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We started the tour in the virtually pristine rainforests of Ranomafana, which the group (along with Gerard at right and Baku at far left) is enjoying here just prior to our dusk search for mouse lemurs. Photo by guide Doug Gochfeld.
This year’s Field Guides Madagascar tour was full of great features, including over twenty species of Lemur, more than one hundred species of endemic birds, and a litany of fascinating natural wonders and cultural insights. Indeed, there were so many highlights that there wasn’t widespread agreement about just what the favorite bird or mammal or experience of the trip was. We fared very well with the weather; we had some cool and cloudy conditions to relieve us from the unforgiving tropical sun in a couple of locations, and the periods of rain mostly kept away from our birding excursions. Other than the plague scare that wasn’t so scary after all, the bees of Andasibe, and a very minor Mad Air schedule change, the tour went off without so much as a hitch!
This year, we started out by heading to Ranomafana National Park, one of the real jewels among Madagascar’s protected areas. Having this as our first stop means two days of mostly driving to start the tour, but to everyone’s credit, it was handled gracefully and without complaint. We managed to fit in a couple of very productive birding stops on the way south: on day one at a nice flooded rice paddy area, where we scored our only Madagascar Snipes of the tour along with a swirling mass of Plain (Brown-throated) Martins, and then on day two at the Reserve Villageoise D’Ankazomivady, where the highlight among introductions to several Madagascar endemic species was a scarce Baillon’s Crake!
We spent an afternoon and then two full days exploring the rainforests around Ranomafana, including the “Circuit 2” trail on the way to Vohiparara. It was a bit overwhelming starting the tour at such an amazingly rich location, and we were immediately inundated with new experiences, including our first asitys, vangas, tetrakas, and bamboo lemurs. Two of the headliners here were the endangered Golden Bamboo Lemur, for whose protection Ranomafana NP was created, and the even more endangered Greater Bamboo Lemur, of which only two known individuals remain in the publicly accessible area of the park. The birds were many and excellent as well, with highlights being Velvet Asity, Pitta-Like Ground-Roller, Pollen’s Vanga, Blue Vanga, Dark Newtonia, Wedge-tailed Tetraka, an incredibly cooperative Yellow-browed Oxylabes, and Common Sunbird Asity (which is NOT common by any measure). Our excellent guides at Ranomafana were Jean-Chris and Baku, who did an amazing job rounding up and tracking down what seemed like every critter in the forest!
We then started working our way to the southwest, stopping for lunch in Ambalavao, where we also got some fascinating cultural insight into the processes of local silk-making and paper-making, and we were able to sample and buy some of the local products – it was great to support hardworking craftswomen directly. We spent the night at the lavish Jardin du Roy in the ruggedly beautiful Isalo National Park. We spent much of the next morning, after a wonderful breakfast with incredible French croissants, birding the grounds of the resort and a couple of nearby areas, primarily in search of Benson’s Rock Thrush, a very range-restricted taxon. While we were trying to find our quarry we also enjoyed great experiences with Madagascar Bee-eater, a flyby Madagascar Pond-Heron, a bunch of Iguanas, the one-of-a-kind Pachypodium plants, and truly breathtaking scenery. It took quite a while, but Gerard was eventually able to pull a Benson's Rock Thrush out of his hat as our time was running low, and as a bonus for waiting, we got great views of a pair of the difficult-to-see Madagascar Partridge.
The journey continued west, arriving at Zombitse Forest in the heat of the day. However, that didn’t stop our Zombitse guides (Bertran, Randria, and Zerina) from finding us all of the specialties we were hoping for in quick succession, including one of the rarest birds in Madagascar, Appert’s Tetraka. We got into the coua column in a big way, with three species of this endemic family (Crested, Giant, and Coquerel’s), and other winners were the Verreaux’s Sifakas, Zombitse Sportive Lemur, and the ever-present din of the aerial patrol of Cuckoo-Rollers (one of which gave us a great close flyover). From Zombitse, we headed west through the land of sapphire mining, eventually getting into Ifaty just before sunset. The day’s drive was a very special one, as we got to witness a fascinating landscape change from the rocky canyons around Isalo, to the rolling grasslands west of Zombitse, and eventually to the barren low thorn forest of La Table before getting into the dry coastal plain of Toliara (also spelled Tulear), which featured mudflats, a huge dry river mouth, and some wide swathes of desert-like sand dunes.
Our time in Ifaty was focused on the legendary spiny forest of the southwest, and we spent most of our birding time in the region in the eponymous Parc Mosa. Our guides here were Mosa, his son Freddy, and his nephew Duffy, and they were fantastic at pulling every last bird out of the inhospitable-looking spiny forest, from megas like Long-tailed Ground-Roller, and Subdesert Mesite, to the tricky and secretive Thamnornis, and even a bonus Madagascar Sparrowhawk nest. The forest also produced Archbold’s Newtonia, Lafresnaye’s Vanga, and Green-capped and Running Couas. Nearby we had blisteringly good looks at Madagascar Plover, several Humblot’s Herons, and a nice complement of salt-water shorebirds on the coastal mudflats. The Bamboo Club itself was good for one species each of Dwarf Lemur and Mouse Lemur, and some good dusk views of Madagascar Nightjar feeding or drinking over the pool. Our second afternoon was set aside for a targeted visit to the surprisingly biodiverse thorn forest at La Table, where we were able to track down Verreaux’s Coua, and where Mosa did an amazing job of finding an astonishingly confiding pair of Red-shouldered Vangas. Both of these species are restricted to tiny worldwide ranges, and anyone who sees either one, let alone both, should count themselves lucky! Our final morning here held yet more surprises, including a great experience with a female Madagascar Sandgrouse coming to a drinking hole, and a Bank Swallow which flew by while we were waiting for the Sandgrouse to arrive. This is one of only very few records of Bank Swallow for the country of Madagascar. As if that wasn’t enough for a final morning in this area, we went up the coast to the salt flats once more, and this time scored a trio of Crab Plovers! Then we had a leisurely lunch and headed to the airport for our flight to Ft. Dauphin.
