The Ultimate In Birding Tours

Indian Ocean Islands


Vangas, Ground Rollers, Mesites & Lemurs

Sunday 1st November – Monday 9th November 2020

Leaders: Chris Kehoe and local bird guides

9 Days Group Size Limit 8
Monday 16th August – Tuesday 24th August 2021

Leader: Birdquest leader to be announced and local bird guides

9 Days Group Size Limit 8


Birdquest’s Swift Madagascar tours are a great way to explore this classic birdwatching and wildlife destination over a relatively short time-frame. You can expect to see all of the endemic Malagasy bird families plus a diverse selection of lemurs ranging from the diminutive and nocturnal mouse lemurs to the fabulous Indri. Our Swift Madagascar tour travels first to the eastern rainforest with its wealth of vangas and Malagasy warblers, Cuckoo Roller, Pitta-like, Scaly and Short-legged Ground Rollers, and the beautiful and mysterious Collared Nightjar. Moving on, we explore the remarkable ‘spiny forest’ of the southwest with its Subdesert Mesites, Long-tailed Ground Rollers and many other interesting endemic birds.

Madagascar – an island continent that broke free from Africa about 100 million years ago, a world where plants and animals have been frozen in time. Seven families of mammals, six (or, depending on taxonomic interpretation, seven) families of birds and six families of plants are unique to this huge island, ninety percent of its forest species are endemic, yet today this wonderful heritage is sorely endangered by a burgeoning human population and unfettered exploitation.

Intense international interest has been generated by Madagascar’s problems and some action is now being taken to safeguard its natural treasure house, not least by the Malagasy themselves, so that there is some hope that this unique evolutionary experiment will not be lost forever. Over 1600km from north to south, Madagascar encompasses a whole range of environments. The massive escarpments of the eastern slope rise to over 2800m and, exposed to the moist trade winds from the Indian Ocean, experience high rainfall. Here are situated what remains of Madagascar’s immensely rich rainforests. These same escarpments create a vast rain shadow across the rest of the island. From the grasslands of the interior plateau the land drops slowly away to the dry deciduous woodland of the west coast and the unique spiny Didierea forest of the semi-desert south.

For the traveller it is Madagascar’s strange mixture of Asian and African cultures that most appeals. Amongst naturalists the island is best known for its fabulous lemurs, man’s most distant cousins, ranging in size from tiny mouse-lemurs to the great Indri, and these are certainly a prime attraction, but for birdwatchers more than 120 endemic species of birds, including six or seven endemic families, including the mesites, the ground rollers, the cuckoo rollers, the asities (or false sunbirds), the vangas, the newly-recognized Malagasy warblers (Bernieridae) and sometimes the couas, are of equal interest.

From the capital Antananarivo, situated on the high plateau, we travel first to the lush eastern rainforest at Andasibe (also known as Perinet), where we will search for the beautiful Scaly, Short-legged and Pitta-like Ground Rollers, Madagascan Ibis, the amazing Collared Nightjar and two species of asity, as well as many other forest endemics and a superb selection of lemurs, including the famous Indri.

While we are based at Andasibe there will also be an exciting opportunity to visit the remote Antavolobe Reserve, home of the extraordinary Helmet Vanga.

From Andasibe we return to Antananarivo and then we head far to the south, to Tulear on the southwestern coast of Madagascar, deep in the arid zone where the landscapes are a world away from the rainforests of the eastern part of the country. Here we shall explore the spiny Didierea forest, lagoons, coastal reefs and mudflats. Amongst the spiny forest we should enjoy close encounters with Subdesert Mesite and Long-tailed Ground Roller, two of Madagascar’s most sought-after specialities, and we will also find a host of other great birds before we take our leave of the magical ‘Grand Isle’.

Birdquest has operated Madagascar tours since 1987.

Accommodation & Road Transport: The hotels/lodges are of good standard. Road transport is by small coach or minibus and roads are now much improved and often good.

Walking: The walking effort during our Swift Madagascar tour is easy for the most part, but there will be a few optional moderate grade walks.

Climate: Many days at lower altitudes will be hot, dry and sunny, but it is sometimes overcast. At higher altitudes the weather is similar but temperatures are cool to warm. It will be rather humid, especially in the east, but there is only a low chance of rain at this time of year.

