Visit your favourite destinations
|A Report from birdtours.co.uk|
Madagascar - 20th October to 16th November 2003,
A birdwatching tripreport for packpackers including recorded birdsoundslinks to soundfiles are on Michiel's web-site
Flight and visa
Food and Drink
Health and Safety
Transport and roads
This report covers a birding trip to Madagascar of me and my friend Ronald Jansen. This site contains links to the birdsounds that have been recorded during this trip.
Madagascar is about 1500 km long and 500 km wide, the world's fourth largest island after Greenland, New Guinea and Borneo (Australia is considered a continent). It is a republic that went through quite some political trouble almost leading to a civil war not long ago (2002) when there was a change of power. Fortunately the country is now quite safe to travel to. We encountered no disturbances and had no unfriendly encounters with the local people throughout the trip. Even though we arranged everything in country, travelled only by public transport and were depending on many local people to make this a very successful trip.
Madagascar has been separate from Africa about 165 million years. This early separation and the consequence of evolution has made its nature one of the most unique and remarkable in the world. The country has a very high degree of endemism. Five families of birds are found only here in the world: the secretive and strange looking rail-like Mesites, the monotypic Cuckoo-Roller, the five Ground-Rollers that are secretive and hard to find but of extraordinary beauty, the four Asities that are thought to be related with the broadbills and pitta's and the 14 species of Vangas of which some look so strange that it is hard to imagine that they all belong in the same family. In addition to these five unique families, there is an endemic sub-family, the Couas, a group of nine species of large long-tailed, partly terrestrial relatives of the Cuckoos which all have a superbly coloured patch of bare skin around the eye. All but for one species of these birds were seen during this trip. And there are numerous representatives of other birdfamilies that are (near)endemic to Madagascar. Of the 198 nesting birds, 106 are endemic and another 25 are limited to the "Malagasy Region" (Madagascar, Mascarenes, Comoros and the Seychelles).
Unfortunately, few other places in the world are as threatened as the environments of Madagascar. Slash and burn practices for agricultural purpose are the main reason why about 90% of the forest has already been destroyed. Many of the countries major mammalian and avian highlights are now almost restricted to the fairly small reserves and national parks and are still declining at a fast rate.
There is a gripping part in the book "The song of the Dodo" by David Quammen which is recommended reading (if you are interested in Island Bio-geography and Evolution Biology also), when biologist Patricia Wright first saw Madagascar from the air: ..as her plane flew in over the island, laid out below in its fire-scarred and erosion-gouged nakedness, bleeding its silty red rivers into the Indian Ocean, she started to cry. "I looked at those burned hills and decided I was never going to come back again. It was too heartbreaking". Fortunately she returned a year later in 1985 and her return led to the spectacular discovery of a new species of primate: the Golden Bamboo Lemur and as a consequence led to the conservation of Ranomafana National Park, now one of the main tourist attractions for its richness of birds and mammals.
I could not stop thinking about these lines when I flew over the mainland about 3 times during this visit. It looks barren and you cannot imagine that once, perhaps only a few seconds ago by time scale of natural history, it was all forest.
If you want to visit this place you should not wait for more then a few years. Having said that, I have to admit that the only known bird to become extinct since 1600 is the Snail-eating Coua which has only been recorded on the island of Nosy Boraha and not on the main island with certainty at any time.
Madagascar is a 'must' for most for all keen birders and naturalists. In addition to the birdlife this is probably the best country in the world to watch reptiles of which again many are endemic and spectacular (particularly the chameleons), all the land mammals are unique to the island, including 20 species of Lemurs which are fantastic creatures to watch!
FLIGHT AND VISA
You do need a visa for Madagascar. The tourist visa to Madagascar (3 months) at the consulate in Rotterdam costs 50 euro and four photos are required.
When we had to book our flights it seemed that Air Madagascar was not issuing international return tickets to an airport near Holland so we had no choice but to book at Air France. The most expensive air ticket I've ever purchased: 1300 euro.
We had a few internal flights with Air Madagascar which were all pre-booked and well planned to make sure we had enough time at the locations to find the avian highlights.
7th November: St. Augustin via Tana to Majunga.
13th November: Tana to Maroantsetra
16th November: Maroantsetra to Tana.
Plan your flights carefully. I would recommend first to get informed about the internal flights and then book your international flight around them. We first booked the international return and found out the internal flights at the dates we intended to fly were not possible and rearranging the schedule seemed to lead to almost missing out on the fantastic Masoala Peninsula which practically has only access by air and then by boat.
If you also fly Air Mad. be sure to book the internal flights in advance particularly if you want to visit Masoala NP (recommended), because flights to certain areas are limited and quite often full. Air Mad used to be infamous for overbooking flights in the past and made reconfirmation obligatory. This no longer seems to be the case, however you should reconfirm your flights in case of changes about 24 hours in advance. There was one change of flight in our schedule just a few hours (delay).
Unlike information in earlier reports, there was no declaration form hassle on arrival for expensive equipment (binoculars; scope and camera) and currency.
The currency in Madagascar is the Ariary since summer 2003 introduced besides the old Malagasy Franc (FMG). The Ariary is worth 5 times the value of the Malagasy Franc. To deal with two types of strange currency may sound confusing. But the notes are of a very different kind and all people use the old denomination if they mention prices which made us to have no confusions at all. I think the old currency will disappear completely somewhere around 2005.
