Best of Madagascar: Birding and Mammal Trip Report, including Masoala Peninsula

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26 September – 14 October 2022

By Dominic Rollinson

Overview

Madagascar, the world’s fourth largest island, is home to a unique assortment of birds and other wildlife. For almost three weeks in October 2022, we explored this unique location, from the tropical rainforests of Masoala Peninsula in the northeast to the dry spiny forest of the southwest. Despite its proximity to Africa, Madagascar’s flora and fauna is vastly different, with many exciting endemic species and families, making it a must for any world birder. A birding trip to Madagascar, however, does not only concentrate on the many spectacular birds on offer. The island has a multitude of endemic lemurs, as well as many other exotic and bizarre wildlife, from cryptically camouflaged geckos, to outrageously designed insects.

Madagascar birding report 2022

The unusual Crossley’s Vanga put a wonderful show on for us in the rainforests of Andasibe.

Madagascar’s site guides certainly deserve a special mention here: they went to huge efforts (with impressive patience) to show us the specials of their area. They were also incredibly helpful as they guided us along the many steep and slippery trails in the rainforests and traversed the hot and dry spiny forest of the southwest to find mesites and other special birds while we waited patiently in the shade of baobab trees. Madagascar’s policy of making site guides mandatory at each tourist and birding hotspot will surely help to ensure the long-term protection of these wildlife havens.

This two-week tour of eastern, central and southwestern Madagascar was combined with a five-day pre-trip to Masoala Peninsula, which most agreed was the absolute highlight, with its pristine rainforests reaching right down to the beaches and a peaceful, relaxed atmosphere, not to mention specials such as Helmet and Bernier’s Vangas. On this extensive tour of Madagascar, we saw all five species of ground rollers, all nine species of couas, 19 species of vangas and allies, four species of endemic owls, 14 species of lemurs and an assortment of chameleons and other bizarre reptiles. With special-mention to other birds including Velvet Asity, Common Sunbird-Asity, Madagascar Flufftail, Appert’s Tetraka and Madagascar Sandgrouse. Full species lists of birds, mammals, reptiles and amphibians are provided at the end of this report.

Detailed Report

Day 1, 26th September 2022. Antananarivo to Maroantsetra

All the clients had arrived in the days prior to the start of the trip and our flights were booked for mid-morning, however, a slight flight delay meant we only ended up leaving in the early afternoon. As such we had a relaxed morning around our comfortable Tana (Antananarivo) hotel and managed our first few Madagascar species in the form of Malagasy Bulbul, Malagasy White-eye, Malagasy Kestrel, Madagascar Mannikin and brief views of a Madagascar Hoopoe (for Mitch and Dom only). 

We arrived in the northeastern town of Maroantsetra in the late afternoon and after a bumpy drive to our lodge we enjoyed a lovely meal, with the exciting prospect of Masoala Peninsula to look forward to the following morning. Before calling it a day, we wandered around the lodge grounds where we found a couple of cute and brightly colored Lowland Streaked Tenrecs as they went about their nocturnal activities.

Madagascar birding report 2022

The adorable Lowland Streaked Tenrec wandered around the lodge lawns in Maroantsetra.

Day 2, 27th September 2022. Maroantsetra to Masoala Peninsula

As was to be the theme for most of the trip, we were up early and enjoying breakfast before sunrise. Thereafter, we  boarded the boats which would take us to Masoala Peninsula. We had to catch our boat ride in the early morning, as the winds picked up every afternoon, making the crossing dangerous in small boats. The boat trip across Antongila Bay was quiet on the birding front, but the spectacular and mostly untouched scenery made up for this. We enjoyed close-up views of Nosy Mangabe, where Aye-Aye were translocated to in 1967 to serve as a safe-haven for this rare nocturnal lemur. Just before landing on the beach, we went through a squall which resulted in a couple of us on the windward sides of the boats getting soaked, but otherwise the crossing was enjoyable.

Once we arrived at our basic but scenically beautiful lodge, we checked in, had a change of clothes and then set out for a walk in the neighboring primary rainforest. With our sharp-eyed and helpful site guides, Armade and Olivier, we were to be in safe hands for the next three days and they amazed us with their intimate knowledge of the forest and its wildlife. The birding was slow-going, however we persevered and ended up finding a few important new birds. The best bird of the day was undoubtedly the pair of Brown Mesites which called nearby from the forest undergrowth and eventually showed themselves to the group. Other good birds seen on our morning walk included Blue Coua, Red-tailed Vanga, a very confiding non-breeding male Velvet Asity, Malagasy Paradise Flycatcher, White-throated Oxylabes, Long-billed Bernieria (Tetraka) and several Spectacled Tetrakas. This morning we also found our first lemurs of the trip in the form of Red Ruffed and White-fronted Lemurs.  

After lunch we made our way back into the depths of the rainforest which was incredibly quiet with hardly a bird seen or heard. As such, we decided it would make better sense to work the forest edge, alongside some rice paddies, and here we managed to find Madagascar Spinetail, Madagascar Buzzard, Malagasy Kingfisher, Greater Vasa Parrot, Chabert Vanga, Crested Drongo and Mascarene Martin.

To finish off the day, we did some owling around the lodge before dinner and managed great views of Rainforest Scops Owl and White-browed Owl, both of which continued to call throughout the night. A fantastic first day on Masoala Peninsula!

