Tuesday, 16 August 2016


Andisibe is the nearest large rain forest to the capital city of Antananarivo in Madagascar.

Although it is less than 200 kilometres it takes three hours to reach as the road is very busy and there are not many opportunities for safe overtaking.

The journey out started well with a hamerkop seen flying over the road less than 50 kilometres out of the city. However this was the only addition to my country list while travelling out.

The main regional guide describes August as part of the dry, cool season in Andasibe. I disagree. There is no such thing as a dry season at Andasibe. There is a wet season and a very wet season. The least wet month is October with 75 mm (3 inches). October is also the warmest month and so October and late September is when most bird tours visit.

My main holidays don't allow an October visit so August it was.

It was cool bordering on cold and wet. The light was mostly poor and dappled too so photography was very difficult.

Madagascar bulbul

Only a Madagascar bulbul made it easy for me at the start of a guided tour round Perinet Park. By the way guides are complusory but mine, Claude, was very knowledgeable and his part of the park is run communally. So the funds collected go to the village.

At the entrance to the park was a pair of Madagascar blue pigeon high up a dead tree.

Madagascar blue pigeon

Inside, I had requested to find Madagascar pygmy kingfisher so we spent more time than most in the denser woodland. It was one bird we didn't managed to see though it was heard.

A majority of foreign visitors come for the lemurs. Ironically we saw all three types of lemurs which are active in the day including Eastern Lesser Bamboo Lemur

Eastern Lesser Bamboo Lemur

This is the rarest of the three and one which guides often struggle to find for their clients. As we were out birding, it proven easy for us!

Indri lemur

By far the noisiest lemur and the largest was Indri lemur. It also has only a very small tail and is often erroneously called tailless.

As we walked around we picked up four types of vanga. Vanga are endemic only to Madagsacr and in one case the near-by Comores. The four were: Red-tailed Vanga, Chabert Vanga, Blue Vanga, Ward's Vanga. Each one normally holds a different position highwise in the forest. However Claude told me that after a rainy and cold night, most birds move up to the high canopy to gain warmth from the sun. Indeed only red-tailed vanga was eventually seen at eye level.

Other birds with more obvious places in the forest were two greenbuls. These were spectacled greenbul and long-billed greenbul. Both were in dense low lying bush. Other relatively low birds were common newtonia, common jery and green jery. Though once again the cold weather pushed them higher than usuall apparently.

female Madagascar buzzard

A small clearing in the forest produced a flurry of additions to my list. Not least was Madagascar buzzard. The regional guide says that the amount of brown on the breast is highly variable. Claude had a reason why. He said that the male bird is all white while the female has the brown.

male Madagascar buzzard

I have no reason to doubt him particularly as the birds tried mating right in front of us. The plumage features matched the positions taken. 

Other additions at the clearing included a single Madagascar starling, my only one of the trip.

female Madagascar magpie robin

Two others were a female Madagascar magpie robin and a male Nelicourvi Weaver.

Another highlight of the park was a sleeping Madagascar scops owl which Claude had seen regularly until two months before but had returned that day to one of its sleeping spots. Even though I got within two metres of the bird I could not take a photo as it was in a dark place. I don't carry a torch with me in daytime so my camera would not focus for a flash photograph. I suppose it was good news for the sleeping bird.

One of the last birds we saw was (finally) a blue coua.

In all, we walked round the park for six hours left just as it stated to rain again around noon.

I had two hours free time the next morning before my return to Antananarivo and it had started a little less grey than the day before. I decided to walk up the road to see if I could add any better photos for this blog.

male Souimanga Sunbird

A distant Souimanga sunbird was hardly a good photo but was better than a previous one I had taken.

tree boa

While walking I spotted one of the species of tree boa native to Madagascar. The island doesn't have any highly venomous snakes and of course boas are constrictors anyway.

Near the nearest hamlet down the road I came across my only Ashy cuckooshrike of the trip. It behaved well for photography.

