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Madagascar Trip Report, 13-29 November 2011

Dates: 13-29 November 2011 (16 days)

Areas visited: Antananarivo, Andasibe-Mantadia National Park (Perinet), Ranomafana National Park, Anjaha, Isalo, Ifaty spiny desert, Tulear, Nosy Ve, Ankarafantsika National Park (Ampijoroa).

Detailed Trip report:

I think you’ll agree with me that your 16-day Madagascar tour was jam-packed with activities, great birds and fabulous lemurs. During your short stay we covered all the island’s main habitats: the eastern rainforests at Perinet-Mantadia National Park and Ranomafana National Park; the western woodlands at Ampijoroa in the Ankarafantsika National Park; and the spiny forest at Ifaty. We also birded the transitional woodland of Zombitse National Park, coral rag scrub around Tulear, grasslands of Isalo National Park and various wetland habitats scattered throughout, including the Betsiboka delta. During this time we saw almost all possible Malagasy endemics, although I think there were a couple of stand-out birds that were worthy of special mention.

On our drive to Andasibe we enjoyed our only views of the breeding-endemic Madagascar Pratincole. Then at Andasibe we enjoyed some exceptional views of Madagascar Wood-Rail and Madagascar Cuckoo Hawk, before spending some quality time at Mantadia. Here highlights included all four forest ground-rollers, Meller’s Duck, Madagascar Flufftail, beautiful Collared Nightjar and unusual Nuthatch Vanga. Back at Perinet we added Madagascar Long-eared Owl and Red-breasted Coua to our list of top sightings before heading for Ranomafana National Park, with great views of Sooty Falcon en route. The forests at Ranomafana were tough going, but we did well to find Brown Mesite, Madagascar Blue Pigeon, Red-fronted Coua, Madagascar Pygmy-Kingfisher, Velvet Asity, both species of Sunbird-Asity and Pollen’s Vanga here. Then moving to the south-west of the island we made several stops to admire, amongst others, a beautiful male Madagascar Harrier, Torotoroka Scops-Owl, White-browed Owl and Benson’s Rock-Thrush at Isalo National Park, and Giant Coua, Madagascar Buttonquail and the highly local Appert’s Tetraka at Zombitse National Park. From here we moved on the coast at Ifaty, finding Madagascar Plover en route. The spiny forest here provided an other-worldly backdrop to some more gorgeous birds; Banded Kestrel, Subdesert Mesite, Running Coua, Long-tailed Ground-Roller and Lafresnaye’s Vanga perhaps being most memorable. From here we moved south again a short distance to Tulear, spotting Baillon’s Crake en route, and finding drinking Madagascar Sandgrouse, Verreaux’s Coua, Red-shouldered Vanga, Red-tailed Tropicbird and Littoral Rock-Thrush in this area. For the final leg of the trip we then flew way north to Mahajunga, from where we visited Ampijoroa in Ankarafantsika National Park and the Betsiboka delta. At Ampijoroa highlights included Madagascar Fish Eagle, White-breasted Mesite, Madagascar Jacana, Coquerel’s Coua, Schlegel’s Asity, Van Dam’s Vanga and Sickle-billed Vanga, whereas we rounded off the tour at the Betsiboka delta with our best views of Humblot’s Heron, two Madagascar Sacred Ibis and a single Bernier’s Teal, to bring our trip total to a shade over 180 species (see full species list below), with just one species heard only and one species seen only by me. We worked exceptionally hard at making sure everyone had a good chance of seeing every species encountered, and I think in this respect we certainly succeeded.

Besides the birds there are a host of other animals worthy of special mention, most of them, of course, the lemurs, with at least 23 species seen (list below). These included Indri on our very first day in the country, four fabulous sifakas (Diademed at Mantadia, Milne-Edwards’s at Ranomafana, Verreaux’s at Zombitse and Coquerel’s at Ampijoroa), three species of mouse lemur, three species of bamboo lemur, the iconic Ring-tailed Lemur and striking Black-and-white Ruffed Lemur. Chameleons also featured strongly, with at least eight species seen. Other highlights included the appropriately-named Leaf-tailed Gecko Uroplatus phantasticus, Giraffe-necked Weevil, some impressive (and thankfully harmless) Giant Hog-nosed Snakes, various species of striking Day Gecko (Phelsuma) and some spectacular plants, including Baobabs and the spiny forest.

