Report: Madagascar 16 day tour in 2007
A trip with Birding Africa organised
by Callan Cohen and
• 16-day tour + 1-day visit
to Nosy Ve
• Areas visited: Tana, Andasibe, Mantadia, Ranomafana,
Isalo, Zombitse, Toliara, Ifaty, Nosy Ve, Mahajunga, Betsiboka
Delta, Ankarafantsika (Ampijoroa).
• Wide range of habitats covered, from eastern rainforests,
dry western forests and the bizarre spiny forests of the south-west.
• Almost complete clean sweep of all endemics and near-endemics,
including all endemic families, 5 Ground-Rollers
and 4 asities, with a total of 182 species recorded.
• Incredible experiences with lemurs of 24 species including
Detailed Tour Report
Arrival day - before the tour started
– 12 November 2007
This tour was preceded by an early morning flight arrival (and Marsh
Owl for those seated on the correct side of the plane!). After breakfast
at our nearby hotel in Antananarivo (‘Tana’), the group
proceeded to a wetland for some introductory
The destination was Lac Alarobia, a large park composed of a number
of adjoining lakes and woodland that has been protected for decades
and lies on the edge of the city. It hosts numerous waterbirds that
are otherwise persecuted and so is an excellent place to get to
grips with them. It was here we first saw Madagascar Pond Heron,
a declining species, and another Madagascar endemic, a small group
of Madagascar Little Grebe. There were large numbers of Common Squacco
Heron, Black Heron (performing its famous umbrella fishing technique),
Dimorphic Egret, Great Egret and Cattle Egret. Comb Duck was present
among the common White-faced Whistling Duck and Red-billed Teal.
Madagascar Kingfisher showed exceptionally well and we were able
to get good views of both Madagascar Swamp Warbler and Madagascar
Brush Warbler, allowing a comparison to be made between the two.
A local rarity was present in the form of an African Openbill, a
type of stork that is rare in Madagascar. Huge Golden Orb Web spiders
were also present in their expansive webs between the trees.
Some people opted instead to have a more relaxed morning and head
to the zoo in the afternoon. Tana’s famous zoo consists not
only of the zoological gardens but also an excellent museum. One
of the highlights was the recently constructed reversed day-night
centre, where normally nocturnal Aye-aye can be seen during the
day in an especially darkened and sound-protected enclosure. It
is amazing to watch these animals through the one-way glass going
about their daily routines, undisturbed by visitors. Another highlight
in the museum is seeing the skeleton of the extinct Elephant Bird
and it is rather unnerving to think that this, the largest bird
that ever lived, might have survived as recently as 300 years ago
in Madagascar. The skeleton dwarfed the adjacent skeleton of an
Ostrich. The skeletons of some of the extinct lemurs were also on
display, including one the size of a gorilla.
Day 1 – 13 November 2007
The tour officially started off this morning, with some relaxed
garden birding around the hotel with Madagascar Wagtail around the
pool and a rather impressive Jewel Chameleon catching a butterfly
with its extended tongue. We then drove eastwards towards Perinet,
stopping for a picnic lunch along a forested river. The drive took
us through spectacular mountain scenery although it was depressing
to see how almost all natural vegetation had been converted into
rice paddies and fields. There was however the occasional Hamerkop
and herons feeding in these rice paddies.
We stopped for a scan at a large bridge where Martin spotted three
high-flying Eleanora’s Falcons, and there were also
Common Sandpiper in the river. On arrival at Andasibe Reserve, our
first roadside birding turned out well with excellent
close views of Madagascar Blue Pigeon and Blue Vanga. Harriet was
on top spotting form this afternoon and picked out a
concealed group of Diademed Sifakas, which came out of the trees
and we eventually had fantastic views of this family feeding together.
Other highlights were Broad-billed Roller and Chabert’s Vangas,
and a bright green Lineated Day Gecko
(Phelsuma lineata) on a Traveller’s Palm. The Traveller’s
Palm, an iconic Madagascar plant and the emblem of the national
airlines, is actually a member of the banana family and hints at
early links with South America where a similar species is found.
Another major highlight was hearing Indri for the first time.
In the evening, we encountered Eastern Woolly Lemur on our night
walk and had fantastic views of Furry-eared Dwarf Lemur close to
the restaurant where we were having dinner.
