14-Day Madagascar Birding Tour
Madagascar is the world’s fourth-largest island and hosts six endemic bird families, the mesites, asities, cuckoo-rollers, tetrakas, vangas and the incomparable ground rollers. An amazing 120 bird species are endemic.
In addition to the wonderful birdlife, Madagascar also boasts an extraordinarily remarkable array of endemic flora, reptiles, frogs and mammals, the famous lemurs and two-thirds of the world’s chameleons. On this tour, we will visit the South and East of Madagascar focusing on different types of habitat, especially the rainforests, wetlands and pine forests. Madagascar is definitely an outstanding birding experience!
This tour can also be booked as a private guided birding tour
Next group tour departure dates: 13 September 2021 / 30 September 2022
Full Itinerary – Madagascar Birding Tour
Arrival in Madagascar and transfer to the hotel
Welcome to Madagascar, one of the planet’s most unique and wonderful places!
Your fantastic birding tour in one of the most amazing countries in the world will start as soon as you touch down at the Ivato International Airport, 16 km (10 miles) northwest of the city centre of Antananarivo, the capital of the country. You will be met by your Nature Travel guide who will help load the bags into our comfortable, airconditioned vehicle before we set off towards our city hotel.
The city is located in the island’s Central Highlands at 1,280 m (4,200 feet) above sea level, roughly in the geographical centre of the island. Antananarivo is the political, economic, educational and cultural heart of Madagascar, and home to about 1.7 million people.
Fondly known as Tana, with the name Antananarivo literally meaning “city of a thousand”, Madagascar’s capital is usually the first port of call for most overseas visitors. Its location makes it the ideal base for visiting the rest of the island’s attractions, but it’s also well worth exploring in its own right. Founded in the early 17th century, Antananarivo has a rich history and a burgeoning modern culture that includes world-class restaurants, the impressive Rova Palace ruins, art galleries, shopping opportunities at the bustling Analakely market and much much more.
Birding on the way to the hotel might produce our first species like Squacco Heron, Black Egret and Malagasy Kestrel. Even Madagascan Wagtail, Malagasy Brush Warbler and Red Fody are sometimes seen in the backyard of the hotel; nowhere in the world is it this easy to tick endemics!
Depending on our arrival time, there might be time for a cultural activity in the city or even our first birding excursion.
Although not a long drive to the hotel, we might learn something about amazing Madagascar from our guide on the way there.
Following the breakup of the supercontinent Gondwana, Madagascar split from the Indian peninsula around 88 million years ago, allowing the fauna and flora to evolve in relative isolation. Consequently, Madagascar is a biodiversity hotspot; over 90% of its wildlife is found nowhere else on earth! The island boasts a remarkable array of endemic flora, reptiles, frogs, birds and mammals, the famous lemurs and two-thirds of the world’s chameleons. The island contains undoubtedly one of the most phenomenal concentrations of wildlife on the planet.
Geographically, Madagascar can be divided into five geographical regions: the east coast with its lowlands, the Tsaratanana Massif in the north, the central highlands with its prominent rift valley running north to south, the west coast that contains deep bays and well-protected harbours, and the southwest that contains the Mahafaly Plateau and the desert region. The Tsaratanana Massif region at the north end has the highest mountain on the island, Mount Maromokotro, at 2,876 metres (9,436 ft) above sea level. Eight main habitats are present on the island: lowland rainforest, mid-altitude rainforest (like at Andasibe-Mantadia), high-elevation rainforest (Ranomafana), eastern mid-altitude wetlands, the famous western dry forest (that we will visit at Zombitse and other places), southern spiny forest (around Ifaty), western wetlands and high grassland savannah.
In birding terms, Madagascar simply has no equal in all of Africa. The island might only boast about 305 species, but with six endemic bird families (the mesites, asities, Cuckoo Roller, tetrakas, vangas and the incomparable ground rollers) and over 130 endemics and near-endemics, the island ranks as the number one place for many birders from all over the world. Madagascar’s avifauna has always been described as species-poor but endemic-rich, and scientists are still not entirely sure why this strange anomaly exists here.
Naturally absent from Madagascar are rabbits, monkeys, squirrels, pangolins, toads, monitor lizards, adders, vipers, cobras, pythons, hornbills, woodpeckers, and a host of other animals you might expect to find due to their prevalence in other regions near the island. Another bizarre piece of information from this otherworldly place!
