Rock Martins and other birds, Ethiopia
Over recent days I have written about some of the birds I saw on a visit to the Portuguese Bridge area (near Debre Libanos) which is about 110km north of Addis Ababa in Ethiopia. There is some controversy over the old bridge (shown above). Local guides claim it was built by the Portuguese about 400 years ago. Other authorities claim that it was built more recently.
We were visiting the area last December. Geologically it is a very interesting place. We had wonderful views over the valley and down into the Blue Nile Gorge about 1000 metres below us. I’ve included no bird photos today – only scenery shots of this amazing place.
I saw a good number of birds and if you look through recent posts here you will see photos of some of them. Instead of bird photos I have compiled an annotated list of some of the birds seen:
- Pied Crow – numerous
- Fan-tailed Raven – 3 flying overhead
- Lammergeier – 1 soaring on thermals overhead
- Yellow-billed Kites – numerous – about 20 – 30 swooping low over people eating lunch. One took food from my fingers!
- Dusky Turtledove – about 5 seen
- Speckled Pigeon – only 1 seen
- Tacazza Sunbird – 2
- Rock Martin – about 10 swooping around the cliff edges
- Blue-breasted Bee-eater – 2 seen swooping for insects and then sitting on a branch
- Augur Buzzard – one seen only briefly, flying overhead
I saw and heard a number of other species but either didn’t get good views of them or no views at all. One of the more frustrating sightings was that of the Rock Martins swooping around the cliff edges. They came quite close – close enough for good identification – but none settled down to perch so I could get a photo. On the wing they were too swift to focus on. [Sigh]
So – you’ll have to be content with some lovely scenery shots instead. But stay tuned for more photos taken elsewhere in the coming days.
Blue-breasted Bee-eater, Ethiopia
One of my favourite Australian birds would have to be the Rainbow Bee-eater (click here for a photo). They are regular spring and summer visitors to our garden and even occasionally breed on our 5 acre block of land. When I visited Nepal a few years ago I had a brief glimpse of the Blue-bearded Bee-eater and the Green Bee-eater while visiting Chitwan National Park in the southern part of the country.
Before travelling to Africa late last year I knew that several species of bee-eaters could be seen there, so I hoped that I would get good views of at least one species. I was rewarded with not only a good sighting but several photos as well. The Blue-breasted Bee-eater shown in today’s photos is every part as spectacular as the other species I had already seen. The two birds sat obligingly on a branch in full view and in full sunlight until I had some shots. They then continued on hawking for insects.
These birds were seen at the locality known as Portuguese Bridge, about 110km north of Addis Ababa in Ethiopia.
One of the spectacular birds I saw on my visit to Ethiopia last December was the Lammergeier, or Bearded Vulture, Gypaetus barbatus. Although I was very pleased to see this bird, it couldn’t be counted as a “lifer“. I had previously seen the species in the Himalayas in Nepal.
Being members of the vulture family of birds, their diet features carrion. A high proportion of their diet is bone marrow and they are very adept at carrying a bone on high and dropping it onto rocks to break it. They are also able to easily digest whole bones they have swallowed.
This one soared effortlessly on the thermals not far above our heads when we were having a picnic lunch at Portuguese Bridge, about 100km north of Addis Ababa.
At first glance I identified it as a Lammergeier and wrote that down in my notebook. Several months later while preparing this article I started to have a few doubts. Could it be something else? Then I discovered that the tail shape is somewhat diagnostic; there’s nothing quite like it in the raptor family.
Fantailed Raven, Ethiopia
On my visit to Ethiopia late last year I saw many crows and ravens, especially the very common Pied Crow. The species I feature today, the Fan-tailed Raven, I saw only on one occasion. We had driven north about 100km from Addis Ababa to Portuguese Bridge. I managed to get a few good photos and added several species to my list.
The Fan-tailed Raven certainly has a very descriptive name, and to see them soaring on thermals overhead the fanned out tail helps considerably in the identification process. You can see this in the photo below.
This species is widespread throughout north eastern Africa and in parts of the Sahara. It feeds on insects and other invertebrates, food scraps, fruit, carrion and even grain.
Tawny Pipit, Ethiopia
On my trip to Africa last December I had a few problems identifying some of the birds I saw. This is not unusual when one is in unfamiliar territory. It even happens to me here in Australia when I visit places I may only go occasionally, or for the first time. Contrasting with that is at home where I am immediately aware of any strange bird call in our garden.
While visiting our daughter who was teaching last year in Addis Ababa, we went on a day trip north of the city to a locality known as Portuguese Bridge. Along the way we stopped at a lookout and I managed 2 quick photos of the bird shown today. I am not absolutely certain I’ve got the identification right but the closest I can come is Tawny Pipit.
It was certainly behaving like a pipit, feeding on the ground, constantly bobbing and running along the ground. The area was quite rocky and in parts bare of much grass. I’ve eliminated all of the other pipits found in the area because the throat has no streaking. The only other possibilities (I think) could be a chat or one of the larks.
If any of my readers has more knowledge of the area, or experience with these species, I’d appreciate comments and a more definite ID.