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douglaswise

Bale Mountains NP - Bale Mountain Lodge - March 2015

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douglaswise
My wife , Robin (hereinafter, R) and I visited the Bale Mountains National Park in Ethiopia this year. We based ourselves entirely at the recently opened Bale Mountain Lodge. As there have yet been no trip reports from visitors to this Lodge, it was suggested that I produce one.

 

Our main holiday this year is scheduled to coincide with our golden wedding anniversary, which is not until August. At that time, we are going to Kafue in Zambia and spending five nights at each of Musekese and Busanga Plains Camps. I was therefore tempted to fit in a shorter trip beforehand. Having visited Laikipia Wilderness Camp last year and become besotted by the dogs, I thought it would be interesting to spend time with Ethiopian wolves of which there are only 450-500 left in the world, mainly concentrated in the Bale Mountains. We also took fly rods with the intention to pursue a few trout. The itinerary consisted of 8 nights at the Lodge and one night in an Addis hotel, allowing us to catch an early flight out on the morning of 9th March. Everything, bar international flights, was arranged for us by Guy Levene, the Lodge owner.

 

We flew from Heathrow on an overnight Ethiopian Airways flight of 7.5 h on 27th Feb. We arrived at 7.00h local time at Addis Ababa, but didn’t get away from the airport until two hours later. Guy happened to be in Addis at the time and met us along with the independently contracted vehicle (plus driver) which he had arranged. Guy was staying on in Addis so we set off on our own in the Toyota Landcruiser with the driver to head for the Lodge on a journey of some 500 km. Guy anticipated that it would take between 7 and 8 h. Thus, we should have arrived in daylight at teatime. There are two parallel routes to Dinsho, the Park HQ about 100km from the Lodge, both metalled and of roughly equal length. Guy told the driver to take the faster of the two and, because part was tolled, said he would reimburse him for the toll charge. However, the driver ignored the instruction. In consequence, though stopping to eat and re-fuel for less than half an hour, our trip to the Lodge took 11.5h and we travelled the most interesting part (across the Sanetti Plateau and down to the Lodge) in the dark. I recalled our children, when small, plaintively demanding to know whether we were “nearly there yet” before we were half way through trips of half this duration. I can now understand how they must have felt.

 

(I should add that our original vehicle more or less expired half way through the trip and Guy allowed us use of a Lodge vehicle and driver. We drove back to Addis at the end with Yvonne and the journey only took 8 h (lunch, puncture repair – tyre penetrated by shed donkey shoe – and refuelling included).).

 

The reason for our slow inward progress (average 45 km/h) had nothing to do with quality of road surface and everything to do with congestion – not with motor vehicles, but with people and their associated animals. The donkeys – both those with packs, those dragging carts and those being ridden – seemed to have marginally more road sense than the equivalent ponies. The goats were totally impossible, often preferring to suckle their kids in the middle of the road rather than moving out of the way. To add spice, numerous dogs dashed out without looking, adding to the need for constant hooting and braking. There were no stunning views, merely flattish cereal-growing plains with cattle grazing on aftermaths (this was post harvest and end of dry season). There were a few big, commercial glasshouse operations along the way, producing cut flowers for export.

 

Just before Dinsho, the road cuts through the Park (Gaysay Grasslands) and we saw olive baboons and warthogs on the side of the road and Bohor Reedbuck somewhat further out. Endemic Rouget’s Rails were also prominent. After Dinsho, the road leaves the Park and goes on to Goba (about 30km). Here, we branched towards Dodola on a public dirt road which traverses the Park. The Lodge is along it, 68km from Goba. We started ascending in the dark, first rising to the Sanetti plateau at about 4200m elevation, crossing it and then making a very steep and winding descent at its southern end, passing into the Harenna Forest. Our headlights were feeble and the brakes poor such that the gearbox was used as a supplement. In addition, we had to stop a few times to work out which was road and which was bulldozed-out drainage run-off. We were subsequently to learn that such caution was sensible, given that a tractor and a bus both left the road and overturned during the week of our visit. We passed through the settlement of Rira, which seemed to stretch out for several km (we were to learn that it has a population approaching ten thousand), and were surprised at the frequent groups of villagers returning along the road from the forest with or aboard their animals in pitch darkness, particularly as the driver got very excited when he saw a lion crossing between two such groups (we were past the stage of paying much attention by then so didn’t see it ourselves).