Ashy cuckooshrike

There was a crested drongo near-by and a Madagascar wagtail was seen within the village.

crested drongo

There is an office of the Association des guides d'Andasibe in thr hamlet. I recommend you ask any guide you see if they are a member. This is a guarantee of quality though some are generalists, some are lemur specialists, some botany and a few are birders. 

the local nature guides association

Rather cruelly, the weather became brighter in the two hours before I was due to leave. For example the picture of a Madagascar blue pigeon below is better than any I managed in the gloom of the day before.

Madagascar blue pigeon

In the last few minutes before departure there was bright sunshine. Outsied my chalet, mobile flock of Madagascar munia were moving on the high grass and low bush. I wonder where they go during the rains?

A glimpe of a Madagascar munia

There were completely blue skies as I left, though I doubt it would have lasted for too long.

Madagascar bee-eater with blue sky

The way back to the city gave me two late adds to my country list. A striated heron was seen on the edge of a flooded paddyfield. Unusally straited heron are seen inland throughout the country. Soon after a few Madagascar black swift were all observed.

In retrospect I should have got out of the city earlier. If there is a next time Iwill know.

List of birds seen at Andisibe
Madagascar Buzzard
Madagascar Green-Pigeon
Madagascar Blue-Pigeon
Blue Coua
Madagascar Coucal
Malagasy Scops-Owl
Madagascar Bee-eater
Lesser Vasa-Parrot
Common Newtonia
Red-tailed Vanga
Chabert Vanga
Blue Vanga
Ward's Vanga
Ashy Cuckooshrike
Crested Drongo
Madagascar Paradise-Flycatcher
Madagascar Bulbul
Madagascar Brush-Warbler
Common Jery
Green Jery
Madagascar Magpie-Robin
Madagascar Starling
Souimanga Sunbird
Madagascar Wagtail
Nelicourvi Weaver
Madagascar Munia

Thursday, 11 August 2016


I am in Mauritius for a short break before returning to Madagascar. I spent a full day birding in Black River National Park which is the rain forest stronghold for endemic birds. I also spent a morning birding along the coastal strip at resort of Flic en Flac. Both places are in Black River district council area and are arguably the best places to locate yourself if you have only a very short time on the island.

A pelagic trip or a visit to one of the small off shore islands is the next obvious move if you have more time which I don't. A visit to an estuary for waders should round things off. With those four trips, you could see pretty much all Mauritius has to offer depending on the season.

I entered the national park at the Black River entrance. In this area there are high trees with very little ground cover. My only sighting was a group of Mauritius white eye in the canopy. This was my only sighting of them on the island.

Most paths start to rise and once you have risen 200 or 300 metres or so, the trees are lower and bushes appear. It is in this higher zone that birding was more productive.

pink pigeon

Indeed almost the first birds I saw were a group of three pink pigeon. This is an endangered endemic and one of the main reasons to visit the park.

pink pigeon obscured

Near-by I came across two Mauritius bulbul. To me they looked very similar to Madagascar bulbul. I am a very anti-splitting person though.

Mauritius bulbul

In the guide book, the Birds of the Indian Ocean islands, it is stated that you are extremely inlikely to see them near Red-whiskered bulbul. While this may have been the case in the past, it is not true now. The area was full of red-whiskered bulbul. They have moved out of the lowlands into the forests.

Red-whiskered bulbul near the Mauritius bulbul

Of course they are abundant on the coast. The one below was on a chair in my hotel's outdood dining area.

red-whiskered bulbul at the hotel

In the bushes, several flock of Mauritius grey white eye were observed but they were mobile and mosly in cover. They are most easily separated from Mauritius (olive) white eye by their pale rump.

Another bird with a pale rump which can be seen in the area is Mascarene swiftlet. Several were flying in the highest part of the park. This is the only swift on Mauritius.

Mauritius parakeet were also observed quite easily in this part of the park. There noise gives them away but they are well camouflaged when they land.

record shot of white tailed tropicbird

On the way back down, a few white tailed tropicbird were seen drifting across the far side of the park. Unfortunately they never came close. You should just be able to see one in the centre of the picture above.

lower part of the rain forest

I was in the forst for nearly eight hours so I ad to work hard ofr my views. Unfortunately I didn't find any Mauritius kestrel even though this is their stronghold. 

