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Day 1 - 3rd Oct
After we all met very early at Heathrow airport we then made the short flight with Air France across to Paris. The short connection time then had aboard our next flight to Antananarivo in Madagascar. Unbelievably the French catering staff had gone on strike and we had a limited number of light meals on our 10½ hour flight! After several movies and a little snoring we arriving in Madagascar. Once through customs we met Tiana (Teena) our guide, we changed our American dollars to local currency - I became a millionaire at this point! and then we loaded our luggage into our coach and set off for the short drive to our hotel. With many of us now deprived of sleep for over 30 hours the sight of a bed was very welcome!
Day 2 - 4th Oct
After a good nights sleep we had breakfast at 7.00 and then got together with Tiana and boarded our two high clearance 4x4 vehicles. From the hotel we saw Mascarene Martin and Common Mynas before setting off on a drive through the town and out into the countryside. It took us two and a half hours to get to our site and along the way we passed many rice paddies which held a few species such as Great and Cattle Egret, plus Hammerkop and plenty of roadside Stonechats. Along the way an African Black Swift and Pied Crow were seen as well as several groups of Madagascar Bee-eaters. We also spotted Madagascar Kestrel, Madagascar Wagtail, Green-backed Heron, and a couple of Madagascar Malachite Kingfishers. Leaving the main road we then proceeded to drive 10 miles along a very bumpy pot holed track. A Purple Heron flew over and more bee-eaters were seen plus a few Madagascar Bush Larks before we arrived at a camp site. Here we got out and soon spotted a Madagascar Partridge disappearing through the long grass. Unfortunately only a few of the group managed to see it. We then started a short walk past some fields and weedy scrub. A Madagascar Cisticola was seen and heard in song flight, and then a Madagascar Mannikin was spotted on a grass stem. We then got better views of a Madagascar Bush Lark feeding on the ground, a few Brown-throated Sand Martins flew back and forth and a Madagascar Bulbul appeared. Moving on a little further we overlooked a small lake where we immediately found our target species - three Meller's Duck which were swimming around with a Little Grebe. Over the hills a pair of Madagascar Buzzards circled around as did a Yellow-billed Kite. Leaving the lake we walked a track that led us down into the surrounding forest. As we walked the narrow trail our first Madagascar Brush Warbler was heard and then seen briefly, a Stripe-throated Jery sang and a Souimanga Sunbird showed briefly. Further on we found more Sunbirds, several Common Newtonia's and a couple of Madagscar Paradise Flycatchers. Our next good find was a pair of Velvet Asity's shortly followed by a Greater Vasa Parrot feeding in a low leafy tree. It was now lunch time so we returned to the camp where a very nice meal awaited us. As we sat down tucking into our food a pair of Madagascar Partridges appeared, and walked across the open grass, they then proceeded to give some very good views while in the distance a Cuckoo Roller was only heard. Our final bird before we exited the forest turned out to be a fantastic Blue Coua! Just before we were about to leave we were treated to the amazing yet somewhat mournful cry of a small group of Indri, Madagascars's largest Lemur. Driving the bumpy track back out we saw Madagascar Wagtail, another pair of Madagascar Partridges, Green-backed Heron and more bee-eaters. We had a long drive back so we broke it by a few short rest stops. A Madagascar Coucal was seen flying, we scoped two Madagascar Kestrels and finally a few of the group saw Madagascar Turtle Dove and just at dusk a Madagascar Nightjar.
Day 3 - 5th Oct
Today we had a very early breakfast and then set off on the all day drive to Ranomafana. We got a good introduction to the lifestyle of the local people passing through many villages and seeing a change in habitats from barren treeless hillsides to Mediterranean type scrub and eventually mature rainforest. A few roadside birds were spotted as we drove along and these included Madagascar Kestrels, Pied Crows, Mascarene Martins, some African Black Swifts, Yellow-billed Kites and Common Mynas. Half way and six hours later we stopped for lunch in a pleasant restaurant. A very nice meal was enjoyed and we also had time to look across the surrounding rice paddies. A Hammerkop was present alongside a Green-backed Heron and then we got good scope views of a Madagascar Malachite Kingfisher, while Keith sorted out a good number of Dragonflies. After our meal a quick look outside and Alex found a Grey-headed Lovebird sat in a very close tree. Nearby we watched Madagascar Wagtails, Madagascar Brush Warbler, Madagascar Mannikins and a young boy pulling the legs off of a huge Orb Spider. Yuck! Continuing our journey we arrived at a marsh which was to be our only real birding stop of the day. Walking down to view the pools we found a group of ten Red-billed Teal and two Madagascar Pond Herons. Twenty minutes of searching then produced our target species a Madagascar Snipe. The bird flew from cover and then came slowly towards and past us giving us exceptionally good close flight views. We then found a second bird which was only briefly seen amongst the grasses before it took flight and went into cover. Here also we saw Madagascar Cisticola, Madagascar Swamp Warbler, several Madagascar Bush Larks and a superb little Chameleon (Fuscifer lateralis).
A Madagascar Red Fody also showed well before it was time to depart for the second half of our epic journey. We managed to add Madagascar Buzzard, Dimorphic, Great and Cattle Egrets as well as 50 bush fires and 400 chickens before reaching the turn off towards Ranomafana. We now had 36 kilometres of very bumpy unmade road to endure, eventually reaching our lovely hotel in the dark at about 7.15pm. Three nightjars were seen flying before we got to the hotel but could not be specifically identified from the moving coach. After an exhilarating hot shower and a very nice meal we were ready for bed in anticipation of the wonders this superb forest could bring us! Endemic birds, Lemurs, Insects, Reptiles, Amphibians, Mammals and flowers - what a lot to look forward too!
