This was my nightmare spot. I only managed to find the Boran Cisticola, missing out on all the others. Some compensation was to be had in finding Rüppell's Griffon, Hemprich's Hornbill, Tawny Pipit, African Grey Flycatcher and Somali Chestnut-winged Starling at the crater.
One should not underestimate the condition of the track up to the crater, and the 10 km cannot be covered in less than an hour - and care must be taken in "bouncing" the vehicle up the lava flows. It was here that I sheared the windscreen hinges, which was to have such a devastating effect when I got to Djibouti. However, if possible, this trip should be tackled. Rock Hyrax were common in this area. Hamadryas Baboons were to be found in the area.
After the crater, one must return down the same track, along which Black-billed Barbets and Shining * Beautiful Sunbirds were common. From the base I continued northwards up to the Filwoha hot-springs. At first it is easy to be disappointed at the springs, since huge numbers of cattle mill around the area - but don’t be fooled - the "swimming" pool is not here, but a few yards further on into the palms. Once found, the pool is almost indescribable - a beautiful white sand floored pool of absolute perfect clarity - I only wish I could keep my swimming pool looking as good!
From the springs, one follows the track south through Kudu valley, where Gillett's Lark can be found, and several Kori Bustards were to be seen, as well as a few Kudu (glimpsed through dense bush, and assumed to be Lesser Kudu). We finally got back to the main road at 15:00, so it was back to the cold beers overlooking the gorge - but still no sign of the Ethiopian Cliff Swallows. A pair of Fan-tailed Ravens perched on the balcony railings hoping for food. Unstriped Ground Squirrel were seen near the gorge. On returning to the vehicle I found a flat tyre - so quickly changed it.
Thursday 16th December 1999
At his point I was still uncertain of my goal for the day, so left early in order to reach the Djibouti border in time to turn back if required. This was to be decision time. Although all the indications were that there would be no problem getting in to Djibouti, what would happen if I couldn’t get a second visa for Ethiopia? If this was to happen, I could try and go north into Eritrea - but sadly, Djibouti seemed to also be at war with Eritrea, so not very practical. Alternatively, I could go south-east into Somalia - which was little more appealing. Hence the only other choice would be to ship the vehicle back to South Africa and abandon the remainder of the trip. I decided to make my final decision at the border post after evaluating the attitude of the border officials.
The drive from Awash northwards was on good tar, with road-works underway on the few areas which had pot-holes. Hence it was an easy drive, with several Arabian Bustards occurring along the road. After a approx 100 km one enters the Yangudi-Rassa National Park (although there is no indication of this). It is one of the few areas that the Wild Ass still occurs, although there are also many feral donkeys in the same area. I saw one herd of donkeys, which had very notable striped legs, indicating that they could have been the true wild asses, but I am not sure how this could be verified. It was near here that I passed an area of grassland which held a remarkable number of raptors, with hundreds of Pallid & Montagu's Harriers as well as over 50 Long-legged Buzzards. Salt's Dik-Dik were seen along this road.
Continuing along the road towards Djibouti, the countryside became more and more arid, although recent rains had left many small pans still holding plenty of water. The wildlife also changed dramatically, with fewer donkeys and cattle, their place being taken by camels. In terms of birds, larks became more common, and on the last stretch east of Serdo, Egyptian Vultures became abundant, with virtually every telephone pole having one or more vultures perching on them - and many juveniles were also present. There must have been nearly 1000 over a distance of around 20 km. This was also an excellent place for larks, with Bimaculated and Desert Larks being seen. White-rumped Babblers were also seen.
As one drops down the escarpment to the Djibouti lowlands (from about 700m to 150m above sea-level, the road started to deteriorate seriously, although improvements were being undertaken. By 16:00 I had reached the border. I spent a while chatting with the immigration & customs officials, they convinced me that there was unlikely to be a problem with a return visa - and I got the feeling that even if it was refused, I might still be able to get back. Hence I took the plunge and crossed over. No problems on the Ethiopia side, but then it was matter of the Djibouti border.
An Ethiopian trip: 27/11/1999 to 17/01/2000Giles Mulholland 31 January 2000