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TRAVELLING NATURALIST TRIP REPORT

Madagascar

Thursday 28 September – Saturday 14 October 2006


Principal leader: Tim Earl
Local leader: Mamy Ramarolahy
Local guides: Maurice Ratsisakanana (Périnet)
Roland Randriamampionona (Berenty)
Mosa and family (Ifaty)
Faubert Randrianarolahy (Zombagie)
Roland Randrianarimalala (Isalo)
Rafidison Jeanchry and Theodore Farafidison (Ranomafana)


Highlights: Seeing Indri, the largest and most vocal lemur species, at close quarters in Périnet.
Five Diademed Sifakas feeding in the early morning.
The Brown Mouse Lemur just waking up for the night in Berenty spiny forest.
Our second Mouse Lemur in Ranomafana – its eyes seemed to be at least half the tiny animal.
A roosting Collared Nightjar which was the epitome of cryptic.
The Running Coua in Berenty spiny forest.
Blue Vangas, one of the most beautiful of this endemic Malagasy family.
A Giraffe-necked Weevil, the most extraordinary of Madagascar’s insects.
Beautiful habitats and views in rain-forest, gallery-forest and spiny forests.
The stunning coat of a Madagascar Civet.
A Pitta-like Ground-roller which gave us such excellent views.
The ever-changing Madagascar scenery as we drove up to Antananarivo from the far south.


DAILY DIARY

Thursday 28 September
We all assembled at the Ibis Hotel (well, one of the three) at Charles de Gaulle Airport, after various routes to Paris (including someone who came via Disney Paris which is close to the airport). None of us had fallen in love with the idiosyncratic airport which is one of the most unpopular in Europe.


Friday 29 September
A fairly early start saw us snatch a coffee, check-out and leave on time at 7.45am. We were checked in by 8.30 and eating breakfast soon after. The Air France flight took off about 20 minutes late but we arrived after a good flight at 10pm.
Immigration and baggage claim were slow this year but Mamy Ramarolahy was waiting for us and after changing money in the airport we arrived at the Hotel Louvre at midnight.
What a reception, however… a Madagascar Nightjar was calling outside the hotel to welcome us. It had been a good start to the trip.


Saturday 30 September
A leisurely start saw us leave the hotel at 8.30 for a quick tour of Antananarivo before heading off to Périnet. Our first stop was at the River Mangoro where Chris soon spotted Madagascar Pratincoles roosting on a rock. We saw five in all and had great views of this sometimes difficult species.
Other birds to delight us included a super male Madagascar Paradise Flycatcher, a couple of Chabert’s Vangas, several Crested Drongos (said to be the king of all creatures because they duped God into believing they had put out a great fire – the real heroes were bats) and a pair of Madagascar Wagtails which were building a nest on a road bridge. A stunning male Madagascar Green Sunbird posed for us before we slipped away for a great lunch in a nearby restaurant.
We met the brilliant guide Maurice Ratsisakanana at the entrance tom Périnet and to our surprise he suggested a bird-walk down the road towards our hotel. With X-ray vision and acute hearing he proceeded to amaze us by pointing out birds, chameleons, insects and plants with consummate ease. Not only did he find them without the aid of binoculars (which if he had possessed a pair would have enabled the genius to see birds back in Britain) but he also knew all about the objects of our desire including life-cycles and scientific names.
Through his skill we watched a female Short-horned Chameleon, Giraffe-necked Weevil, Crab and Golden-webbed spiders, Comet Moth cocoons, Travellers’ Palms (Madagascar’s national emblem) and a Stumped-tailed Gecko. Among the birds we shared (our eagle-eyed group found a good few) were a pair of Nelicourvi Weavers, the black-and-white Ward’s Flycatcher, two stunning Blue Vangas, Common, Green and Stripe-throated Jerys, Spectacled Greenbul and two Lesser Vasa Parrots. Our second Madagascar Buzzard of the day flew over and a Lesser Madagascar Cuckoo was calling close by.
We finally stopped the walk and completed our journey to the jungle lodge in darkness. It had been an excellent introduction to Madagascar’s wildlife.


Sunday 1 October
Our tour turned to the jungle today with glorious views of lemurs and uncommon birds thanks to Maurice and the combined efforts of the group in finding Madagascar’s fascinating wildlife.
We had a fairly early breakfast before meeting Maurice and heading off into Périnet rainforest. The sounds of calling Indri greeted us almost immediately as we stood admiring a snoozing Tree Boa. Hearts racing a few of us wished we could sprint to the animals as they proclaimed their territories early in the morning. There were birds to be seen, however, and as we watched a Malagasy kingfisher two White Throated Rails were spotted in the same stream.
The Indri continued calling.
A small flock of by now familiar Jerys contained a Common Newtonia while extraordinary calls led us to watch displaying Madagascar Cuckoo Rollers. A Rand’s Warbler was seen briefly as some in the group photographed a male Giraffe Beetle and then a call went up for a Blue Coua which sat for a short while in a nearby pine. Maurice stopped to point out the feeding holes of Aye-aye, an uncommon nocturnal lemur which is rarely seen.
At last… We set off up a hill and into deep forest towards the Indri calls.
“There, up there,” Maurice exclaimed and soon we were all admiring our first of these largest lemurs. Within a short while we were surrounded by a group five Indri in the trees above us, occasionally looking down but mostly feeding nonchalantly. Their lack of fear was soon explained… we were joined by several other parties of viewers, although few could be called naturalists.
“Here! Here!” Maurice was looking up. “A Gosh-hawk is coming.” Those of close to the Master looked up and a Henst's Goshawk shot across our view. We were amazed.
Suddenly the largest Indri, a female, started calling and the others joined in the chorus. It was a thrilling moment to hear these indescribable calls in all-round sound. We left the Indri and their admirers after about an hour, to search for other exciting occupants of the forest.
Maurice led us to a roost site for a pair of Eastern Woolly Lemurs where we were able to ’scope them from the forest floor. Occasionally two large orange eyes opened in the brown fur to gaze back at us.
Among the other delights of the morning were Red-tailed Vangas, a female Velvet Asity and perhaps the find of the morning… a pile of leaves. Well, that’s what the Collared Nightjar looked like. Examination in the ’scope revealed a head, buff collar and half-closed eyes on top of exquisitely marked feathering, although the shape was impossible to make out.
We returned to the Vakôna Lodge for lunch well pleased with a thrilling adventure.
A siesta until 3.30 was followed by a trip to Mantadia, the second part of the Andasibe-Mantadia National Park. Stopping to have our papers checked at the entrance we watched three Madagascar Bee-eaters, several Brown-throated Sand-martins and a Madagascar Cisticola which flew past buzzing its song wildly as we were leaving.
Chris spotted a Purple Heron in a distant tree. The bird obligingly did a fly-past after taking off, and a female Madagascar Sparrowhawk flew down the road in front of us as we approached an area in which graphite is extracted from the local sub-soil. This rather incongruous industry is the backdrop to a small lake on which we admired a pair of Madagascar Little Grebes which may have had tiny young.
As we were studying them Maurice shouted “lemurs!” Following his directions we had frustratingly brief views of three Black and White Ruffed Lemurs in a high tree at the back of the lake. Returning to the bus we saw a Forest Fody, and another White-headed Vanga.


