Tuesday, 30 October 2012


In Malagasy Mandena means the place where you get wet. This morning we visited Mandena and we did. Very. I had high hopes of seeing the lovely red-collared brown lemur and dared even to hope we might see a southern grey bamboo lemur or a southern avahi (neither of which is probably a valid species). We saw none. We heard barely a bird and we were soaked.

On these sandy soils around Fort Dauphin a unique and beautiful low-nutrient rainforest grows, beautiful even under a downpour. In the edge of a marsh here, where scant nutrients may be obtained from soil or water, we saw, looping through the surrounding vegetation, the sci-fi vines of Nepenthes madagascariensis, a carnivorous pitcher plant.

Mandena: the place where you get wet.

Monday, 29 October 2012

Holiday snaps

Ring-tailed lemur, mother and infant, Berenty

Ring-tailed lemur having a scratch

A marsh tit's nest in Berenty, behind an endemic triangle palm Dypsis decaryi

Big wings

29th October

New in a rough sea off Tolagnaro today


humpback whale
Megaptera novaeangliae


wedge-tailed shearwater
Puffinus pacificus

Madagascar kelp gull
Larus dominicanus melisandae

2012 Totals
Mammals: 103
Birds: 953
Reptiles: 53
Amphibians: 15
Fish: 11

The king of flying creatures

28th October

In Madagascar the tale is told that in the first days of the world a great fire threatened to consume all creation. God told the flying creatures that whoever put out the fire would forever be king among them. Having great leathery wings the flying fox succeeded in putting out the blaze and thus in saving the world. The drongo however, being canny and fast of flight, smothered himself in soot and reached God first. He told Him that he had put out the blaze and that the soot on his plumage was proof of his deed. God was pleased and made the drongo, who to this day is blackened with soot, king of the flying creatures.

Some time later the flying fox arrived and told God that he had put out the blaze. God turned him away saying that it was the drongo who had saved the world and had therefore been honoured as king. The flying fox was hurt to have been cheated and resolved no longer to show respect to God. From now onwards he would hang upside down in the trees and show God his bum.

New today in Berenty


Madagascar flying fox
Pteropus rufus


Madagascar sandgrouse
Pterocles personatus

Falco peregrinus radama



Tracheloptychus madagascariensis

Trachylepis gravenhorstii
spider tortoise
Pyxis arachnoides
bark gecko
Blaesodactylus sakalava

2012 Totals
Mammals: 102
Birds: 952
Reptiles: 53
Amphibians: 15
Fish: 11


27th October

As I write tonight a white-footed sportive lemur bounds down the tin roof of my cabin and disappears into the night giving his breathy call. A Torotoroka scops owl hoots, softly, rhythmically, nearby. Today we reached Berenty.

The road was very bad – worse even than last year – and the journey long; but this place has an alchemy of its own and it’s impossible for anyone – clients and tour leaders alike – to arrive here and not forget in five minutes the early start, the incompetence of Air Madagascar, and the coccyx-crunching state of disrepair of Route Nationale 13.

For as soon as you step from your minibus in Berenty you are greeted by ring-tailed lemurs strutting across the red soil of the car park. In the edge of the forest are families of hybrid brown lemurs with little youngsters (these are the gene-jumbled descendents of red-fronted brown and red-collared brown lemurs, neither of which belongs here but which were misguidedly released in the past). A family of Verreaux’s sifakas speeds through the trees and all thoughts of discomfort or of long journeys are forgotten.

This evening we walked in the gallery forest. Almost as soon as we entered it my torch’s beam fell on the bright eyes of a sedate sportive lemur, the first of several we saw. Less sedate were four grey mouse lemurs which pinged through the understorey at speed. Spiny-backed chameleons dozed, white-browed owls sang – wrrroh! – and we felt privileged to have reached this last island of wild habitat in a sisal sea.

