The Ultimate In Birding Tours

Indian Ocean Islands

MADAGASCAR WITH A DIFFERENCE – Madagascar Pochard, Red Owl, Sakalava Rail, Helmet and Bernier’s Vangas & more

Thursday 4th November – Wednesday 17th November 2021

Leader: Mark Van Beirs

14 Days Group Size Limit 7
Thursday 3rd November – Wednesday 16th November 2022

Leader: Pete Morris

14 Days Group Size Limit 7

MADAGASCAR WITH A DIFFERENCE: OVERVIEW

Birdquest’s Madagascar with a Difference birding tours explore an endemic-rich island that is a key birding tour destination. During our travels through Madagascar, we will be birding in some remote northern parts of the island as we concentrate on a number of rarely-seen specialities, including the critically endangered Madagascar Pochard, Sakalava Rail, Red Owl, Madagascar Serpent Eagle (with luck), the awesome Helmet Vanga (at its best site) and Bernier’s Vanga.

Our Madagascar with a Difference tour starts in Antanarivo, the island’s capital, but we soon move on to Majunga on the northwest coast.

Setting out from Majunga, we will first explore Lake Kinkony, a remote wetland to the southwest of Majunga where the Sakalava Rail was relatively recently discovered.

Moving northwards, we will explore a truly remote region where Madagascar Pochard was recently rediscovered and where other rarities such as Red Owl, Meller’s Duck and Malagasy Harrier all still occur.

Finally, there will be the opportunity to visit the exciting and remote Masoala Peninsula in northeastern Madagascar, home to the extraordinary Helmet Vanga and Bernier’s Vanga, as well as the beautiful Red-breasted Coua, the retiring Scaly Ground-Roller, the unobtrusive Brown Mesite, the gorgeous Velvet Asity. As well as these mega-specialities, we can expect to see a wide range of Madagascar endemic birds and other species of interest.

All in all, this is a real Madagascan birding adventure, travelling far away from the route followed by established Madagascar tours.

Birdquest has operated Madagascar tours since 1987.

In years both are offered, this tour can be taken together with: ULTIMATE MADAGASCAR

Tsingy Wood Rail Extension: If there are one or more participants interested, we can arrange a post-tour extension to western Madagascar to find the rare and localized endemic Tsingy Wood Rail. This is the sole Madagascan endemic bird species not found on either this tour or on our ‘Ultimate Madagascar’ tour! Please inform us at the time of booking if you are interested in participating in this unusual extension.

Accommodation & Road Transport: The hotels/lodges are of good or at least medium standard. For two nights at the Madagascar Pochard site and for two nights at Lac Kinkony we will be staying in a comfortable camp with tents available for twin or single occupancy. Road transport is by 4×4 vehicles, minibuses (passenger vans) or cars and roads are variable in quality.

Walking: The walking effort during our Madagascar with a Difference tour is mostly easy, sometimes moderate.

Climate: Rather variable. Many days will be hot, dry and sunny, but it is sometimes overcast and rainy. It may be humid at times.

Bird/Mammal Photography: Opportunities during our Madagascar with a Difference tour range from worthwhile to fairly good.

TOUR HIGHLIGHTS

  • Experiencing the amazing ‘eighth continent’ with its completely unique fauna
  • Finding Madagascar’s unique bird families
  • Seeing the rare but friendly Sakalava Rail by boat in its remote swampy habitat
  • Seeing the recently rediscovered and critically endangered Madagascar Pochard
  • Having a great chance of finding the stunning Red Owl and a realistic chance of the rarely seen Madagascar Serpent Eagle
  • Watching Helmet Vangas, one of our world’s truly most remarkable avian inhabitants!
  • Finding stunning and highly-desired Scaly and Short-legged Ground Rollers
  • Seeking out many other rare and seldom seen species such as Madagascan Ibis, Red-breasted Coua and Bernier’s Vanga
  • Encountering an amazing variety of lemurs, including stunning Red Ruffed Lemur and rare Crowned and Decken’s Sifakas
  • An amazing variety of reptiles and amphibians, in particular some incredible chameleons and geckos and ‘painted’ frogs
  • Watching, and especially listening to, the bizarre Cuckoo-Roller
  • Wondering why so many of Madagascar’s forest species seem to have acquired electric-blue eye-shadow!
  • Finding all the gettable Madagascar endemic bird species that are not possible on our Ultimate Madagascar Tour

OUTLINE ITINERARY

  • Day 1: Morning or afternoon tour start at Antananarivo airport (depends on flight schedule). Flight to Majunga.
  • Day 2: By road and boat via Katsepy to Lake Kinkony.
  • Day 3: Lake Kinkony.
  • Day 4: Lake Kinkony, then return to Majunga.
  • Day 5: Drive to Antsohihy.
  • Day 6: Drive to Madagascan Pochard area.
  • Day 7: Madagascan Pochard area.
  • Day 8: Madagascan Pochard area, then return to Antsohihy.
  • Day 9: Return to Majunga airport. Afternoon or evening flight to Antananarivo.
  • Day 10: Morning flight to Maroantsetra. By boat to Masoala Peninsula.
  • Days 11-13: Masoala Peninsula.
  • Day 14: Return to Maroantsetra. Morning flight to Antananarivo for midday tour end.

To see a larger map, click on the square-like ‘enlarge’ icon in the upper right of the map box.

To see (or hide) the ‘map legend’, click on the icon with an arrow in the upper left of the map box.

To change to a satellite view, which is great for seeing the physical terrain (and for seeing really fine details by repetitive use of the + button), click on the square ‘map view’ icon in the lower left corner of the ‘map legend’.

PRICE INFORMATION

Birdquest Inclusions: Our tour prices include surface transportation, accommodations, meals and entrance fees.

We also include all tipping for local guides, drivers, boatmen and accommodation/restaurant staff.

We also include these flights: Antananarivo-Majunga-Antananarivo and Antananarivo-Maroantsetra-Antananarivo.

Deposit: 20% of the total tour price. Our office will let you know what deposit amount is due, in order to confirm your booking, following receipt of your online booking form.

TO BOOK THIS TOUR: Click here (you will need the tour dates)


2021: £4770, $6490, €5250, AUD8630. Antananarivo/Antananarivo.
2022: provisional £4840, $6590, €5330, AUD8760. Antananarivo/Antananarivo.

Single Supplement: 2021: £440, $610, €490, AUD810.
Single Supplement: 2022: £450, $620, €500, AUD820.

The single supplement will not apply if you indicate on booking that you prefer to share a room and there is a room-mate of the same sex available.

This tour is priced in US Dollars. Amounts shown in other currencies are indicative.

Air Travel To & From The Tour: Our in-house IATA ticket agency will be pleased to arrange your air travel on request, or you may arrange this yourself if you prefer.

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.

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.

COMORO ISLANDS & REMOTE MADAGASCAR TOUR REPORT 2018

by János Oláh

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COMORO ISLANDS & REMOTE MADAGASCAR TOUR REPORT 2014

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Other Indian Ocean Islands birding tours by Birdquest include: