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Fabulous, Frustrating Madagascar


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So glad you’ve started this report!  And after reading about some of Alan’s experiences, you’ve given me a sigh of relief that it is possible to find good food and avoid crowds in Madagascar. 

I’m with you on the tour thing. I’d encountered birding tours in Costa Rica, and knew right off the bat that birders and those interested in photographing birds are often completely incompatible (Edit: now concretely confirmed in the post you just added regarding the ground-roller debacle — and no way in hell would I have attempted that crossing with all my camera equipment), but your group seems to have had a lot of photographers, too, which, in turn, introduces its own problems, as you’ve touched upon. I had thought that, given logistical issues, Madagascar might be one of the few destinations where I’d consider joining a photo tour, but I’m having second thoughts about that now. 

Wow on the 1/20 second shots with the 200-500!  I agree that the VR on that lens is amazing, but 1/30 has been about my consistent limit. You’ve got some steady hands there!



Edited by Alexander33
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11 minutes ago, Alexander33 said:

given logistical issues, Madagascar might be one of the few destinations where I’d consider joining a photo tour,


Yes that was exactly our reasoning! But a photo tour (as opposed to a birding tour) would definitely move at a slower pace. Still, its hard to fathom how even 6-8 photographers in a group could all get a good angle, especially on narrow trails. I guess its different in places where birds are mostly seen from blinds or at feeding stations, but you won't find that in Madagascar!

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I am still in contact with the guide that I booked with directly in case anyone was after a recommendation.


Given that I was in a bit of a bind with my trip because the group of birders I was planning to go with decided to change the itinerary so much I felt that I could no longer join them and I had already booked my flights, I was actually very impressed with the service he provided. As I went on my own (as a solo female traveller) I was able to decide how long to stay at any particular sighting. 

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We did take another trail which was a bit easier, and I think this is the trail that most general tourists do, because there were actually a few people on it! (On the first trail, we didn't see a single soul the entire time. Just a few vehicles that passed us as we walked the road.) This trail opened up into a small clearing which had a picnic shelter, and a rustic bathroom (i.e., hole in the ground but at least in a building.)


The highlight of that trail was a pair of Madagascar Crested Ibis...endemic of course, and unusual for ibis in that they inhabit the moist forest, and not a wetland which you would normally associate with ibis.  It was quite something to see these large birds silently make their way through the dense trees.



We found some Brown Lemurs, and one posed nicely, although backlit.


(BTW, I just realized that some of the photo captions in this whole section say Perinet, some say Andisabe, and some say Mantadia. I got a bit lazy when labeling these for the web site, but they are in the correct place in this report--ignore the location in the captions.)




And this beautiful Striped Day Gecko was hanging around the picnic area.  No GEICO* jokes ;)



Speaking of picnics, this is where I think we had our first of many exceedingly bad boxed lunches.  As @Atdahl described in his report, these were always a dry sandwich with some dry filling. As none of our group was daring to eat salad here, we always had them "hold the lettuce" which meant nothing in the bread but a dry piece of chicken or cheese. Notice the repetition of the word DRY. :lol: I always opted for cheese, not entirely trusting the chicken out in the heat. More often than not, though, we resorted to just eating our granola bars with the banana and mango they had packed with the lunches. In fact on this occasion Guy laid out a "mango tasting" of two different types on the picnic table. Both delicious. Oh, and there were always cookies. In fact Guy or the local guide always carried a bag with juice boxes and cookies for us, which was handy.


This female Paradise Flycatcher was also hanging around the picnic area.




After lunch we walked the trail again, and then up the road a bit, but didn't see much that was different--in fact I don't have any other photos from that afternoon.  David wanted to take us to a spot with a pond that holds the endangered Madagascar Grebe, but as rain was threatening, and we had a long drive back on the terrible road, we decided to return for the grebe on another day.


Later that evening the plan was for a night walk, if the rain passed.


*BTW I should probably explain the GEICO reference for non-Americans...GEICO is an insurance company in the USA whose mascot is a talking Gecko, and they have a lot of cute commercials on TV with the GEICO Gecko. I believe their Gecko is modeled after this day gecko :)


Edited by janzin
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Very nice ibis @janzin. Another species I didn't see. I think taking a picnic was a good idea in theory. I only got a morning in mantadia, we tore a tyre on the way back and I see the roads are no better now than they were in 2012!


