birding trip 19 Nov - 5 Dec 2010
by John van der Woude - www.jvanderw.nl
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'Endemics and lemurs' was the name
of this first BirdingBreaks.nl group tour to Madagascar, and this is precisely what we did on this hotspot:
trying to see as many endemic bird species and lemur species as
possible. It was the usual two-week itinerary, mainly consisting
of two hilly rainforest areas (Perinet and Ranomafana) and two dry
lower areas further southwest (Zombitse and Ifaty), with nearby Nosy Ve
island as a bonus. Besides birds and lemurs we also enjoyed the
chameleons, frogs, insects, orchids, baobabs, etc. Wildlife is
very special on this island, due to its long isolation.
The guidance on this tour was
threefold: the Dutch tour leader, the ground agent, and the local
guides. Laurens Steijn was our BirdingBreaks.nl tour leader, and
his enthousiasm and keen eye contributed significantly to the
great success of the trip. Also, the bird photos he quickly makes with his excellent handheld equipment are a
veritable added value, as you can see in the bird photo section of this
report. Ground agent and general tour leader mr. Tiana* did a great
job by organizing everything so smoothly and by carefully dividing
our precious time over the many endemics, which he knows very
well, also by sound. Also, he gets the best local guides
in the national parks. These were truly amazing in finding the
birds and lemurs, and their enthousiasm was infectious. Thanks are
also due to our patient bus driver and his aide.
The roads were good, as were food
and accommodation. We did not bring a telescope, and only used one
from the group for waders etc., and never needed one for an
endemic bird. We used Sinclair & Langrand's 2003 field guide
for the birds (and checked every new species, as we always do),
and Garbutt's mammal guide. We brought the British Library bird
sound cd (127 species) on our mp3 player and mobile phone, and
often used it to check sounds of birds pointed out by the local
The weather was cooperative, with a little rain only at Perinet
and once on the road, and it was rather hot in the dry South. The
scenery between the national parks was more interesting than
expected, and reminded us more of Asia than of Africa, due to the
many rice fields. The people along the road were always friendly.
The further south we came, the poorer the villages became, and the
poorest were near the famous but unprotected 'spiny forest' of
Ifaty, an alarming situation.
For Nollie and me, this was only our
second group tour ever, after so many independent trips, and again
we were stunned by the number of specialties 'served' to us. We
got 112 endemics; that is, Nollie got 112, I missed two of these.
112 endemics (Malagasy endemics: Madagascar plus surrounding
islands) is a very good score for this itinerary, since many of the
endemics are notoriously difficult to find. We saw all five
ground-rollers, two mesites, all nine couas, both nightjars, two
sunbird-asities, possibly all four newtonias, twelve vanga species, both
rock-thrushes, both fodies, a long series of warblers, greenbuls
etc. and many single goodies like the harrier, white-browed owl,
the endemic plover, the pratincole, the sandgrouse. Actually, we
pretty much cleaned up on the endemics possible on this
itinerary, the main dips being Humblot's Heron, Madagascar
Sparrowhawk, Malagasy Spinetail, and, for nearly
all of the group, Henst's Goshawk and Madagascar Green Pigeon.
Besides the endemics, Nollie and I got seven other lifers. See for
all this the species list, which follows the IOC names and
taxonomy (worldbirdnames.org), as does the daily log below.
All species mentioned are real sightings (no heard only's). For a
location map, see at the bottom of this page.
Indri lemur at Perinet. Listen here
to the calls I recorded, in stereo. Photo
Laurens Steijn/ BirdingBreaks.nl.
20 November 2010: after day
flight 19 Nov. Amsterdam-Paris-Antananarivo arrived at hotel
Orchid close to Antananarivo airport just after midnight. Morning
drive through open fields and across Mangoro river (pratincole) to Perinet, for the Andasibe-Mantadia
rainforest NP. Afternoon visit to more or less secondary forest
near hotel (Feon'ny Ala), including a dusk visit to a forest
clearing for night birds.
