Madagascar Bird Watching Holiday

20 day holiday from -  £5,245 per person based on two people travelling and in twin/double rooms. Excluding international flights.

On this tour you are accompanied by a birding guide throughout and supported by local birding guides in the various parks/reserves.

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Tour Highlights

  • A comprehensive tour of the key birding areas of Madagascar, focusing on over 100 endemics.
  • Visits to 10 of the most diverse National Parks and Reserves and experience birding sites,
  • guided by local experts.
  • See the magnificent and critically endangered Madagascar fish eagle.
  • Boat trips to view Red-tailed tropic-birds at Nosy Ve and Madagascar sacred ibis and Bernier’s  
  • teal at the Betsiboka Delta.
  • Incredible endemic flora and fauna and many opportunities to see a large range of lemur species
  • Diverse landscapes from rainforest, mountains and limestone massifs to islands and rivers.

 

 

Suggested Madagascar Bird Watching Holiday Itinerary

Day 1 – Arrive Antananarivo

Arrive in ‘Tana’. On arrival, you will be met and our representative will provide your transfer to the hotel. Depending on your time of arrival, you may have time to explore the city. If flight times permit, you can take a side-trip to Tsarasaotra Park, a serene setting in which to acclimatise to Madagascar, boasting a wilderness-island on the fringes of the capital. The wildlife-rich lake is abundant in wetland species. Soak up the atmosphere, try to spot one of the 14 endangered endemics, or watch the black heron’s fascinating wing-canopy fishing technique. This 66ha RAMSAR site is also your first introduction to some of the commoner Malagasy birds, with a spectacular heronry: it provides the only highlands viewing of the Madagascar pond heron, as well as a chance to see Meller’s duck, the impressive Madagascar or Humblot’s heron, Madagascar kingfisher and Madagascar little grebe. The site attracts a great influx of migrant species and visitors from around the island, and Hottentot teal and Réunion harriers have been seen here. Overnight Gassy Country House (D)

Antananarivo

Antananarivo, locally known affectionately as ‘Tana’, is the capital and largest city in Madagascar. The name Antananarivo literally translates as ‘the City of the Thousands’, named after the thousand warriors of King Andrianjaka, who established Tana as the capital city of the Merina tribe at the end of the 16th century. The sacred city was largely chosen for its privileged location – being on high ground (1,370m) and surrounded by marsh made it easily defensible. By 1808, it had become the island’s effective capital city, as the Merina established over lordship of the whole island. Tana has idiosyncratic French and Asian inspired architecture with winding cobblestone streets and staircases that lend it a medieval air. The city is built on three essential levels, making it hilly, but very compact to explore. The main street of Araben’ ny Fahaleovantena (Avenue de l'Independence) is a good orientation point with sundry shops and excellent restaurants. Other attractions include the colourful daily flower market beside tranquil Lake Anosy and the botanical and zoological gardens, where you can view the egg and 3m-tall skeleton of the extinct aepyornis, or elephant bird. The Rova (Queen's Palace) burned to the ground in 1996; currently being restored, its gardens and partially renovated King’s House, baths and tombs are impressive and lend you a spectacular 360⁰ vista of the capital, while Mascarene martins wheel overhead. Antananarivo may not have too much in the way of conventional sightseeing, but if you enjoy walking around, watching local scenes and experiencing the laid-back atmosphere that is prevalent here, the city is fascinating – vibrant markets, decadent colonial buildings, deliciously stocked cafés (a must!) and many craft shops make it a great destination to delve into. The best pace here to pick up the commoner species of urban and park birds is Tsimbazaza Zoo – botanical gardens where the quartet of endemic Madagascar bee-eaters, Madagascar green sunbirds, Madagascar turtle-doves and Madagascar bulbuls may be seen.

