Working for birds in Africa

Ethiopia. In search of endemic birds

Sat, 12/22/2012 - 00:13 -- abc_admin
Julian E. Francis and Hadoram Shirihai. 1999. 46 pp+24 pp of colour photographs. J. E. Francis, 65 Fleet Street, London EC4Y 1HS. ISBN 0 9534762 0 1. UK£10.00 (including postage).
page 78

Although the title might suggest a 'where-to-watch' guide, this new publication is actually a trip report, covering the period 6 September - 2 October 1997. The authors recorded an impressive 490 species, just over 60% of the 805 species known from Ethiopia (sensu stricto, i.e. after Eritrea's independence in 1993). Of these, 16 are endemic to Ethiopia, with perhaps another still to be described ('Ethiopian Cliff Swallow' from the Awash River gorge waterfall area). For the present report, however, all of the c35 Abyssinian endemics (including Eritrea, but excluding Djibouti Francolin Francolinus ochropectus) are considered. As a birding country, Ethiopia has remained relatively unknown. The country's avifauna faces many threats and many sites are in urgent need of protection (see S Tilahun et al (1996) Important Bird Areas of Ethiopia. Addis Ababa: EWNHS). Work is in progress on an atlas for both Ethiopia and Eritrea, for which all visitors are requested to submit their records, either to John Ash (Godshill Wood, Fordingbridge, Hants SP6 2LR, UK) or John Atkins (c/o FCA (Addis Ababa), King Charles Street, London SW1A 2AU, UK).

Francis & Shirihai's report opens with a seven-page introductory text, covering trip details, general information on the country and its (endemic) birds and several up-to-date practical tips. Most of these are very useful, but information on the necessary paperwork (visas, international airport departure taxes, etc.) is rather brief. Nothing is said concerning the huge crocodiles along the northern shore of Lake Chamo, no hotel addresses are given, and tej (the local honey brew), injera (huge bread-like mats) and wat (spicey stews) remain unexplained.

The itinerary covers 4.5 pages, listing the 10 main areas visited with the most important bird species recorded at each. It also highlights the most interesting records for most of the days spent birdwatching.

The main list covers all bird species recorded during the trip (numbered 1-490), listed according to van Perlo's sequence (Collins Illustrated Checklist of the Birds of Eastern Africa, 1995). It therefore commences with Secretarybird Sagittarius serpentarius, followed by the grebes, herons, etc, and thus includes the odd sequence Vidua-Uraeginthus-Estrilda-Uraeginthus-Vidua on p 38. For most species only list-number, English and scientific name and dates recorded are given, but all endemics as well as 15 other species of special interest (including some not seen by the authors) receive c10 (occasionally up to 35) lines of text. Peculiar omissions, however, are the Rock Pigeon Columba livia and the red-billed Lineated Pytilia Pytilia (afra) (phaenicoptera) lineata) from the Blue Nile / Lake Tana region. Subspecies are only mentioned in a few cases and therefore it remains unclear if the short-toed larks in the Jemmu Valley were Erlanger's Lark Calandrella erlangeri (separated from C. cinerea by Sibley & Monroe, Distribution and Taxonomy of Birds of the World,1990, p. 653).

The 50 colour photographs are excellent without exception (as usual from Shirihai) and illustrate 45 different species, including 19 of the c35 endemics. Unfortunately, the printing quality is below par and not all endemics are shown (e.g. Yellow-fronted Parrot Poicephalus flavifrons, Abyssinian Woodpecker Dendropicos abyssinicus and White-billed Starling Onychognathus albirostris), which I would have preferred over the well-known African Fish-Eagle Haliaeetus vocifer, Kori Bustard Ardeotis kori, Abyssinian Ground Hornbill Bucorvus abyssinicus and Carmine Bee-eater Merops nubicus. Nevertheless, it contains unique shots of Salvadori's Serinus xantholaemus and Ankober Serin S. ankoberensis and beautiful portraits of five different lark species. Pink-backed Pelican Pelecanus rufescens and African Harrier-Hawk Polyboroides typus.

Furthermore, a full colour map of the southern part of Ethiopia is included, covering the entire trip route and including most (but not all) sites mentioned in the text, as well as altitudes, roads, rivers, lakes and National Parks. The booklet closes with a two-page appendix detailing the identification of Degodi Mirafra degodiensis, Gillett's M. gilletti and Sidamo Larks Heteromirafra sidamoensis, another two pages listing the 31 species of mammals recorded and a limited bibliography. However, a dated line illustrating the authors' route and a gazetteer would have been helpful, but after all, this is not a detailed site guide but only a travel report, albeit an excellent and exemplary one, and a must for everyone visiting this magnificent and inviting country.

Oscar van Rootselaar

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