Friday, 10 August 2018

In the last footsteps of Phoebe Snetsinger - Madagascar Blog Post 1 - Days 1 - 5

Our birding trip was organised Madagascar Tour Guide (madagascar.tour.guide@gmail.com), who were really well organised. Our guide for most of our the trip was Julian, who was brilliant at digging out the birds as well as sorting things out for us along the way. The company is owned by Andre who came to meet us as we passed through Tena. I would highly recommend them and  the prices were modest.


Day 1 - 05/08/2018


On Sunday 5th August 2018, my mum and dad picked me up at 7.30 am for Nairobi YMCA, to go straight to Nairobi NP for a final day of birding.  


Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig on her trip with Chew Valley School
Photograph copyright Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig


With a new bird snuck in right at the end, I was pretty happy to be finishing that bit of the trip on 4,836 including a couple of new birds I found after taking into account the latest IOC World List update. The latest total list for the world is 10,711, so if I want to see half by the time I’m 18 years old, then that would be 5,356 which it will be touch and go whether I manage in time. 

We were dropped at the airport at 6 pm for our 10.05 pm Air Kenya flight to Tana, the capital of Madagascar.



Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig with Chris Craig at Nairobi Airport, Kenya
Photograph copyright Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig

After dinner at the airport, we finally took off about 45 minutes late. Our flight was actually stopping on the Comoros Islands, which didn’t seem so bad, except that loads of people got off, they cleaned the plane, loads of people got on and they had to do lots of swapping people around presumably because the checking in process wasn’t very efficient. I was so exhausted after 16 nights of camping and late nights with my friends, I passed out on the flight, somehow flat over two seats with my head on mum’s lap.


Day 2 - 06/08/2018



Our Madagascar Tour with Madagascar Tours
Photograph copyright Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig


Monday 6th August 2018, we arrived into Madagascar.  Unsurprisingly, our fight was very late arriving in Tana and then our pick up wasn’t there, so we got a taxi in a VERY old french taxi with a guy who’s passengers hadn’t turned up either, so we were both happy. Tana is in the mid east of the country.

Our hotel was called The Saka Manga, which is the title of one of the Tin Tin books that was based on Madagascar. It was a lovely hotel and we had a fantastic 2 bedroom apartment, which was great to hang out in. We decided to stay up for 15 mins, have a 6 am breakfast, before heading to bed. 

Madagascar was a French colony and got independence around 1960. French is the second language and lots of people  speak it as it is taught in schools and so it is also popular with french speaking tourists. You could also tell it was a french colony from the food. At breakfast they had the very best soft french bread and pain au chocolate, which was brilliant.

By 7 am we were in bed, exhausted from our night flight. We were being picked up at 3.30 pm and so plenty of time to sleep through.

We got up at 3 pm, having skipped lunch, with a quick change before meeting Andre's brother, who runs Madagascar Tours. We drove to Tsarasoatra Wetland, to try and get a few of our first endemics. The Lake is an artificial one and apparently a Madagascan Queen in about 1840 had the lake built by lots of slaves.




Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig, Tsarasoatra Wetland, Tana, Madagascar
Photograph copyright Birdgirl, Mya-Rose Craig


Almost the first bird I saw was a Dimorphic Egret, which is my favourite type of new bird, a tick back. Mum and Dad saw this without me toward the end of their time in Kenya and so it was brilliant to catch it up. As well as this, I saw 12 endemics for Madagascar which were fantastic, the best being Meller’s Duck, Malagasy Kingfisher, Malagasy White-eye, Malagasy Kestrel and Malagasy Mannikin.



