Tuesday, 2 November 2010

Catching Up Slowly - More Tomorrow?

Saturday 30th October 2010

Early starts have become part of our daily itinerary and today was to be no exception. An 04-00 wake up call and late breakfast arranged we in the field 30 minutes later, after driving 5 miles to the Reiala Baobab Tree Forest. A select area of the Spiny Forest the owner decided years ago that there would be more income in fencing the area off as a wildlife refuge than the 'slash & burn' technique. Here was an array of rare and endemic birds and those added to the trip list included:- Green-capped Coua, Thamnornis Warbler, the notoriously elusive Long-tailed Ground Roller, a real coup to show off to Mr Penney Greater Vasa Parrot, Archibald's Newtonia, the bizarre Sickle-billed Vanga and Running Coua that I had previously 'dipped' at Zombitse.

By 09-00 the heat was becoming oppressive, so time to beat a retreat to the shelter of our comfortable lodge (again overlooking the Mozambique Channel) where breakfast was waiting. The afternoon was given over to relaxation, which in my case amounted to typing up these notes and more birding, while late afternoon we prepared for our flight back to the capital Tana. The reason for some of the delay in publishing posts, Madagascar Airway decided to change our flight schedule, at the eleventh hour, putting everything back several hour and not allowing for a few hours in the hotel at Tana. We did however have time for dinner where the unusual was my choice by way of the Zebu tongue. My new found friend Steve baulked saying he couldn't possibly eat anything from inside a cow's mouth, and would stick with the EGGS - WOT?

Stripe-throated Jery



Madagascar Bee-eater

Verreaux's Sifaka

Old Sisal workhorse.

Red-fronted Lemur

The Great Coua

despite its size, about that of a Pheasant,

is secretive, skulking and often difficult to see.

Difficult to believe these trees are deciduous, but do shed their foliage at the end of each 'dry season'.

Leaves grow from trunk and branches and the wood is hard making it ideal for house building.

There is also a complex flower.

Dark morph Madagascar Paradise Flycatcher at the nest.

The pale morph of the same bird

is far less common, but a striking bird when seen.

Abject poverty prevails and I cannot help thinking what chance these little mites?

Sunday 31st October 2010
With just 3 hours sleep we needed to be at Tana airport at 04-00 today and arrived at Fort Dauphin in the far south west corner of the country. As usual the logistic were handled admirably by our guide and tour leader, with transport, driver and guides in place on arrival. Most were ready for a rest by now, but that could only be had during a 4 hour bumpy ride to our destination at the privately owned Berenty Nature Reserve. During this drive we passed through more rice paddies, transitional forest and later to the Spiny forest of the Andohahela NP. Unfortunately, there was a down side close to the end of our journey as we had to pass through 30,000 hectares of Sisal fields, which had once been prime forest. Bird life was thin on the ground and only one species was claimed as new, an Alpine Swift in flight, of course I have not included this in my own personal lists. Deciding on a lone walk through the dense woodland adjoining our lodge I did add Great Coua to all 3 lists while in addition the were dozens of Verreaux's Sifaka, a single Red-fronted Brown Lemur plus one or two Radiated Tortoises. Another small misfortune was getting a little lost. Having walked far further than intended I sought the assistance of a couple of 'locals' but this did me no good at all because of the language barrier, but did eventually stumble upon the main gate to the reserve. Arriving back at camp I had missed the late afternoon wildlife walk by a full 30 minutes, and most readers will realise my further annoyance when my fellow travellers returned with claim, and photographs, of White-browed and Madagascar Scops Owls, both endemic - Bastardos!

In the evening we took the transport to a small stand of Gallery Forest where Grey-Brown Mouse Lemur was a target soon secured. In addition we also recorded Warty Chameleon which also goes under the heading of Spiny-backed and White-footed Sportive Lemur, but the was only one Scops Owl 'calling’ which doesn't count as far as World Lifers are concerned.

It's Been A Long Time A Comin' - Beverly Knight

In an effort to get at least something to the faithful readership (thank you all for hanging on in there) this post, one of 4 days outstanding, is issued first. Even if midnight oil has to be burned, I will do my best to catch up as far as today if I can before retiring tonight.

