August 3, 2015, Andasibe National Park, Madagascar — In Madagascar, you are required to use local guides at each national park. Genot and I were joined this morning by Luc Rajarisoa, a guide at Andasibe specializing in birds. Luc runs a hotel right by the park entrance and has two brothers and a sister. All of them are licensed park guides, but Luc and one of his brothers are supposedly the best birders.
A cold drizzle started when the three of us walked into the forest this morning and didn’t stop all day long—the first significant rain I’ve seen in a long time. None of us carried umbrellas and they would have been a hindrance anyway: Luc has a bulldog birding style and seems to consider footpaths for sissies. I don’t really know where we went within Andasibe today because we spent long hours crashing around inside the forest; Luc’s ears would prick up each time he heard a new bird sound, and we’d thrash through the undergrowth until we tracked the bird down, then keep bushwhacking along. It was an effective strategy not only for finding birds but for getting as wet and muddy as possible. During a brief lunch break I stepped into a shower with my shoes on, peeled off my layers, carefully wrung out each article of clothing, then put them on again for the afternoon session.
Early in the day, just after Luc had pointed out a pair of Collared Nightjars roosting on the forest floor, I felt something on the back of my neck and Genot said, “Oh, let me get that for you.” He tugged off an engorged leech about the size of a small paper clip and the color and texture of an earthworm. A shakedown followed, and I realized that the cute little inchworms climbing my pants were all leeches. Genot showed me how to flick them off mid-stride (otherwise their suckers would stick fast to anything) and, for the rest of the day, I sent leeches flying left and right. A few snuck through and attached to my legs and neck with gross results. “Just don’t let them get you in the eye,” said Luc.
New birds today: 22
Year list: 3824