Madagascar: Birding in July - Birding Tour
Madagascar’s flora and fauna are so different from anywhere else on Earth that it is often referred to as the eighth continent; five bird families and 120 species are found only here. Madagascar is home to some of the planet’s greatest biological oddities, including other-worldly plants, Jurassic reptiles, and unfeasible birds and lemurs that appear to have their origins in Alice’s wonderland. The classic time for birders to visit Madagascar is between September and December, at the beginning of the rainy season, when birds are most active and vocal. However, July is also a wonderful time to visit the 8th Continent. It offers cool, dry, and comfortable weather, and the vast majority of the species for which Madagascar is famous. For birders who have their heart set on seeing as many Malagasy endemics as possible, September through December is the time. But for visitors who want an excellent birding and all-around natural history experience, without the heat and humidity of the rainy season, July is worth strongly considering. This tour follows the same itinerary as our normal, tried-and-true Madagascar set-departure itinerary. We range from the bizarre Spiny Forest of the southwest, into the dry forest and upland of the interior, then into the wonderfully rich eastern rainforest. An extension to northern Madagascar seeks out some of the island’s best lemurs and its most bizarre and wondrous landscape: the eroded limestone badlands of the Tsingy. To summarize, most of the birds and mammals and fewer reptiles and amphibians BUT much more comfortable weather.
Main Tour: 16 July - 1 August (€7480; single supplement: €1125)
Northern Extension: 1- 6 August (€3090; single supplement: €310)
Main Tour: 14 July - 30 July (Price: TBA)
Northern Extension: 30 July - 4 August (Price: TBA)
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Other Tour Details:
Length: 17 Days (22 Days w/ Ext.)
Starting City: Antananarivo
Ending City: Antananarivo
Physical Difficulty: Moderate
Focus: Birding, Wildlife
Group size: 9 + 1 Leader
Day 1: Antananarivo
We arrive in Antananarivo, the island’s capital, and spend a night in a city hotel. As soon as we land in this city, it’s obvious that we are in a very different part of the world. Quaint two-story red brick houses rise from a landscape of endless rice paddies. Despite being in the mountains, Tana almost feels like an island floating in a sea of rice! Even between the airport and our hotel, we’ll have a chance to spot our first birds, maybe including Little (Dimorphic) and Great Egrets, and Black Heron. A few endemics including Madagascar Kestrel and Madagascar Fody are common even in downtown, and we should spot them quickly.
Day 2: Antananarivo to Ifaty
A morning flight takes us to Tulear. After landing, we transfer to Ifaty, surrounded by the strange spiny desert, Madagascar’s most striking and unique natural landscape. Here, the spiny-tentacled octopus trees, cactus-like euphorbias, and towering baobabs combine to create an eerie scene. Our first birds should include Madagascar Bee-eater, Madagascar Lark, and Madagascar Cisticola. En route we encounter several marshes and wetlands, where we should find many waterbirds, ranging from shorebirds like Black-winged Stilt, to marsh denizens like the shy Baillon’s Crake and Little Bittern.
Day 3: Ifaty
This morning we seek out spectacular semi-desert endemics such as Running Coua, Thamnornis Warbler, and Lafresnaye’s Vanga. The hulking Sickle-billed Vangas give themselves away by their odd wails, that sounds more like a human baby than a bird! There are two very rare endemics here: the cryptic Sub-desert Mesite and the elegant Long-tailed Ground-Roller, an elusive bird resembling a colorful roadrunner. Despite the dry season timing of this tour, our skilled local guides normally have no problem turning up these elusive and beautiful specialties. They sometimes even find these birds by following their tracks in the red sand! Visiting another site, just outside the village, we’ll seek out the rare Madagascar Plover, which usually allows close approach and wonderful views. This day normally allows for a mid-day siesta, when the intrepid and tireless have the option to take a small boat out for some snorkeling on one of the world’s longest coral reefs. In the evening, we’ll head back into the spiny forest for a night walk, where targets will include the beautiful Madagascar Ground Gecko, an enigmatic Sportive-Lemur which is probably Petter’s Sportive-Lemur, and two species of Mouse-Lemurs: Gray and Gray-brown.