Monday 2 October
Walking in line through primary rainforest following a slight man who is calling “whoop” every few seconds is a rather incongruous activity but that is what we did after an early return to Mantadia. Stops were made to watch Madagascar Magpie Robins and another singing Rand’s Warbler which perched obligingly for us all to see well through the ’scope.
The discipline of a 5.30 breakfast and 6am start was rewarded by brief views of Pitta-like Ground-roller and Crossley's babbler for a few. A Greater Vasa Parrot flew over showing its silver under-wings well.
The ground-rollers replied to Maurice’s ‘whoops’ with an almost identical version but we were unable to secure good views despite locating three or four using the method. The babbler was even more frustrating, skulking on the forest floor and looking like almost every dead leaf in the area.
Cutting our losses we headed deep into the jungle stepping over tangled roots, squeezing through liana-strew gaps and passing huge buttressed trees until Maurice slowed and listened. He then led us slowly under high trees in which a party of five Diademed Sifakas were enjoying their breakfasts (it was still only 9am). We spread out under the trees, each finding a good spot to watch or photograph the animals. The scope was set up and everyone enjoyed a relaxed time with these beautiful lemurs.
It was a neck-breaking experience, however, and we took up Maurice’s offer to get better views from the top of a high hill. The Sifakas moved with us and soon we were much closer as they grazed on leaves nearby. It was a wonderful experience made better by almost perfect solitude and a female Velvet Asity which responded to a hidden male singing nearby.
We were joined by a couple and their guide after some time and took the opportunity to leave the lemurs to resume our quest for ground rollers.
Sadly, it was without success except for a Red-breasted Coua which decided the coast was clear and cut across our path after the group had gone through. I was a little behind and spotted the bird, alerting Judy who also got good views. Unfortunately, my call was misheard and the bird slunk off without being admired by more people.
After a long trek we emerged at the entrance to the graphite quarry visited the day before. Mamy hiked off to get the bus while Maurice checked out a site for Black and White Ruffed Lemurs, without success. An Alpine Swift was seen as we waited but aside from this diversion we returned to the hotel for lunch.
A 4pm start saw us walking near the park entrance watching by now familiar birds in the fields and secondary jungle. Roger called as he saw a pair of Common Brown Lemurs and we walked down a path to get a better view. Maurice went off to scout for them but while he was gone they appeared close to us, jumped across a path and posed while we watched them with delight.
A Madagascar Coucal posed in the late afternoon sun and a Nose-horned Chameleon was found crossing the road. It exchanged a photo-stop for a lift to safety. Our plan was to visit a Chinese Restaurant where Dwarf Lemurs visit nightly to eat a portion of number 26 – banana served raw, rubbed onto the leaves of a Travellers’ Palm – and as darkness dropped rapidly we sipped drinks and waited. We were assured 99.99 percent that the animals would appear for us. However, the day’s activities had involved a few disappointments and the Dwarf Lemurs added to them by eating elsewhere. So did we, enjoying a final supper back at Vakôna Lodge.


Tuesday 3 October
Breakfast at 4.30am is not a great way to start the day but it is a better option than staying in an airport hotel. The four-hour drive to Tana was completed with a few birds for interest and three major lorry accidents – each involving dramatic departures from the road into ditches but happily no injuries or blocked roads. This was important as we had to check in by 9.50am. This was achieved with ease and we said goodbye to driver Andy, taking off on time for Fort Dauphin.
Robin and Chris did a spot of birding at the airport while waiting for Mamy and me to get the luggage and transport organised. They saw Peregrine and Madagascar Cisticola well. We retired to the Dauphin Hotel, recording the first of many Pied Crows, where a good lunch was enjoyed in the company of Day Geckos and a noisy pair of Madagascar Kestrels.
The journey was long and tiring on pot-holed roads which get no better each season. It is a fascinating insight into Madagascar, however, and we saw a great deal of interest, not the least of which was the transition from coastal rainforest to the drier species more typical of the spiny forest habitat.
Striated and Common Squacco herons were seen in the rice fields but we could not find a Madagascar Squacco. Common to the area were Grey-headed Lovebirds and Namaqua Doves and Sakalava Weavers were seen when we stopped at a small craft market under our first Baobab tree.
It was with some relief that we started to pass through great fields of sisal before arriving at Berenty Camp in the dark at 6.15pm. The walk to its refectory produced sightings of Madagascar Flying Fox and a White-browed Owl was heard. So too were Verreaux’s Sifakas, whooping as they settled down for the night. Would we see them in the morning?
[Aside: I was in some trouble the following morning for omitting to warn folk that the camp generator is switched off at 10pm… whoops!]


