Category Archives: 2018 East Africa

Travel Report on Nairobi National Park, Sept. 21, 2018

I am at the beginning of a 3 month visit to Madagascar and Kenya for wildlife and bird photography.  After leaving my house in Tucson I endured four flight legs and one long taxi ride, covering 30+ hours, to get to my hotel in downtown Nairobi (my return trip is scheduled to be 4 hours longer).  From Nairobi it is several hours more of flight time to Antananarivo, capital of Madagascar.  Because I could not book flights directly all the way to Madagascar, I spent 5 days in Nairobi before flying on (I will return to Kenya after 6 weeks of travel in Madagascar).

Nairobi is a sprawling city of over 5 million, and includes a huge shantytown only a little smaller than Soweto in Johannesburg. Threats of street crime and terror attacks have been somewhat reduced with new security measures in the last 4 years.  Entering the international airport from the city has one navigate 3 different security checks.  First, almost a mile from the airport all vehicles are stopped and searched, and all passengers must exit the vehicles and form a huge line which passes through a building with dual metal detectors.  At the terminal, vehicles must park some distance from the entrance, where a second full security detail now has all luggage pass through huge belted scanners, and all passengers, after showing identification, pass through full body-scan machines.  At this point one checks in and acquires boarding passes.  Then one goes through the final security checkpoint where, again, after removing all metal, computers, etc. bags again are scanned and one walks through the third set of body scanners.  My hotel in downtown Nairobi had guards fully inspect all vehicles before they could pull up to the hotel entrance.  At the entrance one passed through a scanner and luggage went through an x-ray machine.  Upon exiting the elevators, one needed the electronic room card to open steel doors to exit the elevator lobby and approach one’s room, which of course also required the key.  On major roads, overhead cameras constantly monitor traffic and photos are snapped of all occupants of the vehicles (they operate like speed cameras, but photograph everyone).  I suspect the people who operate all this security probably stop paying much attention, but the effort certainly is impressive and a little oppressive, and I am told attacks and crime has been much reduced.

My downtown hotel, the Ibis, had a lovely rooftop bar where I enjoyed my late afternoons with the most popular local beer, the Tusker, in imperial pint bottles.  Marabou Storks flew in small groups overhead returning to their roosting grounds, as Black Kites circled together with Pied Crows.

As I had 5 initial days in Kenya I opted to spend just 2 nights downtown then was transported into the Nairobi National Park, the only large game park in the world located literally bordering a large city.  The Park contains all the dangerous Big Five animals except elephants, as well as many antelope species, giraffe, hippos, zebra and hyena among countless others.  An electric fence is all that separates many miles of the northern park boundary, and its lions, buffalo and rhinos, from busy Nairobi streets and apartment buildings.  The southern boundaries of the park are open and permit the animals to migrate out and into other parks.  I stayed at the only tented safari camp permitted in the park, the Nairobi Tented Camp, a semi-luxury camp with solar power, large private tented accommodation with private baths, good food and excellent service.  Although the park is separated from the city, the camp deep within the park is open and unprotected.  After sunset one must be accompanied by staff to walk to and from the tents, group dining and gathering areas.  Wild animals routinely walk through the camp, including bushbuck, suni, warthogs and buffalo, although I was told lions and rhinos are relatively rare.  Nights under the trees were pitch black, and the cries of the many animals “interesting” – especially the Tree Hyrex, which were located around the camp, one directly over my tent.  Their nightly communication involved an extraordinarily loud series of creaks, as of two huge tree trunks grinding against each other in a storm, followed by loud wails that invoked images of a large grazing beast’s (or person’s) last cries while being slaughtered by a lion. The spotted hyena’s ascending whoops also were a little chilling.

I spent early mornings and late afternoons on game drives throughout the Park.  We encountered many zebra, giraffe, buffalo, impala, hartebeest, eland, ostrich, hippo and lion.  This is one of the few Parks in all of Africa with large numbers of both species of endangered rhinos, the Black and the White.  We watched a number of small social groups of white rhino.  The Blacks are fewer in number, solitary, and stay within the shrubbery which they consume, and so are quite rare to see.  I lucked out my last hour of the last day in locating a large male, which slowly moved to cross the dirt trail right in front of us.  Below I have posted photos of many of the animals, as well as some of the wondrous birds, including two species of the tiny iridescent sunbirds, the Scarlet Chested and Variable, and the Grey-crowned Crane, Superb Starling, Little Bee-eater and Speckled Mousebird, among others.