So we ended up spending the afternoon at vakona Island with the tame lemurs.


Its strange that with such a French influence they can't seem to do a decent box lunch, you'd think bread and patisserie would be a specialty and there are some good boulangeries around. 

Edited by kittykat23uk
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Ah Mantadia...such fond (and not so fond memories).   I remember that stream crossing vividly since we had to do it on a couple slippery logs.  But, Karen brought her walking stick so with that to steady each person everyone made it fine.  But, without it I am not sure we would have tried.


We missed seeing the crested ibis which was in my top 10 so it's great that you not only saw it but also got a good picture.


I am thinking that maybe one advantage of your group tour was that they seem to have brought snacks for the group a lot which our guide never did.  But, that could just have been an individual guide thing.  Other than  that, group tours are not something we are interested in and your report reinforces why.  I love all the great pictures you got despite that though.



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@Atdahl we actually had walking sticks but found it too difficult to try to use them and handle the cameras at the same time. And in fact I don't think we'd brought them on this day.


Yes, the guides always had snacks and there was always water in the vehicle but this actually we had an issue with that too which will come up later ;)

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It did rain a bit on our return drive but not too hard, and it had stopped in time for our night walk. We got back to the lodge, pre-ordered our dinner, and headed out after just a short break. Alan opted out of the walk this night as he was exhausted (and I think a bit upset) from our long day in Mantadia.


Our night walk was scheduled at the Analamazaotra Forest Station, which is a private reserve managed by a local initiative, Association Mitsinjo. It is located right across the road from the Andisabe National Park entrance. Night walks are not permitted in the national park, but they can be arranged here for a fee. There's another small reserve where night walks can also be arranged,  V.O.I.M.M.A, but we didn't go there.


We only did one other night walk on our five nights here, and that was just along the road outside the hotel. We had planned one additional night, but it poured rain and no one ventured out except Jerry and John, who went out on their own looking for frogs in the torrential rain (they found a couple.)

Anyway I'll combine all our night sightings into this one post, since I don't have that many photos.


In the Forest Station we found a really cute Greater Dwarf Lemur.




We saw some other sleeping lemurs and some cool insects but nothing really photographable. Surprisingly no chameleons.


However, when we walked the road outside of the hotel with David on another night we did better.


Short-horned Chameleon. I swear he (she?) looks pregnant!




And this super cute, diminutive Nose-horned Chameleon.




Not sure which spider this is, as this is his under-belly.



A beautiful Sphinx moth of some type.




I had hoped for more variety of chameleons on the night walks, and we did try hard along the road but didn't find much else.


BTW, most of the chameleon and insect photos were taken with the Fuji XT-30 mirrorless camera and 80mm macro lens. I carried this in addition to the Nikon for taking macro and close-ups. However, the cute Nose-horned Chameleon was taken with the iPhone 8+!

Edited by janzin
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That Blue Vanga, what a stunning shot! 


I'm increasingly horrified by the behaviour of your guide. I usually travel on my own so, outside of African bush camps, group tours are often the only budgetary option for me. Over the course of the last twenty years or so I've experienced the good, the bad (only one) and the indifferent, but most have been good.  Your description of the trail reminds me of Papua New Guinea - narrow and requiring single file, full of roots and rocks, slippery as hell. This meant that some of us were quite slow (me!) and often only the front few saw a particular bird before it disappeared into dense forest. Therefore, our guide asked us to change position frequently, ie. walk at the front for 15-20 mins, stand aside to let everyone pass and then join the end. Everyone complied and it made for a better atmosphere because, quite simply, it was fair and when a bird moved away quickly it was just the luck of the draw whether you saw it or not. Our guide often stood aside (a local guide leading) to help those of us struggling with a particularly difficult patch of trail and he cut walking sticks for those of us who needed them. For a guide simply to shout back that you won't see it if you don't make a potentially risky crossing (without any assistance!) is, in my opinion, appalling, not to say arrogant. In my experience many of the participants on group birding tours are seniors and so, therefore, agility may be reduced and propensity to break bones increased! On a tour the guide is the face of the brand and, with that sort of behaviour, I would never ever consider Rockjumper (despite their very good marketing materials!)