We hit the ground running at Fort Dauphin, getting off an afternoon flight and right into a bus headed for Berenty Private Reserve, a not-so-straightforward 90 kilometers away. After four hours of driving a road which hasn’t been re-paved since 1950, we arrived at Berenty. We went straight into a night walk through the very interesting spiny forest section of the reserve, and had exceptional views of Madagascar Nightjar, along with good experiences with confiding White-footed Sportive Lemur and Reddish-gray Mouse Lemur. The morning at Berenty came with the expected fan-fare, but even our expectations didn’t prepare us for just how entertaining and adorable the combination of dancing Verreaux’s Lemurs and confiding Ring-tailed Lemurs would be. It was a downright fun experience. The walk around the reserve after breakfast was also great, with more lemurs all over, three species of owls at day roosts, Excellent Giant Coua and Madagascar Hoopoe, and several regal white-morph Madagascar Paradise-Flycatchers. Sadly, the Madagascar Cuckoo-Hawk wasn’t attending its nest when we were in the vicinity, but it was still a wildly successful morning! We then packed up and turned around and headed right back to Ft. Dauphin, where we would stay overnight before catching our post-breakfast flight back to Tana the next day.
Once in Tana, we had one more night at the beloved Tamboho before splitting up into three SUVs for the eastern leg of the tour. As we drove east, we stopped for good views of Madagascar Pratincole, but little did we know at the time, those views would be dramatically improved upon a few days hence. World famous Andasibe (also known as Perinet in the old days) was the focal destination, and our hotel for the first two nights was the incomparable Feon’ny ala (which translates to “song of the forest”, which refers to the haunting vocalizations of the Indri) nestled in at the very edge of this wonderful native forest. True to its name our home base produced multiple Indri sightings, although hearing their wonderful calls serenade the forest each morning made even more of an impression on some of us than seeing them did. We had a full morning each at the Mantadia and Andasibe units of the National Park, and we experienced some truly special birds- Scaly Ground-Roller, Short-legged Ground-Roller, Nuthatch Vanga, Malagasy Spinetail, Madagascar Wood-Rail, Madagascar Flufftail. To top it all off, we had cracking looks at the secretive Crossley’s Vanga, and a fantastic White-throated Rail experience. In addition to Indri, our other non-birds included an adorable Gray Bamboo Lemur that Nestor somehow divined was in a dense patch of bamboo, some Common Brown Lemurs, a memorable experience with some forest bees, and an awesome Short-horned Chameleon moving about as fast as you’ll ever see a chameleon move.
We then packed up and headed east, with our next target being the legendary Aye-Aye, a bizarre creature that makes you wonder if it was George Lucas’s inspiration for Yoda. A half-day drive to the coast included a couple of rest stops, and during both of these we had the completely unexpected phenomenon of very vocal Madagascar Pratincoles flying around these small towns, right over our heads, and then landing on top of buildings. They were apparently nesting on some of the nearby roofs, and we got to see some of their excellent display flights.
We eventually made it to the coast, and got on our boat. Our boat ride took us through the Canal of Pangolana, and to the Palmarium resort, where we had a delightful lunch, followed by an interesting walk around the island with our resort guide Rico. He showed us some incredible tiny white frogs, several species of lemur, and an impressive vocal range as he imitated the lemur shouts throughout our forest walk. We also got a great rundown on how vanilla is produced on such a grand scale in Madagascar (it’s exceptionally labor intensive). We then re-located to the wonderful beach cottages at the Palmarium Beach, before heading over to Aye-Aye Island. We were exceptionally fortunate with the Aye-Ayes, as there were three individuals at the viewing site upon our dusk arrival. Watching these pre-historic looking mammals devour coconuts with the help of their long, thin middle fingers was a huge highlight for everyone.
The next morning we loaded up on the boats dark and early to head all the way back to Tana. As we approached Andasibe on the return, we found that Mad Air had finally lived up to its reputation (after our first two painless flights of the tour) and delayed our flight. This ended up being just fine, as it permitted us a snack and coffee stop at Feon’ny ala, which allowed us fantastic views of Indri (our best views yet!), as well as a big bonus when Ray spotted an adorable Madagascar Pygmy-Kingfisher, our first of the trip as a group.
Our flight did eventually leave Tana, with us aboard no less, and we landed at Mahajanga (aka Majunga) without incident and were at the Edena Kelly Hotel in short order. A light dinner was in order for some, and some went straight to bed. The next day, we had a very pleasant boat trip in the Betsiboka estuary. While we couldn’t track down any of the declining Bernier’s Teal, we did see Madagascar Sacred Ibis, as well as a couple of bonus birds in the form of a Yellow-billed Stork and 50 Lesser Flamingoes, and a nice variety of shorebirds including Terek Sandpiper, and several species of small plover. After the boat trip, and lunch at Chez Karon, we headed south to Ampijoroa Lodge at Ankarafantsika National Park. We arrived at dusk, and saw a few Coquerel’s Sifaka going through the trees immediately upon leaving the bus.
Andrema guided us around during our full day at this fascinating swathe of protected dry forest, and we had our two early morning targets, Schlegel’s Asity and White-breasted Mesite, by 5:35 AM, a new record for Phil. We then spent some more time leisurely birding those trails and got to view a pair of Schlegel’s Asity in the act of nest-building. It was good that we got the sunrise stuff so quickly, because it took us a while to find Van Dam’s Vanga, but eventually, and despite the cacophonous cicada noise, Andrema came through and found a silent pair, which seemed unconcerned with our presence as we ogled them from close range. We also had a really nice Rufous Vanga here, and two high flying Sooty Falcons. We finished up the morning with a Madagascar Jacana that Andrema had found nearby the day before. The afternoon netted us the rare and declining Madagascar Fish-Eagle (two, in fact!), and a small flock of Whiskered Terns in full breeding plumage (so probably the African subspecies) at a lake to the north. We did a night walk with some phenomenal views of a few species of lizard, great views of the adorable big-eyed Fat-tailed Dwarf Lemur, an insane-looking leech with a spade-shaped head, and a roosting Madagascar Pygmy-Kingfisher!