On Tuesday I was transported to the airport, passing eventually through the onerous security previously described, and flew onward to Madagascar to spend the next 41 days, mostly with a private vehicle and driver traveling throughout the island’s various habitat zones to visit around a dozen National Parks and private reserves. I look forward to viewing the unique and mostly endemic wildlife and birds.  I currently am spending a few days in the capital city, wandering the over-crowded, traffic-jammed narrow streets which wind throughout the hilly region.  My hotel, the Sakamanga, has nice rooms filled with unique local artwork, and one of the best French restaurants, along with an outdoor bar area around the pool.  Wandering throughout the pool area is the semi-pet resident bald parrot, slightly crazy, and constantly accosting guests.  My first day, he would not leave me alone, climbing up my legs and chair to get on the table and opening my backpack.  It knew precisely how to open various plastic snaps and straps.  Then it would sit in a corner brooding and make the most wondrous whistling noises and songs.

Later.  Dave

Report on Ankarafantsika National Park, Madagascar, Sept. 27, 2018

My private car and driver picked me up Sept. 22 from my lodging at the Sakamanga in Tana at 7am for the 8 1/2 hour drive north to Ankarafantsika National Park, my first adventure in Madagascar.  The park is large, consisting of dry thorn forest in gently rolling hills near the Northwest coast of the island.  The trees often grow to a canopy of 100 plus feet, and below are thickets of vines and dry bushes.  All Parks in Madagascar require a fairly steep daily entrance fee, and none have access for vehicles.  Local guides must be hired at preset prices to enter each Park, and all exploration is done on foot on the fairly well maintained trails.  Ankarafantsika also boasts a fairly large, crocodile infested lake which is accessible by small boat (for an additional large fee, and still requiring one be accompanied by a guide).  My first day I met and arranged three days visit with Modeste, a young local guide who is an expert on the local birds.

My legs were a little sore at the end of three days of hiking, starting each morning at sunup and going for 4 hours and then that again each afternoon.  I probably downed a gallon of water after trudging through the mid-afternoon heat each day (something about mad dogs and Englishmen).  My lodging, the Blue Vanga, located in the nearby village from which the local guides came, was in the usual “rustic” style, meaning thatched roof bungalow with mosquito netting sort of forming a ceiling below the thatch.  The windows were shuttered with wood – no glass or netting.  The shower, which ran from an outside raised water tank through 5/8 inch plastic piping above ground, put out blazing hot water at mid-day.  Electric power was available from banks of batteries solar recharged during the day.  Power only was available from 6pm to 6am, just enough to power extremely weak compact florescent lighting.  A small fan over the bed, along with many geckos, held off the flying insects and helped sleep during the sweltering night.  The only staff stayed in and walked over a kilometer from the nearby village.  Evening meals could be prepared as long as orders were put in well in advance.  No problems waking up, as the resident rooster started crowing each night on the half hour from 1:30 am on.  When the rooster missed, the three resident dogs were certain to take up the slack by barking outside the door by 2am.

The local villagers just north of the park specialize in a product from the local mango trees – this time of year the small pot-holed highway is lined with wooden stalls selling combinations of hot mashed chili mixed with finely julienned green mango or lime, sold in reused plastic water bottles in liter or half liter size.  It might not look great, but this is some of the finest condiment I ever have tried.  I purchased 4 half liters to take with me on my further journeys, as I was told it  is only a specialty of this region.

My hikes with guide Modeste, plus time on the lake, resulted in a number of fine bird and other wildlife sightings.  We found most of the extremely rare and endangered endemic species resident only around this area.  This included the fabulous Madagascar Fish Eagle, a magnificent large rust colored eagle with whitish tan head – an estimated fewer than 120 mating pairs are in existence.  Also on tap were the gorgeous Schleger’s Asity, Madagascar Kingfisher, Madagascar Pygmy Kingfisher, Sickle-billed Vanga, White-breasted Mesite, Long-billed Tetraka, Madagascar Crested Coua, Coquerel’s Coua and Red-capped Coua, along with the dazzling Madagascar Paradise Flycatcher.  At least a dozen more endemic birds were photographed, along with the endemic mammals and reptiles, including the Brown Lemur, Coquerel’s Sifaka and Milne-Edwards’ Sportive Lemur along with the Green Gecko and Oestalet Chameleon.