We will get together at the hotel bar to enjoy a drink and our Madagascar Birding Tour welcome dinner at the restaurant. We will get to know each other and chat about where we have all been on safari before and what everyone’s main target species for the trip are. Afterwards, we will settle in for a good night’s sleep. Welcome to Madagascar!
Morning birding, flight to Toliara, afternoon birding
After breakfast at the hotel, we will pack up and check out.
We will start our proper birding with a visit to the Tsarasaotra Wetland, also called Lake Alarobia. It’s one of our favourite inner-city birding spots here at Nature Travel Birding! This beautiful RAMSAR site right in the middle of the city hosts species like Malagasy Pond, Squacco and Black Heron, White-faced Whistling Duck, Dimorphic and Western Cattle Egret, Red-billed and Hottentot Teal, Madagascan Grebe, Malagasy Kingfisher, Malagasy White-eye, Malagasy Brush Warbler, Madagascan Mannikin and other warblers, ducks, teals and herons. If we are very lucky we could even pick up special species like Meller’s Duck or Humblot’s Heron. Sometimes there are well over 3,000 different birds present here!
We will bird around the wetland for approximately 2 hours and then drive to the airport to catch our internal flight in a southerly direction to the town of Toliara.
Upon arrival at the airport we will transfer to our hotel, settle in and enjoy lunch. At all the hotels and lodges during our stay on the island we will almost certainly see species like Red Fody, Mascarene Martin, Malagasy Bulbul, Madagascan Magpie-robin, Madagascan Wagtail and unfortunately also the invasive Common Myna.
Near the Tropic of Capricorn in the Mozambique Channel, the town of Toliara (sometimes spelled Tulear) acts as a major import/export hub for commodities such as sisal, soap, hemp, cotton, rice and peanuts. Toliara is nicknamed the “City of the Sun” because it has a hot climate and little annual rainfall. Attractions in and around Toliara include the Ifaty beach, the Museum of Arts and Traditions of the South of Madagascar, the Regional Museum of the University of Toliara and the Museum of the Sea.
In the afternoon we will visit the nearby Antsokay Arboretum. Established in 1980 at the initiative of the Swiss amateur botanist Petignat Hermann, this botanical garden (in the middle of an area of natural spiny forest) covers an area of 52 hectares, with more than 920 plant species (90% of them endemic to the island), lemurs, reptiles, birds and chameleons. There is an interpretation centre, a small museum, a display of musical instruments and local crafts, a shop and a restaurant.
About 40 species of birds have been recorded here and we will be looking for specials like Malagasy Bulbul, Stripe-throated Jery, Malagasy Paradise Flycatcher, Malagasy Turtle Dove, Crested Drongo, Madagascan Magpie-robin, Subdesert Brush Warbler, Olive Bee-eater, Malagasy Coucal, Madagascan Lark, Madagascan Cisticola, Madagascan Buttonquail and even Madagascan Nightjar. We will also hopefully tick our first couas (members of the cuckoo family but sometimes resembling coucals in their behaviour) in the form of Red-capped and Running Coua. We might also see the green-headed subspecies (olivaceiceps) of the Red-capped Coua. Our first of the vangas (shrike-like, medium-sized birds in their own family) could be Chabert’s Vanga. What a great start to our tour!
Apart from the exciting avifauna we could also see the Critically Endangered Radiated Tortoise, several mouse lemur species, Lesser Hedgehog Tenrec and even Narrow-striped Mongoose if we are lucky.
After this exciting outing, we will return to the hotel to freshen up, get together for dinner and update our lists. Then we are off to bed for a good night’s rest. Remember to listen out for the distinctive call of Madagascan Nightjar that was calling most of the evening at the hotel on a previous visit.
Andatabo Forest and Ifaty
We will start the day with coffee and breakfast at our accommodation.
Our first stop will be at a spot where we have seen Madagascan Sandgrouse before. In the same area we could also see species like Common Jery, Madagascan Cisticola and Madagascan Mannikin.
