Birds, Hippos & Monkeys At Hara Langano Lodge

You don’t have to go far to start seeing birds and even the elegant Colobus Monkey, a walk around the Hara Langano Lodge grounds or even just sitting by the lake will do!

Weaverbird nests are everywhere!

Those are flamingoes beyond the horses.

Egyptian Geese are common.

This Bare-faced Go-away Bird didn’t tell us to go away, the slacker!

These hippos stayed in the lake but they are known to come into the lodge grounds.

The beautiful Colobus Monkeys stayed in the trees, they don’t try to steal food like other monkeys I have seen around the world.

White-cheeked Turaco (Tauraco leucotis)

The White-cheeked Turaco (Tauraco leucotis) is a species of bird in the family Musophagidae.  I saw a couple of them at Hara Langano Lodge in Ethiopia but I didn’t get very good photos of them.  There are better images in the links below.

They have a large range throughout Ethiopia and Eritrea but logisitically speaking, the Lake Langano area is the easiest place to see them.

LEARN MORE ABOUT WHITE-CHEEKED TURACOS

Wikipedia

Birdlife

Turacos.org

VIDEOS

There wasn’t much available on wild birds so I have to use some videos of captive birds to show them in action.  The first one shows some cute chicks!

 

 

Lodge Review: Hara Langano Lodge, Ethiopia

I really have Trip Advisor to thank for finding this beautiful lodge.  We were originally going to stay at another place which had been the main birders lodge in this area but sadly burned down in the Oct 2016 riots.  So I went looking for somewhere else to stay in the area and the Hara Langano Lodge came highly recommended.

We arrived on time at Addis Ababa airport and quickly passed the formalities.  When we exited, there was no guide with a sign waiting so another hotel rep used his phone to call our driver.  The driver was on his way and we found him at the car park.  We had an interesting 3 hour drive to the lodge passing through the Ethiopian countryside and some small villages and markets.  They charged us $50 each for this transfer which was in a minibus and would have been shared with anyone else headed to the lodge that day but we were the only ones.

Leaving the main road, there is about 20 km drive to the lodge.

Bungalows like this one are scattered around the property with enough distance to feel private.

Entrance to the reception area which shares the building with the restaurant.

Fair warning!  Hippos do come into the property although they didn’t when we were there.

Our bungalow was near the reception and surrounded by trees – good for birders!  You can also request one closer to the lake if you prefer but they cost more.

The bungalows are tastefully furnished in a nice Ethiopian style.

Sitting on the porch we can still see the lake.

The restaurant – all meals are included.

That steak ala bismark was really good!

Desserts were really good too!

There are several places you can sit by the lake and watch birds or just relax. 

The resident birding guide is Hakim and he is absolutely brilliant!  He knows all the local bird calls and where to find most species.  He worked really hard to find my target birds.  The Black-winged Lovebirds coooperated and came pretty close.  The Yellow-fronted Parrots were only heard the last day in distant trees in the farmlands.  But the birding reports are yet to come so stay tuned for pics and more!

Hara Langano Lodge is a wonderful place and any birder would love it!  You can book with them on their website.  They can only accept cash at the lodge in either USD or Birr so plan ahead.

Planning A Birding Safari In Ethiopia

I have to admit that when “birding” and even “safari” is mentioned, Ethiopia is not the first African country to come to mind.  Most tourists come here for the ancient churches and culture.  However to those in the know, Ethiopia has 924 species of birds, 23 of which are endemic.

Ethiopia is the hub of one of Africa’s largest airlines and is very easy to get to with airline miles, especially for Star Alliance members.   If you have limited time and finances you will really have to make some tough decisions on how many parks to visit. It really helps if you know what species are your priority. For some people this may be raptors or trying to check off all the endemics. For me it’s always parrots first, then songbirds, then other birds and mammals.