 Day 3, 28th September 2022. Full day birding the Masoala area

Today was to be one of the tougher walks of the trip as we entered the rainforests of Masoala National Park. It did not take long before we found our most-wanted target of the pre-trip (in fact we hadn’t even left the beach), that being the spectacular Helmet Vanga. Our first views were not entirely satisfactory, however we ended up having great repeat views of this highly desired species throughout the morning. Along the network of trails, we also found other great species such as Short-legged and Scaly Ground Rollers, Red-fronted and Red-breasted Couas, White-throated Rail, Velvet Asity, Nuthatch (for Ron and Dom only, for now) and White-headed Vangas and many Spectacled Tetrakas. A single Seal’s Sportive Lemur was seen as it slept quietly up in a tree.  

Madagascar birding report 2022

Helmet Vanga – always a strong candidate for ‘bird of the trip’!

We got back after noon and decided to take some time off after lunch to heal sore bodies and take a dip in the Indian Ocean. Our late afternoon walk was once again quiet, with the forest edge producing a similar suite of birds to the previous day’s afternoon walk. As we came back to our accommodation, we were alerted to the presence of a group of Eastern Lesser Bamboo Lemurs which were feeding in a small stand of bamboo.

Before dinner we did a night walk through the forest which was a little on the quiet side, but did produce a Rufous Mouse Lemur as well as an Eastern Woolly Lemur which was not at all perturbed by our presence. We slept well that night after a long day’s hike and knowing that we had Helmet Vanga ‘in the bag’!

Day 4, 29th September 2022. Full day birding the Masoala area

Today was our day to find our other major vanga target for the area, that being Bernier’s Vanga. We had heard it the previous day, but it had moved off with the flock before we could locate it. To find our quarry, we headed to the nearby Tampolo Marine Park where we explored a very different type of forest – the littoral forest, which has a much lower canopy and is dominated by Pandanus palms. Unlike the thick rainforest of the last couple days, this habitat type is a lot more open which makes viewing birds an easier task.

As we entered the littoral forest from the beach, we quickly bumped into Chabert Vanga and our first Common Jery of the trip. We then took a much easier walk through the forest until we emerged into a clearing to try for our target vanga and many others. Bernier’s Vanga showed up in no time and we all had prolonged views of the dark male and rufous-barred female, with bills which reminded us of oropendolas of the New World. We then birded the clearing for the next hour or so and worked through a couple of feeding flocks which contained the likes of Blue, Red-tailed and White-headed Vangas, Stripe-throated Jery, Common Newtonia, Madagascar Cuckooshrike, Long-billed Bernieria and Nelicourvi Weaver. Other birds seen in the area included Helmeted Guineafowl (an introduced species to Madagascar), Malagasy Coucal and Madagascar Starling. On our walk back through the forest we heard the crying call of Cuckoo-roller which would remain unseen, for now.

Madagascar birding report 2022

This female Bernier’s Vanga showed incredibly well for us at Masoala.

Before jumping back into our boats, we walked down to a beautiful, secluded beach where we enjoyed the view and got our first brief views of Malagasy Green Sunbird, before we had to tear ourselves away to enjoy a Madagascar Pratincole which posed nicely on a rock for us.

Madagascar birding report 2022

The Madagascar Pratincole seen at Masoala proved to be our only sighting of this species of the entire trip.

As we had cleaned-up on all our bird targets, we decided to take the afternoon off and enjoy the tranquility and beauty of the area. We enjoyed a swim and a gentle stroll along the beach which had a few Greater Crested and Roseate Terns on the nearby rocks. We capped off the day with a drink on the beach as we enjoyed another pretty Masoala sunset.

Day 5, 30th September 2022. Masoala Peninsula to Maroantsetra

This morning we had an early boat crossing back to Maroantsetra which was easier going, with the following swell and lack of rain showers. We had arranged to give ourselves at least a day between our boat crossing and our flight back to Tana, as the crossing can be unpredictable due to the weather. With our crossing going according to plan, we mostly took it easy for the day, however we did enjoy a late afternoon walk to the nearby river mouth which added Purple and Striated Herons, White-fronted Plover and gave us closer looks at a Malagasy Coucal. Later that afternoon, we were shown a pair of Tomato Frogs on the lawn of the lodge, however we all agreed that the animals did not feel truly wild to us and were probably just brought outside for us to see. After our dinner that evening, we wanted to try to find another Lowland Streaked Tenrec (as Mitch had missed them before) and before we had even left the steps to the restaurant one of these cute mammals ran by and gave us great views as it went about foraging. 

Day 6, 01st October 2022. Maroantsetra to Antananarivo and Lake Alorobia birding

Our flight back to Tana was delayed by a couple of hours (nothing unusual for air travel in Madagascar) and so we only had to leave for the airport around mid-morning. We thus decided to take another walk back to the river mouth, which added a couple of distant Lesser Crested Terns and a few Common Sandpipers.

We enjoyed a scenic chartered flight back to Tana which gave us a better picture of the landscape and made us realize the scale of deforestation in the country. Once back in Tana, we spent a couple of hours at Lake Alorobia which is one of the last remaining refuges for waterbirds in and around the capital city. As soon as we walked through the gates, we were confronted by a huge assortment of birds which included masses of Red-billed Teals and White-faced Whistling Ducks and in amongst these common species we picked out Blue-billed Teal, Meller’s Duck and a single Fulvous Whistling Duck. The heronry was a hive of activity and included many Western Cattle, Dimorphic and Great Egrets, Squacco, Black-crowned Night and Black Herons and two Humblot’s Herons, with just one Malagasy Pond Heron seen, which was in full breeding plumage. We were also kept entertained by Malagasy Kingfisher, Malagasy Brush Warbler and Common Moorhen.

Madagascar birding report 2022

The uncommon Humblot’s Heron was seen well at Lake Alorobia.

Once back at our Tana hotel, we made sure to wait outside for Madagascar Nightjar which showed up right on cue (actually, two minutes late) and called from the neighbor’s chimney for most of the night.