When we were there the exchange rate was about 7000 Malagasy Francs to the Euro and around 5800 for a US dollar TC. We took traveller's cheques in Euro's and US $ and had the not unfamiliar hassle to change them at certain places. One advise: change a lot on arrival at the international airport. Although you are probably arriving in the late evening the bank is usually open at Ivato Airport and we found the rate to be better than in most places up country. You may however get an even better rate in the centre of Tana (I don't know). Unfortunately according to our information ATM's were not working for Maestro or Cirrus type bankcards. Things are changing fast in these matters so we tried a few ATM's but they didn't work.
Cash (Euro's and Dollars) are usually readily changeable. Creditcard holders will find little benefit but can get cash advances at some Malagasy Commercial Banks. A slight inconvenience with the currency in Madagascar is that you end up with a huge wad of money as the notes do not come in large denominations. This has also advantages when you are buying a few tomatoes on a market and have nothing but a high denomination note. We even asked most of the time for a fair bit of low denomination notes despite the fortune, to Malagasy standards, that we changed.
Unlike earlier reports there was no declaration form for currency so there seems to be no need of saving all the receipts when changing money. Officially only 25000 Malagasy Francs may be taken abroad.I spend about 2500 Euro including all (international) air-tickets. If you do not visit Masoala NP this will save you a lot of money. It was by far the most expensive place to visit (Air-ticket, speedboat-charter).
Most sites have convenient hotel facilities close enough to walk to the very locations for birds. The ones that didn't were:
Ampijora Forest Station. No hotels nearby but there is a campsite and a restaurant at Ampijora station were you can be dropped off by the taxi-brousse so if you bring a tent you will probably not die of starvation but maybe of dysentery instead (just kidding, however it was clear that the food at the restaurant was not clean at all times and both of us developed stomach problems there).
Zombitse. It required the utmost of our limited skills in the French language to arrange food, guide (and cook) and a taxi in the early morning to get to this place. But it is a mere 18 km north of the town of Sakahare so if you do have car, this is nearby. Evening visits are also required to see or hear the very local White-browed Owl.
There are no facilities and no water at the campsite. So bring plenty of bottled water and be prepared for a day or two without a bath.
Isalo Np. Although the park is reached easily on foot from Ranohira, it requires too far a walk to get to the right locations. It is better to arrange a taxi to bring you and camp there for a night like we did.
The "campsite" has a small stream nearby. But no facilities.
Some of the hotels are very basic, but adequate for most birders. The prices are low, generally under 75000-100.000 Malagasy Francs for a double room per night.
FOOD AND DRINK
Generally quite good and cheap and the food is generally very reasonable in both taste and quantity. The food has some French and in many places nice oriental influences.
Stay away from uncooked fruits and vegetables that you haven't peeled yourself, and don't use ice. It is best to avoid drinking the water unless you know it is boiled. Drink bottled drinks, water or a "THB" (Three Horses beer).
HEALTH AND SAFETY
The people in Madagascar are in general both friendly and helpful, making for a pleasant and relatively hassle-free trip. Madagascar appeared to be quite a safe place to travel in and with caution you should not anticipate any problems.
Antananarivo is not safe to walk around at night, for locals as well as tourists. Get a taxi if you need to get anywhere in the capital after dark.
Be sure to get enough malaria tablets for your trip, and do take them! Nowadays with the Lariam Roche tablets you have to take only one tablet a week.
Hepatitis A, a 10-year injection (three jabs at interval) is now available, doing away with the need to visit the doctor immediately before travel.
Mosquitoes and flies are sometimes a problem. Insect repellent is necessary at these locations. Mosquitoes were not much of a problem in the field, but they are present in most of the hotels at night. Some of the hotels provided nets and we didn't use our own at places were there weren't any.
Terrestrial leeches, one of Madagascar's many interesting Asian affinities, can be a real pest. You can pick them up at Ranomafana and Mantadia. The best answer to this problem is to wear long trousers and leech-socks:> A self-made sock of tightly woven and stitched cotton or other fabric would do if the sock is long enough to get to just under your knees and held by a strap. Leeches will almost always try to find the shortest way to a place that is body-warm and therefore get trapped between your normal sock (or boot) and the leech-sock. If they are really a pest you can improve this by a ring of insect repellent around your leech-sock just above the place were they can enter in your boot.
However when you travel in the prime time September to November you will not really need them we found out.
After Malagasy, French is the second language and is widely spoken. Most people in Madagascar speak little or no English, particularly away from the big cities (Antananarivo), so the ability to speak some basic French is very useful.
To coincide with the austral spring and hence the maximum period of vocalisation September - November is the best time to visit, also this is prior to the onset of the rainy season and the heat is not too oppressive.
Most of the well-known bird tour companies visit Madagascar at this time.
This can be somewhat of a problem to get the top guides at Perinet, Ranomafana and Ifaty. Try to book them as soon as possible.
We found the heat not really a problem except for the Ampijora-area and the Tulear area in the early afternoons.
TRANSPORT AND ROADS
Most of the roads are in average to good condition for African standards apart from the road to Ifaty which is probably unpassable during the rains and even now during the dry was practically a 4WD track due to deep dry loose sand. Good chances of getting bogged here if you hire a saloon car. We went on a big truck (which was the public transport there).