Day 2 – 14 November 2007
Today we headed to Mantadia National Park, only relatively recently
opened to the public and one of the best places to get into primary
rainforest in Madagascar. We made an early start today in order
to be best placed to search for members of perhaps Madagascar’s
most famous endemic family, the Ground Rollers. We couldn’t
believe our luck when on arrival at our first stake out for Short-legged
Ground Roller, the bird was calling, so we headed along the small
forest trail, obtaining excellent views almost immediately.
Fired up with such quick success of normally such a difficult bird
we decided to try a nearby Rufous-headed Ground Roller
that we could hear calling. After scrambling up a small slope the
bird was suddenly in front of us, although in the dense
vegetation not everyone had quite the same view of the bird! However,
the bird was very obliging and with some slight
changing of position eventually everyone was able to have good views.
With two of the hardest ground rollers seen in the first hour, we
headed to lower altitudes to search for the others. A small group
of Eastern Grey Bamboo Lemurs showed well from the bus. We then
headed down to a nest site of Scaly Ground Roller where we concealed
ourselves and prepared for a long wait. However, it was only minutes
before this distinctive, bulky bird appeared and we all had excellent
views of it as it hopped around in the vegetation. It was at this
point when Deirdre, scanning for lemurs, encountered a fourth species
of ground roller: the brightly coloured Pitta-like Ground Roller.
It wasn’t long before almost all of us had seen this fourth
species of ground roller, a phenomenal achievement in such a short
amount of time! Tim even remarked that he doesn’t often see
four species of ground rollers before the time he normally has to
be at work in the morning! Callan took a small group of people who
needed to improve their views of Pitta-like on a short walk that
eventually yielded great success.
Of course with all the action from the ground rollers it may be
easy to forget the great views we had of Cryptic Warbler (only described
to science in the late 90’s), and a Rand’s Warbler duetting
in the same tree.
Not wanting to be outdone by the birds, the mammals were about to
put on a fantastic show. A group of Indris was active on the ridge
above us and we decided to make the walk in order to see them. Although
the path was a little bit rough at times, it wasn’t much more
than 20 minutes before we were positioned on the ridge and could
see them moving in the leaves opposite us. However, few of us were
prepared for the phenomenal views that we obtained over the next
half an hour. A family group was feeding and interacting in the
trees at eye level and finally, as a send-off before we left, began
their famous whale-like calls (which were almost impossibly loud
and resonating at such a close distance). It was moving to hear
these calls and know how much of the habitat was still being destroyed.
Shortly after seeing the Indri we encountered another family group
of Diademed Sifakas and as we were in the forest we were able to
get very close to them, another privilege to see a rare primate
so well and so closely.
Other non-birding highlights were many and included Painted Mantellas,
a brightly coloured and highly poisonous frog that
resembles the Poison Arrow frog of South America (but is not related).
Giraffe-necked Weevil must also rate as one of the
stranger insects of the world! We also saw our first Tenrec here,
the spectacular Lowland Streaked Tenrec, resembling a punk- hedgehog
with its bright yellow head spines that it raised towards us! These
small insectivores are endemic to Madagascar.
We then settled down for one of the largest picnic lunches I’m
sure we’ve ever had, complete with chicken, rice, fruits,
eggs and more! But the day wasn’t over yet. We nipped back
into the forest, where our guide knew of a roosting Collared
Nightjar. It was amazing to see this extremely camouflaged bird
roosting among the leaves (it’s hard to believe how this roost
was ever found in the beginning!). We then took a slow walk along
the main track that allowed excellent views into the canopy. Our
destination was a small pond where two Madagascar Little Grebes
impressed us in their full breeding plumage.
Again, however, it was a primate that stole the show: a small group
of Black and White Ruffed Lemurs were feeding on fruits in the tree
above us. Despite the fact that they can normally be shy, these
ones showed in the open exceedingly well, resembling small panda
bears. Birds around here included Broad-billed Rollers, Madagascar
Starling, great views of
Madagascar Spine-tailed Swift and Forest Fody.
We then headed back into the forest for a last late afternoon walk.
A highlight was superb views of a Madagascar Pygmy
Kingfisher, and it wasn’t long before Deirdre called us back
along the trail to watch a group of Red-bellied Lemurs that she
had found. We had excellent views of these rufous creatures, resembling
a red panda in this case. The sighting was especially worthwhile
given the rarity of this species in the park. Now late afternoon,
a White-throated Rail seemed to loose all its fear of humans and
foraged in a forest pond for at least 10 minutes in front of us.
