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WINGS Birding Tours – Photo Gallery

Madagascar

The capital Antananarivo has a wonderful rookery where eight species of herons breed. Madagascar Squacco, here courting, is the rarest. Apart from the herons, the rookery is home to many other of Madagascar’s local endemics, such as the secretive White-throated Rail… …and among the butterflies in the weedy edges around the lake is the brightly hued <em>Acraea zitja</em>. Around the edge of Lake Ravelobe at Ankarafantsika lives the Madagascar Jacana, whose range is the most restricted of the eight jacana species. Currently considered one of the world’s rarest birds of prey, the Madagascar Fish Eagle (here a young bird) breeds annually on Lake Ravelobe in winter. Of the four currently recognized species of hoopoe, the Madagascar Hoopoe is by far the largest and has a loud, rolling, dove-like call totally unlike the other three. The Madagascar Crested Ibis is just another of Madagascar’s wonderfully different birds. Often on the walks through Ankarafantsika forest, our guides know where to find a Torotoroke Scops Owl roosting in a low cavity. While it is normal to see a few Crested Coua on a forest walk, it is only in the late afternoon, when for a few seconds all the birds call at the same time, that their true abundance can be appreciated. The only iguanids outside the New World are eight species found on Madagascar and two found on Fiji. Cuvier’s Iguanid is a bold species often found around the picnic tables at Ankarafantsika. Walking quietly around in the foliage at Ankarafantsika are several chameleon species, among them a local specialty with unusual purplish coloration and a toothed nasal protuberance resembling a chain-saw. This is Angel’s Chameleon. To access the forest at Ranomafana we must cross the very sturdy bridge over the rapids. The poison-arrow frogs of the New World are replicated in Madagascar with the genus <em>Mantella.</em> While these frogs have warning colors, they do not share the same extreme potency of their American counterparts. Madagascar is home to most of the world’s chameleon species, with just over fifty forms described.  Most of them including <em>Furcifer balteatus</em> lack common names. The poison-arrow frogs of the New World are replicated in Madagascar with the genus <em>Mantella.</em> While these frogs have warning colors, they do not share the same extreme potency of their American counterparts. Baron’s Mantella Frog is just one of these colorful amphibians. Mouse Lemurs are literally “mouse-sized,” the smallest primates in the world. At Ranomafana after dark, the oh-so-cute Rufous Mouse Lemur is attracted to bananas smeared onto branches. The red of the diminutive Madagascar Pygmy Kingfisher is an unusual color for the group. The species inhabits dense forest, with no close association to water. There are many endemic dragonflies on the Great Red Island, and <em>Palpopleura vestita</em> is among the most striking of those readily seen. Isalo National Park is remote but with the construction of the luxurious Relais de la Reine, it has become a very comfortable stop-over. The Relais de la Reine overlooks some of the most unusual natural rock formations, which are home to the attractive endemic… …Benson’s Rock Thrush, which actually nests on the hotel building and has become quite used to human presence. The southern dry region is home to the Banded Kestrel. Three-eyed Iguanid is an interesting species not just because it is an iguana representative, but because of the presence of a pineal “third eye” on the top of the head, which is thought to be at least light-sensative. The dry conditions of the south have inspired an endemic butterfly fauna, and the most colorful of these has to be Zoe’s Colotis, a white with an iridescent magenta/claret tip outlined in black venation. Madagascar is home to seven baobab species. All are in the genus <em>Adansonia,</em> and all are impressive. <em>Adansonia za</em> can be seen growing in the spiny desert of the southwest. It is always encouraging when the local community benefits from the birds it shelters, leading the community to do its best for conservation. Mosa and his family will be with us for one early morning, finding the skulking endemics of the spiny forest. Of the ten coua species, six are found in the southeast. The Green-capped Coua, a terrestrial species, at times poses on top of the endemic didiereas in the spiny forest. Living in a similar habitat to the southwestern U.S., the Long-tailed Ground-Roller has evolved to behave much like a roadrunner. The Sub-desert Mesite is an extraordinary bird like a cross between a rail and a pigeon, and walks around on the floor of the spiny forest in family groups, occasionally giving bursts of chittering song. <em>Pharmacophagus antenor,</em> whose enormous wingspan is a common sight in the west and south of the country. Leaving the spiny desert, we’ll head south by motorboat for the small offshore island of Nosy Ve and a date with the nesting Red-tailed Tropicbirds. While Madagascar is a paradise for the birder, the island is just as world-famous for its unique mammals. Undoubtedly the world’s most familiar lemur species,the Ring-tailed Lemur is numerous at Berenty, where individuals can be very inquisitive. We’ll finish the main tour with a trip to Perinet, which boasts not only most of the rainforest endemic birds but also the largest of all of the lemurs, the tailless Indri. Pairs of the Collared Nightjar roost together. This is thought to be the world’s only silent nightjar species. Almost as well camouflaged,  we will have to work at luring a Madagascar Rail out of the densest of reeds. As the sun sets, the nocturnal lemurs, including the oxymoronically named Greater Dwarf-Lemur climb around in the vegetation looking for tasty morsels. The Short-legged Ground-Roller, which looks like a huge neotropical puffbird, is, in spite of its name, an arboreal species that sits quietly for long periods on a high horizontal branch.