Afterwards we will visit Andatabo Forest, a secondary, semi-degraded forest site, also called La Table by some locals. The vegetation in this highly endangered spiny desert zone is characterised by species that are highly adapted to the arid climate and is characterised by succulent plants such as Aloe, Euphorbia, Delonix and Didierea, and also a few small baobabs. Here we will search for Verreaux’s Coua, Red-shouldered Vanga, Thamnornis and possibly Lafresnaye’s Vanga. Other species we could see include Running Coua, Olive Bee-eater, Subdesert Brush Warbler, Stripe-throated Jery, Common Newtonia, Souimanga Sunbird, Malagasy Paradise Flycatcher, Sakalava Weaver, Namaqua Dove and Madagascan Magpie-robin.
We will then have lunch in a local spot, and then drive northwards up the coastline to Ifaty with birding stops along the way. Ifaty is a fishing village that now host large numbers of tourists seeking sand and surf.
Some of the more common species we will see as we drive along include Crested Drongo, Madagascan Cisticola, Madagascan Buzzard and Yellow-billed Kite. One of the stops we always make is at a set of roadside ponds and rice paddies where we will look for Greater Flamingo, Dimorphic Egret, Hamerkop, Black-winged Stilt, Western Cattle Egret, Hottentot Teal, African Pygmy Goose, Little Grebe, Madagascan, Three-banded, White-fronted and Kittlitz’s Plover, White-throated Rail, Baillon’s Crake, Greater Painted-snipe, Common Moorhen, Ruddy Turnstone and Common Greenshank.
We will spend the afternoon birding in the famous, otherworldly Mangily spiny forest, also called the Reniala forest private reserve. It is a 60 hectare protected area to the north of Ifaty. Reniala is the malagasy name for baobab; “reny” means mother and “ala” means forest. Reniala thus means “mother of the forest” due to the height and shape of the baobabs dwarfing the other trees in the forest. Apart from some very impressive baobabs (including one that is 1,200 years old), the reserve hosts more than 2,000 plant species, 95% of which are endemic to this rare habitat, including a whole plant family, the alien-like Octopus Tree.
Here we will also look for amazing birds like Running and Red-capped Coua, Red-tailed and Blue Vanga, Thamnornis and Archbold’s Newtonia. However, our two top targets here are Long-tailed Ground Roller and Subdesert Mesite. The ground rollers are a small family of near-passerines with the crow-like size and build of the true rollers, and are actually related to the order that contains kingfishers, bee-eaters and rollers. The mesites are a family of birds that are part of a clade that contains pigeons, doves and sandgrouse, but some authorities argue they should form an order of their own. The reserve also holds several lemur species and rare endemic reptiles, including two Critically Endangered spider tortoise species.
We will then continue to our chose accommodation for the next two nights, set high on a cliff with beautiful views over the ocean. We will check in and get used to our beautiful surroundings. A quick walk in the gardens produced species like Madagascan Harrier-hawk, Malagasy Kestrel, Lesser Vasa Parrot, Madagascan Green Pigeon, Crested Coua, Madagascan Hoopoe and even a Mahafaly Sand Snake in the past.
Before or after dinner we will do a guided night walk and look out for Torotoroka and Rainforest Scops Owl, Antimena Chameleon, Grey Mouse-lemur, White-footed Sportive Lemur, among other interesting creatures.
Seeing our first lemur will be special indeed. Lemurs (from the Latin lemures, meaning ghosts or spirits) are placed the order of Primates, but have evolved independently from monkeys and apes, and occur only on the island of Madagascar. They are divided into 8 families consisting of 15 genera. There are currently about 100 different species recognised. Almost all lemurs live in trees and are active at night. Unfortunately, because of several factors threatening their habitat and survival, the IUCN considers lemurs to be the world’s most endangered mammals. After our fantastic day, we are off to bed for a good night’s sleep.
Reniala Forest Private Reserve
With first light we will have a quick cup of coffee and again make our way to the famous and strange Reniala spiny forest, home to great birds like Long-tailed Ground Roller, Subdesert Mesite, Running and Red-capped Coua, Sickle-billed, Lafresnaye’s, White-headed, Hook-billed and Red-tailed Vanga, Common and Archbold’s Newtonia, Madagascan Lark, Greater and Lesser Vasa Parrot, Grey-headed Lovebird and Subdesert Brush Warbler.