Overland travel can be time consuming. Cheap long-distance taxis are available on most stretches from Tana to Périnet; Tana to Fianarantsoa and further on to Tulear.
Reasonably reliable and cheap airtickets can be purchased in advance for stretches: Tana-Tulear; Tana-Majunga; Tana-Maroantsetra. The latter is the only option to get to Masoala NP, unless you have plenty of time and don't mind a number of days uncomfortable travel by road.
It is not necessary to hire a car. Though it can be useful in Tulear area to get to sites for Red-shouldered Vanga near St. Augustin and Zombitse to avoid camping where there is no water and from Ranohira in Isalo (not a top birding site).
To see some of Madagascar's numerous skulkers tapes are essential. A few of the guides can provide this (Maurice at Perinet; Loret at Ranomafana; Nono at Ampijora). We hardly had recordings of the real skulkers before we left. And were lucky to get the right guides to provide in this.
Rufous-headed Ground-Roller and Brown Mesite are either very hard or impossible without tape.
A good torch is a must. I found spot-lighting very good. Almost every evening you will find a few nocturnal lemur-species. Furthermore you will see some tenrecs, chameleons, frogs a few nocturnal snakes but very few owls.
Bird photography is not easy, almost all birds are difficult to approach and light conditions are bad in the forest. Some opportunities to photograph arise in Tulear area and Ampijora. The lemurs were very confiding and could be easily photographed.
Permits are required for all national parks and reserves and can be purchased at the entrance of the park. Permits cost 20.000 Malagasy Francs and are valid for three days.
All the reserves have local guides, but they do vary tremendously in their knowledge and skills. Mostly they are hired by tourists for finding lemurs etc., but some do have a knowledge of the birds and can find even the hardest of the skulkers.
One thing struck me about birding in Madagascar in particular:
Because of the obligation to use guides and their sometimes excellent skills, one often misses the thrill of finding a difficult species by yourself. The advantages are: Some birds are extremely hard to find without the local knowledge, you will probably miss a few species if you wouldn't hire a guide. Also conservation can only work if local people will benefit from a forest without cutting it down. So the money you pay to a guide is well spent.
Ask for the best guides on arrival to ensure the best value for your money. Payment for guides services should be agreed beforehand, otherwise it will lead to arguments. Most top guides seem to charge 100.000 - 125.000 Malagasy Francs for a morning and 250.000 for a day for their services.
This may seem a lot but they are tough to bargain with and well worth it. If you have seen all birds it is a good idea to hire a less well known guide. They are usually half the price.
There is another reason why you could hire a less well known guide.
One top-guide has already been murdered (at Perinet) by jealous local people who could not bear the fact that a single person earns almost all the very good money that researchers, professional photographers and serious naturalists were bringing in (see details in "The Song of the Dodo").
Perinet: Maurice: Much has been written about him already but I will add a few lines: I have always thought of birding skills as aquired entirely by knowledge obtained over years; a lot of practise; a fairly good eye-sight and hearing (more depending on concentration then on true physical quality). I never thought of birding in terms of "talents". After I met Maurice I think a little different about this. I've never come across someone so good in spotting as he was. It was almost like he could sense a birds presence. He does not carry binoculars. It doesn't seem necessary for his thorough knowledge of the sometimes subtle differences in movements is enough to identify species even when it is far away. He trained himself to still try to spot something new rather then to look closely to a bird through binoculars. He uses a laser-pen to point out birds if you don't spot them immediately after he has found a bird. You will need to pay at least 100.000 FMG for a morning visit with him but he is definitely worth more.
Ampijora Forest Station: Nono is a fairly good guide as far as spotting and imitation skills he's not very experienced but is keen and good enough to show you all the specialities (including Schlegels Asity which is THE bird for this site). Prices are fixed here 40.000 FMG for a morning and 60.000 for a nightwalk. Other good guides here are: Jackie and Guy.
Ifaty: Mosa & his son Freddy can find all the endemics in the spiny forest. This is not a national park and you are not obliged to use a guide but their skills are amazing and essential. 100.000 FMG for a morning visit should produce all the specialities.
Ranomafana N.P.: Fidi is known to be a very good guide but is not reliable anymore, spoiled by the many well paying tourcompanies he is often very drunk and is known not to turn up in early mornings. He asked us 250.000 while he was so pissed that he could hardly speak and certainly not look straight anymore. It is better to ask Loret instead. He has tapes knows the sites and birds and is more reliable. 125.000 for a morning visit.
Masoala NP.: get to the ANGAP office and ask for the guide: Bidas. He is not a top-guide but probably knows the nesting site for helmeted vanga and can arrange the boattrip. This is very expensive! We had to pay one million for the speedboat charter. This is only possible in the early morning and with a fast boat because of the distance and the tendency of strong winds with dangerous waves later in the day. The French owner of the lodge has explained that it costs a fortune to keep a boat there he can not afford one himself yet.
Despite its size and subtropical location, Madagascar supports surprisingly few species. Only 256 have been recorded. The following list of birds we saw frequently and if you spend any sort of time in the right habitats you will too:
Great Egret, Cattle Egret, Black Kite, Madagascar Kestrel, Madagascar Turtle-Dove, Namaqua Dove, Madagascar Coucal, Madagascar Paradise-Flycatcher, Crested Drongo, Pied Crow, Common Myna, Mascarene Martin, Madagascar Bulbul, Madagascar Cisticola, Madagascar (Bush) Lark, Madagascar Wagtail, Madagascar Fody, Souimanga Sunbird, Madagascar White-eye.
