Archive for Madagascar

Madagascar 4: The Rain Forest

We went from the Spiny Forest, climbing through terraced rice paddies to reach the rain forest.  This ever dwindling natural resource of dramatically different habitats is brimming with still more unique species like geckos and chameleons.  It took quite a while to pick out this Mossy Leaf-tailed Gecko until he moved.

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Mossy Leaf-tailed Gecko

up and about

Up and about

Much of our exploration was through challenging terrain with long drives in 4 wheel drive vehicles on horrible roads to begin our hikes into the forest.  Those hikes were physically arduous but the rewards were great:

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Like this Collared Nightjar – a bird’s nest in a bird’s nest fern,

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a Giraffe Beetle,

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Jewel-like pill bugs,

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a Madagascar Malachite Swallowtail and

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A Paradise Flycatcher nest with babies.

Plus there were all the frogs, snakes and more birds, not to mention more lemurs like the Indri, with their haunting calls.

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An Indri family group.  You can hear their calls at this link from Wikipedia

Near the end of our trip we had lunch beside this lovely forest pond where we enjoyed watching endemic waterbirds; a family of Madagascar Little Grebes and a pair of Meller’s Ducks.  A day or two later I was finally struck down by Madagascar’s “travelers complaint,” an ailment that had hit the rest of the group earlier.  I was fairly incapacitated after this, getting home on Imodium and finally resorting to Cipro (a must for anyone contemplating this wonderful adventure).  This trip is full of sights everyone needs to see.  Beside the amazing wildlife, there are lessons here on so many levels, especially on the effects of our misuse of natural resources because we put immediate human needs above the future of our environment.  This is a lesson we need to heed right here at home.

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Lunch by the pond

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Madagascar: People and Countryside

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The straw hats on the first two people are typical Malagasy wear for men and women.

They are a proud and happy people, close to family and community and friendly to visitors, but they are desperately poor.  The need for food staples like rice and corn are forcing them to devastate the beautiful forests that are home to so many species of wildlife.  We traveled through many areas where we saw smoke rising from burning rain forest, even around the edges of protected National Parks.  In place of the trees were miles and miles of terraced rice paddies.

rice paddies

The main highways are paved but narrow, side roads are dirt and the infrastructure in the National Parks has not been well maintained despite the fact that the visitor fees have just been increased.  It makes a visitor wonder where all that money is going because there are a lot of ecotourists and much wonderful wildlife to attract them.  If the Park Service doesn’t act, their inaction may well have a deleterious effect on that industry. Transportation is difficult as there are few buses.  We encountered many small vehicles such as Zebu drawn jitneys and bicycle pedicabs.  The few buses were astonishingly overcrowded.

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Our accommodations ranged from very nice to scary but the food was universally excellent, much of it influenced by the country’s history as a French colony.  We also were treated to delicious local Malagasy dishes.  Fresh vegetables were seen everywhere at roadside stands and markets, first quality to my gardener’s eye.  The roadside stands changed as we drove along country roads.  One area had water bottles filled with honey for half a mile, another bags of charcoal (another reason for destruction of the rain forest) a third had baskets and so on.

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A roadside bakery. Note that although there is a glass display case, there is no glass in the windows. We saw window glass only in the cities.  There are no chimneys either, even though cooking is done inside the house, mostly on wood or charcoal fired stoves.  It must be extremely smoky (as you can see by the door).

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I found two wonderful baskets in this group of roadside stands. I am now the envy of my fellow grocery shoppers with my reusable bags.

Near the coast most of the houses in the countryside were of mud an wattle construction but as we rode up into the highlands where the weather gets colder, they became more substantial two, even three story brick homes.  Brick making is a cottage industry with all the local red clay soil.  It looked as if someone decided he wanted to build a house and just made the bricks on site.  To fire the bricks, they stack the bricks in such a way as to leave an opening where they can light a fire inside the pile.  The fire burns quite hot, and voila, a stack of fired bricks.

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The people are remarkably ingenious in recycling.  We visited a craft market where a man was making little model bicycles from old brake cables, plastic tubing and empty aerosol cans.  He soldered them over a candle flame.  We saw them making tableware from old 55 gallon oil drums, the list goes on and includes many handcrafts such as paper making and embroidery .

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We began and ended in Madagascar’s capitol, Antananarivo (Tana) where the Jacaranda tree were in full bloom.  Madagascar is a wonderful place with so much to offer but in desperate need of outside help in the form of infrastructure, education, so many things, and you never hear about it.

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Going home…

 

 

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Madagascar Lemurs

A young Verreaux's Sifaka regards us with no apparent fear at all.

A young Verreaux’s Sifaka regards us with no apparent fear at all.