We will spend the hot part of the day relaxing back at the hotel and head back to the spiny forest where we will bird for the rest of the afternoon looking for better photo opportunities of birds we have seen before and also look for more species like Banded Kestrel, Madagascan Nightjar, Madagascan Sparrowhawk and other species we might have missed this morning.
The forest also boasts two amazing species of baobabs that make for spectacular photographs, so make sure your cameras are charged and ready!
The forest furthermore hosts interesting species of mammals, reptiles and insects like White-footed Sportive Lemur, Grey Mouse-lemur, Lesser Hedgehog Tenrec, Panther and Bark Gecko, Malagasy Cat-eyed Snake, Madagascar Hissing Cockroach along with many chameleons and other interesting critters.
A quick, late afternoon walk to the beach might produce Ruddy Turnstone, Madagascan Plover, Greater Crested, Lesser Crested and Caspian Tern, Whimbrel and Curlew Sandpiper.
We will once again get together for dinner and to update our growing trip lists. Then we are off to bed.
Zombitse Forest & Isalo National Park
After a very early breakfast we will check out and thank the wonderful staff at the hotel.
We will then make our way to Zombitse-Vohibasia National Park with its dry, deciduous forest and succulent plants. This fairly recently protected site (full national park status was attained in 2002) is a transition area between the spiny thicket and the dry deciduous woodland ecoregions. The park includes the forests of Zombitse, Vohibasia and Isoky-Vohimena in three non-contiguous parcels. The main landscapes found in the park are forests, woodlands, open grasslands and there are also some limited wetland areas. The terrain is mostly flat, with sandy soils and a canopy averaging 15 metres.
Importantly for us, almost 100 bird species have been recorded in the 363.08 km2 (140.19 sq mi) park, including 38 endemics, and so the park easily qualifies as an Important Bird Area.
Here our main targets are the Vulnerable (on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species) Appert’s Tetraka, the distinctive and utterly unique Cuckoo Roller, Rufous Vanga and Giant, Crested and Coquerel’s Coua, Madagascan Cuckoo, Madagascan Spinetail and many more. We might also see White-browed Owl roosting.
Zombitse is also home to over 20 special species of Endangered mammals, including the very localised Hubbard’s Sportive Lemur, Ring-tailed and Red-fronted Brown Lemur, Verreaux’s Sifaka, Coquerel’s Giant Mouse Lemur, Grey mouse-lemur, Lesser Dwarf Lemur, Pale Fork-marked Lemur, Nasolo’s Shrew Tenrec and more.
We also have a chance to see the taxonomically controversial Fossa here. It is a cat-like carnivore endemic to the island that chiefly eats lemurs, and that was made famous as the “bad guy” in the animated movie Madagascar.
Reptiles that we could see here include Standing’s Day Gecko, Dumeril’s Boa and Oustalet’s Chameleon. Furthermore Zombitse is home to 40 species of ants, the bizarre Madagascan Flatid Leaf-bug, about 300 plant species, 8 species of amphibians and more.
We will enjoy a packed picnic lunch and then continue to Isalo National Park, about 90 minutes away to the northeast. We might be lucky and see Madagascan Partridge, Madagascan Sandgrouse and Malagasy Harrier on the way.
The 815.40 km2 (314.83 sq mi) Isalo National Park is famous for the bizarre sandstone formations that dominate the landscape, and it really is unlike any other place in Madagascar. The park also boasts deep canyons, palm-lined oases, woodlands and grasslands, and is a great place for photographers. It is also a favourite spot for hikers and not just nature lovers like us.
Mammals in the park include Ring-tailed Lemur, Red-fronted Brown Lemur, Red-tailed Sportive Lemur and Verreaux’s Sifaka. A total of 24 species of amphibians along with 47 species of reptiles have also been recorded in the park, including the Madagascar Ground Boa. Isalo is also one of the best places to see and study the lichens of Madagascar.
Over 100 bird species have been recorded here in Isalo. We will look for diverse species such as Madagascan Ibis, Knob-billed Duck, White-throated Rail, Malagasy Kingfisher, Madagascan Partridge, Madagascan Cuckooshrike, Madagascan Hoopoe, Littoral Rock Thrush, Malagasy Green Sunbird, the bensoni subspecies of Forest Rock Thrush, Madagascan Stonechat, Red Fody and Grey-headed Lovebird. On a previous visit we even flushed a pair of Marsh Owls from a stretch of grassland in the park!
