Trip report: Madagascar, The Eighth Continent (Nov 2013) by Tropical Birding

Guided by Ken Behrens. This was a set-departure tour, including the Western Endemics pre-trip and Helmet Vanga extension.

Madagascar has long been a core destination for Tropical Birding, and with last year’s opening of a satellite office in the country, we have further solidified our expertise in the “Eighth Continent.” This was another highly successful set-departure tour to this special island. This trip was run in parallel with another set-departure, guided by Charley Hesse. The two groups remained separate, though there were many times where we benefitted from sharing information. Although Madagascar poses some logistical challenges, especially in the form of the national airline Air Madagascar, we had no problems on this tour, not even a single delayed flight!

The birding was great, with 196 species recorded, including almost all of the island’s endemic birds. As usual, the highlight was seeing all five of the incredible ground-rollers, from the roadrunner-like Long-tailed of the spiny forest to the wonderful rainforest-dwelling Scaly. There was also a strong supporting cast of vangas, mesites, Malagasy greenbuls, asities, and many others.

The “mammaling” on this tour was exceptional. Actually, the best sighting on our tour was a mammal, and not a bird: the bizarre and rarely seen aye-aye, which we observed at short range for almost an hour during an eventful night walk when we also spotted the extremely rare hairy-eared dwarf-lemur. Overall, we recorded 45 mammals of which 35 were lemurs, from the tiny mouse-lemurs up to Indri, the largest living species.

Finally, this was an extraordinary tour for reptiles and amphibians. We racked up 62 species of reptiles, which is a new record for Tropical Birding or any other birding tour company as far as I know. The chameleons alone showed incredible diversity; we saw 14 species, including the world’s two largest chameleons, and one of its smallest. We identified 24 species of frogs, again one of the highest totals ever for a Madagascar birding trip. Madagascar is certainly rich in wonderful birds, and we enjoyed these to the fullest. But its range of reptiles and amphibians is just as wondrous and accessible, and a trip that ignored them would be sorely missing out.

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