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Safaridude

Uganda and Ethiopia - Feb 2013 - Murchison Falls, Senkelle, Bale Mountain and Awash

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GreenEye

Hi Dude, Great pics, always happy to see Swayne's, one of my favourite, I go to Shenkelle almost annually. As a sidenote, there are still some in Nechisar NP (appr. 10-15), and also 1-2 in Awash, maybe some in Yabello as well, hard to know. I photographed them in Nechisar for sure. In Shenkelle one of my best encounter was a beautiful serval at broad daylight. There is a hunting book by Joseph Potocki from the 1880' of Somalia, describing Swayne's in their thousands.

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Safaridude

Hi Dude, Great pics, always happy to see Swayne's, one of my favourite, I go to Shenkelle almost annually. As a sidenote, there are still some in Nechisar NP (appr. 10-15), and also 1-2 in Awash, maybe some in Yabello as well, hard to know. I photographed them in Nechisar for sure. In Shenkelle one of my best encounter was a beautiful serval at broad daylight. There is a hunting book by Joseph Potocki from the 1880' of Somalia, describing Swayne's in their thousands.

 

Wow, GreenEye, you must be THE visitor to Senkelle! I am told hardly anyone visits there. Yes, I do know about the small population at Nechisar; people I spoke to in Awash seemed to think they were totally done there (the Awash population is or was from a translocation from Senkelle in '74); and I've read that "months of work in Yabelo" between '90 and '94 produced no sightings.. Certainly, Senkelle's population appears to be the only "viable" population.

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GreenEye

Hi Due, In Awash I saw Swayne's back in 2005, also some colleagues did from Birdquest around the same time. Yabello is not a surprise :( Yeapp, I go to Shenkelle 1-2x a year, its on our way to the Omo tribes, I really like it, and its really a easy access from the main road. Once the area was burned, fresh grass coming up, and it was really amazing to see the congregation of Coursers, Sandgrouse and Bustards, hunting for injured or halfburned locusts and alike, was quite amazing.

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GreenEye

Hi .... The Potocki book is impossible, I believe. Its the most expensive and rarest hunting book ever, few copies existing, last year there was one sold for 56.000 USD. No idea how to get it...
As about Dinder, one good source is the volumes of "Sudan Wild Life and Sport" which is accesible at http://www.sudanarchive.net Here you can get some PDFs, like "Dinder, 1905" or "The Dinder Park and Shooting Parties in Early Years" and many other great sources. Than I have some brilliant books in hungarian, one actually a translation from Czech written by a PH who lived at the Dinder for 40 years, called Bedrich Machulka. Than two great travelogue by Count Zsigmond Szechenyi (1927 and 1935). Finally one book with the famous "English Patient", Count Laszlo Almasy who did three Dinder trips (1926, 1927, 1929). You can donwload this book here, hungarian again, but many pictures: http://mek.oszk.hu/07500/07530/pdf/ I have a copy of a 1.5 hour black & white film shooted on this last 1929 trip (was a long trip from Mombasa up to Cairo through the Sudd, Dinder, than Darfur up to Egypt), which covering the Dinder in a lenght, and I could identify all the places, person, even the white donkeys, as the outfitter was the same for all these travellers. Absolutely amazing.
Finally a fantastic 1921 book by Abel Chapman, "Savage Sudan".

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Sangeeta

That running mountain nyala looks so strong and muscular!

 

I am surprised that the mountains are so brown - for some reason I had imagined the Web valley would be green and alpine meadow-y.

 

So far, the wolves had been calling me to Ethiopia, but now I think the mountain nyala are adding their voices too. Beautiful, beautiful animals. The Menelik's bushbuck looks a lot like a juvenile Mana nyala?

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Safaridude

 

There was one point walking around at Dinsho when a bull nyala about 75 meters away started running directly towards me. They are massive animals, and this one, I thought for a split second was coming at me to take me out! He wasn't, thank goodness.