Having said all that, I'm enjoying your report, the photos are brilliant and, if I could get shots even as good as your self-described 'Not very good ones' I would be a very happy camper!

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@Galago I wouldn't discount Rockjumper on the whole, as they have dozens of guides, some of whom I know and have traveled with (not with Rockjumper but before they worked for them) and they have been unfailingly excellent, and attentive.  And our first trip with Rockjumper, to Cuba, was fabulous and the guide fantastic--which was one reason we felt that booking with them was safe. I think if we'd done this trip with a different guide it might have been a different story.  And to be fair, there was some trail rotation and we were instructed do do so, but honestly we felt like we should stay in the back and let the other, more agile folks run ahead as we felt guilty for slowing them down. Funny thing is that one of the "twitchers" was much older than us (71! I couldn't believe it when he told us!)


And as I said, the local guides, and Guy (who was the local guide for the entire tour) were very helpful, we couldn't have done it without them.


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There's a grail bird of Madagascar which up until recently was only likely to be seen in far Northeastern part of the island (Marojejy and Masaola National Parks.) But last year some were found to be nesting in a forest reserve which is adjacent to Andisabe/Mantadia--the Iaroka Forest Reserve.




(I believe this is actually a sign for a remote tent camp that is just outside the reserve.)


This bird is the Helmet Vanga. The local guides knew the exact spot where the bird was nesting and they'd been taking birding groups there for awhile. Of course, our group had to see it. David was particularly excited because he'd never seen it in this area (not having been to Madagascar in several years.) So it was another very early morning departure, and another long bumpy drive in another direction (I think this road was even worse than the road up to Mantadia, if that's possible.) David told us it might be about 1-1/2 to 2 hour hike in each direction to get to the nest--of course, again on the narrow, muddy, treacherous rain forest trails. Great! Alan and I were hesitant but how could we miss this special bird?


The plan was that the local guides would carry our lunches and we'd sit and have our lunch by the nest (if the bird wasn't there when we arrived) and wait for it to come in.


Some beautiful views of primary forest from the road.




We got to the trail and the group made our way through the forest. The pace was fairly quick, but as before, Alan and I stayed pretty much to the rear, and we managed with the help of the other guides. There were several stream crossings over slippery rocks, but none as bad as the one we'd skipped that first day in Mantadia.  So we slogged our way towards the nest site, and honestly we did not see any other birds or fauna along the way at all, at least we didn't stop for anything (but I didn't see or hear movement.) The forest here was very quiet.


But eventually...a shout up ahead! They'd spotted the Helmet Vanga before we reached the nest area! We rushed to catch up and yes, there was the bird! But naturally because we were a bit "late to the gate" I could not get a full-body view. This was the best I could do:





But wow, at least we could see the bird...and that insane blue bill! The bird didn't sit too long and started to fly back into the forest. David and most of the group decided to follow, which meant bush-whacking through dense brush and forest up a steep hill, so we opted out, as did 71 year old twitcher Jerry, who said he got his good look and didn't need to go chasing after it.  Guy waited with us and we all found a log to sit on and had some juice and cookies.


Eventually the rest came back, having seen the bird again but not much better. At this point I thought we'd turn around and head back, as we'd all seen the bird, but David wanted to continue to the nest as he thought it might head there.


It was another 20 minutes or so to the nest site--over more slippery creeks. We finally arrived, and found the nest, which was between two trees strung over the creek. But the nest was empty. Everyone found a seat on a rock or log, and the guides distributed our dry sandwiches (which I didn't eat) and bananas (which I did eat) and we waited.  Here's a pano I took with my phone of everyone sitting, eating, and waiting, watching the nest which is down the hill over the stream.


Luckily there didn't seem to be leeches right here.




I guess we were there about 45 minutes to an hour. I confess I got really bored and started playing word games on my phone to pass the time :rolleyes:


Finally, we gave up and started heading back.  We did find one other good bird on our way back--a Rufous-headed Ground-roller. I got a decent look, but no photos as it was distant and in the brush.


The only other creature I recall from that afternoon is this Short-horned Chameleon, he was grey and black when we first spotted him but then turned completely black!




