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:

madagascar-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.

madagascar-pygmy-kingfisher

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-headed-vanga

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

white-throated-oxylabes

Nelicourvi Weavers showed up every day.

nelicourvi-weaver

Purple Rollers were foraging above a small pond.

purple-roller

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

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

giant-coua

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

sportif-lemur

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

verreaux-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.

hook-billed-vanga hook-billed-vanga-nest

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.  

hotel-relais

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.

isalo-at-sunset

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.

ring-tailed-lemur-1 ring-tailed-lemur-2

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.

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.

washing-clothes

We

saw numerous burial sites.

burial-sites

We stopped at a small Mahafaly Village where we were welcomed.

village-people

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

village-home

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

village-cooking

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

water

On returning to Tulear, we visited the  market

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.