Day 2 – Antananarivo – Fort Dauphin – Berenty (Flight – 2 Hours; drive 4 hours)

After breakfast, transfer to the airport for the flight to Fort-Dauphin. After landing (depending on the arrival time), you head by car towards Berenty: even on the fringes of the town, species such as Madagascar kestrel and Madagascan manikin can be relatively easy to see.  From here you progress through the humid forest of the east: the landscape sports a patchwork of rice paddy fields, green and luxuriant vegetation, including palms and mango trees which may throw up sightings of an array of birds from Madagascar fody and Forest fody to Hamerkop and Yellow-billed Kite, as well as the ubiquitous Pied crow and sundry herons and egrets, amongst them likely to be the Dimorphic egret. A few kilometres down the road, we pass into the Anosy Mountain chain, gateway to the “transition zone”, dominated by the triangular palm, an endemic to Fort-Dauphin. From here the landscape metamorphoses into the drier spiny forest vegetation. Berenty reserve is situated 80 km west of Taolagnaro and 6 km north of the village of Amboasary, amidst an active sisal estate, a part of which has been conserved in its virgin state by the de Heaulme family. The habitat comprises of spiny forest, borders the Mandrare River, and most importantly, boasts a 100 hectare patch of deciduous gallery forest that contains excellent walking tracks. In order to allow for birding en route, you should arrive in Berenty by the end of afternoon, where you will check into your accommodation. The location offers the opportunity to enjoy nocturnal trips – a head-torch is a must!  Overnight Berenty Lodge. (BD)

Day 3 – Berenty

At dawn, a birding expedition with a specialist bird-guide at approximately 05.30 inside Berenty Private Reserve, where 100 bird species have been recorded. You will visit both aspects of the forest during your stay here: the idiosyncratic south-western spiny forest and the denser, greener gallery, semi-dry forest. After lunch, guests are free to explore by themselves along the reserve’s substantial forest trails. As dusk falls, you make a night-time foray into the reserve to seek out the plethora of nocturnal creatures, from White-footed lepilemurs and Grey mouse lemurs to birds such as White-browed owl, Madagascar scops owl and Madagascar nightjar. Overnight Berenty Lodge. (B, D)

Day 4: Berenty – Fort Dauphin (Drive – 4 hours)

At dawn, you undertake another bird watching expedition through the gallery forest along the shores of the Mandrare River. This could throw up a rich variety of avifauna such as Madagascar lark or Madagascan buttonquail or the elusive Madagascan sandgrouse. After breakfast, as the sun is gaining strength, there is ample time for a second trip into the reserve to seek out species such as the excellent range of raptors here, such as Frances’ sparrowhawk, Madagascar sparrowhawk, Madagascar kestrel, Banded kestrel and Madagascar buzzard.  Around noon, you drive back to Fort-Dauphin. En route, watch out for the chaotic local markets and craft stalls, as well as curiosities such as the Antanosy cenotaphs which mark local communal burials. Overnight in Hotel Croix du Sud (B, D) 

Day 5:  Fort Dauphin – Tuléar – St Augustine - Ifaty (Flight – 1 hour; drive – 1 hour)

Transfer to the airport and take the domestic flight to Tuléar on the south-west coast. If your flight is in the morning, you’ll drive directly to Saint Augustine along the thorny and dry forest of the south, past lakes, scrub and dunes, down the atmospherically beautiful ‘Lost Valley’, where herons, egrets and both Lesser and Greater flamingos are potential sightings. Saint Augustine is laden with history, formerly the site of pirates, as well as a brief and ill-fated first English attempt at colonisation, which ended in 1646 with only 12 of the 140 making it off the island and home. By the end of afternoon, drive back to Tulear and head on to Ifaty for 30 minutes’ drive where you experience the beautiful and circuitous road to Ifaty, flanked by the ocean to the left and offering 1 hour of exquisite scenery.  Along the roadside, it is not uncommon to catch views of birds such as Madagascar bee-eater, Madagascar black swift, Souimanga sunbird, Kittlitz's plover, Madagascar kingfisher and Madagascar lark. Ifaty is a true paradise: the small, sleepy fishing village of Mangily lies just to the north of a beach resort which is a popular place for birders to set up basecamp.  Dizzyingly pure white sands flank a turquoise ocean that is mesmerisingly clear and is an ideal vantage point for the numerous tern species that ply their trade along the coast.  Around it can be found a superb stretch of the other-worldly spiny forest, where the landscape of Baobab, Octopus trees and Euphorbias is bursting with extravagant semi-desert endemics. Evening walks around the area are excellent for viewing Madagascar nightjars, Madagascar Scops and White-browed owls. The excursion also gives us the opportunity to see reptiles like Boa, Geckos, Lizards and the biggest chameleon species in Madagascar – Parson’s chameleon. Overnight Hotel La Mira. (B) 

