Day 1: The trip begins this evening in Antananarivo (Tana). Night in Tana.
Days 2-3: We’ll depart early on day 2 for the airport (conveniently close to our hotel) and a flight to Mahajanga. On arrival we’ll transfer to Ankarafantsika Reserve, one of the last stands of western deciduous forest. Many bird species here are among the last of their kind. The bizarre endemic family of mesites, of unknown taxonomic affinity, is represented by White-breasted Mesite. Another endemic family, the vangas, is represented by White-headed, Blue, Chabert’s, Rufous, Hook-billed, Van Dam’s, and the extraordinary Sickle-billed. One of the rarest, Van Dam’s, may be found ripping into rotten wood with its heavy hooked bill. A third endemic family, the asitys, are present in the form of Schlegel’s Asity, but they are very scarce and difficult to locate. We’ll also be looking for the bizarre Madagascar Crested Ibis, Madagascar Fish-Eagle, Madagascar Buzzard, France’s Sparrowhawk, and Coquerel’s, Red-capped, and Crested Couas. A large dam nearby could produce Humblot’s Heron and Madagascar Jacana. In addition to birds, Madagascar is also renowned for its unique reptile and mammal fauna. We should be able to locate some fantastic chameleons, including Oustalet’s, the world’s largest, which can be up to a meter long. There are a number of lemur species, and with persistence we should see Brown Western Woolly, Milne-edwards Dwarf and the diminutive Gray Mouse Lemurs, but it would take much greater fortune to see the nocturnal Mongoose and Golden Mouse Lemurs. The agile Verreaux’s Siffakas are frequently in the camping area. Nights in Ankarafantsika.
Day 4: After a final morning in the Ankarafantsika Reserve, we’ll return to Mahajanga and fly back to Tana. Night in Tana.
Day 5-7: We’ll set off early on day 5 for the long journey toward the large university city of Fianarantsoa. Shortly before the city we’ll turn eastward to the magnificent Ranomafana National Park, arriving in the early evening. Ranomafana National Park will provide our first look at the eastern rainforest, the richest region in Madagascar for all forms of wildlife. Our two full days will allow us to sample most of the specialties of the area. The Golden Bamboo Lemur was discovered here in 1986, and almost simultaneously the Greater Bamboo Lemur, once thought extinct, was rediscovered. These events led to the park’s creation. Birds have profited from these discoveries, and we’ll be alert for the huge Henst’s Goshawk, the timid Brown Mesite, Madagascar Wood Rail, the stunning Blue Coua, the secretive Yellow-brow Coua, and mixed flocks containing Spectacled and Gray-crowned Greenbuls, spectacular Pitta-like Ground-Roller, Green Jery, and Rand’s Warbler. The more highland forest areas produce a different group of birds including Rufous-headed Ground-Roller, Brown Emutail, and the elusive but stunning and sometimes very confiding Yellow-bellied Sunbird-Asity. In the nearby river and swamps we could find the greatly endangered Meller’s Duck, plus Madagascar Pratincole, Madagascar Snipe, and (with luck) Madagascar Partridge. Gray Emutail hide in the rank marshy grasses of the swamps. In these highland areas the secretive Diademed Siffaka may be found. We will also have a night walk for the curious and varied frog fauna, and usually find a number of sleeping chameleons and quaint Rufous Mouse Lemurs. Butterflies can be spectacular if there has been good rainfall (and there usually has). Nights at Ranomafana.
Day 8: After a final morning in Ranomafana we’ll depart the lush eastern forests for the arid west. After a lunch stop at Ambilavao, where we’ll be able to purchase special papier antaimora, paper with pressed flowers, we’ll pass through some stunning scenery with vast monolithic granite formations before crossing the flat Plateau l’Horombe. Here we’ll keep a watchful eye out for the dapper Reunion Harrier, and we’ll eventually arrive at the exquisite Hotel Relais de la Reine in Isalo National Park. Night at Relais de la Rein
Day 9: Usually the local endemic Benson’s Rock Thrush is the first bird to greet us after our early wake up, as it has found the roof of the lodge to its liking. The dawn might also reveal Lesser Vasa Parrot, Madagascar Lark, or Madagascar Cisticola. After our early breakfast we’ll continue our journey to Zombitse Forest, where we’ll stop to look for the endemic Appert’s Greenbul, found only here! Other birds may include Banded Kestrel, Cuckoo-Roller, and Madagascar Sandgrouse. The largest of all the diurnal green geckoes, the spectacular Standing’s, is found here. Secretive Ring-tailed Lemurs and sleepy Rufous-tailed Dwarf Lemurs will peer at us from their tree cavities. After our picnic lunch we’ll continue to Ifaty, arriving at our lodgings in the early evening. Night in Ifaty.
