Wednesday, 13 November 2019

Madagascar Day 8

We set off on the trails at Vohiparara around 6am and were almost immediately greeted by a pair of Scaly Ground Rollers beside the path, with one bird being rather obliging and coming out onto the path in front of us. 

Scaly Ground Roller

Not long after we were enjoying fine views of a Brown Mesite that crossed the path after some encouragement by our local guide and tracker. What an odd bird, and to my eyes appeared to be a cross between an antthrush and a quail-dove in overall shape and jizz. 

Brown Mesite

Moving on we saw another male Velvet Asity before the first of two attempts at Brown Emutail. This notorious skulker sticks to the forest floor and the first bash at it resulted in a few of the group seeing it but the second spot produced crippling views for all and I really should have done better with my photos.  

Brown Emutail

A pair of Madagascar Yellowbrows were next up and went straight into our top 10 birds of the trip, and the field guide definitely does not do them justice. A few Dark Newtonias were seen by all but a White-throated Oxylabes didn’t stick around long enough for everyone. 

Pitta-like Ground Roller

We continued following a number of trails and found the hiking much easier than yesterday. Birds kept appearing at steady intervals and we saw Red-fronted Coua, two pairs of cracking Pitta-like Ground RollersWhite-headed Vanga, a Hook-billed Vanga on a nest, Blue Coua and finished off with a female Crossley’s Vanga feeding on the forest floor. Not a bad morning at all.

Blue Coua

White-headed Vanga

Following lunch and a siesta we opted to stay out of the forest and visit some nearby ricefields, which didn’t really produce anything of note. However, along the main road we had a great look at Blue Coua, Cryptic Warbler and Common Jery before returning to the hotel.

Saturday, 9 November 2019

Day 7 - Ranomafana

Our first foray into the wonderful forests of Ranomafana proved to be very interesting, not only from a birding point of view but from the fact that several of my group were unwell with stomach issues. So the undulating stone step trail system was a little taxing for some but during the course of our exploration over a 5 hour period we saw a number of great birds. First of all, a pair of Pitta-like Ground Rollers were hopping along the path in front of us before we hit the first stake-out for Velvet Asity

Velvet Asity

A stunning male flew all around us as he patrolled his seemingly small territory and we wee told by local guide Stephan that the female is sitting on eggs at the moment. No tapes were played and we simply enjoyed the bird doing ‘its thing’. We walked upwards and eventually took a rough, side trail to the next stake-out where a female Pollen’s Vanga was sat on a nest. We were also lucky to witness a change over when the male came in to replace her. 

Pollen's Vanga

In the meantime our local guides were busy searching for Brown Mesite, but we didn’t even hear any despite a bird being present in this area 2 days previously. Maybe the heavy overnight rain had altered the birds feeding pattern? Who knows. Still, on we went and another side trail took us to a group of Red-bellied Lemurs feeding quietly in the canopy. 

Red-bellied Lemur

As we watched them we also discovered at least a pair of fabulous Cuckoo Rollers. It was  a bit steep walking back up to the main path but once here a Crossley’s Vanga showed very well as it sand from a low branch just a metre off the floor. Some authorities call this a babbler but that does seem to demean the species a tad I think. 

The nearby viewpoint was next up and as well as a fine vista we enjoyed a singing Common Jery, as well as a pair of Blue Vangas quietly feeding in the low bushes below us. Another tiring up and down hike followed during which we heard a couple of Tylas Vangas, but did see Long-billed Berneria and Grey-crowned Tetraka, before reaching yet another stake-out. This time it was a Rufous Vanga sat on a nest to round off a good morning’s birding. 

Lunch was taken at a nearby restaurant before we returned to the hotel for a siesta. Heading out again at 3pm was fairly civilised, but the all too brief view of a Madagascan Flufftail was downright rude! Still, we eventually well and truly nailed Tylas Vanga and Madagascan Green Sunbird before seeing Brown Mouse Lemur and O’Shaughnessy’s Chameleon after the sun had set.

