TR Madagascar Nov-Dec 2012

To: message birdchat <>, birding aus <>, tweeters message <>
Subject: TR Madagascar Nov-Dec 2012
From: "barry " <>
Date: Sat, 26 Jan 2013 16:22:28 -0800
Chatters et al,
A 5 week trip took a friend and me throughout Madagascar. We hit all the
major spots that tours usually go through with added trips to look for
Aye-ayes (lemurs), in a new location that has not been explored
previously. We were the first tourists to ever see them there. We also,
added a journey to Pochard Lake (Bemanevika) to look for what some call
the rarest duck in the world. I also added a trip on to the Masoala
Peninsula to especially look for Helmet Vanga, and Bernier's Vanga among
other species. 
Many of you asked me to post the particulars to aide you in possible
upcoming trips. I'll focus on that and leave out species list and longer
more detailed information which you can easily find in a spate of trip
reports located on the well known birding trip report sites. Enough to
say did very well seeing fabulous birds, many lemurs, chameleons,
geckos, insects, spiders, plants. Just basically nature to the max, if
you can find it. Too many deforested areas, but it will only get worse
if you choose to wait.
How to get started? Our intention was to find an affordable trip with
the knowledge that at each park you will be supplied with a local
usually very knowledgeable guide. There are a few ways to do this
depending on your level of comfort. We ruled out taking the local bush
taxi mini buses. Crowded, and they don't leave locations until filled to
the brim. Great for those on a very limited budget, but otherwise little
to recommend unless you want the cultural experience. 
Next was the possibility of renting our own vehicle. Great freedom.
Decided against that as well. The roads are really difficult to
negotiate. Tires can easily blow out. Vehicles are often patched
together to make them serviceable, but not reliable. This will leave you
losing time. Wouldn't recommend this either.
A third more palatable option was going with a friend of a friend. He
owns a vehicle and in Madagascar that is huge. He had another friend
lined up to be the driver. We eventually went this route mostly because
of the economics and the knowledge that he had led friends on a previous
tour. The cost was about 40% what the biggest tour companies charge and
about 28% less than the next option listed below. We paid for our own
food, hotels and gas. By managing that that was how we cut the cost.The
driver was great (certainly one of the best I've had on a trip), the
vehicle did fairly well. The cost was obviously a big draw. Overall a
good experience, though I would recommend it with a few important riders
attached. The motorcycles we used to get in to Pochard Lake were driven
by unreliable drivers, We had one turn over and my friend hit his head
on a rock. Luckily he had a helmet on. Also, the motorcycle drivers
didn't want to go on the date agreed upon, lying about wet conditions at
the lake. This ended up costing us, as that day was the only time in an
8 month stretch that the iconic Serpent Eagle was seen.
Finally the operator was 3 hours late on the first day with no call or
explanation. I ended up having my wallet stolen in Ivato while we were
waiting. The operator is well aware of these shortcomings and I'm sure
he will be working on fixing them. He wants very much to have this be a
viable business. So, much to recommend, but I would be very clear about
making sure that you don't end up feeling like you paid less and ended
up with that amount. 
For the next option, we were also in contact with 3 independent
Madagascar tour operators. We had recommendations for Bruno Raveloson,
Fano Andrianirina and Bakoly Razanamiarantsoa. Met up with both Bruno
and Fano while in Madagascar. And liked both a lot. Bruno and I
exchanged holiday gifts and he seemed extremely knowledgeable about
locations for all the species throughout the country. He has worked on
many projects over all of Madagascar and if someone wanted to get the
highest number of species possible, I'd recommend him highly. Fano also
seemed knowledgeable and very friendly. The clients he was leading
seemed very pleased with his service. This was their second trip with
him. Never met up with Bakoly, but a she was recommended by a
Birding-aus member and was very forthright and prompt with tour
The pluses, these guys know the country very well. They also are really
aware of what tourists need and cater to that. So you pay more than the
option above, but might well feel that it was worth it. 
The last option was going through some of the bigger tour operators. We
decided against this, but those of you who prefer this option, know well
what you will get for the extra dollars, euros, etc.
With that taken care of we were left to decide where we wanted to go.
