Madagascar part 1: 20th – 25th September 2014: Antananaviro and the Masoala Peninsula   Leave a comment

Following on from my post of September 20th, I finally arrived in Antananarivo (usually shortened to Tana), the capital of Madagascar in the late afternoon of the 21st, about 16 hours late. Changes to Air Madagascar (Mad Air) schedule meant that this day would be largely wasted anyway, in effect the two sets of flight delays had cancelled each other out!

It had been along and troubled journey but I had arrived at last and the trip could begin in earnest. I had visited Madagascar before in 1992, doing the ‘standard circuit’ of the eastern rainforests plus the south and south-east but in many ways I did that trip too early. Over the following decades not only were new sites for many species located but wholly new species for science were discovered. Rather than go back and do that tour all over again I chose to visit the more remote areas of northern Madagascar on a tour that also included the Comoros islands. The part I was most interested in, the Masoala peninsular, was sold as an optional pre-tour extension, this meant that our time here was reduced due to the delays and also meant that if all went well the best birds of the entire trip would be in the first few day and then it would all be downhill from then on!

IMG_0054 flying into Antananarivo

Madagascar has suffered from catastrophic deforestation. Flying into Antananarivo you see nothing but a devastated landscape, no forest cover, no agriculture, just bare ground and erosion gullies.

IMG_0073 Antananarivo

The view from our hotel in Tana

IMG_0575 nr Tana

You cross this area of paddies on the way from the hotel to the airport.

IMG_0062 Antananarivo

Tana is unusual as it seems to be bisected by a series of paddy fields. Maybe this area is too low lying for construction.

IMG_0122 Tsarasaotra Lake

Our first birding excursion was to Lac Alarobia within the confines of the city. Many good species can be found here including the declining Malagasy Pond Heron. Birds in the photo are mainly Red-billed Teal with the odd Black-crowned Night Heron and Great Egret.

IMG_0130 WF Whistling Duck

A line of White-faced Whistling Ducks with one Red-billed Teal swimming.

IMG_0116 KB Duck

A pair of Knob-billed Geese.

IMG_0142 Mad Swamp Warbler

The endemic ‘acro’, Madagascar Swamp Warbler was common along the edges of the marsh.

IMG_0161 Mad KF

The endemic Madagascar Kingfisher is clearly derived from the Malachite Kingfisher of Africa.

IMG_0274 Masoala peninsula

Later that day we flew to Maroantsetra in the north and the following morning took a speedboat to our lodge on the Masoala peninsular. In contrast to most of Madagascar, the peninsula remains heavily forested.

IMG_0111 Masoala

The lodge on the Masoala, rather basic but a lovely place to stay.

IMG_0329 Helmet Vanga

This was always going to be my ‘bird of the trip’, one of my most wanted birds in the world. Vangas are a family of birds that are endemic to Madagascar region and the incredible and rare Helmet Vanga is restricted to what little remains of these these north-eastern forests. Our first encounter was with a dull, yet still amazing juvenile but an hour or so later this stunning adult male appeared.

IMG_0318 SL Ground Roller

Ground Rollers are another family endemic to Madagascar. On my last trip I only saw three of the five species so I was delighted to see the other two on the Masoala. This Short-legged Ground Roller was seen minutes after the Helmet Vanga and minutes before I saw my third and final Mesite, yet another of Madagascar’s endemic families.

IMG_0462 Blue Coua

Couas are cuckoo-like birds endemic to Madagascar. Arguably the best looking is this stunning Blue Coua, although Red-breasted Coua, which I failed to photograph well, was a much appreciated life bird.

IMG_0346 Red Ruffed Lemur

As well as a wonderful set of endemic birds spread over six families, Madagascar has a host of endemic mammals. Most famous of these are the 90 or species of lemur such as this impressive Red-ruffed Lemur that was found near our chalets.

IMG_0389 Rainforest Scops Owl

Nighttime saw us face to face with this Rainforest Scops Owl ….

IMG_0562 Brown Mouse Lemur

… and the diminutive Brown Mouse Lemur, as small as a hamster.

IMG_0106 Masoala

The beautiful shore was only a few hundred meters from our rustic chalets.

IMG_0491 Mad Prats

Madagascar Pratincoles (or Mad Prats as I called then) stood sentry on the rocks.

IMG_0495 LT Gecko

It’s not all about birds and mammals. Madagascar has a wealth of amazing reptile and amphibians. Isolated from the rest of the world for over 130 millions years, evolution has run riot and produced some very bizarre creatures indeed – such as this Leaf-tailed Gecko ….

IMG_0233 Panther chamaeleon

….. or Panther’s Chameleon …..

IMG_0241 Tomato Frog

… but strange as the above might be, the prize for weirdness has to go to the Tomato Frog!

IMG_0545 Masoala

A final beautiful sunset from the beach on the Masoala …..

IMG_0568 return from Masoala

… before we boarded the speedboats and returned to Maroantsetra and then flew back to Tana.

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