Day 4 - 6th Oct
Some of the group were up early and enjoying the fresh misty morning air. Outside our rooms a Madagascar White-eye sang while African Palm Swifts flew around and a couple of Green-backed Herons and Madagascar Wagtails were spotted. With most of the group then up a Chabert's Vanga was then found along with Madagascar Magpie-Robin and then three Greater Vasa Parrots flying over. After breakfast we drove to the entrance to the nearby Ranomafana reserve. From the car park a Rand's Warbler was spotted singing from a tree top, a Crested Drongo flew by and landed briefly while another two Chabert's Vangas were seen and a MadagascarLesser Cuckoo was scoped. As we started our walk into the forest a strange looking Giraffe Weevil was found and then a small Chameleon (Calumm nasutus). Working our way through the forest trails our guides came up trumps with two Red-bellied Lemurs feeding in the tree tops above us. We then found a couple of Velvet Asity's before taking a small trail where a pair of Red-fronted Couas showed superbly well to everyone. One bird was watched carrying a small (Brookesia) type of ground chameleon, and while watching these birds a Madagascar Wood Rail was glimpsed by Keith and Les. Also spotted here was one or maybe two Crossley's Babblers creeping slowly and quietly though the leaf litter. Moving on a little further we then found two excellent Brown Mesites, these strange birds were seen walking through the undergrowth and then eventually they came out onto the track where we stood - amazing! This was one of our target birds well and truly seen, so we moved on to find the next. Sure enough the distinctive call led us to a pair of Pollen's Vangas and both birds gave really close views sat in nearby tree. This is one of those species that can easily be missed! Continuing on we went in search of Henst's Goshawk but unfortunately we had neither sight nor sound of the pair that are resident here. As we slowly made our way back a Red-tailed Vanga was seen plus a Long-billed Greenbul, two Madagascar Starlings and another two Velvet Asity's. Almost back to the car park and a small flock appeared holding Madagascar White-eyes, Common Newtonia, Red-tailed Vanga a Spectacled Greenbul and a Nelicourvi Weaver. We then headed back to our hotel for lunch. After a brief break we resumed birding with a short drive along the entrance road. It wasn't long before a female Forest Rock Thrush posed for us and a distant Madagascar Cuckoo-Shrike was scoped. We then found Common Jery, several groups of Madagascar White-eyes a male Forest Rock Thrush and then a great flurry of activity with Chabert's Vanga eclipsed by two stunning Blue Vangas. We then found both Tylas Vanga and a Wards Flycatcher. A Blue Coua crept through the undergrowth while a Brown Lemur crossed the road. Back on the coach and we drove back to the reserve entrance. A short walk into the forest as dusk was falling soon brought us a group of Red-fronted Brown Lemurs and then at a feeding spot where bananas are put out we enjoyed the most remarkable sight of tiny Brown Mouse Lemurs coming out of the forest to feed on the offerings. Also here was an amazingly tame Fanaloka what a superb ending to a wonderful day. Well almost! As we returned in the dark a tree frog and a very large hairy spider were seen. After another excellent evening meal four of us walked down the road where a Madagascar Nightjar could be heard singing. We then found the bird sat on top of a dead tree. What a great way to end a great day.
Day 5 - 7th Oct
oday we had an early breakfast and then set off to visit a different tract of forest. We stopped first at the entrance to the reserve and took a short walk past the first stream. A couple of Nelicourvi Weavers showed well and a Long-billed Green Sunbird put in a brief appearance. Back on the bus we continued a short way before stopping to check the roadside forest. A Forest Rock Thrush was heard and then we spotted a Madagascar Cuckoo-Shrike, before a Hook-billed Vanga started calling. Eventually we tracked it down and obtained excellent scope views. Continuing on we arrived at the forest and no sooner than we had all got out of the coach, a Cryptic Warbler was heard singing. Just a short walk and we were watching two of these birds hoping around and singing from a bare tree, while a Pollen's Vanga was also heard calling. Amazingly the warbler species was only recognised as late as 1995. We then walked slowly into the forest and were soon listening to a very close Madagascar Wood Rail which never managed to reveal itself. The forest was actually very quiet and it was a while before we heard our first Pitta-like Ground-Roller. It never showed and fell silent. Nearby we heard a distant Rufous-headed Ground-Roller which after a little encouragement started coming closer to us. The undergrowth was very thick and our only chance of seeing it was to take a very small trail into this dense under-story. Everyone in the group managed to get superb views of two of these highly skulking gems! One bird even sat on top of a branch right out in the open. Very happy with this we moved on hearing Red-fronted and Blue Couas plus a Yellow-browed Oxylabes. Later on a Dark Newtonia showed reasonably well and some of the group saw Grey-crowned Greenbul as well as Long-billed Greenbul and Stripe-throated Jery. There were some nice frogs living under the palm throngs and many orchids to be seen. Eventually we turned around and headed back to the coach and then back to the hotel for lunch. In the afternoon we set off towards a marsh twenty kilometres away. The road conditions were so bad it seemed to take forever. A roadside stop was made when a Milne Edwards Sifaka was spotted in a close tree, and continuing on we then made a stop at a wet area filled with sedges. While trying to get views of the three Grey Emutails that kept flitting around us we all got to see a Henst's Goshawk fly past. Finally at the marsh and rice fields we spotted four Red-billed Teal and a pair of Long-billed Green Sunbird. Down by the paddies three Madagascar Flufftails were heard, but a local man, crazy on something? decided to practice his karate moves in the same bit of sedges. A Madagascar Snipe was seen flying away then we had to board the coach and return back to the hotel.
Day 6 - 8th Oct
After an early breakfast we set off to the forest reserve once again. Within the first hundred yards of the trail we heard a Madagascar Pygmy Kingfisher but try as we may we could not spot it in the thicket.