New today in Berenty and on our journey here


white-footed sportive lemur
Lepilemur leucopus
grey mouse lemur
Microcebus murinus


giant coua
Coua gigas
Torotoroka scops owl
Otus madagascariensis


Madagascar lined snake
Bibilava lateralis
changeable day gecko
Phelsuma mutabilis

Lygodactylus tuberosus

2012 Totals
Mammals: 101
Birds: 951
Reptiles: 49
Amphibians: 15
Fish: 11

Friday, 26 October 2012


26th October

Today, having come by boat from Anakao, we wait for five hours in Tulear. Nothing for it: on a whim Air Madagascar rescheduled our morning flight for the evening. It is hot but we are in the shade. My clients are drinking beer and in the hotel garden’s palms is another new species of Phelsuma day gecko. Life could be worse.

New today in Toliara



Phelsuma leiogaster

2012 Totals
Mammals: 99
Birds: 949
Reptiles: 46
Amphibians: 15
Fish: 11


25th October

I wonder whether the littoral rock thrush is so called because it lives by the sea or because it has no grasp of irony. Either way it is a lovely bird and Anakao is a lovely place. To sea is Nosy Ve, a small coral island, eight metres above sea level at its highest point and dotted with Euphorbia bushes. Under these are nesting red-tailed tropicbirds, some of them adults in rosy breeding colours, in the pink so to speak. Others are chicks in various states of downiness. This is the only place in Madagascar where they are known to breed and against the hot blue sky they are celestial.

On a tinier island still, no more than a sandbar, are a dozen crab plovers and a huddle of terns. Most are greater crested, which I last saw in Sri Lanka in March. With them are a few lesser crested, new to my list, and some roseates, new too since I missed them this summer in Norfolk. They bring the tern species I’ve seen this year to eighteen.

In the gilded light of evening we stroll through the spiny dunes. Subdesert brush warblers tick loudly all around and buttonquail scurry past. A spiny-backed chameleon treads deliberately across our path and pressed flat against the railings of Claude’s cabin is a short-headed day gecko. This is one of the least flashy of the Phelsuma geckos – the others we’ve seen have all been psychedelically colourful – but it’s very restricted in range and not often seen. We’re happy to add it to my group’s list and to mine.

Tomorrow to Tulear by boat and to Tana by plane. Thence, the day after, to Berenty in the island’s south east. White-footed sportive lemur and giant coua here I come.

New today around Anakao and Nosy Ve


white-fronted plover
Charadrius marginatus
littoral rock thrush
Monticola imerinus
red-tailed tropicbird
Phaethon rubricaudus
crab plover
Dromas ardeola
lesser crested tern
Sterna bengalensis
roseate tern
Sterna dougallii
subdesert brush warbler
Nesillas lantzii


short-headed day gecko
Phelsuma breviceps

2012 Totals
Mammals: 99
Birds: 949
Reptiles: 45
Amphibians: 15
Fish: 11

Voronjaza sy toloranto

24th October

As I write, on a sun-seared sand dune in south Madagascar, a female magpie robin, a bee-eater and a crested drongo visit me. This has been a morning of birds. At dawn we were trudging through sand in the Reniala spiny forest reserve, past Adansonia rubrostipa baobabs, the chipping of common newtonias in our ears.  Among them a different song – short, rising, cheerful – from a newtonia with a reddish throat and breast. This was Archbold’s newtonia, one of the specialities of the spiny forest we had come to see.

A subdesert mesite clung to an Alluaudia octopus tree, hoping, despite the bright morning light and her own intricately beautiful plumage, that by freezing she would remain unseen (maybe not the best defence strategy against a group of birdwatchers). Our grail though was a subtle yet startling long-tailed ground-roller, gently walked to a spiny clearing by the forest’s spotters; this disturbance to the bird’s routine a price well worth paying for the preservation of a too-rare patch of its dusty habitat. Without tourists paying to see these birds the forest, as everywhere around the reserve, would already have been lost.

A Lafresnaye’s vanga chimed, five sickle-billed vangas mewed, and at the reserve’s gates a scarce Antimena chameleon trundled through a bush. We padded home, through the sand and the mounting heat, content.

