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|A Report from birdtours.co.uk|
MADAGASCAR 2-31 August 1995,
The following report relates to a trip done by John Cooper, Richard Fairbank, Nick Preston and Barry Stidolph. Barry arrived in Madagascar two days before the rest of us and left a day earlier. His earlier arrival enabled him to start negotiations with tour firms. Another British group (Jeff Blincow, Nigel Goodgame and Mark Piper) were in Madagascar at the same time (we all went out and back on the same Aeroflot flights). We organised our trip on arrival with Aventour (who never replied to faxes or letters sent), getting just over 3 weeks of saloon car and driver plus 3 internal flights for approx. UK £650 each (rather expensive). The Aeroflot flight cost approx. UK £500 and we spent another UK £250 each on food, petrol, accommodation, guides and boat hire. The other group had a more deluxe tour and made internal arrangements in advance through Madagascar Airtours, paying approx. UK £1500 more or less all in plus the Aeroflot flights. They visited all the same sites and had a 4WD vehicle, driver and courier. Their trip was significantly more expensive than ours but they did see more birds than we did, in particular they were able to spend longer at Ambanizana, our options there being restricted by reduced flight availability.
Birding in Madagascar is brilliant. The reserves are good with good systems of trails and excellent and very knowledgeable English-speaking bird guides. The accommodation basic (camping the only real option in some places) and the roads bad, although we got everywhere we wanted in a saloon car (fairly cosy for 4 + driver).
We felt we were being ripped off for the car hire (4,000 French Francs a week for an old Renault 20). The driver, Terry, was part of the package, although it transpired that it was Terry's car and Aventour were sub contractors. We paid petrol and he paid for his food/accomodation although we fed him fairly regularly ourselves. We felt if we'd had time we could have done better by arranging a 'private' charter with a taxi driver. The car was fine for driver plus four of us and luggage which was our main concern and we managed to get everywhere apart from Mora Mora where our driver took us two at a time. Terry was not the most reliable person, his concept of time being quite different from ours. Having said that he was a good driver and we had no major hassles. We dismissed him early in Toliara when it became obvious there was no benefit in keeping him on (it would have been a smart move to have done this when we first arrived there and chartered taxis) and after a prolonged argument back at Aventour got a reasonable reduction on the bill (which fortunately we'd not paid in full up front). Had we the time to use public transport we could have done the trip for very much cheaper, although seeing some of the overcrowded buses it would have been with very little comfort!
We thought the guides were excellent and, although we probably paid over the odds for them, good value. They certainly got more from us than they did from the other group's courier, and seemed keener because of it. We paid Patrice at Perinet about £10 a day between us (which included bonuses on respective days for Short-legged GR, Rufous-headed GR and Red-breasted Coua). He told us UK £8 was the rate for a full day and the parks notice that said it was UK £3 was out of date! Fidi at Ranomafana we paid UK £50 in total for showing us just about everything in 4 days. Mosa & co. we paid UK £4 each per day (morning and evening) in the spiny forest at Ifaty. Charles at Ampijoroa we paid UK £15 for 3 days and Augustine (who was not a bird guide) we paid UK £4 per day for organizing our trip to Ambanizana and showing us the forest trails there. It was unfortunate that we only learned there was a bird guide in Maroantsetra (Partice's brother) who might have been able to show us a few more things there after we had left, although the other group used him and were not greatly impressed (but did get shown the Serpent Eagle). Patrice had his own tapes and was very proficient in their use (none of our customary fumbling trying to find the right place). All guides found us before we could find them and all spoke good english.
Hotels were variable but often quite basic, a double room, or two person chalet averaging about UK £6 a night. Food was equally cheap (and surprisingly good), getting a good meal in most places for UK £2. We had to camp at Ampijoroa and Ambanizana. At Ampijoroa there was a very basic cafe a short drive from the campsite but no worthwhile shops at all. We took our own food with us to Ambanizana where a local woman cooked for us, supplementing it with some of our own. We later learned that there was a chalet at Ambanizana that we could have got the use of through Hotel Coco Beach.
Main sites visited:
Ambanizana. A remote rainforest site on Masoala Peninsular in north-east Madagascar. Can be very wet. Logistically difficult but the only place where several species might be encountered (e.g. Helmet Vanga). Access is by boat from Maroantsetera (regular but not frequent flights from Tana). The boat journey can be arranged through Hotel Coco Beach. It takes 3-4 hours, although when the full moon makes tides stronger it can not go. The boat we had contained no safety equipment at all and I found the journeys quite worrying. We were told there was no accommodation at Ambanizana and camped but later found out the use of a hut could be arranged through Hotel Coco Beach in Maroantsetra. Take food with you (and hope a woman in the local village might cook it)! Only one, very steep (and muddy) trail into forest. Take a bird guide if you can and allow 4-5 days to find most birds.
