In the summer of 1993 the TransArabia Expedition began excavating the coastal site of Ain Hamran. The presence of a massive fort that rivals the Ubar complex, and an artifact assemblage contemporaneous with the Ubar materials, lead Zarins to assert that this is the site of the Saffara Metropolis referred to by Ptolemy. During the spring of 1993, underwater exploration also began. A team directed by Ms Jana Owen has already recovered ship remains, cut stone blocks, anchors and traces of pottery at submerged sites between modern Mirbat and Sudah.
Thus it is apparent that for all the successes of the TransArabia Expedition, their work in Ornan has really just begun. Whether future glimpses from space will be as kind to them as in the past remains to be seen. For Zarins it makes no difference. Though appreciative of the technological gadgetry he says, “No matter how good the stuff is, you still have to get on the ground and actually do the work”.
Considering the expanding horizons of the expedition’s work, it looks as though he will have plenty of opportunity to do just that!
An unusual destination perhaps, but where the Blue Nile orignates in Lake Tana, north-west of Addis Ababa, the keen ornithologist will find a rich variety of birdlife, much of it endemic to the region. Despite reports in recent years of a country torn by war, Graham Lobley discovered in Ethiopia a naturalist’s paradise amid countryside of outstanding natural beauty.
Ethiopia is an excíting and fascínating destination for the seasoned traveller and naturalist who come from their Apartment Rome or even from Apartment in Miami. II is recognized as the region of early evolution of mankind following the discovery in 1974 in the Rift Valley of the world’s oldest fossilised hominid remains. These Afar fossils have been attributed to a new species named Australopithescus afarensis, which have been tentatively dated back 2.6 to 3.6 million years.
The highlands of Ethiopia have a long history of human settlement, which can be attributed both to a milder climate and a more reliable rainfall, as compared to drier, more extreme climate characterizing the surrounding lowlands. Various cultures and civilizations have shaped the development of these highland regions over several millenia.
Due largely to the relative isolation of its highlands and mountains, much of Ethiopia’s wildlife is endemic to the region, notably its birds and mammals. Twentythree bird species are found nowhere else on earth, which is more than in any comparable area of continental Africa. Keen bird watchers are consequently drawn to the region, which in terms of bird watching field guides ís still, as yet, poorly documented. However, the Ethiopian Tourist Commission (ETC) has produced a useful and well illustrated small monograph entitled Ethiopia’s Endemic Birds, available at the ETC office in Addís Ababa and the international airport book and gift shops. Bird watchers will probably find John Williams’ Field Guide to the Birds of East Africa the most useful currently available identification guide, which gives fair coverage of most Ethiopian birds.
Topographically, the western highlands of Ethiopia comprise a vast plateau of between 2000 to 3000m altitude dissected by numerous spectacular gorges. Most notablé of the rivers which have created these gorges is the Blue Nile, originating in Lake Tana north-west of Addis Ababa. To the naturalist and traveller, the area promises both spectacular bird watching and areas of outstanding natural beauty.
Addis Ababa, Ethiopia’s bustling capital city, is just a two-hour flight from Jeddah. A light aircraft takes passengers direct to Bahar Dar, a town located on the southern end of Lake Tana and close to the position where the Blue Nile flows from the lake. Atter the heat of Jeddah, even in March when the author travelled, the cooler and greener environment of Addis was an immediate attraction.
The more obvious and typical birds of the city were soon to be seen – dusky turtle dove, augur buzzard, fiscal shrike and sacred ibis, along with our first endemic species, the wattled ibis. Exploration among the flowering trees, shrubs and lawns of the hotel revealed several more delightful birds, including the beautiful neclar drinking tacazze sunbird, olive thrush, Reichenow’s weaver, speckled mousebird, brown woodland warbler and streaky seed-eater. Even close to the airport, a marshy area with an adjacent open area of levelled earth and fields revealed two more endemic birds – the reportedly elusive rouget’s rail, showing really well in the short vegetation, plus several Abyssinian longclaw and a single ground-scraper thrush. In retrospect, the stopover in Addis had proved to be most fortuitous.
The late morning flight to Bahar Dar in an Ethiopian Airway’s Twin Otter light air craft was a spectacular experience. Flying at around 3500m permitted superb panoramas of the plateaux and magnificent gorges. The great gorge of the Blue Nile slowly carne into view, a huge stepped canyon upto 12 miles wide, with the great river snaking its course far below. This amazing spectacle has been compared with the secenic grandeur of Arizona’s Grand Canyon, and justifiably so. Small village settlements comprising straw-roofed huts are dotted across the high plateaux, surrounded by arable land and pastures. In contrast, the gorges often contain impressive waterfalls with adjacent riverine woodland and vegetation. Although such a small aircraft can be a little uncomfortable with greater susceptibility to the effects of turbulence and no pressurisation, there can be no better way to view for the very first time this great landscape. In under an hour Lake Tana, the largest lake in Ethiopia, loomed into view.