Birding Tour Madagascar: 7-day Northwest Pre-tour
Dates and Costs
06 – 12 October 2022
Provisionally closed for new bookings – kindly book for 2023 to avoid disappointment, or
e-mail us ([email protected]) if you want to be waitlisted, added to a similar 2022 tour we still have openings for, or if you have a group of 4-8 and want a bespoke version of this birding tour.
* Please note that currency conversion is calculated in real-time, therefore is subject to slight change. Please refer back to the base price when making final payments.
06 – 12 October 2023
Price: €2,985 / $3,535 / £2,651 per person sharing, assuming 6-8 participants, plus about €835 for the domestic flights, which we will book for you
Single Supplement: €397 / $470 / £353
(Please also read our blogs about recommended field guides for the seven continents here)
Duration: 7 days
Group Size: 6 – 8
Tour Start: Antananarivo (Tana)
Tour End: Antananarivo (Tana)
Please note that accommodation on this pre-trip is rustic.
All transport while on tour
Bottled water throughout the tour
Return flight Tana/Mahajanga (Majunga)/Tana
Items of a personal nature, e.g. gifts
Gratuities (please see our tipping guidelines blog)
Madagascar Birding Tour: 7-day Northwest (Ankarafantsika/Betsiboka Delta) Pre-tour
One hundred and twenty-nine species of birds have been recorded in Ankarafantsika National Park, more than half of them endemic to Madagascar. They include Van Dam’s Vanga, Rufous Vanga, the elusive Banded Kestrel, and the more easily observed Madagascan Fish Eagle, which can often be seen at Ravelobe Lake. The endangered Humblot’s Heron can also be seen at Lake Ravelobe.
Madagascan Fish Eagle is one of the special birds we will be looking for on this tour.
This pre-pre-tour to our Best of Madagascar: 14-day Birding and Wildlife Tour can also be booked as a stand-alone tour. It can also be combined with our following 6-day Masoala Peninsula Pre-tour and, following the main tour, with our 6-day Berenty Reserve Extension.
Itinerary (7 days/6 nights)
Day 1. Arrival in Antananarivo
You can arrive in Madagascar’s capital at any time today. Transfer to the hotel.
Overnight: Relais des Plateaux, Antananarivo
Day 2. Antananarivo – Mahajanga (Majunga) – Ampijoroa (Ankarafantsika National Park)
We will leave the hotel after breakfast, take our flight to Mahajanga, and eventually drive directly to Ankarafantsika (about four hours’ drive), heading for the Ampijoroa dry deciduous forest. A three-night stay should allow us to spot most of the key birds of the area. En route to Ankarafantsika, we plan to stop at Lake Amboromalandy and at rice fields to try to find birds like Madagascan Jacana, Malagasy Pond Heron, Humblot’s Heron, the strange Black Heron, and others.
A Malagasy Pond Heron in breeding plumage.
Time-permitting, we can spend time at Lake Ravelobe, scanning for the critically endangered Madagascan Fish Eagle and many other birds. Beware of crocodiles, please, and don’t walk too close to the lake! We then return to the rustic accommodation, checking the trees around the “lodge” for spectacular birds, including Sickle-billed Vanga, Madagascan Green Pigeon, Grey-headed Lovebird, and many others. If we’re not too tired, we might do a night walk tonight (otherwise the next evening), and this might generate Madagascan Nightjar, owls, chameleons, and nocturnal lemurs.
Overnight: Ampijoroa Forest Station, Ankarafantsika
Sickle-billed Vanga should be seen on this tour.
Days 3 – 4. Two more nights at Ampijoroa
We have another early start to visit the various sections of Ankarafantsika. Here we need to find mega-amazing birds such as White-breasted Mesite, Van Dam’s Vanga, Rufous Vanga, the incomparable and spectacular Schlegel’s Asity, Red-capped Coua, Coquerel’s Coua, Crested Coua, and lemurs like the spectacular Coquerel’s Sifaka. One afternoon we plan to do a boat trip on the lake for species mentioned previously that might have been missed.
Overnight: Ampijoroa Forest Station, Ankarafantsika
Day 5. Ampijoroa to Mahajanga
After final “cleanup” birding in the dry forests of Ankarafantsika we will drive back to Mahajanga (Majunga) – a very lively town with plenty of rickshaws. Then we’ll take a boat trip into the Betsiboka Delta, where we’ll bird the mangroves for rare species such as Malagasy Sacred Ibis and Bernier’s Teal, along with a host of tropical shorebirds, terns, and more.
Overnight: Roche Rouge, Mahajanga
We’ll search the mangroves in the Betsiboka Delta for Malagasy Sacred Ibis.
Day 6. Flight to Antananarivo, Tsarasoatra Lake
Today we will take a flight to Antananarivo. After arrival we will have a birding excursion to Tsarasoatra Lake and then transfer to our hotel.
Overnight: Relais des Plateaux, Antananarivo
Day 7. Flight home or beginning of the Masoala extension
Today either your international flight will leave for home or you will fly to Maroatsetra for the Masoala extension.