Day 6 – Ifaty – Anakao (Drive – 1 hour; Boat – 1 hour)

At dawn, a birding session around the hotel grounds, where, even here, a cornucopia of birds can be spotted, including Lesser vasa parrot, Madagascar lark and the only endemic wader – Madagascar plover. Close to the hotel complexes you might see, with relative ease, the iconic Long-tailed ground-roller. It will be followed by a dawn expedition to the Reniala Park, where most of the birds’ endemic to the southern sub-desert can be found. Within the spiny forest reserve there are good chances of picking up sightings of the White-headed, Hook-billed & Lefresney’s vanga, Thamnornis warbler, Archbold’s newtonia and, if we are really lucky, one of Madagascar’s most prized spots – the Subdesert mesite. However, the avifauna here is so abundant that a simple walk down the road can throw up a rich variety of sightings, from Madagascan manikin and Crested drongo to Madagascan Magpie-Robin and Subdesert brush warbler.  Around 08.00, we’ll have 35 minutes’ drive to Tuléar where the boat transfers you to the idyllic, isolated fishing village of Anakao, sitting on a glorious white sandy shoreline, inhabited by the Vezo tribe, a fishing-based culture. Arrival by noon should give you plenty of time to explore the area: the coast here is a reliable site for seeing Subdesert brush warbler as well as Littoral rock thrush which is found in the dune vegetation in the Anakao hinterland, but also in the village itself; such birds as White-fronted Plover, Madagascar bee-eater and Dimorphic egret are also around.  A 1-2 hour trip south to view Greater Flamingo at Tsimanampetsotse National Park is also possible on request.  Overnight Hotel Anakao Ocean Lodge (B, D)

Day 7:  Anakao – Nosy Ve Island excursion (Boat – 15 mins.)

At dawn, there will be time for further birding in Anakao; then a boat will transfer you to Nosy Ve (literally ‘Is there an island?’), a small sandy island, opposite Anakao, situated about 4.5 km offshore. The island is a sacred site, with ancestral tombs and fady (taboos) forbidding contact with the necropolis and also prohibiting any harm coming to the site’s most famous inhabitants: Nosy Ve is host to approximately 75 pairs of nesting Red-tailed tropicbirds, the world’s most southerly location for this wonderful species. The tranquil shores are also home to Greater and Lesser frigatebird, Ruddy turnstone, Crab, Grey and White-fronted plover.  The shores are patrolled by a wonderful array of terns: Caspian, Greater and Lesser crested, Roseate, Saunders' and Bridled tern are all regularly seen here. The island also offers superb snorkelling on the fragile and endangered coral reef. Overnight Hotel Anakao Ocean Lodge (B, D)

Day 8 – Anakao – Saint Augustine – Tuléar – Isalo (Boat – 45 mins, drive – 5 hours)

Early this morning, take the boat transfer back to Tuléar. If time did not permit a side trip to St Augustin on Day 5, upon arrival in Tulear, we’ll drive southwards to Saint Augustine, along the thorny bush and spiny forest of the south, past lakes, scrub and dunes, down the atmospherically beautiful ‘Lost Valley’, where herons, egrets and both Lesser and Greater flamingos are potential sightings. Saint Augustine is laden with history, formerly the site of pirates, as well as a brief and ill-fated first English attempt at colonisation, which ended in 1646 with only 12 of the 140 making it off the island and home. After our birding session, we head on northwards to Isalo. The scrub that grows on the eroded coral 'rags' alongside the road to Baie de Saint Augustine, at the mouth of the Onilahy river, supports the highly localised Verreaux's coua, Greater Flamingo and another chance to pick up a Littoral rock-thrush and lends a decent opportunity of spying the recently classified Red-shouldered vanga amidst the sub-arid scrub along the coast, towards Tuléar. From there, take Route National 7 which links Tuléar to the capital; aiming for Isalo, 4 hours’ drive away. En route, the road is flanked by a multitude of magnificent colourful tombs of the Mahafaly, Masikoro and Antandroy tribes. A few kilometres ahead, in Andranomaintso, pass through the plateaux of baobab Andansonia za, a species unique to Madagascar.  The deforested lunar landscape which then emerges leads to the protected forest-island of Zombitse National Park, which hosts many birding wonders, perhaps the highlight of which is the terrestrial Appert's Greenbul, one of Madagascar’s rarest endemics. This highly threatened species is restricted to two tiny forest patches in the world – Zombitse is the easier of the two in which to observe it. Afterwards, the road leads through Ilakaka, the town at the centre of the burgeoning sapphire industry, before arrival in Ranohira. Overnight Relais de la Reine. (B, D) 

