Trip report: Madagascar, The Eighth Continent (Oct 2012) by Tropical Birding

Guided by Ken Behrens.

This was a custom trip designed for a group of keen birders who wanted to see as many of Madagascar’s endemic birds as possible in a trip that was just over 3 weeks long. The trip had a fairly hectic pace, but was completely successful in achieving its goals. We saw 194 species including all of the endemics that were likely on this itinerary. These included all the members of the endemic asity family, with great views of gorgeous male Yellow-bellied Sunbird-Asity and Schlegel’s Asity. All 3 of the mesites (another endemic family) were seen spectacularly well and photographed. We saw all 5 members of the endemic ground-roller family, which are undoubtedly some of the best birds in the world. The biggest endemic family is the vangas, as we saw all of its members save the Red-tailed Newtonia. This family includes wonderful species like Helmet, Sickle-billed, and Nuthatch Vangas. We saw all save one of the Malagasy greenbuls or tetrakas, which are more subtle in coloration, but still fascinating in their cryptic radiations. Other highlights included: all the endemic ducks including the recently rediscovered Madagascar Pochard; all the island’s rails including the rarely seen Sakalava Rail and Slender-billed Flufftail; rare raptors like Madagascar Fish-Eagle, Henst’s Goshawk, Madagascar Sparrowhawk, and Madagascar Cuckoo-Hawk; all the endemic owls including Madagascar Long-eared and Madagascar Red Owls; the big and bold Cuckoo-Roller, a weird bird that makes up its own family; all 9 species of couas, which are always better than expected; gem-like Madagascar Pygmy Kingfisher; and dozens of other endemics.

Even though this was a focused birding itinerary, we also managed to take in a lot of Madagascar’s non-avian wonders. We recorded an amazing 34 species of lemurs (including a few that were only seen during visits to Perinet before or after the main tour), from the tiny mouse-lemurs up to Indri, the largest living species. Between were an engaging range of dwarf- lemurs, several spunky sportive-lemurs, a couple of tree-clinging woolly-lemurs, a variety of brown-lemurs, both of the big and beautiful ruffed- lemurs, and an amazing 6 of the island’s 9 species of sifakas. There were some other great mammals too, such as the bizarre lowland streaked tenrec and beautiful ring-tailed mongoose. We also racked up 46 species of reptiles, ranging from blazing green day-geckos to oceanic Green Sea Turtle to the fleet-footed Three-eyed Lizards of the spiny forest. The chameleons alone showed incredible diversity; we saw the world’s largest chameleon, and one of its smallest! We identified 14 species of frogs, with many more seen but not identified. The highlight here was the spectacular Starry Night Reed Frog, which lives up to its poetic name.

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