Please note that the accommodation on this pre-trip is rustic.
Please note that the itinerary cannot be guaranteed as it is only a rough guide and can be changed (usually slightly) due to factors such as availability of accommodation, updated information on the state of accommodation, roads, or birding sites, the discretion of the guides and other factors. In addition, we sometimes have to use a different international guide from the one advertised due to tour scheduling.Download Itinerary
The Best of Madagascar and Northwest, Masoala and Berenty Extensions Trip Report
06 OCTOBER – 05 NOVEMBER 2016
|1||06 October 2016||Antananarivo||Antananarivo|
|2||07 October 2016||Antananarivo||Antananarivo|
|3||08 October 2016||Antananarivo||Mahajanga|
|4||09 October 2016||Mahajanga||Ankarafantsika NP|
|5||10 October 2016||Ankarafantsika NP||Ankarafantsika NP|
|6||11 October 2016||Ankarafantsika NP||Antananarivo|
|7||12 October 2016||Antananarivo||Masoala National Park|
|8||13 October 2016||Masoala National Park||Masoala National Park|
|9||14 October 2016||Masoala National Park||Masoala National Park|
|10||15 October 2016||Masoala National Park||Antananarivo|
|11||16 October 2016||Antananarivo||Anjozorobe|
|12||17 October 2016||Anjozorobe||Antananarivo|
|13||18 October 2016||Antananarivo||Andasibe|
|14||19 October 2016||Andasibe||Andasibe|
|15||20 October 2016||Andasibe||Andasibe|
|16||21 October 2016||Andasibe||Antsirabe|
|17||22 October 2016||Antsirabe||Ranomafana NP|
|18||23 October 2016||Ranomafana NP||Ranomafana NP|
|19||24 October 2016||Ranomafana NP||Ranomafana NP|
|20||25 October 2016||Ranomafana NP||Isalo|
|21||26 October 2016||Isalo||Ifaty|
|22||27 October 2016||Ifaty||Ifaty|
|23||28 October 2016||Ifaty||Toliara|
|24||29 October 2016||Toliara||Toliara|
|25||30 October 2016||Toliara||Antananarivo|
|26||31 October 2016||Antananarivo||Fort Dauphin|
|27||01 November 2016||Fort Dauphin||Berenty|
|28||02 November 2016||Berenty||Berenty|
|29||03 November 2016||Berenty||Fort Dauphin|
|30||04 November 2016||Fort Dauphin||Antananarivo|
|31||05 November 2016||Antananarivo||Departure|
Day 1: 6 October 2016
Our first day of the tour consisted of meets and greets for the first of the participants heading off to explore the northwest of the island. We were based in Antananarivo, the capital, for the day, and with little vegetation beyond the hotel walls we only managed to pick up Red Fody, Malagasy White-eye, Madagascan Wagtail, Common Myna, Malagasy Bulbul, Madagascan Stonechat, Mascarene Martin, and Olive Bee-eater. A walk around dusk produced Malagasy Kestrel, Malagasy Brush Warbler, Squacco Heron, Black Heron, and Western Cattle and Great Egrets flying overhead in direction of their evening roosts. We soon departed for our own.
Day 2: 7 October 2016
After breakfast we made our way to one of the local water bodies in the capital city. A small lake, surrounded by lush, exotic vegetation, provided refuge for a number of bird species. The lake itself produced Red-billed Teal, Hottentot Teal, Knob-billed Duck, White-faced and Fulvous Whistling Ducks, the endemic Meller’s Duck, Common Moorhen, Red-knobbed Coot, Malagasy Kingfisher, and a variety of herons and egrets such as Western Cattle, Great, and Dimorphic (both white and dark morphs) Egrets, Black Heron, Black-crowned Night Heron, Squacco Heron, and Malagasy Pond Heron. In the vegetated areas Red Fody, Malagasy White-eye, Madagascan Hoopoe, Common Jery, Souimanga Sunbird, Common Myna, Malagasy Coucal, and Madagascan Mannikins persisted, while the reeds along the water’s edge yielded Madagascan Swamp Warbler and prolonged views of the exquisite White-throated Rail.
After lunch back in the center of town we had a brief break before making our way to the local zoo. Here we had repeat views of many of the herons and egrets as well as Malagasy Kingfisher and an addition in the form of Malagasy Turtle Dove, while a variety of unique lemurs and birds were on show in the zoo grounds, including a small number of the interesting fossa.
Day 3: 8 October 2016
This morning we revisited the local lake. The species on show were very much the same as on our prior visit, but we did enjoy watching Black Herons spreading wings to catch their fish, Malagasy Kingfishers hunting and darting around the lakes, while Malagasy Pond Herons were in full display and finally were seen up close after leaving the safety of the island on which they breed. Malagasy Coucal, Common Jery, Red Fody, and countless other common species entertained us almost as much as watching a Malagasy Kestrel successfully hunt a lizard in the horse paddocks. Although White-throated Rails were audible, none came into view. The only new bird so far was Malagasy Black Swift before we headed back to the hotel for lunch and to prepare for our flight up to the northwest. The flight was short and landed in Mahajanga without any glitch. We then made our way to the hotel for dinner, where we got an early night’s rest in preparation for the following day’s adventures.
