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A mad month in Madagascar Oct/Nov 2012 (1 Viewer)


Well-known member.....apparently so ;)
Following in the footsteps of Gareth Knass in 2010 and Shaun Coyle’s group in 2011 we decided on our own trip to this amazing island for 2012, which coincided nicely with my 40th birthday...which needed celebrating in style of course! Gareth had discovered that doing Madagascar wasn’t just the provenance of rich participants on expensive tours – and the amount he did it for was nothing short of unbelievable! Using BF as a starting point I posted my initial plans to see if anyone else was up for the adventure. Luckily, my long-suffering girlfriend, Dawn, was of course in, and so were two friends, Chris Glanfield and Bola Akinola (or B as I call him). Soon got in contact with Kev Verlander who’d had the same idea and thought it would make sense to join forces – cool! Near to the departure, a new job situation forced Dawn to unfortunately have to halve her trip so she decided to come out for the last two weeks for which we were to be joined by Kelvin Britton also. Now Kev had already contacted Eugene and Gaby with whom Shaun had travelled with a year earlier so he was unofficially handed the role of trip organiser.....something I’m sure he was thrilled about ;)

He did a sterling job and after many emails back and forth between ourselves we had gotten a rough itinerary sorted, but more importantly, had a price quoted for us: for the full 4 weeks we would pay €1550 each....that’s right, roughly £1315!! (Kelvin & Dawn would pay €975 for the two weeks). That included driver fees, guide fees, park fees, car & fuel, full board and accommodation and ferry crossings. The only other extras we’d incur were drinks other than water, private purchases and the boat trip out to Nosy Ve (c£30 each). Flights cost us £740 so, for a little over two grand, we had a month in Madagascar planned – saving at the very least £3500 over any tour company.

Currency is the Malagasy Ariary (MGA) and the rough conversion rate was £1=3200MGA, so we just worked things out as £3=10,000MGA. Also in some places the prices are still worked out in the old currency, Malagasy francs. This figure just needs to be divided by 5 to get the Ariary price - not as complicated as it sounds! As it turned out we paid for a few meals ourselves as we found better alternatives but then Gaby got us our own rooms where possible so it was all swings and roundabouts really. Steak (good old Zebu) and chips was on average £4 and beer and soft-drinks were about 70p a bottle (an ice-cold THB Fresh is lovely on a hot day!!).

Despite being told by the woman on the desk at Heathrow that we needed to purchase a visa on arrival, this was complete crap as we didn’t! Result. Also, there are no airport departure fees from Madagascar either.

Flew with Kenya Airways and they were pretty good overall. Late departing Heathrow and Nairobi on the outbound sector but in-flight service was fine, food was ok and flight times were 7.5hrs to Nairobi, a 2hr stop-over and then a 3.5hr flight into Tana. On the return journey we had an 8hr layover at Nairobi, landing at 1600 so we had a couple of hours of light to bird from the terminal, netting ourselves 2 lifers and 21 species overall!

In most national parks it’s mandatory to have a guide so finding a good one is helpful! Also, be aware that they seem to think differently to us, so tell them everything you want to see, be it avian, mammalian or reptilian...that way you won’t miss things they don’t think to mention!! As it turned out we had mixed feelings about our experiences with certain guides. Around Ankarafantsika we mainly used a young guy called Lento and he was pretty good...knew all the roosts for owls, knew where the asity nest was etc. In Zombitse we used Lucien and again, he got us all the specialities but again, tell him exactly what you want to see! Around Ranomafana we had Loret – bit of an offish guy, but again, bloody good at finding the site’s specialities. Around Ifaty and Mangily we had Raletsy who is Mosa’s younger brother – nice guy who worked hard to get us all the bits but did become a tad pushy in wanting to come over to Nosy Ve with us which was totally unnecessary. At the Pochard site and Sakalava Rail site there seems to be only one decent guide at each so that’s that really.