Some of the interesting reptiles and amphibians we could see include Oustalet’s, Warty and Brygoo’s Leaf Chameleon, Duméril’s Madagascar Swift, Blue-legged Mantella, Painted Burrowing Frog and many others.
If time allows we can watch the spectacular sunset at the naturally sculpted Window of Isalo (locally called La Fenetre).
We will go to our chosen accommodation and get together for dinner and to update our trip lists. We will socialise into the evening before settling in.
Anja Reserve and transfer to Ranomafana National Park
We will start today with breakfast at the hotel and then pack up and check out.
Today we are in for a long but beautiful drive. We leave Isalo behind and drive to the northeast through the Ihorombe plateau. This route gives us a chance to search for the rare Malagasy Harrier, Madagascan Buzzard and also Madagascan Partridge.
Our main attraction for today is a visit to the Anja Community Reserve. This boulder-strewn 30 hectare protected area was created in 2001 with the help of the United Nations, and is a popular stop-over for visitors travelling between Antananarivo and the southern part of the country.
We should arrive at Anja before our lunch break. The main attraction in the park is the 300 or so Ring-tailed Lemurs that live here, and that are very used to visitors. Anja holds the highest concentration of these animals on the entire island, and you are guaranteed some awesome photos of them, especially as they pose on the impressive rock formations.
There are also some interesting insects and reptiles, including Madagascar Girdled Lizard, Barbour’s Day Gecko, Madagascar Iguana and several colourful chameleons. On our two hour walk here we could also see Grey-headed Lovebird and Madagascan Hoopoe, and nearby wetland has given us Malagasy Pond Heron in the past.
After lunch we will continue northeast, passing the university city of Fianarantsoa, descending into the lower, cooler altitudes and down a long winding road to Ranomafana National Park. Our home for the next 3 nights is right on the doorstep of the famous park.
We will arrive at our fantastic lodge late in the afternoon, and if there is time we will enjoy a guided night walk before dinner. During the night walk we could see the Endangered Golden-brown Mouse-lemur as well up to 5 species of chameleons.
We will then get together for dinner and some time to relax.
Ranomafana National Park
We will start our day with a hearty breakfast and some good quality coffee at the lodge this morning.
Over the course of the next few days we will enjoy all that Ranomafana has to offer. The beautiful park is a favourite with visitors and locals alike, thanks to its pleasant climate, many waterfalls, lots of lemurs and a huge diversity of other fauna and flora species.
Ranomafana (meaning “hot water” in Malagasy) is undoubtedly one of Madagascar’s best birding and general wildlife destinations. This beautiful and important national park was created in 1991 with the discovery of the Golden Bamboo Lemur in the area 5 years earlier by American scientist Dr Patricia Wright.
The 41,600 hectares (161 sq mi) of tropical rainforest in the park is home to several rare species of other fauna and flora too, including an incredible 130 species of frogs, 62 species of reptiles, 90 butterfly species and 350 different spider species.
We will decide each day which forest areas to explore, depending on which species we still need to connect with. We will return to our lodge for lunch each day and then go birding in the afternoons again.
The park expands over mountainous terrain that is totally covered by dense moist primary and secondary forest area at altitudes between 800m and 1,200 metres (2,600 to 4,000 feet) above sea level. In addition to its densely forested hills, the park is characterised by numerous small streams, which plummet down to the beautiful Namorona River, which bisects the park and produces electricity for the surrounding areas at the hydroelectric power station of Ranomafana. The average annual rainfall in the park and surrounds is 2,600 mm.
There are 5 different trails to explore in this marvellous Park. On one of the mornings we will definitely make our way to the Sahamalaotra forest. On another day we might explore Talatakely forest or the Varibolomena trail.
The species diversity here is much higher than we have experienced so far on the tour, so be ready for some action! There are at least 115 species of birds recorded for Ranomafana, and 30 are endemic to this part of Madagascar. In all, an incredible 77% of bird species present at Ranomafana are endemic! Our main targets at Ranomafana include Yellow-bellied and Common Sunbird-Asity, Brown Mesite, Pollen’s Vanga, Rufous-headed and Scaly Ground Roller, Red-fronted Coua, Madagascan Ibis, Forest Rock Thrush, Madagascan Yellowbrow, Brown Emutail, Velvet Asity and with a lot of luck, Slender-billed Flufftail.
