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A Report from

Madagascar, 17 October to 6 November 2004,

Clare Moger


This is my report of a very successful trip to Madagascar, which was run by Tropical Birding ( The trip was led by Keith Barnes and Iain Campbell. It was our second trip with Tropical Birding, the first being a custom trip to Ecuador in 2004, and Sean and I were again very impressed with the way the trip was run.

General comments on the birding

The fact that many trip reports record a lot of endemics gave me the impression that many species were quite common in Madagascar. However, this isn't the case, and the birding, especially in the forests in the east, is pretty tough as most species occur at very low densities. It's a matter of specifically going for each bird, and generally seeing it just once. This is especially true of the mesites, ground-rollers (except perhaps Pitta-like), and many of the vangas and bulbuls (which might actually be vangas based on recent research!). However, the effort is well worthwhile, as a lot of the birds are really stunning.


Traveling in Madagascar was more comfortable than I'd expected - most of the places we stayed at were very nice (only Ampijroa could be described as basic, and even that wasn't at all bad). The food was fine, although mostly nothing special, and a lot of the roads were paved, although we still had several very long drives.  However, it's depressing to see how much habitat has been destroyed - much of the countryside just seems to be barren.

We were very lucky with the weather - it generally rains a lot in the east, but the only time it rained there during our visit was at night and when we were traveling.

We flew from Vienna to Paris and from Paris to Tana with Air France.  It was our first time with this airline and we were generally impressed.  Our return flight from Tana to Paris was delayed by an hour, which made our connection pretty tight, and whilst we made it our bags didn't.  However, Air France were very helpful and we got our bags delivered to us in Bratislava the next afternoon.


I used the following when preparing for the trip:


17/10/04 - Arrive in Antananarivo (Tana) late evening.
18/10/04 - Fly to Tulear and drive to Ifaty
19/10/04 - Ifaty
20/10/04 - La Table and Ifaty
21/10/04 - Tulear
22/10/04 - Tulear and Nosy Ve
23/10/04 - Travel to Isalo via Zombitse
24/10/04 - Morning birding at Isalo, then travel to Fianarantsoa
25/10/04 - Travel to Ranomofana
26/10/04 - Ranomofana
27/10/04 - Ranomofana then travel to Antsirabe
28 to 31/10/04 - Perinet and Mantadia
01/11/04 - Perinet, then travel to Tana
02/11/04 - Drive to Ampijoroa
03/11/04 - Ampijoroa
04/11/04 - Ampijoroa then drive to Mahajunga
05/11/04 - Fly to Tana, then fly home

Day 1: 17 Oct: After a long flight from Paris we arrived in Antananativo (Tana) at 22.00 and, after getting our visas at the airport, we were collected by our local driver and guide and taken to the Tana Plaza Hotel. 

Day 2: 18 Oct: We had a very good buffet breakfast at 8am and then drove to a big lake in Tana, where we got our first Madagascar Wagtails, and some waders, ducks and a few shorebirds. Gray-headed Gull was a surprise here, as it's not seen very often in Madagascar. Returning to the hotel, we collected our bags & headed to the airport for our flight to Tulear. We met the last two members of our group there, taking the total to twelve plus guides, which is a larger group than we would normally travel with. However, Keith and Iain were extremely good at dealing with a large group and we didn't miss a single species.

The flight to Tulear took about 50 minutes, and we then spent about four hours birding our way to Nautilus, our hotel by the beach, arriving just after dark.

Our birding stops on the way to the hotel included a walk to a big lake, through scrubby and somewhat degraded spiny desert habitat.  We got mainly quite common species, and I had 18 lifers by the end of the day, including Madagascar Swamp Warbler, Subdesert Brush Warbler, Madagascar Lark, the very bright Gray-headed Lovebird, Madagascar Cisticola, Madagascar Kestrel and Madagascar Coucal.

As it started to get dark, we saw several Madagascar Nightjars flying around by the side of the road.

The hotel was very nice, the rooms being separate small cabins. A Madagascar Nightjar kept landing on a bare tree just outside the dining area, which enabled us to get really good looks at it before dinner.

Day 3: 19 Oct: We set off before dawn to go to Ifaty, where we spent a few hours birding the spiny forest with local guides, looking for various semi-desert endemics.

We soon got our first endemic family, in the form of a Chabert's Vanga, quickly followed by a Madagascar Green Pigeon, and then another vanga, this time a Lafresnaye's.

Our guides then took us to a Subdesert Mesite nest, which was about two feet off the ground in the fork of a small bush. The bird was sat on the nest facing us (see below).

Subdesert Mesite (photographed by Iain Campbell).

The highlight of the morning though was a stunning Long-tailed Ground-Roller, which we initially saw perched on a lowish branch, before it showed really well on the ground for some time. I even managed to get a pretty good video of it.

Further on we got two White-headed Vangas, and a few people saw Madagascar Buttonquails running across the trails. Returning to the van, we got some water and then did a short walk across some old saltpans where we found the hoped-for Madagascar Plover almost immediately, and got great scope-filling views.

After that we returned to the hotel for a late breakfast, and then rested until lunch, as it was very hot, and we'd already got many of our target species. Sean and I spent some time sat on the terrace at the back of our room enjoying the cool breeze and the sea view.

After lunch at the hotel we returned to the spiny forest, where our main targets were Sickle-billed Vanga, which we'd heard but not seen in the morning, and Green-capped Coua. Within ten minutes of getting to the forest, someone spotted a Sickle-billed Vanga at the top of a tree, with a White-headed Vanga perched directly below it providing a great comparison - the only difference seemed to be the bill, and the fact that the Sickle-billed was slightly larger.