Bird/Mammal Photography: Opportunities during our Swift Madagascar tour are good.


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

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

We also include these flights: Antananarivo-Tulear (Toliaro)-Antananarivo.

Deposit: £320, $400, €360.

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

2020: £3000, $3950, €3490. Antananarivo/Antananarivo.
2021: provisional £3000, $3950, €3490. Antananarivo/Antananarivo.

Single Supplement: 2020: £300, $400, €350.
Single Supplement: 2021: £300, $400, €350.

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.


Swift Madagascar: Day 1  Our tour begins in the evening at Antananarivo, where we will stay overnight.

Swift Madagascar: Day 2  Antananarivo is a strange mixture of traditional Malagasy, French Colonial and modern architecture. Traditional Malagasy architecture clearly has many Asian roots and the buildings look much closer to those one would see in Nepal than anything found on the African mainland, reflecting the Asiatic origins of most of the Malagasy themselves.

From the capital we will head eastwards to Andasibe (formerly known as Perinet) for a three nights stay. As we travel through the heartland of Madagascar, we will have a close-up of the Malagasy way of life. The countryside is a mosaic of tiny terraced rice paddies in the valley bottoms, grassy slopes, small villages of ochre-brown, thatched-roofed houses and isolated mountains of worn grey granite. Lean-limbed Malagasy farmers guide their zebu-drawn ploughs through the paddies whilst groups of smiling women carry produce to market. Life is hard in the countryside in Madagascar but the ever-friendly Malagasy have an astonishing capacity for happiness in spite of their difficulties.

The extensive rice paddies of the interior are frequented by scattered flocks of Western Cattle and Great Egrets, whilst Yellow-billed Kite, Madagascan Buzzard, Madagascan Kestrel, Malagasy (or Madagascan) Black Swift, Madagascan (Bush) Lark, Mascarene Martin, Madagascan Stonechat, Madagascan Cisticola, Malagasy (or Madagascan) White-eye, Red (or Madagascar Red) Fody and the introduced Common Myna are all typical roadside birds. We should also encounter Hamerkop (and, on October-November tours, Madagascan Pratincole) at the Mangoro River. During the afternoon we will commence our exploration of the Andasibe area.

Swift Madagascar: Days 3-4  The  Andasibe-Mantadia National Park protects some of the richest rainforest in Madagascar. The national park holds the lion’s share of the eastern rainforest specialities, including several species that are difficult or impossible to find at the other accessible sites.

As the wreaths of early morning mist gradually dissipate the forest comes alive: jeries and sunbirds sing from the canopy, tetrakas and newtonias chatter from the undergrowth and resonant hoots announce the presence of a ground-roller. At the roadside Rand’s Warblers and Common, Green and Stripe-throated Jeries give their confusingly similar songs from prominent exposed perches, and we will scan similar locations for Cuckoo Roller, Madagascan Starling and the striking Madagascan Blue Pigeon. During October-November, Cuckoo Rollers call wildly as they give their dramatic aerial displays and the monotonous call of the Madagascan (or Madagascar Lesser) Cuckoo forms an almost constant backdrop to our birding. Once on the trails, however, forest birdwatching requires time and patience, but the rewards are rich.

Perhaps the most mysterious of all Madagascar’s birds are the ground rollers. Four species occur in the area, including the superb Scaly Ground Roller, a terrestrial species that is arguably the best-looking of all. Equally terrestrial and almost as attractive is the iridescent Pitta-like Ground Roller, which is not uncommon here, and we also have a good chance of finding Short-legged Ground Roller sitting motionless for long periods in the forest canopy. If we are lucky we will even encounter a Rufous-headed Ground Roller, perhaps watching its head bobbing and throat feathers bristling as it calls from a low perch deep in the shade of the forest undergrowth.

Another species of the forest floor, but often rather harder to see, is Red-breasted Coua, here at the extreme southern edge of its range. With luck we will lure one into view, its blue orbital skin shinning electrically in the gloomy undergrowth, whilst its breast glows like burning coals. Along the road edge we will search for Madagascan Flufftail, which can often be enticed to within a few feet, whilst overhead the wandering flocks of vangas often hold a few Nuthatch Vangas, a species once considered a true nuthatch but in reality a remarkable example of convergent evolution.