Madagascar turtle dove

Back near the entrance, I saw two types of dove which I had missed in the morning. One was Madagascar turtle dove.

zebra dove
The other was near the car park itself and was a zebra dove also called barred ground dove. This introduced species is common in the disturbed parts of the island.

common myna

Sadly the common myna which was also introduced has found its way into the forst too though only in the areas with secondary and non-native growth.


An introduced species of a different type is the mongoose. They aren't difficult to see if you stay alert of what is ahead of you.

crab-eating macaque

And yet another introduction which is easy to see, at least near the Black River entrance information centre is crab-eating macaque.

The next morning I walked along the coastal strip at Flic en Flac. This was light relief compared with eith hours in the rain forest the day before.

House sparrow is common particualarly under the pine trees.

 common waxbill

However it is nowhere near as common was common waxbill.

some common waxbill

Some of the waxbill even spilt over not the beach.

Mascarene martin hawk over the waves at the shore line. They even ocassionally land on the beach and near-by grass.

record shot of a landed Mascarene martin

As well as feral pigeon there are other doves along the strip. These include a few spotted dove which were introduced near 250 years ago.

spotted dove

Zebra dove are extremly numerous. However I spent some time viewing the one below which was much darker (more pigmented) than the others. Even the blue on its bill appeared deeper.

dark zebra dove

The final bird I added to my small Mauritius list was village weaver. One was so busy eating bread it stayed in position for prolonged views.

village weaver

After this short rest and recreation, I am going back to Madagascar. I intend to visit a rain forest there which should more varied birds than the city of Antananarivo which I have already seen.

Saturday, 6 August 2016

Parc de Tsarasaotra

This morning was my second full day in Antananario, Madagascar. I had decided to visit a local hotspot and RAMSAR classified wetland konwn as Lake Alarobia inside Parc de Tsarsaotra.

However, first came breakfast and once again I added to my Madagasacr list at the breakfast table. A look down the hillside before it was served and I spied a mixed flock of mostly Madagascar red fody but also including Madagascar brush warbler and a single Madagascar bulbul which I managed to photograph.

Madagascar bulbul

There are warnings on the internet that you must buy an entry permit from Boogie pilgrim's travel office at Tana waterfront before you go onto the Parc. They cannot be purchased at the Parc. It is advised that you go the day before because the travel office only opens at 9am but many birders want to visit the Parc at 6am when it opens.

Well I am not lazy but I worked out that with maximium temperatures of 23 C birds would be nearly as active in the day as at 6 am so I elected to pick up a ticket at 9 am when the office opened and go on from there.

And that's when a problem arose. For some reason Boogie Pilgrim is not open on a Saturday. Perhaps I should have gone to them on Friday afternoon afterall.

common moorhen at Tana water front

I decided not to panic and quickly birded the water front adding common moorhen and red-billed teal to my small but growing Madagascar list.

My taxi driver and I elected to try our luck at the Parc. We were let in the front gate and advised to visit the manager's house. It turned out the gentleman was not the manager but one of the family which owns the Parc but contracts Boogie Pilgrim to maintain it. I am much obliged that I was given special permission to stay in these private grounds. I owe a debt to the family.

white-faced whistling duck

On the lilies near the entrance there were at least one hundred birds though most of them were either white-faced whistling duck, red-billed teal or black-crowned night heron.

A few moorhen and squacco heron were the other birds there.

squacco heron

I was looking out for any Madagasy pond heron but I need not have bothered. Although this is one of the two main breeding sites in the country for this bird, they migrate to the mainland in the dry season (May until December).

non breeding dimorphic egret

A few non-breeding dimorphic egret particularly when squat bear a close resemblence to the traget species and were scrutinised carefully, I could make any itnto the pond heron.

There were many more dimorphic egret around. Some were in breeding plumage and were spending much time high in trees or on the lake's main island. Black heron were there too.

plenty of white-faced whistling duck

I searched very hard among the ducks for odd ones out. This is a difficult task as there were nearly 300 red-billed teal and over 100 white-faced whistling duck to look over.

Meller's duck with red-billed teal

I was eventually rewarded with the sgihting of two Meller's duck.

Meller's duck

This duck is endemic to Madagascar and not at all common.

Meller's duck swimming

Birding was not all about ducks and herons. Early on two yellow-billed kite flew over.