On the return it did start to rain lightly and suddenly the leeches came out. We were wearing leech socks but that didn't help as they were dripping from the trees! I got one on my face, right by my eyebrow, ug!! and narrowly avoided getting one in my eye, as one was crawling on my eyeglasses!  Later that night David told us a horror story about a time he got one IN his eye, it had been in his binocular cup which he lifted to his eye! and it stayed for three days. :o


This was actually the only time on the entire trip we had a run-in with leeches. So it wasn't too bad, but getting one on my face really creeped me out.


Finally, on the way down the mountain the guides knew a spot for Madagascar Rail. It was actually raining pretty hard at this point so I left my camera in the car as we walked up a small trail to a little marshy area to look for it.  David played the call and sure enough it came out and ran right across the road, so a good view, but no photos.


That night it rained heavily, and as I noted earlier, our planned night walk didn't happen.


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We still had two more days in the Andisabe area but I'll try to wrap it up in one post.


We returned to the Analamazaotra Special Reserve with some targets in mind: a few birds, but most importantly, Indri, which we'd heard but not yet really seen. With this goal in mind the local guide took us out on the trail and it wasn't too long before we came upon our first group of three!


This was one of the few times we found other tourists in the same spot, there was a small group of about six people plus our group so it wasn't easy to get a good, unblocked angle for photos. But we were excited to see the Indri, and we really hoped we'd hear and see them give their haunting call.


The largest of the lemurs. A giant teddy bear!







And yes...one started calling directly above us! So loud and piercing!


Indri calling!




Unfortunately I didn't think to take a video...I always forget about video in the heat of the moment. But if you'd like to hear the call of the Indri, here's a link to a YouTube video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4rKTjQ1WitQ


We also were lucky to find our target bird for the morning, the Red-fronted Coua. He appeared right off a path that was paved with stones, so I was able to kneel down and get a photo at eye level.




A couple of other birds from that morning.




This Madagascan Wagtail was common everywhere, but I got my best photo in the parking lot of the reserve.




Other birds of the morning included Forest Fody, Red-breasted Coua, White-headed Vanga, Tylas Vanga, and more, but when David asked later "what was the sighting of the day?" in unison we all said "INDRI!"


We actually returned to the lodge for lunch that day and everyone was excited because during lunch they had PIZZA! Which actually wasn't bad, certainly an improvement over the horrid box lunches. I have no photos from the afternoon so I'm not sure what we did, LOL, I think it was raining again so we might have taken the afternoon off.


I do have this one photo of a Madagascar Coucal taken from the deck of the outdoor deck restaurant at the lodge where lunch was served,  which overlooked a small wetlands.




The next day we mercifully took a late start to head back to Mantadia for one last time, primarily to get the grebe which we'd missed the first day. So we got to eat a hot breakfast at the lodge. After breakfast we drove straight to the trail to the area where the grebe lives.


We had to cross a river but at least this time there was a bridge...of sorts! The man on the left in the white sweatshirt is Guy, our local guide and savior. ;)




Shortly after this bridge Alan took a bad fall in the mud (as I said, a day didn't go by here without both of us slipping and falling.) He was fine but his Nikon D500 got a lot of mud all over it, especially in some of the crevices of the dials. Thankfully this camera is considered weather-sealed and with a bit of cleaning up later that day it seemed that everything was in order. Whew, crisis averted but for awhile we were really concerned.


Anyway, soon we reached the pond that the grebe inhabits.







We immediately saw the grebe, although a bit far out in the middle of the lake.  This grebe is listed as endangered with only about 5,000 remaining.




There oddly wasn't much else on the lake, so we walked some trails nearby.  We were walking through a rather open field when the guide spotted something in a high tree...another life lemur, Black-and-white Ruffed Lemur! There was a pair, backlit and rather high. If you look closely you'll see the back of the 2nd one on the rear branch.




It was starting to drizzle again so after this we headed back towards the road, but not before spotting a Madagascar Girdled Lizard on some discarded boards.




Finally, we found this rather dark Indri just as the rains began in earnest, so I'll leave you with that to close out our time in Andisabe-Mantadia.




Tomorrow, we take the long drive back to Tana where we will stay overnight before heading to our next destination.


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This trip report has been fascinating.  What a time you had....both exciting and difficult...and it seems...wet!