Continuing on we came across a Madagascar Wood Rail calling close to the track, with a little patience and pre-empting we eventually all got reasonable good views of two birds walking through the forest litter and then crossing the track in front of us. After a fairly quiet spell we then came across a small group of Greater Bamboo Lemurs, one of which was seen stripping and demolishing the giant bamboo cane it was sat on. In the same spot a white phase Madagascar Paradise Flycatcher was seen by a few of us. Moving on we headed towards the distinctive "plop" call note of a Pitta-like Ground-Roller. Closing in on the bird the first people in the group got brief views before it flew off a short distance. A short while later the bird flew back to a more open area and we had fantastic views of it sat on a bare branch of a tree. Very happy with this we moved on along the trail. Another Pitta-like Ground-Roller was heard and this one not only sat on a tree in full view it hoped along the ground to with 15 feet of us giving us even more fantastic views. Leaving this superb bird we then watched a Madagascar Lesser Cuckoo sat high in a tree top above us before continuing to search many of the forests trails where we eventually came across a very confiding pair of Crossley's Babblers feeding and walking around in the leaf litter. A Red-fronted Coua was then heard calling and we got to see our third Pitta-like Ground-Roller perched about 20ft up in a tree showing even better than the previous two! Next were a couple of Greater Vasa Parrots seen quietly feeding in a tree and then nearby a Long-billed Greenbul and a couple of Spectacled Greenbuls showed briefly. We then heard the high pitched call of a Common Sunbird-Asity way up in the canopy. Les spotted it and managed to get just a couple of people on it before it shot off out of sight. Three stunning bright, Blue Couas were easier as they flew from the track and were seen to make their way up a tall tree, the third bird was actually a young bird and it was seen chasing the adults and begging for food. Just before exiting the forest we found a couple of Red-tailed Vangas and then crossing the river footbridge we had Mascarene Martins perching on rocks and a Madagascar Wagtail by the waters edge. After our lunch back at the hotel we were soon ready to try another area of forest. It was very quiet initially but we did manage to track down a Red-bellied Lemur. We never heard any Brown Emutails which were our prime target so we left the forest where Steve C spotted an African Black Swift flying amongst the Mascarene Martins. Driving just a short distance back towards the hotel we stopped to check an area of damp forest beside a small track. A Lesser Vasa Parrot perched on a tree top for a minute or two and then we heard a Madagascar Flufftail - a noisy but tiny rail! After some judicious taping we had a range of sightings from the full bird running across a gap to little more than the grass moving. It was now dusk so we returned to the hotel for another excellent evening meal. On leaving the restaurant a Madagascar Nightjar was heard calling so and a few of us walked down the road until we got close enough to make out the birds shape sat high on a dead tree.
Day 7 - 9th Oct
Today was to be another one of those long days travelling! With an early breakfast we still managed to have three hours birding in the Ranomafana Reserve. Just as we were about to set off, Alex spotted an owl fly into a nearby dead tree - what a start to the day as we scoped a superb Madagascar Long-eared Owl for a couple of minutes before it flew off into thick cover. At the reserve we walked the trail down to the river where a pair of Madagascar Blue Pigeons flew over. Continuing on into the forest we soon notched up Madagascar Brush Warbler, Common Jery and a pair of Red-tailed Vangas. We then got to see two White-throated Oxylabes with one bird in particular showing well as it flew into some small trees at just about head height. Trying to track down the calls of Forest Fody was fruitless but we did get excellent looks at a nice male Nelicourvi Weaver. In a different area a Hook-billed Vanga managed to stir up a few other birds such as Common and Dark Newtonia, Madagascar Paradise Flycatcher and then a very obliging pair of Rufous Vangas found by Steve C. It was now time we left, but not before seeing a couple of very rare Golden Bamboo Lemurs feeding in - you guessed it! Bamboo. Unfortunately this was our worst experience here as certain lemur guides not associated with us, started shaking the tree where these beautiful animals were feeding, just so as there tourist type clients could get a view. This does not make for good publicity and we let the park officials know our view on this behaviour. Leaving Ranomafana behind we started out on our long drive. A stop along the side road produced a Rand's Warbler, Souimanga Sunbirds and some very nice butterflies. Just a little further along we found several orchids and a large black millipede. The only road leading out was for the next 20km very slow and bumpy - I wouldn't want to have to do it in the wet season! A few Dimorphic Egrets were the only birds of note seen as we sped along the new road. Lunch was a picnic taken in the coach after which we continued on through ever changing habitat until we came out onto a high grassy plateau. It started to rain and dusk fell as our competent driver made his way through the criss-cross of dirt tracks - rather him than me! Eventually we came out on a tarmac road and soon arrived at our very plush hotel near Isalo. After settling in and enjoying another good meal we went outside and got some superb views of Madagascar Nightjars sat on some rocks just a short distance away.
Day 8 - 10th Oct
We were up at dawn for a look around the beautiful grounds of our hotel. Before we had even left the rooms a Benson's Rock Thrush was heard singing from a tree just outside our window. Everyone had excellent views of the bird before it flew to the top of a rocky outcrop. Slowly strolling around the grounds we started with a Madagascar Malachite Kingfisher on the edge of the swimming pool, and then we found some very confiding Madagascar Bee-eaters in the tree tops. Nearby a pair of Madagascar Kestrels, several Madagascar Turtle Doves and Souimanga Sunbirds were seen. We then had good views of four Namaqua Doves, Long-billed Green Sunbird and a Madagascar Cisticola which just sat there warming itself in the early morning sun. Several Madagascar Coucals were watched sat out in the sun while Greater Vasa Parrots, a fly over Cuckoo Roller and two superb Madagascar Partridges were seen. The Benson's Rock Thrush showed itself very well again before the lure of breakfast tempted us inside. After breakfast we set off on a drive back to the high grassy plateau where we eventually found our target bird a Reunion Harrier which was sat in the tall grass before it flew off giving us some superb views. We then continued our journey towards the hot and dry Zombitse forest reserve. Once here we set about walking the narrow trails through this woodland. A couple of Madagascar Hoopoes were spotted and then a flock of Long-billed Greenbuls were found as well as Common and Dark Newtonia plus a pair of stunning Blue Vangas. Further on we all saw a very close Coquerel's Coua walking slowly through the undergrowth, there were some excellent chameleons and then on our last section of wood, our guide spotted a very confiding pair of Appert's Greenbul's feeding in the leaf litter. We got superb views of these birds down to just a few feet. We also saw a Verreaux's Sifaka and another Appert's Greenbul before sitting under a straw shelter for our picnic lunch. Several of the group wanted better views of the Sifaka and eventually were rewarded with seeing a family with a youngster and also a Giant Coua. From our picnic spot we watched a pair of huge and rather strange looking Cuckoo-Rollers flying around giving there amazing call! Lunch over we then continued our journey to Tulear where we finally arrived in the dark.