 

Dust, ? What dust? You were on horses, right? I was (such a sport that I am) in a car! :D

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Safaridude

Bale Mountain – Part II (Goba, Sanetti Plateau, Harenna Forest)

 

The prime wolf habitat in Bale is the Sanetti Plateau at an altitude of around 13,000 – 14,000 ft. This is tricky business for a tourist. At this altitude, we are talking serious alpine elements such as bitter cold and mild hypoxia. Luckily, only 45 minutes away (via the highest all-weather road in Africa) and at “only” 9,000 ft. of elevation lies the town of Goba (outside the national park). Unluckily and frustratingly, the only realistic lodging option in Goba is the apathetic Wabe Shebelle Hotel. Our first night, we find the entire staff watching an English Premier League match on TV. You need help on something quickly? It ain’t happenin’. Frustrations aside, Wabe Shebelle probably still beats the sub-freezing nights on the Sanetti.

 

The 45-minute drive to the Sanetti is so steep (a climb of some 5,000 ft.) my ears pop. Agriculture in the area used to ebb at around 10,000 ft., but man has figured out that barley can grow well at higher altitudes. Barley fields and livestock have now encroached right up to the border of the park at around 12,000 ft. and have displaced the prime mountain nyala habitat of Hagenia/Juniperus forests. Interestingly, several herds of cattle are seen inside the park but without any human attendants. Apparently, these cows find their own way back home (so, the cows do come home!).

 

The first few kilometers upon entering the park gate, a distinctive heather belt composed of white-flowered Erica shrubs reflects the intense alpine light in every which direction. Just a few more feet of climb from there, and the first appearance of mutant palm tree-like giant lobelias signals that we are in prime wolf habitat. The Sanetti plateau appears just a bit greener than the Web Valley but is still harsh and wind-blown. The secret to the Santetti though lies in its loose soil, which is ideal for burrowing rodents. Starting at around 9 am when the sun warms the ground, if you squint your eyes a bit, you can detect the earth moving… with literally hundreds of rodents. They are pursued by the resident wolf packs.

 

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Sanetti Plateau

 

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A "forest" of giant lobelias

 

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Klipspringer

 

In all, in one late afternoon plus a full morning, we encounter 28 individual wolves belonging to 5 different packs. Typically, when adults are with pups, all the wolves tend to be shy, staying well clear of vehicles. Tracking them on foot (allowed in the park) often proves futile in that case. Much better luck is to be had in a vehicle or on foot with adult wolves that are patrolling and/or hunting. Unlike other predators, these wolves don’t tend to freeze motionless even for a few seconds. Instead, they are in constant motion. Photographing them is no easy task.

 

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Giant mole rat (a favorite prey of the wolves)

 

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A pack on the move

 

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At rest

 

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Alert

 

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Portrait

 

Tracking/trekking up here at 14,000 ft. is no easy task either. I fare fine on flat terrain, but with any kind of ascent at all, the heart pounds and so does the brain. Back in the vehicle is the unmanly but popular call, and we cross the Sanetti Plateau and descend a bit on the other side to explore the Harenna Forest. The Harenna Forest is classified as a classic, intact Afro-montane forest, and it is thick and largely undiscovered. Leopards and lions are reported from time to time still, and endemic birds abound. The Rouget’s rail and the thick-billed raven, both endemic to the horn of Africa, and the wattled ibis, endemic only to the highlands of Ethiopia, are seen on the drive. But our trip to Harenna is short-lived, as the headache, mild hypoxia and a mild upset stomach are too much to bear.

 

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Rouget's rail (Endemic to Ethiopia and Eritrea)

 

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Wattled ibis (endemic to the highlands of Ethiopia)

 

The drive back across the Sanetti produces more wolves, and unfortunately, more cattle and – stray domestic dogs. The Bale Mountain National Park is choked with human pressure, and domestic dogs can wreak havoc by transmitting diseases to the wolves. Even though the Ethiopian Wolf Conservation Programme (not to be confused with the Ethiopian Wolf Project, which is a photographic project to document the wolves) has an ongoing domestic dog vaccination program, it is impossible to cover them all. Recently, the Bale wolf population was affected by a rabies outbreak in 2008/2009 and a devastating canine distemper outbreak in 2010. These diseases carried by domestic dogs remain the primary threat to the survival of the wolves. Fewer than 500 wolves now cling to diminishing habitats in Ethiopia, with just over 200 in Bale Mountain National Park.

