Friday, 10 August 2018

In the last footsteps of Phoebe Snetsinger - Madagascar Blog Post 1 - Days 1 - 5



Day 1 - 05/08/2018

On Sunday 5th August 2018, my mum and dad picked me up at 7.30 am for Nairobi YMCA, to go straight to Nairobi NP for a day of birding.  I had been on a school trip to communities in Kisii and the Masai Mara.


Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig on her trip with Chew Valley School
Photograph copyright Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig


With a new bird snuck in right at the end, I was pretty happy to be finishing that bit of the trip on 4,836 including a couple of new birds I found after taking into account the latest IOC World List update. The latest total list for the world is 10,711, so if I want to see half by the time I’m 18 years old, then that would be 5,356 which it will be touch and go whether I manage in time. 

We were dropped at the airport at 6 pm for our 10.05 pm Air Kenya flight to Tana, the capital of Madagascar.


Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig with Chris Craig at Nairobi Airport, Kenya
Photograph copyright Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig

After dinner at the airport, we finally took off about 45 minutes late. Our flight was actually stopping on the Comoros Islands for which didn’t seem so bad, except that loads of people got off, they cleaned the plane, loads of people got on and they had to do lots of swapping people around presumably because the checking in process wasn’t very efficient. I was so exhausted after 16 nights of camping and late nights with my friends, I passed out on the flight, somehow flat with my head on mum’s lap.

Day 2 - 06/08/2018


Our Madagascar Tour with Madagascar Tours

Photograph copyright Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig



Monday 6th August 2018, we arrived into Madagascar.  Unsurprisingly, our fight was very late arriving in Tana and then our pick up wasn’t there, so we got a taxi in a VERY old french taxi with a guy who’s passengers hadn’t turned up either, so we were both happy. Tana is in the mid east of the country.

Put hotel was called The Saka Manga, which is the title of one of the Tin Tin books that was based on Madagascar. It was a lovely hotel with a fantastic 2 bedroom apartment for us, which was great to hand out in. We decided to stay up for 15 mins, have breakfast, before heading to bed. 

Madagascar is a French colony and got independence around 1960. French is the second language and lots of people  speak it as it is taught in schools and so it is also popular with french speaking tourists. You could tell it is a french colony from the food. At breakfast they had the very best french bread and pain au chocolate, which was brilliant.

By 7 am we were in bed, exhausted from our night flight. We were being picked up at 3.30 pm and so plenty of time to sleep through.

We got up at 3 pm, having skipped lunch, with a quick change before meeting Andre, who runs Madagascar Tours. We drove to Tsarasoatra Wetland, to try and get a few of our first endemics. The Lake is an artificial one and apparently a Madagascan Queen in about 1840 had the lake built by lots of slaves.




Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig, Tsarasoatra Wetland, Tana, Madagascar
Photograph copyright Birdgirl, Mya-Rose Craig


Almost the first bird I saw was a Dimorphic Egret, which is my favourite type of new bird, a tick back. Mum and Dad saw this without me toward the end of their time in Kenya without me and so it was brilliant to catch it up. As well as this, I saw 12 endemics for Madagascar which were fantastic the best being Meller’s Duck, Malagasy Kingfisher, Malagasy White-eye, Malagasy Kestrel and Malagasy Mannikin.


Madagascar Kestrel, Tsarasoatra Wetland, Tana, Madagascar
Photograph copyright Birdgirl, Mya-Rose Craig




Malagasy White-eye, Tsarasoatra Wetland, Tana, Madagascar
Photograph copyright Birdgirl, Mya-Rose Craig


Malagasy Kingfisher, Tsarasoatra Wetland, Tana, Madagascar
Photograph copyright Birdgirl, Mya-Rose Craig



Meller's Duck, Tsarasoatra Wetland, Tana, Madagascar
Photograph digiscoped by Birdgirl, Mya-Rose Craig using a Leica scope



Back at the hotel, we met up with Andre by the pool to go through the itinerary and check a few things over. There was talk of being picked up at 4.30 am for our morning flight which I was not looking forward to, but Andre had been to the airport himself to find out what time our flight was due to go (as it is not published accurately) and it was agreed that we would be picked up at 6.30 am after  breakfast. The thought os a freshly baked pan au chocolate cheered me up. Dinner was at the hotel restaurant which had a great ambience, being full of tourists from across the city. It was also ridiculously cheap with most of the main veggie courses costing £2.50!