Ampijoroa. A dry forest site in north west Madagascar reached by road from Ambanizana (10 hrs) or Mahjunga (2-3 hrs). The road from Tana is very spectacular, over the spine of the country, but dirt in many places. There is no accommodation at Ampijoroa (although it may be possible to stay in the warden's house) and the only shop in the local village did not appear to sell anything edible! Take food and tents (there is a camping area near the Administration). There are excellent trails in dry forest around the northern end of the lake and on the plateau to the west of the Administration. The small lake beside the main road c20 kms to north should be visited for Mad. Jacana and other wetland species. There is very little overlap between the birds at Ampijoroa and in the eastern rainforests so visit this area if you can. 2-3 days should be ample to see the specialities.
Ifaty (Mora Mora). Area of dry spiny forest on coast c20 kms north of Toliara. Habitat is rapidly becoming degraded and is possibly the most threatened in Madagascar. The only site for Long-tailed Ground Roller and Sub-desert Mesite. Both species are very very hard to find without a guide, although Mosa has no problem. One day with Mosa would be sufficient, at least a week might be needed without him. There are several rather run down beach hotels in this area. The road from Toliara is very bad (large areas of sand) and almost impassable by car. The area of slat pans south of Ifaty is a good site for Madagascar Plover.
La Mangrove. Area of coastal rag (scrub) 10-15 kms south of Toliara. A good chalet-style hotel at La Mangrove from where a boat to Noisy Ve (Red-tailed Tropicbird) and Anakao (Littoral Rock Thrush) can be arranged. Verreaux's Couas are easiest along the road 1-3 kms south of the hotel.
Perinet. A superb rain forest site (so can be very wet). About 120 kms east of Antananarivo (Tana) and readily reached by a good road (2-3 hrs by car) or by train. Chalet accommodation available, though sometimes quite full as all visitors to Madagascar are likely to visit this site. Excellent for rainforest species and lemurs. Patrice or his brother Maurice are easily the best bird guides and have their own tapes. Guides told us visitors were not allowed in the forest without a guide, though this may have been a ruse on their part. The trails are very good and easy to follow. In any event we were very pleased to have Patrice with us. Also visit nearby Maromiza (slightly higher altitude so birds slightly different), Patrice knows where it is. Ideally spend 3-4 days here.
Ranomafana/Vohiparara. A superb rain forest site (again can be very wet) with birds much as Perinet, though several are easier to see here (e.g. Pitta-like Ground Roller & Brown Mesite but no Nuthatch Vanga). Only viably reached by car from Tana (8-9 hrs with the last part of the road being poor). Accommodation much as for Perinet. Fidi is the best guide. Again access to the forest is apparently not allowed without a guide though trails are even better laid out at Ranomafana (with very regular distance markers). Ideally spend 4-5 days here and visit the reservoir near the road 10-15 kms to northwest of Vohiparara.
Zombitse. Rapidly shrinking forest on main road 2-3 hrs north of Toliara. Only site for Appert's Greenbul (actually a rather nice bird) and several other southern species not found in coastal forest round Toliara. All species should be seen in a day, though would need to stay to dark for White-browed Owl.
1 Aug. flew Aeroflot Heathrow to Moscow.
2 Aug. flew Aeroflot Moscow to Antananarivo with stops in Gulf and at Mahe (where c20 White-tailed Tropicbirds above the terminal building got the trip off to a brilliant start). Arrived Tana mid afternoon, met by Barry Stidolph and went to Aventour to sort out travel arrangements. Decided to include a visit to Ambanizana for Helmet Vanga (at Barry's insistence), flight availability allowed either 2 or 6 days there (4 would have been ideal), opted for former. Hired car and driver (Renault 20 and Terry). Drove to Perinet as getting dark. Stayed at Hotel Fion Nyala.
3 Aug. all day at Perinet, guided by Patrice. 41 species seen. Highlights were brilliant views of Short-legged Ground Roller, 6 Vangas, first Cuckoo Roller and only Red-fronted Coua, Mad. Little Grebe and Dark Newtonias of trip. Night at Hotel de la Gare (Nyala was better, but full)
4 Aug. morning at Maromiza, afternoon at marshes 16km east of Moramanga (only hearing Mad. Rail) and evening at Perinet in rain, all guided by Patrice. 45 species seen. Highlights were brilliant views of Rufous-headed Ground Roller, male Velvet Asity, Brown Emutail and Forest Rock Thrush (all at Maromiza). Frustratingly nearly trod on calling flufftail without seeing it. Night at Hotel de la Gare.
