REMOTE MADAGASCAR & COMOROS BIRDING TOUR: DETAILED ITINERARY
Remote Madagascar: Day 1 Our tour begins this evening at Antananarivo. An airport transfer to our hotel will be provided.
Remote Madagascar: Day 2 Travel by road to Beamilaka in the Ampijoroa region for an overnight stay. Short birding stops en route, in particular for Madagascar Patridge.
Remote Madagascar: Day 3 Today we will drive to the city of Majunga (or Mahajanga) and take the ferry across the broad mouth of the Betsiboka River to Katsepy. Once at Katsepy, we will board our four-wheel-drive vehicles and make our way to Lac Kinkony. This is a truly remote area that can only be reached with four-wheel-drive vehicles and then a boat trip. It is also one of the most intact wetlands in western Madagascar and holds a number of rare and threatened species. We will arrive at our comfortable camp late in the afternoon for a two nights stay.
During the day we may well encounter such interesting birds as Dimorphic Egret, Malagasy Kestrel, White-fronted Plover, Madagascar Pratincole, Malagasy Turtle Dove, Malagasy Coucal, Olive (or Madagascar) Bee-eater, Madagascar Lark, Madagascar Wagtail, Crested Drongo, Madagascar Bulbul, Madagascar Magpie-Robin, Madagascar Cisticola, Malagasy Paradise Flycatcher, Souimanga and Malagasy Green Sunbirds, Madagascar Mannikin, the colourful Sakalava Weaver and Red Fody. Madagascar Sandgrouse is also a possibility.
Widespread species may well encounter include Squacco and Black Herons, Western Cattle and Great Egrets, African Openbill, Yellow-billed Stork, Glossy Ibis, White-faced Whistling Duck, Yellow-billed Kite, Namaqua Dove, African Palm Swift, Pied Crow and the introduced Helmeted Guineafowl and Common Myna.
Remote Madagascar: Day 4 In 2002 the poorly known Sakalava Rail was discovered in the remote wetlands around Lac Kinkony, south of Majunga, confirming that the species was still extant. This poorly-known species was only reliably recorded five times in the 20th century, and until very recently, had barely been seen by a western ornithologist. Today, we will explore the tall Phragmites-choked wetlands by pirogues (dug-out canoes), and as we pick our way through the numerous small channels, surrounded by tall reeds, we should soon find the furtive Sakalava Rail.
We are also likely to encounter such interesting birds as the Madagascar subspecies of the Little Bittern, Humblot’s Heron, Madagascar Harrier-Hawk, Madagascar Buzzard, White-throated Rail, Madagascar Jacana, Madagascar Green Pigeon, Red-capped and Crested Couas, Torotoroka Scops Owl, Madagascar Nightjar, Malagasy Kingfisher, Madagascar Hoopoe, Greater and Lesser Vasa Parrots, Grey-headed Lovebird, the wonderful Sickle-billed Vanga, Chabert Vanga, Common Newtonia, the vocal Madagascar Swamp Warbler, Long-billed Bernieria and Common Jery. More uncommon species of interest include Malagasy Sacred Ibis, Malagasy Pond Heron and Giant Coua.
More widespread species we are likely to find at Lake Kinkony include Little Grebe, Reed (or Long-tailed) Cormorant, African Darter, Black-crowned Night Heron, Striated, Purple and Grey Herons, African Spoonbill, Knob-billed Duck, African Swamphen, Common Moorhen, Black-winged Stilt, Common Greenshank, Common Sandpiper and Whiskered Tern. Less common species include White-backed Duck, African Pygmy Goose, Blue-billed (or Hottentot) Teal and Allen’s Gallinule.
Lemurs found in the area include the attractive Decken’s Sifaka, Grey Mouse Lemur and Mongoose Lemur.
Remote Madagascar: Day 5 After a final morning at Lac Kinkony we will make our way back to Majunga for an overnight stay. En route, we will make a small detour to Katsepy lighthouse to see the delightful Crowned Sifaka (or we may do this on the outbound journey to Kinkony). Depending on the tides, we may be able to look for the rare Bernier’s (or Madagascar) Teal.
