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The Endemic Wildlife and Culture of Ethiopia (Simien to Bale Mountains) - October 2015


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I just love your shots of the Walia Ibex. They are truly awesome. I'd also like to visit Awash National Park to see the hamadryas baboons as well as an astonishing array of birds.

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Wonderful Photos. Thanks for showing us. You had such a big luck with the Ibex. Unbelievable.

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LOVE the last two posts 49 and 50 @@IamFisheye - gorgeous landscapes and great photos of the ibex and geladas! Now I want to go to the Simiens too!

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What a great day. Could hardly have been better.


Lunch on the floor for me I think - what a place to locate a bench. :unsure:

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Day 9 Sat 10 Oct

Simien Mountains to Gonder pt 1


Time to leave the Simiens, we had not seen a single wolf, which was pretty much what we had expected. They are extremely rare here. We were treated to a tiny lyin today before breakfast, packing and beginning our return journey to Gonder.


It being Saturday meant that there was a lot of traffic on the road, not bumper to bumper motor vehicles but pedestrians, mules, donkey carts and local gentlemen dressed in their refinery on the back s of fine looking horses. It was market day and everyone was heading our way towards Debark.


We reached a very busy and crowded Debark ‘high street’ and were offered the option of a walk around the market. The car was crowded by locals trying to get a look at us tourists but we managed to slip out unhindered and ventured off for a whirlwind 15 minute tour of the Saturday market. What we didn’t realise was that our SMNP scout had to accompany us which meant that we not only stuck out like saw thumbs as tourists but we had a local following us around with an AK47 rifle.


High Street



A few pictures around the market





Woman selling Tef



Recycling tyres



After the market we had to go to the park HQ, say goodbye to the SMNP scout and sign out of the park proper.




During our brief meeting with Guide No 2 and being handed over to Getch in Gonder at the 4 Sisters restaurant the topic of Felasha had come up again. I’m not sure if this had been relayed from guide to guide via our agent or whether we had instigated it. Getch had shown an interest in showing us the village and promised to take us on our return to Gonder.


We had almost reached Gonder and were starting to think this stop off had been forgotten when we stopped at the side of the main road at a tourist trinket stop that proclaimed to be the Felasha village, Wolleka.




There was an interesting sign suggesting that we buy something and we would not be hassled by children trying to sell us things on our tour of the village. Being gullible tourists we spent a few $ on a clay King Solomon and were dutifully followed by a gang of kids that would not stop presenting us with things to buy. I think was one of the most unpleasant experience of our entire journey.












The village was non existent and the synagogue was in very poor repair. I imagine anyone making a homage or pilgrimage to this site would be bitterly disappointed.










We made our way back to the car and about 15 minutes later we reached our overnight resting place the Goha Hotel. A government run hotel, reportedly the best stay in Gonder, that rests on a high vantage point on the edge of town. We said goodbye to Getch but kept the driver for the afternoon excursion.


The hotel room was very clean and functional if a little cramped. The bathroom was a galley with a toilet at one end and a sturdy functioning shower at the other.


Me and the understated Goha Hotel sign



We had a very good lunch in the restaurant with a decent piece of cake to finish


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Day 9 Sat 10 Oct pm



Post lunch we headed out on our afternoon tour of Gonder with guide number 2.


Outside the castle gates





Then the castles, Fasil Ghebbi (or Royal Enclosure).


The Entrance



Main Castle











Somewhere between the tour of the inside of the main castle and our tour of the grounds it began to rain. It got so bad that we found ourselves taking shelter under the arches of some of the roofless buildings.


Some of the other castles and buildings













After the rain some of the steps were a little dangerous



At least the flowers looked fresh



Here’s the steam room (sauna)



Clothes pegs made of cow horns embedded into the wall outside the steam room



Castles done it was then off to Fasilida’s Pool. An interesting 2 storey building surrounded by a pool that is filled once a year and pilgrims are bathed in during the Timkat or Epiphany Festival.












The fig trees on the surrounding walls reminded me of Angkor Wat





Finally Debre Birhan Selassie a rather splendid church with a congregation in full flow.
















The church is famous for the numerous cherub portraits on the ceiling



Church grounds







Then it was back to the hotel and goodbye to our driver before a quick sundowner


Gonder from the Goha hotel





We got cleaned up and had a decent a la carte meal with a bottle of local wine in the busy hotel restaurant.


