Sound recording expedition to Ethiopia
September 12 - 24 2019
£3200 (+VAT if you’re based in Europe)
Do you want to record pristine nature, rare wildlife and quite a lot of endemic species? There’s a chance we might spot black-maned lions and melanistic leopards. Common sightings include Rock Hyrax, Ethiopian Wolf, Blick’s Grass Rat, Augur Buzzard and Bearded Vulture, to name just a few.
Last year I spent two weeks exploring Bale Mountains and Harenna Forest in Southern Ethiopia. I initially wanted to keep going West but this area was so full of surprises that I decided to stick around for the entire duration of my stay in Ethiopia. This year I plan on going back with a small group of (no more than 5) sound recordists, and you’re welcome to join us. On top of brilliant wildlife spotting, there will be delicious local food, traditional coffee ceremonies and plenty of adventure.
The trip starts in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia’s capital and home to the finest Arabica coffee in the world. You’ll be picked up at the airport by pre-arranged shuttle and we’ll spend the night at a hotel. If you arrive before midday we’ll go out for lunch and get acquainted with one another. We’ll also have an opportunity to exchange currency and to do any last-minute shopping.
Early next morning we’ll leave for the South in 4x4s. The route is long and difficult so it will take us 12 to 14 hours to reach our basecamp, including a quick lunch and short breaks every few hours. The first half of the route is decent motorway but after that it’s country roads and then proper mountain tracks.
We’ll be traversing the Sanetti Plateau which is also known as the roof of Africa. It is a breathtaking landscape situated at more than 4000m/13000ft elevation, teeming with wildlife but a bit challenging to explore. We’ll need a day or two at lower altitude so we can accommodate before we come back here.
If all things go to plan we’ll be at basecamp before nightfall so we can grab dinner and start unpacking. We’ll be sharing a big house that includes 3 bedrooms plus an extra bed in an open space. The folks at Bale Mountain Lodge are excellent hosts and very much into conservation. They employ locals from nearby villages and they mostly serve food grown locally.
One thing to keep in mind is that it gets cold, especially at night. The house is heated by wood fire, but make sure to bring warm clothes. You will need them for trips to the Plateau too. You’ll also require waterproof outer layers and footwear, ideally more than one pair.
There is power and occasionally a (really slow) internet connection at the lodge. This is Africa though, so unplanned outages are a part of daily life. Make sure you have spare batteries for your devices (that you always keep charged) so you don’t miss out on recording opportunities. Speaking of which, here’s what you can expect:
The lodge is situated right in the Harenna Forest at about 2500m/8000ft elevation, so you can put your gear out of the window and start recording. Unfortunately it’s not ideal for 100% pristine nature since there are people living there and there’s also a village a few miles away. In order to get away from man-made noise we’ll have to drive a bit further from the lodge and deeper into the forest.
The good news is that we’ll have a local guide with excellent birding skills, so he’ll show us around and suggest good spots for recording. I’ve already identified a few last year so this year we’ll hit the ground running. Our guide and drivers are hardy and intrepid folks with a taste for adventure, which means waking up at 4 am or staying out until late will never be a problem.
Recording subjects in this area include: Spotted Hyena, Colobus Monkey, Olive Baboon, Silvery-cheeked Hornbill, Giant Forest Hog, Bushpig, Abyssinian Catbird, Ethiopian Oriole, Menelik’s Bushbuck, and if we’re lucky, Lion and Leopard.
The Plateau is a couple of hours away so we’ll have to do day trips over there. Given its high altitude, crazy weather and often freezing temperatures it is home to a surprising amount of wildlife. From the endemic Ethiopian Wolf to a myriad of small rodents, and from minuscule songbirds to huge Lammergeiers there will be a lot to record.
Keep in mind that high altitude can be dangerous. We’ll have to use sunscreen, hydrate regularly and avoid intense physical activity. Our workflow will be as follows: find a good recording spot (I know a few already), hike there slowly with gear in tow, set up the gear, retreat somewhere and chill out. It might be possible to leave rigs out overnight but we’ll discuss this when we get there.
In this area we’ll be able to record Rock Hyrax, Ethiopian Wolf, Grass Rats, Giant Molerats, several species of Vulture, Eagle and Owl, Thick-billed Ravens, Wattled Ibis and many more. As a bonus, the wind sounds quite eerie when standing close to the Giant Lobelia so it makes for an interesting unsettling ambience.
Grassland and savanna South towards Kenya
A couple of hours South the forest gives way to fertile savanna and grassland. I haven’t had too much time to explore this area but on the two days I spent here I managed to record good countryside ambience and numerous bird species, including some that cannot be found further North in the forest or on the plateau. It will be possible to explore this area more and to spend one night in the villages if this seems interesting.
As mentioned already, there are good opportunities for recording village life and walla in this area. There are also a myriad of loud insects on top of the usual cicadas and crickets that can be found further North. These include locusts, grasshoppers and some that I have no idea what to call. They all sound great though and create a unique soundscape that we’ll be able to record.
The £3200 (+VAT) fee covers dates from September 12th to 24th and includes the following:
transportation within Ethiopia
lodging (two sharing)
delicious meals and beverages
park, ranger and guide fees
The fee does not cover:
flights to and from Addis Ababa
Not excited yet? Check out this footage from last year’s trip: