Arizona Birding 2022

               Adam and I flew from Kansas City to Phoenix, arriving there about 7:30 p.m. on Sunday, June 19.  We rented a car, drove to Tucson to find the hotel recommended by our guide, Jake Thompson, arriving after 10:00 p.m.  He met us about 5:00 a.m. the next morning (Day 1, Monday, June 20) on the road to Mount Lemmon, not far from Tucson.  We birded along the way, with the main goal of finding (what for me would be North American life bird number 772), a Pine Flycatcher which has been hanging around in Rose Canyon.  I think this is just the 2nd time a Pine Flycatcher, usually found only in Mexico, has been seen north of Mexico.

               The drive to Rose Canyon included a stop in a parking area where we were treated to an excellent selection of western warblers: Painted Redstart, Grace’s, Olive, and this Red-faced Warbler:

               We had a long and difficult walk up the canyon, culminating in a steep upward climb to a pine stand from which Jake had heard the target bird, the Pine Flycatcher, calling, and where I, after much effort, was able to ID this most unusual and very difficult bird.  No decent picture was possible.  I survived the climb, (which was more of a crawl), up the mountain. About half way up I was ready to quit, until Jake said I would not have to descend on foot, because there was a road at the top where he would pick me up.  The time waiting at the top included a Spotted Towhee and a visit with a local resident looking for the Pine Flycatcher.  I hope my directions led her to the bird. 

               From the Tucson area Adam and I drove to Patagonia, planning to meet Jake for owling that night.  We arrived early afternoon and found our lodging, the rustic Spirit Tree Inn, a couple of miles out of town. The Spirit Tree Inn was developed on Harshaw Creek Road a few miles from Patagonia almost 100 years ago.  The current owners, Mary Jane and Tom, operate it without outside help.  No one was around when we arrived, so we waited and as we waited we saw many birds.  It was not long until someone came with a key to let us in.   Species for the whole day numbered about 45, including the owling, for which Jake arrived about 7:00 p.m.  In addition to those mentioned above, these included: Gambel’s Quail, Zone-tailed Hawk (Adam and Jake only), Cooper’s Hawk, Anna’s Hummingbird, Acorn Woodpecker, Hairy Woodpecker, Cordilleran, Vermilion, and Ash-throated Flycatchers, Warbling Vireo, Steller’s Jay, Common Raven, Violet-green Swallow, White-breasted, Red-breasted and Pygmy Nuthatches, House Wren, Hermit Thrush, American Robin, Phainopepla, Western Tanager (Adam and Jake only) , Canyon Towhee, Black-throated Sparrow, Yellow-eyed Junco, Black-headed Grosbeak, Pyrrhuloxia, Pine Siskin, Blue Grosbeak, Ladder-backed Woodpecker, Gila Woodpecker, White-winged Dove, Eurasian Collared Dove, Cardinal, Brown-headed and Bronzed Cowbirds, and Lesser Goldfinch.

               Others seen, I think all on Day 1, including a few that Adam and I saw at the Inn but later seen and photographed by Jake, are pictured below:

Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher

Blue Grosbeak

Varied Bunting

               Day 2, Tuesday, June 21, we were on the road at 4:30 a.m. to drive to Madera Canyon to meet Jake.  Tom fixed a hot take-along breakfast for us.  Later  we birded the foothills near Madera Canyon.  Birds seen today included: Gray , Red-tailed and Swainson’s Hawks, Mourning Dove, Common Ground Dove, White-throated Swift, Rivoli’s, (formerly Magnificent), Black-chinned and Broad-billed Hummingbirds, Black Phoebe, Say’s Phoebe, Ducky-capped, Cassin’s and Tropical Flycatchers, Bell’s Vireo, Mexican Jay, Barn Swallow, Bridled Titmouse, Verdin, Northern Mockingbird, Lucy’s and Yellow Warblers, Yellow-breasted Chat, Rufous-winged, Five Striped, and Song Sparrows, Great-tailed Grackle, Hooded Oriole, Berryline Hummingbird (Adam and I only), and House Sparrow.  In addition we saw and Jake photographed the following:

Elegant Trogon (in Madera Canyon)

Botteri’s Sparrow (in the foothills leaving Madera Canyon)

Canyon Wren (in Montasa Canyon southwest of Santa Rita Mountains)

Rose-throated Becard (near Patagonia) (my 2nd North American life bird of the trip, # 773)

Thick-billed Kingbird

Western Screech Owl

Violet-crowned Hummingbird

               Day 3, Wednesday June 22, we were again up at 4 and on the road by 4:30 with a hot take-along breakfast for our drive to Beatty’s Guest Ranch at Miller Canyon.  There we were treated to an excellent set up for hummingbirds, and a hike before heading for Ash Canyon Bird Sanctuary where we saw many birds including this:

Lucifer’s Hummingbird

               [As of Day 3 fatigue set in and my listing of the daily species seen faltered.  The rest of this Blog pretty much lumps Days 3, 4 and 5, June 22, 23 and 24, together.]  Some of the birds (and a couple of other creatures) seen during these Days 3, 4, and 5 follow:

Sonoran Mountain Kingsnake

Inca Dove

Curve-billed Thrasher

“Mexican” Duck (split from Mallards in 2020. The drake looks like a female Mallard)

Black-tailed Jackrabbit

Northern Beardless Tyrannulet

Scaled Quail

               A little history:  I went “of counsel” (semi-retired) at my law firm at the end of 1999, having attained the great old age of 65 at that time.  From then on I have indulged my life-long passion for birding.  My first organized trip was in 2000 to this same southeast Arizona.  I was then with guide Stuart Healy and 6 other participants.  This first trip was slightly earlier in the year, starting May 25 and ending June 4, and of a longer duration, a total of 10 days.  In addition to south-central and southeast Arizona, which was the focus of this trip in 2022, in 2000 I also birded the White Mountains.  On that first trip I saw a total of 185 species of which 93 were “new” for me. 

               Jake’s trip report shows 145 species seen during our trip, not bad at all, especially considering the shorter time frame and more restricted area covered.  I am pretty sure that I did not see at least 15 of the birds he lists well enough to consider them seen, so my personal total for this trip would be about 130.   Now, 22 years after trip # 1, only the Pine Flycatcher and Rose-throated Becard were new species for me.  I was not aware until later that the Mexican Mallard had been split in 2020, an easy addition to my life list.  This was Adam’s first professionally guided North American Birding Tour.  He added about 93 species to his life total.  Jake is an excellent guide and good companion and I highly recommend him for any Arizona custom birding tour. 