 

In total, there are over 15,000 people who have settled illegally inside Bale Mountain National Park I am told. In certain parts of the park, you would never know it; in certain other parts of the park, the human presence or trace is palpable. Against all odds, the endemics appear to be holding their own for now. But with the new road connecting Bale to the rest of the world and with nearby towns like Robe exploding with new developments, how much longer is the operative question. It is incumbent on all of us to help conserve this gem.

 

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Our vehicle

 

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Giant lobelia

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Safaridude

Awash National Park (and Alledeghe Plain)

 

Descending from Bale into the Rift Valley, you can almost feel the air getting thicker with oxygen with every passing minute. A new bypass road makes the drive to Awash now a cinch. It is quite scenic, as orderly wheat fields frame the road and remnant acacia woodlands appear in the distance. Nearby Awash National Park, the largest sugar factory in Ethiopia belches smoke.

 

The entrance to the national park is literally right off the main road. Upon entering, a disturbing sight greets us. The ground is bare, obviously having been razed by livestock recently. The bush is thick with Acacia reficiens, an invasive plant that thrives in overgrazed areas. I have seen reficiens patches in disturbed areas in Kenya and Tanzania, but nothing this thick. Even lesser kudus would have trouble making way here. Indeed, hundreds of cows and goats cross the road ahead of us, attended by a Kereyu pastoralist, and not a trace of wild animals is detected on the short drive to our campsite. What a lovely campsite it is though situated right on the bank of the Awash River.

 

To the east of this thick acacia belt there is a bleached-grass plain called Ilala Sala (meaning “oryx looking”), and it’s a different story. For whatever reason, the Ilala Sala plain is left relatively untouched by livestock, and we encounter a herd of 200 beisa oryx, the biggest oryx herd I have ever seen. The oryx are shockingly tame here and allow us to approach within 50 yards on foot. Upon close examination, the Awash oryx carries fainter, thinner side facial stripes than the ones found in Kenya. Smaller groups of the more timid but exquisite Soemmering’s gazelles stare alertly at our advance. It’s love at first sight (for me, probably not for them). Closely related to the Grant’s gazelle, the Soemmering’s gazelle resembles a cross between a Grant’s gazelle and a springbok. The wide dark patch running from the nose to the base of the horns and the most conspicuous white flanks give them that extra bit of elegance, however. On the edge of Ilala Sala, a few Salt’s dik-diks frustrate the photographer with their annoying habit of standing stock still and posing – that is, until the vehicle comes to a stop. A two-toned body (rufous legs) and no curved elongation of the nose make it a Salt’s.

 

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A part of a 200-strong herd of beisa oryx on the Ilala Sala Plain

 

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Beisa oryx

 

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A herd of Soemmering's gazelle

 

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Soemmering's gazelle

 

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Salt's dik-dik

 

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Kori bustard

 

A full morning is dedicated to a trip to the Filwoha Hot Springs to see the endemic hamadrayas baboon. The entire journey is through thick acacia country, and aside from a fleeing lesser kudu and a few Salt’s dik-diks, camels tended by the Afar are the most prevalent large mammals to be seen. And by the hundreds, these camels! Awash National Park serves as an unofficial boundary of sorts between the rival Kereyu and Afar tribes. Previously, there have been clashes inside the park, and wild animals had been caught in the middle of gun battles. The two tribes have since made peace and no more animals are being killed (neither tribe eats game meat), but habitat destruction has instead set in, as the Kereyu and the Afar freely enter the park with their livestock now, no longer fearful of encountering hostility from each other. At Filwoha, finally some warthogs are seen along with hamadrayas baboons. Male hamadrayas baboons carry conspicuous silvery manes and straight beaded-like fur. These guys definitely use hair dryers.

 

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Blow-dried hamadrayas baboon

 

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Abyssinian roller

 

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A well-armed Afar and his camels

 

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Fikir

 

Back near camp, we visit the Awash Falls. A series of wide waterfalls over rock-strewn surfaces is peaceful and enchanting. Except for the smell. The only way to describe the smell is that of “rotten” sugar. I am told that apparently the said large sugar factory discharges something into the Awash River. I am not ready to officially accuse the factory of anything, but sugar factories in general are notorious for wreaking environmental havoc, especially from their polluted effluent. I am no environmental scientist, but what I can say with certainty is that with my own eyes I saw the Awash River change colors overnight.

