Madagascar - September 2014

Madagascar has always been a destination that we have wanted to visit however it is usually quite expensive, so any plans were put off. However this year Yvonne and I were planning on spending a couple of months in South Africa, so this was an ideal time to visit Madagascar. In addition to the unique birds of Madagascar we were also interested in the many species of lemur and chameleon.  We flew from Johannesburg on South African Airways to Antananarivo which was a good flight with a reliable airline, leaving on time and arriving early.

Verreaux’s Sifaka
The timing for our 19 day trip was late September through to early October and this was just before the main birding season for Madagascar. I had a look at a number of tour companies, both international and local companies, and decided to use Great Island Adventure Safaris run by Bakoly Razanamiarantsoa.

Bakoly had come highly recommended by Roger McGovern, who had done a trip with her in 2007.  In addition, we had good responses from Bakoly when developing our itinerary and the overall cost for a private tour, together with good accommodation, was less than birding tours run by international companies. It is important to book the trip as early as possible, we booked nine months ahead, in order to secure the best accommodation.

Our accommodation ranged from comfortable through to top of the range, with the meals ranging from basic to very good French cuisine. Some of the culinary highlights included lobster at one of the beachside resorts and having a French chef prepare our meals to order at another coastal resort. 

The trip organisation was excellent and Bakoly was good company too. Having been involved with organising and guiding birding tours for international birding companies such as Rockjumper, Bakoly had plenty of experience and also knew the best local guides to use at the various national parks.
The forests in the national parks were generally in excellent condition with good birding opportunities. On arrival at the various national parks, we were introduced to local guides who were well trained and very knowledgeable about the local birds, mammals, chameleons etc.  Some of the birding was quite hard work, particularly working the slopes of the tropical rain forests. Did a lot of sweating and bundu bashing trying to get the Brown Mesite at Ranomafana National Park, which we could hear but never managed to see.  

Ranomafana National Park
The birding in Madagascar was particularly successful with 169 birds recorded of which four were heard only. Of my target birds which could have been seen for the areas of Madagascar visited, we only missed eight birds, which is a measure of how successful the trip was.  My target list for possible lifers in Madagascar is now only 28 birds and to see these birds would involve a lot of travel to remote and difficult areas to access in Madagascar.

Other than the birds we saw 22 species of Lemur including some which are very difficult to find. Whilst some of the Lemur species are easy to see, such as the Coquerel’s Sifaka at Ankarafantsika, others such as the Golden Bamboo Lemur involve a lot of hard work walking up and down steep forested areas. Others such as the various Sportive Lemurs and Mouse Lemurs are difficult to find due to their small size and good camouflage. 
As many visitors have previously commented, travelling around Madagascar involves lots of driving with long distances to cover. The actual driving however was fairly slow and relatively safe, and we had good 4WD vehicles for our trip. The road conditions were a lot better than we had expected, with most of the roads in good condition, although there are some very poor roads with potholes and the dirt roads are best avoided if possible. Overall the condition of the roads was similar to what we saw in Kenya and these days the South African roads are tending to go the same way.

Rural Houses in Madagascar 
Madagascar was not as denuded and barren as some reports would indicate and was similar to many other parts of Africa that we have visited. It was however evident that the rain forests and even the spiny forests of the south are being continually harvested, burnt and converted to farmland.  
Typical Madagascan Countryside
The weather for the trip was generally warm to hot, especially at some of the coastal areas. We had some light rain on part of the trip but this didn’t detract from the birding. The trip was also leech free except for Perinet-Mantadia National Park where we had numerous leeches after some light rain.  
Trip Report
Sunday 21st September: Arrival
Flew from Johannesburg to Antananarivo on SAA8252 departing at 10am and arriving at 2pm. Visas are free and obtained on arrival, although it takes at least six officials to process your passport.
Met up with Bakoly and transferred to Tana Plaza Hotel located in the capital Antananarivo. Not the best of hotels but comfortable and had very good French dinners, although the breakfasts were pretty awful. Would probably have been better to stay closer to the airport to avoid the traffic and French designed road system in the capital.

Monday 22nd September: Drive to Ranomafana
Departed after an early morning breakfast for the long drive to Ranomafana National Park. This national park is the only protected area where the endangered Golden Bamboo Lemur and Greater Bamboo Lemur are known to occur.
Stopped for lunch in Ambositra before continuing the drive to Ranomafana, arriving in the early evening. Relatively few birds seen during the drive with Malagasy Kingfisher, Malagasy Kestrel and Madagascan Stonechat being of interest.

Malagasy Kingfisher
Dinner and overnight at Centrest Hotel which had good accommodation and pleasant gardens. Madagascan Wagtail breed in the hotel grounds.
Tuesday 23rd September: Ranomafana National Park
Today we did a lot of walking through the Ranomafana rainforest and saw a total of 44 species of birds plus two species of Lemur.  The Red-bellied Lemur was seen in the morning and the Eastern Rufous Mouse Lemur in the early evening together with many chameleons, frogs and the odd snake.

