After each overland adventure, our leaders send a 'welcome home' letter to our explorers, mentioning some of their journey highlights; in 2012, our expedition to Madagascar was particularly memorable! Read on for details from Lex Hes.
Hello all and welcome back home!
I’ve now uploaded my photographs and collated all the notes I made and I have to say—this was the best Madagascar trip yet. Quite a few new bird species for me, as well as some really good mammals—including that sighting of the fossa, which very few people have seen in the wild!
There was a total of 93 bird species, with 10 being new to me. For me, the bird highlights were sickle-billed and blue vangas in the deciduous forest at Ankarana; huge flocks of red-billed teals and other waterbirds at Lac Alarobia in the middle of Tana; magnificent views of the pair of Henst’s goshawks and pygmy kingfishers in the forest at Périnet; white-throated rails on our little boat ride at Nahampoana; the characteristic calls of the Madagascar coucal just about everywhere we went; giant, running, and green-capped couas at Berenty; the paradise flycatcher on its nest at Berenty; brilliantly camouflaged nightjars in the spiny forest; and the relaxed and confiding pair of Mt. Amber rock thrushes.
I have listed a total of 26 mammal species, all of which we saw roaming freely in the wild. Some mammals new to me were common tenrecs; northern rufous mouse lemurs, which some of you were lucky enough to see on the walk at Ankarana; greater dwarf lemurs, which we got such a good look at on our very first long night walk at Farankaraina; the recently-described southern gray bamboo lemurs at Nahamapoana; bush pigs, which I have seen in South Africa, but not in Madagascar; and of course the most exciting of all—Madagascar’s top mammalian predator, the fossa high up in the tree at Mantadia.
Other great sightings included the group of indri calling right above our heads at Perinet; and, also at Perinet, the relaxed group of diademed sifakas sitting in the trees in the morning sun.
The Berenty lemurs are always a favorite and I love spending time with them in the early mornings as they wake and start moving around the camp. Watching the ringtailed lemurs sunbathing and interacting with one another is always so entertaining. The Verreaux’s sifakas are almost human-like in the way that they dance across the ground to get to the next group of trees. Berenty is a wonderful place.
We saw a good number of Madagascar’s 80 chameleon species, too many for me to remember all of their names. Two completely contrasting species were real highlights for me—the huge Parson’s chameleons in the forest at Masoala, so well-spotted by our guides, and the tiny little pygmy stump-tailed chameleon, found by our guide at the Mt. Amber picnic site. I always marvel at the minute detail of this tiny little species.
We saw colorful reed, mantella, and tree frogs, camouflaged leaftailed geckos, brightly-colored day geckos, a few snakes, gigantic spiders in the cave at Ankarana, and of course that real Madagascar oddity—the giraffe-necked weevil.
More difficult to identify and get to know properly were the various plants we saw, from the huge forest trees like Canarium and Dalbergia with their buttressed trunks, to the many species of orchids (Madagascar has over 1,000!) and the unusual endemic plants of the spiny forest. We saw three of the six endemic baobabs of Madagascar, as well as many of the more than 170 species of palm trees which are found there.
Our journey also gave us a glimpse of the people and life in Madagascar. I have never seen people anywhere work so hard, physically—chopping up massive slabs of granite with a hammer and chisel, carrying bricks on their heads for baking, pulling two-wheeled carts loaded with heavy goods, turning the dense thick clay in the rice paddies with a shovel, trying to sell goods that everyone else is trying to sell, and pedaling bicycles loaded with bags of charcoal. And despite all this, the people always seemed to be so friendly.
I hope that all of you have came away with some good memories of Madagascar and that you have returned home with a greater appreciation of what you have. I most certainly do every time I come back from Madagascar.
Thanks for traveling with me and for going through the trip with flexibility and a good sense of humor. I hope to travel with you all again in the future.
Wishing you all everything of the very best.