At lunchtime today my vertebrate list stands at a satisfying 1111 species. Ninety-nine of these have been mammals. What will be the hundredth? My money is on white-footed sportive lemur in Berenty, though I can’t rule out a humpback whale offshore today or a lesser hedgehog tenrec in the spiny forest tonight (either would be most welcome). For almost ten months we’ve been at this list, you kindly reading and a marsh tit watching vertebrates and recording them here. It’s been a rich and happy experience and I’m looking forward to that hundredth mammal, to the race to a thousand bird species, and to whatever else crosses my wildlife-watching path before the year and with it my list come to their end.

New at dawn in Reniala spiny forest


stripe-throated jery
Neomixis striatigula
running coua
Coua cursor
Archbold’s newtonia
Newtonia archboldi
subdesert mesite
Monias benschi
lesser vasa parrot
Coracopsis nigra
long-tailed ground-roller
Uratelornis chimaera
Madagascar harrier-hawk
Polyboroides radiatus
Lafresnaye’s vanga
Xenopirostris xenopirostris
sickle-billed vanga
Falculea palliata
Madagascar spine-tailed swift
Zoonavena grandidieri


Antimena chameleon
Furcifer antimena

New this afternoon in a sandstorm


three-banded plover
Charadrius tricollaris
Madagascar plover
Charadrius thoracicus

2012 Totals
Mammals: 99
Birds: 942
Reptiles: 44
Amphibians: 15
Fish: 11

To the spiny forest

23rd October

Every day with two new primates on my list is a good day. Today was long. Today was hot. Today was exhausting. But today was good. Early this morning we reached Zombitse, a deciduous forest national park marooned in a horizonless landscape of anthropogenic grasslands. We missed our avian target here, Appert’s tetraka which may be found nowhere else, but saw our mammalian target, a snoozing Hubbard’s sportive lemur, which likewise lives nowhere else. (For the taxonomically minded, however, it’s worth knowing that recent genetic research indicates that, unlike the Microcebus mouse lemurs which are bona fide species, the many newly described Lepilemur sportive lemurs are probably regional forms of very few species. The same, incidentally, is true of the Avahi woolly lemurs of which we saw the form currently known as Peyrieras’ in Ranomafana.)

Our second new primate was grey-brown mouse lemur. These spiny forest favourites were dozing at the arboretum outside Tulear: hunkering in the hollow of a snapped tree, curled in a fluffy ball in a spiky Euphorbia, and nestling in the folded leaf of a Bismarckia palm. A green-capped coua trotted through the sandy undergrowth and in the dust sat a Madagascar nightjar, protecting her eggs from the shocking heat of the afternoon.

As we bumped along the unmade road to Ifaty a Kittlitz’s plover stood by a brackish pool, two curlew sandpipers (last seen by my eyes at Cley) probed the seaside mud, and a pair of Madagascar buttonquail trundled across the road, rounding their backs, lowering their heads, and hoping that a bus full of naturalists would not spot them.

New this morning in Zombitse


Hubbard’s sportive lemur
Lepilemur hubbardorum


Madagascar green pigeon
Treron australis
crested coua
Coua cristata
alpine swift
Apus melba
white-browed owl
Ninox superciliaris
Frances’s sparrowhawk
Accipiter francesiae
Coquerel’s coua
Coua coquereli
rufous vanga
Schetba rufa
Madagascar cuckoo-hawk
Aviceda madagascariensis


Standing’s day gecko
Phelsuma standingi
three-eyed lizard
Chalerodon madagascariensis

New this afternoon in the Tulear arboretum and in marshes near Ifaty


grey-brown mouse lemur
Microcebus griseorufus


Sakalava weaver
Ploceus sakalava
Madagascar nightjar
Caprimulgus madagascariensis
green-capped coua
Coua olivaceiceps
Kittlitz’s plover
Charadrius pecuarius
Madagascar buttonquail
Turnix nigricollis



Tracheloptychus petersi
spiny-backed chameleon
Furcifer verrucosus

Trachylepis aureopunctata

2012 Totals
Mammals: 99
Birds: 930
Reptiles: 43
Amphibians: 15
Fish: 11