DO YOUR HOMEWORK

With so much on offer, you have to do lots of research online to find out your best chances of seeing the species you really want to see. I always check trip reports on Surfbirds and more recently added Cloudbirders to that. Xeno-canto has mapped locations where birders took sound clips of many species so that can pinpoint them even more.

I always check bird sightings on eBird, you can see my full guide on locating bird species .

I also look through trip reports by major birding companies such as Birdquest, VENT, Naturetrek, Rockjumper and more. The trip reports will show you which parks you need to concentrate on. Once you have this, you can start contacting birding tour operators or safari companies that are well-recommended for quotes.  If you are traveling on your own, it’s worthwhile to note when the birding groups will be in the area as they will have the best guides already reserved and you may not even find accommodation.

HOW I CHOSE MY ITINERARY

I was a bit nervous about visiting Ethiopia as there were some riots in Oct 2016 and the lodge I was planning to stay at, Bishangari had been burned to the ground.  I decided to keep the visit to the minimum I would need to see my two target parrots, the Yellow-fronted Parrot and Black-winged Lovebird.  Both were usually seen at Bishangari and hopefully also at the nearby lodge which we booked called Hara Langano.  Then I wanted to make a day trip to Menagesha Forest for another chance at the same two parrots and also have time to explore the gardens of the Ghion Hotel where most birders stay in Addis Ababa.  I was prioritizing parrots knowing that plenty of other bird species would be in the same habitats so chose these locations:

HARA LANGANO LODGE

Yellow-fronted parrot, Poicephalus flavifrons

Black-winged lovebird, Agapornis taranta

GHION HOTEL

Black-winged lovebird, Agapornis taranta plus many other endemics.

MENAGESHA FOREST

Same as Hara Langano.

Here is a map showing the locations.

 

HOW TO ORGANIZE YOUR OWN BIRDING SAFARI

In Ethiopia, it’s very rare for tourists to self-drive cars and you will have to use some kind of transport with a driver included. These drivers probably won’t know anything about birds so you will also need a guide at each park/reserve you visit. There are usually guides hanging around national parks waiting for customers so this won’t be a problem. You may decide that it’s more convenient to just join an organized tour such as those whom I mentioned above if you can afford it.

When I booked Hara Langano Lodge, they offered minibus transport for $50 per person shared among whoever was traveling that day.  It turned out that we were the only ones.  For the return I planned to save money by using public transportation.

For the day trip to Menagesha, I planned to use a hired car and driver from the hotel and find a guide at the park.  This didn’t work out quite so well as we got lost trying to find the entrance to the park and ended up on the wrong side.  We did find some birds but not as many as if we had entered the park proper.

VISA FOR ETHIOPIA

Visas are issued on arrival to most nationalities on payment of a $50 fee in cash.  It was very straightforward and smooth, didn’t take long at all.

BEST SEASON TO TRAVEL

There’s a couple things to consider, the weather and potential crowds.  I always check the weather on Weather2Travel. In my case, since we were going to other places in Africa we went in the moderate rainy season (April/May 2017) but it wasn’t too bad.  Hara Langano was nice and we got a few evening showers in Addis Ababa.

 

If you have “must-see” bird species, always check eBird to make sure the birds are being seen that time of year by other birders.

BOTTOM LINE

Although Ethiopia isn’t the top birding destination in Africa, it is growing in popularity and becoming easier to access.  We had no major problems when we were there other than attracting some curious teenagers at the bus stop on the road to Addis.  This was the most challenging country to “wing it”  as outside the hotels hardly anyone spoke English and they aren’t used to seeing tourists not in groups.  We did get the target birds although the Yellow-fronted Parrot didn’t come out in the open to be photographed which was disappointing.  The Black-winged Lovebirds did make a few quality showings!

 

Getting To Ethiopia With Airline Miles

Most frequent flier programs place Ethiopia into the Africa zone. You can find some generic recommendations on how to get to East Africa here. I already have a blog with my recommendations for which programs to join if you are new to the world of miles and points.