The standard route along the main road (Ifaty, Zombitze, Isalo,
Ramanafana, Andasibe-Mantadia (AKA Perinet),Ankarafantsika or Ampijoroa)
gets you to as many of the different habitats necessary to see the
wanted species. So that is pretty much set for you. After that you have
to decide if there is anywhere else you will want to visit. Masoala in
the northeast. Best spot for Helmet Vanga and a few other species. The
serpent eagles are not being seen there at this time. Nice trip,
beautiful spot with very good forest, recommended, though fairly
expensive for most of us. At this point the most viable place for Helmet
Vanga, though there is some talk that other easier to reach places might
hold them. Amber Mountain in the north for the Rock-Thrush. Did not make
the trip. Might have been fine but very difficult to reach in the wet
season. Andohahela and Berenty in the southeast. Mostly for lemurs, many
of the bird species you will probably have already seen, Also pretty
expensive. Majunga (Aka Mahajunga) to the west for the boat trip for
Bernier's Teal, Crab Plover and other species. As well as a trip to see
the Sakalava Rail and possibility of Red-tailed Newtonia. All expensive
but we enjoyed the day to look for the teal a lot. Did not go out to the
rail site. Kirindy in the west. Good for lemurs and seeing the tsingy's
Local Guides used were Armand at Masoala (very good), Maurice at
Mantadia (very good), Drema at Ampijoroa (excellent), Emile at
Ranamafana (excellent), Relats at Ifaty (skilled, but lied about us
owing him more money, then changed his story, you get the idea). So
overall you're covered at each known stop. That's where the tour guides
come in. They get you the rest of the birds. It's where we missed quite
a few, because our tour guide didn't know that information. 
Time of the year is important. Many tours go in October-November. That
allows you to circumvent the rainy season. We lucked out and late
Nov-December worked well for us. The weather was good everywhere we
went. Most days in the 80's Fahrenheit to low 60's being the coldest
temperature. Can be really hot in the southwest and also was very hot at
The main road is in good condition. The rest of the roads can be
nightmares waiting to happen especially in the rainy season. This is one
of the poorest countries in the world and fixing roads costs a lot. The
road to Pochard Lake should be undertaken only with experienced drivers.
Most of the bigger tour companies avoid this site. If you go, contact
the Peregrine Fund (or have your operator do so) before you arrive. They
can get all this set up. We had help from Dr Lily Arson (head of the
fund in Tana), Andy Bamford (in charge of the project on the local
level) Dubi Shapiro, Russell Thorstrom, and others. Without the permits
you could be wasting your time. Certainly not for the faint at heart.
Hotels are reasonably priced. Check previous trip reports and you'll be
fine. The Gite (digs at Ampijoroa) were the only funky place that we
stayed in. Food is inexpensive for the most part. December is great as
much fresh produce is coming in to the markets. Buy your Malarone in
Madagascar. Much cheaper than here in the states where it's 4 times as
much. Tell you something? Be careful about getting sick to your stomach.
Seemed to part of almost everyone's story. If you need money wired it's
a quick process through Western Union. It will cost 100 dollars but it's
there very quickly with a lot less hassle than waiting hours in long
bank lines to get money in other ways. Bought a cell phone and minutes
on arrival at the airport. Phone about 20 dollars, minutes cost about 60
dollars for the 35 days I was in country. That allowed me to call the
states almost daily and talk for 7-10 minutes. Great coverage throughout
the country. Some choose to bring a phone from home that has been
unlocked. Don't know how well that works. Skyping was hard from most
places. Internet was available from some places only. Usually hard to
open, then very slow and then might cut out completely.
Internal plane tickets are much cheaper if bought in country, though you
run the risk of being shut out on days you want to fly. They were hard
to set up in the US and I was asked to send my passport number and other
info over the internet via an email. Refused to do so and that made the
reservation harder to complete. The planes were often off schedule so I
would add an extra day in to make sure you're not left in the cold if
you're on a tight schedule.
Overall, loved Madagascar for it's nature and beauty, but not the
easiest country to travel in. For most it will be a one time excursion
and a memorable one at that.
If you'd like more information feel free to email me. 
All the best

  barry levine
  Seattle washington

-- - Does exactly what it says on the tin


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