USEFUL ADDRESSESFor visiting the best site in Masoala NP. you may try to contact:
Fax: 261-20-57 721 49 (fax is more reliable than e-mail)
e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org though it maybe better to use the ANGAP office e-mail: email@example.com
We did not arrange anything in advance (except for flights) and were still able to get to all the sites.
of the Indian Ocean Islands
by Ian Sinclair and Olivier Langrand
Handbook of the Birds of the World (HBW),
By del Hoyo; Elliot; Christie; Vols 2, 3, 4, 6, and 8.
to Watch Birds in Africa
by Nigel Wheatley
Amphibians and Reptiles of Madagascar, the Mascarene,
the Seychelles, and the Comoro Islands
by Friedrich-Wilhelm Henkel, Wolfgang Schmidt et al.
by Nick Garbutt
The Song of the Dodo: Island Biogeography in an age of
By David Quammen
Planet Madagascar (4th Ed)
by May Fitzpatrick, Paul Greenway, Mark Fitzpatrick, Mary Fitzpatrick
We used a few reports from the Internet. Mainly found at the following sites:
October 20 to Périnet
October 21 Périnet
October 22 Mantadia
October 23 Périnet; Ampasimpotsy Marshes
October 24 Travel day to Tana and on to Fianarantsoa
October 25 to Ranomafana
October 26 Ranomafana
October 27 Ranomafana (Vohiparara)
October 28 Ranomafana
October 29 Travel day to Isalo NP.
October 30 Isalo NP.
October 31 Zombitze NP.
November 1 Zombitze NP to Ifaty
November 2 Ifaty
November 3 Ifaty to Mangrove Hotel
November 4 Anakao and Nosy Ve
November 5 Anakao to St. Augustin
November 6 St. Augustin
November 7 Travel day St. Augustin to Majunga
November 8 Ampijora
November 9 Ampijora
November 10 Ampijora
November 11 Ampijora; marshes 17 km north of Ampijora
November 12 Ampijora to Tana
November 13 Tana to Maroantsetra
November 14 Masoala NP.
November 15 Masoala NP.
November 16 Masoala NP. To Tana
November 17 Tana to Home
PÉRINET (ANALAMAZAOTRA SPECIAL RESERVE)
This national park is a rainforest site situated 136 kilometres east of Antananarivo.
Accommodation: Hotel de la Gare in the village of Andasibe.
Access: easily reached from Gare Routière de L'est in Tana by first getting a minibus to Moramanga and then one to Andasibe. The entrance to the park is about one kilometer back to Moramanga but along the road quite a few birds can be seen.
The main attraction for the general visitor to Périnet is the Indri, the world's largest (and noisiest) lemur, a magnificent pied creature that sits in trees in family groups and rends the forest with ear-splitting moans and wails.
The Périnet complex of protected rainforest covers 810 hectares and is vital to the survival of many of the island's unique species. The elevation is lower than Ranomafana, but the two bird-lists have many overlaps. More than 100 resident species have been recorded, including more than 60 endemics, and a fine selection of lemurs.
A few kilometers past Andasibe on a dirtroad there is the magnificent rainforest of Mantadia NP, where Scaly Ground-Roller; Pitta-like Ground-Roller; Short-legged Ground-Roller; Red-breasted Coua (if you're not going to Masoala) can be found. Maurice has the details of getting there and may help you in getting the transport to get there from Andasibe.
Birdspecies: WHITE-WINGED (MADAGASCAR CRESTED) IBIS (easy if visiting the pond near the orchid garden in late afternoons), Madagascar Buzzard, Madagascar Harrier-hawk, Madagascar Flufftail, Madagascar Turtle-Dove, Madagascar Blue-Pigeon, (Greater) Vasa Parrot, Black (Lesser Vasa) Parrot, Madagascar (Lesser) Cuckoo, Blue Coua, Madagascar Coucal, Malagasy Scops-Owl, MADAGASCAR LONG-EARED OWL (juv), Diademed (Malagasy) Kingfisher, Broad-billed Roller, RUFOUS-HEADED GROUND-ROLLER; Cuckoo-Roller, Wattled Asity (Sunbird-Asity), Madagascar (Ashy) Cuckoo-Shrike, Ward's Flycatcher, Red-tailed Vanga, Chabert Vanga, Blue Vanga, NUTHATCH VANGA, Hookbilled Vanga (heard only), Madagascar Starling, Madagascar Magpie-Robin, Common Stonechat, Long-billed Greenbul, Spectacled Greenbul, Madagascar Brush-Warbler, Dark Newtonia, Common Newtonia, Common Jery, Green Jery, Stripe-throated Jery, Rand's Warbler, White-throated Oxylabes, Madagascar Munia (Mannikin), Madagascar Wagtail, Nelicourvi Weaver, (Madagascar) Red Fody, Forest Fody, Madagascar (Long-billed Green) Sunbird, BROWN EMU-TAIL.
Birds seen only at MANTADIA NATIONAL PARK: Madagascar Little Grebe, Cuvier's (White-throated) Rail, Madagascar Spinetail (Malagasy Spine-tailed Swift), SHORT-LEGGED GROUND-ROLLER, SCALY GROUND-ROLLER (rare, only Mantadia), PITTA-LIKE GROUND-ROLLER (scarce), CRYPTIC WARBLER (heard only), White-headed Vanga, Tylas Vanga.