Everyone knows there is nowhere on earth quite like Madagascar, and I think you’ll all feel privileged to have witnessed so many of the natural highlights the island has to offer.

Annotated list of birds and lemurs recorded: download PDF here.

Birding Africa Trip Report by Tour Leader Michael Mills.

Please click here for more information about our Madagascar Tours.
Please click here for some photographs from our trips in October 2011 and November 2011.

Practical tour information
Focus For keen birders and mammal enthusiasts. Designed to see as many as possible endemic birds and lemurs, but while on the walks we spend a lot of time looking for other aspects of wildlife such as the myriad of chameleons, geckos, frogs and interesting plants. The 16 to 21 day tour may appeal more to very keen birders and the 12 to 14 day tours more to the wildlife enthusiasts.
Photography Many participants on our trips are amateur wildlife photographers. And when we get excellent views of a bird or mammal, some time is usually spent watching and photographing it. However, this is not a photographic tour and once the majority of the people have felt that they have absorbed the animal or bird to their satisfaction, then we move on in search of the next encounter. Thus, while the photographic opportunities are very good, the group will only occasionally wait for somebody who wants to spend even longer getting better photos.
Fitness A moderate level of fitness is required. The walks are generally in relatively flat areas with occasional inclines. At Ranomafana, one of the areas involves steep walks, although at the moderate pace. This walk can be treated as optional.
Timing We run all our tours from October to early December, catching early summer before the main rains start.
Climate Hot in the western lowlands, where we bird mainly in the early morning, and cool in the eastern highlands, especially at night.
Comfort A good standard of accommodation in guest houses, lodges and small hotels.
Transport We travel mainly by large coaster bus, with normally at least one and a half seats available per person.
Group Size The "Endemic Birds & Lemurs" and "Masoala" Tours have space for maximum 10 participants.
The "Lemurs & Natural History" and "Bird & Wildlife Highlights" have space for maximum 14 participants.
Top birds Cuckoo Roller, Sickle-billed Vanga, Long-tailed Ground-Roller, Yellow-bellied Sunbird Asity, Sub-desert Mesite, Schlegel’s and Velvet Asity
Top mammals Indri, Ring-tailed Lemur, Diademed Sifaka, Black-and-White Ruffed Lemur, Greater Bamboo Lemur, Malagasy Striped Civet
Booking

Your booking can be secured with a booking form and deposit of Euro 350. You will receive confirmation and our tour information pack with practical information on what to expect and how to prepare for the tour. The balance is due 3 months before the tour. Email us about availability.

Many of the birding sites on this trip are described in detail in the Southern African Birdfinder which is widely available in South African bookshops and on the internet. (e.g., www.netbooks.co.za or www.wildsounds.co.uk).

About Birding Africa

Birding Africa is a specialist birding tour company customising tours for both world listers and more relaxed holiday birders.  We combine interests in mammals, butterflies, dragonflies, botany and other natural history aspects and will guide you to Africa's and Madagascar's most diverse birding destinations. Our guides' knowledge of African birds and birding areas is our greatest strength and together we have rediscovered species, shared exciting observations with the birding community and had a fun time exploring our home continent.  We've even written two acclaimed guide books on where to find Southern Africa's and Madagascar's best birds. Birding is more than our passion, it's our lifestyle, and we are dedicated to making professional, best value trips filled with endemic species and unique wildlife experiences. Since 1997, we've run bird watching tours in South Africa and further into Africa for individual birders, small birding groups and top international tour companies. We've run Conservation Tours in association with the African Bird Club and work with and consult for a number of other top international tour companies and the BBC Natural History Unit.

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