Short-legged Ground Roller
Our comprehensive 2013 Madagascar tour once again showcased Madagascar's best birds
We found almost all available bird endemics, more than 20 lemur species and
lots of other great critters.
Top 10 birds as voted by participants were:
1. Yellow-bellied Sunbird Asity, for its sheer dazzle at close range
2. Helmet Vanga, the beak with a bird
3. Rufous-headed Ground Roller, for great head-bobbing calling and a snazzy neck tie
4. Madagascar Pratincole, for neatness and elegance
5. Madagascar Yellowbrow, for bringing us to our knees
6. Short-legged Ground Roller, the Afrotropical puffbird
7. Nuthatch Vanga, for revealing its nesting secrets
8. Pitta-like Ground Roller, for sheer prettiness, and
9. Madagascar Flufftail and
10. Madagascar Jacana, for the great views.
We commenced our birding with a pre-tour extension at Anjozorobe with Madagascar Rail,
Red-fronted Coua, Grey Emutail, Rufous-headed Ground Roller, Madagascar Flufftail,
Madagascar Snipe and brief views of Brown Emutail the highlights.
On the main tour we kicked off at Lake Alarobia where Malagasy Pond Heron showed
briefly. Next on the schedule was Andasibe-Mantadia National Park, with Madagascar
Pratincole en route. We had good views of Short-legged Ground-Roller, Scaly Ground-
Roller and Red-breasted Coua. Meller's Duck, Madagascar Grebe, Madagascar Wood
Rail, Madagascar Pygmy Kingfisher, Nuthatch Vanga, Madagascar Cuckoo-Hawk,
Madagascar [Long-eared] Owl, Madagascar Sparrowhawk, Collared Nightjar and Blue
Coua came more easily.
En route to Ranomafana National Park we notched up Madagascar Partridge and
Madagascar Snipe. At Ranomafana the lower-altitude forest treated us to Brown Mesite,
Pollen's Vanga, Common Sunbird-Asity and Henst's Goshawk, whereas the Vohiparara
section produced Rufous-headed Ground-Roller, Madagascar Yellowbrow, point-blank
views of a dazzling male Yellow-bellied Sunbird-Asity and a glowing male Velvet Asity.
We continued to the more arid south-west of the country and saw White-browed Hawk-
Owl, Appert's Tetraka, Banded Kestrel, Giant Coua and fantastic Cuckoo Roller. At Ifaty
we quickly found Madagascar Plover, Long-tailed Ground-Roller, Thamnornis,
Archbold's Newtonia, Running Coua, Madagascar Buttonquail and Subdesert Mesite.
Then to the Tulear area where we easily found Red-shouldered Vanga, Verreaux's Coua
and Lafresnaye's Vanga and other highlights included Littoral Rock Thrush, Red-capped
[Green-capped] Coua, Verreaux's Coua and Red-tailed Tropicbird.
In the north-west, at the Betsiboka Delta we quickly found several Bernier's Teal and
Malagasy Sacred Ibis, and our first Humblot's Heron. And at Ampijoroa forest station in
Ankarafantsika National Park we soaked up good views of the three tricky endemics, Whitebreasted
Mesite, Schlegel's Asity and Van Dam's Vanga (after some persistence)! Other
memorable sightings included Madagascar Fish Eagle, Madagascar Jacana, Malagasy
Pond Heron, Humblot's Heron, Rufous Vanga, Sickle-billed Vanga and Allen's Gallinule.
For those who stayed on after the main trip, the Masoala peninsula produced the goods
once again. We soaked up fantastic views of Helmet Vanga and Bernier's Vanga. And
enjoyed more White-throated Oxylabes, Red-breasted Coua and Madagascar Pratincole.
Detailed Trip report
Anjozorobe Pre-Tour Extension
Most of the group arrived a few days early and we had arranged some pre-tour birding at
Anjozorobe. This short stay made for an excellent introduction to Madagascar. We
immediately concentrated our efforts on the now-famous marsh where Slender-billed
Flufftail is occasionally seen. The marsh was alive with activity when we arrived, with
Madagascar Swamp Warbler, Madagascar Snipe, Grey Emutail and Madagascar Rail all
seen with ease. However, the said flufftail was not even heard this year. Still, there was
plenty else to make the journey worthwhile, especially in the forest. Rufous-headed
Ground Roller entertained us with its head-bobbing calls. Madagascar Flufftail showed brilliantly.
We enjoyed good views of Madagascar Nightjar and spotted our first
Madagascar Blue Pigeon. A Frances's Sparrowhawk circled overhead, a relaxed Redfronted
Coua approached us and Brown Emutail posed briefly. And while returning to
Tana, we had reasonable views of Madagascar Partridge.