Mammals: INDRI, Grey Bamboo Lemur, Diademed Sifaka, Common Brown Lemur, Eastern Avahi, Greater Dwarf Lemur, Brown Mouse-Lemur, Greater Hedgehog Tenrec, Eastern Lowland Streaked Tenrec.
Other: Phelsuma Lineata; Parson's Chameleon; a number of (Tree)frog species; Giraffe-necked Weevil.
MARSHY AREA AT NEAR PÉRINET
This small marshy area is about 13 km from Périnet en route to Antananarivo at the small village of Ampasimpotsy.
Accommodation: Hotel de la Gare in the village of Andasibe.
Access: easily reached by waving down a taxi-brousse from Andasibe to Moramanga and on in the direction of Tana; ask the driver to drop you off at Ampasimpotsy station. They will drop you off just were the road meets the railroad. From there you should walk back along the railroad to the station.
The marshy area is right in front of the station.
This area is supposedly good to see the rare Madagascar Rail.
Birdspecies: Diademed (Malagasy) Kingfisher, Madagascar Swamp-Warbler, Madagascar Wagtail, Madagascar Snipe, Three-banded Plover, Madagascar Flufftail, Hottentot Teal.
RANOMAFANA NATIONAL PARK
Ranomafana National Park (Ranomafana means 'hot water' in Malagasy) is a rainforest site situated in the east of Madagascar, 445 kilometres south of Antananarivo and 65 kilometres east of Fianarantsoa. This is a superb area of rainforest where a new species of lemur, the Golden Bamboo Lemur, was discovered in 1985. The bird-list is long, and contains an impressive number of endemic species. The park entrance to the main trail system is some 5 km uphill from Ranomafana village.
The site has actually more to offer than the national park. About 5 km back in the direction of Fianarantsoa there is an area of forest which is known as Vohiparara. This is at higher elevation and better for a few species (Pollens Vanga; Yellow-bellied Sunbird-Asity; Yellow-browed Oxylabes). About 1,5 km further back where the first rice-fields have sadly replaced the marsh, is a known site for Grey Emu-tail. It used to be a site for the very rare Slender-billed Flufftail but there is hardly any unspoiled marsh there nowadays and the Flufftail which is critically endangered has disappeared.
For the Emu-tail you should politely enter the rice-fields greeting the people who work there, and keep on going in as far as you can where the rice-fields stop and the natural swamp takes over is where the emu-tail hides but calls and sings loudly once in a while (also in afternoon).
Accommodation: The restaurant next to park headquarters has a few dorms which we didn't need to share throughout our stay. This allows for no delay at dawn to get to this top locality. The guides however have to come from the village and cannot always get to headquarters early enough. We sometimes went birding along the road for the first half an hour.
Access: easily reached by a taxi-brousse from Fianarantsoa; ask the driver to drop you off at park entrance 5 km before the Village. Vohiparara is another 5 km back in the direction of Fianarantsoa where the road crosses a marshy area and makes an S. Just before this there is a not very conspicuous path from the road to the right (almost in line with the direction you came from by road).
The path is marked with red markings on trees on both sides of the path. Take a guide to get there the first time when you are without a car. You wouldn't know where to get dropped off.
Birdspecies: Madagascar Harrier-Hawk, Madagascar Buzzard, Madagascar Flufftail, Madagascar Wood Rail, BROWN MESITE, Madagascar Partridge, Madagascar Blue-Pigeon, (Greater) Vasa Parrot, Black (Lesser Vasa) Parrot, Madagascar (Lesser) Cuckoo, Red-fronted Coua, Blue Coua, Madagascar Coucal, Malagasy Scops-Owl, Madagascar Swift, Broad-billed Roller, PITTA-LIKE GROUND-ROLLER, Cuckoo-Roller, Velvet Asity, Madagascar Cuckoo-Shrike, Ward's Flycatcher, Red-tailed Vanga, Hook-billed Vanga (heard only), White-headed Vanga, Blue Vanga, Tylas Vanga, Madagascar Starling, Madagascar Magpie-Robin, Forest Rock-thrush (easy along the main road up from the entrance at late afternoons), Common Stonechat, Brown-throated Sand Martin, Mascarene Martin, Long-billed Greenbul, Spectacled Greenbul, Grey-crowned Greenbul, Madagascar Brush-Warbler, Dark Newtonia, Common Newtonia, Common Jery, Green Jery, White-throated Oxylabes, Yellow-browed Oxylabes, Crossley's Babbler, Madagascar Mannikin, Madagascar Wagtail, Nelicourvi Weaver, Forest Fody, Madagascar (Long-billed Green) Sunbird, CRYPTIC WARBLER (heard only).
Only at seen at Vohiparara: POLLEN'S VANGA, Rufous-headed ground-roller (heard only), Yellow-browed Oxylabes, Common Sunbird-Asity, Grey Emu-tail, Madagascar Swamp Warbler,
Mammals: GOLDEN BAMBOO LEMUR (1), Great Bamboo Lemur (4), Red-fronted Lemur, Red-bellied Lemur, Common Brown Lemur, Brown Mouse-Lemur, Greater Dwarf Lemur, Sportive Lemur, Eastern Avahi, Fanaloka.