Day 7, 02nd October 2022. Antananarivo to Andasibe

We made an early exit out of Tana this Sunday morning and hit the long, windy and bumpy road east to Andasibe. The drive was mostly uneventful, except for a roadside stop for Hamerkop which showed well for us. We arrived around midday at our lodge outside of Andasibe and immediately had lunch. We then headed out for our afternoon walk in Voimana Forest, a community-run conservation area just outside of Analamazaotra Mantadia National Park. We then met up with Patrice and Michael, two top-quality bird guides, who would be showing us the area for the next couple of days.

We had a fantastic afternoon on our forest walk, filled with great birds and other weird and wonderful Madagascan wildlife.  The walk started with a pair of Madagascar Wood Rails which were extremely secretive and only a couple of us managed brief glimpses of them. Eventually we had to accept that the rails were not going to show much more for us and so we moved on to the next secretive rallid species, this time Madagascar Flufftail. Although not everyone got views of it, a male flufftail dashed across a clearing for us. We then moved further along the path and in the space of about 30 minutes we saw Madagascar Pygmy Kingfisher, Madagascar Cuckoo, Nuthatch Vanga (a catch-up for most), Ward’s Flycatcher, Velvet Asity, the huge Parson’s andsmaller Nose-horned Chameleons, Peacock Day Gecko, the bizarre Giraffe-necked Weevil, Eastern Woolly Lemur and a small group of Indri. Indri are Madagascar’s largest lemur and look rather strange with their stubbed tail. They are, however, incredibly agile and we watched them leap effortlessly between trees. We were even treated to their impressive vocalizations, which were incredibly loud. It was an amazing experience to listen to their mournful cries as they  rang out through the forest.

Madagascar birding report 2022

The crazy-looking Giraffe-necked Weevil was seen in the rainforests near Andasibe.

The rest of the walk was also exciting and the new birds continued arriving in the form of Green Jery, Rand’s Warbler and Malagasy Turtle Dove. Just before the end of the walk we had good looks at a friendly group of Common Brown Lemurs. We were shown the exceptionally well-camouflaged Mossy Leaf-tailed Gecko,which took us a while to make out – just the most unbelievable adaptation (see photo below)!  

Madagascar birding report 2022

Can you see it? The cryptically camouflaged Mossy Leaf-tailed Gecko!

Day 8, 03rd October 2022. Birding Analamazaotra Mantadia National Park and surrounds

After another early breakfast, we were on our way out before sunrise, as we wanted an early start on the trails of Analamazaotra Mantadia National Park. First on the agenda was Madagascar Owl, which was seen high up at its day roost, with a Hook-billed Vanga also obliging nearby. Next was to get everyone onto Madagascar Flufftail, which proved much easier this morning and we all managed good looks at this elusive forest skulker. As we entered the forest we found a male Crossley’s Vanga which showed amazingly well for us as it sat nearby and sang for us (see front cover photo). Yet another example of the impressive adaptive radiation found within the vangas of Madagascar, this species is reminiscent of Rail-babbler of southeast Asia.

Deeper into the forest we found other good birds such as Red-fronted and Blue Couas, Madagascar Pygmy Kingfisher and Velvet Asity while feeding flocks had Blue, Tylas and Red-tailed Vangas as well as Madagascar Cuckooshrike. We had a number of good looks at the attractive Diademed Sifaka and even watched a few play around on the ground just a couple of yards from us. All the while, the cries of Indri resounded throughout the forest and we once again had good looks at these large lemurs. In an open area on the edge of the forest, we found our first Madagascar Cisticolas of the trip.  Just before we headed back for lunch, Patrice showed us a Madagascar Tree Boa which was catching some sun on the edge of the road.

After a late lunch and some downtime, we headed to a nearby marshy area where we saw Madagascar Swamp Warbler and our big target, Madagascar Rail which showed on and off for a few minutes.

Madagascar birding report 2022

Velvet Asity (such as this non-breeding male) posed beautifully for us at several rainforest sites across Madagascar.

In the early evening we went for a night walk at the edge of Analamazaotra Mantadia National Park. We found Geoffroy’s Dwarf Lemur and the incredibly cute Goodman’s Mouse Lemur, but we could not see the calling Madagascar Owl or Madagascar Ibis. Green Bright-eyed Frog was also seen on our night walk.

Day 9, 04th October 2022. Maromizaha Forest birding

With a number of rainforest species still on our target list, we set out early for the nearby Maromizaha Forest, where we met the local guide Etienne who would show us around the forest for the morning. The morning walk extended into the early afternoon and proved to be a tough walk with lots of ups and downs, however we found many of our targets and had an enjoyable time out.

The forest was alive with bird song and activity and it did not take long to find a couple of Dark Newtonias, which gave us brief views. A pair of Malagasy Green Sunbirds were much more obliging and showed well for us. Next up was our bird of the day, in the form of Rufous-headed Ground Roller.This took some effort to see but we all eventually managed looks at this attractive species. At a view point over the forest we had distant views of the strange Cuckoo-roller, as well as a distant Madagascar Harrier-Hawk, which showed much better for us later in the morning. A feeding flock contained another target, Pollen’s Vanga, as well as Blue, Tylas and Nuthatch Vangas, Long-billed Bernieria and Madagascar Cuckooshrike.

We eventually made our way out of the forest (adding Madagascar Cuckoo and Madagascar Cisticola) and back to the vehicles and headed to our lodge for a late and well-deserved lunch. We mostly took it easy for the afternoon, although a gentle stroll around the lodge grounds produced Malagasy Paradise Flycatcher, Madagascar Wagtail and a large group of feeding Mascarene Martins.  