Zombitse National Park

Although not always on visitors’ tour itineraries, Zombitse is a must for passing birders!  The devastated areas of deforestation as you approach, as well as the increasingly haphazard sapphire mining boom have rendered Zombitse a last refuge for much of Madagascar’s upland flora and fauna.  Here two habitats meld into a rich tapestry of wildlife, with excellent opportunities for viewing and photographing some very precariously poised species: the southern spiny forest merges with the western tropical deciduous woodland. This area of transition plays host to the aforementioned Appert's greenbul, a recently identified species as well as a glut of other forest birds: Red-tailed, Madagascar blue, Rufous and Chabert's vanga, Giant and Coquerel's coua, Spectacled and Long-billed greenbul, Henst’s goshawk, White-browed owl, Archbold’s newtonia, Lesser vasa parrot and Madagascar cuckoo roller – in all 85 species have been seen here; 22 in the region are endemic.  Lemur also abound here and, amongst the 8-resident species, you can expect to see Verreaux's sifaka, Ring-tailed lemur and Hubbard's sportive lemur, whilst Fossa have occasionally also been spotted. 

Day 9: Isalo – Ranomafana (Drive time approximately – 7 hours)

This morning, a birding expedition around the hotel will offer the best area for birding: the oasis and forested area around Relais de la Reine are ideal. Here we can spot the sub-species of Benson’s Rock-Thrush. Other birds that might be encountered include Lesser vasa parrot, White-throated rail, Madagascar coucal, Madagascar wagtail, Madagascar kestrel, Madagascar bee-eater, Madagascar partridge, Crested and Giant coua.  After breakfast, head on to Ranomafana National Park, experiencing a rich diversity of settings, landscapes and options for stops and activities. The drive is through the huge savannah region of Plateaux de Horombe, with its vivid red soil, until arrival in Ihosy the capital of Bara tribes, the proudly independent shepherd tribe who herd Zebu cattle. Watch out for ground nesting birds and the ubiquitous grassland-loving Madagascar lark. The next phase of the trip heads towards the spectacular mountain chain of Andrigitra National Park: the landscape changes dramatically, with huge domes of granite searing out of the flower-carpeted grassy plains, with Varavarana (“The gateway to the South”) and the imposing and locally sacred Bonnet de L’Evêque (“Bishop’s Mitre”), being especially dramatic examples. Just before the rugged climb to Ambalavao, visit the thriving community-run park at Anja, which is a good place for excellent, close-up encounters with many of the extremely tame 300 ring-tailed lemurs; beyond this, a local trek or hike up to the seemingly unassailable cliff tomb.  Beyond the lemur, reptiles and insects here include the idiosyncratic trio of Barbour's day gecko, Dangalia lizard and planthoppers, as well as open plains species of bird such as Grey-headed lovebird, Madagascar bulbul, and Souimanga sunbird as well as the subspecies Benson’s rock thrush. There is also the chance to visit the famous Antaimoro paper factory, where traditional papyrus-type paper-making harks back to its origins from the Arab settlers of the fifteenth century. The next potential stop is at Fianarantsoa, where the upper old city and market are well worth investigation: the latter is a good opportunity to pick up locally produced tea and bottles of the celebrated Lazan’I Betsileo wine, grown on the surrounding slopes. Taking the road on from here, head on to Ranomafana, bidding farewell to the rainshadow of the south-west and entering the lush rainforest belt. After a couple of kilometres, a halt at a little pond often yields views of the Malagasy kingfisher and Crested drongo. The fields sometimes have sightings of Red-billed teal and Reunion harriers occasionally pass overhead amidst cascading Brown-throated martin.  From here you may choose to also take a walk along the road to admire the new landscape of the verdant tropical forest: watch out for rainforest species such as Pollen's vanga. Upon arrival in Ranomafana, you check-in at Centrest Sejour Hotel, a thatched complex of private rooms, which also owns a small private reserve 1km away. Overnight Centrest Sejour Hotel (B)