Day 4: Ifaty to Tulear
After another morning birding around Ifaty we head to Tulear to overnight. We may stop for more wetland birding along the way. The extensive tidal flats are a great place for White-fronted Plover and a variety of terns. There should be some over-summering Eurasian shorebirds like Black-bellied Plover and Curlew Sandpiper. Occasionally, a long-legged Humblot’s Heron or flamingo also graces these flats. In the afternoon, we head for the strange coral-rag scrub habitat around the plateau of La Table to search for Verreaux’s Coua and Red-shouldered Vanga, a species only discovered in the 1990’s.
Day 5: Tulear Area
First thing in the morning, we head to a stakeout for Madagascar Sandgrouse, which has become increasingly rare, but hasn’t yet disappeared from this corner of Madagsacar. Next, we board a boat to visit Nosy Ve, a small, enchanting offshore islet, whose star attraction is a colony of Red-tailed Tropicbirds, but also often hosts Crab Plovers. This tiny island seems like such a classically “touristy” place that it’s almost difficult to believe that it’s part of a birding tour! We return to the lodge with a stop at Anakao to search for the very local Littoral Rock-Thrush.
Day 6: Tulear Area
We have a final flexible day in Tulear to “clean up” anything we might have missed. We might return to La Table if we missed Verreaux’s Coua or Red-shouldered Vanga there earlier, and also have another shot at the increasingly difficult Madagascar Sandgrouse. Another option is a visit to the wonderful Arboretum d’Antsokay, which boasts a wealth of Spiny Forest plants, and is also good for tame birds like “Green-capped” Coua, Madagascar Buttonquail, and sometime day-roosting Gray-brown Mouse Lemur or Madagascar Nightjar.
Day 7: Zombitse and Isalo
We will wake up very early and drive about 3 hours inland to Zombitse-Vohibasia National Park, where we spend a few hours birding. This park is a forest haven in the dry and mainly de-forested southwest. Our main target is one of the world’s most range-restricted birds: Appert’s Greenbul that is only found in this forest. Other residents in this dry, deciduous forest include Giant Coua, Madagascar Cuckoo Roller, and Rufous Vanga. We often get lucky with day roosting Zombitse Sportive Lemurs, Madagascar (Torotoroka) Scops-Owls, and sometimes even White-browed Owl. By mid-day, we arrive at Isalo, whose sandstone massifs and lush riparian forests rank among the most striking of Malagasy landscapes. When the day begins to cool, we search for the ‘Benson’s’ Forest Rock-Thrush that frequents the hotel grounds. We may also search for any owls that we failed to find on day roosts earlier in the day.
Day 8: Isalo to Ranomafana
Today is a long driving day, but is not without rewards, as we stop to search for the local Madagascar Partridge, and hope to encounter the rare Reunion Harrier along the way. The grasslands of the central plateau are all that separates us from the beckoning eastern rainforests, which we reach this evening at Ranomafana. Although they have been heavily modified by humans, the Malagasy highlands are still hauntingly beautiful. There are bold granite massifs, and we may sight the mighty Andringitra Massif in the distance. We’ll make one important stop at a community-run reserve where we are virtually guaranteed to see Madagascar’s most famous creature: the point-eared, pied-tailed, black-masked Ring-tailed Lemur.