Madagascar birding report 2022

Tylas Vanga was commonly seen in feeding flocks in rainforests across Madagascar.

Day 10, 05th October 2022. Andasibe to Antsirabe

The next couple of days were mostly travel days as we made our way from the east of the country to the southeast. We left our lodge after an early breakfast and hit the long, slow road back to Tana and after pizzas for lunch we carried on southwards. The drive to Tana did not produce much of interest except a couple of Hamerkops, while we had no luck at a couple of stops for Madagascar Snipe. We eventually arrived in Madagascar’s second-largest city, Antsirabe, in the late afternoon and enjoyed another great meal.

Day 11, 06th October 2022. Antsirabe to Ranomafana

Today was another travel day as we made our way from Antsirabe southwards to Ranomafana where we had the exciting prospect of two full days of rainforest birding to try to clean up on as many of our missing targets as possible. The drive mostly contained the usual suspects such as Pied Crow, Yellow-billed (Black) Kite, Malagasy Kestrel and Great, Dimorphic and Western Cattle Egrets, however we did find a new trip bird, a single Peregrine Falcon.

We arrived in Ranomafana village in the early afternoon and took it easy for the rest of the afternoon before an early evening night walk with Stephan (who would be showing us around for the next couple of days). We had better views of Rufous Mouse Lemur and found two new chameleon species; Short-nosed and Deceptive Chameleons.

Day 12, 07th October 2022. Ranomafana National Park birding

This morning we had a few rainforest species to target and set out just after sunrise to walk the trails around Vohiparara. The hike was again strenuous, but far easier than Maromizaha and we ended up having a great morning and found many of our targets. As we got out of the bus, Stephan immediately heard Forest Rock Thrush calling and it did not take long for us to get good views of a male. We then hit the trail proper and soon heard the deep call of a Pitta-like Ground Roller. Stephan and his two sons (Stephan Jr and James) worked hard and after a while we all had excellent looks at a calling bird which did not seem perturbed by our presence. Our fourth and final rainforest ground roller!

Madagascar birding report 2022

Our final rainforest ground roller, the gorgeous Pitta-like Ground Roller.

The great birding continued as we went further along the trail where we had to work hard for Cryptic Warbler but we all eventually got good looks at this recently (in the 1990s) discovered species. The tiny Common Sunbird-Asity showed well for us, however the rarer Yellow-bellied Sunbird-Asity could not be found. We then bumped into a small bird party which had both Wedge-tailed Jery (Tetraka) and Grey-crowned Tetraka feeding right alongside each other, providing nice comparative views. We had to work harder still for the cute and colorful Madagascan Yellowbrow (Yellow-browed Oxylabes) but eventually had them just a couple of yards away from us. Brown Emutail is one of Madagascar’s super-skulkers and today was no different, as we had brief views as it ran along the ground, reminiscent of a small mouse. Some of us managed looks at a calling Rufous-headed Ground Roller however this individual was not as obliging as before. Other good birds seen on the walk included Velvet Asity, Lesser Vasa Parrot, Cuckoo-roller, Tylas Vanga (on a nest) and a circling Madagascar Cuckoo-Hawk, as we got back to the bus. Despite us not targeting lemurs, we managed to find three species this morning including Milne-Edward’s Sifaka, Red-bellied Lemur and Eastern Lesser Bamboo Lemur – another great morning in the rainforests of Madagascar!

Madagascar birding report 2022

Yet another lemur species – Milne-Edward’s Sifaka.

After lunch and some time off, we headed into some nearby rice paddies to look for Madagascar Snipe, which could not be found. However, once we got back into the rainforest, we had our best looks at Ward’s Vanga and had a small group of Malagasy Black Swifts overhead.

Day 13, 08th October 2022. Ranomafana National Park birding

We were exploring a different section of Ranomafana today and once again headed out of the door before sunrise and hit the trails for a few more of our rainforest targets. Today was our last day of rainforest birding and so we wanted to find as many of our targets as possible. It didn’t take too long before Stephan had heard the distant excited squeal of Madagascar Wood Rail and after much anguish and effort, we all had satisfactory views of this tricky skulker. We had a couple of good feeding flocks which revealed further good birds including Long-billed Bernieria (Tetraka), White-headed, Blue, Chabert and Tylas Vangas and the hoped-for Rufous Vanga. Pitta-like Ground Roller was seen briefly, while we saw flashes of Lesser Vasa Parrots as they flew noisily above the forest canopy. Despite the best efforts of the local guides, who checked all the regular roosts sites, we could not locate any roosting Collared Nightjars and had to accept defeat with this rare forest beauty. Just before finishing our forest walk, we added Forest Fody and a showy male Nelicourvi Weaver.

After our forest walk, we headed out to a nearby marsh. The lengthy walk to reach it was worth the effort as we had lovely views of singing Grey Emutails sitting out in the open for us all to enjoy.

For the afternoon, Mitch and Ron decided to enjoy a local football game just down the road (which ended 1-0 to the local team!) while Chris, Teri, Dom and Stephan headed back into the deep forest, to see what might be on offer. As is often the case with afternoon birding in Madagascar, it was quiet although we did get looks at Ward’s Flycatcher and a new lemur species, Red-fronted Brown Lemur.

Day 14, 09th October 2022. Ranomafana National Park to Isalo

Today was mostly a driving day as we made our way from the rainforests of Ranomafana to the impressive sandstone formations near Isalo National Park, with a couple of birding and wildlife stops en route. Our first stop was at Anja Community Reserve where it did not take long to find a group of Ring-tailed Lemurs which were relaxing in the late-morning heat. We enjoyed these distinctive-looking lemurs for a while before taking a short walk around the vegetated areas which yielded brief views of Madagascar Buttonquail and a couple of pretty Grey-headed Lovebirds.

