To: 'birding-aus' <>
Subject: Madagascar
From: PennyDB <>
Date: Wed, 04 Dec 2013 16:42:40 +1100
Dear all

Was in Madagascar from 10 October to 1 November on a Birdquest tour (this is not an ad. for Birdquest but if breaks the rules, Russell, please delete!) and covered a surprising amount of country, including many major birding spots, except for the far north.

As people have commented before, the country has lost much of its ancient forests, sadly replaced with gum and pine trees, leading to a lot of erosion, rivers deep brown with sandy/mud banks, and valleys and swamps turned into paddy fields for rice and vegies. The latter quite understandable in view of the large and fast growing population - I hope something can be done about this in future and to make the ordinary day to day life of the country poor better than it presently is.

However, as tourists we were in luxury land - excellent hotels, good food, sometime very good (the French background helps), and touring around in our own minibuses (only 5 in the group with a UK guide and local guide/fixer), and not having to worry about any logistics, check-ins at airports and all that stuff. It rained a few times but we had no problems with leeches or mud, a bit slippery sometimes. Most hotels had mozzie nets although I took mine and used it at one hotel in Antananarivo.

Well, the endemic birds are gorgeous, different and/or interesting, particuarly the mesites, ground rollers, couas, vangas and asitys. And then there were the lemurs - standing under a howling Indri is not recommended - they are ear-splittingly loud. We found M. Sparrowhawk mating, M.Harrier Hawk foraging in holes in a sandstone ridge at Isola, M. Long-eared Owl looking superciliously at us from high in a pine tree, Scops Owls hiding under thick creepers in dark rainforest corners, the M. Crested Ibis near its nest, M. Cuckoo-Roller calling loudly just above our heads, and so on and so on. The list was long. Numbers are of course nothing like S.America or Africa, but list of endemics was pretty good. At Barenty the Ring-tailed Lemurs got into everything and were a bit smaller than I visualised after seeing them on TV, more long-legged large cat size, many with babies clinging tight, and the Sifakas the most beautiful, with thick white coats splotched in different places with gold, brown or black.

I didn't do the extension trip to Masaola National Park to see the Helmeted Vanga - was just too long, too far and only one major bird! so chickened out.

But as it was a bird tour we didn't make a great effort to see mammals (other than a couple of evening spotlighting walks which lit up sleeping chameleons (colourless), Sportive, Dwarf and Mouse Lemurs. Reptiles, mammals or insects kept popping up anyway and were very photogrenic and stayed around a bit longer than the birds did. The local guides were keen for us to look at things other than birds, and produced Giraffe Weevils and pointed out lizards and snakes. Boat trips took us out to mangrove islands to see M. Sacred Ibis and Berniers Teal at Betsiboka river estuary, and nesting Red-tailed Tropicbirds and Crab Plovers at Nose Ve. A lake boat trip found Humbolts Heron, Alaotra and M. Grebe and M. Fish-Eagles.

Finally a thank you to those birding-aussers who sent me suggestions. In return if anyone is contemplating a trip there, don't hesitate to get in touch. The new guide to the Birds of the Indian Ocean Islands, Sinclair/Langrand, was very useful, with maps and lists of endemics for Mad. as well as the adjoining islands - Comoros, Mascarenes and Seychelles.

Remember everyone that visiting birders help to impress the local people with the idea that they can make a living from maintaining their unique flora and fauna. The guide Musa has made a great career for himself and his family by preserving his patch of tribal spiny forest in the sout-west, and taking birders out to see the strange birds that inhabit it. He's doing better this way than trying to scratch a living growing vegies in the dry sandy soil. Visiting Madagascar and spending some of our riches there helps in so many other ways as well. The people are very friendly, the national parks well set up with knowledgable guides and hotels of all types close by. Sadly I only got to use the swimming pools three times - most hotels had them but we were always due to go out on another walk or else one was eating lunch or resting from the previous walk. Not to mention the Maddie belly but not everyone suffers that, just that I have a particularly delicate stomach.

Best wishes to all for Christmas and the New Year


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