With Adam Walleyn as our guide, it was hard to imagine how the trip could have been any better. Madagascar is certainly a challenging place, but his experience and ability to help us know what to expect were invaluable. As far as seeing birds, my expectations were exceeded. A great trip.
For our Madagascar Highlights birding tours, we have selected only the very best of this incredible country and offered it in a shorter package and at a more relaxed pace than our Comprehensive tours. Nonetheless, we still target all five endemic Malagasy bird families and good numbers of lemurs and other representative wildlife, making these tours ideal for travellers with limited time or less interest in targeting every single endemic bird.
Our first destination is a journey to the bird and animal-rich sites of Perinet and Mantadia National Park in the eastern rainforest zone. The unforgettable song of the Indri drifts through these forests, and we will take time out to find a family group of these, the largest lemur species. Some of the brilliant birds we will look for include several highly sought-after forest birds, including Pitta-like, Rufous-headed, Short-legged and Scaly Ground Rollers, Red-breasted, Red-fronted and Blue Couas, the stunning Velvet Asity, Cuckoo Roller, Crossley’s Babbler, Madagascar Owl, Rainforest Scops Owl, Madagascar and Collared Nightjars, Madagascar (Crested) Ibis, Madagascar Wood Rail, Nuthatch Vanga, Madagascar Blue Pigeon, Brown Emutail, White-throated Oxylabes and Nelicourvi Weaver. Other attractions in this scenically beautiful region are the vocal Black-and-White Ruffed Lemur and the elusive Diademed Sifaka, considered by many to be the world’s most beautiful lemur.
The next leg of this adventure takes us to Ifaty and Tulear for their spiny deserts and coastal habitats. Here we look for the uncommon Madagascar Plover and the beautiful Red-tailed Tropicbird along the seashores, as well as exploring the bizarre, Tolkienesque landscape of multi-stemmed succulents, squat baobab trees and thorny scrub for such spectacular endemics as Banded Kestrel, Running and Red-capped Couas, Archbold’s Newtonia, Thamnornis, Lafresnaye’s Vanga, the near mythical Subdesert Mesite, Long-tailed Ground Roller (an elusive ground dweller best located by its low, hooting call), flocks of noisy Sickle-billed Vangas, Subdesert Brush Warbler and the attractive Chabert’s Vanga.
Our final destination is Berenty, the most famous of Madagascar’s lemur reserves. This is home to no less than six lemur species and the south’s largest colony of Madagascar fruit bats (sporting 1.25-metre wingspans!). The easiness with which to observe and photograph Ring-tailed Lemurs and ‘dancing’ Verreaux Sifakas, in particular, has turned this small protected area into one of Madagascar’s prime wildlife destinations. Some of the birding highlights here could include Giant Coua strolling along the well-cleared paths, Madagascar Buttonquail scurrying through the leaf litter, Madagascar and France’s Sparrowhawks, and the smart-looking Madagascar Sandgrouse.
Subdesert Mesite, Cuckoo Roller, Long-tailed, Pitta-like, Rufous-headed, Short-legged & Scaly Ground Roller, Red-breasted, Red-fronted, Running, Red-capped, Blue & Giant Coua, Velvet Asity, Nuthatch, Lafresnaye’s & Sickle-billed Vanga, Crossley’s Babbler, Banded Kestrel, Madagascar & France’s Sparrowhawk, Madagascar Sandgrouse, Madagascar Buttonquail, Madagascar Owl, Rainforest Scops Owl, Madagascar & Collared Nightjar, Madagascar (Crested) Ibis, Madagascar Wood Rail, Brown Emutail, White-throated Oxylabes, Archbold’s Newtonia, Thamnornis, Nelicourvi Weaver
Indri, Ring-tailed & Red-bellied Lemur, Black-and-white Ruffed Lemur, Diademed & Verreaux’s Sifaka, Madagascar Flying Fox
rainforest, riparian forest, deciduous woodland, spiny desert, mudflats, wetlands
cool to warm, cold evenings in highlands, no rain expected
slow to moderate
Spiny Desert, Berenty, weird herps & insects, coral reefs, shopping, culture
Day 1: Arrival in Antananarivo
Upon arrival in the bustling capital of Antananarivo, or “Tana” as it is more commonly known, we transfer to our hotel near the airport for an overnight stay. Travelling from the airport into the city, one cannot help being struck by the uniqueness of the Malagasy culture, a strange mixture of African and Asian influences reflected in the landscape and architecture.