Day 4: 9 October 2016
Bright and early we headed for the beach, where we hopped on board of a boat and made our way into the nearby Betsiboka Delta. Here we worked the muddy banks as the tide started to recede. Species came in slowly, such as Malagasy Kingfisher, African Palm Swift, Dimorphic Egret, Lesser Flamingo, and the localized Bernier’s Teal. A large roosting flock of shorebirds, made up of Common Ringed Plover, Greater Sand Plover, Common Sandpiper, Curlew Sandpiper, Whimbrel, Terek Sandpiper, and at least four Malagasy Sacred Ibis put in an appearance not long thereafter. Madagascan Harrier-Hawk and Madagascan Buzzard joined Yellow-billed Kite overhead as we headed back.
With the vehicle loaded we headed for Ankarafantsika National Park, adding Pied Crow and Namaqua Dove along the way. In the park itself a brief afternoon walk produced brown lemur, Coquerel’s sifaka, and good numbers of birds, including Crested Drongo, Rufous Vanga, Blue Vanga, Malagasy Bulbul, Long-billed Bernieria, Common Jery, Souimanga Sunbird, Greater Vasa Parrot, Madagascan Magpie-Robin, Crested, Coquerel’s, and Red-capped Couas, the localized and hard-to-locate Van Dam’s Vanga, fantastic views of White-breasted Mesite, Rainforest Scops Owl, Madagascan Cuckooshrike, and an unexpected find in the form of Banded Kestrel, to name but a few.
A brief night walk added grey-brown and golden-brown mouse lemurs, western fat-tailed dwarf lemur, a handful of Oustalet’s chameleons, and a nocturnal snake. After dinner rhinoceros chameleon, mongoose lemur, and Milne-Edwards’s sportive lemurs put in appearances.
Day 5: 10 October 2016
Caffeinated and lightly fed we headed for the primary forest of the northwest. It was heating up rapidly, but the birds were certainly active. Coquerel’s Coua called incessantly, and we found Malagasy Bulbul, Common Newtonia, Madagascan Buzzard, Lesser Vasa Parrot, Madagascan Magpie-Robin, Long-billed Bernieria, a variety of color variations of Malagasy Paradise Flycatcher, Hook-billedVanga, Blue Vanga, and Madagascan Cuckooshrike and had great views of a few male Schlegel’s Asities, whose colorful caruncles were glowing brilliantly in the morning light. While returning for a full breakfast Grey-headed Lovebird and Broad-billed Roller were added, and a drive out of town to a nearby lake produced Black-winged Stilt, Glossy Ibis, Yellow-billed Kite, Striated Heron, African Palm Swift, Pied Crow, and a handful of Madagascan Jacana.
Later in the afternoon a short boat trip around another lake had us enjoying Nile crocodile, Squacco Heron, Black-crowned Night Heron, Striated Heron, Western Cattle Egret, Dimorphic Egret, Three-banded Plover, Purple Heron, countless obliging Malagasy Kingfishers, a couple of Madagascan Green Pigeons, Malagasy Coucal, and a pair of the sought-after Madagascan Fish Eagles, which are resident on this body of water. Back in camp White-headed Vanga and Frances’s Sparrowhawk gave us a show as well as Milne-Edwards’s sportive lemur, mongoose lemur, and a half dozen Oustalet’s chameleons in the evening.
Day 6: 11 October 2016
Following in yesterday’s footsteps after an early light breakfast we set out for a morning walk. Along the way we bumped into Malagasy Turtle Dove, Madagascan Buzzard, Frances’s Sparrowhawk hunting large ground crickets, Malagasy Coucal, Crested Drongo, Lesser Vasa Parrot, Grey-headed Lovebird, Long-billed Bernieria, Malagasy Bulbul, Souimanga Sunbird, and Coquerel’s Coua. Deeper in the forest White-breasted Mesites were found at least three times, while Red-capped and Crested Couas also came in to visit. Madagascan Magpie-Robins were in every tree, and a small little forest jewel, Madagascan Pygmy Kingfisher, gave us extended looks from all angles. Van Dam’s Vangas were very vocal, and a Malagasy giant hognose snake allowed close-up views while sunning itself in the leaf litter before we sat down for a more fulfilling breakfast.
A quick roundtrip to the outskirts of the park and back added new species such as African Pygmy Goose, Sakalava Weaver in full breeding dress, and a number of male Malagasy Green Sunbirds. We then packed the vehicle, settled down for lunch, and afterwards made the journey back to the airport to catch our early evening flight to the capital. Here Broad-billed Roller, Sickle-billed Vanga, and Madagascan Cuckooshrike, as well as many others put in their last appearances before we moved off, picking up a flock of Madagascan Sandgrouse over the national road toward the airport.