There was no sign of Green-capped Coua, but we did get superb views of a Banded Kestrel eating a chameleon, as well as seeing a couple of Crested Couas, including one on a nest. We also saw a Lafresnaye's Vanga on a nest.

Banded Kestrel (Iain Campbell)

Day 4: 20 Oct:  We had an early breakfast and then, because we'd got all our Ifaty targets, we headed for the La Table Plateau near Tulear to look for Red-shouldered Vanga. We walked some way along a dusty track through the coral scrub before turning off the track, where Mosa, our local guide, succeeded in calling in a female, which came in very close, followed a bit later by the male, after which a Verreaux's Coua then appeared in the same place.

Walking back along the track, we got good views of Hook-billed Vanga. We then drove a short way to an area of heavily grazed grass near Melodie Beach, to look for Madagascar Sandgrouse. Unfortunately we didn't find any, probably because it was getting a bit late. We did however get our first Madagascar Turtle-Doves of the trip, making this the 3,000th bird on my life list.

After that, we had a stop at another dry scrubby area, where after some time we got the surprisingly large Green-capped Coua.

We then made the long drive back to the hotel, via Tulear, where we had a big and very good buffet-style lunch, after which I slept for a bit before we headed out again mid-afternoon.

We made a few stops to bird from the road, looking for shorebirds along the beach. There weren't many, but we got a few new birds for the trip, including Lesser Crested and Saunders's / Little Terns.

Further on we stopped at a marshy area and tried for White-throated Rail, but we couldn't get one to show. However, we got four of the villagers to wade through the reeds for us, and they flushed a Greater Painted Snipe.

We then crossed the road and walked a little way to some small reed-fringed lakes, where we again got the villagers to do some wading, this time for Baillon's Crake, which we got at the fourth attempt (there were at least four of them).

Day 5: 21 Oct: We had another early breakfast and then headed back to the area near Melodie Beach, for another try at Madagascar Sandgrouse. This time we got them after about ten minutes, seeing eight in total, both on the ground and in flight.

We then checked into the Melodie Beach Hotel, before heading towards St Augustin, where we spent some time birding the mangroves from an overlook. The only new species for the trip from there was Terek Sandpiper. As we started to head back down the road, someone spotted what was probably a Littoral Rock-Thrush, so we turned round to go back for another look. Unfortunately, however our bus came off the parallel tracks on the road, and we spent an hour sat around in what little shade was available, while the driver, his assistant and our local guide tried to get the bus out.

It was frustrating because they wouldn't try to reverse it despite the fact that it was obvious to most of us that it wasn't going to get out forwards. In the end they did reverse, which worked immediately.

We had a short rest back at the hotel before lunch, and then a longer rest after that. I had a dip in the pool to cool down, and then I wandered around looking for buttonquails. I saw a female first, and then a male dustbathing. Since Sean hadn't been with me, he then went looking for them with some more of the group later on. They got good views of both male and female, and they also saw a Green-capped Coua, which unfortunately they later saw get knocked down by a car.

Later we went to a nearby site for Ring-tailed Lemurs. We took beers and books, as we thought we'd need to just sit quietly and wait. However at least two lemurs were there when we arrived, and we got superb views (and pictures) of them leaping across the rock face. They then disappeared for some time, before returning just as we were thinking about leaving. We got excellent views of at least four of them, moving across the rock face, and grooming each other.

Day 6: 22 Oct: This morning we boarded a boat to Nosy Ve, a small offshore island that holds a colony of Red-tailed Tropicbirds.  The boat trip was long and quite wet, but we dried out pretty quickly as it was very hot. As well as stopping on Nosy Ve, we also stopped at Anakao, about 3km from the island, for Littoral Rock Thrush, which we found easily.

Once on Nosy Ve, it didn't take us long to see a Crab Plover on a small sandbank just off the end of the island (the opposite end to the Tropicbird colony). There were at least four Crab Plovers in total, and there may have been more on the other side of the sandbank. We also added a couple more tern species to our trip list.

We then walked to the other end of the island to look at the Red-tailed Tropicbirds. We saw a couple flying over, and then Keith showed us a well-grown juvenile. Walking further along, we saw a couple of striking dark morph Dimorphic Egrets, and some more Red-tailed Tropicbirds. Then Keith spotted a White-tailed Tropicbird - an excellent surprise, completing the family for many of us. It was great to be able to compare the two species, the much larger Red-tailed with its gannet-like flight, and the smaller, delicate, and very beautiful White-tailed.

After lunch at the hotel, some of the group went to St Augustin, mainly to look for Humblot's Heron.  Sean and I opted out as we knew we had a good chance of the heron at Ampijoroa, later in the trip, and we didn't fancy that road again!

Some us instead for a wander near the hotel to with Iain, who wanted to photograph buttonquails.  We walked along the track from the lodge, and I saw a pair of buttonquails run across ahead of us after we'd only gone a short way. However, they disappeared into dense scrub. It was lovely being out in the late afternoon, sunny with a light breeze, and much cooler than earlier in the day. There were also lots of birds calling, and we saw several Subdesert Brush Warblers very well.

We found a more open area, where we got to watch a pretty cooperative pair of Madagascar Buttonquails, and Iain got a couple of superb pictures of them.

The rest of the group passed us in the bus just before we got back to the hotel - they'd seen a distant Humblot's Heron, and watched a pair of Peregrines feeding a chick.