 

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Awash Falls

 

Inspired by .... research and musings, we take an intriguing morning excursion to the Alledeghe Plain. It is a mysterious “reserve” nobody seems to know about not far from Awash that is supposedly teeming with game. A vast flat plain just off the main road with stunning mountains in the background (reminding me of Natron, Tanzania) is Alledeghe. Skittish herds of oryx, Sommering’s gazelle, Grevy’s zebra and a Somali ostrich flee. A “northern” gerenuk (a bit smaller and with a pinkish hue in the body) does the same. Our visit is all too brief. What an amazing place it might be to spend several days discovering. .... recount of his visit will be fascinating.

 

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Alledeghe Plain with a herd of Grevy's zebra

 

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Grevy's zebra and northern carmine bee-eater

 

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Golden jackal

 

Our last morning, we return to the edge of Ilala Sala. Mindful of our long drive to Addis ahead of us, we know we can’t stay long. But the soft morning light is perfect today. A male Soemmering’s gazelle has joined a herd of oryx, and they are all relishing the grass, perhaps laden this morning with a hint of dew. I try to photograph the gazelle now grazing close to the vehicle, but my lens is in manual focus mode, and while I fuss with it, the gazelle runs away. I chalk it up to fate and instead of pursuing the animal decide to just sit back and soak in the scene. If I can be anthropomorphic about it in retrospect, the oryx herd and the Soemmering’s gazelle looked happy. At that point in time, they seemed oblivious to the increasing lorry traffic (fueled by the increasing trade with Djbouti) on the road just a few kilometers to the north, oblivious to the sugar factory to the south discharging something into the Awash River, oblivious to the Kereyu and their livestock to the west, and oblivious to the well-armed Afar and their camels to the east. Despite all the pressures, at that point in time, it was as George Harrison wrote, “here comes the sun. Here comes the sun. And I say, it’s alright”.

 

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Beisa oryx

 

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Beisa oryx

 

 

Post-script

 

The kind of complete wilderness experience one might get in northern Botswana is elusive in Uganda and Ethiopia (having visited only one park in Uganda, I probably should reserve judgment on the rest of the country. But human impact is clearly visible at Murchison Falls.). That said, Murchison Falls is extremely productive, and Ethiopia’s endemics are fascinating and occur in good numbers. For bird and “mammal” twitchers, both countries await you with open arms. One piece of advice: don’t wait too long.

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Sangeeta

Swaynes, Soemmerings and Salts ... all came through for you, so happy you got them all and so much more on camera for your collection. That golden morning with the oryx and gazelles is poetry, and I don't think Lennon could have gotten a better image to go with the song. We need a book with your song picks and your corresponding photos. I am serious.

 

I so hope they're not going the China route with their effluents. That sugar factory story is very disturbing.

 

Not sure whether this question should wait until after .... is done with his report, but based on your trip Safaridude, if my prime motivation for an Ethiopian safari consisted of avoiding the human encroachment/presence as much as possible but I still wanted to get some decent wildlife sightings, how should I design this trip based on the things you saw?

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Sangeeta

 

 

Very excited about all the new places that will bubble up from these two reports though... the stuff of many dreams!

Edited by kittykat23uk

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Safaridude
On 3/10/2013 at 7:25 PM, Sangeeta said:

Not sure whether this question should wait until after .... is done with his report, but based on your trip Safaridude, if my prime motivation for an Ethiopian safari consisted of avoiding the human encroachment/presence as much as possible but I still wanted to get some decent wildlife sightings, how should I design this trip based on the things you saw?

 

 

 

 

Well, I am not sure it's possible to avoid all human encroachment/presence in Ethiopia:

 

Senkelle - Outside is full of shambas; once inside, there were Oromo gathering hay (legally); yet the view to the north is pristine and there were hundreds of Swayne's.

