Friday, 26 October 2012

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

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