Expert Reviews – Lake Ziway
Philip is an acclaimed travel writer and author of many guidebooks, including the Bradt guides to Uganda, Tanzania, Kenya and South Africa.
Birding among the vineyard
Lapping the shores of the rapidly growing town with which it shares a name, Lake Ziway is primarily of interest for its superb birdlife, though it is also well-known as the home of the French-owned Castel Vineyard, which produced the country’s first world-class wines in 2014. The lake’s accessibility makes it one of my favourite spots in Ethiopia for casual birding. A great starting point is the town’s main fishing jetty, which serves as a raised causeway through a marshy stretch of water that often hosts large flocks of marabou stork and great white pelican along with the less obtrusive likes of greater and lesser jacana, yellow-billed stork, lesser moorhen and black heron. Another great spot, the Bochessa area on the southwest shore is home to a variety of colourful bee-eaters and weavers as well as African fish eagle and saddle-billed stork. Boat trips on the lake in search of hippo can be arranged.
Ariadne is a renowned African wildlife photographer whose work is featured in many well-known guidebooks and magazines.
Birding at Lake Ziway
Lake Ziway is the largest of Ethiopia’s Rift Valley lakes. Most tourists traveling to southern Ethiopia will make at least a quick lunch stop here – the fresh lake tilapia is highly recommended. Even on a short visit, I always take a stroll along the long jetty that juts into the lake from the town. The raised view into the marsh on both sides is perfect for bird photography, and a great variety of species is always present. Most visible are squabbling marabou storks attracted to fish cut-offs cast aside by local fishermen cleaning their catch. Great white pelicans, though here for the same reason, are somehow better at maintaining their dignity. Look closely and you’ll also see lots of small waders creeping between the reeds, as well as other water-associated birds such as malachite kingfisher and yellow wagtail. If you’re staying overnight, it’s worth taking a boat trip to see hippos and to circle Bird Island, a roosting site for big flocks of cormorant, sacred ibis and other aquatic species.
Stuart is a travel writer and author of numerous Lonely Planet guidebooks, including Kenya, Rwanda and Tanzania.
Waders and wine
South of Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa, the land tumbles sharply away to the hot, dry Rift Valley; a great gash in the Earth’s surface that stretches from Israel to Mozambique. The Ethiopian part of the Rift Valley is famed for its large number of lakes – some briny and some sweet and fresh. The freshwater Lake Ziway is the largest of these lakes. It’s not a national park (there’s a high human population in the vicinity and almost all the land surrounding the lake has been turned over to agriculture and farming), and the only large mammals you’re likely to see (aside from goats!) are hippos. However, this is still a highly rewarding place to stop for a night on account of its enormous water bird population. Lake Ziway is such a chilled-out and relaxing spot, and the bird life so profuse, that even the most half-hearted birder can’t fail to enjoy the experience of heading out on a small boat to scour the water surface for pelicans, jacanas, black egrets, moorhens, marsh harriers and many others.
And when the day gets too hot for birding, head to the nearby Rift Valley Winery. It’s Ethiopia’s first serious attempt at producing good-quality wine and with advance notice it’s often possible to organise a tour of the winery and a tasting afterwards (the top-quality bottles aren’t bad at all).