Our final day was mainly a travel day, with a long drive all the way back to Tana, but that didn’t mean we were quite done with the birding just yet! We stopped at Abondromamy Marsh on the way to the south, and had the striking African Pygmy-Goose, great views of several Greater Painted-Snipe, and a new Madagascar bird for Phil in the form of Harlequin Quail! We arrived back at the Carlton in time for a delicious dinner (and dessert), and had enough time for those flying out on the red-eye to say their goodbyes.
Phil and I had a fantastic time exploring the Eighth Continent with you all, from the fascinating culture, to the delightful people, the jaw-dropping landscapes and ecology, and the one-of-a-kind wildlife. It was truly a pleasure to share this voyage with you, and we hope to see you in the field again soon!
Until we next meet, somewhere in this magical world,
KEYS FOR THIS LIST
One of the following keys may be shown in brackets for individual species as appropriate: * = heard only, I = introduced, E = endemic, N = nesting, a = austral migrant, b = boreal migrant
Words can't accurately sum up how bizarre and amazing the dancing Verreaux's Sifakas of Berenty are, so we'll just let this image speak for itself. Photo by guide Doug Gochfeld.
Anatidae (Ducks, Geese, and Waterfowl)
WHITE-FACED WHISTLING-DUCK (Dendrocygna viduata)
AFRICAN PYGMY-GOOSE (Nettapus auritus)
MELLER'S DUCK (Anas melleri) [E]
RED-BILLED DUCK (Anas erythrorhyncha)
HOTTENTOT TEAL (Anas hottentota)
A big highlight of any trip to Madagascar, the very rare (and declining, due to rapid habitat loss) Schlegel's Asity is yet another example of the extremes to which sexual selection can affect the evolution of the physical appearance of animals. The neon caruncles on the males are simply out of this world. Photo by guide Doug Gochfeld.
HELMETED GUINEAFOWL (Numida meleagris) [I]
This Baron's Mantella added a great shot of color on our first afternoon around Ranomafana. Photo by guide Doug Gochfeld.
Phasianidae (Pheasants, Grouse, and Allies)
MADAGASCAR PARTRIDGE (Margaroperdix madagarensis) [E]
HARLEQUIN QUAIL (Coturnix delegorguei)
MADAGASCAR GREBE (Tachybaptus pelzelnii) [E]
Three "laka" outriggers sailing on the Betsiboka Estuary. Dozens of them commanded our attention with their triangular or crescent-shaped sails during our boat ride out of Mahajunga, contributing to a seafaring atmosphere unlike any we encountered elsewhere. These double-outriggers are a hallmark of Oceania, and within the region are found only in east Africa, southern Arabia, and the northern coasts of Madagascar, to which they arrived from Southeast Asia within the first few hundred years AD. Photo by guide Doug Gochfeld.
LESSER FLAMINGO (Phoeniconaias minor)
YELLOW-BILLED STORK (Mycteria ibis)
HAMERKOP (Scopus umbretta umbretta)
The stark juxtaposition of the rocky landscape of Isalo with the oases that are scattered liberally throughout the region is really breathtaking. Photo by participant John Keith.
Ardeidae (Herons, Egrets, and Bitterns)
GRAY HERON (MALAGASY) (Ardea cinerea firasa)
HUMBLOT'S HERON (Ardea humbloti) [E]
PURPLE HERON (PURPLE) (Ardea purpurea madagascariensis)
GREAT EGRET (AFRICAN) (Ardea alba melanorhynchos)
LITTLE EGRET (DIMORPHIC) (Egretta garzetta dimorpha)
BLACK HERON (Egretta ardesiaca)
CATTLE EGRET (WESTERN) (Bubulcus ibis ibis)
This as-yet-undescribed species of Sportive Lemur from the spiny forests around Ifaty is known by some authorities as Petter's Sportive Lemur, which seems appropriate giving how much you want to pet a creature as adorable as this one is (forget for a moment that it is actually named after a person named "Petter"). Photo by guide Doug Gochfeld.
SQUACCO HERON (Ardeola ralloides)
MADAGASCAR POND-HERON (Ardeola idae) [E]
STRIATED HERON (OLD WORLD) (Butorides striata rutenbergi)
BLACK-CROWNED NIGHT-HERON (Nycticorax nycticorax)
Satanic Leaf-tailed Gecko is a fantastic critter, as its latin name, Uroplatys phantasticus, not-so-subtly indicates. The leaf shielding the top of its head and neck from the camera isn't actually a leaf; it's the gecko's tail! Photo by guide Doug Gochfeld.
Threskiornithidae (Ibises and Spoonbills)
GLOSSY IBIS (Plegadis falcinellus)
MADAGASCAR IBIS (Lophotibis cristata) [E]
SACRED IBIS (MALAGASY) (Threskiornis aethiopicus bernieri) [E]
Accipitridae (Hawks, Eagles, and Kites)
MADAGASCAR HARRIER-HAWK (Polyboroides radiatus) [E]
REUNION HARRIER (MALAGASY) (Circus maillardi macrosceles) [E]
FRANCES'S GOSHAWK (Accipiter francesiae) [E]
MADAGASCAR SPARROWHAWK (Accipiter madagascariensis) [E]
The Aye-Aye is a bizarre primate, looking something like a cross between Yoda and a Koala. They're also one of the most difficult mammals to see on Madagascar, with a special trip to Aye-Aye Island being the only accessible place to reliably see these normally shy beasts. Photo by participant Kiran Marthak.