Madagascar Giant Chameleon
The birding highlights were numerous, including birds such as Pitta-like Ground Roller, four Vanga species (Red-tailed, Pollen’s, Chabert and Tylas), Blue Coua, Meller’s Duck and Forest Rock Thrush. We managed to see both the Brown Emutail and Grey Emutail after much searching. The standout of the day was the Madagascan Flufftail, which was easily heard, even from a couple of meters away, and was eventually seen walking across the path to where Yvonne was sitting.
Dinner and overnight at Centrest Hotel.

Wednesday 24th September: Ranomafana National Park
The morning involved some particularly strenuous walking for seven hours, up and down the steep forest slopes of Ranomafana. We saw 33 species of birds and four Lemur species, plus the lovely rufous coloured Ring-tailed Mongoose.

Ring-tailed Mongoose
The Lemur species included the common Brown Lemur, the rarely seen Golden Bamboo Lemur (discovered in 1985 at Ranomafana), Grey Bamboo Lemur (the Ranomafana subspecies discovered in about 1998) and the attractive Milne Edwards’s Sifaka.

Milne Edwards’s Sifaka
In the afternoon I did some extensive bundu bashing with the local guide and Bakoly to try and find the Brown Mesite which we heard but didn’t manage to see. The birding conditions in the afternoon were not good, being quite gloomy with some mist and light rain.  I only recorded three birds for the afternoon, so not sure it was worth the effort to try and find the Brown Mesite, when there were other birds we could have been looking for.

Blue Vanga
The birding highlights for the morning were again numerous and included Henst’s Goshawk, Madagascan Blue Pigeon, Madagascan Pygmy Kingfisher, Blue Vanga, White-headed Vanga, Nuthatch Vanga and White-throated Oxylabes.

Madagascan Pygmy Kingfisher
Dinner and overnight at Centrest Hotel.

Thursday 25th September: Drive to Isalo
Today involved a full day’s drive to Isalo which was quite scenic and was broken up with stops along the way.

First stop was at Ambalavao town where we visited the factory making the handmade Antemoro paper fabric. Quite an impressive process and we bought some of their products which included flowers embedded into the paper fabric, and which customs allowed us to bring back into Australia.

Flowers being embedded into the wet paper pulp before drying

We then stopped at the Anja forest to view Ring-tailed Lemur followed by lunch at the local restaurant.

Anja forest site for Ring-tailed Lemur
The Ring-tailed Lemur were nice to see and didn’t involve any strenuous walking, however the Anja forest area had an interesting Giant Chameleon plus some nice birds including Grey-headed Lovebird, Madagascan Buzzard, Madagascan Hoopoe and Olive Bee-eater.

Ring-tailed Lemur
On arriving at Ranohira Village (Isalo), we went to the interpretation centre area to look for Benson’s Rock Thrush, a subspecies of the Forest Rock Thrush, which inhabits the eroded Jurassic sandstone massif.

Jurassic sandstone massif at Isalo

At our hotel that afternoon, I heard a pair of Malagasy Green Sunbird creating a commotion and thought there may be a snake up against the rocky cliffs.  Under the trees next to the cliffs I found this strange Giant Chameleon with feathers forming a crest. I then realised that it had taken a Green Sunbird chick from the nearby nest and was trying to swallow the bird.

Saw a couple of pairs of Benson’s Rock Thrush in the hotel grounds together with Malagasy Coucal and Madagascan Magpie-robin.
Malagasy Coucal
Dinner and overnight at Le Relais de la Reine, which was one of the top hotels of the trip. The hotel grounds with the sandstone massifs were very impressive as well.
Le Relais de la Reine

Friday 26th September: Drive to Ifaty via Zombitse National Park
Did some early morning birding before breakfast and saw a Malagasy Pond Heron next to the creek which was a bit unusual.

After breakfast, drove through to Ifaty, with a stop at Zombitse National Park.  Zombitse is a remnant dry deciduous forest of the southern region and the only forest where the range restricted Appert’s Tetraka can be found.

Zombitse was quite dry and fairly warm by the time we arrived. After meeting up with the local guide, the first sighting was a pair of White-browed Hawk-owl.

White-browed Hawk-owl

We then saw Coquerel’s Coua, Giant Coua, Cuckoo Roller, Rufous Vanga, Appert’s Tetraka and Lesser Vasa Parrot amongst the 13 species of birds seen.

Giant Coua

Also seen was a single Hubbard’s Sportive Lemur and about eighteen Verreaux’s Sifaka, which were quite approachable and photogenic.

Hubbard’s Sportive Lemur

Verreaux’s Sifaka
After having lunch at the nearby village, we drove through to Toliara on the coast. Just north of the town, we took some poor dirt roads and had a stop at the wetlands at Belalanda before continuing northwards to our hotel at Ifaty. At the wetlands we saw Red-billed and Hottentot Teal, Kittlitz’s Plover and other non-endemic waders plus Madagascan Cisticola.
The hotel had some comfortable accommodation with a lovely swimming pool and open dining area, overlooking the calm Indian Ocean.  

Le Nautilus Beachfront Hotel
The hotel grounds were good for birds, with quite a few birds coming in to drink at the birdbaths. We saw Malagasy Green Sunbird, Chabert Vanga, Malagasy Coucal, Namaqua Dove, Crested Drongo, Sakalava Weaver, Madagascan Magpie-Robin and Subdesert Brush Warbler during the afternoon and in the evening had Madagascan Nightjar hawking over the pool area.  
Dinner and overnight at Le Nautilus Beachfront Hotel. The hotel is run by a French couple and is very relaxed and provides excellent meals.