Madagascar birding report 2022

The distinctive Ring-tailed Lemur, seen at Anja Community Reserve.

Just before checking into our lovely accommodation near Isalo, we stopped at a known site for the Benson’s subspecies of Forest Rock Thrush which did not take long to show up. A quick wander around the lodge grounds added good looks at Madagascar Hoopoe. Our afternoon birding session for Madagascar Partridge did not prove successful, although we did see our only Alpine Swifts of the trip. Our evening owling session was highly successful as we enjoyed fantastic views of the brown and grey morph of Torotoroka Scops Owl while Chris and Teri heard the screech of a Western Barn Owl and Dom had a White-browed Owl later that evening.

Madagascar birding report 2022

This brown-morph Torotoroka Scops Owl showed well for us near Isalo National Park.

Day 15, 10th October 2022. Zombitse birding and transfer to Ifaty

Yet another pre-dawn start as we were soon on our way towards the dry deciduous forests of Zombitse-Vohibasia National Park. We gave our target list to the local guides who soon started working through these drier-country specials. Before we had even entered the forest, we found a couple of Madagascar Green Pigeons which were catching the first of the sun’s rays. Next up was Giant Coua which posed nicely at the top of a tree, with a few Crested Couas being seen throughout the morning while Coquerel’s Coua took a lot more work, but eventually showed for all of us. After a while our primary target, the localized Appert’s Tetraka, showed incredibly well for us and was seemingly not perturbed by our presence. We were then shown two roosting owls, another White-browed Owl and then a cute Torotoroka Scops Owl which was hiding in a hole in a tree. In the dry deciduous forest, we also had our best views of Cuckoo-roller as they flew noisily overhead. We were shown a nesting Hook-billed Vanga which again vastly improved our views of this shrike-like vanga. During our time in Zombitse we also saw two species of lemur, Verreaux’s Sifaka and Hubbard’s (Zombitse) Sportive Lemur

Madagascar birding report 2022

The cute Appert’s Tetraka at Zombitse.

After a highly successful morning in the dry deciduous forest, we once again hit the open road, with one last birding stop before making it to the coast at Ifaty. We were targeting Madagascar Sandgrouse this morning and pulled up at a known site where we were greeted by around 20 enthusiastic sandgrouse spotters.  Soon other villagers had joined our party and we headed off into the farming areas where the sandgrouse feed. It was rather chaotic as local kids sprinted off in every direction in the hopes of finding the sandgrouse. After a little while the excitement levels increased and it emerged that a small group of sandgrouse had been spotted nearby. The scouts were maybe a little too loud and enthusiastic and before we knew it the sandgrouse had taken flight and we all got some unsatisfying flight views. However, eagle-eyed Teri soon spotted a closer group sitting under some bushes and we all enjoyed prolonged scope views of this tough endemic. We all enjoyed the experience but were also happy to return to the relative serenity of the bus.

The rest of the drive went by uneventfully, and we arrived at our lovely beachside lodge in the mid-afternoon and decided to relax by the pool for the rest of the afternoon. Even while relaxing, binoculars were always close at hand, as we added Subdesert Brush Warbler to our ever-growing list!  

Day 16, 11th October 2022. Birding in the spiny forest

We were in the bus at 04h45 this morning because we wanted to spend the morning birding the incredible spiny forest before it heated up too much. Seeing the baobab and octopus trees in the pre-dawn light was something none of us would forget in a hurry and the birding was equally impressive. We spent the morning with local guides, Ray, Ellius and Christian as they worked the area for spiny forest specials. It did not take too long until we found our fifth and final ground roller, Long-tailed Ground Roller, with a pair providing splendid looks for all of us. We saw three species of couas this morning, Running, Crested and Red-capped Couas, which are always fun to see. We then heard the high-pitched excited calls of a raptor and saw a large and powerful female Madagascar Sparrowhawk constructing a nest nearby. Other targets which we saw this morning included Thamnornis, Archbold’s Newtonia and the bizarre Sickle-billed Vanga. Unfortunately, Subdesert Mesite could not be found this morning and would have to wait for the afternoon birding session.

Madagascar birding report 2022

Long-tailed Ground Roller at Ifaty made it five out of five ground rollers for our tour.

After a tasty breakfast overlooking the ocean, we headed out to some nearby salt pans where we found a single Madagascar Plover as well as Ruddy Turnstone, Grey and Kittlitz’s Plovers and Common Sandpiper. The nearby wetlands were a little disappointing and it was sad to see how much of the reedbeds had been harvested in the area. We did however add a few new shorebirds around the wetland and on the drive, including Curlew Sandpiper, Common Ringed Plover, Little Stint, Common Whimbrel and Common Greenshank.

Day 17, 12th October 2022. Birding La Table and coastal birding

Yet another early start and we were once again on our way before sunrise, this time with four targets in mind for our birding around La Table. It did not take long after arriving at La Table before we heard the call of Red-shouldered Vanga, a species which was only discovered as recently as 1997 and was the final list addition of the famous world-lister, Phoebe Snetsinger, before her tragic death in 1999! We hurried through the thick scrub and it did not take long until we had great views of this highly localized endemic. Soon after the vanga, we had brief views of Verreaux’s Coua and then almost immediately afterwards we had longer looks at Lafresnaye’s Vanga. As we were heading back to the vehicle, we got better looks at Verreaux’s Coua and improved our views of Red-capped Coua. Our final target for the morning was Madagascar Buttonquail which showed almost immediately as we got out of the vehicle at a nearby stakeout. After a highly successful morning out, we headed back to Ifaty where we enjoyed a relaxed late breakfast and packed our bags, as we were moving to Toliara for the evening.