I spent late afternoons trying to develop and caption my photos in the hot bungalow.  Without power this inevitably would exhaust my laptop battery power with Photoshop Lightroom running very hard and read-writing twin half Terrabyte flash memory banks.  I was able, in the capital Tana, to find 3 liter casks of Spanish red table wine, and so happily sat outside on the shaded porch sipping wine and smoking my pipe while the computer was running its tasks and overheating (in the tropics I usually have to turn the laptop upside down to keep the internal temperature within range).  At 6 pm with the solar bank power turned on I could recharge my computer and camera batteries overnight.

Basically all my expenses, other than lodging and transport which I pre-arranged, have to be paid in cash, the Ariary, the local currency.  As my Park entrances and guide fees are quite high, this creates issues with obtaining and carrying enough cash.  The largest bill is 20,000 Ariary, but the largest generally obtained and used is 10,000 – sounds like a lot but that translates into a $3 bill US.  Many days, with entrance fee, guide fee, boat fee, meals and tips, paying out 250,000 to 300,000 per day ($75 – $90) is common.  This requires 25 to 30 notes of the largest bill.  A week’s worth of cash can be a stack of bills 2 1/2 inches thick, which cannot be carried conveniently in a wallet, but stored in a plastic bag within my backpack.  To make matters worse, ATM machines are not available outside the larger cities, and the largest ATM withdrawal per transaction is generally 400,000 Ariary, or $120, so multiple withdrawals must be made daily while in Tana to fill up my plastic bags, in order to have sufficient cash for the excursions.  I ran into similar problems in Leticia, Colombia on the Amazon River.  One needs to plan, and stay several days in the large cities with banks, to organize enough cash for travel into the boondocks (I did wire $1,000 via Western Union from the US for starting cash, and was greeted at the airport with a stack of currency over 3 inches thick).

I am now back in Tana for a few days, getting ready for a 21 day excursion throughout the southern half of the island.  Later.  Dave

Travel Report on Ranomafana, Isalo and Zombitse National Parks, Madagascar, Oct. 9, 2018

After leaving Ankarafantsika and reconnecting for 3 days with the capital, Antananarivo, I met with my new driver, Miary, and headed south for the longest loop of my visit to Madagascar.  I was somewhat incapacitated for a couple of days in Tana from a lower intestinal bug (probably virus), but recovered sufficiently to continue my journey south; I suspected my green mango chili sauce might be the culprit, although I had been adding it to my food for 5 days by then – perhaps the viral incubation period was that long.  I figure now I am immune, though I have suspended use of the sauce for a while. The first stop on the journey south was an overnight in Ambositra.  We stayed at the L’Artisans Hotel, a nice oasis in the middle of a very crowded dusty town.  The area is famous for its wood carvers, who do entire panels, balconies, statues or anything to order, by hand.  The small bungalows were a little dark, but the entire upper outside walls were carved dark wood panels – very ornate.

After a 6 hour drive the first day, the second leg should have been shorter but was lengthened somewhat by two events.  The first, we passed a small forested area which my driver told me was a new private reserve owned by the local village of Ambotovaki, created just 3 years earlier to protect the critically endangered Red Lemur (aka Rufous Brown Lemur).  I paid for entrance and services of a local village guide and we spent a little over an hour hiking up the forested hillside to ultimately encounter two small families of the lemurs.  I was able to capture some decent photos, although all birdlife escaped my lens as the undergrowth simply was too thick to permit the camera any chance of achieving focus.

Shortly after the stop at the reserve we were halted by a long line of vehicles extending up and around a hill.  I walked along the line and found the cause – a tractor trailer had overturned on a corner, unleashing a load of newly cast concrete power poles along the roadway.  They had temporarily shut the road in both directions to try to right the trailer with steel cables, but ultimately failed, and eventually traffic was re-opened but took some time to pass the roadblock.

Ranomafana National Park is the most famous and expensive of the Madagascar Parks, and the small town near the entrance has a number of hotels with a number of foreign tourists.  I stayed in the Centrest, with very nice rooms, mine with a balcony overlooking the greenery of the town below.  It at least had power, in theory, 24 hours a day although it seemed often to go off for short periods.  My first full day I headed out with car, driver, chief guide and 2 finders, only to have fog and heavy drizzle continue all day ending any viewing whatsoever.  Rotten luck – they kept telling me this was the first precipitation they had had in over a month – little consolation as the rainy season was not to start for another month.  It is, however, a rainforest.  The second day started overcast, but cleared by mid-morning and we took full advantage with a 6 hour trek in the am and another 3 ½ in the afternoon.  The park consists of very steep hillsides with creeks running in each valley, all covered with dense rainforest with the hardwood canopy reaching 150 feet.  While the upper story is ablaze with sunlight and clear sky, at the bottom it is near full dark.  For those who know camera settings, for a single lemur jumping from double shade understory into a shaft of full sunlight, the appropriate setting would go from ISO 6400, f5.6 at 1/60sec to ISO 400, f8 at 1/1000s – that is a 9 stop difference, which is huge.