Remote Madagascar: Day 6 From Majunga we head off inland towards the extremely remote Bemanevika area, but we will break our journey for a night at Antsohihy for an overnight stay.
Along the way, we will stop at a wetland where we are likely to find African Pygmy Goose and perhaps White-backed Duck and Allen’s Gallinule.
Remote Madagascar: Day 7 From Antsohihy we will drive into the remote Bemanevika area, the place where the Madagascar Pochard was rediscovered, for a three nights stay.
It is quite an adventure to reach the site as the roads are pretty rough and almost non-existent in places. We will make a few stops at wetlands on the way where we are likely to find a few new species such as Blue-billed (or Hottentot) Teal, the declining Malagasy Harrier, Brown-throated Martin, Madagascar Cisticola, the sneaky Grey Emu-tail, Madagascar Mannikin and, with luck, Baillon’s Crake.
Remote Madagascar: Days 8-9 The amazing rediscovery of this thought-to-be-extinct species has to be one of the most exciting ornithological moments of recent tims. A quirk of nature left the Madagascar Pochards’ remote lake with no apparent commercial value (there are no fish and it is too steep for rice growing). However, since Birdquest helped to establish the local conservation body, the lake now has value as an ecotourism resource and hopefully will be kept pristine. We should have little difficulty seeing this critically endangered species, and at this time of year, they may well have broods of small young. The population has now increased to 50 or more.
Whilst looking for the pochard, we should also find the increasingly rare Meller’s Duck and Madagascar Grebe, as well as Red-billed Teal and Red-knobbed Coot.
The surrounding forest also holds some very special endemic species, foremost of which is the amazing Red Owl, which can often be seen at its daytime roost. (If not, we will go out at night to find one.) The rather elusive Madagascar Owl occurs in the same area and there is even a real chance for the rare Madagascar Serpent Eagle!
Other birds of particular note present in the forest and adjacent open areas include Malagasy Harrier, Madagascar Blue Pigeon, the splendid Red-fronted Coua, the arboreal Blue Coua, the hyper-active Common Sunbird-Asity, the trunk-loving Grey-crowned Tetraka, Tylas Vanga (which may actually be an oriole!), Rand’s Warbler and Stripe-throated Jery (the two often singing from adjacent song-posts!), Green Jery, Madagascar Starling and the declining Forest Fody.
Other species found in the area include Frances’s Sparrowhawk, Madagascar Cuckoo, Rainforest Scops Owl, Alpine and Malagasy Black Swifts, Madagascar Pygmy Kingfisher, Pitta-like Ground Roller, Cuckoo-roller, Broad-billed Roller, Mascarene and Brown-throated Martins, Madagascar Cuckooshrike, Spectacled Tetraka, Red-tailed, Hook-billed, White-headed and Blue Vangas, Madagascar Stonechat, White-throated Oxylabes, Crossley’s Babbler, Grey Emutail, Malagasy Brush Warbler, Dark Newtonia, Madagascar Cisticola, Madagascar White-eye and Nelicourvi Weaver.
Whilst travelling to and from the lake we may well see Madagascar Buttonquail and perhaps even the scarce Madagascar Partridge, whilst a foray into one of the marshes at Bemanevika could well yield views of the furtive Madagascar Flufftail and Madagascar Rail, as well as Madagascar Snipe. If we are really lucky we will come across the rare Slender-billed Flufftail.
Remote Madagascar: Day 10 Today we will return to Antsohihy for an overnight stay, making a few short birding stops en route.
Remote Madagascar: Day 11 Today we will return to Antananarivo by road for an evening tour end. This will be a long travel day.
MASOALA PENINSULA PRE-TOUR EXTENSION
Remote Madagascar (Masoala): Day 1 The extension begins this evening at Antananarivo. An airport transfer to our hotel will be provided.