Day 7: 23 Oct: We left early this morning and drove for a couple of hours, reaching Zombitse Forest around 7am. Our main targets here were Appert's Greenbul and Giant Coua, although our first new bird was Coquerel's Coua, which most of us saw well. Further on, Keith played the tape for Giant Coua, and we got great views of one giving its low growly call from high in a tree.

Shortly after that we got our first of several Appert's Greenbuls, which was much brighter than I expected. Having got the two key species in a short time, we could then look at the more widespread species, including Long-billed Greenbul and Madagascar White-eye. Cuckoo-Rollers were calling constantly whilst we were in the forest, and we were able to see them flying above the trees when we were in the more open areas.  However, we never did see one perched.

We also saw our first chameleon of the trip - a large, brown and fast Outsalet's, as well as a huge spider, a couple of skinks, and a few more small lizards. We heard Rufous Vanga a couple of times, but not close, and we didn't see one.

We then birded along the main road for an hour, before returning to the reserve for a picnic lunch. After that we had a hot drive for an hour and a half, to get to our hotel in a small town near Isalo.  When it started to get a bit cooler, we drove to an area of grassland near a very posh lodge, where we would have stayed if it hadn't been fully booked (the place we did stay at in the town was fine anyway).

We spent some time walking through the dry grass to try to flush Madagascar Partridge. I flushed a quail, but didn't get a good enough look to determine whether it was Common or Harlequin, and then someone flushed a Marsh Owl, which I saw very well, but Sean didn't. Sean then flushed two partridges, but he was a long way from me so I just got a poor view of one bird before it went down.

By then we were close to a couple of ponds, where we got Madagascar Little Grebe. We then walked towards the lodge, and after some time, we got a Benson's Rock Thrush on the roof of one of the buildings. Clements still treats this as a valid subspecies, although it seems that most people now believe that it should be lumped with Forest Rock Thrush.

We then sat outside the dining room at the lodge and enjoyed beer and nibbles until it got dark, when Keith played a tape for Torotoroka Scops-Owl and got an instant response. We headed down the steps and located the owl reasonably quickly.

Day 8: 24 Oct: This morning we had breakfast at 5.30am and then went back to where we'd been birding the previous afternoon. We didn't have any new target birds, but some of us needed better looks at Madagascar Partridge. Sean again flushed some, and again I was a long way away, so I got better, but still not great, views. We also flushed a Marsh Owl again, which I again saw very well. So the birds were in the same place as they were the previous day, but so were we!

After that we returned to the hotel for breakfast and then set off on the six hour drive to our next hotel, a huge Chinese-style place at Fianarantsoa. The drive was long and boring, and I was very glad when we finally arrived. We had a picnic lunch en route, and just before we arrived we stopped at some rice paddies and saw a few Madagascar Pond Herons, our only lifer of the day. 

Day 9: 25 Oct: This morning we set off early for Ranomafana, a reserve protecting mid-altitude rainforest on Madagascar's eastern escarpment.

We made a few stops along the way, and when we got into the reserve we birded in an open area for a while, getting Green Jery, Cryptic Warbler and Rand's Warbler, all of which were perched high at the tops of trees. We heard many Cryptic and Rand's Warblers at Ranomofana, but it took an effort to see them.

We then to tape out a Madagascar Flufftail, which called extremely close to us, but didn't show. While we were trying for the flufftail, a gorgeous Blue Coua flew into the tree right in front of us.

After a while, the bus returned with our local guide, and we drove to the trailhead in the lower part of Ranomofana. We then spent four or five hours birding the rather steep and muddy trails in the forest, where we saw some great birds, despite the fact that the local guide and his assistant were very noisy and kept trying to get us to move just when the bird was coming in.

The first really special bird we got was Pitta-like Ground-Roller, which was amazingly bright, and which put its head back and puffed up its white throat each time it called. Whilst we were taping in the Ground-Roller, we also saw a Red-bellied Lemur, which some researchers were tracking.

Next we looked for Brown Mesite, which we all saw crossing the path - it wasn't a great view, but I did see it clearly for a couple of seconds. Again, the local guides weren't helpful, as they were constantly trying to get us to go towards the bird, rather than waiting patiently for it to show.

We then headed towards a Henst's Goshawk nest, and as we got closer, we saw this very impressive large goshawk fly in and briefly perch nearby. It returned to the same two perches a couple of times and most of us got superb views.

By that time it was already later than planned, so we started heading back. However, we were distracted by a flock, which included Blue and Red-tailed Vangas, Common Sunbird Asity, Spectacled Greenbul, Common Newtonia, Ashy Cuckooshrike, Ward's Flycatcher, Madagascar White-eyes and Souimanga Sunbirds. I also got superb views of a Ring-tailed Mongoose, which another group coming from a side trail seemed to have flushed onto our trail. Unfortunately only one other person in our group saw it.

As a result of our birdy morning, we didn't get lunch until mid-afternoon. Later we went to a small marsh behind some rice paddies in the Vohiparara area. We flushed a Madagascar Snipe almost as soon as we got there, and we got very good views. We then tried for Gray Emutail, which we also saw very quickly, despite our noisy guides, although it took a while to see it well. Just as we were leaving, another snipe flew, and the Emutail perched up higher and I could even see the faint striping on its back.

