The Anglo-Ethiopian Society

Lecture - Tuesday 22nd June 2010

Birding on the Roof of Africa: the Endemic Birds of Ethiopia

Given by - Nigel Redman

Reviewed by - Gerard Pillai

There are birders, there are twitchers, and then there is Nigel Redman.

On a warm summer evening in late June, members and friends of the Anglo-Ethiopian Society were treated to a very special lecture - Nigel Redman: ornithologist, publisher, author and bird tour leader.

Nigel started his lecture by telling us that 871 species of birds have been recorded in Ethiopia. This is in comparison to the 550 species in Britain - though this sounds a high number, most of the British species are vagrants and there are only about 250 species that can be regularly seen. While the sheer number of species in Ethiopia was an eye-opener, it was the 39 endemics (i.e. a bird native or restricted to a certain place) that were particularly fascinating. This number includes country and regional endemics and nearendemics. He then talked us through the geology of the country. The highland massif and Rift Valley Lakes had forced a great degree of geographical isolation, resulting in many endemics being restricted to the highlands.

Using some very clear and vivid photos Nigel then entertained us with an in-depth look at the country endemics. The most popular circuit for visiting birders was Addis Ababa, Saluso Plains, Debre Lebanos, Genna River Valley, Ankobar, Awash National Park, the Rift Valley Lakes, Bale Mountains, the Sanetti Plateau, Negele Borana, Arero and Yabello, before returning back to Addis Ababa. However, several endemics could even be sighted at Bole Airport and near the major hotels in Addis Ababa. As he took us around the circuit, we saw not just excellent photos of birds but also some of Ethiopia's endemic mammals such as the Gelada Monkeys, Ethiopian Wolf and Mountain Nyalas, and fabulous scenery. Ohs and ahs from the audience greeted stunning photographs of Prince Ruspoli's Turaco, Banded Barbet, and Black-winged Lovebird amongst others. One of the photographs was the only one in the world of that bird.

Many nuggets of information accompanied the slides: Phillipa's Crombec was named after the wife of the author of the much loved Birds of East Africa - John Williams; Prince Ruspoli's Turaco was named after him years after the Prince was killed by an elephant in Ethiopia; the highly endangered Djibouti Francolin is Djibouti's only endemic bird; the closest relative to the Blue-winged Goose is a South American goose. He also posed some thought-provoking questions such as 'why does the White-tailed Swallow have such a small range, when swallows usually migrate thousands of miles each year?' and 'why, though the habitat is very similar to Northern Kenya, are some Ethiopian endemics restricted to Southern Ethiopia?'.

In Nigel, we had someone not just interested in ticking off a bird sighting on his list but someone who is truly passionate about ornithology and who has made it his vocation. His knowledge was not restricted to the Horn of Africa but encompassed birds of the whole world. Undoubtedly there were many in the audience who would have made a wish to get on a bird tour led by Nigel sometime in their lives.

After a vote of thanks, Nigel signed copies of his much needed book on the Horn - Birds of the Horn of Africa: Ethiopia, Eritrea, Djibouti, Somalia, and Socotra, which he kindly made available at a special discount for the audience (this book was one of the bird books reviewed in the Winter 2009 issue of News File). A most enjoyable and fascinating evening.

The Liben (or Sidamo) Lark. Endemic to Ethiopia, this unassuming lark is one of Africa's most threatened birds. Discovered as recently as 1968, it is estimated that fewer than 150 birds survive on an overgrazed plain near Negele in the Southern Lowland area.
The lark is apparently relatively easy to find for a bird that is so close to extinction. The males can be heard for distances of several hundred metres when they make their short vertical songflights in the early morning.
Photo © Nik Borrow
Blue-breasted Bee-eater. This colourful species is easy to see in the highlands, and is almost confined to Ethiopia.
Photo © Nik Borrow

Prince Ruspoil's Turaco. This spectacular species was lost to science for 50 years after its discovery, but is now known to survive in a tiny area of southern Ethiopia.
Photo © Nik Borrow
Golden-breasted Starling. This gorgeous species goes round in small flocks in areas of arid savanna.
Photo © Nik Borrow

First Published in News File Winter 2010

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