Saturday 27th September: Ifaty Spiny Forest
We had an early morning visit to Ifaty Spiny Forest, from 5:30am through to 8am, which is an impressive forest full of seriously spiky plants and different baobab trees. This area is particularly important for birding as many of the birds seen here are difficult to find elsewhere in Madagascar.

Ifaty Spiny Forest

We saw a number of new and impressive birds including Long-tailed Ground Roller, Green-capped Coua (subspecies), Running Coua, Subdesert Mesite, Thamnornis Warbler, Archbold’s Newtonia, Madagascan Buttonquail, Madagascan Harrier-hawk (pink facial skin), Lafresnaye’s Vanga and Sickle-billed Vanga. We unfortunately didn’t see the Banded Kestrel which is often seen in the area.
Green-capped Coua (subspecies)
We then spent an hour at a nearby salt pan where we saw our target birds, the Madagascan Plover and Madagascan Lark, together with other waders such as European Whimbrel, White-fronted Plover and Ruddy Turnstone.
Back to the hotel for lunch and relaxing in the afternoon. A walk along the beach produced some nice shorebirds such as European Whimbrel, Sanderling, Grey Plover, Common Ringed Plover, Common Greenshank, Curlew Sandpiper and Ruddy Turnstone. Also had Lesser Vasa Parrot flying overhead.

In the late afternoon we went back to Ifaty Spiny Forest to try and find the Banded Kestrel. It was very hot and there was a problem with the local guides, who had a different agenda, so nothing new was seen for this visit, although had better views of the Long-tailed Ground Roller. 

Dinner and overnight at Le Nautilus Beachfront Hotel. Had lobster for dinner that evening much to the envy of a large group of visitors having dinner at the hotel.

Sunset at Le Nautilus Beachfront Hotel
Sunday 28th September: Drive back to Toliara and visit La Table Scrub Forest, then fly back to Antananarivo
We had a very early morning drive to get to La Table Scrub Forest, a few kilometres northeast of Toliara, then a quick visit to some wetlands, before catching our 10am flight from Toliara to Antananarivo. Along the way we were stopped by police for passport checks, the only time we were stopped at any of the numerous police and army roadblocks that pervade Madagascar.

At La Table it took us a long time to find the range restricted Red-shouldered Vanga, only described as a new species in 1997, and then the Verreaux’s Coua. It’s particularly tough work moving though the thorny bush and scrub, and the guides had their clothes ripped as they tried to track down the birds for us.

Red-shouldered Vanga
We then drove back few kilometres to a small wetland to look for Madagascar Sandgrouse but we arrived too late and missed them.
We had limited time in the morning as the afternoon flight had been changed to the morning and Air Madagascar is renowned for changing flying times or cancelling flights, so we had to get to the airport early to ensure we had a seat on the flight. As it turned out the previous day’s flight had been cancelled so customers from the previous day were there early to get onto our flight. Bakoly handled all the check-in issues with ease, although appeared stressed, and we managed to get onto the flight.

The actual flight was fine and on arrival in Antananarivo we drove to Lake Alarobia on the way into town. The lake had hundreds of duck, teal, herons and egrets, with Malagasy Pond Heron, Knob-billed Duck, Meller’s Duck, Dimorphic Egret and White-faced Whistling Duck being of interest. We also had great views of two White-throated Rail in a small pond right next to the path.

Dinner and overnight at Tana Plaza Hotel. At dusk we had many Malagasy Black Swift together with Brown-throated Martin seen from the hotel and flying over Antananarivo city.

Monday 29th September: Drive to Perinet-Mantadia National Park
After breakfast we drove eastwards from Antananarivo to Moramanga and then northwards to Perinet-Mantadia National Park. Along the way we stopped at Mangoro River to look for Madagascar Pratincole, which we didn’t find.  The Perinet-Mantadia National Park now comprises two separate national parks. The Analamazaotra or Perinet Special Reserve, known locally as Andasibe after the nearby village, was once part of the larger Mantadia National Park. However logging and deforestation for farming has resulted in these national parks now being isolated.

After lunch we met up with the local guide Luke and visited the Perinet Special Reserve, which protects the largest living lemur, the Indri. The birding was good with Madagascan Ibis, Rainforest Scops Owl, Madagascan Owl, Blue Coua, Malagasy Brush Warbler and Stripe-throated Jery being seen. Mammals seen included Eastern Woolly Lemur, Diademed Sifaka and Indri.

Blue Coua
The Vakona Forest Lodge had some of the best accommodation of the trip, with lovely chalets overlooking forest and wetlands. This hotel is particularly popular with tourists and needs to be booked well in advance.  

Vakona Forest Lodge
Dinner and overnight at Vakona Forest Lodge.

Tuesday 30th September: Mantadia National Park
After an early breakfast, we drove into the Mantadia National Park for a full day’s birding, which turned out to be some of the best birding of the trip.  