Remote Madagascar (Masoala): Day 2 This morning we will take a flight to Maroantsetra, a small town situated on the northeast coast of Madagascar. As we will most likely not arrive until midday or later, we will not be able to cross safely by boat to the Masoala today and so we will overnight at Maroantsetra.
have time for some birding around Maroantsetra where possibilities include Dimorphic Egret, Red Fody, Madagascar Mannikin and Madagascar Wagtail as well as widespread species such as Black-crowned Night Heron, Striated, Squacco, Purple and Black Herons, Western Cattle and Great Egrets, Yellow-billed Kite, Reed Cormorant, Grey (or Black-bellied) Plover, Common Ringed Plovers, Eurasian Whimbrel, Ruddy Turnstone, Common and Curlew Sandpipers, Greater Crested, Lesser Crested and perhaps Roseate and Common Terns, African Palm Swift, Pied Crow and the ubiquitous introduced Common Myna.
Remote Madagascar (Masoala): Day 3 Early this morning we will board our boat for the journey across the Bay of Antongila to the remote Masoala Peninsula for a three nights stay.
As we approach the eastern shore of the bay, heavily forested hills stretch as far as the eye can see, and in many places, the forest extends right down to the beach, for settlements are few and far between in this area. Eventually, we will reach our lodge, situated just 200 metres (roughly 600 ft) from the beach and right at the edge of the forest. We will be able to spend much of the day exploring the wonderful Masoala Peninsula.
Remote Madagascar (Masoala): Days 4-5 The Masoala Peninsula has only relatively recently been gazetted as a national park and holds some of the finest remaining rainforests in Madagascar. Huge buttress-rooted trees cloaked in epiphytic orchids and ferns provide cool shade for a relatively open forest floor and there are numerous clear streams and rivers. This is most definitely a beautiful and remote part of the island, indeed its forests have been saved by that very isolation from the Madagascan mainstream. Birding here feels like a privilege.
The star avian attraction of the Masoala is, without doubt, the improbable and spectacular Helmet Vanga with its stunning combination of black and tan feathering topped off with a huge, almost fluorescent, turquoise-blue bill. We have a very good chance of seeing this striking bird multiple times during our visit as it is fairly common on the Masoala and often associates with mixed flocks of vangas. Helmet Vangas can often be seen quite close to our lodge and here there is no need for the long hike that is required from those who want to look for this special bird in the Andasibe region of eastern Madagascar during our standard Madagascar tour.
Another major speciality we should also come across is the smart Bernier’s Vanga, a species confined to the rainforests of northeastern Madagascar which is reasonably easy to encounter here but hard to see around Andasibe. Perhaps we will come across a jet-black male hacking away at an epiphyte or a tiger-striped female stripping bark from a bough.
In addition, Red-breasted Coua is particularly common and easy to see at the Masoala as compared with elsewhere in Madagascar. We should be able to lure one into view, its blue orbital skin shining ‘electrically’ in the gloomy undergrowth, whilst its breast glows like burning coals.
We will also have excellent chances to find the stunning Scaly Ground Roller, another forest floor specialist, and the more arboreal, puffbird-like Short-legged Ground Roller.
Madagascar Serpent Eagle, a species that had not been recorded for over half a century, was re-found in very small numbers during long-term studies in the Masoala. We have sometimes recorded this shy forest raptor in the Masoala but it is elusive and so we will be hoping for good fortune.
Among the many other endemics or regional endemics that we may well see at this wonderful location are Malagasy Sacred Ibis, the attractive Madagascar Ibis, Madagascar Harrier-Hawk, France’s Sparrowhawk, Madagascar Buzzard, Brown Mesite, Madagascar Wood Rail, White-throated Rail, Madagascar Pratincole, Malagasy Turtle Dove, Madagascar Green Pigeon, Madagascar Blue Pigeon, Malagasy Coucal, Crestd and Blue Couas, Madagascar Cuckoo, Madagascar Cuckoo-Roller, Rainforest Scops Owl, Madagascar Spinetail, Pitta-like Ground Roller, Malagasy Kingfisher, Greater and Lesser Vasa Parrots, Red-tailed, Hook-billed, White-headed, Chabert, Blue, Rufous and Tylas Vangas, the fabulous Crossley’s Vanga, Common Newtonia, Madagascar Cuckooshrike, Crested Drongo, Malagasy Paradise Flycatcher, Malagasy Bulbul, Mascarene Martin, Long-billed Bernieria, Spectacled Tetraka, Green Jery, Common Jery, Malagasy White-eye, Madagascar Starling, Madagascar Magpuie-Robin, Souimanga and Malagasy Green Sunbirds and Nelicourvi Weaver. We may also see one or two of the scarcer species such as Madagascar Sparrowhawk or Banded Kestrel.