Wednesday 4 October
See them we certainly did… and they danced for us. Across the road they trooped, loping sideways, one at a time, until more than a dozen had crossed. Then started a fascinating battle as one family lunged at another to protect a tree in which they were feeding. Possession is nine tenths of the law and the defenders eventually had their tree in peace.
The morning started with another ambush. Ring-tailed Lemurs tried to steal bread and cake from the breakfast café where we were enjoying a pre-wildlife session. Even we as novices were forced to join in and drive the lemurs out.
Our pre-breakfast walk was through super gallery forest where we soon saw Madagascar Turtle Dove, Crested Coua and several Grey-headed Lovebirds. Roland led us through the forest to see a roosting White-browed Owl, and then a second. Some of us watched a Madagascar Lesser Cuckoo, the first we had seen, and a pair of Madagascar Hoopoes delighted us by their tameness and calls which were similar to a European Turtle Dove.
A Pheasant-like bird turned out to be the first of four Great Couas, their heads seemingly illuminated by iridescent blue face panels. Tom and Jerys sang from almost every tree (surely Common Jerys – Ed?) and several Madagascar Sandgrouse flew over towards the river. These prompted an attempt to see them drinking and we hiked a fair way to a vantage point but failed to find them… perhaps tomorrow.
A troop of Brown Lemurs – hybrids of Collared Brown and Red-fronted Brown both introduced into the reserve – were quite common while the discovery of a White-footed Sportive Lemur roosting in a tree made the number of primates seen on this trip up to 10 species. The addition of a Rufous Mouse Lemur in the Spiny Forest later in the afternoon was another bonus.
The spiny forest is a habitat unique to Madagascar and made famous by innumerable television programmes. We took a walk through it after a siesta, although it was still hot at 4pm. A covey of Madagascar Buttonquails was flushed by the bus on the way down to the forest.
We were greeted by two ‘guardians’ of the forest, armed with traditional spears handed down from their fathers – men who escorted us around showing us animals and birds. We were assured that they had a site where a Malagasy Scops Owl roosted and assured us 100 percent that it would be seen. We remembered the Dwarf Lemurs which had refused a Chinese banana supper and tried to head off the cast-iron guarantee but it was too late.
Sure enough, after admiring the White-footed Sportive Lemur mentioned above, we were given the pathetic sight of our guardians half-heartedly poking their spears into foliage where it was clear there was no Scops Owl. ‘It was here earlier when they showed it to other tourists,’ our guide Roland said, looking downhearted. We laughed and moved on.
The men made up for their disappointment by showing us a delightful Rufous Mouse Lemur which was just stirring prior to a night’s activity. Its eyes were huge and the endearing creature looked down on us as if checking us out. A small black Scorpion was found and treated with great caution before being put back under its stone and we moved on to an even more densely foliated bush. Here at last was the Malagasy Scops Owl but so deep in the bush that even filling the scope it was impossible to see more than a few bits. No matter. Face had been saved.
Single Spider and Radiated tortoises were seen and we returned to camp well pleased with our prickly experience and ready for a night walk. It was an early evening walk, actually. Good views of a singing Malagasy Scops Owl were had and two White-browed Owls found a few minutes later proceeded to mate, clearly not upset by torchlight.
We met at the refectory after time to shower and enjoyed a good meal.


Thursday 5 October
Attempts to see drinking Madagascar Sandgrouse were only partly successful but a Running Coua made up for early disappointment.
We were at a river vantage point early to wait for the Sandgrouse but their appearance was late and distant. A large chameleon was the only exotic compensation although Green and Common Sandpipers were also recorded along with Greenshank, Madagascar Kingfisher and a pair of Giant Couas on the way back for breakfast at 7.30.
This allowed us to get into the spiny forest before conditions became too warm and after a great deal of trudging our guide Roland found a Running Coua, the object of our desires. Although hard to find, the bird once located was obliging and tame. Good pictures were obtained before it was left and we returned to Berenty Camp on foot, arriving at 10.20.
We were packed and on the road with a picnic lunch by 11.30… and a Running Coua ran in front of the bus at 12.10pm. We stopped and watched it pick around at the edge of the spiny forest before disappearing. Birding luck is a fickle thing.
We patronised a roadside stall where troops of wooden lemurs, the odd baobab tree and miniature ‘petit maisons’ were bought, as much to help local industry as for souvenirs. The picnic was eaten at a roadside café where we bought beers and drinks, enjoying a good lunch. We arrived in Fort Dauphin at 4pm and went straight out for a walk to the beach and a lagoon where distant Kelp Gull and a few terns, one of which was Greater Crested, were seen.
Dinner was followed by a good night’s rest and a sleep-in as no early morning activities were organised.


Friday 6 October
A sleep-in was a welcome event for many after the early mornings of Berenty. We flew out of Fort Dauphin and arrived at Tulear on time at 11.30am. Our driver Claude and his assistant Faly met us and we were soon loaded and on our way. Mamy had arranged a great lunch-stop at an Italian’s restaurant where we enjoyed a varied menu.
The drive to Ifaty was marred somewhat by a strong wind which whipped up sand and made keeping the windows open a problem. A couple of stops were made on which we recorded our first Curlew Sandpipers, Black-winged Stilts, Kittlitz’s and Three-banded plovers, and Madagascar Lark. Greenshank, Common Sandpiper, Madagascar Bee-eater and Madagascar Cisticola were also seen.
On arrival at the Hotel Paradisiers, we were surprised to learn that there were no power points for hair-dryers, camera batteries or laptops in our rooms. This was tempered more than a little by the rooms which sat above the sea enjoying magnificent views, each with its own desert-island home atmosphere.
Dinner was good and we retired early in preparation for a 5am start tomorrow. Madagascar Nightjars were hawking insects from the lights along the paths to our cabins as we walked back after dinner.


Saturday 7 October
Bleary-eyed, we met for a candlelit coffee at 4.45am before setting off to the establishment of Mr Mosa and family. This larger than life character met us and we were sent into the spiny forest in the charge of Relaja, Regula and little 10-year-old Rufa Mosa (who found Lafresnaye's Vanga for us later in the walk). The going was tough on soft sand paths through what is a degraded area of spiny forest and we were pleased to admire our first Madagascar Green Pigeons which gave us time for breath. They behaved beautifully and it was only the call of “Sickle-billed Vanga” which drew us away. The bird was super, hanging upside down using its long beak to attack a baobab fruit with some success. It finally flew off and its calls attracted four others in the process.
The Malagasy accent changed Turtle Dove to Churchill Dove and we had a few chuckles looking for a pigeon with a big cigar and jowls. A Madagascar Harrier Hawk resumed concentration as it hunted close to us but almost out of sight behind bushes. Three Madagascar Black Swifts were pointed out by Chris but few of us managed to see them. The Mosa boys finally arrived at a clearing where we were told to wait. They circled a clump of bushes nearby and out in front of us ran a bird with a long tail. The Long-tailed Ground-roller paused for photographs and then sped off like “Roadrunner” from the cartoons.
A search for Subdesert Mesite was called off due to lack of time – breakfast ended at 9.30 – and we traipsed back towards the bus. The boys vanished leaving Ronnie to guide us back to his home and our bus. It was during this spell that he stopped and pointed out two Lafresnaye's Vangas in a nearby tree. They were difficult to see and we were all relieved when the birds flew into a baobab to be joined by a third. They behaved beautifully and ended our pre-breakfast session in some style.
Breakfast was followed by views of Black-crowned Night Heron and Caspian Tern both taking advantage of the low tide. We followed suit by driving along the coast checking out likely stretches of mangrove, mud and sandbars. This resulted in the discovery of three species not seen on this trip before: Grey and Humblot's herons and Greater Flamingo. We also added White-faced Whistling Duck, White-fronted Plover and several of our familiar waders to the list.
A long siesta preceded a free afternoon for some and for others a late walk which, though interesting, produced nothing new. The Madagascar Nightjars were again admired as we retired.