Depending upon the time of arrival, we will take our first birding excursion at Lac Alarobia. This private sanctuary set within the city protects large numbers of ducks and egrets. As evening sets, the small lake literally teems with waterfowl. Large numbers of White-faced Whistling Duck and Red-billed Teal should be seen, usually accompanied by smaller numbers of Hottentot Teal and Knob-billed Duck and, with luck, Madagascar Grebe. A fantastic assortment of herons and egrets roost and breed in the sanctuary and these include Squacco Heron and Dimorphic Egret. Mascarene Martin is occasionally overhead and we will be watching in adjacent areas for more Madagascar endemics, which may include Malagasy Kestrel, Malagasy Coucal, Malagasy Black Swift, Madagascar Wagtail, Madagascar White-eye, Madagascar Mannikin and Red Fody.
Day 2: Antananarivo to Perinet
We depart early today for the drive eastwards across the Highland Plateau to the famous reserve of Perinet (otherwise known as Analamazaotra). Interesting species that are likely along the route include Hamerkop, Brown-throated Martin and Madagascar Cisticola.
Our accommodation for the next five nights of our Madagascar bird safari is a delightful hotel, ideally located overlooking a lake at the edge of the forest. Being so close to the reserve means that wildlife is often right on our doorstep. Fluorescent, green Lineated Day Geckos scuttle on the outside walls of our chalets, Madagascar Wagtails flit along the paved walkways, and we may well be serenaded by the beautiful songs of the world’s largest extant species of lemur, the handsome Indri.
Days 3 to 6: Perinet Special Reserve and Mantadia National Park
The moist rainforest cloaking Madagascar’s eastern escarpment protects the richest assemblage of birds on the island, including many that are rare or poorly known. We will spend the following four days of our Madagascar bird safari exploring both Perinet and Mantadia. Over 100 bird species have been recorded from within the small reserve of Perinet and we will search for such specials as Madagascar Flufftail, the elusive Madagascar Wood Rail, Madagascar Blue Pigeon, Greater Vasa Parrot, Madagascar Spinetail, Madagascar Pygmy Kingfisher, Malagasy Paradise Flycatcher, Madagascar Cuckooshrike, Ward’s Flycatcher, Tylas Vanga, Madagascar Starling, Long-billed Bernieria, Spectacled Tetraka, White-throated Oxylabes, Nelicourvi Weaver and Souimanga Sunbird.
Amongst the most sought-after of Madagascar’s birds are those of the five families endemic to the Malagasy region: the peculiar mesites, exquisite ground rollers, Cuckoo Roller, vangas and Malagasy warblers. We will make a special effort to locate as many representatives of these charismatic families as possible, as well as those of two endemic sub-families, the couas and asities.
In the forested hills around Perinet, we hope to find the localised Red-fronted and Blue Couas, Velvet Asity, and flocks of vangas that may include White-headed, Chabert’s, Blue, Red-tailed, Hook-billed and the unique Nuthatch Vanga.
Highland marshes around the borders of the reserve support some of the island’s threatened birds. Madagascar Swamp Warbler and Madagascar Rail are likely to be seen here, and we may also find Madagascar Partridge and Madagascar Snipe if we are exceptionally lucky on our Madagascar bird safari.
Whilst in the Perinet area, we will make a special effort to see the reserve’s most famous residents, these being the huge, singing lemurs known as Indri. A journey in search of these magnificent creatures can be equated with gorilla-trekking in the mountain forests of Uganda, and if we are fortunate we will be treated to a close encounter with a family group; their eerie, whale-like howling echoing through the forest. Other lemurs we hope to see include Common Brown and Grey Bamboo Lemur, while we will also search known roosting sites for the nocturnal and inquisitive Weasel Sportive Lemur and Eastern Avahi. Another “must see” member of the island’s fauna is the Giraffe-necked Weevil, a tiny red and black insect named for its unusually proportioned neck!