BLACK KITE (YELLOW-BILLED) (Milvus migrans parasitus)
MADAGASCAR FISH-EAGLE (Haliaeetus vociferoides) [E]
MADAGASCAR BUZZARD (Buteo brachypterus) [E]
WHITE-BREASTED MESITE (Mesitornis variegatus) [E]
SUBDESERT MESITE (Monias benschi) [E]
Subdesert Mesite is one of the more bizarre birds we see on a tour filled will bizarre creatures. There are three species of mesites, and despite looking somewhat like passerines, they are placed taxonomically between hawks and rails. Subdesert Mesite is essentially a ghost of the spiny forests, and without the hunting-dog-like efforts of Mosa's team we would stand virtually no chance of laying eyes on one. Once they are found though, they find a perch off the ground and then completely freeze in place. During our fifteen minutes of observing this bird the most animated thing it did was blink. Photo by guide Doug Gochfeld.
Rallidae (Rails, Gallinules, and Coots)
WHITE-THROATED RAIL (Dryolimnas cuvieri cuvieri)
BAILLON'S CRAKE (Zapornia pusilla)
EURASIAN MOORHEN (Gallinula chloropus pyrrhorrhoa)
RED-KNOBBED COOT (Fulica cristata)
MADAGASCAR WOOD-RAIL (Canirallus kioloides)
MADAGASCAR FLUFFTAIL (Sarothrura insularis) [E]
This Madagascar Plover was one of the highlights of our time around Ifaty. This endemic species is declining, perhaps due to competition from Kittlitz's Plover, though the reasons are unclear. We were fortunate to have a phenomenal experience with this confiding individual, with some beautiful native singing as a backdrop. Photo by guide Doug Gochfeld.
Recurvirostridae (Stilts and Avocets)
BLACK-WINGED STILT (Himantopus himantopus)
Enjoy this video montage of some of the birds and chameleons we encountered during our magical voyage through the 8th continent! Video clips by guide Doug Gochfeld.
Charadriidae (Plovers and Lapwings)
BLACK-BELLIED PLOVER (Pluvialis squatarola)
GREATER SAND-PLOVER (Charadrius leschenaultii scythicus)
KITTLITZ'S PLOVER (Charadrius pecuarius)
COMMON RINGED PLOVER (Charadrius hiaticula)
MADAGASCAR PLOVER (Charadrius thoracicus) [E]
THREE-BANDED PLOVER (Charadrius tricollaris bifrontatus)
WHITE-FRONTED PLOVER (Charadrius marginatus tenellus)
Scaly Ground-Roller is a stunning bird, and can be a devil to get looks at. We had the great fortune of coming upon one foraging for a nest near the trailhead upon our arrival at Mantadia, and it would be the only time we experienced this species during the tour. Photo by guide Doug Gochfeld.
GREATER PAINTED-SNIPE (Rostratula benghalensis)
MADAGASCAR JACANA (Actophilornis albinucha) [E]
Scolopacidae (Sandpipers and Allies)
WHIMBREL (EUROPEAN) (Numenius phaeopus phaeopus)
RUDDY TURNSTONE (Arenaria interpres)
Madagascar Pratincoles were the stars of our drive from Andasibe to the east coast, and this one was in fine form as it displayed in circuits over a small town on the road to Brickaville. Photo by guide Doug Gochfeld.
CURLEW SANDPIPER (Calidris ferruginea)
Baobabs are fascinating trees, storing an immense amount of water in their trunks (tens of thounsands of gallons in a single tree) in order to weather the harsh, dry conditions of their environment. They also can grow to be in some strange shapes- this one clearly has a lot of self-love. Photo by guide Doug Gochfeld.
SANDERLING (Calidris alba)
MADAGASCAR SNIPE (Gallinago macrodactyla) [E]
TEREK SANDPIPER (Xenus cinereus)
COMMON SANDPIPER (Actitis hypoleucos)
COMMON GREENSHANK (Tringa nebularia)
WOOD SANDPIPER (Tringa glareola)
MADAGASCAR BUTTONQUAIL (Turnix nigricollis) [E]
Dromadidae (Crab Plover)
CRAB PLOVER (Dromas ardeola)
Glareolidae (Pratincoles and Coursers)
MADAGASCAR PRATINCOLE (Glareola ocularis) [E]
This Blue-legged Chameleon at Ranomafana was one of the first chameleons we saw of the tour and their constant variatiability in plumage kept us fascinated throughout the tour. Photo by guide Doug Gochfeld.
Laridae (Gulls, Terns, and Skimmers)
SAUNDERS'S TERN (Sternula saundersi)
WHISKERED TERN (Chlidonias hybrida delalandii)
GREAT CRESTED TERN (Thalasseus bergii)
The spiny forest at Berenty was an almost alien landscape when experienced at night. Here some of the famous Octopus Plants (genus Alluadia) dominate the skyline. Photo by guide Doug Gochfeld.
LESSER CRESTED TERN (Thalasseus bengalensis bengalensis)
Madagascar Sandgrouse is a widespread but very difficult to see species. One of the only reliable ways to see them is to find out if they have been coming to any watering holes recently, which we did and were lucky to see this one female come in for a morning drink. Photo by guide Doug Gochfeld.
MADAGASCAR SANDGROUSE (Pterocles personatus) [E]
Columbidae (Pigeons and Doves)
ROCK PIGEON (Columba livia) [I]
MADAGASCAR TURTLE-DOVE (Streptopelia picturata picturata)
NAMAQUA DOVE (Oena capensis aliena)
MADAGASCAR GREEN-PIGEON (Treron australis) [E]
Much of the central plateau of Madagascar looks like this. There is likely not a single native tree visible anywhere in this photo (even on the hills in the distance). Rice is by far the dominant land use in this (the largest) region of the country. Small collections of mud-brick buildings, like the ones here, are often found out in the countryside surrounded by paddies. There is very little machinery to help with raising and harvesting the crop in Madagascar, as well as virtually no crop rotation, so their rice production is among the least efficient in the world. Photo by guide Doug Gochfeld.
MADAGASCAR BLUE-PIGEON (Alectroenas madagascariensis) [E]
This Giant Coua put on a show for us at Zombitse Forest, materializing on the path in front of us and then taking a dustbath and sunning itself. Photo by participant Randy Beaton.
