The following extracts are taken from “Southern African Birdfinder: where to find 1,400 birds in southern Africa and Madagascar” by Callan Cohen, Claire Spottiswoode and Jonathan Rossouw, released by Struik Publishers in 2006.
The Andasibe / Mantadia Area The village of Andasibe, lying in the foothills of the eastern escarpment at an altitude of 900 m above sea level makes a perfect base for exploration of the world-famous Analamazaotra Special Reserve (or “Périnet” as it’s more commonly known) and more recently created Mantadia National Park. Boasting almost all of the eastern rainforest endemics and a mere 4 hours drive east of Tana, this is the place to head for as soon as you step off your international flight. Specials: All the eastern rainforest endemics have been recorded, with the exception of Bernier’s Vanga Oriolia bernieri (though Madagascar Serpent Eagle Eutriorchis astur, Helmet Vanga Euryceros prevostii, Red-tailed Newtonia Newtonia fanovanae, Madagascar Yellowbrow Crossleyia xanthophrys, Yellow-bellied Asity Neodrepanis hypoxantha and Brown Mesite Mesitornis unicolor are very rare here). This is an especially good site for Madagascar Grebe Tachybaptus pelzelnii, Madagascar Crested Ibis Lophotibis cristata, Madagascar Water Rail Rallus madagascariensis, Madagascar Wood Rail Canirallus kioloides, Madagascar Long-eared Owl Asio madagascariensis, Collared Nightjar Caprimulgus enarratus, all 4 rainforest Ground Rollers, and Nuthatch-Vanga Hypositta corallirostris.
Ranomafana National Park Although it is a long day’s drive south of Tana, the 41,500 ha Ranomafana National Park offers a superb selection of eastern rainforest specials, including some that are rare or absent from the Andasibe area. Specials: Almost all of Andasibe’s specials are also present at Ranomafana, though Henst’s Goshawk Accipiter henstii, Brown Mesite Mesitornis unicolor, Madagascar Yellowbrow Crossleyia xanthophrys, Brown Emu-tail Dromaeocercus brunneus, Yellow-bellied Asity Neodrepanis hypoxantha and Pollen’s Vanga Xenopirostris polleni are much easier here.
Montagne d’Ambre National Park The mid-altitude forest on Montagne d’Ambre is most famous amongst birders as the only site on Earth for the highly localized and appropriately named Amber Mountain Rock Thrush Monticola erythronotus (not on the ABC checklist. See reference (v), page 134). This beautiful bird is usually easily found in the campsite at Station Roussette, along the 200 m trail to the Petite Cascade, or along the road up to the crater lake of Lac Vert. Pitta-like Ground Roller Atelornis pittoides, Cuckoo Roller Leptosomus discolor, Short-billed Tetraka (Spectacled Greenbul) Xanthomixis zosterops and Hook-billed Vanga Vanga curvirostris are also all fairly common and easily found in the park, which lies about 30 km (an hour’s drive in a taxi) south of Antsiranana in northern Madagascar.
Andohahela National Park This recently proclaimed national park straddling the road between Tolagnaro and Berenty protects a range of habitats from eastern rainforest to Alluadia-rich “spiny desert”. Whilst most of its birds are more easily seen elsewhere, Andohahela has recently been recognised as a reliable and accessible site for the scarce and localised Red-tailed Newtonia Newtonia fanovanae. Enquire at the park HQ on the main road for directions to the forest, which lies at the foot of the mountains to the north.
Antananarivo (“Tana”) Almost all visitors to Madagascar fly into the country’s capital city and encounter their first Malagasy birds, usually Mascarene Martins Phedina borbonica overhead or Squacco Herons Ardeola ralloides in roadside rice paddies, on the drive into town from the airport. Whilst all of Tana’s birds may be found elsewhere, birders with time to spare should consider visits to Lake Alarobia for the spectacular heronry (one of the best places to study Madagascar Pond Herons Ardeola idae in their nuptial finery) and waterfowl (formerly Meller’s Duck Anas melleri, but no recent records), and Tsimbazaza Zoo for Madagascar Grebe Tachybaptus pelzelnii, Torotoroka Scops Owl Otus madagascariensis, Hamerkop Scopus umbretta and small passerines such as Madagascar White-eye Zosterops maderaspatanus, Madagascar Mannikin Lonchura nana and Madagascar Red Fody Foudia madagascariensis.
Ifaty The surreal landscape inland of the fishing village of Ifaty hosts some of Madagascar’s strangest, most sought-after and most threatened endemics, including Subdesert Mesite Monias benschi and Long-tailed Ground Roller Uratelornis chimaera. Specials: Banded Kestrel Falco zoniventris, Subdesert Mesite Monias benschi, Madagascar Plover Charadrius thoracicus, Grey-headed Lovebird Agapornis canus, Running Coua Coua cursor, Green-capped Coua Coua (ruficeps) olivaceiceps, Long-tailed Ground-Roller Uratelornis chimaera,
Archbold’s Newtonia Newtonia archboldi, Thamnornis Thamnornis chloropetoides, Subdesert Brush-Warbler Nesillas (typica) lantzi, Sickle-billed Vanga Falculea palliata and Lafresnaye’s Vanga Xenopirostris xenopirostris.
The St Augustin Road, Anakao and Nosy Ve The ~30 km track south along the coast from Toliara to the village of St Augustin (Anatsognaro) passes through unique “coral rag scrub” that is home to a handful of highly localised endemics, most famous of which is the recently discovered Red-shouldered Vanga Calicalicus rufocarpalis Specials: Madagascar Heron Ardea humbloti, Red-tailed Tropicbird Phaethon rubricauda, Madagascar Sandgrouse Pterocles personatus, Verreaux’s Coua Coua verreauxi, Littoral Rock Thrush Pseudocossyphus imerina and Red-shouldered Vanga Calicalicus rufocarpalis.
Berenty Private Reserve This island of gallery forest and spiny forest in a sea of sisal plantations is far more famous for its lemurs than for its birds. Nevertheless, Berenty is an essential site on any tour of Madagascar and a handful of its avian inhabitants are easier to find here than elsewhere on the island. Specials: Madagascar Buttonquail Turnix nigricollis, Giant Coua Coua gigas and Running Coua Coua cursor, Grey-headed Lovebird Agapornis canus, Torotoroka Scops Owl Otus madagascariensis, White-browed Owl Ninox superciliaris, Madagascar Green Pigeon Treron australis, Madagascar Sandgrouse Pterocles personatus, Madagascar Cuckoo Hawk Aviceda madagascariensis, Madagascar Harrier Hawk Polyboroides radiatus, Madagascar Sparrowhawk Accipiter madagascariensis, Banded Kestrel Falco zoniventris, Lafresnaye’s Vanga Xenopirostris xenopirostris and Sickle-billed Vanga Falculea palliata.
Ampijoroa Forest Station The deciduous woodland surrounding Ampijoroa Forest Station in Ankarafantsika Nature Reserve holds the full complement of spectacular north-west Madagascar forest endemics. Specials: Madagascar Buttonquail Turnix nigricollis, Red-capped Coua Coua ruficeps, Grey-headed Lovebird Agapornis canus, Madagascar Sandgrouse Pterocles personatus, White-breasted Mesite Mesitornis variegatus, Madagascar Fish Eagle Haliaeetus vociferoides, Madagascar Heron Ardea humbloti, Madagascar Pond Heron Ardeola idae, Madagascar Crested Ibis Lophotibis cristata, Schlegel’s Asity Philepitta schlegeli and Van Dam’s Vanga Xenopirostris damii.