We then went back to the trails to go to the Nocturne, a small shelter in a clearing where people feed bananas to Fanalokas and Brown Mouse Lemurs. On the way up, a researcher passed us, and a bit further ahead we caught up with her again and she showed us a Brown Mouse Lemur right by the trail. It was really tiny and cute, as well as incredibly agile. When it moved off it jumped between plants like a monkey, but it was only the size of a small squirrel.

When we finally got to the Nocturne, which was a fair bit further into the forest than we were expecting, there was already a Fanaloka there. It was small and cute with a tiny thin muzzle and little ears. It came very close to us, although it was too dark for me to get any video. After a while it left, and then two came in. We didn't see any Mouse Lemurs there, but that didn't matter too much as we'd seen one so well from the path.

We then trekked back to the bus, returned to the hotel, got showers and had a latish dinner.

Day 10: 26 Oct:  This morning we had returned to the Vohiporara (upper) part of Ranomofana, where we spent the morning birding. We split into two groups to go for some of the tougher birds. The highlights of the morning were Rufous-headed Ground-Roller, which we saw very well, and a stunning male Velvet Asity.

After lunch, four people went looking for lemurs, three, including Sean who was having knee problems, stayed at the hotel, and the rest of us returned to Vohiparara for more birding. My only lifer of the afternoon was Red-fronted Coua - we saw a pair very well, and they were really stunning. On the way back, we saw a pair of Rufous-headed Ground-Rollers low in the vegetation, and a Pitta-like Ground-Roller on the path, which hopped ahead of us for a while.

Day 11: 27 Oct: We got back to the Vohiparara trails after breakfast, and spent a few hours looking for Yellow-browed Oxylabes and Yellow-bellied Sunbird Asity. 

Our first bird was a gorgeous female Velvet Asity, after which we saw very little for some time, although we heard a Yellow-browed Oxylabes.

We climbed higher and spent some time at a spot where other people have been seeing the Asity. After a while we mover higher still, and within a couple of minutes a male Yellow-bellied Sunbird Asity appeared. It was beautiful with an iridescent blue back.

On the way back down we tried several times for the Oxylabes with no luck, but another tour guide had found a nest and we saw the bill and brow of a bird sat on it, fortunately the Oxylabes stayed put and everyone got to see it.

We returned to the hotel mid-morning to collect our bags and before setting off on the long drive south to Antsirabe. The first two or three hours were on rough roads, but after that it was mostly paved roads.

Day 12: 28 Oct: We set off after a latish and very good buffet breakfast for another long drive, this time to Perinet. We stopped in Tana for lunch at the Hotel de France.

Just before we reached Perinet we stopped at a bridge over a river and got great views of Madagascar Pratincole. We arrived at Perinet just before 6pm, met our local guide, Patrice, and tried for Madagascar Long-eared Owl. Most of us saw its tail when it flew in and briefly perched above us, and a couple of people saw it fly.

We got to the rather luxurious Vakona Lodge around 7pm, and after settling into our rooms we had a very good dinner.

Day 13: 29 Oct 2004.  After breakfast at 5am we headed for Mantadia. Our first stop was to look for Madagascar Rail at a marshy area. We all saw the bird very well - it was much darker and browner than I expected.

We then drove further before stopping to bird along the road. We tried for Madagascar Pygmy Kingfisher and Short-legged Ground-Roller with no response, but we did get good looks at a pair of Madagascar Starlings.

We then spent the next five hours on the trails in the forest, where we got gorgeous Short-legged and Scaly Ground-Rollers, Crested Ibis, and amazing views of a tiny Madagascar Flufftail. A few people saw Red-breasted Coua, which called close to us for some time, but I didn't even get a glimpse of it.

On leaving the trails, we drove a short distance and then climbed up a very steep trail to see a beautiful nesting Collared Nightjar.

We had a late lunch and then spent the afternoon at Perinet, where we got some more of our target species - Ward's Flycatcher, Brown Wood-Rail and Malagasy Scops-Owl. We also got good looks at Indris. However, the highlight for Sean and me was a leaf-tailed Gecko that Nancy spotted on a tree trunk. Its camouflage was amazing - it was the exact colour of the bark, and it had a fringe around its body so that it blended smoothly with the trunk. I also got to hold it - it felt almost velvety, and its grip was very strong. Apparently geckos have small hooks on their feet, rather than suction pads.

Sikora (Mossy) Leaf-tailed Gecko

We got out of the forest just as it started to get dark, and we went to the Long-eared Owl site again. As soon as we got there we heard the owl calling, and saw it fly across into the trees - a different view to last night's, but still not a great one!

We then spent an hour spotlighting along the road, finding Greater Dwarf and Brown Mouse Lemurs, and several chameleons.

Day 14: 30 Oct:  After an early breakfast we headed back to Mantadia N.P. Our first stop was for a White-throated Rail, which was right in the open not far from the road - it showed extremely well for some time, and was then joined by a second bird.

We then looked for Madagascar Pygmy Kingfisher, which took a while to appear, but when it did we got stunning views, and photographs.

Next we spent a couple of hours in the forest, where we got a nice pair of Nuthatch Vangas, but nothing else new. We then birded along the road and spent some time sitting in the sun watching for raptors, but not seeing anything much.

After lunch we had some down time before heading out to Perinet again mid-afternoon.

We got pretty good views of a Madagascar Sparrowhawk near a nest, and some of us saw a Madagascar Wood-Rail. We also got a Crossley's Babbler to come in close, but by that time it was quite dark and most people, including me, didn't see it properly.

On the way back to the lodge we stopped at another lodge where Greater Dwarf Lemurs come in for bananas. We had them less than a foot away and they were extremely cute.