Now back to Perinet and Mantadia. We used Luc, the younger brother of the famous Patrice. Now, at the outset of the trip Kev and myself had told Gaby that Helmet Vanga was probably the bird we wanted to see the most so were intent on sorting out a trip up to the Masoala Peninsula to secure it. The guys came back with some excellent news: Luc had a nest-site and sightings in Iaroka Forest, near to Andasibe....result!! He was adamant we could get them but it involved a long hike into the forest and the need to camp in there overnight. No probs, sounds cool!! I’ll go into details shortly, but suffice to say it was complete bullshit I think. He plain lied as the answers to questions became more and more vague as we walked in. Then, seeing as we wasted two days doing this magical mystery tour we missed a couple of key species and had to re-jiggle the itinerary to pop back for a couple of days at the end of the trip (which actually worked out great for Dawn and Kelvin as they caught up with the cool bits we saw without them) and had to use Luc again.

He then pissed Gaby off by saying we could see all the targets we needed if we went to Mantadia straight away upon our mid-morning arrival, even though Scaly Ground-Roller is better early morning....lo and behold we didn’t see it (“oh it’s easier in the mornings” were his exact words as we walked out!), thus necessitating another trip there the following morning which is a pain in the arse as it may only be 17km from Andasibe but it takes well over an hour to get there due to the road condition. Then we fell out over money as he said we owed him 2 days guiding fees (our trip money had run out by the penultimate day!) but we argued that we only used him for two days because he lied again about seeing the birds in one day! So he never got a tip, as the original tip we gave him on the first day was just topped up to cover one day’s guiding. (We were told the average daily wage in Madagascar is 10,000 Ariary – Luc was charging 150,000 per day....uh huh). He just came across as underhand and slimy – annoyingly he was good at finding stuff. Also we stayed at his place the first time we visited and this was only place for the entire trip where we encountered theft. B put some washing in and lost a T-shirt, Chris lost his ’scope! It was only upon our return and an off-the-cuff enquiry to Luc about said ‘scope that he said yes, it was here and he was holding onto it for us. The fact we weren’t returning as far as he knew says it all really. As to it being left behind, there’s no way as we were sharing a room and we check everywhere – even under the beds!! Chris just assumed it was in the boot of the car under all the bags and crap. So, just watch things if you stay there!

We had one Landcruiser for the first fortnight which was ok....one up front, two in middle and one in the boot. It broke down a couple of times but Gaby got it fixed and needed pushing occasionally when it wouldn’t start properly ;) All adds to the fun! Distances are pretty huge, ie to drive from Tana to the Pochard site takes 2.5 DAYS!! Now, Gaby is a great guy and did all he could to make things go as smoothly as possible but the only thing that got to me was his driving: off road he was great, but put him on a straight bit of un-potholed tarmac and he drives at 60....that’s KPH not mph!! Jeez.......so if he’d drive a tad quicker it would be better for him and his clients! Now, for the second week we had another, newer Landcruiser driven by the suave Omega – now he drove quickly...but was unfortunately told off by Gabster for doing so......groan! So the battle for the seats in the nicer car began! Obviously we could have flown these larger distances but the prices that Air Madagascar charge will put your trip price up quite a bit (as they have no competition) and they aren’t the most reliable air-carrier in the world so give yourselves a bit of free-time if you plan to use a few flights in your itineraries.

Getting to the rail site involves the ferry-crossing from Mahajanga to Katsepy and then a 5hr-ish drive to Lake Kinkony via a smaller hand-pulled ferry-crossing. Now Gabs f*cked up the return sailing times and we got back there late – you can only get 2 trucks on the ferry and there were three in front of us. So, to cut a long story short, he had to hire the whole ferry to come back and get him (costing 400,000MGA – which is why our trip money ran out!!).

