Northumberland, Bird Club

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Ethiopia was the topic of Janet Dean’s talk to the North Northumberland Bird Club at Bamburgh Pavilion this month.

It had not been on my immediate list of places to visit, perhaps because of other associations, but after seeing Janet’s wonderful photographs and hearing her enthusiastic description of the country and its wildlife, Ethiopia has risen to the top of my list.

Economically, it is a poor country, but very rich in wildlife, and because of its geography it has many endemic species of bird and beast.

This land-locked country has the Great Rift Valley running through the middle, from south to north, so the geography varies dramatically from the high plains of 14,000ft down to the lush forests, lakes and grasslands in the valley.

At the south end of the rift you pass through five different vegetation zones from top to bottom.

Wildlife suffered severely under the Marxist regime of Mengistu, but steps to protect the unique habitats and species have been taken since his departure in 1991 and the rewards are now being reaped.

Mountain nyalas, a large antelope, which numbered 150 in 1991 have risen to between 2,000 to 3,000 beasts. Similarly, Swayne’s hartebeest have increased from a fragile 200 to a few thousand due to being protected.

We had wonderful photographs of the dramatic saddle-billed stork, the huge caribou stork and several vultures, including Rüppell’s griffon vulture and the fabulous lammergeier that takes six years to mature.

We also saw the huge thick-billed raven, followed by the delightful woodland kingfisher.

One of the main reasons for Janet going there was to see the endangered Ethiopian wolf, of which there are only about 500 left. These are a wonderful red and white colour, but, sadly, susceptible to distemper, hardpad and rabies.

We heard of the northern red-billed hornbill, the Abyssinian ground hornbill which will walk about four miles in a day, and the speckled mousebird with its blue eyes, a different species in Ethiopia. Then there was the cut-throat finch and six species of bustard, including the largest of all, Kori’s bustard.

Janet, who is a keen naturalist, also covered flowers, butterflies, such as the beautiful Ethiopian admiral, monkeys, such as Gelada baboons, and the amazing scenery of this spectacular country.

It was a fascinating journey and those who weren’t there missed a treat. Her photographs were excellent and varied and her talk full of interesting details beyond the routine labels. I really feel I must go and see it all myself.

Please note the change of venue for our next meeting, at 7.30pm, on April 14, which will be at The Hub in Seahouses. This will be an illustrated talk by the well-known local photographer Ron McCombe, entitled A Walk on the Wildside.