Day 7: 12 October 2016
A rescheduling of our flight, commonplace in Madagascar, meant a very early start to pick up our morning flight. Madagascan Nightjars bid us farewell in the car park as we headed to the airport. Mascarene Martins hawked over the airstrip before we commenced our flight to the northeast of the island. Madagascar’s largest national park, Masoala, comprising 240 000 hectares of pristine rainforest, was our destination. Crossing to the peninsula proved a little tricky with large swells and occasional rain, but we made it to shore safely, with Common Tern, Grey Plover, and Whimbrel on the list. Malagasy Green Sunbird greeted us for lunch, while a brief afternoon walk to get the lay of the land rewarded us with Malagasy Paradise Flycatcher, Spectacled Tetraka on the nest, a trio of Madagascan Wood Rails feeding on the forest floor, Hook-billed Vanga collecting caterpillars, Lesser Vasa Parrot, African Palm Swift, a most-obliging Red-breasted Coua, and a pair of their Blue Coua cousins. Making our way back to watch the sunset on the beach we struck gold as a Short-legged Ground Roller alerted us to its presence with an alarm call. It then proceeded to give us a lengthy view from all angles, while calling to a responsive second bird just down the stream. Dinner was had to the sound of crashing waves, with lined day geckos and fish-scale geckos adding to the ambiance.
Day 8: 13 October 2016
After enjoying a little bit of a sleep-in and a later than usual breakfast to the sound of crashing waves, the group headed for the forested hills. Taking the beach route we picked up Nelicourvi Weaver, Malagasy Green Sunbird, Madagascan Green Pigeon, and a pair of Blue Coua. Working our way up the moist internal slopes we picked up eastern red forest rat, Malagasy Paradise Flycatcher, Spectacled Tetraka, Long-billed Bernieria, Blue Vanga, Lesser Vasa Parrot, Common Newtonia, Madagascan Magpie-Robin, and Malagasy Turtle Dove. Quite soon into the walk a pair of what must rank as the highlight of the national park alighted in the trees above our heads: Helmet Vanga in all its blue, black, and brown beauty was firmly on the list. We opted to push on after this and picked up a well-camouflaged Scaly Ground Roller before bumping into two groups of red ruffed lemurs and a family group of white-fronted lemurs before returning for lunch.
The humidity had certainly increased, and so we decided to start later in the afternoon, once the forest had cooled a little. Many of us took the opportunity to swim in the warm Indian Ocean, perhaps an even drier option than walking in the forest at the current time. The forest was revisited later and, although rather devoid of birdlife, produced great views of Red-breasted Coua and then the most splendid views of a pair of Helmet Vangas hunting low down near the canopy floor, their yellow eyes piercing through the forest as well as into our camera lenses. Dodging the humidity failed, and drenched to the bone we returned to camp to clean up and prepare for dinner.
Day 9: 14 October 2016
After breakfast a quick boat ride to a nearby forest had us viewing Malagasy Kestrel, Crested Drongo, Madagascan Blue Pigeon, Blue Coua, Madagascan Spinetail, African Palm Swift on a nest in the fronds of a traveller’s palm, and perhaps the most sought-after species in the area, a female Bernier’s Vanga. A pair of Scaly Ground Rollers showed well, as did White-throated Rail. A quick visit to the local tern roost added Roseate, Common, Lesser Crested, and Greater Crested Terns and both Brown and Lesser Noddy before we headed back for lunch. An afternoon hike, set aside for covering lots of ground and exploring new sections of the forest, was well worth the effort, as we picked up a pair of Madagascan Ibis skulking on the forest floor. Red-breasted Coua, Madagascan Pygmy Kingfisher, Red-fronted Coua, and splendid views of the unusual Nuthatch Vanga working its way characteristically up the tree trunks were noteworthy sightings out of a myriad of more common forest species.
A brief night walk along the beach had us enjoying Rainforest Scops Owls calling around us; a bird perched low down over a walkway, giving fantastic views. Mascarene grass frog, fish-scale gecko, panther chameleon, and a roosting Madagascan Pygmy Kingfisher were added, while we also had great views of acrobatic eastern lesser bamboo lemur, Madagascan Pratincole, Madagascar tree boa, and rufous mouse lemur up close before sitting down for dinner and then a good night’s rest.
Day 10: 15 October 2016
Our final morning on the peninsula involved breakfast, followed by the boarding of a boat, in which we then headed off in the direction of Nosy Mangabe. This island, situated in the middle of Antongil Bay, hosted Malagasy Coucal and Malagasy Bulbul and gave us splendid views of a white-morph Malagasy Paradise Flycatcher feeding three chicks on a nest over a stream. White-fronted brown lemurs entertained us, as did a number of orb web spiders and the main target here, the unique and exceptional well-camouflaged common flat-tail gecko. We then hopped back on the boat and headed for the mainland, where we were shuttled to the airport to await our return flight to Antananarivo, where we arrived rather late due to the weather delaying our landing.