The Park was created after the major discovery in 1984 of a new species of primate, the Golden Bamboo Lemur (which I vaguely remember reading about at the time). The Park has over a dozen species of lemur, including now 3 species of Bamboo Lemurs, the Grey Santel, Greater and Golden – all three critically endangered, living only within this Park.  The Greater may have as few as 60 members left.  We spotted all 3 species of the Bamboo Lemurs on the same day, pleasing me to photograph so many endangered creatures.  The price paid for getting the photos, other than some luck, was a drudging hike through and over a number of very steep mountain trails on the south side of the Park to get into the bamboo forests.  Also in the park are families of the Edward’s Sifakas, another beautiful deep brown and snow-white lemur, which we twice encountered on the north side of the park, along with a beautifully colored Leonartus Gecko and a super camouflaged Devil’s Gecko (a must see photo to determine if you can make out which parts are gecko – the answer is almost all).

To give an example of the problems facing the protection of these species, the day we drove into the Park, I noted with some disgust a small forest fire on the hillside which my driver and I assumed was caused by a careless cigarette.  Two days later my driver reported to me the full story – residents of a small village outside the Park were making forays into the Park to gather wood for making charcoal; Park rangers caught them and 2 people were jailed – in retaliation the villagers set the forest fire the day we arrived.

My guide in the park, now 55 years old, worked with the small group of scientists who camped for 2 years in the forest in 1984 studying the lemurs and making the Golden Bamboo Lemur discovery.  He now apparently is the senior bird guide, and although long on bravado is not one of the better guides I have experienced over the years, although he prices himself way above any normal Madagascar level.  Unfortunately, the beautiful rainforest also seemed very thinly populated with birds, though we found a good mix of lemurs, reptiles and insects.

From Ranomafana we drove west across the great plateau to Ranohira to visit the Isalo National Park.  On the way we stopped at another village reserve, the D’Anja, where they have a small forest of Lilac Trees with a dozen or so families of the Ring-tailed Lemurs.  The villagers dig water holes to assist in maintaining the relatively high concentration of lemurs through the dry season.  On to Ranohira where I stayed at the Hotel Isalo Ranch, 5 kilometers from the town, with bungalows scattered throughout a large area planted with all forms of tropical trees and shrubs.  The restaurant was known for its quality of food and lived up to expectations.  The rooms were a small step above rustic, with 24 hour electricity and solar heated hot water tanks.

After some inquiry at the Park headquarters we met with Roland who turned out to be one of the best guides I have had anywhere.  The Park is amazing – One heads from the town across almost barren grass covered plateau to a line of rising granite massifs and cliffs.  The cliff wall is broken every few kilometers by gorges, the entrances to which appear green from the distance.  As one hikes into the gorge the trail follows a running stream through a verdant wonderland of towering Pandamus and larger and larger trees until deep within it is a narrow lush tropical forest.  A number of bird species inhabit this area, along with a large number of the most unusual insects, spiders and reptiles.  Included in my favorites were a ‘twig-mimicking’ preying mantis (you must see the photo) and a ‘snout-nose’ bug (also a must-see), which appears to have a sawed off twig nose extending well beyond the eye, which is near the legs.  We found three roosting owls, including the Madagascar Scops Owl and a White-browed Owl, as well as the beautiful Forest Rock Thrush (considered in the Park a separate species – the Benson’s Rock Thrush) and the elusive Madagascar Buttonquail.  The owls were in very dense dark understory, and required a lot of work in very low light, as well as inching through the undergrowth in search of the little windows through the branches to permit some kind of decent photos.  Though viewed at a distance, we also saw the sole surviving Verreaux’s Sifaka (a lemur) left in this Park, who now has joined with and been accepted by a family of Ring-tailed Lemurs.