Madagascar birding report 2022

Red-shouldered Vanga did not prove too tricky around La Table.

We spent the late morning slowly making our way south to Toliara, and birded the salt pans and mud flats in the area where we saw Kittlitz’s, White-fronted and Grey Plovers, Curlew Sandpiper, Ruddy Turnstone, Eurasian Whimbrel, Common Sandpiper and Common Greenshank. We arrived at our new hotel in the busy town of Toliara around lunchtime and after an enjoyable meal we decided to take some time off before some late-afternoon birding.

With just about all our targets in the bag now, we headed out to bird some mudflats outside of Toliara.  They were a little on the quiet side, although we did add Three-banded Plover (the endemic Madagascar subspecies) and also had good views of Common Ringed Plover and a few flyover Grey-headed Lovebirds.  

Day 18, 13th October 2022. Toliara birding and flight to Tana

This was our last morning of birding in the southwest and so we headed out to the nearby Antsokay Arboretum to see what else we could find. Almost immediately we improved our views of Madagascar Buttonquail. We then enjoyed being shown some of the area’s interesting reptiles and learning about the local flora from our knowledgeable local guide. Mitch was pleased as we found a pair of confiding Grey-headed Lovebirds – a nice catchup bird (or ketchup bird)! Some of the more interesting reptile ticks this morning included Madagascar Iguana, Madagascar Dwarf Gecko, Thicktail Day Gecko and Madagascar Keeled Cordylid. Just before we ended the morning we had fantastic views of a friendly Red-capped Coua!

Madagascar birding report 2022

The spiny forests of southwestern Madagascar are truly beautiful at sunrise.

The rest of the morning was spent enjoying breakfast and packing bags before our early afternoon flight back to Tana (unsuccessfully scanning the airport light poles for Sooty Falcon – too early in the season it seems) where we relaxed before our final dinner of the trip.

Day 19, 14th October 2022. Lake Alorobia birding and departure

As most of us had afternoon flights out of Tana, we decided to enjoy our last morning in Madagascar by heading back to Lake Alorobia, about the only accessible birding spot around the capital city. We once again had good looks at the many heron and egret species on offer including Humblot’s, Striated, Sqaucco, Black, Malagasy Pond and Black-crowned Night Herons and Great and Dimorphic Egrets. Meller’s Ducks showed well again and we had a good scan for Knob-billed Duck which had been seen a week ago but decided the bird had likely moved on. We managed our best looks of the trip at White-throated Rail before we headed back to the hotel to pack our bags and enjoy our final lunch before heading to the airport where we all went our separate ways. Teri and Dom were lucky to spot a couple of pairs of Madagascar Partridge as the plane taxied out onto the runway – always worth keeping binoculars near at hand at Tana airport!

A big thank you to Fan who expertly handled all the logistics and kept us healthy by letting us know what we could and could not eat and to Chris who diligently and accurately eBirded every day and happily shared these lists with all of us. The efforts of the site guides were highly appreciated, without whom we would have seriously battled to get any views of the many specials they showed us. Madagascar is not for the faint-hearted, but for those who are willing to venture out of their comfort zone, they are sure to be rewarded with many amazing bird endemics and an assortment of other weird and whacky wildlife!

Bird ListFollowing IOC (12.1)

Birds ‘heard only’ are marked with (H) after the common name, all other species were seen.

The following notation after species names is used to show conservation status following BirdLife International. CR = Critically Endangered, EN = Endangered, VU = Vulnerable

Madagascar endemics are in bold.

