It was therefore an absolute thrill when I heard the news that Peregrine Fund researchers, whilst surveying for Madagascar Harriers in November 2006, had discovered a small population of these diving ducks at a very remote crater lake 330km north of Lake Aloatra! Then rumors leaked out that at this same site the mythical Red Owl could easily be seen, Madagascar Serpent Eagle was breeding and other rare birds and lemurs abounded. As you can imagine, I was champing at the bit to get to this lost paradise and when I finally obtained the necessary permissions in 2008, it didn’t fail to astound! After 15 previous tours I thought I knew Madagascar well, but never before had I seen such vast expanses of pristine wilderness on this island. Birds I had only come across a few times previously were abundant: Madagascar Harriers everywhere, Meller’s Ducks by the bushel, Grey Emutail, Forest Fody and even Slender-billed Flufftail! I had only seen Red Owl once before in flight and here was one just perched in a Pandanus! But nothing matched the joy of seeing the entire world population of nearly 20 adult Madagascar Pochards with 12 chicks! This astonishing story of rediscovery is unfortunately still awaiting its happy ending; all these chicks failed to survive and the number of female pochards is critically low, creating great concern for their future survival (although a captive breeding program has been initiated.) Only 2 birding groups have previously visited this remote area, and Rockjumer Birding Tours is the only company offering the opportunity to experience for yourself this magical forest-fringed lake and its precious denizens. To boot, our Remote Madagascar tour (12th – 28th October 2011, guided by legendary birder David Hoddinott) also visits the only accessible site for the recently rediscovered Sakalava Rail, the Masoala Peninsula for Helmet and Bernier’s Vanga, and Montagne D’Ambre for Amber Mountain Rock Thrush and a plethora of other rare birds and mammals. Rockjumper is also offering our popular 3-week Madagascar Comprehensive and 2-week Highlights tours, and we still have spaces available on our July, October and November 2011 departures. We truly are the Malagasy experts and have successfully arranged and guided more birding tours to this magical island than all other bird tour companies combined!
Paging through a fieldguide, it’s always with a sense of dismay and sadness that I come across an extinct species. Islands, for various reasons, have experienced more extinctions than continents (with Africa being the only continent not suffering from a bird extinction!). Madagascar, however, has more than its fair share of extinct or possibly extinct species and Madagascar Pochard was firmly on this list. Previously common at its only known site, Lake Aloatra, into the 1930’s, the introduction of numerous exotic fish species and human disturbance then led to massive population declines. The last sighting of a flock was in 1960, when one bird was shot for a museum specimen! Then, in 1991, a fisherman on the lake caught a male in his fishing net. This bird was kept in captivity until it died a year later. This individual provided hope that the species might still persist in some remote part of the lake, but numerous expeditions failed to produce any evidence of the bird. In 2006, the IUCN classified Madagascar Pochard as “possibly extinct”.