CRESTED COUA (Coua cristata cristata)
CRESTED COUA (Coua cristata pyropyga) [E]
VERREAUX'S COUA (Coua verreauxi) [E]
Verreaux's Coua looks similar to Crested Coua, but it is much more range restricted, and is only found in the dry thronscrub around La Table, where despite a healthy population density they can still be a devil of a bird to find. We had at least one bird near a completely hidden nest within an Allaudia, but it showed off a little bit before it disappeared into the dense spines. Photo by guide Doug Gochfeld.
BLUE COUA (Coua caerulea) [E]
RED-CAPPED COUA (RED-CAPPED) (Coua ruficeps ruficeps)
RED-CAPPED COUA (GREEN-CAPPED) (Coua ruficeps olivaceiceps) [E]
RED-FRONTED COUA (Coua reynaudii) [E]
COQUEREL'S COUA (Coua coquereli) [E]
RUNNING COUA (Coua cursor) [E]
GIANT COUA (Coua gigas) [E]
Despite the dire situation in terms of habitat loss in Madagascar there are still some more or less pristine places where you can begin to imagine what the island was like before human habitation, as this river valley (lined with native rainforest) in Ranomafana shows. Photo by guide Doug Gochfeld.
RED-BREASTED COUA (Coua serriana) [E]
MADAGASCAR COUCAL (Centropus toulou) [E]
MADAGASCAR CUCKOO (Cuculus rochii) [E]
BARN OWL (Tyto alba)
This Torotoroka Scops-Owl was an eleventh hour save by Olivier at Berenty. The bird fortuitously called a few times in broad daylight, allowing us to hone in on its very well hidden roost high up in a dense vine tangle. Photo by guide Doug Gochfeld.
MALAGASY SCOPS-OWL (Otus rutilus) [E]
TOROTOROKA SCOPS-OWL (Otus madagascariensis) [E]
MADAGASCAR LONG-EARED OWL (Asio madagascariensis) [E]
WHITE-BROWED OWL (Ninox superciliaris) [E]
We were serenaded by the constant tinkling flight display songs of Madagascar Cisticolas while on our hunt for sandgrouse south of Toliara. Photo by guide Doug Gochfeld.
Caprimulgidae (Nightjars and Allies)
MADAGASCAR NIGHTJAR (Caprimulgus madagascariensis) [E]
This Gray Mouse Lemur was haunting the subcanopy of some of the trees just outside the dining area at the Bamboo Club in Ifaty. Look at those big, endearing eyes! Photo by guide Doug Gochfeld.
MALAGASY SPINETAIL (Zoonavena grandidieri) [E]
MADAGASCAR SWIFT (Apus balstoni) [E]
AFRICAN PALM-SWIFT (MADAGASCAR) (Cypsiurus parvus gracilis)
Sooty Falcon is one of the most fearsome avian predators around. They are also very low density in Madagascar, so we were ecstatic to have this interesting second-year bird as we drove back from Berenty. Photo by guide Doug Gochfeld.
CUCKOO-ROLLER (Leptosomus discolor)
MADAGASCAR HOOPOE (Upupa marginata) [E]
MALAGASY KINGFISHER (Corythornis vintsioides) [E]
MADAGASCAR PYGMY-KINGFISHER (Corythornis madagascariensis) [E]
MADAGASCAR BEE-EATER (Merops superciliosus)
BROAD-BILLED ROLLER (MADAGASCAR) (Eurystomus glaucurus glaucurus)
Due to its tiny size, affinity for dense forests, and tendency to sit motionless for long periods of time, Madagascar Pygmy-Kingfisher can be a bloody difficult bird to track down. We were fortunate to see two of them, the first of which was this bird that Ray found for us during our final visit to Feon'ny ala. Photo by participant Randy Beaton.
SHORT-LEGGED GROUND-ROLLER (Brachypteracias leptosomus) [E]
Ouch, that looks painful! This Madagascar Nightjar was exceptionally cooperative as it perched on a spiny Allaudia branch during our night walk at Berenty. Photo by guide Doug Gochfeld.
SCALY GROUND-ROLLER (Brachypteracias squamiger) [E]
PITTA-LIKE GROUND-ROLLER (Atelornis pittoides) [E]
RUFOUS-HEADED GROUND-ROLLER (Atelornis crossleyi) [E*]
LONG-TAILED GROUND-ROLLER (Uratelornis chimaera) [E]
Nestor did a fine job of tracking down this Short-legged Ground-Roller deep in the forest off the trail at Andasibe. This species is a striking demonstration of convergent evolution, as it is exceptionally similar, in both appearance and behavior, to the puffbirds found in the new world. This one was up high in the canopy trying to find a ray of sunlight to dry off in after a morning rain shower. Photo by guide Doug Gochfeld.
Falconidae (Falcons and Caracaras)
MADAGASCAR KESTREL (Falco newtoni) [E]
SOOTY FALCON (Falco concolor)
Here is a female Giraffe-necked Weevil (also known simply as Giraffe Weevil), another marvel of the 8th continent. The males get into aerial fighting dislays to secure a mate, though we didn't run into any of this kind of insect-on-insect violence while we were there. Photo by guide Doug Gochfeld.
Psittaculidae (Old World Parrots)
GREATER VASA-PARROT (Mascarinus vasa) [E]
LESSER VASA-PARROT (Mascarinus niger) [E]
GRAY-HEADED LOVEBIRD (Agapornis canus) [E]
Lesser Vasa-Parrots lose much of their head feathers during the breeding season, and their skin turns yellow, making them look almost like Yellow-headed Vultures in a parrot's body. This female was engaged in courtship with another parrot at Parc Mosa, and wasn't shy about it at all. Photo by participant Randy Beaton.
VELVET ASITY (Philepitta castanea) [E]
SCHLEGEL'S ASITY (Philepitta schlegeli) [E]
SUNBIRD ASITY (Neodrepanis coruscans) [E]
Red-shouldered Vanga is one of the rarest species in Madagascar, so we felt very fortunate to get blisteringly good looks at a pair as they foraged through the dense spiny forest of La Table just feet away from our gawking group of birders! Photo by participant Randy Beaton.
