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madagascar trip report part 4: berenty and and andasibe

2007-12-11 - 6:34 a.m.

all photos � 2007 by elaine radford

fort dauphin

Note: Here's part 4 of my Madagascar trip report. To start with part one, Ranomafana, click here. To continue with part two, Ampijoroa, click here. Part 3, Masaola, is here. Here's the bird list, and here's the lemur list.

November 24.2007

Today we flew to Port Dauphin/Tolagnaro. They held the plane for the travelers from Bangkok, which proved to be a Japanese photo tour. There must be a lot of them -- the hotel flew (among others) the Japanese flag. We strolled the town and its turquoise sea, enjoying the many many Kestrels and even a Yellow-Billed Kite (or two) with the sun shining through its feathers as it flew.

We rebelled against eating in yet another hotel and decided to eat in town, but in the event, other than the tour leader, only me and the guy from the Netherlands actually showed up. The full moon was a huge orange orb over the sea, and we wished that the restaurant was open to the ocean rather than to the street, but it was what it was. And, as far as breaking away from the tourist trek, well, there were those Japanese tourists dining at the next table.

crested drongo harassing madagascar buzzard, berenty area, but you could see similar scenes anywhere in madagascar really, the drongoes are the self-appointed busybodies of the world

November 25, 2007

An unpleasant road to Berenty. It was almost Kenya bad. Apparently the current president had started fixing the roads in 2002 and hadn't had time to get to this one. Or maybe he figured since Berenty was privately owned, then the family that benefits most from the tourism and trade there might just as well fix the road themselves, I dunno.

western scops owl, nesting on ground, berenty

Lots of lemurs -- Ring-tails and Verreaux's Sifaka to be exact, many with babies. Good views of a drongo harassing a buzzard. A ground-nesting Western Scops Owl sitting on four eggs. A poised pair of Sooty Falcons, well seen in the lovely sunset.

The night walk featured the Reddish-Grey Mouse Lemurs, snow-white furry insects that disguised themselves as lichen, Ward's Chameleon, and White-Footed Sportive Lemur. I chuckled at the Japanese tourists with their white gloves and their electronic mosquito repelling devices, but they were to have the last laugh.

It's worth noting that the guide provided to us at Berenty spoke excellent Queen's English, down to a proper British accent and the use of those little British turns of phrases we all know and love from the BBC. He was also assisting with the Japanese tour, but I forgot to ask if he also spoke Japanese. Some of the Japanese folks knew a little French -- yeah, I eavesdropped.

November 26, 2007

The room was stifling. All things considered, the private family should strongly consider leaving the electricity (fans) on all night and charging $10 more a night or whatever for the cabins. I was absolutely miserable and finally stumbled awake in the night and threw the windows wide open. As a result, some time about 5 AM, someone came into my room through the window. I jumped up with a scream and then realized that it was two Ring-Tailed Lemurs, with a Japanese lady photographer hot on their heels. Argh.

here's one of the culprits that climbed in my window, still with the photographer hot on his tail, sorry i was too dazed with sleepiness to get actual photos of the window invasion itself, but you get the idea, these guys ain't bashful

Some highlights of the day:

  • The cute couple, a pair of Mad. Magpie-Robins that were building a nest near the van park
  • Endless Ring-Tailed Lemurs and Verreaux's Sifaka with youngsters crying out to be photographed
  • The mysterious Black Kite who had chosen to incubate a Cuckoo Hawk's egg, even though Black Kite isn't thought to nest in Madagascar

    they might look like lichen or some kind of flower but that's all their power to deceive men's minds, as they are actually a gathering of insects

  • Cuckoo Hawk on her own nest, I got lucky here and when I was peeking into the scope, that's when she stood up and turned the eggs, giving me a nice view, most everybody else waited hours for a decent look if they got one at all
  • Humor note: Verreaux's Sifakas sneaking up on B. and L. to watch them watch the tree climber investigate the Black Kite's unique attempt at a nest
  • Giant Coau gathering nest material in the forest
  • Handsome Hook-Billed Vanga trying to eat a HUGE cicada, it was quite a job to get that insect under control and arranged so that it could be eaten
  • Other lemurs around include White-Fronted Sportive Lemur and Red-Fronted Brown Lemur
  • White-Browed Owl near its probable nest hole but out on the tree where it could be enjoyed
  • I found a HUGE radiated tortoise but my sense of accomplishment was dashed as I realized moments later I'd found the radiated tortoise zoo -- the zoo also held crocodiles, but I'd seen the wild Nile Crocodiles and I never was to see a wild radiated tortoise
  • I made a point of watching the Grey-Faced Lovebirds play, since they are supposed to be a different subspecies from those at Ampijoroa
  • At dinner we received the news that the Mad. Serpent-Eagle's first egg had successfully hatched

sunset at berenty

November 27, 2007

A cute thing I saw while wandering by myself: Two Ring-Tailed Lemur mothers, each carrying her own baby. Suddenly one of the mothers came and put her arm around the other. It was so sweet. Almost sisterly. Or maybe a mother reassuring an older daughter.

while ring-tailed lemurs and verreaux's sifaka make it easy to get good lemur shots at berenty, don't be shy to check the forest for less obvious species, i believe the one resting in a tree is white-fronted sportive lemur

There was some unexplained delay when we were trying to depart in the morning, and while the van doors were hanging open waiting for everyone to arrive, the Ring-Tailed Lemurs hopped inside to check things out. I really don't think they are malicious, unlike, say, baboons. I think they just can't resist an open door or window.

ring-tailed mother and baby, berenty

On the way out of Berenty, we were treated to a final, large troop of Verreaux's Sifaka doing their sideways dance across the road in front of us.