After an exciting first day in Ranomafana we will return to the lodge and freshen up. We will join up to update our lists and enjoy dinner. After a week together it might be time to start talking about our next bucket list destination somewhere on the planet!
Ranomafana National Park
We will once again start our day with coffee and breakfast at the lodge before heading into the park. We will return for lunch and a short siesta and afterwards bird in the park again.
Ranomafana is part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site “Rainforests of the Atsinanana”. Adjacent to the park is the state-of-the-art Centre ValBio research station, established in 2003 and managed by New York’s Stony Brook University with a focus on biodiversity research, community health and education, environmental arts and reforestation.
Apart from our target birds we will also look for Henst’s Goshawk, Frances’s Sparrowhawk, Madagascan Buzzard, Malagasy Kestrel, Pitta-like and Short-legged Ground Roller, Pollen’s, Tylas, Red-tailed, Chabert, Blue and Hook-billed Vanga, Greater Vasa Parrot, Olive Bee-eater, Blue Coua, Ward’s Flycatcher, Madagascan Cuckoo, Madagascan Wagtail, Madagascan Pygmy Kingfisher, Madagascan Starling, Grey-crowned and Spectacled Tetraka, Madagascan Snipe, Madagascan Swamp Warbler, Dark and Common Newtonia, Souimanga and Malagasy Green Sunbird, Rand’s and Cryptic Warbler, Madagascan Wood Rail, Long-billed Bernieria, Forest Fody, Nelicourvi Weaver, Green and Wedge-tailed Jery, Malagasy White-eye and African Palm Swift among many others.
We will also look to add some special species of mammals to our list; this could include Golden Bamboo Lemur, Red-fronted Brown Lemur, Aye-aye, Greater Bamboo Lemur, Peyrieras’ Woolly Lemur, Eastern Lesser Bamboo Lemur, Milne-Edward’s Sifaka, Greater and Crossley’s Dwarf Lemur, Ring-tailed Mongoose, Red Forest Rat, tenrecs, bats and many others.
Retiles are also well represented here, and we could see species like Southern Flat-tail Gecko, Satanic Leaf Tailed Gecko, Brown Leaf, Nose-horned, Blue-legged and O’shaughnessy’s Chameleon and many others. Amphibians are also plentiful and we could see something like White-lipped Bright-eyed Frog or the beautiful Madagascar Golden Frog. On the inset front we could see the impressive Cabbage Tree Emperor Moth and many others. Many new species of invertebrates are still being discovered in Ranomafana, so take photos of everything; you could have your name put to a new insect or bug someday!
After another great day we will get together for dinner at the lodge and socialise into the evening before going to our rooms for a good night’s sleep.
Ranomafana to Antsirabe
This morning after breakfast we will choose one more forest trail in Ranomafana, depending on the target birds that we have missed. On a previous trip we had great views of two top birds, Brown Mesite and Pitta-like Ground Roller, on this short walk on the final morning in this amazing park.
Afterwards we will check out, thank the wonderful staff at the lodge and make our way north to the town of Ambositra where we will enjoy lunch at one of the local restaurants. Ambositra is the centre of the country’s wood-carving industry, and there are numerous shops and vendors selling wooden boxes, carvings, chessboards and the like.
We then continue towards the town of Antsirabe (approximately another 3 hours away) in the central highlands of the island, where we will have dinner and spend the night. On the way we will scan for Yellow-billed Kite, Malagasy Kestrel and Madagascan Buzzard. At one of the river crossings we could add Striated and Squacco Heron, Western Cattle Egret and Madagascan Wagtail.
Antsirabe is the third largest city in Madagascar and is known for its relatively cool climate, the multiple hot springs in the area, its industry (beverages, textiles and grain) and the high concentration of pulled rickshaws in the streets.
It is a tourist hotspot as well as a chic getaway for locals from Tana, and there are numerous luxury hotels and excellent restaurants in town.
We will enjoy dinner together and update our trip lists, boasting about the number of new families and species we have all seen so far! Then we are off to bed for a good night’s sleep, because tomorrow we head to our final park of the trip.
