Travel without a purpose entails all the hassle, expense, risk and inconvenience as travel directed at some specific end. The results though are a matter of chance. Here, on my country estate in the goldfields region of Victoria, Australia, the nearest neighbours to my south have just returned from a tour of British farms. They found the chance to compare their own farming with agriculture in a place where it rains fascinating. We had a chat about it all yesterday and they were radiant in the telling of their story.
My principal reason for travel is birdwatching. Trip accounts from birdwatchers can easily turn into a series of lists. I try to avoid that, although if I’d had succumbed to that on this trip the lists would have been mercifully brief. Seventeen days in Madagascar produced a list of just 85 species, the busiest day was 31 species, most days were less than 20. A single day out in Victoria would turn up more than the entire trip.
The paucity versus other tropical sites is worth some thought. The way to ratchet up the numbers is to visit as many habitats as you can. We did that. Forests of various types, mangroves, agricultural areas, wetlands, seashore, higher altitude, mid-altitude and sea-level. Madagascar’s long isolation will have played a role. Islands tend to have a subset of the birds of the nearest continent. Africa is extremely rich but its contribution to Madagascar is quite small (the prevailing wind is from the east). The total list for Madagascar is not much more than 250 species, some 115 are endemic. Five bird families are found nowhere else.
Nor was it a case of beating a handful of common species off with a stick. The population density was low. For a tropical destination birds were surprisingly scarce.
My best guess is that this is due to competition from those pesky mammals. The lemurs can reach every inch of the trees all the way to the outermost leaves and they work in shifts 24 hours of the day. They must take a good part of the available resource.
Here are a few examples of what is on offer.
A male Madagascar Magpie-robin.
A male Madagascar Paradise-Flycatcher.
A Common Sunbird-Asity.
Madagascar Scops Owl.
Dimorphic Egret, the grey form is more common at the coast, the white form more common inland.
Madagascar Fish Eagle.