Day 11: 16 October 2016
Heading north of the capital we were set to visit one of Madagascar’s unique rainforest systems, the Anjozorobe Forest Corridor, a 90-kilometer drive from Antananarivo. En route we saw Dimorphic Egret, Black and Squacco Herons, Yellow-billed Kite, and Common Myna. Arriving at the hotel we settled for lunch on the well-situated deck overlooking an active Hamerkop nest. In the afternoon Henst’s Goshawk put on a great aerial display. Deeper in the forest we found Red-fronted Coua, Cuckoo Roller, Velvet Asity, Rand’s Warbler, Madagascan Stonechat, Forest Rock Thrush, Malagasy White-eye, Crested Drongo, and a number of others. Two highlights, however, must certainly be mentioned, namely mind-boggling views of both Pitta-like and Rufous-headed Ground Rollers as they called within meters of us on the open, leaf-littered floor.
In the evening a night walk produced Geoffroy’s dwarf lemur, eastern woolly lemur, Madagascan bright-eyed frog, and a couple of nose-horned and warty chameleons.
Day 12: 17 October 2016
This morning’s brief walk along some familiar trails produced a few common species such as Malagasy Bulbul, Lesser Vasa Parrot, Common Newtonia, Long-billed Bernieria, Malagasy ParadiseFlycatcher, Malagasy White-eye, and a calling Madagascan Flufftail in the undergrowth. Red-capped Coua put on a great display for us, but was quickly outshone by a Henst’s Goshawk that was somewhat perturbed by our presence and paid us a few visits in the canopy while making it rather clear vocally that it was time for us to leave. Leave we did, picking up Rand’s Warbler, Nelicourvi Weaver, and Hamerkop on the way out of the forest. After a healthy lunch, where we added Green Jery and had a brilliant display by an African Harrier-Hawk being mobbed by a pair of Crested Drongos, we headed back to Antananarivo, where the new members of the group were met at dinner. Tomorrow was the start of the main tour, and a good night’s rest was in order.
Day 13: 18 October 2016
Wiggling our way through the capital’s morning traffic we headed east. Squacco Heron and Dimorphic Egret fed in the rice paddies, while Common Myna, Little Swift, and Madagascan Wagtail were seen commencing daily routines in the city. A brief stop over a large river system did not turn up Madagascan Pratincole, but Malagasy Kestrel and Chabert Vanga were noteworthy substitutes. Arriving at our lodge after eyeballing Madagascan Blue Pigeons at lunch we were greeted by Malagasy White-eye, Chabert Vanga, Madagascan Magpie-Robin, and Green Jery. Entering the secondary forest not long after lunch we quickly picked up the likes of brown lemur and eastern lesser bamboo lemur as well as the enigmatic indri, the largest of the lemurs. Birds included Forest and Red Fodies, a pair of roosting Rainforest Scops Owls, Malagasy Paradise Flycatcher, Nuthatch Vanga, Red-tailed Vanga, Long-billed Bernieria, Malagasy Green Sunbird, the most memorable views of the unique Collared Nightjar, and an exquisite Madagascan Owl.
A brief night walk turned up the diminutive nose-horned chameleon, Glaw’s short-nosed chameleon, green bright-eyed frog, Geoffroy’s dwarf lemur, and Goodman’s mouse lemur, as well as a number of interesting arachnids and insects.
Day 14: 19 October 2016
This morning we started early with a rough drive into Mantadia National Park, boasting a large percentage of the primary forest in the area. The road turned up Common Myna, Madagascan Stonechat, Rand’s Warbler, Green Jery, Malagasy Paradise Flycatcher, Velvet Asity, and a few others, while within the forest itself we enjoyed the likes of Tylas and White-headed Vangas, Madagascan Magpie-Robin, Nelicourvi Weaver, Lesser Vasa Parrot, and personal favorites in the form of Scaly Ground Roller and the unique Short-legged Ground Roller perched motionless high up in the canopy. Brown lemur, eastern bamboo lemur, black-and-white ruffed lemur, and the gorgeous diademed sifaka all put in an appearance, with indri calling out in the background throughout the walk.
We then settled down for lunch at a small lake, which produced great views of Stripe-throated Jery, Madagascan Buzzard, Malagasy Starling, Madagascan Blue Pigeon, Madagascan Spinetail, Madagascan Stonechat, Madagascan Wagtail, Common Moorhen, a pair of Meller’s Ducks, Madagascan Swamp Warbler, and a flock of the tiny Madagascan Mannikins, among others. Returning to our hotel we added Olive Bee-eater and heard a number of Madagascan Flufftails, with some of us getting brief views of the little skulkers.
Day 15: 20 October 2016
In the morning we ventured into the secondary forest once again, with brown lemur, Diademed sifaka, and eastern bamboo lemur all showing well. Up on higher grounds we located a group of indri and stood awestruck as they vocalized above our heads for some time. Velvet Asity, Lesser Vasa Parrot, Forest Fody, Blue Coua, and Ward’s Flycatcher put up a show, and the unique and bizarre giraffe weevil also had us astonished for a while.