Day 9 - 11th Oct
With time for a pre-breakfast walk we went to an area of nearby pools. Once here it was a matter of patience as we waited for the star birds to appear. Scoping the open ground around the small pools we soon found several Kittlitz's Plovers, a flock of Grey-headed Lovebirds and then a pair of stunning Three-banded Plovers. Madagascar Bush Larks were easily seen and Madagascar Swamp Warbler and a Wood Sandpiper were seen by a few of the group. Then the distinctive calls of a group of four Madagascar Sandgrouse drew our attention as they flew in and landed beside one of the pools. We had great views through the scopes but they were a little too far away to get a record photo! Before returning for our breakfast another three sandgrouse had flown in and we had also found a couple of Curlew Sandpipers and a group of five Three-banded Plovers. With breakfast completed we drove the short distance to a small seaside village where we then transferred from coach to Ox-carts which took us across the mud and through the shallow sea to our waiting speed boat. Once we were all aboard we set off across the huge bay. A flock of Greenshanks and two Greater Sandplovers flew alongside us for a short while and then a real highlight was a superb Short-finned Pilot Whale that arched right out of the water before diving deep and not being seen again. There's always one that gets away! And an all dark shearwater with white underwings was spotted flying away from a tern flock. With differing views as to its size and possible identity it was unfortunately left unidentified. A good record got away! We eventually arrived at Anakao a lovely beach with a restaurant/bar and some houses for the local fishermen. A quick look around the houses, sand dunes and scrub soon found us a male Littoral Rock Thrush, a very obliging Sub-desert Brush Warbler and lots of Sakalava Weavers. A cool drink was then enjoyed before boarding our boat and speeding across the bay to the nearby flat island of Nosy Ve. Once ashore we set up our scopes on a group of thirty? distant Crab Plovers which were on the next island. A little nearer, just thirty feet away, were a couple of very smart White-fronted Plovers. After looking at these we set off on a walk across the golden sand to the far end of island. We hadn't gone very far when the 29 Crab Plovers suddenly flew in and landed in the shallow waters very close to us - superb! Several were seen catching and eating crabs and our guide said that this was the closest he had ever seen them. Continuing along the beach strewn with exotic and beautiful shells we spotted white and dark phase Dimorphic Egrets, two Sanderling and several Red-tailed Tropicbirds flying overhead. A crab raced around in circles and then we got to see lots of adult Red-tailed Tropicbirds sat under bushes with their little chicks. These birds gave superb photo opportunities and it was great to see them so close. Reluctantly we had to leave the island, and heading back it was obvious that the sea conditions were now a lot rougher. We spotted a couple of nice Lesser Crested Terns, and then we got the boat driver to take us through a group of fishing Saunders Little Terns. Back on the beach where Whimbrel were plentiful, we got onto our ox-carts and then back onto our coach. Lunch was a relaxed affair at "La Mangrove" restaurant overlooking the sea. After this we set off to an area of dry thorn scrub in search of the recently described Red-shouldered Vanga. Eventually Tiana located a superb male and we all had the most incredible views down to just a couple of feet away - far too close for me and my digi-scoping method. What a fantastic little bird this was! Nearby a Madagascar Kestrel posed nicely and a Verreaux's Coua was heard calling but could not be seen. In another area we saw a Lesser Vasa Parrot, and several of us got to see Madagascar Buttonquails running across the main track. Steve C set up his scope and concentrated on the track in the hope that another would cross. After all that effort you wouldn't believe that the moment he looked away we all saw another tiny buttonquail run across!!!! After an excellent days birding we returned back to the hotel.
Day 10 - 12th Oct
With breakfast at 6.15 we got a bit of a lay-in this morning! We then drove to a nearby lake which was fairly dried up. As we parked the coach a Madagascar Malachite Kingfisher was spotted sat above a tiny pool and there was also a Common Sandpiper walking around. Making our way to the edge of the lake we set up our scopes to scan through the roosting waders. Lots of Greenshanks were seen as well as Curlew Sandpipers and 150 Greater Sandplovers. Careful searching then revealed a few Kittlitz's Plovers, Turnstone, Bar-tailed Godwit and finally a single breeding plumaged Madagascar Plover. After watching this attractive little bird for a while we returned to the coach seeing a small flock of Grey-headed Lovebirds and then a skulking Madagascar Swamp Warbler. From here we then drove along a dusty coastal track were we made several stops in the attempt to find Verreaux's Coua. Several distant individuals were heard but they refused to come out of the thick thorny cover. Looking out to sea a couple of Lesser Crested Terns were seen flying by, while nearby a Chabert's Vanga was spotted in a tree top. We then tried another area and before long we heard a close Verreaux's Coua which was then seen flying a short distance before David spotted it sat in the tangle of a small tree. It stayed here for a couple of minutes before flying off again and out of sight. Taking a side track we could hear a distant Running Coua before spotting two more Chabert's Vangas and then a Lafresnaye's Vanga which was seen in a tree right beside us. After excellent views of this large-billed vanga we headed back to the coach passing a couple of Common Jery's and the ever present Souimanga Sunbirds. From here we drove back just a short distance to the huge bay where the tide had now gone out. Scanning the bay revealed several Green-backed and some Grey Herons and then David who was obviously on good form this morning spotted our first sooty looking Humblot's Heron. Eventually we found another five of these endemic birds as well as a couple of Terek Sandpipers, Whimbrels and Greenshanks. Time to leave we returned back to our hotel, packed our bags and then had lunch. Our trustee coach and driver then departed for his two day drive back to Tana while we transferred to two four wheel drive jeeps. After leaving Tulear we first stopped at a freshwater lake where over 30 Little Grebes were seen. A couple of Hottentot Teals were then found and amongst the waders we scoped Black-winged Stilts, Greenshanks, Curlew Sandpipers, Kittlitz's Plovers, Ringed Plover and two Little Stints. Continuing on along the sandy road we all jumped out for a Madagascar Harrier Hawk which gave great views, there was also lots of Madagascar Kestrels, and while doing a little karate lesson with the local kids we saw a Madagascar Green Pigeon and a distant Madagascar Spinetail. The last hour of the day saw us take a short walk into the spiny forest. This wonderful habitat of tall spiky trees and Baobabs was enlivened by a fantastic group of Sickle-billed Vangas a White-headed Vanga and a couple more Chaberts Vangas.