Madagascar Kestrel, Tsarasoatra Wetland, Tana, Madagascar
Photograph copyright Birdgirl, Mya-Rose Craig



Malagasy White-eye, Tsarasoatra Wetland, Tana, Madagascar
Photograph copyright Birdgirl, Mya-Rose Craig


Malagasy Kingfisher, Tsarasoatra Wetland, Tana, Madagascar
Photograph copyright Birdgirl, Mya-Rose Craig



Meller's Duck, Tsarasoatra Wetland, Tana, Madagascar
Photograph digiscoped by Birdgirl, Mya-Rose Craig using a Leica scope


Back at the hotel, we met up with Andre by the pool to go through the itinerary and check a few things over. There had been talk of being picked up at 4.30 am for our morning flight which I was not looking forward to, but Andre had been to the airport himself to find out what time our flight was due to go (as it is not published accurately) and it was agreed that we would be picked up at 6.30 am after  breakfast. The thought of a freshly baked pan au chocolate cheered me up. Dinner was at the hotel restaurant which had a great ambience, being full of tourists from across the city. It was also ridiculously cheap with most of the main veggie courses costing only £2.50.

We tried to get an early night, so that we didn’t start our trip exhausted.


Day 3 - 07/08/2018

Tuesday 7th August 2018 we were up at 5.30 am for a lovely french baked breakfast, before being picked up to go to the airport. Andre’s brother met us again and explained that the fog was bad which was why they were 10 minutes late. Mum and I immediately fell asleep in the car but dad later told us it was a stressful journey because we were stationary for so much of it. Our flight was at 9.30 am and we managed to get there at 8 am with half an hour to spare before check in closed.  We had heard that Madagascan flights were not that reliable, so were not surprised to hear that our flight was delayed because of bad weather in the south west where the flight was coming from and where we were going. It was 11.30am before we took off for Toliara in the South West of Madagascar, so once we were picked up by our guide for the trip Julian and local guide for South West Madagascar Jean-Marie, we went straight to a supermarket to buy water and emergency provisions (like biscuits for me) before going to our hotel, The Victory Hotel for lunch.

We were meant to be going to the Andatabo Forest, which is a dry wooded area for our main target of the endemic and localised Red-shouldered Vanga but because of our delayed flight we instead visited the nearby privately owned Toliara Arboretum.

Here we caught up with a few more Madagascan endemic birds, Madagascan Magpie-robin, Malagasy Bulbul, Malagasy Paradise-flycatcher, Sakalava Weaver, Chabert Vanga, and the rare Green-capped Coua which is likely to become an IOC split from Red-capped Coua.



Malagasy Paradise Flycatcher, Toliara Arboreum, Madagascar
Photograph copyright Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig

Green-capped Coua, Toliara Arboreum, Madagascar
Photograph copyright Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig


Malagascan Magpie-Robin, Toliara Arboreum, Madagascar
Photograph copyright Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig



Madagascan Manakin, Toliara Arboreum, Madagascar
Photograph copyright Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig



Malagasy Bulbul, Toliara Arboreum, Madagascar
Photograph copyright Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig



Sakalava Weaver, Toliara Arboreum, Madagascar
Photograph copyright Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig


Here, we bumped into our first group of birders let alone a bird Tour. It was a Rockjumper Tours group, whose leader was really friendly to us. Dad had actually thought about us going on this tour, but it started before I had finished my school trip in Kenya, so had to be ruled out.

When we got back to the hotel, the Rockjumper Tours group arrived just after us, which was another co-incidence.

After dinner, I decided to take advantage of the lull and get an early night.


Day 4 - 08/08/2018

Wednesday 8th August 2018, we opted for a 5.30 am breakfast before going straight out birding to Andatabo Forest, which is a dry forest which we had to miss the day before.  

The main target was Red-Shouldered Vanga, which you only get in this forest. This is a really special bird for me and one that I really want to see. Phoebe Snetsinger is still the top female world birder, almost 20 years after she died in Madagascar in a car accident. She was an amazing woman who was passionate about birds and who only started world birding after she was diagnosed with cancer. Really inspirational. Red-shouldered Vanga was the last new bird that she saw before she died. I think that seeing one would be really really emotional.







