Sunday, 21 October 2012

Alefa!


 17th October

I love Madagascar. I thought I’d better get that straight from the start as I’m planning to wax lyrical for the next few weeks. I mean, seriously, it’s got everything a right-thinking naturalist could want. It’s got dozens of endemic primates (exact number unsure as some haven’t yet been named and – see yesterday’s post for details of my fascinating conversation with Steve Goodman – it turns out from recent genetic studies that many of those already described aren’t in fact species). What’s more it’s got lots of jazzy birds that do funky things. Like funky? Well look no further than the chameleons. Chameleons are way funky and if you dig chameleons Madagascar is definitely going to be your thang.

And did I mention the endemic family of carnivores, the three endemic subfamilies of insectivore, the fifty species of bat (many of them recently discovered by the aforementioned Steve Goodman and eighty per cent of them endemic) and the fact that two genera of hippos arrived separately across the ocean and lived here successfully until people tipped up around 2,300 years ago and ate them all?

And the whales? Yup, Madagascar has whales too.

So read on people: this Madagascar adventure is gonna be worth the entry fee.

Today’s first Madagascan addition to my list was exactly what I thought it would be: a flock of greenish reddish loudly chipping Madagascan fodies at breakfast. A Madagascar hoopoe put in an appearance too and I reflected over fruit salad what a marvellous place this is.

Our first visit was to a lake in the centre of the city, called Tsarasoatra. I liked Tsarasoatra when I first visited it last year and today I really liked it. There are crazy numbers of ducks here. Most of them are vociferous white-faced whistling ducks and quiet red-billed teal. Here and there are dinky hottentot teal and hunkering in the shade are a few comb ducks. (People who come to comb ducks from a background in African birding are likely to want to call these knob-billed ducks. There’s no accounting for taste.) In the middle of all this duckage there is an island whose papyrus beds are throbbing with breeding herons. Most are squacco herons in immaculately tasteful breeding plumage and the white phase of the dimorphic egret (which is basically just a little egret but let’s not quibble over taxonomy). Among them, though, are great egrets, black egrets and a couple of exquisite Madagascar pond herons (shining white, electric blue bill, loopy crest: what’s not to love?). Overhead are Mascarene martins and Madagascar black swifts. Madagascar brush warblers dive through the undergrowth, a Madagascar swamp warbler tends its nest in a stand of Typha, and the morning is just about perfect.

And then it is perfect. Still chuffed from finding a jewel chameleon – our first chameleon of the tour – I raise my binoculars to the lake and among the hundreds and hundreds of red-billed teal they fall on a pair of Meller’s ducks. Meller’s duck: it’s rare, it’s endemic to Madagascar (though introduced to Mauritius), it’s increasingly hard to track down, it’s subtly beautiful, I dreamed of seeing it as a child, and it’s my thousandth species of vertebrate in 2012.

A thousand species.

Two Madagascar green sunbirds and a second jewel chameleon visited us over lunch in the centre of the city and in the afternoon we travelled through rice-paddies and agricultural terraces to the city of Antsirabe, adding Madagascar bushlark and Madagascar wagtail to our list.

There were so many other highlights today but I have a tour to lead and I need my beauty sleep.

To sleep. Perchance to dream of Meller’s ducks.


New today in Antananarivo and on the road to Antsirabe

Birds

857
Madagascar fody
Foudia madagascariensis
858
Madagascar hoopoe
Upupa marginata
859
Mascarene martin
Phedina borbonica
860
squacco heron
Ardeola ralloides
861
dimorphic egret
Egretta dimorpha
862
white-faced whistling-duck
Dendrocygna viduata
863
red-billed teal
Anas erythrorhyncha
864
black egret
Egretta ardesiaca
865
Madagascar coucal
Centropus toulou
866
Madagascar white-eye
Zosterops maderaspatanus
867
hottentot teal
Anas hottentota
868
Madagascar squacco heron
Ardeola idae
869
Madagascar malachite kingfisher
Corythornis vintsioides
870
Madagascar brush warbler
Nesillas typica
871
Madagascar swamp warbler
Acrocephalus newtoni
872
Madagascar kestrel
Falco newtoni
873
yellow-billed kite
Milvus aegyptius
874
Madagascar black swift
Apus balstoni
875
Meller’s duck
Anas melleri
876
comb duck
Sarkidiornis melanotos
877
Madagascar green sunbird
Nectarinia notata
878
Madagascar bushlark
Mirafra hova
879
Madagascar wagtail
Motacilla flaviventris

Reptiles

21
jewel chameleon
Furcifer lateralis

2012 Totals
Mammals: 85
Birds: 879
Reptiles: 21
Amphibians: 8
Fish: 11

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