Day 10:In the morning we’ll have our first look at the bizarre spiny forest for which the region is renowned. Among the stunted baobabs, sinister-looking didiereas, and assortment of sclerophyllous plants we’ll look for such birds as Sub-Desert Mesite, Running Coua, Thamnornis Warbler, Archbold’s Newtonia, Sub-Desert Brush Warbler, and Lafresnaye’s Vanga. With a little luck, a search might yield the difficult-to-find Long-tailed Ground-Roller. Two butterflies attract attention here, firstly the giant swallowtail Pharmacophagus, a close relative of the New Guinea Birdwings, and the stunning Rhadama Pansy, as bright a blue as there is. After lunch we’ll search extensive swamps that harbor widespread though secretive species such as Little Bittern, Purple Swamphen, and Painted Snipe. There are frequent outbursts from other rails plus a variety of herons, ducks, and waders. Along the muddy bays, if the tide is low, we should see migrant waders: Greater Sandplovers trotting across the mudflats with Curlew Sandpipers, and maybe flamingoes. Near the salt fields there is often a pair of the increasingly rare Madagascar Plover. The sand dunes are surprisingly rich in reptiles, and the curious Three-eyed Lizard (with a primitive pineal eye on top of its head) will scatter before us. Night in Tulear.
Day 11: An early morning departure will take us to St. Augustin to search for the recently described Red-shouldered Vanga (at the time of writing only three pairs are known) and the very local and scarce Verreaux’s Coua. We’ll look for other special birds as well, such as the Olive-capped form of Red-capped Coua, Madagascar Hoopoe, Greater Vasa Parrot, Gray-headed Lovebird, Madagascar Magpie Robin, and various vangas. In the mid-morning we’ll catch a flight to Tana. Afternoon at leisure with a possible trip to the Artisanal Market. Night in Tana.
Day 12: This morning we’ll visit the private garden of Tsaratsaotra, where a lake protected by the resident Malgasche family holds a breeding colony of several species of heron. Among the more widespread Great and Cattle Egrets are numerous Dimorphic and Black Egrets, and with the abundant Squacco Herons are a few pairs of Madagascar Pond Herons. Along with the many White-faced Whistling-Ducks and Red-billed Teal we might find a few Fulvous Whistling-Ducks, Knob-billed Ducks, and the diminutive Hottentot Teal. Other endemic birds found here include Madagascar Kestrel, Madagascar Coucal, Madagascar White-eye, Madagascar Swamp Warbler, Madagascar Brush Warbler, Madagascar Red Fody, and Madagascar Mannikin. Night in Tana.
Days 13-15: On the morning of day 13 we’ll leave for Perinet, perhaps the best known of Madagascar’s reserves, as it is home to the largest of all the lemurs, the tailless Indri. Our accommodation will be in the neighboring Mantadia National Park, where many species not found in Perinet/Analamazaotra can be seen with relative ease. The understory provides cover for all four species of rainforest ground-roller including Scaly and Short-legged. The extremely wary Red-breasted Coua is on the edge of its range here and lives in the shade of the luxuriant growth with Red-fronted Coua. Mixed flocks of vangas and flycatchers often contain the extraordinary Nuthatch Vanga as well as Ward’s (Flycatcher) Vanga and Nelicourvi Weaver. Both Velvet and Common Sunbird-Asitys are not uncommon, but the latter is often difficlt to see well in the forest, and other birds here include Madagascar Rail, Madagascar Flufftail, and Madagascar Spinetail. In the nearby Analamazaotra Reserve, in addition to appreciating Indris, we’ll look at night for Collared Nightjar (whose song is still unknown), Madagascar Long-eared Owl, Madagascar Crested Ibis, Wedge-tailed Jery, and Forest Fody. We will not forget the lemurs, with luck adding Greater Dwarf Lemur, Common Bamboo Lemur, Eastern Avahi, and possibly even Black-and-white Ruffed Lemur to our list. On night walks we should encounter a good variety of frogs and some more spectacular Chameleons such as Parson’s and Bearded. Nights in Mantadia.