I have really enjoyed following along.  Your photos are amazing...as always.

Thank you for telling us the good and the bad....a very realistic report.  Loved the link to the Indri call!


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Thanks @Ginny! Still a long way to go.


Yes the rainforest was wet but thankfully (and expectedly) that was the last we'd see of rain. The rest of the trip was sunny, hot and dry, as we were heading to a totally different area.



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The next day we left early for the drive back to Tana. David wanted to get to a spot on the river, early enough to search for the Madagascar Pratincole. We'd stopped on the way down and looked in a couple of places but didn't get it, so he wanted another shot at it. He thought we'd have a better chance earlier in the day, before disturbance by boats and fishermen.


We stopped by a bridge where there were many rocks in the river--the Pratincole likes to sit on the rocks. But no luck. Still, David felt it was worth spending some time, so we waited to see if any would fly by.  While we waited I took some photos of life going on around us.


There were men working on the bank, doing some sort of metalwork repairs, I assume for the bridge.




There were fishermen in the river, seine fishing.




A few vendors sold fruit and sundries to passing trucks.




There was a HUGE Orb Weaver in a web. Actually several :o




This young woman and her baby watched us with curiosity. What where those crazy vazaha (foreigners) doing with their cameras and optic gear?




We waited over 1/2 an hour but eventually gave up. The Pratincole was to elude us for this trip.


We made a few other stops along the way, this time for photo ops. We pulled up alongside several workers toiling in the rice paddies. Hard, muddy work.














We stopped again a bit further along as David pointed out these typical houses; they have no chimneys so you can see the soot marks above all the windows where wood fires are used for cooking and heating.




We arrived in Tana by lunchtime, but rather than checking into the hotel we went directly for a short stop at the Malagasy (Tsimbazaza) Zoo in central Tana...it would have been more time consuming to fight the traffic getting to our hotel on the outskirts, and coming back to the zoo.


The primary reason to visit the zoo was to find a few birds that we might not see elsewhere.  And we did pick up a few new trip birds.  Almost immediately upon entering I spotted a Madagascan Hoopoe. While it looks almost identical to the African Hoopoe, it is considered a separate species.




Another new bird was the Madagascar Turtledove.




There was a lake with a large rookery of egrets, including the endemic Malagasy Pond Heron.




Again, too far for a decent photo but here's a Little Egret.




Otherwise, the zoo was a bit sad and old and depressing with small enclosures for the animals. However, we did stop to see the Fossa as we had little to no chance of seeing it anywhere else.


After leaving the zoo we returned to the Relais de Plateaux for a late lunch and another early departure---tomorrow we head to the warm, sunny southwestern side of the island, and the spiny forests of Ifaty!


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The next morning we had a 10:30 flight to Tulear (Toliara), with plenty of time to get us there for an afternoon excursion. Our itinerary said "Upon arrival, we will visit the Tulear Harbour where we will scan the mudflats for waders and terns, and we may record Lesser Crested and Saunders’s Terns, Greater and Lesser Sand Plovers, Terek Sandpiper and/or the peculiar Crab-plover. " Well, at least that was the plan! We arrived at the airport around 8:30 and hmmm, why wasn't the 10:30 flight on the departure board?  David and Guy had some tete-a-tete with the Tsardia agents and lo and behold...there was no 10:30 flight--cancelled! the next flight would be at 3:30. Not only that, it wouldn't be non-stop but would go first to Fort Dauphin...on the complete opposite side of the island...before crossing back to Tulear.  So we wouldn't get to Tulear until almost dark. :(


Ah our first (not last!) experience with the wonderful Tsaradia airlines.


They did check in our bags and we got boarding passes for the 3:30 flight, so at least we knew we were on it. Maybe :rolleyes:


So what the heck would we do now? We were already checked out of the hotel. David offered to take us back to Lac Alarobia for a bit, as it isn't far from the airport. So, we did that and birded for awhile. I don't think we saw anything new but I got some additional photos (already posted in my first post from Lac Alarobia.)


After awhile we'd done all that we could there, and headed back to the airport. But it was still pretty early. David bought us lunch (more dry sandwiches) although we also got some pastries/cookies from the airport and Guy somehow finagled our way into the "VIP" lounge which was just some ratty couches and a table upstairs, but at least it was fairly comfortable. After we ate we all dozed on the couches until it was time for our flight.