 

Eventually, we reached the Lodge (about 2400m elevation) to be greeted by Yvonne, Guy’s wife. We dumped off our bags in our chalet, quickly gulped down those medications necessary to keep geriatrics such as ourselves alive and headed down to the main area to eat. We had been travelling continuously for 28 h so made the strenuous ascent back to our quarters immediately after for a long sleep. (The outlying cottages offer more privacy, but there are three close to the main area which can be used for families with small children or others who aren’t fit enough to cope with steep climbs.)

 

Sorry to have banged on about our journey in. It wasn’t enjoyable at the time, but was instructive and, in retrospect, a useful exposure to problems of wildlife in this part of Ethiopia. This is a region of the Oromo people, mainly Muslim and breeding rapidly. Nearly 80% survive by subsistence farming, but all land is Government-owned. Families have traditional rights to live on and use the land, paying no rents, but it can be confiscated by the Government with no compensation should it decide to do so. Diets are mainly vegetarian and the livestock, though some are traded for meat, are kept mainly as walking banks (cattle and goats) and as a means of transport (donkeys, ponies and mules). This sort of culture seems to be incompatible with wildlife conservation and probably accounts for the enormous pressure to which the Park is subjected.

 

I will not go into detail about the Lodge (it is thoroughly described in Trip Advisor reviews) except to state that it is well appointed (excellent views), comfortable, has friendly staff and is efficiently hosted by the owners. I will, however, highlight a few points that may be helpful:

1) All visiting groups will need their own transport whether driving from Addis or flying to Goba (two flights a week liable to schedule variation, so not recommended). There are separate arrangements for drivers to be fed and to sleep in the staff quarters (no extra cost).

2) There are sufficient guides, competent at spotting and naming birds, animals and some plants and communicating in English, to allow one of them to travel with each group – either on walks or drives. They are included in the package price.

3) The guide team is managed and mostly trained by James Ndung’u, a Kenyan. James worked as a field naturalist with several University-run research projects in Ethiopia before taking up his role at the Lodge. He is a qualified bird ringer and has caught and ringed 53 species in the immediate vicinity of the Lodge.

4) Although the northern part of the Park (Gaysay Grasslands, Dinsho area and Web Valley) can be accessed from the Lodge, the journey is quite protracted and takes one back the way one has come. The same applies to the trout fishing.

5) Most visitors come either to relax (expats from Addis) or to take vigorous walking exercise (beyond our capabilities) along the several, often steep, trails in the Harenna Forest. Among these will be serious birders. Not many, when we were there, wished, as we did, to spend the bulk of their time on the Sanetti Plateau. (It is worth noting that even a single visit there will almost guarantee wolf sightings.)

6) Groups, other than those with children, coalesce for evening meals and this arrangement, for us, was very much a bonus (though we can still communicate with each other after half a century, a bit of variety helps!)

7) It is only fitting to end this list by mentioning the Levenes’ generous complementary booze policy.

 

Apart from one day’s fishing trip and a few gentle strolls round the Lodge and around the Park Headquarters at Dinsho, we spent most of our wildlife viewing in or close to our vehicle. I will describe what we saw on an area basis because the steep changes of altitude meant that one passed quickly through a great variety of habitat types, characterised by marked differences in flora and fauna.

 

 

Around the Lodge

 

We spent our first morning, unguided, pottering around the Lodge environs. I had been expecting to be wowed by enormous numbers and species of large and/or gaudy birds – the sort I like as a non-birder. We were, to be honest, a little disappointed. Of course, had we been proper birders, we would have been extending our life lists by the addition of the no doubt numerous but unnoticed endemic LBJs. However, we did see our first Thick Billed Raven and what I grew up to call a shitehawk (some sort of kite, I think). There were largish flocks of small birds that I was later told were of the canary family. The standout trees were probably the Hagenias, the females bearing large round clusters of reddish-brown flowers and the males, smaller and more pendulous clusters of similar colour. There were so many other trees in this cloud forest environment that I was incapable of sorting them out. The most striking flowers were bright-red blood lilies.

