Due to its ancient isolation from the landmasses to which it was originally connected when Gondwanaland broke up, Madagascar, often labelled the 8th continent, is spectacularly well endowed with endemic life forms. On the bird front this has resulted in no less than six endemic families: the Ground-Rollers; Cuckoo-Roller; Mesites; Vangas; Asities (sometimes placed with the Broadbills) and the recently recognised Malagasy Warblers. Our image of the month, of a Long-tailed Ground-Roller, was taken by James Wakelin in south-western Madagascar’s spiny desert.
Four of the five Ground-Rollers are found in the remnant rainforests that once cloaked the spine of mountains running inland along Madagascar’s east coast. The Long-tailed Ground-Roller however, is an aberrant species restricted to the unique Tolkenesque spiny forests of southern Madagascar, and is further localized by its requirement for sandy soils in which to excavate its underground nesting burrow. This shy bird was previously near impossible to glimpse in its almost impenetrable, thorny habitat. However, a family of reformed bird hunters near Ifaty have turned their specialized skills to locating this highly desirable bird (as well as the other mega of the spiny forest, the Subdesert Mesite) for birders. Not only does viewing the now habituated individuals result in less disruption to unhabituated birds, but support of these local guides contributes to the Long-tailed Ground-Roller’s preservation, as those who once hunted them have become their protectors.