Vangidae (Vangas, Helmetshrikes, and Allies)
ARCHBOLD'S NEWTONIA (Newtonia archboldi) [E]
COMMON NEWTONIA (Newtonia brunneicauda) [E]
DARK NEWTONIA (Newtonia amphichroa) [E]
TYLAS VANGA (Tylas eduardi) [E]
RED-TAILED VANGA (Calicalicus madagascariensis) [E]
Nuthatch-Vanga is a pretty phenomenal bird. A vanga that evolved to fill the niche that nuthatches and woodcreepers fill in their respective homes, this species was actually once considered a nuthatch before it was finally re-classified with the Malagasy endemic vanga family. Photo by participant Randy Beaton.
RED-SHOULDERED VANGA (Calicalicus rufocarpalis) [E]
NUTHATCH-VANGA (Hypositta corallirostris) [E]
CHABERT VANGA (CHABERT) (Leptopterus chabert chabert)
The deteriorating road to Berenty is always a challenge, but once at the reserve everyone agreed that it was well worthwhile! Photo by guide Doug Gochfeld.
CHABERT VANGA (WHITE-TAILED) (Leptopterus chabert schistocercus) [E]
CROSSLEY'S VANGA (Mystacornis crossleyi) [E]
BLUE VANGA (Cyanolanius madagascarinus) [E]
Greater Bamboo Lemur is one of the rarest lemurs in the world, with only around five hundred individuals known to exist. There are essentially only two known individuals that are in publicly accessible places, so when we heard that one had been discovered nearby up a steep slope in the forest at Ranomafana, half the group embarked on the climb. This species is largely sedentary, and bamboo makes up about 98% of its diet. During the dry season, when there are no bamboo shoots available, they strip away the outer skin of the bamboo with their powerful jaws in order to reach the inner pith. Photo by guide Doug Gochfeld.
HOOK-BILLED VANGA (Vanga curvirostris) [E]
WARD'S FLYCATCHER (Pseudobias wardi) [E]
RUFOUS VANGA (Schetba rufa) [E]
SICKLE-BILLED VANGA (Falculea palliata) [E]
Namaqua Doves were a fairly common sight as we drove through the more arid, open areas of Madagascar. At La Table we got to see several of these dainty, gorgeous doves, including a display flight from this male. Photo by guide Doug Gochfeld.
WHITE-HEADED VANGA (Artamella viridis) [E]
POLLEN'S VANGA (Xenopirostris polleni) [E]
LAFRESNAYE'S VANGA (Xenopirostris xenopirostris) [E]
VAN DAM'S VANGA (Xenopirostris damii) [E]
Van Dam's Vanga is one of the most range-restricted bird species in Madagascar. Once the cicadas started buzzing around mid-morning at Ankarafantsika, we thought we were in trouble since we had yet to lay eyes on one. Luckily, any fears we had of missing the species were proven to be baseless, as Andrema marched off into the forest and found this silent pair that was quite confiding. Photo by guide Doug Gochfeld.
ASHY CUCKOOSHRIKE (Coracina cinerea) [E]
We worked hard for good looks at White-throated Rail in urban Antananarivo, but then a few days later at Feon'ny Ala this one decided to stroll out in plain view along the stream bank while we were having lunch. Photo by participant Randy Beaton.
CRESTED DRONGO (Dicrurus forficatus) [E]
Monarchidae (Monarch Flycatchers)
MADAGASCAR PARADISE-FLYCATCHER (Terpsiphone mutata) [E]
Corvidae (Crows, Jays, and Magpies)
PIED CROW (Corvus albus)
MADAGASCAR LARK (Eremopterix hova) [E]
Our encounter with this Fat-tailed Dwarf Lemur on our final night of the tour was one of the most adorable of any of our experiences of the tour. This one merely hugged a branch overhanging the trail above us as it looked back and forth between all of us while we serenaded it with a barrage of oohs and ahs (and awws). Photo by guide Doug Gochfeld.
PLAIN MARTIN (MADAGASCAR) (Riparia paludicola cowani)
BANK SWALLOW (Riparia riparia)
MASCARENE MARTIN (Phedina borbonica madagascariensis)
BARN SWALLOW (Hirundo rustica)
MADAGASCAR BULBUL (Hypsipetes madagascariensis) [E]
Visiting Madagascar during the dry season is critical if you want to ensure access to all the sites. It also allows you to see the spiny forest in all of its dry, thorny, glory. During the rainy season, the dangerously thorny trees and bushes grow a layer of lush green leaves that hide their underlying danger, making it perilous to navigate if you aren't aware of the true shape of things! There are several species of Allaudia, known colloquially as Octopus Plants, and they are the most conspicuous non-Baobab plant in the forest. Photo by participant Randy Beaton.
Acrocephalidae (Reed-Warblers and Allies)
MADAGASCAR BRUSH-WARBLER (Nesillas typica) [E]
SUBDESERT BRUSH-WARBLER (Nesillas lantzii) [E]
MADAGASCAR SWAMP-WARBLER (Acrocephalus newtoni) [E]
Bernieridae (Malagasy Warblers)
WHITE-THROATED OXYLABES (Oxylabes madagascariensis) [E]
LONG-BILLED BERNIERIA (Bernieria madagascariensis madagascariensis) [E]
Gray Bamboo Lemur was by far the smallest of the three species of bamboo lemur which we encountered. Nestor miraculously seemed to make one simply materialize in front of us in a thick stand of bamboo along the trail at Andasibe. Photo by participant Sid England.
CRYPTIC WARBLER (Cryptosylvicola randrianasoloi) [E]
WEDGE-TAILED JERY (Hartertula flavoviridis) [E]
THAMNORNIS (Thamnornis chloropetoides) [E]
YELLOW-BROWED OXYLABES (Crossleyia xanthophrys) [E]
Appert's Tetraka, one of the rarest Malagasy endemics, is restricted to just two patches of remaining forest. We saw two of this very small worldwide population during our stroll through the Zombitse forest. Photo by guide Doug Gochfeld.
