Day 212: Endemics, Endemics, Endemics

Birding in the Madagascar forest brings Noah several lifers.

July 31, 2015, Ankarafantsika National Park, Madagascar — The country of Madagascar may only have a couple hundred bird species, but more than half of them are endemic, and the endemics are concentrated in the forest. I went for a relaxed walk this morning with Jacky Ratiantsihoarana, a local bird guide at Ankarafantsika National Park. In three hours, we found a total of 20 species. Every single one was a lifer.

Ankarafantsika protects a sizable fragment of dry forest in northwest Madagascar, one of the last such patches in the region. We drove nearly three hours from Mahajanga this morning to reach the park and the landscape en route was a sobering, sun-baked, mostly uninhabitable savanna. “A lot of this used to be forest,” Jacky said, “but the trees were cut down.” Madagascar’s rate of deforestation is among the world’s highest, and, with half a dozen children per family here, one wonders what the country will look like in a hundred years.

After our morning walk, Jacky and I took a boat around a small lake in front of the park’s bungalows. The lake hosts a nesting pair of Madagascar Fish-Eagles, one of the world’s most threatened raptors—the species’ total population is estimated around 250 individuals. We watched one eagle tear apart a fish right in front of us, then boated around the corner to admire its mate sitting on the nest. Nice!

Besides birds, Ankarafantsika is a good place to watch for Madagascar’s famous lemurs, and I saw my first Coquerel's Sifakas in the trees around park headquarters. Later, on a night hike, Jacky spotted a couple of chameleons, too, including an Oustalet’s chameleon backlit by the full, rising moon. A diminutive Golden Mouse-Lemur raced up a nearby branch. Not a bad way to end the day.

New birds today: 33

Year list: 3790

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