The major gateway city for Ethiopia is Addis Ababa. Once you have been in the miles and points game for awhile, you will get a feel for which airline to use where but if you are just starting out Wikipedia will show you all the airlines that fly into Addis Ababa.

ONE WORLD OPTIONS

The only One World member serving Addis Ababa is Qatar Airways via Doha. You can reach Doha from anywhere in the world where Qatar flies to.

STAR ALLIANCE OPTIONS

Ethiopia’s national carrier, Ethiopian Airlines is a member of Star Alliance so you can get just about anywhere in Africa via Addis Ababa.  If you are only connecting, even on a miles award ticket and you have an overnight connection, Ethiopian Airlines will give you a free Visa and accommodation with meals.

Other Star Alliance carriers serving Addis Ababa include Egypt Air via Cairo, Lufthansa via Frankfurt and Turkish Airlines via Istanbul.

From Europe you can use Egypt Air via Cairo, Ethiopian Airlines, Lufthansa via Frankfurt or Turkish Airlines via Istanbul.

From Australia and New Zealand there are no direct flights, you need to get to Singapore or Bangkok, then you can pick up Egypt Air, Ethiopian Airlines or Turkish Airlines.

SKYTEAM OPTIONS

From North America you can use Kenya Airways via Europe.

From Europe once again Kenya Airways via Nairobi is the only option.

From Australia Skyteam isn’t the best option unless you travel via Dubai and pick up Kenya Airways from there.

NON-ALLIANCE OPTIONS

Emirates serves Addis Ababa from their hub in Dubai with connections world wide.

HOW MANY MILES WILL IT COST?

Every airline member of the 3 main alliances has it’s own frequent flier program. Examples are in my East Africa post.

Red-headed Lovebird (Agapornis pullarius)

The Red-headed Lovebird (Agapornis pullarius) also known as the Red-faced Lovebird is a member of the genus Agapornis, a group commonly known as lovebirds. Like other lovebirds it is native to Africa.  Although I have seen them in foliage in both Accra and Entebbe, I wasn’t able to get a photo so I will have to use Wikipedia’s.  I don’t know why these beauties are so bashful but at least it’s not me as I couldn’t find many other pics or videos of them in the wild.

Their range covers a swathe through central Africa but only Ghana and Uganda are easy to get to for eco-tourists on a budget.  I got glimpses of them in Accra and Entebbe Botanical Gardens.

LEARN MORE ABOUT RED-HEADED LOVEBIRDS

Wikipedia

World Parrot Trust

Birdlife

VIDEOS

Once again, I had a hard time tracking down clips of wild birds on Youtube.  This is an older one.

And a close up of captive birds just to show the gorgeous colours.

 

Day Trip To Mpanga Forest, Uganda

Although the weather wasn’t the best, this day trip to Mpanga Forest about 90 minutes from Entebbe was still a pleasant trip.  It was one I could relax and enjoy since I had already found my target birds in the Entebbe Botanical Gardens.

I negotiated a full day rate with the driver, Robert from the Shoebill Safari (they can put you in contact with him) for 300,000 UGS.  We left very early to try to get to the forest as early as possible.

We went past lots of small markets and villages.

Turn off to the forest.

A bit muddy from the rain.

There are some cabins you can rent at the Mpanga Forest and this is where you pay the entrance fees and hire a guide.  There are official prices for everything, cash only.

The outhouse

Setting off on the trail with the guide.

Lots of pretty butterflies

Dug out tree roots, not sure what critter did this.

Trails are well marked but dark due to the overhead canopy.

Mousebird

Pied Kingfisher

We left after an hour as it was getting drizzly and not many birds around.  We were sitting around the picnic area for awhile to relax and see if the weather got better but it didn’t.  We drove back to the nearest town – Mpigi to get some lunch.

The restaurant had local food which was ok, not really to my taste but it was…………..ok.  The rice was good but the meat was too tough to eat.  Definitely cheap!