Endemics today (in trip sequence): Madagascar Wagtail, Madagascar
Stonechat, Red Fody, Mascarene Martin, Madagascar Kestrel,
Madagascar Magpie-Robin, Madagascar Pratincole, Souimanga Sunbird,
Madagascar Bulbul, White-throated Rail, Crested Drongo, Madagascar
Paradise-Flycatcher, Madagascar White-eye, Tylas Vanga, Madagascar
Cuckooshrike, Common Jery, Chabert's Vanga, Madagascar Cuckoo
Roller, Hook-billed Vanga, Brown Emutail, Madagascar Woodrail
(Nollie), Madagascar Starling, White-headed Vanga, Madagascar
(Lesser) Cuckoo, Madagascar (Long-eared) Owl, Madagascar Nightjar.
Lemurs today: Indri, singing!
21 Nov.: walk near hotel 5.30 -
6.00, then slow drive to primary rainforest of this NP. Most of
the day on the forest trails, interrupted by a short visit to a
lake and packed-lunch plus rain break. Evening
excursion along the main road from the lodge, for night-active mammals and
New endemics today: Madagascar Coucal, Stripe-throated Jery,
Rand's Warbler, Nelicourvi Weaver, Madagascar Flufftail,
Cryptic Warbler, Collared Nightjar, Madagascar Buzzard, Ward's
Flycatcher, Lesser Vasa Parrot, Madagascar Blue Pigeon, Madagascar
Grebe, Malagasy Kingfisher, Meller's Duck (endangered species),
Madagascar Swamp Warbler, Red-tailed Vanga, Blue Coua, Nuthatch
Vanga, Madagascar Green Sunbird, Short-legged Ground Roller
(Nollie), Madagascar Rail.
New lemurs today: Black-and-White Ruffed Lemur, Greater Dwarf
Lemur, Eastern Woolly Lemur, Brown Mouse Lemur.
22 Nov.: 5.15 on the road to the
same Mantadia rainforest as yesterday. A long but succesful wait
for Scaly Ground Roller. A brief visit to the same lake too. Back
on the road by 16.30.
New endemics today: Forest Fody, Velvet Asity, Madagascar Pygmy
Kingfisher, Madagascar Mannikin, Red-fronted Coua, Hook-billed
Vanga, Pitta-like Ground Roller, Scaly Ground Roller, Red-breasted
Coua, Wedge-tailed Jery, White-throated Oxylabes.
New lemurs today: Eastern Grey Bamboo Lemur, Common Brown Lemur,
23 Nov.: most of the day in moist
forest closer to the lodge. At dusk some owling at the lodge.
New endemics today: Madagascar (Crested) Ibis, Common
Sunbird-Asity, Frances's Sparrowhawk, Green Jery, Malagasy Turtle
Dove, Rainforest Scops Owl.
New lemurs today: Furry-eared Dwarf Lemur.
24 Nov.: long drive south to
Antsirabe, checked in at hotel Aro and paid late afternoon visit
to nearby lake.
New endemics today: Madagascar Cisticola, Madagascar Lark (both
seen later on the trip as well).
Tylas Vanga was our first member of an endemic bird
In total we got twelve vanga species.
Photo Kees Mostert.
25 Nov.: long drive to Ranomafana
rainforest NP, with a stop for snipe at Tsarasoatra (small valley
marsh). From 15.00 roadside birding in Ranomafana NP. Lodge:
New endemics today: Madagascar Snipe, Forest Rock Thrush,
New lemurs today: Rufous Mouse Lemur.
26 Nov.: from 5.50 walks in
Ranomafana NP. Afternoon walk to a marsh on a plateau.
New endemics today: Pollen's Vanga, Dark Newtonia, Brown Mesite,
New lemurs today: Red-throated Brown Lemur.
27 Nov.: long morning in the
rainforest (Ranomafana NP). Afternoon visit to hamlet with large
chameleons (parsonii), and roadside birding for species of forest
New endemics today: Rufous-headed Ground Roller, Yellow-bellied
Sunbird-Asity, Madagascar Yellowbrow, Madagascar Cuckoo-Hawk,
Grey-crowned Greenbul, possibly Red-tailed Newtonia (plain bird
with red tail and very dark eye, no white throat).