Greater Dwarf Lemurs

Dinner took a long time this evening, so even though we got back earlier than last night, we still got to bed quite late.

Day 15: 31 Oct: After breakfast we returned to Perinet. Our main target birds for the morning were Crossley's Babbler, Red-breasted Coua and White-throated Oxylabes. We soon got very good views of the Oxylabes. It took us a while to get a calling Crossley's Babbler, but when we did it showed incredibly well for a long time.

The Coua took a lot of work, but we eventually got a response to the tape, and after quite some time we all got good views of the bird.  However, this was another example of local guides getting over-excited - the Coua finally came right out into the open, at which point Patrice started jumping around, pointing and shouting "There! There! Look! Look!", to which the Coua, not surprisingly, responded by leaping backwards into the vegetation again.

We also saw a roosting Malagasy Scops-Owl, some Common Brown Lemurs, a Blue Coua and, just before heading back to the bus, some very close Indris.

We returned to the lodge for lunch, and then spent the afternoon at Mantadia, mostly birding from the road, and looking for Black-and-white Ruffed Lemurs, which we saw very well. We walked back up the road in the dark, getting superb views of White-browed Owl and Eastern Woolly Lemurs, as well as a Brown Mouse Lemur and a Greater Dwarf Lemur. There were loads of fireflies, which made the place seem really magical.

Day 16: 1 Nov: After breakfast we had a last morning birding at Mantadia. Our final target species was Gray-crowned Greenbul, which we located and saw well after about an hour. It was like a much duller version of Appert's Greenbul. We also saw a Madagascar Tree Boa that had spines sticking out of its body - Patrice thought it had probably swallowed a tenrec that wasn't quite dead, and the tenrec had raised its spines once it was inside the snake.  Pretty horrible but very interesting.

We had lunch at Vakona Lodge before driving back to Tana. We arrived at the Tana Plaza hotel early evening, and we all wanted an early night, but the service in the restaurant was so bad that dinner took well over two hours (despite our complaints) - half the group gave up waiting long before dessert arrived (I would have done too if dessert hadn't been ice cream).

Day 17: 2 Oct:  After a bit of a lie-in and a very good buffet breakfast, we drove to the airport for our flight to Mahajunga. However, on arriving at Tana airport we discovered that the flight time had been moved forward a couple of hours and the flight was in the process of departing.

After going through the options, Keith got our driver and van to return, and we drove for nine hours to Ampijoroa, in the Ankarafantsika Reserve. We stopped en route to scan a lake where Meller's Duck has been seen in the past, but we only saw a few Red-billed Teals. We finally arrived just after 7pm, which is about the time we'd have got there if we'd waited for the later flight.

This was the only place we stayed at that had basic accommodation, but we still had our own small rooms, with shared basic showers and toilets.  Meals were cooked for us on small outdoor stoves, but the food wasn't bad at all. 

Day 18: 3 Oct: On the way to breakfast this morning I saw White-headed, Sickle-billed and Chabert's Vangas, and we also saw our first of several Coquerel's Sifakas whilst waiting for breakfast.

After breakfast we walked along Lac Ravelobe, where we got excellent views of Humblot's Heron. We also saw a Blue Vanga, which was incredibly bright in the sun. The lake was very beautiful, with lots of Cattle Egrets flying around.

We next walked a trail through some dry forest, where our main target was Schlegel's Asity, a pair of which we saw very well. The male was a really beautiful bird, with a bright blue and green eye wattle. Next we got a pair of White-breasted Mesites - another very attractive species, which we saw pretty well.

After that we returned to the accommodation area and spent some time walking some trails through the forest from there.   Before we'd got very far, we saw two Giant Hog-nosed Snakes on the path, and our first Cuvier's Iguanid, as well as a very obliging pair of Red-capped Couas, and a tree trunk covered in large caterpillars.

Further on we got superb views of a France's Sparrowhawk perched just above the trail, a bird that had only been seen briefly by one or two people earlier in the trip.

We then got our main target, the very local Van Dam's Vanga, which showed well.  At that point the only species we still needed was Rufous Vanga, and Jacky, the excellent local guide (and the only Madagascar guide we had on the trip who had a quiet and patient approach to birding), showed us a nest. A pair of these beautiful and surprisingly large vangas appeared near there and gave us good views. Immediately after that, we also got nice looks at a Coquerel's Coua.

Having found all the forest birds we needed, we wandered slowly back, stopping to photograph Coquerel's Sifakas on the way.

We had lunch early and then rested until mid-afternoon, as it was very hot. Later we walked away from the road along the lake, looking for Madagascar Fish Eagle and Madagascar Jacana.  We saw one Jacana very well, as well as a lot of herons and egrets, including Madagascar Pond Herons and a Humblot's Heron.  From the edge of the lake we also got very good scope views of a Madagascar Fish Eagle perched on a snag, and after a while we walked closer to it along a trail through the forest by the lake.  We managed to get quite close to the Fish Eagle, at which point we saw a second one, a juvenile, which also gave us excellent views.  We continued the rather long walk round the lake, getting back just after dark.

We then did a night walk along the trails, seeing several Fat-tailed Dwarf Lemurs, a Golden Mouse Lemur and a Grey Mouse Lemur.

Day 19: 4 Oct: As we'd seen all our target birds around Ampijoroa, the group split up for a few hours in the morning, according to what people wanted to see again or to photograph. Sean and I birded the campsite area a bit, and walked along the road by the lake.

