobbed Coot, Malachite Kingfisher. All except the woodpecker were from the fishing village.
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    For our last night we stayed at the Haile Resort at Lake Awasa, a big hotel mainly catering to Ethiopia´s upper class looking for a leisurely weekend getaway. Ok for what it is. For our very last dinner in the country I tried to be brave again and went local for my food. A mistake. The memory of my miserable time in Awash was still too fresh, my stomach revolted just from the smell of it, and I really could not eat more than a few bites. I´m afraid Ethiopian food and me will never hug it out again. Early next morning we visited the local fish market. Not the most pretty of places ... ... but quite interesting to spend some time with the locals - and the Marabous. Soon the sun came out, and everything looks much nicer when the light arrives. But sorry guys, even in good light you will never win any beauty contests. The market is a a very good place for birds, we saw dozens of different species. Black-Winged Stilt Little Stint Hammerkop, surprisingly our only sighting of this familiar bird in Ethiopia. When we walked a bit away from the fishingmen the surroundings became very lush and beauitful, and again, tons of good birds to see. Great Egret And also some Grivets in the trees. Marsh Sandpiper Our only Ethiopian Malachite. My favourite moment, however, was something I´ve longed to see for quite some time - a Black Egret. Maybe not the most striking bird, but they have one of the coolest hunting techniques in the animal kingdom - they go umbrella! This is called "canopy feeding", the Egret uses the shade it creates to attract fish. I have often read about this but never seen it - so I somehow imagined they would stand motionless for extended time periods with the umbrella on, but it´s actually a far more hectic affair.
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    Almost above the clouds now ... slowly working my way up to the top. Located immediately above the tree line, from 3,400m to 3,800m, is a belt of heather. This used to be good terrain for Klippspringers, they were regularly seen here. But the area was burnt this year, and the animals have fled. Some of them were seen even down in the forest later, in a habitat totally unsuited for them. Some remaining fairytale forest of tree heath. Here we often saw Chestnut-Naped Francolin - one more endemic. On the Goba side there are also some houses, though nothing like the huge settlement in Rira. Wattled Ibis was common here. And we had one of my favourite bird sightings - Bearded Vulture! We saw this immensely cool bird a couple of times, but mostly high up in the sky and out of photo reach. This one was much more accommodating. They do occur in Austria also, and I have even seen one this year, but of course this sighting was something different - such a magnificent bird.
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    Giraffes drinking On a couple of occasions giraffe came to the waterhole. They were always extremely watchful and when one sees how vulnerable they are when drinking this is understandable. The youngster took the opportunity to suckle as the mother drank. There was a fairly large shower at the end of each drink.
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    This is what silence looks like One my the most amazing and thought provoking safari moments. The waterhole is floodlit at night. In the late evening I sat there with cicadas providing a constant backround hum but uncannily going quiet as soon as one stood up. One morning I woke up a little early and arrived at the lodge which was still dark - no coffee yet. I wandered down to the waterhole and sat. For 10 minutes nothing moved - the wind had died completely. There was absolutely no sound. The cicadas finish early round here. I sat and enjoyed the complete absence of noise - although after a minute or two this seems deafening in its own right. Finally a lion roared in the distance. Without too much over analysis this was a unique and very special experience for me.
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    Your willpower is inspiring, almost as much as your BIFs. THE QUOTE OF THE TRIP This is the quote of the trip. Can you read it? I asked for the translation of the Amharic phrase on the back of this Coca Cola truck, figuring it would be something clever and catchy. Translation: Happy Satisfaction, which became our quote of the trip ! Thanks to Abiy, Begashaw and Ethiopian Quadrants, it was also the theme of our trip! The Adapter Holding the C-type adapter. This wall outlet allows for a few different configurations of plugs, but the C-type was always accommodated. Plugging the C-type adapter into the wall outlet, successfully. No sparks, fires, or electrocution ensued. More importantly, electricity flowed. I'm glad my fingernails were clean for this photo shoot. Notice the C-type configuration of the plug on a coffee pot provided by the hotel in Ethiopia. It's what they use.

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