New lemurs today: Milne-Edwards's Sifaka
28 Nov.: from 6.00 - 9.00 again in
the rainforest (two bamboo lemurs; last chance of wood rail). Then
a long drive to Isalo, with roadside birding on the extensive
grassy plains before Isalo
New endemics today: Malagasy Harrier, Madagascar Buttonquail (plus
the non-endemic lifer Harlequin Quail)
New lemurs today: Greater Bamboo Lemur, Golden Bamboo Lemur.
29 Nov.: left Motel Isalo at
6.00. Short stop for Benson's Rock Thrush at Maison d'Isalo in
Isalo NP. A bit further on, a search of the partridge. Then from
9.00 to 12.00 a walk in Zombitse NP dry forest. Arrived at hotel
Victory in Tulear around 15.00. Late afternoon birding a bit
inland from Tulear in dry bush.
New endemics today: Benson's Rock Thrush (lumped with Forest RT),
Madagascar Partridge; Zombitse: Appert's Tetraka, White-browed
Hawk-Owl, Giant Coua, Coquerel's Coua, Rufous Vanga, Crested Coua;
Tulear bush: Sakalava Weaver, Verreaux's Coua, Lafresnaye's Vanga,
Sickle-billed Vanga, Red-shouldered Vanga.
New lemurs today: Hubbard's Sportive Lemur, Verreaux's Sifaka
Malagasy Harrier along the road to the dry Southwest.
30 Nov.: 6.15 at a grassy plain
outside Tulear for sandgrouse, then fast boat ride to Nosy Ve
island (Red-tailed Tropicbird colony, Crab-plover, etc.) plus
Anakao lodge opposite the island. Spent hot afternoon at lodge
(Safari Vezo), late afternoon some birding around lodge (for rock
New endemics today: Subdesert Brush Warbler, Madagascar
Sandgrouse, Grey-headed Lovebird (at grassy plain); Littoral Rock
Thrush (at lodge).
1 dec.: early boat ride back to
Tulear, then in 4WDs to Ifaty, roadside birding. Checked in at
lovely lodge Hotel Plage. From 16.30 a first walk in the spiny
forest, a truely amazing
New endemics today: Madagascar Hoopoe, Madagascar Plover (both
along road to Ifaty); spiny forest: Subdesert Mesite, Long-tailed
Ground Roller, Running Coua (better view next day), Thamnornis,
2 dec.: 6.00 in spiny forest
again, later some birding at forest edge. Around 10 a.m. back at
lodge due to intense heat. Glad we had seen most of the spiny
forest specialties yesterday late afternoon already. 15.30 slow drive back to Tulear (hotel Victory again).
New endemic today: Green-capped Coua.
New lemur today: Petter's/Hubbard's Sportive Lemur.
3 dec.: morning flight Tulear -
Antananarivo, and checked in at hotel Orchid again. 14.00 at
famous heronry inside city limits (for the pond heron, and a last
glance at many other herons). 16.00 at lemur park (semi-captive),
scarcely comparable alas to our previous wild encounters with lemurs.
New endemic today: Malagasy Pond Heron (endangered species).
4 dec.: flight back to Amsterdam via
Nairobi, arrived at Amsterdam early next morning.
* mr. Tiana's email address is mnd at
moov.mg (Madagascar New Destination)
Southern part of geological map of
Madagascar, as taken from http://www.kew.org/gis/projects/madagascar/simp_geol.html.
The first, rainforest part of the trip was mainly in the old basement
rocks, plus the volcanic lake at Antsirabe.
The second part, southwest towards Tulear, crossed the sandstone block
(the large orange
area on the map above): plains with open grasslands,
the big rocks of Isalo NP, and Zombitse Forest (with intervening
The blue area directly east of Tulear is the limestone where we had a
very successful late afternoon stroll in the dry bush (three new vanga species in
10 minutes, including Red-shouldered).
The yellow strip of unconsolidated sand on the west coast is where
Ifaty and the dry spiny forest is (bordering the limestones).
So, going on this trip from central-east to coastal southwest,
rain water will be hold increasingly more difficult by the soil, which
partly explains the interesting sequence from rainforest to dry forest to
bush to spiny forest.
One of the many other creatures than
birds and lemurs that astounded us. This is a giraffe-necked beetle (giraffe
weevil, an endemic) in the rainforest of Perinet.
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