In the evenings of our Madagascar bird safari, we will embark on night walks. Nocturnal outings are a thrilling and, indeed, essential part of any trip to Madagascar, and Perinet is one of the best sites to search for the island’s night birds. Specialities here include Madagascar Owl, Rainforest Scops Owl and both Madagascar and the rare and little known Collared Nightjar. Whilst seeing these birds will be the focus of our walks, we will not neglect the immense variety of non-avian life that also emerges after dark. Although Madagascar is famous for the spectacular lemurs that have adapted to a daytime existence, a number of species of these primitive primates remain, like their African cousins the galagos, denizens of the night. These include Eastern Avahi and the diminutive Goodman’s Mouse Lemur, which we will also search for. The island’s reptile and amphibian (“herp”) fauna is equally fascinating and even the most hardened birder would not fail to be impressed by the plethora of colourful and bizarre frogs, chameleons and geckos to be seen on an evening’s stroll through the rainforest. In particular, we will search for the giant Parson’s Chameleon and three species of eccentric leaf-tailed geckos: the huge Uroplatus fimbriatus, the aptly named Uroplatus phantasticus, and the moss-like Uroplatus sikorae.
Mantadia National Park lies a short distance from Perinet, protecting a large expanse of primary forest at a somewhat higher altitude. Though it has only recently been opened to the public, Mantadia is now an essential destination on any birding trip to Madagascar, having rapidly gained a reputation as an excellent site for a handful of highly sought-after forest birds. Not least amongst these are a number of species formerly considered to be restricted to the poorly accessible rainforests of the far northeast, such as Red-breasted Coua and Scaly Ground Roller. Both these species are, however, very rare in the park and we will require a hefty dose of luck to see them. Some of the wonderful forest species we will target here include Madagascar Blue Pigeon, Common Sunbird-Asity, Crossley’s Vanga, Common and Dark Newtonia (now placed in the Vanga family), Wedge-tailed, Green, Stripe-throated and Common Jery, the newly described Cryptic Warbler, Forest Fody and, if we are very lucky, the gorgeous Pitta-like Ground Roller. Rufous-headed and Short-legged Ground Rollers also occur here but are extremely difficult to find in winter and we’d be very fortunate to encounter either of these two secretive and elusive endemics.
Other attractions in this scenically beautiful park include the vocal Black-and-white Ruffed Lemur, the elusive Diademed Sifaka (considered by many to be the world’s most beautiful lemur), endearing Red-bellied Lemur and Painted Mantella, a spectacularly coloured forest frog. Much of the birding in Mantadia National Park can be enjoyed from the wide road that runs up into the reserve, although seeing the skulkers of the forest understorey will require that we take to the forest trails.
Day 7: Perinet to Antananarivo
After a final morning birding in the Perinet area to catch up with any forest specialities we might have missed, we will return to Tana.
If time allows after check-in at our comfortable hotel, we may visit the Tsimbazaza Zoo. While strolling along the open paths through the extensive gardens we could encounter some of Madagascar’s widespread but nonetheless enjoyable birds including Malagasy Kingfisher, Malagasy Turtle Dove, Crested Drongo, Madagascar Hoopoe, Common and Stripe-throated Jery, Malagasy Brush Warbler, Red Fody and Madagascar White-eye.
Day 8: Antananarivo to Ifaty via Tulear
From Tana, we will take an early plane flight to the southwestern coastal town of Tulear. Upon arrival, we will transfer to our hotel in the small resort of Ifaty for a two-night stay. Although the distance is only 25km (about 16 miles), the journey is slow and arduous due to the very poor condition of the road. We will stop en route to bird some wetlands and salt pans, which may hold numbers of Greater Flamingo, Black-winged Stilt, several over-wintering waders, Kittlitz’s and the rare and local Madagascar Plover and if we are very fortunate, the rare and endangered Malagasy Marsh Harrier.
Day 9: Ifaty
Much has been written about the strange Didierea woodland, or “Spiny Forest”, around Ifaty but this in no way lessens the feeling of awe that overcomes one as we set foot in this botanical wonderland. Venturing out at dawn, before the day’s heat, we will stroll amongst the myriad of multi-stemmed succulents, squat baobab trees and thorny scrub in search of such spectacular endemics as Banded Kestrel, Running and Red-capped Couas, Archbold’s Newtonia, Thamnornis, Subdesert Brush Warbler and Lafresnaye’s Vanga. Two very special birds here are the Subdesert Mesite, which we may find adopting its strange, cryptic posture on a thorny branch, and the Long-tailed Ground Roller, an elusive ground dweller best located by its low, hooting call. Flocks of noisy Sickle-billed Vanga are another feature of this bizarre, Tolkienesque landscape.