Day 11 - 13th Oct
This morning we had an early coffee so as we could be in the spiny forest just after dawn. We met up with the best local guide who new the maze of tracks and trails and where to find all of our target birds. Carefully making our way through this unique habitat we soon heard our first Archbold's Newtonia and within seconds this bird was seen singing from bushes just a few feet away. Next on the list and just around the corner was a pair of very obliging and excited Thamnornis Warblers. Common Jery's and Souimanga Sunbirds were seen as usual and then a superb Red-capped Coua of the subspecies (oliviceps) which may be split, perched in a tree for ages allowing excellent views. Not long after this we heard the distant shout of our local guide which meant he was onto something good, and sure enough a quick dash through the forest soon had us all enjoying the most fantastic views of a Long-tailed Ground Roller perched a few feet off the ground in a small bush. Just superb! It stayed there for all of six or seven minutes and continued our run of excellent views of difficult, sought after species. After it eventually ran off we continued our quest. Lafresnaye's, and Chabert's Vangas were seen as well as lots of Crested Drongo's, a Lesser Vasa Parrot, Sakalava Weavers more Archbold's Newtonias and then another shout! and another dash through the forest. Within minutes we were treated to the most amazing views of a female Sub-desert Mesite sat in a tree thinking it was invisible. What an extraordinary bird it only blinked occasionally as we positioned ourselves to get the clearest views. It was actually a little too close for my technique of digi-scoping. For twenty five minutes we watched this amazing bird before continuing though the forest. A couple of Crested Couas were found and then two Madagascar Harrier Hawks followed by yet more magical views - this time of a pair of Frances Sparrowhawks. We then had a pair of White-headed Vangas feeding out in the open and a Madagascar Nightjar was spotted sat in full view amongst the leaf litter. Our local guide then found us a nice little Scorpion while back towards the coach we watched a Chabert's Vanga on its nest plus a very showy Crested Coua, several Madagascar Bee-eaters and Red-tailed Vangas.
Returning back to the hotel we had a short rest before lunch and then with a few spare hours some of us went out on a small boat to have a snorkel around the coral reef. Les and me chickened out of actually getting off the boat while, Dave, Alex and Steve C had a good look under the water. There were some really nice large orange Starfish and a few interesting fish. The boat returned but could not get all the way back so we had to wade the last bit to shore! The rock pools were great - full of hundreds of Brittlestars, large Hermit Crabs, Sea Cucumbers and other interesting creatures.
After a little sit in the sun we then got ready for the late afternoon excursion. A short drive took us to the local salt pans. As we walked around we soon came across a close pair of Madagascar Plovers which gave fabulous views. Nearby were Kittlitz's Plovers, Ringed Plovers and some very nice White-fronted Plovers as well as Grey Plover, Curlew Sandpipers, Greenshanks and Black-winged Stilts while the far pool held four Caspian Terns sat beside a group of 31 Great Egrets. Leaving this area we drove to a sandy track that dissected the spiny forest. A couple of Sickle-billed Vangas showed well along the way and then as we slowly walked we heard a Running Coua and then saw five Sub-desert Mesites scuttle across the track. Leaving the sun to set over the Baobabs we returned to our hotel seeing a couple of Madagascar Nightjars on the way. Another great day with some fantastic birds seen!
Day 12 - 14th Oct
This morning we went for another pre-breakfast visit to the spiny forest. We met our local guide and set off in search of the only bird we had not seen here - Running Coua. We came across several Crested Couas, Chabert's, White-headed, Sickle-billed and Lafresnaye's Vangas and Lesser Vasa Parrots, Grey-headed Parakeet a white phase Madagascar Paradise Flycatcher and then eventually after much searching we found a Running Coua sat motionless in a thick bush. It sat there for a good five minutes before retreating into even thicker cover and then dropping to the floor and disappearing. Happy with this we departed the spiny forest and returned to our hotel where we packed our bags and loaded up for the journey back to Tulear. Along the way we made a quick stop when we came across a couple of Madagascar Pond Herons including one almost completely white breeding plumaged bird. We then had a Crested Tern on the beach alongside a Common Tern. At Tulear we had lunch and were then transferred to the nearby airport. After an hour and a half we boarded our plane and flew the short forty minute flight to fort Dauphin.
After landing in very different habitat than previously seen we had a bit of a wait for our luggage. Once this was sorted out we then drove to our hotel and planned to meet in half an hour. This we did and proceeded to walk to the nearby hotel Mirimar where we bought a drink or two and set our scopes on the open sea. Within minutes we spotted a blow from a large whale. As we watched we saw more, including breaching and one particular whale flapping its tail up to fifty times! There could have been twenty or thirty individuals out there and we identified them as Humpbacked Whales.
Day 13 - 15th Oct
This morning we had a very early start so as to drive the 2½ hours to Andohahela forest. A couple of 4x4s was the only way to make it along the pot holed dusty and bumpy track. Several rivers had to be crossed with the wooden planks missing on two of the bridges we let our drivers negotiate what was left while we watched from the safety of the roadside. Eventually we arrived at the forest and loaded with our picnic lunches and water we set off along a narrow trail that took us high into this undisturbed forest. The first birds spotted were half a dozen Madagascar Spinetails flying over. Generally it was very quiet although Common Jery's and a Madagascar Wagtail entertained at the beginning of the trail. There were other distraction in the form of hundreds of beautifully coloured butterflies - we must have seen at least ten species of swallowtail. We heard the ever elusive Common Sunbird Asity somewhere up in the canopy but once again it eluded our strained optics. The call of Cuckoo Rollers echoed across the forest and at one stage we counted six in the air together. Then, after a couple of hours of hiking, crossing over two rivers and climbing higher, we eventually heard our target bird - the recently described Red-tailed Newtonia. There were a pair of birds and they gave us all fantastic views, and then unbelievably we spotted one of the birds fly into its nest suspended 25ft up and hanging on the end of a branch like a little basket. We may have been the first ever people to see the nest of this highly endangered species. After a few record photos we left the birds alone and continued walking for another half an hour. A pair of Forest Fody's were only seen briefly by some of the group but more obliging were the pair of Blue Couas. Turning around we headed back. Several Madagascar Paradise Flycatchers were seen as well as a pair of Rufous Vangas visiting their nest lodged in the fork of a tree. We also scoped a Madagascar Blue Pigeon and saw quite a few noisy Lesser Vasa Parrots. We ate our lunch by one of the rivers where a female Cuckoo Roller perched overhead, two Blue Couas flew around and several interesting dragonflies and a Rock frog (Mantidactylus lugubris) was seen. Returning back to the vehicles it was about midday and with the early start and the heat we were all very tired. Driving to our hotel was pretty uneventful although the second vehicle had reasonable views of a bright female Madagascar Buttonquail along the side of the road. A Madagascar Malachite Kingfisher also showed very well sat on a rock. Back at the hotel we had a little rest before meeting up and walking the short distance to the Mirimar hotel again. From the terraced garden overlooking the sea we lined up our cool drinks and our scopes and then spent the next couple of hours watching Humpback Whales. One individual with a tiny calf showed almost continually with its tail sticking straight up out of the water. A few Kelp Gulls flew past as well as some Crested Terns. We eventually called it a day and returned to our hotel ready for the evening meal and checklist.
