Trip report: Comoros (December 2015) by Tropical Birding

Guided by Ken Behrens. This was a custom tour.

The Comoros comprise four islands in the Indian Ocean, situated between northern Madagascar and the coast of East Africa. Three of the islands form an independent country, while the eastern island of Mayotte is part of France. There is no denying that the Comoros are way off the beaten path for birders, naturalists, and really any foreigners! Indeed, this is part of their appeal to the intrepid traveller. Part of the reason for the paucity of visitors is the Comoros’ reputation for inaccessibility and lack of infrastructure. But with decent hotels, and increasingly reliable domestic airlines, the Comoros are quickly becoming accessible. Tropical Birding’s northern Madagascar office, just a short flight from the Comoros, also positions us well to coordinate logistics in this tricky part of the world.

There are strong reasons for a birder to consider visiting the Comoros. There are 22 endemic species according to the 2015 update of the Clements list. Every one of these was seen during this trip. Twenty-two endemics is already respectable for a small island chain, but this isn’t the whole story. There are an additional 22 taxa that are strong candidates for future splitting. We found all of these “potential splits”, save one (the subspecies of Madagascar Brush-Warbler found on Mohéli). This means that in a week-long trip you can potentially find over 40 endemic birds… pretty impressive for a part of the world that doesn’t receive much attention from world birders! These endemics include four fantastic scops-owls, one on each island, all of which are distinctive and exquisite. Another of the top endemics is the distinctive Comoro or Humblot’s Flycatcher, found only on Grande Comore. Of an array of white-eyes and sunbirds, the Mayotte White-eye and Mayotte Sunbird are certainly the best-looking of the lot, and thankfully both are common. Mayotte also holds the best drongo, yup you guessed it, the Mayotte Drongo, with a fabulously huge fork to the tail. Aside from the “marquee birds”, one of the things that makes the Comoros fascinating for a travelling naturalist is the subtle differences between the islands, and the major difference between the Comoros and nearby Madagascar. Like the much better-known Galapagos, the Comoros are a true laboratory of evolution.

Birders who are already visiting Madagascar can easily add a week in the Comoros for a hefty extra dose of endemics. The Comoros can also make a quick but productive stand-alone trip, particularly for people with limited vacation time. The islands now receive flights from several good international airlines, including Kenya Airways and Air Austral, making a quick trip quite feasible, especially for birders based or travelling in the eastern hemisphere.

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