Day 10 & 11 – Ranomafana National Park

Our goal will be to spend two full days in Ranomafana as one of Madagascar’s prime birding sites, requiring a concerted amount of time to yield the best results.  The days will probably follow a similar pattern: at dawn, with a specialist birdwatcher guide leading, you will undertake a 2 hour expedition into the park – the most profitable time here for bird watching.  A search should be extremely rewarding, as the park boasts 113 sighted species comprising of 30 avian families, with at least 68 species being endemic: amongst the highlights may be Wedge-tailed jery, Yellow-bellied sunbird asity, Velvet asity, Forest fody, Rufous vanga, Brown mesite, Henst’s goshawk, Grey-crowned greenbul, Brown emutail, Madagascar yellowbrow, Crossley’s babbler, and the park is especially good for ground-rollers: Pitta-like, Rufous-headed and Short-legged ground-rollers are all potentially viewable, with the former being extremely ostentatious. Return to the hotel for breakfast. At around 8.00 a.m., you will have another guided hike in the park to explore different parts. Madagascar crested ibis is a possibility here too. A search through the swampier areas may well reveal the tricky Madagascar swamp warbler, Grey emutail and Madagascar snipe.  Additionally, you can hope to see the Greater Bamboo Lemurs and the striking Milne-Edwards Diadema Sifaka Lemur. Continue to Vohiparara, 15 km from Ranomafana, where the higher elevation is better for a few bird species such as Pollens vanga, Common sunbird-asity and Yellow-browed oxylabes. By evening, a night walk along the main road is a good chance to see birds which have thus far eluded us, as well as nocturnal lemurs. Overnight (2 nights) Centrest Sejour Hotel (B)

Ranomafana National Park

The Ranomafana National Park is situated in the eastern part of Madagascar, with altitudes ranging from 800m to 1200m and a surface of 410 kilometres square, consisting of a series of precipitous hills and countless small streams running into the Namorona River. Although, as the name – literally “hot water” – suggests, Ranamafana was once a draw for those wishing to experience its excellent hot springs, it is now more frequently visited as a National Park.  Thus designated in 1991, Ranomafana National Park consists of one of the richest rain forests of the country: more than 70% of the park is still primary rainforest, despite heavy exploitation of the forest in the past. Its superb biodiversity is unrivalled in Madagascar and includes 278 species of trees and bushes (81 of which are endemic) and numerous other species of smaller flora and medicinal plants have been recorded. It contains 62 species of reptiles, including chameleons and fringed and satanic leaf-tailed geckos, 98 frogs, 90 butterflies, the bizarre Giraffe-weevil and a sobering 350 spiders! In the higher reaches, the trees are festooned with mosses and lichens, and many fern trees. The lush secondary forest is dominated by introduced trees and giant bamboos. Orchids such Bblophyllum and Eulophiella are abundant, alongside ferns, palms, mosses and a rich variety of flowering wild plants. Ranomafana is Madagascar’s prime reserve for supporting mid-altitude rainforest and its creation was to give further protection to what remains of the humid rainforest of eastern Madagascar. This superb wildlife haven still throws up surprises: a new species of lemur, the Golden Bamboo Lemur, was discovered here as recently as 1986 and is regarded as the most important site for lemurs in Madagascar. 12 species have been recorded and it is until now the only confirmed site for the two rarest species: the greater bamboo lemur and the golden bamboo lemur. Nocturnal lemurs include eastern rufus mouse lemur and weasel sportive lemur and the park has a healthy population of striped civet and fossa. Magnificent mountains, dramatic waterfalls and the chance to relax in soothing natural hot springs make this endangered and exotic forest both intriguing and a rewarding visit.