Sunday 8 October
Twitching is not a normal part of a Travelling Naturalist holiday but today we did just that on the journey from Ifaty to Isalo. Mr Mosa, with his sons Relaja and Freddie, was collected while we had breakfast and accompanied us to a site outside Tulear where they proceeded to whistle while walking along a dusty track. Within minutes the localised Verreaux's Coua was located and we had reasonable views.
The whistled call was changed and soon after a reply was heard from deep in the undergrowth. We hiked in procession along a narrow path until a male Red-shouldered Vanga popped up in front of us and proceeded to show off. We watched him for at least five minutes, everyone getting excellent views. Even a few good pictures were obtained. Red-shouldered Vanga is known from no other site on earth (it was discovered only nine years ago) and we were thrilled to get such wonderful views. The guide-book says that its call is unknown but Mr Mosa and his family certainly know it and how to do a reasonable imitation.
We drove them back to Tulear, said our farewells to the extraordinary folk and set off for Isalo. Twitch number two came at Zombitse National Park where we stopped for a picnic lunch followed by a walk with local guide Flaubert. He led us through a cool shady forest, which had a few interesting orchids in bloom, listening for the thin calls of feeding Appert’s Greenbuls. This is another species only recently discovered and after a pleasant but long walk we made contact with the first group. They feed in parties with Long-billed Greenbuls and Madagascar Paradise Flycatchers, which were also seen. Views were poor and we tried to locate a second group, this time with more success and everyone came away with reasonable memories of another rare Madagascar speciality. Zombitse National Park is the only place Appert’s Greenbuls are recorded commonly but nobody knows how many there are.
Our drive from Ifaty to Tulear had been broken to look at the remnants of yesterday’s Greater Flamingo flock (there were only four left) and we were rewarded with good views of about 50 Greater Sandplovers. Sadly, they were flushed by a passing dugout canoe and flew off before we could all admire them. Three Caspian Terns were also roosting on the sandbar along with an assortment of waders and the flock of White-faced Whistling Ducks seen yesterday.
Our drive to Isalo was broken by a few stops. On one a chameleon was found and photographed shortly after we passed a group of boys displaying captive animals on sticks for photographs. How we wished that something could be done to stop the disgusting practice.
We arrived at Isalo to find we were booked in a luxurious hotel. They served a good dinner too.


Monday 9 October
We enjoyed a somewhat leisurely day, despite having to move hotels. Our 7am breakfast was followed by a trip to Namaza forest, deep in Ranohira Canyon. Roland, our guide for the day, was picked up at Isalo National Park headquarters and we drove to the canyon about 4km away.
Our walk was delightful. A strong wind was blowing which kept birds and animals down but a Madagascar Rail which sounded similar to our Water Rail, got the list off nicely. Both sunbirds were seen along with a few Common Jerys, Madagascar Paradise Flycatchers and Sakalava Weavers. We paused in the campsite which was being prepared for the next batch of overnight visitors, before pressing on up the gorge. The going was quite easy with a few slightly rougher spots, at one of which we stopped to admire an unidentified golden and brown chameleon of the genus Lateralis.
Benson’s Rock-thrush, our main quarry in the gorge, was found nesting in a deep dark ravine and although everyone saw the female only a couple of the group had views of her mate.
Eventually we reached the Nymphets’ Cascade where I was persuaded to swim to the waterfall (it would make a good picture, they said). Happily, a nymphet joined me and we enjoyed the cool bathe. A dark frog (Mantidactylus femoralis) was found on the way out along with individuals of the now familiar Madagascar’s wagtail, hoopoe and bee-eaters.
Roland found a group of Red-fronted Brown Lemurs at the campsite and a Madagascar Malachite Kingfisher zoomed past as we admired them.
A good lunch was had at the Hotel Jardin du Roy before we moved to the Relais des Reines just 500m away and owned by the same people.
Our walk from the hotel on a previous visit was marked by getting lost and the inability to find a rock-thrush. Again this time, we had difficulty in finding a crucial bridge back into the hotel gardens but we did get brilliant views of a pair of Benson’s Rock-thrushes.
The scenery was terrific and our late afternoon walk in this extraordinary landscape turned out to be a highlight of the tour. Miniature baobabs growing in crevices on the rock faces turned out to be Elephant’s Foot (Pachypodium rosaletum). Their bright yellow flowers would have been extraordinary on a baobab. The localised Isalo Aloe (Aloe isaloensis) was also common along the walk, although not in flower.
We had a frustrating time at the bar where my inability to get the drinks I wanted became almost farcical. Our dinner was good, however, and after an unsuccessful search by some for the Large Magellanic Cloud (hampered by cloud and moonlight) we retired for the night.

Tuesday 10 October

A long journey cut out much birding but gave us a fascinating insight into Madagascar’s scenery and people. We drove through canyons and rolling grassy plains, villages and small cities, saw paddy fields and Zebu cattle being herded to market, to towns miles away.
There were a few avian delights: our first dark-phased Dimorphic Heron, followed soon after by a Hamerkop and a Sooty Falcon entered the list as we turned onto the Ranomafana road.
The roads were much improved on my last visit and we had time to walk down through part of the reserve, as much to stretch legs after the long journey. At least two Blue Couas were admired immediately followed by a Madagascar Ashy Cuckoo Shrike and a number of by now familiar birds.
We reached the Setam Lodge Hotel by 5pm, had a good meal and discussed the morning’s prospects. Reports from Ranomafana had been correct – five days of rain and cold conditions seemed to be continuing. We needed heaters in our rooms and several layers, even for dinner. To put the cap on it, it was raining heavily at 2am when I looked out.

