Madagascar part 2: 26th – 30th Sept – Amber Mountain and The Mad Pochard site   Leave a comment

We left Antananarivo very early on the 26th for our flight to Antseranana in the far north of Madagascar. The rest of the day was spent birding in the nearby Montagne D’Ambre national park. This is an area of dry deciduous forest which has a few good birds but rather more good mammals and reptiles.

IMG_0677 Amber rock Thrush

Our main target was the very localised Amber Mountain Rock Thrush. I am always glad to add new ‘splits’ to my list, so-called ‘armchair ticks’ but I’m afraid this is an ‘armchair lump’ as it has recently been declared to be the same species as the Forest Rock Thrush that I saw on my 1992 trip to Madagascar.

IMG_0602 Crowned Lemur

An unbelievably cute Crowned Lemur

IMG_0696 Ringtailed Mongoose

A highly entertaining Ring-tailed Mongoose searched the picnic site for discarded scraps.

IMG_0607 Chameleon & Dani

Our tour leader Dani Lopez Velasco holds an Elephant Chameleon. Madagascar is the chameleon capital of the world, We identified eight species on the tour ……

IMG_0588 Dwarf Chameleon

….. the most entertaining one was this tiny Dwarf Chameleon …..

IMG_0605 Dwarf Chameleon

… the smallest reptile in the world !

IMG_0738 Satanic Leaf-tailed gecko

A night walk produced a few nocturnal lemurs, several Chameleons, a few roosting birds and this ultra-bizarre Satanic Leaf-tailed Gecko.

IMG_0620 Giant tortoise

The hotel claimed to be in possession of the oldest living animal in the world, an Aldabran Tortoise that they said was about 235 years old. For certain it has been in the family’s possession since 1904 and was fully grown then.

IMG_0756 Dani & snake

On the 27th we left Antseranana for the 10 hour drive to Antsohihy. On route Dani demonstrated his snake wrestling skills with this Madagascar Giant Hognose Snake.

IMG_0888 Pochard lake area

The drive from Antsohihy to our next site here in the largely deforested, yet beautiful central plateau was plagued with problems. During the first four hours our convoy of three 4x4s covered the first 100 km of dirt road but then just as we turned off to climb up to the plateau one vehicle broke down, fortunately a replacement was hired in the nearby village.

IMG_0658 on route to Mad Pochard site

The next 40km took six hours at little more than walking pace, much of the time we were in four-wheel drive, sometimes having to get out to push or move rocks.

IMG_0766 Mad Blue Pigeon

There were some nice distractions on the way such as this Madagascar Blue Pigeon.

IMG_0664 rough road

Now you can see why we averaged less than 7km per hour!

IMG_0688 vehicle breakdown

In the afternoon the second of our vehicles broke down and the replacement went missing, we weren’t sure if the replacement was lost  but later heard that a wheel had fallen off!

IMG_0663 rough road

The guy on the motorbike was our saviour, unbeknown to us he drove up and down the track passing messages between the various cars and without him we might still be there!

IMG_0666 park HQ cooking

We arrived at the campsite after dark all squashed into one vehicle. Our luggage, tents, sleeping bags, warm clothes (it was cold at night in the mountains) and food (a crate load of live chickens) were still on the broken down vehicles. Also we had to cross the river on stepping stones without the benefit of a torch. Fortunately some of the research staff cooked us some rice and plantains but we had to huddle around the fire for a few hours until vehicle number two made it with all the gear, the cook, park warden and chickens

IMG_0673 river at camp site

The following morning we were left to wonder how we had crossed this in the dark.

IMG_0686 Mad Pochard site

The reason for all this effort was to reach this remote volcanic crater lake. A few years ago researchers looking for new sites for the critically endangered Madagascar Fish Eagle found something much rarer, Madagascar Pochard, then thought to be extinct. The entire world population breeds on this tiny lake but it is so deep that young birds struggle to dive deep enough to find food and juvenile mortality is very high.

IMG_0794 Mad Pochard

If we assume the Asian Pink-headed Duck and Crested Shelduck, neither of which have been seen for over half a century, are actually extinct, then Madagascar Pochard is the rarest duck in the world.

IMG_0827 25% of world pop

With a total population of 28, 25% of the world’s population is in this photo. The two small dots in the background are Madagascar Grebes.

IMG_0851 Mad Harrier

An adjacent crater held a lake with marshy edges over which this male Madagascar Harrier hunted

IMG_0682 boardwalk

A ramshackle boardwalk had been constructed across the marsh, to our amazement we heard, and both Dani and I saw, Slender-billed Flufftail, sparrow-sized endemic crake that has only ever been found in six localities and until the previous week was unknown at this site.

IMG_0870 Red Owl

Later that day we walked a couple of miles to a roost of the very rare and seldom seen Madagascar Red Owl. Unfortunately intervening vegetation and low light didn’t allow for pin-sharp photos. Getting to this remote location had been tough but the rewards made it so, so worthwhile.

IMG_0655 rough road

Getting to the Mad Pochard site had been difficult and so was leaving. We didn’t have any breakdowns but the replacement minibus that was sent to meet us at  the village down below was very slow. In the end we all crowded into the Landcruiser and left the luggage on the minibus. Due to Mad Air mucking us up again (this time with our flight to the Comoros in a weeks time) we had to save a day by driving all the way to Ampijoroa rather than Antsohihy, a knackering 16 hour hot, uncomfortable and cramped drive. I’m glad we did though, as we saw some cracking birds the next day which we would have missed otherwise (see next post). We arrived about 2230, the luggage arrived two hours later!





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