When I Googled "Phoebe Snetsinger birder", this is a screenshot of part of the page. It made me giggle, as I love Jack Black and "almost" met Greg Miller (the birder Jack Black was playing) on a mountainside in Arizona a couple of years ago.






After two hours, we had seen Common Newtonia, Crested Drongo, Subdesert Brush Warbler, Soulmanga Sunbird and Lafresnaye’s Vanga but no sign of Red-shouldered Vanga.  I felt so disappointed but this was meant to be. The only thing that cheered me up was that we would be able to try again when we returned to Toliara in a couple of days.



Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig, Andatabo Forest, Toliara, Madagascar
Photograph copyright Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig


Common Jery, Andatabo Forest, Toliara, Madagascar
Photograph copyright Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig


Common Newtonia, Andatabo Forest, Toliara, Madagascar
Photograph copyright Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig


Lafresnaye's Vanga, Andatabo Forest, Toliara, Madagascar
Photograph copyright Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig



Soumanga Sunbird, Andatabo Forest, Toliara, Madagascar
Photograph copyright Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig


From here, we drove straight to the quayside. First we loaded our bags into a wooden cart pulled by two zebu, which then took us across a muddy bay as the tide was out, to a waiting speed boat which we were transferred to. Then we had an hour and a half speed boat journey to the beach resort of Anakao which is further south from Toliara and opposite the island of Nosy Ve, where were birded early afternoon. 

The target for mum and I was Red-tailed Tropicbird, which breed on the island, but which dad had seen before. There were still large young on nests under bushes as well adults flying around, which were stunning. We also saw Madagascan Cisticola on the island which was a bonus. I was hoping for catch up with Crab Plover and Sanderson’s Terns, but I think it was too early for them this far south.




Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig on the way to Anakao, Madagascar
Photograph copyright Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig


Anakao, Madagascar
Photograph copyright Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig


Sandbank off Nosy Ve, Anakao, Madagascar
Photograph copyright Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig


Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig on the way to Nosy Ve, Anakao, Madagascar
Photograph copyright Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig


Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig on the way to Nosy Ve, Anakao, Madagascar
Photograph copyright Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig


Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig, Nosy Ve, Anakao, Madagascar
Photograph copyright Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig


Nosy Ve, Anakao, Madagascar
Photograph copyright Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig


Red-tailed Tropicbird, Nosy Ve, Anakao, Madagascar
Photograph copyright Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig



Immature Red-tailed Tropicbird, Nosy Ve, Anakao, Madagascar
Photograph copyright Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig



We were back on the beach by 3.30 pm, so after a quick Littoral Rock Thrush twitch behind our bungalow, we had loads of time to swim and sunbathe, which was fantastic and restful. It always makes a change to get some R & R on a full on birding trip. It's really is idyllic here with white sand and the island across the water.



Littoral Rock Thrush, Anakao, Madagascar
Photograph copyright Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig


Just as it turned dark, we heard nightjar calling outside and immediately found Madagascan Nightjar behind us. Julian and Jean-Marie came to find us at this point and so were able to help us to find another couple of birds.



Madagascar Nightjar, Anakao, Madagascar
Photograph copyright Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig


After a very expensive dinner, we made sure we were in bed by 9.30 pm, as tomorrow we were being picked up at 4.30 am with a packed breakfast.


Day 5  - 09/08/2018

Today, we were up at 4.00 am, to leave at 4.30 am with a few bits for breakfast to drive south east to Tisimanampetostra Lake and Nature Reserve. It was a two hour drive to the lake, so I managed sleep the whole way and still arrived at 6.30 am just as the sun was rising. We had another local local guide with us and saw a whole load of endemic birds, especially after birding the dry forest. The best were Madagascan Plover, which is critically endangered and there are only about 3000 left, Madagascan Sandgrouse which only have a few birds left here due to hunting, Greater and Lesser Vasa Parrots, Archbold’s Newtonia and the stunning Verreaux’s Coua.




