Birdwatching in Eritrea

Abyssinian Endemics

 
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Species Endemic to the Abyssinian Highlands Found in Eritrea

One of the prime attraction for birdwatchers visiting Eritrea and Ethiopia are the species endemic to the Abyssinian Highlands.  The exact number involved is arguable, depending on separation of previous subspecies.  I have listed 17 confirmed shared endemics below.  I have also listed a further two species that are endemic either to only Eritrea, or both Eritrea and Ethiopia within Africa, but found also in Asia.  There is also a list of near endemics, currently 15 species.

 

Many of the records in Personal Experience indicate the Adi Keih area.  This is partly because we have done more birding in this area, and partly because these species are likely to be most abundant in this area, as it is in the south of the country (more central to the Abyssinian Highlands).  It contains some of the most mountainous habitat, well suited to the highland endemics.  However, many of the species could also be found in other areas of the highlands (e.g. around Adi Quala, Senafe, Dekemhare, Asmara).  Note:  sub zobas are geographical units in Eritrea - equivalent to counties.

 

English Name Scientific Name Status in Eritrea Notes
Wattled Ibis Bostrychia carunculata Locally common Wattled Ibis are common near any reservoir or damp pasture in the southern highlands north to Adi Keih, especially around Hawatsu and Senafe.  Smaller parties are also sighted near Asmara  in the irrigated fields of Mai Bella.  Small numbers can be found as far north as Serajeka.
Rouget's Rail Rougetius rougetii Locally common Surprisingly easy to spot for a rail.  Common in the highlands around damp meadows, reservoirs, irrigated agricultural areas and watercourses in the southern highlands north to Asmara.  Needs good cover by the water's edge.  Quite vocal, regularly producing far carrying 'squark' contact calls. 
White-collared Pigeon Columba albitorques Locally common Feeds in arable fields, especially wheat and barley in the southern highlands, for example in the valley near Tekwonda, Adi Keih, or on the meadows above the reservoir at Hawatsu.  Breeds on rocky cliffs, for example near Safira (Qohaito).
Black-winged Lovebird Agapor nis taranta Locally common Common in stands of native tree species, especially mature Euphorbia (where it often nests), throughout the highlands down to an altitude of 1500m and as far north as Elabered. Good places to look for it are Debre Sina, Milezanay (both in Anseba), or Karibosa and Hawatsu (near Adi Keih).
White-cheeked Turaco Tauraco leucotis Fairly common Fairly common in mature stands of native tree species, especially African Olive and Ficus glumosa, throughout the highlands north to Filfil, where it is most numerous and easiest to spot.  Another good location is Frus, near Kurbarya village (Dekemhare).  Shared also with Sudan, but endemic to the Abyssinian Highlands.
Banded Barbet Lybius undatus Locally common Common in stands of native tree species throughout the highlands north to Asmara, for example at Hawatsu Copse or Karibosa, near Adi Keih, or behind Bar Durfo, near Asmara on the Massawa road.  Listen for the nasal 'squeaky-toy-like' contact call.
Abyssinian Woodpecker Dendropicos abyssinicus Uncommon Like most small woodpeckers, Abyssinian Woodpecker is elusive.  However, it is widely distributed and can be found in euphorbia, juniper or mature acacia forest.  Good locations include the valley behind Adi Wagara Reservoir near Adi Keih, the vicinity of Milezanay village, near Tsazega or forest around Mai Aini.
Blue Saw-wing Psalidoprocne pristoptera Uncommon If it is split from Black Saw-wing, this could be Eritrea's only endemic species.  It is most often seen in Adi Keih and Senafe sub zobas (e.g. Maka Stream Valley; Adi Keih or Emba Soira; Senafe), but has been seen around Asmara and even near Elabered.  It is near black above, with a fairly clear blue sheen that is visible in good light, clearly visible pale underarm patches that show well in flight and a shallow forked tail (see Photos page).  Prefers riparian woodland, usually feeding by flying up and down the stream valley 2-5 metres above the ground. 
Abyssinian Black-headed Oriole (Ethiopian Oriole) Oriolus monacha Locally common Common in Filfil, down to as low as 1000m, where it is found in areas of mature broadleaf woodland in the valleys.  Also found north of Filfil in Mrara, where there is also mature broadleaf woodland, specifically in Leminat.  Not known from any other locations in Eritrea.
Thick-billed Raven Corvus crassirostris Rare  Sporadically seen in Eritrea.  Recent locations include Nefasit and Debra Sina (in Anseba Zoba).
White-backed Black Tit Parus leuconotus Uncommon Localised breeder in the few remaining areas of mature Juniper forest found on the escarpment mountains in Senafe and Adi Keih sub zobas.  Sometimes seen near Qohaito, in the valley of the so-called 'Egyptian Tomb'.
Ruppell's Black Chat

Myrmecocichla

melaena

Common Common in any rocky hillside area with limited scrub/ groundcover in Adi Keih and Senafe sub zobas; especially gorges or cliffs, not too far from water.  Tolerant of the introduced Prickly Pear cactus. 
White-winged Cliff Chat Thamnolaea semirufa Rare Not as common as might be expected.  Recent sightings at Debra Sina, near Elabered and at Arberoba near Nefasit.  Mocking Cliff Chat is common all over the highlands, and may be misidentified as White-winged Cliff Chat.
Abyssinian Slaty Flycatcher