We headed back to our hotel in high spirits, only to add another
tough Madagascar endemic to our list: a Madagascar Long-eared Owl
which flew overhead in response to play-back.
Day 3– 15 November 2007
Today started with some birding from the breakfast table at our
hotel where we saw Ward’s Flycatcher and breeding African
Palm Swifts. We then headed to the nearby Andasibe Special Reserve
where our guide knew of a roosting Rainforest Scops Owl. Again,
the camouflage of this bird on its day roost must be one of the
best of any bird. A Hook-billed Vanga showed on the forest edge.
We then headed into the forest where our main target, Nuthatch Vanga
was to prove very elusive. During our searching we encountered a
pair of Madagascar Wood Rail on the forest floor and Tylas Vanga
in the forest canopy.
The lemur watchers among us were impressed with the Common Brown
Lemurs that we encountered. Right at the end of the morning, we
followed our guide through some rather dense vegetation up a hill
where and were rewarded with phenomenal views of our main target
Nuthatch Vanga. Two Velvet Asity were present in the same flock
as a bonus.
During lunch we saw Madagascar Harrier Hawk and Madagascar Buzzard.
In the afternoon we went searching for rallids,
which involved crossing some rather precarious bridges, and were
disheartened to see how many of the normal reed beds where they
occur had been destroyed and converted to rice paddies. Success
was limited as only a few people saw
Madagascar Flufftail and only Annie saw the Madagascar Rail. Some
consolation came in the form of Madagascar
Nightjar which flew around the bus as dusk fell.
Day 4 – 16 November 2007
Today was mainly a travel day and we saw a number of familiar species
during roadside birding, the highlight of which was probably a Madagascar
Buzzard on the nest. We headed westwards back to Tana and then took
a flight to Mahajunga, where we settled in to our hotel in the late
afternoon. The highlight here was a Madagascar Nightjar flying over
the pool in the evening.
Day 5 – 17 November 2007
Breakfast was interrupted by Jeff’s discovery of a pair of
mating Oustalet’s Chameleons. This spectacle of the world’s
largest chameleons mating has to be seen to be believed! A gigantic
male, with his full range of colours designed to impress the female,
was a truly impressive mix of reds, maroons, yellows, blacks, and
whites! While we were eating breakfast the bright green Madagascar
Day Geckos (Phelsuma madagascariensus) interacted above us.
We then embarked on a boat trip to the Betsiboka Delta in search
of two species of rare waterbird. Madagascar’s wetland birds
have suffered tremendously from habitat degradation and destruction
and the two species for which we were searching have populations
little in excess of a thousand birds each. We specially chartered
a large motorboat to head deep into the delta, timing our visit
to coincide with the dropping of the tide and the expected feeding
of these species on the edge of the mangrove swamps. We were in
luck and before long we saw two Madagascar White Ibis, but it took
quite some searching to spot a Bernier’s Teal sheltering under
a mangrove tree. Other waders included Terek Sandpiper, Greenshank,
Curlew Sandpiper, Whimbrel and Common Sandpiper. Many Dimorphic
Egret were present, with many dark phase individuals, and a strange
looking grey individual. Another excellent sighting was a Humblot’s
Heron that showed well. We also had fantastic views of a Madagascar
Harrier Hawk in display flight and a close view of the female, whose
face was flushed pink. A White-headed Vanga was also present in
We returned to Mahajunga for lunch before driving to Ampijoroa forest
station of Ankarafantsika National Park, where we
birded in the late afternoon after checking into our chalets. The
lemur affectionados were quick to spot the local troop of
Coquerel’s Sifakas, while the birders settled down to watch
the action at the heronry, which included many Common Squacco Herons
in full breeding dress with a few Madagascar Pond Herons among them.
Sickle-billed Vanga impressed from the nearby trees. A distant Madagascar
Jacana was also seen. After dinner we fell asleep to the sound of
Milne-Edward’s Sportive Lemurs calling above our bungalows
and the less-welcome sounds of the nearby annual Raffia festival
(the latter held in celebration of the famous Raffia Palm and its
usefulness to local communities).
