Audubon Society to feature Ethiopian birds

April 30, 2014 

Foothill residents who attended Matthew Matthiessen’s presentation on “Birds and Birding in Brazil” in Mariposa in December marveled at his captivating images of some of that country’s diverse birdlife. Known for his engaging manner, stunning photos and impressive command of his subject, Matthiessen will offer another visual treat at the May Yosemite Area Audubon Society program in Oakhurst.

On Thursday, May 8, Matthiessen, an extraordinary birder and wildlife photographer who has traveled extensively, will share some additional adventurous experiences in another slide presentation, “Unexpected Ethiopia: A Birder’s Dream,” at the Yosemite Area Audubon Society’s monthly program at the Oakhurst Methodist Church on Crane Valley Road (426). The presentation will begin at 7 p.m.

Tall mountains, lush forests, fertile land and unique birds and animals: could this possibly be Ethiopia? Well, yes. With its diverse habitats, Ethiopia is one of the most species-rich countries in all of Africa. Matthiessen will describe this northeastern African country, located in the Horn of Africa, and its impressive mix of spectacular birds as well as its ancient Christian history.

In February 2010 Matthiessen joined an international team of birders who observed and compiled a longer list of Ethiopian birds than any prior group. Their list of 526 species included Prince Ruspoli's Turaco, a magnificent bird of red, greens and blues; an array of beautiful starlings and many other bird species.

Ethiopia is the tenth African country Matthiessen has birded, and he believes it is a must for any serious birder who wishes to expand his/her list of African species. Its variety of habitats, which range from below sea level to high alpine peaks, account for its large number of endemic species (23 species found nowhere else in the world).

In addition to its birds, Ethiopia has a fascinating history. Christianity was officially adopted as the state religion of Ethiopia in the fourth century, and it remains dominant to this day. In fact, the Ethiopian Orthodox church claims that the current resting site of the Ark of the Covenant is in northern Ethiopia.

Matthiessen will also treat viewers to images of the famous rock-hewn churches of Lalibela, which purportedly contain copies of the Ark. Lalibela has been named a World Heritage Site and is one of the most imposing manmade wonders in the world.

A University of Tennessee graduate, Matthiessen began birding while growing up in Thailand, developing a lifelong love for international birding. He has since pursued his birding passion in many countries throughout the world and captured hundreds of images through his camera lens.

His adventures have also produced some memorable, heart-pounding experiences. He has lived through two bloody coups--one, in Thailand, successful and the other, in Zambia, not. He has been charged by an elephant, stalked by a lion and threatened by a crocodile. He has kissed a cobra, push-started a Jeep amidst a lion pride, had the spotlight die while next to a leopard, captured a 14-foot python and almost tripped over a sleeping silverback gorilla. Matthiessen will no doubt share some of his unusual experiences in his presentation.

Like all YAAS programs, Matthiessen’s presentation is open and free to the public, although donations to defray program costs and to support Audubon’s local activities are welcome.

The YAAS will also offer its monthly field trip Saturday, May 17, to Foresta in Yosemite National Park. Participants should meet at 8 a.m. at the Midpines County Park on Highway 140 to carpool. El Portal residents can meet the group across the street from the Yosemite Conservancy’s offices about 8:45 a.m. Suitable for beginners, the trip is free and open to the public. Bring binoculars, field guides, snacks, lunch and beverages. At least one person in each vehicle must have a park entrance permit or, if needed, purchase one at the park entrance.

Call (209) 742-5579 or (209) 966-2547 or visit www.yosemiteaudubon.org for more information about the program or the May 17 field trip.

The mission of the National Audubon Society, the namesake of noted 19th-century naturalist and bird painter John James Audubon; its state affiliate, Audubon California; and local chapters such as the Yosemite Area Audubon Society is to conserve and restore natural ecosystems, focusing on birds, other wildlife and their habitats for the benefit of humanity and the earth’s biological diversity.

-Yosemite Area Audubon Society

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