Madagascar red fody flocks were encountered several times. One or two of them were mixed flocks with Madagascar white-eye. Two single Madagascar turtle dove were come across during the session too. Unfortunately common myna was all too common.

Madagascar kingfisher

Once again I found Madagascar kingfisher.

Madagascar kestrel

Yesterday at the botanical gardens I thought I had seen a Madagascar kestrel but views wern't good enough for me to add it to my list. This time views were good and also stationary as well as in flight.

rufous morph Madagascar kestrel

Late on I also found one of the minority rufous morph Madagascar kestrel.

Madagascar wagtail

Towards the end of my session, another member of the owning family came to see me and to talk about birds especially how to maintain the breeding sites for the herons and how to deal with the hundreds of myna which roost there in the evening (and I only saw ten or so during the day).

He was kind enough to show me a completely private area where I added Madagascar wagtail to my list as it sat on a car. However the targetted Madagascar jacana which is known in this area failed to materilise.

Madagascar wagtail on ground

I am endebted to the owners for allowing me to visit today. I know they are committed to the bird life and genuinely want this wetland to shrive.

Friday, 5 August 2016

Antananarivo's botanic gardens

I am in Antananarivo, Madagascar for a short while in my quest to visit every country in the world in my lifelife. Madagascar is number 103.

Needless to say, I am trying to do some birding. 

I got off to a good start when I had both brown-throated martin and Mascarene martin making sorties into the hotel garden as I took breakfast.

After that I took a cab the short distance to the botanical gardens which offer a soft and safe introduction to birding in the city.

Things started well enough as I spotted a Madagascar turtle dove grazing under trees close to the entrance.


This turned out to be a false omen as non-water birds proved very difficult to find during the rest of the morning.

The vast majority of the birds were around the two lakes in the gardens. 

adult black-crowned night heron

First to be seen was a black-crowned night heron. It proved to be the first of many.

young black-crowned night heron

Night herons of all ages were present including unfledged birds such as the two below.

unfledged black-crowned night heron

They were not the most common species there though. That title goes to dimorphic egret which e-bird and Clements consider to be a sub-species of little egret.

dimorphic egret

Many were in their breeding plumage which includes red feet and red lores.

two dimorphic egret

The birds in breeding plumage were generally higher up the trees ans presumably thinking about nest making because I saw no obvious fledlings like with the black-crowned night heron.

non-breeding dimorpic egret

A few black heron were also present. They tended to be in a loose flock.

black heron

There were four or so birds which appeared slightly lighter and larger which I can't postively identify.  

unidentified dark heron

The guide books say that only the toes are yellow (or red in the breeding season) on a black heron. These other birds have yellow leading well up the legs which is a feature  of dimorphic egret.  Though none had the white throat also expected of dimorphic egret.

two egrets

Some times these dark birds also appeared to be associating with the pale dimorphic egret too.

My guide book says that dark and intermediate morph dimorphic egret are much more common on the Madagascar coast than inland at Antananarivo.

I am perplexed by these birds. This is what happens when you bird a new region and have no guide! However it more fun to work it out than to be told.

Among all the the herons was at least one great white egret.

great white egret

This is one of the few species seen today which wasn't a lifer. Note the long gape line past the end of the eye which is a useful way of separating this species from Intermediate egret.

one of two Madagascar kingfisher

Two Madagascar kingfisher would have ebbn easy to overlook but I was didn't.

I said at the beginning of the blog that non-water birds were hard to find. Unfortunately one of them was common myna.

Two others were distant birds of prey which were probably Malagasy kestrel and Madagascar buzzard. I won't clain either as the views weren't good enough and they would both be lifers. I have a higher benchmark for observation of first time birds.

Three Madagascar hoopoe were seen satisfactorily however and it is a lifer.

Madagascar bee-eater

Only at the end of the gardens away from the crowds did I get much success with other birds inlcuding Madagascar bee-eater.

Madagascar red fody

I had to work very hard for my final bird which was Madagascar red fody. A small number of them moved from one high tree to another always in the high canopy. One good picture helped me with identification.

Tomorrow I hope to go to a birding hotspot subject to a visitors permit. I will blog about that next.