This was to be the last tropical rainforest visited on the east coast of Madagascar and Bakoly gave Luke a list of target species, which included many tough birds to get. We slowly worked our way through the target species, with good views of Madagascan Grebe, Madagascan Sparrowhawk, Madagascan Rail, Collared Nightjar, Madagascan Spinetail, Short-legged Ground Roller, Scaly Ground Roller, Red-fronted Coua, Greater Vasa Parrot, Red-tailed Vanga, Hook-billed Vanga, Madagascan Cuckooshrike, Mascarene Martin, Long-billed Bernieria, Common Sunbird-Asity and Red Fody.

Collared Nightjar
Three Ground Roller species are found in these forests and are hard to track down, with the ones we saw involving a lot of bundu bashing, creek crossings and crawling through dense thickets. We didn’t manage to find the Rufous-headed Ground Roller despite a lot of effort by Luke and walking though leech infected overgrown paths and bush.
Luke heard a Madagascan Serpent Eagle calling, which is a particularly rare endemic eagle, but unfortunately we didn’t manage to locate the bird. I heard the call as well which I thought was similar to the call of the Crested Serpent Eagle in flight, although I haven’t been able to track down any sound recordings to verify this.

Mammals seen for the day and during the night walk included Lowland Streaked Tenrec, Greater Dwarf Lemur, Goodman’s Mouse Lemur, Eastern Woolly Lemur and Malagasy Civet.

Lowland Streaked Tenrec

Dinner and overnight at Vakona Forest Lodge.

Wednesday 1st October: Perinet-Mantadia National Park
Today we spent the full day in the Perinet Special Reserve. Before breakfast I saw a Frances’s Sparrowhawk in the hotel grounds, a very small sparrowhawk which is supposed to be common in Madagascar. I think that the description “common” is overused in the field guides and many of the “common” birds were only seen once by ourselves. The other possible explanation is that birds that were common when the book was researched are no longer common?

Frances’s Sparrowhawk (female)

We didn’t see as many birds as the previous day, as we spent a lot of time searching for Rufous-headed Ground Roller, and Perinet is less productive than Mantadia for birding.  We did however get very good views of up to four Madagascar Wood Rail in the path and two Red-fronted Coua close to the path.
Red-fronted Coua
We also saw Madagascan Cuckoo, Forest Fody, Malagasy White-eye, White-throated Oxylabes and Velvet Asity. We only heard Crossley’s Vanga, despite a lot of searching with the bird being frustratingly close, and Spectacled Tetraka, the latter bird supposedly commonly seen. 
Dinner and overnight at Vakona Forest Lodge.

Thursday 2nd October: Drive back to Antananarivo
After some early morning birding around the forests surrounding the hotel and breakfast, we drove back to Antananarivo, with stops at Mangoro River crossing and Pereyras Reptile Farm. No luck with Madagascan Pratincole at Mangoro River although Bakoly found out later that the pratincole were present but could only be seen from a side road further up the river.

Pereyras Reptile Farm was very interesting with many species of colourful chameleons ranging from the smallest 10 cm Stump-tailed Chameleon (Brookesia peyrierasi) to the large 75 cm green Parson’s Chameleon (Calumma parsonii).

Parson’s Chameleon (Calumma parsonii)
We also saw Leaf-tailed Geckos, tiny tree frog, snakes and butterflies. At the reptile farm you walk through large enclosures, which house the chameleons and can photograph the huge chameleons being fed with crickets and grasshoppers.

Panther’s Chameleon (Furcifer pardalis)

Dinner and overnight at Tana Plaza Hotel.

Friday 3rd October: Fly to Mahajanga
More fun and games with Air Madagascar, the 8am flight had been changed to 6am, so we had to get up at 3am in the morning. Of course when we arrived at the airport, they had moved the departure back to 8am, so some particularly disgruntled customers, not that Air Madagascar has any idea about customer service.

After the argy-bargy of check-in, duplicate passenger screening and multiple passport checks, we had breakfast and then boarded the plane for a pleasant and scenic flight to Mahajanga, which is northwest of Antananarivo.
Bakoly introduced us to our new driver and we headed up the coast to Ansanitia Resort, a lovely resort overlooking a large estuary and the Indian Ocean. We relaxed in the open air restaurant doing some birding with the telescope before having a great lunch. Bakoly certainly knows some good places to visit.

View from Ansanitia Resort
We saw four Crab Plover along the estuary shoreline, these would be the only ones seen on the trip, plus Greater and Lesser Crested Tern, African Palm Swift and Malagasy Black Swift.

After lunch we drove back to Mahajanga and checked into the Karibu Lodge overlooking the Indian Ocean. This was one of the top places we stayed at, with a double story accommodation, losts of space and great views over the ocean. In the early morning and late afternoon, many Arab fishing dhows are seen cruising to and from the fishing grounds. The meals at this hotel were the best of the trip, with a dedicated French chef preparing meals to order, and discussing what was available on the menu before orders were taken.

Dinner and overnight at Karibu Lodge.

Saturday 4th October: Boat trip to Betsiboka Estuary
After an early breakfast we headed to the beach and boarded a motor boat for our trip to Betsiboka Estuary. Our main target today was the rare Bernier’s Teal.

The sea was smooth and it was a lovely ride along the coast to the huge Betsiboka Estuary, which we had seen from the air when we flew in the previous day. It was also lovely and cool with the sea breeze and made a change from sweating through tropical rainforest and hot dry spiny forests.
The birding along the estuary was excellent and we saw at least 18 Bernier’s Teal, plus Madagascan Harrier-hawk, Lesser Flamingo, Madagascan Sacred Ibis, Striated Heron, Grey Heron, Purple Heron, White-throated Rail, Bar-tailed Godwit, Terek Sandpiper, Greater Sand Plover plus many Dimorphic Egret.