On the whole it was fine. Most places had ‘proper’ toilets and showers – or at least a bucket for a nice refreshing tip and pour system. Mozzie nets were in most places but a few had none whatsoever so may be worth taking your own if you’re prone to bites. We stayed in varying degrees of niceness – from the shabby place in Maevatanana to the rather nice Grenat Hotel bungalows at Ranomafana. I was outvoted on camping at Ankarafantsika so we ended up staying in the village at another shabby place but it was ok....campsite would’ve been better as it had nicer facilities!!

On the second visit to Andasibe Dawn and I chose to stay in the nicer Feo-ny’ Ala hotel rather than Luc’s place and the food here is pretty good too with a 3-course meal and drinks costing about a £10. Electricity could be a bit hit and miss in some places (ie Ranomafana) and some of the out-of-the-way places only had generators until about 10pm but this was usually enough to quick-charge things – so have a headtorch handy – and Madagascar uses twin-pin plugs. Also, due to the general paucity of plug sockets in some of the rooms it may be worth buying a multi-adaptor from one of the many markets – well worth it!

Camping is mandatory at the Pochard site which isn’t a problem but be aware that temperatures fall to about 3oC overnight......so bring a sleeping-bag if only for this place - we froze our bollocks off! Some forewarning would’ve been appreciated.....

The only place I wouldn’t recommend is the hotel in Sakahara, near to Zombitse. Because Gaby thought we didn’t like camping (no, Gabs it’s just we nearly caught hypothermia the last time) he took us to this dump instead of sleeping in the park. The place is situated in a gem town and is a shit-hole: toilets didn’t flush, sinks looked like nothing else, no nets, noisy.....and it also sells mango chocolate bars – avoid at all costs! YUK!

We all took anti-malarials and as usual I used Doxycycline which I ordered through Chemist Direct and got a much better price than by going to the docs! I got a bout of food-poisoning from a steak sauce in Tana on the second visit and had a very unpleasant 24hrs.....luckily (well, sort of) it was the day before Dawn arrived (hi honey!) so I didn’t miss any birding time. Everyone had a short bout of minor stomach upsets or squits but nothing worse, although Dawn ended up in hospital upon our arrival back in the UK with a ‘chest infection’. Two days later she was released without really knowing what it was.

And lastly, a word on using computers in Madagascar – on stupid French keyboards you have to use the shift key to type numbers!! ;) Makes accessing hotmail so much easier when you know this.....

Species missed:
Obviously by not getting to the Masoala we didn’t get Helmet or Bernier’s Vanga. The Serpent-Eagle at the Pochard site has lost its radio tag so it’s near impossible to get here now – again, more possible in the Masoala. We totally missed the Cuckoo-Hawk also...just unlucky. As to the Bernier’s Teal and the Ibis, well, that was poor planning. Didn’t realise you had to do a boat trip for the teal from Mahajanga. We had a chance to do one but the price was very steep (twice as much as hiring the whole ferry!) but apparently it is an expensive trip anyway. We bumped into people that had seen the ibis (albeit distantly) from the ferry port at Mahajanga and at Lake Kinkony. I’ve also since read that the teal is gettable near Kirindy. If any of us could’ve spoken French then we may have been able to sort out a boat trip ourselves whilst waiting for Gaby and the ferry – but we can’t therefore we didn’t – bummer. Oh well, next time!

Didn’t go to any sites for Amber Mountain Rock-Thrush or Red-tailed Newtonia, never saw the western form of Tylas (possible future split) and obviously never saw the fabled Dusky Tetraka. The recently described Tsingy Wood-Rail wasn’t on the itinerary either as we were going nowhere near Beanka. The only other screw-up was for Slender-billed Flufftail. The favoured site is the marshes at Mananara Lodge, Anjozorobe which is c4hrs north of Tana, so we never made it back up for it, although stupidly we must have driven past it on the way back south.....bit of an oversight by all of us, including Gaby. Other annoying things were the two sifaka species south of Katsepy that would’ve been nice to’ve known about, let alone seen. I will inform Gaby of these things so he can offer future clients a more ordered itinerary and complete species list.