In the late afternoon, once the heat had settled, we visited the local lemur rehabilitation center. Here we had close encounters with eastern bamboo lemur, black-and-white ruffed lemur, and brown and red-fronted brown lemurs. This was a hands-on experience that I am sure no one will forget in a hurry, the smiles still etched into everyone’s faces hours after the visit. Birding was not the focus as this time, but we did get Chabert Vanga mobbing a Frances’s Sparrowhawk and beautiful views of a pair of skulking Madagascan Rails. A short night walk was conducted, where Geoffroy’s dwarf lemur and Goodman’s mouse lemur were enjoyed, as well as Glaw’s short-nosed and nose-horned chameleons, of which we managed to locate a small number before heading back for dinner.
Day 16: 21 October 2016
This morning we had the opportunity to sleep in a little, as today served as a travel day. After a late breakfast we loaded the vehicle and headed west toward Antsirabe. Along the way we made a brief stop to enjoy the presence of a single Madagascan Pratincole before stopping for lunch outside of the city at a restaurant overlooking a small stream. Here we picked up Malagasy White-eye, Red Fody, Common Myna, Madagascan Swamp Warbler, Malagasy Green Sunbird, and Madagascan Wagtail in the vicinity before heading off on our journey south. A brief stop was had to visit the banks and local pharmacies to replenish supplies before we settled down for a fantastic spread for dinner while completing the checklists.
Day 17: 22 October 2016
Leaving Antsirabe after a late breakfast a quick stop was made in the local workshops to get a first-hand experience as to how Zebu (cattle) horn implements and jewelry were made as well as trinkets from recycled tin. We then continued south, stopping off for a welcoming lunch before reaching Ranomafana National Park in the afternoon.
Day 18: 23 October 2016
A brief breakfast followed by a quick drive had us in the secondary forest not long after sunrise. Golden bamboo lemur, one of this national park’s main drawing cards, was first on our list, and red-fronted brown lemur was added not long afterwards. The birding was also great, and we had brilliant views of Pitta-like and Scaly Ground Rollers, Velvet Asity, Rufous Vanga, and Crossley’s Vanga, while White-throated Oxylabes played hide-and-seek with us and we picked up many other common forest species. Pollen’s Vanga showed early in the morning, and Malagasy Green Sunbird and Grey-crowned Tetraka showed nicely. A lookout point produced a pair of the elusive ring-tailed vontsira (mongoose), while a little while later a pair of Brown Mesite was located and enjoyed by all before we headed for lunch.
In the afternoon we visited some nearby rice paddies, where we enjoyed a flock of tiny Madagascan Mannikins, Mascarene Martin, Malagasy Coucal, Madagascan Harrier-Hawk, Madagascan Flufftail, Malagasy Brush Warbler, Madagascan Cisticola, Madagascan Stonechat, Hamerkop, Purple Heron, and two avian treats in the form of Madagascan Snipe and Greater Painted-snipe. We then commenced a night walk in the area, which produced wonderful rufous mouse lemurs, combating male red brook snakes, and Geoffroy’s dwarf lemur among other herpetofauna before we had to leave to meet dinner reservations.
Day 19: 24 October 2016
Our second and final full day in Ranomafana was one to remember. Winding up the hill to our starting point we added Yellow-billed Kite, Madagascan Buzzard, Madagascan Blue Pigeon, Lesser Vasa Parrot, African Palm Swift, Olive Bee-eater, and Cuckoo Roller. Inside the forest itself we quickly looked onto Red-fronted and Blue Couas and Madagascan Cuckoo, and after climbing to the highest point we were rewarded with great views of both Yellow-bellied and Common Sunbird-Asities. These are spectacular little birds that rocket through the canopies but occasionally allow one to soak up their brightly colored caruncles and delicate physique. Other species included Madagascan Cuckooshrike, Malagasy Paradise Flycatcher, Mascarene Martin, Grey-crowned Tetraka, Dark Newtonia, Cryptic Warbler, Forest Rock Thrush, Green Jery, Stripe-throated Jery, Common Jery, White-throated Oxylabes, Crossley’s Vanga, and the splendid Pollen’s Vanga. Mammals included brown lemur, small-toothed sportive lemur, Milne-Edwards’s sifaka, and ring-tailed vontsira.
A night walk along the famous road down into the town of Ranomafana added short-nosed, nose-horned, cryptic, and O’Shaughnessy’s chameleons and a chorus of frogs of the genus Boophis.
Day 20: 25 October 2016
Winding our way out of Ranomafana we commenced our journey south. This was a travel day through the eastern plateaus, where we enjoyed great vistas and birds such as Dimorphic Egret, Western Cattle Egret, Madagascan Lark, Malagasy Cisticola, Common Myna, Pied Crow, Yellow-billed Kite, and a surprise in the form of Marsh Owl, which circled above us for some time, and then Malagasy Harrier not far off down the road. This uncommon species occurring in low density was a pleasant addition. We then continued to Isalo National Park, where we were met with splendid accommodation and rather foul weather. A fitting dinner was had after a long day’s drive; an exploratory walk of the area would have to wait until tomorrow.