Striated Heron
We didn’t however manage to find any Humblot’s Heron or Crab Plover which are sometimes seen at the estuary. We then headed back for lunch and took the afternoon off.

Dinner and overnight at Karibu Lodge.

Sunday 5th October: Drive to Ankarafantsika National Park
After breakfast, we drove through to Ankarafantsika National Park arriving just after 9am. We also had a new driver and a new VW Turago 4WD, which was very comfortable and had lots of power being a diesel.

The Ankarafantsika National Park is located between the Betsiboka River to the west and the Mahajamba River to the east. The park occupies about 135,000 hectares and consists of patches of thick dry tropical forest interspersed with less dense areas. The accommodation overlooks some forest and a small lake which is very good for birding. At the accommodation we had Coquerel's Sifaka visiting us and was really special to be able to see Sifaka from our veranda.
Coquerel's Sifaka
In the evenings, during dinner, we had Milne-Edwards’ Sportive Lemur screeching and could be seen with a spotlight. The birdlife around the dining area and accommodation area was great, with nice birds like Sickle-billed Vanga easily seen. This park is Bakoly’s favourite part of Madagascar and I can see why.

Sickle-billed Vanga
 The accommodation, whilst basic was quite comfortable and spacious, and a lot better than I had been lead to believe. The meals and service at the restaurant were also good, and the staff very friendly.
On arrival we headed off into the forest with our local guide and Bakoly, to get in some birding before it became too hot. Some of the highlights included Madagascan Cuckoo-hawk, Madagascan Sparrowhawk, White-breasted Mesite, Crested Coua, Red-capped Coua (different to the Green-capped Coua subspecies seen at Ifaty), Coquerel’s Coua, White-headed Vanga, Blue Vanga, Chabert Vanga and Malagasy Paradise Flycatcher.

Crested Coua
After a late lunch we had a siesta before visiting some farming areas which had a small lake. There we saw African Pygmy Goose, Malagasy Pond Heron, Madagascan Jacana, Broad-billed Roller, Madagascan Pygmy Kingfisher and Olive Bee-eater.
In the early evening we went spotlighting and saw Lesser Dwarf Lemur, Grey Mouse Lemur, Ravelobe Mouse Lemur, Mongoose Lemur and Milne-Edwards’ Sportive Lemur, in addition to a number of Chameleon species.

Dinner and overnight at Ankarafantsika Basic Ecolodge.

Monday 6th October: Ankarafantsika National Park
Today we started early, whilst it was still cool and birded up until the early afternoon. This included forest walks and a visit to the nearby lake. Mid afternoon we took a drive to nearby rice paddies and to Lake Amboromalandy.

Highlights for the morning were the Frances’s Sparrowhawk, Schlegel’s Asity, White-breasted Mesite, Madagascan Green Pigeon, Blue Vanga, Rufous Vanga and Sickle-billed Vanga all seen in the forest. At the lake the highlights included the rare Madagascan Fish Eagle and a single Humblot’s Heron plus we saw Glossy Ibis, Little Bittern, Black Heron, Madagascan Buzzard, Allen’s Gallinule and Broad-billed Roller.
Madagascan Fish Eagle
At the rice paddies and Lake Amboromalandy we looked for Madagascar Snipe but didn’t find any. There were quite a few birds in this area including over 30 Black Heron and 40 Glossy Ibis, together with some more Madagascan Green Pigeon, but nothing new for the trip.
Dinner and overnight at Ankarafantsika Basic Ecolodge.

Tuesday 7th October: Ankarafantsika National Park
Today was another early start and we had some key birds still to find, in particular the difficult to see Van Dam’s Vanga. We saw quite a few birding groups go out in search of this bird and fail, and then keep looking for it through the heat of the day, most times getting back for dinner exhausted and frustrated. 

Bakoly had secured the services of the best guide for Ankarafantsika, who was fairly reserved but was good at his birding. We started off with good views of the White-breasted Mesite and then had Madagascan Buttonquail right next to the path making platelets, before crossing the path in full view, and then saw another two buttonquail a bit later on. We then had great views of a single Van Dam’s Vanga and followed this up with a second bird a little later on.
Madagascan Buttonquail
We also saw the very nice Torotoroka Scops Owl roosting up against a tree trunk. The endemic Torotoroka Scops Owl (Otus madagascariensis) is one of the smallest of the seven species of owls in Madagascar, and is a common nocturnal species in forest and wooded habitat along the western and southern coasts. The taxonomy of this species is somewhat complicated. Some authors do not consider Otus madagascariensis a valid taxon and lump it with the Rainforest Scops Owl (Otus rutilus), however the IOC splits the birds.  In any event, the western coast species is quite dark compared with the rainforest species of the eastern coast and has a different song, with a series of trembled rather than pure notes, at a lower pitch.

