Saturday, 30 November 2019

Madagascar Day 10

Of course we had to leave the best hotel of the tour where we had stayed for the shortest time out of any hotel on the tour at 5am!! But driving to Zombitse, which was about 90 minutes away was enlivened by a flyby Sooty Falcon. Upon arrival we walked a short distance with our 2 local guides and were shown a Rufous Vanga on a nest, and we also saw a Cuckoo-Roller flying over and a Long-billed Tetraka was also seen. 

Rufous Vanga

But we were after rarer things and it really didn’t take long at all to find the localised Appert’s Tetraka feeding on the ground right beside the path. 

Appert's Tetraka

Then a day-roosting White-browed Owl allowed us some fine views, a Blue Vanga was spotted by Jo, and then a pair of Frances’s Sparrowhawks were seen well. 

White-browed Owl

Frances's Sparrowhawk

But the so-called ‘easiest’ bird had yet to reveal itself and I wondered of the kiss-of-death had been given to Giant Coua. I shouldn’t have worried as across the road we had stunning and repeated views of this ace-looking creature walking along the forest floor in front of us. 

Giant Coua
With all of our targets met, we left and set out on another 90 minute drive to an area where we hoped to find Madagascar Sandgrouse. Sure enough, another local guide and his helpers led us to a flock of 13 sheltering from the blistering heat in the shade of a tall bush. Mission accomplished and we left and drove to Tulear for a siesta and a rest before venturing out again at 3.30pm.

Madagascar Sandgrouse
We headed out into the spiny forest and quickly found a Verreaux’s Coua that kept on moving through the thorn scrub but showed on and off for several minutes. 

Red-shouldered Vanga

Subdesert Brush Warbler

We followed that with a pair of Red-shouldered Vangas and enjoyed amazing views, along with a Subdesert Brush Warbler before returning to the hotel after a rather short session. 

Sunday, 17 November 2019

Madagascar Day 9

Leaving the rainforest of Ranomafana behind us we headed out to the arid Anja Park which involced a 4 hour drive. Our main focus was to see Grey-headed LovebirdMadagascan Hoopoe and Madagascan Buttonquail, all of which we saw quite easily and had good views. 

Grey-headed Lovebird

Madagascan Hoopoe

Tourists come here for the troops of Ring-tailed Lemurs that inhabit the forest at the base of the impressive rocky escarpment. We also saw Oustalet’s Chameleon and Brown Leaf Chameleon as well to round off a nice little walk. 

Oustalet's Chameleon

Brown Leaf Chameleon

Ring-tailed Lemur

Then we set off on another 3.5 hour drive to Isalo, seeing Madagascan Lark, Madagascan Partridge and Benson’s Rock-Thrush before reaching a rather fancy hotel set amidst the rocky landscape. After dinner we had great spotlight views of Torotoroka Scops-Owland a fabulous White-browed Owl.

Torotoroka Scops Owl

White-browed Owl

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.