Madagascar Day 6

It was a long drive today as we headed to our next destination of Ranomafana. Along the way we saw several Dimorphic Egrets and a flock of Brown-throated Martins as we drove through the endless scenery of rice fields and deforested hills. After 3.5 hours we arrived for our noon lunch and were duly serenaded by a local musical group and watched the start of the disappointing rugby world cup final (if you were English!). A 4 hour drive followed and once amidst the splendid rainforest of Ranomafana we walked along the road watching MalagasyBlack SwiftMadagascan Spinetail and Mascarene Martins feeding over the treetops and all showing rather well. Along the way we called in a Forest Rock-Thrush that also showed nicely before it began to rain, so we drove on to our lovely hotel where we’d spend the next 3 nights.

Friday, 8 November 2019

Madagascar Day 5

After a 5.30am breakfast we birded a nearby patch of forest where a narrow trail took us to a nest of the tricky Madagascan Crested Ibis, and the adult could be seen peeking its head over the edge of the nest to look down at us. Walking on, Thierry showed us the compact dome-shaped nest of a Madagascan Wood Rail. Sure enough, there was an adult inside and we could make out the head and front inside the nest. We saw several other previously seen endemics on our walk, as well as an impressive Parson’s Chameleon and another Diademed Sifaka before bidding farewell to our excellent local guide, Thierry. 

Diademed Sifaka

Parson's Chameleon

We returned to the lodge to finish packing, load the luggage and set out on the 3.5 hour drive to Antananarivo, where we transferred into a 20-seater coach, said farewell to our drivers and drove on for another 3.5 hours to Antsirabe. Along the way we encountered the first rain of the tour.

Wednesday, 6 November 2019

Madagascar Day 4: Iaroka Forest

Well this was the day we’d all anticipated for a very long time…. The day we’d go in search of the most wanted endemic on this island – Helmet Vanga. It was another bumpy 90 minute drive up into the hills before we set off for the day, but within a few minute we were looking at a cracking Rufous-headed Ground Roller calling away from beside the path. 

Rufous-headed Ground Roller

This bird was a master at disappearing, seemingly into thin air, only to reappear at a different spot several metres away. But what a stunning bird! Walking along the wide track we saw Cryptic Warbler quite close, Blue Vanga, Madagascan Spinetail flying over, and a close Madagascan Starling

Cryptic Warbler

Madagascan Starling

Walking on thee was Rand’s Warbler singing from the top of a bare tree, Malagasy Green Sunbird and a close Red-tailed Vanga. After a few kilometres the trail dropped steeply down to our right for several hundred metres before becoming a little gentler. We were on a mission and headed along the narrow trail through beautiful rainforest, passing a Madagascan Cuckooshrike before crossing the first of many streams today. 

Red-tailed Vanga

Within another couple of minutes our guide, Thierry, pointed excitedly to a close tree slightly below eye-level and there was a Helmet Vanga sat on a nest about 10 metres away! Wow! No mention had been made that the bird was nailed down to a nest and yet here we were confronted with the most wanted bird of the tour showing incredibly well. I’m not sure what else to say but wow! 

Helmet Vanga baby..!!

And now we had a decision to make as a much tougher walk would take us to an area where Bernier’s Vanga has been seen a few weeks ago but the trail taking you there is quite tough. Some of my group opted to skip this and set of with our main local guide Jean, whilst the rest went with myself and Thierry. Well, it was quite tough….. 32 stream crossings, narrow, barely discernible  trails covered in tree roots and vines, and all for 3 lifers doesn’t quite make it worth it. And no vanga! But a “ticks a tick” as some wise scholar amongst us pointed out.  So we had great looks at Common Sunbird Asity, a perched Greater Vasa Parrot and once back on the main track several hours later, a Stripe-throated Jery. The rest of the group had see Cuckoo-Roller, the jery and the ground roller again.