In addition, the tropical ocean off Ifaty is alive with marine life and we will have some time to don masks and snorkels and appreciate the myriad of colours of a coral reef or relax in the warm shallows in front of our hotel. An optional afternoon excursion will be taken to bird some wetlands to the south of Ifaty, where previous Rockjumper tours have found Greater Painted-snipe, Little Bittern, White-throated Rail and Baillon’s Crake.
Day 10: Ifaty to Tulear
After some final birding in the Ifaty area today on our Madagascar bird safari, we will make our way southwards to Tulear, for a two-night stay. In the afternoon, we will make our first excursion to a flat-topped mountain aptly known as La Tabla. The habitat of this desolate area is known as coral rag scrub and consists of dense thorny scrubs, Euphorbias and twisted baobabs. Our target birds in this area include two species with highly restricted ranges: Verreaux’s Coua and the recently discovered Red-shouldered Vanga.
Day 11: San Augustin and Nosy Ve
This morning on our Madagascar bird safari, we will board a speedboat for an excursion to the small uninhabited islet of Nosy Ve to the south of Tulear. En route we will stop at the cliffs near San Augustin, where both Humblot’s and Grey Herons breed annually. The main attraction of Nosy Ve, however, is its colony of beautiful Red-tailed Tropicbirds, which allow close approach as they are left unmolested by local people due to a taboo, or fady. We will also have another chance to snorkel on the pristine coral reef encircling the island. After snorkelling we will enjoy a scrumptious seafood lunch on the mainland opposite the island, and will then search for the localised Littoral Rock Thrush in the adjacent coastal Euphorbia scrub. In the early afternoon, we will return to Tulear by speedboat, where we can rest up before dinner and enjoy a lovely hot shower after our exciting but salty day out at sea.
Day 12: Tulear to Berenty via Fort Dauphin
This morning on our Madagascar bird safari we take a short flight to Fort Dauphin (also known as Toliagnaro), in the southeastern corner of the country. Upon arrival, we will transfer to the world-famous private lemur reserve of Berenty. The +- 4-hour drive takes us from the wind-blown but picturesque town of Fort Dauphin through well-watered valleys packed with paddy fields and, finally, into the rain-shadow of the Andohahela Mountains, where the octopus-like Didierea trees are diagnostic of the spiny desert. As we near Berenty, the natural habitat is replaced by extensive tracts of sisal plantations, stretching as far as the eye can see. Berenty Lemur Reserve belongs to the De Haulme family, who have set aside sections of gallery forest along the Mandrare River to conserve its population of lemurs and other wildlife.
Tonight on our Madagascar bird safari we venture out in search of Torotoroka Scops Owl and the impressive White-browed Hawk-Owl, but may also encounter several species of attractive geckos (including the remarkable Plain and Painted Big-headed Geckos and unique Fish-scaled Gecko).
Day 13: Berenty Lemur Reserve
Berenty is justly famous for its lemurs, not only because its deciduous woodland is home to no less than five species of these primitive primates, but also for the ease with which they may be seen and appreciated in the wild. Brown Lemurs occur in large numbers during the day and both White-footed Sportive and Grey Mouse Lemurs are regularly encountered on night walks through the reserve; though the undoubted favourites are the Ring-tailed Lemurs and Verreaux’s Sifakas. Whilst the bands of cat-like, quizzical ringtails are often the first to steal visitors’ hearts (as well as any spare fruit they may have on their persons!), their appeal is easily matched by the strikingly patterned sifakas, with their soulful expressions and bizarre, bipedal dancing locomotion. To spend time with groups of these gentle creatures will certainly be one of the highlights of our Madagascar bird safari.
A further mammalian highlight of Berenty is visiting the Madagascar Flying Fox roost, where about 300 of these impressive animals, sporting 1.25 metre (4ft) wingspans, spend their day squabbling and presumably sleeping. In addition, we will be on the lookout for the numerous Giant Couas that stroll along the well-cleared paths through the woodland, along with many other woodland birds. Potential new species we may find here include Reed Cormorant, Peregrine Falcon, Madagascar and Frances’s Sparrowhawks, Helmeted Guineafowl, Madagascar Sandgrouse, Madagascar Cuckoo-Hawk and Alpine Swift.
Day 14: Berenty Lemur Reserve to Fort Dauphin to Tana
We will have a final morning to enjoy and photograph the approachable wildlife in Berenty, as well as visit the well-presented local museum, which displays one of the few complete Elephant-bird eggs in the world. In the afternoon we will then transfer back to Fort Dauphin to connect with our return flight to Tana, where we will spend our final night of the tour.