Endemic Birds and Lemurs Main Tour
We started the main tour in our hotel garden admiring a lovely Sooty Falcon among more
common species such as Malagasy Brush Warbler, Madagascar Bulbul, Madagascar
Wagtail, Red Fody and Souimanga Sunbird. This was followed by a brief stop at Lake
Alorobia where the heronry was in full swing. We tracked down Malagasy Pond Heron and
watched good numbers of duck, including our only Knob-billed Duck of the trip. With lots
of tricky rainforest species awaiting us we pressed on towards Andasibe. En-route, we much admired a Madagascar Pratincole with its fluffy chick.
We were now at Andasibe, gateway to the Andasibe-Mantadia National Park, arguably the
most accessible patch of eastern rainforest. We first focused on the more remote Mantadia
section of the park and did well enough on the key species to allow ample time at Andasibe.
We started with some introductory birding in open areas and along the road with
Madagascar Cuckooshrike, Madagascar Stonechat, Malagasy White-eye and Nelicourvi
Weaver. The highlight of our first afternoon, was watching a lovely Rainforest Scops Owl
on its day roost, only an arm's length from us.
Early the next morning, when small warblers like to sing from exposed bare snags, we had
good looks at Rand's Warbler and Stripe-throated Jery. We enjoyed single sightings of
Madagascar Green Pigeon and Madagascar Starling, and this year Madagascar Blue
Pigeon seemed to be more common and conspicuous than before.
In the understorey we twice watched Crossley's [Babbler] Vanga and Collared Nightjar on
their nests and a handsome pair of Red-breasted Coua. And elsewhere in the forest, we
found Madagascar [Crested] Ibis on the nest, Madagascar Sparrowhawk at the nest and
feeding young and a flying Madagascar Cuckoo-Hawk. We had brilliant views of mating
Madagascar Pygmy Kingfisher. We saw Red-tailed Vanga, Tylas Vanga, Hook-billed
Vanga, a male Velvet Asity, the unusual Ward's Flycatcher [Vanga] and excellent views of
two Nuthatch Vanga.
Nuthatch Vanga on the nest
More open areas added to our growing list. At a forest pond, we watched a pair of Meller's
Duck, several Madagascar Grebe and the buff-vented subspecies of Common Moorhen. At
a marsh, we watched Madagascar Rail and at a pine plantation, to everyone's delight, a roosting Madagascar
The area's real specials are the forest ground rollers. We admired a Short-legged Ground
Roller that seemed to have flushed off its nest. It sat still for ages, giving us time to
observe it from every angle. Scaly Ground Roller took longer but eventually we tracked
down a confiding individual for prolonged views.
Scaly Ground Roller
Mammal highlights included Lowland Streaked Tenrec and a suite of lemurs including the
tiny Goodman's Mouse Lemur, Common Brown Lemur, Crossley's Dwarf Lemur, the
beautiful Diademed Sifaka and close up views of fantastic Indri, with its whale-like songs.
It was now time to pack our bags and start the journey south to Ranomafana National Park.
En-route, we spotted Hamerkop and Dimorphic Egret in the rice paddies. We watched
Madagascar Hoopoe, Madagascar Snipe and Baillon's Crake at our lunch stop. And
Madagascar Cuckoo, Common Quail and Madagascar Partridge near our accommodation.
Having made good inroads into the forest birds at Andasibe-Mantadia, we could focus at
Ranomafana. Given the number of tricky skulkers, this was a good thing. Highlights of the
lower section of the park were Pitta-like Ground Roller, Wedge-tailed Jery, fantastic looks
at a pair of Brown Mesite and brilliant views of Henst's Goshawk near its nest. We saw a
pair of Madagascar Harrier-Hawk perch and flying near their nest.
Pitta-like Ground Roller
Most of our time was focused on the higher altitude sections of the park around Vohiparara. En-route, we
watched Malagasy Black Swift and Forest Rock Thrush, and a Ward's [Flycatcher] Vanga
at the nest. Grey-crowned Tetraka welcomed us at Vohiparara, giving better-than-normal
views almost as the first bird seen. Madagascar Yellowbrow got us down on hands and knees, but showed well in the end and
was very much appreciated. A male Velvet Asity impressed everyone with its jet black
feathers and dazzling green wattles. We tracked down superb views of another Pitta-like
Ground Roller. White-throated Oxylabes and a male Forest Fody showed for some. Dark
Newtonia showed for all. Cryptic Warbler was seen twice. We watched a Madagascar
Flufftail bathing at a forest pool (well spotted!). We very quickly found Rufous-headed
The undoubted highlight was Yellow-bellied Sunbird-Asity. We first watched the female at
the nest. And then, after much patience, came our huge reward. An incomparable male
came in, perched just above our heads and dazzled us with its luminous plumage. WOW!