I must admit the beer tonight tasted all the sweeter and we toasted our stunning victory with Helmet Vanga and hoped our rugby boys would be celebrating in a couple of days as well.

Tuesday, 5 November 2019

Madagascar Day 3: Andasabia-Mantadia NP

Our daily routine of a 5am breakfast followed by a bumpy drive into Andasibe-Mantadia National Park continued this morning with the purpose of finding Scaly Ground Roller, a species that we had to see here. This time we walked along a rather undefined narrow trail into a different part of the forest and bumped into another group of birders already here. Not a good thing at any time, anywhere and I thought the worst. However, 5 minutes later we were all eyeballing a scorchingly sexy Scaly Ground Roller perched on a branch close to the floor, about 15 feet in front of us. Unbelievable! We felt very privileged to be able to watch this unbelievably intricately patterned species for at least 10 minutes as it moved around the leaf-covered forest floor and ultimately perched on another log a little further away than before. Wow! 

Scaly Ground Roller

Obviously everyone was elated with this and I always like to start the day nailing the first species, as it sets you up nicely for a good flow of birds. A short drive further into the national park took us to a previously walked trail where our excellent local guide, Thierry, spotted a Madagascan Pygmy Kingfisher perched on a horizontal vine some distance away. 

Madagascan Pygmy Kingfisher

Despite the leaf crunching from 8 pairs of feet the bird remained long enough for everyone to see it. And what a stunner. It flew to another perch slightly closer to us and we enjoyed seconds of this beautiful endemic. So, what better way to follow this than with a Pitta-like Ground Roller that entailed crossing a narrow stream on some carefully positioned logs and making our way through the forest to the area where it was calling. 

Pitta-like Ground Roller

Both Roberta and Rob spotted the bird flying and it was then located at some distance before more stalking and a return across the stream where we enjoyed fine and repeated views of another stunning endemic. A Malagasy Paradise-Flycatcher was also seen a few times whilst walking the trails here. 

Leaving here we drove back along the road, pausing to watch Madagascan Buzzardsoaring in the blue sky before reaching the next trail. A shortish walk uphill, pausing to watch a pair of Blue Couas, took us to a territory of Henst’s Goshawk and after a little wait, the male flew in and landed in a large tree right in front of us. 

Henst's Goshawk

A Madagascan Cuckooshrikewas also seen at the same spot. Back at the waiting cars a Red-fronted Coua appeared and a pair of Souimanga Sunbirdswere also seen. So by mid-morning were finished in the forest and drove to Torotoro Fotsy marsh, arring around 1pm. 

Red-fronted Coua

Not a great time to bird an open marshy area but “he who dares wins Rodney”….. A perched Madagascan Cuckoo greeted our arrival and was swiftly followed by our picnic lunch. Afterwards we walked out into the marsh, which has been mainly turned into agricultural fields, with a much more reduced wetland habitat now. Despite this we easily saw Madagascan Cisticola, Madagascan Snipe and surprisingly a male Forest Fody at the edge of the marsh. 

Madagascan Cisticola

Now we were down to the tough stuff and it took quite a long time to locate Grey Emutail, which we did with resounding success. A Madagascan Railwas coaxed into view as well before we returned to the cars. The last stop of the day was close to the lodge where a Madagascan Flufftail was called in to round off another cracking day. And we returned to the lodge at 4pm for a bit of well-deserved time off…

Brown Emutail

 At close of play today we have seen 34 endemics, 3 breeding endemics and 19 regional endemics.