Day 14 - 16th Oct
This morning we had a civilised breakfast at 7.30 and then collected our luggage and set off in the coach towards our next destination of Berenty. Along the way we made a couple of brief roadside stops, one of which produced a nice Broad-billed Roller. Passing through many villages the habitat changed to very dry scrub and cactus and then spiny forest. We arrived three hours later and were greeted by temperatures in the 40's - phew! Can you believe its even hotter in November. Our rooms were still being cleaned so we went for a short walk. We had only gone a hundred yards when a Madagascar Cuckoo-hawk flew right over our heads and circled a couple of times before disappearing. A Crested Coua was then spotted before our local guide showed us into a small patch of scrub where a Torotoroka Scops-owl was watched just a few feet away on its day time roost. After this superb start we headed to the restaurant for lunch seeing Brown Lemurs, Ring-tailed Lemurs and Verreaux's Sifaka along the way. After lunch and a short rest in the heat of the day we met for the afternoon walk. It wasn't long before our guide pointed into a tree and there looking at us were a pair of gorgeous White-browed Owls. After a long look at these birds we moved on seeing Crested Couas, Madagascar Turtle Doves and then some very obliging and
Photogenic Verreaux's Sifakas. Our next stop was beside a well where a Madagascar Boa was sleeping. Les picked it off its perch and we all had close encounters with this exquisitely marked snake. The locals found our enthusiasm highly amusing and soon brought us a Chameleon to have a look at! We then continued our walk seeing more Verreaux's Sifakas, Brown and Ring-tailed Lemurs and then looking at us from a broken tree stump was a fantastic White-footed Sportive Lemur - a real beauty! Our next quest was to find Giant Coua and sure enough before long we were looking at three or four walking around the leaf litter in front of us. They came far too close for me to get any digi-shots of them. We slowly made our way back and then met for a night walk before dinner. A five minute coach ride took us to the spiny forest where we walked around and eventually spotlighted five White-footed Sportive Lemurs and then a tiny Grey Mouse Lemur.
Day 15 - 17th Oct
This morning we went for a walk in the forest prior to breakfast. On the edge of the forest Tiana encouraged a White-throated Rail to show itself and we all got excellent views as it came out into the open from the nearby bamboo. We then found lots of Crested Couas and a few Giant Couas which were still too close to photograph! A Frances Sparrowhawk was then seen perched as was a nice Broad-billed Roller, several Madagascar Green Pigeons and a Hook-billed Vanga. We continued our walk on towards the river and saw a very showy White-browed Owl along the way. We then reached the river which was at this time of year just a wide expanse of sand with a trickle of a stream running through it. A search with the scopes revealed seven Comb Ducks plus a Dimorphic Egret and some good views of the Madagascar Cuckoo-hawk flying over. A Sickle-billed Vanga was heard and then spotted, while a Madagascar Hoopoe was watched calling from a dead tree. Its purring call was far more reminiscent of our European Turtle Dove. As we returned to the restaurant for a late breakfast we had a brief stop to look at a bigger Boa than the one we saw yesterday. This one having just came out of its burrow to warm up in the morning sun. With breakfast over and the temperature decidedly hot we decided to have an easy morning. A group of Verreaux's Sifakas put on a great performance as they danced across the open tracks near to the restaurant. A good opportunity for us to try and catch their wonderful act with a photograph. Keith then went off to find a few dragonflies and others in the group took a short walk through the woods to get to the local museum which was actually very interesting showing the local way of life and some very nice displays. After lunch we all went out in the coach and had a look at the workings of a sisal factory after which we went to the spiny forest where the local guards who had very nice sharp spears! showed us Radiated Tortoises and then after searching numerous suitable trees found a roosting Grey Mouse Lemur. After dinner a few of us went with the local guide for a night walk in the nearby forest. We heard Torotoka Scops-owl and White-browed Owl and managed to see Madagascar Hissing Cockroaches, White-footed Sportive Lemur and Grey Mouse Lemur as well as a Fanalouka and several Chameleons.
Day 16 - 18th Oct
Our last day at Berenty saw us take an early morning walk before breakfast. We made our way towards a tree full of roosting Madagascar Flying Foxes. Along the way we saw a really showy White-footed Sportive Lemur looking out of his tree hole and a pair of Madagascar Hoopoes displaying to each other on the ground. Several Crested Couas were seen well and lots of Yellow-billed Kites sat around in the early morning sunlight while Madagascar Paradise Flycatcher, Madagascar Green Pigeon, Crested Drongos, Madagascar White-eye, Common Jery, and Broad-billed Roller were all seen. Down by the river where families of Ring-tailed Lemurs played we had a Long-tailed Cormorant fly over as well as a pair of Comb Ducks. On the river were a couple of Red-billed Teal and then we had superb close views of the Madagascar Cuckoo-hawk flying over. We returned for breakfast and then packed our bags ready for the journey to Fort Dauphin airport. Along the way we saw a Madagascar Buzzard sat on a guava several Madagascar Kestrels and an Eleanora's Falcon. The flight to Tana was as bumpy as some of roads we'd driven along, but once arrived we met our original driver and coach and set off towards Pirenet. A stop by a lake on the outskirts of town found us lots of White-faced Whistling Ducks, Red-billed and Hottentot Teal, Common Moorhen about eight Squacco Herons, four Night Herons and a single Black Heron. We continued our journey arriving at Pirenet in the dark where we were soon offloaded and in our cabins. After a lovely dinner we completed our checklists and then enjoyed a couple of beautiful Greater Dwarf Lemurs feeding on a palm right outside the restaurant - simply superb!