 

Later in the week, we also spent occasional ends of days around the Lodge. A short walk with James along some of the walking trails revealed a lot more than we had discovered on our own. It helped that he could identify bird song and was thus often able to trace the singer. One spot that pleased James was an endemic woodpecker. It seemed somehow heartless and naff to enlighten him that we’ve seen plenty of bigger and brighter specimens of the group in other parts of the world. We enjoyed a very brief mist-netting session, which yielded four species of small bird which were weighed, measured, ringed and released, a process we had not witnessed before. I had also brought two camera traps with me and these were put out most nights in what the excellent James considered to be likely spots. Although he pointed out bush pig, giant forest hog and mongoose tracks, all we managed to capture on video were one member of the camp staff and several Menelik’s Bushbuck. I have read that this species is more closely related to Mountain Nyala than to the bog-standard bushbucks that one sees further south.

 

From the main Lodge and from the verandah of our room, we enjoyed a stunning view down to a stream with a large, natural clearing beyond. This drew the eye across steeply rising wooded hillside behind to a skyline of jagged rocky mountain peaks. We often saw baboon troops and warthogs in the clearing

picassa 2015

View from lodge

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Rubus studeri

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Robin and James

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Blue-banded swallowtail on blood lily

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White-browed robinchat

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Lodge-central area

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Female Hagenia flower

 

Edited by douglaswise

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twaffle

Excellent start with a fantastic amount of detailed information.

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Caracal

No need to be "Sorry to have banged on about our journey in" - I found that all very interesting along with your description of the lodge and surrounds.

 

Look forward to more.

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Livetowander

Thanks for posting. It's very much appreciated as I've had my eye on this lodge.

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optig

I'm also planning to visit this lodge as part of a longer trip to Ethiopia. I've long wanted to visit Simien Mountain National Park.Lalibela,Bahir Dar.etc. I really love your trip report.

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kittykat23uk

Thanks for posting @@douglaswise looking forward to reading more!

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IamFisheye

Thanks for posting this. We may have crossed paths if I hadn't postponed my trip (I went to laikipia instead). I'm just about to book flights for a trip in October.

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graceland

Something different here; I was interested in the Ethiopian wolves, having seen a show about them- of all places on a plane.

 

I admire you and "R" for hanging in there for 11 hours; I may have started screaming. About to say I'd jump out until I read of the lion crossing...so I'd be stuck.

 

A beauty of a spot upon arrival so well worth it. My DH is an avid fisherman, will look forward to more of that along wit wolves, and birds!

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michael-ibk

Another thank you, good to have all the details, and looking forward to more.

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Tom Kellie

~ Hello, @@douglaswise!

 

What terrific details in your trip report!

You and your wife are tough, to handle all of that with poise.

Really enjoy the facts studded throughout your report.

Tom K.

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douglaswise

The road south from the Lodge

 

If you drive from the Lodge and then turn left (south) heading along the road in the direction of Dodola, you drive through the Harenna Forest for about 30 km until you approach the village of Manyete at its southern end. Manyete is at an elevation of 2200m, a drop of only 200m from the Lodge. Villagers here are known for harvesting wild coffee which grows below the large forest trees. At the start of the journey, the forest is genuinely of the cloud variety and the understorey very thick. Further south, where the coffee grows, it is more open. We traversed this route a couple of times – only part way on the first afternoon with a guide and then for our main day’s activity with James later in the week. What did we see? Weeell, mainly trees and more trees plus people collecting honey, people collecting wood and their associated beasts of burden. There were also grazing cattle. I have little doubt that the forest is quite rich in numbers and diversity of wildlife, but you don’t have much chance of seeing it from a vehicle unless it is crossing or highly adjacent to the road. We saw an occasional group of black and white colobus monkeys and one troop of baboons plus a few birds (white cheeked hornbill was the most memorable). Of course, there was the obligatory sunset which James, having taken control of my camera, felt ought to be recorded for posterity. He obviously knows a thing or two – no safari would be complete without a recorded sunset! On a more serious note, I should mention that I suffer from shaky hands which render the abilities of automatic anti-vibration devices useless unless I use a bean bag. R is no better because her fingers are permanently locked into claws. It was with great relief, therefore, that James, an excellent photographer, took over my clicking duties, allowing me the luxury of concentrating on the game when it presented itself. For those interested, the camera is a Nikon D something with 18-55 and 70-300 lenses. The other things we saw on the longer of the two trips appeared after we had left the forest – a village weaver colony appropriately sited in a village and vultures circling an abattoir.

 

From our perspective, the drives south of the Lodge represented time wasted that could more enjoyably have been spent to the north. However, hindsight is a fine thing and we did see an African cloud forest, albeit in exceptionally dry conditions. It is worth noting that the Bale Massif and its forests are vitally important to regional climate and the heavy rainfall it generates provides the main source of water to many millions to the south. If the Ethiopian wolf is to survive, perhaps its best chance is for full recognition to be given to the importance of preserving the habitat as in as a generator, collector, and run-off controller of rainfall.