Tisimanampetostra Lake, Madagascar
Photograph copyright Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig



Black-winged Stilt, Tisimanampetostra Lake, Madagascar
Photograph copyright Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig




Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig, Tisimanampetostra Lake, Madagascar
Photograph copyright Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig




Madagascan Soundgrouse, Tisimanampetostra Lake, Madagascar
Photograph copyright Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig


Madagascan Soundgrouse, Tisimanampetostra Lake, Madagascar
Photograph copyright Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig


Madagascan Soundgrouse, Tisimanampetostra Lake, Madagascar
Photograph copyright Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig


Madagascan Swamp Warbler, Tisimanampetostra Lake, Madagascar
Photograph copyright Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig


Madagascan Plover, Tisimanampetostra Lake, Madagascar
Photograph copyright Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig


Red-billed Teal, Tisimanampetostra Lake, Madagascar
Photograph copyright Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig



Archbold's Newtonia, Tisimanampetostra Nature Reserve, Madagascar
Photograph copyright Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig


Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig with a 2000 year old Boabab tree, 
Tisimanampetostra Nature Reserve, Madagascar
Photograph copyright Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig


Madagascar Lark, Tisimanampetostra Nature Reserve, Madagascar
Photograph copyright Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig

Ringtail Lemur, Tisimanampetostra Nature Reserve, Madagascar
Photograph copyright Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig


Ringtail Lemur, Tisimanampetostra Nature Reserve, Madagascar
Photograph copyright Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig

Verreaux Coua, Tisimanampetostra Nature Reserve, Madagascar
Photograph copyright Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig


Verreaux Coua, Tisimanampetostra Nature Reserve, Madagascar
Photograph copyright Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig


We looked in the dry forest for Red-shouldered Vaga, but with no luck, as they are even rarer here. Maybe tomorrow...

As it was getting hot, we headed back to the beach and were there by midday, so that I could spend the whole afternoon sunbathing, swimming and reading.

Madagascar List - 62

Number of new life birds - 39

World List - 4,865



About the Author

Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig in Antarctica
Photograph copyright Young Birder Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig



Mya-Rose Craig is a 16-year-old young British Bangladeshi birder, naturalist, conservationist, environmentalist, activist, writer and speaker. She is based near Bristol and writes the successful Birdgirl Blog, with posts about birding and conservation from around the world. She loved seeing Mountain Gorillas in East Africa and Penguins in Antarctica over Christmas 2015, her 7th continent. She is looking forward to visiting Tanzania, Kenya and Madagascar birding in 2018 and hopes to see her 5000th bird species in the world.

Mya-Rose was a Bristol European Green Capital Ambassador along with Kevin McCloud, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, Tony Juniper, Simon King, Miranda Krestovnikoff and Shaun the Sheep! See the full list of Bristol Ambassadors. She has also been listed with the singer-songwriter George Ezra and actress Maisie Williams from Game of Thrones as one of Bristol's most influential young people
She is an Ambassador for See It Her Way and a Charter Champion for The Charter for Woods, Trees and People. She has given over 50 talks, speaking at conferences such as being on a panel with George Monbiot and Caroline Lucas on Sustainability and the Future of Cities. She has also appeared on TV an dis particularly proud of being in Silent Roars, a short film which was part of Listen to Britain 2017 https://player.bfi.org.uk/free/film/watch-the-silent-roars-2017-onlineShe organised a conference, Race Equality in Nature, in June 2016 aiming to increase the ethnic diversity in nature and plans to run her fifth Camp Avalon camp in 2018. She has also set up Black2Nature with the aim of working with organisations to increase the access to nature of Black Asian Minority Ethnic people. Please connect with her on LinkedIn (Mya-Rose Birdgirl Craig) so that she can invite you to join the Race Equality in Nature LinkedIn Group and be part of the change. She has been awarded the Bath and West Show Environmental Youth Award 2017 for Bristol for her Black2Nature work EYA 2017Please also like her Birdgirl Facebook Page and follow her on Birdgirl Twitter.








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