At 9.30am we set off for Mahajunga, where we had lunch at the rather smart Sunny Hotel where we were staying. In the afternoon we took a boat trip to the Betsiboka River Delta, where we found our last two target species: Madagascar Sacred Ibis and Bernier's Teal, both of which we saw very well. We also added Greater and Lesser Flamingos, and a few more shorebirds to our list, and we saw a Madagascar Plover some way north of its normal range. 

Day 20: 5 Oct: We had most of the day free, so Sean and I made use of the hotel gym before breakfast, and later we swam in the large outdoor heated pool. Some people opted to do some souvenir shopping in Mahajunga. We had lunch at the hotel and left for the airport mid-afternoon.

We arrived in Tana in the early evening, and went to the Tana Plaza hotel for dinner.  The service was much improved since the last time we were there.  The six of us who were flying back to Paris then returned to the airport, where we had just a few hours hanging around before our 01.20 flight, which was delayed by an hour.  Whilst there was nothing to do at the airport but sit in the rather uncomfortable lounge, our wait was much improved by great views of a Marsh Owl, which flew past the windows several times, and landed pretty close.

Species lists


A = Antananarivo area, including Lac Alarobia.
T = Tulear and Le Table
I = Ifaty
S = St Augustin and Nosy Ve
Z = Zombitse Forest
Is = Isalo and drive over central plateau
R = Ranomafana
P = Perinet reserve and Mantadia
Am = Ampijoroa
B = Betsiboka River Delta
(h) = Heard only
(g) = Seen by other members of the group, but not by me.


Little Grebe, Tachybaptus ruficollis - I
Madagascar Grebe, Tachybaptus pelzelnii - Is, P

Red-tailed Tropicbird, Phaethon rubricauda - T
White-tailed Tropicbird, Phaethon lepturus - T

Darter, Anhinga melanogaster - Am

Gray Heron, Ardea cinerea - T, B
Humblot's Heron, Ardea humbloti - Sg, Am, B
Purple Heron, Ardea purpurea - Is, Am
Great Egret, Ardea alba - A, T, R, Am, B
Black Heron, Egretta ardesiaca - A, T, Am
Little (Dimorphic) Egret, Egretta garzetta dimorpha - A, T, Is, R, Am, B
Squacco Heron, Ardeola ralloides - A, T, Am
Madagascar Pond-Heron, Ardeola idea - Is, Am
Cattle Egret, Bubulcus ibis - A, T, Is, R, Am
Striated Heron, Butorides striatus - T, Am, B
Black-crowned Night-Heron, Nycticorax nycticorax - T, R, Am
Little Bittern, Ixobrychus minutus - T

Hamerkop, Scopus umbretta - whilst driving (close to Perinet and Ampijoroa)

Bernier's (Madagascar White / Sacred) Ibis, Threskiornis aethiopicus - B
Glossy Ibis, Plegadis falcinellus - Am
Madagascar Crested Ibis, Lophotibis cristata - P
African Spoonbill, Platalea alba - B

Greater Flamingo, Phoenicopterus roseus - B
Lesser Flamingo, Phoenicopterus minor - B

White-faced Whistling-Duck, Dendrocygna viduata - A, T, Is, Am
Comb Duck, Sarkidiornis melanotos - Am (just one)
Bernier's Teal, Anas bernieri - B
Red-billed Duck, Anas erythrorhyncha - A, T, Is
Hottentot Teal, Anas hottentota - A (a very small number amongst the Red-billed Ducks)

Yellow-billed Kite, Milvus migrans parasitus - A, T, Z, Is, R, Am, B
Madagascar Fish-Eagle, Haliaeetus vociferoides - Am
Madagascar Harrier-Hawk, Polyboroides radiatus - T, Am
Frances's Goshawk, Accipiter francesii - Am (also seen on one of the drives by a couple of people)
Madagascar Sparrowhawk, Accipiter madagascariensis - P
Henst's Goshawk, Accipiter henstii - R
Madagascar Buzzard, Buteo brachypterus - T, Z, R, P, Am

Madagascar Kestrel, Falco newton - T, I, Z, Is, R, P
Banded Kestrel, Falco zoniventris - I
Peregrine Falcon, Falco peregrinus - S(g), Z

Madagascar Partridge, Margaroperdix madagascarensis - Is
Quail sp. (Harlequin or Common) - Is

Helmeted Guineafowl, Numida meleagris (introduced) - close to Ampijoroa

White-breasted Mesite, Mesitornis variegata - Am
Brown Mesite, Mesitornis unicolor - R
Subdesert Mesite, Monias bensch - I

Madagascar Buttonquail, Turnix nigricollis - T, I

Madagascar Flufftail, Sarothrura insularis - R(h), P
Madagascar Wood-Rail, Canirallus kioloides - R, P
Madagascar Rail, Rallus madagascariensis - P
White-throated Rail, Dryolimnas cuvieri - T(h), Is, P, Am
Baillon's Crake, Porzana pusilla - T
Common Moorhen, Gallinula chloropus - P
Red-knobbed Coot, Fulica cristata - T

Madagascar Jacana, Actophilornis albinucha - Am (just one)

Greater Painted-snipe, Rostratula benghalensis - T

Crab Plover, Dromas ardeola - T, B

Black-winged Stilt, Himantopus himantopus - T

Madagascar Pratincole, Glareola ocularis - close to Ampijoroa

Black-bellied Plover, Pluvialis squatarola - T, B
Common Ringed Plover, Charadrius hiaticula - T, B
Madagascar Plover, Charadrius thoracicus - T, B
Kittlitz's Plover, Charadrius pecuarius - A, T
Three-banded Plover, Charadrius tricollaris - T
White-fronted Plover, Charadrius marginatus - T, B
Mongolian Plover, Charadrius mongolus - B
Greater Sandplover, Charadrius leschenaultii - T, B