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emperor swallowtail

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grey cheeked hornbill

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the official sunset!

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beehives in transit

From Lodge to Sanetti Plateau

 

The first part of the ascent is gradual, passing through the forest as far as Rira. Just south of the latter, there is a narrowish stripe of bamboo mixed in with the trees. It is primarily upon bamboo that the rare and endemic Bale Monkeys feed. In eleven traverses through this zone we saw a group of them once and were able to observe them for about 15 minutes. We also saw 2 jackals, I Melelik’s Bushbuck and one bush pig – all very briefly while crossing the road. Rira itself occupies about 5km of road frontage, mostly edged with bamboo fencing. The land back from the road has been cleared to provide a surprisingly pleasant English parkland-type appearance and is divided into lots for stock. There is a small area in the centre of the village, opposite the school and corrugated iron mosque, which caters for occasional backpackers and has traditional bamboo houses and gardens (onions seem to be important). We saw Ruppell’s Weavers here. Immediately to the north of Rira the forest ends in a narrow belt of tree ericas, covered in moss and looking as if they belong on a film set of Lord of the Rings. Hereafter, the ascent becomes much steeper and the road serpentines. Vegetation is dominated by giant heather and this forms a wide belt reaching to the top of the ascent and the start of the plateau proper.

 

Chestnut-naped francolin were frequent along this stretch of road and we also saw one Rouget’s Rail. Klipspringers and Starck’s hares were the principal mammals we saw, but, once, a spotted hyaena raced us up the hill and we also saw one grey duiker.

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Bale monkey - fore

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Bale monkey - aft

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Ruppell's weaver

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Tree ericas

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View across giant heather belt showing the effects of arson

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Klipspringers - arty effect not intended - the light wasn't too bad

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Starck's hare blending in well

 

Edited by douglaswise

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kittykat23uk

Starck's hare is obviously another must see mammal for me! They look very handsome! :)

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Kitsafari

here's another avid STer reader of your TR @@douglaswise. I've been exploring opportunities to see Ethiopian wolves, Bale monkeys and incredibly gorgeous Gelada monkeys over the last two years but the fears of mountain sickness have held me back.

 

I like your detailed approach to the TR - a refreshing take that looks at your surroundings and not just on wildlife alone. the details give a vivid sense of what to expect.

 

thanks so much for sharing.

 

you mentioned Sanetti plateau is at 4200 m above sea level - how high is simian mountain and the lodge? May i ask how you coped with the high elevations the various places were at? was it difficult to adjust?

 

forgot to add as well - was it all on game drives? from what you have described, it sounds like the vehicle can't do offroading?

Edited by Kitsafari

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pault

This is on my list of upcoming safaris so I am finding it very interesting and I appreciate the details, asides and all.

Edited by pault

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douglaswise

I would like to thank all those who have commented for their kind words. I haven't really got to descriptions of the plateau yet. It was the area from the lodge to the radio mast at the northern end of the plateau that I really enjoyed. However, this is also the one most likely to cause altitude sickness. Given @@Kitsafari's questions on this subject, I'll attempt to answer as well as I can.

 

Altitude sickness can occur at any altitude above 2500m (the Lodge is below this). Although it can, in some cases, be very severe and life threatening, this isn't going to happen to anyone staying at the Lodge and just doing day visits to the plateau. However, there is a mild form (acute mountain sickness) which is quite common in tourists to high altitude S.American destinations, unpredictably afflicting some and not others. When I asked Guy about the subject before we went, he said only 1 of 1500 of his clients had ever experienced the problem. Nevertheless, others we spoke to in the UK were less sanguine so we took a supply of acetazolomide (Diamox) with us. This drug can be used for prophylaxis or for treatment. We opted not to use it for prophylaxis as a possible side effect is drowsiness.