Gonder was far warmer that the Siemens and the room was an oven. We chose to open the window which meant the mosquitoes could get in (no Malaria in this part of the world just nasty bites). The other downside of this option was the noise, we had chosen to stay on some obscure holy day or other where a nearby church was holding an all night chanting session. Not the best night's sleep was had.

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@@IamFisheye thanks for all this beautiful pics and your detailed report. It helps to bridge over the time until September. I hope we'll be lucky as you in Simien.

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Great pics of the castles, especially given the uncooperative skies. The hotel sign is a shocker - okay otherwise at that hotel though? Certainly got a nice view, but seems a bit meager after the Simiens. \


Being accompanied by someone with an AK47 around the market....... classic toruist scenario. Just a coincidence you got such smiley photographic subjects? :D


You got hammered in Apparently Felasha. Looking on the bright side it could have been worse without your purchase (you'll never know and I doubt you want to). One to skip.


This is such a good trip report.

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Day 10 Sun 11 Oct

Gonder - Bahir Dar


Another early start for our drive to Bahir Dar, the plan being to reach Kuriftu Resort on the edge of lake Tana before lunch time. We were accompanied by guide number two and a fresh driver with a white mini van, somewhat of overkill for a driver and three passengers.


Gonder at sunrise





Leaving Gonder on a Sunday had it’s distractions. I had to ask the driver to stop and jog back down the road to get these shots of these women waiting for the church to open.





The drive was another interesting trip plenty of curvy mountainous roads to start that eventually turned into one long straight road. We stopped about mid way at a place known as God’s tomb for a comfort break and a photo opportunity where we attracted the attention of some local boys tending to their cows, goats and sheep as they came around the bend in the road.














The road was quite busy with lorries and buses whizzing past. We were taken by surprise by a group of cyclists racing around the bend.






We even saw one cheat hanging onto the back of a truck as he went by (another missed photo opportunity)


We arrived at Kuriftu earlier than planned, our room wasn’t ready so we had a beer outside the restaurant at the side of the lake and an ice cream. Our room was huge, we had booked a suite as it was the only thing available at the time of booking. It was on the ground floor and had glass along all sides as a consequence and to maintain privacy trees and bushes had been grown outside and inside the curtains were kept closed. Giving the room the allure of a dark dungeon. There was a reception area with a bar and two very uncomfortable chairs, a bedroom with a four poster and a bathroom with questionable plumbing and electrics. This is the most luxurious resort in the area and the place we had chosen for a couple of days R&R mid trip.


Bar area inside the ‘dungeon’



Questionable plumbing and electrics, loose light bulb next to the shower head



The lunch menu was very good and the food excellent. Lots of local options with Pita bread offered as an alternative to injera. It rained after lunch fortunately we had booked in for our complimentary spa treatment when we arrived so the afternoon was not lost. It stopped raining by the time we were through with our massages.


We took complimentary pre-dinner cocktails on the terrace overlooking the lake where we were encouraged to make conversation with the hosting team that could not speak English and just nodded with agreement with anything we said or asked. I was trying to find out what the hugh flock of birds were that came in to roost on the tree just to the left of the terrace and outside of our room. Our host had us convinced that they were endemic to the area, guide number two told me in the morning they were just your standard sacred ibis. We were eaten alive by the midges during our drinks.


As it was the weekend and this was the place that the locals go the restaurant was busy. The food was excellent and accompanied by another bottle of tasty local wine.

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Day 11 Mon 12 Oct

Bahir Dar pt 1


A late start today with ample time for some sleep and an enjoyable breakfast.


Morning on Lake Tana and the birdlife around Kuriftu Resort









Cormorant on the tree to the left of the terrace, the Ibis had already flown earlier in the morning



We were met at the resort's Jetty at 9am for a cruise around the lake and a visit to a couple of monasteries which I thought were out on the islands. It turned out that they were both on the Zege peninsular.




On the way out across the lake we encountered a fisherman on a traditional reed boat.



He was keen to show us his catch





and twice as keen to ask for a tip for the photographs I was taking.


Boat transporting firewood



The monasteries were more of the same as what we had seen in Lalibela and Gonder. The 1st site, Ura Kidane Mihret, was a long trek up a muddy path lined with tourist stalls.