 

Bale - the Dinsho headquarters area where we camped... you can see the town of Dinsho from our perched campsite, and you can hear the loudspeakers from the town in the morning as I mentioned; yet there are hundreds of animals around. Web Valley is wild (except for livestock -- but it's not unlike Amboseli, Tsavo or Masai Mara in that respect). Gaysay is10 minutes from the town of Dinsho and right off the road; yet hundreds of animals around. Sanetti is wild except for livestock (like Web Valley). Harenna Forest is intact, but as soon as you descend a bit, there are settlements.

 

Awash - Heavy pastoralist encroachment. Alledeghe Plain where I spent one morning (.... spent much more time) is completely wild.

 

So, parts of Bale (Web Valley and Sanetti Plateau) you can get a real wilderness experience. This is the weird thing about Ethiopia... even with all the human pressure, the endemics are doing quite well.

 

Another "must see" in Ethiopia are the Simien Mountains (gelada baboons, some Ethiopian wolves, Walia ibex). I believe the Simiens are still very wild. I hear there are parts of Omo that are very wild, but there are no real developed roads. Gambella (white-eared kob, Nile lechwe, etc), which is really an extension of Southern Sudan's ecosystem, is not really developed either. Nechisar has encroachment and apparently some recent security concerns.

 

For me, I didn't mind the driving... I was exhausted due to the altitude, I think. Driving times: Addis to Awasa (near Senkelle) was 5 hours; Senkelle to Bale (Dinsho) was 3 1/2 hours; Dinsho to Goba was an hour (?); Goba to Awash was 7 hours; Awash to Addis was 3 1/2 hours. Our campsite at Dinsho was at around 10,000 ft. Waba Shebelle Hotel in Goba was at around 9,000 ft. But the excursions to the Sanetti Plateau (13,000 - 14,000 ft.) are what got me. I believe ....camped on the Sanetti... that would have wiped me out.

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twaffle

Despite being a fascinating report, for me, it brings up more questions than answers for anyone planning a trip. Perhaps when put along side .... upcoming report, a picture of what can be achieved for a regular traveller may be possible.

 

I loved the feel of the landscapes and the variety of herbivores, but the thought that maybe sunrise/sunset over the Sanetti wouldn't be possible just because of the logistics of where to stay and how to get there is frustrating. If time allowed, perhaps more acclimatisation would help but that would take a serious commitment to the area I'm sure.

 

Sometimes having a truly wild experience just isn't possible anymore, but missing out on some of the endemic species in the areas would be a shame indeed. Loved the photos of the oryx and the sommerlings and the wolves, but feel very drawn to the high country landscapes.

 

Thank you for the time and effort for giving us yet another excellent piece of writing and photos.

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twaffle

Thanks .... still a way off in my planning though and perhaps by the time I have the time and money I will be too old and decrepit for this kind of adventure. Won't give up yet.

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Jochen

Just got to say this; really love those wolf and oryx shots.

Book material... again. We should really do this.

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Safaridude

 

Oops. We drove from Awasa to Dinsho in that time, not from Senkelle to Dinsho. Awasa is closer to Dinsho by about 45 minutes (?) Yes, traffic is the big unknown, especially closer to Addis... lorries, people, cows, donkeys...

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Rwenzori

Safaridude can I ask you what camera/lenses did you used to produce these stunning photos?

 

I'm particularly impressed by the elephant you caught bathing in the Albert Nile ;)

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GreenEye

Hello, Some addition to places what future visitors might find useful...


-One of the largest wilderness you can ever drive through is from the Sanetti Plateau via Harenna Forest to Yabello. Its a giant forest and than bushy habitat with very few people, its amazing. There are Prince Ruspoll's Touraco too.


-If you want "real" tribes, you have to go to the west Omo (surma)... the usual tribes are totally commercialized (8000 visitors/year), incredible hassle, totally artificial, childish, and absolutely dead boring. Its just getting worse as the new road is pretty much ready. Now you can get right into the middle of the tribes on a brand new highway. As about animals, there are very few left there, in the Mago I have seen buffalos, nice heard of elephants, Jackson's, Topi, etc.