 

The manifestations of mild mountain sickness are those of a hangover - headache, nausea, vomiting and fatigue. Thus, in my case, it could be argued that a misdiagnosis is a plausible possibility! However, R's alcohol intake is too small to count. We think R might have suffered from altitude sickness during our final 3 days (I didn't). It could have been something different. She did not have the normally-associated headache, but all other signs were present, albeit they are non specific. Food poisoning seems unlikely as no-one else was affected. Anyway, whatever it was, put a bit of a dampener on things for her (though she said she was very interested by and enjoyed the trip as a whole). I'm not surprised that Guy sees so little mountain sickness in his clients - none of the others we met spent anything like as much time as we did on the plateau. If one is touring in several parts of Ethiopia, it would be best, where logistics permit, to work one's way up, ending in the Bale Mountains (no point, of course, if coming from bottom of rift) because one acclimatises at an approximate rate of 500m/day (this is really only relevant for mountaineers on serious treks).

 

The Simien Mountains (tourist areas) are, I understand, at around 3200-3600m. The best known lodge there is over 3000m. We chose Bale over Simiens purely because of wolves (actually, I chose and R was somewhat miffed that we didn't get to see any cultural sites along the way. As I'm a philistine and she leaves the planning to me, she gets what I arrange!) As far as my prior wildlife research planning went, it seemed that we'd miss Geladas at Bale, but the wolf sightings would be few and far between in the Simiens.

 

In summary, I wouldn't let the prospect of mountain sickness put you off, but would recommend taking Diamox in case. R was sick a few times one night, nauseous for about 30h and a bit feeble for 3 days. Actually, it might have been better to say that she experienced nausea rather than describing her as nauseous - I'm really quite fond of her even if she was nauseous when experiencing nausea - she didn't fish with sufficient vigour, for example. ( She only took one tablet - after she had been sick.) Remember, too, that our combined ages almost sum to a century and a half.

 

Finally, @@Kitsafari asked about off-roading. I don't think off- road driving would be feasible. Of course, one can walk wherever one wants. I'm unconvinced that it would help in terms of wolf watching. On the plateau, walking is, literally, a breath taking experience as one is working with only 50% of normal oxygen.

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Tom Kellie

~ @douglaswise:

 

That emperor swallowtail!

The beehives being transported!

Your photos are of such interesting subjects — MUCH appreciated!

Tom K.

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Kitsafari

@@douglaswise thanks for responding in such detail. i suffer from motion sickness, and as a result, i'm sensitive to altitude sickness. i guess I should consider working my way slowly up to that altitude but when i can only spare 8-10 days, alI I would want to do is go straight there. which isn't very smart thinking!

 

Look forward to hearing more of your trip. :)

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optig

Simien National park begins from 2800 Meters,then rises an elevation of 4200 Meters. The trek is undoubtedly one of the finest in the world; you are guaranteed to see Gelada baboons in packs of up to 300 individuals. Also, you are likely to see Walia Ibex,if you trek for five days. It is recommended that you do part of the trek by mule.

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douglaswise

The Sanetti Plateau

 

As far as we were concerned, this was the “jewel in the crown” of the entire trip. I believe the plateau itself is about 1000 sq km in area and home to 25-30 packs of wolves. The road cuts through the territories of 5 of them. The terrain allows long views, but there are gullies and rocky ridges as well as gentler slopes and flat ground. If one imagines a rumpled carpet of reddish, apparently bare, ground on which two different types of tussocky plants – one white and one grey, accompanied by loose lichen-covered rocks, have been deposited to cover about 60% of its area, one might form an appropriate mental image (this in case the pix don’t do it for you!) Sprinkle in the occasional group of giant lobelias and the odd pond for effect and add movement by having diurnal grass rats scurrying across the bare ground from hole to hole. All very different. The white tussocks are helichrysums (everlasting flowers) and the grey, alchemillas – the principal host plant for the somehow endearing, endemic giant mole rats (which eat their roots, not leaves). This simplicity of flora is something I can warm to. Just as I thought I was becoming something of a botanical expert, James told me that there are at least a dozen more helichrysum species and went on to photograph several during one of our descents.

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alchemilla

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helichrysum

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giant lobelia

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lichen

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giant lobelia clump

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locals on plateau

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First outing? Bit stressed. Hard to keep up

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OK now

On the plateau, the bird life is possibly more varied than the mammalian (if one discounts the fact that the rats – ignoring the giant mole rats - can be divided into 8 or 9 different endemic species, some nocturnal and some diurnal). Most of the birds seem to be devoted to the destruction and ingestion of the rats. Buzzards were the most prominent (augur buzzards, some melanistic). We saw tawny, steppe and golden eagles, lanner falcons and harriers, but missed out on owls. We watched a fan-tailed raven on a rat kill (stolen or not, we don’t know) and we watched 3 eagles of 2 species attempting to deprive a wolf of the rat it had just caught. We saw endemic blue winged geese and wattled ibis as well as incomers such as ruddy shelduck and some rather fine choughs. We noticed only two species of little bird - alpine chats (very confiding and keen to share picnics) and black headed siskins (usually in small flocks, sometimes beside giant mole rats, examining what was in the soil that they were expressing from their burrows).