Wednesday 11 October
Thus it was that we were all caught out… too many clothes and insufficient sun-block. Yes, when we left our rooms for a pre-breakfast bimble the sun was shining, the forest and our thatched roofs (on top of more conventional materials) were steaming and a general disrobing occurred.
Thanking our luck we set off for a morning in the park at 7.45am and met our guide Rafidison Jeanchry. Then the fun and games began. Ranomafana is a tough place to bird. There are steep hills all around which are climbed by steps in good places and tree roots in others. The paths were muddy and slippery following all the rain and it was difficult terrain.
The rewards were excellent however – five species of lemur in the morning, including all three Bamboo Lemurs, Milne-Edwards' Sifaka and Red-bellied Lemur. The birds were good too with excellent views of Pitta-like Ground-roller, two White-throated Oxylabes feeding young, a difficult Crossley's babbler [they all are – Ed] plus many of our old favourites.
Competition for viewing was great with several groups of general tourists around the forest all congregating to see species which our guides had often found. I tried proffering a hat in the hope of a tip but without success.
We were joined by a second guide, Theodore Farafidison and with Jeanchry’s brother helping find animals and birds we were well served.
Lunch was followed by a much needed rest, before we set out again on a more gentle quest at 3pm. An Island Mouse (Eastern Red Forest Rat) posed nicely for the cameras and another Crossley's Babbler was located giving better views. Some had a glimpse or two of a Spectacled Greenbul.
A party of Red-fronted Brown Lemurs was terrific, squabbling in the tree tops and then leaping, one by one, across a huge gap as they moved off. Better still, we had them to ourselves.
We ended at a viewpoint where three Blue Pigeons were examined well through the scope before going to watch a Brown Mouse Lemur and Madagascar Striped Civet as they emerged for the evening. We had arrived early at 4.30 and enjoyed the spectacle alone until a large group of tourists arrived and we beat a hasty retreat. Both animals were stunning; the civet had a beautiful coat with delicate markings while the mouse lemur was enchanting with golden fur, huge eyes and a habit of leaping from branch to branch. It was difficult to remember that it was a Primate, like ourselves.


Thursday 12 October
One of the amazing characteristics of Malagasy bird guides is their ability to whistle up things we want to see. So, when we pulled up on the main road through Ranomafana and Jeanchry started whistling it came as no surprise that a Forest Rock-thrush appeared to investigate. We had excellent views with and without the scope. Whistling is far less dangerous to birds than playing a tape which they hear as a competitor in their territory. Whistling never fools the birds but does make them curious – they often continue feeding while responding to the guide.
We started our walk before breakfast up near rice fields at the top of the reserve on a path which has been greatly improved recently. Using the quietest of calls, Jeanchry attracted a pair of Madagascar Flufftails which were picking around close to a marsh.
He then began imitating Rufous-headed Ground-roller which failed to respond other than a few half-hearted ‘Boos’. We walked through quite difficult terrain seeing little until a Cryptic Warbler was heard. Finding it was left to me and the scope, happily we were both up to the task and those of us who had braved the early walk enjoyed good but distant views.
A small flock of feeding birds included a Tylas Vanga, Long-billed Greenbul and assorted small birds as we ended the walk.
A stop was made to photograph a dramatic waterfall just after we set off for Antsirabe and I was able to scope another Cryptic Warbler for those who had not ventured out earlier. The rest of the journey was uneventful – a few dark-phased Dimorphic Herons were seen as was a Hamerkop and Common Sandpiper. Lunch was followed by a stop for souvenirs and we arrived at Antsirabe just as darkness was falling. The sunset was dramatic.


Friday 13 October
Our final day in Madagascar was spent souvenir shopping, travelling and getting ready for the flight home. We called in at ‘Chez Joseph’ to buy semi-precious stones and fossils before setting off for Antananarivo. The three-hour drive was broken 25km away to watch a flock of about 70 Red-billed Ducks on a small lake and before we knew it the hustle and bustle of Antananarivo surrounded us.
Unable to park at the main market area, we opened the bus door and invited a vanilla-pod seller aboard. She was followed by four more and we drove off with others chasing the bus and pandemonium inside as the women touted their bags of pods.
After relaxing at the Hotel du Louvre and an enjoyable final meal together we returned to London via Paris.


ANNOTATED LIST OF SPECIES
Species marked with (E) are endemic, (BE) breeding endemic to Madagascar.