Day 21: 26 October 2016
A sunrise stroll around the sandstone formations prior to breakfast produced Madagascan Mannikin, Pied Crow, countless Yellow-billed Kites, Namaqua Dove, Olive Bee-eater, Malagasy Coucal, Common Jery, Madagascan Hoopoe, an obliging White-throated Rail in a nearby stream, and a very vocal southern and interior subspecies of Forest Rock Thrush (occasionally split as Benson’s Rock Thrush). We then hit the road and traveled south, but not for long, as an overheating engine had us temporarily on the roadside.
Back on track with a new vehicle we entered Zombitse Forest, where we enjoyed Verreaux’s sifaka and Hubbard’s sportive lemur. Standing’s day gecko and three-eyed lizard showed well, while birds such as Cuckoo Roller, Crested Drongo, Common Jery, Long-billed Bernieria, Souimanga Sunbird, Red-tailed Vanga, Coquerel’s Coua, and many others put in an appearance, a highlight being a pair of the localized Appert’s Tetraka, which performed well for us. Lunch produced a nosy trio of Giant Coua and a roosting White-browed Hawk-Owl, while the following drive to Ifaty added Black-winged Stilt and one powerful hailstorm.
Day 22: 27 October 2016
Due to the nature of the area the spiny deserts of Ifaty are unbearable after mid morning. To beat the sun’s rays we were at the park well before sunrise. This worked in our favor, as active birds were quickly added to our list. We encountered Thamnornis, Running, Crested, and Red-capped Couas, Madagascan Magpie-Robin, Red Fody, Sakalava Weaver, Malagasy Turtle Dove, Crested Drongo, Common and Archbold’s Newtonias, Common Jery, Stripe-throated Jery, Malagasy Paradise Flycatcher, Namaqua Dove, Greater Vasa Parrot, Grey-headed Lovebird, and many others. More charismatic species included Hook-billed Vanga, Sickle-billed Vanga, Madagascan Sparrowhawk, Madagascan Harrier-Hawk, and the extraordinary Long-tailed Ground Roller and Subdesert Mesite, while a potentially undescribed species of sportive lemur was also located.
During the course of the afternoon, which we thankfully had off due to a successful clean sweep in the morning, we enjoyed the pool and warm Indian Ocean. Birding around the lodge grounds produced Madagascan Magpie-Robin, Common Myna, Madagascan Mannikin, Red Fody, Olive Bee-eater, Pied Crow, Malagasy Bulbul, Sakalava Weaver, and a number of others. The evening chorus of Madagascan Nightjars went on through dinner and well into the night.
Day 23: 28 October 2016
Fairly eagerly this morning we left Ifaty and headed back towards Toliara. Here we hopped onto rustic Zebu (cattle) carts and made out way across the Whimbrel-infested mudflats to our boat. An hour and a half later and we were on the beaches of the island of Nosy Ve, ogling Lesser Crested, Saunders’s, and Common Terns among Sanderlings. Over the next sandbar we added Dimorphic Egret, Grey Heron, White-fronted Plover, and a flock of half a dozen of the unique Crab-plover. These shy birds took flight not long after, and we headed onward to spend time with a breeding flock of Red-tailed Tropicbirds before crossing back to the mainland and enjoying the freshest of lunches in the presence of Littoral Rock Thrush.
We then started the motor and headed back to the harbor, where we enjoyed an afternoon off due to both the heat and the success of the morning’s birding.
Day 24: 29 October 2016
Early in the morning, in an attempt to beat the heat, we set off to the spiny plateau located above Toliara. Yellow-billed Kites scoured the roads all the way there, as Namaqua Dove and Madagascan Lark flushed off the verges. Madagascan Buzzards caught thermals overhead, while we also picked up Grey-headed Lovebird, Malagasy Coucal, the localized Verreaux’s Coua, Red-shouldered Vanga, and Subdesert Brush Warbler before lunch.
A visit to a decent-sized lake in the afternoon added Hottentot Teal, Little Grebe, White-faced Whistling Duck, Western Cattle Egret, Squacco Heron, an unexpected Malagasy Harrier quartering over the reeds, Kittlitz’s and Common Ringed Plovers, Black-winged Stilt, Common Greenshank, Curlew Sandpiper, African Swamphen, Red-knobbed Coot, Malagasy Kingfisher, and a couple others before we made our way back for dinner and prepared for our return to the capital.
Day 25: 30 October 2016
A travel day by definition, we woke up to a fairly early breakfast before packing the vehicle to the sounds of the usual city birds and headed for the airport. Here we sat out the queues and eventually were up in the air, heading for Antananarivo. Coming to a rather abrupt stop on the runway, we transferred to the hotel, where we sat down for a wonderful Sunday buffet and spent the rest of the afternoon relaxing and preparing for our final leg of the journey, while others prepared themselves for their journeys homeward.