7th - Nairobi airport, Tana
8th - Tana - Andasibe, Perinet, Mantadia area
9th - Andasibe, Iaroka Forest
10th - Iaroka Forest, Andasibe
11th - Andasibe - Tana - Maevatanana
12th - Maevatanana - Antsohihy
13th - Antsohihy – Bealanana (Pochard site)
14th - Bealanana - Antsohihy
15th - Antsohihy - Ankarafantsika
16th - Ankarafantsika, Ampijoroa
17th - Ankarafantsika, Ampijoroa - Mahajanga
18th - Mahajanga to Katsepy ferry - Lake Kinkony (rail site) - Makary
19th - Makary - Katsepy to Mahajanga ferry
20th - Mahajanga - Ankarafantsika - Tana
21st - Tana, Tsarasaotro Park - Antsirabe
22nd - Antsirabe - Ranomafana
23rd - Ranomafana
24th - Ranomafana – Anja Private Reserve - Isalo NP - Sakahara
25th - Sakahara - Zombitse NP - La Table - Tulear
26th - Tulear - Lake Belalanda - Tsongertelo - Ifaty - Mangily
27th - Mangily, Lake Belalanda, La Table, Tulear
28th - Tulear - Nosy Ve - Anakao - Tulear
29th - Tulear - Ambalamafana
30th - Ambalamafana - Moramanga
31st - Moramanga - Andasibe - Mantadia
1st Nov - Andasibe, Mantadia, Perinet
2nd - Andasibe - Tana, Tsarasaotro Park
3rd - Tana, Nairobi airport

7th October:
After meeting up at Heathrow with Kev and an uneventful flight to Nairobi we found ourselves birding from the airport building. Species seen included African Pied Wag, Cattle Egret, Sacred Ibis, Pied Crow, Speckled Pigeon, Little Swift, Black-headed Heron and good old House Sparrows! Back out onto the tarmac and after an hour waiting for clearance we were off again (hint: sitting on aircraft right leaving Nairobi gives great views of Mt Kilimanjaro as you fly over it!). Coming in across the Betsiboka River and down the centre of Madagascar it was not the picturesque island I’d imagined. In fact, looking down upon the ruined landscape below is how I imagine the aftermath of Nagasaki looked. Deforestation is rampant in Madagascar, and it’s absolutely heartbreaking.....

After the 3.5hr flight we touched down into Antananarivo airport and soon had our first lifers as we disembarked: Mascarene Martins aplenty over the buildings. Clearing customs was easy and soon we were shaking hands with Gaby at arrivals. He took us out to the vehicle and then to the other side of the car-park to change our money as it was apparently a better rate here....wrong! It was actually better in the airport itself. I changed up €300 but came back with c€140 of it. A nice Madagascar Kes flew over the car as we left and made our way to the hotel. We dumped our gear and birded the back quickly, netting a smart Mad Stonechat, Mad Red Fody, Common Myna and the ubiquitous Mad Bulbul. Gaby took us to a lovely lake in the centre of Tana – and it wasn’t Tsarasaotro Park as we thought!

Instead it was like being in Goa again – watch where you walk and don’t stand behind the wall...yuck! Anyway, faecal matters aside, we picked up Malagasy Kingfisher, Mad White-eye, Common Sand, umbrella-fishing Black Egrets, Squacco Herons and Mad Green Sunbird. Driving through the numerous rice-paddies gave us huge numbers of Squacco Herons and Cattle Egrets especially, with smaller number of Great White and Dimorphic Egrets too. A quick stop by the roadside got us displaying Mad Cisticolas whilst back at the hotel we had Mad Hoopoe and Mad Black Swifts. A group of 8 Red-billed Teal flew over in the evening and around the hotel walls were plenty of African House Geckos.
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Well-known member.....apparently so ;)
First batch:

Kili looks pretty cool (1st pic's mine, second one was taken by Dawn after I emailed her to say to sit on the right side of the aircraft!!)