BIRDS


GREBES Podicipediformes Podicipedidae
1 Madagascar Little Grebe (E) Tachybaptus pelzelnii
Two on a lake in Périnet N.P.
HERONS, EGRETS & BITTERNS Ciconiiformes Ardeidae
2 Grey Heron Ardea cinerea
Three on the lagoon beach at Ifaty.
3 Humblot's Heron Ardea humbloti
Two on the lagoon beach at Ifaty.
4 Purple Heron Ardea purpurea
One spotted by Chris in Périnet N.P. may have been the bird seen the next day. Four more were seen during the holiday.
5 Great Egret Ardea alba
Common in rice paddies.
6 Dimorphic Egret Egretta dimorpha
Common in rice paddies; four dark-phased birds seen on two days.
7 Squacco Heron Ardeola ralloides
Two seen on the way out of Périnet N.P.
8 Cattle Egret Bubulcus ibis
The most common egret, seen almost daily.
9 Striated Heron Butorides striatus
Common – nine birds seen over six days.
10 Black-crowned Night-heron Nycticorax nycticorax
Two birds seen feeding in the lagoon at Ifaty.
HAMERKOP Ciconiiformes Scopidae
11 Hamerkop Scopus umbretta
Recorded on three days with five on the way to Berenty.
FLAMINGOS Phoenicopteriformes Phoenicopteridae
12 Greater Flamingo Phoenicopterus ruber
A flock of 12 at Ifaty.
WILDFOWL Anseriformes Anatidae
13 White-faced Whistling-duck Dendrocygna viduata
A roosting flock of about 50 at Ifaty.
14 Red-billed Duck (Teal) Anas erythrorhyncha
Three seen by Robin on a pond at Isalo; about 70 on a lake 25km from Antananarivo.
HAWKS, EAGLES & KITES Falconiformes Accipitridae
15 Madagascar Cuckoo-hawk (E) Aviceda madagascariensis
One seen at Périnet on the first day.
16 Yellow-billed Kite Milvus parasiticus
Common to abundant almost daily.
17 Madagascar Harrier-hawk (E) Polyboroides radiatus
A total of three seen on two days.
18 Frances' Goshawk (Sparrowhawk) Accipiter francesii
Female perched beautifully on a tree in Périnet N.P.
19 Madagascar Sparrowhawk (E) Accipiter madagascariensis
One flew down the road in front of the bus in Mantadia N.P.
20 Henst's Goshawk (E) Accipiter henstii
One as we watched Indri in Périnet N.P.
21 Madagascar Buzzard (E) Buteo brachypterus
Seen on nine days with a maximum of five on the journey from Ifaty to Isalo.
FALCONS Falconiformes Falconidae
22 Madagascar Kestrel (E) Falco newtoni
Common almost daily; red-morphs seen on four days.
23 Sooty Falcon Falco concolor
One from the bus over the forest on the way down to Ranomafana.
24 Peregrine Falco peregrinus
One seen by Robin at Fort Dauphin airport.
PHEASANTS & PARTRIDGES Galliformes Phasianidae
25 Common Quail Coturnix coturnix
Four in flight at Isalo.
GUINEAFOWL Galliformes Numididae
26 Helmeted Guineafowl Numida meleagris
Small flocks seen on two days at Berenty.
BUTTONQUAILS Gruiformes Turnicidae
27 Madagascar Buttonquail (E) Turnix nigricollis
A flock of six at Berenty, two other sightings, one with an adult and two chicks.
RAILS, GALLINULES & COOTS Gruiformes Rallidae
28 Madagascar Flufftail (E) Sarothrura insularis
A pair in Ranomafana on our last morning.
29 White-throated Rail (E) Dryolimnas cuvieri
Two in a stream in Périnet.
AVOCETS & STILTS Charadriiformes Recurvirostridae
30 Black-winged Stilt Himantopus himantopus
Five in a pond on the way to Ifaty.
PRATINCOLES Charadriiformes Glareolidae
31 Madagascar Pratincole (BE) Glareola ocularis
Five on rocks in the Mangoro River.
PLOVERS Charadriiformes Charadriidae
32 Grey Plover Pluvialis squatarola
Lots on the mudflats at Ifaty.
33 Greater Ringed Plover Charadrius hiaticula
Four on the mudflats at Ifaty.
34 Kittlitz's Plover Charadrius pecuarius
Four in a pond on the way to Ifaty.
35 Three-banded Plover Charadrius tricollaris
One on the mud at Ifaty lagoon.
36 White-fronted Plover Charadrius marginatus
Just one seen at Ifaty lagoon.
37 Greater Sandplover Charadrius leschenaultii
A flock of about 50 seen as we were leaving Ifaty.
SANDPIPERS Charadriiformes Scolopacidae
38 Whimbrel Numenius phaeopus
Common around Ifaty lagoon.
39 Marsh Sandpiper Tringa stagnatilis
One at a pond on the way in to Ifaty.
40 Common Greenshank Tringa nebularia
Seen on five gays in the south; maximum 12 at Berenty.
41 Green Sandpiper Tringa ochropus
Six seen at Berenty.
42 Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos
Seen on five days; uncommon.
43 Ruddy Turnstone Arenaria interpres
Small number seen around Ifaty lagoon.
44 Sanderling Calidris alba
Two flocks of six seen at Ifaty lagoon.
45 Curlew Sandpiper Calidris ferruginea
A total of 15 seen over three days around Ifaty lagoon.
GULLS Charadriiformes Laridae
46 Kelp Gull Larus dominicanus
One on the sea off Fort Dauphin.
TERNS Charadriiformes Sternidae
47 Caspian Tern Sterna caspia
Three seen roosting or fishing around Ifaty lagoon.
48 Great Crested (Swift) Tern Sterna bergii
One flew past the hotel at Ifaty.
SANDGROUSE Pterocliformes Pteroclidae
49 Madagascar Sandgrouse (BE) Pterocles personatus
Small groups flying in to drink at the river in Berenty.
PIGEONS & DOVES Columbiformes Columbidae
50 Rock (Feral) Pigeon Columba livia
Common in villages and towns.
51 Madagascar Turtle-dove Streptopelia picturata
Common in some forests. Nick-named the Churchill Dove after interpretation problems.
52 Namaqua Dove Oena capensis
Common to abundant in the south.
53 Madagascar Green-pigeon (E) Treron australis
Eight at Ifaty spiny forest, six in Zombitse N.P.
54 Madagascar Blue-pigeon (E) Alectroenas madagascariensis
A few in Périnet N.P.; three seen well in Ranomafana.
PARROTS Psittaciformes Psittacidae
55 Grey-headed Lovebird Agapornis canus
Common in the south.
56 Greater Vasa Parrot (E) Coracopsis vasa
Only one seen in Périnet.
57 Lesser Vasa Parrot (E) Coracopsis nigra
More common in rainforest with sightings on six days.
CUCKOOS, COUAS & COUCALS Cuculiformes Cuculidae
58 Madagascar Cuckoo (E) Cuculus rochii
Common throughout the tour but only two seen.
59 Giant Coua (E) Coua gigas
Several seen in Berenty and Zombitse N.P.
60 Red-fronted Coua (E) Coua raynaudii
One seen by Tim and Judy in Périnet.
61 Running Coua (E) Coua cursor
Quite a chase in Ifaty for this bird but then one ran across the road in front of the bus on our way out.
62 Crested Coua (E) Coua cristata
Six in Berenty and one in Zombitse N.P.
63 Verreaux's Coua (E) Coua verreauxi
One on the twitch at La Table.
64 Blue Coua (E) Coua caerulea
One briefly in Périnet; several from the road in Ranomafana.
65 Madagascar Coucal Centropus toulou
Common almost daily.
OWLS Strigiformes Strigidae
66 Malagasy Scops-owl Otus rutilus
Heard in several places but seen well on the Berenty night walk.