-Visited the Simien several times, its actually totally overrun by people, the only habitats left are the vertical cliffs. There is the highest lodge in Africa (Simien Lodge), which is a great vista, and Geech Abyss nearby is amazing, within one of the highest waterfall of the World... not in the record books at all, I think its probably 6-800 meters (?) depend on rainfall. The Walia Ibex is very easy, they are 2 minutes walk from the road, population is increasing in the moment, somewhere at 750-850. One of the best places to photograph Lammergeiers, and there are Gelada troops up to 800.

-Ogaden would be wonderful to visit, there are still plenty of dibatags... megadream... if anybody have infos about that area, would be happy to learn about it.


-Mentioned somewhere before, that Djibouti is a very logical combination with Ethiopia, and for me was one of the finest surprise ever. The games are much more tame than in Ethiopia, there is no hunting, so gazelles and alike are filling totally your frame. There are large numbers of Soemmerings, Dibatags, Pelzeln's Gazelles, etc. Also wonderful and easy to see Whale Sharks. The mountain of Foret du Day is beautiful, and quite easy to see one of the most localized and rarest bird of Africa, the Djibouti Francolin. There are also two undescribed species of birds there, a Pytilia and the "Toha" Sunbird. Beira is also possible, there are lot of research published on them, so easy to find. The landscape is incredible, especially Lake Abbe on the ethiopian border. Somaliland is also quite easy today, where you can easily add Speke's Gazelle to your list.

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Safaridude

Safaridude can I ask you what camera/lenses did you used to produce these stunning photos?

 

I'm particularly impressed by the elephant you caught bathing in the Albert Nile ;)

 

Thanks. I carry 3 Canon lenses: 300mm/2.8 with a 2x extender; 70-300mm/4.5 - 5.6 L Series; 17-40mm/4.0

 

I really like the 70-300mm/4.5 - 5.6. I recently traded it for the old 70-200mm/2.8. The loss of speed with the former doesn't bother me one bit. I like the extra range and its compact size.

 

I just replaced my old EOS 1DS Mark II with EOS 1DX. The EOS 1DX has slightly better resolution/sharpness than the EOS 1DS Mark II, but the biggest differences, I have found, are its autofocus abilities, speed and less noise at high ISOs. It really shines in back-lit and flat light situations where it can still autofocus, whereas my old EOS 1DS Mark II would have needed manual focusing.

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GreenEye

Hi .... Thanks for the input, yeapp, Babile would be great, never been there. Also Ogaden, there is Little Brown Bustard,the only place outside Somalia where its possible to see. As about Mago, I was on a vista with a local ranger when we heard and saw with my scope the poachers were going after buffalo. Its unfortunately also part of local culture, at some tribes (can't remember, but probably the karo?) can prove their manhood with their own buffalo kill, the young guys have to present the tail of a freshly killed buffalo for his elders. And of course with that number of Kalashnikovs from southern sudan there is not too much chance left for the poor animals. As about giraffes... any info how and where to see the nominatform (G. c. camelopardalis)? Thanks!

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Safaridude

As far as I know, Ogaden is a "no go" zone due to security issues. Yeah, that would be a megadream. The dibatag is an incredibly crytpic animal that lives in a " no go" zone. As far as I know, there are no known photographs of the animal in recent times.

 

-Ogaden would be wonderful to visit, there are still plenty of dibatags... megadream... if anybody have infos about that area, would be happy to learn about it.

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GreenEye

Thanks Guys,

Yes, Dinder was a good spot for it, however it was rare even by the 30's, as much as I can dig out details. I have some recent papers and management papers/plans about Dinder, I will try to find our what is there now. I know there are still lions, which is promissing. I am wondering what is on the ethopian part of Dinder, there are some game reserves, however I never find recent surveys.

 

Dibatag: there was a recent project by Al Wabra, which took plenty of pictures, I have some here on this bloody computer, as soon as I find them, I will upload some pictures. Also I remember that some picture was taken by some Kenyans who captured them and bred them somewhere. Also there was a picture i some hunting books... I know Prince Abdorezza of Iran shooted one in the 1970s which was accompanied with some wild pictures in the news... or maybe in the books of James Melon?

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