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ETHIOPIA / Part II: Castles, Churches, Birds & Sapiens

After the otherworldly charm and tranquility of the Simien Mountains, the maniacal city-base of Gonder held little interest for me, so I did a quickie tour of the prerequisite castles, before flying off for an even quicker look-see of the famous rock-hewn churches of Lalibela.

Within a couple of hours, I was totally smitten with the spectacular scenery, so I changed my onward flight and stayed for four nights instead of two. I roomed at a lovely place called ‘Top Twelve’. It was perched on a hill and each room had a private balcony overlooking the glorious valley below. But truth be told, the scenery and well-appointed rooms weren’t the only things that had me riveted...

What really got me were the Lämmergeiers!

Or... Bearded Vultures(Gypaetus barbatus)

Now, for those who don't know me...I’m a total bird nut. I’m especially keen on birds of prey. So when one of these amazing giants rose up before my eyes, I nearly had a heart attack. I bolted for my camera bag, but by the time I got my long lens attached, Mr. Bearded Vulture was too high in the thermals to see! Ha! But I knew they were there. So I waited. Two long afternoons I sat staring into the sky, just to get a couple of half-assed shots, as well as a pretty painful sunburn. But I was happy. Another coveted species for my life list!

Like other vultures, it is a scavenger, feeding mostly on the remains of dead animals. It usually disdains the actual meat, however, and lives on a diet that is typically 85–90% bone marrow. This is the only living bird species that specializes in feeding on marrow. The bearded vulture can swallow whole or bite through brittle bones up to the size of a lamb's femur and its powerful digestive system quickly dissolves even large pieces. The bearded vulture has learned to crack bones too large to be swallowed by carrying them in flight to a height of 50–150 m (160–490 ft) above the ground and then dropping them onto rocks below, which smashes them into smaller pieces and exposes the nutritious marrow. They can fly with bones up to 10 cm (3.9 in) in diameter and weighing over 4 kg (8.8 lb), or nearly equal to their own weight. After dropping the large bones, the bearded vulture spirals or glides down to inspect them and may repeat the act if the bone is not sufficiently cracked. This learned skill requires extensive practice by immature birds and takes up to seven years to master. (Source: Wiki)

I also got to see a few other bird species, as well..

Praying is not gonna help.

Slate-coloured Boubou (Laniarius funebris) with a Praying Mantis meal.

Whatchoo babblin' about, Willis?

White-rumped Babbler (Turdoides leucopygia)

Sorry, but I don't look anything like a mouse!

Speckled Mousebird (Colius striatus)

Oh, yeah. I'm cute.

(Female) White-winged Cliff Chat (Monticola semirufus)


Okay. So it's well-established that I'm addicted to animals and birds, but I'm also a lover of the species, Homo Sapiens, never mind that we're a destructive lot. We do manage to get it right, on occasion. So here are a few pics of some of the interesting folks that I met along the way. (Click image to enlarge)

Most Ethiopians are Orthodox Christians, but this is the actual breakdown:

Ethiopian Orthodox (43.5%)

Islam (33.9%)

P'ent'ay/Protestantism (18.6%)

Traditional faiths (2.6%)

Catholicism (0.7%)

others (0.7%)

Ethiopia is an extremely interesting and complex country, and there's just too much to cover here. I'm definitely not an expert, so here's a useful link if you're interested in knowing more about these amazing people.


After a brilliant three days, I departed the region and headed for a place not far from the Somalia border to see some more amazing creatures. My very favorite animal, in fact. I had no idea just how up close and personal that I was going to get to these terribly misunderstood and much maligned beasts.

To be continued...

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