Guided by Sam Woods. This was a custom tour, with a shorter itinerary than our set-departure tours.
There is literally no place on Earth like Madagascar, the World’s fourth largest island (about twice the size of the US state of Arizona). An island that sits off of mainland Africa, it shows affinities with Asia and Africa and sits uncomfortably with neither, hence the often-used phrase of “Eighth Continent”. This was a short custom tour (11 days), set up for a couple on limited time, who wanted to get a good overview of the island’s wildlife, both birds and others. Thus, a trip was designed with this in mind, combining several sites in the dry southwest with the very different wetter rainforests of the east. After picking up all 4 endemic bird families (Mesites, Ground-Rollers, Asities, and Malagasy Warblers), two families endemic to the region (Vangas and Helmetshrikes, and Cuckoo-Roller), as well as the monotypic family, Crab Plover; seeing 13 species of lemurs, including the poodle-like Black-and-white Ruffed Lemur, (left) and the largest, and loudest of them all, Indri, getting phenomenal looks at the hedgehog-like Lowland Streaked Tenrec; observing numerous chameleons (one of the signature groups of Madagascar), including the World’s largest, Parson’s Chameleon; as well as seeing some of the other oddities that make Madagascar so appealing, like the enormous, oddly-shaped Baobab trees of the southwest, and the bizarre Giraffe-necked Weevil in the east, I think you could say we achieved our goals!!! Some of the highlights included getting every single possible coua species, all 9 of them; getting 4 species of Ground-Roller that included the amazing Long-tailed Ground-Roller in the dry spiny forest of the southwest, and incredible Scaly and Pitta-like Ground-Rollers in the eastern rainforests, viewing a Subdesert Mesite (next page) down to 15 feet, some fantastic daytime “nightbirding” (White-browed, Madagascar Scops, and Madagascar Long-eared Owls, and both Madagascar and Collared Nightjars all being seen in broad daylight); the dazzling Blue Vanga and equally impressive (in a different way) Sickle-billed Vanga among the baobab trees of the southwest, as well as dynamite views of the recently described Red-shouldered Vanga; a male Velvet Asity sporting the characteristic waxy green eyebrows, walking within meters of nesting tropicbirds on an island that also held Crab Plover, being able to get extreme close ups and photos of the rare Madagascar Plover, catching up with the often difficult Madagascar Sandgrouse, getting up very close with both the endemic kingfishers, and seeing them both in the air and on the ground, getting to see a nesting Madagascar Crested Ibis in the “Ground-Roller Capital”, Mantadia National Park, having crisp, long (and close) looks at a Madagascar Pratincole, and also being able to observe a family of Madagascar Wood-Rail foraging at length were just some of the many, many highlights.
As I hope you will see from this report that in spite of this being a birding tour, with more than a little natural history on the side, that Madagascar is also a great country for nature photography, where us “birders with cameras” walked away with many memorable photos of the birds, the lemurs, the chameleons, the baobab dominated spiny forests, and plenty more besides. Whichever you look at this short tour, it was an unqualified success, satisfying the birding elements required, complemented by other great aspects of natural history, while providing us with plentiful images to remember this all by. As you can see, the tour left quite an impact on guide and participants alike!
There are two versions of the report below; a larger one with better quality images first, and then a smaller version of this, for those with slower Internet speeds. If you have high speed Internet we highly recommend viewing the larger version, due to the significantly higher picture quality.