Surprisingly, the Tsaradia plane was a jet--the only jet we'd have out of four flights. It left "on time", considering. And it was fairly comfortable, with friendly service and a good in-flight magazine.


Naturally, by the time we got to Tulear it was too late to do any of the planned birding. We still had an hours' drive to our hotel in Ifaty. But we made a very quick stop at the salt pans outside of Ifaty to see the Greater Flamingos, and saw a group of about 30. It was nearly dark but here's a record photo. Oddly--its not just the light--they were not very pink. The only other birds there were some plovers but we could barely see them.



We got to the Bamboo Hotel in Ifaty just in time to check in and have dinner. Tomorrow, the Spiny Forest.


Edited by janzin
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Thanks @janzin, this is another fascinating Madagascar trip report.  Not all smooth sailing but some great sightings.  That image of the red fody against a red wall is a pearler.  

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Another very early wake-up in order to get out birding before it got too hot. We are in a much hotter, drier climate here although it really wasn't uncomfortably hot.


The Bamboo Hotel is situated on the beach, more about the hotel later but here's the beach at sunrise. The beach looks lovely at this hour!



These hotels are all used to birding groups; I know Rockjumper uses these same hotels on every trip--so they were able to get us breakfast very early. In most cases, just as we did for dinner, we ordered our eggs (omelets, scrambled, whatever you wanted) the night before and everything was ready for us bright and early. So after a 5 a.m. breakfast we departed for the Spiny Forest, which was only 10 minutes down the road.


Of course, and sadly, much of this ancient spiny forest has been cut for charcoal, but there are some pockets that are preserved. We went where all the birding tours go--to Parc Mosa, a privately reserve owned by the Mosa family.  The Mosa brothers served as our local guides here, and in fact one of them accompanied us for all our birding in the Ifaty area





Would we see all the species on this sign?



Indeed, we would, over the next two days--although not all right here.


We went to the Parc Mosa twice; once early morning, then back to the hotel for lunch and a break, and then we returned around 4 p.m.  So I'm including photos from both afternoon and morning here.


It was a joy and a relief to be walking on flat, sandy trails! No mud here and very easy walking. Although due to the density of the flora, not necessarily always easier for photography, especially of the birds that stayed on the ground.


This shot is actually from later in the afternoon, but just to show scale.




The Baobabs here were fantastic, not as large as those in the famous "Avenue of the Baobabs" but still impressive, and we would not be going to that part of the island. There were many different species and I am not going to attempt to identify them.












This is yet another Baobab species. You'll note in the foreground lots of prickly pear; this is not native, introduced from Mexico and has unfortunately spread through a lot of the spiny forest.




This Boabab, which had been cut at some point, made a nice seat for a bit of a rest, and Alan took advantage of it.




The other fascinating vegetation found here is what gives the "spiny forest" its name: the endemic Didierea. These deciduous cactus-like plants are not true cacti, but a different order altogether, and found only on Madagascar.  The Didierea madagascariensis is commonly known as the octopus tree.




Here you can see how it is deciduous...one of these trees is still green, the other has dropped its leaves.







Many  birds would perch up and out in the open on the Didierea and that helped make this area much more rewarding in terms of photography.





An endemic weaver, the Sakalava Weaver.



This was one of the target birds here: The Sickle-billed Vanga. I was really pleased to get a good photo!




But some of the other targets were not as cooperative. One much sought after bird is the Subdesert Mesite. This endemic is one of only three species in the family, all highly endangered. We were taken to one on a nest but it was very well hidden and of course we didn't want to disturb it on the nest. This was the best I could do. @Atdahl got a much better photo!




Speaking of disturbance, one thing that bothered us here was that the local guides had a tendency to try and corral the ground birds for the birding groups, so that everyone would get a look or a photo. So they would more or less chase the birds toward you, (not in a violent way, just walking behind it) or at least towards a more open spot for folks to view it. I had really mixed feelings about this because of course it goes against our birding code of ethics (never harass a bird for a view or photograph.) BUT on the other hand, these local people are preserving the forest primarily because it brings in money from birding groups and tourists. Its a slippery slope, for sure.


