Oct 18 - Oct 31, 2011
Oryx tours sent a catalog announcing a photo trip to Madagascar, and I signed up the same day. There are 5 or 6 families of birds endemic to this fourth largest island in the world, and I'd seen none of them, let alone photographed. So my objective was to do so, and the tour was designed to cover three diverse areas of the country to give us a chance. We were a group of six, with two guides.
We went to the spiny forest in the south (Berenty), surely a unique habitat. Endemic Couas, a subfamily of Cuckoos, were the highlight here, along with our first lemurs. Internal travel is mostly by air, since roads are poor, and all flights are in and out of Antananarivo, the capital. So we returned to "Tana" often.
The NW of the island is tropical forest, and after flying to Mahajunga we drove to Ampijoroa, where we found our first Vangas, including Sickle-billed, van Dam's, Rufous, Blue, Chabert's and White-headed. One might say we nailed that family! Also nice to see were several endemic species like Madagascar Kingfisher and Humblot's Heron. Very exciting, though, were several more new families, including a mesite, an asity, and Cuckoo-Roller. The trails here were easy, and the cabins comfortable.
The eastern part of the country is rain forest. We were incredibly lucky to experience no rain, but here we did find the last of the endemic families - Ground-Rollers. Two species, and both charismatic birds. We also got to see the largest lemur in the world here, the Indri - totally arboreal, they easily move about the forest, and sometimes "sing" quite loudly.
Madagascar's forests are highly threatened by logging and charcoal manufacture, yet they contain such a variety of birds, mammals and chameleons that it would be tragic if they were lost. Hopefully, conservation practices will begin to take hold there. Our Oryx guide, Marius Coetzee, was excellent, as was our Malagasy guide, Eli. They knew the species, the areas, the culture, and helped greatly with photographic efforts - not always easy in dark forests. It was a once in a lifetime experience.
“Birds of the Indian Ocean Islands" by Sinclair and Langrand, Struik Nature