However, the two main "specials" of the area are the Red-chested Swallow and White-winged Flufftail. The former was seen at a small bridge over one of the small streams. Many more of these Swallows may have been seen on the rest of the trip, but they require careful identification to separate them from European Swallows, so although I know that I should have made the effort, I never specifically identified any more such swallows. White-winged Flufftails were not searched for, but the species appears to be quite common (i.e. several hundred pairs) in the area, with the only other known population being summer visitors to a few small wetlands in the South African highveld.
From Solulta, I continued north on the Bahir Dar road for a further 60 km until reaching the village of Muka Turi, where I turned right onto a gravel road to the north-east. This road is in good condition, being one of the few genuinely gravel roads travelled on. This made the going easy, and one could comfortably cruise along at 40-50 km/h, without risk of damaging the vehicle, and still being able to watch the scenery and keep an eye out for birds. After approximately 80 km, one reaches the edge of the Jemmu valley, and the latter part of the good road running right alongside the escarpment. At this point the altitude is around 2700m, while the bottom of the valley is at 1200m - so a 1.5 km near-vertical drop.
Bird-watching along the escarpment produced a variety of excellent birds, including Erkel's Francolin, Rüppell's Black Chat, White-billed Starling, Little & Blue Rock Thrush, Crag Martin, Thekla Lark and Black-eared Wheatear. However, to me, the most memorable site was my first views of the Lammergeier as it cruised along the escarpment, often no more than 5 metres away from me - a truly memorable sight.
Once you pass through a small village on the escarpment, you face the road down. Although used by trucks and busses, don’t think it is an easy drive. It takes less than 10 km to drop the 1.5 km vertically, and the road is extremely rocky - and only levelled to allow the busses and trucks to pass. This means that great care had to be exercised with a Landrover, and even then, I still scraped the bottom of the vehicle and U-bolts a couple of times. This is definitely a road to be travelled in first-gear low-ratio to ensure that the optimal track can be navigated - both going down and driving back up (the road continues to a village a further 40 km on called Alem Ketema, but not much further than that).
Obviously there had to be a reason for me to want to drive down this bad road, and then back again. Quite simply it is that this valley is an excellent spot for bird-watching, and the easiest place to find one of Ethiopia's most restricted endemic birds - Harwood's Francolin. It appears to be entirely restricted to reed-beds in the Jemmu and Blue Nile valleys, of which this road provides the best access.
On arrival in the early afternoon, I realized that there was an excellent campsite just beyond the bridge on the left of the road - a nice flat area, approximately 30m from the road itself. The evening was warm enough, that the light duvet was quite sufficient.
During the remainder of the afternoon, I wandered around the area of the river, trying to identify optimal areas for the Francolin - it appears that it is only likely to be found in the early morning, and even then not for long. During this period, I found a variety of species including Senegal Thick-knee, Spur-winged Plover, European Hoopoe, Black Redstart, Mocking Chat (but not the endemic White-winged Cliff Chat), and Streaky-headed Seed-eater.
Sunday 12th December 1999
On waking up at dawn, I found one of the local herdsmen watching over the Landrover from the rocks above with his rifle held at the ready. As soon as he saw I was awake, and had climbed down from the tent, he approached me to shake my hand. Having done so he just wandered off. It was at moments like this that I wished I could speak Amharic - I would love to know what he expected from me.
Having walked back over the bridge, I wandered upstream to the areas of reeds which looked promising for the Francolin. An early excitement turned to disappointment when the Francolin was identified as a Crested Francolin . However, the real thing started calling a few moments later, so Harwood's Francolin was seen briefly before hiding quietly in the reeds for the remainder of the day. At around the same time I heard a call that was clearly that of a Stone Partridge, although I was unable to actually see it.
Thereafter I continued looking for birds for another few hours, but with few new species found other than Northern Red Bishop. I considered staying for another night to find more species that had been seen in the valley by others (European Griffon, Masked Shrike, Black-faced Firefinch & White-throated Seedeater). However, since this was still early in the trip, I reckoned that I had a good chance of seeing them elsewhere. I was right for all these, except for the Masked Shrike.
An Ethiopian trip: 27/11/1999 to 17/01/2000Giles Mulholland 31 January 2000