67 White-browed Owl (E) Ninox superciliaris
Heard and seen in Berenty.
68 Madagascar Long-eared owl (E) Asio madagascariensis
Heard at Berenty.
NIGHTJARS Caprimulgiformes Caprimulgidae
69 Madagascar Nightjar (E) Caprimulgus madagascariensis
One calling as we arrived at the Hotel Louvre, Antananarivo; seen on several occasions, the most memorable at Ifaty where they hawked moths from the path lights.
70 Collared Nightjar (E) Caprimulgus enarratus
One roosting in Périnet was most cryptically marked.
SWIFTS Apodiformes Apodidae
71 Malagasy Spinetail Zoonavena grandidieri
Common around Périnet.
72 African Palm-swift Cypsiurus parvus
More common in the south.
73 Alpine Swift Tachymarptis melba
Only three seen in total at Périnet.
74 Madagascar (Black) Swift (E) Apus balstoni
Seen around Ranomafana.
KINGFISHERS Coraciiformes Alcedinidae
75 Malagasy kingfisher Alcedo vintsioides
Common, particularly in paddy-fields.
BEE-EATERS Coraciiformes Meropidae
76 Madagascar Bee-eater Merops superciliosus
Common, seen almost daily.
GROUND-ROLLERS Coraciiformes Brachypteraciidae
77 Pitta-like Ground-roller (E) Atelornis pittoides
One briefly in Périnet; another giving much better views in Ranomafana.
78 Long-tailed Ground-roller (E) Uratelornis chimaera
One well in Ifaty spiny forest.
CUCKOO-ROLLER Coraciiformes Leptosomatidae
79 Madagascar Cuckoo-roller (E) Leptosomus discolor
At least three displaying in Périnet;
HOOPOES Coraciiformes Upupidae
80 Madagascar Hoopoe (E) Upupa marginata
Quite common except in the highlands.
ASITIES Passeriformes Philepittidae
81 Velvet Asity (E) Philepitta castanea
A female seen well in Périnet;
LARKS Passeriformes Alaudidae
82 Madagascar Lark (E) Mirafra hova
Common through much of the tour.
SWALLOWS Passeriformes Hirundinidae
83 Plain (Brown-throated Sand) Martin Riparia paludicola
Seen in small numbers throughout the tour.
84 Mascarene Martin Phedina borbonica
Common in Périnet and Ranomafana.
WAGTAILS & PIPITS Passeriformes Motacillidae
85 Madagascar Wagtail (E) Motacilla flaviventris
Common anywhere near water.
CUCKOO-SHRIKES Passeriformes Campephagidae
86 Ashy (Madagascar) Cuckoo-shrike (E) Coracina cinerea
A few heard and seen displaying in Périnet, Bereny and Ranomafana.
BULBULS Passeriformes Pycnonotidae
87 Long-billed Greenbul (E) Phyllastrephus madagascariensis
Two with Appert’s Greenbuls in Zombitse, One in Ranomafana.
88 Spectacled Greenbul (E) Phyllastrephus zosterops
A few in Périnet and Ranomafana, seen on three days.
89 Appert's Greenbul (E) Phyllastrephus apperti
Two feeding parties with at least three birds each seen in Zombitse.
90 Madagascar Bulbul (E) Hypsipetes madagascariensis
Common daily everywhere.
THRUSHES Passeriformes Turdidae
91 Forest Rock-thrush (E) Pseudocossyphus sharpei
A pair seen in Ranomafana.
92 Benson's Rock-thrush (E) Pseudocossyphus bensoni
One pair near the Cascades de Nymphs, a second pair near the hotel, Isalo.
CISTICOLAS & ALLIES Passeriformes Cisticolidae
93 Madagascar Cisticola (E) Cisticola cherinus
Common in open countryside and near rice paddies.
OLD WORLD WARBLERS Passeriformes Sylviidae
94 Madagascar Brush-warbler (E) Nesillas typica
Common in Périnet and Ranomafana N.P.s.
95 Subdesert Brush-warbler (E) Nesillas lantzii
Common at the hotel in Ifaty.
96 Madagascar Swamp-warbler (E) Acrocephalus newtoni
Just one in the mangroves at Ifaty.
97 Rand's Warbler (E) Randia pseudozosterops
One in Périnet
98 Common Newtonia (E) Newtonia brunneicauda
Three in Périnet and a similar number in Ranomafana.
99 Cryptic Warbler (E) Cryptosylvicola randriansoloi
6 Across for 2 Down at Ranomafana.
OLD WORLD FLYCATCHERS Passeriformes Muscicapidae
100 Madagascar Magpie-robin (E) Copsychus albospecularis
Common; a few seen most days.
102 African Stonechat Saxicola axillaris
Common in the uplands.
103 Ward's Flycatcher (E) Pseudobias wardi
One in Périnet, another early on the first walk in Ranomafana.
MONARCH FLYCATCHERS Passeriformes Monarchidea
104 Madagascar Paradise-flycatcher Terpsiphone mutata
Common in rainforest; both white and red-phased males seen.
BABBLERS Passeriformes Timaliidae
105 Common Jery (E) Neomixis tenella
Common in rainforest.
106 Green Jery (E) Neomixis viridis
Quite common in Périnet but not recorded elsewhere.
107 Stripe-throated Jery (E) Neomixis striatigula
Four seen in Périnet, one in Ranomafana.
108 White-throated Oxylabes (E) Oxylabes madagascariensis
A pair feeding young seen well by everyone in Ranomafana, after a scrabble to get good views.
109 Crossley's Babbler (E) Mystacornis crossleyi
A difficult bird to see well, individuals were seen in Périnet and Ranomafana.
SUNBIRDS & SPIDERHUNTERS Passeriformes Nectariniidae
110 Souimanga Sunbird (E) Cinnyris sovimanga
Common in rainforests.
111 Madagascar (Green) Sunbird (E) Cinnyris notatus
Common; seen on eight days.
WHITE-EYES Passeriformes Zosteropidae
112 Madagascar White-eye (E) Zosterops maderaspatanus
Common; seen almost daily.
VANGAS Passeriformes Vangidae
113 Red-tailed Vanga (E) Calicalicus madagascariensis
About five in Périnet; calling in Ranomafana.
114 Red-shouldered Vanga (E) Calicalicus rufocarpalis
Brilliant male at the La Table twitch.
115 Hook-billed Vanga (E) Vanga curvirostris
One early in the morning at Berenty.
116 Lafresnaye's Vanga (E) Xenopirostris xenopirostris
Three seen well in Ifaty spiny forest.
117 Sickle-billed Vanga (E) Falculea palliata
Eight seen well in Ifaty spiny forest.
118 White-headed Vanga (E) Artamella viridis
Three on two days in Périnet.
119 Chabert's Vanga (E) Leptopterus chabert
More than 20 seen over four days.
120 (Madagascar) Blue Vanga (E) Cyanolanius madagascarinus
A few seen in Périnet and Ranomafana.
121 Tylas Vanga (E) Tylas eduardi
One in Périnet and two at Ranomafana.
DRONGOS Passeriformes Dicruridae
122 Crested Drongo Dicrurus forficatus
Common daily
CORVIDS (including JAYS) Passeriformes Corvidae
123 Pied Crow Corvus albus
Common through most of the tour except the far south.
STARLINGS Passeriformes Sturnidae
124 Common Myna Acridotheres tristis
Common through much of the tour.
WEAVERS & ALLIES Passeriformes Ploceidae
125 Nelicourvi Weaver (E) Ploceus nelicourvi
Seen in Périnet and Ranomafana.
126 Sakalava weaver (E) Ploceus sakalava
Common in the southern lowlands.
127 Red (Madagascar) Fody Foudia madagascariensis
Common; seen on seven days.
128 Forest Fody (E) Foudia omissa
A few, not surprisingly, in forests.
WAXBILLS & ALLIES Passeriformes Estrildidae
129 Madagascar Munia (Mannikin) (E) Lonchura nana
Recorded on six days.