5 Aug. brief stop at marshes near Maromiza (failing to even hear the rail), returned to Tana. Flew to Maroantsetra arriving early afternoon. The very unimpressive terminal building (not even a road leading to it) setting the standard for the town. Taxi into town. Found (non-birding) guide Augustine who arranged boat to take us to Ambanizana following morning. Bought food for visit. Stayed at inappropriately named Hotel Coco Beach (the recommended Hotel Tropical being closed)! 16 species seen. Highlights Striped Tenrec by chalets at Coco Beach. 2 Meller's Ducks were seen flying over by Barry and John.
6 Aug. boat left soon after dawn arriving at Ambanizana after 3 hours. Early start was essential as wind picks up during day making boat journey across bay more risky. All day on main trail at Ambanizana seeing very little. Camped in compound. Local woman cooked our food for us. 15 species seen. Highlights a brilliant Mad. Pigmy Kingfisher (one of the very best Kingfishers I've seen) and a superbly disapproving Mad. Scops Owl spotlighted in compound.
7 Aug. rained heavily all day, most of day on main trail at Ambanizana, rest in clearing by compound. 36 species seen. Camped in compound. Highlights 3 Helmet and 3 Rufous Vangas in a mixed bird flock.
8 Aug. early morning around clearing at Ambanizana, boat back to Maroantsetra where stayed around Coco Beach Hotel as little else to do. Ideally would have liked longer at Ambanizana but flight availability did not allow it. 31 species seen. Highlight a pair of Nelcourvi Weaver's nest building.
9 Aug. morning at Maroantsetra, mid day flight to Tana. Stayed in Hotel Rose. 12 species seen.
10 Aug. left Tana at 03:00 hrs driving north to Ampijoroa, arriving at 13:00 hrs. Visited marshes 17-20kms to north returning to Lake for dusk, guided by Charles. Camped at Ampijoroa forest station. 35 species seen. Highlights 5 Mad. Jacanas, the pair of Mad. Fish Eagles and 30 African Pigmy Geese.
11 Aug. all day at Ampijoroa, morning on grid trails of plateau, mid day at lake shore and afternoon on trail B to north of lake. Guided, morning and late afternoon by Charles. Camped at Ampijoroa forest station. 51 species seen. Highlights 2 groups of White-breasted Mesites, 5 Mad. Crested Ibis, a pair of Mad. Sandgrouse, a pair of White-throated Rails and 9 Sickle-billed Vangas.
12 Aug. all day at Ampijoroa, mostly on trail B. Guided, morning and late afternoon by Charles. Camped at Ampijoroa forest station. 36 species seen. Highlights 3 White-breasted Mesites, 2 Mad. Crested Ibis and 2 non-adult male Schlegel's Asities.
13 Aug. early morning on trail B, guided by Charles. Left Ampijoroa at 09:30 hrs to drive back to Tana, arriving at 18:15 hrs. 30 species seen. Highlights an excellent pair of Schlegel's Asities, 10 African Pigmy Geese.
14 Aug. left Tana at 11:00 hrs (start supposedly delayed due to driver buying a replacement tyre). Drove south, eventually arriving at Ranomafana at 19:45 hrs. Stayed in new, but very basic, hotel. 13 species seen. Highlight Marsh Owl and Barn Owl from car.
15 Aug. Rained all day. Vohiparara marsh in morning, brief excursion into forest, rest of day at hotel. 23 species seen. Highlight Grey Emutail.
16 Aug. Rained all day. Most of day in forest at Ranomafana guided by Fidi. 20 species seen. Highlights male Crossley's Babbler and a pair of Yellow-browed Oxylabes.
17 Aug. Very little rain! All day in forest at Ranomafana guided by Fidi. 22 species seen. Highlights a brilliant Pitta-like Ground Roller, a pair of Mad. Wood Rails and Mad. Pigmy Kingfisher.
18 Aug. Very little rain! All day in forest at Ranomafana guided by Fidi. 34 species seen. Highlights brilliant Mad. Flufftail and a Rufous-headed Ground Roller and a pair of Brown Mesites.
19 Aug. Morning at Vohiparara, guided by Fidi and afternoon in forest at Ranomafana, early evening at picknick site for mouse lemurs. 43 species seen. Highlights three Pitta-like Ground Rollers, a pair of Crossley's Babblers and 2 Eastern Mouse Lemurs.