SPECTACLED TETRAKA (Xanthomixis zosterops) [E]
APPERT'S TETRAKA (Xanthomixis apperti) [E]
GRAY-CROWNED TETRAKA (Xanthomixis cinereiceps) [E]
RAND'S WARBLER (Randia pseudozosterops) [E]
Fear not (unless you're an insect), that's just its tongue! This Parson's Chameleon was annihilating insects at our hotel on our first night in Ranomafana. Photo by guide Doug Gochfeld.
Cisticolidae (Cisticolas and Allies)
COMMON JERY (Neomixis tenella) [E]
GREEN JERY (Neomixis viridis) [E]
STRIPE-THROATED JERY (Neomixis striatigula) [E]
STRIPE-THROATED JERY (Neomixis striatigula pallidior) [E]
MADAGASCAR CISTICOLA (Cisticola cherina) [E]
Zosteropidae (White-eyes, Yuhinas, and Allies)
MADAGASCAR WHITE-EYE (Zosterops maderaspatanus) [E]
Chabert Vanga is a common and widespread species in Madagascar., so we got to see their flashy baby blue eyebrows time and time again- not a bad deal at all! Photo by guide Doug Gochfeld.
Muscicapidae (Old World Flycatchers)
MADAGASCAR MAGPIE-ROBIN (WHITE-BELLIED) (Copsychus albospecularis inexpectatus) [E]
MADAGASCAR MAGPIE-ROBIN (WHITE-WINGED) (Copsychus albospecularis pica) [E]
FOREST ROCK-THRUSH (FOREST) (Monticola sharpei sharpei)
FOREST ROCK-THRUSH (BENSON'S) (Monticola sharpei bensoni) [E]
Long-tailed Ground-rollers are one of the most desired species for birders visiting Madagascar. They are restricted to the spiny forest of the southwest- a constantly shrinking type of habitat. Photo by guide Doug Gochfeld.
AFRICAN STONECHAT (MADAGASCAR) (Saxicola torquatus sibilla) [E]
COMMON MYNA (Acridotheres tristis) [I]
MADAGASCAR STARLING (Hartlaubius auratus) [E]
The open-land/second growth-dwelling Madagascar Stonechat was one of only a few we encountered, since much of our birding time was dedicated to what remnants of proper forest remain. This one was ably captured for posterity by participant Sid England.
Nectariniidae (Sunbirds and Spiderhunters)
SOUIMANGA SUNBIRD (Cinnyris sovimanga) [E]
MADAGASCAR SUNBIRD (Cinnyris notatus) [E]
Motacillidae (Wagtails and Pipits)
MADAGASCAR WAGTAIL (Motacilla flaviventris) [E]
Passeridae (Old World Sparrows)
HOUSE SPARROW (Passer domesticus) [I]
There are estimated to be only about 120 pairs of Madagascar Fish-Eagle left in the world, so it's obviously one of the most desired targets when we visit Ankarafantsika. This year, we had splendid luck with the species, finding one individual right alongside the road, and then coming back a couple of hours later to see that it had been joined by its mate! Photo by participant Sid England.
Ploceidae (Weavers and Allies)
NELICOURVI WEAVER (Ploceus nelicourvi) [E]
SAKALAVA WEAVER (Ploceus sakalava) [E]
RED FODY (Foudia madagascariensis) [E]
FOREST FODY (Foudia omissa) [E]
Estrildidae (Waxbills and Allies)
MADAGASCAR MUNIA (Lonchura nana) [E]
The ethereal voice of the Indri is one of the iconic sounds of the Malagasy rainforest, but they're also very snazzy lookers! This mother and young one at Feon'ny ala seemed ALMOST as interested in us as we were in it. Photo by participant Randy Beaton.
MADAGASCAR FRUIT BAT (Pteropus rufus)
GRAY MOUSE LEMUR (Microcebus murinus)
BROWN MOUSE LEMUR (Microcebus rufus)
REDDISH-GRAY MOUSE LEMUR (Microcebus griseorufus)
GOLDEN-BROWN MOUSE LEMUR (Microcebus ravelobensis)
FAT-TAILED DWARF LEMUR (Cheirogaleus medius)
Flattid Leaf Bugs are bizarre creatures. The family flatidae has a cosmopolitan distribution, and we ran into a few especially good examples of the nymphs, pictured here, on our travels. They use camouflage and unappetizing waxy filaments as protection in this nymph stage. When they clamber up the branches, they move in a very herky jerky way, much like characters in a clay-mation film. Photo by Doug Gochfeld.
COMMON BROWN LEMUR (Eulemur fulvus)
RED-FRONTED BROWN LEMUR (Eulemur rufifrons)
MONGOOSE LEMUR (Eulemur mongoz)
RING-TAILED LEMUR (Lemur catta)
All couas are great, but the stately dark plumage of Blue Coua really sets it apart from the rest. Photo by guide Doug Gochfeld.
GRAY BAMBOO LEMUR (Hapalemur griseus)
GOLDEN BAMBOO LEMUR (Hapalemur aureus)
GREATER BAMBOO LEMUR (Prolemur simus)
BLACK-AND-WHITE RUFFED LEMUR (Varecia variegata)
Participant Sid England did great justice to the subtle patterning of this usually very difficult to see White-breasted Mesite during our morning hike at Ankarafantsika, where a pair put on a brief, but excellent show! Photo by participant Sid England.
WHITE-FOOTED SPORTIVE LEMUR (Lepilemur leucopus)
PETTER'S SPORTIVE LEMUR (Lepilemur petteri)
HUBBARD'S SPORTIVE LEMUR (Lepilemur hubbardorum)
EASTERN WOOLLY LEMUR (Avahi laniger)
Every aspect of chameleons, from their eyeballs and head shapes, to their paws and tails, to the spines on their back, scream to be looked at. This Oustalet's Chameleon slunk into the center of a dark bush and immediately turned this deep shade of red, after having been much paler when out in the sun a moment prior. Photo by participant Randy Beaton.