Day 12 – Ranomafana – Ambositra – Antsirabe (Drive time approximately – 7 hours)

After breakfast, continue to Antsirabe. The journey takes you through Ambositra, centre of Madagascar’s wood carving industry. The architecture of the area is stunning, the houses clad in ornately carved wooden balconies and bedecked with colourful shutters; local handicraft stalls offer the opportunity to purchase your own examples.  You next drive through the Col des Tapia region, a savanah-woodland, dominated by the tapia tree – a species resistant to bush fire – where birdlife is sparse, but Madagascar bush-larks and Madagascar cisticola are still common.  Arrive late afternoon, at Antsirabe (“Place of Much Salt”), an elegant European-styled city, residing at 1500m above sea level and boasting the reputation as the centre of Madagascar’s beer production. Founded by a Norwegian in 1856, it is the only Malagasy place which really feels and looks like a European city. It has a temperate climate and consequently fruits and vegetables which favour cooler condition are grown here. Overnight Royal Palace Hotel (B) 

Day 13 - Antsirabe – Andasibe (Drive time approximately – 6 hours)

After breakfast you drive the 3 hours to Tana. The N7 route takes you across the ‘hauts plateaux’, with its spectacular eroded hole-features called lavaka, a journey that once took 3 days on foot, but now enjoys the best road surfaces on the island. The landscape is reminiscent of the far-east with its paddy fields and green landscapes covered with patchworks of vegetable and fruit plantations, the former of which attracts species such as Black heron and feeding Mascarene martins. You stop briefly in Ambatolampy, an agricultural city also known for its aluminium transformation and metalwork.  En route the roadsides are typical of Madagascar’s deforested landscapes and generally only offer commoner species such as Yellow-billed kites and Madagascar kestrels.  Upon arrival in Tana, the terminal of RN7, you then drive eastward towards Andasibe, descending from the ‘hauts plateaux’ through the lush green landscape of rice terraces and scattered villages, a route which lends a blend of unexpected dramatic views, snapshots of the bustling local lifestyles, glassy lakes and stunning primary forest. During the 3 hour drive on, you pass a local waterfall, a place for “collective laundry” and indeed, highland tribal tradition dictates that, after funerals, whole families do their washing here, and so the river purges away all the bad luck. En route, you may choose to visit Pyereras Reptiles Park to get up close to its rare chameleons, snakes and frogs. As we enter the more humid region, keep a watch out for glimpses of lemurs.  You make a brief stop at the Mangoro Bridge just before Moramanga. A number of the typical rainforest highlights can be viewed here: Spectacled greenbul and Nelicourvi weaver might be seen, with occasional chances of spying Madagascar pratincole too.  Upon arrival at Andasibe, you take a guided dusk walk inside Mitsinjo forest; there is a good chance of spotting a variety of frogs, reptiles and two species of nocturnal lemurs: Coquerel's Sifaka and the Brown Lemur.  Amongst birds that can be seen are Collared and Madagascar nightjar. Overnight Vakona Forest Lodge (B)

Day 14 – Andasibe – Mantadia National Park

A full day’s expedition into Mantadia National Park. The park lies 20km to the north of Andasibe itself and is a much more rugged and wild experience: the trails are less distinct, the visitor footfall lower and the untouched forest consequently incredibly rewarding.  A day’s birding will throw up an excellent number of species, amongst them Madagascar little grebe, White-throated rail, Madagascar spine-tailed swift, Short-legged, Scaly and Pitta-like ground-rollers, Cryptic warbler, White-headed vanga, Tylas, Meller’s duck, Madagascar pygmy kingfisher, Forest fody, Forest rock-thrush, Frances’s sparrowhawk, blue pigeon, Greater and Lesser vasa parrots, Red-breasted and blue couas, White-throated oxylabe, Madagascar flufftail, Madagascar coucal and Dark newtonia. Overnight Vakona Forest Lodge (B)