The religious artwork was very similar to what we had seen elsewhere. In hindsight I think we would have been far better off with a simple cruise around the lake and spending a bit more time lying by the pool. But we were here to take in some of the country's cultural sights and that’s what we did.



Doorway detail









Some of the imagery gets a little lost in translation





and some is just extreme



It was still an active church



The first monastery also had a museum which held even more aartefactsand artworks



Elaborate cross of the region, the eggs are Ostrich eggs







Pilgrims outside



Monks quarters



People at the Jetty as we left



The second Monastery, Bet Maryam, was on the same peninsular and about 2km if you walked, it was easier to reach by boat. The setup was the same, a muddy path through the forest lined with stalls with people trying to sell the same sort of touristy tat. As the monastery was smaller it was far quieter.




Prayer drums






We asked our guide why this guy riding a chicken, apparently it’s an eagle or lammergeier







Prayer sticks



The Reading Room!



Second tour complete it was now time for a casual cruise back to the hotel via the mouth of the Blue Nile.






We were lucky and spotted one of the very shy hippos. It wasn't worth getting a shot, glimpses were fleeting and the distance too far to get anything worth keeping.


Traditional reed boats being made



Kids having fun



Locals bathing and doing laundry just outside the resort



Resort Jetty



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  • 2 weeks later...

Day 11 Mon 12 Oct

Bahir Dar pt 2

On our return we decided to have lunch out so we went to a local’s lakeside restaurant, ‘Desset Lodge’, in a beautiful location along the shore not too far from where we were staying. Again food was good even if we were a little conservative by having pizza.




Back at the hotel we had an ice cream with the guide (still number 2) before we set off for the Donkey Sanctuary Amhara headquarters, about 5 minutes from the hotel, to meet the local vet, Dr Twedros, and hear about what they are doing in Ethiopia.




The Donkey Sanctuary in Ethiopia is nothing like the sanctuaries we have in England where old Donkeys and mules are left to graze in pastures and cared for until their final days. They are funded by the same organisation but the mission is to transform the quality of life for the animals by educating their owners and providing better veterinary care.


We were given a brief talk as Dr Twedros went through the various apparatus on display in the small room in their office block. The charity visit communities show them how to make things that would give the donkeys and mules a better quality of life. Things like better fitting harnesses out of more suitable materials. They train people in the village how to do this and help them set up businesses. They also teach the owners about road safety and how best to make themselves their donkeys and their carts more visible to traffic, especially at night. They also teach them about seeking out professional veterinary care instead of using old primitive DIY methods that generally make the animals sicker. This education isn’t always direct it typically comes through the children who are taught about better animal care at participating schools.


After our talk we then drove out to an outlying village to visit a vet first hand and a school where they were educating the children to respect the working animals. There were no children around as it was way past school hours by now.




School’s chemistry block



Murals around the school painted by the children







School buildings






Then we took a walk across the road to find the vet and his clinic








Model Donkey Shelter



Back outside the school



Angela and Dr Twedros



We got back to the hotel later than I would have liked so I missed the opportunity to photograph the Ibis as the came in to roost at sunset.






Dinner was as good as the night before, very attentive service

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Day 12 Tue 13 Oct

Bahir Dar - Addis - Lake Awassa


An early start again for our final internal flight back to Addis. We were up before sunrise and here are a few shots of the sun coming up through the mists on Lake Tana as we made our way to breakfast. Taken with my little P&S camera.








The stillness of the lake after breakfast



Front of the ‘Dungeon’



Apt security for a dungeon, the door lock!



Our flight to Addis was early, baggage reclaim simple and our final ‘Naturalist’ guide was waiting for us outside at the domestic terminal exit with a sign with our names on.


It took us sometime to get out of Addis as the traffic was overwhelming. Eventually we did, got to the new toll roads and managed to make good progress on the freeway towards Lake Awassa.


We stopped for a late lunch at a place called ‘Dreamland’ next to a small crater Bishoftu Lake.






It had nothing to do with the Margate theme park of the same name or MIchael Jackson’s ranch. Lunch was good, a nice Burger and chips and a cold beer.