Day 17 - 19th Oct
This morning we had a very early breakfast before meeting our local expert guide Patrice - undoubtedly the best and most enthusiastic bird guide for this area. Before boarding our coach we spotted a Rand's Warbler singing from a tall tree right outside the restaurant. We then drove just a short distance from the hotel and started a slow walk along the road which was forested on either side. Several small flocks were encountered and amongst these we sorted out Blue Vanga, Red-tailed Vanga, Wards Flycatcher, Common and Stripe-throated Jery's, and MadagascarStarlings. Three Long-eared Owl chicks which were nearly ready to fly showed well perched beside the trunk of a pine tree. We continued our walk down to a small pond and then took a narrow trail into the wood were we saw a nest occupied by a Madagascar Sparrowhawk. Although its tail and occasional other movements were seen we never actually saw anything that we could say made it identifiable. Back on the pond we did better with a Madagascar Crested Ibis that had come out of the wood and was now feeding in the mud. We had excellent views of this strange looking bird before it returned into the forest. Back on the coach and we drove to Mantadia an area of rich rainforest. With a list of special and difficult birds to find we followed Patrice along the small wooded trails. Honing in on a particular call our first target bird appeared - a beautifully marked Scaly Ground Roller. Although difficult to get good views of, everyone in the group eventually saw this amazing bird. In another section of wood we had to work very hard crossing three streams which unbelievably Patrice "piggy backed" everyone across, then a fast hard steep climb through tangled vines and thick undergrowth where we soon put our eyes on a tree where our reward was a superb Short-legged Ground Roller - another amazing bird and what fantastic views. In our expedition to see this last bird we saw at least another two brief Scaly Ground Rollers. Next stop was a secluded pond which held a pair of Madagascar Little Grebes and nearby two Madagascar Blue Pigeons showed well on top of a tall dead tree. Our final stop as we returned back towards our lodge found us making our way across some rice paddies to a small area of reeds where we all got excellent views of a Madagascar Rail as it crossed an open gap. After lunch and a short break we were just about ready to go out when the loud evocative call of an Indri had us scurrying to the far end of the lodge grounds where we climbed some steps to view the close woodland. Trees were seen shaking and then a few of us got a glimpse of this, the largest of the lemurs as one jumped through the tangle of some low trees. The excitement over, we then boarded the coach and drove to the special reserve. Walking through the first section of wood a small flock appeared as we neared a river bridge. Several Blue Vangas were spotted along with Hook-billed Vanga, an excellent Ward's Flycatcher and then a bird we were all hoping to see a superb Nuthatch Vanga. Further on in the woods we came across Spectacled Greenbuls, a Green and a Wedge-tailed Jery and a skulky White-throated Oxylabes. As we left the special reserve we waited until dusk when the call of Madagascar Long-eared Owl and then Rainforest Scops-owl started up. Heading in the direction of the scops-owl we made our way towards the call and most of the group got to see the bird sat in a tree above our heads. A couple Greater Dwarf Lemurs were also found and a really nice tree frog was spotted.
Day 18 - 20th Oct
For the first time we woke up to rain, but fortunately it wasn't to last long. After an early breakfast we set off towards the Special Reserve. Firstly we checked out the Madagascar Sparrowhawks nest but only the first two people were lucky enough to see the female stood on top of the nest before she sat down and became almost invisible. Leaving here we walked along the road a little and soon found the Rainforest Scops-owl in its daytime roost. We then got the most stunning views ever of a Madagascar Dwarf Kingfisher which posed for us in some roadside bushes. In the reserve we tracked down a group of Indri which were seen very well. Nearby a couple of Eastern Avahi (woolly lemurs) were watched cuddled up together in their day time roost. Into the forest we set off on a long walk where birds were few and far between. However we did find a few species such as Green and Wedge-tailed Jery's, Spectacled Greenbul and Blue Coua. One small flock gave us excellent views of a Nuthatch Vanga which was seen working its way up the tree trunks. Eventually we reached a high ridge where a Brown Emutail was heard calling. We positioned ourselves in the forest and remained motionless as Patrice enticed this mouse-like bird towards us. It really did look like a mouse at first, scurrying through the leaf litter, but then it would stop and sit up in full view for everyone to see, and just two metres away. This must have been one of the best showings of Brown Emutail ever! as it performed to perfection for over 10 minutes. No illustrations do the bird justice as this small rufous wren-like bird had the most amazing tail which consisted of shafts which were very thinly barbed making it completely see-through and this it would cock every time it sat up on a log or tree root. Simply superb! Given an extra energy boost by this sighting we started to make our way back. A White-throated Oxylabes was seen by a few of the group and then we all heard the call of a Red-breasted Coua but as is typical of this species it never revealed itself. After lunch we went out again to the reserve where a Common Sunbird Asity proved a bit too brief for everyone to get on. Nearby was a very different story as everyone had fantastic close views of a Madagascar Flufftail. We then walked back out to the road where the Rainforest Scops-owl was looked at again and beside the pond we watched a Madagascar Crested Ibis and as dusk fell a Madagascar Nightjar flew around.