Andasibe-Mantadia National Park

Andasibe National Park was created in 1989 amidst fears that logging and agriculture were rapidly destroying the rainforested east coast of Madagascar.  It is divided between several parks, but the two most significant are Andasibe (or Perinet) and Mantadia, then former of which is more accessible and has wider trails, the latter being larger, more elevated and less well-trodden. Andasibe is an excellent example of montane rainforest and sits at an altitude between 930 and 1040m. Many of the very largest trees have been removed and the existing canopy averages 25 to 30m. Today its 155 square km humid forest provides sanctuary to some of the best of Madagascar’s wildlife, including the endangered aye-aye, bamboo lemurs, and chameleons. Most famously, it provides excellent opportunities for spotting the indri, largest of the lemurs, mistakenly named by French naturalist Pierre Sonnerat, when a local guide pointed it out shouting “Indri” – “look at that” in Malagasy. The name stuck! These beautiful animals have black and white markings and pale green eyes, a spectacular whooping call and live in the tree canopy. The park itself contains montane forest and a wealth of plant and birdlife. Madagascar’s geographical isolation means that many of these, from yellow-star thumb orchids and the tiny golden mantilla frog to the giraffe-necked weevil are endemics.  In all, 109 species of birds (60 endemics), 28, species of reptile, 9 species of lemur and an almost incredible 24 species of frog make Andasibe both richly diverse and vital for wildlife.

Day 15 – Andasibe National Park – Antananarivo (Drive time approximately – 4 hours)

Up at daybreak for birding in Andasibe (Perinet) National Park. The main part of the reserve is tabular, with steep forested hillsides, with steps provided along trails, and bordered by a small lake. Early morning birding can be very successful in this lovely stretch of montane rainforest. You return to your hotel for breakfast, before returning to the Park, popularly known by the old French name of the nearby town of Périnet. The elevation is lower than Ranomafana, but the two bird lists have many overlaps. Expect to see birds from a great range of species, including Madagascar crested ibis, Madagascar flufftail, Madagascar long-eared owl, Rufous-headed ground-roller, Brown emutail, Frances’s goshawk, White-throated rail, Madagascar turtle dove, Madagascar cuckoo-roller, Greater and Lesser vasa parrot, Sunbird asity, Common newtonia, Madagascar blue, Nuthatch, White-headed and Red-tailed vanga, Madagascar cuckoo-shrike, Ward’s and Madagascar paradise flycatcher, Rand’s and Madagascar brush warbler, White-throated oxylabes, Long-billed and Spectacled greenbul, Common jery and Madagascar wood rail.  The ear-splitting moans and wails of the Indri also abound and sightings are relatively straightforward; be on the lookout too for small insectivores including Greater hedgehog tenrec and Lowland streaked tenrec. After lunch, we drive retracing our steps to Tana along the winding route of the National Route 2.  Overnight Gassy Country House (B, D).  

Day 16 – Antananarivo – Majunga – Ampijoroa (Drive time approximately – 2 hours)

Early this morning, transfer to the airport for the flight to Majunga.  Arrive in Majunga, a bustling, Indian-influenced port which lies along the edge of the Bombetoka River delta and drive the 2 hours to Ankarafantsika National Park. The journey’s landscape is dominated by a huge plain of rice fields, cassava plantations and corn fields: these fields are again worth scanning for heron, egret and ibis species, the Madagascar crested ibis. On the way, a stop at Lake Amboromalandy provides you with excellent opportunities for wildfowl spotting: a two-hour pause here could yield Red-billed teal, Knob-billed duck and White-faced whistling duck, as well as Purple, Striated, Common squacco and Madagascar squacco herons; very occasionally African open-bill stork may be seen here too. From there, you drive to Ampijoroa, where the entrance to Ankarafantsika National Park is situated.  Once established in your accommodation, such as the lodges which afford an excellent view across Lake Ravelobe, there will be time to take a fascinating night walk, where views of Tortoroka scops owls and Madagascar nightjars can be achieved close to your accommodation. Overnight Ampijoroa Lodge (B)