Day 6 – 18 November 2007
After some early pre-walk coffee, we headed out into the forest
to catch the cool of the early part of the day. Our pre-breakfast
walk was a dazzling introduction to Madagascar woodland birding
and we saw no less than 5 species of vanga in just two hours. The
most spectacular was arguably Sickle-billed Vanga, a unique bird
with its large down curved bill, social habits and bizarre haunting
calls. We also saw Blue Vanga, White-headed, Rufous and Chabert’s.
We were also introduced to another of Madagascar’s endemic
families the Mesites, with a small group of White-breasted Mesites
scuttling through the undergrowth almost at our feet. However, the
star bird of the walk must have been another representative of one
of Madagascar’s endemic bird families, Schlegel’s Asity,
a bright yellow bird with a neon eye wattle with both bright blue
and green elements. Also present was Coquerel’s Coua, a memberof
another sub-family endemic to Madagascar. Madagascar Hoopoe was
also seen, a species that looks superficially like regular hoopoes,
but has a strange growling call.
We returned for a well-earned breakfast, a fantastic spread of fresh
fruit, pancakes, juice and coffee, one of the finest we were to
experience in Madagascar. Also at breakfast, Collared Iguanas, one
of the ancient reptile links with South America,
scuttled up the trunks of adjacent trees.
Our post-breakfast walk, although getting rather warm, was productive.
Van Dam’s Vanga was our main target, which we
saw at the nest. Red-capped Couas were seen well stalking on the
path while Crested Coua showed well in the trees above. We saw a
roosting Torotoroka Scops Owl, although Madagascar Crested Ibis
was less obliging and we would have to try for this again later
in the trip. Another highlight was watching a giant Hog-nosed Snake
digging up the nests and eggs of Collared Iguana and eating them
one by one. Another bizarre insect was the Flattid Leaf Bug with
its juveniles with its strange waxy growths coming out of their
backs. Some people saw Common Tenrec and we all had close views
of a lost Coquerel’s Sifaka. At the end of our walk we were
entertained by a group of Coquerel’s Sifakas, a large species
of lemur with a mixed white and rufous coat. These large lemurs
with their curious human-like faces, and family antics, were a firm
Because of the heat, we returned for a relaxed lunch and rest before
heading out for a late afternoon boat trip on the nearby Lake Ravelobe.
Our main target here was one of the rarest raptors in the world,
Madagascar Fish Eagle and we were lucky to have excellent views
of them both from the shore before the boat trip as well as from
the boat. We also saw Madagascar Kingfisher (very close), Allen’s
Gallinule (with its bright blue frontal shield) and Purple Heron.
A number of large Nile Crocodile was also present.
At sunset we went on a night-walk, which turned out to be a major
highlight, not only did we saw all 8 species of lemur
possible, but we also saw a number of species of birds roosting,
including Madagascar Pygmy Kingfisher and Rufous
Vanga. Just before dark Common Brown Lemur and Mongoose Lemur, two
closely related lemurs, were seen. It was when we headed into the
forests proper once it was completely dark that we began to see
some of the smaller lemurs. These included Fat-tailed Dwarf Lemur,
which had recently come out of hibernation (as the name suggests
they store their energy reserves in their tail), Grey Mouse Lemur
and the recently described Golden Brown Mouse Lemur. Milne-Edward’s
Sportive Lemurs attracted attention with their loud screeches while
the tranquil Western Woolly Lemurs merely sat sedately and munched
leaves. A tiny Lygodactylus Gecko was seen roosting on the tip of
Day 7 – 19 November 2007
After a relaxed breakfast we returned to Mahajunga and took a flight
back to Tana. En route to Mahajunga highlights were
Madagascar Lark and another species of Hog-nosed Snake. Once in
Tana a number of people opted for a Marsh Owl twitch in the late
afternoon, and were rewarded with a view of two birds in a wetland
near the airport.
Day 8 – 20 November 2007
In the morning we headed to a wetland close to our hotel, where
a bird highlight was seeing a small group of African Pygmy Goose
among the distant waterlilies. We were also entertained by some
spectacular dragonflies. After some shopping for
provisions we drove south from Tana and had lunch in the gardens
of a small Natural History Museum at Amboralampy. In
the gardens here we found Madagascar Silverbills building a nest
and Terry spotted a green reed frog. A cute kitten
entertained us during our lunch. After lunch we drove further south
still to the town of Antsirabe where we stayed in the grand colonial
hotel, which even had baths! Jeff spotted an Eleanora’s Falcon
hunting near the hotel at dusk.