Day 19 - 21st Oct
Our last morning in Pirenet saw us up early as usual. Our main target was to be Red-breasted Coua and Collared Nightjar. We picked up Patrice our guide and drove to the special reserve. A search for Common Sunbird Asity found us many Souimanga Sunbirds plus Long-billed Green Sunbird and a showy Madagascar Lesser Cuckoo. We then heard a Red-breasted Coua calling so we quickly set off in its direction. This being the most shy and difficult of the couas we needed to go "off piste" into the jungle and work our way towards the calling bird. After a stream crossing and some thick undergrowth we positioned ourselves in a slightly open area and waited. After ten minutes Tiana spotted the bird walking slowly towards us through thick cover. We needed to keep dead quiet as it made its way along a ridge allowing all but one of the group to get views of this skulking species. Returning to the main path we continued on, seeing a rather scruffy male Forest Fody and some Long-billed Greenbuls. After much searching Patrice had to concede that there were no Collared Nightjars to be found. He had searched all the known areas over the last three days so despite a lot of effort this was to be a disappointing miss for us. Leaving the forest via a small girl holding a stick which had a large Parson's Chameleon clinging to it we went back to the hotel and got ready for the journey back to Tana. Along the way we stopped by the Morongo river bridge where Les soon spotted the first of two superb looking Madagascar Pratincoles sat on rocks amidst the rolling river. From Tana airport we eventually caught our small flight to our final destination of Mahanjunga
Day 20 - 22nd Oct
We had a relaxing morning with a late breakfast in time to catch a boat at 10.00am where the tide was now right for us. We powered across the bay until we eventually reached the mangroves. A distant Humblot's Heron was seen on a mud spit feeding with several black-phase Dimorphic Egrets. We then found the first of about 30 Madagascar White Ibis and while watching these a Malachite Kingfisher was spotted and then our first two Bernier's Teal flew past, the target species for this boat trip! We continued on and eventually saw another 10 Bernier's Teal and all of them in pairs. A White-throated Rail posed nicely on the river bank and lots of Common and Curlew Sandpipers were seen. As we returned across the bay a flock of Saunders Terns were encountered so we got the boatman to circle through the flock a couple of times so as we could get better views of this difficult species. Once ashore we had our lunch and while some of the group returned to the hotel for a relaxed afternoon the rest of us chartered the boat again with the view to getting out amongst the trawlers to see if we could find any seabirds! We went miles out but the trawlers were attracting nothing. A Great Crested Tern was seen as was a distant shearwater which we set off after in hot pursuit but never relocated. As dusk began to fall we returned to shore and went back to our hotel ready for another excellent evening meal.
Day 21 - 23rd Oct
Our planned early start was put on hold for a short time as the coach could not travel in the dark due to headlight problems. So we ate our picnic breakfast in the hotel lobby and when the coach eventually arrived we set off on our journey to Ampijoroa forest reserve. More problems struck when the coach could not start its engine after stopping at a garage! We tried bump starting it then a lorry managed to jump it into action. Now we just needed to keep it running all day! Along the way we stopped by some rice paddies where Glossy Ibis were found alongside Black, Dimorphic, Great and Cattle Egrets. 120km from our hotel we arrived at the reserve where we were soon out accompanied by the local guide. Broad-billed Rollers sat around in the tree tops, while on the forest floor one of the first birds we saw was a White-breasted Mesite walking slowly through the undergrowth eventually coming out onto the track where we all got a better view. We then came across a Coquerals Coua, Crested Coua, Long-billed Greenbul and Madagascar Paradise Flycatcher. A long quiet walk through the forest was eventually enlivened we found a male Schlegel's Asity, which showed very well in the trees above us. Moving on to overlook a lake we scoped some African Darters then on the far side of the lake where lots of White-faced Whistling Ducks were sat we spotted a superb and highly endangered Madagascar Fish Eagle which was on the ground devouring its last catch. Also on the lake as we returned towards the visitor centre we saw Humblot's Heron, Green-backed Heron and then in the lily pads at the far end a Madagascar Jacana was spotted walking around. Keith got us all distracted by finding a load of different Dragonflies and then the fish eagle was seen to fly into a tree while another bird flew behind it. Nearby we managed to see two rare Mongoose Lemurs while beside the visitors centre a couple of large iguanas were spotted. Thinking we were now going to have our lunch, we were wrong! As we continued our walk into another section of forest. A Red-capped Coua was soon spotted and showed very well and then a short while after we found a pair of Madagascar Buttonquail's this time everyone managing to get excellent views of the male and female walking though the leaf litter and then crossing a track and scuttling away. It was a very hot but rewarding walk as we managed to turn up three more White-breasted Mesites, and another Coqueral's Coua, as well as a couple of sleepy Western Avahi. Returning exhausted to the centre we soon tucked into our lunch and some very welcome cold drinks. After a little rest we made our return journey back to Majunga. Along the way we stopped to view an area of rice paddies and while scanning a couple of potential Cotton Pygmy Geese were spotted flying into a wet paddy. Making our way to a small hill overlooking the wet rice field, sure enough there were actually seven of these gorgeous ducks feeding away amongst the rice. As we left the hill a couple of tethered Zebu become un-tethered resulting in Rhiane nearly getting a horn up her backside and the rest of us fleeing in all directions. A final look at another area of wetland found us a Whiskered Tern. We then continued back to our hotel and yet another excellent evening meal.
Day 22 - 24th Oct
Another very early start saw us head back to the Ampijora forest as we were still missing Van Dam's Vanga an important species and one missed by a group of Finnish who had stayed there for three days! As we drove towards the forest a stop along the way found us three Black-crowned Night Herons and three Whiskered Terns amongst hordes of Green-backed, Purple and Black Herons, Great and Cattle Egrets, Glossy Ibis, Madagascar Pond and Squacco Herons. Several Broad-billed Rollers were also watched flying around before we continued on to the forest. We got going straight away while the temperature was a little cooler. A Red-capped Coua was soon spotted and then to our relief a Van Dam's Vanga the last possible vanga we could get on our tour performed fantastically as it tore away the bark from the tree above us, after working the same method on a tree just off the ground. This species could quite easily have been missed as it fed silently making no sound at all. Continuing on we found some amazing Flatid Leaf Bug Lavae on a tree and then three different Milne Edwards Sportive Lemurs as well as three showy Rufous Vangas. We eventually left the forest and made a short visit to a small pond where a couple of Coqueral's Sifakas showed well as did a White-throated Rail and a rather large Hog-nosed Snake. Back at the coach we set off on our return journey stopping again at the rice paddies and from there we moved on to the back of a large lake where up to twenty Cotton Pygmy Geese were seen well and four Madagascar Jacanas strutted there stuff across the lily pads. After our last looks at Madagascar Mannikin and Madagascar Bush Lark we returned to our hotel and then after lunch set off to Majunga Airport for our short flight back to Tana. A Peregrine Falcon was the last species to go on our checklist before we boarded the flight and set off. As we flew into the night the blazing fires below us were a reminder of how vulnerable this countries wildlife is and how soon it could all disappear. Back at Tana we had our last evening meal together before saying our goodbyes to Tiana our superb guide and good friend. Boarding the Plane we then took our smooth overnight flight back to London via a short stop in Paris.