From Isalo we drove the couple of hours further west to Sakaraha to visit the nearby Zombitse Park.  En route we passed by Ilakaka, a booming frontier mining town where 20 years ago deposits of sapphires were found – the population since has grown from 40 to 60,000.  The red-earth gravel is dug up manually from pit-holes 30 to 60 feet deep, into which the diggers are lowered by ropes; the dirt gravel then is washed in the river to find the sapphires.  The entire portion of Highway 7, crossing the southern  part of the country from Fianarantsoa in the east to Toleara on the west coast, is still considered dangerous, with bands of thieves at night – the long distance public transport, the taxi brousse (mini buses or vans), often travel in convoys with special flags and armed guards on board (for me this was reminiscent of travel in most parts of Egypt some years ago, permitted only by convoys with armed military vehicles leading and following).  We have avoided staying in certain towns, and certainly do not travel at night.

Zombitse National Park is a last remaining isolated section of interzone dry forest among relative barren rolling hills where all other trees have been felled.  It is renowned for a handful of endemic species, especially including the Zombitse Sportive Lemur and the Abert’s Tetraka, both found nowhere else.  The Sportive Lemurs are nocturnal only, but they tend to come out of their tree holes to investigate annoying humans.  This also is where I finally got a few decent photos of the hawk size (and sounding) Madagascar Cuckoo-Roller with its green and gold wings, as well as the terrestrial Giant Coua.

From Sakaraha we drove the short remaining distance west to just outside Toleara on the Western Coast to stay one night at the Aboretum, before continuing south by boat to a wetlands park.  Dave

 

Travel Report on Toleara and Southwest Coastal area, Madagascar, Oct. 18, 2018

One very full day was passed at the lovely bungalow in the Arboretum, outside Toleara, where an amateur Swiss botanist collected and planted almost 1,000 species of exotic plants from southwestern Madagascar.  With dripping water faucets, and surrounded by native dry forest, the site is excellent for birding as well as night walks.  At night we encountered the nocturnal Rufous-grey Mouse Lemurs, about the size of chipmunks, which scamper among the trees in search of insects on which they feed.  These lemurs are the tiniest primates on earth. They didn’t like my flashlight, shutting their eyes when I used it to acquire photos, but the flashlight was much kinder on their eyes than the camera flash some people use, and I can manage some very low light photography if close enough.  Also encountered at night, a very tiny Lesser Hedgehog Tenrec (Telfairi), ensconced inside a tiny ¾ inch crack in a tree trunk – when the guide stuck a small twig inside, the hedgehog bit it viciously – I did not stick my finger inside. Common on low twigs were the Madagascar Hissing Cockroaches – my driver and guide laughed when I said some kids kept them for pets; they said in Madagascar they are squashed when encountered. Finally, we discovered the most exquisite Warty Chameleon on a small tree branch – a must-see photo.

During the early morning I got good shots of the Green-capped Coua devouring a Madagascar Hissing Cockroach, as well as a pair of nesting Madagascar Kestrels, a gorgeous Male Souimanga Sunbird and a flame colored Madagascar Red Fody.  We moved on into Toleara, second largest city in Madagscar, to a first class hotel for the evening.  The following day we took a boat south about 35kms across the St. Augustine Bay. The boat ride was most unusual in that no deep inlets or port exist on the coast.  Therefore, even the flat bottomed boats such as we took cannot get right onto the beach but must be out in a few feet of water.  To load onto the boat a series of bullock carts are driven by young boys onto the beach to collect the luggage and passengers, then head out into the shallow waters by the side of the boat to off load the cart.  At the arrival points in Anakao to the south, groups of young men wade out to gather the luggage onto their backs to carry from the boat to shore; passengers must do a “wet” landing, simply wading to shore (lots of sand in the sandals, which hopefully one has been advised to wear).

In Anakao we were met by a driver with 4X4 to continue our transport south along the dirt and sand single track another 45kms through very unusual dry scrub, into territory with no paved roads. My accommodation, at the Le Domaine d’Ambola, is the home and guest house of the regional head of the ABC Domino, a French NGO which has built schools around the southwest coast for the villagers who live in the middle-of-nowhere (see the photo of the 4X4 “bus” below).  We were on a beautiful white sand beach coastline, had running water turned on for parts of the day, took bucket baths in the bathrooms, and relied on rather dependable solar power which periodically was turned on for the rooms. The first late afternoon after arrival a booming thunderstorm and downpour passed over us, flooding much of the property, and was pronounced most unusual by the owner.  It cleared quickly and that evening the sunset was beautiful.  This was the only spot within easy 4X4 access of the Tsimanampetsotsa National Park, my reason for coming.  The Park consists of marshes and a shallow soda lake full of unusual water birds with the surrounding dry spiny forest full of a different set of birds.  Barely 1,000 tourists a year visit the Park as it is rather difficult to get to.

