Thursday, 11 October 2012

I like to move it, move it

My first trip to Madagascar came as a bit of a shock. The conversation, on a Wednesday in early October as I recall, went something like this:

Paul: I wonder whether you’d lead a Madagascar tour for me.

Marsh tit: Certainly, Paul, I’d love to. We agreed at the Birdfar that I'd go next year.

Paul: I was wondering whether you'd go next Thursday.

Marsh tit: Yikes. I’ve never been to Madagascar.

Thus it was that eight days later, my mind brimming with newly-learned newtonias, with swiftly-swotted needletails, and rapidly-revised rats (can't beat a spot of cheesy alliteration), I tipped up at Heathrow and was thrown upon the mercies of a most congenial group of Naturetrekkers. Together we saw twenty species of lemur superbly, told many tall tales, shared shirts (good old Air France), wept at the heart-clasping song of the indri and rejoiced in the extraordinary wildlife of this shard of Gondwana orphaned in the Indian Ocean. I lost my heart to the dusty red island and, though in doing so I lost many other things besides, I resolved to learn more of Madagascar over years to come.

So it is that on Monday I travel there for this year's tours, and for the final push in my wildlife-blogging year, the sugary vertebrate icing on the cake, so to speak. I realise that in so doing I am faced with a nail-biting race to the line. The numbers speak for themselves. Until now I have seen 856 species of bird in the wild in 2012. On one of last year's three-week Madagascar tours, expertly led by Andy Smith, the bird species seen which I have not already seen elsewhere in the world in 2012 numbered 139. Thus, if my tour starting next week were an exact copy of Andy's last year, I would end the tour on 995 bird species, agonisingly shy of 1,000.

The second tour I'm leading in Madagascar this year is the lemur tour, which is a condensed two-week version of the longer tour and covers no new ground. I'll therefore have no chance to see new species by virtue of geography, but of course the longer you spend in a habitat the more likely it is that you'll encounter scarcer species.

Once I get back to the UK there will only be slim pickings on offer. If by then I have seen 995 birds, will red-necked grebe, corn bunting, lesser spotted woodpecker, great northern diver and golden pheasant bridge the gap and take me to 1,000 birds?

It remains to be seen. The birds remain to be seen, as do many of Madagascar's endemic mammals, reptiles and amphibians. I imagine you're every bit as excited as I am. Tune in next week for Madagascan marshtittery and the nail-biting race to the finish.

Melman: Aaaah! Nature! It's all over me! Get it off!

DreamWorks Animation

A marsh tit washes his feet in a Berenty rainstorm by Jane Starmore

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