We tried to get an early night, so that we didn’t start our trip exhausted.


Day 3 - 07/08/2018

Tuesday 7th August 2018 we were up at 5.30 am for a lovely french baked breakfast, before being picked up to go to the hotel. Andre’s brother met us and explained that the fog was bad which was why they were 10 minutes late. Mum an I immediately fell asleep in the car but dad told us it was a stressful journey because we were stationary for so much of it. Our flight was at 9.30 am and we managed to get there at 8 am with half an hour to spare before check in closed.  We had heard that Madagascan flights were not that reliable, so were not surprised to hear that our flight was delayed because of bad weather in the south west where the flight was coming from and where we were going. It was 11.30am before we took off for Toliara in the South West of Madagascar, so once we were picked up by our guide for the trip Julian and local guide for South West Madagascar Jean-Marie, we went straight to a supermarket to buy water and emergency provisions (like biscuits for me) before going to our hotel, The Victory Hotel for lunch.

We were meant to be going to the Andatabo Forest, which is a dry wooded area for our main target of the endemic and localised Red-shouldered Vanga but because of our delayed flight we instead visited a nearby private Toliara Arboretum.

Here we caught up with a few more Madagascan endemic birds, Madagascan Magpie-robin, Malagasy Bulbul, Malagasy Paradise-flycatcher, Sakalava Weaver, Chabert Vanga, and the rare Green-capped Coua which is likely to become an IOC split from Red-capped Coua.




Malagasy Paradise Flycatcher, Toliara Arboreum, Madagascar
Photograph copyright Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig

Green-capped Coua, Toliara Arboreum, Madagascar
Photograph copyright Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig


Malagascan Magpie-Robin, Toliara Arboreum, Madagascar
Photograph copyright Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig



Madagascan Manakin, Toliara Arboreum, Madagascar
Photograph copyright Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig

Malagasy Bulbul, Toliara Arboreum, Madagascar
Photograph copyright Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig



Sakalava Weaver, Toliara Arboreum, Madagascar
Photograph copyright Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig


Here, we bumped into our first group of birders let alone a bird Tour. It was a Rockjumper Tours group, whose leader was really friendly to us. Dad had actually thought about us going on this tour, but it started before I had finished my school trip in Kenya.

When we got back to the hotel, the Rockjumper Tours group arrived just after us, which was another co-incidence.

After dinner, I decided to take advantage of the lull and get an early night.

Day 4 - 08/08/2018

Wednesday 8th August 2018, we opted for a 5.30 am breakfast before going straight out birding to Andatabo Forest, which is a dry forest which we had to miss the day before.  The main target was Red-Shouldered Vanga, which you only get in this forest. This is a really special bird for me and one that I really want to see. Phoebe Snettinser is still the top female world birder, almost 20 years after she died in Madagascar in a car accident. She was an amazing woman who was passionate about birds and who only started world birding after she was diagnosed with cancer. Really inspirational. Red-shouldered Vanga was the last new bird that she saw before she died. I think that seeing one would be really really emotional.




When I Googled "Phoebe Snetsinger birder", this is a screenshot of part of the page. It made me giggle, as I love Jack Black and "almost" met Greg Miller in Arizona a couple of years ago.




After two hours, we had seen Common Newtonia, Crested Drongo, Subdesert Brush Warbler, Soulmanga Sunbird and Lafresnaye’s Vanga but no sign of Red-shouldered Vanga.  I felt so disappointed but this was meant to be. The only thing that cheered me up was that we would be able to try again when we returned to Toliara in a couple of days.



Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig, Andatabo Forest, Toliara, Madagascar
Photograph copyright Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig


Common Jery, Andatabo Forest, Toliara, Madagascar
Photograph copyright Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig


Common Newtonia, Andatabo Forest, Toliara, Madagascar
Photograph copyright Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig


Lafresnaye's Vanga, Andatabo Forest, Toliara, Madagascar
Photograph copyright Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig



Soumanga Sunbird, Andatabo Forest, Toliara, Madagascar
Photograph copyright Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig


From here, we drove straight to the quayside. First we loaded our bags into a wooden cart pulled by two oxen, which then took us across a muddy bay as the tide was out, to a waiting speed boat where were transferred to. Then we had an hour and a half speed boat journey to the beach resort of Anakao which is further south from Toliara and opposite the island of Nosy Ve, where were birded early afternoon. 