Transfer to Andasibe-Mantadia National Park
We will have an early breakfast at the hotel and then check out and hop into our vehicle.
We have a long drive ahead of us to Andasibe, a five to six hours to the northeast. Our route takes us across the Highland Plateau; en route we will look for Hamerkop, Yellow-billed Kite, Brown-throated Martin and Madagascan Cisticola. We will make a few stops along the way to bird, to stretch our legs as well as a longer stop for lunch somewhere in a good local restaurant.
We are heading for our final reserve of this trip: Andasibe-Mantadia National Park. It is a 155 km2 protected forest area, located about 150 km east of Antananarivo. The park’s elevation ranges from 800 to 1,260 metres (2,600 to 4,100 feet) above sea level. The rainforest habitat is home to a vast number of biodiverse species of fauna and flora, including many endemic rare and endangered species, including an incredible 14 different lemur species.
We will arrive at our beautiful lodge late in the afternoon or early evening. The lodge is situated in beautiful gardens, surrounded by forest and a lake. There is much to do at the lodge, including canoe rides and garden walks, and the restaurant serves some superb local and international cuisine.
We will freshen up and have some dinner as we chat about our highlights of the trip so far.
Tonight after dinner we will do a guided walk in the nearby V.O.I. Park. Here our main targets will be Red-breasted and Crested Coua, Collared Nightjar, White-browed and Madagascan Owl, Rainforest Scops Owl, Goodman’s Mouse Lemur, Greater Dwarf Lemur, chameleons, tree frogs and even Aye-aye. Afterwards we will be off to our rooms for a good night’s sleep. There is much to see tomorrow!
Andasibe-Mantadia National Park
Today we have the full day to explore Andasibe-Mantadia.
We will start with breakfast at the lodge and then set off for the park. We will enjoy a picnic lunch somewhere in a pretty setting in the park, or return to the lodge for lunch and some down time. We will discuss this before we start our excursion today.
The park, created in 1989, has two components, namely the northern Mantadia National Park and Analamazoatra Reserve in the south next to Andasibe village, popularly known by the old French name of the nearby town and railway station, Périnet. Due to its proximity to the capital and the good road conditions all year round almost all visitors to the island will at some point visit Andasibe-Mantadia, and with good reason; there is much to see here!
Andasibe-Mantadia contains dense humid forest covered with lichen, ferns and moss. It is a wet place; average annual precipitation is 1,700 mm, with rainfall on 210 days of each year! More than a hundred orchids species bloom here between September and January. Other common plants growing here are pandanus, ravinala palm tree, tambourissa, bamboos and some precious wood trees, like palisander and ebano.
Some truly amazing bird species can be seen here in the park. The bird list is at well over 100 species and we will look for specials such as the gorgeous Red-breasted Coua, Scaly, Rufous-headed and Short-legged Ground Roller, the secretive Madagascan Ibis, Madagascan Blue Pigeon, Crossley’s Vanga, Common and Dark Newtonia, Wedge-tailed, Green, Stripe-throated and Common Jery, Cryptic Warbler and Forest Fody. We will also scan across a small forest pond that often holds a pair of Meller’s Duck and Madagascan Grebe.
After an exciting first full day in the park we will return to the lodge for dinner. Afterwards we will go on another nocturnal walk in search of some interesting species of fauna, including Lowland Streaked Tenrec, Madagascan Owl, Rainforest Scops Owl, Collared Nightjar and several geckos.
Andasibe-Mantadia National Park
We have another full day in this top notch park.
Once again we will start with breakfast and either have a packed picnic lunch in the park or return to the lodge for lunch with another birding activity in the afternoon.
We will make a decision as to which part of the park to visit based on which species of birds and mammals we still need to tick on our trip lists. We could for instance tackle the hilly, wilder and thicker forest of the northern (Mantadia) part of the Park in the morning, and after lunch visit the flatter, southern Andasibe (or Perinet) part of the park.
Apart from the top birds already mentioned, Andasibe-Mantadia is best known for its population of Madagascar’s largest lemur, the Indri, with its distinctive and peculiar call that echoes through the forest in the mornings. The park is by far the best place to observe these animals given that there are a couple of families habituated to humans. It lives in small groups and cannot survive in captivity. There are several legends trying to explain its origins since it is considered a sacred animal in all of Madagascar. Nowadays it is unfortunately endangered due to deforestation and agricultural activities next to the reserves. We will definitely find a family and enjoy their antics for a while; cameras at the ready!
