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.

subdesert-mesite

 

This Running Coua was another highlight of the Spiny Forest.

running-coua

 

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.

madagascar-bee-eater

 

Here we also saw the endemic Madagascar Plover.

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.

verreauxs-coua

 

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

red-shouldered-vanga

[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.

crested-drongo

 

We made a late afternoon stop at the Botanical Garden

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

red-green-capped-coua

 

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

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.

ox-cart-ride

 

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

crab-plovers

 

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

red-tailed-tropic-bird-chick

 

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.

gray-brown-mouse-lemur-day

 

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

Madagascar

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.

red-fody

 

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

oustalets-chameleon

 

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).

mellers-duck

 

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

madagascar-pond-heron

 

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

malagasy-kingfisher

 

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.

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.

chabert-vanga

 

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

gray-brown-mouse-lemur

 

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

lesser-hedgehog-tenrec

 

We also found this Torotoroka Scops-Owl.

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.

img_20191119_175009

 

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)

rickshaws

 

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).