Monday 1st November 2010

There was only one thing on my mind as daylight peaked through the curtains, a game of catch up. As things stood I was now 4 species shy of the collective list as there had been a further sighting of Madagascar Needletail again in my absence. The Green Pigeon was a possibility, but thought unlikely, but I was there for the 05-00 walk and the guide has 'promised' a positive outcome on the Owl front. I didn't have to wait long as these local guides have that magic touch in the forest to see and hear things the rest of us wouldn't see in a hundred years. There sat literally above our heads was a fine White-browed, but by the time the walk was over Scops still remained a fantasy. Fortunately. Desi our full time Malagasy guide took me back to the forest after breakfast and located one with ease, in addition he also found Green Jery which thus far none of us had seen. During the walk back to the lodge we encountered Monsieur Henry de Heaulme the son and heir to the family estate and a pleasant character to boot. Now those who know my prowess in the field realise my sight is not the best in the world, but this afternoon made a hit with all by spotting Madagascar Sandgrouse, another endemic high on the wish list. In addition we found and photographed M. Nightjar, Sportive Lemur, Locust, M. Bulbul on the nest and a Scorpion. This evening I decided to miss the night walk and catch up on notes and photographs in the hope of publishing a post tomorrow.

Trip Ticks - 127
Endemics - 116
World Lifers - 89

The unique Berenty Nature Reserve, Madagascar.

Monsieur Henry de Heaulme son and heir to the Berenty Reserve

The Berenty logo

Right clicking on this image will expand and maybe give a clearer picture of the habitate hereabouts.

Green Jery, although I remain one step behind some of the others having missed Madagascar Green Pigeon, our guide Desi did make a special search to get the Scops for me and in so doing turned up this little beauty which only he and I have seen thus far.

Grey-Brown Mouse Lemur,

these minute nocturnals are a bonus indeed!

White-browed Owl,

'catch-up' No 1 duely delivered - thanks Desi!

Crested Coua

Sakalava Weaver

Madagascar Kestrel

Yellow-billed Kite nest.

Great Vasa Parrot, we have now seen all the Psittacines madagascar can offer, all Endemics.

Madagascar Giant Fruit Bat colony.

It was some distance from the roost, but this was as close as was permissible and not to flush the bats.

The name escapes me, but high on the Lemur's grocery list.

A closer view of the blossom.

Local people carrying out their laundry duties. Bad news is the water level has fallen drastically and when it's gone, it's gone - what then you have to ask?

Even the smallest children have to undertake duties such as water carrying.

Madagascar Turtle Dove, common but by no means confiding.

Another Gecko, all of which have been identified by our guides but I have enough trouble keeping up with the birds!

Stone commemorating 60 years of the reserves existence.

Madagascar Scops Owl,

Worth 2 photographs in any language, this was 'catch up number 2 for me today.

Prickly Pear, an import to the country that is occasionally eaten by the locals and also secondary feed for livestock.

30,000 hectares of Sisal, used for rope making, weaving etc, provide desperately needed employment for the locals here. No 'outside' labour has been brought in while the owner has provided all employees with basic housing, medical care and education.

Madagascar Sandgrouse, spotted at great distance.

Usually I'm the first to complain when others put birds to flight, but on this occasion the local goat herder did us all a favour. In the process of taking the livestock to better pasture he flushed the Grouse right over our heads. As we clambered back into the bus they continued to circle until

this lone, but obliging, female put down only 100 yards away.

Scorpion Sp, we had to roll away a few boulders to see any Herps.

The Spiny Forest from the only elevated ground.

Madagascar Bulbul on the nest.

Un-ID'ed Butterfly one of the best we have seen, pity no 'open wing' shot.

Madagascar Nightjar

Most obliging, but more to come on this subject - watch this space!

White-footed Sportive Lemur

Head close up, one of the 'goodies' as far as I'm concerned!

Locust Sp

Distant Helmeted Guinea-fowl

Helmeted Guinea-fowl as close as they would allow.

Radiated Tortoise

Nile Crocodile, while they do occur in the country this one was just slightly 'in captivity'.

Spider-Web Tortoise

Warty or Spiny-baked Chameleon