ISALO NATIONAL PARK
We saw a male REUNION HARRIER on our way through the central highlands to this place.
This is not a top birding site. It used to be visited mainly for Benson's Rock-thrush which now has officially been lumped with Forest Rock-thrush. I wonder how this has decided. The Bensons subspecies looks quite different, much paler grey and not blue-grey, is definitely larger and lives in very different habitat a long way away from the Forest subspecies.
Accommodation: "campsite" inside the park (no facilities). Ask for the details at the ANGAP office in Ranohira there is at least one guide who speaks English (not good for birds but with complicated arrangements this was convenient).
Access: The nearest village is Ranohira on the main road from Fianarantsoa to Tulear. There one can arrange transport and a guide to two of the canyons where the best nature is.
Birdspecies: Madagascar Kestrel, Madagascar Buttonquail, Madagascar Turtle-Dove, Namaqua Dove, African Palm-Swift, Madagascar Bee-eater, Broad-billed Roller, African Hoopoe, BENSON'S ROCK-THRUSH, Madagascar (Long-billed Green) Sunbird.
Mammals: VERREAUX'S SIFAKA; RING-TAILED LEMUR; Common Brown Lemur. We saw nothing while spotlighting which surprised us.
This small area of dry forest is located 18 km northeast of Sakahara, which is 152 km northeast of Tulear and on the road to Ranohira.
Access: taxi from Sakahare; permits can be obtained in sakahare but also at the park entrance.
Accommodation: "campsite" at park entrance
The speciality of this forest is the very rare 'terrestrial' Appert's Greenbul, but if you are not going to Berenty you can also find here Giant Coua and White-browed Owl.
It is imperative to get into the forest itself to see the Greenbul, as it is a forest floor species, and is unlikely to be seen from the roadside. Access is a problem because of the dense undergrowth, but a woodcutters track is located near the 'football pitch' (about 14 km from Sakahara at the edge of the forest). An overgrown trail is located at 17.5 km from Sakahara.
Birdspecies: Madagascar Buzzard, Madagascar Harrierhawk, Namaqua Dove, Madagascar Green-Pigeon, Lesser Vasa Parrot, Grey-headed Lovebird, Madagascar Lesser Cuckoo, GIANT COUA, COQUEREL'S COUA, Crested Coua; Madagascar Coucal, Madagascar Hoopoe, Madagascar Buttonquail, WHITE-BROWED OWL (heard only), Broad-billed Roller, Cuckoo-Roller, Madagascar Paradise-Flycatcher, Crested Drongo, Red-tailed Vanga, Chabert Vanga, Blue Vanga, Madagascar Magpie-Robin, Long-billed Greenbul, APPERT'S GREENBUL, Madagascar Spinetail, Common Newtonia, Archbolds Newtonia, Common Jery, Madagascar Fody, Madagascar (Long-billed Green) Sunbird.
Other: Phelsuma standingi
This is a large area of the famous Spiny Forest, approximately 27 km north of Tulear, along a sandy coastal track towards the town of Ifaty. The landscape of baobab and Didiera shrub is so strange and fantastic that you might as well be walking on a different planet. This site, should definitely be included in any itinerary, as it is the only easily accessible area for a number of very rare endemics. With the help of the guide Freddy (son of Mosa) we saw the endemics in a few hours.
Access: From Tulear to Ifaty there are few trucks going per day. The spiny forest is almost directly opposite the Mora Mora Hotel. No permit is required but Mosa and family are needed to find the target birds on a single morning visit.
Accommodation: Mora Mora Hotel in Ifaty has nice chalets directly at sea. The sea breeze keeps them fairly cool.
Birdspecies: Madagascar Harrierhawk, Madagascar Buzzard, Madagascar Kestrel, Madagascar Button-quail, SUBDESERT MESITE, Whimbrel, Common Greenshank, Black-winged Stilt, Turnstone, Common Sandpiper, Gray Plover, MADAGASCAR PLOVER, Lesser Crested-Tern, Madagascar Turtle-Dove, Namaqua Dove, Madagascar Green-Pigeon, Greater Vasa Parrot, Lesser Vasa Parrot, Grey-headed Lovebird, Madagascar Lesser Cuckoo, Red-fronted Coua, RUNNING COUA, Green-capped Coua, Crested Coua, Madagascar Coucal, Madagascar Nightjar, Madagascar Swift, Diademed (Malagasy) Kingfisher, Madagascar Bee-eater, LONG-TAILED GROUND-ROLLER, Madagascar Hoopoe, Madagascar Cuckoo-Shrike, Red-tailed Vanga, Hook-billed Vanga, LAFRESNAYE'S VANGA, Sickle-billed Vanga, White-headed Vanga, Chabert Vanga, Madagascar Magpie-Robin, Long-billed Greenbul, Subdesert Brush-Warbler, THAMNORNIS WARBLER, Common Newtonia, Archbolds Newtonia, Common Jery, Madagascar Munia (Mannikin), Sakalava Weaver, Madagascar Fody, Madagascar Lark.
Other: Chalarodon madagascariensis
LA MANGROVE HOTEL AREA (ST. AUGUSTIN ROAD)
La Mangrove Hotel is situated 12 km south of Tulear, and the journey time by car from there is only about half an hour.
