MADAGASCAR WITH A DIFFERENCE TOUR: DETAILED ITINERARY
Madagascar with a Difference: Day 1 Our tour begins this morning or afternoon (depending on flight schedules) at Antananarivo airport, from where we will take a flight to the city of Majunga (or Mahajanga) in northwestern Madagascar for an overnight stay.
Depending on our arrival time, we may have some time for birding around Majunga.
Madagascar with a Difference: Day 2 This morning we will 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, Madagascan Kestrel, White-fronted Plover, Madagascan Pratincole, Madagascan Sandgrouse, Malagasy Turtle Dove, Greater and Lesser Vasa Parrots, Grey-headed Lovebird, Madagascan Cuckoo, Madagascan Coucal, Olive (or Madagascan) Bee-eater, Madagascan Bush Lark, Madagascan Wagtail, Madagascan Bulbul, Sickle-billed and Chabert’s Vangas, Madagascan Magpie-Robin, Madagascan Cisticola, Common Jery, Malagasy Paradise Flycatcher, Souimanga Sunbird, Malagasy Green Sunbird, Madagascan Mannikin, the colourful Sakalava Weaver, Red Fody and Crested Drongo. We may well also encounter a small group of the attractive Decken’s Sifaka.
Widespread species may well 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, Broad-billed Roller, Pied Crow and the introduced Common Myna.
Madagascar with a Difference: Day 3 During 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 Little Bittern, Dimorphic Egret, Malagasy Pond Heron, Humblot’s Heron, Madagascan Harrier-Hawk, White-throated Rail, Madagascan Jacana, Madagascan Green Pigeon, Red-capped and Crested Couas, Torotoroka Scops Owl, Madagascan Nightjar, Malagasy Kingfisher, Madagascan Hoopoe, the vocal Madagascan Swamp Warbler and Common Newtonia.
More widespread species we are likely to find at Lake Kinkony include Little Grebe, Reed (or Long-tailed) Cormorant, African Darter, Black-crowned Night, Striated, Purple and Grey Herons, African Spoonbill, Knob-billed Duck, Red-billed Teal, African Swamphen, Common Moorhen, Black-winged Stilt, Common Greenshank, Common Sandpiper and Whiskered Tern.
Madagascar with a Difference: Day 4 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. Providing ferry timings permit, we will visit an area where the rare and endangered endemic Bernier’s (or Madagascan) Teal can be found.
Madagascar with a Difference: Day 5 From Majunga we head off inland towards the extremely remote Madagascan Pochard 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.
Madagascar with a Difference: Day 6 From Antsohihy we will drive into the remote area where the Madagascan Pochards were rediscovered for a two 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 Hottentot Teal, the declining Malagasy Harrier, Brown-throated Martin, Madagascan Cisticola, the sneaky Grey Emu-tail, Madagascan Mannikin and, with luck, Baillon’s Crake.
We should reach our camp, in a small and very friendly village in the afternoon, in time for some initial exploration.
Madagascar with a Difference: Day 7 The amazing rediscovery of this thought-to-be-extinct species has to be one of the most exciting ornithological moments of recent years. A quirk of nature has left the Madagascan Pochard’s lake with no apparent commercial value (there are no fish and it is too steep for rice growing). However, now that Birdquest has helped to establish the local conservation body, the lake 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.
Whilst looking for the pochard, we should also find the increasingly rare Meller’s Duck and Madagascan Grebe, as well as Red-knobbed Coot.
The surrounding forest also holds some special species, foremost of which is the amazing Red Owl, which can often be seen at its daytime roost. The elusive Madagascan Owl occurs in the same area, and other goodies present in the forest include Madagascan 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, Madagascan Starling and the declining Forest Fody.
Other species in this area include Madagascan Buzzard, Rainforest Scops Owl, Alpine and Malagasy Black Swifts, Madagascan Pygmy Kingfisher, Pitta-like Ground Roller, Cuckoo Roller, Mascarene Martin, Madagascan (or Ashy) Cuckooshrike, Spectacled Tetraka, Red-tailed, Hook-billed and Blue Vangas, Madagascan Stonechat, White-throated Oxylabes, Crossley’s Babbler, Grey Emutail, Malagasy Brush Warbler, Dark Newtonia, Madagascan White-eye and Nelicourvi Weaver.
Whilst travelling to and from the lake we may well see Madagascan Buttonquails and Common Quail, and perhaps Madagascan Partridge, whilst a foray into one of the marshes will, with a bit of luck, yield views of the furtive Madagascan Flufftail and Madagascan Rail, as well as Madagascan Snipe. If we are very lucky we will find the rare Slender-billed Flufftail.
Madagascar with a Difference: Day 8 After a final morning in the Madagascan Pochard area we will return to Antsohihy for an overnight stay.
Madagascar with a Difference: Day 9 Today we will return to Majunga and take an afternoon or evening flight to Antananarivo, where we will overnight.
Madagascar with a Difference: Day 10 This morning we will take a flight to Maroantsetra, a small town situated on the northeast coast of Madagascar. Here we will board a speedboat for the journey across the Bay of Antongila to the remote Masoala Peninsula for a four 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 down to the beach, for settlements are few and far between in this area. Eventually, we will reach our lodge, situated just 200 metres from the beach and right at the edge of the forest. Provided we do not have to delay the crossing owing to wind, we will commence our exploration of the Masoala this afternoon.
Madagascar with a Difference: Days 11-13 The Masoala Peninsula has only relatively recently been gazetted as a national park and holds some of the finest forests 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.
The star avian attraction here is, without doubt, the improbable and spectacular Helmet Vanga with its stunning combination of black and tan topped off with a huge, almost fluorescent, turquoise-blue bill. We have a very good chance of seeing this striking bird, which is not uncommon on the Masoala and often associates with mixed flocks of vangas.
Another major speciality we should also come across is the smart Bernier’s Vanga, a species confined to the rainforests of northeastern Madagascar. Perhaps we will come across a jet-black male hacking away at an epiphyte or a tiger-striped female stripping bark from a high bough.
In addition, Red-breasted Coua is particularly common and easy to see here. We should be able to lure one into view, its blue orbital skin shinning electrically in the gloomy undergrowth, whilst its breast glows like burning coals.
We will also have an excellent chance to find the stunning Scaly Ground Roller, another forest floor specialist and the more arboreal, puffbird-like Short-legged Ground Roller.
Madagascan Serpent Eagle, a species that had not been recorded for over half a century, was recently re-found in very small numbers during long-term studies in the Masoala. While we have occasionally recorded this shy forest raptor in the Masoala, it is exceedingly elusive and so we have, realistically, very little chance of coming across one during our stay. We can only live in hope!
Among the many other endemics or regional endemics that we may well see here are the secretive Malagasy Sacred Ibis, France’s Sparrowhawk, Brown Mesite, Madagascar Wood Rail, Rainforest Scops Owl, Madagascan Spinetail, White-headed Vanga, the fabulous Crossley’s Babbler and Long-billed Bernieria. We may also see one or two of the scarcer species such as Madagascar Sparrowhawk or Banded Kestrel.
More widespread species in the Masoala or around Maroantsetra could well include Grey (or Black-bellied), Common Ringed and Greater Sand Plovers, Whimbrel, Ruddy Turnstone, Curlew Sandpiper, and Greater Crested, Lesser Crested and perhaps Roseate and Common Terns.
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 White-fronted Brown Lemur and, on a night walk, Scott’s Sportive Lemur and Moore’s Avahi.
Madagascar with a Difference: Day 14 We will return to Maroantsetra and from there take a flight to Antananarivo where our tour ends around midday.