From September 17 to October 12 I was in Madagascar. I was on a Wings trip lead by Brian Finch from Sept 19-Oct 10. The trip was extremely successful with us seeing all possible birds in the areas we went. This included all 5 ground-rollers, all the mesites, every asity, all couas and vangas except for the ones occurring on the extreme north east where we didn't go.
Madagascar is a very interesting island with 256 species of bird, 201 are resident, 105 are endemic, and 25 are endemic to the Malagasy region. We saw two unnamed species, one new warbler which was common in Ranomafana and a two Scops owls, one in the dry forest and the other in the rainforest. They called entirely differently and looked different too. We saw 181 species of which 120 were lifers for me.
The roads are not good and we flew in some very old planes. Accommodation ranged from excellent (Hotel Colbert) to disgusting (Hotel Thermal) and everything in between. Food was good and interesting except for continental breakfasts which were dead boring but life sustaining. We all stayed in good health with the odd attack of the runs.
In all the main parks highly talented Malagash guides accompanied us and their skill in the field was a joy to see. Add this to our leader's skill and one felt entirely inadequate as a birdwatcher. Tapes were used extensively to view most birds. In some areas some of the birds were taped out.
Our leader and our guides had a great knowledge of calls and where everything was and this made the trip so successful. To bird the island yourself would be possible but very difficult IMHO.
The trip started with 1 American, 2 Belgium's, 1 Brit, and 4 Aussies. We went to the dry western and south eastern areas, and finished with the rich rainforests.
We flew to Majunga Sept 20 and stayed at the hotel Roches Rouges. P.M. walk along waterfront. Mad. Bee-eater, Mad. Bushlark, some waders, Mad. Mannikins.
Sept. 21. Two hour drive to Ankarafantsika stopping for a dam wetland which produced Mad. Pratincole, Humblot's Heron, and Allen's Gallinule. At the reserve we saw Greater Vasa Parrot, Lesser Vasa Parrot, Grey-headed Lovebird, Coquerel's Coua, Red capped Coua, Crested Coua, Mad. Scops Owl, Malagasy nightjar, Mad. Hoopoe, Ashy Cuckoo Shrike, Long billed Greenbul, Mad. Magpie-robin, Common Newtonia, Souimanga Sunbird, Long-billed Green Sunbird, Rufous, Hook-billed, Van-Dam's, Sickle-billed, White-headed, and Chabert's Vangas, Mad. Red Fody, White-breasted Mesite.
We birded from dawn until dark nearly every day. The highlight for many of us on the 2nd day was Schlegel's Asity. May every person see one! To quote the field guide it has "velvety black head, yellow chin and throat. Very large quadrilobed caruncle, pearly light green below and in front of eyes, blue above eyes, turquoise behind the eyes."
Whilst here, one could view the work of the Jersey Wildlife Trust in establishing a very successful breeding place for tortoises.
Day 4- Back to Tana and straight to Lake Alarobia for Meller's Duck, Open Billed Stork, Red Billed Teal, Hottentot Teal, Dimorphic Egret, 2 Whistling ducks.
Day 5- AM in Tana then Fly to Fort Dauphin. Evening walk along coastline
Day 6- Fort Dauphin to Berenty. Walked around forest reserve near accommodation and in the evening spotlighting. Mad. button-quail, Giant Coua, White-browed Owl, Sakalava Weaver. At Berenty, Ring-tailed lemurs are laid on. They greet you as you enter the reserve and walk around with you for a while. Verreaux's Sifakas and other lemurs abound. We spotlighted successfully for Mouse Lemur. Very nice creatures!
Day 7- Berenty to Lake Anony. Visited Spiny Forest morning Mad. Harrier-hawk, Running Coua, Stripe-throated Jery, Lafresnaye's Vanga.