Torotoroka Scops Owl
Of interest was the white-winged form of the Madagascan Magpie-robin which we saw at Ankarafantsika, together with the more common white-bellied form, seen here and elsewhere. We only saw the black-bellied form once at Perinet-Mantadia NP.
Madagascan Magpie-robin (white-bellied form) 
In the late morning we took a barge around Lake Ravelobe to get some close-up views of the rare Madagascar Fish Eagle and Humblot’s Heron plus other nice birds including Malagasy Coucal and Malagasy Kingfisher.

Humblot’s Heron
Dinner and overnight at Ankarafantsika Basic Ecolodge.

Wednesday 8th October: Drive back to Antananarivo
We left early in the morning for our long journey to Antananarivo along sealed roads which were in good condition, given that I had heard it was an awful road from others.

We stopped at the bridge over the wide Betsiboka River and saw four Madagascan Pratincole, which was very nice to finally see these birds.
After a picnic-lunch en route, the driver spotted a Malagasy Harrier hawking over fields next to the road. We jumped out of the car for some great views and photos of the birds. We were very pleased to see this bird and it was a great bird to end the trip on.

Malagasy Harrier
Late afternoon arrival in Antananarivo and then a farewell dinner at the Villa Vanille restaurant. Quite a posh restaurant serving French food and we had a big group of French tourists singing French songs, so quite entertaining.
Overnight at Tana Plaza Hotel.

Thursday 9th October: Departure
We had breakfast with a colleague who is working at the nickel refinery in Toamasina for Ambatovy Nickel.

Bakoly then picked us up for our transfer to the airport for the 3pm flight back to Johannesburg.

Overall an excellent trip to Madagascar, thanks to Bakoly and the various local guides that we met along the way.

Birding Resources
Birds of the Indian Ocean Islands by Ian Sinclair and Olivier Langrand, first edition 1998

Mammals of Madagascar, A Complete Guide by Nick Garbutt, first edition 2007


Tenrecs (Tenrecidae)

Lowland Streaked Tenrec (Hemicentetes semispinosus)


Dwarf Lemurs (Cheirogaleidae)

Greater Dwarf Lemur (Cheirogaleus major)

Lesser Dwarf Lemur (Cheirogaleus medius)

Goodman's Mouse Lemur (Microcebus lehilahytsara)

Grey Mouse Lemur (Microcebus murinus)

Ravelobe Mouse Lemur (Microcebus ravelobensis)

Eastern Rufous Mouse Lemur (Microcebus rufus)

Lemurs (Lemuridae)

Brown Lemur (Eulemur fulvus)

Mongoose Lemur (Eulemur mongoz)

Red-bellied Lemur (Eulemur rubriventer)

Golden Bamboo Lemur (Hapalemur aureus)

Grey Bamboo Lemur [sp] (Hapalemur griseus)

Ring-tailed Lemur (Lemur catta)

Sportive Lemurs (Lepilemuridae)

Milne-Edwards's Sportive Lemur (Lepilemur edwardsi)

White-footed Sportive Lemur (Lepilemur leucopus)

Hubbard's Sportive Lemur (Lepilemur hubbardi)

Indrid Lemurs (Indridae)

Eastern Woolly Lemur (Avahi laniger)

Western Woolly Lemur (Avahi occidentalis)

Indri [sp] (Indri indri)

Coquerel's Sifaka (Propithecus coquereli)

Diademed Sifaka [sp] (Propithecus diadema)

Milne-Edwards's Sifaka (Propithecus edwardsi)

Verreaux's Sifaka (Propithecus verreauxi)


Malagasy endemic Rats and Mice (Nesomyidae)

Rufous Nesomys (Nesomys rufus)



Malagasy Civet (Fossa fossana)

Ring-tailed Mongoose [sp] (Galidia elegans)

For the trip we recorded a total of 169 birds of which 119 were lifers reflecting the high level of endemism for Madagascan birds.

The list of birds according to the IOC taxonomy is as follows:

Ducks, Geese& amp; swans (Anatidae)

White-faced Whistling Duck (Dendrocygna viduata)

Knob-billed Duck (Sarkidiornis melanotos)

African Pygmy Goose (Nettapus auritus)

Meller's Duck (Anas melleri)

Bernier's Teal (Anas bernieri)

Red-billed Teal (Anas erythrorhyncha)

Hottentot Teal (Anas hottentota)


Guineafowl (Numididae)

Helmeted Guineafowl [sp] (Numida meleagris)


Grebes (Podicipedidae)

Little Grebe [sp] (Tachybaptus ruficollis)

Madagascan Grebe (Tachybaptus pelzelnii)


Flamingos (Phoenicopteridae)

Lesser Flamingo (Phoeniconaias minor)


Ibises, Spoonbills (Threskiornithidae)

Malagasy Sacred Ibis [sp] (Threskiornis bernieri)

Glossy Ibis (Plegadis falcinellus)

Madagascan Ibis [sp] (Lophotibis cristata)

Herons, Bitterns (Ardeidae)

Little Bittern [sp] (Ixobrychus minutus)

Black-crowned Night Heron [sp] (Nycticorax nycticorax)

Striated Heron [sp] (Butorides striata)

Squacco Heron (Ardeola ralloides)

Malagasy Pond Heron (Ardeola idae)

Western Cattle Egret (Bubulcus ibis)

Grey Heron [sp] (Ardea cinerea)

Humblot's Heron (Ardea humbloti)