Madagascar Snipe, Gallinago macrodactyla - R
Bar-tailed Godwit, Limosa lapponica - B
Whimbrel, Numenius phaeopus - T, B
Common Greenshank, Tringa nebularia - T, B
Terek Sandpiper, Xenus cinereus - T, B
Common Sandpiper, Actitis hypoleucos - A, R, Am
Ruddy Turnstone, Arenaria interpres - T, B
Sanderling, Calidris alba - T, B
Curlew Sandpiper, Calidris ferruginea - A, T, B

Gray-headed Gull, Larus cirrocephalus - A

Caspian Tern, Sterna caspia - T
Lesser Crested Tern, Sterna bengalensis - T, B
Great Crested Tern, Sterna bergii - T, B
Common Tern, Sterna hirundo - T
Little / Saunders's Tern, Sterna albifrons / saunders - T, B
Whiskered Tern, Chlidonias hybridus - I

Madagascar Sandgrouse, Pterocles personatus - T

Feral Pigeon Columba livia - A, T, Is, R
Madagascar Turtle-Dove Streptopelia picturata - T, Is, R, P, Am
Namaqua Dove Oena capensis - I, T, Is, Am
Madagascar Green-Pigeon Treron australis - I, T, Z
Madagascar Blue-Pigeon Alectroenas madagascariensis - R, P

Gray-headed Lovebird Agapornis canus - I, T, Am
Greater Vasa Parrot Coracopsis vasa - R, P, Am
Lesser Vasa (Black) Parrot Coracopsis nigra - I, Z, P, Am

Madagascar Lesser Cuckoo, Cuculus rochi  - I, T, Is(h), R, P(h), Am(h)
Giant Coua, Coua gigas - Z
Coquerel's Coua, Coua coquereli - Z, Am
Red-breasted Coua, Coua serriana - P
Red-fronted Coua, Coua reynaudii - R
Red-capped Coua, Coua ruficeps - Am
Running Coua, Coua cursor - I, T(h)
Crested Coua, Coua cristata -  I, Z, Am
Verreaux's Coua, Coua verreauxi - T
Blue Coua, Coua caerulea - R, P
Madagascar Coucal, Centropus toulou - I, T, Is, R(h), P, Am

Malagasy Scops-Owl, Otus rutilus - P
Torotoroka Scops-Owl, Otus madagascariensis - Is
White-browed Owl, Ninox superciliaris - P
Madagascar Long-eared Owl, Asio madagascariensis - P
Marsh Owl, Asio capensis - A, Is

Madagascar Nightjar, Caprimulgus madagascariensis - I, T, R(g), Am(h)
Collared Nightjar, Caprimulgus enarratus - P

Malagasy Spinetail, Zoonavena grandidieri - Z, P
African Palm-Swift, Cypsiurus parvus - T, Z, Is, Am
Alpine Swift, Tachymarptis melba - Is
Madagascar Swift, Apus balstoni - T, R

Malagasy Kingfisher, Alcedo vintsioides - T, Is, R, P, Am
Madagascar Pygmy-Kingfisher, Ispidina madagascariensis - P

Madagascar Bee-eater, Merops superciliosus - T, Is, R, P, Am

Broad-billed Roller, Eurystomus glaucurus - Z, R, P, Am

Short-legged Ground-Roller, Brachypteracias leptosomus - P
Scaly Ground-Roller, Brachypteracias squamigera - P
Pitta-like Ground-Roller, Atelornis pittoides - R, P
Rufous-headed Ground-Roller, Atelornis crossleyi - R
Long-tailed Ground-Roller, Uratelornis chimaera - I

Cuckoo Roller, Leptosomus discolor - Z, R(h), P, Am(h)

Madagascar Hoopoe, Upupa marginata - I, T, Z, Am

Velvet Asity, Philepitta castanea - R
Schlegel's Asity, Philepitta schlegeli - Am
Common Sunbird Asity, Neodrepanis coruscans - R
Yellow-bellied Sunbird Asity, Neodrepanis hypoxanthus - R

Madagascar Lark, Mirafra hova - T, Is, Am

Plain Martin, Riparia paludicola - R, P
Mascarene Martin, Phedina borbonica - A, T, R, P, Am

Madagascar Wagtail, Motacilla flaviventris - A, R, P, Am

Madagascar (Ashy) Cuckoo-shrike, Coracina cinerea - I, R, P, Am

Long-billed Greenbul, Phyllastrephus madagascariensis - Z, R
Spectacled Greenbul, Phyllastrephus zosterops - R, P
Appert's Greenbul, Phyllastrephus apperti - Z
Gray-crowned Greenbul, Phyllastrephus cinereiceps - R(g), P
Madagascar Bulbul, Hypsipetes madagascariensis - I, T, Z, Is, R, P, Am

Forest Rock-Thrush, Pseudocossyphus sharpei - R
Benson's Rock-Thrush, Pseudocossyphus bensoni - Is
Littoral Rock-Thrush, Pseudocossyphus imerinus - T

