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Since we so often get asked the question “when is the best time to visit this or that country for birding”, we’ve written a series of blogs answering exactly that question for a number of popular birding destinations – in this case Madagascar, the eighth continent!
Countries such as Namibia and South Africa are great to visit for birds year-round, but Madagascar is not one of those places. We recommend to visit Madagascar only between mid-September and early December, unless you’re just visiting a small part of the country such as the arid southwest or the fascinating dry forests of the northwest, which are less seasonal and can be very good at other times of the year as well. But if you join a standard birding tour of Madagascar (these invariably include the eastern rainforests, which contain a large proportion of the endemic birds, lemurs, chameleons and other wildlife of Madagascar), then we (very!) highly suggest you only consider travel during the mid-September through early-December time period. Four of the five ground rollers (the forest ones) are really tough to locate outside of this, their breeding season, during which their loud calls reveal their presence. Few birders would want to go to Madagascar and risk missing ground rollers! Similar comments can be made about the incomparable Helmet Vanga, which most birders go to see on the pristine Masoala Peninsula, although in some years it can be reliably seen close to Andasibe/Perinet/Mantadia, which is more easily accessible from Antananarivo (Tana). This bird is usually almost a given during the southern spring (mid-September through early December) but can easily be missed at other times of the year.
Madagascar can get very rainy, and this rain can last for days and seriously interrupt the wildlife viewing and birdwatching. Tropical storms (a.k.a. cyclones) are generally a risk from mid-December through April (more rarely in other months), so we don’t consider it desirable – or, for that matter, safe – to travel to Madagascar during this period.
Of course there are always exceptions. The world’s tiniest chameleon is easier to find when conditions are rainy. It’s easy to tread on these tiny critters, as they often walk out onto the litter-covered trails. We still find them in the dry season, although fewer of them compared with the wet season. They are so minute and camouflaged that they’re tough to spot.
If you want to join a remote Madagascar trip to look for Slender-billed Flufftail, Madagascar Pochard, Red Owl, and Madagascar Serpent Eagle, you’ll have to time it right to make sure the serpent-eagle site hasn’t been restricted by the Peregrine Fund. This usually happens from some date in September onward through the rest of spring, once these Endangered (IUCN) eagles have started breeding. We time our trips to this part of Madagascar in September while we run a lot of our other Madagascar bird trips in October.
Because there’s such a short window for birding/wildlife enthusiasts to visiting Madagascar (September through early December), the lodges can become fully booked far in advance. So please be aware of this if you book your own trip. But this is not easy to do (book your own trip) as Madagascar is a challenge from so many angles. It’s often thought of as “one of those places to which it’s better to join an organized birding or wildlife tour” rather than to hazard trying it on your own (even if it saves costs).
Please find our Madagascar wildlife and birding tours here.