Ankarafantsika

The Rolls-Royce of birding parks in Madagascar, Ankarafantsika offers around 127 bird species, of which a breathtaking 75 are endemic species.  The park is huge too, covering 1350 kilometres squared, covered in scrub and low-level arid deciduous forest, whilst gallery forest fringes Ravelobe Lake.   The park forms a complex mosaic of forest, savannah and extensive wetlands and provides the final refuge for numerous critically endangered and endemic species including 8 lemurs, sundry reptiles and key birds. This is the only site for golden-brown mouse lemur and the extremely rare Madagascar big-headed turtle also has its haven here, as well as forming part of the very successful captive breeding and release program for tortoises. In all, 800 species of plant can be found here: the park’s interpretive boards make for useful reading as you travel through its varied landscapes, encountering its huge array of flora. Ankarafantsika (literally “nail in the skull”!) was only created in its present form in 2002, unifying the two sides of the road, but it now offers a great range of 11 hiking trails, such as the Coquereli Trail (2 hours) which is excellent for birds and lemur alike; boat trips are available of the lake, often a rewarding excursion for birding. 

Day 17 – Ampijoroa

Early morning is given over to exploring the trails around magical Lake Ravelobe. Most prized of the birds in the National Park are the Madagascar fish eagle, Coquerel’s coua, Schlegel’s asity, Rufous vanga, one of only four sites to see White-breasted mesite and the perilously endangered Van Dam’s vanga.  A pair of the critically endangered Madagascar fish eagle are a key feature of the lake; with an estimated 50-100 breeding pairs remaining in the wild, this exhilarating bird is, soberingly, classified as on the edge of extinction by Bird Life International.  Beyond this, the lake teems with wildlife: the crocodiles in Lake Ravelobe are protected by fady and have been known to attack unsuspecting villagers.  After breakfast, gazing across the waters, you will explore the natural treasures of Ankarafantsika. The terrain here is quite flat and so walking the trails of the park is not too challenging. Amongst the other highlights of the park are Madagascar Pygmy kingfisher, Madagascar jacana, Kittlitz plover, Madagascar turtle-dove, Madagascar green pigeon, Madagascar lesser cuckoo, Coquerel’s, Crested and Red-capped couas, Madagascar coucal, Madagascar cuckoo-shrike, Rufous, Hook-billed, Sickle-billed and White-headed vanga.  Overnight Ampijoroa Lodge (B)

Day 18: Ampijoroa – Majunga (Drive – 2 hours)

Another dawn expedition for birding offers a chance to pick up some of the thus far elusive species. After breakfast, drive back to Majunga expecting to arrive before noon. If the tide permits, you will immediately board a speed boat to Betsiboka Delta for bird watching (see Day 19). If not, the trip will take place next morning. At the end of the afternoon, drive out and enjoy a sunset in the dramatic amphitheatre of laterite and sandstone at Cirque Rouge, 45 minutes from Majunga centre.  Here you can encounter breeding Peregrine falcons, Madagascar cisticola, Souimanga sunbird, Madagascar bee-eater, and Madagascar mannikin. Overnight Hotel Coco Lodge. (B)

Day 19: Majunga – Betsiboka Delta – Antananarivo (Boat 90 minutes; Flight – 1 hour)

At dawn, depending on the flight times and the tide, you’ll be transferred to the harbour and take the boat to the Betsiboka Delta. From the boat clubs in Majunga, it takes about 1 and a half hours to steam up the river and into the enthralling mangroves at Betsiboka. At high tide the key bird species you visit this location for are to be found roosting in the mangrove islands and both Madagascar sacred ibis and Bernier’s teal can be found on several islands in the river mouth.  As mud-flats emerge, so wading birds appear: species such as Lesser flamingo, Dimorphic egret, Greater sandplover and Terek’s sandpiper can be seen there, as well as it being a good location for a range of tern species. Transfer to Majunga airport to fly back to Tana: watch out for flocks of White-faced whistling ducks around the airport. Transfer to hotel.  Overnight Gassy Country House. (B, D).  

Day 20 – Antananarivo – End of tour  

After breakfast, there is time for an excursion to nearby Tsarasaotra National Park, or the sights of the city, if you have not already done so on Day 1.  Day use is available at Gassy Country House until 6pm, for clients travelling on late evening flights. Then, transfer to airport on time for your flight back home. (B)