               Our trip concluded with a dinner with dear old friends, Bill and Francia Koehn on Friday night, June 24.  Bill is a friend from law school (1957-1958), the Navy (1958-1961), and we then practiced law together at Davis, Brown, Koehn, Shors and Roberts for over 50 years.  He retired soon after I did, and he and Francia moved west, ultimately settling in Arizona.  He and Francia joined us for dinner in Surprise, Arizona. It was a wonderful evening.  Francia was a professional music teacher, and my daughter, Adam’s wife Clarissa, was one of her vocal students in the church choir she trained. Small World After All. 

               I am looking forward to our next birding venture, but as of now, no plans.    


After Nome, we returned to Anchorage and caught the early plane the next morning (March 26) to Kodiak. 

Kodiak is the 2nd largest island of the United States, 2nd only to Hawaii’s Big Island.  Kodiak (the Island, not the town) is big, but its population is small, probably under 20,000, most of whom live in the town of Kodiak.  There are only 5 or 6 other towns (none of which has over 300 residents) on the island.  Over 90% of Kodiak Island is set aside as a preserve for the 3,500 or so Kodiak Brown Bears living there.  Kodiak Bears are contenders for the claim to be the biggest bear on earth, challenged only by Polar Bears for that distinction.  The only roads, totaling less than 100 miles on the whole island, basically connect the part of the very irregular coastline of the island with Kodiak Town.  At the south end about 40 miles from Kodiak town, is Pasagshak Bay, where my nephew Mike has a house

We had expected to meet up with Mike in Kodiak town the day after our arrival there, to spend the rest of our time on Kodiak with him. The weather was extremely uncooperative, with snow, wind and fog.  So much so that Mike was unable to make it  to Kodiak because of weather related cancellations.   With the help of messaging with Mike, and intrepid driving in adverse conditions by Adam we made it out to Pasagshak.  There we spent a most enjoyable 3 days.  Thank you Mike, but we would have preferred your company and are very sorry that you could not join us. 


The “settlement” (not a town)

Mike’s place

We enjoyed Mike’s largesse not only in our accommodations, but also his on-site frozen fish as the main dish for an exceptional dinner prepared by Chef Adam.  We chose salmon over halibut. 

The fireplace got good use and established a cheerful and cozy atmosphere. 

The view from the great room.

And Adam’s early morning beach walks (I abstained, not wanting to wear myself out) were — beautiful:

But back to our chronology. 

Our first stop for birding was near the water in or near the Town of Kodiak, where we just happened to coincide with another birder, Stacy Studebaker.  She was very helpful to our search for birds.  We later found out she is or has been the President of the Kodiak Audubon Society, as well as a published author, naturalist, radio talk show host, botanist, musician, artist, etc. A couple of her childrens’ books are available on Amazaon. 

The Unique Winter Birds of Kodiak

We saw many Bald Eagles hanging around the water in order to better indulge their taste in fish. 

Also present in big numbers were beautiful Emperor Geese, which were the main target of our birding on Kodiak.

These somewhat rare Steller’s Eiders were difficult to identify in the distant fog, but the photo shows them well:

And wrapping up our bird photo exhibit is this pair of Harlequin Ducks, which were present in good numbers but somewhat obscured by the heavy snow flakes:

Other birds seen but not pictured above (or in the case of Glaucous Winged Gulls, below) were Tundra Swans in flight, a busy Northern Shrike near Pasagshak, and Black Oyster Catchers. 

The Animals

We were there too early to see any Kodiak Bears.  But this Sitka Black Tailed Deer was one of several seen:

This Sea Otter cruising Pasagshak Bay is being trailed by a hungry Glaucous-winged Gull. We saw a couple of groups of 8 or 10 Sea Otters near Kodiak Town

Nome in March, 2022

I have a love affair with (not in) Alaska.  This trip marked the 8th time I have traveled there.   A couple of those trips were not for the birds, but were great fun nevertheless:  first, in 1998 a spring break on a 5-day dogsledding and northern lights adventure with Clarissa and Barbara in the Gates of the Arctic, near Bettles; and second, in 2002, on a grandparent/grandchild outing with Jill and Barbara in Sitka.     

This was my 5th trip to Nome, my favorite place in all Alaska.

1.  In 2003 (pre-blog) Alaska was among my first guided birding destinations after my retirement.  Nome was just a short stop on my flights from the Pribiloff Islands, through Anchorage, through Nome and on to St. Lawrence Island on June 1.  Or maybe it was the stop on June 6 on the way back from St. Lawrence Island, through Nome, to Anchorage, and on to Minneapolis and Des Moines.   Either way it was a short and unsatisfactory partial day between connecting flights, with a van ride with the other participants in this tour with High Lonesome.  Our target bird for this short stop was a Bluethroat, but we saw none.  I resolved to come back for a better experience and maybe a Bluethroat.  In 2004 I went to Alaska again with High Lonesome Tours, but this time only to Adak in the Aleutian Islands, with no stop in Nome.   

2.  Trip 2 to Nome was recorded in one of the first  posts on my blog,, on July 10, 2010.  On this ill-planned trip, I first connected with local guide Richard Benville of Nome who was most helpful.  See my Blog report. 

3.  Trip 3 was posted on my blog on June 10, 2014, again with Richard as my arranger.  Finally, I was there at the right time and saw several Bluethroats. 

4.  Trip 4 was posted on my blog on December 2, 2014.  The highlight:  McKay’s Buntings.  This was a guided trip with Aaron Long, of Wilderness Birding Adventures, following a more extended tour with Wilderness Birding, in winter, to Adak Island. 

5.  In 2022 with Covid Pandemic induced cabin fever, I talked son-in-law Adam into making a trip to Nome and Kodiak with me.   I contacted Aaron Lang of Wilderness Adventures to see if we could sign onto one of his guided tours to Nome and Kodiak in 2022, but they were full.  He recommended that I contact Carol Gales of RoamNome.  I did.  She did a great job developing and implementing a custom tour  around Nome for Adam and me, my trip 5 to Nome, reported more fully in the following paragraphs.  We arrived in Nome shortly before noon on Tuesday, March 22. 

Nome:  Nome was a boomtown in the late 1890s and early 1900s because gold was discovered there.  At its peak, about 30,000 would-be riches seekers showed up, with terrible conditions.  The population today is about 3,000.  Gold mining still continues, but on a much less productive basis. 

The Birds

Nome in March is still ice-bound and snow covered.  There are not a lot of bird species to be found at that time of year.  Here are some:

McKay’s Buntings and Snow Buntings.  McKay’s Buntings breed on isolated Saint Matthew Island which is generally not reachable by humans.  But in the winter the Buntings come to the continent and can be found very reliably in Nome.  They are closely related to the more widely spread Snow Buntings.  In the following pictures the McKay’s Buntings are the nearly all-white species; the Snow Buntings show more dark feathers on the back and wings. 

Willow Ptarmagin.  Toward the end of our stay in Nome, we ventured out on one of the 3 roads that spoke out from Nome.  We found a Canada Jay (unusual for that area).  But the most impressive sighting was the multitude of Willow Ptarmagin that were flocking to the road to stuff themselves with the gravel, which had until now been covered with hard ice.  We estimated the flock contained over 200 birds.   