Saturday, 2 November 2019

Madagascar Day 2 - Andasibe-Mantadia NP

We headed into Andasibe-Mantadia National Park, an extensive area of eastern rainforest. Habitat that is home to a large number of endemics. The drive in was, well… tortuous to say the least, being a bumpy, dirt track and thank goodness that it is dry now as it looks like it could be slippy quagmire after rain. At least a Crested Drongo was seen on the way in but after a 90 minute drive we were ready for a walk! The first stake-out we tried was for Pitta-like Ground-Rollerand in no time at all we were hearing a calling bird that seemed to be high up in the canopy. This species proved particularly tricky to see and sure enough, only a couple of the group laid binoculars on it as this flighty individual really didn’t want to be seen. A little frustrating but they are easier at Ranomafana later in the trip. We wound our way along some barely discernable trails through the forest, crossing a small stream at one point in our ground-roller quest. It’s difficult to know how far we walked but as the early morning chill and mist gave way to bright sunshine, the temperature rose and we began to sweat! All that was forgotten when we eventually found a crippling Short-legged Ground-Roller perched quite high up in the canopy. 

Short-legged Ground Roller

After a bit of manoeuvring we got a much better angle from a low bank and the ‘front on’ views were to die for. Oh yes! The ticking-pace quickened from here on in with Malagasy Brush Warbler, Malagasy Paradise Flycatcher, Madagascan Magpie-Robin, Madagascan CuckooMalagasy Turtle Dove and Madagascan Blue Pigeon all being seen shortly after. 

Madagascan Cuckoo

Madagascan Blue Pigeon

 A short drive took us below a forested hill and up we walked with the aim to see a nesting Collared Nightjar. At the base of the hill a Wedge-tailed Jery showed very well, a Spectacled Tetraka was too quick for most but a Red-fronted Coua was stunning. The hike ‘up the hill’ was an adventure in itself and got us all sweating and puffing a bit but when we arrived at the appointed spot I couldn’t believe it. The nightjar was about 5 metres off the ground in the middle of a tree fern, apparently sat on its nest! How bizarre. The walk back down was pretty steep, but in all the hike had taken around an hour although to some it felt longer. I think everyone was glad to reach the flat paths and we were rewarded with Grey-crowned Tetraka, Long-billed Bernier and a pair of canopy dwelling Blue Vangas. 

From here we walked to the small lake, seeing  Souimanga Sunbirdand plenty of Olive Bee-eatersalong the way but boy was it hot. Yet a fine Madagascan Grebe lolling in the middle of the lake was very much appreciated, as was our picnic lunch here. 

Madagascan Grebe


Lowland Streaked Tenrac

Madagascan Wagtail

Lots of bee-eaters were flying around, a Broad-billed Roller flew in, a pair of Malagasy Kestrels appeared to be attending a nest in a hole in a large, dead tree and our first Lesser Vasa Parrots were scoped. After lunch we went back to the first site visited this morning and tried Pitta-like Ground Roller without so much as a sniff, but a Common Newtonia showed quite well to round off our birding. We left and set out on the long drive back to the park entrance, as it closed at 4pm (how ridiculous) and arrived back at our digs at 3.15pm for a well deserved rest. After a few hours here we met for the checklist before heading out on a night excursion where we saw a Brown Mouse Lemur, Fat-tailed Dwarf Lemur, and a Nose-horned Chameleon.

Friday, 1 November 2019

Madagascar Day 1 - Andasibe

Our Madagascan adventure began very early as we didn’t arrive at the hotel in Antananarivo until 00:30 at which time we promptly crashed out in our rooms prior to a 6.30am breakfast. This was enlivened by a male Madagascan Stonechat in the gardens – the first of many endemics we were to see over the course of our 3 week tour. It was a short drive to our first birding stop of the day, at Lac Alarobia a wetland right within the city limits of Antananarivo. This site hold a mass of waterfowl comprising he numbers of White-faced Whistling-Ducks and Red-billed Teals. It took a little while to spot our first of 6 endemic Meller’s Ducks but once seen they were obvious, being much bigger and darker than their local neighbours. In the sunny conditions we had to walk around the lake to get better light and in doing so found a couple of stunning Malagasy Pond-Herons, with stunning blue bills and red legs standing our amidst the throng of breeding Squacco Herons, numerous Dimorphic Egrets and several Black Herons also present on the island. 