Day 15: Tana and departure
This morning we will depart for our flights back home.
What our clients say about tours to Madagascar
- RV, Madagascar
Gareth Robbins made special efforts to ensure everyone saw the wildlife. An amazing tour.JC, Madagascar
David was very open and earnest. His english was excellent being that it is not his first language…. We very much enjoyed our time with him one to two on the extensionGS, Madagascar
David was a terrific guide and traveling companion. He managed everything from birding to people to logistics like a veteran. We’d love to travel with him again any timeWW, Madagascar
Just a postscript to reiterate our appreciation for the wonderful tour around Madagascar you led. We both had a great time. Your enthusiasm and day-to-day attention to assure we all had a successful birding experience and overview of the unique biodiversity [is] not to be forgotten.JB & BB, Madagascar
Our guide, Adam Walleyn, was exceptional. His knowledge and enthusiasm is unparalleled.GB & DB, Madagascar 2017
David Hoddinott is the best!! He is tenacious about getting all participants on all birds!D, Madagascar Comprehensive
Wayne has great people skills and is a lot of fun to bird with. His research and aid to identifying the birds is outstanding.SC, Madagascar
Everything was done by all staff to make the trip safe, fun and targets (birds, lemurs, etc) were actively sought outMR, Madagascar
Our Madagascar experience surpassed our wildest dreams. We didn’t even realise it was a ‘birding trip’ but David ensured that we saw much much more. The birds were great anyway, especially the pursuit of the magical Helmet Vanga! An unforgettable experience!HH, Madagascar
In addition to his obvious birding skills, Gareth Robbins’ ability to handle all types of situations was remarkable. He was an excellent travelling companion, and his humour made the tour so much more enjoyable. What a great tour this was. I also want to say that the entire staff did a wonderful job, like they always do. I’ve asked many questions and had some concerns about various aspects of tours, and the staff handles all of them so efficiently. To all of you at Rockjumper, Thanks So Much!GM, Madagascar 2017
Recently back at home from our fantastic tour in Madagascar, I wanted to offer thanks to all for the excellent times we enjoyed. For us, the exuberant and superbly-skilled leadership of Rich Lindie was a delight and gave us such a greater measure of understanding to the natural wonders as well as a bit of the cultural aspects of the unique island. We had a great time, and we certainly saw a tremendous variety of the birds, mammals, and many other creatures as well as strange and wonderful plant life of the “Eighth Continent”. Thanks to Cuan and all the staff for assisting in the planning stages. Above all, however, thanks to Rich for giving his all to ensure a successful and thoroughly delightful tour…. From start to finish, a most memorable trip, and our highest recommendation to Rockjumper for the entire experience.TF, Madagascar
David is a terrific guide – very friendly and lovely to travel with.WR, Madagascar
This was our first tour with Rockjumper and it was absolutely fabulous. Adam Walleyn is by far the best bird guide we have ever had the privilege of working with. His combined qualities as the overall tour leader in terms of personality, ability to deal with whatever got thrown at him and interactive skills were all great. He was very good at keeping us informed of what was planned and was happening next. He was very good at imposing a gentle but essential discipline on the group – rotation in the procession, rotation of positions in the buses, ensuring that everyone got to see the bird – all made for a really good functionality in the group. His sharpness in the field, knowledge of bird calls and bird identification were simply remarkable.PF & BF, Madagascar 2017
I’d like to thank you all for a fantastic Madagascar Comprehensive trip. Crystal and Alison were so helpful with all the pre-trip stuff; Glen and Fano made the trip so smooth and successful in every way and the local guides were fantastically skilled.MM, Madagascar
We take our hats off to Gareth Robbins, who worked day and night to make the tour work in the most effective way, taking the local infrastructure into consideration.KS & SS, Madagascar 2017
Adam Walleyn went above and beyond to find just about everything there was to see. His knowledge of herps, mammals and birds is very comprehensive.RR, Madagascar
You have made a very good decision in hiring David Erterius. He is a great young man and will be a very good guide for your company.SM, Madagascar
Just a short note to say that I thought Heinz did a great job with the Masoala extension—he’s a a sharp birder, energetic, and very personable with a lot of good stories! I look forward to traveling on another trip with him…JT, Madagascar 2015