Other Nome Birds.  Ravens were numerous and obvious.  A Canada Jay was seen along the road before we came upon the flock of Willow Ptarmagin.  A Boreal Chickadee was among the Black-capped Chickadees.  Not many species.      

Gyrfalcon (trained to hunt).  I had never seen an adult Gyrfalcon up close and personal, and I was lucky enough to hold this trained hunter on my arm, with plenty of glove between its claws and my skin.  

The Helicopter Ride and the animals and other sights therefrom.

Bering Air has been in business in Alaska with Nome as its headquarters for many years, with a great safety record. [I was a passenger on Bering Air from Nome to Saint Mathews Island and back in 2003].   Adam and I were lucky enough to draw Pablo as our pilot, and here is our Helicopter

Below, a gold mining dredge on (or in) ice for the winter. 

We saw 3 herds of Muskoxen for a total of about 70, from the Helicopter. 

We saw about 15 sets of Moose for a total of about 40 from the Helicopter.

The earth below

Nome Attractions.  The famous Iditerod dogsledding competition from Anchorage to Nome had ended shortly before we arrived.  Evidence of the party was still around.  Here is the Iditerod Finish Line in Nome just before it was taken down for the year. The race originated in the 1970s to commemorate the  delivery of diptheria vaccines to the stricken population of Nome around 1900.  The dogsleds were the only available means of delivery to the icebound town.  There are lots of interesting Documentaries relating to the rescue mission, and the winning lead dogs.

The Welcoming Committee

We enjoyed the old Polar Café for all of our tasty and ample breakfasts, and it was an easy walk on Front Street from our room at the Aurora Inn and Suites. 

The moon over adjacent Norton Sound

Some vehicles get stuck for a very long time. 

Historical buildings:  Carol’s House, the oldest building still standing, was a saloon.

The Carrie M. Mclain Memorial Museum was a nice surprise.

Dogsledding.  Unlike our trip to Gates of the Arctic in 2003, I was not up physically to driving my own team, so I was (finally) treated to a seated dogsled ride.  It was icy and bumpy, but I enjoyed it very much.  Here we are, ready to go:

Adam drove his own team. 

Snowshoeing.  Snowshoeing was a highlight for Adam, who ventured out twice with Carol, notwithstanding the icy conditions. 

Crabbing through the ice via Snowmobile.  Another experience that Adam enjoyed but I declined was a snowmobile trip on frozen Norton Sound to observe the harvesting of Alaskan King Crab by local natives. 

Here is Norton Sound in winter.

And here is the line to the crab pot, 60 feet below the ice. 

And the Pot.

And the Catch. 

And the return of the Pot to the bottom of the Sound. 

We flew back to Anchorage on Friday, March 25, spent the night there and the next morning we went to Kodiak.  That trip will be the subject of my next posting. 

Polar Bears – November 2021

This is the the Empty Nest Birder’s wife writing on his blog.  It’s been two years since the last post, so he asked me to write about a recent trip to Canada. 

When Don and Adam returned from their trip to Cuba in January, 2020, none of us had any idea that would be the end of our travels for such a long time.  They encouraged Clarissa and me to plan a trip together.  We jumped at the opportunity to go see polar bears and made arrangements to go to Canada in early November, 2020.  Well, that trip was cancelled due to Covid. 

Undaunted by circumstances, we signed up to go in November, 2021, after Canada opened its border.  To enter Canada, we had to provide proof of vaccination and a negative PCR test within 72 hours of entering the country.  Masks were required in all indoor public places, and vaccination cards were required in all places where food and/or drink were served.  We felt very safe and comfortable there. We left on November 3, a day before our tour was to begin.  The flights were on time, so we had the next day to explore Winnipeg, the capital of Manitoba.  We walked around the Legislative Building, but entry was not permissible for visitors.     

From there we walked to the Art Museum.  It’s impressive inside and outside. 

The Forks Historical area is the heart of the city at the intersection of the Red and Assiniboine  Rivers, with warehouses converted to shops and restaurants, plus ample green space dedicated to festivals, concerts, and exhibits.  It was a fun place to shop, eat, and people-watch. 

We ran out of time to see the Human Rights Museum, but the outside was unique.

In the evening we had a pleasant dinner and orientation.  We met the people with whom we would spend the next week.  Our initial sense was that these 14 people who would be joining us would be a good fit.  We were not disappointed and enjoyed the company of our fellow trip-mates.  I suppose there’s some natural selection since not everyone is interested in such a trip.  The U.S., Canada, France, and Switzerland were represented.

The next morning, November 5, we all flew to Churchill, on Hudson Bay, in northern Manitoba.  Churchill is known as the “Polar Bear Capital of the World”.  The traditional polar bear season encompasses the months of October and November as the temperatures drop and cold air blows.  During this time, the polar bears congregate on the coast in large numbers while waiting for Hudson Bay to freeze.  This allows them earlier passage onto the Bay where they will have a key advantage to feast on seals, their primary food source, until the spring.

We were then to fly on to Dymond Lake Lodge farther north along the Bay.  But the weather made it impossible to fly in the small plane. 

It was a real nightmare for our tour operators, Churchill Wild.  They had to scramble to find something for us to do for the rest of the day, as well as find restaurant space and overnight housing for all of us when everything was already booked. Churchill is a small town of about 900 residents and limited hotel space. We were hosted at the home of someone’s aunt, a 2-room B&B, etc. We had nice accommodations, plenty of food, and a great afternoon in the beautiful hoarfrost. They rounded up a tour bus and asked a retired employee to drive us around looking for wildlife.  Not only did we see our first polar bears, but we saw a very beautiful red fox.  It was the only one we ever saw.  

The next morning, November 6, we were off to the lodge. It was exciting to finally be on our way, and the flight in the small plane was perfect for viewing the area.

The lodge was all enclosed in fencing so we were safe walking around.  There were two buildings, each with 4 double bedrooms, a common area with seating and a fireplace, large windows for viewing, and an observation deck up above.  Between the buildings was the main lodge for dining.   

We met our three guides who went over the safety guidelines for our hikes across the tundra to view wildlife up close and personal in their natural habitat.  I had been taking my daily walk for the past several months in preparation for the trip.  I assumed I would be the oldest one of the group, but I was determined to not be the slowest. As we walked around the outside of the lodge fence, we saw our first polar bears.  A large older bear was lying down while a younger one was trying to get up the courage to come closer.  He would come a little closer, but then decided it might not be a good idea, and returned to the frozen lake.  We all watched in awe of the beautiful creatures. 