PEYRIERAS' WOOLLY LEMUR (Avahi peyrierasi)
VERREAUX'S SIFAKA (Propithecus verreauxi)
COQUEREL'S SIFAKA (Propithecus coquereli)
MILNE-EDWARDS' SIFAKA (Propithecus edwardsi)
We found this inquisitive White-browed Owl on a day roost during our morning walk at Berenty Reserve. Photo by guide Doug Gochfeld.
INDRI (Indri indri)
AYE-AYE (Daubentonia madagascariensis)
RED FOREST RAT (Nesomys rufus)
FOSSA (Cryptoprocta ferox)
Chameleons are exceptional animals, and they also move exceptionally slowly. This may look like an action shot, but it took this Short-horned Chameleon almost a minute to move across the gap between these two perches. Photo by guide Doug Gochfeld.
LINED DAY GECKO (Phelsuma lineata)
This Madagascar Ground Boa was almost entirely submerged in water that had collected in the buttress of a tree, as it lay in wait for unwary potential prey to happen upon it. Photo by guide Doug Gochfeld.
PEACOCK DAY GECKO (Phelsuma quadriocellata)
STANDING'S DAY GECKO (Phelsuma standingi)
KOCH'S DAY GECKO (Phelsuma kochi)
MODEST DAY GECKO (Phelsuma modesta)
OUSTALET'S CHAMELEON (Furcifer oustaleti)
RHINOCEROS CHAMELEON (Furcifer rhinoceratus)
WARTY CHAMELEON (Furcifer verrucosus)
SHORT-HORNED CHAMELEON (Calumma brevicorne)
O'SHAUGNESSY'S CHAMELEON (Calumma oshaugnessyi)
BLUE-LEGGED CHAMELEON (Calumma crypticum)
Madagascar Jacana is quite the looker, even for a family as showy as the jacanas. Photo by participant Sid England.
PARSON'S GIANT CHAMELEON (Calumma parsonii)
SATANIC LEAF-TAIL GECKO (Uroplatus phantasticus)
There are some truly unique and fantastic birds in Madagascar, but for many it's the mammals (and other strange creatures) that steal the show. Watching this video, complete with the bizarre Aye-Aye and howling Indris, it's easy to see why! Video by guide Doug Gochfeld.
AFRICAN HOUSE GECKO (Hemidactylus mercatorius)
MADAGASCAR GROUND GECKO (Paroedura picta)
MADAGASCAR GROUND BOA (Boa manditra)
MALAGASY GIANT HOGNOSE SNAKE (Leioheterodon madagascariensis)
MADAGASCAR NIGHT SNAKE (Madagascarophis colubrinus)
Standing's Day Gecko is one of the largest of the gaudy phelsuma genus of day geckos. Photo by guide Doug Gochfeld.
MAHAFALY SAND SNAKE (Mimophis mahfalensis)
COLLARED IGUANA (Oplurus cuvieri)
MADAGASCAR ZONOSAUR (Zonosaurus madagascariensis)
BROAD-TAILED ZONOSAUR (Zonosaurus laticaudatus)
THREE-EYED LIZARD (Chalarodon madagascariensis)
Madagascar has the apex of anuran (frog) diversity in the world. There are over 300 species of frogs described from the island, and an additional 200 that are as yet undescribed. That accounts for more than 10% of all species of frogs in the world, and almost all of the ones in Madagascar are endemic to the island. The White Folohy Madagascar Frog is really one-of-a-kind. Seeing an all white frog was a mind-blowing first for most folks. Luckily this species apparently isn't in imminent danger, unlike the 20% of all Malagasy frog species which are listed as Threatened by the IUCN. Photo by guide Doug Gochfeld.
MADAGASCAR BRIGHT-EYED FROG (Boophis madagascariensis)
BARON'S MANTELLA (Mantella baroni)
WHITE FOLOHY MADAGASCAR FROG (Gephyromantis luteus)
MADAGASCAR JUMPING FROG (Aglyptodactylus madagascariensis)
Here's our merry band in front of the palacial Jardin du Roy, within the staggeringly scenic Isalo National Park.
MARSH TERRAPIN (Pelomedusa subrufa)
As would be expected in such a unique location, there were many other creatures of interest encountered that aren't listed above. We can't generate a complete list of all of them, and indeed we may not even be sure what class at least one animal was, let alone the orders or families of many more.
Here is a list of some of the ones we could pin down. Butterflies account for most of these, as there are reasonable references available to aid in their identification.
Giraffe-necked Weevil (Trachelophorus giraffa)- We had our first at Ranomafana, and then saw a couple of more through the tour, including at Mantadia.
Flatid Leaf Insect (Phromnia rosea)- We ran into the nymphs of these in two or three places along the way. They are truly bizarre creatures.
We had a Scorpion in Parc Mosa that was apparently in the genus Opisthacanthus.
The worm-like thing that the local guides tentatively identified as a leech was actually a Terrestrial Flatworm of the family Geoplanidae. The genus might be Bipalium.
We had many Giant Pill Millipedes in several places.
Identified butterflies (and one moth) were as follows:
Madagascar Commodore (Precis andremiaja)
Madagascar Swordtail (Graphium Evombar)
Citrus Swallowtail (Papilio demodocus)
Banded Blue Swallowtail (Papilio oribazus)
Madagascar Giant Swallowtail (Pharmacophagus antenor)
Green Lady (Graphium Cyrnus)
Madagascar Orange Tip (Colotis evanthe)
Madagascar Dotted Border (Mylothris phileris)
Polka Dot (pardopsos punctatissima)
Yellow Pansy (Junonia hierta (paris))
African Monarch (Danaus chrysippis)
Acraea turna (this one at Ifaty)
Clouded Mother of Pearl (Protogoniomorphi anacardii duprei)
Madagascar Brown Pansy (Junonia gaudotii)
Many skippers (Hesperiidae)
Many Satyrs, likely of several species.
Madagascar Sunset Moth (Chrysiridia rhipheus)
Totals for the tour: 178 bird taxa and 26 mammal taxa