I had a better seat and was able to enjoy the fine views of the spiny forest and other habitats on the drive back. On request, we stopped to photograph a baobob tree, which happened to be hosting a Pied Crow nest. For a change, the Crow was chasing the pesky Drongo, instead of the other way around, so the drongoes don't always get their own way, at least not if Pied Crows have anything to say about it on their very own tree. More of a day for atmospheric scenic photos or attempts thereof than anything else. In the afternoon, we caught our flight back to Tana.

spiny forest, berenty

November 28, 2007

The drive to Andasibe on winding mountain roads. There was a scenic forest gorge that may have been privately owned, judging by the sign that proclaimed it, "NICE GARDEN." (And modest too.) I was horribly motion sick and wish I could understand why, since the road yesterday had been far worse and I felt entirely well then.

short-horned chameleon female, andasibe + other reptiles mentioned in this entry + the unknown Fort Dauphine species is probably Malagasy Giant Chameleon or so I'm told

Some highlights from Andasibe:

  • Short-Horned Chameleon
  • Parson's Chameleon, a fine male and without a doubt the most imposing chameleon of the trip, the kind of chameleon you come to Madagascar to see
  • A Lesser Vasa Parrot singing a beautiful tune (not the first time I heard them sing, but apparently the first time I felt inspired to make a note of their talent)
  • Long-Billed Greenbul and Pollen's Vanga join the trip list, yeah, I'm pretty sure everyone else had good looks at Long-Billed Greenbul before, but I finally got a good look that made me actually want to put it on my life list
  • Drongoes driving along a Gymnogene, do we expect anything different from our Drongo friends by now?
  • Great views of the beautiful Diademed Sifaka with their lovely orange markings
  • The beginning of the trail passes by an old fish farm, with the farm destroyed and the fish having been washed away by a hurricane. I realize most of these folks have no electricity and hence no television, but I did feel a sense of the ridiculous when the guide began trying to explain to me what a hurricane was. Where do you start? In the event, I said nothing.

    November 29, 2007

    The last day of the tour. Actually, when I signed up, the last day of the tour was to be November 30, which is why I ended up being both the last person to arrive and the last person to leave. I wasn't deliberately trying to be the caboose on the train, but the flights from J'burg arrive and leave when they arrive and leave. In any case, we had time in the morning for a final clean-up. The hope was to get a better look at Banded Kestrel, but instead we found the bird we'd missed entirely, the Madagascar subspecies of the Peregrine Falcon. Good looks too, at least in the scope.

    The last new bird to join the trip list was Ward's Flycatcher, certainly a handsome bird well worth the seeing.

    As the clock counted down, and the guide realized that there would be no Banded Kestrel putting in an appearance at the usual haunts, he decided to take us on a mad dash to see the Indri in our remaining 45 minutes. The four of us who felt up to it zipped along the forest path at high speed and soon encountered a very nice troop of the Indri -- along with our old friends, the Japanese photo tour. And several other tours as well. It was like the gathering ground for every tourist in Madagascar. The Indri, or singing tailless lemur, is apparently a must-see. Oh, and yeah, we'd already heard it singing. Quite a lot, actually. So now we can consider ourselves old Madagascar hands.

    We had lunch at a scenic if touristy restaurant overlooking a small pond and a bit of mountain. There was a shining Madagascar Kingfisher on the pond and a lovely Madagascar Blue-Pigeon flying around over the forest to show off its blue body and red tail.

    I wasn't motion sick on the trip back and so I could better appreciate the forest scenery, including the pleased-as-punch-with-itself "NICE GARDEN."

    Oh, and back in Tana, they were enjoying electrical issues on the side of town where the hotel was. At one point, the power went out, and then the generator, which I could easily see from my fifth floor window, went all bloo-ey and seemed to explode into black smoke. I was not happy to be on the fifth (really maybe the seventh floor, since they had a 0 and even a 00 floor!) with no working elevator. The things you do for good birds.

    November 30, 2007

    A day of people leaving or getting ready to leave. Our leader took a couple of us to the market, to help us bargain for Christmas gifts or whatever. Although, honestly, I felt pretty ridiculous. I mean, here's this guy with a Ph.D. who has discovered several new species, and he's spending his time trying to haggle down a basket from $12 to $8. I did get the basket and also a couple of small Ocean Jasper spheres, but I didn't really see any gift items for anyone else that I could easily carry back.

    baobob tree, so huge you can barely see our tour participant who is posing with it, much less the drama of the drongoes versus the crows

    The four of us remaining into the evening had a final dinner together, where we re-lived our various adventures and recalled our favorite birds. The tour was over but we still had need of rooms, so we three ladies kept one hotel room and put in shares to pay for it, since the rooms were at least in my humble opinion rather overpriced for the value. Plus there was some mix-up, and the hotel didn't seem to understand that I needed a place to stay for another night. It also seemed rather difficult to explain that the other three were actually checking out at 9 PM.

    Now, not that I'm suspicious or anything, but there had been enough eff-ups that when the other two ladies left, I simply didn't leave the room again, lest the key didn't work. I just wasn't sure that the hotel would understand that the lady who paid with her credit card, so she could earn more frequent flyer miles, was leaving before the last person in the room. But, in the event, no one turned me out, and I slept well enough to be downstairs at 6:15 AM to head out to the airport.

    taxi-brousse or "bush taxi," yeah, for obvious reasons i don't advise this

    And so the trip was over, with all of the target raptors tagged and even a few owls added to the list. How had it all gone by so fast?

    You have just finished reading my trip report from Madagascar. Stay tuned for my mad, wild, crazy one day birding tour of Marievale and Suikerbosrand near Johannesburg!

    detail, view of tana city skyline

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