At dusk we will listen for the piping whistle of Rainforest Scops Owl (one of two species resulting from the splitting of Malagasy Scops Owl), and we may even find one roosting in the dark recesses of a pandanus palm. We might, with luck, also hear the barking of a Madagascan (Long-eared) Owl, but seeing this species is usually hit-and-miss. A very special nightbird that we will hope to find is Collared Nightjar, surely one of the most strikingly beautiful of all nightjars. Its voice is still poorly known, but we may find a roosting bird and admire at close range its fantastic camouflage.

Other notable species we should see at Perinet or Mantadia are Madagascan (or Madagascar Little) Grebe, the impressive Madagascan (Crested) Ibis (ambling rather incongruously along the broad trails through the forest or sitting on a large and untidy nest), White-throated Rail and Red-fronted Coua.

Additional species that we may well find include Madagascan Wood Rail, Madagascan Turtle Dove, Lesser Vasa Parrot, the stunning, turaco-like Blue Coua, Malagasy (or Madagascan) Coucal, African Palm Swift, Madagascan Spinetail, Malagasy (or Madagascar Malachite) Kingfisher, the curious Velvet Asity and Common Sunbird-Asity (members of a family now thought to be related to the broadbills), Madagascan Wagtail, Ashy Cuckoo-shrike, Spectacled Tetraka (formerly Spectacled Greenbul), the aptly-named Long-billed Bernieria (formerly Long-billed Greenbul), Madagascan Bulbul, Madagascan Magpie-Robin, Malagasy (or Madagascan) Brush Warbler, Dark and Common Newtonias, Wedge-tailed Jery (which, unlike its cousins, is a species of the forest undergrowth), Malagasy (or Madagascan) Paradise Flycatcher, White-throated Oxylabes, Red-tailed, Chabert and Tylas Vangas, the unbelievably blue-hued Blue Vanga, Ward’s Vanga (formerly Ward’s Flycatcher), Crossley’s Vanga (formerly Crossley’s Babbler), Malagasy Green (or Long-billed Green) and Souimanga Sunbirds, Nelicourvi Weaver, Forest Fody and Crested Drongo.

With luck we will also come across one or two of the rarer inhabitants of the area such as a Forest Rock Thrush (with its beautiful yodelling song), a Grey-crowned Tetraka (formerly Grey-crowned Greenbul) or a secretive Brown Emutail. In nearby areas of marshland we will search for Madagascan Rail. With luck we will also find the increasingly uncommon Meller’s Duck, now perhaps one of Madagascar’s most endangered species.

However, it is not just the birds that we will concentrate on. Andasibe-Mantadia provides a secure refuge for a wealth of wildlife and are famous as the haunt of the superb Indri, the largest of all the surviving lemurs. The ear-splitting, wailing cries of the Indri echo through the green galleries of the forest, and as one approaches the trees in which these great black and white creatures are sitting the volume of noise becomes almost deafening.

In addition to the famous Indri, we may also see Grey Gentle and Common Brown Lemurs and perhaps a roosting Eastern Woolly Lemur. At night, we may well see the tiny Brown Mouse Lemur and the slightly larger Greater Dwarf Lemur (and possibly Furry-eared Gentle Lemur). We may also come across Diademed Sifaka, one of the most handsome of all the lemurs, and perhaps even the superb Black-and-white Ruffed Lemur. Another mammal we may well see is Eastern Red Forest Rat.

Swift Madagascar: Day 5  After spending much of the day in the Andasibe area we will return to Antananarivo for an overnight stay.

Swift Madagascar: Day 6  This morning we will take a flight to Tulear (or Toliara) for an overnight stay. While waiting for our flight at Antananarivo we can admire the Mascarene Martins that breed on the terminal buildings.