Days 9-10: Ranomafana
This is Madagascar’s premier mid-altitude rainforest reserve. We’ll search for a variety of endemics like Brown Mesite, Henst’s Goshawk, Pollen’s Vanga, Brown Emutail, and Yellow-browed Oxylabes. Higher up we bird Vohiparara, where we look for the highly-localized Yellow-bellied Sunbird Asity, though it can be very tough to locate at this season. One benefit of visiting at this season is that one of Madagascar’s best reptiles, the well-named Satanic Leaf-tailed Gecko is normally quite easy to locate, and we’ll thoroughly enjoy watching and photographing this alien-looking beast. Wetlands in the area give us a chance of locating Meller’s Duck, Madagascar Snipe, and Gray Emutail. Although one of the drawbacks of a tour at this season is that ground-rollers are more difficult to find, we still stand an excellent chance of locating Pitta-like Ground-Roller, and a fair chance at the bamboo-haunting Rufous-headed Ground-Roller. Twelve species of lemur, Madagascar’s weird and enchanting primates, are found at Ranomafana, and one night we’ll have the unforgettable experience of Rufous Mouse-Lemurs coming to within inches of our faces. Chameleons are remarkably evident at Ranomafana, and we often turn up half a dozen species on a single night walk, from the diminutive Perinet Chameleon to the big and beautiful O’Shaughnessy’s Chameleon. If we follow various grunts and croaks, we may turn up frogs including Tschenk’s Bridge Frog and Madagascar Bright-eyed Frog.
Day 11: Ranomafana to Antsirabe
After a final morning in Ranomafana, we drive to Antsirabe for the night. This highland town is in Madagascar’s agricultural heartland, and retains a strong colonial feel from the day’s of French rule. We usually enjoy an excellent dinner here due to the bounty of fresh, high-quality local produce. If time allows, we’ll visit some local workshops where skilled artisans cleverly use a variety of materials to create unique handicrafts.
Day 12: Antsirabe to Perinet Reserve
We continue on to Perinet, crossing the Horombe Plateau, where roadside markets display a variety of handicrafts, fruit, and meat. We sometimes see Madagascar Pratincole en route along the Mangoro River. After arriving in the rainforest, we’ll make a night walk.
Days 13-15: Mantadia NP and Perinet Reserve
These two areas offer the best chance to see some of the country’s finest rainforest birds. We’ll also search for easier quarry such as Madagascar Flufftail, Madagascar Blue-Pigeon, Madagascar Pygmy-Kingfisher, and Madagascar Starling. In the forested hills around Perinet, we will try to locate Red-breasted, Red-fronted, and Blue Couas, the glowing Velvet Asity, and the bizarre tree-creeping Nuthatch Vanga. Madagascar Crested Ibis can be bafflingly difficult to see later in the year, but is usually not too hard to see in July, when there are not nearly as many birders walking through its haunts. Although ground-rollers are tricky at this season, we still stand some chance of finding Scaly Ground-Roller, along with the widespread Pitta-like. The experience of birding in Perinet would not be complete without being serenaded by the planet’s largest lemur, the Indri. The spine-chilling hoots and wails will stay with you forever. Night walks should reveal other mammals including Eastern Woolly, Crossley’s Dwarf, and diminutive Goodman’s Mouse Lemurs. The reserve’s herpetofauna is also impressive, with brightly-patterned and bizarre frogs, geckos, and chameleons, including the giant Parson’s Chameleon.
Day 16: Perinet to Antananarivo
After a final morning of birding, or perhaps visiting a nearby reptile park, we return to Antananarivo where we spend the night.
Day 17: Antananarivo
Transfer to the airport for departure.
Note that this extension uses charter flights to access Masoala. In our view, this is the only reasonable option given the notorious unreliability of scheduled flights to this destination. When comparing our price with that of our competitors, check whether or not they are using charter flights.
Madagascar’s far north offers some of its best lemurs, plus excellent reptiles, beautiful coastline, and the 8th Continent’s most distinctive landscape: tsingy, a jagged badland of eroded limestone.
Day 1: Antananarivo to Diego-Suarez (Antsiranana) to Amber Mountain
Today we fly from Tana to the bustling and surprisingly cosmopolitan town of Diego-Suarez, at the northern tip of Madagascar. A short drive takes us from the dry coastal lowlands up the humid slopes of Amber Mountain, an astoundingly isolated island of lush rainforest. Our comfortable lodge enjoys views out across beautiful forest, with the mighty bays of Diego-Suarez, one of the world’s greatest natural harbor systems, off in the distance. As the sun sets, we’ll make a night walk to look for some of the special mammals and reptiles of this isolated treasure house of biodiversity. Targets will include several of the astounding number of leaf-tailed geckos and chameleons that co-exist on this mountain. We’ll also try