Non-bird highlights at Ranomafana included a large Tree Boa, Golden Bamboo Lemur,
Milne-Edward's Sifaka with its strikingly red eyes, Red-fronted Brown Lemur, Red-bellied
Lemur, the nocturnal Rufous/Brown Mouse Lemur and Small-toothed Sportive Lemur, the
very vocal and acrobatic Black-and-white Ruffed Lemurs.
Black-and-white Ruffed Lemur
We now had all realistically possible forest birds under the belt. It was time to head for the
more arid habitats of the south-west. Our first port of call was the sacred site of Anjaha,
where we walked among a community of Ring-tailed Lemurs and enjoyed incredible closeup
Driving towards Isalo, on one of our roadside stops, we approached a pair of Marsh Owl -
they let us come surprisingly close. After dark on a short foray around our comfortable
accommodation, we enjoyed great looks at White-browed Hawk-Owl before dinner and
Torotoroka Scops Owl after dinner (a good day for owls)!
With Madagascar Partridge already under our belts we had the luxury of leaving Isalo earlier
than normal, and as soon as we'd studied a male Forest [Benson's] Rock Thrush on the roof of
our accommodation. This meant we got to Zombitse National Park while it was still relatively
cool and enjoyed a productive walk through this "different" habitat with elements of spiny
and dry deciduous forest.
A very obliging Banded Kestrel flew in a perched nearby, giving us ample time to study it in
the scope before we set off on our circuit. Very soon we were rewarded with a confiding
Appert's Tetraka that fed on the ground just a couple of metres from us. Next was the
localised Giant Coua. It required a little more patience, until we tracked down a pair sitting
in a tree. Other noteworthy birds included a couple of Rufous Vanga, Coquerel's Coua, our
best views of Cuckoo Roller, White-browed Hawk-Owl on its day roost and an impressive
display by a female Greater Vasa Parrot. We watched the localised Hubbard's Sportive Lemur peek out of its day roost and the dainty Verreaux's Sifaka.
After lunch we continued on towards the coast, with a short stop near La Table and spotted
the characterful Lafresnaye's Vanga. The last section of road took more time and sweat than
normal to navigate and we gladly arrived at our beach-side accommodation near the Spiny
We awoke early the next morning for an amble through Madagascar's most unusual habitat,
with its Octopus Trees and own special set of birds: the famed Spiny Forest. On entering the
reserve a friendly Running Coua instantly rewarded us. We quickly tracked down a couple
of singing Thamnornis Warblers. Red-capped [Green-capped] Coua sat on the nest, just
showing its tail, but the subtly-coloured (at least by familial standards) Long-tailed Ground
Roller offered us superb views. The long tail made it hard for the big lenses to fit the whole
bird in the camera frame.
Subdesert Mesite collaborated well too and quickly led us to a treed female. She froze for
us to admire as long as we liked. The final local specialty was Archbold's Newtonia: a pair
circled around us in full song. During our very successful walk we also enjoyed two excellent
sightings of female Madagascar Buttonquail. We watched the impressive Sickle-billed
Vanga, Crested Coua and Subdesert Brush Warbler.
At the coastal grass plains, Madagascar Plover was our target. It was hot during our march
but we eventually located our quarry, and soaked up the views for a considerable amount of
time, while the camera wielders among us could approach to within a few metres.
After a bit of down time and a relaxed lunch we returned to Tulear and birded the afternoon
in the nearby coral rag scrub. Red-shouldered Vanga soon lured us with its clear whistles
and a lovely male showed brilliantly. Lafresnaye's Vanga showed again, better views of
Green-capped Coua were obtained and a Verreaux's Coua showed well, albeit a bit briefly.
Our sandgrouse vigil produced excellent views of two Madagascar Sandgrouse drinking.
We then headed out on our boat trip for the sand dunes of Anakao where a male Littoral
Rock Thrush took no time to find. After a short hop-and-a-skip, we landed at Nosy Ve and
admired White-fronted Plover and many elegant Red-tailed Tropicbird.
Violet Dropwing of Madagascar
Madagascar's north-west was our destination on the last section of the main tour. In the
cool of the morning we headed up into the Betsiboka Delta. Our arrival at the first mudflats
was aptly greeted by a pair of very confiding Bernier's Teal and two Malagasy Sacred Ibis.
