By late afternoon, everything was fixed up (again) and I was ready to set off for Awash National Park. However, although the road was good, I was unable to reach the Park before dark, so decided to break the journey at Nazret, staying at the Bekele Mola Hotel. While the hotel was OK - good, clean room with pleasant (cold) shower - no food was available.
Tuesday 14th December 1999
Again, an early start was possible, so I was able to descend into the eastern Rift Valley by 07:00, and reach Lake Beseka soon thereafter. The road was still an excellent tar road, except near the Lake, where extensive road-works were taking place. They appeared to be having to completely rebuild the road through the lake (it runs through a causeway at the northern end). I am not sure whether this had any effect on the bird-life, but it was immediately obvious that absolutely no waterfowl were present - not even a single Egyptian Goose. This, following on from Lake Ziway, was a major disappointment, and still one of the major puzzles of the trip - where were the ducks?
I didn't bother to stay too long at Lake Beseka, and so continued on to the national park itself. This proved much more rewarding, with a large variety of both mammals and birds seen. Entrance was 80 Birr for two nights - very reasonable for Ethiopia's premier national park. The camp sites are all based along the Awash River just above the falls, and is in a very pleasant setting within the riverine forest. There are about 6 separate camping areas within 300m, each quite nicely secluded. However, absolutely no facilities are provided, although the rangers will sell firewood - although there is nothing stopping you collecting your own.
There is a lodge further down-river, where it is possible to get cold beers, food and toilets. There is occasionally running water, but management only turns it on when paying guests request it for a shower. The restaurant is beautifully placed on a balcony over the river gorge - probably the best site to find the Ethiopian Cliff Swallow - a species seen quite often but has yet to be collected, and so not formally given a scientific name yet.
The southern part of the reserve had a wide variety of animals, including Swayne's Hartebeest (an endemic and rare species), as well as Beisa Oryx, Grevy's Zebra, Soemmering's Gazelle and Egyptian & White-tailed Mongooses. A pleasant surprise was to find African Cat near to the lodge in the evening. This area has three predominant vegetation types, with a variety of woodland species occurring adjacent to the river, including Von der Decken's Hornbill, Olivaceous & Upcher's Warblers and African Collared Dove. The thorn bush holds a variety of species of interest including Ostrich, Red-crested and White-bellied Korhaans, European Turtle Dove, Abyssinian Roller, Black-throated Barbet, Menetries' Warbler, Northern Crombec, Silverbird, Black-headed Batis, Fulvous Chatterer and Reichenow's Seedeater. Black-shouldered Kite is also common. The third habitat type is more open grassland, which holds African Swallow-tailed Kite, Arabian Bustard, Common and Harlequin Quail in considerable numbers, Ethiopian Swallow, as well as Red-tailed, Grey-backed, Somali & Great Grey Shrikes.
It is possible to do a night drive, since campers are allowed to have dinner at the lodge, and drive back afterwards. Although I failed to actually have dinner (a couple of cold beers were, however, consumed), I then took the long route back to the campsite. Although this totally failed to produce a single nightjar, it was totally compensated for by a Little Owl sitting in the middle of the track, allowed fabulous views.
Wednesday 15th December 1999
A relatively early start allowed me to collect the armed guard / guide at the entrance gate before proceeding to the northern section of the park. The need for this is simply to find the right track, as even the right track is not always clearly marked, and in some cases in such bad condition that description as a track is not merited.
Starting off to the east along the main road, we passed Lake Beseka again - still no waterfowl. Just beyond this we turned north along a good track through overgrazed grassland. Skirting the eastern base of the lava flows, there is a turnoff to the right. This 10 km track leads up to the crater rim of the volcano. Should one get to the top before dawn, the lava flows glow red, but if - like me - you arrive after sunrise, the steam can be seen rising from various points. The crater is a very impressive sight, but I suspect it is not practical to descend into the crater without ropes and the necessary climbing gear.
Bird-watching on this part of the park should be one of the most rewarding to the endemic hunter. Just after turning off the main track, at the edge of the lava field is a good place for Gillett's Lark. On the way up to the crater there are good chances to find Black-tailed Rock-Chat, Sombre Rock-Chat and Yellow-throated Seed-eater, with a second opportunity for these species at the crater rim itself. Also at the crater top, Boran Cisticola is to be found.
An Ethiopian trip: 27/11/1999 to 17/01/2000Giles Mulholland 31 January 2000