These animals are huge.  Male polar bears can grow to more than 1,300 lbs and stand 10 feet tall.  But despite their massive size, these bears can move with surprising speed. It was time for lunch, so we went back inside the fencing.  Who do you suppose was there outside the fence waiting for us?  Scarbrow.  The people at the lodge gave him that name due to the big scar on his eyebrow.  Evidently he had been in a fight with another polar bear at some time in the past.

After lunch we went back out for our first big hike.  We were officially in Nunavut, standing within the high tide mark.  This is only possible during low tide since Nunavut is the bay.   Nunavut is a massive, sparsely populated territory of northern Canada, forming most of the Canadian Arctic Archipelago.  Its islands have expanses of tundra, craggy mountains and remote villages, accessible only by plane or boat.  It was separated officially from the Northwest Territories in 1999.

We saw a snowy owl a long distance away from us.  It was the only one we saw on the trip. 

We saw bears 

and their big tracks in the snow. 

Back to the lodge for social hour and an interesting presentation by one of the guides.  Dinner and off to bed. Everything at the lodge was done to make our trip comfortable and memorable, even the pancakes for the breakfast on November 7. 

This morning we were surrounded by a coating of fresh snow, more than was usual for the area.

We saw a couple polar bears.  We spied this one who was spying on us. 

When we returned for lunch, this one walked all the way across the lake to pay us a visit. 

And then there was the polar bear who is missing a foot.

Evergreens have no branches on one side due to the high winds.   

A polar bear overlooking Dymond Lake.

Another full day of watching the polar bears.  Tonight there’s a quiz over the information the guides gave us last night.  Clarissa was the only one who got a perfect score.

There are always 3 guides.  Two look ahead for bears while one looks back so as to not be surprised from behind. 

It’s a good thing because the one missing a foot showed up on our morning outing on November 8.  He was not backing down.  Two of the guides hollered at him, threw rocks near him, and finally had to shoot off a screamer to scare him.  I wouldn’t say he was exactly scared, but he slowly turned around and walked away.  It was pretty tense for a while, but our guides handled the situation well.

And now it’s time to leave the lodge and our guides and fly back to Churchill.  What a great experience.  

We had some free time before dinner.  We visited the Polar Bear International house and found a little souvenir shop near our hotel.

Today, November 9, we’re in for a different experience.  We’re treated to a safari in a Tundra Buggy. 

The polar bears are quite curious and are not afraid to come close to the vehicle. 

We saw several polar bears throughout the day, but the highlight was watching them spar.  

This poor little guy was born in the spring and lost his mother.  He will likely not survive unless he is adopted by another mother to show him how to go out on the ice for the winter to hunt and eat.   

And we finally got a closer look at some ptarmigan.  We had seen them before, but a long way off in the distance.  They certainly blend in with the background.

We flew back to Winnipeg for a late dinner at our hotel conveniently located right across the street from the airport.  The group chose to eat together one last time to share stories and email addresses. 

What an amazing experience!  And it was extra special sharing it with Clarissa.  

Cuba Birding January 2020

I signed on with Caribbean Conservation Trust for a 10-day bird survey in Cuba, followed by a day in historic Havana.  My son-in-law Adam and I joined 7 other survey participants on the Southwest flight from Fort Lauderdale to Havana on January 9th.  Our itinerary covered central and western Cuba where we found most of the possible endemic species.  Our objective was to enhance the scientific information relating to the numbers and distribution of birds in Cuba in order to facilitate their survival in an increasingly problematic environment.

My personal and specific objective was to see one of the two species of the Endemic Cuban Warbler Family: either a Yellow-headed Warbler or an Oriente Warbler.  We succeeded in finding both. 

As a secondary objective, I also hoped to see the smallest bird in the world.  That was achieved when we were able to observe this Bee Hummingbird at the feeders at a private home.

Well, now that I started with the punch lines, I will write in a little more detail about Cuba and the tour. 

Cuba is our closest neighbor in the Caribbean.  It lies within 100 miles of Florida.  The flight from Fort Lauderdale to Havana is less than an hour.  American and Southwest airlines, and probably others, fly between Fort Lauderdale and Havana on a regular basis.  Notwithstanding the Trump administration “restrictions” it is still legal (and not especially difficult) for United States citizens to visit Cuba.  But because of the (intended) fear and uncertainty created by the “new” restrictions and sanctions, visitors from the U.S. are currently many fewer than they have been in recent years, causing considerable privation among the Cuban entrepreneurs and workers who have developed and depended on tourism for their livelihoods.  U.S. fear and sanctions are hurting Cubans.  And now, the Corona Virus.

Cuba is a little over 700 miles long and about 120 miles wide at its widest point.  It is the largest island in the Caribbean.   It has about 11,000,000 inhabitants.  The second largest Caribbean island is Hispaniola, which is divided between Haiti and Dominican Republic, each with about 11,000,000 inhabitants.  These 3 countries account for 75% of the population of the Caribbean.  There are many other islands in the Cariibbean, some independent and some owned by other countries.  The ones with over 1,000,000 inhabitants are Jamaica with 3,000,000, Puerto Rico (a U.S. possession) 3,000,000, and Trinidad and Tobago, 1,500,000.  Some of the independent countries are surprisingly small and sparsely populated. All in all, there are over 700 islands, and 11 independent countries.   

While there, a Cuban summarized the accomplishments of the Cuban Socialist Revolution since 1959 as follows:  excellent education system, excellent medical system, excellent sports events and participation; but not much to eat for breakfast, lunch or dinner. Food is rationed.  Here is a “store” where people go to get their basic foods on a weekly basis.

For car afficionados, it is a mecca for observing vintage autos, often brightly painted, which are on display everywhere, and used as every-day operating vehicles. 

We spent a lot of time driving through the countryside.  The land is beautiful, with low lying mountains, valleys and green pastures dotted with trees.  There is much pastureland.  There are cattle, horses, pigs, chickens and goats.  There are fields of sugar cane, tobacco, bananas, tomatoes, and other fruits and vegetables.

The history of Cuba is fascinating.  One of the most interesting books I read before my trip is Havana Nocturne, which well and entertainingly describes the situation in Cuba as it existed and changed in the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s, up to the ouster of the Batista government by the Castro led Socialist Revolution on January 1, 1959.  I recommend it as necessary background for understanding present-day Cuba and the relationship between Cuba and the United States. 

We were surprised that we did not need malaria pills for this trip.  Malaria has long been extinguished on this island.  We felt very safe wherever we went, in the country-side or in the cities. 

We arrived in Havana on the 9th and drove directly to Vinales, to the west.  We arrived too late to do any birding, and stayed there for nights 1 and 2 with night 2 following our Day 1 of actual birding.  This area produced for me Yellow-headed Warblers, fulfilling my primary objective of the trip, as one of the 2 species in the endemic Cuban Warbler family. We also had a brief in-flight view of Gundlach’s Hawk.