Once we had admired them we turned to a nearby Humblot's Heron, and made a wider
study of the area seeing three more pairs of teal, several more ibis, Terek Sandpiper,
Greater Sand Plover and several other wader species. A Madagascar Harrier-Hawk circled
With all the specials seen well, we turned for Mahajunga. En route, we were rewarded with a
beautiful surprise: a pod of Indian Bottle-nosed Dolphin circled our boats.
By lunch time we were at our accommodation near Ampijoroa forest station in
Ankarafantsika National Park. We had an afternoon ahead of us to become acquainted with
some of the areas' wildlife. Some popular Coquerel's Sifakas lulled around the reserve entrance.
We also admired Sickle-billed Vanga and Grey-headed Lovebird. Climbing up to the sandy plateau, we
enjoyed good views of Coquerel's Coua and Red-capped Coua on the track. A pair of
White-breasted Mesite showed close-up.
The next morning a heavy rain storm cooled
things down and gave us a couple of extra hours of sleep. Once it abated we were out on
the trails where we tracked down a male Schlegel's Asity in a tall, bare tree. We admired it
preening in the scope. The less showy female sat nearby and kept an eye on her nest.
White-breasted Mesite showed again excellent views before we turning our focus to Van
Dam's Vanga. Red-capped Coua (renamed as Path Coua) hopped and skipped along in
front of us, a handsome Rufous Vanga appeared nearby. Van Dam's Vanga was not given up easily
and rewarded our persistence with good views of this bulky, dark-billed species.
Besides birding the dry forests at Ampijoroa we allowed ample time for wetland birding,
focussing on Lac Ravelobe. Large numbers of Western Cattle Egret, Common Squacco
Heron and Glossy Ibis challenged us to pick out Malagasy Pond Heron, but we succeeded
in finding two of these smart birds. We added Allen's Gallinule, saw a single Humblot's
Heron and enjoyed two good sightings of the very rare Madagascar Fish Eagle. At another
wetland we enjoyed a pair of Madagascar Jacana a couple of metres with the added bonus
of some lovely African Pygmy Goose.
Madagascar Fish Eagle
Mammalian highlights of Ampijoroa included the 'bearded' Mongoose Lemur, Common
Brown Lemur, the nocturnal Grey Mouse Lemur, the very vocal Milne-Edwards Sportive
Lemur with its white tail-tip and Western Avahi or Woolly Lemur with its white thighs
roosting during the day. With some of the group now heading home we bade our farewells in Tana.
Most of us continued on to Maroansetra and joined the Masoala extension.
An afternoon stroll along the beach from our accommodation turned up a few surprises,
most notable two Crab-Plover and a single Saunder's Tern, plus Bar-tailed Godwit and
lots of Lesser Crested Tern.
Early the next morning, we boarded two speedboats and
headed out across the Bay of Antongil for the lush lowland forests of the Masoala peninsula.
On the way two Artic Skua flew in as an unexpected bonus.
By mid-morning we had already dropped our bags at our comfortable new lodge and were
admiring the exquisite and localised Red-ruffed Lemurs. Soon after, we encountered the incomparable Helmet Vanga.
It didn't stay very long and left us wanting
more. We very successfully tracked down another pair of Helmet Vanga, which offered long
and impressive views, winning second position on the "bird of the trip" competition.
A female Giraffe-necked Weevil. The male's neck typically 2 to 3 times longer.
We had marvellous looks at a pair of scarce Bernier's Vanga, eventually at close range. Of all
the birds in Madagascar, this one made us work the hardest!
Other highlights were a couple of sightings of Red-breasted Coua, our best views of
Madagascar Spinetail, more Blue Coua, White-headed Vanga, Blue Vanga, lots of
Madagascar Starling, black morph Madagascar Magpie-Robin, Madagascar
Cuckooshrike, Tylas Vanga, Cuckoo Roller, excellent views of White-throated Oxylabes,
brief views of Brown Mesite and Crested Coua. We also enjoyed a few more mammals, such as White-fronted Brown Lemur, a new species of Mouse Lemur, Greater Dwarf Lemur and the localised endearing Masoala Woolly
All too soon our time at Masoala and in Madagascar had come to an end and all that was left
to do was to return to Maroansetra (with Sooty Tern and Brown Noddy on the return trip)
and catch our flight back to Tana. Some of us flew out soon afterwards, and others joined
for a final celebratory dinner before their flight back home.
Birding Africa Trip Report
by Tour Leader Michael
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Please click here for photographs and trip reports
from our tours in October
November 2011 and