Madagascar birding trip 19 Nov - 5 Dec 2010
trip report by John van der Woude  -
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'Endemics and lemurs' was the name of this first 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 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 guides.

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 (, 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/

               Daily log:

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 chameleons.

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, Diademed Sifaka.
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 family.
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: Centrest.

New endemics today: Madagascar Snipe, Forest Rock Thrush, Madagascar Harrier-Hawk.
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, Grey Emutail.
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 edge etc.

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 (harrier, quails).

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 (both Zombitse).

Malagasy Harrier along the road to the dry Southwest.
Photo Wietze Janse.

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 thrush).

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 habitat.

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, Archbold's Newtonia. 

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 (Madagascar New Destination)

Southern part of geological map of Madagascar, as taken from
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 mesozoic limestones).
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. Photo Kees Mostert.
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