Also seen in the area (or on the drive to the Zapata area) were the endemic Cuban Blackbird and the following West Indian Endemics residing in Cuba, or Cuban subspecies:  Great Lizard Cuckoo, Antillean Palm Swift, Cuban Emerald, West Indian Woodpecker, Stygian Owl, American Kestrels, Cuban Peewee, Loggerhead Kingbirds, Red-legged Thrush, Cuban Bullfinches, Western Spindalis, Tawny-shouldered Blackbirds, Eastern Meadowlark (hypocreppis), and Greater Antillean Grackles. 

Here is the Stygian Owl, one of a pair seen.

From Vinales we went east to the south coast town of Playa Larga for nights 3 and 4.  I was unable to participate in Day 3 of Birding because I became ill during the preceding night, suspicious of food poisoning, and missed the day.  Adam was able to get a picture of Blue-Headed Quail Doves.

The rest of the group also saw several Endemic Species most of which I was able to see before or after that day, except for the Blue-headed Quail Dove and the Gray-fronted Quail Dove (which our guide Nils does not believe is deserving of species status separate from the Hispaniolan Gray-headed Quail Dove, which I have seen there). 

A boat tour of the Zapata Swamp on Birding Day 4 was a highlight the trip, with Zapata Wrens and Zapata Sparrows showing well; but, like everyone else, we did not see the Zapata Rail.

 I also saw the following Endemics on Day 4:  Bare-legged Owl, Greater Antillean (Cuban) Nightjar, Bee Hummingbird, Cuban Green Woodpecker, Cuban Parakeet, and Cuban Oriole.

Day 5 was spent on the road north across to the northern coast, to Cayo Coco (“Key” Coco).  The ride was long.  It terminated with a drive across a 35-mile causeway built on the shallow seabed between the coast of Cuba and the northern keys.  There we lived in luxury for 2 nights at a plush tourist hotel with lots of international guests.  A big pool, all-inclusive meals and drinks, a room above the water, evening live music, and other amenities enhanced the birding experience. 

The most notable new Endemics added to my personal count during our stay at Cayo Coco or on the drive back to Havana via Sancta Spiritus (where we spent the night), Trinidad and Cienfuegos were:  Cuban Black Hawk, Cuban Tody, Cuban Gnatcatcher, and Oriente Warbler, the second species of the new Cuban Warbler family.

In Havana we stayed at a unique, small hotel (about 10 rooms) converted by German investors from an Oldtown residence to a hotel.  It was ideal as a base for our day-tour of Havana.  Among the highlights of the day tour were these.

Several of our group in front of the Fidel Castro mural on an administrative building in Revolution Square

Also at Revolution Square is the Jose Marti Memorial, at 358 feet in height, the largest memorial in the world in honor of a writer.  Long planned, and much delayed, it was finished in 1958 in the final days of the Batista regime. Governments of Cuba whether pre-revolution or post-revolution, deem it important to honor Marti.  From Encyclopedia Britannica:

“Jose Marti, born January 28, 1853, Havana, Cuba—died May 19, 1895, Dos Rios.  Poet and essayist, patriot and martyr, who became a symbol of Cuba’s struggle for independence from Spain.  His dedication to the goal of Cuban freedom made his name a synonym for liberty throughout Latin America.  As a patriot, Marti organized and unified the movement for Cuban independence and died on the battlefield fighting for it.  As a writer he was distinguished for his personal prose and deceptively simple, sincere verse on themes of a free and united America.”

Jose Marti Memorial, Adam in foreground

The fight for independence from Spain began in the 1870s and ended in 1898 when the United States, after the sinking of the Maine in Havana Harbor, went to war with Spain and drove it from Cuba.

The 29 new species I saw in Cuba brings to 3,825 my total species seen.  Adding the Cuban Warblers to my family list brings it to 223 out of 248. That leaves only the Sapayoa as my single Western Hemisphere unseen family. When the Corona Virus is conquered, I may still see the Sapayoa in Ecuador or Panama.

Madagascar Part 5 – The Lemurs, Chameleons, etc.


The trip to Madagascar offered an opportunity to see lemurs, found nowhere else in the world.  There are 3 orders of mammals found only on Madagascar: lemurs, tenrecs and Malagasy carnivores.  We saw a Tenrec, as earlier reported, but none of the Malagasy carnivores.  As for Lemurs, the Island lived up to its reputation.  From the Behrens and Barnes invaluable guide, “Wildlife of Madagascar”:

“Lemurs: A massive radiation of primates that is endemic to the island.  There are five living families, plus a further three that have become extinct.” “Lemurs are Madagascar’s most celebrated biological treasure. Fifteen percent of the world’s primate species and subspecies, 20% of its primate genera and one-third of its primate families, are endemic to the island.  Lemurs form one of the most prominent voices in the Malagasy forest.  Most species are vocal and produce many different calls.”   

The five different families of lemurs are Mouse, Sportive, True, Indri and Aye-aye.

Mouse Lemurs (Cheirogaleidae Family).  18 species, 9 to 12 inches long.  Behrens and Barnes: “These tiny nocturnal lemurs include the smallest living primate in the world: Madame Berthe’s Mouse Lemur. . . . They closely resemble the galagos, or “bushbabies” of Africa.  Modern taxonomy has seen the number of recognized species increase dramatically from two to 18, and more species may yet be described. Although mouse lemurs are occasionally found sleeping during the day (resembling tiny fur balls), most sightings are during the night, usually in the form of a pair of eyes bounding about the forest at remarkable speed. There is some variation in size and colour (from gray to rufous), but all mouse lemurs look very similar, especially with a typical night walk view.  According to current information, most can be identified simply by where you are, so refer to the locality and species table on this page.”

 Grey-brown Mouse Lemur

Dwarf Lemurs (also in the Cheirogaleidae, or Mouse, family).  7 species, 16 to 22 inches long.  Behrens and Barnes: “Dwarf lemurs are small nocturnal lemurs in the same family as mouse lemurs.  They are remarkable as the only primates known to go into a hibernation-like torpor during the dry season (approximately May to December), during which they live off the reserves of fat stored in their tails. . . . There seems to be little overlap in range of most species so tentative identifications can be based on the location of a sighting.  Refer to the locality and species table on this page.”

Based on my prior understanding that finding any mouse lemurs (including dwarf lemurs) would be difficult, I was hoping we would see at least one species from this big family of small, nocturnal lemurs.  We found 3:  Grey-brown Mouse Lemurs at Ifaty, and Goodman’s Mouse Lemurs and Crossley’s Dwarf Lemur at Andasibe.