Then it was back on the road to continue our drive to Awassa. We stopped to stretch our legs at a lake called which I now know is called Ziway. If I had been aware of the stop and what to expect I may have chosen a different camera and/or lens. Fortunately I had the all rounder, lazy, tourist lens 18-300mm on the Nikon in my hand so nothing but a spot of quality was lost.


We got out the car at the start of a bumpy dusty road. To the right there was a dirty looking pasture with a few grazing goats and sheep and a huge flock of pelicans and storks. A boy on a wooden cart was feeding the birds discarded fish heads from today’s catch. The birds were going mad.














The cart was moved and we followed it down towards the lake/pond





Angela was trying to sort here binoculars out and was lagging behind. I turned around to see where she was and if I had been quicker I would have grabbed a good shot of this creature just clearing her head as it cumbersomely left the ground.




Some more shots of the birds on the water’s edge.








According to Philip Briggs Ethiopia guidebook Ziway is a birders paradise. You can tick off a long list of birds in a couple of hours. Unfortunately we only had something like 20-30 minutes to take in the scene. Names I wrote down in my note book were forest kingfisher, pygmy kingfisher, flamingo, jakana, hammerkopf and herons.


I got few reasonable shots of what we saw




















If you carry on walking to meet the the shores of Lake Ziway you encounter this bizarre fenced off area, I have no idea why but we didn't venture any further.



One last Marabou stork shot.



Then we were back on the road again and conversation with the ‘Naturalist’ guide started to reveal that he was more of a birding guide than a Naturalist guide. Conversation kept swinging towards what birds we would see at certain lakes and other areas. Our stock response was always ‘We are not birders!’.


Somewhere along the way we came across a Black Fronted Snake Eagle sat on a tree at the side of the road. We stopped and I back tracked with the guide for a better look. Angela whispered, ‘don’t encourage him’ to me as I got out the car.


Black Fronted Snake Eagle using the full 300mm of my 18-300mm super zoom.



On the way back to the car some farm workers came down the track behind the fence on the other side of the road and gave us a wave.



A shelter on the side of the road



We had originally opted to stay overnight at the Haile Hawassa Resort tonight but there was no room at the inn and our agent had booked us in at the United African Hotel on the edge of Lake Awassa which they use on a regular basis.


It was getting dark as we arrived, the room was poorly lit and a little cramped. At least we had a mosquito net.


The plumbing was a disaster and we had more suspect electrics to contend with, this is the power to the hot water boiler in the shower.



At least we were only here for the night.


We hadn’t had time to really get orientated when we arrived and we fumbled our way over to the bar and restaurant across the unlit gardens. It was the only lit building in the complex so it wasn’t difficult to find. We were the only guests. Dinner was a disaster, zero service and some pretty ropey chicken and rice, so we had a couple of beers and took an early night.

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Day 13 Wed 14 Oct

Lake Awassa - Bale Mountains


Today we were excited, it was the leg of our journey we had waited so long for. Heading towards the Bale Mountains to finally see the wolves. We were up again before first light in order to get ourselves organised before breakfast. There was a power cut mid wash and we had to wash by torch light. The sun was up by the time we came to pack our bags so we opened the door to let some extra light in.


More or less packed, we headed across the gardens to the restaurant for breakfast. The Garden attracted plenty of Egyptian Geese and was really noisy. There were also lots of Marabou Storks sat in the tall trees.


Breakfast was slow and service comical at times. There was no power so there was no fresh juice or coffee until the power was restored. Toast was delivered but no plates, I asked for plates and was bought one so I had to ask for a second one.




We were serenaded by the clacking sound of storks bills watching us from the trees and we ate in fear of losing our breakfast to something swooping in from above.




The guide and car arrived at 8am, we loaded our gear into the car, checked out, then set off on a mornings walk around the lake. I’d switched my lens for the 300mm F4 by now.


We saw plenty of bird and human activity around the lake.
















Vultures scavenging around a discarded carcass





Once we felt that we had walked far enough the car met us and we drove out to the Amora Gedel NP and Fish market. It wasn’t touristy at all. Most of the fishermen wore UK soccer shirts which amused me as there only seems to be around 4 teams in the UK according to the Ethiopians, Chelsea, Liverpool, Arsenal and Manchester United.


