Madagascar Cisticola, Cisticola cherinus - I, T, Is, R

Brown Emu-tail, Dromaeocercus brunneus - R
Gray Emu-tail, Dromaeocercus seebohmi - R
Madagascar Brush-Warbler, Nesillas typica typica - R, P
Subdesert Brush-Warbler, Nesillas typica lantzii - T
Thamnornis, Thamnornis chloropetoides - I
Madagascar Swamp-Warbler, Acrocephalus newtoni - T, P
Rand's Warbler, Randia pseudozosterops - R, P
Dark Newtonia, Newtonia amphichroa - R
Common Newtonia, Newtonia brunneicauda - I, Z(h), R, P, Am
Archbold's Newtonia, Newtonia archboldi - I
Cryptic Warbler, Cryptosylvicola randriansoloi - R

Madagascar Magpie-Robin, Copsychus albospecularis - T, R, P, Am
African Stonechat, Saxicola torquata - Is, R, P, Am

Ward's Flycatcher, Pseudobias wardi - R(h+g), P

Madagascar Paradise-Flycatcher, Terpsiphone mutata - T, Z, R, P, Am

Common Jery, Neomixis tenella - I, T, Z, P, Am
Green Jery, Neomixis viridis - R, P
Stripe-throated Jery, Neomixis striatigula - I, Z
Wedge-tailed Jery, Hartertula flavoviridis - R, P
White-throated Oxylabes, Oxylabes madagascariensis - R(g), P
Yellow-browed Oxylabes, Crossleyia xanthophrys - R
Crossley's Babbler, Mystacornis crossleyi - R(h+g), P

Souimanga Sunbird, Cinnyris sovimanga - I, T, Z, R, P, Am
Madagascar Sunbird, Cinnyris notatus - R, P

Madagascar White-eye, Zosterops maderaspatanus - A(g), Z, R, P, Am

Red-tailed Vanga, Calicalicus madagascariensis - R, P(h)
Red-shouldered Vanga, Calicalicus rufocarpalis - T
Rufous Vanga, Schetba rufa - Z(h), Am
Hook-billed Vanga, Vanga curvirostris - T, P, Am(h)
Lafresnaye's Vanga, Xenopirostris xenopirostris - I
Van Dam's Vanga, Xenopirostris damii - Am
Pollen's Vanga, Xenopirostris polleni - R
Sickle-billed Vanga, Falculea palliata - I, Am
White-headed Vanga, Artamella viridis - I, R(g), Am
Chabert Vanga, Leptopterus chabert - I, T, R, P, Am
Blue Vanga, Cyanolanius madagascarinus - R, Am
Tylas Vanga, Tylas eduardi - R, P
Nuthatch Vanga, Hypositta corallirostris - P

Crested Drongo, Dicrurus forficatus - I, T, Z, Is, R, P, Am
Pied Crow, Corvus albus - A, I, T, Z, Is, R, P, Am

Madagascar Starling, Saroglossa aurata - Rg, P
Common Myna, Acridotheres tristis (introduced) - A, T, Is, R, P, Am

Nelicourvi Weaver, Ploceus nelicourvi - R, P
Sakalava Weaver, Ploceus sakalava - T, Am
Red Fody, Foudia madagascariensis - I, T, R, P, Am
Forest Fody, Foudia omissa - R, P

Madagascar Munia, Lonchura nana - I, Is, Am


Eastern Red Forest Rat, Nesomys rufus - R
Fanaloka (Striped Civet), Fossa fossana - R
Ring-tailed Mongoose, Galidia elegans - R
Brown Mouse Lemur, Microcebus rufus - R, P
Red-tailed Sportive Lemur, Lepilemur ruficaudatus - Z (all we saw was some of its fur sticking out of a roost hole)
Eastern Gray Bamboo Lemur, Hapalemur griseus griseus - R, P
Ring-tailed Lemur, Lemur catta - T
Common Brown Lemur, Eulemur fulvus - P
Red-bellied Lemur, Eulemur rubriventer - R
Black-and-white Ruffed Lemur, Varecia variegata variagata - P
Eastern Woolly Lemur (Avahi), Avahi laniger - P
Diademed Sifaka, Propithecus diadema edwardsi - R
Milne-Edwards Diademed Sifaka, Propithecus diadema diadema - P
Coquerel's Sifaka, Propithecus verreauxi coquereli - Am
Indri, Indri Indri - P
In addition, the people who went looking for mammals at Ranomafana one afternoon saw Greater Bamboo Lemur (Hapalemur simus) and Golden Bamboo Lemur (Hapalemur aureus)

Reptiles (we saw more than this, but this list is what we managed to identify)

Nile Crocodile, Crocodylus niloticus - Am
Short-horned Chameleon, Calumma brevicornis - P
Nose-horned Chameleon, Calumma nasuta - P
Band-bellied Chameleon, Calumma gastrotaenia - P
Oustalet's Chameleon, Furcifer oustaleti - Z
Three-eyed Lizard, Chalarodon madagascariensis - T, I
Cuvier's Iguanid, Oplurus cuvieri - Am
Sikora (Mossy) Leaf-tailed Gecko, Uroplatus sikorae - P
Madagascar Day Gecko, Phelsuma madagascariensis - T
Phelsuma standingi - T, Z
Phelsuma mutabilis - I
Gravenhorst's Skink, Mabuya gravenhorstii - I
Madagascar Tree Boa, Sanzinia madagascariensis - P
Giant Hog-nosed Snake, Leioheterodon madagascariensis - Am
Mahafaly Sand Snake, Mimophis mahfalensis - I


Painted Mantella, Mantella madagascariensis - P


Giraffe-necked Weevil - P
Large red and black millipede - R, P


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