Mt Kili.jpg Mt Kili (1).jpg Tana hotel.JPG African House Gecko.JPG African House Gecko (1).JPG


Well-known member.....apparently so ;)
Couple more (white-eye's a vidgrab):
All my photos were taken with my 40th prezzie - a Canon SX40HS...and gotta say, I was mightily impressed by it!

The er....nice lake ;).JPG Black Egret.JPG Mad Stonechat.JPG whiteeye mad.jpg Yuk!.JPG
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Well-known member.....apparently so ;)
8th October:

An early start saw us pick up a male Souimanga Sunbird and Mad Wag in the hotel car-park and then we were meandering through the busy streets of Tana and finally onto the eastbound NR2, stopping for breaky at some roadside stalls that had some lovely Zebu sausages in baguettes. Yum! A couple of hours later we stopped for a leg-stretch in a eucalypt forest and had our first Mad Starlings and Crested Drongos in the treetops. Birdlife outside of the parks is pretty minimal, made up primarily of Mad Stonechats, Mad Kingfishers, African Palm-Swifts, martins, herons and mynas....not great. We stopped at the Mangoro River to check for pratincoles but saw none, only adding Common Sand, Plain Martin and Striated Heron to the daylist. Another couple of hours later (after a brief stop at the mad market in Moramanga) we were pulling up in the village of Andasibe and itching for some proper birding. We met Luc for the first time and with expectations high he seemed really nice....how quickly that was to change!! We dropped our bags off at his hotel and soon were outside on the road watching a fabulous Ward’s Flycatcher – the only sighting of the entire trip!! A singing Stripe-throated Jery was seen and a nest-building pair of Mad Munias was watched busily flying to and fro across the road whilst Indris could be heard howling their atmospheric voices off in the distance.
Luc took us across the road to behind the sign for the Feo-ny’ Ala Hotel (opposite his place), played the tape and out popped a stonking male Mad Flufftail almost at our feet! We jumped back into the car and drove the short distance to the park entrance, commonly known as Perinet. Luc got our park tickets and then we were off! The park is crisscrossed by well-maintained and relatively easy-going paths and is a tourist favourite so an early start is always preferable. It also closes at 4pm which is a bit annoying and all night-walks have been stopped in all national parks now so nocturnal mammal sightings are reduced to whatever’s on the roads outside them. A short walk down the main path and we had our first views of Red-tailed Vanga, Forest Fody and Mad Paradise-Flys – awesome! Then B called that he had some lemurs – we raced down and there was my first ever wild lemur species – Common Brown. A small group of 3 fed unworriedly in front of us at eye-level. Wow!!
We spent the next few hours picking up lifers left, right and centre. Luc showed us a pair of roosting Rainforest Scops-Owls and on the second attempt, found a stunning ground-roosting Collared Nightjar. Red-breasted Coua was heard, and responded to the tape, but was in such thick undergrowth it never came close enough for a sighting. Blue Couas however were more amenable and certainly very vocal. Long-billed Bernieria was fairly common, Mad Bush-Warblers were everywhere but very skulky but the best birds we saw were probably a pair of aptly-named Nuthatch Vangas, again the only sighting of the trip. We watched the pair feeding in a loose mixed flock and got some great views – although photographing them was tough due to the lighting conditions! I think B managed the best ones. Surprisingly gaudy Nelicourvi Weavers were seen, Mad Magpie-Robin, Ashy Cuckooshrike, Common Jery, Common Newtonia (whose call is synonymous with Madagascar’s forests) and Spectacled Tetrakas also, some of the guys saw a Frances’ Sprawk shoot down the path ahead of them and we all finally had good looks at the lovely Mad Wood-Rail after seeing a couple of Eastern Grey Bamboo-Lemurs. Halfway round we bumped into our first pair of the amazingly wonderful Indri! What an absolutely brilliant mammal! We came across another small group later on and had some calling very loudly near to us but we weren’t able to see them. If Madagascar has a voice, the Indri must surely be it! The only reptile we saw of note was a Gravenhorst’s Mabuya on the bridge by Lac Vert.
4pm came round far too fast and we reluctantly wandered back to the car-park. Here we had fantastic views of a Blue Coua as it fed in a small tree, dropping down to the ground completely oblivious to us. Nelicourvi Weavers were here too along with Crested Drongos and a Mad Wag. We got back into the car and headed up towards the Mantadia area, past the Vakona Lodge to a small marshy area. Here we had Mad Swamp-Warbler, Mad Bee-eater, Mad Coucal and a fab Mad Rail that responded to the tape. Also here we saw the Lodge’s introduced Ring-tailed Lemurs which inhabit an island in the marsh. Heading back we had a quick search in a group of pines for Mad Long-eared Owl but no joy as it was quite late in the day, but did have a Green Jery as recompense.
After a shower we met up at 6pm for a night-walk down the main road from Luc’s. We had fab views of several Short-horned (Calumma brevicorne) and Big-nosed Chameleons (C. nasutum), Green Bright-eyed Frogs (Boophis viridis) and a Mossy Leaf-tailed Gecko (Uroplatus sikorae). On the mammal front we had a superb close Goodman’s Mouse-Lemur and several Furry-eared Dwarf-Lemurs. So, all in all, a great little walk and an enjoyable first proper day’s birding!