Days 16 & 17: After a final morning birding in these rich forests we’ll have our last delicious lunch and bid farewell to Perinet. We have one last destination before returning to Tana. We’ll spend the next two days birding around Anjozorobe, a special reserve that is run by our ground agents. The reserve is a last refuge for the plateau swamplands that once covered vast areas of the Tana region. Much of this habitat has subsequently been converted to rice.
Here in the swampy basins we’ll search for a number of rapidly declining wetland species such as Meller’s Duck, Madagascar Rail, Madagascar Snipe, and Madagascar Harrier. This site is also the only known location of the only known individual Slender-billed Flufftail. Surrounding the basins is some wonderful pristine rainforest. We’ll once again be serenaded by Indri - these are black and not black-and-white - but here they are not habituated and can be very shy. In the forest are other birds that may have been elusive so far on the tour; Madagascar Yellowbrow, Gray-crowned Tetraka (Greenbul), Crossley’s Vanga (Babbler), and Madagascar Starling amongst a host of other residents.
Weather permitting we’ll have a night walk for nocturnal species such as Rainforest Scops Owl and Brown Mouse Lemur. Other night creatures include the diminutive Domergue’s Leaf and Nose-horned Chameleons, and the larger Short-horned, Band-bellied and Blue-legged Chameleons. Nights at Anjozorobe.
Day 18: We’ll bird the swampy basins and rainforest again this morning, looking for species we may have missed. In the afternoon we will depart for Tana, stopping along the way if opportunities present themselves. Night in Tana.
Day 19: The tour concludes this morning in Tana.
CAP MASOALA EXTENSION (for 2015)
Day 19: We’ll leave early for the airport and our morning flight to Maroantsetra in northeast Madagascar. Since we have to take a small boat from Maroantsetra to Cap Masoala, we’ll leave what we don’t require in storage in Tana. We’ll quickly depart from the docks and cross the Baie d’Antongil. If the tides are favorable we may see groups of Crab Plover shortly before we cross towards the unique but threatened Masoala National Park. If the winds aren’t favorable we’ll spend the night in Maroantsetra and leave early the next morning. Night in Cap Masoala.
Day 20 & 21: On arrival at our bush lodging we’ll have lunch and in the afternoon enter the forest for our first look. Many of the species we have seen at Perinet and Ranomafana are here as well and will be familiar to us. Species we’ll be looking for in the forest include Helmet Vanga, certainly the most bizarre-looking bird on the island; vaguely like a small hornbill but dressed in attractive black and tan. Its most spectacular feature is the enormous bill, impressive enough for its size but rendered unforgettable in fluorescent day-glow blue! Far rarer is the dowdy all-black Bernier’s Vanga, the barred female being more attractive. Two other very special species that are present here are Red Owl and Madagascar Serpent-Eagle. If the diligent researchers (seasonally resident on the Cap) have located territories, we may have a chance of seeing these two (but they are not found every year). The Scaly Ground-Roller, probably the most attractive of this endemic family, is not uncommon and can be absurdly indifferent in contrast with its behavior elsewhere. The colorful Red-breasted Coua is also quite numerous. We have two full days at this location and we’ll make a valiant attempt at finding many of these species.
One of the most impressive lemur species, the large Red-ruffed Lemur is only found here and hopefully during our stay we will encounter a family. The habitat here is lush, with heavy, regular rainfall. The herp fauna is impressive, and includes both the world’s smallest frog and the smallest lizard; a minute terrestrial chameleon. The spectacular butterflies and impressive plant life here are nearly all endemic. Nights in Cap Masoala.
Day 22: After a final early morning on Cap Masoala, we’ll again cross the Baie d’Antongil by boat for our return, but as the flight is not until mid-afternoon we will visit the island paradise of Nosy Mangabe. In this idyllic tropical lush setting we can appreciate the diverse reptile and frog fauna, have close encounters with lemurs, as well as birds. We will have a picnic lunch here, and afterwards complete the short crossing to Maroansetra to catch our flight back to Tana. Night in Tana.
Day 23: The tour extension concludes this morning in Tana.
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