Day 9 – 21 November 2007
After breakfast and a brief stop at the bakery we headed south through
rolling hills, rice paddies and small Betsileo villages with their
distinctive double story architecture. We checked in at our hotel
before going on an afternoon walk. The highlight of this walk were
undoubtedly a pair of Madagascar Pratincoles that we found breeding
on a rock in the river and we had superb views of the adults and
their two fluffy chicks. Other birds seen well were Broad-billed
Roller, Chabert’s Vanga and Madagascar Silverbill and again
Terry spotted a reed frog. Madagascar Nightjars hawked around the
hotel at dusk.
Day 10 – 22 November 2007
Today started with an excellent opportunity to be the first group
of visiting birders to visit an unspoilt marsh in the highlands.
Our local contacts had discovered this marsh and only a few days
before finished cutting a trail to it. The main target of our expedition
would be the increasingly rare Meller’s Duck, a species that
is found less and less regularly at its usual haunts as it slowly
drifts into extinction. The trek to the marsh was a bit longer than
anticipated but we were rewarded with spectacular success when a
Meller’s Duck flew twice past us at incredibly close range.
Here we also saw another Lowlands Streaked Tenrec. We then went
on to get excellent views of Grey Emutail, a normally very skulking
marsh species, but the highlight was probably encountering three
to four Madagascar Snipe, which showed excellently. It must have
been in all this
excitement that one of Chris’ brand new boots came apart completely
and he spent the rest of the day wearing one of Callan’s rather
oversized boots on his one foot!
We then went in to some nearby high altitude forest where we spent
most of the rest of the day. Our first highlight was a
circling Madagascar Sparrowhawk just before we entered the forest.
A skulking Madagascar Yellowbrow was seen by
most as was a Crossley’s Babbler, which showed very well in
the understorey. We also had excellent views of another
Rufous Headed Ground Roller that posed excellently for the photographers.
The end point of our walk was a spot for
Yellow-bellied Sunbird Asity and the birds initially proved very
difficult to see and it took some waiting to get a view (this
bird was constantly moving between patches of flowers above our
heads). We even found them for another group of
birdwatchers! Some also saw Common Sunbird Asity on our walk back
where we all saw Pollen’s and Tylas Vanga in the
A non-birding highlight was the small green “Pandanus Frog”,
restricted to living in small patches of water captured in the
leaves of Madgascar’s Pandanus plants (which look a bit like
The group had actually split earlier that morning, with some opting
to go on a specialist lemur walk with Deirdre leading.
They also had a great time having excellent views of Greater Bamboo
Lemur, one of the world’s rarest primates. They also saw Red-fronted
Brown Lemur, more Red-bellied Lemurs and another Tenrec. Their bird
highlight must surely have been a male Velvet Asity and a Pitta-like
Ground Roller. They also saw the newly described Calumma crypticum,
chameleon with bright blue legs.
Madagascar Nightjars dust bathing were a highlight at dusk shortly
to be followed by dinner and a surprise birthday cake for Heather!
Day 11 – 23 November 2007
This morning we opted for a walk in the medium-altitude parts of
Ranomafana National Park. Our first good sighting was a Red-fronted
Coua in the path in front of us shortly after we entered the forest.
We had stunning views of displaying Cuckoo Roller at a view point
over the forest. These characteristic and evocative whistles from
the birds wheeling display flight were a familiar call in the forest.
Here we also saw a gigantic Golden Orb Spider and another species
of Day Gecko, Phelsuma quadriocellata. In the forest understory
we eventually got good views of White-throated Oxylabes, Wedge-tailed
Jery and some Eastern Red Forest Rats. We all eventually got fantastic
views of Common Sunbird Asity just above our heads. The long walk
to the Henst’s Goshawk’s nest proved worthwhile with
excellent views of a calling bird at close range. We also found
a Small-toothed Sportive Lemur at its day roost.
We returned for lunch (pancakes with tomatoes and fresh pineapple
juice!) and a rest. Some folks opted to head back into the forest
in the late afternoon to search for a bird that had eluded us in
the morning, Brown Mesite. However, first on the menu was a pair
of Golden Bamboo Lemurs, a species only discovered in the mid 80’s
and the primary reason for the formation of the National Park. We
had excellent views of them feeding and moving through the trees,
before we headed up to Ranomafana’s famous nocturne point,
where we saw the confiding Malagasy Striped Civet. Annie waited
here while the rest of us headed off into the last remaining daylight
hours to look for our target, encountering an exceptionally tame
Eastern Red Forest Rat on the path. At the third point we tried
we hit the jackpot and a pair of Brown Mesites came walking past
almost at our feet, success! We headed back to join Annie where
we had close views of Brown Mouse Lemur before heading back at dusk
with a chorus of frogs calling all around.