Mad Starling fem.JPG The mean machine at Luc's.JPG Ward's Fly.JPG Perinet.JPG Perinet 2.JPG
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Larry Sweetland

Formerly 'Larry Wheatland'
Wow Ads, one step ahead as usual. Great to see all those handy hints on guides etc. Belated happy birthday B :)
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Well-known member

Was hoping you might pull out a trip report to read on these wintery days :t:

What a real pain regarding the Helmet Vanga - we used the skills of Patrice as our guide in the Andasibe area, and I wouldnt hesitate to recommend him as an outstanding guide and absolute gent based on our 5 days there. Reading trip reports, at peak time his skills seem to be fully reserved by the main tour groups tho, which is to be expected ofcourse.

Looking forward to the rest, Madagascar is a unique place, and the creatures that live there very special.

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Well-known member
Really enjoying reading this, Ads. Excellent information here, and I hope you don’t mind a few comments based on our experience last year, which might be useful for others planning a trip.

I couldn’t agree more about how much you can save doing Madagascar independently. It is an absolute cash cow for wildlife tour operators.

First, about Gaby’s driving – yes, he doesn’t like putting his foot down, but put that into context. There are probably thousands of road fatalities every year in Madagascar. Gaby makes his living driving long days on dangerous roads, and his older brother was killed in a collision a month before he drove us, so you can’t really blame him for being cautious. I would rather have a careful guy like Gaby than the typical third-world white-knuckle ride. He is without question the best driver I have had on a birding trip – cheerful, no BS, no complaints about early starts, excellent fixer, and brilliant off-road. Highly recommended.

Second, the boat trip to the Betsiboka Estuary for Mad Teal and Ibis can indeed be very expensive if you try to do it through a local travel agent – I’ve heard of people paying hundreds of pounds. However, it can be done cheaply by hiring N’Drema (one of the bird guides at Ampijoroa) to make arrangements and accompany you for the day. He knows boatmen at Mahajunga who won’t price-gouge, and knows tide times and where to look for the specialities. We did it for a total of £85 for the boat, fuel and guiding – so a very reasonable £21 each.

Third, very sorry to hear about your issues with Luc. He guided us for a few days at Mantadia and Perinet, and we found him to be excellent – superb field craft and worked really hard to get all our targets. I’ve recommended him to a few people, and it’s disappointing to learn of these problems. Luc did mention to us about the Helmet Vanga site, but we were visiting Masoala so weren’t tempted to try for it at Mantadia. I’m surprised it was BS as he sounded genuine about this.