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augur buzzard on a rat hunt

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blue winged geese

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wattled ibis

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black headed siskin

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alpine chat

The wolves are definitely the royalty. Magnificent to look at, alert, athletic, agile, graceful, statuesque – you name it, they’ve got it. They are also easy to see from a vehicle at close quarters, providing one is on the plateau between, say, 10.00 and 15.00h. At this time, they are spread out and hunting individually, thereby covering a lot of ground. The pack assembles as dusk approaches, spend the night together and, after morning greetings, they deposit their cubs, usually protected from the strong winds that obtain in this environment, before setting off in different directions to hunt. Thus, in the early mornings and late afternoons, one will generally get only distant sightings from the road of more than one wolf at a time. We did, on one occasion, see a single cub trying to learn the ropes and follow a hunting adult. The cubs at the time of our visit were approaching 3 months and the cub we saw looked as if it might have bitten off more than it could chew. One morning, we set off early and breakfasted on the plateau with the intention of watching a pack together. We were partly successful and our view was from not less than 300m. I think several animals had moved away before we got there. However, we saw the remaining adults move off, having dumped the cubs. We remained watching the cubs and it was interesting to watch their excitement when adults returned with food for them – it was too far away to know whether whole prey or regurgitated meat was being offered. Unless one is prepared to hire ponies and trek, it seemed unlikely to us that anything would be gained in terms of wolf sightings by leaving the vehicle. Indeed, even getting out and staying beside the vehicle seemed to make the animals somewhat nervous.

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Blick's grass rat

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giant mole rats (above and below)

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Most of the wolves we saw had either one or two ear tags – one to denote pack of origin and one to indicate that vaccinations had been received. The greatest proximate threats to the wolves are rabies and distemper, transmitted from herdsmens’ dogs (plus hybridisation risk). Overgrazing is also a potentially big problem – leading to trampling of rodent burrows as well as food competition.

 

The Ethiopian Wolf Conservation Programme has a permanent camp at the end of a very rough 1 km track, spurring at right angles from the road. The Lodge has good relations with EWCP personnel and visitors are allowed to visit the camp. We had our packed lunches there twice and found it the best place to observe the giant mole rats as well as the commoner Blick’s grass rats. On one of these occasions, a wolf hunted its way past us, coming within about 20 m at one stage before carrying on. We were ignored.

 

 

 

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Portraits of wolves

Gaysay Grasslands and around Park HQ at Dinsho

 

We spent very little time in this area. It had been our intention to spend more, but, on one of our trips to the plateau, our original vehicle developed more and more problems. For some time, the driver had been reluctant to switch off the engine when we wanted to take photographs because he had difficulty in restarting it. It was overheating, possibly because it was chronically losing water and possibly due to blockage of air filters. The driver felt the need to continue off the plateau to get to a garage. Accordingly, James, who was accompanying us, suggested we made the best of a bad job and visited Gaysay and Dinsho at the same time. We spent about 15 minutes parked along the road cutting through the Grasslands where we saw no more and no less than we had on our incoming trip. The baboons and warthogs were totally unconcerned by the many pedestrians passing within a metre or two of them. We then entered the Park at Dinsho and had our packed lunch near Dinsho Lodge. This is in a very attractive relict forest habitat, characterised by junipers, pines and hagenias with an understorey of hypericum. Trails lead into the forest and we went for a walk of half an hour, during which time we saw warthogs and a red duiker and mingled closely with Mountain Nyalas. The nyala were as tame as domesticated cattle. We talked to forest ecology researchers from the States who told us that the nyala population, having nowhere to disperse to, was living under extreme stress at excessive density and was showing various atypical behaviours. We were provided good photographic opportunities, but didn’t feel inclined to spend more time there.