Day 12 – 24 November 2007
Our first point of call was to search for Forest Rock Thrush, which
we eventually found on the road after being distracted by brief
views of a Ring-tailed Mongoose. A Dark Newtonia eventually showed
itself in the understorey.
We continued southwards to Anja Reserve, a community-run initiative
that protects a small patch of habitat where Ring-tailed Lemurs
occur. A highlight of the trip was spending half an hour watching
a family group of them an arm’s reach away and watching their
behaviour, as many of the mothers had babies. We had a picnic lunch
here before driving on further south still.
En route Alpine Swifts caused some excitement as we drove down through
the stunning granite mountain scenery.
In the late afternoon we stopped to scan the grassland at a stakeout
for Madagascar Harrier and were rewarded with a
striking adult Madagascar Harrier in the grasslands. This pied bird
with black, white and silver in its plumage was a major
highlight as it can be very elusive. We went on to see a second
bird and another catch-up for some people; Marsh Owl! As a storm
loomed on the horizon we drove to our luxurious hotel near Isalo.
After a gourmet meal in the restaurant we departed for a short night
Day 13 – 25 November 2007
Relais de la Reine, a luxurious hotel set among the dramatic runeiform
sandstone outcrops on the edge of Isalo National Park, was the perfect
place for a pre-breakfast walk. It started with good views of Benson’s
Rock Thrush among our chalets. Some walking through the grasslands
yielded a Madagascar Buttonquail but there was no doubt that our
major highlight was a single Madagascar Partridge, our main target
bird for the morning that was superbly spotted by Jeff.
After breakfast, we headed for Zombitse Forest, a unique patch of
western deciduous forest, which encompasses almost the entire world-range
of Appert’s Tetraka. As we arrived a pair of Madagascar Buzzards
displayed above the forest. Entering the forest it wasn’t
long before we located a pair of Appert’s Tetraka, which hopped
on the floor at our feet. This rare bird is one of the most striking
of the tetrakas, with its peachy underparts. Major highlights were
excellent views of Giant Coua and a White-browed Owl roosting in
a tree during the day. A female France’s Sparrowhawk flushed
in front of us in the forest and was eventually relocated and scoped.
We also saw many Long-billed Greenbuls, the bill of the male looking
impossibly long and had excellent views of Coquerel’s Coua,
Madagascar Crested Ibis on the nest was a real bonus as it was our
last chance to catch up with this bird which had eluded us up until
now. We also saw Hubbard’s Sportive Lemur at its roosting
hole and a large Oustalet’s Chameleon.
Other non-bird highlights were excellent views of a group of Verreaux’s
Sifakas, and a Western Tuft-tailed Tree Rat by some. Mentions should
also be made of the pinkish adult Flattid Leaf Bugs that we saw.
Also worth mentioning was the drive through the Sapphire towns on
the way to Zombitse. Although not quite as action packed as they’ve
been in the past, the atmosphere of these small towns is very much
how the wild west must have been, bustling with miners, sapphire
dealers and military, all profiting from the recent discovery and
uncontrolled exploitation of sapphires in the area.
We arrived in Tulear in the early afternoon and after some refreshing
drinks, we then drove up the coast to the small town of Ifaty, entering
our first spiny forest vegetation en route. This is a very picturesque
coastline with aquamarine waters and
dotted with small Vezo fishing villages. We made a brief stop for
some waterbirds, included Black-winged Stilt. We also
scanned a coastal lagoon where we picked up Greater Sand Plover,
White-fronted Plover, Sanderling and Grey Plover.
We watched the sunset from our hotel.
Day 14 – 26 November 2007
We spent the early morning in the spiny forest searching for the
superb endemics that occur only in this vegetation. Our main targets
here were two highly localised species, both members of Madagascar
endemic families. With our team of helpers, essential in this dense
spiny vegetation where the birds are at low density, we had phenomenal
success with very close views of both Long-tailed Ground Roller
and Sub-desert Mesite. We now had a clean sweep of all 5 ground
rollers and all 3 mesites!