All of the top bird guides at Perinet charge high prices for their services and are pretty mercenary – there is a lot of competition for their services in the high season, and they charge accordingly. We stayed in Luc’s sister’s guest house opposite the entrance to Perinet, which was pleasant and a lot cheaper than the Feo-ny ‘Ala, and had no problems.

Last, the Slender-billed Flufftail site at Mananara Lodge near Anjozorobe took us a little over 2 hour’s drive from Tana. I definitely recommend visiting this area for those with time – it’s very nice and there are some good birds here.


Well-known member.....apparently so ;)
Cheers D - oh don't get me wrong, the Gabster's great...but on a straight road, no traffic, no potholes it did start to grate after 4 weeks! Must be the driving instructor in me taking over ;) He did speed up every now and again and actually seemed to enoy it...bizarrely he drove faster at dusk as he doesn't like being on the road after dark which was a bit unnerving!
With regards to Luc, I liked him to start with but after, especially the second visit, he was taking the piss. Yes, he's great at finding stuff and - like all the guides - his eyesight is excellent, his site knowledge is great but talking to every other guide there, the HV situation seems to be crap. I'd love for someone to prove it as he could seriously make some money doing that little trip. He told us he had a nest site (on the second day) but we never got shown it, he went to check if it was being used and came back with negative news. Just had a few issues that manifested with him so I'd suggest Patrice as Gareth says.....Pete Morris vouches for him so that's good enough for me!
See, we thought the SB Flufftail site was only 2hrs north but Gabs said it at least 4 (well, with his driving......;)) but maybe he just really didn't fancy going on the last day....? He did seem quite hesitant. Just annoying we drove past it going back to Tana on the 20th!
Wish we'd spoken to you about the boat up the Betsiboka (that sounds like a Carry On film)!! Bugger. Oh well, will be going back in the next couple of years to do the far north so will try and slot it in then. We were told about it by Tina, a guide at Ampijoroa. He was a bit too suave and slick for my liking - in fact, a bit cocky really and it was him that had a price of 800,000MGA. But he said we had to go the following morning but we still hadn't seen Schlegel's Asity by then.....so that was that.

Cheers Larry - you dodging those marauding elephants ok?? ;)
Gareth - see what you started? I blame you completely ;)


Well-known member
See, we thought the SB Flufftail site was only 2hrs north but Gabs said it at least 4 (well, with his driving......;))

Haha, this is probably more true than you realise...Gaby arranged a replacement driver for a few days while he attended his brother's funeral, and this included the Anjozorobe bit. He was indeed a much faster driver, so the 4 hour estimate was probably quite accurate!


Well-known member.....apparently so ;)
9th October:

Up very early again this morning and outside of Luc’s we had a Mad Nightjar calling and then flying across the road – nice start to the day. Leaving most of our gear behind we took only day-bags for our forest trek. The short drive up a bumpy track to the south of Andasibe had our first Mad Buttonquails and 2 female Mad Partridges upon it and we soon pulled into a village where we met up with the porters that were accompanying us. Tents, sleeping mats and cooking utensils were hitched onto backs and tonight’s dinner of two chickens was busy squawking and trying to escape their basket. We began the 12km walk towards our forest camp. Weather was cool and overcast thankfully and as we walked the birdlist began to grow: our first Greater and Lesser Vasa Parrots were seen, along with a lovely flock of 10 Mad Blue-Pigeons. Near to the first gate Brown Emutails began calling close to the path but Luc wanted us to keep moving but not before we had great views of a Cryptic Warbler. A little further on we rounded a corner and there was an eye-level immature male Velvet Asity perched by the path, looking stunning with his black and gold-tipped feathers and bright green wattles.
As we turned off the wide comfortable path things became much harder work. Steep climbs up and down the valleys were the norm, cutting through the vegetation, tripping over particularly nasty thorny vines and crossing forest rivers by wading, steeping stones or fallen trees. We soon learned not to lean against any trees as invariably they were totally rotten and collapsed (sorry Kev!). Birds were hardly dripping from the trees but we did have our first Cuckoo-Rollers displaying over the treetops, their distinctive wailing calls echoing all around. Along a narrow path on a tall ridge Luc stopped, played his tape and got a response. Quickly slipping and sliding down the loose sides of the ridge, falling through rafts of rotting vegetation, we were soon balanced precariously but looking at a superb Rufous-headed Ground-Roller as it circled us and perched up on favoured fallen boughs as it called back – cool! Dark Newtonias had now replaced Commons, Mad Brush-Warblers were very numerous and at another site Luc played the tape again (he actually uses a tape too!) and after a while a tiny, mouse-like Brown Emutail was literally running circles around us. How anyone manages to photograph these birds is beyond me! We also passed a cool-looking frog in a tree – tentatively id’d as Mantidactylus femoralis.
After about 3hrs we pitched up at the camp and sorted out the tents and grabbed a bite to eat. It was then I noticed that there was one case of 6x1.5ltr bottled of water. That was it. Just one case...for four men, a guide and three porters.....hmmmmm. Considering we were all sweating like pigs as we weren’t acclimatised yet or as fit as the guides this was a severe problem and I was kicking myself for not checking this basic necessity earlier. Being diabetic, getting dehydrated is not something that’s recommended – especially when you’re literally in the middle of nowhere!
So with water rationing now in force we began another hard slog for a jolly 5km walk above the camp to look for the mythical Helmet Vanga. Talking to Luc about them and doubts began to arise. We asked him when he’d seen them last. March. We asked him how many there were. He said a pair but had seen 4 once. Hmmm, hopes were fading. However, we soon bumped into their cousins with White-headed, Eastern Tylas and Blue Vangas found in a mixed species flock. A Mad Buzzard called as it circled overhead and another Velvet Asity was found, this time an adult male – nice. A walk down a steep slope had us come face to face with a cracking Diademed Sifaka which just clung to the tree as it watched us watching him. Then a stunning male Forest Rock-Thrush hopped into view and showed very well – Luc’s yell scared the crap out of the sifaka and it was literally there one minute, gone the next! The going got really tough and a couple of us were really struggling. We stopped for some crap views of a female Common Sunbird-Asity which Luc tried to call in but had to change tapes and by the time he’d done that it’d long gone! Ah, how I love the digital age...just wish my MP3 had a better battery life! By the time we got back to the camp I was absolutely knackered and gasping for a drink. Luc said that he and the porters could drink the stream water – but didn’t recommend us doing it – so that took a bit of the problem away, but we’d still have to ration it out. A fresh juicy pineapple from the food box never tasted so good!! It was mid-afternoon and the day was pretty much done so Chris and B dived into the tents to crash out whilst Kev and I tried to pass the time even though there really wasn’t anywhere to go without getting hopelessly lost! A couple of goodies were still seen though: several Mad Spinetails could be seen overhead through the trees but best of all a Henst’s Goshawk flew over, calling and carrying food. Talking of food – Kev and I wandered off as our dinner that night was ‘prepared’.....
In the late afternoon Luc returned with negative news on the HV but said that tomorrow we could check on a nest that was used last year....wtf??!! Why didn’t we just go there today?? So, a bit nonplussed now, we followed him for a short walk along the stream, finally seeing a Mad Crested Ibis. As darkness fell we had great views of several Eastern Avahis and a showy Small-toothed Sportive-Lemur, a couple of small un-id’d bats, a smart Band-bellied Chameleon (Calumma gastrotaenia) and a Stump-tailed Leaf-Chameleon (Brookesia superciliaris). Back at camp after slipping down muddy banks and crossing rivers in the dark, dinner was served – hmmmmm. The rice attracted about a zillion flies as it was served so I ended up eating a couple of bits of undercooked chicken and after de-flying it, a few mouthfuls of rice. Yum yum. A Rainforest Scops-Owl was calling as I fell into a surprisingly deep sleep – even though I had to share a tent with Kev!
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