MAMMALS


MICE, RATS, VOLES & GERBILS Rodentia Muridae
1 Island Mouse (Eastern Red Forest Rat) Nesomys rufus
Several in Ranomafana.
GENETS & CIVETS Carnivora Viverridae
2 Malagasy Civet Fossa fossana
One beautiful creature late in the afternoon in Ranomafana.
OLD WORLD FRUIT BATS Chiroptera Pteropodidae
3 Madagascan Flying Fox Pteropus rufus
Quite a few at Berenty.
SHEATH-TAILED BATS Chiroptera Emballonuridae
4 Mauritian tomb bat Taphozous mauritianus
A few at Antananarivo airport on arrival.
LEMURS Primates Lemuridae
5 White-footed Sportive Lemur Lepilemur leucopus
Six seen on three days in Berenty and Ifaty.
6 Golden Bamboo Lemur Hapalemur aureus
Two grooming each other in Ranomafana.
7 Eastern Lesser Bamboo Lemur Hapalemur griseus
Three in Périnet N.P.; two in Ranomafana.
8 Greater Bamboo Lemur Hapalemur simus
Three in Ranomafana.
9 Ring-tailed Lemur Lemur catta
More than 50 daily at Berenty.
10 Black-and-White Ruffed Lemur Varecia variegate
Three briefly Périnet N.P.
11 Red-fronted Brown Lemur Eulemur fulvus rufus
Two and then a troop of 12 in Périnet.
12 Grey-fronted Brown Lemur Eulemur fulvus fulvus
Two adults and two young in Isalo N.P.
13 Red-bellied Lemur Eulemur rubriventer
One in Ranomafana.
DWARF & MOUSE LEMURS Primates Cheirogaleidae
14 Brown Mouse Lemur Microcebus rufus
One in Berenty, one, possibly two, in Ranomafana. One of the star mammals of the tour.
INDRI & SIFAKAS Primates Indriidae
15 Indri Indri indri
A party of four in Périnet delighted us for more than an hour, others were heard nearby and later in Périnet N.P.
16 Diademed Sifaka Propithecus diadema diadema
A party of five to ourselves in Périnet.
17 Milne-Edwards' Sifaka Propithecus diadema edwardsi
Three in Ranomafana. Like many of the animals in this park, some had radio-collars.
18 Verreaux's Sifaka Propithecus verreauxi
The Dancing Lemur lived up to its name in Berenty where more than 30 were seen.
19 Woolly Lemur Avahi laniger
Two roosting in the fork on a tree in Périnet.


HERPTILES

Reptiles and amphibians recorded on the tour without notes on daily sightings

SNAKES

1 Madagascar Tree Boa Sanzinia madagascariensis
One in a bush at Périnet, curled asleep.
2 Small Unidentified Snake One which had just eaten prey, possibly a Three-eyed Lizard, in Berenty spiny forest.

LIZARDS

1 Three-eyed Lizard Chaladron madagascarensis
A pretty lizard with a false eye-spot on its crown, seen in Berenty spiny forest.
2 Plated Lizard Zonosaurus laticaudatus
Two or three around Vakôna Lodge, Périnet.

GECKOS

1 Lineated Day Gecko Phelsuma lineata
Common in Périnet and at Fort Dauphin.
2 Moreau’s Tropical House Gecko Hemidactylus maboui
Common in many of the country hotels.

CHAMELEONS

1 Nose-horned Chameleon Calumma nasutus
This was the smallest chameleon we saw: one in Périnet N. P.
2 Warty Chameleon Furcifer verrucosus
Two juveniles in Berenty spiny forest, one which looked like an adult in the gallery forest.
3 Stump-tailed Chameleon Brooksia sp.
One at the entrance to Périnet.

TORTOISES

1 Spider Tortoise Pyxis arachnoids
One in Berenty spiny forest
2 Radiated Tortoise Geochelone radiata
Two in Berenty spiny forest. A group of eight large animals in captivity at the Relais de la Reine, Isalo.

AMPHIBIANS

1 Unnamed frog Mantidactylus femoralis
One in a pool near the Nymphs’ Cascade, Isalo.

OTHER TAXA

Giraffe-necked Weevil (Trachelophorus giraffa), Crab Spider, Golden-webbed Spider, Flatid Leaf Bug (Phromnia rosea), Comet Moth (Argema mitteri) cocoon, African Monarch butterfly, Citrus Swallowtail (Pupilo demodocus), Black and Red Swallowtail (Atrophaneuro anterior, Madagascar’s largest butterfly) Scorpion sp., Fiddler Crab, Red-veined Darter, Dung Beetle.



ACKNOWLEDGMENTS


Hanta Rambola Randriamanalina of SETAM (Societe pour l'Exploitation du Tourisms a Madagascar) who organised our itinerary.
Mamy Ramarolahy for managing the daily itinerary, organising our guides, sorting out problems, identifying birds and looking after the group with great care and attention throughout the tour.
Claude who drove faultlessly from Tulear to Antananarivo and his assistant-cum-porter Faly.

Tim Earl
Guernsey


© The Travelling Naturalist 2006