20 Aug. Left Ranomafana at 07:00 hrs, spent 3 hours around small reservoir northwest of Vohiparara and then drove south to Ranohira, arriving at 18:45 hrs. Night at hotel in Ranohira. 29 species seen. Highlights a pair of Reunion Harriers and 4 Mad. Partridges.
21 Aug. early morning at 'oasis' then drove south to Zombitse for late morning. Drove south to Sakaraha for provisions returning to Zombitse for late afternoon. Left after dark and drove to Toliara where stayed in unmemorable hotel. (The prospect of staying in Sakaraha and returning to Zombitse the following morning did not appeal). 37 species seen. Highlights male Benson's Rock Thrush, 3 brilliant Cuckoo Rollers, 5+ Appert's Greenbul's and 2 White-browed and 1 Mad. Scops Owls.
22 Aug. drove to Mora Mora, two at a time (road too sandy to make it fully loaded), all arriving by late morning. Guides Mosa and Masindraka were absent. Wandered around immediate vicinity of Mora Mora, going into spiny forest at mid afternoon with next best guide. Stayed at Mora Mora hotel. 26 species seen. Highlights a pair of Banded Kestrels and two male Sub-desert Mesites 'treed' by our guide.
23 Aug. morning in spiny forest with guide, mid day visit to saltpans to south of Mora Mora, returned into spiny forest in afternoon with guide and Mosa who had fortunately returned. Stayed at Mora Mora hotel. 37 species seen. Highlights Long-tailed Ground Roller and a pair of Madagascar Plovers.
24 Aug. early morning in spiny forest with Mosa and Masindraka, then returned to Toliara two at a time where stocked up with some provisions (including numerous tins of jam bought thinking they were fruit). Not able to change return flight to Tana. Drove to La Mangrove hotel. Afternoon walking the dusty road south of La Mangrove. 30 species seem. Highlights a pair of Long-tailed Ground Rollers and a pair of Sub-desert Mesites.
25 Aug. wind too strong to visit Nosy Ve, all morning walking towards St. Augustine and back. Afternoon around La Mangrove. 25 species seen. Highlights 2 Verreaux's Couas and 3 Humblot's Herons.
26 Aug. wind too strong to visit Nosy Ve. Dismissed driver as not worth driving back to Tana early (as would take 2 days). All day around La Mangrove (on mudflats, walking the road and generally loafing around). 24 species seen. Highlights nice views of Grey-headed Lovebirds.
27 Aug. boat trip to Nosy Ve were spend a couple of hours, returning via Anakao where an hour was spent in scrub immediatly behind the beach. 20 species seen. Highlights 20+ Red-tailed Tropicbirds, six males and a female Littoral Rock Thrushes and a Mad. Scops Owl.
28 Aug. all day around La Mangrove (on mudflats, walking the road and generally loafing around). A dud day that would have been better spent returning to Tana (to give longer at Perinet) but not possible due to flight non-availability. 27 species seen. Highlights Mad. Magpie Robins.
29 Aug. morning around La Mangrove, truck to Toliara airport where walked to airport pools. late afternoon flight back to Tana arriving as getting dark. Met by Aventour and taken into town for big argument about final payment. Night at Hotel Oriental. 29 species seen. Highlights nice views of Mad. Green Pigeon and Marsh Sandpiper.
30 Aug. day trip to Perinet, arriving about 08:00 hrs. All day guided by Partice. Left for Tana late afternoon with brief stop at marshes near Moramanga. 48 species seen. Highlights Red-breasted Coua, brilliant views of Mad. Sparrowhawk and 2 female Velvet Asities.
31 Aug. early taxi to Ivato airport. Stop at Mahe on return to Moscow (5+ White-tailed Tropicbirds).
1 Sept arrived Moscow (few Hooded Crows), arriving Heathrow with luggage!
The quality of the birds seen in Madagascar was almost unprecidented, we all commented that we'd never been anywhere before where such a high proportion of the species seen were absolute stunners. The following are RJF's top eleven birds of the trip:
Helmet Vanga, Red-breasted Coua, Brown Emutail, two Mesites, two excellent rails, Madagascar Crested Ibis and Schlegel's Asity all failed to make the top 10 though most probably would have on any other trip!
Madagascar Species List:
Species numbers refer to those used in Langrand's Birds of Madagascar and all dates relate to August 1995. Unless stated otherwise, all occurrences were recorded by Richard Fairbank.
Richard Fairbank, 19 Crown Road, Shoreham-by-Sea, West Sussex, BN43 6GB