Sunday, 15 January 2017

Madagascar 2: Andasibe-Mantadia

After finishing up with Operation Wallacea I had a couple of days in the incredible rainforests of western madagascar at Andasibe-Mantadia National Park.

The first afternoon I arrived I spent a few hours in the community reserve and went on a nightwalk down the main road. In the reserves guides are compulsory, I had a rather naff local guide who didn't really find me anything but it was great to be in the forest and I saw a handful of new species (Red-fronted Coua, Blue Coua, Madagascar Blue Pigeon, Spectacled Tetraka & Nelicourvi Weaver). On a nightwalk from the hotel down the main road I encountered several Eastern Avahi (Wooly-Lemurs) and a Goodman's Mouse Lemur.

Blue Coua
Madagascar Pygmy Kingfisher
Eastern Avahi
The next day I'd organised a great local bird guide and we went into Mantadia, the beautiful untouched (barre a few trails) primary rainforest. Here we found numerous new forest birds and 4 species of Lemur (Red-bellied, Bamboo, Indri & Black-and-white ruffed Lemur). Sadly despite our best efforts in the non-breeding season, we were unable to locate any ground-rollers.

The primary forest of Mantadia

Blue Vanga

Bamboo Lemur

Red-bellied Lemur

Black-and-white ruffed Lemur & Indri

My final day was spent in Andasibe, here I got amazing Indri experiences as these giant lemur bounded around the trees and howled just a few metres away. A family of Diademed Sifakas hung out eating leaves. Red-breasted Coua and Crossley's Vanga took some work while mixed flocks of Blue, Nuthatch,Ward's, Tylas, White-headed, Hook-billed, Chabert and Red-tailed Vangas were encountered throughout the day.

Velvet Asity

Diademed Sifaka

Crested Ibis

Red-tailed Vanga (female)

Summer 2016: Madagascar

In June/July last year I was in the rare and fortunate position that I could take some time off work during the summer. It had been a busy year with work up to that point so I decided to take up an outstanding offer from friends at Operation Wallacea to take a voluntary position of Ornithologist at one of their research camps. A vacancy was available at their Madagascar site and having never visited the country I thought it was a great opportunity not to pass up on.

The site is based in Mariarano, in the North West of Madagascar not far from the town of Mahajanga. There is a community forest with no official protection. Timber extraction and hunting occurs on a small subsistence level though much of the ecosystem remains intact. The camp is on the edge of a deciduous forest with a Mangrove esturine system nearby. The climate at the time was hot and dry.

My job was to co-ordinate and run point counts along preset transects throughout the forest. These point counts have been done during the same summer period for several years, therefore building up a long term data set that can be used to identify biodiversity changes over time. Small groups of students joined myself and Malagasy university students in order to learn about birds and survey techniques. Several university students were also collecting and using the data for their own dissertation projects.

Over the four weeks I spent in camp I had many opportunities to join in with the other surveys taking place (herps, mammals, inverts, etc) and also had many opportunities to photograph the amazingly diverse forest that I was staying in. 

Finally I had a few days at the end to visit the rainforests of the east which I'll do a second post for.

Thursday, 12 January 2017

2016: Part deux

June and July were spent in Madagascar (see next blog post).


August began with a first for Britain, a Western Purple Swamphen at Minsmere (4th). A Pectoral Sandpiper was at Hickling Broad, Norfolk (13th). During my week in Guernsey I saw a pod of Bottle-nosed Dolphins at Jaonneuse (21st) and a migrating Osprey over Pleinmont where a Clouded Yellow was also present (26th).


A Yellow-browed Warbler I found at East Hills, Norfolk (14th) was the first for mainland Britain this year and was the beginning of a huge influx over the following weeks. The next day I found an Arctic Warbler also at East Hills (15th). A seawatch at Sheringham, Norfolk produced a Leach's Petrel (17th). Will found a Red-flanked Bluetail at East Hills which I duly twitched (18th). On the way up to Shetland we dropped in on the Brunnich's Guillemot at Anstruther, Fife (29th). On our first day in Shetland we found a ‘Greenland’ Redpoll at Sumburgh and twitched a Brown Shrike and a Greenish Warbler at Aith and a Blyth's Reed Warbler at Sandgarth (31st).


The month started on the second day of our Shetland birding holiday. We found our first Barred Warbler at Skeld (1st), a Lanceolated Warbler at Boddam (2nd) and an American Golden Plover at Eshaness (4th). A Red-breasted Flycatcher was at Maywick, a Rose-coloured Starling was at Scalloway and a Siberian Chiffchaff was at Sumburgh (4th). We twitched a Swainson’s Thrush at Aith, Fetlar and the first of several Little Buntings we found was at Gulberwick (5th). After dipping a White’s Thrush on Fetlar we went to Unst where Will found a Bluethroat at Norwick, a Common Rosefinch was at Haroldswick before we raced down to Uyeasound for a first year male Siberian Thrush (6th). Finally we twitched a new Brown Shrike at Voe before finding a Marsh Warbler at Levenwick (7th).

Most of the remainder of October was spent in Norfolk. After twitching a Radde’s Warbler at Holkham Pines, I found a Bunting at Burnham Overy Dunes (10th), which was not the most straightforward of identifications, it's probably an Ortolan but had features of Cretzshmars. East Hills produced a Little Bunting (11th). A memorable twitching day for the Siberian Accentor at Easington also produced a brief Olive-backed Pipit and an in-the-hand Dusky Warbler at Kilnsea (14th). I found a new Red-flanked Bluetail at East Hills and saw a Great Grey Shrike at UEA (21st). I followed up by finding an Isabelline Wheatear at Burnham Overy Dunes the next day, where a dead Fin Whale was on the beach and several Waxwings flew over (22nd). A Quail on Blakeney Point (24th) was no consolation for the fact I missed a Pine Bunting that was photographed there the same day. The month concluded with a Desert Wheatear on the shingle ridge at Cley.


With news of an Eye-browed Thrush in Northumberland and a Cliff Swallow at Minsmere, the decision to go north proved to be unwise as it was not present the next day when we arrived. We did however see a beautiful Eastern Black Redstart and a Glaucous Gull at Hartlepool Headland (5th). A great seawatch from Sheringham included big numbers of wildfowl, particularly Eider and Brent Geese, though the highlight was several Little Auks (7th). A Velvet Scoter at Whitlingham, Norwich was a good inland record (9th). We ringed Waxwings in Norwich at Jenny Lind Park (15th & 16th) and at Charles Watling Way (17th). A Todd’s Canada Goose was near Docking, Norfolk (18th). My final good British bird of the year in was the Forster’s Tern on the River Stour, Essex (20th). My wife and I flew out to Ecuador on the 28th until the end of the year.

December was spent in Ecuador - I'll do a separate post.