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What to see & do in Daallo

Around the Scenic Overlook, The 6km dirt road between Karin and the Scenic Overlook is the obvious starting point for any exploration of Daallo, passing as it does through an area of thick highland forest dominated by the coniferous Juniperus procera.

It is presumably the highest altitude stretch of road in the country, crossing the 2,200m contour in at least one place, and the birding can be excellent. Common species include Hemprich’s hornbill, African olive pigeon, red-fronted tinkerbird, brown woodland warbler, Abyssinian white-eye, Abyssinian black wheatear, brown-rumped seedeater, and cinnamon-breasted rock bunting.

The common fowl here is the attractive yellow-throated spurfowl but check carefully,  because this is also the best place in  Somaliland to seek out  Archer’s francolin, a localized regional endemic that sometimes attracts attention at dawn and dusk with its whistled calls.

The Scenic Overlook, set at an altitude of 2,133m, is aptly named indeed, offering as it does a superb view from the edge of the escarpment over tall limestone cliff s to the forested foot slopes and weather permitting the seashore around Maydh, some 30km away. 

It is also a  great spot to scan for cliff associated raptors such as Verreaux’s eagle, peregrine falcon, common kestrel and the endemic Archer’s buzzard a large and striking bird sometimes treated as a colour form of augur buzzard and easily recognised by its rich chestnut chest and rump. 

It’s worth checking any peregrine falcons carefully, like the closely related and more localized Barbary falcon is also reported to occur here.

The water pump and small pool about 100m behind the main clearing is a hive of avian activity: the endemic Warsangli linnet has been recorded, Somali thrush and Somali starling are very common, and there is a steady stream of other woodland birds, ranging from the dapper little rock-thrush to the lovely African paradise flycatcher.

There is some debate about the identity of the scops owls that occur here and some reports suggest they might be  Arabian scops owls  (a  species unrecorded elsewhere in  Africa),  while others affirm they are the more common African scops owl.

Mount  Shimbiris  Situated to the immediate west of the road from Erigavo to Karin, Shimbiris rises to at least 2,416m, although recent surveys suggest a more likely altitude of around 2450m.

Its name literally means Abode of Birds’, in reference to the avian wealth of the Daallo Forest on its eastern slopes, and it is also known locally as Surad Cad or Shimbir Beris.

The mountain is of some historical note as the site of a fort built by the early 20th-century resistance leader Sayid Mohammed Abdullah Hassan and unsuccessfully attacked by British troops in 1914 and 1916 prior to the death of the ‘Mad Mullah’ in 1920.

Despite its status as the highest point anywhere in Somalia, Shimbiris is not really a mountain in the conventional sense, but a large hill set along a high escarpment that contains several other peaks topping the 2,200m mark. 

As such,  while we have not heard of any ascents in recent times,  it shouldn’t represent a  daunting physical challenge to determined peak baggers.

Whether it would be permitted to hike there is another matter, and it would certainly be a good idea to ask about landmines or other security threats before making any attempt.

The Karin–Rugay road  Constructed using the labor of Italian prisoners during World War II and completed in 1952, the Tabah (Tabca) Pass follows an old camel caravan track down the  Daallo  Escarpment from  Karin to  Rugay an altitude drop of almost 1,700m in the space of 30 multiple switchbacked kilometers that takes at least 2½ hours to cover in either direction.

It is easily the most spectacular road in Somaliland, offering a succession of superb views across steep forested slopes to the tall limestone cliff s of the upper escarpment and the more distant Gulf of Aden, haze permitting.

For dedicated birders, this road is the best place to look out for two of the more elusive  Somali endemics,  namely  Warsangli linnet and  Somali golden-winged grosbeak, both of which favor rocky slopes, although the former is often attracted to the berry-like cones of junipers in the wet season.

On the right side of the road, as you descend, there are excellent views into the steep-sided Tabah Gorge often framed by prehistoric-looking dragon’s blood trees. About  6.5km out of  Karin,  the road passes through a  short  Italian-built tunnel, complete with a  rock-hewn window looking out over the forest. 

After another 10km, at an altitude of 1,265m, you reach the relatively substantial village of Mader Mage, which has a few shops and is a major center of frankincense production.

It is another 12km from here to Rugay, from where you can either continue to Maydh or turn back to Erigavo. About halfway between Mader Mage and Rugay, at an altitude of 825m (N 10°48.523, E 47°19.212), the stone embankment supporting the right side of the road is home to at least one pair of Speke’s pectinator, a peculiar rock-dwelling rodent endemic to the Somali region.

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