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Juniper/pine woodland

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hypericum

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warthog

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olive baboon

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Mountain nyala stag (above and below

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mountain nyala hind (above and below)

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Fishing in the Web valley

 

The highlights of the day which we devoted to this activity were the traverses of the plateau. R was ill (possibly mountain sickness) and I wasn’t fit enough to descend into the very steep gorge (actually to get out of it if I’d attempted to get in) to find the little water left at the end of the dry season. R did descend but was too feeble to do much rock hopping and casting. Her guide caught one decent trout with her rod. One can Google the subject of Bale Mountain trout fishing and there are good U-tube videos. Suffice it say that the fishing can be very good, but probably not in early March.

 

 

A sad end

 

During our last few days at the Lodge, fires were raging through the giant heather belt and it became evident that they were being deliberately set. One got down to the bamboo level with potentially very serious consequences to the Harenna Forest. We saw many volunteers fighting the fires and the Lodge added five to the number, plus transport, drinking water etc. However, new fires were set every night. Guy spoke to a young Ethiopian friend of his who was becoming very influential in the Park administration. We happened to be present and so met him. He thought that the fires were being started by graziers at the periphery of the Park in order to destroy it. An alternative theory related to upcoming national elections and posited that the fires were being set by militant Oromos protesting against loss of their land to the expansion of Addis. In any event, the young man was quite pleased because he thought the fires were so serious that those setting them had overplayed their hands. He hoped this would enable the Park authorities to take a hard line about overgrazing. We got home to receive a letter from Guy telling us that his friend had died in one the fires a day or two after we left. One hopes it was a tragic accident rather than something more sinister. Anyway, the fires were finally extinguished and no serious forest damage was sustained. Certainly, a couple of hundred sheep died and possibly a lot of wildlife – though we saw no vultures or birds of prey circling the burned areas.

 

Summary

 

This was a very interesting and, mostly, enjoyable trip. It catered to our special interests and we were privileged to share the company of James for four of the seven days. It is probably not a trip to recommend to first time wildlife enthusiasts and nor is it on a circuit that will conveniently allow much in the way of cultural site visits. However, there are many endemic species of both birds and mammals. It was certainly worth our while and it could be an ideal place to visit for serious (and fit!) birders. The Lodge provided faultless service and accommodation. In retrospect, we might have been better to break the journey and stay at a different wildlife site on the way (assuming one is available and has suitable accommodation). I would then suggest that one left early on the leaving day to give time to visit the northern end of Bale Mountains NP on the way to the Harenna Forest and Bale Mountain Lodge in a single day.

 

Edited by douglaswise

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AKR1

Excellent report. Keep it coming. Thanks for posting all these details.

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wenchy

just gorgeous images of the red wolves. such magnificent animals

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kittykat23uk

Fantastic! Thanks for sharing. What was the temperature like on the plateaux?

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douglaswise

@@Tom Kellie: Coming from you, it's extremely flattering to have favourable comments re photographic subjects. I am currently much enjoying your take on Tsavo. I haven't been there for 64 years!

 

@kittykat23uk: The temperature on the plateau was cold in morning and pleasantly warm in afternoon (will be be quite different, of course, at other times of year). It always seems to be windy. I have just asked R what her perception was and the succinct reply was "bloody freezing in the morning, but pleasant thereafter" However, there is a marked disparity in our respective body mass indices. Thus, for "bloody freezing", I'd substitute "a bit nippy".

 

A fire was lit in our room at the Lodge every night and hot water bottles provided.

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Tom Kellie

@@Tom Kellie: Coming from you, it's extremely flattering to have favourable comments re photographic subjects. I am currently much enjoying your take on Tsavo. I haven't been there for 64 years!

 

@kittykat23uk: The temperature on the plateau was cold in morning and pleasantly warm in afternoon (will be be quite different, of course, at other times of year). It always seems to be windy. I have just asked R what her perception was and the succinct reply was "bloody freezing in the morning, but pleasant thereafter" However, there is a marked disparity in our respective body mass indices. Thus, for "bloody freezing", I'd substitute "a bit nippy".

 

A fire was lit in our room at the Lodge every night and hot water bottles provided.

 

~ @douglaswise:

 

Thank you so much for the generous encouragement.

Your photos truly do have a much higher than average “interesting quotient”, as if your aesthetic sense is more idiosyncratic than most. That's what I like about them — the differentness.

I couldn't speculate how Tsavo West may have changed since your last visit. I would say that the elephant population is thriving, as are many avian species.

With Appreciation,

Tom K.

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wilddog

@@douglaswise .Thank you so much for sharing all this with us. Fascinating and detailed report which I have thoroughly enjoyed.

 

and as for the wolves..................................... wonderful!

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