Apart from the Indri, another 13 lemur species inhabit these forests, such as Eastern Woolly Lemur, Eastern Lesser Bamboo Lemur, Diademed Sifaka, Red-bellied Lemur, Black-and-white Ruffed Lemur and more.
After another fantastic day of birding and wildlife watching, we will return to the lodge to relax, update our lists and have an authentic Malagasy dinner. We are then off to bed for a good night’s rest.
Andasibe-Mantadia National Park
Today is our final full day in Andasibe-Mantadia.
We will follow the same pattern as the previous days, with breakfast at the lodge followed by a morning excursion into the park. Lunch will be in the park or back at the lodge, depending on the group’s preferences. In the afternoon we will go out for more birding in the park.
The Perinet section is home to some fantastic endemic and range-restricted birds, and we will certainly focus our attention there. On our walks we will try and locate Cuckoo Roller, Pitta-like Ground Roller, Madagascan Flufftail, Madagascan Wood Rail, Madagascan Blue Pigeon, Red-fronted and Blue Coua, Velvet Asity, White-headed, Chabert, Blue, Red-tailed, Hook-billed, Nuthatch and Tylas Vanga, Greater Vasa Parrot, Madagascan Cuckoo, Madagascan Spinetail, Madagascan Pygmy Kingfisher, Malagasy Paradise Flycatcher, Madagascan Cuckooshrike, Ward’s Flycatcher, Madagascan Starling, Long-billed Bernieria, Spectacled Tetraka, White-throated Oxylabes, Nelicourvi Weaver and Souimanga Sunbird.
Apart from the wonderful mammals and birds the park also boasts 50 species of reptiles, among them the biggest chameleon in the world (Parson’s Chameleon), the Malagasy Tree Boa, Henkel’s Leaf-tailed Gecko and more than 80 amphibians, such as the spectacular Madagascar Golden Frog. There are also a few local endemic fishes swimming in the small rivers and hundreds of insects, among them some extraordinary colourful and big butterflies, as well as the Giraffe Weevil, a tiny red and black insect named for its unusually long neck.
In the afternoon, if we have seen all our targets in the park, we could arrange for a visit to the nearby Antavolobe reserve. It is a 2,200 hectare community-run reserve that has become famous during the past few years due to the discovery of the Endangered Helmet Vanga in the heart of the forest. It is a challenging walk to get to the site where the birds are most often seen, so we will make a decision with everyone’s input. Two other interesting vangas occur in this primary rain forest: Bernier’s and Pollen’s Vanga. We will also try to see the difficult Brown Emutail, Pitta-Like Ground Roller and Madagascan Rail.
After our wonderful day in the park we will return to the lodge to freshen up. We will then get together for our Madagascar birding tour farewell dinner, chatting about the great sightings, the laughs, the awesome photos and the friends we have made for life.
Torotorofotsy Marsh, return to Antananarivo & Departure
Our day will start with breakfast at the lodge again and then we head off to the Torotorofotsy Marsh.
It is the largest and most intact natural marsh in all of eastern Madagascar. The area is covered by marshy grassland, with permanently waterlogged and peaty soils in the basin, dominated by spike-rushes, ferns and sedges. Along the western edge, there is a marshy forest with abundant palms, while the whole marsh is surrounded by degraded humid evergreen forest and wooded savanna. Almost 70 bird species have been recorded here (including 33 endemics) and some of the top targets here include Slender-billed and Madagascan Flufftail, Meller’s Duck, Madagascan Blue Pigeon, Red-fronted and Blue Coua, Madagascan Rail, Madagascan Snipe, Forest and Red Fody, Ward’s Flycatcher, Grey Emutail and many more.
After our final birding excursion, we will return to the lodge for lunch. We will then check out, thanking the staff for a wonderful stay here the past few days.
We will then make the transfer to Antananarivo, about 4 hours to the west. And so an amazing Madagascar birding tour, unfortunately, comes to an end. We will transfer to the airport where dinner and your overnight stay (should your flight only leave the following day) will be for your own account.
We will wish each other well and continue on our onward journey or homeward flights. Hope we see you again soon!
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