Day 26: 31 October 2016
The Berenty extension commenced this morning with our predawn arrival at the airport in Antananarivo. Mascarene Martins and Olive Bee-eaters sent us on our way as we headed for our transit flight, via Toliara, to Fort Dauphin. Soon we arrived at our hotel, where we spent the morning as well as lunch. During the cooler afternoon we went to explore the famous town, where we located Red Fody, Common Myna, Malagasy Kestrel, and, while overlooking the ocean, a Kelp Gull or two (spilt occasionally as Madagascan Gull) as well as an unidentifiable frigatebird way out in the distance and a pair of Whimbrel. A few lakes produced Common Sandpiper, Pied Crow, Malagasy Turtle Dove, and a few others before we returned to the hotel in preparation for our journey to the legendary Berenty Reserve.
Day 27: 1 November 2016
This morning we lethargically stumbled out for a fairly late breakfast before hopping into our convoy of two vehicles (one set aside for our bodies, the other for our luggage). The road was short, but the ride was rough – road maintenance apparently last occurring at least half a century ago. Along the way we saw Red Fody, Western Cattle Egret, Yellow-billed Kite, Hamerkop, Malagasy Kestrel, Pied Crow, Namaqua Dove, and a few other usual roadside species.
After finally having arrived at Berenty Reserve, situated among the sisal plantations of the southwest, we picked up ring-tailed lemur and the famous dancing Verreaux’s sifaka, which put on a wonderful cameo for us in late golden light. The walk itself added a beautiful jeweled chameleon, Giant Coua, Helmeted Guineafowl, White-browed Hawk-Owl, Malagasy Paradise Flycatcher, Crested Drongo, Madagascan Magpie-Robin, Crested Coua, Malagasy White-eye, Malagasy Turtle Dove, Malagasy Coucal, Frances’s Sparrowhawk, and a really obscured view of Madagascan Cuckoo-Hawk sitting up high on top of its nest. White-footed sportive lemur eventually put in an appearance on the trip, and a night walk later in the evening yielded a few treats in the form of warty chameleon, more white-footed sportive lemur, grey-brown mouse lemur, and Madagascan Nightjar.
Day 28: 2 November 2016
A full day in Berenty sure was something to look forward to. The early morning walk produced Giant Coua, Crested Coua, a roosting pair of Western Barn Owls, a number of White-browed Hawk-Owls, Malagasy Paradise Flycatcher, Crested Drongo, Pied Crow, Malagasy Kestrel, Yellow-billed and Black Kites, Madagascan Green Pigeon, Malagasy Turtle Dove, Common Jery, Lesser Vasa Parrot, and few others. Mammals were abundant, and we enjoyed countless Verreaux’s sifakas, ring-tailed and red-fronted brown lemurs, white-footed sportive lemur, and memorable views of a very active roost of Malagasy flying fox, the largest bat on the island.
In the afternoon a sortie into the sisal fields took place, where we after some time connected with a pair of fine-looking Madagascan Sandgrouse as well as a handful of Madagascan Buttonquails, two of our main targets. Running Coua and flocks of Grey-headed Lovebird also entertained. A night walk produced a trio of warty chameleons and a brilliant Madagascan tree boa hunting up in the canopy.
Day 29: 3 November 2016
Our final morning in the reserve was not to be wasted. After warding off the gangs of ring-tailed lemurs at breakfast we headed for the spiny forest. The unique botany had us enthralled for hours, while between the scratchy leaves we picked up Running Coua, Lesser Vasa Parrot, Grey-headed Lovebird, Malagasy Kestrel, Pied Crow, Yellow-billed Kite, Madagascan Magpie-Robin, and Malagasy Paradise Flycatcher, as well as a roosting Rainforest Scops Owl (of the western subspecies). Sleeping white-footed sportive lemurs added to the morning’s cute factor, while back at camp we located warty chameleon and jeweled chameleon before staring aimlessly at the head of a Madagascan Cuckoo-Hawk peering at us from within its nest high in the canopy. Frances’s Sparrowhawk was common, and Crested Coua showed well before we spent a good portion of our walk watching a blonde hognose snake busily shedding its skin before vanishing down into the depths of an ant hole. After a fine lunch we bounced all the way back to Fort Dauphin, where the storms had arrived to welcome us. Dinner was soon followed by bed. Tomorrow would be in essence the last day of our trip together.
Day 30: 4 November 2016
Unfortunately, due to sudden flight changes we had a rather rushed morning, and a short-lived breakfast took place. We were then whipped across to the smallest of airports, where we awaited our flight to Antananarivo via Toliara. The only bird for the morning was a quartering Yellow-billed Kite over the myriads of rice paddies en route. Heading from the airport to the hotel the usual suspects such as Squacco and Black Herons, Dimorphic Egret, Rock Dove, Common Myna, and Mascarene Martin were seen along the way before we met for what constituted our ‘Last Supper’.
Day 31: 5 November 2016
Breakfast was a lengthy one, as we reminisced over the last month spent on the island – the impressive bird list with 89 percent of all Madagascan endemics seen, the fantastic destinations we had the pleasure of visiting and the unique animals we got to appreciate in each of them, the cultural experience, and the good memories that were made along the way. Good-byes were made and contacts exchanged before we then parted ways.
Please see the downloadable PDF above with the full species lists included. This is a sample trip report. Please email us ([email protected]) for more trip reports from this destination.