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By noon I had reached the turn-off to Randa, the (supposed) starting point for the Forêt du Day NP.  This road started off OK, but soon deteriorated as it ran next to a wadi - which clearly could flow quite seriously, as the road was completely washed out in places.  This meant having to drive up the wadi, which was very rough in places.

On reaching Randa, the road almost vanished, and a local offered to guide me up a small track to the Forêt.  After half an hour of following little more than animal tracks, we reached the end of the road, on a plateau overlooking some steep sided valleys, with some trees growing in the valley bottoms.  This was the northern edge of the Forêt, and totally inaccessible by vehicle or on foot.  Clearly the maps weren't as accurate as one would have wished.  The only wildlife seen on this trip were a small herd of Lesser Kudu.

However, I had noticed a small sign post a few kilometres from the good tar road, indicating a tourist camp 13 km away, and this might be close to the southern end of the Forêt.  Before returning, my guide offered to take me to his house, and provide me with tea.  Knowing that quite a ceremony surrounds coffee and tea in Ethiopia, I agreed, with the hope of experiencing some new cultural ritual.  Sadly, the tea was just poured out of a plastic thermos flask - not quite what I had in mind!

The sign-post indicated Dittilou, one of the spots mentioned in Nigel Wheatley's "Where to watch birds in Africa".  This short 13 km track had to be the most challenging of the trip.  Initially it crossed the large wadi, and so no track existed per se, rather a serious of cairns indicated the "best" route. After about 5 km of zig-zagging along the wadi, the track headed off the valley floor, and up into the hills.  The altitude over the last 8 km went from sea-level to around 800m, but not in a nice steady climb.  On several occasions, the track climbed up 400 metres of rock, before dropping back down 300 metres to cross a small wadi.  I hardly got out of first-gear low-ratio on this stretch.  Overall, the 13 km trip took nearly 2½ hours.  This trip further exacerbated the loose windscreen, with the heavy roof-top tent and roof-rack now starting to tear the roof of the rest of the bodywork.

The tourist camp proved to be a couple of basic huts, with no running water, and no other facilities.  For this, the charge (even if I were to camp - which I did, it looked more comfortable) was 8000 DFr (US$ 45, R275).

The day ended with a fascinating duet - from Scops Owls.  Both African and European Scops Owls were clearly heard calling.

Saturday 18th December 1999

All the problems of the previous day were put away as I was woken by the call of the Djibouti Francolin.  Although I could not see them initially, it was never going to be practical to try and walk through the hills to find it - the topography meant that it would have required a serious climbing expedition to reach the relevant areas.  However, over the next hour a series of birds were heard to call, and there was absolutely no doubt as to the identification.  Also around the campsite were large numbers of Rüppell's Weavers - in full breeding condition. Another interesting comparative observation was to see both races of Common Redstart within metres of each other.  Sadly, the cloud level was very low, so the chance of seeing raptors was low - although what chance there really was of finding Bonelli's Eagle I am not sure - it is referred to by Nigel Wheatley as a bird of the park, but I found no other reference indicating that the Eagle occurred any further south than the Morocco / Algeria highlands.

By mid-morning I started heading back down the track, with the roof clearly having little connection to the rest of the vehicle - and all too clearly being held in place solely by the glass in the side windows.  Continuing back towards Djibouti city, I had plenty of time to bird-watch, and was able to find Red Sea, Orphean & Menetries Warblers, Yellow-breasted Barbet, White-crowned Black Wheatear and a variety of waders.

Since there was no point in returning to Djibouti city too soon, I decided to visit one of the beaches I had seen people wind-surfing from on the previous day.  Although there was no-one there now, and was backed by the black lava, I thought it would be a good spot to relax for a bit.  To my amazement, it also produced some good birds, including Osprey, Kentish Plover and White-crowned Black Wheatear.  It was such a pleasant spot (with good areas to swim in), that I decided to stay the night there, camping on the beach.  While it was pleasant enough, the wind got up in the evening, and was blowing strongly on-shore all night.

Sunday 19th December 1999

Leaving early in the morning, I headed straight back to Djibouti city to get to the embassy as early as possible.  The Embassy only opens for visas from 09:00 to 11:00, so it was lucky I made the early start.  However, the visa would take 24 hours to be issued.

An Ethiopian trip: 27/11/1999 to 17/01/2000Giles Mulholland 31 January 2000

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