More widespread species may include Red-billed Teal, White-fronted Plover, Greater Sand Plover, Terek Sandpiper, Bridled Tern, Broad-billed Roller and Olive Bee-eater.
On the mammal front, we will surely hear the raucous cries of the Red Ruffed Lemur and we will have a very good chance of seeing this impressive species, as well as Greater Dwarf Lemur, White-fronted Brown Lemur, Eastern Avahi, Eastern Grey Bamboo Lemur and perhaps Brown Mouse Lemur, Scott’s (or Masoala) Sportive Lemur or Moore’s Avahi.
Remote Madagascar (Masoala): Day 6 We will return to Maroantsetra this morning and from there take a flight to Antananarivo where the extension ends this afternoon.
COMORO ISLANDS POST-TOUR EXTENSION
Comoros: Day 1 The tour begins this afternoon at Moroni airport on the island of Grand Comore in the Republic of the Comoros, from where we will transfer to the town of Moroni for a three nights stay.
Comoros: Days 2-3 Grande Comore (or Grand Comoro), otherwise known as Ngazidja, is the largest and westernmost of the Comoro Islands. During our time on the island, we will explore various areas in the highlands, concentrating on the area around Mount Karthala, which has the largest crater of any of the world’s active volcanoes!
Grand Comoro single island endemics that we should find during our exploration of the island include the critically endangered Grand Comoro Drongo, Grand Comoro Bulbul, the interesting Humblot’s Flycatcher (the sole representative of the genus Humblotia), Grand Comoro Brush Warbler, Kirk’s White-eye and the iridescent Grand Comoro Green Sunbird (now sometimes split from Malagasy Green Sunbird).
In addition, on the upper slopes of Mount Karthala, we will search for the endemic Karthala (or Grand Comoro) Scops Owl and the endemic Karthala White-eye, both of which we should find.
We will also see a number of endemics shared between islands, including Comoros Olive Pigeon, the attractive Comoros Blue Pigeon, Comoros Black Parrot (of the endemic Grand Comoro form), Comoros Cuckooshrike (also of the endemic Grand Comoro subspecies), Comoros Thrush (a species which surely merits a three-way split as the individual island forms are distinctive), the attractive Humblot’s Sunbird and the Grand Comoro form of the Comoros (or Red-headed) Fody.
In addition, we will look out for the Grand Comoro forms of Frances’s Sparrowhawk, Malagasy Spinetail, Malagasy Paradise Flycatcher and African Stonechat (the very isolated montane form here is a likely future split as Grand Comoro Stonechat). Malagasy Harrier is surprisingly common on the island, and around the coast, we should find the Comoros endemic subspecies of Striated Heron and Malagasy Kingfisher.
The Comoro Islands are also home to a number of introduced species such as Ring-necked (or Cape Turtle) and Tambourine Doves, Grey-headed Lovebird, Bronze Mannikin and House Sparrow.
Comoros: Day 4 Today we will take a flight to the nearby island of Mohéli for a two nights stay. Once we have arrived on the island we will make our way to our accommodation.
Depending on the time of the flight, there will be time for birding on Grand Comoro or Mohéli or both.
Comoros: Day 5 Mohéli, also known as Mwali, is home to four single-island endemic bird species, as well as three others that are shared only with Grande Comore.
During our visit, we will explore the remnant montane forest of the central spine of the island where we should find the uncommon endemic Mohéli (or Benson’s) Brush Warbler, the endemic Mohéli Bulbul and the endemic Comoros Blue Vanga (the sole representative of this family outside of Madagascar). With just a little luck we will come across the rarely observed Comoros Green Pigeon, which is endemic to the Comoro Islands as a whole. After dark, we will try for the recently described endemic Mohéli Scops Owl, which we have an excellent chance of seeing as well as hearing its weird screaming calls.