2.  Sportive Lemurs (Lepilemuridae).  26 species, 17 to 25 inches long.  From Behrens and Barnes: “Sportive lemurs are classified as an entirely separate family.  They are rather chunky, with big eyes and ears, and have a vertical posture.  These nocturnal lemurs are often seen during the day, roosting in tree cavities or dense tangles.  At night, they move about with impressive leaps while retaining their vertical posture.  This is another group, like the mouse lemurs, where the number of recognized species (currently 26) has increased dramatically in recent years, and new species may yet be described.  These species look very similar, especially at night, but show some variation in size, color, prominence of the ears, and other traits.  However, it is unusual for two species to coexist, and so most can be identified by location  (see table below).”

As with the Mouse Lemurs, I thought we would need luck to see any Sportive Lemurs.  But, we saw 2 species:  Petter’s Sportive Lemur (White Footed?) at Ifaty, and Zombitse Sportive Lemur at Zombitse

3. “True Lemurs” (Lemuridae).  This family includes several larger lemurs, generally thought of as separate groups, (a “genus”) including Bamboo Lemurs, Ring-tailed Lemurs, Brown Lemurs and Ruffed Lemurs. Most True Lemurs are active in daylight, unlike the Mouse or Sportive Lemurs.  Except for the Ring-tailed Lemurs which we saw at Isalo, all of our sightings of this family were in the Andasibe area.

A.  Bamboo Lemurs.  Bamboo lemurs are active during the day.  They can be up to almost 3 feet long, tip of tail to tip of nose.  We found Eastern Grey Bamboo Lemurs at Andasibe.B

Another species of Bamboo Lemur, the Golden Bamboo Lemur, is critically endangered.  It exists only in Ranomafana National Park, which itself exists in large part because of the discovery of this species there in 1985.  We chose not to visit Ranomafana due to its remoteness, difficult topography and our time constraints for the trip.  

B. Ring-tailed Lemurs.  We included Isalo in our itinerary primarily because Ring-tailed Lemurs can often be seen there.  The 3 to 3.5 foot long Ring-tail is probably the most distinctive and well-known lemur in Madagascar, although the Indri, discussed later, certainly gives it a run for the money.  We were fortunate to find a very active group near the campground at Isalo.  Their expressive faces, athleticism and long tails make for a good show.     

C.  Brown Lemurs. From Behrens and Barnes: “Brown lemurs are a large genus (Eulemur) within the ‘true lemur’ family, and include some of the lemur species most frequently seen by visitors.  There are 12 species . . . . Brown lemurs are medium-sized [3 feet long], vocal, and generally found in groups.  They are generally diurnal.”  We saw them at Andasibe.I

D.  Ruffed Lemurs.  We saw just one Black and White Ruffed Lemur at Mantadia National Park, north of Andasibe, toward the end of our trip.  It is generally found high in the trees, and that was the case for us.  It appeared to be eating the flowers.  

4.  The Indriidae Family.  Like the True Lemurs, this family is normally active in daylight hours.  The Family includes Wooly lemurs, Sifakas (both Verreaux’s and Diademed), and the wonderful (and, if from a distance, haunting) voice of the forest, the Indris. All of them are large, colorful, athletic and charismatic. They gave us many hours of pleasure, and a few shocks as one or more Indri would suddenly emit from overhead an incredibly loud and surprising scream.  

Our first encounter with any of Indri family was with the Verreaux’s Sifakas in the southwest.I

At Andasibe, we were treated to several sightings of Wooly Lemurs,

And Diademed Sifakas,

The stars of the Lemur Show at Andasibe were undoubtedly the Indri. They were vocal and loud, beautiful and impressive with their leaps through the trees.  They could be heard every morning from our hotel.  The locals call them the Voice of the Forest.  Truly, never to be forgotten voices, deafening at close range, haunting from a distance.  

5.  The Aye-aye.  As for the 5th Lemur family, the monotypic Aye-aye, we did not expect to see any because it is rare and restricted to areas we did not visit.  Nevertheless, to complete the Lemur discussion, we quote a summary from Behrens and Barnes: “This remarkable creature is one of the world’s most bizarre animals.  Its strangest features are its perpetually growing incisor teeth and its thin, elongated middle fingers, which are used to extract larvae from dead wood.  Although it was sometimes considered to be a rodent in the past, recent genetic studies have placed it firmly in the lemurs.  It forms its own family (one of Madagascar’s five lemur families).”

We were able to identify 13 species of Lemur, at least one species within each of the 4 Lemur Families that were possible to find in the areas we explored.  The most surprising sightings were of the 3 normally nocturnal Mouse Lemur species and the 2 Sportive Lemur species, better than the previously hoped for 1 of each family. 


This Oustalet’s Chameleon showed up outside our hotel on our first morning in Tana.

The Andasibe area added several Chameleons to our collection.

Short-horned Chameleon

Big Nose Chameleon

And the near threatened Parson’s (Giant) Chameleon.


We saw 7 species of Gecko.  One of the prettiest is this Lined Day Gecko

Gold-spotted Skink

Three-eyed Lizard

Spider Tortoise

Frogs were small but colorful.  Here are several:

Marbled Rain Frog

Baron’s Mantella (Painted Frog)


Notable at Andasibe were the large numbers of various species of Butterflies.

Green Ladies in with hundreds of white butterflies

Cream-lined Swallowtail

And these denizens of the insect (or spider) worlds:

Kung Fu Cricket (seen at Ifaty)

Grant’s Millipede

And the weirdest of all, this Giraffe-necked Weevil

Madagascar Part 4, Birds of Andasibe- November 26 to December 1

We flew from Tulear to Tana on November 26.  There our party was divided for the remainder of the trip because of the need for smaller, four-wheel drive vehicles in the Andasibe/Mantadia area.  It took nearly 2 hours to get out of Tana because of the heavy traffic. The road was narrow and full of pot-holes.   It was slow-going most of the time and perilously fast the rest of the time, with heavy truck traffic both ways all the time.  We arrived at the Andasibe Hotel long after dark; we would spend the next 4 nights there. 

Within the Andasibe area are Andasibe National Park, Mantadia National Park and smaller preserves.  We spent most of our time near Andasibe, but on the 3rd day we drove the road to Mantadia.  We certainly needed the 4-wheel drives for that trip, which was not far, but very rough and wet. 

Over the course of several days we enjoyed 3 sightings of the odd Madagascar (Crested) Ibis:

And, finally, a stunning closeup view of a Cuckoo-roller, one of the regional endemics of Madagascar previously seen in good numbers, but not as close as this one.

Madagascar Pygmy Kingfishers were found at several locations.

Our Vanga sightings improved with first sightings of Nuthatch Vangas, more Chapert’s Vangas  and a better look at a Blue Vanga.

This White-headed Vanga stayed high in the trees.

White-throated Oxylabes (of the Malagasy Warbler family) on the nest held still for our photographers. 

Nelicourvi Weavers showed up every day.

Purple Rollers were foraging above a small pond.

One late afternoon we were able to see a Collared Nightjar.