During our stay at Tulear we will explore the mudflats, beaches and the saline lagoons that lie amidst the flat sandy land near the coast. Among the numerous Kittlitz’s Plovers we should find a few Madagascan Plovers, and we will also hope to encounter Madagascan Sandgrouse as they come down to drink in the morning or evening. These pools attract a variety of other waders, and together with the adjacent mudflats and sandy beaches should produce Black-winged Stilt, White-fronted and Greater Sand Plovers, Common Greenshank, Curlew, Terek and Common Sandpipers, and Ruddy Turnstone. We may also come across the strange burrow-nesting Crab-Plover, a species which wanders widely along this coast (and is more often seen in October-November). The coastal flats sometimes hold large numbers of Common Terns, as well as both Lesser and Greater Crested Terns, Saunders’s Terns (in their extremely Little Tern-like winter plumage) and a few Caspian Terns.

Other birds we should encounter along the coast are Dimorphic Egret, Striated (or Green-backed) Heron and Hottentot Teal. The concentration of birds in this region is attractive to raptors, and we may come across a Peregrine Falcon of the small, dark local form.

Swift Madagascar: Day 7  This morning we will visit an area of dense arid scrub. This scrubland lies on a ridge of ancient coral, raised from the sea bed by the Earth’s inexorable movements. Although uninviting at first glance, this ‘coral rag’ holds two highly restricted specialities. Here we will search for the beautiful Red-shouldered Vanga, described as recently as 1997, and Verreaux’s Coua, perhaps seeing this elegant coua sitting on a bush top, giving its not-so-elegant croaking call. Other species in this area include Madagascan Buttonquail, Namaqua Dove, Madagascan Green Pigeon, Red-capped Coua (the local form is sometimes split as Brown-capped Coua), Grey-headed Lovebird and Olive (or Madagascar) Bee-eater.

Subsequently we will drive a short distance along the coast to Ifaty for a two nights stay. In the afternoon we will go out to look for the birds of the nearby ‘spiny forest’.

Swift Madagascar: Day 8  Our hotel is situated on the beach and is backed by stands of coastal scrub which hold some interesting birds; notably the large, pale, Subdesert Brush Warbler, with its mechanical, clock-winding call, the yellow-headed Sakalava Weaver and Madagascan Nightjar, which can be watched floating over the bushes, ghost-like, at dusk (and they also often call loudly outside the rooms at night).

Whilst at Ifaty, however, we will be concentrating on the strange and wonderful spiny Didierea forest, the habitat that holds most of the region’s specialities and which lies just a short distance from the coast. Walking along the sandy trails through the spiny forest is a fantastic experience. Tall, many-branched Didiereas with a potent armour of spines give the impression of being witches’ broomsticks planted in the ground. Amongst the many different kinds of Didiereas are strange euphorbias and many squat, bloated baobabs. The whole feel of this bizarre forest, especially as dusk approaches, is of something dreamed up by Tolkien.

The most sought-after birds of the spiny forest are undoubtedly the strange Subdesert Mesite and the attractive Long-tailed Ground Roller. We may encounter a small party of mesites creeping furtively though the undergrowth and perhaps find a pair of ground-rollers attending their nesting burrow at the base of a tall Didierea.

Other specialities of this habitat are Thamnornis, with its loud rattling song, the unassuming Archbold’s Newtonia and Lafresnaye’s Vanga (which, with its massive and swollen bill, is very much the local counterpart of Pollen’s and Van Dam’s Vangas). We should also see small groups of Sickle-billed Vangas, the most striking vanga of all, flying unerringly through the maze of spines to perch in the Didiereas as they give their loud, raucous calls.

Couas too are a feature of the spiny forest and we should see Crested Couas moving clumsily through the trees whilst Running Couas walk sedately amongst the tangled undergrowth, only to leap into a low tree or bush to give their loud, whistling advertising calls. (The local form of the Crested is sometimes split as Rufous-vented Coua.) We will also keep a special look-out for the sedate but uncommon Banded Kestrel, which can be remarkably tame, and amongst the other raptors we may find here is Madagascan Harrier-Hawk.

Swift Madagascar: Day 9  After some final birding in the Ifaty/Tulear (Toliara) area we will take a flight back to Antananarivo, where the tour ends this evening after dinner and a chance to wash and change at an hotel near the airport. (Most international flight connections depart after midnight.)


by Chris Kehoe

View Report


by Chris Kehoe

View Report


by Chris Kehoe

View Report

Other Indian Ocean Islands birding tours by Birdquest include:


Indian Ocean Islands



Indian Ocean Islands



Indian Ocean Islands



Indian Ocean Islands