Access: transport was arranged in an organised trip combining with St. Augustin, Anakau, Nosy Ve by boat. A taxi from Tulear should get you there.
Accommodation: La Mangrove Hotel
The scrub that grows on the eroded coral 'rags' alongside the road to Baie de St. Augustin, at the mouth of the Onilahy river, 35 km south of Toliara, supports the highly localised Verreaux's Coua and Littoral Rock-Thrush.
The tracks into the coastal 'rag' are very easy to follow, and the vegetation is low, so no problems should be encountered on this front.
Birdspecies: Mascarene Reef-Egret (Dimorphic Egret), Grey Heron, Great Egret, Striated (Green-backed) Heron, Black Kite, Madagascar Kestrel, Whimbrel, Common Greenshank, Common Sandpiper, Gray Plover, Crested Coua, VERREAUX'S COUA, Subdesert Brush-Warbler.
NOSY VE ISLAND & ANAKOA
The island of Nosy Ve and the village of Anakoa are accessible by boat, which can be arranged at the Mangrove Hotel or others (Anakoa is an eight-hour trip by road).
Nosy Ve is a small sandy island, opposite Anakoa, situated about 4.5 km offshore, where Red-tailed Tropicbird breeds.
Accommodation: Anakao has at least two hotels.
Birdspecies: Nosy Ve: RED-TAILED TROPICBIRD, Ruddy Turnstone, Sanderling, White-fronted Plover, Great Crested-Tern, Lesser Crested-Tern.
Anakoa: LITTORAL ROCK-THRUSH, Subdesert Brush-Warbler, Dimorphic Egret, Madagascar Bee-eater.
A long tough climb from the place were we were dropped ashore. St. Augustin has two hotels and very hospitable people. We can recommend hotel poison de mer or something. They also have a boat which can take you out at the rivermouth and the natural swimming pool (a very clear water well).
Red-shouldered Vanga can be seen along the road where the road crosses the hill-ridge.
Birds: Peregrine, Caspian Tern, Whiskered Tern, Kittlitz Plover, HUMBLOT'S HERON, Mascarene Reef-Egret (Dimorphic Egret), Grey Heron, Great Egret, Striated (Green-backed) Heron, White-throated Rail, White-faced Whistling-duck, Black Kite, Madagascar Kestrel, Madagascar Bee-eater, Madagascar Hoopoe, Whimbrel, Common Greenshank, Common Sandpiper, Gray Plover, Curlew Sandpiper, Crested Coua, VERREAUX'S COUA, LAFRESNAYE'S VANGA, RED-SHOULDERED VANGA (I missed out on it due to stomach problems), Madagascar Swampwarbler, Madagascar Sandgrouse (our only bird flying after dusk), Subdesert Brush-Warbler, Madagascar Fody, Sakalava Weaver.
AMPIJORA FOREST STATION
This is an area of tall, deciduous forest 462 km north of Antananarivo (Tana) and 106 km south of Majunga (Mahajanga). Ampijora lies next to Ankarafantsika SNR, where the species found are similar.
Accommodation: there may be a possibility that you can stay in a room near the station but don't count on it. There is neat campsite with shelters against the sun for every tent facilities include showers. There is a single restaurant at which one needs to order meals in advance. The food is well-prepared but not that clean always.
This reserve has a decent network of footpaths. 103 species of birds have been recorded here, among which the most localized are Madagascar Fish-Eagle, Coquerel's Coua, Schlegel's Asity (here at the edge of its range), Rufous and Van Dam's Vanga (the last described as being in imminent danger of extinction). This is also one of only four known sites for the highly localized White-breasted Mesite.
Birdspecies: African Darter, Purple Heron, Black Heron, Grey Heron, Common Squacco Heron, Malagasy Pond-Heron, Black-crowned Night-Heron, Striated (Green-backed) Heron, White-faced Whistling-duck, Madagascar Button-quail, MADAGASCAR CRESTED IBIS, Black Kite, MADAGASCAR FISH-EAGLE, Madagascar Harrier-Hawk, Frances' Sparrowhawk, MADAGASCAR SPARROWHAWK, Madagascar Buzzard, WHITE-BREASTED MESITE, MADAGASCAR JACANA, Common Greenshank, Common Sandpiper, Kittlitz Plover, Black-winged Stilt, Madagascar Turtle-Dove, Madagascar Green-Pigeon, Greater Vasa Parrot, Lesser Vasa Parrot, Grey-headed Lovebird, Madagascar Lesser Cuckoo, Red-capped Coua, Crested Coua, Madagascar Coucal, Malagasy Scops-Owl, Malagasy Kingfisher, MADGASCAR PYGMY KINGFISHER, Broad-billed Roller, Cuckoo-Roller, SCHLEGEL'S ASITY, Madagascar Cuckoo-Shrike, Rufous Vanga, Hook-billed Vanga, VAN DAM'S VANGA, Sickle-billed Vanga, White-headed Vanga, Chabert Vanga, Blue Vanga, Madagascar Magpie-Robin, Long-billed Greenbul, Madagascar Swamp-Warbler, Common Newtonia, Common Jery, Sakalava Weaver, Madagascar Fody, Madagascar (Long-billed Green) Sunbird.
Mammals: Coquerel's Sifaka, White-fronted Brown Lemur, Western Avahi, Sportive Lemur, Fat-tailed Dwarf Lemur, Golden-brown Mouse Lemur, Grey Mouse Lemur.