I used to focus on species in my birding outings, of which there are over 10,000 world-wide.  In the past several years, however, I have been trying to see as many of the bird families as possible.  Currently there are 248 families, up from about 200 a few years ago.  Genetic analysis has resulted in this remarkable increase.   I started thinking about going to Madagascar a year or so ago because it would be possible to add 7 new bird families to my then life-time total of 216: Mesites (endemic to Madagascar), Flufftails (widespread in Africa), Crab Plovers (widespread in the Africa-Asia coastal areas), Cuckoo Rollers (endemic in the Madagascar region), Ground Rollers (endemic to Madgascar), Asities (endemic to Madagascar) and Malagasy Warblers (endemic to Madagascar).  I was able to see 6 of the 7, but although our guide had fleeting glimpses of a couple of Asities, I did not.  And so I was able to add 6 families to my count to bring to 222 the number of families of birds that I have seen.  As for species, I added 83 new species to my world list, to bring the total to 3,796.  Couas are members of the world-wide Cuckoo family, and Vangas have some newly assigned family members in other parts of the world, but both the Couas and the Vangas on Madagascar are particularly colorful and interesting.   

My final Madagascar installment (Part 5) will feature Lemurs, Chameleons and other creatures unique to Madagascar.

Madagascar – Part 3 – November 23, 24 and 25

On November 23 we took the long drive from Tulear to Zombitze and Isalo.

These destinations were included in our itinerary primarily for the opportunity to see Ring-tailed Lemurs at Isalo.  We were not disappointed.

We stopped for a roadside brunch along the way.  The stop was productive of plenty of birds winging their way through the open valley and brushland bordering the road.  Included were Madagascar Sandgrouse, Hammerkops, and Grey-headed Lovebirds.  On to Zombitse where Cuckoo-rollers (my 5th new family of the trip) were numerous and vocal as they flew calling over the forest. [A later close-up view with picture came at Andasibe, for a later installment]. At Zombitze we found Giant Couas


We were lucky at Zombitse to get good close-up views of a pair of rare and range-restricted Appert’s Tetrakas (of the endemic Malagasy Warbler Family).

Zombitse produced a surprising daytime view of our second Sportive Lemur, the Zombitse Sportive Lemur


And our first encounter with a group of Verreaux’s Sifakas.


Both Greater and Lesser Vasas (parrots) were present, as were Archbold’s and Common Newtonias (Vanga Family), and Blue Vangas.  A Hook-billed Vanga had a nest nearby.



Another Zombitse find was this Madagascar Paradise-Flycatcher, one of several seen at various stops on the tour.Madagascar-Flycatcher

From Zombitse it was a short drive to our very impressive Hotel Relais de la Reine at Isalo


From the Hotel we took an evening walk, which Barbara and I cut short as the rest of the group walked on, so I could rest.  We climbed up some nearby rocks overlooking a grassy bowl.  There we sat on the ridge surrounding the bowl for a long time as the sun set


and a pair of Helmeted Guineas furtively lurked through the valley of tall grasses.

The 24th found us at Isalo National Park where we hoped to find Ring-tailed Lemurs.  And we did, as they gamboled about in the trees by the campground for a long time.



A long walk further into the park produced nothing of interest and we returned to the campground where we were fortunate to see again the acrobatics of the Ring-tailed Lemurs as they prepared to depart from the campground area.   I also saw the Park’s lone surviving Verreaux’s Sifaka as she danced her magical side-step down the path to join the retiring Ring-tailed Lemurs.  Her family was wiped out a few years ago in an out-of-control burn of nearby pasture lands that spread to the forest.

Here we also saw this Madagascar Tree Boa.


None of the snakes on Madagascar are poisonous.  Others seen on the trip were Cat-eyed, Speckled Hognose, Striped Garter and Mahafaly Sand Snakes.

On the 25th we returned to Tulear, with the drive occupying most of the day.  Along the way we saw panning for jewels in the muddy rivers, (recent discoveries of various precious and other gemstones has led to a “gem rush” in various areas in Madagascar).

We saw clothes being washed in muddy rivers and dried on the banks.


We saw numerous burial sites.


We stopped at a small Mahafaly Village


where we were welcomed and invited into a resident’s typical, modest, one-room, dirt-floored home.


Cooking of the evening meals on outdoor charcoal pits was in process. 


Water is imported from miles away with trucks coming through the villages on a weekly basis.


On returning to Tulear, we visited the  market


and returned to the Hotel Moringa for a restful night before our flight back to Tana, followed by a long, slow, dangerous drive from Tana to Andasibe where we would spend the rest of our tour in and around the Andasibe and  Mandatia National Parks and the Perinet Preserve.

Stay tuned for Part 4, the Birds and Lemurs of the Andisibe area.


Madagascar —– Part 2 — November 20, 21 and 22

The spiny forest produced the top bird of the day, (November 20), maybe of the trip, a Subdesert Mesite, one of the species comprising my 3rd new family recorded in Madagascar.



This Running Coua was another highlight of the Spiny Forest.


A shallow water area, the Ifaty wetlands, held numbers of plovers, sandpipers, herons and egrets.  Efforts to find the Endemic Humblot’s Heron were unsuccessful.  Madagascar Bee-eaters were common.


Here we also saw the endemic Madagascar Plover.


Cisticolas, including Jerys were regular during the day.

On November 21 we drove by another wetland on our way to the La Table dry bush area.

Verreaux’s Couas showed well at La Table.


La Table also produced stunning views of a pair of Red-shouldered Vangas, a bird found only in a small area of southwest Madagascar.


[Side note:  Our guide told us that a Red-shouldered Vanga was the last bird seen by Phoebe Snetzinger.  In about 1980 at the age of 50, Phoebe, a resident of the Illinois/St. Louis area, was diagnosed with terminal skin cancer.  She decided then to make use of her remaining days by becoming a serious birder.  Her cancer went into remission several times in the next 20 years, and in the meantime she became the top birder in the (mostly male birders) world, documenting her sightings of over 8,000 of the then recognized 8,500 species.   In 1999, twenty years almost to the day prior to our visit to La Table, Phoebe was killed there when the van in which she was riding overturned soon after finding the Red-shouldered Vanga.]

At La Table we also saw our first of a number of Crested Drongos.



We made a late afternoon stop at the Botanical Garden

There we found a pair of cooperative Red (Green)-capped Couas.



Also at the Botanical Garden was an apparently nesting Madagascar Nightjar.



On the 22nd we made the boat trip to Nosy Ve, a small island off the southwest coast of Madagascar, in the hope of finding Crab Plovers.  Crab Plovers are not restricted to Madagascar, but in my prior travels I had never seen any. This was to be my best chance of adding this single species family to my life list.    Boarding the boat required first an ox cart ride from shore to boat.