In addition, we should also find the local forms of Humblot’s Sunbird, Comoros Thrush (the distinctive Mohéli form is probably a good species) and, with luck, the rare Mohéli form of the Comoros Cuckooshrike. Other species we may well encounter include the Mohéli forms of Malagasy Paradise Flycatcher, Malagasy White-eye, Malagasy Green Sunbird and Comoros (or Red-headed) Fody.
Off the coast, we are likely to see Lesser Frigatebirds and attractive Masked Boobies, and we also have a good chance of seeing the endemic temptator form of the Persian (or Arabian) Shearwater.
Comoros: Day 6 We will take a flight to the island of Anjouan in the Republic of the Comoros for a two nights stay.
Depending on the timing of the flight, we will spend time birding on either Mohéli or Anjouan. This evening we will have our first opportunity to look for the rather elusive endemic Anjouan Scops Owl.
Comoros: Day 7 Anjouan, also known as Ndzuwani or Nzwani, is the easternmost of the three islands which make up the Republic of the Comoros and is home to three single-island endemics. Two of these, Anjouan Sunbird and Anjouan Brush Warbler, are easy to find and even occur in the town. Sadly, the natural vegetation on Anjouan has been devastated and it is difficult to find any decent forest. Much more time will be spent tracking down the endearing Anjouan Scops Owl, which may well prove a little challenging as it seems to require reasonable habitat!
Other species we will be looking for on Anjouan include the scaly Anjouan form of the endemic Comoros Thrush (another likely split), as well as the Comoros form of the Greater Vasa Parrot, a Comoros endemic form of the Cuckoo-roller that is found only on Grand Comoro and the Anjouan forms of Malagasy Paradise Flycatcher, Malagasy White-eye and Comoros Fody. We will also hope to see the scarcer endemic island taxa, including the Anjouan forms of Crested Drongo and the rare Frances’s Sparrowhawk.
Comoros: Day 8 Today we will take a short flight to Daoudzi airport on Petite-Terre Island. Daoudzi is the capital of the territory of Mayotte.
Situated at the northern end of the Mozambique Channel, between Madagascar and Africa, Mayotte (officially known by the title ‘The Departmental Collectivity of Mayotte’) is an Overseas Territory of France consisting of two main islands (Grande-Terre or Mahoré, and Petite-Terre or Pamandzi) and several islets. The territory has been politically separate from the rest of the Comoro Islands since the 1970s.
On arrival, we will travel by ferry across to Grande-Terre and then travel a short distance to our accommodation for a two nights stay.
Along the way we will stop to see the endemic Mayotte White-eye, which is easy to find, and we will call in at a park where we may well find the endemic Mayotte form of the Comoros (or Red-headed) Fody. Other species we may well encounter include Malagasy Turtle Dove and Cuckoo-roller (the latter, curiously, of the mainland Madagascar form, unlike the situation on Grand Comore and Anjouan).
Comoros: Day 9 Our time on Grande-Terre will largely be spent exploring the slopes of Mont Combani (480m or around 1570ft). Here our time will be devoted to finding the three additional endemics that are restricted to Mayotte, as well as some other more widespread Comoro Islands endemics. We will follow a jeep track up the mountain to search for the endemic Mayotte Drongo and endemic Mayotte Sunbird (both of which should be relatively easy to find) and after dark, we will search for the endemic Mayotte Scops Owl, which is common and easy to see. We should also find two more widespread Comoros endemics; namely Comoros Olive Pigeon and the gorgeous Comoros Blue Pigeon.
With the current trend in splitting, especially of small island forms, we will be on the lookout for all of the endemic taxa throughout the Comoro Islands, and here on Mayotte, these include the Mayotte forms of Frances’s Sparrowhawk and Malagasy Paradise Flycatcher.
Off the coastline, we may turn up both Sooty and Bridled Terns, and Brown Noddy.
Comoros: Day 10 This morning we will travel back to Petite-Terre, spending some time looking around Pamandzi Lagoon. Elegant White-tailed Tropicbirds breed on the island and the lagoon often holds the superb Crab-plover (the sole member of its family) as well as a good selection of other species, including Peregrine, Greater Crested Tern and the Comoros forms of Striated Heron and Malagasy Swift.
Our tour ends around midday at Dzaoudzi airport.