Other: Nile Crocodile (beware of these at the lake-side), Acrantophis madagascariensis, Leioheterodon madagascariensis, Oplurus cuvieri, Furcifer oustaleti (Oustalets Chameleon largest of all chameleons is fairly common here).
MARSHES 17 KM NORTH OF AMPIJORA STATION
North of Ampijora, in the direction of Mahajanga, is a large dam wall with a reservoir behind. By walking up the road (track) at the north side of we passed the village and walked around during a very hot afternoon.
Accommodation: camping at Ampijora Forest Station.
The edge of the shore is good for Herons. The specialities of this site include: Madagascar (Humblot's) Heron, Madagascar Heron, Madagascar Jacana and the chance to see the very rare Bernier's Teal.
Birdspecies: African Pygmy-Goose, Red-billed Teal, Black Heron, Dimorphic Egret, Grey Heron, HUMBLOT'S HERON, Great Egret, Cattle Egret, Striated (Green-backed) Heron, Black-winged Stilt, Whiskered Tern, Black Kite, Madagascar Buzzard, Madagascar Buttonquail, Allen's Gallinule, Common Moorhen, MADAGASCAR JACANA, Common Greenshank, Common & Green Sandpiper, Black-winged Stilt, Diademed (Malagasy) Kingfisher, Madagascar Coucal, African Palm-Swift, Madagascar Bee-eater, Madagascar Cisticola, Madagascar (Bush) Lark, Madagascar Munia (Mannikin), (Madagascar) Red Fody.
MASOALA NP. (AMBODIFORAHA)
The area around Ambanisana on the Masoala Peninsula in northeast Madagascar used to be a quite reliable site to find the Helmeted Vanga. The forest around the village has supposedly been cut down a lot according to people at the ANGAP office in Maroantsetra. It is now recommended to move further to the village of Ambodiforaha. A French pioneer (see useful addresses) has made it his lifetime ambition to build an eco-tourist lodge without damaging the environment (all wood was shipped in from Maroantsetra) and to make sure that local people benefit from tourists that want to admire the nature. There is not an extensive trailsystem but a few paths crossing the clearings will produce some of the specialities of this magnificent forest. The French owner has good contacts with the ANGAP people and people of the Peregrine fund which are trying to protect the few breeding pairs of Madagascar Serpent-Eagle. When we were there in the nearest nest the eggs had not hatched yet and he and the guides and people from ANGAP were not yet informed about the exact whereabouts because of the risk of disturbance. Madagascar Red Owl is not yet seen in this area but might soon be heard or seen there too. The site holds Scaly Ground-Roller, Bernier's Vanga and Helmetbird.
Accommodation is at the site. The chalets are pleasant and fairly cheap. The meals are excellent. This superb site is accessible by boat from Maroantsetra. Contact the people at the ANGAP office and ask for a guide by the name of "Bidas" he knows how to arrange the boat and knew two nesting-sites of the Helmeted Vanga when we where there he is not a top guide but good enough to be of help on the birds and knows the Chameleon and Uroplatus species of reptiles.
Birdspecies: Long-tailed (Reed) Cormorant, White-faced Whistling-Duck, Black Heron, Mascarene Reef-Egret (Dimorphic Egret, Cattle Egret, Striated (Green-backed) Heron, Black-crowned Night-Heron, Helmeted Guineafowl, Madagascar Sparrowhawk, Madagascar Buzzard, Madagascar Kestrel, Whimbrel, Common Sandpiper, Ruddy Turnstone, Madagascar Pratincole, Gray Plover, Great Crested-tern, Lesser Crested-tern, Madagascar Turtle-Dove, Madagascar Green-Pigeon, Madagascar Blue-Pigeon, Lesser Vasa Parrot, Red-breasted Coua, Crested Coua, Blue Coua, Madagascar Coucal, Malagasy Scops-Owl, Madagascar Spinetail (Malagasy Spine-tailed Swift), African Palm-Swift, Diademed (Malagasy) Kingfisher, Madagascar Pygmy-Kingfisher, Madagascar Bee-eater, Broad-billed Roller, SCALY GROUND-ROLLER, Cuckoo-Roller, Velvet Asity, Madagascar Paradise-Flycatcher, Crested Drongo, Pied Crow, Madagascar (Ashy) Cuckoo-Shrike, Red-tailed Vanga, Rufous Vanga, Chabert Vanga, Blue Vanga, Tylas Vanga, Coral-billed Nuthatch (Nuthatch Vanga), BERNIER'S VANGA (1 female), HELMETED VANGA, Madagascar Starling, Madagascar Magpie-Robin (all black-bellied), Mascarene Martin, Long-billed Greenbul, Spectacled Greenbul, Stripe-throated Jery, White-throated Oxylabes, Crossley's Babbler, Madagascar Munia (Mannikin), Nelicourvi Weaver, (Madagascar) Red Fody, Souimanga Sunbird, Madagascar (Long-billed Green) Sunbird.
Mammals: Red-ruffed Lemur, Eastern Avahi, Sportive Lemur, Common Brown Lemur, Red-bellied Lemur, Brown Mouse Lemur,
Other: Phelsuma guttata, Phelsuma lineata, Brookesia peyrierasi, Brookesia superciliarisOn our way back to Holland we saw several Sooty Falcons at the Airport of Tana.