Purple Heron [sp] (Ardea purpurea)

Great Egret [sp] (Ardea alba)

Black Heron (Egretta ardesiaca)

Dimorphic Egret (Egretta dimorpha)

Hamerkop (Scopidae)

Hamerkop [sp] (Scopus umbretta)


Kites, Hawks& amp; Eagles (Accipitridae)

Madagascan Harrier-hawk (Polyboroides radiatus)

Madagascan Serpent Eagle (Eutriorchis astur)

Madagascan Cuckoo-hawk (Aviceda madagascariensis)

Frances's Sparrowhawk [sp] (Accipiter francesiae)

Madagascan Sparrowhawk (Accipiter madagascariensis)

Henst's Goshawk (Accipiter henstii)

Malagasy Harrier (Circus macrosceles)

Yellow-billed Kite [sp] (Milvus aegyptius)

Madagascan Fish Eagle (Haliaeetus vociferoides)

Madagascan Buzzard (Buteo brachypterus)


Mesites (Mesitornithidae)

White-breasted Mesite (Mesitornis variegatus)

Brown Mesite (Mesitornis unicolor)

Subdesert Mesite (Monias benschi)


Flufftails (Sarothruridae)

Madagascan Flufftail (Sarothrura insularis)

Rails, Crakes & Coots (Rallidae)

Madagascan Wood Rail [sp] (Canirallus kioloides)

Madagascan Rail (Rallus madagascariensis)

White-throated Rail [sp] (Dryolimnas cuvieri)

Allen's Gallinule (Porphyrio alleni)

Common Moorhen [sp] (Gallinula chloropus)


Buttonquails (Turnicidae)

Madagascan Buttonquail (Turnix nigricollis)

Crab-plover (Dromadidae)

Crab-plover (Dromas ardeola)

Stilts, Avocets (Recurvirostridae)

Black-winged Stilt (Himantopus himantopus)

Plovers (Charadriidae)

Grey Plover [sp] (Pluvialis squatarola)

Common Ringed Plover [sp] (Charadrius hiaticula)

Madagascan Plover (Charadrius thoracicus)

Kittlitz's Plover (Charadrius pecuarius)

Three-banded Plover [sp] (Charadrius tricollaris)

White-fronted Plover [sp] (Charadrius marginatus)

Greater Sand Plover [sp] (Charadrius leschenaultii)

Jacanas (Jacanidae)

Madagascan Jacana (Actophilornis albinucha)

Sandpipers, Snipes (Scolopacidae)

Bar-tailed Godwit [sp] (Limosa lapponica)

Whimbrel [sp] (Numenius phaeopus)

Common Greenshank (Tringa nebularia)

Terek Sandpiper (Xenus cinereus)

Common Sandpiper (Actitis hypoleucos)

Ruddy Turnstone [sp] (Arenaria interpres)

Sanderling [sp] (Calidris alba)

Curlew Sandpiper (Calidris ferruginea)

Coursers, Pratincoles (Glareolidae)

Madagascan Pratincole (Glareola ocularis)

Gulls, Terns& amp; Skimmers (Laridae)

Greater Crested Tern [sp] (Thalasseus bergii)

Lesser Crested Tern [sp] (Thalasseus bengalensis)


Doves and Pigeons (Columbidae)

Rock Dove [sp] (Columba livia)

Malagasy Turtle Dove [sp] (Nesoenas picturata)

Namaqua Dove [sp] (Oena capensis)

Madagascan Green Pigeon [sp] (Treron australis)

Madagascan Blue Pigeon (Alectroenas madagascariensis)


Cuckoos (Cuculidae)

Malagasy Coucal [sp] (Centropus toulou)

Crested Coua [sp] (Coua cristata)

Verreaux's Coua (Coua verreauxi)

Blue Coua (Coua caerulea)

Red-capped Coua [sp] (Coua ruficeps)

Red-fronted Coua (Coua reynaudii)

Coquerel's Coua (Coua coquereli)

Running Coua (Coua cursor)

Giant Coua (Coua gigas)

Madagascan Cuckoo (Cuculus rochii)


Owls (Strigidae)

Torotoroka Scops Owl (Otus madagascariensis)

Rainforest Scops Owl (Otus rutilus)

White-browed Hawk-owl (Ninox superciliaris)

Madagascan Owl (Asio madagascariensis)


Nightjars (Caprimulgidae)

Collared Nightjar (Gactornis enarratus)

Madagascan Nightjar [sp] (Caprimulgus madagascariensis)


Swifts (Apodidae)

Madagascan Spinetail [sp] (Zoonavena grandidieri)

African Palm Swift [sp] (Cypsiurus parvus)

Alpine Swift [sp] (Tachymarptis melba)

Malagasy Black Swift [sp] (Apus balstoni)


Cuckoo-roller (Leptosomidae)

Cuckoo Roller [sp] (Leptosomus discolor)


Rollers (Coraciidae)

Broad-billed Roller [sp] (Eurystomus glaucurus)

Ground-rollers (Brachypteraciidae)

Short-legged Ground Roller (Brachypteracias leptosomus)

Scaly Ground Roller (Geobiastes squamiger)

Pitta-like Ground Roller (Atelornis pittoides)

Long-tailed Ground Roller (Uratelornis chimaera)