Day 8- Berenty, around adjoining reserve. PM to the Forest of Many Shadows Mad. Cuckoo-falcon, Malagasy Green Pigeon, Alpine Swift
Day 9- Berenty to Fort Dauphin, flew to Tulear, then drove to Ifaty
Day 10- Ifaty to Piste-Boabab reserve (another spiny forest) Sub-desert Mesite, Long-tailed Ground Roller, Thamnornis, Archbold's Newtonia, Red-tailed Vanga. Back at Ifaty we saw Madagascar Plover on the shore and at the resort they had a Ring-tailed Lemur we could hold.
Day 11- Left Ifaty drove to the bay of San Augustin. Transferred to a boat to Soalala across a bay. PM return to Tulear Verreaux's Coua, Littoral Rock Thrush, Greater Flamingo
Day 12- Tulear to Ihosy by road including the Zombitze Forest. Mad. Sandgrouse, Appert's Greenbul, Benson's Rock Thrush
Day 13- Ihosy to Ranamafana where we birded in the afternoon Mad. Pygmy Crake, Rufous-headed Ground Roller, Sunbird Asity, Brown-throated Sand Martin, Mad. wagtail, Stonechat, Green Jery, Long-billed Green Sunbird
Day 14- Ranomafana. Brown Mesite, Mad. Blue Pigeon, Pitta-like Ground Roller, Velvet Asity, Grey-crowned Greenbul, Dark Newtonia, Striped-throated Jery, Undescribed Warbler, Ward's Flycatcher, White-throated Oxylabes, Yellow-browed Oxylabes, Crossley's Babbler, Pollen's Vanga, Tylas Vanga, Mad. Starling, Nelicouvri Weaver, Forest Fody
Day 15- Ranomafana AM, Swamp past Vohipara. Returned to Tana in the evening. Mad. Cuckoo-falcon, Common Quail,Mad. Wood rail, Mad. Snipe, Mad. Partridge, Blue Coua, Malagasy Spine-tailed swift, Mad. Black Swift, Yellow-bellied Sunbird-asity, Spectacled Greenbul, Grey Emutail, Rand's Warbler.
Day 16- Antananarivo to Perinet. PM in the reserve Reunion Harrier, Brown Emutail, 6 Undescribed Warblers
Day 17- Perinet. Indri, Woolly Lemur, Bamboo Lemur, many chameleons. Mad. Long-eared Owl, Collared Nightjar
Day18- Graphite mine Perinet in the morning, PM in the reserve, roadside swamp 9 km away last thing. Mad. Sparrowhawk, Mad. Rail, Greater Painted Snipe, Barn Owl, Mad. Pygmy Kingfisher, Short-legged Ground Roller, Scaled Ground Roller
Day 19- Reserve at Perinet all day. Mad. Crested Ibis, Henst's Goshawk, Mad. Scops-owl (the rainforest one which must be a different species to the dry forest one), Nuthatch Vanga, Red-breasted Coua (this was the only bird I dipped on)
We did not add any more birds to our trip list on the last day, but we did have outstanding views of the Scaled Ground Roller again. As we could not fly out to Australia for 2 days we stayed with two of the group in the Perinet. We hired a guide and just walked around the forest. It was excellent.
Some further thoughts. I don't go on bird tours usually. I like to find my own birds and find my own way around. I go with other birders but certainly not with a leader, so going on a tour is a bit confronting. The leader was so talented. He could hear leaf rustling down a gully, knew every call, could mimic many calls, and was a tape recorder wizard.
Initially you get feeling of gross inadequacy. Did you see 20 or whatever lifers or did someone play a tape 20 times and you saw what came in? I am a very keen photographer, and the bird would sometimes hang around after all had seen it, and I took some great (IMHO) shots, particularly of the birds I most wanted to see: the Ground Rollers.
Some of the group had difficulty seeing the birds but we realised they had probably never fought their way through the bush or vine thicket before in their lives. The leader saw they still saw the birds.
It was a memorable holiday. We saw Madagascar at its best, from inside the forest. We spent most of our time in one forest type or another and to get between them we travelled for hours through some of poorest countryside we have ever seen. Every morning at Perinet the Indri would sing in the forest. It was exquisite!
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