Heading back to Entebbe we passed more small markets and roadside stalls.

All in all it was an interesting trip though not the best for birding.  Maybe in a different season.  I had also considered Mabiri Forest  but that seemed too far for a day trip but it would make a nice overnight trip.

Great Blue Turaco (Corythaeola cristata)

The Great Blue Turaco (Corythaeola cristata) is a turaco, a group of African near-passerines. It is the largest species of turaco.

They have a large range across Central Africa but the easiest place to see them is in Uganda.  I saw them both at Entebbe Botanical Gardens and Mpanga National Forest.

LEARN MORE ABOUT GREAT BLUE TURACOS

Wikipedia

Birdlife

Turacos.org

HBW

VIDEOS

Thankfully I was able to find a couple good clips (both filmed in Uganda) on Youtube, mostly because these birds were hungry and therefore sitting still-ish!

United Devaluation Takes Effect 1 Nov, 2017; Aussies Lose Asian Sweet Spot….But One Silver Lining

Coming on the heels of last year’s United devaluation which saw the loss of being able to cherry pick your segments on an award to having to accept whatever routings the search engine spit out, we now get slammed again.  Loyalty Lobby has a comprehensive post on the changes that affect everyone.  Most of the Boarding Area bloggers have covered ex-USA devaluations to premium cabin awards so I am going to concentrate on the effects to Australian and eco-tourists.   In general, business and first class awards are up all over but even more so for awards from Australia and New Zealand.

The sweet spot between Australia and South-east Asia is disappearing.  Awards will be increasing from 17.5k to 25k for economy, business class goes up from 30k to a whopping 50k!  Given that most Aussies source United miles via the SPG/Marriott route or buy them during promos, this may no longer be viable when it is so much easier to get SQ Krisflyer miles via Amex cards.  I enjoyed the cheap trip to Asia in 2015 but this devaluation is pretty much killing my interest in United moving forward.

ONE SILVER LINING

The only good thing to come out of this devaluation is that SOME partner awards will be cheaper if they are less than 800 miles.  The full award chart is here.  None of the routings involve Australia but you will be able to get Air New Zealand domestic routes for 8000 miles as they all fit in the 800 mile zone.  The other routes will remain at 17.5 to Australia and 22.5 to the Pacific Islands.

 

If you want to hop around South-east Asia, the routes with the blue dots (for example) are under 800 miles and will cost 8000 UA miles.  The longer routes will cost 17.5k.

 

There are some bargains to be had in the bird-rich countries of Central and South America.  These sample routings on Copa (ex-Panama City PTY) and Avianca (ex-Bogota or Lima) that fall into the 800 mile zone will cost 8000 miles.  The longer routes will cost 10k for Central America and 12.5k for routes in North or Southern South America.

Africa is pretty much Star Alliance territory with Ethiopian (ex-ADD) and South African Airways (ex-JNB) offering destinations all over Africa.  In the next two images you can see which sample routes will cost 8000 miles (blue dots) and the longer sample routes that will be 17.5k United miles.  Regional flights within Africa can be very expensive so it’s worth considering these options.

Black-and-white-casqued Hornbill (Bycanistes subcylindricus)

The Black-and-white-casqued Hornbill (Bycanistes subcylindricus) also known as the Grey-cheeked Hornbill, is a large—approximately 70 cm (28 in) long—black and white hornbill. It has an oversized blackish bill with a large casque on top. The female is slightly smaller than the male and has a significantly smaller casque.

Although their range covers a large part of Africa it is very spread out so you have to be lucky to see one but they are well worth it, they are such cool looking birds!  I saw this one in the Entebbe Botanical Gardens in Uganda.

LEARN MORE ABOUT BLACK & WHITE CASQUED HORNBILLS

Wikipedia

Birdlife

HBW

VIDEOS

Hungry birds!

Just impressive!