Common NameScientific Name
Ducks, Geese, Swans
White-faced Whistling DuckDendrocygna viduata
Fulvous Whistling DuckDendrocygna bicolor
Blue-billed TealSpatula hottentota
Meller’s Duck – ENAnas melleri
Red-billed TealAnas erythrorhyncha
Guineafowl (Numididae)
Helmeted GuineafowlNumida meleagris
Pheasants & Allies (Phasianidae)
Madagascar PartridgeMargaroperdix madagarensis
Nightjars (Caprimulgidae)
Madagascar NightjarCaprimulgus madagascariensis
Swifts (Apodidae)
Madagascar SpinetailZoonavena grandidieri
Malagasy Palm SwiftCypsiurus gracilis
Alpine SwiftTachymarptis melba
Malagasy Black SwiftApus balstoni
Cuckoos (Cuculidae)
Malagasy CoucalCentropus toulou
Crested CouaCoua cristata
Verreaux’s CouaCoua verreauxi
Blue CouaCoua caerulea
Red-capped CouaCoua ruficeps
Red-fronted CouaCoua reynaudii
Coquerel’s CouaCoua coquereli
Running CouaCoua cursor
Giant CouaCoua gigas
Red-breasted CouaCoua serriana
Madagascar CuckooCuculus rochii
Mesites (Mesitornithidae)
Brown Mesite – VUMesitornis unicolor
Subdesert Mesite – VUMonias benschi
Sandgrouse (Pteroclidae)
Madagascar SandgrousePterocles personatus
Pigeons, Doves (Columbidae)
Rock DoveColumba livia
Malagasy Turtle DoveNesoenas picturatus
Namaqua DoveOena capensis
Madagascar Green PigeonTreron australis
Madagascar Blue PigeonAlectroenas madagascariensis
Flufftails (Sarothruridae)
Madagascar Wood RailMentocrex kioloides
Madagascar FlufftailSarothrura insularis
Rails, Crakes & Coots (Rallidae)
Madagascar Rail – VURallus madagascariensis
White-throated RailDryolimnas cuvieri
Common MoorhenGallinula chloropus
Buttonquail (Turnicidae)
Madagascar ButtonquailTurnix nigricollis
Stilts, Avocets (Recurvirostridae)
Black-winged StiltHimantopus himantopus
Plovers (Charadriidae)
Grey PloverPluvialis squatarola
Common Ringed PloverCharadrius hiaticula
Madagascar Plover – VUCharadrius thoracicus
Kittlitz’s PloverCharadrius pecuarius
Three-banded PloverCharadrius tricollaris
White-fronted PloverCharadrius marginatus
Sandpipers, Snipes (Scolopacidae)
Eurasian WhimbrelNumenius phaeopus
Ruddy TurnstoneArenaria interpres
Curlew SandpiperCalidris ferruginea
Little StintCalidris minuta
Common SandpiperActitis hypoleucos
Common GreenshankTringa nebularia
Coursers, Pratincoles (Glareolidae)
Madagascar Pratincole – VUGlareola ocularis
Gulls, Terns, Skimmers (Laridae)
Greater Crested TernThalasseus bergii
Lesser Crested TernThalasseus bengalensis
Roseate TernSterna dougallii
Cormorants, Shags (Phalacrocoracidae)
Reed CormorantMicrocarbo africanus
Ibises, Spoonbills (Threskiornithidae)
Madagascar Ibis (H)Lophotibis cristata
Herons, Bitterns (Ardeidae)
Black-crowned Night HeronNycticorax nycticorax
Striated HeronButorides striata
Squacco HeronArdeola ralloides
Malagasy Pond Heron – ENArdeola idae
Western Cattle EgretBubulcus ibis
Humblot’s Heron – ENArdea humbloti
Purple HeronArdea purpurea
Great EgretArdea alba
Black HeronEgretta ardesiaca
Dimorphic EgretEgretta dimorpha
Hamerkop (Scopidae)
HamerkopScopus umbretta
Kites, Hawks, Eagles (Accipitridae)
Madagascar Harrier-HawkPolyboroides radiatus
Madagascar Cuckoo-HawkAviceda madagascariensis
Frances’s SparrowhawkAccipiter francesiae
Madagascar SparrowhawkAccipiter madagascariensis
Henst’s Goshawk – VUAccipiter henstii
Yellow-billed KiteMilvus aegyptius
Madagascar BuzzardButeo brachypterus
Owls (Strigidae)
White-browed OwlAthene superciliaris
Torotoroka Scops OwlOtus madagascariensis
Rainforest Scops OwlOtus rutilus
Madagascar OwlAsio madagascariensis
Cuckoo-roller (Leptosomidae)
Cuckoo-rollerLeptosomus discolor
Hoopoes (Upupidae)
Madagascar HoopoeUpupa marginata
Rollers (Coraciidae)
Broad-billed RollerEurystomus glaucurus
Ground Rollers (Brachypteraciidae)
Short-legged Ground Roller – VUBrachypteracias leptosomus
Scaly Ground Roller – VUGeobiastes squamiger
Pitta-like Ground RollerAtelornis pittoides
Rufous-headed Ground RollerAtelornis crossleyi
Long-tailed Ground Roller – VUUratelornis chimaera
Kingfishers (Alcedinidae)
Madagascar Pygmy KingfisherCorythornis madagascariensis
Malagasy KingfisherCorythornis vintsioides
Bee-eaters (Meropidae)
Olive Bee-eaterMerops superciliosus
Caracaras, Falcons (Falconidae)
Malagasy KestrelFalco newtoni
Peregrine FalconFalco peregrinus
Old World Parrots (Psittaculidae)
Greater Vasa ParrotCoracopsis vasa
Lesser Vasa ParrotCoracopsis nigra
Grey-headed LovebirdAgapornis canus
Asities (Philepittidae)
Velvet AsityPhilepitta castanea
Common Sunbird-AsityNeodrepanis coruscans
Vangas & Allies (Vangidae)
Red-tailed VangaCalicalicus madagascariensis
Red-shouldered Vanga – VUCalicalicus rufocarpalis
Hook-billed VangaVanga curvirostris
Bernier’s Vanga – ENOriolia bernieri
Lafresnaye’s VangaXenopirostris xenopirostris
Pollen’s VangaXenopirostris polleni
Sickle-billed VangaFalculea palliata
White-headed VangaArtamella viridis
Chabert VangaLeptopterus chabert
Blue Vanga – ENCyanolanius madagascarinus
Rufous VangaSchetba rufa
Helmet Vanga – ENEuryceros prevostii
Tylas VangaTylas eduardi
Nuthatch VangaHypositta corallirostris
Dark NewtoniaNewtonia amphichroa
Common NewtoniaNewtonia brunneicauda
Archbold’s NewtoniaNewtonia archboldi
Ward’s FlycatcherPseudobias wardi
Crossley’s VangaMystacornis crossleyi
Cuckooshrikes (Campephagidae)
Madagascar CuckooshrikeCeblepyris cinereus
Drongos (Dicruridae)
Crested DrongoDicrurus forficatus
Monarchs (Monarchidae)
Malagasy Paradise FlycatcherTerpsiphone mutata
Crows, Jays (Corvidae)
Pied CrowCorvus albus
Larks (Alaudidae)
Madagascar LarkEremopterix hova
Bulbuls (Pycnonotidae)
Malagasy BulbulHypsipetes madagascariensis
Swallows, Martins (Hirundinidae)
Mascarene MartinPhedina borbonica
Brown-throated MartinRiparia paludicola
Reed Warblers & Allies (Acrocephalidae)
Malagasy Brush WarblerNesillas typica
Subdesert Brush WarblerNesillas lantzii
Madagascar Swamp WarblerAcrocephalus newtoni
Grassbirds & Allies (Locustellidae)
Grey EmutailBradypterus seebohmi
Brown EmutailBradypterus brunneus
Tetrakas & Allies (Bernieridae)
White-throated OxylabesOxylabes madagascariensis
Long-billed BernieriaBernieria madagascariensis
Cryptic WarblerCryptosylvicola randrianasoloi
Wedge-tailed JeryHartertula flavoviridis
ThamnornisThamnornis chloropetoides
Spectacled TetrakaXanthomixis zosterops
Appert’s Tetraka – VUXanthomixis apperti
Grey-crowned TetrakaXanthomixis cinereiceps
Madagascar YellowbrowCrossleyia xanthophrys
Rand’s WarblerRandia pseudozosterops
Cisticolas & Allies (Cisticolidae)
Common JeryNeomixis tenella
Green JeryNeomixis viridis
Stripe-throated JeryNeomixis striatigula
Madagascar CisticolaCisticola cherina
White-eyes (Zosteropidae)
Malagasy White-eyeZosterops maderaspatanus
Starlings, Rhabdornis (Sturnidae)
Common MynaAcridotheres tristis
Madagascar StarlingHartlaubius auratus
Chats, Old World Flycatchers (Muscicapidae)
Madagascar Magpie-RobinCopsychus albospecularis
Forest Rock ThrushMonticola sharpei
Madagascar StonechatSaxicola sibilla
Sunbirds (Nectariniidae)
Souimanga SunbirdCinnyris sovimanga
Malagasy Green SunbirdCinnyris notatus
Old World Sparrows, Snowfinches (Passeridae)
House SparrowPasser domesticus
Weavers, Widowbirds (Ploceidae)
Nelicourvi WeaverPloceus nelicourvi
Sakalava WeaverPloceus sakalava
Red FodyFoudia madagascariensis
Forest FodyFoudia omissa
Waxbills, Munias & Allies (Estrildidae)
Madagascar MannikinLepidopygia nana
Wagtails, Pipits (Motacillidae)
Madagascar WagtailMotacilla flaviventris
Species Seen156
Species heard only1
Total species recorded157