Kingfishers (Alcedinidae)

Madagascan Pygmy Kingfisher [sp] (Corythornis madagascariensis)

Malagasy Kingfisher [sp] (Corythornis vintsioides)

Bee-eaters (Meropidae)

Olive Bee-eater [sp] (Merops superciliosus)


Hoopoes (Upupidae)

Madagascan Hoopoe (Upupa marginata)


Caracaras, Falcons (Falconidae)

Malagasy Kestrel [sp] (Falco newtoni)

Peregrine Falcon [sp] (Falco peregrinus)


Parrots and Macaws (Psittacidae)

Grey-headed Lovebird [sp] (Agapornis canus)

Greater Vasa Parrot [sp] (Coracopsis vasa)

Lesser Vasa Parrot [sp] (Coracopsis nigra)


Broadbills (Eurylaimidae)

Velvet Asity (Philepitta castanea)

Schlegel's Asity (Philepitta schlegeli)

Common Sunbird-asity (Neodrepanis coruscans)

Vangas (Vangidae)

Red-tailed Vanga (Calicalicus madagascariensis)

Red-shouldered Vanga (Calicalicus rufocarpalis)

Hook-billed Vanga [sp] (Vanga curvirostris)

Lafresnaye's Vanga (Xenopirostris xenopirostris)

Van Dam's Vanga (Xenopirostris damii)

Pollen's Vanga (Xenopirostris polleni)

Sickle-billed Vanga (Falculea palliata)

White-headed Vanga [sp] (Artamella viridis)

Chabert Vanga [sp] (Leptopterus chabert)

Blue Vanga [sp] (Cyanolanius madagascarinus)

Rufous Vanga [sp] (Schetba rufa)

Tylas Vanga [sp] (Tylas eduardi)

Nuthatch Vanga (Hypositta corallirostris)

Dark Newtonia (Newtonia amphichroa)

Common Newtonia [sp] (Newtonia brunneicauda)

Archbold's Newtonia (Newtonia archboldi)

Ward's Flycatcher (Pseudobias wardi)

Crossley's Vanga (Mystacornis crossleyi)

Cuckooshrikes (Campephagidae)

Madagascan Cuckooshrike [sp] (Coracina cinerea)

Drongos (Dicruridae)

Crested Drongo [sp] (Dicrurus forficatus)

Monarch Flycatchers (Monarchidae)

Malagasy Paradise Flycatcher [sp] (Terpsiphone mutata)

Crows and Jays (Corvidae)

Pied Crow (Corvus albus)

Larks (Alaudidae)

Madagascan Lark (Eremopterix hova)

Bulbuls (Pycnonotidae)

Malagasy Bulbul [sp] (Hypsipetes madagascariensis)

Swallows and Martins (Hirundinidae)

Mascarene Martin [sp] (Phedina borbonica)

Brown-throated Martin [sp] (Riparia paludicola)

Reed warblers and allies (Acrocephalidae)

Malagasy Brush Warbler [sp] (Nesillas typica)

Subdesert Brush Warbler (Nesillas lantzii)

Madagascan Swamp Warbler (Acrocephalus newtoni)

Grassbirds and allies (Locustellidae)

Brown Emutail (Bradypterus brunneus)

Grey Emutail (Amphilais seebohmi)

Malagasy warblers (Bernieridae)

White-throated Oxylabes (Oxylabes madagascariensis)

Long-billed Bernieria [sp] (Bernieria madagascariensis)

Cryptic Warbler (Cryptosylvicola randrianasoloi)

Wedge-tailed Jery (Hartertula flavoviridis)

Thamnornis (Thamnornis chloropetoides)

Spectacled Tetraka [sp] (Xanthomixis zosterops)

Appert's Tetraka (Xanthomixis apperti)

Grey-crowned Tetraka (Xanthomixis cinereiceps)

Rand's Warbler (Randia pseudozosterops)

Cisticolas and Allies (Cisticolidae)

Common Jery [sp] (Neomixis tenella)

Green Jery [sp] (Neomixis viridis)

Stripe-throated Jery [sp] (Neomixis striatigula)

Madagascan Cisticola (Cisticola cherina)

White-eyes (Zosteropidae)

Malagasy White-eye [sp] (Zosterops maderaspatanus)

Starlings (Sturnidae)

Common Myna [sp] (Acridotheres tristis)

Madagascan Starling (Hartlaubius auratus)

Chats and Old World Flycatchers (Muscicapidae)

Madagascan Magpie-robin [sp] (Copsychus albospecularis)

Forest Rock Thrush [sp] (Monticola sharpei)

Madagascan Stonechat [sp] (Saxicola sibilla)

Sunbirds (Nectariniidae)

Souimanga Sunbird [sp] (Cinnyris sovimanga)

Malagasy Green Sunbird [sp] (Cinnyris notatus)

Weavers (Ploceidae)

Nelicourvi Weaver (Ploceus nelicourvi)

Sakalava Weaver [sp] (Ploceus sakalava)

Red Fody (Foudia madagascariensis)

Forest Fody (Foudia omissa)

Waxbills, Munias and Allies (Estrildidae)

Madagascan Mannikin (Lemuresthes nana)

Pipits and Wagtails (Motacillidae)

Madagascan Wagtail (Motacilla flaviventris)




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