The day was perfect for an excursion into the Mozambique Channel, with light clouds, light winds and moderate temperatures.  We were extremely fortunate to find 17 Crab Plovers (my 4th new target family in Madagascar) at the end of our trip, on the sand spit called Nosy Ve.  Nosy Ve is not to be confused with Nosy Be at the far more popular destination for beach lovers on the northwest corner of Madagascar.  Here are a couple of the Crab Plovers, sometimes found on Nosy Ve.



Nosy Ve also hosts large numbers of Red-tailed Tropic Birds raising their chicks, and here is one of them.



The return boat trip took us past spectacular cliffs where we finally spotted a rare Humblot’s Heron, silhouetted on a cliff by the sea.

On then to Anakao for lunch and the regular Littoral Rock Thrush.  Near the café we were lucky to find at close range a pair of cute little Gray-Brown Mouse Lemurs in full daylight.



Part 3 of my Madagascar blog will cover November 23, 24 and 25, including the long drives from Tulear to Zombitse and back, the wonderful Ring-tailed Lemur experience at Isalo National Park, and an unexpected visit to a small Mahafaly village along the way back to Tulear.


Madagascar — Part 1 — November 18-19, 2019


4th largest island, after Greenland, New Guinea and Borneo

250 miles east of southern Africa, across the Mozambique Channel

Broke away from Gondwana 150,000,000 years ago

First humans arrived 2000 years ago. Closer to Africa, nevertheless the first arrivals        were Indonesian

Population about 25,000,000, 18 tribes, mixes of Indonesian and African

“Tribe” is an accepted term, and inter-tribal violence continues in rural areas

Over 50% cannot read or write

Life expectancy is about 60

Average daily income:  $2.00

Gained independence from France in 1960, after 65 years of French control

Over 50% are ancestor worshipers; 20% Protestant, 20% Catholic, 7% Muslim

Agriculture (cattle, rice, etc.) and fishing dominate; mining coming on

Politics is volatile, but so far elections have been mostly respected.

Governmental corruption is spoken of as a way of life.  We experienced none.


Barbara and I and daughter, Nora and son-in-law, Dave, hired Tropical Birding to guide us on a tour of Madagascar between November 17 and December 2, 2019.  Two of the principals of Tropical Birding, Ken Behrens and Keith Barnes authored a book entitled “Wildlife of Madagascar”, published in 2016.  It proved to be a valuable resource.  The book covers many of Madagascar’s mammals, birds, reptiles, frogs, invertebrates and distinctive plants, focusing on those that visitors are most likely to encounter.

The mammals include Lemurs, (we saw 13 species) Carnivores, (none seen) Bats, (1 species seen) Tenrecs, (1 species seen) Rodents (1 species seen) and Marine Mammals (none seen)

The following is quoted from the Behrens and Barnes “Wildlife of Madagascar”:

“A brief introduction to Madagascar.  Madagascar is so different from the rest of the world that it is sometimes called ‘The Eighth Continent’.  Not only does it have the high level of endemism (species not found elsewhere) that is typical of an island, but it also boasts remarkable diversity, which for some groups approaches that more typical of a whole continent.  Madagascar is the land of lemurs, a radiation of our own primate order that evolved into exhilarating diversity on this island.  These endearing creatures are the ambassadors for Malagasy nature; many people who have no idea where this island is located immediately recognize the Ring-tailed Lemur.  Madagascar is also a land of fabulous birds, ancient reptile lineages, and six of the world’s nine species of baobabs.  All naturalists find Madagascar fascinating as a treasure-trove of biodiversity and a ‘laboratory of evolution’, much like the Galapagos but on a grander scale.  And for travelling naturalists, Madagascar is a ‘must-visit’ place.  Although Madagascar has long been known for birds and mammals, its reptiles, amphibians, insects and plants are just as unique.”

We arrived in Antananarivo, (“Tana”) Madagascar on Air France from Paris at 11:35 p.m. on November 17, 2019.  (We had traveled from Iowa to Paris the day before and stayed overnight near the Charles De Gaulle airport.)  We were joined at the Tana airport by our Tropical Birding guide, Emma, and a driver.  It was very late but after a short, bumpy and dark drive, we were received at our Hotel, Au Bois Vert, and comfortably accommodated for what remained of the night.

November 18:  After a late breakfast we birded around the pleasant garden and grounds of the Hotel Bois Vert.  The Red Fodies were plentiful, along with 8 other common Madagascar city dwelling birds, most endemic to Madagascar.


The find of the morning, however, was a handsome specimen of Oustalet’s Chameleon, just a few feet from our front doors.


The afternoon was occupied by a short trip to Lake Alarobia in the heart of Tana’s industrial area.  This Lake is home to the endemic and threatened Meller’s Duck (2 shown below with a White-faced Whistling Duck).


A Madagascar Pond Heron with its bright blue bill was displaying across the water.


This Malagasy Kingfisher was lovely in its dark blue coat.  (photo by Dave)


Our second night at Bois Vert included a delicious dinner and a restful sleep (except for the music emanating late into the morning from a nearby Saturday night revelry) after which we flew to Tulear in southwest Madagascar, for a few days of birding and lemuring in or near the Spiny Forest.

Here with the expert help of Fosa and his crew, we encountered my first species of a new bird family in Madagascar, a Long-tailed Ground-Roller.


Other notable finds were Madagascar Turtle-Doves, Namaqua Doves, Madagascar Coucals, Madagascar Cuckoo, Madagascar Nightjar, some shorebirds, Madagascar Sparrowhawk, Madagascar Hoopoe, and my second new family member (from the Malagasy Warbler Family), a Thamnornis.  Also, Madagascar Bulbuls, Magpie-Robins, and Wagtails.  The colonial nesting Sakalava Weavers were actively engaged in nesting at the entrance to Fosa’s private reserve.sakalava-weavers

And our first Vanga, this Chabert Vanga at the top of an Octopus Tree.


On our night walk, here we also found our first lemurs:  a Gray-brown Mouse Lemur from the numerous Mouse Lemur Family:


One of the highlights of our night walk was this cute, but prickly, Lesser Hedgehog Tenrec:


We also found this Torotoroka Scops-Owl.


No report of a visit to the Spiny Forest would be complete without mention and pictures of the famous Baobab Trees and Octopus Trees.


The town of Tulear  was an attraction in and of itself, partly because of the numerous rickshaws crowding the already pedestrian crowded streets, and the local folks who use them for transportation when walking becomes too tiring.  Fortunately, the terrain of the city is very flat.  The rickshaws vastly outnumbered other modes of transportation and we were told that many of the young men operators were from the southernmost area of Madagascar and that they come to Tulear in the tourist season to make a little money before returning to their homes.  (photo by Dave)


Part 2 of my Blog will report more of our tour of Ifaty, as well as La Table and our boat trip to Nosy Ve (November 20, 21 and 22).