Let me begin by saying that it is difficult to photograph these fascinating animals, so apologies for my camera work.  They are astoundingly agile and quick as they leap from branch to branch, often with babies clinging to their backs.  First I’ll show you Verreaux’s Sifaka, a lemur of the Spiny Forest which we saw in Zombitse.  An extended family group cavorted in the trees above us in but then a curious youngster climbed down and just stayed, grasping a tree trunk and allowing everyone to get good shots.

Zombitse Sportive Lemur

Zombitse Sportive Lemur

By contrast this nocturnal Zombitse Sportive Lemur we inadvertently woke up seemed frightened.   Our next lemur was the Ring-tailed Lemur, made famous in the movie “Madagascar.”

Ring-tailed Lemur

Ring-tailed Lemur

We saw the Red-fronted Brown Lemurs in two different locations.

Red-fronted Brown Lemur

Red-fronted Brown Lemur

Another lemur of the Spiny Forest was the tiny Mouse Lemur.  My picture even more horrible than these so I am including my Journal entry, just I hope, to give you an idea of how dear they are.

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One final lemur (before you glaze over) is the Indri.  We were awakened by their haunting cries every morning in Perinet which is in the rain forest.  Like most of the other lemurs, these were in a tight family group.  Our guide called them “balls of lemurs” which I thought very apt as they curl up in clusters of three or four to rest.  I did a little video so you could hear these calls which are equivalent to flock contact calls in birds but I can’t figure out how to get it on here.  If I ever do, I’ll add it.

Indri with her baby

Indri with her baby

 

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Madagascar: Trip to Nosy Ve

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We were transported to the boat by Zebu cart.

We took a day away from the Spiny Forest to go out to the island of Nosy Ve which is about a 1.5 hour boat ride from Tulear, on the southwest coast.  The first item of note was the way we got out to the boat as they used Zebu carts.  These carts provide a common method of transportation and now we had a chance to see what it was like.  We were four to a cart and the Zebu did well getting (jolting) us out to the boat.  On the way back it was deeper, rougher water and it seemed that the Zebu were afraid, but at last all were landed with little problem.

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Humblot’s Heron, an endangered endemic.

On the way out to the island passed a large sandbar where there were foraging shorebirds; Bar-tailed Godwits, Common Greenshanks, Curlew Sandpipers and old friends Ruddy Turnstones and Whimbrels.  We then cruised beside a long cliff face where we were rewarded by great views of an endanged Humblot’s Heron.

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Mrs. Red-tailed Tropicbird and her fluffy chick.

We hoped to see the Red-tailed Tropicbird and we were not disappointed.  The island is small and uninhabited, except by the Tropicbirds and a few other species.  There were a number of nests tucked under thorny bushes for shade.  I was delighted to find this one (spoiler alert for those who are on my Christmas card list!) where the tiny chick couldn’t have been more than a few days old.

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The beach at Anakao where we had lunch.

We left the island and rode across a bay to a beachside restaurant for lunch and looks at nesting Littoral Rock-thrushes.  The ride back was very rough but it had been a great day.

 

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Madagascar: The Spiny Forest

The Baobabs (Adansonias) have spongy interiors that store water.  The hole in the left side may be from someone tapping it for water.  Note the steps in this one.  Those are used to climb it and pick the fruits which are very nutritious.

The Baobabs (Adansonias) have spongy interiors that store water. The hole in the left side may be from someone tapping it for water. Note the steps in this one. Those are used to climb it and pick the fruits which are very nutritious.

Our visit to Madagascar, that evolutionary outpost, began in what is known as the Spiny Forest.  There is a mountain range down the center of the island dividing the western side which is very dry from the rain forested eastern side.  The vegetation of the dry southwestern ecosystem around Ifaty consists in large part of Baobab trees, cacti and giant euphorbias called Octopus Trees which reminded us of the Ocotillos we know so well from Big Bend NP in Texas. This region is home to our target birds, both vulnerable endemics; the Sub-desert Mesite and the Long-tailed Ground-roller, both of which we got to see.

For me the Baobabs were fascinating.  Madagascar is home to six of the eight species of this endangered tree.  The ones we saw in the Spiny Forest are smaller than the 4,000 year old behemoth we sheltered under in Nambia two years ago but these seemed to have personalities.

There were lovers...

There were lovers…

...and family groups...

…and family groups…

conjoined twins?

Conjoined twins?

Grumpy Grandpa?

Grumpy Grandpa?

A dispute between siblings?

A dispute between siblings?

Well, clearly I’m carrying this too far, but they are captivating trees.  Like many Malagasy species, they are threatened by loss of habitat by clearing for agriculture and charcoal production.

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