The target for mum and I was Red-tailed Tropicbird, which breed on the island, but which dad had seen before. There were still large young on nests under bushes as well adults flying around, which were stunning. We also saw Madagascan Cisticola on the island which was a bonus. I was hoping for catch ups of Crab Plover and Sanderson’s Terns, but I think it was too early for them this far south.




Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig on the way to Anakao, Madagascar
Photograph copyright Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig



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Red-tailed Tropic Bird, Nosy Ve, Anakao, Madagascar
Photograph copyright Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig


Red-tailed Tropic Bird, Nosy Ve, Anakao, Madagascar
Photograph copyright Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig


Anakao, Madagascar
Photograph copyright Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig


Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig on the way to Nosy Ve, Anakao, Madagascar
Photograph copyright Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig


Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig on the way to Nosy Ve, Anakao, Madagascar
Photograph copyright Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig


Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig, Nosy Ve, Anakao, Madagascar
Photograph copyright Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig


Nosy Ve, Anakao, Madagascar
Photograph copyright Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig


White-fronted Plover, Nosy Ve, Anakao, Madagascar
Photograph copyright Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig


We were back on the beach by 3.30 pm, so after a quick Littoral Rock Thrush twitch behind our bungalow, we had loads of time to swim and sunbathe, which was fantastic and restful. It always makes a change to get some R & R on a full on birding trip. It really is idyllic here with white sand and the island across the water.

Littoral Rock Thrush, Anakao, Madagascar
Photograph copyright Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig



Just as it turned dark, we heard nightjar calling outside and immediately found Madagascan Nightjar behind us. Julian and Jean-Marie came to find us at this point and so were able to help us to find another couple.


Madagascar Nightjar, Anakao, Madagascar
Photograph copyright Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig



After a very expensive dinner, we made sure we were in bed by 9.30 pm, as tomorrow we were being picked up at 4.30 pm with a packed breakfast.


Day 5  - 09/08/2018

Today, we were up at 4.00 am, to leave at 4.30 am without a few bits for breakfast to drive south east to Tisimanampetostra Lake and Nature Reserve. It was a two hour drive to the lake, so I managed sleep the whole way an still arrived at 6.30 am just as the sun was rising. We had another local local guide with us and saw a whole load of endemic birds, especially after birding a dry forest. The best were Madagascan Plover, which is critically endangered and there are only about 3000 left, Madagascan Sandgrouse which only have a few birds left here to to hunting, Greater and Lesser Vasa Parrots, Archbold’s Newtonia and the stunning Verreaux’s Coua.



Tisimanampetostra Lake, Madagascar
Photograph copyright Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig


Black-winged Stilt, Tisimanampetostra Lake, Madagascar
Photograph copyright Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig




Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig, Tisimanampetostra Lake, Madagascar
Photograph copyright Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig

Madagascan Soundgrouse, Tisimanampetostra Lake, Madagascar
Photograph copyright Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig


Madagascan Soundgrouse, Tisimanampetostra Lake, Madagascar
Photograph copyright Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig


Madagascan Soundgrouse, Tisimanampetostra Lake, Madagascar
Photograph copyright Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig


Madagascan Swamp Warbler, Tisimanampetostra Lake, Madagascar
Photograph copyright Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig


Madagascan Plover, Tisimanampetostra Lake, Madagascar
Photograph copyright Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig


Red-billed Teal, Tisimanampetostra Lake, Madagascar
Photograph copyright Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig


Archbold's Newtonia, Tisimanampetostra Nature Reserve, Madagascar
Photograph copyright Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig


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We looked in the dry forest for Red-shouldered Vaga, but with no luck, as they are rare here. Maybe tomorrow...

As it was getting hot, we headed back to the beach and were there by midday, so that I could spend the whole afternoon sunbathing, swimming and reading.

Madagascar List - 62

Number of new life birds - 39

World List - 4,865