Anyway, even with their "corraling" I still got lousy photos of another main target, and one bird I most wanted to photograph--the Long-tailed Ground-Roller.  Given my fail with the ground rollers in Andisabe, I knew this was my last chance at a decent photo of a ground roller. But, there was a lot of brush and too many people also taking photos and I never got a good angle. Sigh. Its a beautiful bird!


Long-tailed Ground-roller



They did the same routine with the Running Coua, another endemic. I did a little better with this one.




We did get led to a Madagascar Nightjar nesting off the path.  It was great to see this bird close up as we'd heard it all over the place, even in Tana, but I never caught a glimpse.




A few other birds seen here:








One rather surprising thing, we didn't see many reptiles here, just a few small lizards, no big chameleons. I don't know if it was just because they really weren't looking for them or what.


It got quite hot here very early, so we ended our morning session around 9ish but made another stop before heading back to the hotel for lunch. We stopped at another set of salt pans to find this target bird, the Madagascar Plover.




There were some other birds there as well, including Black Heron, Madagascar Lark, Madagascar Cisticola, Little Egret, Whimbrel, Greenshank...but most were scope views and with the heat haze photography was problematic.




We returned to the hotel by 10:30 for a break.  The Bamboo Hotel was quite nice, again I forgot to take photos of the cabin; it was basic but comfortable. There was a pool--




and the beach was nice, although the water was very shallow here, so not great for real "swimming" but perfect for a cooling off dip as it was completely calm and very warm...like a bathtub.




In fact, while Alan took a nap before lunch, I went for a swim with another couple from the group. It was really lovely and refreshing!


All in all this was the best day of the trip so far, we really loved the Spiny forest. And tomorrow should be even better, as we take our boat trip to Nosy Ve...really looking forward to that!


Edited by janzin
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Oh, a quick entry before we leave the Bamboo Hotel.


There were mouse lemurs living under the eaves of the restaurant and they would come out every night at dusk!




The hotel staff would tack some bananas on the trees outside the restaurant and the lemurs would come to eat.




We also found a different Gecko here, although I only got a shot with my phone, so they aren't that sharp, but its a really cool gecko.  This is the Standing’s Day Gecko, unfortunately it is threatened by illegal collection for the international pet trade and habitat loss. It is among the largest living species of day geckos.





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More beautiful photos, wildlife and people.

I am really enjoying your report 

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Seconding Tony - fantastic photos of many fascinating animals. Your experience may have had its downs, but the report is ups only in my book!:)

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Lovely photos, and certainly seems like an interesting experience. I'm just not sure I'd be ready to use my precious vacation to go to Madagascar at this point... It's be more tempted if I had as much time off as the Europeans do! ;)

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thanks @TonyQ and @michael-ibk and @Zubbie15 for following along! Its funny how as you write the report you tend to recall all the positive aspects and after some time the negative points seem to wane in importance. But, there were still more frustrations and annoyances to come :D along with some of the best days of the trips. Ups and downs indeed!


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@janzin your phots are top shelf, as expected. And those rice fields ... so green. Were they done with Fuji? We both surely still remember the colours of Velvia :o.


A side question: as all international birding tours are using same hotels, and probably same local birders, is there a local company that one could use, and thus avoding to pay for the costs of the extra guide?

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@xelas thank you for the compliments :)  Interesting observation about the Fuji--actually (in those rice paddy shots on this page) only the first one (wide angle) was with the Fuji, the rest with the Nikon D850.  You can actually see the greens are slightly different (although that in part may be due to different white balance.) But the Fuji cameras have "film simulations" (like Nikon Picture Controls) and I was using the "Velvia" simulation, as I often due for nature. You can see the vibrant colors in most of the spiny forest shots of baobabs etc (a few were with the iphone though.)  I do have EXIF data retained in any of the shots that are linked from my site, so you can see which camera was used; unfortunately ST strips the data from the ones directly uploaded. The Fuji JPGS are so fantastic that even though I was shooting RAW+JPG I don't think I had to process any from the RAW files


I am not that familiar with local tour companies; @Atdahl used one of course, so he may know more. One that came up often in my research, and seems to get good reviews, is Cactus Tours.


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