At 10am we hit the road again anxious to start heading towards Bale . We stopped off at the Haile Hotel, Shashemene Hotel to order a packed lunch as apparently the eateries further on were not suitable for westerners. We each ordered a simple sandwich which seemed to take an age to make.


While we waited Angela had spied an ice cream kiosk so we went and ordered ourselves one each. I asked the guide and driver if they wanted one but after some deliberation they declined as it was a fasting day and they can not eat dairy on these days.


Back on the road again, by 12pm the guide and driver wanted to stop for lunch. We were eager to push on so they agreed to wait until the next town before we stopped, there was a ‘last resort’ option for their lunch. We reached the next town and the ‘last resort’ was closed. We found an alternative across the main street where the guide and driver ordered lunch. We ate our sandwiches at the same table.


After lunch we pressed on for Bale and hit the 1st gate, Gaysay Grasslands, at around 2pm.


There was plenty to see on the approach road, Olive Baboons, Mountain Nyala, Warthogs and Bushbuck. I didn’t take too many pictures as we were going inside the park and not just passing through.










Sign at the main gate



We were then handed over to a local guide and driven a few Km into the park for the start of a walk back to the gatehouse. It was a great walk with plenty of opportunities to get up close to the wildlife.










View from the hillside






General scenery, some wonderful trees in this area



There was plenty of mountain Nyala











More Nyala



Splendid Bull









Some Flora



One of the disadvantages of only having a 300mm lens to hand.



We were back on the road by 4pm but the light was already failing and the clouds closing in. It took another hour possibly more to get to the final gate that would take us up onto the Saneti Plateau.


It didn’t take long to spot our 1st wolf foraging not too far from the road. The light was very poor, hindered further by the descending mist. I got a few shots from the car then ventured out into the bitterly cold wind and walked up the road to get closer (I would definitely be wearing more layers tomorrow).












It really was starting to get dark by now and beyond the limit of my camera’s low light capabilities. We watched the wolf for a little longer then it was time to move on. The light was all but gone by now and the mist was getting heavier. The pass on the far side of the plateau that descends down into the Harena forest is a treacherous winding narrow road. I would not want to drive it during the day but we were in the dark and had very little visibility as we continued down and towards Bale Mountain Lodge (BML). The journey was made even more treacherous by the occasional lorry trying to overtake us as we slowly groped our way along.


We made BML by 6:45, dinner was at 7:30 so we were offered a welcome drink opted for a G&T which was brought to the room while we made ourselves comfortable and got cleaned up ready for dinner.


Room at BML




We were the only guests tonight and we were given a table in a snug next to the blazing fire. Dinner was by far the best meal we had had in Ethiopia so far and was accompanied by plenty of local wine.


We are really looking forward to the next few days here.

Edited by IamFisheye
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@@IamFisheye I just love all of your photos.I especially love those of the Mountain Nyala,and Ethiopian wolves.Hopefully,I'll be visiting Ethiopia in 2019. I can hardly wait.

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  • 1 month later...


Day 14 Thu 15 Oct

Bale Mountains


Today we could have a lie in, the wolves generally don’t start to show themselves up on the plateau until around 10am which meant we didn’t have to leave BML until around 9:30.  We were still up at a reasonable time to get ourselves sorted and work out what we needed laundered to get us through the remains of the trip.
We had a wonderful night's sleep in a warm comfortable bed with the added luxury of heating provided by the room’s wood burner, lit for us while we were still enjoying dinner.  Tea facilities were in the room which meant we could also make ourselves a nice cup of tea before venturing up to the main lodge for a lovely slow breakfast at 8:15.  
Pre breakfast views from our balcony
Bale Mountain Lodge is co owned and run by Guy & Yvonne Levene.  Guy was away on business in Addis and had Yvonne to manage things and what a wonderful host she was.  We had plenty to chat about over our stay and found we had a few things in common including coming from the same corner of Essex.
We left at 9:40 and spotted our 1st Wolf as we hit the plateau.  

It was a fair distance away from us so we just sat and watched it disappear further into the hillside as it pursued a hare.  We were too far away to find out if the hunt was a success.  

Spotting wolves up here, even on a lovely clear day like this is no easy task.  They are coloured the same colour as the lichen which can play tricks with your eyes.

Our second sighting was not much later when a wolf popped out from behind some rocks and ran across the road.  This one was a little nervous and hid behind some rocks.