White-faced Whistling Ducks and Red-billed Teal

Walking on we saw at least two Madagascan Swamp Warblers, a few Malagasy Kingfishers, and at the second lake a couple of Hottentot Teals. Overhead a Malagasy Kestrel and Yellow-billed Kite flew around the clear blue sky. A stunning White-throated Rail walked across the track in front of us very slowly and out into the marsh, and was followed by Madagascan Red Fody, Madagascan Mannikin, Malagasy Coucal and a few Malagasy White-eyes. We had seconds of Meller’s Duck, as well as a superb Broad-billed Roller flying around in front of us on the walk back to our waiting vehicles.

White-throated Rail

A longish drive of a coupe of hours followed across the rather boring countryside of rice fields and cleared hillsides where a couple of Hamerkops, Striated Herons and an olive Bee-eater for Rob enlivened things a little. Eventually we reached a bridge where we scoped a pair of stunning Madagascan Pratincoles perched on their stony island in the middle of the river. Whilst watching them, a Chabert Vanga flew in to the bare tree right in front of us and dallied for a while. What a bird – common but beautiful. 

Chabert Vanga

Madagascan Pratincoles

 We reached Indri Lodge around 3pm and had a little time to unpack and check out the gardens where our first Madagascan Wagtail was seen next to the swimming pool and another Madagascan Stonechat was also present. A really short 5 minute drive into the Andasabe forests followed and what a fantastic couple of hours we were treated to. A narrow trail took us into the woodland and we rattled of new bird after new bird, beginning with a huge Blue Coua lolling around in the canopy above us. Scope views of a staked-out Nuthatch Vanga sat on a nest followed, and then at a small clearing we saw Long-billed Tetraka and a pair of Nelicourvi Weavers in quick succession. 

Nuthatch Vanga

Back on the road and the open woodland was really productive with a cracking Ward’s Flycatcher perched out in the open, a brief Souimanga Sunbird, Madagascan Cuckooshrike, Green Jery singing from the top of a tree, an awesome White-headed Vanga, and several Malagasy Bulbuls

Ward's Flycatcher

Madagascan Cuckooshrike

All of these showed very well and were seen in the scope making this a fantastic session. Oh and the day roosting Rainforest Scops-Owl wasn’t too bad either, but it was just a shame the light had dropped a bit too much. 

Rainforest Scops Owl

But what a day with 24 endemic and near-endemics seen. Wow!

Wednesday, 9 October 2019

Sumapaz and Beyond!

Everyone apart from Rob and myself had early flights so we decided to make the most of this ‘spare’ day and visited Sumapaz with Jose. This is another high-altitude site close to Bogota and I’m including our sightings here for sake of completeness and to give an idea what is possible. We had amazing close views of the endemic Apolinar’s Wren within a few minutes of arriving. 

Green-bearded Helmetcrest (female)

It took a bit longer to find the endemic Green-bearded Helmetcrest but we did find a pair eventually, whilst the other stand-out bird was Northern Tawny Antpitta– a different species to the one seen on the main tour according to HBW. In fact, this species was incredibly common up here and we enjoyed repeated views. 

Northern Tawny Antpitta

Other birds seen up here included Andean TealAndean Duck, Black-chested Buzzard-Eagle, Chestnut-winged Cinclodes, Red-rumped Bush-TyrantBronze-tailed Thornbill, a few Noble Snipe, Greater Yellowlegs, what appeared to be a Plain-breasted Hawk, Andean Siskin, Shining Sunbeam, Plumbeous Sierra-Finch, and a flock of 30+ migrating Lesser Nighthawks

Indigo-capped Hummingbird

By mid-morning we were done here and took a longish drive to a secret site with a stack of feeders attracting numerous endemic Indigo-capped Hummingbirds. Also present were Black-throated Mango and White-vented Plumeleteer amongst others. It was a lovely spot to have lunch and enjoy all of the frenzied activity before driving to the airport for our late evening flight home.