Because of the very heavy thunderstorm of the first day the difficulty level increased the next 2 days; even the 4X4 could not reach the Park, so alternate transport by bullock cart was arranged for the 6 kilometers passage through shallow standing water in the briny pans to reach the main lake and Park areas.  The previous day I had sought out the only guide with knowledge of the birds and arranged for him to accompany me for the 2 days.  At the Lake edge we encountered three species of small plovers, the White-fronted, Kittlitz’s and rather rare Madagascar, as well as Greater Flamingos, and two more species of Coua, the Running and Verreaux’s.

The second day by bullock cart, in order to get deep into the Park on the far side of the lake, we crossed a number of deep water depressions, and twice got stuck, once with one of the bullocks tail down into a deep hole.  Both times required the driver to release the bullocks to extricate themselves, while my driver, guide and cartman then man-handled the cart wheels to extract the cart from the muddy depression.  You may have read that cattle contribute very significantly to global warming by emitting greenhouse gasses consisting of methane, CO2 and nitrous oxide, which together are worse than all auto emissions combined, as the methane is over 20 times more heat-trapping.  The two bullocks pulling my cart had achieved superstar status in this regard.  Needing to sit down in the cart, to avoid falling out, I was low enough to endure some really noxious emissions – effused heavily with aerosol particulates and vapors that only bullock bacteria apparently can produce – odiferous is way too polite a term.

For those who may think this travel sounds rough, well it is, in fact, adventure travel.  All the better hotels in this area have no running water.  At the Safari Vezo, in Anakao, they daily brought me a small bucket of very hot water, dark brown and briny, into which some palm leaf had been steeped to a tea strength, which bathing solution was reputed to have many medicinal qualities to heal one’s aches.  The bath was taken sitting in the nicely tiled bath chamber, with huge plastic buckets of briny water from which one poured a mixture of the hot and cold via a large plastic cup.  Electricity all was via solar power, and generally was supplied to the rooms for only a few hours in early evening.  Getting up daily at 4am, I was reliant on flashlights to get around.  All battery recharging, in order to get my computer work accomplished, had to be undertaken within a 4 hour window.  For coffee in the early morning hours, I often relied on borrowing a thermos filled with hot water in the evening, with which I then could make instant coffee in the morning.  Mosquitoes were not so bad this time of year around most of the rooms, though DEET or nets are advised.  Mosquitoes could be horrid in the Parks, as was the mid-day sun.

My one full day in Anakao, I hired an outrigger (with tiny motor) to visit the nearby island of Nosy Ve.  Most tourists go, if at all, for the completely deserted white sand beaches.  I went because it has the southern-most breeding colony of Red-tailed Tropicbirds.  One finds the scattered nests under brush, inland a distance from the beaches – somewhat reminiscent of the many nesting birds in the Galapagos.  We also encountered a number of shorebirds, Grey heron and Newtonias on the island.

On Monday we returned by boat across the Bay to Toleara, and after stocking up on a few supplies, traveled north to the small village of Ifaty on the coast, surrounded by more spiny desert and some rare endemic birds.  The next day I spent 5 hours in the private Reniala Reserve, with a young university educated guide, and was rewarded with great photos of two rare local endemics; the Subdesert Mesite and the Long-tailed Ground Roller.  Both are found only in a roughly 10 by 35 kilometer stretch of coastal thorny forest centered on Ifaty – nowhere else on earth.  Both provided very nice colorful photos, presented below.  We also were fortunate in locating two somewhat rarely seen birds at their nests; the Madagascar Harrier Hawk, a very large magnificent bird of prey, and the Hook-billed Vanga, which was presenting its young a headless lizard at its nesting hole in a Baobab tree.  Incidentally, this reserve provides protection to a number of amazing Baobabs, some 1,200 years old (see photo of yours truly), plus the fantastic Octopus tree, a towering collection of very spiny leafy poles reaching into the sky. The vegetation in the spiny southern forests is some of the most exotic on earth – I never have seen so many really strange dry forest type plants – and most indeed are spiny.

The following day I arranged a different guide to visit some shallow soda lakes south of Ifaty, where we photographed more plovers, as well as a bedraggled looking Madagascar Swamp Warbler (I pictured it just to show the meaning of “bedraggled”), and a Baillon’s Crake, very difficult to see as it never leaves the thick reeds.  We return by vehicle to the Capital Tana over the next two days – each will require 11 to 12 hours of driving.  I will then spend 5 days back in the Eastern rain forest to try to pick up a number of final endemic birds and lemurs.  Later.  Dave