Further along the road we found a youngster lying by the road until we disturbed it and it shot off.


Then the highlight of the day as we came over the crest of a hill.  A pack of six wolves ran across the hill side.  We stayed with them for as long as we could until the eventually slid over a ridge.










Five of the pack of six
A few closer encounters


and a Full house

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Great sighting with a full pack of Wolves - you were very fortunate!

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Day 14 Thu 15 Oct

Bale Mountains pt 2


We drove to the far side of the plateau and turned around.  No wolf sightings only brds for the return journey.  
In my notes I have jotted down “Poor pics of golden eagle”.  Which must be these pictures which were just grab shots that I’ve done my best with in Lightroom to recover some detail.

We stopped for our picnic lunch around 12.  Getting out of the car at the top of the plateau to stretch our legs at the same time.  It was bleak, windy and cold.
Some of the fauna reminded me of home.
After lunch we continued our drive.  All was qute as we headed back towards BML, we didn’t see any more wolves but we did stop for a few landscape shots.


On the way back towards BML and just past the village we spotted a troop of Bale Monkeys attempting to cross the road.  They seemed very nervous and we very cautious as the took it in turns to leap down from the cover of a fallen tree and run across the open road.  Under the watchful eye of an older male.



This one made a full page spread in the winter 2017 edition of Wildlife Photography World
A little further down the road our guide spotted a couple of colobus monkeys sitting in a tree.  The view was pretty poor so we got out of the car to take a closer look.  It was still difficult to get a clear shot the trees were so green and lush.
Trees on the opposite side of the road
 We overshot the lodge entrance and continued along down the road.  We were getting fleeting glimpses of bushbucks and a few different types of birds but nothing too exciting.  Then we hit an Olive Baboon roadblock

I got out of the car and took a slow solo stroll towards the troup.  They started to move into the forest and up into the trees



The last defiant male
The drive was starting to get a little tedious and Angela was starting to get some nasty stomach pains.  So we headed back to the lodge.
Angela took to her bed for the remains of the day.  Yvonne sorted her out with a flask of ginger tea and later on some soup for dinner.
I spent the remains of the afternoon taking snaps from the balcony 
And trying to get a half decent shot of one of these splendid looking birds
The evening at the lodge was a complete contrast to the previous night as they had a visit from their co-funders the African Wildlife Foundation and every room was full.  There was a talk in the bar from a couple of people from the Ethiopian Wolf Conservation Project.  Followed by a group dinner which I was invited to join as I would have otherwise dined on my own.  It was a good evening.

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  • 3 weeks later...

The ibex are both cute and majestic, depending on age and activity.  You got the spectrum. You have some surreal scenery shots. Any thoughts on how an Oct visit contributed to your good ibex sightings?

Love that huge tightly packed flock of pelicans! Wow, a pack of wolves and a half dozen at that.  Splendid!  So many great wolf encounters, whether singly or in the pack. Was there any mention of the time of year that you went and the pack formation?  Your Bale monkeys may have been cautious, but they were quite visible and gave you some great views.



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On 1/25/2017 at 7:20 AM, IamFisheye said:

@@Atravelynn distemper is a real threat, the Ethiopian Wolf Project are actively inoculating the wolves of Bale. Domestic dogs are not allowed in the park but this is ignored by the people that live there.  Isn't Simien more strict than Bale?  Interesting you saw the wolves in Bale and not Simien, where I understood the rules about domestic dogs to be more stringent.


I've just started to get back to this trip reports after a 12 month hiatus. I will resume in teh next post.  Let's hope those 12 months were filled with adventure and good times!


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  • 1 month later...

Wow!  The photos are just spectacular.  I really loved the ones of the churches, the baboons, the monkeys and wolves!

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  • 4 weeks later...

These are some seriously good sightings! I don;t think I've seen better from Bale, although I admit I haven't looked  that often outside this forum. A wolf pack is spectacular but you got a real nice variiety, right from the beginning. You're getting really nice shots of everything too - other than some of the birds I suppose.


I also have to say "Man in fear of losing his breakfast to something swooping from above" is striking  The low-level fear is palpable.


Were you dressed as a tree or the wildlife in Bale is really that relaxed with people on foot?


And congratualtions on your "spread".- lovely picture.

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