Mammal List

Mammals ‘heard only’ are marked with (H) after the common name, all other species were seen.

The following notation after species names is used to show conservation status following the IUCN Red List: CR = Critically Endangered, EN = Endangered, VU = Vulnerable, NT = Near Threatened.

Common nameScientific name
 
Tenrecs (Tenrecidae)
Lowland Streaked TenrecHemicentetes semispinosus
  
Climbing mice, rock mice, Malagasy rats and mice (Neosmyidae)
Eastern Red Forest RatNesomys rufus
  
 
Dwarf and Mouse Lemurs (Cheirogaleidae)
Geoffroy’s Dwarf Lemur – VUCheirogaleus major
Goodman’s Mouse Lemur – NTMicrocebus lehilahytsara
Rufous Mouse Lemur – VUMicrocebus rufus
 
True Lemurs (Lemuridae)
Common Brown Lemur – VUEulemur fulvus
Red-fronted Brown Lemur – VUEulemur rufifrons
White-fronted Lemur – VUEulemur albifrons
Red-bellied Lemur – VUEulemur rubriventer
Eastern Lesser Bamboo Lemur – VUHapalemur griseus
Ring-tailed Lemur – ENLemur catta
Red Ruffed Lemur – CRVarecia rubra
Black-and-white Ruffed Lemur – CR (H)Varecia variegata
 
Sportive Lemurs (Lepilemuridae)
Seal’s Sportive Lemur – VULepilemur seali
Hubbard’s (Zombitse) Sportive Lemur – ENLepilemur hubbardorum
 
Indriids (Indriidae)
Indri – CRIndri indri
Eastern Woolly Lemur – VUAvahi laniger
Diademed Sifaka – CRPropithecus diadema
Milne-Edward’s Sifaka – ENPropithecus edwardsi
Verreaux’s Sifaka – CRPropithecus verreauxi
Species Seen19
Species heard only1
Total species recorded20

Reptile and Amphibian List

Common NameScientific Name
 
Chameleons (Chamaeleonidae)
Deceptive ChameleonCalumma fallax
Short-nosed (Side-striped) ChameleonCalumma gastrotaenia
Nose-horned ChameleonCalumma nasutum
Parson’s Chameleon – NTCalumma parsoni
Brown Leaf (Stub-tailed) ChameleonBrookesia superciliaris
Oustalet’s ChameleonFurcifer oustaleti
 
Geckos (Gekkonidae)
Mossy Leaf-tailed GeckoUroplatus sikorae
Peacock Day GeckoPhelsuma quadriocellata
Lined Day GeckoPhelsuma lineata
Thicktail Day GeckoPhelsuma mutabilis
Common House GeckoHemidactylus frenatus
Madagascar Dwarf Gecko – NTLygodactylus klemmeri
 
Plated Lizards (Gerrhosauridae)
Ornate Plated LizardZonosaurus ornatus
Madagascar Keeled CordylidTracheloptychus madagascariensis
 
Madagascan Iguanas (Opluridae)
Madagascar IguanaChalarodon madagascariensis
Merrem’s Madagascar SwiftOplurus cyclurus
Madagascar Spotted Spiny-tailed IguanaOplurus quadrimaculatus
 
Boas (Boidae)
Madagascar Tree BoaSanzinia madagascariensis
 
Elapoid Snakes (Psammophiidae)
Common Big-eyed SnakeMimophis mahfalensis
 
Grassland Frogs (Ptychadenidae)
Mascarene Grass FrogPtychadena mascareniensis
 
Mantellids (Mantellidae)
Madagascar Bright-eyed FrogBoophis madagascariensis
Total21

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