The morning went according to plan and we saw both Running and Green-capped
Couas, Archibold’s Newtonia, and the
Thamnornis Warbler (which looked nothing like the picture in the
book). Vangas were very much in evidence and we saw
the localised Lafresnaye’s (eventually!), White-headed, Sickle-billed,
Chabert’s and Red-tailed. We also encountered
Striped-throated Jery, Madagascar Turtle Dove, Namaqua Dove, Madagascar
Hoopoe, Ashy Cuckooshrike,
Madagascar Paradise Flycatcher and Sakalava Weaver. Another highlight
was a pair of Madagascar Harrier Hawk,
with their faces flush pink with excitement. Three-eyed Lizards
were common. Much excitement was also had when a Barn
Swallow, rare in Madagascar, flew past!
After a long and fruitless search for Banded Kestrel, we headed
back to our beach front hotel for lunch and had a relaxing
afternoon with just some limited birding and wader watching.
Day 15 – 27 November 2007
Our morning walk was very successful with the highlight being a
closely perched Banded Kestrel. We managed to enjoy it
for a few minutes before the infamous character of Ifaty, the Jimmy
Hendrix-like “Moosa”, chased it off in an attempt to
get us as clients. By mid-morning we were heading south down the
coast, stopping at a place we found reliable in the past for the
rare and localised Madagascar Plover. We were rewarded quickly with
excellent views of a pair of birds close to the bus. There were
also Kittlitz’s Plovers nearby. An oxcart packed high with
the prickly Euphorbia stenoclada lumbered by and we wondered how
the person perched on top of this prickly mass seemed to look so
comfortable?! Wader watching on the road south produced Bar-tailed
Godwit, Three-banded Plover and other interesting birds were Lesser
Crested Tern, another Barn Swallow, the endemic Sub-desert Brush
Warbler and very close Madagascar Bee-eaters.
After lunch at our very comfortable guest house and a short rest,
we then headed to some scrub habitat near Tulear where we were looking
for two highly localised endemics. However, it wasn’t long
before we located an exceptionally close pair of Red-shouldered
Vanga on a territory where Callan had seen them just 2 weeks earlier
(this species was only described as recently as 1996). Verreaux’s
Coua, however, took much longer to find but we had excellent views
in the end. We also saw a very obliging snake, Mimophus mafalensis,
and yet another Madagascar Nightjar at the pool.
Day 16 – 28 November 2007 (Nosy Ve)
This morning we headed to the harbour as we were planning to go
south by boat to the island of Nosy Ve. However, the
journey to reach the boat from the harbour was quite an adventure
in itself, as it involved climbing onto ox-carts and being
dragged through the muddy harbour all the way to the waiting boats.
In less than an hour we arrived at the island of Nosy Ve, where
we were treated to the spectacle of the Red-billed Tropicbird breeding
colony. It was amazing to have these spectacular birds hovering
so close above us. Some of us then did some snorkelling but most
opted to walk along the beach to a tern roost where we spotted a
Sooty Gull among the large roost of Common, Lesser-Crested and Swift
Terns. We had excellent views of this large brown gull, the third
record for Madagascar.
Also interesting on the island of Nosy Ve were Madagascar Cisticolas
foraging along the seashore and a selection of waders including
White-fronted Plover. We then headed to the village Anakao where
we found the locally endemic Littoral Rock Thrush, before having
lunch overlooking the beach.
We then returned to Tulear, but as a heavy wind had risen, the sea
wasn’t nearly as calm as the way in. However, our expert skipper
navigated the waves superbly and we arrived back in Tulear without
getting too splashed! We did some birding nearby where we saw Saunder’s
Tern, Greater Sand Plover and Bar-tailed Godwit on nearby mudflats.
Day 17 – 29 November 2007
With all the other birds in the bag, we made an early morning start
for Madagascar Sandgrouse and had fantastic success as 22 birds
flew in just over our heads and showed well for at least 20 minutes.
A fantastic way to round off the trip! Other interesting birds here
included Grey-headed Lovebird, Namaqua Dove and Madagascar Lark.
And a very impressive male Zebu! We returned to the hotel for breakfast,
packing, a tiny bit of shopping at the market and then headed to
the airport. On arrival in Tana, we were disappointed to hear that
the flight back to Europe had been delayed until the next morning,
but at least we got to spend an extra night in Madagascar before
heading home (with all the excitement of a huge tropical storm).