Dioptrornis

chocolatinus

Locally common Breeds in native tree areas in the south of the highlands, especially Adi Keih and Senafe sub zobas.  Easy to spot perched on the edge of clearings.  Tame and curious, easy to photograph.
White-billed Starling Onychognathus albirostris Locally common Small, vocal flocks of 4-10 are common among native trees above 1500m, from Adi Keih south (e.g. Hawatsu).  Often seen feeding in Ficus vasta or Ficus glumosa.
White-throated Seed-eater (also known as Abyssinian Yellow-rumped Seed-eater) Serinus xanthopygius Locally common Tends to be most common along stream valleys between 1000 and 2000m, especially on the western escarpment.  Common also at Monguda; lower valley (south of Asmara, on Mendefera road). Also found in the Filfil Rainforest and in acacia forest at over 2000m near Adi Keih.  Often feeds on 'churu beles' and 'asha garab' (Tigrinya plant names).
Ethiopian Cisticola Cisticola lugubris Common Some authors, e.g. Redman, Stevenson and Fanshawe* or Sinclair and Ryan** list this as a species.  Others consider it to be a sub-species of Winding Cisticola Cisticola galactotoes.  Common to both wetlands and native tree areas in the Adi Keih and Senafe sub zobas. Also occasionally found on steep mountain sides, but never far from water.  Calls frequently and usually shows well.

 

There have also been at least two recent sightings of another Abyssinian endemic, Abyssinian Longclaw (Macronyx flavicollis), in the Asmara area, for example, around Emba Derho village.  If confirmed, this would be a remarkable extension of this species' range. 

 

The following two species are endemic either to Abyssinia or Eritrea within Africa, but both are found in Asia:

 

Common Name Latin Name Status Personal Experience

Collared (White-collared) Kingfisher

Todirhamphus chloris or Halcyon chloris Within Africa, only resident in Eritrea Local to mangrove forest on Eritrean coast, for example in the Bay of Zula.  Possible on Green Island (Sheik Sa'ad Island), v. near Massawa. 2 records also in Somalia.

Red-breasted Wheatear

(Botta's Wheatear)

Oenanthe bottae Abyssinian endemic within Africa.  More widespread in Arabia. Red-breasted is present only in Eritrea and Ethiopia within Africa, although also found in SW Arabia.  Difficulty of separation from Heuglin's Wheatear, which is also present in Eritrea, makes confirmation problematic. 

 

Near Endemics

I've classed these near endemics as birds which are native to the Horn of Africa (Eritrea, Ethiopia, Somalia, Djibouti and Easternmost Sudan).

 

Erckel's Francolin Francolinus erckelii  

Common in rocky landscape with cliffs throughout the highlands, usually over 2000m.  However, in Filfil and Mrara, interestingly, it's common in very different habitat (rainforest) by the road cuttings down to as low as 1000m.  

Blanford's Lark Calandrella blanfordi

Found in rough grazing pasture in the southern highlands (e.g. Adi Keih, Senafe, Debarwa). 

White-headed (Cretschmar's) Babbler Turdoides leucocephala

Endemic to Sudan, Somalia, N. Ethiopia and Gash Barka in Eritrea.  Prefers mature acacia forest, in the lowlands only.

White-rumped Babbler Turdoides leucocephala

Common across the highlands in a variety of habitats from rainforest to acacia forest.  Parties are very noisy, with a typical babbler call, making them easy to locate.

Abyssinian Black Wheatear Oenanthe lugubris

Some authors consider it to be a subspecies of Mourning Wheatear (Oenanthe lugens lugubris).  Common and easy to see in open rocky areas with limited vegetation throughout the southern part of the highlands.  Varies considerably in plumage here.  Most birds have diagnostic dirty orange rump, others have whiter rump.  Crown varies from light grey-streaked to brown-streaked.

Clamorous Reed-warbler Acrocephalus stentoreus

Possible in coastal mangroves. According to some authors, could be a separate  species from the Palearctic species.

Menetries' Warbler Sylvia mystacea

My only record of this species is just outside Foro.  Palearctic migrant, endemic to the region within Africa.

Arabian (Red Sea) Warbler Sylvia leucomelaena

Endemic to the region within Africa.  Fairly common in coastal scrub.

Somali Starling Onychognathus blythii

Uncommon, status uncertain.

Swainson's Sparrow Passer swainsonii

Common throughout highlands.

Pale Rock Finch Carpospiza brachydactyla

A palearctic migrant wintering in Eritrea, N. Ethiopia, Sudan and Djibouti. Can be found at Monguda and Adi Nfas (NE of Asmara) from late August to spring.

Ruppell's Weaver Ploceus galbula

Fairly common in highlands.  Most often found in escarpment river valleys or irrigated agricultural areas.

African Citril Serinus citrinelloides

Fairly common throughout the highlands, preferring open woodland, and sometimes towns.

Brown-rumped Seed-eater Serinus tristriatus

Common across the highlands in areas of acacia forest, scrub or agricultural land.

Cinereous Bunting Emberiza cineracea

Uncommon Palearctic migrant.  Recorded in late winter in Menguda (south of Asmara), and near Erafile, south of Foro.

 

* Nigel Redman, Terry Stevenson and John Fanshawe:  Birds of the Horn of Africa (Helm, 2009)

**Ian Sinclair, Peter Ryan:  Birds of Africa South of the Sahara (Struik or Princeton 2003)

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